A SERIOUS MAN
Length: 1 hr 46 mins
Genre: Dark Comedy/Jewish Comedy/Coen Brothers
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 25 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.0 mbps)
French DTS 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: R (Language, Some Sexuality/Nudity, Brief Violence, Coen Brothers)
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind
Written, Produced and Directed by: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Film Rating: 3/5
A Serious Man is the latest production of the Coen brothers, following 2007’s No Country for Old Men, and 2008’s Burn After Reading. This time around, they’re on familiar territory, trapping their main character in an inescapable mousetrap and tormenting him for the duration of the movie. The film’s ironic title aside, the film’s lead, Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) is an ordinary physics professor whose life is inexplicably crumbling around him. Without spoiling any details, I’ll just say that anything that can go wrong tends to do so, and Larry’s responses to these problems range from ineffectual to bizarre to truly wimpy. (And given that this is a Coen Brothers movie, that’s par for the course.) I’ve read some discussions that the film is really the Story of Job, transferred to the film’s 1967 middle America setting, and I can see some indications in the movie. On the other hand, the movie tries to make the most out of the Judaism that is crucial to the characters and the setting. (The central event of this film is the buildup to Larry’s son’s bar mitzvah.) I suppose you could see this as a more personal film for the Coens, given that it draws a bit on their own background and family history, but the characters are so arch that it’s hard to find anyone to identify with. The film’s basic theme, starting with a seemingly unrelated folk tale of sorts, appears to be to tell its characters to “embrace the mystery.” Given that I’ve already had at least three arguments with friends of mine about this movie, I’ll allow that fans of the Coen Brothers will likely have a great time here. Fans of Jewish culture, particularly as portrayed in film, will probably also have a good time here. More casual viewers may be completely thrown, and if they aren’t incredibly patient, I have a feeling the disc may get thrown too…
A Serious Man has just been released on Blu-ray and standard definition DVD, at the same time that it’s been nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. The Blu-ray release has all the same extras as the standard definition DVD, except that the featurettes are presented in 1080p high definition and the movie itself gets high definition transfers in picture and sound.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½ /5
A Serious Man is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that shows off a lot of period detail and deep, deep blacks for the many scenes set in dark rooms and environments. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3 ½/5
A Serious Man is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish. Much of the film is actually pretty quiet, in that the emphasis is on the dialogue, with some strains of the musical score coming through the rear speakers. But there are moments where things get a bit more interesting. One scene where the characters are smoking marijuana has a subwoofer heartbeat that is very subtle, and very effective.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of A Serious Man comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, in addition to high definition versions of the featurettes from the standard definition release.
Becoming Serious – (17:04, 1080p) WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS FEATURETTE. DO NOT WATCH THIS UNTIL AFTER WATCHING THE MOVIE. This featurette gives a surprising amount of insight into the Coen Brothers’ intentions here, and into the process of making the movie. The Coens admit right away that the folk tale which opens the movie is completely invented by them, and along with the cast, they discuss the kind of story they are trying to tell here. The featurette of course shows the contrast between the Coens saying that they aren’t laughing at their characters and the on-set footage where they are clearly giggling away.
Creating 1967 – (13:43, 1080p) WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE FOOTAGE SHOWN IN THIS FEATURETTE. This featurette examines the work that went into getting the period look of the film, from the costumes to the locations to the cars. There’s some great stuff here about ladies’ wear in the 1960s and about the cars chosen for each character.
Hebrew and Yiddish for Goys – (2:14, 1080p) WARNING RE SPOILERS – IT’S NOT SO THICK WITH THEM HERE, BUT IT’S BEST TO WATCH THIS AFTER YOU SEE THE MOVIE. Here we have a quick assembly of clips from the movie where characters say phrases in Hebrew or Yiddish, and at each occasion, the clip goes to a freeze frame and an onscreen definition. Personally, I think this could have worked better as a U-Control feature within the movie, but it’s a nice thought.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film and the special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French.
One other note: When you first put the Blu-ray into the player, the disc shows a screen saying that it is loading BD-Live trailers from the internet. This puts to rest a question I have had for some time about the random nature of the trailers I have been seeing on the various Blu-ray releases. What I believe is happening is that the disc connects with BD-Live and pulls down different trailers at different times. So you may get a trailer for the now-airing Olympics on NBC. Or you may get the general Universal Blu-ray trailer. Or you may get trailers for individual movies. The level of definition varies. In some cases, they are 720p high definition, and in others, they are 480p standard definition.
IN THE END...
A Serious Man is a movie that will appeal to fans of the Coen Brothers in a big way, as well as to fans of Jewish cinema. I don’t know that it will reach those not initiated in the ways of the Coens, but I cannot deny that it is impeccably made, and that the picture and audio here will not disappoint. And the featurettes do let you see a little of what goes on under the hood of a movie made by the Coens. Fans of the Coens likely already own this title. More casual viewers are advised to embrace the mystery when they rent it.
February 13, 2010.