Welcome to Marwen Blu-ray Review

Disappointing effort by a master storyteller 3.5 Stars

Welcome to Marwen is on one hand, a technical marvel in performance capture, and on the other a disjointed and disappointing story that feels rather empty.

Welcome to Marwen (2018)
Released: 21 Dec 2018
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 116 min
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Cast: Steve Carell, Falk Hentschel, Matt O'Leary, Nikolai Witschl
Writer(s): Robert Zemeckis (screenplay by), Caroline Thompson (screenplay by)
Plot: A victim of a brutal attack finds a unique and beautiful therapeutic outlet to help him through his recovery process.
IMDB rating: 5.9
MetaScore: 40

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.39.1
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English DVS 2.0, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 1 Hr. 56 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Case Type: 2-disc Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/09/2019
MSRP: $34.98

The Production: 2.5/5

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) was an illustrator and sketch artist, but after a brutal attack left him amnesiac and close to death, he lost the ability to draw or write, and instead took up still photography, snapping pictures of dolls that were enacting a fantasy world of a fictional town in Belgium, Marwen, circa Wolrd War II. Inhabiting the town of Marwen are Cap’n Hogie (Carell), Anna (Gwendolyn Christie), Julie (Janelle Monae), Carlala (Eiza Gonzalez), Roberta (Merritt Wever), and Suzette (Leslie Zemeckis). The town is constantly under attack by a group of Nazis who want to kill Cap’n Hogie, and while the good captain usually keeps the girls safe, it is the girls that often come to the captain’s aide, although the Belgian witch of Marwen, Deja Thoris (Diane Kruger), often complicates matters by resurrecting the Nazis and assisting the Nazis in taking out any of the women who come to close to the captain. All of these fantasy sequences are created using performance capture, with all of the characters appearing as dolls (of the Ken and Barbie type) with the actor’s eyes and mouth seamlessly blended in to the CG performances.

Mark uses these fantasies and his photos as a way to cope with the PTSD he suffers from, and the photos have become so successful that an art gallery in the city has arranged to exhibit his work. But Mark does not want to attend, nor does he want to attend the sentencing hearing of the neo-Nazis who brutally attacked him. He’d prefer to stage his photos and purchase new dolls and props from hobby store sales person Roberta, help out at the town pub cleaning up or making meatballs with the Carlala the cook, keeping himself medicated by the bright green painkillers prescribed by his doctor and delivered by his caretaker Anna. This all begins to change, though, when Nicol (Leslie Mann) moves into the house across the street, prompting Mark to purchase a red-headed doll that shares a likeness with his new neighbor. As he and Nicol become friends in the real world, Cap’n Hogie and Nicol fall in love and eventually become married in Marwen. Mark begins to get some confidence, until Nicol’s abusive ex-boyfriend Kurt (Neil Jackson) shows up to bully him, Mark misinterprets Nicol’s signals, and a Nazi doll shows up resembling Kurt, sending Mark into a full-blown PTSD attack and seeking isolation in his house, cowering on the eve of his court appearance. Roberta helps Mark pick up the pieces while he finishes his fantasy storyline in Marwen, eventually finding the strength to stand up to his bullies at their sentencing and arrive at his photo exhibit with Roberta.

Welcome to Marwen is based on the documentary film Marwencol, which told many of the events in this film, minus the fantastical elements, of course. Steve Carell gives a good performance as Mark, but the screenplay by director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, The Walk) and co-writer Caroline Thompson (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Black Beauty) falters with its juxtapositions between the real world and Mark’s Marwen fantasy one. Marwen is often too fantastical (although the visual effects, as one would expect in a Zemeckis film, are superb), often distancing the viewer from the trauma Mark is trying to push himself through. The female characters, especially Nicol, are underwritten (although Roberta is possibly the strongest of the female characters), and Kurt feels like his only purpose is to taunt and help trigger Mark’s PTSD event. There is also a great deal of obvious foreshadowing, allowing the audience to clearly see where things are heading long in advance (what Deja Thoris represents is dictated way too early on). I really wanted to like Welcome to Marwen, and although I thought the technical achievements of the world of Marwen were breakthroughs in performance capture, the movie itself was the complete opposite, quite possibly being one of Robert Zemeckis’ biggest disappointments.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Welcome to Marwen was captured at up to 6.5K resolution on ARRI Alexa 65 cameras, but IMDB is rather ambiguous as to what resolution the digital intermediate was rendered at. Regardless, Universal has opted, at least for the time being, to release the movie on Blu-ray, forgoing a 4K UHD Blu-ray release (although the movie can be purchased in UHD from many digital retailers such as Vudu and iTunes). This is one of the best looking Blu-ray discs I’ve seen in quite some time, with the AVC-encoded 1080p transfer retaining the film’s intended theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The movie is rich in detail, from the blades of grass in Marwen standing in for the thick brush of Belgium (?) to the weathered, wrinkled, and scarred face of Mark to the intricate seams in the dolls’ clothing. Colors are natural and well-saturated. Black levels are near perfect, with no visible crushing.

