The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules (1999)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire, Paul Rudd, Charlize Theron
Extras: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Deleted Scenes, Documentary, Talent Files

Every year, dozens of movies are released which are based on novels. Most of these are overlooked, either due to the relatively obscurity of the source material or because the film diverged so much from the book. Those films, which are recognized, are generally panned because they didn’t live up to the expectations, which had been created by the novel. However, there are exceptions to every rule. "The Cider House Rules" stands out head and shoulders above this crowd. The widely celebrated novel has been turned into a wonderful film. And while every nuance of the 600-page novel has not made its way to the screen, the film retains the epic feel and simple beauty of the book, thus creating a moving film. This Oscar winning movie has recently arrived on DVD courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

"The Cider House Rules" is set in the early 1940s. The film takes place in St. Clouds, Maine. The only thing in St. Clouds is the orphanage, which is managed by Doctor Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). As the film opens, we are introduced to Dr. Larch through his narration and also to the character of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), an orphan who is twice adopted and twice returned to Dr. Larch. Dr. Larch takes Homer under his wing and trains him as his apprentice. The orphanage also accommodates expectant mothers and assists with their deliveries of the unwanted children. But, Dr. Larch also performs abortions, which is against the law, for those mothers who choose that route. As the story begins, Homer is 21 years old and is practicing medicine alongside Dr. Larch. He delivers babies, but refuses to perform abortions, and helps to care for the orphans, by reading to them and acting as an older brother, whereas Dr. Larch is the father figure.

One day, a young couple, Wally (Paul Rudd) and Candy (Charlize Theron) come to the orphanage. On a whim, Homer decides to leave with them, as he’s never seen any other part of the world. Dr. Larch is opposed to this idea, but knows that he has no legal way to stop Homer. So, Homer goes with Candy and Wally to the Maine coast, where he gets a job picking apples on Wally’s farm. Homer is the only white apple-picker and lives in a dorm with other workers. Wally returns to the war, and Homer and Candy begin to become very close. Homer is experiencing all that life has to offer — work, friendship, romance — but he’s not sure what he wants to do with his life. In the meantime, the state is trying to find a new doctor for the orphanage and Dr. Larch wants it to be Homer. As Homer becomes more involved with Candy and the orchard, he must decide where his fate lies, as they say in the film, he must "learn what business he’s in."

"The Cider House Rules" is one of those films, which has a deceptively simple plot — orphan goes out into the world to experience life — but tells a much bigger story. While the central story is that of Homer and his "odyssey", the film also explores many larger themes. Of course, one of the more obvious issues in the film is that of abortion. The film does no moralizing or preaching on the subject. It presents abortion as a part of the story and leaves it up to the viewer to project any kind of moral onto the topic. Also, there is a great deal of irony to Homer’s tale. For example, he leaves the orphanage where he’s always had to sleep in a room full of other people and ends up on the farm, where he sleeps in a room full of other people. All of these things are happening when the true core of the story is a tale of the love between a father and son, be they blood related or not. "The Cider House Rules" presents its story in a fairly straightforward manner and there are no unnecessary dramatics. The story is perfect enough in its simplicity to carry the film.

Director Lasse Hallstrom helps to capture the epic feel of the novel through his brilliant and lavish visuals and the brilliant performances of his actors. From the snow covered hills which surround the orphanage to the Maine coast to the apple orchard, "The Cider House Rules" is lushly filmed and a beautiful film to watch. Hallstrom refrains from using any camera gimmicks or clever editing and simply shoots the film in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible. It would have been easy to load the film with dazzling camera-work, but Hallstrom has chosen to put the brunt of the movie on John Irving’s Oscar winning script, and that ploy works.

"The Cider House Rules" is full of wonderful performances. Michael Caine’s Oscar winning play provides an anchor for the film as he portrays the flawed, but loving Dr. Larch. Larch is shown over a period of years, and Caine shows how those years take their toll. He also does a fairly good job with his Maine accent. (There’s a nice anecdote on the running commentary concerning Caine’s accent.) Tobey Maguire is very impressive as Homer, who appears in almost every scene in the film, portraying him with innocence and infinite patience. Charlize Theron continues to prove that she’s a competent actress with her role in "The Cider House Rules," as does Paul Rudd’s in his part as Wally. Delroy Lindo has a great role as the leader of the apple pickers and Erykah Badu is very good as his daughter. (Although the credits read "Introducing Erykah Badu". Wasn’t she "introduced" in "Blues Brothers 2000"?)

Buena Vista Home Entertainment is slowly, but surely improving the quality of their DVD, and the Collector’s Edition of "The Cider House Rules" is a good example of this. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> that is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The digital transfer of the film is practically pristine, as the image is very clear and free of any graininess or obvious defects. The framing of the picture appears to be correct and the <$PS,widescreen> format makes for optimum viewing, given the lush, epic look of the film. The colors are rich and true, as evidenced by the greens and reds of the apple orchard and the blues of the ocean. Also, Hallstrom uses his color scheme to help tell the story, so the accuracy of the color palette on the DVD image is very important to the film. No compression artifacts are evident in this presentation.

The audio on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.0 channel mix, which offers a very nice soundtrack for this dramatic film. The dialogue is always very clear and audible and is never drowned out by sound effects or the score. Rachel Portman’s music in the film is so wonderful, that it’s almost like another character in the story. The clarity of the Dolby Digital mix allows this score to fully come alive. The sound is well balanced and there are no sounding shifts in volume. However, there isn’t much action from the surround speakers either, save for dramatic musical cues and a thunderstorm.

"The Cider House Rules" contains an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director Lasse Hallstrom, writer John Irving, and producer Richard Gladstein. It is worth the price of the admission alone, just to hear Irving’s thoughts on the picture. It’s not very often that you get to hear author’s commenting on an adaptation of their work like this. The trio speak continuously throughout the running time of the film and offer many insightful stories about the making of "The Cider House Rules". There is a great deal of discussion concerning the adaptation of the novel and how Hallstrom influenced the changing of several scenes in the script. There is also a lot of talk about the locations and how the film was shot. The trio keeps things light, but they are obviously proud of the work they did on this impressive film.

The DVD also includes a 20-minutes documentary entitled "The Making of an American Classic". This is a nice featurette offering some behind the scenes footage and interviews with the principal players and crew members. The problem with this documentary is that half of it is made up of scenes from the film. I don’t mean clips, but entire scenes. Having just watched the movie, I would have liked to see more behind the scenes footage and interviews.

Much more impressive are the extensive cast and crew biographies. Most of the main cast and much of the prominence behind the camera are highlighted, and each is given an extensive bio and filmography. There are five deleted scenes, and as usual, it is very clear why each was deleted with the exception of one. It is a scene that demonstrates Homer’s prowess as a physician and would have added to the film in my opinion. The DVD also contains the original theatrical trailer for "The Cider House Rules" as well as a few TV spots.

For someone whose life is dominated by horror and action films, it’s nice to shift gears and take in a more quiet and subtle film. "The Cider House Rules" is the type of movie that transcends genres and classification. It’s funny, sad, tragic, romantic, and epic. The DVD brings us a glorious transfer of the film that only adds to the magic of the story. Now, if you need me, I’ll be on the roof.