In early 1950s New Zealand, prep school classmates Juliet (Kate Winslet) and Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) form a close friendship in which they create a fantasy world to cope with the pressures of their conformist existence. However, their parents become concerned when they become more than just friends. Peter Jackson’s fourth film, he makes fine use of increased resources, vividly bringing the girls’ fantasy world to life while getting excellent performances out of his two stars, both of whom make their debuts here. While Lionsgate has not given the film any extras beyond a trailer, it has made an effort to make the picture and sound look as good as possible. Heavenly Creatures (1994) Studio: Miramax/Wingnut Films (distributed by Lionsgate) Year: 1994 Rated: R Length: 109 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Resolution: 1080p Languages: English 2.0 DTS-HD MA Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish MSRP: $19.99 Film Release Date: October 14, 1994 Disc Release Date: December 13, 2011 Review Date: January 15, 2012 The Movie: 4/5 In 1954, a dead body turned up in a Christchurch, New Zealand park. The woman, Honora Rieper, was the mother of 16-year-old Pauline Rieper, who, along with her close friend Juliet Hulme, stood trial for her murder. The resulting media circus brought up speculations not only that the two suspects were mentally ill, but that they were lovers, an incredibly destructive taboo at the time. Thirty years later, filmmaker Peter Jackson, whose work up to then consisted of the low-budget horror-comedies Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Dead Alive, brought their story to the screen. The story starts in 1952 at a Christchurch girls’ school, where a young girl from England named Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet in her debut film) has just enrolled. One of the students, Pauline Rieper (Melanie Lynskey, also making her debut), is impressed by her creativity and outspokenness. Although they would seem to have little in common on the surface, Juliet being the daughter of a professor (Clive Merrison) and a marriage counselor (Diana Kent) while Pauline comes from a middle class background, they form a close friendship based on their mutual interests: Mario Lanza, fantasy, and short story writing. They create and act out a fantasy world called Borovnia and, although Juliet rejects religion, a Heaven-like realm they call “The Fourth World,” in which their favorite matinee idols are saints. Pauline feels more at home with Juliet’s family than with her mother (Sarah Peirse) and father (Simon O’Connor), from whom she feels alienated. Juliet and Pauline’s friendship turns to love, but their love soon crosses the line into obsession. Things become complicated when Juliet suffers an attack of tuberculosis and is sent to a sanitarium. After she is released, they continue their relationship. However, when Dr. Hulme sees the two girls in bed together, he tells Pauline’s mother, who takes her to a psychiatrist who suggests they separate the girls. However, they will do absolutely anything to stay together and will not let anyone stand in their way. The Parker-Hulme murder trial—Pauline's parents never married, so she was tried as Pauline Parker—was one of the most famous in New Zealand’s history. Fran Walsh, Jackson’s co-writer and wife, had been interested in the story for years. In preparation for the film, they sought to dig deeper into the girls’ psyches than the dehumanizing tabloid stories of the time or subsequent books and films based on the trial. Eventually, Jackson and Walsh gained access to Pauline’s diaries. Not only does this make the film more accurate, it gives it a much-needed sense of empathy. Wisely avoiding turning the film into a routine crime drama or a sanctimonious screed against conformity or homophobia, the film focuses on the events leading up to it: two alienated teenagers who retreat into fantasy as a coping mechanism, but it does not answer all the questions surrounding the case; some of them will never be answered. In trying to fill in the blanks, Jackson wisely focuses on the fantasy world they created, using then-new CGI graphics that still hold up today. He doesn’t use it as a crutch but as just one of many tools to tell his story and visualize the characters’ fantasy world. His first “mainstream” film, his technical skills have evolved, revealing a keen visual sense that brings Fourth World to life vividly and fluidly, composing his shots with care, but not to the point where the actors seem like chess pieces. His two stars give excellent debut performances. Kate Winslet infuses the role of Juliet with a vivacious façade to cover a deeply disturbed psyche that comes through perfectly. Melanie Lynskey is equally fine in a much-more down-to-earth role; she has Pauline’s anger and despair down pat and shows superb chemistry with Winslet. The original US theatrical release was cut by 10 minutes, but this Blu-Ray presents the film’s uncut version. The Video: 3.5/5 The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Its AVC-encoded transfer handles the film elements well, with no signs of DNR or compression artifacts, leaving its light grain structure intact. The film’s color palette is subdued and cool in the real world scenes but warm and colorful in the fantasy ones. Saturation and contrast levels are average, and parts of it seem somewhat soft at times. The Audio: 4.5/5 The film was released in Dolby Stereo, which the disc presents as a 2.0 DTS-HD MA track. Its fidelity is second to none, with clear dialogue and a tasteful but noticeable surround ambience; it is subtle in the real world scenes but noticeable in the fantasy world and any time Peter Dasent’s sweeping musical score is heard. Even the 1950s Mario Lanza recordings sound great. It couldn’t be better, even if it were in 5.1. The Extras: 0.5/5 The only extra is the film’s US theatrical trailer (2:03), presented in SD and 4x3. Final Score: 3.5/5 Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson’s transition into larger-budget filmmaking, is a creative, compelling, skillfully performed and empathetic look into the minds of two young girls whose imaginations sparked a dangerous obsession. While this Blu-ray offers no insights into its creation, it does an exemplary job of presenting the film’s picture and sound. Recommended.