March 27, 2008

DVD Review: Walk the Line - Extended Cut

A few years back we got a film about a musician who over came great odds and family tragedy to become world renowned, well respected, a legend in his own lifetime. His life was not an easy one, it was fraught with drug abuse, infidelity, and just overall troubles, all despite his considerable music talent that connected with a legion of fans, and whose influence is felt to this day. That film went on to win the Best Picture Oscar, as well as nabbing the top prize for the lead acting performance. What? This didn't win Best Picture? Oh yeah, that's right, Ray won the top prize in 2004, Walk the Line wasn't even nominated in 2005. Sometimes it's hard to keep all of these biopics from blending into one another. Funny thing, although I saw both films during their theatrical runs, I never did review them, making this the first time I have committed thought to page.

The way to make a successful biopic is to select an artist that is well loved across the board, Johnny Cash is one of those artists that has crossover appeal through a large number of demographics (same thing for Ray Charles). The next element is to take a good look at the big picture of the subject's life and begin condensing it down. No matter how interesting or fascinating the person's life is, something needs to get cut. The man's life is cut down to the bare essentials that will fit within the confines of your standard feature film running time. The biggest problem is that when these tales are condensed they bear an awful similarity to one another.

Now, read the opening paragraph again, excusing the Oscar talk, could you tell if I was talking about Ray or Walk the Line. I know that when I back up and take a look at them, while the subject is clearly different, their lives are very similar in this boiled down fashion, which lessens the impact of their story. What it comes down to is execution. Of the two, Ray was the better executed, while I enjoyed the music of Walk the Line more.

All of this makes the genre ripe for the spoofing, which happened this past December with the release of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. I only mention this because as I watched this extended cut of Walk the Line, the early scenes brought me right back the spoof and some unintentional humor.

On the basis of its own merits, Walk the Line is a good film. It successfully gives us an overview of the story behind the Man in Black. However, what really sells it is not so much the content (although that is very important), it is the performance of the lead performers and their ability to mimic the people they are portraying. In this case, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did an excellent job bringing Johnny Cash and June Carter to vivid life.

The film is slickly made, it has first rate production values and cannot be faulted on a technical level, even if it isn't quite as audacious as it possibly could be. However, it is in those performances that the film really flies, performances that garnered the duo Oscar nods, and Reese a win. Phoenix gives a performance that grows on you, at first he does not seem up to the task, until you realize that he is growing into the character as Cash is growing into himself, and it really is quite amazing to watch. Witherspoon, on the other hand, nails it from the get go. I have never been a big fan of hers, but there is no denying that she is great here. The quality acting continues on past them and includes the supporting cast as well. I guess it should also be noted that it is a easier to judge these performances as we have the shortcut of comparing them to their real life counterparts, which should remind us to be diligent when judging truly original performances (not to belittle the excellent work here).

Walk the Line chronicles the life and times of Johnny Cash from his days as a young boy who loses his brother in a tragic accident, through his strained relationship with his father, through the Air Force, and into early marriage and family life. It moves on to show how he got his start in music and how his success and fame eroded his relationship with his wife, drove him to drugs, and ultimately into the saving arms of June Carter, whom he would go on to marry. In between all of these stops along life's journey we get some truly excellent music, ably performed by our two stars.

While the film does hit the major highs and lows of Johnny's life, the film is ultimately a love story between Johnny and June. The two seem almost destined for each other, from the moment we first see young Johnny listening to the equally young June on the radio, right through to their initial meeting that leads to infatuation, which in turn leads to a troubled yet love filled romance. It is a that romantic tale of salvation that lies at the heart of Walk the Line, holding it all together.

This new two disk DVD edition features an extended cut of the feature, adding 18 minutes to the running time. It is important to note that this is an "extended cut" and not a "director's cut," indicating that director James Mangold was not involved in the re-edit of the film. This little fact tells me that this is more for marketing another DVD to the market than it is for any artistic reasons. Now, while this is likely the case, it does not and should not invalidate the validity of the cut. With any new cut, the quality can go either way. In the case of Walk the Line, I was hard pressed to immediately notice any differences. There were a couple of moments that I do not recall from the theatrical version, but I suspect that much of that time is in extensions of existing scenes, as opposed to entirely new scenes added back in. After doing abit of searching, it appears that most of the reinserted footage appeared on the prior release in the deleted scenes section.

