Being There on Blu-ray Disc
Kind of a miniature prequel to "Forrest Gump", the tale of a happy mental midget who happens upon the rich and powerful, "Being There" is a towering acting achievement by the late Peter Sellers.
Sellers is Chance, the gardener of an old man who lives in the old man's house, wears his cast off clothing and apparently spends most of his time watching his cast off television sets. He's been there for as long as he can remember, can't read or write and really knows nothing other than what he sees on TV – which means his life is very shallow.
Then, the old man passes away, and Chance is thrown from his only home and life and finds himself on the streets of Washington D.C. with no prospects, no friends or acquaintances, no money, and a hungry stomach. has no emotional reaction at all. He doesn't understand death any more than he understands life.
He really is without a clue, a fact Sellers transmits to us over and over again during the course of the film, mostly through his vacant eyes but sometimes through his reactions to the situations unfolding around him.
His first encounter is with a group of thuggish black youth, but perhaps because he is so unthreatening he manages to walk away unscathed. But shortly after that comes his life-changing event: he's injured slightly by the car of the wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) who, afraid of being sued, insists that he come home with her to be checked out by her dying husband's private doctor.
This is where Chance, the gardener, becomes Chauncy Gardner, thanks to his name being misheard. Eve introduces Chance to her husband Benjamin (Melvyn Douglas), a mover and shaker of the greatest influence. They assume that Chance is a regular guy from their station in life, completely missing the fact that he's really an idiot. He talks about one very simple thing and they assume he's talking about something else. This leads to him meeting and consulting with the President of the United States (Jack Warden) and having his insights about gardening taken as parables, analogies about the nation's economic growth in general and Chance/Chauncy is suddenly the darling of D.C. appearing on television shows and assumed to be a new but brilliant presidential advisor.
Chance never misrepresents himself; rather, his simplistic bleatings have greatness read into them by people who are looking for something new and hear his words through the filter of their own experiences. It's quite delicious.
Sellers was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his understated performance of Chance, a performance that is completely believable. The rest of the cast is also excellent – journeyman actors (in fact, Douglas won an Oscar for his performance) who bring depth and credibility to characters who really need to be slapped back to reality.
Despite some logical gaps such as "Where are the investigate reporters who look into Chauncy the way they tried to destroy Joe the Plumber?" (which makes one assume that Warden's president must have been a Democrat, since Democrats aren't held to any standards) and "How can everyone else in Washington be so absorbed that they don't notice that Chance is really a dolt?" But these questions don't really affect one's enjoyment of this basically gentle story.
The Blu-ray isn't one of the more spectacular examples of the species, but it's a fine presentation of the film. One of our objections to it has nothing to do with the movie, but with the fact that Warners has started putting an annoying Blu-ray promotion at the beginning of discs, as if the people watching it DON'T ALREADY HAVE BLU-RAY PLAYERS!!!!
Then the movie starts right up without forcing an opening menu on you. We like this, though we'd like it better if the audio would default to the Dolby TrueHD format instead of generic Dolby Digital, forcing you to bring up the pop-up menu to switch it (and if there's been anything interesting on the soundtrack, going back to the beginning to hear it properly).
So far as Being There's picture quality is concerned, there's grain and the 1080p picture's a tad flat, but overall it looks quite good. Colors are good, though. Warners has also expanded the 1.85:1 image to fill the 16x9 screen, eliminating the relatively tiny letterboxing bars of true 1.85:1, but you probably won't miss much.
Despite being Dolby TrueHD, the soundtrack is still in mono and is about what you'd expect from a movie of this vintage that wasn't made by a Lucas, Spielberg or other director who lavished much attention on the audio experience.
Bottom line is that no matter how much you may love this as a film, it is an average Blu-ray at best.
Extras include "Memories from Being There," a short featurette in which Melvyn Douglas' daughter Illeana waxes about visiting the set when she was a child. There are also two "recently discovered" scenes, an alternate ending, gag reel and the trailer. Pretty sparse.
Being There, from Warner Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.