Directed by Ron Howard
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 117 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 French, 1.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: April 6, 2010
Review Date: April 9, 2010
An uncanny blending of comedy, drama, thrills, and social commentary with some science fiction elements as a wrapper, Ron Howard’s Cocoon makes for a joyous, sentimental entertainment. Showing enormous sensitivity to the plight of the elderly without sinking into bathos, the film remains twenty-five years after its premiere a lovely example of emotionally balanced storytelling in a no-frills package, and it features a rather odd pairing of some of show business’ wiliest veterans playing alongside a group of second generation Hollywood actors at the beginning of their careers (careers which in point of fact never really blossomed as this film suggested they might).
Senior citizen rest home residents Ben Luckett (Wilford Brimley), Joe Finley (Hume Cronyn), and Art Selwyn (Don Ameche) stumble onto a mysterious indoor pool on an adjoining estate, a pool which seems to revitalize their health and spirits: Joe’s cancer goes into remission, Art has more energy than he’s had in decades (enough to go to a club and breakdance), and Ben’s vision which has been fading over time now zaps back to 20/20. Investigating further, they find that the house has been leased to some strangers (Brian Dennehy, Tahnee Welch, Tyrone Power, Jr., Mike Nomad) who turn out to be aliens who have returned to Earth after 10,000 years to reclaim alien pods containing their companions in suspended animation that they had to leave behind centuries before. The indoor pool is bringing the aliens back to life, and it’s these restorative waters that are helping the elderly temporarily feel young again. But the aliens are going to be leaving in a month, and the adults have some serious decisions to make if they want their improved lives to continue indefinitely.
As a science fiction fantasy, Cocoon has its share of effects and imaginative elements, but what makes the movie truly special is in its utterly true and unfiltered approach to its elderly characters. These senior citizens are treated with respect by screenwriter Tom Benedek (based on a novel by David Saperstein) detailing their plights with heart and humanity that makes it even today one of the very few movies to deal with the problems of the aged in such a literate and loving way. Director Ron Howard’s handling of this massive film was a breakthrough for him at the time, and his direction is solid but never showy. The camerawork is superb, and several shots of sunsets and of light and cloud formations are awe-inspiring. There are some fascinating underwater shots, too, with the human and dolphin interaction quite lyrical and joyous, all undeniably beautiful. At 117 minutes, the film could have used some judicious trimming, but the ultimate effect is so powerful and memorable that a few slow spots don’t fatally mar it.
The three primary couples are acted by a compelling group of accomplished veterans: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, a real-life couple, live and breathe their characters; Wilfred Brimley and Maureen Stapleton are wonderful together (though his role has far more substance than hers); Don Ameche (who won a supporting actor Oscar which was likely given more for his career achievements than his single performance here) and Gwen Verdon seem the spryest of the couples. Also among the elderly is Jack Gilford as a stubborn retirement home resident who steadfastly refuses to alter his inevitable march toward the end of his life, a touching nod to those who lack a sense of adventure. A tentative love story involving a charter boat operator played by Steve Guttenberg and the lovely alien played by Tahnee Welch is a bone thrown in for younger viewers, but its development is so ordinary that it could easily have been dispensed with.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. A very clean print of the film has been used for the transfer, and the result is a very pleasing high definition image with excellent color that is never overly saturated (despite the Florida locations) and realistic flesh tones. Black levels are so deep that there’s occasional crush in selected shots. There are a couple of instances of minor edge enhancement, but it’s not a persistent problem. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a nice expansion of the original stereo recording from this era. There isn’t a lot of bass in the mix, but some good split surrounds maximize the surround elements along with James Horner’s very enjoyable score for the film. There are a few moments where dialogue levels are a bit lower than in the rest of the film, but it’s not a problem that happens very often.
The audio commentary by director Ron Howard shows his always chipper personality operating at optimum levels as he recounts stories of working with the actors and directing such a large scale film which brought him his first Director’s Guild nomination.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in 480i.
A behind-the-scenes documentary serves as the first of five brief EPK featurettes for the film. Featuring interviews with the producers Richard and Lili Zanuck, several cast members, director Ron Howard, and special effects supervisor Ken Ralston (who went on to win an Oscar for his work on the movie), this featurette runs 7 minutes.
A brief Ron Howard profile traces his rise from child actor to director in this 2 ½-minute featurette.
“Underwater Training” focuses on the scuba diving lessons undertaken by several cast members and discussed by stunt coordinator Mike Nomad. It runs for 3 ½ minutes.
Very brief actor interviews concerning their characters in the film are offered by Steve Guttenberg, Jack Gilford, Brian Dennehy, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and Maureen Stapleton. It runs for 3 minutes.
“Creating Antareans” interviews three of the actors who play aliens in the movie (Brian Dennehy, Tahnee Welch, Tyrone Power, Jr.) along with producer Lili Zanuck who firmly believes in extraterrestrial life. This runs 4 minutes.
There are two trailers for the movie offered: the teaser runs 1 minute while the theatrical trailer runs 1 ½ minutes. Three TV ad spots, each running ½ minute, are also on the disc along with the trailer for the (resistible) sequel to the film: Cocoon: The Return (1 ½ minutes).
4/5 (not an average)
A wonderfully embracing blend of comedy and drama with a touching focus on the lives of the aged, Cocoon is a lovely film which easily stands the test of time. The Blu-ray release looks better than it has ever looked on home video and comes with a definite recommendation.