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Secondhand Lions: Platinum Series

For a lot of children, encounters with long-lost relatives can be tedious — to young Walter McCann (Haley Joel Osment), his two aging uncles are downright mysterious. Virtually abandoned by his self-centered, irresponsible mother Mae (Kyra Sedgwick), Walter finds himself on the dilapidated 1950s Texas ranch of Hub McCann (Robert Duvall) and his brother Garth (Michael Caine). The cantankerous brothers find the pre-teen boy to be little more than a nuisance, although the more benevolent Garth soon takes Walter under his wing. Grumpy Hub, however, is another matter — he's more than willing to let the child wander off on his own. But when Walter discovers that Hub has a habit of sleepwalking, winding up on the edge of the ranch's pond in his nightshirt, where he duels imaginary foes with a bathroom plunger, Garth begins to tell the story of his brother's adventures: Both men were shanghaied decades earlier and shipped to Africa. Hub later joined the French Foreign Legion, where he fought numerous battles on the African continent. He also fell in love with a Mediterranean princess, an event that caused a local sheik to put a price on his head. Hub never overcame the loss of his life's one true love, and after 40 years of adventures, the two brothers returned to Texas, taking up a quiet life — albeit amongst local rumors that they were sitting on a fortune in loot. When not taking potshots at traveling salesmen, they invent a variety of activities for themselves. Sensible Garth prefers that they garden and learn to fish. Hub prefers to fish with a shotgun, and he rebuilds an antique biplane, which he teaches himself how to fly. The brothers also purchase a lion from a circus, which they intend to shoot and mount — but the elderly lioness is too pitiful to kill, and young Walter becomes her caretaker. A project from writer/director Tim McCanlies that spent more than 10 years in Hollywood's production purgatory, Secondhand Lions (2003) is a welcome entry in its genre — a family film that's smart, touching, and thoughtful enough to entertain viewers of all ages. McCann's script is the film's foundation, a decades-spanning story that cleverly shifts between life on a rustic Texas ranch and adventure sequences that evoke vintage Technicolor swashbucklers. Several pairs of actors were considered for the two leads (options that would have required script changes, which McCanlies fiercely opposed), but few could want a better mature American actor than Robert Duvall as the rough-and-tumble Hub, the capable man who fears that old age will render him useless. Michael Caine was a late addition to the cast, and while it's fun to sometimes hear his famous cockney accent flicker through his Texan brogue, it's an against-type performance that's more than effective. And Haley Joel Osment (having lost his boyish falsetto) is one of the few actors in his age-group who could hold his own in this small, three-character story. With so few intelligent family films coming out of Hollywood, Secondhand Lions is certain to have a long life on home video — while it may lean now and again towards easy sentimentality, the story and characters remain original and remarkably heartfelt. And very few family films concern adults more than children. Walter's story is about one formative summer of his childhood, but it's also a bittersweet rumination on the value of older men — and aging lions. New Line's Secondhand Lions: Platinum Series features solid anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers on separate layers. McCanlies offers a feature-length commentary, while supplements on Side B include 10 deleted and alternate scenes with commentary (including an alternate ending), the featurettes "Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay's Wild Ride in Hollywood" (26 min.) "On the Set with Secondhand Lions" (26 min.), and "Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age" (12 min.)., two Visual Effects Comparisons, the theatrical trailer and TV spots, and DVD-ROM content. Keep-case.

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