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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Philadelphia: Anniversary Edition (1993)

"We're standing here in Philadelphia, the 'City of Brotherly Love', the 'Birthplace of Freedom', where the Founding Fathers authored the Declaration of Independence, and I don't recall that glorious document saying anything about all straight men are created equal. I believe it says all men are created equal."
- Joe Miller (Denzel Washington)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: November 03, 2004

Stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington
Other Stars: Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Joanne Woodward
Director: Jonathan Demme

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some graphic language, and thematic material
Run Time: 02h:05m:09s
Release Date: November 02, 2004
UPC: 043396078536
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+B+A- A

DVD Review

There are a handful of films that have successfully raised the public awareness of their subject, and therefore placed it more at the front of the of the public consciousness. Philadelphia is not the first film to deal with the AIDS epidemic, but it has been by far the most successful. Released in 1993 to critical and commercial success the film is something of a watershed moment in cinema. For the first time an A-list cast and a universally awarded director came together to make a tough and heartbreaking film about homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic.

Sure, other films had covered the subject matter in depth including Longtime Companion and And the Band Played On, but finally there was a film that brought the issue into the public conscious. And aside from its landmark qualities, the film is truly exceptional. It is a beautifully acted, written, and directed film that ranks as one of my personal favorites.

Andrew Beckett (Hanks) is a high-caliber lawyer who is currently on the way up at a powerful law firm in Philadelphia. In the midst of handling a very important case, he is abruptly removed from his workload and is eventually let go. The partners of the firm say it is because he doesn't have what it takes to be with the prestigious firm and that his future would best be suited somewhere else, but Andrew thinks it is because he is sick. He is right. The firm dispatches Andrew simply because he has AIDS.

Determined to battle his dismissal, Andrew seeks out a lawyer who will hear his case against the powerful firm. The only problem is that no lawyer in the city of Philadelphia wants to go up against the legal giant. Soon, Andrew winds up in the offices of Joe Miller (Washington), a low-budget lawyer who makes his living by advertising on television for personal accident victims. Banking on the money and exposure that the case would bring him, Joe decides to represent Andrew, regardless of his own personal beliefs when it comes to homosexuality and AIDS.

That is pretty much the central story of Philadelphia, though it only brings the viewer up to the halfway point. Much of the structure of the remainder of the film skillfully goes between the drama in the courtroom and Andrew's ongoing battle with the disease. This is the masterstroke of the script by Ron Nyswaner, while the tension of the trial builds the script sort of treats it as a a side issue. The heart of the film is in the truthful relationships of the individuals that inhabit it. From Joe and Andrew's slow crawl toward understanding one other's lives, to some incredibly emotional scenes involving Andrew's family, the script understands human emotion and handles them as well as any film.

The filmmakers also do a terrific job of bringing the issue of AIDS and homosexuality to the forefront and into the minds of those who view it. For those, specifically in the early 1990s, for whom the subject of AIDS was nit exactly an entertainment choice, the film is meticulous in its discussion of the disease. Demme and Nyswaner guide the viewer through the eyes of Joe, who slowly begins to understand the disease. This slow transition is handled with care and subtlety; slowly, as we (and Joe) learn more about AIDS, the pair grows closer and the audience, too, is drawn in. The most heartbreaking scene—and Hanks' best on-screen moment, ever—comes when Andrew dissects the aria La Momma Morta and how it parallels his life. This is a scene of astonishing power with the slow revelation seen on Joe's face as he gets the fact that Andrew is not merely an AIDS patient, but a human being.

As everyone knows, the film won Hanks his first Academy Award, and it is deserved as he gives the performance of his career. He plays Andrew with such calm and ease for a man faced with a disease that will eventually take his life. It may have been easy to make the performance over the top and dramatic in an effort to manipulate us to sympathize with Andrew, but Hanks gives us a chance to care for him as a human being first and a dying man second. Washington is equally impressive in his performance in a role that asks us to see him as a man who is changing.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is terrific in several ways, but disappointing in others. Colors are vibrant and accurate with no bleeding evident while dark levels are deep with no grain evident. There are a few slight instances where the print shows some minor flaws with a few scratches and some slight grain. Sharpness and detail are each done with great results making this a very film-like transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.0 track does a great job representing the audio mix for the film that while dialogue heavy does offer some truly nice surround use. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no distortion, and the left and right speakers do a nice job of reproducing the original score. The surround speakers offer ambient sounds including busy streets and the courtroom as well as the musical track.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Thai, Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Jonathan Demme, writer Ron Myswaner
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Streets of Philadelphia music video
  2. Joe Miller television commercial
Extras Review: Originally released as a single disc with no substantial extra features, this new anniversary edition offers everything that anyone could ever wish to know about Philadelphia. The first disc features a commentary track by director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner. The track is informative from the outset, though much of the information that can be gathered here can also be heard on the documentary on the second disc. The pair discuss the casting of the film, and why and how the film got made; also of note is the inclusion in the film of several gay actors and that several of them have passed away from AIDS related causes since the release of the film.

On the second disc things are led off by two outstanding documentaries dealing with the production of the film as well as the struggles of those with AIDS. People Like Us: The Making of Philadelphia is a nearly hour-long documentary that can be viewed in five separate parts as well completely together. The documentary follows the film from the beginning including how the idea for the film came about as well as how each of the cast and crew became involved. Featuring interviews with nearly everyone involved in the film and many more this is a fascinating look into the making of the film.

The second documentary is entitled One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave, and it is a heartbreaking piece of original work shot by Juan Botas in 1992. Botas, who is a close friend of Demme's as well as an AIDS patient, uses a handheld video camera to document his battle with the disease while also offering interviews with fellow patients, family, and friends. The most astonishing aspect of the documentary is its frank discussion of the disease and how it affects those involved. This is a wrenching piece of work; in fact anyone on the fence about purchasing the DVD should use this as final incentive.

Fifteen minutes of deleted scenes are offered and while I was hoping for some hidden gold, the collection is rather disappointing. Several of the scenes were excised for the right reason, while others are moderately more successful. Finally, the original Bruce Springsteen video for Streets of Philadelphia, the original theatrical trailer, and a mock television commercial for Joe Miller's personal injury law firm.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Philadelphia has finally come to DVD in an edition worthy of its power. This two-disc set is an in-depth look at one of the most important films made in the 1990s. The technical aspects of the presentation are outstanding, making this one of the very best DVDs released this year. Highly recommended.

 


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