"The Bucket List" Blu-ray Review
June 13, 2008 by Zach Demeter
When hearing that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson would be starring in a Rob Reiner film, I immediately stopped asking for details. That was all I needed to know that this film, whatever it was based on, would not only be entertaining but likely a moving picture that tugged at the heart strings. Unlike a lot of my ballpark guesses, I was actually right on the money for this film and I got out of it exactly what I expected. Some may say that sounds disappointing, but I argue the opposite; when it comes to a film like this and you have a rough idea of what to expect going into it, chances are you won’t be disappointed.
Billionaire hospital owner Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) is diagnosed with cancer and is angered to find that his own policy of two patients to a room is coming back to bite him in the ass. What Cole eventually finds out, however, that his roommate Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) would become one of his closest friends. After the two are given a diagnosis that leaves them less than a year to live, Cole discovers Chambers “Bucket List”, a list of things to do before he “kicked the bucket.” Chambers meant nothing by writing out the list, but Cole took the opportunity to spend some of his wealth before he died and spend it with a man who would help him turn his life around in his final year.
Watching this film was really just a treat through and through, as even in their older age, Nicholson and Freeman are able to show off incredible acting talents and the chemistry they had with one another was simply brilliant. It was a superb film throughout and I was only met with a few quibbles about it, but they’re so minor that it ultimately wasn’t anything that mattered. The film had its fair share of laughter as well as plenty of sorrow to go along with it and Reiner really shows off what he does best in films and that was to make a moving, human story about two strangers who change each other’s lives.
The issues I had with the film were minor and really can be chalked up to my expectations. The first is that Carter’s knowledge of history isn’t really played upon and with all of the Jeopardy being played in the background of the film I half expected him to show up as a contestant on the show. Aside from that the film just felt like it was missing something…like we didn’t see the two men do enough things together that would seem like a way to spend one last “hurrah.” Of course there were no drugs, alcohol or prostitute binges, nor would you want them to be with Nicholson and Freeman being involved, but there really just seemed to be something missing to me.
Those elements aside, however, the film was still a joy to watch. Nicholson and Freeman have an undeniable bond on screen and it’s surprising to me that this was their first film together. It seems as if each scene was finely tuned and crafted only for them to speak in, as everything always came off pitch perfect. Sean Hayes as Cole’s assistant must not be forgotten either, as he is the source of quite a few humorous bits…both from himself and also because of something Nicholson said in return to his comments.
Films about friendship have always been a great source of entertainment to me and Reiner’s own Stand By Me remains one of my all-time favorites. While The Bucket List is at another end of the spectrum, the bond the two men share in their final days is something really spectacular to see and even though there are few surprises in the film, it’s really just a pleasure to see. Everyone involved turn in pitch-perfect performances and it’s nice to see that when Nicholson actually chooses a film to be in, they almost always turn out to be something worth watching. If only I could say the same for Freeman.
Overall this film comes Highly Recommended. You won’t find a better film of its type for many years to come (until Reiner decides to direct something else like it) and the Nicholson / Freeman duo is simply a delight to watch.
The Bucket List arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video in a standard Elite Blu-ray case without any slipcover or inserts (aside from one telling you that this disc was created under the strictest of quality controlled conditions), but it does feature the most annoying menu system I’ve ever seen on a Blu-ray. I thought I was just being stupid at first, but no, this menu really is a piece of crap; the film starts to play automatically, as with all Warner Blu-ray’s I’ve seen and the only way to get to any kind of normal menu is to wait for the film to finish and let it load a still image or to use the Pop-Up menu. Now the pop-up menu should be just as good as a normal menu as they often are exactly the same anyway, but the one included here is a bear to navigate. The use of arrow keys makes for a decidedly confusing layout, as despite the special features menu showing off each and every extra there is on the set, you can’t actually select any of the text; instead you scroll through a list on the far right of the screen where you have select the extra you want to watch. I’ve never been so thoroughly frustrated in my life trying to navigate a menu; heaven forbid an older person wants to watch this film and doesn’t have a tech-savvy person in the house; they’d go bonkers trying to figure this thing out.
Fortunately the rest of the disc is satisfactory. The video transfer is one of few 1.78:1 Blu-ray transfers I’ve seen so to see everything in an image that actually used my sets full viewing ratio was a shock to me. I’d only seen one film in this ratio prior and I wasn’t too impressed with that, but The Bucket List really showed off the beauty of what the characters in the film were experience. Plenty of detail on their faces and depth to the various areas of the world they visited. I’m rather disappointed we didn’t see the Himalaya Mountains that Freeman’s character talked about in the film, as I’m sure they would have looked spectacular in HD. Oddly enough there is only a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track…no TrueHD or DTS-HD MA, no nothin’. Slightly strange, especially for a film this new, but this film doesn’t exactly require lossless audio; it’s all dialogue and comes through loud and clear as is (with only the faintest hint of surround usage in a few of the more crowded sequences) and I doubt a TrueHD track would have done much more to boost the clarity…especially since I’m not sure how many people want to hear Jack Nicholson talk about how you should “never trust a fart” in full HD sound.
The extras aren’t much to write home about, especially after fighting so hard to view the damn things via the stupid menu. Ok I’m done ranting about that now, I swear. The first extra is a Pop-Up Trivia Track that plays along with the film and spouts off similar facts like the ones Carter does throughout the film. The only other Blu-ray extra is a series of interviews with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as interviewed by Rob Reiner (21:45). These two interviews are a treat to watch, although they’re in standard definition, so why they’re exclusive to this Blu-ray release, I’m not entirely sure.
Other extras include the John Mayer “Say” music video (4:01) as well as a making-of video to accompany it (5:38) and a “Writing a Bucket List” (4:53) extra with screenwriter Justin Zackham. Zackham’s extra is about as close as a making-of documentary comes on this set, so enjoy what little information you get here as that’s all you’ll be able to get. A commentary track with the cast and crew would have been nice, but I guess Reiner, Nicholson and Freeman are too busy to do that.
Overall the extras (and menu……sorry) are tad disappointing, but in the end the film is worth the price alone. The video transfer is gorgeous and really aids in the enjoyment of the film, aside from the few places where the green screen becomes noticeable, so if you have the tech to do so, the Blu-ray is a definite improvement over the flipper-disc DVD edition, especially since you get to check out the Reiner interviews as well. Recommended.
The Bucket List is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.