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'Being There' is based on Jerzy Kosinski's short comic novel about a simpleton, Chance (Peter Sellers), raised in isolation whose only education came from watching TV. When he's forced out of the house where he worked as a gardener by the death of the wealthy recluse who raised him from infancy, he's fortuitously struck by a limousine carrying Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of a wealthy industrialist. He's mistaken, because of his well-tailored suits, for a man of means and taken to dinner with her husband, Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas). There, as Chauncy Gardner, his blank affect is taken for seriousness and his literal pronouncements about gardening for metaphoric economic predictions. Soon he's meeting the president (Jack Warden) of the United States and becoming a star on TV--where he's a natural.
For more about Being There and the Being There Blu-ray release, see Being There Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on January 25, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Hal Ashby
Writers: Jerzy Kosinski, Robert C. Jones (I)
Starring: Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard Basehart, Richard Dysart
» See full cast & crew
Being There Blu-ray Review
Meet Chance the Gardener...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, January 25, 2009
One of my favorite aspects of this job is that I'm occasionally forced to sit through a flick I may not have watched otherwise. It's not that I have a particular aversion to older titles or catalog classics, it's just that so much of my time is filled with taking in the latest-and-greatest Hollywood has to offer that I usually don't have the opportunity to sample forgotten films of yesteryear. Being There, a 1979 Oscar-nominated dramedy starring legendary comic actor Peter Sellers, is just such a film. I've seen it sitting on the shelves of my local videostores and I've even had it recommended to me by my eerily-prescient Netflix queue, but I've never given it a second thought... much less a rental.
Well, I've just finished Being There and I'm feeling incredibly foolish for having avoided it all these years. My only shot at redemption? Convincing as many of you as I can to give this oft-overlooked award-winner a chance.
Based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosinski, Being There tells the satirical tale of Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers), a charming simpleton whose brief sentences and frank honesty is both disarming and refreshing. When his aging ward dies and his nurse leaves, Chance wanders onto the streets of Washington D.C. for the first time in his life. Before stepping foot outside, he had only experienced the world through television... everything he understands about society has come to him via the various shows he's watched. When a limousine backs into Chance and pins him against another car, the wealthy young woman inside, Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), invites the affable man to her estate so her resident physicians can examine his leg. While there, he befriends her dying husband, an aging business mogul named Ben (Melvyn Douglas), and proceeds to innocently win over everyone he encounters. Yet, for whatever reason, no one seems to realize Chance is actually a mentally unstable and illiterate recluse who doesn't comprehend much of anything that's being said to him. Before long, an encounter with the President of the United States (Jack Warden) gives Chance the opportunity to influence domestic economic policy, baffle the CIA and FBI officials working to uncover his past, and woo foreign heads of state and congressmen at every turn.
When I was first introduced to the bizarre whimsy of Dr. Strangelove, I came to understand two things: one, Peter Sellers was a brilliant comedian who could transform the most exaggerated caricatures into living, breathing characters, and two, true talent is timeless. In Being There, Sellers is once again at the top of his game with a pitch-perfect performance that simply wouldn't exist if any other actor of his generation had taken the role. From his most nuanced ticks to his amusing gaze, Sellers portrays Chance as a childlike everyman whose every thought and gesture is taken as a stroke of genius. He effortlessly exudes the character's calm and unassuming personality, allowing his supporting cast to naturally react to Chance's innocence rather than pushing for a laugh or a contrived reaction. Initially, it seems as if Sellers is doing very little (aside from standing and staring into space), but it eventually becomes clear that his understated mannerisms are what make his character so utterly convincing. At any given moment, Chance could have become an annoying dolt... but under Sellers' masterful control, he remains an engaging and compelling anomaly in his world. The Academy was right to nominate Sellers for such a subtle and heartfelt performance.
The film is a bit light on its purported satire -- its obvious and repetitive message is that power-players and fat-cats are full of hot air and easily duped by foreign concepts like simplicity and honesty -- and MacLaine drifts too far over-the-top compared to her co-stars (her bear rug snuggle is too campy for my tastes), but the story remains largely unaffected by such misfires. Ultimately, Being There is a witty morality tale that allows Sellers to do what he does best: weave a genuinely memorable character that manages to earn affection from the characters he encounters on the screen and from the viewers watching the film at home. Give it a shot and see if you feel as strongly as I do about Chance the Gardener.
