Directed by Menno Meyjes
Studio: New Line
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 107 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Review Date: January 30, 2008
A family film of real quality which earns its triumphs and its tears honestly and features splendid performances from its leads, Menno Meyjes’ Martian Child is something of an anomaly. It’s doesn’t grovel for any “awwww” moments like so many family-pitched films today do, and when they happen, they seem merely as natural extensions of the scenes where they occur. Were it not for a slightly too pat ending, this movie would surely rank among the best films of the year, and even with that ending, it‘s still highly worthwhile. How refreshing to see a movie about a parent and child struggling to connect where one doesn’t know what’s going to happen in every scene before it arrives!
John Cusack plays best selling fantasy author David Gordon, still grieving after two years over the death of his wife. Before she passed away, they had planned on adopting a child, and now David, successful beyond his wildest dreams, considers once again taking an emotionally damaged and very unusual child Dennis (Bobby Coleman) under his wing. He has a support group that understands his loneliness but still thinks a difficult child might be too much for him: married sister with two kids Liz (Joan Cusack), literary agent Jeff (Oliver Platt), and dear friend of the family Harlee (Amanda Peet). Feeling empathy for the child’s “otherness” (we see in the opening scenes David as a kid experiencing his own kind of peer harassment for being different), David decides to give parenting a try.
Little did David know what he was letting himself in for, however, since Dennis goes well beyond even David’s own early experiences as an outsider. Trying everything he can think of to bond with the child (baseball, fantasy role-playing, excursions to the planetarium, food fights), David finds it near-impossible to break through the little boy’s shell of fear, doubt, and separatism. We see, however, some glimmers of change that David doesn’t see, so rooting interest is even more grounded in the audience in the hopes that David won’t give up on his attempts to reach through the barriers the kid has set up and become a real father. Of course, there wouldn’t be much film without some conflict, and screenwriters Seth E. Bass and Jonathan Tolins give it to us not only through a discontented social services inspector (Richard Schiff) but also through David’s publisher (Anjelica Huston) who’s putting the pressure on David to deliver a hoped for sequel to his last mammoth seller, a book he’s already received a massive advance on but one which he finds impossible to write while he’s struggling to reach his “Martian child.”
There’s a lovely scene at the park as David, Harlee, and Dennis try their hands at baseball, and director Meyjes stages an even better moment as the social services review board tensely interviews Dennis during the trial period before awarding David final custody. Both of these sequences, along with some very private moments between David and Dennis and with each character by himself, show a director who’s in no hurry to let pure emotions come through naturally from the material. It’s something every member of the audience can identify with whether he’s ever parented a child or not.
John Cusack does wonderfully emotional work as David balancing the frustration he feels through much of the film with the growing love for this strange being that begins to consume him. In the maniacally difficult role of the other-worldly Dennis, Bobby Coleman does a terrific job. Amanda Peet is spectacularly beautiful in the rather standard role of friend/growing romantic interest while Oliver Platt and Joan Cusack play their brittle roles with their customary skill. I really enjoyed Sophie Okonedo’s rather limited role as the head of the orphanage, and Richard Schiff is expectedly dour as the social services inspector.
The film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is reproduced faithfully in this excellent anamorphic transfer. Colors are well saturated, sharpness is very good, and flesh tones are as true as I’ve seen on any DVD release lately. Only some intermittent line twitter frankly mars one of the best standard definition transfers I’ve seen in months. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very strong across the front soundstage with music filtered into the surrounds consistently during the presentation. There were some other ambient sounds used in the rears as well during the film (a police siren, wind and rain) which were most welcome.
An audio commentary features producers Corey Sienega and David Kirschner and writers Jonathan Tolins and Seth Bass. The four are deservedly proud of their film after the lengthy journey it took to get it made (over five years) and discuss production details and backstage anecdotes about the actors as they appear on screen. With four speakers, one might assume there would be a problem with overlapping conversations, but it doesn’t happen. It’s an enjoyable and informative commentary.
14 deleted/extended scenes are included in the bonus section with the choice of watching them separately or all at once. Wisely, several sequences had been deleted that gave Dennis almost supernatural powers, but they‘re included here. They run a total of 27¼ minutes and are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
“Handle with Care: Working with the Martian Child” focuses on the adorable and talented child playing Dennis, Bobby Coleman. We see him at work and at play (where one realizes that the withdrawn, quiet Dennis is a complete performance since Bobby is a rambunctious, assertive kid), and quite a bit of the featurette is spent with his parents who seem level-headed about having both of their children in show business. This great behind-the-scenes look at the young star of the film and his interaction with the director and other actors runs for 24 minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
“The Real Martian Child” introduces us to the novella’s original author David Gerrold and his adopted son Sean. The story of the original work is semi-autobiographical, and Gerrold tells his story with much heartfelt emotion and pride. Another winning featurette in this collection, it runs 13 minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
The film’s original theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs 2½ minutes.
The DVD also contains for DVD-ROM drives the InterActual player which offers links to the New Line websites in order to access other features.
The DVD also includes trailers for the film Run, Fatboy, Run and the DVDs The Last Mimzy, Hairspray, and Gracie.
Martian Child didn’t do much at the box-office when it was released in late October, but hopefully it can be discovered and appreciated in this outstanding DVD release which is unreservedly recommended.
[PG]Martian Child DVD[/PG]