Dead Letter Office Review
The Dead Letter Office is a place where letters which cannot be delivered go: those addressed to Santa Claus or the Baby Jesus, or to people who have died, or moved without leaving a forwarding contact. When Alice (Miranda Otto) wrote to her absent father throughout her childhood, that’s what was stamped on them when they were returned unopened. She thinks her best chance of finding him would be to have a job at the Dead Letter Office. The man in charge is Frank Lopez (George Delhoyo), an expatriate Chilean…
From an original screenplay by Deb Cox,Dead Letter Office, its unusual setting and serious undertones apart, is still a standard romantic comedy. We have two characters who we know will get together, however unlikely this may seem when we first meet them…the film is about how they get together. Both of them have issues they need to deal with: the absence of Alice’s father, and the fate of Frank’s family back home under Pinochet’s regime. That’s unusually sombre subject matter for a film like this, which makes it less a comedy than that dire word “dramedy”. On the other hand, the film risks trivialising this material, and I’m not sure that Dead Letter Office entirely succeeds in avoiding this. More importantly, the film runs out of steam in its final half-hour. Miranda Otto has proved herself a talented actress before and since, and she does a good job of carrying this film. It’s a pity that nowadays – following her role as Eowyn in Lord of the Rings - she gets to turn up in a basically nothing part in the likes of War of the Worlds. I hadn’t seen Uruguayan-American actor George Delhoyo before – this appears to be his only feature film, amidst a lot of television work – but he’s effective here. Miranda Otto’s father, Barry Otto, appears in a small role towards the end.
Co-produced by the BBC, Dead Letter Office had a showing at the London Film Festival but bypassed cinema and DVD release to have its British premiere on television. It’s not unpleasant, but not groundbreaking either, and its DVD incarnation (encoded for Region 4 only) is hardly essential.
First of all, although it’s in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the transfer is not anamorphically enhanced. For a disc released in 2003, that’s hard to excuse, but then and now non-widescreen DVDs to still get released on the Australian market. The news isn’t all bad: for a non-anamorphic transfer this is quite good, colourful with good shadow detail. There’s a little softness, and some artefacting which could perhaps have been avoided with anamorphic enhancement.
The soundtrack is Dolby Surround, though this is basically a mono mix, with separation and surround used only for Roger Mason’s music score. No problems with the dialogue, which is just as well considering that the only subtitles are fixed ones translating some Spanish dialogue. There are no subtitles for the hard of hearing. Sixteen chapter stops.
The extras are basic EPK material. The major one is a series of interviews, each consisting of short answers to captioned questions. The interviewees are John Ruane (6:10), Miranda Otto (6:42), George Delhoyo (5:09), Deb Cox (3:03), producer Denise Patience (4:33), cinematographer Ellery Ryan (2:38) and production designer Chris Kennedy (0:58). Some of the questions become repetitive: “What’s the story of Dead Letter Office?” comes up several times. In addition, there is a twelve-image stills gallery, and the theatrical trailer (2:26).