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HTF REVIEW: "The Emperor's Club" (with screenshots) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

Senior HTF Member
Jul 3, 1997
Real Name
Ronald Epstein

The Emperor's Club

Studio: Universal
Year: 2002
Rated: PG-13
Film Length: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish

In everyone's life there's that one person
who makes all the difference.

There doesn't seem to be anything fresh about
The Emperor's Club. It's theme about a
teacher and his students are very familiar to
film. I'm sure all of you remember films like
Mr. Holland’s Opus, Stand and Deliver, Good Will
Hunting, Goodbye Mr. Chips
and The Dead Poet’s
-- all of which examined the problems
of leading students to higher education.

Set at the St. Benedictus School for Boys, this is
the story of William Hundert (Kevin Kline), a classics
history teacher who greets his first-year students
with phrases like "Walk where the great men before
you have walked."
. He is a teacher who has the
ability to open the minds of young men by dwelling on
the conquests of various Greeks and Romans. His
students tend to be well disciplined and very eager
to learn.

Something happens, however, during the Fall of
1972. Introduced into his class is a new student
by the name of Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), an
overly confident and cocky son of a West Virginia
Senator (Harris Yulin). Sedgewick quickly becomes
a thorn in Hundert's side, playing pranks and getting
himself and other students in trouble in the process.

Obviously this situation presents an unusual
challenge to the teacher who tries to appeal to
Sedgewick's competitive nature by encouraging him
to better himself and enter the school's annual
Julius Caesar contest. Though Sedgewick begins to
blossom under Mr. Hundert's care, a situation
arises that I will not divulge here. Let's just
say that there is a point in the film where choices
are made by both men which will mold them for the
rest of their lives.

Kevin Kline delivers a subtle performance that
is quite good. He is an actor that knows how
to touch our hearts through his reactions -- and
most of the time he need not say a single word. I
would be lying if I didn't say that my eyes teared
up towards the end of the film.

How is the transfer?

This transfer does justice to Lajos Koltai's wonderful
cinematography that shows school grounds filled with
lush greens and sparkling water. The film has a
very distinguished look and feel to it, with
images that are sharp and well detailed and colors
that are bold, vivid and well saturated. There is
a hint of background grain to be seen here, and at
two points in the film there are quick close-up shots
that look oddly unfocused. Other than that, this is
a highly acceptable transfer.

This is another case where I am confused by the
presence of a DTS track. The Emperor's Club
is a dialogue-driven film -- not the sort of
candidate that would beg for a DTS release --
especially since I could detect very little
difference between the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1
tracks. In any event, audio is very robust with
emphasis given to James Newton Howard's expertly
orchestrated score. Though the mix favors the
front three channels, the surrounds nicely support
the film's score.

Special Features

First up is the full length commentary by
director Michael Hoffman. It begins by talking
about a reshoot that changed the entire opening
of the film. Hoffman is a great fan of Kevin
Kline, having worked with the actor before on
many occasions. In fact, it was Kevin Kline who
was responsible for bringing this film to the
director. Hoffman talks about the importance of
shooting the film at the right location and
trying to persuade the studio to fork up the
necessary money that would enable him to film
at the Emma Willard School. Then there was the
problem of casting the part of underachiever
Sedgewick Bell. Hoffman was looking for a boy
who would be a cross between Leonardo DeCaprio
and River Phoenix. They found those qualities in
actor Emile Hirsch, but would he have the talent
to act alongside a veteran like Kevin Kline? This
is an interesting story that is worth hearing.
The director talks fondly about his cast, and even
the fact that one of his cast members used this
experience as a sort of film school to further his
own interests in filmmaking. Throughout this
dialogue the director gives us terrific insight
into the changes in characters and their relationship
with each other. Not a bad listen.

The making of The Emperor's Club is a
22-minute featurette that rises above the standard
marketing fare by posing the question, "how
important is our personal character, morals and
ethics to everything that we do?" Throughout this
featurette, we hear from various individuals
(including director Michael Hoffman and author
Ethan Canin) who give examples of how the characters
in this film compromise their ethical principles.
Are we capable of change or are we capable of
modifying our behavior, and is that enough? This
becomes an interesting point of discussion
throughout this feature and I am happy to see that
it inspired many of the students at Pepperdine
University who had the opportunity to screen the
film and take part in a discussion of its merits.

There are 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes
that are mostly extensions of existing scenes.
The only worthy additions I saw here was a scene
that shows a flaw in James Ellerby's (Rob Morrow)
character; Sedgewick returning the promised book
to the library; A phone call from the Senator who
challenges Hundert on the outcome of the Julius
Ceasar contest. Presented non-anamorphic, the video
and audio is slightly under par. You can play
these deleted scenes with optional commentary by
director Michael Hoffman.

In addition to the film's original theatrical
, there is a very nice cast and
page that gives an interesting
text biography of each individual in addition to
their film resume. DVD-ROM content gives
access to website bonus material.

Also included here is a trailer for The Pianist
as well as for this Summer's SeaBiscuit starring
Tobey Maquire and Chris Cooper.

Final Thoughts

At the heart of The Emperor's Club is a
wonderful story about the choices we make in life.
Though this film may seem somewhat familiar to
those that came before it with similar themes,
The Emperor's Club still manages to retain
its own identity, making this a recommended watch.

Release Date: May 6, 2003

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

Xenia Stathakopoulou

Senior HTF Member
Apr 25, 2003
Real Name
Great review Ron, looks like a definite rental. I must say even though im a newbie to these boards , ive been reading your reviews for a while, it helps my buying decisions. Keep up the good work. :)

Adam Lenhardt

Senior HTF Member
Feb 16, 2001
Albany, NY
Spoilers ahoy.

I liked it quite a bit. In my opinion, what sets it apart from the "Mr. Holland/Dead Poets" crowd is the teacher character himself. He is flawed and knows he's flawed but wishes he weren't. The fact that he nudged up the troublemaker's score because, after all, everyone likes the troublemaker whether they'll admit it or not, and then the way he's taken advantage of. The fact that he empathizes so strongly with the student he screwed over is what sold this movie for me. Very good performances, and the ending just moved me, in the classroom.

DaViD Boulet

Senior HTF Member
Feb 24, 1999
Sounds like something I'll definitely try to rent if I get the chance.

In the meantime, what I'd *really* like is a 16x9 Dead Poet's Society...extended cut!!!

dave :)

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