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Ron Howard
Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Vivien Cardone, Judd Hirsch, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Christopher Plummer
Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar

He Saw The World In A Way No One Could Have Imagined.
Box Office:
Budget $60 million.
Opening weekend $2.501 million on 524 screens.
Domestic gross $170.498 million.
Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content and a scene of violence.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actress-Jennifer Connelly; Best Screenplay.
Nominated for Best Actor-Russell Crowe; Best Editing; Best Makeup; Best Score-James Horner.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
2-Disc set
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 136 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 6/25/2002

Disc 1
• Audio Commentary With Director Ron Howard
• Audio Commentary With Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
• “Inside A Beautiful Mind” Featurette
• Deleted Scenes with optional Director's Commentary
Disc 2
• “A Beautiful Partnership” Featurette
• “Development of the Screenplay” Featurette
• “Meeting John Nash” Featurette
• “Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics”
• “Cast Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly” Featurette
• “The Process of Age Progression” Featurette
• Storyboard Comparisons
• “Creation of the Special Effects” Featurette
• “Scoring the Film” Featurette
• Academy Awards Footage
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Filmmaker Biographies
• Production Notes
• DVD-ROM Features

Score soundtrack

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A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Often it appears that Oscars go to their recipients based more on prior work than for the film in question. For instance, few doubted this occurred when Paul Newman won Best Actor for The Color of Money. While Newman did offer a strong performance, this award appeared to come mainly as recognition of his long and consistently strong career.

I got the feeling that A Beautiful Mind took home the Best Picture prize for 2001 due to that factor. Actually, the nominees included a number of folks one could claim deserved that kind of career recognition. Both David Lynch and Robert Altman received nods for Mulholland Drive and Gosford Park, respectively. Those films capped extended and productive careers.

However, many perceive Lynch and Altman as filmmakers who don’t work within the mainstream, which seems accurate; a glance through their résumés finds very few movies that appear palatable for a general audience. Should the Academy hold this against them? No, but we all know that Oscar prefers fare that takes moderate positions.

The filmmakers of Mind met that concept in every way. I go for the plural of “filmmaker” because I think the presence of two folks helped ensure Mind would win. Not only could the prize offer recognition of director Ron Howard’s 40-year career - including his time as an actor - but also it functioned as a way to applaud producer Brian Grazer. Both have created a slew of good flicks over the years. Do any great pictures reside on their résumés? No, though I did really like Apollo 13, which I felt should have beaten Braveheart for 1995.

Otherwise, they’ve made many good but unexceptional films, both together and apart. Should Oscars be given to honor a track record and not the movie in question? No, but that’s obviously what happens, and I think that’s largely why A Beautiful Mind beat out contenders like Park, Drive and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Not that I felt Mind was a bad film, however. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a lot more than I expected. By no means did I consider it to be a great piece of work or something that merited an award as Best Picture, but Mind provided a generally compelling and satisfying experience.

Mind tells the semi-fictionalized story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. Played by Russell Crowe, we first meet Nash as he starts grad school at Princeton in 1947. Quickly we learn of his brilliance and also his quirkiness; as he states, he doesn’t much like people, and they don’t like him, though he does become good friends with his roommate Charles (Paul Bettany).

We watch Nash’s progression as he develops a terrific theory and gains a prestigious placement at MIT’s Wheeler House. As part of his work, he must teach a graduate level class, and there he meets his match in student Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). While those two develop a romance, he works on a super-secret attempt to break Soviet code found in American magazines. This area puts him in contact with hard-boiled agent Parcher (Ed Harris) and places Nash in grave danger as he attempts to stop atrocities from occurring on American soil.

Or does he? As the film progresses, we slowly learn how much of Nash’s reality exists and how much resides in his head. His schizophrenia becomes debilitating, and we observe as he and Alicia battle it so that he can develop his genius again.

You get no points if you figure out in advance whether or not Mind will have a happy ending. Howard hasn’t exactly shown himself to be a dark director over the years, and Mind does occasionally suffer from his light touch. However, I will state that I think Howard usually keeps things fairly honest. While it clearly could have been more intense and harrowing - and perhaps should have been to adequately capture schizophrenia - Mind stayed away from too many easy answers and solutions.

Mind suffers from some superficiality, but that seems almost inevitable for a movie of this scope. It covers events from 1947 through 1994. That’s a lot of time, though it mainly focuses on the Forties and Fifties; the later decades almost become an afterthought. Mind does feel like a “Cliff’s Notes” version of Nash’s story, but again, that appears tough to avoid in a two hour and 16 minute film.

