Some have said that "The Hours" is difficult to watch due to its bleak subject matter and its wordy meditations on life. Indeed, when I saw it in a movie theatre, some members of the audience left the auditorium long before the end credits appeared. I, too, think that "The Hours" is difficult to watch, but I didn't mind the film's obsession with suicide or its literary roots. Rather, I found the movie to be poorly made and certainly not deserving of any of its nine Oscar nominations or any other awards that it collected. It pains me to say that not even Nicole Kidman, whom I adore and whose acceptance speech was one of the two best during the evening of March 23, 2003, should've taken home an Oscar for her performance in "The Hours". (She should've won an Oscar the year before for her acting in "The Others".) Having experienced some of the tumultuous emotions that plague the main characters in "The Hours", I empathized with their plights. Still, while the themes explored by the movie (and by Michael Cunningham's source novel) are valid and deserve scrutiny, the execution of the film fails those themes.
First of all, I want to talk about the film's music score. While I don't consider myself a fan of Philip Glass, I often enjoy his musical compositions. For example, I really liked his opera that was included on Criterion's second DVD edition of Jean Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast". I even think that the music that he wrote for "The Hours" is wonderful. However, the score felt out of place and overbearing when paired with the images that appeared before my eyes. The tense scales, chords, and motifs didn't match the tone of the onscreen action, and the sound editors mixed the music into the soundtrack at too-high levels volume-wise. Therefore, my ears competed with my eyes for my brain's attention, and that should never happen when a person is watching a movie (unless the screen is intentionally monochromatic).
Then, there is the awful acting on display. Kidman doesn't have enough screen-time to register as a strong presence. She fails to find ways to dimensionalize her character beyond expressing one emotion at a time when, in reality, people experience a flood of feelings at any given moment. Julianne Moore, an over-rated actress in my opinion, is such a blank that I didn't care about her narrative thread at all. Meryl Streep cries a couple of times, but crying doesn't make a performance special. As for Ed Harris, I'm going to paraphrase "Time" magazine's Richard Schickel--Harris gives an "ugly" performance that is vulgar. Rather than carrying hope in my heart for him, I wished that Harris's character would simply die and put me out of MY misery. Oddly enough, although the scenario seems to focus on women's issues, Stephen Dillane manages to deliver the best acting in "The Hours" (he plays the husband of Kidman's character).
I detested the cinematography. Extreme close-ups can be effective, but when every other camera shot of an actor's face is an extreme close-up, I got the feeling that I was only looking at Kidman's prosthetic nose, Moore's flat nose, and Streep's as-flat-as-Moore's nose. Despite the fact that it was adapted from an acclaimed novel which was inspired by Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway", David Hare's screenplay didn't offer a single memorable line (much less a quotable speech). Needless to say, given the poor music choices, sound mixing, acting, cinematography, and writing on display, I also found Stephen Daldry's direction to be amateurish, faux-ly "artistic", and pompously self-important. It's never a good sign when filmmakers think that the weightiness of their materials gives them the right to strut vainly--"Stop the presses! I have something important to say, didn't you know?"
Given my complaints, I suppose that it doesn't really matter to me on a personal level whether or not you know about what happens in the movie. Still, for the curious, I'll write that "The Hours" focuses on three women of different eras that are all affected by British writer Virginia Woolf's influential novel "Mrs. Dalloway". There's Virginia Woolf (Kidman), who is seen in the process of creating "Mrs. Dalloway". There's Laura Brown (Moore), an American woman suffocating in post-WWII suburban California. There's Clarissa (Streep), an editor based in New York City who is throwing a party for her friend Richard (Harris) in 2001. Virginia, Laura, and Clarissa are all connected in more ways than the obvious one (that of "Mrs. Dalloway"). (The one thing that I appreciated about the movie was the editing, which cleverly uses visual cues to link the three main characters.) All three women find themselves on the verge of suicide.
Again, I reiterate that the themes in the story are worth our notice, but the movie is an embarrassingly bad effort.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video image looks rather soft for a new movie. Usually, soft focus lenses are used to make actors look glamorous. However, since neither Moore nor Streep is beautiful in the conventional sense and since Kidman has a slightly cross-eyed look throughout her scenes in "The Hours", the soft focus approach annoyed me. The movie also looks dirty to me because the way that the film was lit led to the camera to pick up the dust flitting in the air. The source print is in good condition, but the way that the film was shot yielded a less-than-attractive picture presentation on DVD.
Since "The Hours" isn't an action extravaganza, its sound mix--done as a Dolby Digital 5.0 English track--doesn't even have a 0.1 subwoofer feed. The audio does a good job of dispersing the music score throughout the room, though I must reiterate that the music and the movie make a poor match. Dialogue is mostly intelligible, though wherever the sound mixers dialed-up the volume for Philip Glass's score, the actors' voices require your utmost attention in order to be understood. For the most part, the audio track feels like a mono mix because the movie is dialogue-driven.
Those of you without digital sound set-ups should view the film with the included DD 2.0 surround English track. There's also a DD 5.1 French track, but my guess is that 0.1 subwoofer feed is inactive since the film's native English mix is a 5.0 design.
Optional English subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.
Billed as a Special Collector's Edition, the "The Hours" DVD offers a decent slate of extras in terms of quantity. However, as I didn't like the movie, I found the bonus materials to be rather dreary, too.
There's an audio commentary by Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. It would seem that the actresses were recorded separately, an act that makes sense since they don't really interact with one another onscreen. The actresses are too busy being polite and complimentary towards the other filmmakers to say anything substantive about their craft.
The audio commentary by director Stephen Daldry and novelist Michael Cunningham isn't much better, either. The two men are so convinced of the film's greatness that they talk about the project as if they've never seen a better collection of geniuses in their lives. I'm sorry, but "The Hours" isn't even a good film, much less a great one.
There's a "Filmmaker's Introduction" featuring video footage of the director talking about how wonderful his movie is. I wonder why Mr. Daldry feels the need to insist on his film's greatness. Aren't movies supposed to be able to speak for themselves?
Next up are four featurettes: "Three Women", "The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf", "The Music of 'The Hours'", and "The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway". "Three Women" offers footage of Streep, Moore, and Kidman fawning over each other--a waste of most people's time. The actresses also talk about some details concerning the production, but this featurette covers a lot of ground already visited by the actresses' audio commentary. "The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf" is a fairly lengthy biography of the author. This is the best extra on the disc since it discusses Woolf rather than the movie. "The Music of 'The Hours'" trumpets the achievements of composer Philip Glass, though I would like to re-iterate one more time that the music is very good but NOT suited to what the filmmakers made. Finally, "The Lives of Mrs. Dalloway" looks at how novelist Michael Cunningham found Woolf's tome when he was 15-years-old and how he came to adapt "Mrs. Dalloway" into his book "The Hours".
After a number of recent releases that arrived on DVD sans trailers for the feature presentation, Paramount finally came to its senses and included the trailer for "The Hours" on the DVD edition of "The Hours". There's also a preview for the upcoming DVD release of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days".
A glossy insert provides chapter listings.
A friend of mine recommended "The Hours" to me, and the fact that he was willing to watch it a second time added to my eagerness to see this widely-praised project. However, the movie was one of the most disappointing experiences of my cinema-going career. I haven't read either Michael Cunningham's "The Hours" or Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway", but I suspect that reading either novel will be far more rewarding than watching "The Hours". At the very least, I won't have my attention divided between listening to Philip Glass's music and watching indifferent actors.