Tucker: The Man and His Dream/B,A-
Paramount/1988/1110/ANA 2.00

    Beautifully filmed with loving attention to detail, Tucker: The Man and His Dream fails in one crucial department: emotional involvement. The script is rather chilly. It's ironic since Francis Ford Coppola, the director and chief creative force behind the film, is a passionate filmmaker. Add to this the huge, expansively good-natured central performance of Jeff Bridges, and the core detachment is even more puzzling. Perhaps it is the choice of script concept, basing the film on an actual promotional film made for the Tucker Company. To be sure, it's a clever conceit, but maintaining the template may place a barrier between the drama and the characters.
     Tucker: The Man and His Dream is the mostly true story of Preston Tucker, forties dreamer, entrepreneur, and the building of the Tucker car and company. In the course of less than two hours we share the rise and fall of the elegant Tucker vision for a car of the future. The mechanics of building a car and the mechanics of building a company overpower the players and even though there are many scenes of the Tucker family, the gleamingly brilliant paint finishes of the spiffy Tuckers leaves their portrayal in shadows. But this is amazingly evocative filmmaking of the period, and that alone makes the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Keeping with the promo film feel. ©Paramount

     "You can't have Falstaff and have him thin, Mister Tucker," sarcastically intones Bennington, the Wall Street choice to head the Tucker Company  I think the smarmy portrayal of the auto industry bigwigs makes them more cartoon and less potently evil. The shots at big industry are leveled are too heavy handed. Still, the look of all those gorgeous Tuckers parading up tot he court house is worth the little guy/system proselytizing.
    Production design is outstanding. From the mural work to the clothing, details capture the era with uncanny confidence. Dean Tavoularis is production designer and brother Alex delivers the art direction. The photography of Vittorio Storaro is stunning. Chiaroscuro lighting alternates with bright brochure images. Camera movement is elegant.
However, even though the moody, lighting is wonderful, it's not really in keeping with Coppola's own blueprint of the promotional film. Some of the family compositions are positively reflections from Norman Rockwell illustrations. The  lively, energetic, Joe Jackson score completes the package wrapped in vintage elements.
     Jeff Bridges gives a performance truly consistent to the Coppola vision, in fact, much more consistent than the artistic filmmaking choices of the director. But the brilliance of Coppola is his daring and his obvious love of movies. Supporting the building and production of Tucker: The Man and His Dream are an excellent group of players, including Joan Allen as Vera Tucker, Martin Landau as fictionalized composite financier Abe Karatz, Frederic Forest as mechanic Eddie Dean, and Elias Koteas as design whiz Tremulis.
Except for some unnecessary edge enhancement, it's a beautiful transfer. Modulated lighting levels filmed by Storaro are replicated with great subtlety. All the exquisite interior lighting, warm, slightly nostalgic, is preserved on the DVD. I noted some minor MPEG artifacts in one small patch of blue sky and in fleeting skylight glimpse in the factory. A few scenes seem slightly cramped and cropped at the 2.0 transfer aspect ratio chosen by the filmmakers for this DVD. The Dolby Digital sound is very rich and open, and although sounds are not pinpointed throughout the home theater, overall ambient detail is engrossing.
     The heart of the special edition is the audio commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola. It's not a stretch to realize that Coppola strongly identifies with Tucker. It comes through any number of times in his comments. Coppola's observations are friendly and warm. Production design elements and the reason for them are revealed. Coppola says he sees the whole movie as a contraption. It's a telling comment on the film. Truly Coppola is a filmmaker that treats his films like personal toys. It's a great strength and high wire tightrope over pits fills with shards of dried out celluloid.
     Coppola laments the style of today's film shooting and cutting, talking about too many close shots and empty camera angles.
In two hours of commentary, there are bound to be repetitions that slip in, for instance talking about high angled shots or the fact that the Tucker house looks a little bit like his home in Napa.
    Many creative film details are shared. Coppola originally conceived Tucker as a musical.
Bridges actually broke his hand in a scene he explodes at the car in frustration. The music played by the band  at the Tucker debut is a march written by his father in the forties. There are very few pauses in Coppola's commentary. "I love movies that are what they are about...that the style and the look of them and the way they sound and behave is unique to that particular theme. I think that's why a lot of my own work is different from one piece to another," notes Coppola. It's a pretty good filmmaking philosophy.
     Included in the special edition package is the promotional film on which the film structure is based. Definitely watch this and get some insight into the brilliance of Francis Ford Coppola.
A ten minute short is comprised of interviews done with cast and Coppola and executive producer George Lucas filmed in 1988 and brief scenes from the film.





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