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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: 12 Years a Slave

Marred only by the obnoxious casting and performance of Brad Pitt as the hero’s savior—the sequence should have been better written and thought out than it is, and Pitt ought to do something, anything, other than grin like an idiot—the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave, available from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, is a superbly constructed historical film, exploring details of the antebellum South that are fresh and largely free of cliché, gathered within a strong emotional narration about a man separated from his family, a heartstring plot that justifies its time spent on getting the details of the past correctly.  Directed by Steve McQueen, who was also one of the film’s producers to receive a statuette, the film is a masterful blend of incident, texture, suspense and revelation.  Utilizing the classic ‘journey’ story to explore the anguish of the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans (millions of Africans were abducted from Africa, but most were sent to Central and South America), who escaped enslavement only by death, through the eyes of one individual, who was just unfortunate to have that horrific fate befall him for a modest period of his adult life (by and large, it is a true story, based upon an autobiography), the film deftly utilizes the exception to portrait the rule.  One of the two great scars that will forever blemish the American ideal—the second, of course, is the Native-American pogrom—slavery is such an overpowering subject for a drama that it requires an exceptional aesthetic approach, lest the narrative momentum become sodden in emotional reflex to the point of inertia.  How can the beatings rise to a crescendo without deafening a viewer’s sensitivities on the very first note?  How can the random displacement of humans being distributed as property sustain a consistent intrigue of character?  How can modern actors embody any of the characters, black or white, truthfully, without going insane?  McQueen oversees all of these challenges, creating a powerful, beautiful work—no more or less violent than many great films that have addressed violence—that is entertaining and exciting throughout its 134 minutes.  12 Years a Slave bears witness to a damned institution that was in place far longer than it has been out of place, and one that created social disparities which linger still.  It is not a final word on the topic of slavery, but it is a good word, and will enlighten all who pause to share in it.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The image is smooth and sharp, and the cinematography is exquisite.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is also thrilling.  The cicadas, in particular, are magnificent.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“Solomon grimaces in pain, his mouth agape.  A barred window with an open wood shutter gives a view inside the darkened cell.  Behind the bars, Solomon brings his anguished face to the window.  Our view rises up the brick building’s outer wall.  Upon reaching the top, a view over the building’s roof gives us a glimpse of the Capitol Building in the distance.”), alternate French and Spanish tracks in standard stereo, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and 13 minutes of passable production featurettes about the crew supporting McQueen’s vision.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars, with Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, and others.

One Response to “DVD Geek: 12 Years a Slave”

  1. theschu says:

    As great as the movie is (including Pitt’s scene and performance which didn’t bother me), the one thing that sort of bothered me was that I never got the sense that Solomon was a slave for 12 years. It seemed more like 2 or 3. His hair and weight seemed to stay the same throughout the whole film. His face also always seemed to be shaven. This might sound like a minor quibble but when the film is called 12 Years A Slave and the journey doesn’t really ever feel like it takes that long, it lessens the impact.

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
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