/ 1997 / 119 Minutes / Rated R
Street Date: December 31, 1969
The story behind Good Will Hunting's journey to the screen is the classic underdog story that Hollywood just loves. Flashback to four or so years ago, to then-nobody's Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two pals sharing a small one bedroom apartment who decide to write a screenplay. Of course, the Hollywood gloss version is that a couple of years later the two sell the script to Miramax for six figures, the film is made into an Oscar-winning sleeper that grosses over $135 million domestically, and Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck become overnight stars.
Of course, in the real world, the story wasn't quite so simple. I actually got the opportunity to read the original script (another perk of being a film student at USC), and the differences between the original the finished product are most interesting. You probably won't believe it, but the original script was quite different, with the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck characters are involved in a suspense/thriller plot where they inadvertently crack a secret code or something similar. Really, I'm not making this up. Although this story didn't really get very far, but there have been some rumblings within the industry that the Oscar win for Best Screenplay wasn't all that deserved for the two young Hollywood upstarts. Although the genesis of the the film is way too long to go into here, Castle Rock originally bought the screenplay, hired some writers to flesh it out, and still rejected it. Then, Damon and Affleck sold it to Miramax, and the rest is history. But, the nagging question remained...just how much of the success of the script is owed to Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck?
Of course, we'll never know if there is any validity to the claims of who really deserved that Oscar, but personally I don't care. I think Good Will Hunting is great movie, regardless of what happened. The writing (by whomever) is terrific, the acting by all involved stellar, and Gus Van Sant directed his best work by far with the film. Some have called it a "guy's chick flick," and there may be something to that moniker. It has many classic weepie elements (girls' love turns around louty loser), but the film, perhaps due to its somewhat blue collar/indie feel, escaped the dreaded chick flick tag. Although at first Matt Damon's character seemed to be headed for the Smug Prick Of The Year award, Robin Williams' psychiatrist quickly enters the scene to teach the brilliant but emotional immature Damon a thing or two about what constitutes a man in the real world.
What is perhaps most impressive to me about Good Will Hunting is that it managed to take what could have been stock characters and situations and yet avoided becoming a bad indie version of Ordinary People. Even though deep down I probably new what the outcome would be, I was constantly surprised at how the film seem continually fresh and surprising, always avoiding big scenes most lesser films would wallow in (i.e., a big therapy session breakdown, sappy romantic montages, overwrought male bonding scenes, etc.). Mr. Van Sant, a surprising choice to some to direct this film, fits it like a glove and brings a really smart, borderline art-house aesthetic to the visual compositions and editing rhythms, and pulls out subtle, nuanced performances from the entire cast. A really understated, great film.
So, anyway, Good Will Hunting has been released on DVD in three versions (!). First, Buena Vista nd Miramax have released a Collector's Series edition and a movie-only verison in the U.S., and due to a licensing arrangement made before Miramax was bought by Disney, Alliance has the Canadian distribution rights to Miramax titles on DVD. So, we have two special editions and one movie-only edition (not counting a Pan & Scan version on DIVX!). How do they all stack up?
Video: How Does The Disc Look?
All versions contain only the 1.85:1 widescreen version of the film from the same master print. The transfer overall looks very good, and improves upon the slightly muddy laserdisc. Black level, color saturation and fleshtones are all perfect, as would be expected for a recent film. Although the film has a somewhat low-budget look, and is a bit grainy as intended, it still looks very good and clean. However, there are a couple of minor artifacts as a result of the MPEG compression being tripped up by the film grain, but hardly distracting or problematic. Also, I thought the colors were a bit too saturated and didn't reflect my original theatrical experience, but the transfer was supervised by the filmmakers themselves, so I supposed it looks the way it should.