On the positive side, Mind moves at a good pace. Though it’s a long movie, I think it progresses rapidly; when I checked out the time counter on my DVD player, I often was surprised to note how many minutes had passed. Howard keeps the action moving and makes this a brisk and involving tale for the most part.

I also like the manner in which the film treats schizophrenia. Although a lot of parts seem suspicious - like the whole involvement with Parcher - Nash’s world is presented as fact. Some small clues exist to tip off the viewer that what they see doesn’t represent reality, but Howard never telegraphs these moments. That helps the film draw in the viewer, as we generally buy Nash’s side of things, and it makes the impact that much greater when we discover how off he really is.

Mind boasts some solid acting, another factor that helps it succeed. Crowe seems laughably old to play the young Nash - the man was 19 in 1947, and Crowe is now double that age! - and he also comes across as awfully buff for a math nerd; the scene in which he first meets Alicia shows a rather muscular man, which makes me wonder why we don’t see Nash at the gym.

Nonetheless, Crowe succeeds more than he fails. He makes Nash quirky but not excessively mannered or twitchy, and he seems like a real person, not just a collection of characteristics Crowe read in the DSM-IV. When actors play mentally ill people, they tend to fall back on the external issues too strongly, and their work becomes all about those mannerisms. Crowe largely avoids that, and he adds a depth to the role I didn’t expect.

I also like what Connelly did with Alicia. The long-suffering but devoted wife is a cliché, and the part seems thin and underwritten here. However, Connelly brings life to the role and makes us think we know more about Alicia than we really do. Although I always thought she was a babe, Connelly never much impressed me in prior work; through films like Dark City and Pollock, I felt she usually seemed flat and stiff. Those concerns don’t arise during Mind, in which she appears almost shockingly natural. She allows Alicia to breathe and become her own person. I don’t know if she deserved an Oscar, but she works quite well nonetheless. (Though I think the old-age makeup she sports at the end of the flick makes her look suspiciously similar to The Grinch.)

Ultimately, I have more positive than negative feelings toward A Beautiful Mind, though I still don’t think it offers a Best Picture caliber experience. It generally offers an entertaining and acceptably believable look into the mind of a disturbed genius. It lacks some depth and grittiness, but it compensates with warmth and brisk pacing that make it more watchable and compelling.

Trivia note: according to IMDB, Mind marked only the second Ron Howard film in which his brother Clint didn't also appear. For reasons unknown, Clint didn't act in 1988's Willow. But nepotism fans need not fear, for two other Howards - dad Rance and wife Cheryl - made the cut in Mind, and the director himself appeared in a bit part as well.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus A-

A Beautiful Mind appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As befit a recent movie of such high stature, the picture looked very good from start to finish, though it didn’t quite seem terrific.

Sharpness seemed immaculate. I found virtually no evidence of softness or fuzziness at any point. Instead, I felt the film appeared crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, but I did notice a slight amount of light edge enhancement at times. That issue remained minor and didn’t create any substantial problems, however. As for print flaws, I detected a little light grain at times, but not enough to present concerns. Otherwise, the movie remained free of defects.

Parts of Mind featured a moderately stylized palette, particularly in the early parts of the film. Howard obviously tried to give it that golden glow typical of “period” flicks, and this worked well. Overall, colors looked nicely rich and warm throughout the film. I didn’t think the stylization ever became oppressive, and the tones appeared quite vivid and vibrant to me. Black levels always came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never too thick or opaque; low-light sequences looked very clear and distinct. Despite a few minor issues, I found A Beautiful Mind to present a generally strong image.

Also good was the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I felt surprised that Universal didn’t include a DTS mix as well, since they often do so, but I’d guess that they didn’t want to sacrifice picture quality. Mind runs 136 minutes also includes two audio commentaries and almost a half an hour of deleted scenes on one disc; that may have meant that the DTS track would cause a degradation in picture quality, so the DVD’s producers opted to omit it.

