Defending Your Life follows a man who passes away and heads to the afterlife and is put on trial for his general rudeness in the previous life. It's up to him to change for the better in this golden comedic take on what happens when someone dies. Albert Brooks knocked this film out of the park and Criterion has made a wonderful new video and audio presentation, and has delivered some brand new bonus features for this release. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
There's been a ton of big Hollywood movies that center on death and what happens in the afterlife. Hollywood allows the choice for horror picks such as The Sixth Sense or a romantic thriller with Ghost, and everything in between. There's even a new film out called Here After that tackles the after-life dating world. In 1991 though, Albert Brooks wrote, directed, and starred in Defending Your Life, a film about a man who dies suddenly and is put on trial for his past life in order to either be re-incarnated or move on to the next phase - heaven. Brooks created a light-hearted and comical universe here that has some sincere dramatic tones and themes, along with a fantastic performance from Meryl Streep. Some thirty years later, Defending Your Life still holds up.
The film follows Daniel Miller (Brooks), who is a very successful business executive. As successful as he is, he's equally a pain-in-the-ass and fairly rude and abrasive to most people he's around. He's not exactly the nicest of people as he drives his luxurious car around Los Angeles. A few minutes into the film, Daniel, not seeming to have a care in the world, crashes his vehicle into a bus and dies. His essence and soul are transported to Judgement City, a beautiful city-like paradise of peaceful commuters and people who have just died. Everyone is in white robes and is polite to each other. It takes a little bit for Daniel to get used to the notion that he's dead, which leads him to find out that he will be put in front of two judges and given a lawyer (Rip Torn) to argue that he in fact lived a life as a decent man. If the judges believe this, he will go to heaven, but if not, he will head back down to Earth and start a new life as someone different.
While not in court, Daniel figures out he can eat as much and whatever he pleases without gaining weight and hang out at comedy clubs and go bowling, all of which have some comedic traits. While here, he meets Julia (Streep), who has also passed away, where the two realize they are some of the youngest people in Judgement City. They instantly form a bond and enjoy each other, which allows Daniel to realize the error of his ways in his past life and change into a better person, while also falling in love.
Defending Your Life is a sweet story with a perfect cast of characters. Brooks never preaches to the choir about anything religious or political here. He rather just wants to tell the story of this man's transformation into a better human being and the love he found along the way. Inserted are some wonderful lines of dialogue that are delivered perfectly by Rip Torn and Brooks. Streep is as elegant and wonderful as ever too. The realm and appearance of Jusgement City are also remarkable and look like a place that anyone would want to be a part of, and again is in no way trying to hit anyone on the nose with a religious agenda. Defending Your Life has stood the test of time and is still one of the better films on the subject of the afterlife. Plus it has some amazing performances from Torn, Brooks, and Streep with some great laughs and heartfelt moments.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Defending Your Life ascends on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection with a Blu-ray Disc. The disc is housed in a hard, clear plastic case with spine #1071. There is new artwork on the front cover that included a billboard sign for Judgment City and images of Brooks and Streep. On the reverse side are a series of binary numbers. There is a foldout Criterion booklet inside.
Defending Your Life comes with a fantastic new 1080p HD transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. According to the booklet, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative and supervised by Albert Brooks himself. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed and the result is excellent.
The color palette for the first couple of minutes of the movie is natural, bold, and rich. The black luxury car along with the city buildings that mix well with the green trees and the primary colors in suits and dresses looks excellent here. The colors are well-balanced and nuanced to bring out the brightness and luscious colors that create Los Angeles. But once in Judgement City, everything has a glowing white color. In fact, white is the predominant color all around from room interiors to clothing and everything else in between. The colors are a little more muted and bring out a fantasy-like glow, which is the unique style implored by brooks here. Black levels are deep enough, but there aren't many of those black levels as everything is heaven-like. The only darker colors that come to play are inside the faux courtroom where browns and black linens are used, but then again, there's a white glow to everything for style purposes.
The detail looks sharper and more vivid on this release than any other previous import, however, there's a delicate and soft touch to the detail here, especially once inside Judgement City. The real world of Los Angeles look amazing, revealing great closeups of Brooks' individual hairs on the top of his head, the textures of his car, and even his clothes, but once on the other living plane, there's a lighter feel where everything looks a bit hazier as if angels have blessed every part of the locations and people. Still, there are gorgeous closeups that reveal facial features and textures, but there's a limit to it. It's not a bad thing, that's just the heaven-like style Brooks created for this. Skin tones are natural if not a bit brighter than normal and there are no video issues to speak of.
This release comes with a new DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track that according to the booklet, was remastered from the original 35mm LTRT magnetic tracks. It also says to makes sure Dolby Pro Logic is chosen to properly play this option. Sound effects are mostly robust, whether it be vehicles driving by or a train passing.
Other than those types of sounds, and maybe the bang of a judge's gavel, the film is mostly dialogue-driven. Ambient noises come through nicely, including people talking as the main stars walk by that can be faintly heard. The score always adds to the comedic and emotional tone of the film and the dialogue is always clean, clear, and free of any audio problems.
There is 65 minutes worth of extras included in this Criterion release. New and old interviews with the cast and crew are included, along with a trailer and the booklet.
Defending Your Life is a heart-warming and genuinely funny film about passing away and moving onto the after-life. Albert Brooks's unique brand of comedy is on display here as his dialogue and jokes contemplate the Seinfeld-like moments of heaven and life. Criterion has provided a fantastic new video and audio presentation, along with some new and vintage interviews with the cast and crew. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!