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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Kasi Lemmons
Cast:
Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae
Writing Credits:
Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

Synopsis:
Harriet Tubman escapes from slavery and becomes a warrior for emancipation.

Box Office:
Budget:
$17 Million.
Opening Weekend
$11,676,720 on 2059 Screens.
Domestic Gross
$43,037,890.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13.

DISC DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Spanish DTS-HD 7.1
French DTS 5.1
English DVS
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 1/28/2020

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kasi Lemmons
• Deleted Scenes
• “Her Story” Featurette
• “Becoming Harriet” Featurette
• DVD Copy


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RELATED REVIEWS


Harriet [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 21, 2020)

With 2019’s Harriet, we get a biopic about legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman. Initially set in 1849, Araminta “Minty” Ross (Cynthia Erivo) serves as a slave on a plantation owned by Edward Broadess (Michael Marunde).

Although Edward’s great-grandfather decreed that Minty’s mother Rit (Vanessa Bell Calloway) and all her children be freed when she turns 45, Edward refuses to do so. When Minty’s free husband John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) presents a legal letter that demands their release, Edward simply tears up the missive and continues to keep Minty and the others captive.

After Edward dies, his son Gideon (Joe Alwyn) views Minty as a troublemaker and plans to sell her. Rather than suffer this form of separation from her family, Minty flees north.

Minty makes it to Philadelphia and adopts the name “Harriet Tubman”. As she creates a new life, she remains determined to free her family, a desire that sends her back south to rescue them.

After one successful mission, Harriet finds her calling. She becomes a notorious “conductor” in the Underground Railroad and takes many slaves to their freedom.

With a movie such as Harriet, it can feel sacrilegious to offer too much criticism. Given the beyond reproach nature of its lead and the message it imparts, negative comments can seem unseemly.

But I’ll go there anyway.

At all times, Harriet offers a respectful, well-meaning movie that seeks to impart its main character’s greatness – and that’s the problem. The filmmakers appear so focused on Tubman the Legend that they fail to explore Tubman the Person.

Harriet believes she receives messages from God, and the film never really seems to question this. Oh, we learn that she suffered a severe head injury as a child, and this leaves the impression that her “visions” might really be seizures, but that’s a minor aside.

Instead, the film treats Harriet’s divine visuals as fairly literal, and this leads to perplexing scenes. For instance, Harriet leads an escape party across an apparently impassable river.

As she wades across, Harriet pauses to get another vision from God, and then she makes it the rest of the way. Did God raise the riverbed in those moments, and less divinely-guided people would’ve drowned?

Even without these odd scenes, Harriet suffers from its refusal to paint Tubman as anything other than a flawless missionary for good. Make no mistake: Tubman was a remarkable person who led an amazing life.

That doesn’t mean she lacked nuances and humanity, though. Harriet seems afraid to give its lead any kind of real depth or doubts, and that feels like a mistake.

It reminds me of 1988’s Last Temptation of Christ. Much of that movie’s appeal came from the way it portrayed Jesus as a character with real humanity and not just the perfect being we usually see.

None of that comes across in Harriet. Tubman never appears to harbor any doubts, and she never seems tempted to simply enjoy her freedom.

This means we never get any real sense of struggle or pain. We often hear of the deadly challenges Tubman encounters, but we don’t feel any of that.

Tubman accomplishes her goals with relative ease against various threats, none of which act as true impediments. Granted, history means we know Harriet will succeed, but the film still could’ve created a stronger impression of menace.

Among the movie’s liberties, the most damaging comes from the use of Gideon as our One Size Fits All villain. Gideon didn’t exist so the film created him just to be a concrete antagonist.

Alwyn portrays him as a nearly literal moustache-twirling baddie, and his scenes become nearly comical in their cliché manner. Tubman’s life brought more than enough real drama, so the filmmakers didn’t need to invent a stock villain to convey these elements.

At all times, Harriet brings a professional affair. Led by a steady, earnest performance from Erivo, the actors largely do well.

Well-intention as it may be, though, Harriet seems oddly bloodless and flat. This often feels like glorified TV movie fare, as it lacks depth and much impact.


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

Harriet appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a pretty terrific presentation.

Sharpness fared well. Virtually no softness materialized, so this became a tight, well-defined image.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects popped up, and I saw no signs of edge haloes or print flaws either.

Even with its period setting, Harriet opted for a predictable teal/blue and amber/orange palette. While those choices felt trite, the Blu-ray reproduced them as intended.

Blacks looked deep and rich and low-light elements boasted good clarity, as even day-for-night shots displayed appealing visuals. All of this created a highly satisfying image.

Due to the story’s character focus, I didn’t expect much from the film’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack, but I found a fairly engaging mix. Most of the movie focused on music and general ambience, and those domains provided a nice sense of the material.

A few more dynamic sequences added zest to the proceedings, mainly via Harriet’s “visions” and some violent elements. These didn’t pop up with great frequency, but they connected when necessary.

Audio quality worked nicely. Speech seemed natural and concise, while music was warm and full.

Effects showed fine clarity and impact, with deep low-end as appropriate. I felt this became a more than acceptable soundtrack.

We get a few extras here, and we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Kasi Lemmons. She brings a running, screen-specific discussion of the history behind the movie’s factual topics, cast and performances, story/characters, sets and locations, music, cinematography, costumes/period details and related subjects.

Lemmons starts out slowly, as she tends to focus a little too much on general Tubmam-based background. However, she spreads the information more evenly as the track goes and gets into filmmaking elements. This adds up to a generally informative piece.

Seven Deleted Scenes fill a total of 15 minutes, 35 seconds. Across these, we tend to get added exposition and character moments, such as one that hints at romance between Harriet and William.

Some offer decent information, but none seem especially memorable. While nice to see, I can’t claim any needed to make the final cut.

Two featurettes follow, and Her Story runs five minutes, 57 seconds. It provides notes from Lemmons, producers Debra Martin Chase and Daniela Taplin Lundberg, and actors Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.

The featurette looks at the tale’s path to the screen and a few aspects of the project’s goals. Expect a few good notes but more than a little fluff.

Becoming Harriet goes for three minutes, 37 seconds and features Lemmons, Erivo, Lundberg, Chase, Odom, and Monae. “Becoming” looks at Erivo’s casting and performance. It becomes a superficial piece.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of Harriet. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray.

Given the impact and importance of its subject matter, Harriet should bring a slam-dunk, hard-hitting drama. Instead, it seems toothless and without the depth and substance it needs. The Blu-ray brings excellent visuals, pretty good audio and a decent array of bonus materials. Harriet Tubman deserves a less formulaic biography than this.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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