Extraordinary Measures is a film depicting the true story of real-life parents John and Aileen Crowley, and the lengths to which they went in order to try and find a cure for Pompe’s disease; a muscle degrading disease that usually affects infants (and killing most before the age of two), making their muscles extremely weak, causing feeding difficulties, and respiratory distress, that leads to an average lifespan of only 8.7 years in untreated cases; thereby saving the lives of their two afflicted children.
When the movie opens, John Crowley (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy) is a fairly high-flying executive at a biotechnology company, whose main concern is for the well being of his family; as he spends all day working, then all evening reading up on research material concerning Pompe’s disease, in the hope that he will be able to find a cure for his kids; having two out of three children that are suffering from the disease, and as the one is eight years old, and the other is six (and the average lifespan is only 8.7 years), he is becoming increasingly worried about their condition, and the prospect that they may not be around for much longer.
John’s concern grows rapidly when the eldest child comes extremely close to dying as a result of severe respiratory distress; and is given mere months to live; causing him to become distracted from his work, and not only decides to walk out, but fly across the country to meet a research scientist named Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford, The Fugitive), whom he believes is at the forefront of the medical research into the condition, and may be able to come up with a treatment that could save the lives of his children.
Stonehill’s ideas prove to be revolutionary, however he cannot obtain the funding that he needs to complete his research, and come up with a viable treatment, so in a fit of desperation and optimism, John informs Stonehill that he will be able to provide him with the half a million dollars he needs (in only one month) to complete the lab work for his research; much to the dismay of his wife Aileen (Keri Russell, Mission: Impossible III), who thinks that a thousand dollars would be a lot to raise.
When John provides Stonehill with some of the cash he needs to begin his work, they then break out on their own and form their own independent biotech company, and attempt to raise additional funding from a number of other, much larger, corporations in order to finalize the work, and get a treatment approved by the F.D.A.; however it isn’t all plain sailing, as Stonehill’s cantankerous nature, their minimal funding, and other unexpected problems, such as the bureaucratic nature of some of the larger profit hungry biotech companies, often end up standing in the way of their success, and the health of the Crowley children.
The rest of the film is then basically concerned with Stonehill’s efforts at creating the treatment that the kids will need (whilst racing against the Crowley children’s deteriorating condition, and the investor’s threats at pulling funding), John’s efforts to keep the company afloat, and meet the ever growing need for funding, whilst attempting to spend as much time with his family as possible, and the office politics that often threaten the pair’s work, and the potential outcome of the project.
It’s a very heartwarming story, and one made all the more harrowing by the fact that it’s a true story; it’s examination of the methods at which funding is raised for medical research and the way in which brilliant ideas can go untapped for so long, or even ignored forever as a result of bad business plans (or the projected profit margins for the drugs being too low), are both fascinating and infuriating at the same time, as it’s intriguing to see how large drug companies operate, but infuriating to know that they could probably help so many more people than they actually do, if they were slightly less concerned about making money; and also very inspiring to see what a difference just a handful of highly motivated people can really make to the world.
Harrison Ford’s portrayal of the grisly Dr. Stonehill (a character who doesn’t actually exist, but is a composite of the real-life Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen, and some of his colleagues) is faultless, as he appears realistically surly (and can easily antagonize those around him), but has just a natural amount of softness to his personality that makes him care about his work, and those he is trying to help.
Brendan Fraser is also good a fulfilling the needs of his role; playing a much more serious part than the ones he tends to go for (Furry Vengeance, The Mummy, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action don’t scream dramatic and emotional actor material), yet pulling it off fairly well; he is weakest in the most heavily emotional scenes, but acts them far better than in anything else where he has had to be upset; and excels as the concerned father and cautious yet successful entrepreneur.
Keri Russell is also adequate enough in her portrayal of Aileen Crowley, yet does nothing much to stand out from the large number of other films containing concerned mothers who stay at home at care for their extremely ill children; the most notable thing about her performance is actually the fact that fans of the TV series House M.D. will be all but guaranteed to confuse her with Jennifer Morrison (who plays Cameron on that show), as the two look so remarkably alike. One of the best performances however, comes from Meredith Droeger (The Last Rites of Joe May), who plays the ill daughter, Megan Crowley, and excels as the sickly, but plucky, young girl that most viewers will want to end up getting saved.
