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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy Review

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) movie poster Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2011 / Running Time: 129 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Stephen Daldry / Writers: Eric Roth (screenplay), Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)

Cast: Tom Hanks (Thomas Schell), Sandra Bullock (Linda Schell), Thomas Horn (Oskar Schell), Viola Davis (Abby Black), John Goodman (Stan the Doorman), Jeffrey Wright (William Black), Zoe Caldwell (Oskar's Grandmother), Max von Sydow (The Renter), Hazelle Goodman (Hazelle Black), Jim Norton (Old Mr. Black), Carmen H. Herlihy (Denise Black), Adrian Martinez (Hector Black)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 3/27.

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + UVDC DVD + UVDC Movie-Only Blu-ray + UVDC Instant Video

I was determined not to like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It wasn't that I was put off by the idea of a 9/11 movie. Two major ones had already been made with a 50% success rate, Paul Greengrass' riveting docudrama United 93 the triumph and Oliver Stone's nauseating World Trade Center the miss. But to make a 9/11 tearjerker for a Christmas Day opening on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy with all-American movie stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock (each of whom hasn't given us much reason to appreciate them lately) reaked of calculation and opportunism.
All last year, the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's bestselling novel was pegged as one of the films likely to vie for the top Oscars. Rather than have to meet the buzz, Warner withheld advance screenings and awards screener mailings. Then, the critical reaction came in and was quite underwhelming. The public reaction followed and was one of unusual disinterest. How could this not have been the year's awards bait misfire, 2011's Nine or Australia? How could this not be the manipulative schmaltz that I and many others feared it would be?

Virtually everyone who had predicted Extremely Loud as a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars long in advance had since revised their picks to exclude it. Few films with such a muted critical reaction had ever competed for the Academy's top prize. And yet, in the first year in a long time where even the number of nominees was to be determined, Extremely Loud picked up a nod, having clearly won over the voting body composed primarily by actors, who have long shown favor to the works of director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, The Reader) and prestige producer Scott Rudin. The choice was questioned by many and few would dispute that this was the nominee that most narrowly cracked the field of nine. But, it is official record now: this is one of just 494 films to date nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Oskar (Thomas Horn) plots his big adventure in secret, and sometimes in the darkness under his bed. Flashback scenes paint German American jeweler Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks) as the perfect Dad to his son.

Extremely Loud (whose title is not sufficiently explained in the film) centers on Oksar Schell (Thomas Horn), a precocious, neurotic pre-teen boy whose beloved father Thomas (Tom Hanks) is killed in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Mr. Schell was on the 105th floor of one of the Twin Towers and is not one of the lucky few who escaped from above the hijacked planes' impact zones.

Despite this, Tom Hanks still gets top billing here, which means that he features prominently enough in pre-9/11 flashback scenes. Father and son are of a similar mindset. Whether in the back of Thomas' jewelry shop, at a shared meal, or home in their Manhattan high-rise apartment, the two enjoy challenging each other mentally. The most extreme challenge has the father pose this: New York City once had a sixth borough that floated away -- what happened to it? With a shrug of the shoulders, Oskar is left to his own devices to put together clues to solve this centuries-old (obviously fictional) mystery. The boy is game too, with his resourcefulness and big vocabulary.

After the father is killed, on what Oskar calls "The Worst Day", the boy's eccentricities become more pronounced. A year later, he ventures into his father's untouched closet, digging around to extend what he refers to as his "eight minutes", as in the eight minutes it would take after the Sun's hypothetical explosion for the people of Earth to feel the effects. A vase falls and breaks and from it emerges a tiny envelope with the word "Black" on it and a key inside. This lays the foundation for Oskar's project: the boy plans to find the lock that this key will open, a journey he hopes will hold great meaning for him.

Oskar sets out on this mission in the most logical way he can: looking up everyone with the surname Black in the phonebooks of all five of New York's boroughs. Expectedly, the undertaking seems to be a lost cause, but Oskar soon has a companion on the journey in The Renter (an Oscar-nominated Max von Sydow), a mute, secretive old man occupying the spare room in Oskar's Grandmother's apartment across the street. Answering Oskar's questions with the "yes" and "no" written on his opposite hands, along with the occasional furiously-scribbled note, The Renter proves to be helpful and his significance greater than first implied.

At work, Mrs. Schell (Sandra Bullock) receives a reassuring phone call from her husband while a tasteful, believable visual effect shows the smoky trail of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. The mute Renter (Max von Sydow) gets Oskar (Thomas Horn) to conduct his mission by subway and not just on foot.

Extremely Loud succeeds at jerking tears and reopening the painful wounds of that unforgettable September day, but it does so in a way that does not feel exploitative. Yes, Foer's story is a contrived, cloying play for the heartstrings. Yes, British director Stephen Daldry, Hanks, and Bullock all seem simultaneously like safe, bland, and unusual choices for a tale so specific to America and New York.
(Screenwriter Eric Roth was born in New York, but has presumably been based in California since college.) And yes, tambourine-shaking, self-pinching Oskar Schell is the kind of protagonist written for fairy tales (somwhere between Asperger's and a Wes Anderson character, and nonetheless, rather unlikable). But, darned if the presentation isn't an effective, evocative, thoughtful, and heartfelt exploration of the once-in-a-lifetime, nation-unifying experience whose victims were ordinary working citizens.

Having witnessed the day first-hand in New York, seeing the second plane hit the second tower from my bedroom window that morning, being jarred by the arrival of military tanks that evening, and having the sights, sounds, smells, and fears forever imprinted in my memory, I can't imagine thinking of 9/11 without feeling like part of it, separated though I might have been by some thirty blocks. With over 1.5 million people living in Manhattan alone, I know that my experience is one shared by many. But I feel that those who instead witnessed the chaos unfolding on television, as great societal events are now usually experienced, must not have the same haunting recollections that I do. Television and the Internet may render distance meaningless, but watching Matt Lauer maintain his composure is just no substitute for seeing people assembled with their heads atilt at every sidewalk corner with a view.

