Greta Gerwig’s recent adaptation of Little Women is a different enough take on the material, but Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version is still the superior version.
The Production: 3.5/5
Note: Due to the similarities, I have included the history and synopsis portion from my review of Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation.
Louisa May Alcott’s 1868/1869 novel (originally published in two volumes) Little Women, with its portrayal of strong female role models, was definitely ahead of its time, which may account for its popularity both then and now. It has been adapted for various forms of media several times, including movies (seven at last count), numerous TV adaptations, stage musical, opera, and even as a radio drama.
Little Women tells the story of four sisters living at home with their mother near the end of the Civil War in Concord, Massachusetts. Living in near poverty as their father is off to war, eldest daughter Meg teaches a family of four children while Jo keeps her wealthy great-aunt company, often reading to her in the afternoon. Their next door neighbor, a young man named Laurie has just returned from his mother’s home in Italy to live with his grandfather while being tutored by John Brooke. Meg takes an instant liking to John, while Laurie becomes friends with Jo, who sees him more like a brother and invites him to perform in the plays they perform for themselves in the attic. As they grow older, Meg marries John, Laurie goes off to college, and Jo moves to New York as a tutor to two children, writing short stories that are published in the newspaper. The sisters are reunited when middle sister Beth finally succumbs to the after effects of contracting scarlet fever as a child taking a toll on her health, and Jo learns that her novel, Little Women, is about to be published after German professor Bhaer who lived at the same boarding house as her (and took a liking to her) showed the manuscript to a friend of his.
Writer/Director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) tells Alcott’s story in a very non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time (often within a scene). It can be a confusing back and forth if it weren’t for cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s warmer tones for earlier periods and cooler tones for the later or more present times, but even then, those tonal differences are sometimes too subtle. I found the performances of Saoirse Ronan as Jo and Timothée Chalamet as Laurie to be a bit too modern for a movie set in the mid 19th century, particularly when they first meet at the dance early on. Much like Armstrong’s adaptation, Gerwig has assembled a talented cast, including Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), Laura Dern (Marmee), Meryl Streep (Aunt March), Bob Odenkirk (Father March), and Chris Cooper (Mr. Laurence). But Gerwig seems to be trying too hard to distinguish her adaptation from the many other film and television versions available, bookending her film with a meeting in the publisher’s office with Jo trying to sell her stories, with the final scene being more of a statement than concluding the film.
3D Rating: NA
Little Women was shot on 35mm film and completed as a 4K digital intermediate in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR for its premium engagements. Sony has opted to forego (at this time) a 4K UHD physical media release (it is available in 4K with HDR on digital), instead releasing the film on Blu-ray. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is quite gorgeous, with natural and organic film grain that is present but never distracting. Colors are natural and vivid, even with the warmish yellow and cooler blue tones to differentiate time periods, never appearing overly saturated. Detail is very good, capturing the period fabric textures and set design. Contrast is also excellent, with deep blacks that show no signs of crush and bright whites with no obvious blooming. I also noticed no compression artifacts whatsoever.
Little Women was released theatrically with a Dolby Atmos track. Since Sony has a policy of only issuing Atmos tracks on its 4K releases, all we get here is a very good DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Although this is a drama, surrounds are used quite extensively with then use of atmospheric effects like weather, birds singing, etc. The score by Alexandre Desplat wraps around the listener, assisting in immersing the viewer. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout with excellent prioritization, as one would expect for a drama.
Special Features: 3/5
A New Generation of “Little Women” (1080p; 12:52): The cast and crew discuss making the film geared more for a 21st century audience, bringing in some of Alcott’s real life in the role of Jo, and the various characters and portrayals.
Making a Modern Classic (1080p; 9:02): A look at the film’s production design and making the film in general.
Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art (1080p; 9:22): Gerwig discusses her personal connection with the source material, with some assistance from producer Amy Pascal and actresses Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.
Hair & Make-up Test Sequence (1080p; 2:58): As the title suggests, this is several test shots of the cast in hair and make-up under normal lighting conditions.
Little Women Behind the Scenes (1080p; 3:25): EPK behind the scenes piece that feels like something shown during the pre-show at movie theaters.
Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott (1080p; 10:07): A tour and discussion of the author’s house in Concord, Massachusetts, hosted by the historic site’s Executive Director Jan Turnquist.
DVD Copy: The movie in 480p and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, plus all of the special features listed above.
Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy on Movies Anywhere.
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women is a beautifully made movie, but tries too hard to differentiate itself from the numerous other productions.