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20th Century Fox presents
Brokedown Palace (1999)

"You didn't sign anything, did you?"
- Alice (Claire Danes)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: April 30, 2000

Stars: Claire Dane, Kate Beckinsdale
Other Stars: Bill Pullman
Director: Jonathan Kaplan

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, drug related material and some violent content.
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Release Date: February 15, 2000
UPC: 024543000037
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B CAA D

DVD Review

Brokedown Palace is another movie about naïve Americans convicted on drug charges in a strict foreign country (other sub-genre entries include Midnight Express, Red Corner and Return to Paradise). This "babes in Thailand" story concerns two friends, Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene (Kate Beckinsale), on a post-highschool-graduation trip. They become involved with a good-looking young Australian (Daniel Lapaine), and end up as unwitting drug couriers on a trip to Hong Kong. After they are arrested on heroin smuggling charges, Darlene signs a "statement" that turns out to be a trumped-up confession, and the girls are sentenced to 33 years in prison. Aided by lawyer Hank Green (Bill Pullman), they must deal with a Thai justice system that assumes guilt and requires proof of innocence; the ordeal severely tests their friendship.

The movie is supported by good (if occasionally strident) performances by Danes and Beckinsale, and Bill Pullman plays a character who is sleazier than his normal "nice guy" persona. Jonathan Kaplan's slightly MTV-influenced direction is competent, with nicely composed shots and a willingness to let his actors work. The film's music soundtrack is strong, with female-vocalist-driven, not-overly-familiar tracks by artists like Sarah Brightman and the Asian Dub Foundation—it's great material in 5.1 surround (although it leads to a few excess montage sequences clearly designed to sell CD's).

The film is technically solid, but the script has problems, and the movie somehow moves too fast and too slow at the same time. The depth of Alice and Darlene's friendship isn't well established in the first act—we're TOLD that they've been lifelong friends, but we don't feel it—we don't get to know them well enough to care deeply. This immediately limits our involvement to an intellectual level, following the twists and turns of the plot without really caring how it all turns out.After the arrest, Brokedown Palace goes in too many directions at once. Lawyer Green travels to Hong Kong to investigate Parks and uncovers high-level corruption in the Thai police system, but these revelations ultimately count for nothing.

Alice's ingrained cynicism and suspicion inexplicably disappear for fifteen minutes, permitting an "escape" sting that adds 15 years to the girls' sentences. The girls' parents, who at least seem to care about the situation early on, fade out of the story completely. And the prison conditions as portrayed in the film aren't nearly nasty enough to generate sympathy on their own—the girls' suffering consists of bad haircuts, encounters with mice and roaches, and one minor beating, like a summer camp with extremely strict counselors. The film never finds its focus —even the film's dramatic, downbeat ending is compromised by an optimistic voice-over.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Brokedown Palace is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer. I saw no significant artifacting (even on some tricky shots with gratings and tiny points of light). Black level is a bit on the light side, but image detail and colors are well preserved and the print used for the transfer is in great condition.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: The film's solid soundtrack is rendered cleanly in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround formats (the disc defaults to 2.0). Rear speakers are used primarily for music, with nice atmospheric split surrounds in traffic and crowd scenes. Bass is solid, employed more often for music than for effects. Great transfer, as should be expected for a film of this vintage.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This disc was slated at the end of Fox's first year of weak support for DVD, so there are minimal extras here—the obligatory trailer (in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and DD 2.0 encoded surround) and five cast and crew profiles (which actually ignore the crew and only cover cast members Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Daniel Lapaine.) Menus are nicely designed, but a mandatory introductory sequence of shots from the film plays before the main menu finally appears. Just beyond "movie only." Luckily, since this release Fox has shown a renewed commitment to DVD with anamorphic transfers and special edition treatment becoming the norm, not the exception.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Brokedown Palace is a PG-13 drama, and its themes of friendship, sacrifice and kickin' tunes are meant to resonate deeply with its target audience of teenage girls. The film tries, but it just doesn't work very well—it's thin in some areas, padded in others, and the talented cast can't rescue the fundamentally flawed story. Fox's DVD transfer is solid (though non-anamorphic), but I'll only spin this disc again for the sake of the soundtrack.

 


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