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Blu-ray Review: The Descendants

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Now out on Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy from FOX is The Descendants. The film, directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), is adapted from a book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. It tells the story of a family dealing with the tragedy of a mother’s, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), accident. Husband Matt (George Clooney, Up in the Air, ER) soon learns that it’s harder than it looks to take care of two daughters. His life is further complicated by a business deal involving his family’s land, and learning that Elizabeth has been cheating on him.

The Descendants is not a plot-heavy film, though there is a nice flow to it. Instead, it concentrates on exploring the emotions of those involved, and how people’s actions can affect others. It is also about the dynamic of a particular family, and how it is shaped by circumstance.

This movie boasts a number of fantastic performances. Clooney is doing something a little different than usual, tackling an average schlub type of character rather than one who is exceedingly charming and handsome. Beau Bridges (Brothers & Sisters, Max Payne), as a relative of Matt’s, is as close to a villain as the piece gets, something a little off of his best known parts, too. But no one is really black or white, and his motives are decent enough. Robert Forster has a tough position, playing Matt’s father-in-law, but handles it expertly.

Rob Huebel (Childrens Hospital, I Love You, Man) and Mary Birdsong (Reno 911!) are known for their comedy, and do lighten things up a bit as Elizabeth’s friends. Judy Greer (Arrested Development, Archer, 13 Going on 30), also known for being funny, tones it down to do some serious drama, which, it turns out, she is pretty good at! Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo, Scream) is also wonderful in a layered performance as Elizabeth’s married lover.

Perhaps most surprising, though, are the young performers in The Descendants. Shailene Woodley, who plays elder daughter Alex, is best known for the cheesy Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family. Anyone who has watched that series could be forgiven for expressing shock at her fantastic, nuanced, grown up performance in The Descendants. Lesser known Nick Krause (How to Eat Friend Worms) carries the double duty of heart and comedic relief with ease. Young Amara Miller is also wonderful, making it odd that she has no prior screen credits.

Another character in The Descendants is Hawaii itself. The beauty and majesty of the tropical environment are incredibly important to the feel of the film, which is why purchasing the Blu-ray version is recommended. With the breathtaking landscapes, one will want the rich detail of high definition to fully appreciate a world so different from much of America. The colors are lush and deep. The picture quality in this release is awesome.

Sound is vital, and The Descendants pays attention to that, too. There is a terrific score underlying the movie. Many of the scenes are filmed outside, but the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack only uses the ambient noises needed to enhance, not distract, from the piece. It is all mixed together expertly.

The Descendants was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning the one for Best Adapted Screenplay. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama. Additionally, Clooney took home a Golden Globe for his acting performance. These accolades are deserved. Whether one enjoys the film or not, it’s easy to appreciate the artistry of what it is, and the masterful work Clooney and Payne have done.

The Descendants is packed with bonus features, though, strangely, it lacks an audio commentary track. A trailer is present. The deleted scenes delightfully have title cards that explain a little bit about what viewers are about to see, and provide reasons for why they were cut. Too bad there are only two of them, one very brief.

To hear the extras tell it, two men are primarily responsible for the success of the film. “Everybody Loves George” has cast members, including Greer, Lillard, Huebel, and Birdsong, raving about George Clooney. They all say that he is a great, handsome, funny guy who deserves his good reputation. Boring? Not really, because there are interesting anecdotes mixed in, too. But everyone does tend to love Clooney for a reason, and fans will find the featurette a confirmation of this.

“Working With Alexander” has Woodley, Bridges, and others raving about how fantastic it is to work with Payne, who inspires enthusiasm, and is as nice and humble as Clooney. Apparently, Payne is clear with what he wants, and takes good care of his people. Sounds like a director for whom getting stars for his next film will not be a problem.

“The Real Descendants” tells the story of how Hawaiian land become privatized. It’s a bit of a history lesson, but useful to understand some of the background on one of the subplots. These extra also touches on Hollywood’s connection with the island state. “Hawaiian Style” speaks of some of the authentic details that contribute to the realism of the setting, including the feral chickens that roam the area after an early 1990s hurricane. Additionally, the cast and crew share their favorite native words.

Some of the extra titles are right on this nose. “Casting” is exactly what it sounds like. Casting people talk about how they found the people in this movie, including Lillard and Miller. “Working With Water” discusses just how hard it is to film scenes in boats and out on the ocean.

Believe it or not, there are even more features than this, including three music videos, a silent film, and a conversation with Payne and Clooney! So needless to say, there are a lot of special features in this set that will make sure you get your money’s worth.

Buy The Descendants, available now as a Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy combo pack.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com