The Secret of Moonacre
EntertainmentOne, releases a film directed by Gabor Csupo (Bridge to Terabithia), based from the story The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. The feature stars Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry, Natascha McElhone, and Dakota Blue Richards, with the assistance of Juliet Stevenson, Michael Webber, and Augustus Prew.
The 2008 feature is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The feature runs about 103 minutes. In advance of the feature are an EntertainmentOne logo, an FBI warning, a long and skipable advertisement for Girl Scouts, and trailers for Finn on the Fly and Ballet Shoes. The menu operates briskly and is not Java-based. English-SDH subtitles are included.
The packaging is a standard Bluray case with a lenticular cover. MSRP for this disc is $24.98, and was released in the United States on September 21, 2010. The feature has been rated PG for some mild peril and language. The disc has also been approved by the Dove Foundation and Kids First! (see dove.org and kidsfirst.org for more information regarding these ratings.)
The Feature — ••••
A newly orphaned 13 year old Maria Merryweather (Dakota Richards,) moves from London to ‘the country,’ which has the audacity to be ‘full of countryside,’ to live with her governess, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson,) and her uncle, Sir Benjamin Merryweather (Ioan Gruffudd) on his estate. Populated by a few very strange servants, a giant black dog, the manor-house is — confusing. Things happen seemingly on their own. The piano in the music room plays itself. The aforementioned dog tends to reflect — oddly — in the mirror. And the stars painted into her bedroom ceiling, not only twinkle, but, on occasion, fall. Magic, in a quiet form, is alive in the valley.
And then she learns of the curse laid upon the valley and its two principle families some 384½ years before, by the first Moon Princess. And that the residents of the valley believe her to be a Moon Princess — and thus the one to break the curse. Once convinced that she needs to try to break the curse, she learns that while the original evil behind the curse is that of Greed, it has since evolved into Pride, which, she also discovers, infects her. In the grand scope of children’s fantasy, this is a story of competing powers: love, hate, pride, self-sacrifice, greed, and hope.
The Picture — ••••
The feature was shot in Super35, protected and cropped to 2.35:1. Given the intensity of some of the color grading, and the frequency of often subtle effects, I suspect a digital intermediary. Either the transfer came from a 35mm film after the intermediate, or the original grain was not abused during the digital post-processing. The image generally looks ‘real,’ as opposed to electronically processed (lacking edge enhancement, digital noise reduction, and the like.) The color remained fairly plausible and natural, even in the colder-toned scenes. They did by contrast, however, make the more richly colored scenes pop — but not unnaturally so.
An area where the image is weak, and suffers by the high resolution of the HD transfer, is in some of the computer-generated imagery. Many of the rendered textures recall the bad old days of “any surface you like, as long as it’s HDPE-plastic.” The few digital animals — well, let me just say these are not the animals we saw in the recent Narnia films! That said, however, the effects do not ruin the storytelling that takes place in the film.
The feature is encoded in AVCHD, and varies from about 20-40 megabits/second. Even the brief underwater sequences seem resistant to showing signs of excessive compression effects.
The Sound — ••••
The disc has two English 5.1 tracks; the primary in DTS HD Master Audio, and the back-up in Dolby Digital. The soundtrack is fairly expansive, with music and effects spreading across the whole sound-field. Dialog is fairly clean and linked to the screen, without being overly dominant. In fact, the dialog might be recorded at a slightly lower than typical level, making a default headphone-stereo output not as clear as it could be. Sound effects range from the delicate and subtle, to the loud, prominent, and shocking, with some healthy low-frequency extension. Again, with perhaps the less heavy-handed approach to sound-mixing, this soundtrack comes across as quite pleasant and engaging.
The disc includes a fairly extensive set of Standard Definition extras, totalling to about 90 minutes of content.
The film’s trailer, running 1.41, and preserving the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Behind the Scenes Footage: 19.26 of material culled from a camera-man on the set. While edited, sometimes showing rehearsals, and then several different takes, there is no narration or other explanation as to what is happening, or explicit on-set interviews. This is quite literally, behind the scenes footage. This is 16x9 material. Audio is on-camera sound, cut with the video cuts. Brave, I think.
A Making Of featurette, running 23.30. A much more conventional piece, with production shots, finished film shots, on-set interviews, and publicity interviews. Full 16x9 frame.
Cast Interviews, running 32.28. These are slated shots suited for inserting after local talent ‘ask’ the questions. Interviewees include Dakota Blue Richards, Natascha McElhone, Tim Curry, Ioan Gruffudd, Augustus Prew, and Juliet Stevenson.
And about nine deleted scenes, running about 11.19. These are letterboxed 4x3 aspect, full-frame with frame-codes in the unprotected full aperture film. Audio here is on-set audio with music.
In The End — ••••
I rather enjoyed this film. I look forward to seeing it — again — in a larger setting with others in my family. (Many of us, I admit, have something of a soft spot for well written Young Adult books, and well made Young Adult films.) While it is targeted to ‘the younger set,’ it is not excessively mercantile, annoying, cloying, or gratuitous. And it provides a case for how a contemporary film can be filled with good story-telling, nice cinematography, and exotic costumes, without being filled with bad language, extreme violence, corpses everywhere, and all sorts of things like that.