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SMILLA'S SENSE OF SNOW

Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Julia Ormond, Gabriel Bryne, Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave
Director:  Bille August
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono 5.1, Dolby Surround (English and French)
Video: 
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  125 Minutes
Release Date:  March 13, 2001
 

Film **1/2

Of all the movies to come out in 1997, Smilla’s Sense of Snow was one of the ones that fell through the cracks, even in the quiet movie release month of March, as it had to compete with much better films like Donnie Brasco (coincidentally released in March as well). 

In terms of ingredients for success, Smilla’s should have had just a good as footing most films.  For one, star Julia Ormond was just as much a dish as she was in films like Sabrina (shudder), First Knight (shudder again) and Legends of the Fall (thankfully I hadn’t started dating when that came out), and should have established her name at least in the romance film genre.  Second, she had a pretty good supporting cast in Gabriel Bryne, Richard Harris, and a tiny cameo by Vanessa Redgrave.  So, what went wrong? 

The movie begins with an interesting premise: a young Inuit boy from a neighboring apartment who befriends Smilla (Ormond) dies by falling off their five-story apartment building.  Smilla, half Inuit herself and an expert in everything concerning snow/ice, recognizes that the boy’s death was no accident and that there is a cover-up of mass proportions going on.

I enjoyed the acting (although I don’t understand how Gabriel Bryne gets to do a sex scene in every film, is it the Irish accent ladies?) and the way the filmmakers justified the relationship between the young boy and Smilla through flashbacks, making it believable that her character, who seems so emotionally barren, would actually have such a stake in finding the boy’s killer.  Yet the movie pauses on this point for much too long, going overboard with slow motion scenes and cute moments between Smilla and the boy.  As a result, the film’s pacing takes a major turn toward the slow side around the half way mark.

Unfortunately, by the time the pacing in the film does begin to pick up its belabored pace, the plot has gone somewhat towards the fantastical.  The original theme of a woman’s quest to find how and what killed a young Inuit boy becomes a crazy rip-off of the plot of “Ice,” one of the first X-Files episodes, in which artic worms that should have died out in the last ice age, invade peoples’ bodies and control them/kill them.

While the film was somewhat entertaining, inconsistent pacing and weird plot twists kept it from clawing its way into the three or four-star rating category.  Recommended for a rental, but I’d leave it at that.   

Video ***

The first movie ever filmed in Greenland, the video generally performs well and overall keeps its integrity.  I noticed slight problems with dirt and graininess in the opening scene that ended a few minutes in.  What seemed to be an overall softness ended a few minutes in as well.   

Audio ***

The sound is particularly in the front soundstage, with dialogue mostly in the center channel.  As well, there is ambient music and sounds, such as cars driving by, which go throughout all the speakers.  The sound quality here is nothing that would push one out of their seat, but this is a solid transfer nonetheless. 

Supplements **

 Included first is a five-minute featurette on the film locations (primarily Copenhagen, Denmark and Greenland), and how the actors were humbled about being in Greenland because of how small they felt amongst nature’s glory (overall, about as interesting as hearing Barbara Streisand’s political opinions).  Next was a trailer for Smilla’s Sense of Snow, and finally, as you might of heard about in Gordon’s piece, trailers for other upcoming Fox DVD releases, Inventing the Abbots, The Ice Storm, Grand Canyon, etc.  Yawn.   

Summary:

In conclusion, Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a rather mediocre film that could have been a lot better if it was more coherent.  The DVD boasts an average transfer with weak supplements.  Recommended for a rental if another supposed “storm of the century” causes the majority of the newer DVD releases to be taken out already.