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When Calls the Heart DVD Review

When Calls the Heart DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com When Calls the Heart
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Michael Landon Jr. / Writers: Janette Oke (book), Michael Landon Jr. (teleplay)

Cast: Maggie Grace (Aunt Elizabeth Thatcher), Stephen Amell (Wynn Delaney), Poppy Drayton (Elizabeth Thatcher), Daniel Sharman (Constable Edward Montclair), Cherie Lunghi (Mrs. Thatcher), Christopher Villiers (Mr. Thatcher), Jean Smart (Frances), Lori Loughlin (Abigail), Daisey Head (Julie Thatcher), Lee Williams (Thomas Higgins), Natasha Calis (Perlie Leverly), Tygh Runyan (Philip Delaney Sr.), Alex Arsenault (Young Farmer), Tom Carey (Mr. Moran), Sam Duke (Andy Moran), Greg Lawson (Rev. Dickenson), Hannah Duke (Teressa), Anthony Harrison (Mr. Clark), Lori Ravensborg (Mrs. Moran), Joshua Ballard (Lars Peterson), Andrew Krinanek (Outlaw 1), Brandon Olds (Carl Clark), Emily Bowker (Margaret Thatcher), Christian Kerr (Phillip Delaney Jr.), Brian Martell (Mr. Leverly), Constain Puscasu (Mayor Ramsey), Gwynfor Jones (John), Miriam Reza (Emma), Lynley Hall (Lydia Delaney)

Original Air Date: October 19, 2013 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (TV-G on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: December 31, 2013 (Walmart Exclusive: October 15, 2013)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase

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Though he's made his career behind the camera, Michael Landon Jr. has gravitated to projects similar to those that occupied his father in front of it. The late Michael Sr. remains well-known for his work on the television series "Little House on the Prairie" and "Bonanza." Over the past decade, Landon's son has made his own name as writer,
director and producer of TV movies set in the olden days and adapted from the inspirational Christian novels of Beverly Lewis and Janette Oke.

Having provided the Hallmark Channel with more than a full day's worth of programming, 49-year-old Landon Jr. keeps going. After mining Oke's 1980s Love Comes Softly books for eight television movies, Landon Jr. now turns to the author's Canadian West series with When Calls the Heart, an adaptation of the 1983 novel of the same name that began it.

Primarily set in 1910, this movie centers on Elizabeth Thatcher (newcomer Poppy Drayton), a young woman who is about to begin her professional life as a schoolteacher. The chummy man (Lee Williams) who is to assign her a position intends to place her at the prestigious nearby Weston Day School, but the offer hedges on Elizabeth's willingness to "show gratitude." Her refusal to do so instead gets her appointed to distant Coal Valley.

Aspiring schoolteacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Poppy Drayton) is captivated by the journal belonging to her aunt of the same name. Aunt Elizabeth Thatcher (Maggie Grace) is embarrassed to discover she hasn't been practicing her teaching on an entirely empty classroom.

Elizabeth's parents don't want her relocating to the Godforsaken West. Nor does younger sister Julie (Daisy Head), who hatches a plan to dissuade the move. The adventuresome Julie challenges Elizabeth to live on her own for a week in a cottage not far from the family's estate. Ensuring that task's difficulty, Julie sees to it that Elizabeth must wrestle with poison ivy and a shoebox of mice set free.

Elizabeth might give up if not for the company of her aunt's diary. Julie has been hiding the diary among her romance novels and, after some skepticism, Elizabeth finds it a riveting read. Aunt Elizabeth (Maggie Grace in the flashbacks that take roughly half the runtime), whose story is a guarded family secret/mystery, similarly began teaching out west in the frontier, braving a world of new adventures at Pine Springs School. The namesake ancestor's documented experiences, from aiding a poor, sick pupil to a would-be romance set back by a misunderstanding, captivates 1910 Elizabeth for obvious reasons. They even inspire the young Elizabeth to make the trip out to Coal Valley, personally escorted by family friend and newly-installed Mountie Edward Montclair (Daniel Sharman).

When Calls the Heart is pure, chaste, and unobjectionable. It doesn't shy from the G-word or a discussion of faith, but nor does it exist purely to proselytize. The writing and acting leave plenty to be desired, even from someone as Hollywood-seasoned as the top-billed Grace (of the Taken series and final two Twilight movies). Though not rated, this would warrant nothing worse than a "G", regardless of how stingy with those the MPAA is nowadays. There's nothing worse than the hint of suggestion (the elder Elizabeth misreading the advances of a man as adulterous) and a brief appearance from hardly threatening but armed outlaws.

Good thing that young Mountie Edward Montclair (Daniel Sharman) is there to carry Elizabeth (Poppy Drayton) when her feet get tired. The handsome Wynn Delaney (Stephen Amell) confuses Aunt Elizabeth by looking fatherly while coming on to her.

You could find far worse programming on cable, from insipid reality television to dumber original movies (e.g. Lifetime and most ABC Family ones) to even more saccharine Hallmark presentations. Of course, you could also easily find something more intellectually stimulating and more technically and dramatically sophisticated. If there wasn't an audience for this, though, then Michael Landon Jr. wouldn't have a career.

And he does have a career. In fact, he's following up this telemovie with a spin-off "When Calls the Heart" television series (his first), based on Oke's books but recasting all the roles. That ten-episode series premieres Saturday, January 11th on -- where else? -- Hallmark.

This movie, which can be considered a pilot of sorts, hit DVD as a Walmart exclusive last October right around the time of its premiere broadcast. On New Year's Eve, the same Millennium Entertainment disc hit general retail, timed to the series' launch.

It's worth mentioning that the two biggest names in the cast -- Jean Smart and Lori Loughlin -- each get just a few minutes of screentime at the film's conclusion.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The quality of Millennium's DVD presentation is fairly average. The 1.78:1 widescreen picture on this digital video production runs into the limitations of standard definition, exhibiting some compression artifacts and looking fine, though not as good as it would in high definition broadcast. Offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and plain 2.0 stereo, the soundtrack is highly unremarkable, offering minimal rear channel activity and practically no directionality. While it's not as crisp as a Blu-ray, this basic mix does the job. The inclusion of both English SDH and Spanish subtitles is appreciated, though you likely won't need to consult them without a hearing problem or language unfamiliarity.

Elizabeth Thatcher gets a ride from an undertaker into the Western town she'll call home on the "When Calls the Heart" DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Typical for a Landon Jr. DVD, no extras accompany the film. A nice Previews menu adds When Calls the Heart's trailer (2:17) to the five with which the disc opens, for Upside Down, Brooklyn Castle, So Undercover, As I Lay Dying, and Home Run.

The main menu plays blue-tinted clips in the sky above an animated frontier view.

No inserts are housed within the uncut Eco-Box keepcase, whose disc label features the same floating heads of the cover art.

What lies ahead for Elizabeth Thatcher (Poppy Drayton) in the mining town of Coal Valley? Tune in Saturday nights on Hallmark Channel for more "When Calls the Heart" with an all-new cast!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hallmark movies seem like something you either go for or do not. I'd never watch a movie like When Calls the Heart purely for leisure, but I wouldn't begrudge anyone for liking it. Routine though it may be, this dual narrative pioneer drama has more value than a lot of contemporary television and even lesser feature films. I would think you'd get a better viewing of this movie on this vanilla DVD than on commercial television, but I can't go so far as to claim that this deserves your attention or money.

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Reviewed January 3, 2014.



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