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Amelia Blu-ray Review

Amelia (2009) movie poster Amelia

Theatrical Release: October 23, 2009 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Mira Nair / Writers: Ron Bass Anna Hamilton Phelan (screenplay); Susan Butler, Mary S. Lovell (books)

Cast: Hilary Swank (Amelia Earhart), Richard Gere (George Putnam), Ewan McGregor (Gene Vidal), Christopher Eccleston (Fred Noonan), Joe Anderson (Bill), Cherry Jones (Eleanor Roosevelt), Mia Wasikowska (Elinor Smith), Aaron Abrams (Slim Gordon), Dylan Roberts (Leo Bellarts), Scott Yaphe (William Dalten), Tom Fairfoot (Balfour), Ryann Shane (Young Amelia), William Cuddy (Gore Vidal), Elizabeth Shepherd (Frances Putnam)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

If there's one thing to be learned from 2009's Amelia, it's that the lives of iconic people don't always lend themselves to a film. Perhaps this is why Amelia Earhart's story has never been dramatized before. One would think that an historic figure that broke various social boundaries, led an exciting career,
and became known as the most famous missing person of all time would make for a fascinating tale. Whether it's that Earhart's life was mostly devoid of angst and drama or whether the filmmakers robbed it of them, Amelia is curiously bland.

Rather than try to cover her entire life, the film begins with the title character an adult (played by Hilary Swank) in 1928. Amelia is introduced to publicist George Putnam (Richard Gere) and given the chance to be the first woman flown across the Atlantic Ocean. While this earns her quite a bit of publicity, Amelia is far from satisfied, vowing to cross the Atlantic flying solo herself. This accomplishment sets new records and makes Earhart a household name. The whirlwind of press appearances and merchandising that follows is a blur, but her relationship with George offers stability throughout all this. Even after the two are wed and well-off, Amelia sets her sights higher, this time hoping to fly across the Pacific Ocean. The result of this endeavor becomes one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in history.

Upon her accomplishment of flying across the Atlantic Ocean solo, Amelia (Hilary Swank) is overcome with emotion. George (Richard Gere) cradles and consoles an Amelia (Hilary Swank) worried about her upcoming flight.

To its credit, Amelia is professionally and handsomely made. Its cinematography is striking, especially during the flight sequences. The production and costume designs have an authentic feel to them that's still aesthetically pleasing. While not a big standout, the score is uplifting when it needs to be and shows well-calculated restraint. Likewise, the performances don't particularly stick with the viewer, but they're convincing nonetheless. With her believable performance, Hilary Swank manages to avoid the temptation of turning Earhart into caricature.

With so many elements properly in place, it seems like the film should excel with no problem. Regrettably, that's not the case. Though technically sound, Amelia is emotionally hollow at its core. There's a vague disconnect that permeates the narrative. Cause and effect is mostly tossed out as events just happen with little in the way of set up or resolution.
This is especially troubling during the film's first third where the editing comes across as choppy and disorienting. Things start to flow better as they go along, but one gets the feeling that a much longer cut existed at some point and was later stripped down to the bare essentials. (Supporting this theory: moments from the trailer fail to appear either here or among the deleted scenes section).

What's left in is oddly dispassionate. The story of a female aviator ought to be enthralling, especially when it's Amelia Earhart of all people. Instead, the filmmakers seem to be on autopilot, reenacting key events with little sense of drama or tension. Biopics are often accused of being too pretentious and taking too much artistic license. In avoiding both of those charges, Amelia lacks any sort of drive or identity. While the actors are generally serviceable, they're not given enough to really feed off of. It's alarming when one considers that Amy Adams' far less accurate portrayal of Earhart in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is easier to sympathize with than any character in this film, Swank's Earhart included.

Amelia's production values are high enough to sustain a passable viewing. When dealing with such intriguing subject matter, though, "passable" is worth even less than usual. Mira Nair's film gets so many of its elements right that one wants it to succeed, but those aspects are brought down by clunky editing and uninvolving writing and directing. It's far too easy to sit through the whole piece without experiencing any sort of emotion other than occasional tedium. Whether the subject matter needed some Hollywood embellishment or whether the filmmakers played things too safe, Amelia simply fails to soar.

Buy Amelia on Blu-ray from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

Amelia comes to Blu-ray in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Unlike the feature it's showcasing, the transfer meets its full potential. There's a warm, nostalgic quality to the cinematography that's pleasing to the eye and replicated accurately here. Sharpness is excellent and isn't marred by any print or digital defects. The aerial views during the flights particularly stand out as demo material. It seems redundant to praise Fox's high-definition titles over and over, but they've consistently delivered top notch transfers time and again.

The DTS-HD 5.1 track is more restrained than expected. Dialogue is centered and always concise. The score avoids being too showy and bombastic, even if it does seem a tad low. Surrounds aren't utilized very often except for general ambience and an occasional plane effect. Even then, the sound field isn't very dynamic. It's a solid, clear track, but it doesn't show off a home entertainment system the way the image does.

