The Secret Of Roan Inish

The Secret Of Roan Inish (1994)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Jeni Courtney, Pat Slowey, Dave Duffy, Declan Hannigan
Extras: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailers, Production Notes

Based on an Irish folktale, "The Secret of Roan Inish" is a delightful story translated beautifully for the screen by director John Sayles. Combining subtle elements of fantasy with the spectacular scenery of the Irish countryside, this is a very grown-up movie hidden in the guise of a family film. The director never talks down to his audience and much of the story is left for the viewers to interpret on their own. The result is a film that slowly grows on you, revealing new treasures and insights with each viewing.

After the death of her mother, young Fiona’s (Jeni Courtney) father decides that the city is no place to come of age and sends her to live with her grandparents on the coast of Ireland. There she learns the story of Roan Inish, the island of the seals, where her family had lived for many generations until recent events forced them to leave for the mainland. Fiona’s baby brother was washed out to sea in his cradle during this evacuation and legend was that her family had a peculiar bond to this island and its inhabitants and that perhaps Jamie was taken by the sea for a special purpose. Enlisting the aid of her cousin, Eamon, Fiona sets about discovering the secret of this isle and returning her family to the only place where they truly belong.

"The Secret of Roan Inish" is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The flip side of the disk offers a <$PS,full frame> transfer as well. The quality of the video is, for the most part, quite good. Colors are deep and rich, conveying all that is special about the Emerald Isle. Lighting is very natural and flows from dim, lantern-lit interiors to full sunshine without loss of detail. Some scenes do have a gauzy or misty look to them but this effect is intentional. The only problematic issue is that a number of blemishes on the film element are evident. The fact that the rest of the transfer is so good really makes these defects stand out. The compression of the disc is very well done without introducing distracting compression artifacts, such as <$pixelation,pixelation>, leaving the details of the transfer fully intact.

The audio is a <$DS,Dolby Surround> mix that provides some nice depth to the very beautiful, low-key score by Mason Daring that is present through most of the film.
Dialogue is very clear as well but keep your finger on that subtitle button as the heavy Irish accents can be hard to decipher at times. Atmospheric effects are also present in many scenes and I was pleased that the sound mix provided enough range to encompass everything from the soft lapping of waves against the hull of a boat to the low, rumbling roar of a brewing storm.

As to extra features, "The Secret of Roan Inish" is blessed with a running commentary by director John Sayles. If you’ve never listened to one of his tracks you’re in for a treat. He obviously prepared his material well in advance and the result is an almost non-stop exploration of every facet of this wonderful tale told in a conversational style that never gets boring. This is far and away one of my favorite director commentaries. Also included is the theatrical trailer along with the trailers for a few other Columbia TriStar releases.

"The Secret of Roan Inish" is a very special film that will linger in your mind long after you’re through watching. John Sayles has always had the uncanny ability to make the characters, and even the locations, in his films come alive. In this instance, the sea, seals, and seagulls are as much a part of the film as the actors. It’s very rare that a family film has the ability to entertain people of all ages. The depth of the story in "The Secret of Roan Inish" scales itself well to the age of the viewer and everyone, young and old, will find something here to engage their sense of wonder. I cannot recommend this fine film enough.

Just as an aside, a number of pivotal scenes contain nudity in the form of a very young boy in his birthday suit. Besides the obvious titter this will likely invoke from the youngest viewers, there is absolutely nothing objectional about these scenes. I just wanted to point this out for any Puritans in the crowd. The good presentation of the movie, combined with the <$commentary,commentary track> makes "The Secret Of Roan Inish" a great release that you should not overlook.