Well-reviewed but almost completely overlooked at the box office (a little over 1m), "The Waterdance" is better than the usual film of this genre - you've probably seen many of them. Those uplifting dramas that are more commonly refered to as "weepers". "The Waterdance", on the other hand, is a nicely realized drama with good characters, dialogue and comedy that is lightly peppered into the cracks to keep things from becoming particularly somber.
The film stars Eric Stoltz as Joel Garcia, a writer who is paralyzed after an accident while hiking. As the film opens, he awakens in a hospital bed with his head in a brace, slowly meeting those around him in a rehabilitation center, including Bloss (William Forsythe) and Raymond (Wesley Snipes). We also learn that Joel is seeing Anna (Helen Hunt) who's also married.
Again, the film is enjoyable in how it's different. It doesn't attempt to really manipulate the audience - it simply offers up information and events in a straight-forward manner. Rather than let images and swelling music move us, directors Neal Jimenez (this is actually a semi-autobiographical story from Jimenez) and Michael Steinberg allow us to get to know the main characters, care about them and be engaged by their stories, then move from there.
The result is actually some of the best work from certain members of the cast. Stoltz turns in subtle and moving work and this is one of the strongest dramatic performances I've seen from Snipes. Forsythe and Hunt provide solid support, as well.
This is a film that is both uplifting and enjoyable, but it is so on its own, realistic terms, choosing to not follow in the footsteps of countless similar pictures before. Instead, the result is a terrific picture that apparently, nobody saw. That's unfortunate, because, although the subject matter is saddening, it's handled here in a way that is mature and appropriate. Hopefully, the film will gain a wider audience now that its on DVD.
VIDEO: Columbia/Tristar presents "The Waterdance" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film has a fairly basic color scheme and appearance, with minimal touches beyond the necessary elements. Mark Plummer("Head Over Heels")'s cinematography seems just a touch on the soft side, as the picture remains clear and crisp, but doesn't boast particularly striking detail.
Aside from the minor softness, there really isn't anything much else to complain about. Print flaws do appear now and then, but they're generally limited to specific scenes and don't make their presence known consistently throughout the picture. Columbia/Tristar has generally done a fine job otherwise, as well - I didn't see any instances of pixelation or edge enhancement.
Again, the film generally maintained a basic color palette. Colors appeared natural and without any considerable concerns. Black level remained fairly good, while flesh tones seemed accurate, as well. Not exceptional in any way, but very nice, nonetheless. Subtitles are offered in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.
SOUND: The film is presented in English Dolby 2.0. The soundtrack is a most basic affair and the movie really wouldn't have called for anything else. With a slight score in the background, the majority of the film is simply conversations between characters. Audio quality seemed pleasant enough, but again, the film's sound really didn't call for anything more than the basics.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated main and sub-menus with film-themed images as backgrounds.
EXTRAS: Not a great deal of supplements: a trailer for "Birdy" and "Waterdance" as well as filmographies.
Final Thoughts: "The Waterdance" is a superbly acted, appropriate and often excellent movie that offers great performances and no cliches. Columbia/Tristar's new DVD edition offers satisfactory audio/video, but it's priced strangely higher than most of the studio's new catalog releases at $24.98. Recommended as a rental.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 85/B = (340/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 70/C- = (140/200 possible points)
Value: 81/B = (243/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B