I remember how excited I was, back in late-1994/early-1995, to hear the news about the formation of a new media company by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen. The new company didn't even have a name when Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen held the first press conference for their joint venture, and the new company endured a rather rocky start when its initial film offerings did so-so business and when "Saving Private Ryan" got unceremoniously whacked by "Shakespeare in Love" at the 1999 Oscars. However, beginning with the 2000 Oscars, DreamWorks SKG has won the Best Picture award three years in a row--for "American Beauty", for "Gladiator", and for "A Beautiful Mind".
Universal Pictures co-financed/co-produced "Gladiator" and "A Beautiful Mind" with DreamWorks Pictures. Mr. Spielberg used to call Universal Studios "home", and the boys in charge of Imagine Entertainment, director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, still operate on Universal's grounds. Howard and Grazer almost tasted Oscar victory with 1995's "Apollo 13", but they were trumped by Mel Gibson's equally powerful "Braveheart". When they announced that they were going to make a movie about a mathematics genius suffering from schizophrenia who eventually wins a Nobel Prize, Hollywood began betting that the Imagine team would finally win filmdom's Holy Grail.
2001 was widely considered to be a rather weak year for mainstream cinema, and "A Beautiful Mind" garnered only 8 Oscar nominations to the 13 garnered by "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings". Both "Mind" and "LOTR" won 4 awards each, with "Mind" winning Best Picture, Best Director (Ron Howard), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Akiva Goldsman). Of the 4 Oscars, I think that Ms. Connelly's was the most deserved. Connelly has long been an "on-the-cusp-of-stardom" actress, having developed a devoted following of boys/men infatuated with her dark beauty and just waiting for the right moment to gain widespread recognition. She does a great job playing off of Russell Crowe's complex role.
"A Beautiful Mind" tells the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), a mathematician from West Virginia who attended Princeton University in order to earn a PhD degree. While at Princeton, Nash came up with a set of equilibrium theories (sometimes loosely referred to as "game theory") that re-conceptualized the way people should view complex negotiations. The film becomes a love story when it introduces Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly), one of Nash's students while he taught and worked at MIT. Along the way, it is discovered that Nash suffers from schizophrenia. Nash overcomes his mental condition by, believe it or not, thinking is way out of the box that he had created for himself. In 1994, he received the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Much controversy surrounded the creation of the screenplay, adapted from Sylvia Nasar's biography of John Nash. Akiva Goldsman's script neglects many details of Nash's life, including alleged homosexual tendencies, Nash's separation from his wife, Alicia's Hispanic ethnicity, and Nash's son's own bouts with schizophrenia. While I acknowledge that the script does not discuss all of the important facts in Nash's life, I must also say that it is impossible to include an entire life in a 2-hour movie. However, the "thriller" device that Goldsman uses to show us the world of Nash's schizophrenia occupies so much of the film's running time that a disservice is done to Nash's equilibrium theories. The film includes one great scene (set in a bar involving a pretty blonde girl and her brunette cohorts) that well illustrates real-world applications of "game theory". Yet, that is the only time that we get to see why Nash won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Russell Crowe received Best Actor Oscar nominations 3 years in a row ("The Insider", "Gladiator", "A Beautiful Mind"), and he actually won an Oscar (for "Gladiator") during that period of time. Additionally, the Academy nominated "The Insider", "Gladiator", and "A Beautiful Mind" for Best Picture, and the Academy ended up naming "Gladiator" and "A Beautiful Mind" Best Pictures of their respective years. Given his reputation for sporting a volatile temperament, I doubt that Mr. Crowe will ever become as popular with the film industry or with the viewing public as Tom Hanks, the other "golden" boy.
Still, I consider Mr. Crowe to be a serious, wonderfully gifted artist whose larger-than-life charisma dominates the movies in which he appears. The Howard/Grazer team may have guided "A Beautiful Mind" towards the big screen, but Crowe defines the film the way Kirk Douglas defined "Spartacus" and the way Liam Neeson defined "Michael Collins". As much as I admire Denzel Washington's talent, I think that the black community did everyone a great disservice by using the "race card" to campaign for Mr. Washington (in "Training Day"). Saying that Washington deserved to win because "it was time for a black actor to win the Best Actor Oscar" heavily tarnishes Washington's victory over an unfairly usurped Russell Crowe. (Coincidentally, Crowe acted opposite Washington in "Virtuosity".)
"A Beautiful Mind" becomes a beautiful video image on DVD. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, doubly-nominated in 2002 for both "Mind" and "The Man Who Wasn't There", captures visually gorgeous shots, and the DVD faithfully reproduces his rich palette. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen frame offers a smooth, clean look devoid of physical damage to the film negative. I'm sorely tempted to rate the video a "10" instead of a "9", but I've seen other DVDs (such as "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" and "Doctor Zhivago") with a certain "je ne sais quoi" in the video department that rank them higher than this DVD release. Still, this is near-reference-quality material, and Universal/DreamWorks should be proud of it.
(A separate Pan&Scan DVD release, with the same audio and bonus materials specs, is available, but I urge you to disregard any Pan&Scan products in general.)
While "A Beautiful Mind" may be a drama, it boasts a rich sound mix that fills the room quite often. Available in Dolby Digital 5.1 English and DD 5.1 French guises, the audio track surrounds viewers with James Horner's lilting orchestral score. There are directionality effects when appropriate, and ambient environmental noises (such as chirping birds and rustling leaves) can be heard quite often.
