Life As A House

Life As A House (2001)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Kevin Kline, Hayden Christensen, Kristin Scott Thomas
Extras: Commentary Track, Behind the Scenes Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer, Deleted Scenes, Production Notes, Cast & Crew

The "terminally ill character" or "death & dying" genre is one of the stranger ones in film. Unlike most other kinds of films, with these movies, the audience is fairly certain how the many will end before it even begins. For that reason, it’s nice to see someone doing something a little different with the "death" movie. "Life as a House" offers all of the stereotypical situations found in this genre, but it takes a fresh approach to the material. Kevin Kline stars as George Monroe, man who has reached rock-bottom. He is alienated from his ex-wife Robin (Kristin Scott Thomas) (who is remarried) and his troubled teen son Sam (Hayden Christensen). To make things worse, he has just lost his job and he lives in a shack. The final blow comes when George learns that he is dying. But, George decides that he will go out with a bang. He is determined to spend the summer with Sam, getting to know his estranged son, and to build the house of his dreams. Sam is very resistant to this at first, as he thinks George is insane, but he soon sees that George’s dream-house could be a reality and joins in. And while many friends and neighbors eventually join George in his project, his real goal is to re-build the love between himself and his family.

The interesting thing about "Life as a House" is that for the most part, the story isn’t about the fact that George is dying, but rather about his drive to live life to the fullest. George opts to keep his illness a secret, thus it isn’t discussed until the final reel. Thus, "Life as a House" has a spirit and energy, which is traditionally missing from most "death" films. There isn’t a medical slant to it, and in some scenes, we actually forget that George is dying. Kline is great in his role, and "Star Wars" fans will be shocked by the introduction of Christensen’s character, as he is the new Anakin Skywalker. The downside to "Life as a House" is that the film is too long for its own sake, and there are too many characters and subplots. When the film is focusing on George and Sam, it’s very good, but things drag when the other characters are brought in. Also, the ending wraps things up a bit too nicely, giving the film a real "Hollywood" feel. Still, if you’re the kind of person who typically hates "death" films, "Life as a House" serves as nice change of pace.

"Life as a House" comes to DVD from New Line as part of their "Platinum Series" of releases. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The image is sharp, but there are some problems inherent in the print, which are visible on this transfer. Several shots are noticeably blurry and one shot is very dark. Also, the amount of grain fluctuates wildly throughout the film with some shots being crystal clear, while others are quite grainy. In and of themselves, these problems are significant, but they only affect about 5% of the film. Otherwise, the picture is good and the colors are very good. The DVD offers both a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 audio track and a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track. Both offer clear dialogue and a nice use of surround sound, but the DTS track is louder, crisper, and offers a more distinct stereo separation. There is a surprising use of rock music in the film, and both tracks handle this well, offering good LFE response.

The DVD offers many special features, including an engrossing commentary with director Irwin Winkler, producer Rob Cowan, and writer Mark Andrus. This trio gives detailed information about the production of the film and the unique challenges it offered.

Also part of the release is a 24-minute making-of featurette entitled "Character Building: Inside ’Life as a House’", offering behind-the-scenes footage and a selection of cast and crew interviews. Also, there is a 10-minute segment called "From the Ground Up" which examines the production design of the house in the film.

Another nice addition to the release are three deleted scenes, and one alternate scene which offers actor William Russ ("Boy Meets World") playing the small role which Scott Bakula essays in the finished film. Finally, we have the theatrical trailer, production notes, and cast & crew info.

This is one solidly built DVD that definitely deserves your attention.