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A Far Off Place DVD Review

A Far Off Place

Theatrical Release: March 12, 1993 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Mikael Salomon

Cast: Reese Witherspoon (Nonnie Parker), Ethan Embry (Harry Winslow), Jack Thompson (John Ricketts), Sarel Bok (Xhabbo), Robert Burke (Paul Parker), Patricia Kalember (Elizabeth Parker), Daniel Gerroll (John Winslow), Maximilian Schell (Col. Mopani Theron), Miles Anderson (Jardin)


A Far Off Place differs drastically from live action Disney fare. While its element of adventure may seem to be in tune with co-producer Amblin Entertainment's other popular films, the grim nature of the story distinguishes it from generally upbeat Disney films.

The film is about two teenagers and the adventure together they find in South Africa, or rather the adventure that finds them. Nonnie Parker (a pre-fame Reese Witherspoon) follows her father's passion for pouncing out poaching. She admires Colonel Mopani Theron (Maximilian Schell), who appears in the first scene enacting justice his way by killing a group who has just slaughtered some elephants. Mopani is like a father to Nonnie, and together they seek to preserve order in their land.

Nonnie meets Harry Winslow (Ethan Randall, who we now know as Ethan Embry), a boy from New York who has come for the summer with his father. Harry isn't the most intrigued tourist; he longs for a VCR and clings to his Walkman.

In "A Far Off Place", two teens take off on a journey across a South African desert. Ethan Embry, plays Harry, an obnoxious adolescent from New York.

One night while both Nonnie and Harry are outside, they learn from Nonnie's friend, a Bushman named Xhabbo (Sarel Bok), that danger is afoot. A tapping ritual has revealed to Xhabbo that something bad could happen, and the three spend the night together in a cave. Xhabbo's warning was with merit, as Nonnie returns and finds her home massively attacked. Her parents have been killed, seemingly the work of the elephant poachers that her father tried to stop. Harry's father is also dead in the massacre.

Devastated and frightened, the two American youths and their Bushman friend set out on a journey across the intimidating Kalahari desert, their one hope to escape the terrible scene. The rest of the film details their improbable expedition against the perils of nature. With Xhabbo guiding the way, the trio faces the blazing sun, the endless sand dunes, a complete lack of food, and murderous gunmen on their trail.

A Far Off Place features some beautiful African photography, probably in part to first-time director Mikael Solomon, who earlier worked as a cinematographer for such films as The Abyss and Arachnophobia. At times, the story's central journey through the desert creates uniquely cinematic moments which are effectively harrowing. Dramatically, though, the film does not live up to its visual appeal too often.

Reese Witherspoon plays Nonnie, who models her new vest here. When Harry met Xhabbo.

This grim tale feels uneven, as it tries to blend adolescent romance with death and a surprising amount of violence. Though the two young leads maintain the film's credibility, the story just does not appeal, although the film's elements and message suggest that it should. As the Bushman, Sarel Bok is a fresh face who lends realism and a unique presence. Maximilian Schell adds his own kind of spark, with a usual twinge of madness.

What could be a compelling story is weakened because A Far Off Place is more interested in depicting the antagonists' acts than making the viewer care for the characters. The result is that while we naturally hope to see the group survive the harsh desert, we don't feel for them beyond the early losses they endure. There are also gaps in logic; namely, why is it so important to the villains that these two defenseless children be killed?

For a lighter and more enjoyable film on American youths up against poaching in Africa, you can also check out Disney's wonderful Cheetah, given lesser treatment on DVD.

Buy A Far Off Place from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Surround (English, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 1, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fortunately, A Far Off Place is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. I fear the thought of a pan-and-scan version for a film with such visual power as this, so it's great that the DVD comes at a time when Disney now seems devoted to preserving widescreen ratios for their catalogue releases.

The video quality lives up to the film's imagery, wonderfully displaying both scenes drenched by the warm sunlight and those shrouded in shadows. The print was extremely clean and free from any deterrent elements. Sharpness was consistently good, and the colors were solid and always on-target.

The film's Dolby Surround track is serviceable and probably faithful to the film's mix. For much of the film, the dialogue was mixed low in comparison to the score and sound effects and as a result, it was often tough to hear. This is probably true to the original sound design, but it probably creates a subtitle situation if you're unable to listen at a higher than normal volume. The score by James Horner is a bit above par, and the soundtrack puts it to good (albeit relatively loud) use.

Maximilian Schell plays Mopani. Interesting photography like this is one of the film's strong points.

EXTRAS

There are no bonus features for A Far Off Place. In the early days of DVD, we would have at least gotten its theatrical trailer. Theatrically, the film was accompanied by the Roger Rabbit short "Trail Mix-Up." This too is absent from the disc.

The menus are 16x9 stills with selections from the score.

The disc opens with a 1 minute, 25 second preview of recent live action movies on DVD and video, including The Rookie, Remember the Titans, Snow Dogs, Freaky Friday (2003), and Holes (which the film is oddly compared to on the cover).

A South African sunset is backdrop to the journey. Nonnie, Harry, and Xhabbo walk with the animals.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A Far Off Place is a film that I appreciated, but I did not like so much. The movie's dark and serious tone separates it from other Disney fare, which may or may not make it a film for you. Ultimately, I find the film's look and style more resonant and powerful than its story. The DVD's audio and video presentation are of quality, and the lack of bonus materials is not unusual for such a catalogue title. Those who have waited for this film to come to DVD should be satisfied; others may want to watch before buying.

More on the DVD

Related Reviews
Cheetah (1989) | The Lion King (1994)
Cool Runnings (1993) | The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) | Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994)
The Journey of Natty Gann (1985) | Angels in the Outfield (1994)

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