O Brother, Where Art Thou?

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning
Extras: Featurettes, Music Video, Storyboard-to-screen, Theatrical Trailer

Brothers Ethan and Joel Coen are well-known to their fans for their wicked humor and the dark, almost morbid undertones in their films. While the Academy Award-winning "Fargo" was overtly violent, films like "Raising Arizona" or "The Hudsucker Proxy" were just plain out funny with their black humor, but always showing us the – very real – weaknesses of our own lives. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is the latest outing of the brothers Coen, and it falls somewhere in the middle. While it has some surprisingly dark moments and characters, it is mostly an uproariously funny movie with a great social commentary that makes its DVD debut now through Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) has had it with crushing stones day in, day out at the penitentiary, and so he escapes with his two buddies Pete (John Turturro) and Delmar (Tim Blake). With chains around their ankles they run from the law. They run to find a treasure that Ulysses hid in a secret place. But time is running out. The valley he buried the treasure in is about to be flooded and the harder the three try to get closer to their dream, the further they seem to drift away from it.
On their journey they run into an assortment of weird characters that make their lives even harder. From a blues man, blind prophets, tempting sirens, a one-eyed Bible-salesman to the Ku-Klux-Klan, everyone suddenly plays a major role in their lives. But with the bloodhounds on their trails, will they be able to find the treasure and disappear for good before it is too late?

While the story itself may be seemingly straight-forward, it is told in an incredibly refreshing way. Using elements from Homer’s classic Ulysses saga "The Odyssey" in updated terms, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is rich with originality and has a freshness to it that has been missing from many films of late. The story may slack a little during the first 30 minutes, but after that, it turns into a frolicking roller coaster of non-stop laughs and surprises.
Most importantly, the characters are incredibly well written. No matter how well you think you know a character in the film, the story always reveals another side of him or her that you didn’t expect – with John Goodman’s character as the most extreme example, I suppose. In the end, the film ends up with a menagerie of incredibly entertaining people, who make the world of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" so colorful.

On the other hand however, A Coen film wouldn’t be a Coen film without its serious subtext, and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is no different. Underneath the obvious slapstick and comedy is a commentary and study of our society and our values that is incredibly well woven into the story. Whether it’s double-faced politicians, exploitation and sensationalism, rip-off merchants, nepotism or any other ugly beast we can witness in our everyday lives. The way this commentary is delivered as part of the overall film is highly sophisticated and unobtrusive, making sure viewers never cease to laugh, but never cease to think either.

The film has also been beautifully photographed and like Fargo has a unique signature look. Using a very warm, almost golden, color theme and great locations as backdrops, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is as beautiful to watch, as it is entertaining to experience. Once again, the Coen Brothers have delivered a remarkable film that is different and aggressive, yet at the same time fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable.

Hardly surprising, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is delivering a stellar DVD version of this film here. The <$PS,widescreen> transfer restores the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. In terms of cleanliness of the print, clarity of the picture and level of detail, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" easily qualifies as a reference title. Flawless in all aspects, this presentation is among the best I have encountered throughout the years. There is no noise or grain in the image. Colors are beautifully rendered without bleeding, restoring the bold imagery of the film in perfection. Blacks are deep and rich, creating a very dimensional picture with well-delineated shadows that never lose definition. The level of detail in the print is phenomenal, creating an image that is as sharp and detailed as it gets. No signs of edge-enhancement hamper the experience, making "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a true show-off title. The compression is without flaws and not a hint of compression artifacting is evident anywhere in the presentation.

The very same is true for the audio presentation of the film. Coming with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> and a <$DTS,DTS> audio track, once again we are talking about a reference quality disc here. While differences between these two audio tracks may be small, the DTS stands out through its better delineation of intricate details in the sound field, resulting in a somewhat improved sense of surround. The bass extension is also slightly stronger, giving the track a tad more bottom end than the Dolby Digital track offers. Nonetheless, both are phenomenally well produced and create an active and dynamic sonic experience. Absolutely clean without distortion, good low ends and clear high ends, the audio on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" is just how DVD should sound.

On top of the stellar feature presentation, the DVD also offers a few bonus materials. First off there is the music video "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" by the Soggy Bottom Boys. Made up of clips from the movie, the video is a nice addition to the disc, especially because the song is quite catchy.

"Painting With Pixels" is a 9-minute featurette on the digital process that was applied to the entire film to create the particular look the film uses. It is a very well done featurette that shows in fairly simple terms, how films are color corrected and adjusted in the digital realm. With before/after examples you get to see what the material captured on the original negative looked like, and what it was turned into for the final film. Don’t miss this educational little piece that is part of this release.

A promotional featurette filled with interviews and behind-the-scenes information is also part of this release, adding another layer of content to it. As another extra, you will find two scenes from the movie as storyboard-to-film comparisons on this disc. Using DVD’s multi-angle capabilities, this section allows you to view either the storyboard, the final scene, or both at the same time. The DVD is rounded out by the film’s theatrical trailer.

While some may consider the lack of an <$commentary,audio commentary> on this release a drawback, I am positive that this decision was made by the filmmakers themselves. Thinking about it, I may agree to some degree. Laying out all the subtext for everyone to see may actually destroy the experience of the film itself, since part of the beauty of any Coen movie is to explore and discover elements incrementally with repeated views.

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" turns out to be a phenomenal release. It is a very good movie that is much more sophisticated than may be obvious at first sight. Cleverly written, skillfully directed and beautifully shot, this film is another gem in the Coen brothers’ track record. Combined with the stellar DVD presentation and the nice extras found on the disc, this is a must-own DVD for everyone, no doubt!