Audio/Video. The tech specs for this set are very good. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video looks fantastic with plenty of detail and fine colors. Absolutely nothing to complain about. As for the audio? With DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1, and Dolby 2.0, how can you go wrong? You can't. The audio sounds great. Again, nothing to complain about.

Extras. This two disk set comes with plenty of extras, many carried over from the prior release.

Carried Over Extras:

  • Commentary. The track features director James Mangold, and is, by and large, a fine track that gives insight into the film and its subject, with some slight excursions into odd comments.
  • Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line. A look inside the creation of the film and a look behind the curtain into what it took to get Johnny onto the big screen. (21.5 minutes)
  • Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny & June. This highlights the romance, relationship, and music that the duo made. Plus, the troubles that Johnny had with drugs.(11.5 minutes)
  • Johnny Cash Jukebox: Walk the Line Extended Musical Sequences with New Introductions. This is pretty cool, comprised mostly of extended sequences from the film. They all sound quite good, and the introductions aren't too bad either! (~27 minutes combined) Included songs:
  • "Lewis Boogie" - Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis (commentators include Mikal Gilmore, Rolling Stone contributing editor; Jack "Cowboy" Clement, Johnny Cash record producer; actor Waylon Payne, Jason Fine, Managing Editor Rolling Stone; actor Johnny Holiday, and John Carter Cash).
  • "Get Rhythm" - Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (commentators include John Doyle, Curator, Rock 'N' Soul Museum; Steve Pond, contributing editor, Rolling Stone; Jason Fine).
  • "You're My Baby" - Johnathan Rice as Roy Orbison (commentators include Mikal Gilmore, John Doyle, Johnathan Rice).
  • "Jukebox Blues" - Reese Witherspoon as June Carter (commentators include James Keach, Producer; Arianne Phillips, costume designer; Mikal Gilmore, John Carter Cash, Reese Witherspoon).
  • "Rock and Roll Ruby" - Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (commentators include James Mangold, Director; Jay Orr, Historian, Country Music Hall of Fame; Jack "Cowboy" Clement).
  • "That's Alright Mama" - Tyler Hilton as Elvis Presley (commentators include John Doyle; Scotty Moore, Elvis' guitarist; Mikal Gilmore; Jack "Cowboy" Clement).
  • "Jackson" - Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter (commentators include Steve Pond, Jay Orr, Patrick Carr, Cash biographer).
  • "Cocaine Blues" - Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (commentators include Jack "Cowboy" Clement, John Doyle, Steve Pond).
  • Theatrical Trailer. The original promo trailer that drew me in to want to see the film.

New Features:

  • Becoming Cash/Becoming Carter. Interviews with cast and crew about how the casting went down and what they were looking for in the leads. (11 minutes)
  • Sun Records & the Johnny Cash Sound. This takes a look at the dawn of the record label and the important role that Johnny Cash played in its succes. (12 minutes)
  • The Cash Legacy. Cash's influence still reverberates through the music world, and this takes a look at Cash's development and the place he will always hold. (15 minutes)
  • Folsom: Cash and the Comeback. The classic concert and how it was the moment that got his life and his career back on track following his downward spiral into drugs. (12 minutes)
  • Cash and Faith. A look inside Cash's relationship with God and the meaning that it had for him. (11 minutes)
  • More Man in Black: Deleted Scenes. A pair of scenes that did not make it back to the extended cut. Interesting to watch, but are best left out. The two scenes are "Memphis Streets" and "The Bank." (6.5 minutes)

Bottomline. This is a very good film. However, if you already own the theatrical release, I cannot say that you need to upgrade, as that release is quite good and the added time does not really add much to the content of the film. If you are a Cash fanatic and need it all, go right ahead and enjoy this release. Also, if you do not have the prior release, this is definitely worth taking a peak at, ther film is very good and the extras are plentiful and informative.



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