Olive Kitteridge (Blu-ray Review)

Olive-KitteridgeA mesmerizing look at small town life, the four-part HBO® Miniseries drama Olive Kitteridge, starring Academy Award winner Frances McDormand and Academy Award® nominee Richard Jenkins.  The HBO Miniseries production was directed “with an impeccable balance of sensitivity and humor” (Hollywood Reporter) by Academy Award nominated director Lisa Cholodenk and is based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, with a teleplay by Emmy-winner Jane Anderson.  The supporting cast features Golden Globe winner Bill Murray as Jack Kennison, a widower befriended by Olive; Emmy nominee Peter Mullan as Jim O’Casey, a fellow teacher at Olive’s school; Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel Coulson, a shut-in who is one of Henry’s customers at the pharmacy; and Zoe Kazan as Denise Thibodeau, who works at the pharmacy. An HBO Miniseries presentation of a Playtone production in association with As Is, Olive Kitteridge is executive produced by Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Frances McDormand and Jane Anderson. Steven Shareshian co-executive produces.

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Olive Kitteridge tells the poignantly sweet, acerbically funny and devastatingly tragic story of a seemingly placid New England town wrought with illicit affairs, crime and tragedy, told through the lens of Olive, whose wicked wit and harsh demeanor mask a warm but troubled heart and staunch moral center.  The story, which spans 25 years, focuses on her relationships with her husband, Henry, the good-hearted and kindly town pharmacist; their son, Christopher, who resents his mother’s approach to parenting; and other members of their community.

Following events of her life for a course of 25 years, Olive Kitteridge hits spots and picks sections that each feature a unique type of story, emotion and storytelling.  This keeps it all rather fresh and a surprise each of the four times you enter this world.  A little bit of a common theme in the early goings of the story seems to be about handling depression and tragedy coped with mental illness.  Its sort of set up for how this would wind up into its final act, but its not some horse being constantly beaten at you.  The subject is handled with different situations, people and in different ways.

While I enjoyed the first episode of the miniseries, I was worried it was going to be a long four hour trudge through it.  For some reason, from the outset and the first couple scenes, I felt I knew exactly where this was going and what kind of dour tone I was going to be jumping into for four hours.  I was pretty wrong for the most part.  Surprisingly, when you find yourself at the second entry, and even moreso the third, it ends up being quite a wild adventure through the lives of Olive and Henry Kitteridge.  Its obvious this one handles a lot of drama and emotional work.  But the series dabbles in dark comedy and even pulls of some terrific suspense.  Seriously, the third entry in this miniseries had me on the edge of my seat during a chunk of it.  I’m not going to tell you why, I want the rug to be pulled out from under you just as it was me.

Frances McDormand leads an incredibly talented cast.  As always, the actor is outstanding.  While a cold and brutal personality to everyone around her, you can’t help but laugh at some of the things she does and the way she treats people.  Some of it actually works and seems to be the right way of handling situations.  However, many of her ways feel dated and more often than not there’s disastrous results to her behavior and relationships.  And tough as a personality as she may be, you do get behind her and sort of feel for her emotionally.  Without McDormand in the role, and I think few could pull off what she does, it would be hard to get the audience on track with her and not just outright despise her, let alone grab compassion and sympathy too.

McDormand is surrounded by an impressive cast of faces both recognizable and unfamiliar.  Richard Jenkins plays her husband Henry, and as always, the guy is charming and sympathetic as hell.  He gets to carry and pretty much be the main character of the first episode, almost making me wonder why it wasn’t called ‘Henry Kitteridge’.  Everyone will take note of creepy Todd from Breaking Bad (Jesse Plemons) here in a decent little part that gets to a have a sort of arc behind the scenes.  Rosemarie DeWitt gets the role of an unstable mother and really gets deep and dark with it.  Most impressively was John Gallagher Jr as Olive’s son in his adult years.  Frances McDormand may be the MVP of the series, but he makes his case to get some votes as well.  the guy holds his own with top notch performances and leaps off the screen with his true sense of character and emotional execution.  Bill Murray fans take note, while he’s marketed as being in this, the legend shows up for a cameo in episode three and a strong supporting role in the fourth and final episode.