Being There Blu-ray, Video Quality
Being There arrives on Blu-ray with a remastered 1080p/VC-1 transfer that makes the previously-released DVD edition obsolete. The palette still fluctuates from sublime (during scenes shot in the famed Biltmore House) to drab (when Chance first emerges onto the streets of Washington), but it suits the filmic qualities of the transfer, the director's reliance on natural lighting, and the overall tone of the story. Primaries are occasionally quite strong, pairing with deep shadows to imbue the image with a passable amount of depth (especially for a catalog title). More importantly, contrast is pleasing and I didn't always have the sense that I was watching a thirty-year old production. Admittedly, dimensionality is a bit flat, but it seems to be a product of the original print rather than the technical transfer. Detail has received some noticeable improvements and -- while softness often creeps its way into the presentation -- textures are more refined, skin appears more lifelike, and fine foreground elements have been rendered with more care. It helps that the image is in good shape. Aside from a few minor nicks and specks, I didn't detect any significant print damage, much less any artifacting, source noise, or banding that might ruin the otherwise satisfying visuals.
What I did catch was a heavier application of post-processing noise reduction (DNR) that reduces the picture's clarity, slightly smears fast moving objects, and leaves some of the actors looking a tad waxy in several key close-ups. Some minor edge enhancement pops up from time to time as well, but it never affects the image as drastically as the DNR. For better or worse, Being There has never looked better and isn't the likeliest of candidates to receive a more faithful high-def transfer in the future. It would be a shame for anyone to miss this intriguing classic simply because of its visual shortcomings. It may not be perfect, but it's noteworthy enough to warrant some attention.
Being There Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Being There features a remastered Dolby TrueHD 2.0 mix (despite the fact that the cover lists it as a lossless mono track) and a standard Dolby Digital 1.0 track. While the TrueHD stereo route is definitely the way to go for slightly fuller sonics, I'm sure purists will appreciate Warner's decision to include the film's original mono mix as well. Regardless, both presentations lack rear speaker support, a dedicated LFE channel, and any semblance of a soundfield. Dialogue is generally warm, intelligible and well prioritized, but frequent air hiss, warbled anomalies, and normalization irregularities make it difficult to immerse oneself in the film. I continually found myself bumping the volume up and down to make my listening experience more comfortable. Thankfully, the film's lighthearted score doesn't get lost in the process. Everything from the jazzy 2001: A Space Odyssey nod in the first act to the sorrowful piano melodies that accompany Chance's misadventures sound relatively crisp and inviting.
All things considered, Being There's audio lossless stereo and standard mono tracks are a bit disappointing and sound dated compared to better catalog remixes on the market. Diehard fans of the film probably won't care, but I was left wanting more.
Being There Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Being There includes all of the special features that are scheduled to appear on the concurrently-released 2009 Deluxe DVD. Compared to the 2001 barebones DVD, the 30th Anniversary supplemental package actually adds value to the release. However, it's not nearly as extensive as I had hoped it would be, doesn't offer any substantial documentaries or commentaries, and presents all of its video content in standard definition.
Being There Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
With its 30th anniversary earning it a high definition release, there's no better time than the present to discover Being There. Peter Sellers single-handedly dominates the screen with a memorable performance that will find a fitting home in your collection. Its Blu-ray debut isn't as strong as the film itself -- its video transfer suffers from a few issues, its stereo and mono tracks are underwhelming, and there aren't many special features to be had -- but such shortcomings shouldn't dissuade anyone from giving this disc serious consideration. Spend two hours with Chance the Gardener... you won't regret it.
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Being There Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - February 3rd - February 3, 2009
Kevin Smith is living the dream. His first film, 'Clerks', which he both wrote and directed, was made for under $30,000, yet managed to make 100 times that at the box office. Since then, he continues to write and direct his own films, has seen relative box office ...
• Warner Reveals Being There Specs - November 10, 2008
Warner Home Video has revealed the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Being There', which is due to hit store shelves on February 3rd. Video will be presented as 1080p VC-1 accompanied by a mono Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. This ...
• More Details Revealed for Being There Blu-ray - October 15, 2008
Warner Home Video has revealed more information regarding the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Being There', which is due to hit store shelves on February 3rd, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. For this classic Peter Sellers comedy, video will be presented in 1080p ...
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