A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly
Extras: Commentaries, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Storyboards, Production Notes, Filmographies, Trailers

Ron Howard gets no respect. There, I’ve said it. A perpetual whipping-boy among snobby film critics, Howard is often taken to task for being a "studio man," the kiss of death for those expecting every great film director to be an auteur. Well guess what, many of the finest movies ever made have been directed by folks who work well within the system and seldom ever allow their own egos to trump either their subject matter or their star talent.
"Casablanca" is near the top of many best film lists yet its director remains largely unknown to the general public because he, Michael Curtiz, set about making great films without worrying about leaving his own indelible stamp of ownership on each and every one of them.
Sure, Ron Howard has crafted his fair share of clunkers but when he’s on his game the end result is an incredibly moving and unforgettable film like "Apollo 13" or last year’s Best Picture Academy Award winner "A Beautiful Mind." I just had to get that off my chest as the uproar over Ron Howard winning the Best Director Academy Award left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Now, onto the issue at hand. As if the furor over the director wasn’t enough, "A Beautiful Mind" was also slammed for offering up what many perceived as a one-sided and overly glowing portrait of a very complicated and controversial genius. Since when did movies have to start toeing the historical line? Isn’t that the job of documentaries? Sure, it’s nice when an ostensibly historical film stays fairly close to real-life events but as everyone knows Hollywood often likes to do things a bit differently.
Just keep in mind that "A Beautiful Mind" is a film based on real events and is not meant to be the definitive account of every nuance of John Nash’s existence.

The film opens with John Nash (Russell Crowe) arriving for graduate school at Princeton. As is the case with many geniuses, Nash is socially inept, full of himself, and a lightning rod for abuse from his fellow students who rightly view him as being far and away the most brilliant among them.

Nash’s great contribution is to devise a mathematical model for game theory that gains great renown in the economic and political science fields. Writing his own ticket, Dr. Nash moves on to MIT and begins work with a handpicked group of his former classmates — Richard Sol (Adam Goldberg) and Bender (Anthony Rapp). Funded by the government, Nash’s research soon attracts the attention of William Parcher (Ed Harris), an operative who enlists Nash to work on highly-classified codebreaking projects.

At the same time, Nash becomes romantically involved with a student named Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and for the first time in his life the future starts looking rosy indeed. But, just at a time when everything seems to be going well, Nash begins to experience things that don’t seem quite right to the viewer. Before long it becomes clear that Nash is suffering from schizophrenia so severe that it threatens to undo everything he’s accomplished. Indeed, John Nash sinks to the very depths of despair and it’s only through the undying love of his wife and his own fierce determination to confront the demons in his mind head on that he ultimately regains his sanity.

"A Beautiful Mind" is the type of film that is given an almost obligatory Oscar nomination yet is usually trumped for the award by some flashier film. But in this case even all of the controversy couldn’t derail the film’s Academy Award juggernaut as it claimed four awards.

Russell Crowe was edged out by Denzel Washington for Best Actor yet his performance as John Nash is remarkable, believable, and sympathetic. Jennifer Connelly shines as Alicia Nash and her Academy Award was certainly well-deserved. And Ron Howard took a very difficult subject and rendered it on-screen in such a way as to offer the viewer a very intimate insight into the minds of those who suffer from debilitating mental illnesses.

Presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, the film looks splendid on DVD. There is some very minor edge enhancement but otherwise the picture is nice and sharp. Colors are also accurate as are black levels. So too is the transfer free from any physical blemishes or compression artifacts. "A Beautiful Mind" is not the type of film to make viewers gasp at its visual splendor but the DVD still presents a solid picture that remains consistently good from start to finish.

Audio comes in English and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix>es. Dynamic range is decent although this really isn’t the sort of soundtrack that tests your listening equipment. Dialogue is firmly centered and always clear while James Horner’s musical score and the sound effects make some minor use of the surrounds. Again, reference material this is not but the audio mix never draws attention away from the screen and that’s pretty much its purpose.

