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Blu-ray Review: Marley & Me (Three-Disc Bad Dog Edition)

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It’s been my experience that one of several things can happen when the movie rights to a book are sold and the work comes to life on the screen.

There is Doctor Kathy Reichs’ fictional character Temperance Brennan, whose best-selling fictional book series is quite the serious read yet has turned into a (also very popular) television character and show, Bones. While both women share the same name and career choice (forensic anthropologist), that is about all the two have in common.

In author Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, both the book and the movie follow the same plotlines for almost the entire experience. The key word here is "almost" as the ending of the movie is quite different than the book even though the bottom line result is the same.

J.L. Rowlings’ Harry Potter book series and subsequent movies follow one another practically to a T. The major difference between the two comes into play because of the length and details of the books. In the films, some of the plots have had to be condensed and/or just omitted or alluded to in order for the running times to be movie theater-friendly.

Journalist John Grogan’s book and the movie Marley & Me falls into this last category.

Newlywed newspaper journalists John (Owen Wilson) and Jennifer (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan are settling into their life together. Jennifer is ready to expand their family with the addition of a baby. John feels owning a dog is the better route to take and surprises her with a Labrador puppy for her birthday. Marley (named for musician Bob Marley) becomes an integral member of the family, albeit troublesome at times, even as children eventually brought into the fold. It is simply, as the full book title suggests, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog.

While I again mention the book, reading it in advance of viewing the movie is not an issue. The movie stands on its own as a heartwarming comedy just fine. It doesn’t hurt that beside the two human leads, the rest of the cast do their turns well. Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy’s Mark Sloan) is cast as Sebastian, fellow journalist and John’s best friend. Think Dr. McSteamy with a laptop instead of a stethoscope, still a bit smarmy and a ladies' man to boot. Alan Arkin plays Arnie Klein, editor of the newspaper John writes for in Florida. This well-known character actor portrays the sort of editor that any writer would want as his boss, fair yet challenging and someone who enjoys his job. Dog trainer Mrs. Kornblut is portrayed by Kathleen Turner. While a relatively small part, she’s pivotal in cementing Marley’s character early on. Played for broad comedic relief within the context of a comedy isn’t easy to do; however, Ms. Turner does so with great gusto and aplomb.

The best thing I can tell you about this movie is something that is echoed by Jennifer Aniston in one of the special features. When first offered the part, she thought that it was just a movie about a dog that would appeal to a certain number of people. The more she read the script, and as filming began, she realized that she was wrong. Yes, it will entice dog people. But its charm doesn’t end there. The true beauty of the film is the story it tells about how having any pet in your family can enrich your world. Here’s a quote from John Grogan in the film: "A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water-logged stick will do just fine. A dog doesn't care if you're rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he'll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?" It doesn’t matter if the Marley in your life is a dog, cat, iguana, parrot or whatever. What does count is how having a Marley can change you and those around you.

Marley & Me is available several ways. You can buy just the standard DVD.  There is also the Marley & Me Two-Disc Bad Dog Edition that has the same featurettes and deleted scenes as the Blu-ray release. Then there's the Marley & Me Three-Disc Bad Dog Edition, a three-disc combo pack with the standard DVD, Blu-ray (BD), and Digital Copy (DC), which is what is reviewed here. Maybe that sounds like overkill but I think that it’s a great way to have and share movies with your family and friends. You could keep all three for your own, of course. But when it’s a cool movie like Marley & Me and you know other people who will enjoy, why not spread it around? Each disc would be a nice gift. Or start up your own movie club with your friends, buying one and giving away the other two copies. Quite a few studios are using the three disc packaging, so there are more titles every week that you can do this with.

While I’m on the subject of this being a special package, let me tell you a bit about each disc.

The standard DVD has a few special features. There are five deleted scenes and a gag reel. The hub and I were both a bit surprised watching the gag reel. Usually one is jam-packed with flubs and the like. This one however was more like additional deleted scenes, so that was a bit of a disappointment. Also included as some trailers for upcoming movies. Love when they show these so we know what to keep an eye out for in the future.

