Release Date: September 23, 2008
Rating: 2 ½ ½
Starring: George Clooney, Renee Zelwegger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce
Written by: Duncan Brantley & Rick Reilly
Directed by: George Clooney
Leatherheads is an example of what can happen when ambition exceeds possibility. As conceived, the film was originally designed as a historical depiction of the beginning of professional football in the United States – showing the transition that happened when marquee players from the more popular college football began to be recruited onto the professional teams. George Clooney read this script and proceeded to rewrite it into a screwball comedy and went on to execute that idea. The film thus was designed to be both an earnest examination of football history and a rapid-fire comedy, with a love story thrown in to boot. The problem, of course, is that there is simply too much on the plate for the film to handle. At nearly 2 hours, the length is simply too long to be an effective short-burst comedy. But at the same time, the comic moments feel forced much of the time – Clooney and his cast are trying so hard to find the funny that it unfortunately eludes them much of the time. But it’s not for lack of effort. At the same time, I must acknowledge this is not the disaster that early reviews descriped. It’s actually an affectionate look at a moment for football in the 1920’s, grounded in some lovely period costumes and production design, as well as a bouncy score by Randy Newman. And it has moments that do work, if only intermittently. But it’s not the classic look at early football that the original writers intended, nor is it the screwball romance that Clooney attempted. We can see it as a learning exercise, if anything. And there is certainly some value there.
Leatherheads did not live up to expectations when it was released, but it is certainly getting a decent treatment on DVD. This DVD is loaded with special features, and a Blu-ray edition was released day and date with this standard definition version. The only drawback is that the biggest story of the production has been unfortunately omitted from the materials here – which may lead to viewers not completely understanding the content of the audio commentary or why the film went astray.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Leatherheads has a solid anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer going for it. Details throughout are quite sharp, and the various costumes and uniforms are highlighted quite nicely. Black levels look good, and the various flesh tones look accurate. The difference between the actual football uniform colors and their condition after a good dousing in mud is just one example of the quality of the transfer here.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Leatherheads is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English, Spanish and French. Much of the mix and the music live in the front channels, but some atmospheric sounds make their way to the surrounds, including crowd noise during the various football games played during the game. The dialogue is clear and fairly easy to understand.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3/5
Leatherheads comes with a director/producer commentary, deleted scenes and four featurettes discussing the process of making the film. There’s a bounty of interview material here with all the principle actors, but one major part of the story is unfortunately left untold here, which leads the whole enterprise feeling a little short of the goal.
Feature Commentary by Director/Star George Clooney and Producer Grant Heslov – This scene-specific commentary finds Clooney and Heslov watching the film and discussing which shots are CGI and which are real, as well as the various challenges in mounting the production. The talk doesn’t reach very far below the surface, though, and there’s a bit of a smug tone here. (Things get pretty flip at times, particularly when they get to the end credits and begin rounding on the crew...) Clooney mentions various scenes he rewrote, and which scenes stayed from the early draft, but doesn’t take it any farther.
Deleted Scenes (8:10, Anamorphic) – Just over 8 minutes of deleted material is included here, including two versions of a train car dinner. If anything, the material here shows why it was logically removed from the final cut of the film.
Football’s Beginning: The Making of Leatherheads – (6:17, Anamorphic) - This is a fairly brief making-of featurette about the history behind the film, along with the making of the film itself. Cast members, Clooney and Heslov, and the original screenwriters are interviewed about the material. The production and wardrobe design is discussed here, and the usual mutual compliments are exchanged.
No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy Football Scenes (9:15, Anamorphic) – This featurette discusses the work taken in creating the various period football matchups without the pads and gear that modern players have. Clooney is interviewed as is TJ Troup, a high school football coach and historian tapped by the film to serve as the football consultant. (Troup’s contribution here is emphasized, including the football camp that the film’s players attended.)
George Clooney: A Leatherheaded Prankster – (3:32, Anamorphic) - This quick featurette starts with an unfortunate quote by cast member Robert Baker, who opines that Clooney hasn’t had time to pull any pranks on the cast. We then get to see Clooney gleefully pull one that involves the players, a greenscreen and a tub of mud. The results are then displayed for everyone to see for posterity...
Visual Effects Sequences (5:34, Anamorphic) – This featurette discusses the CGI involved in expanding multiple shots to create the 1920’s environment, as well as the large crowds (in the thousands) that the production could not have mustered. Multiple split-screen examples are shown during the featurette to give the viewer a pretty thorough picture of just how many shots required digital work. (Hint: Over 250 shots...)
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference for the film. When the disc is initially started, the viewer is presented with an optional pair of non-anamorphic previews for Baby Mama, The Office: Season Four and Billy Elliot: The Musical (this will be the Broadway stage premiere, not a film or DVD), an anti-smoking ad, and The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior.
IN THE END...
Leatherheads doesn’t quite ignite the screen in the way the filmmakers had hoped, but it is a great display of period styles and design. In the end, a screwball comedy simply can’t run almost 2 hours and maintain its form. And the exclusion of crucial information about the production unfortunately limits the special features to being promotional items, rather than truly revealing ones. Fans of period football will likely enjoy this for the milieu alone, but fans of George Clooney and Renee Zelwegger may find this a bit forced.
September 27, 2008.