Audio: 4.5/5

I was surprised that Welcome to Marwen had only a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track as its main selection, with no Dolby Atmos (frankly, I found it odd for the 5.1 track to be TrueHD and not DTS-HD MA), but in researching, apparently the movie was released theatrically with only a 5.1 soundtrack. That being said, the 5.1 track is a lively one, with great use of surrounds and deep LFE, especially during the many sequences where Marwen is under Nazi attack. Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love also makes good use of pulsing LFE during its brief appearance when the women save Hogie. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.

Special Features: 2/5

Deleted Scenes (1080p; 11:22): Nine scenes are included, many with incomplete effects shots – Hogie Fights the Nazis, Benz Reassembles, Tea Pots, Little Hogie Startles Mark, Mark Startles Deja, Flying Jeep, Demaryius Finds Mark Walking, and Mark Runs Into Kurt Again (I am so glad this scene was cut and reshot differently).

Marwen’s Citizens (1080p; 3:51): A very brief look at the characters and the actors who play them.

A Visionary Director (1080p; 4:53): Several key members of the cast and crew talk up how great it was to work with Robert Zemeckis.

Building Marwen (1080p; 4:03): A very brief look at creating the miniature town of Marwen.

Living Dolls (1080p; 4:02): A brief look at the use of performance capture in the film.

DVD Copy: The movie in 480p with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and all of the special features noted above.

Digital Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy  on Movies Anywhere plus a free additional movie at UPHE Rewards website.

Overall: 3.5/5

I have been a long-time fan of director Robert Zemeckis, and was deeply disappointed with Welcome to Marwen. Universal’s presentation on Blu-ray is excellent.

Published by

Todd Erwin

editor,member

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for the detailed review!

    But just to briefly give another pov, I actually liked this movie a lot. For me personally, it was one of the best Zemeckis has directed he last 15 years or so. I don't feel like his "uncanny valley" movies like The Polar Express have aged very well, but this one being toys avoids that. But it just didn't connect at the box office….

    Welcome to Marwen
    Domestic Total Gross: $10,763,520
    Distributor: Universal Release Date: December 21, 2018
    Genre: Drama Runtime: 1 hrs. 56 min.
    MPAA Rating: PG-13 Production Budget: $39 million
    Total Lifetime Grosses
    Domestic: $10,763,520 84.2%
    + Foreign: $2,017,172 15.8%
    = Worldwide: $12,780,692

  2. Josh Steinberg

    The production budget was only $39 million? I thought I remembered it being much higher, but that number makes more sense.

    I have a feeling than many of the key cast and crew may have worked for a reduced fee in exchange for a percentage of the profits, hence the "low" budget (at least fora Zemeckis film).

  3. Since like the reviewer I'm a long-time fan of Zemeckis, I decided to go back and rate the movies of his I've seen (and remember well enough to rate). I think I saw parts of I Wanna Hold Your Hand from 1978 and Used Cars from 1980 on TV in the early 80s, but I don't have any strong impressions of those movies almost 40 years later.

    Romancing the Stone: B
    I liked this silly Indiana Jones-inspired adventure a lot in the theater back in 1984, but when I saw it again many years later it seemed solid and amusing, but somehow a bit less wonderful.

    Back to the Future: A+
    I still think this is an amazing classic.

    Who Framed Roger Rabbit: A+
    Ditto

    Back to the Future Part II: A-
    Dark, strange, and unexpected, I still really like this one.

    Back to the Future Part II: A
    Still a spectacular and funny feel-good classic that makes you think.

    Death Becomes Her: B-
    Interesting, surreal, and sarcastic epic of relationship failures. Not really my cup of tea, but I guess it's become a little of a cult classic?

    Forrest Gump: B+
    The special effects and the story have not completely held up for me on this one.

    Contact: A-
    One of the more intelligent and interesting sci fi films of the last 25 years.

    What Lies Beneath: ??
    I think I missed this one. Now I want to see it.

    Cast Away: B+
    I haven't seen it since 2000, but I liked it a lot then.

    The Polar Express: B-
    I like this one somewhat, but the fx were uncanny valley at the time, and haven't aged that well.

    Beowulf: B-
    Ditto

    A Christmas Carol: B
    This is actually my favorite of his cgi epics.

    Flight: ??
    Missed this one, but I'd like to see it.

    The Walk: ??
    Missed this one too. I'm nervous about heights in real life, and wasn't sure I was up to a full movie that might make my feet hurt. But I guess I'd still like to see it someday.

    Allied: B
    I liked this one, esp. since I'm fond of World War II movies, but it wasn't quite a classic of the genre.

    Welcome to Marwen: A-
    So this is my highest rated Zemeckis movie since Contact.

  4. benbess

    Flight: ??
    Missed this one, but I'd like to see it.

    The Walk: ??
    Missed this one too. I'm nervous about heights in real life, and wasn't sure I was up to a full movie that might make my feet hurt. But I guess I'd still like to see it someday.

