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Martian Child DVD Review

Martian Child movie poster Martian Child

Theatrical Release: November 2, 2007 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Menno Meyjes

Cast: John Cusack (David Gordon), Bobby Coleman (Dennis), Amanda Peet (Harlee), Sophie Okonedo (Sophie), Joan Cusack (Liz), Oliver Platt (Jeff), Bud (Somewhere/ Flomar), Richard Schiff (Lefkowitz), Taya Calicetto (Esther), David Kaye (Andy), Braxton Bonneville (Nicholas), Samuel Charles (Jonas), Howard Hesseman (Dr. Berg), Anjelica Huston (Tina)

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Last year was quite the mixed bag for John Cusack. Single-handedly carrying the acclaimed Stephen King-adapted hotel thriller 1408 scored a career high gross among his top-billed films. The year closed, however, with well-critiqued indie drama Grace is Gone in just 7 North American theaters, another poor showing for the surprisingly impotent Weinstein Company and the lowest earner in Cusack's career. Released in between those two poles was Martian Child, which also cast doubt
on the actor's leading man power as it opened to poor reviews and became one of 2007's least attended films given wide release.

Like its two neighbors, Martian Child finds Cusack in a parental role, though this is actually aimed at family audiences, a rarity in the expansive filmography that spans well over half the actor's 41 years. Here, Cusack plays David Gordon, a widowed author of science fiction who, overcoming some doubts, decides to adopt a child. The child in question is Dennis (Bobby Coleman), an incredibly reclusive young boy who hides in a large cardboard box and insists that he is from Mars.

Rather than playing the unlikely single father and oddball child setup for broad laughs, Martian treads with sensitivity some highly saccharine ground. Afraid to err, David exhibits complete understanding and entertains the boy's semi-convincing assertions that he's not of this planet. The boy hardly comes out of his shell, uttering a few words here and there while showing signs of severe social impairment.

If John Cusack seems overly communicative towards this large Amazon.com box, it's because there's a potential son inside. Dennis (Bobby Coleman) and David share one of many close heart-to-heart chats.

Sentimentality lingers over the entire relationship, as obstacles are manufactured presumably to delay the bonding we long see coming. The movie plants seeds of concepts that should make David and Dennis a more interesting duo: the man was an outcast as a child, the boy has quirky powers like being able to taste color and wish anything true, both seem to share a fascination in the vast galaxy. But none of these angles is satisfactorily realized. If Dennis really is an alien, then the movie seems too serious. If he's not, then the attention it gives his oddities is unwarranted.

Either way, Martian Child spends what feels like an eternity on a pairing that's none too compelling, unable to decide if it's troubled or redemptive. New Age wisdom, old standby problems (ranging from school to the skeptical adoption agency), and far too much regurgitation all render the film's one unequivocal focus rather mundane. Despite wavering between dull and sappy, the father-son struggle is somewhat saved by Cusack. His reliable effort keeps David more appealing than the character deserves to be and, typical for the actor, ensures that even a flat commercial project like this remains easy to watch.

Though several problems mar the crux of the film, it stands strong next to peripheral material that comes across as unsure. Supporting characters are present, but it's never clear why. Oliver Platt attempts to inject some kind of personality into David's encouraging literary agent. Married big sister Joan Cusack plays her married big sister part fine, but one wonders if she's just here to raise the number of Cusack sibling collaborations (this marks #9). Second-billed Amanda Peet serves even less a purpose, vocalizing obvious thoughts on the adoption and testifying to David's continued heterosexuality. If you think there's more to the character than that, take note of how poorly Photoshopped she is in what should be a meaningful end credits snapshot.

Amanda Peet looks pretty while John Cusack makes a strange kissy face in a relationship the movie that doesn't care to clarify. Joan Cusack, John's older sister and frequent co-star, voices reason as a mother to two with Andy (David Kaye, in a rare live action role).

Martian Child reunites John Cusack with Menno Meyjes, the Dutch screenwriter who made his directing debut on 2002's Max. This feels like a change of pace for both; it marks the first time Meyjes helms from someone else's writing and for Cusack, it signifies a move from lightly quirky romance/comedy to something more solemn and uncharacteristically bland. As my first exposure to his work, Martian Child makes Meyjes look like a competent director with an appetite for montage and a fondness for direct heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye chats. He must take blame for certain shortcomings, like the painfully melodramatic climax.

But more can be traced back to the script, penned by relative film novices Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins. Their source is The Martian Child, an award-winning semi-autobiographical short story turned novel penned by sci-fi writer David Gerrold. The end credits acknowledge that liberties were taken with the facts. Surely among the most notable alterations is that the homosexual Gerrold of the novel is changed into a widowed straight man for the film.

