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Extraordinary Measures DVD Review

Extraordinary Measures (2010) movie poster Extraordinary Measures

Theatrical Release: January 22, 2010 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Tom Vaughan / Writers: Robert Nelson Jacobs (screenplay); Geeta Anand (book)

Cast: Brendan Fraser (John Crowley), Harrison Ford (Dr. Robert J. Stonehill), Keri Russell (Aileen Crowley), Meredith Droeger (Megan Crowley), Diego Velazquez (Patrick Crowley), Sam M. Hall (John Crowley, Jr.), Jared Harris (Dr. Kent Webber), Patrick Bauchau (CEO Erich Loring), Alan Ruck (Pete Sutphen), David Clennon (Dr. Renzler), Dee Wallace (Sal), Courtney B. Vance (Marcus Temple), Ayanna Berkshire (Wendy Temple), P.J. Byrne (Dr. Preston), Andrea White (Dr. Allegria), G.J. Echternkamp (Niles)

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This year introduced a new movie studio, one immediately intended to be a major player in production and distribution. On its side was a recognizable name -- CBS Films, an off-shoot of the network that's been on television since 1941 and on the radio since 1927 -- and a clear game plan -- release four to six films a year, none costing more than $50 million.
Against it were timing -- i.e. the challenging economy -- and tradition -- CBS had twice earlier tried to branch out to theatrical film production (once at the end of the '60s, the other in the early '80s) and neither venture lasted more than five years.

Without in-house producers, CBS Films is putting its faith in movie stars. Its first release, Extraordinary Measures, enlisted two men known for headlining popular adventure films as recently as the summer of 2008. But Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford were not to be accompanied by snakes, symbols, and pesky ancient phenomena. Instead, their co-stars here are science, medicine, and sick children; Extraordinary Measures is a drama based on an inspirational true story. That description suggests a small leap being taken to bridge the "CBS" and the "Films", but CEO Amy Baer declared, "[this doesn't] say anything about the types of movies we're going to make... One film will not brand us." Indeed, the studio's recent second release, the Jennifer Lopez pregnancy romcom The Back-Up Plan, looked like it could be the work of any major studio.

After receiving an upsetting call at work, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) can't help but put on his sad dad face. Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) is utterly confident in his scientific work, but less than pleased to have to answer to others about it.

Based on Geeta Anand's 2006 book The Cure, Extraordinary Measures recounts the remarkable journey born out of an ordinary family's serious plight. Two of the three young children of workaholic Portland pharmaceutical marketer John Crowley (Fraser) and his homemaker wife Aileen (Keri Russell) are afflicted with Pompe's disease, a rare genetic condition that causes muscles to deteriorate. The life expectancy of those suffering from Pompe's is about nine years, which means the clock is ticking for 8-year-old Megan (Meredith Droeger) and 6-year-old Patrick (Diego Velazquez), who are both bound to wheelchairs and have difficulty breathing. Megan takes a turn for the worse, and while she pulls through, the child's brush with death makes John realize drastic and immediate action must be taken.

The concerned father blows off work and drives to Lincoln, where he meets with elusive University of Nebraska research scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford), whose theories on potential Pompe's cures have been widely published but not yet tested. Stonehill explains the chief obstacle to finding a cure is money. The twice-divorced night owl doc cites that he'll need $500,000 to even begin experimenting on his posited enzyme synthesis. Crowley reveals that he's starting a fund to take donations.

Just under $100,000 later, Stonehill proposes that he leave the university and set up a biotech company with Crowley. They do this, with short-tempered Stonehill handling the science and Crowley dealing with the business side of things. Pitching to venture capitalists and collaborating with risk-taking young scientists, the two work diligently to get the enzyme into clinical trials as soon as possible. Obviously, their self-imposed deadlines are strongly enforced by Crowley's increasingly challenged kids.

Concerned by Megan's (Meredith Droeger) new inability to throw a ball at a carnival attraction, Dad (Brendan Fraser) lends a helping hand. John and Aileen Crowley (Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell) place their hopes on a foreground IV drip.

Extraordinary Measures is conventional and its against-the-odds design familiar. But this is feel-good cinema done right. While the subject matter would perhaps be more at home today on the small screen, it is performed and presented with enough polish to recognize as worthy theatrical fare.
Fraser and Ford are convincing if not exactly turning over new stones as, respectively, the caring father figure and slightly misanthropic individual. Their characters' friendship is sweet and its conflict is palatable.

