With Michael Stipe attached as one of its producers you would expect Saved! to move beyond the teen movie norm. Certainly, at its most basic level this is a film which targets religious fundamentalism, specifically that of Christians. Centring around the pupils at the middle American Mountain Eagle high school, it focuses on Mary (Jena Malone) and her move into unwed teenage pregnancy, the result of trying to “save” her gay boyfriend (Chad Faust). Yet outside of this comparatively outlandish set-up, Saved! is a through-and-through teen movie with all the attendant clichés and stereotypes. Mandy Moore, for example, encapsulates the bitchy blonde; Patrick Fugit the bland male love interest; Eva Amurri the “cool” rebel. And then there’s Malone in the lead who, despite her character’s predicament, has to remove any possible rough edges in order to be as accessible as possible (and as such is a good deal less engaging than she was in Donnie Darko).
Such an approach is indicative of two things: firstly it demonstrates just how underwritten the film is beyond some choice one-liners (“You’re not born a gay - you’re born again”; when asked why Malone would be at a family planning clinic, Macaulay Culkin’s character replies, in all honesty, “she’s planning a pipe bomb?”), and secondly, it proves that the film isn’t too sure of where to stand. The use of voice-over, a female lead and the presence of Martin Donovan (whose athletic flip into a school assembly will surely delight - and surprise - fans of his low key Hal Hartley performances) recalls Don Roos’ The Opposite of Sex, yet Saved! can’t quite bring itself to engage in that film’s level of bile, let alone to an extent on a par with Todd Solondz’s works (which also spring to mind courtesy of Heather Matarazzo in largely superfluous supporting role). Indeed, director and co-writer Brian Dannelly, for all his attempted satire, also wants to have a prom night finale and even an AOR-scored shopping trip montage.
However, the impression Saved! gives is not one of compromise during the post-production. Rather it seems to be a problem with underdevelopment. The satirical elements appear almost tacked on to the more conventional teen plotting, but more fatally Dannelly refuses to take a stance on religion, as though he is afraid to offend anybody. The pot shots, though often amusing, are too broad to inflict any real damage and of course nobody gets truly hurt during the film’s duration in order to ensure a happy ending. The most telling moment comes at the conclusion of Malone’s voice-over: she asks herself the same questions of religion that the film has been asking, but proves unable to provide any answers. Saved! does likewise, instead leaving anything remotely complicated, or indeed confrontation, for the audience’s minds.
Saved! looks and sounds perfectly fine on disc and has been granted an anamorphic transfer and a DD5.1 mix. Neither truly impresses, yet this is owing to the film itself rather than any faults of the disc’s manufacture. The cinematography is distinctly ordinary whilst the soundtrack is dialogue heavy with only a smattering of MOR song selections.
With regards to extras, Saved! has been granted special edition treatment for its UK release and as such is near identical to the region 1 (the only difference being the lack of trailers for other releases, though this is no great loss). Sadly, despite a reasonable amount of supplementary features, there is nothing here that proves genuinely worthwhile.
Two commentaries are on offer, the first featuring director Brian Dannelly plus producer Sandy Stern and his co-writer Andrew Urban. The problem with this track is that the trio are constantly talking over and interrupting each other meaning that there is little flow and each contribution never progresses beyond a sentence or two. As such the levels of insight never progress beyond that of an EPK, plus the general tone of the piece is largely humourless.
Equally po-faced is the second commentary, this one by actors Mandy Moore and Jena Malone. The pair prove too uncomfortable and polite during their chat making for a dull listen. Again, little in the way of insight is provided, rather every moment they touch upon is met by either a “gosh” or an “awesome”.
The featurette, a four-minute piece entitled ‘Heaven Help Us’, follows a similar pattern, padding out the theatrical trailer (also present on the disc) with puff piece EPK interviews and once again telling us the bare minimum about the film.
The remaining extras consist of deleted material in the form of alternative and extended scenes, a blooper reel and some “revelations”. The former often add only mere seconds onto the existing scenes and thus prove largely inconsequential, whilst the latter does likewise but contains material that was cut by the filmmakers in order to guarantee a PG-13 certificate. The result is again of little consequence though the DVD has had its certificate raised to a 15.