As for the DC, right on the box is says: "With Digital Copy, enjoying a portable version of your favorite film has never been easier." Once again I went to my go-to tech guy, family member Lenny, to help me out with this. I asked him to check out the DC for me, download it to his computer and then to a portable video device. I asked him questions I thought any newbie to this format might have:

How easy was it to load? Did you need to do anything other than insert the disc?

Easy to load — insert disc and choose iTunes or Windows Media Player from the window that pops up. I used iTunes, and the movie downloaded from the iTunes store after I entered the activation code.

Did it take a long time to do? How fast does your computer run?

Took five minutes to download over a wireless DSL line. Using my home computer this time: Dell Studio 1737, Pentium Dual Core, 2 Ghz, 3 Gb of RAM, Hi-Def 17" glossy screen, ATI Radeon HD video card.

How was the transfer to another source? How fast?

A few minutes to transfer to my iPod. No problems.

Quality of completed transfer… as good as a standard DVD perhaps?

Quality not quite as good as a standard DVD, but good enough for a computer screen or portable video device.

 

There you go, just as promised on the packaging box. This version would be a great gift for any family or friends with kids and portable videos devices.

Last but certainly not least is the BD copy of Marley & Me. Visually this a beautiful movie with the change of seasons and landscapes playing cameos. Director David Frankel is not afraid of long shots and uses them quite a bit here. The opening credits are run over aerial shots of Florida and on an HDTV in BD the waterways, shorelines, and views of the land are amazing. I’m not saying they don’t look terrific on the standard DVD, but you can really tell the difference using the higher definition format. During one part of the movie John and Jennifer take a trip to Ireland. I’ve seen for myself how awe-inspiring it can be. The shots used in the film definitely do it justice. Later on in the movie, the Grogan family has moved to Pennsylvania. The shots of the foliage in autumn are as incredible and true to life as the Florida and Ireland pieces.

Audio-wise, this movie must have been a challenge. While it’s not an action flick, there is a lot of movement in it. Indoors and out there are so many scenes with running and jumping dogs, crying babies, and yelling adults. Add the soundtrack and incidental music and it could have turned out to be a sloppy mess. Fortunately that isn’t the case. Even listening to it in 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, placement is clear and smooth, complementing the illusion of actually being in the middle as if everything is taking place around you.

My favorite thing about Blu-ray discs is they hold up to five times as much data as a standard disc does and in this case it is put to very good use. You get the same five deleted scenes as the DVD, plus fourteen more. Then are lots of featurettes. "Finding Marley" has the director, David Frankel, and the two on-set dog trainers, Mark Forbes and Mathilde de Cagny, talking about casting and working with the over 22 dogs used just for one character. "Breaking The Golden Rule" is about that old adage "Never work with children or animals" and how in this case it was not applicable. "On The Set With Marley, Dog Of All Trades" is cute as it gives Marley’s tips on movie-making and where he sees his career heading after this film. "Animal Adoption" is a wonderful piece about bringing home rescues and shelter animals into your home instead of going to animal mills. It also talks about being a good parent to your animal and fitting a dog to your lifestyle. The great Adopt-A-Pet website gets a good plug and I also recommend it whether you are a first time ‘owner’ or a seasoned one.

There is one other feature on the BD called the "Dog Training Trivia Track" which sounds like it’s a game, but it isn’t. You can run this during the movie where it shows up as picture-in-picture (PIP) or on its own without any distractions. It covers twelve aspects of having a dog, from "Dog Training 101" and "Getting A Puppy" to "Caring For An Older Dog" and "People + Dogs = Happiness." I’m only sorry that this and the "Animal Adoption" featurette are only available on the BD edition as I think that both have messages that are important to anyone considering adopting a pet.

That’s it, I think I’ve covered it all. If you couldn’t tell by now, I really enjoyed this movie. I never felt that it compromised the book — in fact I was able to lose myself in this to the point where I wasn't making any comparisons to the book at all. I only have one caveat to pass along to you — make sure you have tissues handy before you start the movie up.

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