In its very short theatrical run, Martian Child earned $7.5 million, only slightly more than a quarter of the film's reported $27 M budget. Just over three months since opening in theaters, Martian Child comes to DVD (and only DVD) from New Line Home Entertainment.

Buy Martian Child on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $5.97 (Reduced from $28.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase housed in Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Martian Child looks exquisite in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which boasts tremendous detail and nary a flaw. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack isn't as striking. It's quite subdued, though that suits the fairly quiet film. The track most comes to life in Aaron Zigman's score and the occasional song selection, like ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." Par for a New Line DVD, the menu emphasizes that the film has been optimized for home theaters and that no re-equalization required, which sounds like quite a relief.

Oliver Platt's eager to please literary agent Jeff gets a bit more screentime in this extended version of David's visit to the watery set of a feeble-looking film adaptation. Bobby Coleman shows off his family's trailer in "Handle with Care." The real Martian Child (Sean Friedman) appears to have grown into a normal adult, albeit one who missed a spot while shaving.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

A healthy serving of bonus features begins with an abundant collection of Deleted/Alternate Scenes (27:15). Of the 14 sequences provided, a couple gain notice for depicting more of Dennis' quirky behavior,
but most are superfluous, only mildly extended, or downright cheesy. If you have any doubt about watching them, you're probably fine taking a pass.

Next and most voluminous is an audio commentary given by four speakers: producers Cory Sienega and David Kirshner and writers Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins. It's a fine track which sounds like the first for all the speakers. Their enthusiasm shows through an abundance of production anecdotes and screen-specific observations. The constant focus on minutiae over bigger issues keeps the talk from being the most satisfying, but it's the type of thing that will give you plenty of tidbits with which to wow a first-time viewer, like the fact that uncredited Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, Ghost) was called on to direct a number of reshoots while Menno Meyjes had moved onto another film.

Two featurettes follow. "Handle with Care: Working with the Martian Child" (24:18) covers the film's production with both eyes on child actor Bobby Coleman. Cast/crew interviews, audition and home movie footage, and a dramatic narrator all make Coleman's participation seem a little more special and unusual than it really is. Some may appreciate that the piece avoids being a standard making-of. But while the on-set video is personal and interesting, the subject is a little slight to sustain the length.

"The Real Martian Child" (13:20) deals with the film's inspiration, author David Gerrold's adoption of an unusual boy. We hear from Gerrold, the child (now grown-up), and some producers in addition to getting a few telling glimpses of the unconventional family's home movies.

Rounding out the disc is the film's dramatic 2-minute trailer. Other trailers play at the start of the disc for Run Fatboy Run, The Last Mimzy, Gracie, Hairspray, and August Rush. The same promos are cued by selecting "Sneak Peeks" from the Special Features menu.

The main menu employs a winning display of polaroids and cutouts against a notebook backdrop. Other menus lack the animation but keep the theme and also play instrumental score selections.

Martian Child's standard black keepcase comes housed in a cardboard slipcover, which unusual for New Line takes the lazy way and merely reproduces all the artwork below. Oddly, the studio's spine genre label classifies this as a Comedy. One double-sided insert talks up a charity and New Line's DVD site, while the other offers $2 savings on The Last Mimzy and a trio of the studio's other family-friendly DVDs.

First day at a new school = no way that "Martian Child" is going to pass up the sensitive father-son crouchdown. In the shot that the movie seems to want as its most iconic, Dennis hangs upside down while David reads the newspaper.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Martian Child disappeared from theaters quickly and now comes to DVD without much a wait. Those two signs suggest a subpar reception, which befits a subpar film. While this family drama disappoints, it's a pretty mild bad that those with a high tolerance for sentimentality will probably acquit. It also helps that the reliable John Cusack turns in a fine effort in the lead role.

With over an hour of video bonuses plus an audio commentary, New Line's DVD treats this underachieving film quite well. I can't say it's better than a third or fourth back-up choice for a rental, but compared to the other feeble father films I've recently reviewed (Daddy Day Camp, The Game Plan), I'm positive you could do worse than this.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

The Book: The Martian Child by David Gerrold

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The Game Plan Daddy Day Camp The Last Mimzy Roving Mars Lilo & Stitch
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Starring Joan Cusack: Ice Princess Toy Story 2 Toy Story 3 Chicken Little Mars Needs Moms
New to DVD: Becoming Jane Gone Baby Gone Elizabeth: The Golden Age

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Reviewed February 12, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 New Line Cinema and 2008 New Line Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.