Plot: What’s it about?
The Hours is a hard movie to really put into words. Though it’s the story, many actually, of love, hate, fear, denial, life, death and homosexuality; it might be construed (and therefore dismissed) as a “chick flick”. I don’t think that’s quite the case, here. Yes, you can count the number of men in the cast on one hand, but the way this story is told is rather unique and hence, so is the movie. For the average viewer not familiar with Virginia Woolf (that would be me included), it’s a bit hard to imagine. But what the movie does is very interesting, in that it relates the lives of three strange women over the course of 60 years. But the span of what we see on screen only takes one day in the life of each of them. Each life parallels the next (or previous) and upon further viewings, it’s more than certain that we’ll start to notice more and more similarities between the lives of the three women. But what The Hours does is prove that a)You don’t need to have epoch movies that make a statement to be good and b) this isn’t just another movie that came out during “awards season” to be nominated for Best Picture.
The film starts on a most unexpected note, as we see Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman in an almost unrecognizable role) load her pockets up with rocks and drown herself into the nearby stream. We then meet the other two women in the story, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep). While the story of Virginia Woolf takes place in 1923, Brown’s takes place in 1951 and Vaughan’s in 2001. Each shares a common link in that they’re all seemingly depressed and taking care of someone who they substitute for loving themselves. Woolf takes care of her husband, Brown her child and Vaughan her friend who is dying of AIDS (Ed Harris). Though any one of these stories might get a bit long and drawn out by themselves, the filmmakers thoughtfully combine the shots and the lives of the three women in the film. While we observe Woolf writing a book, Mrs. Dollarway, we see that Julianne Moore’s character reading it and Streep’s Vaughan almost literally acting it out. Though they could have overused this effect, it’s used to just the right extent.
What is so amazing about the movie is the fact that, even at two hours long, we don’t feel like we’ve watched a full-length feature film. It leaves us wanting more, even though by the day’s end (respectively) they’ve all faced and conquered their own demons. Too much emphasis was put on the prosthetic nose that Nicole Kidman donned for the role. Did she look like the real Virginia Woolf? I think so. The truth, however, is that we really don’t realize how beautiful she is until the featurettes are shown and we see her “as is”. Wow. Though this kind of low-key acting is something that Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore are better at, Nicole Kidman hit it out of the park here. Her Best Actress award was, I think, a result of last year’s shunning for Moulin Rouge, but that’s not to say that this role was completely undeserving. The film warrants at least two viewings as we’re bound to pick up different things here and there and perhaps learn a bit more about the characters and what their roles are. One thing is for sure, though, movies like this are unique and original and need to be seen…if only once.
Video: How does it look?
The Hours is presented in it’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film seems to have a very gritty effect to some of the scenes and not that “polished” look that we’ve become so used to seeing on modern-day DVD’s. I feel this is as a result of the filmmakers and not any fault of the transfer, but weather it was intended to look this way or it just “does”; there’s better out there. The transfer tends to have a very oversaturated look and feel to it. The fair skin of the actresses seems to give them a very washed out look to their complexions and even the sunny, warm atmosphere of the 1951 section of the film has a look to it that seems odd. This, of course, isn’t bad, but the DVD does actively re-create what was meant to be seen on screen. While it’s a coin toss as to how this was supposed to look or not, viewers shouldn’t have too much of a problem here, as it’s better than most transfers out there.
Audio: How does it sound?
The movie is one of those rare few (except for Woody Allen movies, which are all mono) films that lacks a .1 LFE track. The Dolby Digital 5.0 track lacks depth in what we would expect from a new to DVD movie. But, granted, it’s the way it was meant to sound. To say the film is dialogue-driven is a big understatement and the only real thing that gives the soundtrack any dimension whatsoever is the score by Composer Phillip Glass. Glass’ score is a near perfect compliment to the stories going on screen and such, is faithfully reproduced on DVD. While you certainly won’t be blown away by the sound, it more than serves its purpose.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Labeled as one of Paramount’s “Special Collector’s Edition” line of titles, we know that we’re in for more features than the average Paramount disc. First off, something that hit me was the fact that after the Paramount logo, we’re given a basic screen in that we can select the main DVD screen or view previews (though they aren’t listed). A nice touch and at least they aren’t forcing them down our throats like Disney titles. Aside from that, the two commentary tracks are the highlight of the disc. The first is with the “three women”: Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. The three seem fairly talkative throughout the film and have a lot to offer. Naturally, they talk more on “their” sections of the movie, but it’s a good track all together. The next track is with Director Stephen Daldry and Michael Cunningham, who wrote the book “Thee Hours”. This track is a bit more technical in nature and one that concentrates on more of the literary aspect of the film, as we might expect. The more entertaining track is the first one, but true fans of the movie will savor both of these. Next up are four featurettes preceded by an introduction by Director Stephen Daldry. Daldry explains how the film was cast, how they got the screenplay and what it took to make the film; your usual EPK stuff in a rather short period of time. We then dive into the nitty-gritty with “Three Women”. The three women are, of course, Nicole, Meryl and Julianne. The three talk rather candidly of the shoot and the story in general and are all present looking much more attractive than they were in the movie. We don’t learn a whole lot here, but they have an obvious appreciation for the film and it’s a nice thing to see.
Next up is “The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf” which obviously concentrates on the real Virginia Woolf and how she is compared and contrasted with the character that Nicole Kidman played. This is more of a history lesson in that it doesn’t focus fully on the movie, but is nonetheless entertaining. We then find the gears shifted in “The Music of The Hours”. This focuses on the soundtrack and the score created and composed by the one and only Phillip Glass (who I seem to remember from an episode of South Park of all things). The story was very different and the filmmakers perceived that one of only a handful of people could create a realistic score for the movie. Glass was at the top of the list and they share their delight when he signed on for the project. Lastly, we come to “The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway” in which the writer of the book, Michael Cunningham, is interviewed. Sharing with us, he tells that he was out to write a mere updated version of the book (Mrs. Dalloway) when the idea of the three women hit him. The rest, as they say, is history and this informative featurette is a bit self-congratulatory, but informative as well. Rounding out the features is the original theatrical trailer presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and a preview for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Overall, it’s a good disc and one that you’ll get your money’s worth out of. Fans of the movie will be amply satisfied and the movie itself merits a viewing.