40 Days and 40 Nights Blu-ray features poor video and great audio in this mediocre Blu-ray release
Matt Sullivan's last big relationship ended in disaster and ever since his heart's been aching and his commitment's been lacking. Then came Lent, that time of year when everybody gives something up. That's when Matt, a guy who's never been able to finish anything, decides to go where no man's gone before and make a vow: No sex. Whatsoever for 40 straight days. No touching. No kissing. No foreplay. No fooling around. No self-gratification. No nothing. At first he has everything under control. That is until the woman of his dreams, Erica, walks into his life. Sexy and spirited, Erica drives Matt wild. Now, with everyone betting he won't finish what he started, he's just trying to hold on, and hoping she's willing to hold out...
For more about 40 Days and 40 Nights and the 40 Days and 40 Nights Blu-ray release, see 40 Days and 40 Nights Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 31, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Let's face it, sexual tension is a great selling point for just about anything. Television and film have mined the eternal dance between men and women (and more recently between men and men or women and women) for all it's worth, though television has had had a harder time maintaining the tension over what can be longer running times. Once hot series like Moonlighting and Cheers saw their ratings tumble after their multi-seasons' long buildup of sexual tension found—er—release. Film probably has an easier time of it overall, since most movies typically clock in under two hours' running time and can keep the figurative rubber band stretched to its breaking point for most of that time. But can there be tension when one character has literally sworn off sex for Lent? That's the premise of 40 Days and 40 Nights, a fitfully entertaining enterprise that sees ex-girlfriend and sex-obsessed twenty-something Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett) deciding that the best way to exorcise the twin demons he's fighting is to simply not have any intimate contact of any kind for the forty day (and night) Lenten period. That may not sound all that drastic for those of us over the testosterone fueled younger years, but for a character like Matt, who according to his cynical roommate and best buddy Ryan (Paulo Costanzo) can't finish a sandwich without bedding any available girl, it's going to be a major challenge. Of course within mere seconds of taking his vow of celibacy, Matt meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), the flighty girl of his hopefully dry dreams. What's an extremely horny young guy to do? There are therefore two levels of sexual tension which 40 Days and 40 Nights attempts to mine for comedic effect, the escalating series of misunderstandings between Matt and Erica, and Matt's own interior war. Just for good measure, Matt's friends and coworkers have started a betting pool, replete with attendant internet site, with a sizable pot awaiting the winner who correctly guesses when Matt will forsake his vow and let the floodgates loose, so to speak.
Josh Hartnett is an appealing enough performer, but he has an odd sort of shut down quality a lot of the time which puts a damper on what should be the light, frothy atmosphere of 40 Days and 40 Nights. The film really does best with its supporting cast, especially Costanzo, who is frequently the funniest thing about the film, and a wonderful, similar turn on the distaff side by an oddly blonde Maggie Gyllenhaal as Erica's best bud Sam. These two actors bring a spark and spunk to the film that is somewhat missing from the focal pair, and while Costanzo and Gyllenhaal are excellent, one can't completely get over the fact that there's a certain void with regard to Hartnett and Sossamon.
The film is decidedly less smarmy (or even raunchy) than might be expected with such a premise, even with the kind of unseemly subplot of the betting pool perking along in the background. While director Michael Lehmann doesn't quite reach the heights of his Heathers, he brings the same freewheeling slightly cynical take on the misadventures of American youth to the project, which helps elevate the tone of Robert Perez's screenplay. While the film is rarely laugh out loud hilarious, it does feature several smaller pleasures, including two brief but oddly effective fantasy sequences, one right after Matt makes his vow when he walks through a church garden (Gethsemane?) and imagines everyone from Mary to Jesus applauding his decision, and, later, a completely surreal dream sequence where Matt flies over a teeming array of boobs.
While this same kind of idea was of course the subject of one of Seinfeld's most notorious episodes, 40 Days and 40 Nights actually plays out like another one of those old "must see TV" NBC sitcoms, Friends. The twenty-something ethos is in full flower and the interplay between Matt and his buddies and Erica and Sam feels like a very special episode that only needs an unannounced drop in from Chandler to make it feel complete. The film also introduces an unnecessarily smarmy climax (pun probably intended) by having Matt's ex-infatuation Nicole show up late in the game to try to reclaim her prize, replete with one of the stupidest sex scenes ever. That leads to yet another round of misunderstandings between Matt and Erica, before everything is wrapped up in typically happily ever after fashion.
