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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
After an autistic savant inherits three million dollars from his deceased father, his younger brother, in an attempt to trick him out of the money, learns some valuable lessons of life.

Director:
Barry Levinson
Cast:
Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Gerald R. Molen, Jack Murdock, Michael D. Roberts, Ralph Seymour, Lucinda Jenney, Bonnie Hunt
Writing Credits:
Roanld Bass, Barry Morrow

MPAA:
Rated R

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Actor-Dustin Hoffman.
Nominated for Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score-Hans Zimmer.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby 2.0
Spanish Monoaural
Subtitles:
English, Spanish, French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 134 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/3/2004

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Barry Levinson
• Audio Commentary with Writer Barry Morrow
• Audio Commentary with Writer Ronald Bass
• Original Featurette
• Deleted Scene
• Photo Gallery
• Theatrical Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Rain Man: Special Edition (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 12, 2004)

Someday I may understand why a hack like Barry Levinson enjoys such a stellar reputation as a filmmaker, but not today. For now, I'll have to remain mystified as I discuss the jewel in his crown, 1988's Rain Man, that year's top-grossing film and also the winner of the Best Picture Oscar.

That money-prize sweep happens fairly infrequently, as it only seems to occur about once or twice a decade. The Nineties saw it twice, with Titanic in 1997 and Forrest Gump in 1994. The Seventies also got a two-fer, with Rocky in 1976 and The Godfather in 1972. For the Eighties, however, Rain Man was it, and even that victory occurred only because 1988 was a pretty weak year at the box office; except for in 1987, it would have placed no higher than second in any of the other years during that decade.

Still, $172 million for a drama about an autistic man and his selfish brother isn't too shabby; too bad the movie itself bites. As much as I dislike Rain Man, I can't claim it's the worst movie in the Levinson pantheon, not with such dreck as Toys and Avalon to his discredit. Nonetheless, Rain Man remains a clunker, one whose lack of charm comes through more clearly on every viewing.

One reason I so dislike Levinson's work is because he telegraphs his emotions so bluntly. Leni Riefenstahl didn't manipulate audiences as harshly as does Levinson. Avalon marked the nadir of this tendency, but Rain Man suffers from it as well. We find scene after scene that clearly sets up the audience for his desired emotional reaction, whether through mystical awe (the diner bit) or fear (the fire in the kitchen) or cuteness (most of the rest of this drivel).

Oh, that cuteness! That was easily the most insufferable aspect of this movie. Some would claim Rain Man did more to educate the American public about autism than any other work, but I feel it did more to miseducate people about the disorder, for Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) barely resembles any autistic person I've ever met, and since I work with some autistic kids through my job, I feel reasonably qualified to say that.

As portrayed in this movie, Raymond is either an adorable little pixie (most of the film) or is a screeching terror (occasionally). It's clear that the latter instances occur only to added "depth" to the story; they let Levinson think he's making a serious picture that tells us what it's really like to be around someone with autism.

What a crock. Hoffman got a very undeserved Oscar for his work as Raymond, which shows how ridiculous the Academy Awards can be, especially since this deprived Tom Hanks a prize for his wonderfully rich and nuanced turn in Big. As played by Hoffman, Raymond is nothing more than a one-dimensional cartoon character with no basis in reality. This isn't acting of any scope or talent; I could play the role equally well, and I don't say that out of bravado - Hoffman just does nothing subtle or special in the part.

Better is Tom Cruise as Raymond's scam artist brother Charlie who essentially kidnaps Raymond to cash in on an inheritance but who - inevitably - develops love and affection for the cute l'il fella. Cruise is stuck with all the work in the movie since he has to react realistically to the events around him - unlike Hoffman, who acts in a vacuum - and he shows the only real character development in the film, since Raymond is exactly the same at the end as at the beginning. Still, there's only so much Cruise can do with material this stale and transparent; he performs adequately but gives us little reason to care.

Rain Man felt like a series of vaguely connected "moments". We find a series of scenes with no great relationship to each other except for the fact they let us see more wackiness from Raymond. He adds toothpicks, he counts cards, he farts, he says "K-Mart sucks". None of this has anything to do with anything, but that dude sure is cute, isn't he?

Nope. Back in grad school, I wrote a paper that condemned the inaccuracies in Rain Man and even more fully cataloged my disgust with it; I wish I still had it around, as I could have just posted it and saved myself some trouble. That was more than a decade ago, and another viewing of this "classic" hasn't changed my mind; if anything, my interactions with real autistic people have made me even more annoyed at the film. This is sentimental hogwash and nothing more.


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

Rain Man 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. The picture displayed some flaws but generally looked pretty good.

Sharpness seemed consistently good. Sporadic examples of softness cropped up, but these stayed pretty modest. Most of the flick came across as nicely detailed and tight. At times, I noticed examples of jagged edges and shimmering, and edge enhancement created some distractions. Print flaws remained nicely minor. The occasional speck popped up, but those remained rare, as most of the movie looked nicely clear and clean.

