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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Slumdog Millionaire [Blu-ray]

 

(Danny Boyle, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Fox Searchlight, Warner Bros., Celador Films & Film 4

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A

Runtime: 120 min

Chapters: 28

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 31st, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 28 Mbps

 

Audio:

English/Hindi DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish & French

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Director Danny Boyle and Actor Dev Patel

• Audio Commentary with Writer Simon Beaufoy and Producer Christian Colson

• Slumdog Dreams: Making of Slumdog Millionaire with Danny Boyle (22:58)

• Slumdog Countdown (5:36)

• 12 Deleted Scenes (33:51)

• From Script to Screen: The

• Indian Short Film:

• Theatrical Trailer in HD (2:07)

• European Theatrical Trailer in SD (1:57)

• Digital Copy Disc

 

 

The Film:

I wonder if part of Slumdog Millionaire's popularity worldwide and with the Academy voters was not effected by the legacy of George Bush: who not only made possible, perhaps inevitable, the election of Barack Obama, but he may have opened the doors even further to a sympathy in the best sense for the goings on over on the other side of the planet. In any case, the movie did bloody well at Oscar time, winning statues for Picture, Director, Original Score and Song, and Adapted Screenplay, as it did equally impressively at the Golden Globes and BAFTA. Though primarily in English, a good deal of the movie is in Hindi, with subtitles. The music and songs are Indian as well and offer a color and vivacity most Westerners are unaccustomed to.

The Movie: 8
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is poised to win huge on India's edition of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" There is one more question remaining when the show takes a break for a day – just long enough for Jamal to be arrested on suspicion of fraud. Somehow, it is reasoned that an uneducated "chai wallah" – a waiter, if you will, from the slums of Bombay, could possibly know the answers to questions that would have stumped experts. (It's not that they're all that difficult so much as varied and remote.) Jamal is tortured with water-dunking and electric shock but he does not admit to cheating. Eventually the inspector gives up on the hard stuff and asks him to review, question by question, how he came to know the answers. In so doing, Writer Simon Beaufoy and Director Danny Boyle take us back to Jamal's childhood in the slums of Bombay, his escape into the world with his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) who eventually becomes a gangster, his rescue of Latika (Frieda Pinto), his adolescence as a talented con artist. All the while, through several dramatic separations, Jamal never forgets Latika, with whom he is determined to be reunited.

 


 

Image: 7/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

As processed for theatrical exhibition, the image for Slumdog Millionaire is highly desaturated and contrasty, as if shot with a strong curry filter that soaks up detail in the bargain. I took it that Boyle wanted to be careful not to make the slums of Bombay seem in any way colorful, as if to say "This is not Brazil!" Quite the contrary, we are offered the impression of a sort of desert or a city after Armageddon – something like Road Warrior – only teeming with people. As Jamal ages and his circumstances improve a bit color does return, but it's never naturalistic. Occasionally we get a close-up with enough skin to be able to tell that the image quality is good, but don't expect lushness or any semblance of demonstration resolution material here. The bit rate is satisfactory, if not high, but I doubt the material would benefit from anything higher. Artifacts and enhancements are either not present or of no consequence considering the nature of the source picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 8/9
The soundtrack comes to life every time the music comes up, and when it does appear we are thrust right in the middle of it. The music is clear, dynamic, joyous, percussive and infectious. It is perhaps the main aspect of the movie that let's us know that this is not going to be merely a grim look at the miseries of India, though it is that often enough. Dialogue is clear with either language. Ambiance is also important and is worked out carefully and subtly in the mix – a good use of lossless here.

 

Operations: 5
For some reason, Fox insists that we punch our way through the promos on this disc just like the old days. And I'm not a fan of special features that appear one at a time at the bottom of the screen, though it works well enough for the scene selection in this case. I'd rather see them all in one go and decide where I want to start. Otherwise everything works nicely on the Blu-ray. The English subtitles that appear on the film for the Hindi don't work for me. They are thin and yet intrusive. Not the fault of the transfer.

 

 

 

Extras: 6
Two commentaries: one with the director and star, and the other with the writer and producer. Beaufoy and Colson discuss the tone of the film, how it proceeds from the book upon which the story is based, and the "notes" from the Indian government that insisted on certain constraints. They are reflective as they re-watch the film, and not uncritical of their movie, which speaks well of them, as for instance when they admit that there was a certain level of comedy in the torture scene that looked like it would work on the printed page but didn't play as such in the finished film. Beaufoy talks about the title ("slumdog" being made up for the movie), the idea of the "Three Musketeers" which is not a book readily known in India, how the brothers are differentiated – the one entrepreneurial and bent on revenge, the other persevering and generous - and how the various bits of Hindi play out in translation. Their conversation is a bit intermittent allowing us to take in their points as we watch the movie.

The lighthearted commentary with Danny Boyle and Dev Patel concentrates on various aspects of production: locations, photography and setups (including shooting in and around the Taj Mahal), the politics of the slums and religious violence from the point of view of the child characters and actors, casting and character development, directing children, stunts, how the music is melded into the story – in and out of the Millionaire set and the flashbacks - and the amusing tale of peanut butter & chocolate. (Funnily enough their voices, which you would expect to be dramatically differentiated, are not that much so as they engage each other, especially when Danny follows Dev.) It was interesting comparing Simon's remarks about the Orfeus scene with Danny's.

All the other bonus features, with the exception of the main theatrical trailer are in standard definition. The Making-of piece which, in the hands of Danny Boyle, has more vitality that your usual EPK segment, looks good, but the short film "Manjha" is dark and murky (I found it nearly unwatchable) and the "Bombay Liquid Dance" is less than handsome. Too bad, really, since both of these have content worthy of being properly worked on before committing to video.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
Image quality aside – in the case of the feature film, the result of post-processing and not the transfer; in the case of the extra features, a lack of will I guess – one cannot but recommend the Blu-ray for the movie and the soundtrack and the fun of Danny's & Dev's commentary.

Leonard Norwitz
March 29th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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