Most interesting is the fact that only the Alliance edition is enhanced for 16x9. This is inexcusable on Buena Vista and Miramax's part given the Collector's Series banner and high list price. If a 16x9 transfer exists, why not use it? Although in comparing the 16x9 and none 16x9 images side by side, apart from the decreased resolution and occasional "shimmy" on some hard edges, the image is very good overall. But, still, what is the deal here? The Alliance version wins the image race hands-down on this one.
Audio: How Does the Disc Sound?
All three versions feature the same 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, which is a clear winner, sounding on par with the recent laserdisc. This type of film is not really the type to give your 5.1 setup a real workout, but a nice ambient soundfield is created, dialogue is very well balanced with the music and sound effects. Thankfully, the soundtrack also belies its low-budget by never sounding tinny, harsh or "cheap." Interestingly, I listened to the 2.0 downmix, and it sounds quite a bit weaker, to the point where I didn't hear any surrounds at all. If you can do 5.1 or pure 2.0 stereo, definitely go with those over the 2.0 matrixed surround downmix. There are no alternate language tracks provided on the U.S. versions, but again Alliance comes through with a French 5.1Surround track on their version. Need I say who wins the audio battle again?
Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
As the first Miramax Collector's Series title (along with Scream from partner Dimension), I was overall impressed with the depth of the supplements provided in this initial Collector's Series title, although not blown away.
The main supplements provided are 11(!) deleted scenes (12 on the Alliance version), and a great commentary track with Director Gus Van Sant, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (which, not to be snippy, was originally recorded for the laserdisc). Further, the deleted scenes also have a commentary track option, which is a nice bonus. Although as with most cut scenes many of them should have been left out, there is some interesting shadings about the characters illuminated in these scenes, and they are fun to watch. I enjoyed these two features very much, and they are certainly essential to any true Good Will Hunting special edition. However, it is interesting to note that the Alliance version has an extra deleted scene (of Robin Williams' character doing a wicked Jack Nicholson impersonation), but they are not indivdually accessible from the menu as on the Miramax version. But, you can access the scenes using the skip buttons on your remote, which is passable if not as desirable as having them as menu options. However, you can switch between audio tracks from the remote on the Alliance version, while on the Miramax one you cannot, so the Canadians get the nod there.
In addition, there are some other nice if minor tidbits added as well on both versions. There is the usual theatrical trailer (two on the Alliance version, one in English and one in French) and TV spots, as well as Cast Biographies on the Alliance version only. All of which are all very nice but certainly no great shakes, and nothing you can't find on the average Universal or Warner $24.95 or $19.95 DVD. But, there is some additional behind-the-scenes footage (in a rather cheesy and brief featurette), a Academy Award Best Picture montage which is basically just another trailer, and a "Miss Misery" music video (which is the only supplement also included on the Buena Vista sllimmed-down version).
These extras are all very nice, but truth be told, when adding up all the features, it really didn't seem worth $39.95. Yes, it is a nice package, but other companies like Columbia, Warner and Universal have been putting commentary tracks and deleted scenes on their discs for a while now and pricing them cheaper, and nothing here really seems to justify the $39.95 price tag. So, since the Alliance version is cheaper ($29.95 I think), I felt it won the supplements and price battle as well. I'm beginning to see a pattern emerge here, aren't you?
So, in the end, a very good disc with strong video and audio quality and a nice set of supplements. But, due to the fact that there is no 16x9 enhancement on the U.S. versions and the extras just a bit more fleshed out on the Alliance version, I'm lead to think the U.S. release is just a little bit undernourished comparatively. Don't get me wrong...it is a fine effort and better than the insulting Scream Collector's Series release, but it would be a better deal if it had been priced at around $29.95 or less. So I recommend the Alliance version without hesitation, and if you can get it, definitely choose it over the U.S. versions. And, by the way, Buena Vista really needs to get with the program...the Canadians are beating us!
(Note: If you are interested in purchasing the Alliance version of this disc, please visit DVDepot, a great Canadian-based Region 1 retailer. They ship throughout Region 1.)