Robert Nelson Jacobs' script manages to put a completely human face on this potentially technical tale, without feeling cheap, too cutesy, or overly contrived. Impressively, the film even largely avoids the saccharinity you might expect from such a story. It doesn't tug at the heart strings, falsely jerk tears, or play up the dying children card. Composite characters and dramatized situations can be recognized, but not to a fault. In some sense, I suppose the viewer realizes they're getting a fictionalized Hollywood retelling, but since it remains tasteful and earnest, it's hard to mind.

The movie's virtues weren't readily recognized by critics, many of whom dismissed Extraordinary as a made-for-TV movie-of-the-week masquerading as cinema. The cool reviews weren't likely as troubling to the studio as the soft returns that followed them. Grossing a mere $12 million on a modest $31 M production budget, there really isn't any way not to label this a box office bomb. That is a fate not unheard of in recent years for the leading men carrying pictures outside their established franchises. But this flopping was a little more severe than any to which Ford might be accustomed. Based on strong test audience reactions, the studio actually swapped this release with The Back-Up Plan. Certainly, this performance was not the philosophy-affirming one with which CBS hoped to make a splash.

More of an interesting post-script than anything else, Extraordinary Measures boasts a surprising amount of profanity for something carrying the same PG rating attached to most of today's animated family films. Between this and the recent PG-rated Fame remake, the MPAA would appear to be getting lenient towards bad words lacking the letter "f". To most, it won't be a huge concern, but those wanting to round up the fam for a movie night might be surprised to hear language more commonly deemed "PG" in the 1980s.

The home video rights to CBS Films are held not but the TV network's longtime partner and once Viacom sister Paramount but Sony Pictures, who also handles theatrical distribution abroad. Extraordinary Measures becomes the first CBS-Sony release when it comes to DVD and Blu-ray on May 18th.

View "More Important Things", a film clip from Extraordinary Measures.

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1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though it opts for a slightly softer appearance than most theatrical films, Extraordinary Measures looks great on DVD, its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer not marred by any visible shortcomings. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack may not really rock the house, but it too satisfies, with its suitable score spread across the soundfield and not stepping on the dialogue that drives the picture. Some viewers will appreciate Dr. Stonehill's musical tastes, such as The Band and the lab coat-riling "Hush" by Deep Purple.

Aileen (Keri Russell) telephonically questions her husband's actions, while Megan acts out in the background of this deleted shopping scene. The real life Crowley family is seen in this photograph from "Meet John Crowley." Harrison Ford discusses the first movie he's accepted less than top billing on in over 25 years in the routine making-of featurette "The Power to Overcome."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

An average slate of extras begins with nine deleted scenes (9:25). They offer more of Keri Russell's character Aileen (including a domestic spat and resolution), introduce the family's new nurse in Seattle,
spell out some plot points otherwise implied, and provide a couple of brief lapses in subtlety.

An obvious and welcome inclusion on a true-life drama, "Meet John Crowley" (4:35) lets us hear from the real man Brendan Fraser portrays. The recollections of Crowley (and his wife Aileen) are strengthened by home movies and footage of the family's visit to the film set.

"Extraordinary Measures: The Power to Overcome" (10:40) provides a glossy, standard making-of featurette, with cast, key crew, and Crowley sound bites separated by the occasional film or B-roll clip. Their comments on the real story and characters lend a little weight and perspective without requiring the time commitment and dead air of an audio commentary.

The DVD loads with trailers for Not the Messiah: He's a Very Naughty Boy, The Young Victoria, The Back-Up Plan, and Dear John. These can also be accessed from the Previews menu along with promos for By the People: The Election of Barack Obama and "Drop Dead Diva": The Complete First Season.

The Blu-ray's only exclusive is movieIQ+sync, which utilizes BD-Live to supply IMDb-type information during playback.

The DVD's silent, static menus place promotional photos against pale backdrops resembling scientific scribbles and medical diagrams. There are no inserts inside the eco-friendly keepcase.

Dr. Stonehill (Harrison Ford) and John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) don't always get along, but their different perspectives aren't enough to keep them from being friends.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Extraordinary Measures isn't about to start showing up on a whole bunch of people's all-time favorites lists, but it is a nice little movie. Even if you miss the fledgling studio name, the subject matter and tone do make comparisons to TV movies fair. But this is less sensationalistic and overdramatic than small screen fare, plus smarter and better acted to boot. While this isn't a film you'll likely wish to regularly revisit, I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy it as I did. On that basis, I recommend you see this.

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Reviewed May 7, 2010.



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