"Hearts In Atlantis" comes to video at a time when Stephen King is discussing his thoughts about retirement. While his horror tales have scared the daylights out of each of us at one time or another, his dramas are occasionally more rewarding, providing marvelous characters with powerful hopes and dreams. Frank Darabont captured these emotions best with his adaptation of King's "Shawshank Redemption". Director Scott Hicks, famous for "Shine" but less well-regarded for "Snow Falling On Cedars", does fine with "Hearts in Atlantis"; it's not nearly the film that "Shawshank Redemption" or even Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" was. Even with its flaws, it's still a refreshing little character-driven piece, nonetheless.
The film opens with Robert Garfield (David Morse) attending the funeral of a friend. After hearing further terrible news, we are taken to a somewhat happier time in his life. We're then shown 11-year-old Bobby Garfield (Anton Yelchin), a child with a single mother (Hope Davis) who often stays late at work just to make enough money to keep them going. One day, a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) comes to live in the apartment above them. Soon enough, he becomes a father figure of sorts for Bobby, teaching him about the world around them and providing sound advice about life. Ted's also got a secret, which will change the lives of all involved.
There are things that I really enjoyed about "Hearts in Atlantis" and there are elements of the film that I felt didn't work as well. Director Scott Hicks has previously been criticized for films that are slowly paced; "Snow Falling On Cedars" specially moved at the speed of a glacier. However, "Hearts" opens with a subtle, relaxed mood that does a nice job introducing the viewer to the deliberate pace of the picture. At about 98 minutes, it's also the shortest of the King adaptations that I've seen.
The film's best element is the performance by Anthony Hopkins. While certainly not the great actor's best role, he gives a subtle, understated performance that really makes some of the film's more cliched lines not only stronger, but moving and emotional. Newcomer Anton Yelchin and Hopkins work well together, as well. Technically, the film is also quite solid, with an enjoyable and not-too-sappy score by Mychael Danna, fine period detail (the film is in the 50's) and beautiful cinematography by Piotr Sobocinski.
Yet, not everything in the film works. The otherwise enjoyable Hope Davis ("Next Stop, Wonderland") is stuck with a fairly thin and thankless role as Bobby's mother. The film seems composed of episodes not always well tied-together rather than a story that's going anywhere in particular; I felt almost as if there were details missing. Still, it's the solid performances in the film that held my attention when the film seemed aimless. Overall, "Hearts in Atlantis" is a slight film, but it's a bittersweet and well-acted film that, while not flawless, is still enjoyable.
VIDEO: "Hearts in Atlantis" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. Most of this presentation is quite excellent, as it captures the film's remarkably attractive cinematography by Piotr Sobocinski ("Twilight", "Marvin's Room", who unfortunately passed away shortly after filming) beautifully. Sharpness and detail are excellent, as small details are clearly visible, even in some of the low-light sequences.
Problems are slight, but occasionally rather noticable. A minimal layer of grain is visible during some of the darker sequences, while some very light specks on the print used are seen during a handful of instances. One or two instances of edge enhancement were visible, but I didn't find them annoying. No pixelation or other flaws were seen.
The film's colors looked terrific; appearing warm and well-saturated, they showed no flaws such as smearing. Black level also was solid, while flesh tones were accurate and natural. Overall, this is a very nice effort from Warner Brothers.
SOUND: "Hearts in Atlantis" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. There really isn't much need for agressive surround sound during the film, but the first half of the film seemed to be especially subtle, with dialogue and very little else. A couple of scenes later in the picture involving subtle thunder in the background started the surrounds up, but the rear speakers remained completely silent otherwise. Audio quality remained fine, as the score came through crisply, while dialogue remained clear, as well. This is a satisfactory presentation, but there's really little beyond the basics.
MENUS: A very basic main menu is accompanied by equally basic sub-menus; no animation or other touches, just simple film-themed backgrounds.
Remembering "Hearts in Atlantis": This is an interview featurette with director Scott Hicks interviewing star Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins shares stories about working with his co-stars on the film, as well as his history when he first got into acting in his childhood. There's some very interesting questions and answers during this supplement, which runs just shy of 30 minutes.
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Scott Hicks. Hicks actually provides a very enjoyable discussion; while he does get a bit praise-heavy at times, he is able to stay away from simply providing a narration of what's going on on-screen. Hicks provides a lot of great insight about specific scenes; he breaks down a sequence into its elements - acting, lighting, direction, etc and goes through his viewpoint about how these pieces of the puzzle come together. I thought this was a superb track that does a nice job covering all aspects of the production.
Also: Cast and crew bios, stills gallery and the film's theatrical trailer.
Final Thoughts: An occasionally somber and somewhat slight, but well-acted and beautifully filmed tale, "Hearts in Atlantis" is worth seeing, especially for Hopkins' performance. Warner Brothers has also provided a very nice DVD, with good audio/video and some enjoyable supplements. Recommended, at least as a rental.
The Film ** 1/2
Video 88/B = (352/400 possible points)
Audio: 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Extras: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B