Side Effects writes its prescription on Blu-ray, giving a fine presentation to a clever, witty thriller that works very well on its own terms but which, like many medications, may leave the viewer feeling a bit disconnected and hollow. A full Steven Soderbergh movie (he directed, photographed and edited the film), the movie is impeccably well constructed. The performances, particularly by Rooney Mara and Jude Law as patient and psychiatrist are very nicely done. The only drawback is that the viewer may find him or herself wondering at the end “That’s it?” The Blu-ray provides solid picture and sound and a very small number of witty special features.
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 1 Hr. 47 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/21/2013
Side Effects is an extremely well-constructed thriller. Ostensibly it’s a story about what happens when a suicidal psychiatric patient (Rooney Mara) takes an experimental new anti-depressant with the unfortunate side effects of the title. But given that this is a Steven Soderbergh movie, things aren’t nearly that simple, as the true lead of the movie, our patient’s psychiatrist (Jude Law) starts to learn as he unravels various clues. On an intellectual level and even a visceral one, the movie absolutely works. The logic of the plot twists has been worked out to the nth degree. But there’s a catch. Once you get to the end of this thriller, the whole exercise just feels a bit hollow. True, there’s a satisfying attention to detail throughout and a wonderful use of symmetry from the beginning to the end. As is normal for a conventional Soderbergh movie (and there probably should be a full genre study of his movies, as they span a range from wildly independent to very conventional), the craftsmanship is great. Soderbergh continues to be a strong director, photographer and editor. It’s almost comforting to be in the hands of a professional storyteller who clearly knows what they’re doing, particularly in the modern era of “found footage” cinema. However, all the craftsmanship in the world can’t change the fact that once you solve the mystery of the movie, there isn’t any more substance to it than that. It’s essentially an amusement park ride of a movie and you get off at the same place where you got on. It’s a fun ride, and quite a witty one at that, but viewers should be aware that this won’t be a place to look for deep thought and nuance. Fans of Steven Soderbergh will likely already have picked this up, particularly as he is currently saying that this movie and Behind the Candelabra will be his final feature films “for the foreseeable future”.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Side Effects has been released this week, simultaneously on Blu-ray and standard definition. The Blu-ray has everything from the standard DVD, and adds high definition picture and sound along with an interactive website not found on the DVD. The Blu-ray packaging includes the DVD release on a second disc within the plastic case.
Side Effects is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer at an average 34mbps that provides a wonderful range of colors and textures throughout the movie. Given the subject matter, the color palette dips toward the darker ideas, and the transfer provides satisfying black levels to go with that palette. It’s clear that this is exactly how Steven Soderbergh the cinematographer wanted you to see this movie. For that reason, I am giving this movie a rare perfect score.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Side Effects is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (averaging 3.7 mbps but climbing to 4.1 mbps in some scenes) that effectively provides an audio tapestry to back up the solid visuals. This is a fairly quiet and subtle mix, only occasionally raising its voice and bitrate as circumstances require. Thomas Newman’s always effective score gets a solid presentation here as well.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
The Blu-ray presentation of Side Effects comes with a minimal dosage of special features, including a parody BTS featurette, a satirical website “experience” for featured antidepressant Ablixa, and two separated presentations of the commercials that can be found within the website. The packaging also includes the DVD release, which holds everything from the Blu-ray except for the website. A digital copy is available online via pocket BLU or via a code included in the packaging.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Behind the Scenes of Side Effects (1080p, 2:56) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Steven Soderbergh has a pretty wicked sense of humor. It’s clear from watching this little piece that he too has seen more than his fair share of B-roll featurettes where everyone praises each other. So he has assembled this brief acid bath from the basic template of quick glimpses of life on the set and shots from the movie. Of course, he’s deliberately shot it in the cheapest manner possible, apparently using an iPad or digital camera, and then applying the “Super 8” app to give a faux “home movie” look to the whole thing. The giveaway happens right off the bat when the narrator’s voice introduces the lead actress as “Academy Award Loser Rooney Mara” and then follows that up with introductions to “fellow Academy Award Loser Jude Law”, “Star of the Future Channing Tatum” and of course, “Academy Award Winner Catherine Zeta-Jones.” It’s all narrated in the fussiest manner possible, even re-using some of the same on-set footage within a brutally short featurette. Don’t let the credits at the end fool you. The “Fletcher Munson” you see there is yet another pseudonym for Soderbergh, and I’m not sure how Catherine Zeta Jones could be the camera operator when she’s in some of the shots. Like I said, Soderbergh has a pretty good sense of humor. Of course, if you were looking for something about the making of this movie, you’re a bit out of luck, aren’t you?
Ablixa Website Experience (1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This is an inset presentation of the promotional website for the movie, spotlighting the fictional drug “Ablixa”. The website allows you to click on the inset commercials for both “Ablixa” and “Intenin”, and to undergo a Q&A screening led by Jude Law in character as the psychiatrist in the movie. Like the movie, the website is very clever. Of course, it’s curious that all the roads in the screening seem to lead to the viewer being advised to take the medicine…
Ablixa Commercial (0:54, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This parody commercial for the “Ablixa” anti-depressant follows all the usual rules of pharmaceutical ads you see on cable TV and the internet these days. Except that when you get to the list of side effects at the end of the commercial, it’s like wandering into a Grand Guignol basement of some kind. The one connective idea that popped into my head, halfway through the list of horrifying things that happen after you take this drug, was that whoever created the commercial must have seen the legendary “Happy Fun Ball” commercial parody on SNL back in the day. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball, indeed.
Intenin Commercial (0:48, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Of course, if you’re going to tell a joke, tell it all. The same humor behind the “Ablixa” commercial is in full force here. This commercial is for a new drug by the same company that brought you the last one, only this time you get a medication for your ADD-afflicted child. So now both the mother and the child can be on medication from the same company. And yes, there’s a long list of horrifying side effects to go with this one too. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that I detect Soderbergh’s hand in both of these commercials…
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online. A “Previews” menu option simply accesses the various previews that are available via BD-Live.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart
phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device.
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 1.85:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English. The mock featurette and the two commercials are included in standard definition, but the website is not.
Digital Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for obtaining a digital or Ultraviolet copy of the movie for your your laptop or portable device.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.
Side Effects will provide a fun night with a thriller, particularly for fans of Steven Soderbergh, and fans of Jude Law and Rooney Mara. It’s not particularly deep in any way and you won’t find much nuance here, but it’s an effective and well-crafted mystery that still works even after you know all the pieces. And the Blu-ray provides a solid presentation. I wish that the movie had a little more substance. In a way, it’s the reverse of last year’s Promised Land. With that movie, you had a lot of heart and some very good ideas, but the plot simply fell apart when you looked at it too closely. With this movie, you have a very well-made puzzle with a good amount of wit to it, but no real heart if you were looking for anything like that. This isn’t a movie where you have characters with whom you can identify or root for – it’s more of an exercise that’s fun but of no more consequence than a spool of Cotton Candy.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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