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Frank Darabont
Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Bob Balaban, Gerry Black, Jeffrey DeMunn, Catherine Dent, Hal Holbrook, Ron Rifkin, David Ogden Stiers, James Whitmore
Michael Sloane

Sometimes your life comes into focus one frame at a time.
Box Office:
Budget $72 million.
Opening weekend $7.366 million on 2361 screens.
Domestic gross $27.796 million.
Rated PG for language and mild thematic elements.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround
English, French

Runtime: 152 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 6/18/2002

• Additional Scenes
• Movie Within the Movie: Sand Pirates of the Sahara - The Complete Sequence
• “The Hollywood Blacklist” Text Notes
• Theatrical Trailer
• Cast and Crew


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The Majestic (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Maybe filmmakers shouldn’t try too hard to emulate the work of other directors. Sometimes these homages work fairly well, but usually they come across as pale imitations of the original material, and I don’t know what the new filmmakers have to gain. I mean, if you create a flick in the Hitchcock style and it succeeds, you still come across as just a wannabe, while if your effort flops, you seem like nothing more than a crummy wannabe.

I don’t know what possessed director Frank Darabont to so openly emulate the style and themes of Frank Capra with his 2001 release, The Majestic. This flick marks Darabont’s third directorial effort, and the first two did quite well. 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption broke no box office records, but it found a good-sized audience, and it also nabbed quite a lot of critical praise, including a nod for Best Picture. 1999’s The Green Mile didn’t do quite as well with the critics, but it still got a lot of praise as well as another Best Picture nomination and it made a nice piece of change along the way.

Between Darabont’s small but solid track record and the presence of megastar Jim Carrey in the lead, The Majestic had smash hit written all over it. The movie also enjoyed some strong buzz before it arrived on screens.

However, none of these factors meant much. The Majestic received mediocre reviews and made a mere $27 million at the box office. It quickly went from supposed Oscar contender to forgotten flop.

Personally, I think the film deserved its quick demise. While not an unpleasant piece of work, The Majestic never comes across as anything more than warmed over Capra-corn without the spark and spirit of the original.

Set in 1951 Hollywood, at the start of The Majestic we meet aspiring screenwriter Peter Appleton (Carrey). The author of a new release called Sand Pirates of the Sahara, he seems on the rise, and he enjoys the company of sexy actress Sandra Sinclair (Amanda Detmer). However, his train soon starts to derail when the feds discover that he once attended a meeting of a college group with apparent Communist leanings. Peter only went to the session to impress a girl, but the powers-that-be don’t care, and his career soon falters. The studio cancels his contract and he faces possible jail time for his “Communist tendencies”.

Peter goes on a drunken bender and decides to take a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. However, he encounters a storm and skids off of a bridge into a river. Peter gets washed away by the stream and eventually becomes knocked unconscious when head meets concrete.

Stan Keller (James Whitmore), a local resident of a little town called Lawson, finds Peter and takes him to safety. As the two go through the burg, folks notice that Peter bears a strong resemblance to Luke Trimble, a local boy who apparently died in World War II. Lawson suffered unusually high losses during the War, and they embrace the apparent return of a favorite son.

The knock to his head erased Peter’s memory, so he believes he may well be Luke. He takes on Luke’s life, which involves interaction with father Harry (Martin Landau) and girlfriend Adele (Laurie Stanton). All seems well, as “Luke’s” return restores life to the depressed little town. Harry decides that he and “Luke” should re-open The majestic, the local movie house that went dormant after the War.

They do this, and Lawson becomes a cheerful place again. “Luke” also gets to know Adele, and those romantic sparks strike. However, darkness sits on the horizon. Nagging questions of Luke/Peter’s identity remain; as time passes, “Luke” starts to regain his memory and tries to figure out who he really is. In addition, the feds still seek Peter, and they eventually locate him in Lawson. In due time, we’ll discover who Peter/Luke really is, and he’ll also face his time in a hearing with the House Un-American Affairs Committee.

Will all this resolve happily? I won’t say, but if you’re not sure, you need to get out of the house more often. Not that I regard films with foregone conclusions as a bad thing; I value the ride itself more than the final outcome.

Unfortunately, The Majestic never offers anything that approaches the level of Capra’s better efforts, and it usually seems like a bland and lackluster imitation. Carrey tries his best to channel Jimmy Stewart, but he fails. Nothing about Carrey’s performance appears overtly bad, but he simply lacks any real heart or humanity. Carrey is an excellent physical comedian who wants desperately to be taken seriously. More power to him, but I have yet to see too much evidence that he possesses the skills to make this transition. In other dramatic flicks, he’s shown competent acting abilities, but he never goes past that level. Carrey’s a decent dramatic performer at best; he only receives so much attention because of his comedic success.

The Majestic features a strong cast, but all the performers seem to sleepwalk through their parts. None of them stand out to me, and I feel the chemistry between Carrey and Holden appears wan and flat. As with Carrey, I can’t say that any of them do poorly, but they fail to bring the life and energy that the project needs.

