They Might Be Giants

Review by Guido Henkel

They Might Be Giants  (1971)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Length:        98 mins.
Rated:          G
Format:       Anamorphic Widescreen · 1.85:1
Languages:English
Subtitles:    None
Extras:        Commentary track
                     Featurette
                     Trailer
                     Biographies

I have always felt that George C. Scott was the strongest in the parts that brought out the human and emotional sides of his characters. Although his performance in movies like “Patton” was truly remarkable, to me parts such as that of Edward Rochester in “Jane Eyre” or that of Justin Playfair in “They Might Be Giants” showed much more of the actor’s true versatility. Mostly unrecognized and often overlooked, Anchor Bay Entertainment has now prepared a DVD version of the 1971 movie “They Might Be Giants”, and finally give the film the exposure it so long deserved.

Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) is a wealthy retired judge and since the death of his wife Lucy, he has become more reclusive and has turned into a classic case of paranoia. Playfair actually
believes he is Sherlock Holmes. In dire need for money to pay off some blackmailer, his brother has little understanding for Playfair’s eccentricities and is intent to have him committed to a mental hospital. But there, psychiatrist Dr. Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward) is truly fascinated by this rare incarnation of a classic case, and by the energetic, commanding Playfair himself. To study his case, she decides to follow every step of her patient as he is dead set on tracking down and destroying his evil nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. Two unlikely heroes, they are soon drawn into a world of danger and intrigue and the longer they stay together, the more “Holmes” accepts his therapist Watson as a serious companion. Together they follow the trail that Moriarty is leaving for them, scattered all over Manhattan.

One of the most striking things about “They Might Be Giants” is the script, most notably the poetic quality of the dialogues. Especially George C. Scott’s character Justin Playfair shows most of his intellectual stature through the selection of his words, and the deliberately philosophical nuances in his speech. Scott delivers these lines with immaculate timing and emotion, always making sure they never appear artificial, but are a natural extension of the judge’s character. The sensibility with which he plays the character often makes you wonder who the real nutcase in the movie is, Playfair or our society with its predetermined, templated cultural values. Scott is supported by a great cast, and especially Joanne Woodward as his newfound companion Dr. Watson adds immensely to the story’s appeal.

What starts out as a comedic thriller eventually turns into a romantic movie that gradually exposes a different side of the two main characters. Without ever destroying the integrity of the personalities, the filmmakers slowly add new facets to the existing ones until we see that there is much more to these people than the eye first meets. They are much more real and tangible than you would expect from a judge who sincerely believes he is Sherlock Holmes. The script for this movie carefully explores many aspects of human nature, presenting them in a funny way at one time, in a thoughtful way at another. And at all times, the script has depth and meaning.

The Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD of “They Might Be Giants” contains the film in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen version that restores the movie’s theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film’s cinematography makes very heavy use of blacks and shadows however, sometimes bathing the entire screen in impenetrable black with only a small highlight visible. It gives the movie its unique character. However, the film also contains quite a bit of grain due to the underexposure and the difficult lighting conditions, which traditionally poses a serious problem for DVD encoding.
Without applying too much noise reduction to remove the grain and picture definition with it, Anchor Bay has managed to create a transfer that maintains the movie’s original look, yet plays beautifully on DVD. Although some slight compression artifacts and dot crawl are evident at times, the presentation is great-looking and maintains every bit of the film’s original level of detail.
The color scheme of the film is visibly - and intentionally - muted, a sign of the movie’s age. However, color reproduction is balanced with good shadow delineation and good-looking rendered fleshtones.

“They Might Be Giants” features a mono audio track in Dolby Digital. The frequency response is somewhat limited without notable bass extension, giving the movie a dated sound. However dialogue integration is good, always keeping it at an understandable level. The movie contains a music score by John Barry, a score that comes out in all its beauty on this DVD, too. Barry manages to create a light-hearted atmosphere throughout the movie, but at the same time, he adds some thoughtfulness to the themes he uses that nicely embellish the actual movie.

As a supplement, the disc also contains a commentary track with director Anthony Harvey and film archivist Robert A. Harris. Unfortunately the commentary is oftentimes dragging and even when under way appears light, hardly scratching the surface. I am sure so much could be said about the production of this movie, about the script and its implementation, about the cast and the obvious visual decisions that went into the movie. It seems as if director Anthony Harvey hardly has any association left with the film, often commenting on the obvious, most of the time not commenting at all.
The disc also contains an 8-minute featurette called “Madness... It’s beautiful”, that explores the relationship between the movie, its characters and modern day New York. The film’s theatrical trailer and well-researched, quite extensive talent biographies are also part of the disc.

There is something fascinating about Sherlock Holmes and the thought of a story where the character is actually placed in modern day New York also has a lot of appeal. On this premise “They Might Be Giant” is an intelligent movie that weaves both elements together to create a tale that is sometimes funny, sometimes thrilling and sometimes romantic without ever losing focus. Through the great cast and the remarkable cinematography of the movie, this film is a gem that has been overlooked too many times. With this DVD from Anchor Bay there is no reason why anyone should miss out on one of George C. Scott’s most mesmerizing performances.

    

January 21, 2000

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