HTF REVIEW: "Far From Heaven" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Mar 17, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    Far from Heaven

    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2002
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 108 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English and Spanish

    What imprisons desires of the heart?

    It has been a full day since I sat down and watched
    Far From Heaven and I need to confess that it
    is a film that has been haunting my mind ever since.
    This was a film that I opened blindly, not knowing
    a single thing about its story but realizing that
    its star, Julianne Moore, was up for a Best Actress

    How can I begin to talk about this film? Let
    me start by saying that Far From Heaven is
    a stylishly sumptuous and superbly acted film. It's
    a movie that can easily be described as an
    extraordinary work of art -- looking like something
    directly out of a '50s society page. At the same
    time, the film is a daring and emotionally wrenching
    melodrama about people trying to find a way to live
    while they're dying inside.


    Cathy Whitaker (Moore) has the perfect life. The
    successful husband Frank(Quaid), the devoted children,
    the beautiful house and popularity among the women
    and social elite of her New England town. It's not
    long before we learn that this family may not be as
    perfect as they seem as we discover that Frank is
    hiding a personal secret that is about to change
    their lives forever.

    Cathy's life is suddenly turned upside down. Worst
    of all, she has no-one to turn to -- not even her
    friends. What would they think? So, she begins a
    timid relationship with her gardener Raymond (Dennis
    Haysbert), a black man. One must remember that back
    in the 1950s, when a white woman was seen socializing
    with a black man, it ignited scandalous gossip,
    resulting in social outcasting. The consequences of
    her actions coupled with her husbands set them on
    a course that will change their lives and their
    outlook on the world forever.


    The film boasts the best performances you will
    ever see from its actors. Julianne Moore delivers
    an exceptional performance as the film's emotional
    centerpiece. I have never seen Dennis Quaid in
    a role like this, totally convincing as an utterly
    confused and misguided husband dealing with his
    innard insecurity and pain.

    How is the transfer?

    Funny story to tell. I had just had my TV calibrated
    the other day. The first movie I popped in to review
    was this one. It probably was the worst choice of
    any film to pick because at first, I thought that the
    guy had totally screwed up the calibration. Picture
    was looking a bit dark, and colors were looking
    overly saturated. It wasn't until I got halfway
    through the film that I began to understand what was

    Far From Heaven is a film made exactly as if
    it had been shot during the period it is set. Ed
    Lachman’s lush cinematography gets the film to look
    just like those in the days of Technicolor, from the
    vibrantly colored leaves to the bright turquoise family
    station wagon. The film looks like a visual buffet,
    as if we were watching the works of a masterpiece
    artist. Thankfully, the transfer perfectly brings
    out the spectacularly lush atmosphere of this film
    with no background distractions.


    I am uncertain whether the inclusion of a DTS track
    really benefits this film or not. This isn't the sort
    of film that relies on effects noises. In fact, the
    entire mix of this film is front-heavy, with sound
    that comes across with a satisfying amount of dynamic
    range. The real treat here is the score from composer
    Elmer Bernstein. It's easy to see why the filmmakers
    chose to use his score as representation of its 50s
    theme. Bernstein was an accomplished composer during
    that period of time, and his score effectively whisks
    you back to that period with his subtle touches of
    brass and winds that embrace the entire listening
    area with its warm sounds.

    Special Features


    I heard pieces of the full-length commentary
    by director Todd Haynes. Throughout this commentary,
    Hayes compares the many styles that he borrowed from
    Douglas Sirk, a director of competent melodramas. I
    was kind of interested to hear how many of the film's
    exterior scenes were not shot on a back lot, but rather
    in Patterson N.J., which is less than 45 minutes away
    from me. Haynes gets rather deep in his discussion
    of the film's music, cinematography, choice of colors,
    lighting and shadow. He emphasizes how he wanted to
    keep everything simple, as it was back in the day,
    never overemphasizing anything in order to prevent it
    from becoming a parody. This is another one of those
    exceptionally detailed commentaries that will be of
    great interest to filmmaking students. It's told
    almost as if it was by a painter who was teaching
    his students the techniques behind every stroke of
    his brush.


    Anatomy of a scene is an intelligently produced
    Sundance Film channel featurette that is quite an
    interesting watch. It begins by giving us some
    background on the film. For instance, I had no idea
    that Far from Heaven is a tribute of sorts to
    the 1950s melodrama films of Douglas Sirk. This
    featurette not only brings together the principal
    actors (Quaid, Moore), but also the film's Production
    Designer (Mark Friedberg), Cinematographer (Edward
    Lachman), Costume Designer(Sandy Powell), Editor
    (James Lyons) Composer (Elmer Bernstein) and
    writer/director (Todd Haynes). This featurette does
    a great job of picking apart every piece of this
    film's production, showing us how its 50s themed
    world was faithfully recreated and how it was
    prevented from becoming a sappy parody of itself.
    (length: approx. 27 minutes)


    The making of Far from Heaven is a more
    generic overview of the film with all the principal
    cast members (Moore, Quaid, Clarkson, Haysbert). This
    is nice to watch for those not familiar with the
    works of Douglas Sirk. We get a little bit of
    background on the director whose melodramic style of
    movies became the inspiration for Far From Heaven.
    It ends with a look at Elmer Bernstein conducting
    his orchestra, as he gleefully refers to his score
    as "the kind of score you don't hear anymore."
    (length: approx. 11 minutes)


    Filmed in front of a live audience, The Filmmakers
    Experience: Q&A with Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes

    is a personally revealing, but alas overly short
    interview hosted by Rob Kendt. A must watch!
    (length: approx. 5 minutes)

    Rounding out the extras are Production Notes
    that reveal how writer/director Todd Haynes sought to
    bring the pristine look of mid-century Hollywood
    studio films to the present. There is a nicely
    detailed cast and filmmakers filmography as
    well as the film's original theatrical trailer.

