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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Rain Man 4K UHD Review


MVD Visual/MGM

4K UHD Release: June 13, 2023

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Run Time: 133:49

Director: Barry Levinson


After a selfish L.A. yuppie (Tom Cruise) learns his estranged father left a fortune to an autistic-savant brother (Dustin Hoffman) in Ohio that he didn't know existed, he absconds with his brother and sets out across the country, hoping to gain a larger inheritance. (From MVD/MGM’s official synopsis)


As someone who isn’t really a fan of Barry Levingson’s Rain Man (1988), but still wants to review the new 4K disc he was sent in the mail, I’ve decided to briefly discuss my thoughts on the film’s legacy as an originator of a negative media stereotype. If you’d rather literally remove your eyes from your skull than read that, please feel free to skip to the Video, Audio, and Extras sections. Thank you.



In the end, the vast majority of Rain Man’s ‘problematic’ content is simply a case of changing standards in psychiatric terminology and care. We now know autism is a part of a much more complicated diagnosis. The term ‘autistic’ is rarely used on its own and later variant terms, like Asperger's syndrome, in particular, are basically absent from the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2). Instead, clinicians, physicians, and caretakers now recognize the autism spectrum (ASD) and broader autism phenotype (BAP). But, at the time of filming, Levinson and writers Barry Morrow & Ronald Bass were working from then-current understanding of the spectrum and, for his part, Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman did extensive research in preparing for the role. The issue is that Rain Man was specifically designed as a movie about Savant Syndrome, not ASD – the character was loosely based on Kim Peek, a real person with hyperthymesia, that is now thought to be connected tob FG syndrome – and, while the two have been clinically connected, the film’s broad popularity has led to the erroneous assumption that the majority of autistic people are also savants.


Stories of savant superpowers have sort of become the last bastion of accepted offensive portrayals of mental illness, genetic disorders, sexual preference, gender expression, et cetera in pop culture. A majority of audiences will no longer accept that a character with Down's syndrome must be treated like a child, for example, or that a trans character’s gender dysphoria will turn them into a psycho killer. That kind of thing has been relegated to bygone media and purposefully provocative films/television, all of which has its place, either for historical, contextual, or, if done right, satirical and transgressive purposes. But, somehow, the trope of the superpowered savant has sustained in the mainstream over the last three and a half decades, from good movies, like Vincenzo Natali’s Cube (1997), to bad movies, like Harold Becker’s Mercury Rising (1998) and Shane Black’s The Predator (2018), to even worse TV shows, like The Good Doctor (2017). Those latter two examples were met with pushback, but, for all its quality storytelling, career-defining performances, and multi-Oscar wins, this is, in my eyes, Rain Man’s ultimate legacy – a steady stream of questionable content that demeans a sizable population of people. Does that make it a bad or even problematic movie? No, not really, but, as always, context is important.



Video

As a popular, Oscar-winning picture, Rain Man has been released on basically every home video platform available, including VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and CD-i Video CD, not to be confused with CD-V, which also produced a Rain Man disc. Apparently, the people at MovieCD couldn’t secure the rights and HD DVD died before it hit the format (though it probably wouldn’t have anyway, since Sony and Fox gained access to most of MGM’s library in 2006 and both were BD-exclusive companies). This 4K UHD debut comes to us via a somewhat unexpected source in MVD Visual. I suspect the history of the film’s home video rights is an interesting subject for another time. Anyway, the box art tells us that this master was supplied directly by MGM and created using a new 4K scan of the original camera negative and that the restoration was approved by Barry Levinson.


Prior to this, there were two different Blu-ray versions: a kind of crummy 2011 release and a remastered 25th anniversary edition in 2014. This transfer makes a few more improvements, some of which can only be seen in full 2160p with the HDR engaged. I have included images from the Blu-ray disc, which features the same transfer in 1080p, for illustrative purposes, because, even when compressed and shrunk to the page, the basic quality of the remaster can be seen (I cannot take UHD caps at this time). If you prefer a more direct comparison, please see this page at caps-a-holic, which includes caps from the UHD and both previous Blu-rays. My take is that Rain Man has always been a sort of flatly-lit and purposefully overcast movie, so there’s only so much fine detail that can be juiced from the original source. Sequences with some kind of strong source or backlight tend to look the best (nighttime scenes, for example), at least for the purpose of reviewing a 4K transfer. The HDR enhancement punches things up without overloading cinematographer John Seale’s simple compositions. The increased resolution shrinks grain particles a tad, which helps to avoid some of the BD’s fuzziness, but also arguably oversharpens things a tad, leading to a handful of odd noise effects, but no notable edge haloes. Overall, it’s as impressive an upgrade as I would expect from this particular movie.



Audio

Rain Man is presented in 5.1 and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. This is made for the first DVD and, while I’d prefer a 2.0 option for the sake of authenticity, the remixing is respectful of the original Dolby Stereo source. There aren’t any unusual stereo/surround spread effects, the LFE channel doesn’t warble, and the discrete center does a nice job clarifying dialogue and incidental noises. Being a dialogue-driven picture, the remix works best for Hans Zimmer’s gentle, string-free, pan flute and tribal drum-infused music. This was Zimmer’s first Oscar-nominated score, which he lost to Dave Grusin’s work on The Milagro Beanfield War, and one of his first Hollywood films, perhaps the first if we’re not counting co-compositions with Stanley Myers.



Extras

Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary with director Barry Levinson – All of the extras in this collection originated with MGM’s special edition DVD from 2004. These begin with Levinson’s commentary. He barely speaks, but occasionally manages to explore the film’s themes, filmmaking techniques, and actors’ performances.

  • Commentary with writer Barry Morrow – Morrow explores his writing process, the ideas behind his story, the extensive research he did, and changes made to the script and cast over time.

  • Commentary with writer Ronald Bass – Bass’ track is similar to Morrow’s, but gets a little deeper into the film’s production, stuff like Levinson replacing Steven Spielberg and re-writing the script on-set.

  • Theatrical trailer


Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • Commentary with director Barry Levinson

  • Commentary with writer Barry Morrow

  • Commentary with writer Ronald Bass

  • The Journey of Rain Man (22:09, SD) – The original 2004 retrospective featurette, including interviews with Levinson, Morrow, Bass, Bass’ sister and clinical social worker Diane Bass, actress Valeria Golino, composer Hans Zimmer, and producers Mark Johnson, Gayle Murtex, and Gerald R Molen.

  • Lifting the Fog: A Look at the Mysteries of Autism (20:15, SD) – An interview with Murrow, members of the psychiatric community, and savants Joseph Sullivan and Peter Guthrie.

  • Deleted scene (2:13, SD)

  • Theatrical trailer



The images on this page are taken from the included BD (not the 4K UHD) and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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