Albert Brooks mades a film every few years and sometimes seemingly goes 3 or 4 years before his next effort. It's apparently a good thing - although a tough wait, I really can't remember a Brooks movie that I didn't like. In one of the more interesting concepts that the director has come up with, the actor/director plays Dan Miller, an executive who has a car accident as the film begins.
He finds himself in a place that looks sorta like the America that everyone knows, but only a little bit different. In his version of heaven, Miller finds himself in sort of a "halfway point" between Earth and heaven, where one defends their life (just like in a normal courtroom) and either goes onwards, or starts the journey over again back on Earth. Some, apparently, have went back and forth hundreds of times.
During his "trial", he re-lives many of the moments that went into his life - the prosecutor uses certain things against him, even. In-between his court dates, he strikes up a romance with a fellow in-betweener named Julia(Meryl Streep). "Defending Your Life" isn't really one of the lighter Brooks' efforts - there are several funny moments throughout the movie, but they're more in the way of strong laughing-on-the-inside bits. Brooks' performance is his usual excellent effort, combining comedy and just a touch of drama. Even Meryl Streep does fine, light work.
Overall, "Defending Your Life" isn't my favorite Brooks film (I still think "Mother" has the most frequent solid laughs), but it's close - although with Brooks and "close" that means fighting for space with several equally great efforts.
VIDEO: Warner Brothers gives "Defending Your Life" a very good presentation. It's not without its minor concerns, but the anamorphic transfer does offer solid picture quality for the film, which is now celebrating its 10th birthday. Sharpness and detail are fine, as the picture never looks quite razor sharp, but generally remains pleasingly well-defined.
There are a handful of flaws that take away from an otherwise solid effort. Some slight speckles are scattered throughout the movie, but otherwise, there weren't any major print flaws apparent. A couple of instances of minor shimmering and a trace of two of pixelation are visible, but don't cause much distraction - nor does some light grain in some sequences.
"Defending Your Life" isn't a hugely colorful movie - there are some instances of vibrant colors - the wonderful food that the people are served in this universe, some of the beautiful interiors, but most of the film offers a rather simple color palette that looks fine.
SOUND: "Defending Your Life" is presented in Dolby 2.0 on this release from Warner Brothers. The film's audio is almost completely dialogue-driven, with only the subtle background score from Michael Gore accompanying it. Dialogue remains clear and natural, easily understood throughout. A very basic presentation, but with pleasant quality.
MENUS:: Although not animated, the main menu does have music playing behind it and the backgrounds make fine use of film-themed images, much like the other Brooks DVD release from Warner Brothers out this week, "Lost in America".
EXTRAS: The trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Defending Your Life" is a very funny and well-written film from Brooks. The film's presentation on this DVD could have been better, but it was enjoyable enough. Some extra features would have been appreciated, but Brooks doesn't seem to want to participate in DVD editions of his films. Still, fans of "Defending" should be pleased with the film's availability for a low retail price of around $14-15.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 83/B = (332/400 possible points)
Audio: 81/B = (324/400 possible points)
Extras: 69/D+ = (207/300 possible points)
Menus: 75/C = (150/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: C+