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With PLEASANTVILLE ($25), writer/director Gary Ross plays out the tale of forbidden knowledge and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden in a rather unique way. The plot of this comic-fantasy centers on two 90's teenagers who find themselves sucked into the universe of a 1950’s sitcom called PLEASANTVILLE. PLEASANTVILLE is the idealized vision of 1950’s America, a place where everyone is white and lives in the suburbs, the father comes home from work everyday at exactly six p.m., and the mother stays at home, where she cooks and cleans in her high heels and pearls.

PLEASANTVILLE stars Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as David and Jennifer, a pair of siblings who are the victims of the ever-growing divorce rate. With an absentee father and a mother looking to go AWOL, David and Jennifer have found their own ways of dealing with the situation. David has withdrawn and become the typical high school geek, while Jennifer has joined the "cool" crowd- seeking the affection of every high school hunk that happens her way. On a particular Friday night, when mom leaves town with her new boyfriend, David and Jennifer find themselves at odds over the remote control to their new big screen television. She has a date coming over to watch a concert on the music channel, while he intends to stay up for the twenty-four-hour PLEASANTVILLE marathon on the classic TV channel. The remote control becomes a casualty of their tug of war, leaving them with no way of turning on the television set. Seconds after their remote control is smashed to pieces, a television repairman (Don Knotts) magically shows up at their door, offering to solve their problem. The repairman gives David and Jennifer a new heavy-duty remote with some extra oomph- guaranteed to put them right in the show.

With the new remote control in hand, the tug of war resumes, however the consequences of pushing all the buttons on the new device results in the siblings being zapped into the black and white world of PLEASANTVILLE. Much to their mutual shock, David has become Pleasantville’s own Bud Parker and Jennifer assumes the identity of Bud’s sister Mary Sue. At first, David decides to play along, assuming the role of Bud with all the ease of someone who has watched the show religiously, however Jennifer cannot stand Mary Sue’s dull existence and rebels against it. Soon after Jennifer introduces a bit of forbidden knowledge to the denizens of this all too perfect slice of Americana, the town and its people begin to change. Like the domino effect, a single action sets in motion a chain reaction that no force in Pleasantville can stop. Real colors shockingly appear in the monochrome universe and the residents of Pleasantville start to question the meaning of their existence. Then, other, even more starling changes start to overtake the town. As the citizens themselves gradually turn to color, the once harmonious community suddenly finds itself suddenly divided and experiencing all the growing pains of the real world.

PLEASANTVILLE is filled with marvelous performances that exceed the technical brilliance of its black and white world that gradually turns to color. Both Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are wonderful in the central roles of the film, especially Maguire who truly makes one believe in the magic of PLEASANTVILLE. Jeff Daniels brings a nave charm to his portrayal of Mr. Johnson, the soda shop proprietor who discovers a love for art. Joan Allen is simply amazing as Betty Parker, the perfect sitcom wife and mother, who suddenly finds herself unfulfilled by her role in the universe. Allen’s performance is really something special in PLEASANTVILLE, and was deserving of more recognition than it received at the time. William H. Macy delivers a performance that is both humorous and touching as George Parker, the idealized sitcom husband and father. Finally, there is the late, great J.T. Walsh who portrays Big Bob, Pleasantville’s smiling mayor who tries to hold on to his way of life with a fascist zeal. Like the film’s cinematography, Walsh’s final performance is a perfect study in contrast and not to be missed. First time director Gary Ross certainly got the best from his cast, but then again his terrific screenplay made it easy for his cast to inhabit his sharply drawn characters. Ross has also beautifully staged PLEASANTVILLE, creating compositions that effectively places color into a black and white frame.

New Line Home Entertainment has made PLEASANTVILLE available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is mighty pleasing and a wonderful upgrade to the dozen-year-old DVD edition. To create this unique combination of a black and white film with individual elements in color, PLEASANTVILLE was originally shot on color film stock then scanned frame by frame into digital realm at 2K resolution. Once in the digital realm, the color was either removed or retained as required by the story. PLEASANTVILLE appears crisper and better defined on Blu-ray than it has in the past, but production techniques prevent it from having the level of sharpness and fine detail that one finds in newer films. Still, the overall presentation is highly pleasing. Colors appear quite vibrant in context, while the black and white images are purer than my memories of the film’s theatrical release. Flesh tones are reasonably natural, but this is something that is sometimes hard to discern in the context of a color character in a black and white world. Contrast and shadow detail are both very good, especially where the image mixes color and black and white imagery. The elements from which PLEASANTVILLE has been mastered are free from flaws. There is a modest veneer of grain within the image, which gives the picture an organic quality.

PLEASANTVILLE is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. No surprises here, this is a fairly standard drama/comedy mix, with most of the sound localized front and center for the talky passages, while the outlying channels engage occasionally for active sound effect placement. Still, the sound does have an open and effortless quality, which never comes across as constrained. Because of the nature of the material, much of what falls into the outlying channels, are environmental sounds, general ambience and musical fill. Thanks to the lossless encode, the musical component gets a nice boost in fidelity, with Randy Newman’s moving musical score reaping the benefit. As for the bass channel, it adds a modest punch to key moments. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and is always easy to understand. A Spanish language track has also been encoded onto the disc, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as, the supplements, which have been ported from the DVD release. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with director Gary Ross. This is a very worthwhile talk that fans of the movie should not miss. An Isolated Musical Score is also provided, along with comments from composer Randy Newman. Next up, The Art Of Pleasantville takes one behind the scenes so they can see the challenges the filmmakers had to overcome in creating this unique motion picture. Also included is the Fiona Apple Music Video for Across The Universe, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. A Theatrical Trailer closes out the supplements.

Even after a dozen years, PLEASANTVILLE remains a one of a kind cinematic experience that is not to be missed. The Blu-ray presentation is a very nice upgrade over DVD. Absolutely recommended.


Pleasantville [Blu-ray] (1998)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2011 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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