40 Days and 40 Nights may also slightly offend the more religiously attuned audience members, notwithstanding the fact that those types probably wouldn't be drawn to a film of this subject matter to begin with. That said, the fantasy sequence with Jesus and Mary and, later, a brief allusion to Christ on the cross may strike some as overkill. There's also a brief moment early in the film where Matt's brother, an aspiring Priest, seems to be dwelling a bit more than necessary on thoughts of sexuality. Of course that's manna from heaven (sorry) to cynical twenty-somethings, but older and more conservative types might be just slightly shocked at the cavalier attitude toward one of the holiest times of the Christian year.
More troubling for general audiences is the film's lack of real laughs or in fact of real focus. Scenes go on too long, and bits that might (might) have been funny—like Matt overhearing his boss (Griffin Dunne) gratify himself in a bathroom stall—are just kind of yuk (as opposed to yucks) worthy. 40 Days and 40 Nights doesn't have the courage to be a flat out raunch-fest, which might have redeemed its often half-formed comedy. On the other hand, it never really finds any romantic spark, either, dooming it to a sort of filmic Purgatory where viewers may want to give it up for Lent.
Lionsgate has generally been one of the more reliable studios for Blu-ray catalog releases, and their relatively recent acquisition of a host of Miramax titles has been no exception. But 40 Days and 40 Nights, presented via a VC-1 codec, in 1080p and 1.78:1, is certainly one of the shoddier looking efforts from Lionsgate, or anyone else for that matter, in some time. I searched (without much success) to see if perhaps this film had been released on HD-DVD, thus accounting for the VC-1 encode and the less than spectacular looking results. That might help explain the results here, but this seems to be a new (or at least newer) transfer, making this fairly inexplicable. There are several problems inherent in the source elements, things that are explicable like dirt flecks, the occasional scratch and the like. But compression artifacts abound in this release, a virtual laundry list of everything from haloing to pixellation to just about any other problem you could come up with. Everything is kind of mealy-mouth soft here, with virtually no fine detail to speak of, lots of crush in darker scenes and just an overall drab look a lot of the time. Colors are decent, if not overwhelming, and in a couple of brightly lit close-ups, the transfer at least approximates something slightly better than an upconverted SD-DVD. Something went horribly, horribly wrong here. Perhaps the authoring house gave up quality transfers for Lent.
Much better (it would be hard for it to be worse) than the image quality is 40 Days and 40 Nights' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The film doesn't really have an overly busy or incredibly immersive sound design, but with a wealth of scenes featuring lots of actors and with several outdoor location shots around San Francisco, surround activity is there, if not amazingly consistently. Fidelity is top notch, with dialogue clear and clean, underscore and source cues well mixed and artfully balanced, and ambient environmental sounds also folded in unobtrusively but in a very natural way. All frequency ranges are supported quite well in this mix, and if it's not the most immersive track in history, it's a damn sight (hear?) better than the image quality.
Audio Commentary with Director Michael Lehmann, Producer Michael London and Screenwriter Robert Perez. While Lehmann and company seem just a trifle full of themselves (okay, maybe more than just a trifle), there's quite a bit of background information on this commentary, especially courtesy of the interplay between Perez and Lehmann. The film's gestation is discussed as well as location shooting in San Francisco and Vancouver. They do kind of throw Maggie Gyllenhaal under the bus, which is sad, and the commentary tends to veer off into completely non-related tangents a lot of the time.
40 Days and 40 Nights has a solid enough premise, but it needed a radically different approach to really fulfill its potential. This actually would have played better like the raunch-fests which have followed it over the past several years. It's simply too tame for its own good, and most problematic, there's a curious lack of chemistry between the star couple. That said, there are occasional minor giggles to be had here, but nowhere near enough of them for most discerning viewers. The real shambles here is the Blu-ray's image quality, which is astoundingly bad, especially for a relatively recent catalog release. Fans may want to rent this to see if they should replace their SD-DVD. Others can get a jump on next year's Lent by giving this up right now.
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This September, Lionsgate Films continues handling Miramax catalog titles with their Blu-ray release of 40 Days and 40 Nights. A comedy about a promiscuous young man (Josh Hartnett, Pearl Harbor) who decides to give up sex for Lent, 40 Days and 40 Nights is directed ...