The Bucket List
Directed By: Rob Reiner
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman, Sean Hayes, Beverly Todd, Rob Morrow
The Bucket List tells the story of Carter Chambers (Freeman) and Edward Cole (Nicholson), two men who have both recently been diagnosed with cancer. Carter is an auto mechanic who gave up his dream of becoming a college history professor when his wife became pregnant over forty years ago. Edward is a multi-billionaire who made his fortune in part by taking over hospitals and ruthlessly streamlining their operations. His mantra of "two patients – one room – no exceptions" results in his being assigned to the same hospital room as Carter. While they are initially none to happy to be stuck in the same room together, over the course of some grueling treatment, they get to know each other and establish a cordial relationship. When both are terminally diagnosed on the same day and given less than a year to live, Edward discovers Carter's "bucket list" – a list of things he would like to do before he "kicks the bucket". Despite the misgivings and protests of his wife (Todd) and family, Carter takes Edward up on his offer to employ his near infinite resources to try to accomplish as many of the things on the list as they can manage in what time they have. They commence to jet around the world to various exotic locales accompanied only by Edward's devoted personal assistant, Thomas (Hayes), where their musings on mortality are set against a backdrop of skydiving, car racing, and several wonders of the world.
The idea of releasing a big budget studio film consisting largely of two men in their 70s playing terminally-diagnosed cancer victims musing on their own mortality is actually a mildly subversive one when you think about it. Of course, the studio and filmmakers hedged their bets by hiring multi-generation appealing actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman to play the geezers and throwing in just enough sky-diving, car racing, and spectacular scenery to fill up the trailers with something beyond just two men sitting and comparing philosophical viewpoints.
The end result is a predictable but entertaining and uplifting film for those not averse to a good deal of sentimentality in their cinema. Wait; did I say a good deal of sentimentality? Scratch that and make it a great deal of sentimentality. If you are the type of viewer who develops a gag reflex when the sentiment meter gets over a five, you will never make it through the last reel which is squarely set to eleven (borrowing the parlance from another Rob Reiner film). The middle section of the film, where the skydiving and car racing occur, gets a bit silly, but takes up a much smaller portion of the proceedings than the film's promotional materials suggest.
The film's chief weakness is in its script, which reportedly was knocked out very quickly by writer Justin Zackham. In this case, that is not necessarily something about which to brag. As written, the characters feel somewhat broad, but the lead actors, particularly in their interactions with each other, manage to fill in a lot of the details that humanize them. Freeman and Nicholson also have a way of smoothing over some pretty clunky dialog in a way that makes it tolerable. The same does not go for the supporting cast which barely registers in a series of one note roles. A notable exception is Sean Hayes who makes something out of his stock personal assistant character by greatly underplaying him.
The widescreen presentation on the top side of this double-sided single-layered disc fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. While I have been disappointed by many of the recent slate of Warner DVD-10s that place the widescreen version of a film plus promos and extras on a single layered side of a disc, I am pleased to report that this presentation is actually pretty good. While there are certainly instances where fine detail suffers a bit, particularly in panoramic wide shots with camera motion, and where light mosquito noise is evident, the overall presentation was more than acceptable. Detail was very good, colors were solid, and edge ringing artifacts, while not completely absent, were infrequent and mild in intensity. The palette is somewhat undersaturated and the look is a bit grainy, but this appears to be a choice inherent to the cinematography rather than an issue with the transfer.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is encoded at 384 kbps. The mix barely makes use of the surround channels at all, even during the sky diving and car racing sequences that would seem to beg for it. That being said, fidelity is excellent for dialog, music, and effects. The track does not seem to suffer from the relatively low audio bitrate, probably because the codec does not have to allocate many bits to the low level surround channels. Alternate language dubs in French and Spanish are also available as 384 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.
Extras are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.
First up is a featurette called Writing a Bucket List that runs four minutes and 53 seconds. This is a talking head interview piece in which screenwriter Justin Zackham discusses the origin of the film's idea and his book compiling the bucket lists of several prominent people. He also makes some observation about what different people put on their lists, including himself. This seems more of a plug for the book than a behind the scenes glimpse at the film.
Next up is the John Mayer Music Video "Say" which runs three minutes and 58 seconds. It is a standard boring video for a pretty good laid back song intercutting scenes from the movie with shots of Mayer lip-synching the song.
Finally we have what the disc packaging and menu refers to as DVD-ROM Special Features. When placing the disc in a PC (but not a Mac), the disc "autoruns" a menu screen that asks you whether you would like to view the disc content or the DVD-ROM special features. Selecting the DVD-ROM content gives the viewer access to two deleted scenes presented in the WMV video format in 4:3 letterboxed video with 2.0 stereo audio and no subtitles. The scenes are as follows:
- Great Wall Talk (2:06) - A Conversation between Edward and carter in China about how Carter ended up working as a mechanic followed by some quasi-philosophical observations.
- Ever Think About Going on the Show (2:58) – Edward observes Carter being a Jeopardy savant while watching the game show on TV in their hospital room, and asks him the titular question.
- Anti-Piracy PSA w/scenes from Casablanca (4:3 - 1:00)
- Semi-Pro DVD Trailer (16:9 enhanced - :35)
- Bernard and Doris DVD Trailer (4:3 letterboxed - :32)
- Mama's Boy DVD Trailer (4:3 letterboxed - :32)
- Get Smart Theatrical Trailer (4:3 letterboxed - 2:31)
The disc is packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with no insert. 16:9 enhanced widescreen and 4:3 full frame presentations occupy either side of a double-sided single-layered DVD-10 with extras repeated on both sides. The packaging says nothing specific about what the DVD-ROM extras are. I do not know if this is because they are reserving the right to add more on-line content later or because they did not want to make the Mac users feel worse by knowing exactly what they are missing.
The Bucket List is a mildly uplifting, majorly sentimental, and undemandingly entertaining film helped greatly along by the charismatic lead performances of Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It is presented on DVD with very good video quality and functional audio quality with minimal extras. The most interesting extras are a pair of deleted scenes that must be downloaded via a DVD-ROM web link only available to PC users.