Michael Scott

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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase


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Movie: :3stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :3.5stars:
Extras: :2stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:



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Movie

I’m not exactly (too) embarrassed to say that I read pretty much all of the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a child. Well, at least the original 56 films from the 30s up to the 60s. The later adventures were past my time as an avid reader when I was much more interested in cute girls and watching movies. But I still remember most of the books like they were yesterday and was actually rather curious to see them adapt Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. Especially when it starred Sophia Lillis, who did such an amazing job in the new iteration of IT.

As a rabid fan of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy books my OCD went into overdrive. For those who weren’t aware, the Nancy Drew series was created by book publishers and were ghost written by a variety of authors over the years (at least 6 authors are credited for the first 56 books, with Mildred Wirt Benson penning 23 of them) under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene”. Original started in the 1930s, the original books starred Nancy as the teenage sleuth, with the help of her friends Bess and George (who actually weren’t IN “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase”, but were revised back into the first few books in the 1960s when they were rewritten), and occasionally her boyfriend Ned. Interestingly enough, this movie doesn’t go back to the beginning to bring Nancy Drew into the 21st century, but adapts the 2nd book of the series instead.

Produced by Ellen Degeneres, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase feels a lot like an Ellen Degeneres show. It’s got plenty of snark, social commentary, and attempts at witty commentary that has the film careening all over the place in terms of tone. We see Nancy early on in her career as a teenage sleuth, but it tries to modernize the character a bit too much, and seems to come from someone who’s not really sure what the youth of today actually are in terms of “voice”. Nancy is more of a juvenile delinquent, getting revenge on other students for making fun of Bess (Mackenzie Graham), and mouthing off to the police chief with a smug “I’m a teenager and I know better than the stupid adults” type of attitude. When Nancy gets in trouble for causing thousands of dollars of damage in her prank “revenge”, shes’ forced to do community service. While there, she hears a complaint to the police chief from Flora Corning about a haunting in her house.
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Not willing to let a good mystery go to waste, Nancy Drew offers to take up the case when the police chief rolls his eyes and thinks Flora (Linda Lavin) is a bit crazy. However, the deeper Nancy digs the more she finds out that there’s more to meets the eye, and very well may curve into a case that her attorney father, Carson Drew (Sam Trammell, most notable for playing Sam Merlotte on True Blood), is involved in. In typical Nancy Drew fashion, the “ghost” is not a ghost at all, but a hidden staircase full of booby traps and special effects that seems to be an effort to drive Flora insane.

I wanted to like Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase more than I did, but the tone is completely uneven, and the modernization of the source material feels a bit too sloppy. It’s very obvious they were aiming for “The Future is Female” crowd, but it’s done with such a disrespectful mischaracterization of the original source material that it feels less like a Nancy Drew mystery, and more like a mean spirited version of Mean Girls meets Nancy Drew.

Honestly Sophia Lillis has talent coming out of her eyeballs, and she’s a bit wasted in the role as Nancy due to the writing. Bess and George are snarky and rather bland, with the only other person who’s really fleshed out being Helen Corning (a character who helps Nancy throughout her mysteries, but was only really a prominent character when the 1960s rewrites came into effect), which almost feels insanely out of place, as all the girls in the film are played teenage actresses, while Helen is played by Laura Wiggins, who is 31 years old. A fact that is pretty obviously just looking at her, despite her baby face and twig frame.




Rating:

Rated PG for peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and language




Video: :4stars:

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Originally shot in 1.85:1, Warner has done their typical thing of opening up the framing just a hair and releasing the home video in 1.78:1. Shot digitally (very obviously), the film looks quite glossy and American Girl like in style and look. Outdoor shots feature bright colors, with neon pinks, bright reds, greens, blues and various other shades. Interior shots are more dimly lit, with ambers, wood colors and various darker shades with a little less saturation. One thing I noticed that was odd about the production is just how high the white levels are in the film. The contrast and white levels are boosted so high that it makes the skin tones look pale and white, and the film’s slightly soft look only is amplified with that visual technique to the point of obfuscating facial details. Background usually look good, but faces are smooth and pale, which is especially noticeable on Sophia Lillis, who’s abundant freckles are nearly nonexistent unless you REALLY look closely at the image.






Audio: :4stars:
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The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track for Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is a perfectly acceptable track, but one that is exceedingly front heavy for a majority of the film. I noticed the surrounds kick in with the score, as well as a few instances in Aunt Flora’s house, but for most of the movie the front of the room is where 95% of the sound activity lies. The sounds of River Heights is amply replicated, with Nancy crashing her way through the city unimpeded, as and the low end gets a few thumps and booms from the pop music songs throughout. There’s a few instances during the “haunting” that gets the subs to chime in, but other than those fleeting moments the bass is pretty reserved and only comes out for music. Dialog is crisp and clean, but and mains take over all the real heavy lifting, with the before mentioned surrounds getting very little to do.




Extras: :2stars:
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A Sleuth, A Girl and an Inspiration - Featurette
• Pink Footprints: Touring Twin Elms - Featurette
• Gag Reel









Final Score: :3.5stars:

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase isn’t a train wreck, as there are some genuinely “Nancy Drew” type moments throughout the film, but this feels way too childish for it’s own good. The series was a kids book series, but they were written as enjoyable bits of entertainment that took Nancy’s role as an amateur detective seriously. Something the movie has a really hard time doing properly. The characters are there, but Nancy feels like an Anachronism in her own movie, as she and her friends feel like 2019 characters, while the idyllic town of River Heights feels very 1950s Leave it to Beaver ish. The Blu-ray itself is well done, with good video, solid audio and a mild array of extras to enjoy. If you’re looking for a teen or pre-teen babysitter movie for young girls this one may hit the spot, but as a Nancy Drew film, the movie has it’s fair share of hurdles to overcome. Rental is my recommendation.




Technical Specifications:

Starring: Sophia Lillis, Zoe Renee, Mackenzie Graham, Andrea Anders, Laura Wiggins, Sam Trammell, Linda Lavin
Directed by: Kat Shea
Written by: Nina Fiore, John Herrera, Carolyn Keene (Novels)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Studio: Warner
Rated: PG
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 2nd, 2019






Recommendation: Rental

 

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. My kids may like this so will see once on amazon prime/netflix. :)
 

Todd Anderson

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Can't do it.
 
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