Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both John and Tim comment on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
Warner/New Line must think they've hit upon a pretty good idea here: the Limited Edition Blu-ray gift box. Apparently, the studio powers that be liked the big box for "Casablanca" so much that they decided to give the same treatment to 2004's "The Notebook." I have no objections. What does concern me, though, is that the studio is not providing a regular Blu-ray edition for those fans who might not want all the bells and whistles of a big set, to say nothing of not wanting to give up the shelf space a big box takes up. At any rate, the box set is no more expensive than a regular release, so except for its size, this Limited Edition does come with some interesting bonuses.
The thing is, "The Notebook" seems an odd choice for Blu-ray release in the first place. It's the kind of romantic weeper that would have made Bette Davis proud and clearly has a female audience in mind. Yet Blu-ray is still a predominantly male niche market. How many males will buy a big BD gift set of "The Notebook" unless they really, really love the movie or unless they intend to give it to a girlfriend or wife? I dunno. I'm sure it would make an ideal Valentine's Day present; it satisfies both the giver and the receiver.
The Wife-O-Meter had never seen the film before, but she had read the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks and said it made her cry. Right there you've got a built-in fan base, particularly among female readers. However, with a script adapted by Jan Sardi, a screenplay by Jeremy Leven, and direction by Nick Cassavetes, "The Notebook" worked for this male viewer as well. It is definitely, as I say, an unabashed weeper for anyone but those with the most stoney of hearts.
Jim Garner plays an older gentleman living in a nursing home, where he reads the film's story aloud to a fellow patient, played by Gena Rowlands. Her character is suffering from dementia, an impairment of her mental capacities leaving her with a loss of memory. Her doctor says her condition is irreversible, but Garner's character doesn't buy it. He feels he can jog her mind if he reads to her each day.
The story he reads concerns a pair of young people, Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams), who in 1940, while in their late teens, fall madly in love. But love ain't easy, as all of us who have experienced it can testify. She is from a rich Southern family; he works in a lumber yard and lives with his widowed father (Sam Shepard). It's a typical Romeo and Juliet tale, with Allie's mother (Joan Allen) especially against the young couple's plans to run off together. Can anything stop true love? The mother, behaving like the Wicked Witch of the West, certainly does her best to shut things down.
After pressure from Allie's parents, Noah and Allie's summer fling ends, and the two young people reluctantly go their separate ways. Seven years pass, and Allie has fallen in love again, this time with Lon Hammond, Jr., "handsome, smart, sophisticated, and charming"; the fact that he is also "fabulously wealthy" impresses Allie's mother no end, and Allie and Lon become engaged. Meanwhile, Noah has bought a crumbling old plantation mansion, the scene of his first tryst with Allie, with the intent to renovate it. Somehow, he feels that if he restores the old house, Allie will come back to him.
We get two sets of narratives in the movie: the flashback to the youngsters and their romance and the account of the oldsters and their relationship to one another. Both sets of events are poignant, but it is the actions of the older people that eventually win over our hearts and minds.
The movie makes its intentions clear from the outset. It wants you to go with its emotional romanticism, starting with Aaron Zigman's soft, warmhearted musical score and cinematographer Robert Fraisse's lushly atmospheric photography. To the cynic it will all seem mushy. If you go with it, which I admit I resisted for a while, it will hook you.
Yes, the characters are stereotypes, and the story is predictable in most ways. Yet, it's the movie's saving grace that the characters always remain real, fleshed-out human beings. Even the seemingly one-sided mother and the fiancée turn out to be more dimensional than they first appear. More important, there's a genuine chemistry between Gosling and McAdams, and Garner and Rowlands have never been better.
Straight-out romance movies are rare these days. In the past decade or so, Hollywood has given us precious few, with ones like "The Painted Veil," "Atonement," and "The Bridges of Madison County" among my own personal favorites. Add "The Notebook."
I have the feeling that movie critics who didn't like "The Notebook" are ones who saw the story as simply manipulative and overly sentimental. But that's what romance is about. Love does manipulate people, and love is damned sentimental. What's more, love is the best thing people have going for them. We need more "Notebooks."
John's film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Tim:
You have to admire romance films because it's amazing how many stories can be created around the idea of love. The one thing you can always count on in a love story is that either someone will die, or the loving couple will live happily ever after. There is also the "break-up-in-the-end" scenario, where our lovers go their own separate ways. The one thing I can say about the New Line film, "The Notebook," directed by Nick Cassavetes, is that it manages to touch on all of these elements in a delightful and graceful manor. There is plenty of charm and wit to carry the story, but be prepared for moments that tug at the heart. There's as much pain as there is joy in this love adventure.
At the start of the film, we meet an older woman, Allie Calhoun (Gena Rowlands), living in a retirement hospice. Every day Allie is accompanied by her friend Duke (James Garner), who reads her a story from what is known as "The Notebook." As Duke reads the story to her, the audience is taken back in time, all the way back into the 1940s. It is here that the love story begins, as we meet a very young, spoiled, rich mommy-and-daddy's girl named Allie (Rachel McAdams). There are the obvious clichés to the tale because she is to find and marry a man of wealth. Of course, this brings us to the "Romeo and Juliet" theme as we meet a very poor, lumber mill worker named Noah (Ryan Gosling). Noah is neither subtle nor graceful about making his intentions known for Allie. He simply never gives up until she falls for him. Of course, Allie's mother will not tolerate their love for one another and takes Allie back to New York.