Given the limited scope of the movie’s soundfield, I can’t say I really missed the DTS option. Overall, Mind offered a track with a fairly heavy forward emphasis. Music displayed a good stereo presence, while effects created a modest but reasonably involving image. Most of the mix consisted of general ambience, but the audio did come to life decently on a few occasions. Most of those dealt with Nash’s mental state. At times, the surrounds kicked in nicely, as we heard Nash’s thoughts swirl around the various speakers. Segments such as a thunderstorm and a car chase also showed good use of the different channels. Nonetheless, the mix lacked a great deal of ambition, though it remained appropriate for this kind of film.

Audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue came across as natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. James Horner’s score appeared bright and vibrant, and the music displayed good fidelity and depth. Effects usually were modest, but they still seemed clean and accurate, and they appeared clear and rich on the few occasions when the volume jumped. Overall, the soundtrack of A Beautiful Mind provided an unambitious but solid auditory experience that worked for the movie.

This two-disc “Awards Edition” of A Beautiful Mind packs a lot of extras, and a surprising amount of them appear on the first disc. That platter includes two separate audio commentaries. One comes from director Ron Howard, who provides a running, screen-specific piece. Overall, Howard gives us enough useful information to make the track worth a listen, but it seems inconsistent. On the positive side, the director covers a lot of his intentions for the movie, and he also goes into the reality behind the fictionalized film and chats about working with the actors. He even acknowledges the absence of his brother Clint, who actually does appear in the film - sort of. However, Howard often repeats himself - the word “again” appears about a million times during his chat - and quite a few empty spaces occur. The track works well enough to merit a listen, as it does contain a lot of good material, but it remains a mixed bag.

The second commentary offers remarks from screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who also offers a running, screen-specific track. Although he seems chattier than Howard does - fewer empty spots occur - Goldsman also provide less useful information. The writer delves into character development well, and he also offers some remarks about the facts behind the story and production notes. However, Goldsman frequently does little more than relate information that already seems obvious to us. I should note that the commentary improves as it progresses, though, and it appears reasonably interesting and informative for fans of the movie.

In addition to those commentaries, DVD One includes 18 deleted scenes. The image is non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 sound. All the clips run as one continuous program that lasts 26 minutes and 50 seconds, though chapter encoding allows you to skip through them easily. All of the clips can be viewed with or without commentary from director Ron Howard. In addition, an audio piece from Howard opens the section, as he quickly explains the concept of deleted scenes.

As for the excised segments, some of them seem interesting. Actually, most of them appear interesting, but I think virtually all of them deserved to be cut. In his comments, Howard usually - but not always - discusses the reasons for the deletions, and he adds some other useful remarks as well.

A couple of other minor pieces round out DVD One. We find a good overview in the text Production Notes as well as some decent information in the Cast and Filmmakers area. The latter offers listings for director Howard, producer Brian Grazer, writer Goldsman, and actors Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch and Christopher Plummer. These resemble similar features on other Universal DVDs; they seem fair but unspectacular. Some additional text appears in the DVD’s booklet.

As we move on to DVD Two, we encounter a slew of additional extras. Most of the features provide short featurettes. A Beautiful Partnership takes a five minute and 22 second look at the working relationship between Howard and Grazer. Mostly this consists of a joint interview with the pair; it shows some “talking head” shots of the two and also runs their dialogue on top of some film clips and behind the scenes footage. This program seems mediocre. The two cover a few interesting issues, but overall they present little insight into their partnership.

Development of the Screenplay provides a more informative affair. The eight minute and 16 second program offers interviews with Grazer and Howard but it mostly focuses on writer Goldsman. It uses the same format as “Partnership” except some of the film clips and behind the scenes shots provide audio of their own; they’re not all silent partners beneath the interviews. Goldsman gives us a good chat about the working process and collaborating with others that helps flesh out how they created this aspect of the film.

During Meeting John Nash, we observe an encounter with the film’s subject himself. It includes some interview clips with Howard, but mostly we watch a videotaped chat between the director and Nash in which the latter discusses one of his concepts. That factor makes the eight minute and 27 second program fairly dry, but it remains cool to get a better look at the real person behind the film.

We see more of Nash in Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics, a 116-second clip from the 1994 ceremonies. This doesn’t present Nash’s speech. Indeed, the oratory he oggers in the movie doesn’t exist. This just depicts his formal receipt of the award. It’s a nice archival piece to have, but it seems bland.

Casting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly obviously discusses the actors. During the five minute and 56 second program, Howard and Grazer go over their casting and chat about what it was like to work with the pair. The piece includes some decent information, but it seems puffy as a whole, and it suffers from the absence of the actors in question.

