that the quality of family films has diminished lately. All
too often, these efforts are either too childish for adults
or too intense for children. However, in the tradition of
great classics from the 1930s and '40s comes Secondhand Lions,
a family film that proves greatly entertaining for all ages.
Not only is it an intelligently written, passionately crafted
story, but it also conveys profound messages without becoming
too heavy handed.
story begins as 14-year-old Walter (Haley Joel Osment) finds
himself forced to spend the summer at his great uncles' farm
in Texas. Walter's manipulative mother, Mae (Kyra Sedgwick),
promises him she will be back in just a few weeks, but he
has heard her lie to him far too many times. Uncle Hub (Robert
Duvall) and Uncle Garth (Michael Caine) are bitter, peculiar,
and completely unfamiliar with how to care for a youngster.
Their preferred form of entertainment is warning off door-to-door
salesmen with shotgun blasts.
simple folk, Hub and Garth appear to have been blessed with
an abundance of money, and Walter soon hears rumors from the
townspeople that the duo may have acquired their wealth from
robbing banks or stealing from the Mafia. Nothing is certain,
except for the fact that Hub and Garth once disappeared from
Texas for a period of 40 years.
spends more time with the old men, he begins to discover a
tenderness beneath their crusty exteriors. He soon confronts
Garth about their elusive past, at which time his uncle begins
to weave elaborate tales of the adventures he and Hub shared
in Africa. These stories are depicted as epic fantasy sequences,
where a swashbuckling young Hub does battle with a dangerous
sheik and rescues a princess named Jasmine. Though Walter
has little faith in the validity of these stories, they give
him an optimistic escape from the cynical world that his mother
has provided for him. As time passes, Walter begins to develop
a special and unique relationship with his uncles.
the plot is simple and straightforward, McCanlies has several
interesting tricks up his sleeve. The fantasy sequences in
particular provide thrills in addition to breaking up the
conventional narrative. It is almost as if McCanlies has written
one and a half movies and managed to tie them together seamlessly.
These action segments are presented in a playful manor, as
they are imagined through the eyes of young Walter. It could
be argued that they do not fit well within the fabric of the
story, but I honestly could not imagine the film without them.
Not only are they fun and exciting, but they also add depth
to the characters.
the appeal of Secondhand Lions can be attributed to the fantastic
performances from the three leads. Unsurprisingly, both Caine
and Duvall exude an innate knowledge of their craft, yet it
has been a while since I have seen either of them deliver
such honest, heartfelt performances. It would have been easy
for less experienced actors to overemphasize the personalities
of Hub and Garth so much as to reduce them to unpleasant codgers.
However, these seasoned veterans demonstrate tremendous erudition
and restraint in creating simultaneously credible yet affable
personalities. It would be quite intimidating for any actor,
much less a child, to interact with such accomplished performers,
but Haley Joel Osment blends right in, bringing an equal level
of talent to his role. Appearing all grown up and void of
his child-star persona, Osment proves that his tour-de-force
performances in The Sixth Sense and A.I. were no flukes. I
expect to see a long and prosperous career from this gifted
achievement of this production is Tim McCanlies' screenplay.
It is rare that the Hollywood system does not obliterate the
integrity of such an earnest piece of work, yet, McCanlies
fought tooth and nail with major studios to keep his vision
intact. Through McCanlies' struggle to preserve his artistic
intentions, the genuine, heartfelt qualities of the screenplay
remain wholly evident in the finished product. Also directing
the film, McCanlies shrewdly blends humor and drama into an
emotional tale of empathy. While overall a bit sappy, Secondhand
Lions is a rare family film that will actually appeal to the
entire family rather than one narrow age group.
for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
- Full Frame
Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image transfer
is nice, yet somewhat disappointing by current standards.
The picture is often abundant with compression artifacts,
no doubt due to the fact that a pan-and-scan version has also
been included on the second layer of the dual layer disc.
Overall, the visuals are bright and vivid, thought slightly
wanting in detail. While certainly enjoyable and far from
overtly distracting, this transfer reminds me of what DVD
looked like five years ago.
Transfer Grade: B
Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital EX soundtrack has been
optimized for home theater, and is brazenly aggressive and
loud. I found it to be a touch excessive and toppy at my normal
listening level, yet thankfully distortion free. The +4 offset
seems to have compromised the dynamic range a bit, and the
dialogue sounds slightly pushed forward as a result. Otherwise,
the soundtrack is fabulous, boasting a creative yet fully
realistic soundstage. Even during moments of extreme quiescence
the soundfield is wide and spacious, drawing the viewer into
the heart of the film with the subtle sounds of bugs, wind,
and other natural elements. The EX encoding further helps
to fill up the soundstage, with several moments of aggressive
back surround presence such as the moment where a plane zooms
in and out of the rear channel. The music packs a tremendous
wallop, particularly during the action based fantasy sequences,
which are also backed by strong bass. Overall, this is a tremendously
exciting EX soundtrack with an aggressive nature that proves
pleasantly surprising for a family film.
Transfer Grade: A-
Static menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Elf; Laws of Attraction
7 TV Spots/Teasers
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Tim McCanlies
Visual Effects Comparisons
Review: Side A begins with a feature-length commentary
by writer/director Tim McCanlies. The filmmaker gives quite
a verbose and exuberant analysis of his film, covering a wide
array of topics without forgetting to give credit where credit
is due. This is an entertaining and enlightening commentary
with few dull moments.
the disc over to Side B, we begin with an extensive collection
of deleted and alternate scenes. Over 41 minutes worth of
material is featured, including nine deleted scenes and an
alternate ending, all of which contain an optional commentary
by McCanlies. Several of the scenes are alternate versions
of what we see in the film, while others are moments that
were fully excised from the final product. All 41 minutes
are a joy to watch, and not merely the type of scenes where
I roll my eyes and think, "Well, I'm certainly glad they
cut this!" While these scenes would have made welcome
inclusions in the final film, I agree with the decision to
cut them for pacing purposes, as McCanlies confirms in his
commentary. Boasting anamorphic widescreen transfers with
5.1 sound, this is an excellent presentation.
of two documentaries is Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay's
Wild Ride in Hollywood. This is not only an excellent look
at how McCanlies struggled to get his screenplay green-lighted,
but also his determination in keeping his vision safe from
the interference of studio big wigs.
documentary is On the Set with Secondhand Lions, which is
a more conventional promotional piece featuring behind-the-scenes
footage and interviews with the cast and crew. While fairly
formulaic, there are many interesting and revealing moments,
such as the training of the animals, a look at the casting
process, and the approach to creating the fantasy sequences.
Both documentaries are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
a featurette titled Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age.
While mostly consisting of routine interview material, it
is interesting to hear the accomplished young actor discuss
his approach to the acting process.
are visual effects comparisons for two brief scenes. Split
screen comparisons offer a glimpse at the finished film alongside
the principal photography, which mostly consisted of blue
screens. With a dismal running time of less than two minutes,
my disappointment in the brevity of this section outweighs
my enthusiasm over its content.
trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with 5.1 sound.
Also included are seven TV spots, which have been divided
into two sections. The first section contains three TV spots
geared towards a younger audience, while the second section
contains the remaining four spots, aimed more toward adults.
out the special features are anamorphic widescreen trailers
for Elf and Laws of Attraction, as well as a DVD-ROM online
Secondhand Lions may be a bit schmaltzy, it succeeds where
many similar films falter, proving to be engrossing entertainment
for all ages. The DVD of this enjoyable film has been given
admirable treatment with an outstanding Dolby Digital EX soundtrack
and a worthwhile collection of special features.
sure to read the excellent
original review .