Colors appeared surprisingly vibrant based on my prior experiences with the film. The palette stayed in a natural vein, and the DVD displayed these well. The tones came across as fairly lively and full. Black levels seemed very good, with consistently rich and deep tones, and shadow detail was excellent; the film offers many low-light situations, and these came through winningly. I gave Rain Man a “B+” mainly due to the edge enhancement and the vaguely “digital” look the transfer exhibited at times; the jags and moiré effects were more prominent than usual. Nonetheless, most of the movie looked better than I expected.

To my surprise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was quite strong. The track betrayed a few problems, but it usually seemed very clear and bold. The soundfield stuck mainly to the front; music spread nicely to the sides, with a modicum of ambient sound blending on the left and right as well. The surrounds supported the score very nicely - it's easily the best part of the mix - and they also added some mild reinforcement for effects. It's not a dazzling mix, but it worked well.

The quality seemed inconsistent but generally positive. Dialogue was the weakest aspect; although it sounded distinct and intelligible, it could appear dull or flat, and it also displayed some slight distortion on occasion. Effects also suffered from some muddiness, but they usually seemed clear and realistic, and they betrayed some solid low end at times. Best of all was the music, which sounded terrifically bright and bold, with excellent dynamic range; the bass shook the walls much better than I'd expect from a 1988 film. It didn't make me like the movie, but the soundtrack nonetheless added to the experience.

When I compared the picture and audio of this Special Edition to the old version, the new release seemed moderately superior. Despite the various concerns with edge enhancement, the image definitely looked better, as it appeared more vibrant and cleaner. Both films displayed identical soundtracks, so the new disc offered no improvements there.

Whereas the prior DVD edition of Rain Main included virtually no extras, this new special edition packs a number of additional materials. We find no fewer than three separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Barry Levinson, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. When he speaks, Levinson gives us some great information. He goes into many aspects of the production. Levinson discusses shooting in sequence and its effect on the production, reshoots, casting some actors, decisions related to the rhythmic score, cinematographic choices, editing, improvs, and many other elements.

The key phrase in the prior paragraph should be “when he speaks”. Unfortunately, Levinson fades into the background too much of the time. Many empty spaces appear in this track and he can disappear for fairly long stretches. The quality of the information seems strong enough for me to recommend this commentary, but the many gaps create many frustrations.

Next we find a chat from writer Barry Morrow, who also offers his own running, screen-specific piece. I admit I didn’t expect much from this conversation, but Morrow provides a consistently informative and engaging commentary. He starts with the roots of Rain Man and how his own interactions with the mentally disabled led him to write it. He gives us many stories of his experiences with real-life “rain men” and tosses out many great stories about the production. We learn of casting and crew possibilities, the script’s path to the screen, and what’s happened to him since the movie’s release, especially in regard to the reactions the flick engendered. Heck, he even addresses those of us who dislike the film! Morrow remains very likable and interesting in this terrific track.

Finally, we get a piece with writer Ronald Bass, who offers his own running, screen-specific discussion. Bass starts strong as he goes over his involvement in the flick, the development he did with Steven Spielberg and mentions of other directorial possibilities, research and character development, and variations in different versions of the scripts. Unfortunately, Bass peters out before too long. After a while, his comments become appear less frequently, and he mostly just narrates the film and tells us what we see on the screen. Some good moments still pop up at times, such as when Bass tells a funny Oscar anecdote. Nonetheless, the last half of the track makes for slow going. Most of the good material shows up early in this inconsistent piece.

Now we move to an original featurette. The six-minute and 54-second piece presents many movie clips plus a few comments from participants. We hear from executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber, actors Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, director Barry Levinson, producer Mark Johnson. The film snippets dominate this promotional program, and the interviews mostly just tout the flick’s greatness. Skip this dull and uninformative featurette.

More interesting is one deleted scene. This runs for 122 seconds and shows Raymond as he navigates a convenience store by himself. It’s an interesting snippet, but it doesn’t tell us anything new about the characters.

The Photo Gallery splits into five smaller areas. We get domains devoted to “The Film Makers” (11 shots), “Tom and Dustin” (19), “Tom Cruise” (4), “Dustin Hoffman” (3), and “Valeria Golino” (5). It’s a pretty mediocre set of pictures.

Promotional pieces complete the DVD. In addition to the theatrical trailer for Rain Man, we get these ads: “MGM Means Great Movies”, Bandits, and Dances With Wolves. Both “Other Great Academy Award Winners” and “More Great MGM Releases” just show the covers of DVDs available from MGM.

I've disliked a fair number of Best Picture winners, but I reserve a special level of distaste for this junk. Honestly, Rain Man can be an entertaining film but it's so insanely phony and artificially sentimental that it makes me nauseous. The DVD provides pretty good picture and sound as well as a decent roster of extras. The three audio commentaries bring out a lot of useful information, mostly thanks to the one excellent track from writer Barry Morrow; the other two seem much more erratic.

Obviously my dislike of Rain Man means I can’t recommend the DVD to non-fans. For folks who like the flick, this new special edition release offers the best version and is the one to get. For those who already have the old “bare-bones” version, the question becomes less clear. The new package presents identical audio and moderately improved picture; the latter doesn’t seem so much superior to make a repurchase worth it just for that factor. The new set of supplements adds a reasonable amount to the package and makes a second purchase more palatable.

To rate this film, visit the original review of RAIN MAN