For a self-consciously anti-ironic movie, The Majestic includes a few too many “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” moments for my liking. The scenes in which Peter meets with studio executives feature some recognizable voices, as does a voice-over from one of Luke’s letters to Adele. Those moments distracted me and seemed unnecessarily cute; I tried to identify the participants, and that pulled me out the story. Also, a joke about J. Edgar Hoover wearing a dress seemed silly to me; it took the movie out of its period and also contrasted with its generally earnest tone.

Director Darabont also allows the movie to take far too long. The Majestic runs 152 minutes, and that’s easily 45 minutes too much. The scenes that show the revival of Lawson last forever and they go nowhere. We know where the story will eventually proceed, so Darabont should have expedited matters. The movie starts with some interesting material in regard to Peter and the Communist witch-hunt, but once he lands in Lawson, matters come to a screeching halt, and the movie becomes a serious drag.

Probably the greatest weakness I find in The Majestic relates to the lack of charm and spark I mentioned. Sure, Capra’s movies are melodramatic and sentimental, but the director could pull off those attitudes well. You bought into their sappiness and didn’t care.

Darabont lacks the skill to make those elements work. He tries hard to pull heartstrings and tug at emotional tendencies, but none of them connect. Instead, the film comes across as excessively manipulative and falls flat. I never got caught up in the story or the characters and really didn’t care what would happen to them.

For a sentimental character drama like The Majestic, that lack of passion marks the kiss of death. I applaud Darabont’s attempt to create a “throwback” movie that echoes the attitudes of the Thirties and Forties. Unfortunately, he didn’t make a very interesting or entertaining throwback.

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

The Majestic 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. Though not a flawless effort, The Majestic provided a very strong visual experience.

Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie consistently appeared crisp and detailed, and I saw no signs of softness during this tight and concise picture. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no concerns, while I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed absent.

Colors appeared absolutely terrific. The movie offered a nicely rich and vibrant palette, and the DVD replicated these tones with wonderful fidelity. The hues always came across as vivid and lively, and they showed no signs of noise, bleeding, or other issues. Black levels were deep and distinct, while shadow detail came across as appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. I knocked my grade down to an “A-“ mainly due to intangibles; despite the fantastic colors, the picture lacked that certain indefinable spark that would merit a straight “A”. Nonetheless, I can’t complain about any portion of this solid transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Majestic also worked well, though the modest nature of the project meant it wouldn’t be quite as stellar as the image. Not surprisingly, the audio favored the forward spectrum. Music showed nice stereo presence, while effects and speech both displayed good localization and integration. Actually, I felt quite pleased with the use of speech. During the opening scene with the studio executives, their voices emanated from different locations in a very natural manner; I don’t usually hear dialogue that seems so accurately placed.

Surround usage appeared logical but minimal. During a few segments, the rear speakers came to life reasonably well, but they usually provided little more than general reinforcement for the forward channels. The car crash scene used the surrounds most effectively. From the thunderstorm at the start of that piece to the accident itself, the soundfield created a nicely effective sequence.

Audio quality appeared positive. Speech seemed nicely warm and natural, and I heard no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. With the exception of segments like the car crash I already mentioned, effects made up a minor aspect of the track, but they appeared clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion. Music fared best, as the score sounded bright and vibrant. The track boasted solid dynamic range, and low-end appeared nicely deep and tight when appropriate. The Majestic lacked the sonic ambition to merit more than a “B”, but I felt the soundtrack nicely complemented the material.

The DVD release of The Majestic packs only a few minor extras. Like cohorts Luc Besson and Woody Allen, director Frank Darabont apparently doesn’t care for copious DVD extras, so none of his movies include many of these features. (Oddly, Darabont did participate in the supplements created for the The Nightmare On Elm Street Collection; he co-wrote A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.)

Still, we do get a few components. Additional Scenes covers nine minutes and 29 seconds of footage, though a considerable amount of that time gets filled with title cards that introduce each clip. Including that text, each segment runs between 64 seconds and 97 seconds. Most of the snippets actually seem fairly good, but they appear redundant; the material they cover shows up elsewhere. Still, they offer some interesting moments, such as Peter’s breakup with Sandra, something that occurs off-screen in the finished film.

Movie Within the Movie shows all of the material created for Sand Pirates of the Sahara, the flick authored by Peter Appleton. Of course, they didn’t film shoot for the movie, so we just see the four-minute and 47-second snippet viewed in the film. It’s a minor curiosity but it adds a nice element to the package.

Cast and Crew simply lists most of the participants. We can also examine filmographies for Jim Carrey, writer Michael Sloane, and director Darabont. Additional text material appears in The Hollywood Blacklist, a short but decent discussion of that phenomenon. Lastly, we find the original theatrical trailer for The Majestic.

I can’t call The Majestic a bad film, for it possesses few serious failings. However, the movie simply lacks much heart or spirit, factors that cause problems for this sort of sentimental genre. It comes across as mediocre and competent but nothing more. The DVD provides very good picture and sound but lacks substantial extras. Those who really liked The Majestic will probably feel pleased with the DVD, but others should probably just watch something like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington instead.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7037 Stars Number of Votes: 27
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