As a Best Picture winner it’s only fitting that "A Beautiful Mind" receive a two-disc special edition DVD release. Disc One features a handful of extras with the remaining features flowing over to the second disc.

First up are two <$commentary,commentary track>s. The first track features director Ron Howard flying solo as he delivers a very detailed and interesting look at the task of making this film. Always conversational, Howard comes across well and is only too eager to discuss the project in-depth.

The second commentary features screenwriter Akiva Goldsmith. This track is almost entirely centered on the story as it unfolds on-screen. Goldsmith discusses how scenes were adapted from Sylvia Nasar’s book and offers further background information that helps flesh out what the viewer is seeing.

Disc One also offers 18 Deleted Scenes that run for about 27 minutes total and can be watched with or without the director’s commentary. None of these scenes offer any stunning revelations and their omission from the completed film is understandable.

Rounding out the extras on the first disc are some brief Production Notes, Cast & Crew bios and filmographies, and some DVD-ROM extras.

Disc Two features the remaining bonus features comprised of a handful of individual featurettes. "A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer" runs for 5 minutes and looks at the relationship between the two men who drive Imagine Entertainment and have created so many wonderful films together.
"Development of the Screenplay" is an 8-minute piece in which Akiva Goldsmith discusses that frequent collaborations between the screenwriter, director, and stars to get every line of dialogue just right.
"Meeting John Nash" runs for 8 minutes and features Ron Howard talking with the real-life Dr. John Nash. It’s always nice to see the subject of a reality-based film interacting with those who are chronicling his life on-screen. This piece really doesn’t offer up much pertinent information but is nevertheless worth a look.
"Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics" is a 2-minute clip of Dr. Nash accepting his Nobel Prize in 1994.
"Casting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly" runs for 6 minutes and features the director discussing his choice of talent to play the two lead roles in the film.
"The Process of Age Progression" runs for 7 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the make-up and special effects used to artificially age the main characters in the film.
"Storyboard Comparisons" is hosted by Ron Howard and offers five scenes for in-depth examination.
"Creation of the Special Effects" is an 11-minute bit that reveals the many instances of special effects usage in the finished film that are all but unnoticeable to the casual viewer.
"Scoring the Film" is a 6-minute talk with composer James Horner in which he discusses his use of musical themes and working with vocalist Charlotte Church.
"Inside ’A Beautiful Mind’" is a 23-minute mini-documentary that plays almost like a condensed version of the film. This piece really only skims the surface of the film and I was somewhat disappointed at the superficial nature of what should have been the most in-depth feature on the disc.
"Academy Awards" features "A Beautiful Mind" related clips from the Academy Award telecast as well as some backstage footage.

Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer as well as promos for the soundtrack and other Universal DVDs.

"A Beautiful Mind" is the type of film that on paper looks like it would never work out as a movie. The protagonist is an at times unlikable genius who suffers from a mental illness and works in what to the public at large is a very dull field of study. Other than his relationship with his wife, there’s very little about Dr. Nash that on the surface would make him a sympathetic character.

Yet through the combination of some stellar acting talent, very capable direction, and a solid screenplay, "A Beautiful Mind" manages to be very moving indeed. This is the finest cinematic representation of the effects of serious mental illness on its sufferers and their families that I’ve seen. The fact that John Nash isn’t the most immediately likable of fellows only strengthens that impression as far too many films of this style resort to lead characters who are soft and saccharine so as to make the audience’s heartfelt response to their suffering a foregone conclusion. Well, the fact of the matter is that all sorts of different people suffer from mental illness — even Nobel Prize winners.

Universal’s DVD release of this joint project with DreamWorks Pictures presents "A Beautiful Mind" in fine style. Audio and video quality are top-notch and there are many extras to keep fans of the film engaged for hours. Whether or not you agree that the film deserved its Best Picture nod, there’s no debating that "A Beautiful Mind" tells a very engrossing and important story. The film and the disc are highly recommended.