Shine: Deluxe Collector's Edition
R0 - Australia - DV1/Ovation
Review written by and copyright: Tom Williams & Noor Razzak (3rd November 2008).
The Film

The self-described 'high point of Australian cinema of the 90’s' "Shine" is a compelling story on the surface, but is undermined by the almost clichéd narrative. Particularly damning, there is some controversy over the sequence of events that director Scott Hicks presents. Based on the true story of David Helfgott, a piano prodigy, Hicks’ film follows Helfgott’s life as a boy, troubled young man, damaged adult and brilliant success.

Helfgott’s early life is shown as dominated by his Polish father, Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), and it is this early stage where the film’s problems are most evident. Although compelling, the overbearing-father-oppresses-talented-child is perhaps a little played out. Of course, "Shine" is a biopic, and this is supposed to be based on fact, but the extent to which Peter Helfgott abused David – if at all – is apparently disputed. At any rate, there seemed little doubt at any stage in the film that David would overcome this and any other obstacle.

"Shine" continues to follow David’s (Geoffrey Rush and also played by Noah Taylor as a younger David)) life and musical training, his friends and allies, his great musical triumph and consequent nervous breakdown and his subsequent fifteen year incarceration and treatment for mental illness. Finally we see his resurrection as a performer, the joy he brings to others as well as the joy he is able to secure for himself. It’s all quality stuff, well shot and well told, but ultimately feels like a foregone conclusion and as a result, almost like a sports film – the underdogs start promisingly, suffer setbacks, overcome them, then face an enormous obstacle but just manage to overcome it.

With this said, it is important to emphasise that this formula is often employed for a reason – it works. "Shine" is compelling. It is easy to watch, not in the sense that is simplistic or shies from unpleasant scenes, but in the sense that the story unfolds naturally, and in a pleasing way. "Shine" is perhaps less challenging than it could be, which is why the controversy over Peter’s parenting and David’s actual level of skill is so displeasing – there are the shadows of a more complicated, interesting film underneath it all. Also displeasing, the film leaps erratically from the three periods of Helfgott’s life, often skipping over interesting elements in favour of dramatic ones. The connection between a sensitive and slightly unusual young man and the frazzled oddball is hard to make out, but the tension of the hardships in Helfgott’s life loses emphasis because we’re shown from the beginning of the film that he’s in good, if extremely eccentric, condition.

Performances are generally good – obviously, Geoffrey Rush is good enough to win an Oscar, but his performance is oddly out of place, possibly because of the same elements that make it remarkable. The rest of the cast are somewhere between “solid Hollywood performance” and “going through the motions” (again, shades of a typical Hollywood underdog-comes-out-on-top cast) and consequently contrast with Rush’s naturalistic, true to life portrayal of Helfgott’s often barely comprehensible tics, and minute attention span.

The difficulty with this is that we see the strings. Hollywood films often show characters having conversations in which information is communicated efficiently, people don’t stutter or grasp for words and the clever reply is at one’s fingertips. This is a convention, and a perfectly acceptable one – it assists the film delivering its message. When a more natural manner of speech is dropped into the middle of all this, the oddness of everyone’s delivery becomes apparent and the audience is jerked from the story to watch the machinery at work. Perhaps more important than that, though, is the fact that Rush’s performance is excellent by any reasonable means of measure. It captures a thoroughly different personality – a form of mental damage quite unlike any normal portrayal. The whole film may follow an Oscar formula, but the award is deserved, and the film worth watching if for this alone.


For the first time in this region (Australia / NZ) this film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The previous Roadshow DVD release was in 4:3 full screen. This latest release remasters the image and presents it in an all new transfer. The result is pretty good, although some detail is not as sharp as they could be and some scenes which are dimly lit feel flat. Otherwise the image is free fro dirt, colours hold up well and skin tones look good (although there were a couple of instances where the skin tones veered towards the orange). The image features grain, but it's not distracting, there was no edge-enhancement, compression problems or other flaws of the sort.


A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track is included, I was a little disappointed that this film was not presented in 5.1, although the majority of the film is dialogue based the film's music would have benefitted from a 5.1 sound mix. In saying that the stereo mix does a fine job of presenting the film's audio. dialogue is clear (although Rush's manic performance often makes his dialogue hard to catch at times), the film's score and music does well to balance itself out considering the limited range a stereo track has. Otherwise it's fine.
There are no optional subtitles available on this disc.


The special features on the deluxe, 2-DVD set of Shine are worthwhile, especially if you have bought in to the mythology of the story. There's an audio commentary, screen tests, interviews, three featurettes, TV clip, theatrical trailer and a comprehensive booklet. Below is a closer look at these supplements.


First up is a feature-length audio commentary by director Scott Hicks and actor Geoffrey Rush, this a serious tone tends to pervade the director’s commentary as well, although thankfully there is less passion and more precision and craft in what Hicks has to say about the creation of the film.


2 screen tests follow and feature the actors vying for there parts, the quality is pretty bad but these weren't originally shot to be shown, they include:

- Geoffrey Rush which runs for 5 minutes 19 seconds.
- Noah Taylor which runs for 6 minutes 6 seconds.

Audio interviews and home footage of Helfgott are the most interesting features – principally because Helfgott himself is the most interesting facet of the film. The 4 interviews included are:

- David Helfgott which runs for 7 minutes 33 seconds.
- Scott Hicks which runs for 5 minutes 41 seconds.
- Geoffrey Rush which runs for 7 minutes 20 seconds.
- Noah Taylor which runs for 1 minute 55 seconds.

"At Home With David Helfgott" featurette runs for 31 minutes 28 seconds and is footage which the director shot while at Helfgott's home during the film's pre-production period, I'm sure spending time with David helped in the formation of the script and also helped Rush's performance.

Of lesser, but still reasonable interest are the materials more directly related to the creation of the film – "Storyboard Comparisons" featurette runs for 1 minute 53 seconds and compares only one scene (a few more would have been welcome), a "Production Gallery" featurette runs for 1 minute 36 seconds and is basically a montage of photos from the production and so on and finally "Directing Shine" featurette which runs for 5 minutes 14 seconds and features behind-the-scenes of the shooting process, it doesn't really provide any insight into director but rather just shows the director buzzing around the set and setting up shots, etc.

The Australian theatrical trailer is also included on this disc and runs for 1 minute 34 seconds.

Geoffrey Rush's Golden Globe Acceptance Speech is a TV clip taken from the original broadcast and runs for 3 minutes 53 seconds and is present as well, seemingly recorded on 90's magnetic media, providing a low-quality but almost nostalgic look back.

Rounding out the extras is an extensive 32-page booklet entitled "The Road to Shine" The enclosed booklet contains material from Hicks’ diary as well as an interview with him and screenwriter Jan Sardi. Hicks is clearly committed to his film and the story it tells, which means his tone is so serious through much of this that it begs to be deflated.


For real fans of Helfgott, and anyone captivated by the story of "Shine", the 2-disc DVD is worth looking into. For owners of previous releases, there may not be enough to warrant an upgrade, but the plentiful material is likely to provide strong motivation.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B+


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