A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762 (as part of “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films”) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 21, 2015 by  


If you are passionate about theater and seeing film adaptations based on plays, but also being a fan of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s work, “A Master Builder” is another recommended film on Blu-ray but also another recommendation of why one should purchase the “Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray set.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762 (as part of “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films”)


DURATION: 127 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1/2:35:1 aspect ratio, Color, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English SDH


RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Based on the play “The Master Builder” by Henrik Ibsen

Written by Wallace Shawn

Executive Producer: Ronald M. Bozman, Scott Griffin, Jordan Tappis, Beau Willimon

Co-Executive Producer: Caroline Baron, Annette Solakoglu, Kemal Solakoglu, Anthony Weintraub

Produced by Rocco Caruso, Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn

Associate Producer: Shane Bissett

Cinematography by Declan Quinn

Edited by Tim Squyres

Production Design by Eugene Lee

Art Direction by E. David Cosier

Set Decoration by Kris Moran

Costume Design by Dona Granata


Wallace Shawn as Halvard Solness

Julie Hagerty as Aline Solness

Lisa Joyce as Hilde Wangel

Larry Pine as Dr. Herdal

Andre Gregory as Knut Brobik

Jeff Biehl as Ragnar Brovik

Winsome Brown as Nurse

Emily Cass McDonnell as Kaia Fosli

Twenty years after their brilliant cinema-theater experiment Vanya on 42nd Street, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic film version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen’s Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness). Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme, this compellingly abstract reimagining features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary but tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past, most acutely an attractive, vivacious young woman (the breathtaking newcomer Lisa Joyce) who has appeared on his doorstep. Also featuring standout supporting performances by Julie Hagerty, Larry Pine, and Gregory, A Master Builder, like Vanya, is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.


In 2013, twenty years since “Vanya on 42nd Street”, actors/writers Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn have come together once again for a new film collaboration.

Featuring an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1892 play “The Master Builder”, the film was directed by Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”, “Philadelphia”, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “Rachel Getting Marrie”).

The film would star Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride” and “Toy Story” films), Julie Hagerty (“Airplane!”, “She’s the Man”, “Just Friends”), Lisa Joyce (“The Messenger”, “The Bravy One”, “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight”), Larry Pine (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Moonrise Kingdom”, “Vanya on 42nd Street”), Emily Cass McDonnell (“Before It Had a Name”, Marie & Bruce”) and Andre Gregory (“Demolition Man”, “My Dinner with Andre”, “The Last Temptation of Christ”).

And the film would be released in a Blu-ray box set titled “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” which also includes “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) and “Vanya on 42nd Street” (1984).

The film revolves around an Halvard Solness (portrayed by Wallace Shawn), an aging architect who is known for his success and reputation.

Married to Aline Solness (portrayed by Julie Hagerty), he receives a visit from his friend Knut Brok (portrayed by Andre Gregory) and his friend Ragnar to get back to business, despite being in sick health and lying in bed.

He then receives a visit from Dr. Herdal (portrayed by Larry Pine) who listens to Solness’ complaints, until they are visited by a young woman named Hilde Wangel.

While Solness doesn’t remember the young lady, Hilde reminds him of how they know each other.

At the age of 14, Solness came to her family’s party and kissed her on the lips, promised her a “castle in the sky” and that he would return in ten years time.

But because Solness has forgotten about her and that she will forever remember how he changed her life, she has returned to make sure that he makes good on his promise to her.



“A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). The film features a good amount of grain and because it was shot with a super 16mm, has a good amount of grain and clarity is quite evident for this film in HD as skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep and no signs of DNR or any problematic issues such as scratches, jitter, etc.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the film was shot with an Arri Alexa in 2K ARRIRAW format and a Sony XDCAM PW-EX3 camera in 1920 x 1080 format, and the production was completed in a fully digital workflow.  The DPX files were color corrected in 1920 x 1080 resolution on a DaVinci Resolve.”


As for the lossless audio, “A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 .  The film is primarily dialogue-driven and is crystal clear.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the film features a fully digital soundtrack.  The 5.1 surround audio for this released was mastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.”


“A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762” comes with the following special features:

  • The Ibsen Project– (33:41) Film critic David Edelstein talks to director Jonathan Demme, actor Andre Gregory and actor-writer Wallace Shawn about the making of “A Master Builder”.
  • Hilde and Aline – (33:09) Actors Lisa Joyce and Julie Hagerty discuss their roles in “A Master Builder”.
  • Over Time – (52:52) Writer Fran Lebowitz talks to Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn about their long collaboration.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “A Master Builder”.


“A Master Builder – The Criterion Collection #762” comes with a six-page fold-out insert with the essay “Ibsen in Nyack” by Michael Sragow.


“A Master Builder” is a fascinating look in the life of a master builder and his life full of regrets.

The phrase “the grass is not always greener on the other side” applies to the main character of the film portrayed by actor Wallace Shawn.

While the original play deals with a subject matter about the troubled relationships of the Master Builder with his wife and the people close to him, the finale differs from the original play and the movie, both with finality but both with different approaches to a primary character seeking redemption.

Director Jonathan Demme and Writer Wallace Shawn were able to modernize Henrik Ibsen’s play and give a contemporary spin and similar to “Vanya on 42nd Street”, it’s a story that easily can be relevant in today’s world and a relevant topic that even audiences can sympathize with.

Things from our past can easily haunt us later in life but how one confronts those demons is important and in this film, the way the Master Builder is able to confront the dark areas of his life but also seeing the light thanks to a younger woman who is able to talk to him and also revitalize him and his mindset.

And in order for this film to work, you need wonderful performances and over 30-years later since “My Dinner with Andre” and over 20-years later after “Vanya on 42nd Street”, Wallace Shawn’s performance continues to shine.  His role as the sick, aging, egotistical, defiant older man (which many could compare to Ebenezer Scrooge), while Lisa Joyce provides synergy as the young woman Hilde Wangel that changes the Master Builder’s life and mindset.  Shawn’s ability to feed off of Joyce’s enthusiasm and emotions works amazingly well in the film.

While Andre Gregory is not featured in the film prominently (as he was not seen prominently in “Vanya on 42nd Street”), behind-the-scenes, especially leading up to the making of the film, it was Gregory who recommended “The Master Builder” and it was due to the collaboration between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, who worked on “A Master Builder” a year after “Vanya on 42nd Street” in developing the script, before the film began pre-production in 2012 with Jonathan Demme set to direct the film.

As for the Blu-ray release, the film is shot digitally and the picture quality is fantastic and is the better looking of the three films on Blu-ray.  Lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue but it’s the Blu-ray release that has wonderful special features that delves into the making of the film but most importantly, the working relationship between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn.

While I believe there are still more years to feature even more collaboration between Gregory and Shawn, it is wonderful to have the Criterion Collection honoring the working collaboration of both men in the release of “Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films”.

If you are passionate about theater and seeing film adaptations based on plays, but also being a fan of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s work, “A Master Builder” is another recommended film on Blu-ray but also another recommendation of why one should purchase the “Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray set.  Recommended!

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