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Little Women (Blu-ray Review)

It saddens me to say, but quite possibly my largest blind spot in the Academy Award nominated films from 2019 was Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Gerwig’s Lady Bird was one of my absolute favorite films of 2017 and (Like her acting output) I’ll see anything she directs. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, the holiday season wasn’t the easiest time for me to get out and see a movie this past season. I am very excited to finally be seeing it via Blu-ray for this review. I don’t know why Sony has opted to shaft it on getting a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release, but here we are. They have supplied it with a nice chunk of featurettes (But no commentary) which is nifty. If you are really itching for the 4K Ultra-HD presentation, infuriatingly it IS available that way via streaming for purchase and on-demand rental. This standard Blu-ray edition of the film will be available on April 7th, though I don’t know delivery for it will be getting to people by then (Hopefully it does!). You can roll the dice on that using the Amazon Associates link below if you’re feeling lucky!

Film

In the years after the Civil War, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) lives in New York and makes her living as a writer, while her sister Amy (Florence Pugh) studies painting in Paris. Amy has a chance encounter with Theodore (Timothee Chalamet), a childhood crush who proposed to Jo but was ultimately rejected. Their oldest sibling, Meg (Emma Watson), is married to a schoolteacher, while shy sister Beth (Eliza Scanlen) develops a devastating illness that brings the family back together.

Before sinking into this review, I must make mention that Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s highly celebrated novel Little Women, is my first experience with the material. I’m of the understanding that this might be one of the most radical interpretations of the book so far in its history with film and television. A history that I somehow have never partaken despite it having six other feature films, many television renditions and stage production to its name. In my youth the 1994 Gillian Armstrong film was somewhat of a pretty big presence, but I never saw it. Thank you to may admiration and fandom of Greta Gerwig, I’m being introduced to Little Women finally after all these years of being in the dark.

Greta Gerwig’s film is pretty much a masterpiece in any angle you want to analyze it from. Her cinematic language is one that excites and makes one look forward to whatever stories she will be telling throughout a hopefully prosperous career as a great auteur. There is also such a talented pool of actors working on this, all giving top notch performances but with a great bit of chemistry and ability to hone in on two different stances in life. Gerwig’s nonlinear structure (From my research, a departure from the novel) really is able to showcase, pace and present a more modern impact for a story set in the 1800s. Every turn this movie takes is quite the charm. Surprises that warm, rather than distract. For instance, when the father returns home and you see he’s played by Bob Odenkirk.

Quite possibly the most breathtaking aspect of this film is the harmonious romance of the cinematography with the sets, locations and costume design. Aside from Gerwig as a Best Director nominee, Little Women‘s Yorick Le Saux was the next big snub from the awards decision makers. Regardless, Gerwig’s vision is one of absolute beauty and you really see what a eye-opening and lovely thing America can be in a motion picture. Almost every damn frame looks like an absolute masterstroke painting. Much of the framing and blocking sets itself up for such artistry, but with such a casual ease to it that you’re just in such a wonder. While taking screen captures for this review I wanted almost five shots from every scene in the movie. It became hard to pick between favorites for moments that capture the range of different visual splendors in the film. If you’re a cinematography nut, Little Women is for you. I’m sure Roger Deakins would even blush watching this one.

Saoirse Ronan continues to be this force of a thespian that I’m certain we keep (and might continue to keep) taking for granted. She’s continuing to pile up the award nominations but never getting her name called. As long as her choices continue to be vast and interesting, I’m sure she’ll just continue her trend (What a blessing her not getting Jean Grey in X-Men: Apocalypse has turned out to be). I’m also film geekily hoping her and Greta Gerwig become a Scorsese/DeNiro type force for years to come. Florence Pugh built herself a marvelous coming out year, capping it off with this movie. Her role isn’t very easy either and she dashes it with some mastercraft as she takes Amy and is able to show her as an immature youth and seasoned adult with incredible plausibility. Amy is clearly the same person, but you actually FEEL the growth and can see the natural becoming of who she is in the end. Its quite an accomplishment, and those poo-poo’ing about her not getting more “official” recognition for her equally stunning turn in 2019’s Midsommar are truly disrespecting and not appreciating her role her in Little Women near enough.

As the years pass on, we’re gonna continue to look back on Little Women as pretty much a perfect film. And the best part of it all is that Greta Gerwig doesn’t exactly play it safe here, either. Its a wonderful movement from Lady Bird and has opened up her showcasing of abilities to flaunt what ease she can do in terms of adaptation, scale and period aesthetic. I can easily see this film as the type of one that an ignorant person my shrug off as thinking they know what this is all about, and completely missing something that would have completely surprised them. Remember all those Little Women adaptations I had mentioned missing out on over the years? Well, thanks to Greta Gerwig and this film, I’m now interested in and am going to seek those out. I’m very intrigued and interested in this world, the characters and how this story has been told over the years. I’m also very satisfied with this wonderful film.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Little Women unfortunately has not yet been given a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release and its quite a shame. Greta Gerwig had this shot on film and it would have made sweet love in its natural 4K transfer to disc.  As evidenced by this top not standard Blu-ray transfer, details, textures and patterns are quite strong and a beautiful palette of colors saturated wonderfully into the image. I mentioned in my film review that almost every moment of this film feels it could be a painting, and this transfer really was a help in illustrating one of the most beautiful looking films of 2019.