    The film also includes the current theatrical
    trailer for The Pianist, a film I also highly

    Final Thoughts


    I am absolutely intrigued by the artistic style of
    Far From Heaven that managed to connect to
    me in a way that no film like it ever has before.
    It's sad to see that attitudes represented in the
    film's 50s themes have changed so little in the
    world today.

    Far From Heaven is a lingering treat that
    remains unlike any other film you are sure to see
    this year. It's best to go into this film knowing
    as little about it as possible. Don't pass up the
    chance to watch this!

    Release Date: April 1, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

    Dec 15, 2001
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    As soon as I saw that "Far From Heaven" was going to be reviewed by you today, I haven't been able to stop refreshing your profile until I saw your review come up as your latest post. Thank you so much for the review, I can't wait to buy this!!!
  3. Joshua_Y

    Joshua_Y Screenwriter

    Dec 19, 2002
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    Sold me...Julianne is one of my fave actors and so is Quaid...
  4. PatrickL

    PatrickL Second Unit

    May 13, 2000
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    So pleased that this got the thumbs-up from you, Ron - both the transfer and the movie. This was the best and most lingering movie I saw last year.

  5. Richard Michael Clark

    Richard Michael Clark Second Unit

    Oct 5, 2001
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    Beautiful movie, but oh dear god! Just WHAT is that cover art doing on the disc? The original poster was one of the most evocative of the past year but the best Universal can come up with is this travesty?
    WHY OH WHY can they not just use the original poster art? It was SO colourful and eye-catching, I just don't get some of the decisions these studios make!?

    Also Dennis Haysbert is conspicuous in his absence from the cover.
  6. Paul-Gunther

    Paul-Gunther Stunt Coordinator

    May 23, 2002
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    Universal did the same thing to A Beautiful Mind: took perfectly good poster art and replaced it with horrible disc art.
  7. Thomas T

    Thomas T Cinematographer

    Sep 30, 2001
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    Given your admiration for Far From Heaven, Mr. Epstein, I urge you to check out the original film that inspired it, Sirk's All That Heaven Allows available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.

    As beautiful a piece of work that Far From Heaven is and I consider it the best film of 2002, it remains, at heart, a copy of the original.
  8. Brian PB

    Brian PB Supporting Actor

    Jan 31, 2003
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    I loved this film when I saw it in the theater & preordered the DVD at the first opportunity. My copy of Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (Criterion) arrived in the mail today, so I'm all set for a nice double feature once Far From Heaven shows up.
  9. Mark Walker

    Mark Walker Cinematographer

    Jan 6, 1999
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    Thanks for your great review.
    I am as eager to pick up the DVD, as ever.

    Too bad the best picture of the year didn't even make
    the list, but then the Academy rarely gets it right, and
    this year is no different.


  10. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Jul 29, 1999
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    Los Angeles
    Real Name:
    Thanks for the review, Ron. This was one of my top three faves of the year... can't wait!

  11. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Jul 29, 1999
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    Los Angeles
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    BTW, did you notice that shot where Cathy is talking to Raymond on the street, and her coat is patterened just like the stonework on the building behind her -- you can't even tell where her coat ends and the building begins? Considering the content of the scene, I thought that was a brilliant touch -- she cannot find the courage to stand out from the rest of her world.
  12. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

    Feb 8, 2002
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    Great film, horrible cover art. What is this phobia the studios have with original poster art? Where is it written that DVD covers must be ugly, photoshopped, noggin fests?

    Looking forward to seeing this in the HT. The theater I went to didn't have the greatest viewing conditions.
  13. Brian W.

    Brian W. Screenwriter

    Jul 29, 1999
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    Los Angeles
    Real Name:
  14. Kenneth Vestergaard

    Kenneth Vestergaard Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 15, 2000
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    I can imagine that even if they Canadian version had the original cover art, you'd have to settle for a bilingual cover, seeing as Universal is releasing this one.
  15. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

    Jun 19, 1999
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    Here's the Canadian cover:


    As long as the contents are the same, I'll take the Canadian release. The bilingual cover doesn't bother me nearly as much as the lame Universal coverart.
  16. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

    Apr 9, 2000
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    I'm still catching up on viewing, but so far "FAR FROM HEAVEN" is my favorite film of 2002. And, Ron... excellent review! [​IMG]

    I know you've received some recommendations for Sirk films, particularly those from Criterion ("ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS" most notably), but don't forget "Imitation of Life". The disc isn't as good as the Criterions, but it's a fantastic movie that contains many of the themes Haynes brings to "FAR FROM HEAVEN".

    And if you like the Haynes/Moore duo (I certainly do!), check out the vastly underrated (IMO, a minor masterpiece) "SAFE".
  17. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Very fine review Ron—your best yet, in my opinion.

    Of course it helps that I love the film.

    If you watch a few of Sirk’s movies, you might even come the realization that he was more than a ‘competent’ maker of melodramas.

    I agree with your assessment of the acting. While I was not surprised with Moore’s performance, I was not at all prepared for the very fine one by Dennis Quaid—as I would not have expected that the had the range for this type of performance.
  18. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

    Apr 9, 2000
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  19. Jon Robertson

    Jon Robertson Screenwriter

    May 19, 2001
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    Yes, Criterion's discs of All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind are beautiful, with some terrific Sirk extras. Universal's Imitation of Life does not fare so well in the extras or transfer department, but is good nonetheless and well worth picking up.

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