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HTF Review: The Dust Factory (1 Viewer)

Jason Perez

Second Unit
Joined
Jul 6, 2003
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The Dust Factory




Studio: MGM
Year: 2004
Rated: PG
Running Time: 99 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1





Release Date:
March 22nd, 2005



“After suffering near-fatal accidents Ryan (Ryan Kelley) and Melanie (Hayden Panettiere) meet in a strange and enchanting world called the Dust Factory, where amazing and unthinkable things can and do occur. For instance, people walk on water, forests dance, and Ryan’s grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, is lucid. With enchantment everywhere, will Ryan and Melanie ever find the courage to leave this wondrous place and return home?”

The above is the synapses of the film, as seen on its press release, and I must say that I was very intrigued when I read it! The reason I have included this synapses for you is that I hope to illustrate for you how rookie writer/director Eric Small’s film started out with a promising, intriguing fantasy premise and ended up as a film nearly devoid of entertainment...largely because absolutely nothing of any real interest happens in the aforementioned land where the “amazing and unthinkable” occurs!

To be fair, I wasn’t expecting Lord of the Rings production values, but given the fantasy premise, I was expecting some, well, fantasy. Unfortunately, I was left wanting, as most of the elements of fantasy alluded to in the film are never actually shown onscreen. Instead, what we do get to see are ludicrously visualized sequences like a showdown between Ryan and an evil hockey goalie/circus ringmaster (we’ll get to that later), with his new friend Melanie’s soul at stake. Trust me, this scene, where Ryan fires slapshots at a goal to save his friend, plays out exactly as absurdly as it sounds. Worse yet, it is only one example of how the tenuous merger between the real world and fantasy comes apart on Eric Small, causing this yarn about overcoming the fear of death to become increasingly tedious as the film plays on.

You may be wondering where Ryan Flynn’s fear of death comes from. Well, as we learn early on, it stems from his having witnessed the accidental but violent death of his father, a tragedy that occurred four years before the time period being treated with in the story. Presently, Ryan lives with his mother, Angie (Kim Myers), and stepfather, Lionel (Peter Horton), who are trying to help him cope with the loss as best they can. Despite their best efforts, and the companionship of his loyal friend Rocky (Michael Angarano), however, Ryan has been unable to speak since his father’s untimely passing.

Sadly, Ryan’s life-path and tragedy seem to be intertwined, for as he and Rocky are playing on a bridge, Ryan takes a fall, landing in the lake below. Seemingly uninjured, he swims to shore, only to find himself in a world that is remarkably similar in physical appearance to the one he knows, but very dissimilar under the surface. For instance, although Rocky was present when he fell into the lake, Ryan cannot find him anywhere.

More interestingly, when Ryan encounters his grandfather, Randolph (Armin Mueller-Stahl), whose mind had been ravaged by Alzheimer’s, he finds that the old man now has sound mental faculties, and can talk! Amazingly, Ryan finds that he is suddenly no longer mute, and that he can engage his grandfather in conversation! Initially, the boy is shocked by these things, which cannot possibly be, but he soon realizes that something may have happened to his physical body, and that he may have entered a place where people making the transition to the afterlife go.

While in this strange netherworld, Ryan also meets and befriends the aforementioned Melanie, a cute, spunky girl who leads him to “the Dust Factory”, which initially seems to be nothing more than a circus tent that has been erected in the middle of a field. As it turns out, however, this circus tent is really a gateway between worlds, where souls can roam until they are ready to either return to the world from whence they came or move on to another reality. Oh, that ringmaster I mentioned earlier – he presides over this strange place.

Anyway, as preposterous as the idea of a circus tent being a portal to the afterlife may be, the manner in which a person chooses to go back or move on is more bizarre still. Essentially, when a person/soul is ready to make their decision, he or she can swing from a trapeze and then leap off, either catching the hands of a trapeze artist and moving on to the next world, or missing the catch and falling, which will return the person to the very same reality they came from.

As you probably have guessed, Ryan is only seconds from drowning back on Earth, and his soul has made the journey to the Dust Factory, where he must make the choice between living and dying. As stated above, however, the only question is whether or not Melanie and Ryan can muster the courage to leave this world of (unseen :angry: ) wonders and return to their previous lives on Earth.