Eventually, Noah goes off to fight in WWII, while Allie finds a new love by the name of Lon Hammond (James Marsden). Within no time, Allie and Lon are engaged to be married. However, once Allie sees a picture in the newspaper of her past lover, Noah, she finds the urge to go see him once more before she ties the knot. As you can imagine, and it's quite obvious, we are headed down the path of the "love triangle." It's kind of ironic how we have the story of a wealthy girl getting ready to marry a wealthy man. Then out of nowhere, she decides to rekindle her affection for Noah. Allie is now forced to choose between the two gentlemen, and this is where the story gets all too familiar. Can anyone say, "Sweet Home Alabama"? And I say that because this movie was filmed in the South, of all places. Nevertheless, "The Notebook" carries out this theme in a far more charming and heartfelt presentation than many other films of its kind.
The relationship between Noah and Allie is played in a boy-meets-brat fashion, and, for the most part, it works very well. I enjoyed Noah's charming ways of winning Allie's heart. Aside from saying that many of these maneuvers were insane but clever, it simply added to the delight of the movie. However, as Noah and Allie's bond progresses, we see them become more aggressive towards one another, and they constantly fight like cats and dogs. They can't manage to get along on a day-to-day basis, but, at the end of the day, they are madly in love with each other. It is here that the film paints the picture of "opposites attract." The film makes the loved ones look as though they can't stand each other, yet this is what makes the relationship work so well. In other words, they fight too much; therefore, they are meant to be together. I'd like to know who made up that rule. It's funny, but I remember having a relationship like that, and five years later, it got me a divorce.
"The Notebook" also brings up a lot of important issues that are worthy of good discussion. Unfortunately, I can't get into those details because it would give away too much. I feel it is best to leave as much to surprise as possible, and this is a film that deserves that respect. I would honestly love to share the true, underlying direction the film takes because it is the most interesting and unique part of the movie. Nevertheless, it is a film that does have a subtle twist, and the problem is that the underlying plot is revealed so early in the film that it is best left as a surprise. However, it is that underlying plot that makes the movie close to being a powerful film.
Overall, the film is a heartwarming tale that reminds us of how special the moments are that we have in our youth. It also presents the message of never giving up and love conquering all, even if it's a lot of hard work. I can't say the style of the film is all too original, but it does manage to pull you into the story and keep you curious and interested. There are plenty of delightful moments along with subtle amounts of humor and a good dose of charm. Needless to say, there are also moments that are heartbreaking and difficult to imagine. I commend the filmmakers for giving us a movie that wasn't afraid to take on new challenges even though the source material had to be like breathing life into an elephant. The style of the movie may lack in originality, but the story is warm and heartfelt enough to make it a solid and satisfying film.
Tim's film rating: 7/10
I'd say this is one of the more beautiful live-action Blu-ray transfers I've seen, ever. Using a dual-layer BD50, a VC-1 encode, and, of course, 1080p resolution, the Warner Bros./New Line video engineers capture probably everything that was on the original 2.40:1-ratio print with a startling clarity and vividness. Colors are nothing short of gorgeous, deep and rich, with strong black levels to set them off. Facial tones, which are usually hard to capture realistically, are also quite good, even if facial detailing seems a bit smoothed over.
The disc provides Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio choices in English, with Dolby Digital unaccountably the default. If you can decode the higher audio codec, remember to change it at start-up. In either format you'll find a good sense of surround, beginning with the carnival sequence where the crowd noises literally come from all directions. A brief war scene stands out in this regard as well. Mainly, though, the sound reproduces dialogue naturally and effortlessly, the lossless TrueHD having an advantage over the regular Dolby Digital in being slightly clearer and smoother.
The Blu-ray disc contains a number of extras beyond the feature film. Primary among them are two audio commentaries, the first by director Nick Cassavetes and the second by novelist Nicholas Sparks. Each of them is illuminating, and I recommend them both in their different ways. Next up are four promotional featurettes. These include "All in the Family: Nick Cassavetes," eleven minutes on the director; "Nicholas Sparks: A Simple Story, Well Told," six minutes on the author and the impact of his book; "Southern Exposure: Locating The Notebook," eleven minutes on the setting, mostly Charleston, South Carolina; and "Casting Rachel and Ryan," four minutes on the film's co-stars. Then, we have a Rachel McAdams screen test, three minutes, and twelve deleted scenes with optional director commentary totaling over twenty-eight minutes.
The disc's extras conclude with twenty scene selections but no bookmarks; a theatrical trailer; English, German, and Russian spoken languages; Spanish, German, and Russian subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
In addition to the bonus materials on the disc, there are several more extras in the package. First of all is the container itself. It opens from the top like an old-fashioned box of stationary. Then, inside you'll find a forty-six page photo album and scrapbook with pictures from the movie and space for one's own photos and remarks. The disc fits into a plastic Digipak fastener on the inside back cover. After that is an envelope full of scrapbook accessories: stickers, photo corners, and bookmarks. Finally, there's a "Notebook" stationery set with sixteen themed note cards and envelopes.
I hadn't read the book nor seen the movie before watching "The Notebook" for the first time on Blu-ray. After reading Tim's review, I prepared myself for a tearjerker; what I didn't prepare for was an outright gusher. When an older Allie looks out at a river and says "I've never seen anything so beautiful," Noah responds, looking directly at her, "Neither have I." From that point on, I had to pause the movie every few minutes to wipe my eyes. And who'da thunk that Jimmy Durante could add such sentiment to the tale. It's a lovely film.