In the end though, Extraordinary Measures isn’t a film that’s likely to make you cry, or really affect you that deeply, as it isn’t all that sad or exceptionally moving when it finishes; despite being a well acted, well told drama, that contains a solidly good and rather inspiring true story; but one of the best things about the film (aside from raising awareness of Pompe’s disease and praising the stellar efforts of John and Aileen Cowley, among others, in combatting it) is the way in which it highlights the shortfalls of the bureaucracy laden biotech companies in actually getting anything done. A decent enough story that’s well told, but not quite the emotional roller-coaster it could have been.
The picture quality of the Extraordinary Measures DVD transfer may not be Blu-ray quality, but is as strong as the disc’s powerful story, and accurately represents everything that it should; there’s a high level of detail, solid blacks, natural skin-tones (although they do occasionally appear a little on the red side), and some brilliantly consistent colour saturation and contrast throughout the range of differently lit and shaded scenes; the stark white’s of the medical labs, the colourful Nebraska landscapes, and a number of darkly lit, or interestingly shaded scenes.
Whilst the video could never really hope to live up to the U.S. Blu-ray release, it is still an exceptionally high quality DVD transfer; that contains no visible print errors, and only a handful of shots that are noticeably softer than the majority of the film (nothing too distracting however); and should easily satisfy the movie’s fans (as long as they weren’t hoping for a hi-def release).
Coming by way of a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, there is little to say about the audio quality that couldn’t be guessed simply by looking at the film’s story content; this isn’t an action film in any sense of the word, and as most of the ‘action’ takes place in quiet medical labs, board meetings, deserted hallways, or the occasional empty landscape, there is little sound in the mix aside from the dialogue; which thankfully sounds excellent, as it is crisp, clear, and always perfectly intelligible.
As it’s a dialogue centric film, the audio is almost always confined to the front half of the sound-field, although there are one or two spats of inconsistent, and rather quiet, ambient effects that will neither wow or annoy listeners, as they will most likely go unnoticed; but the sounds that are there (the dialogue in particularly) do an excellent job of representing what’s happening, and is all that this mix really needs; it’s by no means a show-stopper, but does its job well enough.
Extraordinary Measures comes to DVD with a fairly limited supply of bonus material, having only a small collection of deleted scenes; which are mostly fairly average and rightly removed, but do contain a couple of well well made scenes, that make interesting points, and must have only been removed in order to maintain pacing; a feature entitled ‘Meet John Crowley’; which involves seeing the man himself, explaining what really happened, how he helped his children, and what the film means to all of them, as well as what the cast think of him, and why his work was so important; and a making of featurette; that is all too promotional (it literally involves taking the theatrical trailer, and stretching it out by pasting the odd interview snippets in appropriate places), and praise happy, but does contain interviews with the cast, crew, and real-life Crowley family, making it worthwhile in some respects; and nothing else.
Really there isn’t too much more than could of been included, as there are no real big effects scenes to breakdown, no storyboarding that would of been of any interest to anyone but those involved in making the movie (but a discussion about forming the plot and the differences between the movie and real life events may have proved a nice inclusion), and even though it’s not the type of film to suit outtakes, a feature about the film’s score could have been easily added on after the fact, as could a commentary track; and the fact that this film is lacking in that respect is a real downer on the special features, as it could have been very interesting and informative to listen to John Crowley himself discussing aspects of the production with the director, and top billed cast; but as it is absent, the extras amount to little more than an average showing that will do the job well enough, but stun no-one.
The Bottom Line:
Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford both deliver solid performances in this real life tale of hardship, struggles, and the hope that turned an impossibility into a life-changing reality for so many people; Extraordinary Measures tells the story of John Crowley, and the lengths to which he went in order to try and save the lives of his two children afflicted with Pompe’s disease; an inspirational tale that shows what can be accomplished if people really set their minds to it, and one that rightly praises Crowley for his efforts in combatting the disease (but purposefully shows him as a flawed individual rather than perfect man), but is likely to soon be forgotten by most viewers, and somehow never feels to be much more than a Hallmark movie (aside from the obvious inclusions of the two main stars).
The DVD has very high standards of both picture and audio quality, although neither will astound anyone watching or listening, and as it also comes with a relatively slim line of bonus material, makes for a fairly average presentation, of a film that is good, has a lot to say, and raises some interesting questions about the medical field, but fails to truly pull the viewers heartstrings as it should. It’s worth watching, but more of a renter, or even one to just catch when it eventually lands on the regular network TV schedule, as when you’ve seen it once (you only actually need to see the trailer, as that gives away practically every major event in the movie), you probably won’t be watching it again.
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