Plot: What’s it about?
Selma Yeskova (Bjork) is a young mother who took her son to America, where she hoped to find a world like in the movies, but of course, that wasn’t what she discovered. Now she works in a massive factory in a rural American town, where she is forced to keep her dreams hidden, as the real world beats her into submission. As if her work wasn’t enough, Selma has a serious issue to deal with, as she is losing her vision and soon, will be robbed of her eyesight forever. This cruel fate also awaits her young son, unless she can save up the cash for an operation, which would prevent that from happening. But just because her life is tough doesn’t mean Selma is going to submit, as she simply goes to a place where happiness abounds, her imagination. As she slaves away in the factory, Selma dreams that she’s inside a musical, where she can dance, sing, and above all else, nothing dreadful can happen to her. As more bad luck heads toward her, Selma has no choice but to retreat back to her world of dreams more often, but how it all the details are best left to you viewers, to experience first hand.
I’d been looking forward to Dancer in the Dark since I heard about the production, but I still had some doubts about how well the flick would pan out. I’ve always liked the cinema of director Lars von Trier and the premise sounded promising, but I was still unsure if it could live up to my expectations, until the movie started. I didn’t find this to be a modern classic, but it was a powerful film released at a time with few good flicks, which made it stand out even more. I think it deserves a lot of the praise it has been showered with, but I also think it falls short of brilliance, perhaps due to the previous, superior work of von Trier. Shot on a number of digital cameras, this seems like a massive scale documentary at times, which adds to the emotion and impact of the picture. The storyline is a very good one thanks to an inspired cast, it all comes to life in fine form. I was very taken with Bjork’s performance, but the rest of the cast was also solid and includes David Morse, Catherine Deneuve, Joel Grey, and Peter Stormare. This very potent and lavish picture has been blessed with an excellent treatment from New Line, so there’s no reason not to check this release out, whether you love the flick or want to view it for the first time.
I am never optimistic when a music star turns to motion pictures, so I was a little worried at first how well Bjork would perform in Dancer in the Dark. In the end of course, here was nothing to be concerned over, as she came through with flying colors. I don’t agree with those who claim it to be an Oscar level turn, but she was terrific and much better than expected. This is due in part to the musical nature of the movie, but she also handles the traditional aspects well enough also. She is best when called on to perform musical numbers, as this is her natural calling, but as I said, her dramatic moments don’t lack much either. I can’t say I would look forward to her future work, if she does choose to act more, but I think she would do well in smaller roles, or musical driven ones. The cast here also includes Catherine Deneuve (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Time Regained), Jean-Marc Barr (The Big Blue, Breaking The Waves), David Morse (The Green Mile, The Rock), Joel Grey (Cabaret, The Fantasticks), Udo Kier (Blade, Flesh For Frankenstein), and Peter Stormare (Armageddon, The Big Lebowski).
Video: How does it look?
Dancer in the Dark is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As I mentioned above, this film was shot on a bunch of digital cameras and as such, this looks like a high end home movie at times. So no, this doesn’t look like most feature films do, but given the nature of the resources, not a lot of complaints can be lodged here. The image looks as good as we could expect, which means unrefined at times, but that’s due to the source materials and not this transfer. The intended color scheme comes across well, both in the dull normal scenes and the musical sequences, which seem much more colorful and fun to look at. The contrast is solid and even, but not as stark and rich as we’d expect from a more traditional release. This is as good as this flick can look on DVD, so I am handing off a nice score here.
Audio: How does it sound?
This is a musical and all, but aside from the music driven sequences, the audio here is basic and limited to the front channels. So most of the time, the speakers are used for dialogue and dialogue alone, with no other elements present in the least. The vocals sound very good here, although not as full as I would have liked. The surrounds come to life when the musical portions surface though, which pumps a lot of life into the audio presentation, of course. This disc offers both Dolby Digital and DTS options in 5.1 surround sound, both of which sound good and little difference is present. Each has some positive points, but I think it all levels out in the end, perhaps a small edge to DTS in the music numbers, but not by much. This disc includes a 2.0 surround track, as well as English subtitles and we all love those, of course.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I was pleased to find a handsome selection of extras here, as befitting to a disc included in New Line’s Platinum Series. We start off with two very nice audio commentary tracks, both of which are a good listen and well worth a spin, if you like the flick. The first track features director Lars von Trier, producer Vibeke Windelov, technical supervisor Peter Hjorth, and artist Per Kirkeby, all of whom add a lot of worthwhile comments. The track has some small silent spaces, but not many and in the end, this was one of the better tracks I’ve listened to in recent memory, impressive all around. The second track features choreographer Vincent Paterson, who might be flying solo, but he has a lot to discuss about this production. Again, a terrific overall commentary session and one that fans of this movie will not want to miss. A featurette that focuses on the wealth of cameras used to capture von Trier’s vision is also here, but while it is a decent watch, it runs too short to offer much in terms of in depth insight. A piece on the film’s choreography is also included and while also brief, the rehearsal footage was a treat to watch, so I was pleased it was tacked on here. A small selection of alternate scenes is also found on this disc, as well as some talent files, DVD ROM content, a jump to a song feature, and the film’s theatrical trailer.