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— Zoe Saldana, Star Trek

MRQE Top Critic

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While Cold Mountain fell short of the grandeur and sweep of director Anthony Minghella’s adaptations of The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley on the big screen, the Civil War epic makes for an excellent DVD experience.

Fell In Love With A Girl

The screen lights up when Zellweger shows up to help Kidman
The screen lights up when Zellweger shows up to help Kidman
2-Disc DVD makes Cold Mountain worth another look
2-Disc DVD makes Cold Mountain worth another look

Inman (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a quiet man, an honest man, and a hard worker. For him, it’s love at first sight when the reverend’s daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge), comes to the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain.

Before the two can get comfortable in each other’s presence, the potential for a full-blown relationship is cut short by the eruption of the Civil War. Separated, Inman and Ada survive the horrors of war either in the trenches or on the home front, terrorized either by Yankee soldiers or vigilantes prosecuting those who shelter Confederate deserters.

Armed with a book and a photo of Ada, Inman is carried away in the winds of war. His story becomes a series of vignettes as he is forced into one compromising situation after another, testing his loyalty both to his country and to Ada.

Back in Cold Mountain, Ada faces life on her own and struggles to find her own identity following her father’s death. As it turns out, life at home can be just as brutal and heartbreaking as life on the frontlines of combat.

Survival Of The Fittest

Like The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain is multi-layered with several different storylines and themes, but this time the characters are less involving and there’s less resonance in them thar hills. Having traded in the mystical and sexy settings of Egypt and Italy for North Carolina (via Romania), Minghella has less to work with in terms of the artistic flourishes that made his other two adaptations so successful.

One of the highlights of the DVD is to see Renée Zellweger (Chicago) as Ruby Thewes, for which she won this year’s Oscar for best supporting actress. The screen — and proceedings — light up quite a bit when Zellweger arrives. Ruby not only introduces Ada to assorted culinary concepts, she also shows her the ropes of handling wildlife like that obnoxious rooster, and also how to tote a rifle.

In between the romantic entanglements of Inman and Ada, Cold Mountain finds stronger material to mine in the cold, snowy, dark countryside. Law in particular does a superb job of fleshing out Inman, who struggles through his own carnal temptations, traps, and challenges of physical endurance during his quest to return to Cold Mountain and Ada.

Chemistry Set

The main problem in classifying Cold Mountain as an epic romance is the lack of investment in the relationship between Inman and Ada. They write each other constantly, but the war-torn postal system manages to deliver only a few of their missives; the rest of their relationship is based on merely a few shared words prior to the war.

Whether they’re star-crossed lovers, soul mates, or simply two strangers who think they may have found that special somebody in the midst of difficult times, there simply isn’t enough there to make it matter. Their romance plays out more as a big, lusty bookend to two hours of otherwise unrelated, but far more engaging, movie.

DVD Extras

The two disc set offers up a diverse collection of supplemental materials that serve to highlight some elements of the film that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or otherwise taken for granted.

Disc One includes an excellent running commentary with director Minghella and Walter Murch, the film’s editor. The two go into excruciating detail into the film’s production and Minghella also defends the film’s romance, which some reviews (including this one) have dismissed as being less engaging than the rest of the movie. The gist of the defense is that back in the days of Inman and Ada, a kiss had far greater meaning than it does today. It’s enough of an argument to make the film deserve a second chance.

The second disc holds six supplemental features. The most curious of the bunch is the 90-minute The Words and Music of Cold Mountain - Royce Hall Special. It’s a live concert, but not just any concert. Among the performers are no less than Jack White, Alison Krauss, Sting, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Anthony Minghella, T-Bone Burnett, and the Sacred Harp singers.

This is one unusual evening celebrating, as producer Sydney Pollack says during his introduction, “a diverse section of art forms and artists.” At times, there is an enormous amount of pretense in the air, particularly during the readings from Charles Frazier’s book. The music, however, is outstanding and well suited for live performance.

At the show’s conclusion, Burnett acknowledges the evening as having been orchestrated by Miramax head honcho Harvey Weinstein, no doubt in a bid for more Oscars. As curious as it is that this event happened and all the incredible talent was corralled for the night, it does make for an excellent and unique DVD supplement.

More standard fare includes the 70-minute documentary, Climbing Cold Mountain, which is a detailed account of the film’s creation. Another documentary, the 28-minute A Journey to Cold Mountain: The Making of Cold Mountain, provides all the glossy back-patting one would normally see on Entertainment Tonight.

Shoring up the remainder of the supplements is a section of storyboard comparisons for three scenes, a brief segment on the history of the Sacred Harp singers, and a collection of deleted scenes that are worth viewing, but just as well left out of the final cut.

Picture and Sound

The film (in widescreen 2.35:1 enhanced for 16x9 televisions) is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. The picture is impeccable and the sound consistently full and crisp.

Also available are a French language soundtrack and French, Spanish, and English subtitles.