Depth: Spacing is quite at ease in this image and the camera dollys open that up with great, confident movements that illustrate such a deep and far down the hallway feel. It really gives a colonial film such a 3 dimensional feel. Character motions are very cinematic, natural and smooth with no issues resulting in any kind of digital blur or jitter.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite deep and just a hair shy of looking completely natural. A quick glance and they pretty much match the matte lines on top and bottom. Naturally lit scenes remain quite gorgeous with great shadow and definition, allowing details to remain quite strong and not lose touches of texture and detail. No issues of crushing witnessed at all during this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  There is an absolutely beautiful look of natural colors in the palette on display here. Certain scenes bring out such pastel looks or even just a nice blue, green and even wonderfully saturated whites. The strong photography even helps to enrich such regular or boring colors like grays, browns and faded oranges to make them look very lovely.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones find themselves mainly natural, but there are some moments/scenes that call for a colder color timing and they adhere well to that end of the spectrum with consistency when called upon. Facial features and textures impress from really any reasonable distance, even at times feeling like you may be staring at an actor through a piece of plexiglass. Freckles, make-up, stubble, wrinkles, pores and quite a lot of facial information is quite clear as day.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio

Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: While it does stink to know the digital versions of this film come with an Atmos track not appearing on this disc, the English 5.1 mix here on the standard Blu-ray for Little Women is pretty top notch. Not a film demanding of Atmos, some of the more open feeling would have added a nice touch. Here in this mix we do get a very impressive life-like feel to all the foley sounds in the film with such layer and depth. You can feel a wooden door shut to the touch. Balance works with such timeliness as the score, effects and vocals are able to weave and wander around one another. The score is quite beautifully put on for show here at times and the distinct attention to the individual instrumentation is outstanding.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: Louder horse and carriage, natural doors shutting, heavy things being laid down and the bass and drum element of the score are given an accurate and never overdone bump from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: It would be nice to have the added spaciness of Atmos, but the film itself isn’t a super demanding one in terms of surround sound. The mix accurately brings to life every atmosphere, be it inside our out, with their own unique flair. There is a beautiful quietness to many of the home interiors in this film with good ambiance and hear the creaks and little sounds from any given place in the room. Sound travel between speakers brings to life the accuracy of the action going on in frame with elegant ease.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp, featuring great clarity and attention to diction along with slight mouth sounds emanating from the actors. The dialogue is always nice and a hair at the forefront of the mix while also feeling very much welcomed and bathing into its environment.

Extras

Little Women comes with the DVD edition and a digital code.

A New Generation Of Little Women (HD, 12:52) – Greta Gerwig, Amy Pascal and the cast all discuss the novel and its timeliness of being adapted now and the new looks and improvements of the characters for a society in today’s viewing audience.

Making a Modern Classic (HD, 9:02) – This featurette focuses on the location filming (Massachusetts) and costume design for the film. Its a nice introspective on how the choices were made to both suit the actor and the character. Additionally, it delves into shooting on film and the mentality of the camera work on the film.

Greta Gerwig: Women Making Art (HD, 9:22) – “This may be a more personal film for me than Lady Bird. This is everything for me.” Greta Gerwig and company go over the writing and adaptation process for the movie. This is an intriguing piece as she discusses her non-linear focus and how new things popped up to her that she had never seen yet and how many modern lines were actually already there. Her “radical” nature and dedication to authenticity is praised and explored here. It also features the actors describing what makes Greta unique as a director.

Hair & Make-Up Test Sequence (HD, 2:58) – Loose footage of the actors just around the house and outside under different lighting settings. Sometimes in groups, sometimes by themselves. Silent, accompanied by a piece of the score.

Little Women Behind the Scenes (HD, 3:25) – This is a brief little promo video that I think played during that whole “pre-movie show” that runs before the trailers when you got to a multi-plex movie. Lots of generic “This movie is great!” and simple facts selling.

Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott (HD, 10:07) – This focuses on the real life Alcott house, with good history on it and the life of Louisa May as presented by the house historian and others.

Summary

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is a modern masterpiece in adaptive storytelling, enabling both the shining strengths of the novel’s author and the creative genius of the director to stride hand in hand.  With the accolades and success at the box office, its a headscratcher to see this beautiful looking film being snubbed of a 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray release (Twice now for Gerwig, as Lionsgate didn’t release Lady Bird on 4K Ultra-HD). Nonetheless, this still looks gorgeous on the format and hits the highest marks for the standard Blu-ray format. Extras leave a commentary to be desired (Lady Bird’s was great), but overall hit the marks you want it to, without being generic statements and co-worker back pats. Quibbles aside, Little Women is pretty much a complete package, worth every penny spent.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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