I hate to judge a product before I've seen it, but I am physically repulsed by anything with the words Nicholas Sparks attached to it. The sappy writer, with an ego even larger than his considerable bank account, as made evident in recent interviews, churns out product that gets female audiences wrapped up in "tragic" tales. After a while, the stories all start to blend into an indistinguishable hodgepodge of cookie cutter characters, where the only differences are the settings. After the disaster known as 'Nights in Rodanthe,' and the followup, which was broadsided by Channing Tatum's "acting," Sparks returns with the first film adaptation for which he wrote the novel and screenplay concurrently.
It cannot go without saying that this feature, 'The Last Song,' was pitched to Disney as nothing more than a generic Nicholas Sparks romance tale featuring Miley Cyrus. I can only imagine the meeting featuring the following conversation:
"The plot? She's Hannah freaking Montana, just market her and make sure the trailer has her face in it the entire time."
"Yes, yes, I see it now. Wait...I have something...yes! Let's make her be a talented musician!!! No one would expect that!!!"
"Only if she can be near a beach. Romance can't happen anywhere else! Wait...can we make the male lead grow a mullet?"
Summer vacation at the beach, yes! Ronnie (Cyrus) and Jonah (Bobby Coleman) Miller get to spend the summer at their father (Greg Kinnear)'s beachfront property. Jonah is excited as a pig in slop to spend time with his musician Daddy and do everything he can with the father he doesn't get to see often, but Ronnie would rather keep off to herself, to sulk and be "edgy." Ronnie turns a page when she discovers sea turtle eggs in front of the house, and makes it her mission to protect them from mischievous raccoons, finally acting somewhat human. Perhaps with her newfound humanity she may find local oil changer/aquarium volunteer/rich boy Will Blakelee (Lima Hemsworth) her kind of guy, despite all his visible flaws. Can love help Ronnie rediscover the musical talent that she shares with her father, but keeps tucked away for none to hear?
If this sounds harsh, I apologize (not really), but Sparks would really be better suited to writing commercials for feminine hygiene products. You know, the ones asking whether the consumer feels "fresh," rather than stories where people have to interact for more than twenty seconds. After that point, regardless of the relationship between them, it feels fake, manufactured, and outright ridiculous. Characters act in ways that defy all their characterization before that, pretend to be beyond their years in terms of maturity, and feel about as human and lifelike as an auto-tuned Rosie the Robot from 'The Jetsons.'
Have you seen a Nicholas Sparks film adaptation before? If so, you've already seen 'The Last Song,' as all the same cliches are in full effect. Throw in equal parts long establishing shots showing how beautiful the landscape looks, sprinkle in swooping camera movements around characters at ideal moments, add a smarmy, bickering courtship, as well as regrets and unfortunate, unpreventable mishaps, and bam, you've mixed up the secret formula!
The Disney element of the story makes everything even less believable than Sparks can. There's no way the mouse-ears company would ever let their current meal ticket (Cyrus) smoke or drink, so of course the angst-riddled rebel without a clue, who dresses in dark clothes and big black boots absolutely must refuse to truly rebel against the laws placed upon her. Wait, no, she's a shoplifter, see, she's got cred! Only thing about that is it's only mentioned, not shown, and she is busted in the film due to someone stabbing her in the back, not because of her own sticky-fingered doing. It's unrealistic to have someone be the "bad girl," yet do nothing bad. Are we afraid of turning off audiences by showing them that people are human, and therefore flawed? Can we not upset the parents who won't let their children see a show if it dares say such horribly inappropriate things like "butt" or "hell?"
'The Last Song' isn't helped much by the fact that Cyrus can't portray emotions like a normal human being. Her voice is all over the place, but her tone and emotions are never in line with what one would expect in a scene. She's mono in a world of 5.1. Even worse yet, Hemsworth feels much like a poor man's Hayden Christiansen, leaving us with two leads lacking any enthusiasm, energy, or chemistry. Poor, poor Greg Kinnear, is stuck providing one of his better performances on film, such a wasted effort. He almost single-handedly makes the film watchable, with his conviction to the role, superb body language, and scene stealing believability just pushed to the wayside.
I'm sick and tired of the letter-writing (including bundling of letters, for future montage-fodder) in romantic films, a Nicholas Sparks staple. I'm sick and tired of "it" actors, who are all looks and no talent, hamming it up on the screen for the impressionable audiences to eat up just to see their dream mates saunter about. I'm bloody sick and tired of seeing impossibly simplistic relationships being treated like they're the love that changed the entire world, just because the pair is attractive and stereotypical for their age group. All of these things are Nicholas Sparks staples. Simply put, I'm sick and tired of Nicholas Sparks, and the pretentious love letters he writes to himself, and 'The Last Song' is just another self-indulgent missive from Nicholas Sparks to his beloved Nicholas Sparks.
With a 2.35:1 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode, 'The Last Song' doesn't quite shine like many newer releases. More than likely, 'The Last Song' is limited in potential by the way it was filmed, and with that mindset, Disney brings their latest Miley Cyrus vehicle to Blu-ray in a way that should please its adoring fan.
The most noticeable element of the movie, visually, has to be the fact that colors feel desaturated, throughout the entirety of the nearly two hour run time. This isn't just some shots here and there. That said, skin tones can run a bit hot in scenes (and moody lighting at times doesn't help matters), so that is all shrug-worthy. Detail is subpar for a modern film that wasn't filmed in the freezing cold or darkest of nights in the most cramped of areas, limited, it seems, to just show people, but not their entirety, their finer features. Black levels are all over the place, except where they should be, and delineation is terrible. Noise pops up every now and then, while slight ringing is a constant problem, and there are a few flatter shots cut between more solid, deep moments.
'The Last Song' misses on more notes than it hits, but considering the appearance of the film, it's hard to say what is intentional.
Music. Miley Cyrus. Blu-ray. Normally, that should mean wall to wall noise but Disney's romantic tale would rather adhere to the genre norms than create a sound experience. With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in tow, 'The Last Song' wants to sit on the beach with you and watch the waves, and just relax. The soundtrack doesn't want to be caged up in the front speakers, as it freely shouts through the room, with some nice bass undercurrent, but that's about as active as the film gets, when music is playing. Rears get tiny bits of presence and atmosphere here and there, but they rarely match the activity levels displayed. Dialogue, silly as it is, is clear, and perfect in terms of prioritization, though it never ventures around the room.
While not an extra, it has to be mentioned that inside the case, there is a $10 off coupon (not combinable with other offers) for other Disney releases, all of which are television shows. The only one that is on Blu-ray is the sixth and final season of 'Lost.' That should help recoup some of the cost!
'The Last Song' won't be the last we hear of implausible Nicholas Sparks films. In fact, they seem to be coming at a steady, rapid clip nowadays, despite the fact that they've all been quite awful since 'The Notebook' made him a household name. This film features horrid acting (by all but one actor), a crummy story, and completely unlikeable characters...but your kids will make you buy it anyways since it has Miley Cyrus in it. The Blu-ray release for this puppy mill dog of a film features average audio and video properties, and a fairly thin set of supplements. It's not good enough to be called "good disc, bad flick," but not awful enough to be "one to avoid."