More interesting is The Process of Age Progression, a seven minute and 13 second look at that topic. It provides quick interview snippets from Howard and Grazer but mainly offers material from makeup creator Greg Cannom. He covers his subject well and tells us a lot of good notes about the subject. In addition, we see some fine test footage that demonstrates the work.

Another valuable chat comes in Creation of the Special Effects. Again, it provides a few snippets from Howard and Grazer, but the focus remains on visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack. He dominates the 10 minute and 46 second program as he discusses the material and shows us many examples of the work. It’s a good look at the way they integrated effects into a movie one wouldn’t associate with that medium.

As one might expect, Scoring the Film focuses on the music of Mind. The ubiquitous Howard and Grazer pop up briefly, but we mostly hear from composer James Horner along with singer Charlotte Church. The five minute and 54 second featurette offers a few decent tidbits about Horner’s work, but overall it seems a bit bland and superficial.

The Storyboard Comparisons let us check out five different scenes. The piece starts with a 28-second introduction from Howard. Three of these bits appeared in the final film, while the other two look at deleted segments. We watch the movie footage in the top half of the screen, while the boards reside in the lower half. In a nice touch, you can enlarge the boards to fill the screen at any point. The segments run between 51 seconds and 130 seconds for a total of seven minutes, 27 seconds of footage. I’ve never much cared for storyboards, so these did little for me, but it seemed to be a solid presentation.

Inside A Beautiful Mind offers the standard promotional program typical of those seen on cable channels. The 22 minute and 30 second show combines movie clips, shots from the set and interviews. In the latter domain, we hear from Howard, Grazer, author Sylvia Nasar, Crowe, Connelly, Nash, Goldsman, Alicia Nash, Senator Paul Wellstone and Tipper Gore. The last two appear mostly in an official capacity to recognize the way Mind helped inform people about mental illness.

While it was good to finally see the primary actors and I also liked the involvement of both John and Alicia Nash, this show remained superficial. Some of the comments seemed useful, and I enjoyed parts of the behind the scenes shots, but I felt the program rarely lost its promotional bent. Film clips dominated the show and made it watchable but lackluster.

One interesting addition comes in the Academy Awards domain. There you’ll find the three minute and 54 second Best Picture acceptance speech from Grazer and Howard. We also watch short clips from the backstage interviews with winners Howard (41 seconds), Connelly (25 seconds), and Goldsman (20 seconds). I wish we got their acceptance speeches as well, but it remains a cool extra.

Some more ordinary features round out the second disc. We find the film’s theatrical trailer as well as promotional materials for other Universal flicks in the Now Showing domain. There we get short ads for Apollo 13, The Family Man, K-Pax and Patch Adams. One interesting touch: in addition to the generic promos, we find some quick excerpts of each DVD’s supplements. In addition to an ad for the movie’s soundtrack, we get a listing of organizations; that area shows links to schizophrenia related groups.

For DVD-ROM users, the fun doesn’t end there. However, it did for me as I reviewed A Beautiful Mind. The disc includes something Universal call “Total Axess”. This offers a link to a site that will provide additional material related to the movie. This stuff might be good or it might not, but since I reviewed the DVD a month before street date, none of it appears active; when I clicked the link, it went to a dead end. Unusually, the disc provides none of the standard weblinks to other Universal sites; perhaps they’re built into “Total Axess”.

One strange aspect of this DVD: I don’t know why all of the extras didn’t appear on the second disc. By my rough calculations, DVD Two includes about 100 minutes of video footage. That left more than enough room for the deleted scenes and other bits found on the first disc. It seemed odd that DVD One got stuffed so full of material when all this additional space existed.

While I didn’t expect to care for A Beautiful Mind, I actually found it to offer a reasonably engaging experience. The movie suffered from some of director Ron Howard’s soppy tendencies, but it usually came across as a believable and compelling examination of one man’s battle with mental illness. The DVD offered very good picture and sound plus a solid roster of extras. Overall, Universal created a satisfying package with the DVD release of A Beautiful Mind.

Note: A Beautiful Mind can be purchased in both widescreen and fullscreen editions. I haven’t seen the latter, but the former’s cover distinguishes itself in only a minor way. At the bottom of the front, it notes “widescreen”, and I think the two covers appear identical otherwise. This means you should take care if you attempt to purchase it at a store; you might easily mistake one for the other.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9056 Stars Number of Votes: 212
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