Played by Virginia Madsen, George's first wife Dorothy appears in several deleted scenes, including this one in which she tells Amelia of her divorce. In "Making Amelia", Hilary Swank confesses the tremendous load that comes with playing such an iconic figure. "The Power of Amelia Earhart" shows director Mira Nair and producer Lydia Dean Pilcher surveying some of the on-location set up prior to filming.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Amelia's Blu-ray offers a solid collection of supplements (all in HD unless otherwise noted) beginning with ten deleted scenes (13:52). The majority of these focus on George Putnam's wife Dorothy (Virginia Madsen) and her separation from Putnam before he married Earhart.
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While not necessarily a plot element that would've gone very far, its removal resulted in some awkward pacing. Leaving it in would've led to smoother transitions, and the non-Dorothy scenes give further insight into Earhart's past.

"Making Amelia" (23:05) acts as the disc's main featurette. The title is slightly misleading since, even though cast and crew sound bites join behind the scenes footage, the focus is more on the actual events than the production itself. The fairly broad comments mainly offer praise for Amelia Earhart. A few good notes from director Mira Nair about her filmmaking intentions and from the actors on their roles help keep this from becoming too glossy.

"The Power of Amelia Earhart" (10:45) starts off focusing on the woman in question and how she's influenced people today. Once it covers topics such as Earhart's activism for women's rights, it oddly shifts its focus to production elements. The significance behind the production design and especially the costume design is touched upon. Uneven but informative, it probably should've just been edited into the above piece.

A real-life Electra plane is put to good use in "The Plane Behind the Legend." Visual consultant Paul D. Austerberry explains how "Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia" aided the filmmaking process. The real-life couple of Amelia Earhart and George Putnam very obviously (though earnestly) read off of cue cards in a Movietone newsreel appearance.

"The Plane Behind the Legend" (4:33) takes a look at the Electra, the last type of aircraft Earhart flew before her disappearance.
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The crew discusses the decision to use a real Electra as opposed to a CG model and all of the challenges that arose from that. It's brief but interesting.

"Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia" (6:37) explains the research involved when undergoing such a task. Visual consultant Paul Austerberry reveals specifics about the real-life planes and how they compare with their movie counterparts. The modifications made to accommodate easy filming are also touched upon, making for a concise piece.

The supplements end with seven vintage Movietone Newsreels (6:40) (SD). These include "Mrs. Putnam Flies the Atlantic Again: This Time Alone", "Amelia Earhart Flies Over the U.S. in 17 Hours", "Miss Earhart Flies from Hawaii to U.S. to Win Solo Crown", "Aviation (Introducing the Electra)", "Aviation (Amelia Testing Her Plane)", "Names in the News: Amelia Earhart", and "Race to Rescue Amelia Earhart!" It's fascinating to see not only the woman herself in action, but actual moments that are dramatized in the film. Earhart's obviously-scripted comments and some campy narration make these charming, as well, though the latter feels inappropriate and chilly during the last newsreel.

A digital copy is included for viewing on portable devices.

The main menu showcases a montage of film clips set to inspirational score. The pop-up menu follows the Fox mold of having the submenus and options open up vertically from the bottom up, forcing the viewer to scroll through each selection to see what's available. The Blu-ray disc opens with ads for Whip It and the American Film Institute.

The Blu-ray and digital copy discs come housed in a standard Blu-ray case. As per Fox, the case is of the flimsy "eco-friendly" variety. Only an activation code for the digital copy keeps the discs company inside.

In order to finance future flights, Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) must join the world of merchandising, some of which includes starting her own clothing line. The Electra glides over the African nation of Mali, still thousands of miles away from reaching its goal.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Amelia had the potential to become something truly stirring and inspirational. Instead, it somehow manages to make an exciting life unfold in a tepid manner. One could only imagine what the result might've been if the impressive technical efforts were married with a more personal script and bolder directing.

There isn't much to complain about with Fox's Blu-ray, however. The image is flawless, the sound is acceptable, and the supplements fairly satisfying. Earhart aficionados may want to give this a rental as they can appreciate the rigid devotion to accuracy. Everyone else interested in the subject matter is probably better off seeking out a documentary instead.

Buy Amelia from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD
Buy the Books: East to the Dawn by Susan Butler / The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lowell

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Mira Nair: New York, I Love You | Featuring Amelia Earhart: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
A Serious Man Whip It The Boys Are Back Julie & Julia Up District 9 Finding Neverland
Australia Around the World in 80 Days (2004) Voyagers!: The Complete Series Flightplan
Forrest Gump (15th Anniversary Chocolate Box Giftset) The Prestige Elizabeth: The Golden Age

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The Hoax Valiant Angels & Demons The Village Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Chicago (Razzle-Dazzle Edition) Shall We Dance? (2004) Primal Fear (Hard Evidence Edition) Across the Universe

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Reviewed February 15, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Fox Searchlight Pictures, Avalon Pictures, and 2010 Fox Home Entertainment. Feature screencaps are from the standard DVD. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.