Now I don’t want to give too much away, so I will say no more about the story – I have tried to keep things vague for you. Suffice it to say that the feeble, repetitive plot and ineffective execution undermine both an interesting premise and solid performances by Ryan Kelley, Hayden Panettiere (who was also quite likeable in Remember the Titans), and veteran actor Armin Mueller-Stahl. Indeed, even if you approve of the unorthodox way Mr. Small depicts the difficulty in making the choice between living and “dying”, the brutal truth is that the final product is just not all that interesting or entertaining.

In terms of performances, I really cannot lodge any complaints though. Hayden Panettiere’s character, Melanie, is not a very diverse character as written, but to her credit, Ms. Panettiere still managed to make her likeable. Armin Mueller-Stahl and Ryan Kelley turned in similarly respectable performances in their respective roles, infusing the characters with the appropriate qualities and personality traits.

Unfortunately, however, the trio of actors is saddled with redundant material and pacing that can only be described as S-L-O-W, which makes their fine performances incapable of lifting this bloated motion picture off the ground. Going back to the “hockey” sequence one more time, how could anyone have read that on paper and decided to finance this film? It boggles my mind…

In one respect, Eric Small succeeds, and I must give credit where it is due - the locations he chose to represent the places in his story are truly beautiful, and come across that way on film. Again, however, the fantasy elements are not handled well at all, and the central themes of the film (life and death) are developed only on the most superficial levels, so the story never went anywhere that I was interested in going. Don’t get me wrong, I have the ultimate respect for anyone like Eric Small, who gets off his duff and gets a movie made, but I am just so disappointed in how almost nothing happens in a film that had a really wide-open premise.







SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
After scrutinizing this film carefully, I can find little fault with MGM’s 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) transfer of The Dust Factory. To begin with, colors are well drawn, with no signs of chroma noise or dot crawl, and blacks are deep and noise-free as well. Similarly, the actor’s skin tones are reproduced in a warm, natural-looking manner.

I was also pleased with the level of depth and dimensionality that the image contained, and with its above-average level of fine detail, which really brought out the beauty and richness of the film’s locations. Happily, edge enhancement and other distractions (compression artifacts, aliasing, etc.) seemed to be AWOL as well! Not that it made me like the film any more, but all in all, this is a nice transfer by the folks at MGM!




WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
In the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack for The Dust Factory, most of the action takes place in the front of the listening space, but the soundtrack’ fidelity is pleasing and frequency response is also quite nice overall. Dialogue is also rendered cleanly, so it is easy to hear every word the characters are saying. It is not reference quality, but the audio information is clearly presented and serves the source material well.





EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


Deleted Scenes
There are two deleted scenes included, each of which runs for about 30 seconds and would have added nothing to the film. They are entitled:

--- “The Trunk”
--- “Name Tag”


Featurette
Running only 3 ½-minutes, this “making of” is extremely light on detail, consisting merely of very brief comments by Eric Small, Ryan Kelley, Hayden Panettiere, and Armin Mueller-Stahl on the central theme of the film and its characters.


Music Video
The music video for the song “Someone Like You”, performed by Hayden Panettiere and Watt White, is included.


Trailer
The original theatrical trailer for The Dust Factory is included.


Promotional Materials
The disc kicks off with an anti-piracy ad, and trailers for the DVD releases: Sleepover and Virginia’s Run. There are also trailers for Uptown Girls and Legally Blonde on the Special Features Menu, along with cover art for Agent Cody Banks, Agent Cody Banks 2, Good Boy!, The Princess Bride: Special Edition, The Legend of Johnny Lingo, and Overboard.



SCORE CARD

(on a five-point scale)
Film: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star: :star: 1/2
Audio: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: 1/2
Overall: :star: :star: 1/2



THE LAST WORD
I have to give writer/director Eric Small some credit for tackling a “deep” subject like mortality in a film geared towards adolescents, but these issues (life and death) are explored at a very superficial level, which stifles any real development on the dramatic front. For these reasons, The Dust Factory turns out to be as uneventful and forgettable as its title suggests it will be.

In terms of its technical aspects, this DVD is fine, featuring a solid good transfer and a nice Dolby Digital soundtrack. There are also a handful of supplements on board, including deleted scenes and a featurette, but they are all really short and fairly “fluffy”, so they do not add too much value to either the film or the disc. And since the film itself is quite a disappointment, I think I will recommend leaving this one on the shelf.


Stay tuned…
 

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