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Paramount Studios presents
Children of a Lesser God (1986)

"You want to talk to me? Then you learn my language. Speak!"
- James Leeds (William Hurt)

Review By: Justin Stephen   
Published: December 07, 2000

Stars: William Hurt, Marlee Matlin
Other Stars: Piper Laurie, Philip Bosco, Allison Gompf, John F. Cleary, Philip Holmes
Director: Randa Haines

Manufacturer: MUMS
MPAA Rating: R for profanity and sexual themes
Run Time: 01h:58m:49s
Release Date: December 12, 2000
UPC: 097360183948
Genre: romance

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BA-C- D

DVD Review

James Leeds is an idealistic, energetic, and rebellious teacher. We join him on his first day at a prestigious school for the hearing-impaired where he will be teaching 11th grade deaf children to read lips and speak phonetically. It is quite obvious from the start that Leeds has a real talent for this kind of work. He relates to the children well and appears to have real passion about the work that he does.

He isn't there long when he becomes curious about an attractive young woman working at the school as a custodian. Her name is Sarah, a former student of the school ("One of the most gifted we ever had here," Leeds' new boss explains). Being a natural do-gooder, he tries to reach out to her, to teach her to read lips and speak but she dismisses his offers in a sarcastic and abrupt manner, content with sign language and her sheltered lifestyle. Leeds, however, is persistent, and it soon becomes evident that his interest in her goes beyond the professional. His persistence eventually pays off and, while she still resists his offers of instruction in speech, a friendship and eventually, a romance, blossoms between the two.

Children of a Lesser God is not a story about deafness and the lives of the hearing-impaired in an auditory world. Viewers seeking a drama that explores issues relating to this unfortunate physical handicap are likely to be disappointed. It is, first and foremost, a love story. Sarah's handicap and James' occupation primarily serve as a poignant gimmick used to breathe life into the otherwise well-trodden romantic genre. Through a somewhat hokey, albeit forgivable plot construct, we can actually hear Sarah speak as James repeats everything she says, as if to himself. In lieu of subtitles, Hurt handles this translation chore with a well-honed casualness and I stopped noticing this contrivance very early on.

Children of a Lesser God ended up being one of the most critically acclaimed films of 1986. It garnered five Oscar® nominations: three for acting (Hurt, Matlin, and Laurie), Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay (from a play by screenwriter Mark Medoff). Of its five nominations, its only win was Best Actress for Matlin, which proved to be a very popular win as Matlin, like the character she plays, is deaf. The quality of the performances is definitely the film's strong suit. Matlin is very impressive in her first major film role. The always delightful Philip Bosco plays the headmaster of the school and Leeds' boss, who finds clever and humorous ways to express his initial disapproval of Leeds' relationship with his custodian. His sarcastic remarks provide most of the film's levity. Screen legend Piper Laurie fills a small but powerful role as Sarah's estranged mother. Ultimately, however, the film belongs to Hurt, who is on screen 98 percent of the time. His performance as Leeds is near flawless.

While its strengths outweigh them handily, the film does have its weaknesses. Randa Haines, whose other credits include several television shows, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, and 1998's Dance with Me, has crafted this story into a film with a deft hand. However, it is in the writing of two crucial elements of the story that Children of a Lesser God falls short. The transition from Leeds' professional interest in Sarah to his romantic interest in her is rushed and insufficiently fleshed out. More problematic is the film's conclusion, which is ultimately a bit of a cop out. There are many issues at play in the strife that develops between James and Sarah and those issues are not properly addressed in the film's closing moments. Had the screenwriters had the audacity or wisdom to address these issues, this film might have delivered a powerful message to go along with its powerful performances.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: From a technical standpoint, this DVD's image transfer is definitely its strong suit. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Children of a Lesser God contains a very pleasing and unsoiled anamorphic transfer. The image has been cleaned up quite nicely and only a very minimal amount of dirt is visible on the print. Clarity is very good for a film of this age. A faint graininess is omnipresent, inherent to the print and not the digital conversion, I suspect. The color is subdued, with much of the action taking place indoors and out in the gloomy fall and winter of Maine.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Mono tracks with aggressive musical scores tend to get muddled at times, and Children of a Lesser God is no exception. Sound and dialogue ends up being rather heavy, with an obvious deficiency in crispness. I would rate this slightly below average among recent mono releases. Since Michael Convertino's original music is actually quite good, this disc really could have benefited from a Dolby surround transfer. Too bad.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: n/a

Extras Review: Children of a Lesser God comes with only the original theatrical trailer.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Childen of a Lesser God is a brilliantly-acted film, but the screenplay lets it down a little bit. A no-frills DVD release, it features a very pleasant image transfer but an extremely lackluster two-channel mono soundtrack.


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