English and Spanish subtitles support the audio.
(For more than a year now, Universal and DreamWorks have included both DTS 5.1 audio tracks and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes whenever possible on their DVDs. This practice is almost to be expected on DVDs of recent films. However, the "A Beautiful Mind" 2-disc set does not offer a DTS option. While I'm merely speculating, I think that perhaps Ron Howard and Brian Grazer decided that the movie's sound design does not need to be enjoyed in DTS the way an action/adventure project might be.)
Universal and DreamWorks often co-finance/co-produce movies with one another, and Universal also releases DreamWorks's DVDs. Therefore, you've probably noticed that the two studios' DVD releases offer similar box art templates. "A Beautiful Mind" joins "American Beauty" as a member of the Universal/DreamWorks "Awards Edition" line of DVDs. (The "Gladiator" DVD would surely have been billed as an "Awards Edition" release had it streeted after the Oscars rather than months before the event.)
Aside from their workmanlike professionalism and competency, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer do not bring much personal flair to their productions. Yet, you will feel their presence EVERYWHERE when you experience the "A Beautiful Mind" 2-disc DVD set. On Disc 1, Mr. Howard contributes an informative audio commentary in his charming "Opie" manner. Howard discusses many aspects of the production, not just directorial choices that he made, so his commentary is one of the best that I've heard in a while. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman provides a second audio commentary. Mr. Goldsman only briefly mentions, in passing, the controversies surrounding his condensation of the events in Nash's life. For the most part, his commentary is rather redundant if you've listened to Howard's voiceover.
Fans of "deleted/bonus" scenes will enjoy the 26 minutes of additional footage on Disc 1. While the deleted scenes do not really add to the progression of the story, they are fairly entertaining in their own right, providing further glimpses of Nash's difficult genius as well as Jennifer Connelly's star-making performance. Once again, Mr. Howard provides an optional audio commentary. Also on Disc 1 are "Production Notes" (text pages) and Cast and Crew biographies/filmographies (text pages).
Disc 2 houses most of the set's extras. Most of these extras are featurettes that cover different aspects of the film's production. As with the "A.I.--Artificial Intelligence" DVD set, I think that the included featurettes could've been edited into one long documentary, but keeping the featurettes less than 30 minutes means not having to pay the filmmakers additional royalties.
First up is "A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer". Basically, the two filmmakers talk about how wonderful it is to work with each other. (You see more of the duo as they introduce the other featurettes on Disc 2.)
For the most part, the featurettes have titles that neatly explain their contents, so I won't discuss them in too much detail. "Development of the Screenplay", "Meeting John Nash", "Aceepting the Nobel Prize in Economics", "Casting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly", "The Process of Age Progression", "Storyboard Comparisons", "Creation of the Special Effects", and "Scoring the Film" sheds light on the making of the film. "Meeting John Nash" even includes video camera footage that Howard recorded when he met the real Nash. For viewers who want the short version of everything, there is the "Inside ‘A Beautiful Mind'" making-of featurette that played on TV.
Universal managed to secure rights to footage from Oscar night. There's a clip of Tom Hanks opening the envelope and announcing "A Beautiful Mind" as 2001's Best Picture, and there's footage of Ron Howard, Jennifer Connelly, and Akiva Goldsman backstage answering journalists' questions. Mr. Howard candidly admits that Brian Grazer shoulders most of the producing responsibilities and permits Howard to share producing credit so that, in case of a Best Picture win, Howard can pick up an additional Oscar. Such honesty is welcome indeed.
Finally, you will find the film's theatrical trailer, a commercial for the film's CD soundtrack, and previews for "Apollo 13", "The Family Man", "K-Pax", and "Patch Adams" on Disc 2.
Those of you with DVD-ROM access will find that viewing either disc on your computer will enable the use of web links to Internet sites related to Universal Studios and "A Beautiful Mind". The DVDs also have links to Universal's "Total Axess" Online Feature. Similar to the "Spy Game" DVD, this DVD set allows Internet users to access additional video and computer media from the web. (Disc 1 offers a clip that briefly explains the "Total Axess" concept.) While I prefer to have all available bonus materials encoded onto DVDs so that I may view them from my stand-alone DVD player, I suppose that "Total Axess" is Universal's way of nudging people towards the inevitable integration of computers into the home theatre environment.
A glossy booklet provides an abbreviated version of the Production Notes found on Disc 1 as well as chapter listings.
When all is said and done, I think that Akiva Goldsman's screenplay directs too much scrutiny on the mechanism of John Nash's schizophrenia and not enough attention on the big picture. The Nobel Foundation awarded Dr. Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics, but the movie pays only lip service to his heavily influential theories. I would've preferred a film that spent more time than this one did explaining to the audience the intricacies of "game theory". (Then again, I guess people can go read a book for that sort of thing, right? LOL.) As it plays, "A Beautiful Mind" runs for 2-hours-16-minutes, and it's 16 minutes too long.
Of the films nominated for awards for the 2002 Oscar ceremony, I felt that "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" should've gone home with a sweep. Instead, "A Beautiful Mind" took home the biggies. Of the winners associated with "A Beautiful Mind", I think that only Jennifer Connelly deserved to win, and I think that Russell Crowe was robbed of a Best Actor award. (If the Oscars were a one-man affair run by me, I would've split the awards between "A.I.--Artificial Intelligence" and "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within".) Oh, well, at least the atrocious "Moulin Rouge" failed to make much of a splash on Oscar night. :-)