    Both are completely worth seeing. The Walk is my favorite Zemeckis movie since Back To The Future Part III.

  5. benbess

    The Polar Express: B-
    I like this one somewhat, but the fx were uncanny valley at the time, and haven't aged that well.

    I’m the opposite. When I first saw PE, the uncanny valley bothered me and now I see it much less. The 3D is spectacular, the story is very good. It’s a Xmas tradition at our house.

  6. Just saw Welcome to Marwen on Blu. Excellent film, and IMHO one of Zemeckis' top five best movies.

    Huge fan of the TV series The Office (US version), and I saw a lot of shades of Michael Scott in the Steve Carell character here (M. Hogancamp). Also liked the cameo by Gwendoline Christie as Hogancamp's caregiver?!

    Very good story & visual effects re: the dolls "coming to life"; the fantasy world is seamlessly woven into the actual real-life events. Poignant & touching, without being sappy. Interesting how the character dealt with his trauma by creating a fantasy world, but then at the end realized that he couldn't continue living a fantasy life forever (hence his dumping his medication down the sink).

    The Deja Thoris character is obviously based on the character of the same name from the Edgar Rice Burroughs "Mars" series of sci-fi novels – from the early 1900's.

    Also liked the "Back to the Future" homage with the flying car – very cool.

    I just read more about the true story behind the film; it's interesting that, as is usually the case, the actual details re: the events are significantly different than what's depicted in the film. I.e., IRL the artist Carell portrayed in the film (M. Hogancamp) was actually initially friendly with the five guys @ the bar who beat him up after he made his confession to them. In the film, however – these five guys (with one being the ringleader) initiate the aggression by insulting him/challenging him – and that's when he made his confession; in other words, the film makes it look like he's minding his own business & didn't know the guys – before they go after him without cause. In either case, the beat-down was heinous & the guys deserve to be severely punished – going to jail for life would be a very fitting punishment for all of them. That being said, I can see why they didn't depict the story as it actually happened:

    https://www.eonline.com/news/997772/the-heartbreaking-true-story-behind-welcome-to-marwen

    Also, the list grading many of Zemeckis' other films is making me want to re-watch/watch them; he's definitely got an impressive filmography.

  7. A couple of posters here have used a phrase I've never come across in my years at the HTF: "uncanny valley."

    What does this mean?

    Thanks for the review, Todd. I wasn't sure what to make of this film from the teaser trailers when it was released. I feel like I now have a much better understanding. It might be an interesting film to see.

  8. Mike Frezon

    A couple of posters here have used a phrase I've never come across in my years at the HTF: "uncanny valley."

    What does this mean?

    The phrase refers to the inability of some cgi films to properly render human eyes.

  9. Tino

    The phrase refers to the inability of some cgi films to properly render human eyes.

    Thanks, Tino. :thumbsup:

    How oddly incongruous/specific (I cannot imagine how "uncanny valley" would come to mean "screwed-up eyes")! :laugh:

    I recently railed about the LOUSY CGI in the film A Dog's Way Home. Whenever a CGI animal appeared on screen it was painfully obvious to me and so distracting it really took me out of the film. I should come up with a nonsensical phrase to describe that sensation of mine. Maybe something like "culinary driveway."

  10. Mike Frezon

    A couple of posters here have used a phrase I've never come across in my years at the HTF: "uncanny valley."

    What does this mean?

    Thanks for the review, Todd. I wasn't sure what to make of this film from the teaser trailers when it was released. I feel like I now have a much better understanding. It might be an interesting film to see.

    That phrase is used a lot in discussing another zemeckis film, Polar Express. I think the expression refers mostly to the eyes, since that’s were we can see the spark of life, but not just the eyes.

    When a filmmaker uses some sort of animation to acheive life-like results, but falls short, that is the uncanny valley. We don’t apply it to traditional animation since no effort to achieve reality is being attempted. It is also very subjective. When I first I first watched Polar I thought it was in the UV, but I have since come to believe that the film crosses the valley, just barely.

  11. Malcolm R

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

    THAT was fascinating. Mostly because I'm still a bit freaked out that I don't ever remember hearing the phrase before. Wikipedia says it was actually discussed at length in an episode of 30 Rock…but I have no recollection of it. I also think I've read discussions on the HTF about Polar Express but, again, have no recollection of the phrase "uncanny valley." It just seems like the type of thing I would remember because of the odd (lack of any real) connection between the words in the phrase and its meaning. Those things interest me.

    Thanks, Malcolm.

  12. Mike Frezon

    THAT was fascinating. Mostly because I'm still a bit freaked out that I don't ever remember hearing the phrase before. Wikipedia says it was actually discussed at length in an episode of 30 Rock…but I have no recollection of it. I also think I've read discussions on the HTF about Polar Express but, again, have no recollection of the phrase "uncanny valley." It just seems like the type of thing I would remember because of the odd (lack of any real) connection between the words in the phrase and its meaning. Those things interest me.

    Thanks, Malcolm.

    Blame it on old age 😉

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