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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Oxford Murders

October 2nd, 2010

The Oxford Murders - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Oxford Murders is a Spanish / French co-production shot in the U.K. with an American as one of the two main leads. A very international affair. It was made in 2008, but didn't find a distributor here till 2010, when it was released first on Video on Demand and then theatrically. Needless to say, like so many films before it that were debuted VoD, its theatrical release was short. But now that it is coming out on DVD / Blu-ray, will it find a more receptive audience?

The Movie

Elijah Wood stars as Martin, an American student who has traveled to Oxford to continue his studies under the mentorship of Arthur Seldom. He gets a room with an elderly lady, Mrs. Eagleton, who knows Arthur Seldom, as her deceased husband mentored him. When he begins his studies, he is told that it will be nearly impossible to get Arthur to mentor him, as he only does research now, at least that's what the faculty member Martin talks to says. A fellow student says Aurthor only cares about selling books, but he too was turned down by Mr. Seldom, so his opinion might be biased against the doctor.

Mrs. Eagleton's daughter, Beth, informs Martin that Arthur will be giving a lecture on his work on logical series and this will be the perfect time to try and get his attention. Their initial meeting goes poorly. So poorly, in fact, that Martin decides to pack up and return home. But before he can, Arthur arrives at the home where he is staying, not to talk to Martin, but to talk to Mrs. Eagleton, after he was given a strange note at the book signing that included her address. However, when the pair go to see her, they find she is dead. Murdered. Despite the fact that she was quite elderly and was dying of terminal cancer, someone decided to kill her, and it appears she will be the first of many.

In one of Arthur Seldom's books, he compared logical series to serial killers stating that serial killers are irrational beings and therefore their actions can't be predicted by logic, but are the domain of psychology. He theorizes that the killer committed the murder to prove his theory wrong, and choose his friend to make sure he got his attention. Now Martin and Arthur have to work together to figure out who did this, before more murders are committed. There are many mathematical ideas that come into play, and many suspects to consider.

A lot of critics compared this film to The Da Vinci Code, but not in a way that should be taken as a compliment. However, it reminded me of Revolver. In The Da Vinci Code we have a thriller that uses symbols and puzzles as the center of the plot. Whether or not you like the plot, or think the puzzles were intelligently done, you have to admit that the puzzles were there to service the plot. Here, as in Revolver, I got the idea that the writer was more interested in the ideas than the plot. In fact, I would go so far at to say they treated the plot like it was an inconvenience that prevented them from concentrating on what they thought was the main purpose of the story. It's like they tried to adapt a philosophical textbook. There are some interesting ideas on the nature of truth and such, but the plot doesn't hold them together.

There were additional problems. The dialogue feels really unnatural, like it was written by a screenwriter trying to show off. This made it hard for the actors to shine, and some performances suffered as a result. Likewise, there are a number of rather fancy shots that felt like the director trying too hard for style.

The Extras

There are a massive number of featurettes on the DVD and Blu-ray, starting with the usual making of featurette, there is also a demonstration of some of the mathematical concepts shown in the movie, interviews, a look at composing of the orchestral performance, a look at the special effects make-up, etc. Most are quite short, and many lack context (like watching the special effects make-up being applied without hearing anyone talk about the process) but they add up.

The film looks good in high definition, but outside of a few scenes, there's nothing overly impressive about the sound. On the other hand, the film actually costs less on Blu-ray, so it is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

The Oxford Murders clearly has a lot of ideas, but the filmmakers were unable to get them to the screen in a way that will interest most viewers. The DVD and Blu-ray have a lot of mostly little extras that might interest fans of the film, but even so, a flawed execution limits the value to no more than a rental.

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