Dead Poets Society (SE)
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
At the prestigious Welton Academy Prep School, itís business as usual, until an unconventional new English teacher arrives. And he shows the well behaved and groomed boys in his class more than just grammar and poetry, helping them to understand that life is precious and should be lived to the fullest. Seize the day.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Director Peter Weir is synonymous with taking comedic actors and creating great dramatic vehicles for them. One of his first and best is DEAD POETS SOCIETY, where Robin Williams earned an Oscar Nomination for his deeply moving and dramatic work, and rightfully so. The film is a simple, yet richly complex look at what life is about. And life, like it does for all of us, means something different for every character in the film. Whether itís a passion for acting, love of a beautiful girl, or the lyrical verse of a great poem, the boys in this film learn that life is to be lived, not just something to simply walk through. Weir has a steady hand when it comes to this kind of material, which in the wrong hands could be too sentimental and schmaltzy. But under his direction, DEAD POETS SOCIETY fans out like every well told story should, one feather at a time and the result is stellar. The original screenplay, which won an Oscar for writer Tom Schulman, has just the right amount of humor and drama; itís a remarkable and moving story.
As with any great Peter Weir film, the cast is key and everyone here is amazing. From Williamsís subtle and understated work, to Robert Sean Leonard as the young boy with an old artistís soul, to the quiet and emotionally raw work from a young Ethan Hawke, everyone here is dead on. Even small characters, like skeptical student Hopkins played with total reality by Matt Carey, who thinks Williams is nuts, to the underrated Kurtwood Smith (whose best work besides this was playing slimy drug dealer Clarence Boddicker in ROBOCOP!) as the angry and possessive father, none of the characters are cardboard cutouts and none go to waste. DEAD POETS SOCIETY is a film that teaches us that all the special effects, big name stars, and gigantic explosions in the world are at times merely covering up what a film is missing and what this film has in abundance Ė life. Standing on my desk - Captain, my Captain.
Commentary (with Director Peter Weir, Cinematographer John Seale and Writer Tom Schulman): For a film this undeniably brilliant, this is a one drab commentary. Problem #1 Ė The three speakers were not recorded at the same time, leaving lots of room for large gaps in the conversation. Problem #2 Ė It gets confusing knowing whom is speaking and when. (Hell, Director Weir doesnít even introduce himself!) Problem #3 Ė The gaps leave little room for talking and the words are scarce. (Cinematographer Seale doesnít even come in till the seven minute mark!) As for the words themselves, itís less then spectacular. Weir, in a world of his own, talks mostly about story, the craft of filmmaking and various technical aspects of the film, but in a strange and sometimes undecipherable language all his own. Itís as if heís teaching a boring class on filmmaking 101 and the class ainít great. With all the background, reaction to the film, and possible stories about the amazing group of actors assembled, there is so much left unsaid here. And both Schulman and Seale have very little to add to the dialogue. Strangest story of inspiration Ė when Writer Schulman states that he ďgot the idea for this movie while staring at a twigĒ. Weird, but whatever works.
Dead Poets: A Look Back (26:55): This is a major talking heads doc and it thoroughly fascinated me. Almost like sitting down with various cast members over coffee and talking. There is even some unseen footage and pieces of a deleted scene. The only sad note Ė Robin Williams, who really should have been in on this featurette since this film played a huge part in his career, is not talking and his absence is a slap to all Poets fans. (Shame on you Robin!)
Raw Takes (4:41): Some missing sequences that are just as original as the film itself, a rare look at this footage is a find.
A Master of Sound: Alan Splet (11:00): Weir, who is at least more articulate in this mini-doc, sits and talks about sound man Splet. Itís average. But things get really interesting when Director David Lynch, who had also worked with the master of sound, comes in with an audio commentary over various pictures of Splet, a nice tribute to the man. (Listen for the revelation that Spletís ashes are under the console that Lynch is recording from, so Lynchian!) And just hearing Lynch is enough - I would follow that high pitch voice anywhere! (Why canít Lynch do some full length commentaries already?!)
Cinematography Master Class (14:49): This is an excerpt from a master class video where Cinematographer John Seale talks about specific technical insight, or so the description says. Itís actually a very stern sounding woman, giving all the details as Seale re-creates a scene for some students and we learn how he did certain things. Donít get me wrong, for any film student, fan, or film historian, itís worth a watch.
Plus there is also a Theatrical Trailer and Sneak Peeks at FLIGHTPLAN and ANNAPOLIS.
Sometimes, a film comes along, not to often mind you, that can really affect the way you think. That can move you in ways you never thought possible. That can linger, long after youíve left the theatre. DEAD POETS SOCIETY is one of those rare cinematic experiences that etches a mark in history as a film that dared to show so much, with so little. Itís just too bad that its Captain Williams, who is no where to be found in this otherwise good special edition, left a brave crew behind and decided to jump ship.