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Secondhand Lions - Platinum Series  (2003)


Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment

Director: Tim McCanlies

Rating: PG-13

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 3, 2004
Review posted: March 10, 2004

Spoilers: None


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




For young Walter (Osment), being stuck on his "crazy" uncles' farm is the last place on earth he wants to spend the summer. First, shocked by their unconventional behavior, including ordering an African lion through the mail, Walter soon gets caught up in their mysterious past. The rumors that his uncles (Duvall and Caine) were bank robbers or maybe even worse are hard to believe, but they do seem to have an endless supply of cash! Little by little, an amazing story comes to life - filled with adventures in exotic lands involving kidnapped princesses, Arabian sheiks and lost treasure. These tales not only bring him closer to his uncles but also teach him what it means to believe in something... whether it's true or not




Tim McCanlies' script, which presents a mostly heartwarming story about a pre-teen boy and his two uncles, is a little quirky but definitely imaginative judging by today's standards. To be original is not easily achieved in Hollywood anymore. So many films follow familiar patterns and formulas, but Secondhand Lions is different. It centers on a story most people can relate to and in the process introduces a whole subplot that takes place several decades in the past; that of the adventures of Walter's uncles. It's important to note that McCanlies, also the film's director, makes both stories flow seamlessly together. Neither of the two stories claims to be better than the other, but it is clear Walter's experience on the farm is the central story; the tales about the Arabian desert and sheik serve as the film's backbone, not to mention they're action-filled and exciting to watch.


As I said, the two stories go well together, although there are a few times when the mood is a bit sappy. The emotional scenes are not forced, but there was one scene I did not completely buy into. In general, the central story is interesting to follow, the script gives the viewer characters to care about. In that respect, Secondhand Lions is very worthwhile. The film is also not without laughs and amusing scenes. However, there are a number of violent scenes that go along with fun. McCanlies' direction is pretty good overall, cinematography by Jack Green is quite marvelous, and the acting is solid and generally believable. Robert Duvall and Michael Cane make two excellent uncles. Their disagreements often lead to small chuckles. Meanwhile, Haley Joel Osment speaks with a pretty high-toned voice for a duration in the film; it appears his voice began to change during production. Despite that, he performs well by himself and opposite the two veteran actors.


I liked Secondhand Lions, but not as much as to highly recommend it. Instead, the film provides solid (family) entertainment for a little under two hours. There's some good comedy and drama combined, as well as some action, yet the film didn't overwhelm me completely.




New Line presents Secondhand Lions in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are bright and well-saturated. Detail and sharpness looks very fine. Black levels and dark tones are good. The print image is in good condition, but grain turns up in a few scenes, as do minor compression artifacts. Also showing up is a little edge enhancement, but overall this is a pretty nice transfer. You have the option of watching the film in widescreen or fullscreen.




New Line presents Secondhand Lions in English EX 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. I didn't expect much from this soundtrack, but it's surprisingly loud and effective. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand, the front speakers emitting all sound with much clarity and separation. Rear speakers act from time to time, and the sound effects are clearly audible, as well as some good bass in several scenes. The music score by Patrick Doyle sounds good also. A very good presentation.


Also available is an English Stereo Surround soundtrack.




This is one of the (much) better Platinum Series releases in a while from New Line, though I can't speak for the Freddy vs. Jason DVD. The dual-layer disc features worthwhile material. The first thing is an audio commentary by director Tim McCanlies. He offers a fast, informative and engaging track as he comments on certain scenes, the filmmaking process, the history of the project, working with the actors, etc. A recommended listen to those viewers who liked the film.


Now flip to side B and you'll find the remaining bonus material. It starts off with deleted scenes with optional commentary by McCanlies. Some of the scenes add a little more background to the characters and the story, although the original ending that's included is a bit too sappy. Otherwise, a decent collection of scenes. Next is an in-depth look at the history of the film's script in the 26-minute documentary called Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay's Wild Ride in Hollywood. It features interviews with McCanlies and various producers, and tracks the history of the project which originated at least ten years ago and was at one point considered as a sequel to Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid (ridiculous) as well as another Grumpy Old Men film. Well, that obviously didn't work. Either way, this is a pretty good documentary with some good insight into the writing process in Hollywood and how projects get made (and don't get made).


On The Set with Secondhand Lions is a 26-minute look at the shooting of the film. It includes enough interviews, with McCanlies and the actors, to remind you how fun it was for everybody. Despite the small moments of happy-talk, this documentary shows a good portion of interesting behind-the-scenes footage that's at times revealing but mostly general information. Also on hand is a roughly 10-minute featurette called Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age that's fine but not terribly interesting. Interviews again support the various clips, but you probably won't find a lot of insight here. Watch it at your discretion, I guess, because I didn't care for this one that much.


Rounding out the extras are several visual effects comparisons, the film's theatrical trailer, seven TV spots, two bonus trailers, and a few easter eggs. Last but not least, there are several DVD-ROM features that include the script-to-screen feature, scene medleys, a commentary digest, an interactive photo gallery, and weblinks.


You can select to view the film with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The 110-minute feature is organized into twenty-one chapters. A glossy paper insert lists scene selections and DVD-ROM features.




At times engaging and sweet, the film is mostly solid family entertainment, and there are only a few sappy moments. Acting is pretty good, and the film looks gorgeous visually. The DVD presents very good video/audio, and almost every single extra is informative. The film comes recommended, but the DVD package warrants a highly recommended rental. Those who've already seen the film and liked it, a purchase is worth it.




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