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Title: The Handmaid's Tale

Movie: :3stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :3stars:
Extras: :halfstar:

HTS Overall Score:62

Upon starting up “The Handmaid’s Tale” I was immediately struck with this sense of de ja vu. A sense that I’ve seen this before, but I have no memory of actually seeing it. I had read the book by Margaret Atwood many years ago and agree that it is rightly claimed as a piece of classic literature. However, I never remembered ever watching the film. Still this sense of de ja vu stuck around and the more I started watching the more I had this feeling of familiarity. It wasn’t until about 2/3rd of the way through when the hanging scene popped up that my memory felt like a cork had been pulled up and all of these remembrances came flooding back. My only suspicion is that I had seen this as a young boy (I was born in 1980) and that I had just completely wiped the memory from my mind. Well, even though I HAD seen the film before, This watching was almost like a new experience for me and I had very little memories of nostalgia or dislike besides the sensation of familiarity (which was bizarre) with the material. Having read the book I was intrigued to see how the 27 year old film played out against my knowledge of Atwood’s novel, and the new addition of Netflix’s show of the same name. Sadly, the film has many a weakness that keeps it from being as good as the novel.

Atwood’s novel is a deep analysis of an Orwellian future (much like most dystopian stories) and incorporated a heavy dose of feminism (old style feminism, not modern third wave) in as well. While I wasn’t around except as a kid, I do remember reading MANY a critic who thrashed the 1990 film like the proverbial whipping boy. Most of the criticisms centered around the film taking too many liberties with the source material and even then only covering a fraction of the really meaty material. After watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” I have to agree with many of those criticisms. All of the really heavy stuff is pretty much glossed over and only the main plot points are given any sort of real attention.

As with most dystopian worlds things have NOT gone well with humanity. An unnamed country (now known as the Republic of Gilead) much like our own was ravaged by war, diseases, feminine and pestilence. After coming to the brink of extinction, the survivors were left with only 1 out of 100 women able to give birth due to infertility. Rebuilding the nation once more it is renamed the Republic of Gilead and naturally becomes a fascist state where everyone is kept under the thumb of the ruling elite and the plebeians are treated like cattle. Our heroine Kate (Natasha Richardson, who sadly passed away at only 45 years old) is caught trying to leave the Republic and summarily put into an internment camp once the powers that be realize that she is a fertile woman. With so few fertile women left in society, those who CAN give birth are basically turned into breeding stock known as “handmaiden”.

Indoctrinated and abused like the rest of the fertile women, Kate is sent to a high ranking military official named “The Commander” (Robert Duvall) where he and his wife Serena (Faye Duanaway) take her in so that she can bear a child for the Commander and carry on their lineage. However, Kate (renamed Offred) is not nearly so benign as many of the rest of her female compatriots. She is intent on getting out of Dodge, but the only thing standing between her and freedom is an entire nation of militarized right wing radicals (why is it always the right wing nutters in these movies?) and her inability to escape on her own. As the Commander becomes more and more enamored with her, Kate/Offred soon finds herself in a position to do more than just get out. She has the ability to strike a blow at the heart of the core of the Republic.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” was a great book, but a really mediocre film sadly enough. Like many 1990s and 80s dystopian stories, things are a bit too overblown and overstated for any sense of realism. The crazy right wing leaders in the story are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO out of touch with reality that you get this sense that this is what the film makers WANTED to mold the villains after instead of actually making a good villain, or at least a believable power structure. So much of the movie feels so incredibly dated (hair, makeup, shoe string special effects) that by the time you’re done you almost feel like you’ve watched a comedy. The first act is a little creepy and disturbing, but not overly so. It’s the second act, though, that starts to really drag. When Offred/Kate and the Commander start their creepy friendship, the movie comes to a nearly grinding halt. It’s not until the third act when the rebellion starts to creep into Kate’s realm that things pick up. In fact, the third act almost covers up a goodly amount of the failures of the first two acts in its intensity and emotion.

Richardson is easily the best part of the whole film along with Faye Dunaway. Dunaway is deliciously creepy and cold, which contrasts with Richardson’s warm portrayal as Offred/Kate. The two are diametrically opposed and the way they play off of each other is one of the best parts of the whole movie. Robert Duvall is usually a fantastic addition to ANY movie, but he’s rather flat and bland here. Something which is really surprising. Aidan Quinn does a good job as Nick, but he’s not given enough meat to really do much with his character.


Rated R by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
Shout Factory has been given a fairly nice looking master from MGM by all accounts as the Blu-ray is quite good. The old 2001 DVD from MGM was also known for being a very crisp and clean DVD, and from my research it looks like there has been no new master struck since that 2001 disc came out, which probably means that we’re looking at them using the same master. Even though the film doesn’t seem to have a new 2K master like many new Shout offerings, “The Handmaid’s Tale” sports a very filmic presentation that is free of any major artifacting. The colors lean towards director Volker Schlondorff’s cool color palate and sports a nice blue and red tinge to the picture. Colors are slightly drained, but still show plenty of pop when necessary. Especially with the bright reds of the handmaiden’s costumes. Dark blues and greys permeate the screen excepting for some bright and overly lit outdoor sequences where the matronly royal blue outfits of the mothers contrasts against hot whites and bright greens of the lawn. Blacks are strong and deep with no signs of major crush or banding to the naked eye. There’s some overall softness to the image, but nothing out of place for an early 90s low budget film.

Audio :3stars:
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA track is where I noticed a little disappointment with the technical specs. The original DVD was known for being a bit focused on the center channel, and while this track replicates that dialog heavy nature, it just sounds a bit flat and dull to my ears. Gunshots and explosions near the end of the film don’t carry a lot of weight and directionality is really almost nonexistent. Dialog is crisp and fairly clean, but that sense of overall flatness and dullness permeates the entire track. The score has a few standout elements in it, but the whole track doesn’t sound much better than the DVD by all accounts.

Extras :halfstar:

• Original Theatrical Trailer

Overall: :3stars:

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is not nearly as effective or important as Margaret Atwood’s novel, but it is not really a bad movie either. There are some effective elements in the storyline and it is disturbingly creepy at times. It just sadly ends up being mediocre due to some over bloated over generalizations and not enough focus on the meaty details of what made Atwood’s novel such a classic. I’m not reminded of the new Netflix serious coming out in about a week, and am curious to see how the differences between it, the novel, and this film are. Technical specs are rather good in the video department and satisfactory enough in the audio department, but I was surprised that for a “Shout Select” title (pretty much a premium line for Shout Factory) that the extras were not a little more robust since all we have is a single trailer for the film. Worth a rental.

Additional Information:

Starring: Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Volker Schlöndorff
Written by: Margaret Atwood (Novel), Harold Pinter (Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Studio: Shout Factory
Rated: R
Runtime: 108 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 18th 2017

Buy The Handmaid's Tale On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Rental

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