What could be taken at face value as a strongly acted drama about old people, Olive Kitteridge surprises and elevates to a level of so much more than that.  It really fleshes out these meaty relationships, emotional heartbreak and mental issue throughout a unique and terrific four part miniseries.  The performances are as top notch as you’d expect and the writing, too is superb.  This journey is surely and interesting and unique one, but it manages to entertain and number of different levels and experiences that one wouldn’t expect.  It kind of came and went last November and was nominated for some Golden Globes, but I’m sure many missed it.  Go back and take a look.  The series is not too long and each one feels like a completely different venture.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  The resolution and image quality of this miniseries blew me away.  Helping matters is that its 4 (roughly 1 hour each) episodes split among 2 discs with no bonus features.  This allows them to go crazy on it.  And wow, this is a pristine, rich, heavily detailed picture.  Everything is razor sharp and defined as if you were looking through a window at it.  From texture, patterns and the like of clothing, the scuffs and scratches on pans and pots in the background, you could lose yourself marveling at all the detail on display.

Depth:  Clarity between background and foreground images is quite good.  There’s a real sense of characters and objects occupying their own level of space.  Movement is also smooth and naturally 3-dimensional looking in each environment, interior or exterior.

Black Levels:  Black levels appear deep and inky.  No crushing or detail hidden at all.  The dark tones help to sharpen and define characters and obejcts’ sharpness as well as enhance the environments and lighting with its nice complimentary and accurate shading.

Color Reproduction:  Colors take a very natural, gritty and realistic shape.  There is an incredibly wealthy palette and each color boldly fills up its space.  While a pronounced and strong image, none of the colors are extremely vivid, and pop only as can be found naturally.  Many more earthy tones occupy the series, and there’s enough going on to take it to another dimensional level within such plain colors as the browns, whites and grays.

Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones feature a slight coldness to them and are consistent throughout each part.  The town has a constant fall look to it, which is represented very well.  Detail reveals every little wrinkle, facial crack, blemish and freckle.  Arms, legs and other body parts reveal veins, bruising and dried skin.

Noise/Artifacts:  Nothing to report.

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Dynamics:  The 5.1 mix is a rich one that is incredibly lifelike and very open and free sounding.  While the nature of the series doesn’t do much to warrant more than a 2.0 track, this 5.1 makes itself worth the time it took to craft it.  Every space occupied in the film feels whole and gives the viewer a sense that they are there.  Every sound, from creeks in the floor, birds outsides a house or someone moving a box many feet away are wholesome, distinct and well placed in the mix to let the ears feel their presence.  The mix is woven beautifully, giving everything is perfect and ideal placement in the mix.  A perfect harmony that never once slips.

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer isn’t “put to work” but is sort of a under appreciated player hear.  It assists in deepening and giving weight to normal everyday sounds such as car doors shutting, engines rumbling, footsteps and the like with a great deal of restraint and accuracy.  There are moments where it gets to shine, such as the during the hold up at the hospital and waves crashing into the shore.

Surround Sound Presentation:  The 5 channels are all given plenty of work to do and perfectly translate the action on screen with precise accuracy.  Rear channels add an environmental ambiance that works with a nice sense of distinction, not just one little track or the front speakers background noise played at a lower volume.  Little intricate things happen in there and add to the viewer’s sense of being placed in the interior/exterior scene.  The front speakers place each pitch and movement for each possible detail going on in front of you.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is crisp and clean.  The volume is set to an ideal level and captures every little breath sound emanating from the characters’ mouths.  Vocals are also accurately placed in regard to the characters’ positioning and movement on screen.

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Olive Kitteridge comes with a Digital Copy of the entire miniseries.  Episodes 2-4 have the option watch the recap of the previous episode.  Aside from this, there are no additional supplemental features on this release.

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Olive Kitteridge was a really engaging miniseries chronicling some relationships of a small two through a very blunt, cold and impersonal woman.  It features fantastic performances all around, and one of Frances McDormand’s career best.  Though she has so many at this point, some might just think its par for the course.  What I really enjoyed was how much of a different experience each individual part of this was and that the sense of importance was placed in different areas.  This Blu-ray comes with reference quality audio and video, which should wow collectors.  Or then again, its HBO, so maybe its should be expected.  The real bummer about this release is that there is absolutely nothing in the way of extra material for it.  Not even any EPK interviews and not a commentary to be found at all.  Despite that, the series and its presentation make this a strong enough release.  However, if you have HBO Go, a release with no bonus features or anything to set it apart (Aside from being a vastly superior format to streaming) do make it a hard sell.



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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