Does that experience have any bearing on my opinion of the film? I feel it must. I did not lose any loved ones in that pointless tragedy, though, so there is an audience that will judge even more (or is that less?) harshly than me. But my view is that, much like the fine Reign Over Me, Extremely Loud is clearly designed to empathize, not exploit. Still, 9/11 is a touchy subject, with many still vocally subscribing to flimsy conspiracy theories and many logically linking the attack on America with the costly, unrelated and not entirely resolved turmoil in the Middle East. All that renders this film less just one of many holiday season moviegoing options and more like pop culture's official tenth anniversary reflection on one of America's deadliest days.

The maudlin marketing, chilly critical reception, and flimsy opening act all point to Extremely Loud being miscalculated, treacly, weepy, and patriotic. But though very sad and plenty depressing, the film has its heart and mind in the right place as it tries to make sense of grand-scale catastrophe on an extremely personal level.

Despite its star power, Oscar nominations, and well-known source text, Extremely Loud was lifeless at the box office, grossing slightly less even than Hanks' Larry Crowne and Bullock's All About Steve. To a large degree, I can understand the audience aversion, which left this the second lowest-grossing of 2011's Best Picture nominees, as until now I was convinced that this was saccharine exploitation. Maybe you will still feel that way, but I think the movie deserves an open-minded viewing, distanced from the disapproving reviews and the probably still undeserved Best Picture nomination. Starting Tuesday, you can give it that viewing on home video, when Warner releases it to DVD, Blu-ray, digital download, and on demand. This review covers the studio's now-standard two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet combo pack concoction.

Watch a clip from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close:

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Thai)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-Only: Chinese, Korean, Thai
Not Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP), movie-only Blu-ray ($29.98 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The 2.40:1 picture and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio are both excellent. The video is sharp, clean, and clear, while the soundtrack makes good use of Alexandre Desplat's prominent score.

Sandra Bullock notes just how great an actor Tom Hanks is by revealing that he showed up on set to perform his off-camera phone calls with her. Stephen Daldry directs Jeopardy! contestant-turned-child actor Thomas Horn in "Finding Oskar."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extremely Loud is joined by four bonus features, all in HD and all but one of them sadly exclusive to Blu-ray.

First up, "Making Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (19:47) is an unusually substantial featurette, which tackles the adaptation, the cast, costume design, and production design, with cast and crew interviews and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.

"Finding Oskar" (7:50) centers on Thomas Horn, who was spotted by producers in a kids episode of "Jeopardy!". The first-time actor shares his experiences, while everyone else sings his praises.

The four brothers of 9/11 victim Daniel McGinley offer a toast to him "Ten Years Later" in New Jersey's P.J. Finnegan's. Second oldest Oscar-nominated actor Max von Sydow, seen here in a Grand Central subway station, is the focus of his son Cedric's documentary "Dialogues with Renter."

"Ten Years Later" (11:25) considers Daniel McGinley, a real 9/11 victim whose picture is featured in the film's missing victims wall (why just him and not other real victims, I have no idea). McGinley's four brothers honor him, recalling the Irish Catholic family man, with a gathering at the New Jersey bar P.J. Finnegan's, complete with a symbolic pint of Guinness.

Finally, a rare licensed inclusion is found in "Dialogues with Renter", a 44-minute behind-the-scenes documentary shot by Max von Sydow's son, Cedric Brelet von Sydow. It is focused on the documentarian's father, but gives us candid looks at rehearsal and production, as Daldry runs through scenes with the octogenerian and his young co-star.
This very good piece shows us the shooting of unused bits, the elder von Sydow getting his wig fitted and his hand responses marked, and catches his thoughts on various locations. This kind of warts-and-all view of filmmaking is unusual and most welcome.

The Blu-ray opens with promos for Blu-ray 3D and WB Insider Rewards. Any trailers, including Extremely Loud's, are nowhere to be found.

The DVD drops the one extra of its standalone release, the weakest supplement "Finding Oskar." As it doesn't actually contain any digital copy files on disc (a point of concern for digital copy enthusiasts), it's puzzling why Warner would take the trouble of mastering a disc different from the one sold on its own, just to deprive combo pack owners of getting a featurette and previews on the DVD. For that matter, with 2 GB of data to spare, why not include one of the other short featurettes? (Because that would lessen the Blu-ray's perceived value, of course.)

The Blu-ray's menu sets poster/cover art to score, while employing graphics alongside the listinhg words and relying on ill-conceived, virtually imperceptible color changes that render navigation difficult. The standard eco-friendly Blu-ray case holds your unique code both for redeeming the UltraViolet stream and earning points in WB Insider Rewards. It is topped by a plain cardboard slipcover.

Atop a rock in Central Park with tambourine and map in hand, Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) plots his search for the lock that fits his dead father's mysterious key.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the weakest of the 2011 Oscars' Best Picture nominees that I've seen, but it is still a good movie, much better than it looks and better than most critics gave it credit for.

Warner's Blu-ray delivers a flawless feature presentation and an unusually strong 80 minutes of special features, highlighted by a lengthy, candid behind-the-scenes documentary on Max von Sydow. I don't know if this is one you'll be able to revisit with any regularity, but as long as you can handle sentimental, depressing cinema, I recommend a viewing.

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Blu-ray + DVD + UVDC / DVD + UVDC / Movie-Only Blu-ray + UVDC / Instant Video

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Viola Davis: Doubt Knight and Day Eat Pray Love | Jeffrey Wright: The Ides of March

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Reviewed March 26, 2012.



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