Freedom Writers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though never problematic, the transfer wasn’t stellar.
For the most part, sharpness seemed good. I noticed some edge haloes, and the film occasionally came across as a bit soft. Usually I thought the flick was acceptably concise and well-defined, though. I noticed no issues with moiré effects or jagged edges, and the print lacked defects.
At times the movie looked a little too bright, and this affected colors. They were fairly accurate, but the film’s design left them as a little faded on occasion. Still, they were usually fine, and blacks tended to look fine. Shadows were smooth and clean as well. This was a good transfer that lacked a certain special quality.
To my surprise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Freedom Writers offered a pretty involving affair. Music presented particularly good activity, as the score and songs filled the environment well. Effects also opened up matters nicely. Much of the flick stayed chatty, but street and some violent school sequences allowed us into the story’s settings in a satisfying manner.
Some strong audio quality buoyed the material as well. Speech always sounded natural and concise, without edginess or concerns. Music seemed bright and dynamic. The prevalence of hip-hop allowed the subwoofer to come to life well. Effects were a minor participant much of the time, but when brought into the track, they were clear and succinct. I felt very pleased with this positive mix.
Among the DVD’s supplements, we find an audio commentary from writer/director Richard LaGravenese and actor Hilary Swank. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss the adaptation of the book and the use of factual elements, cast, characters and performances, the story and cut sequences, their own high school experiences, music, and other elements of the shoot.
Though the commentary provides a rudimentary look at the production, it suffers from too many of the usual flaws. We get more dead air than I’d expect, and we find tons of happy talk. LaGravenese and Swank praise the film, the actors, the crew, the folks on whom the story is based, and pretty much anyone and anything else that occurs to them. The empty spaces become a particular problem during the film’s second half; the final hour includes precious little actual information. These factors mean that we find a less than invigorating commentary. It gives us some basics but lacks enough to make it truly worthwhile.
Four Deleted Scenes last a total of 11 minutes. The first offers nothing more than a simple extension to an existing classroom scene, while the second shows the class on a field trip to see Schindler’s List - like we really need more Holocaust-related content in the film! The latter does give us another dinner with Erin’s father and the kids, and it shows him open up to them more as well as the negative results of a newspaper article about Erin and the students. Those parts make it somewhat interesting. The third clip shows one student as he bonds with a wealthy benefactor, while the last one offers some insights between Erin and Eva. Except for the first piece, the scenes are surprisingly good.
Three featurettes follow. Making a Dream goes for five minutes, 26 seconds, as it combines movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from recording artist Common and recording artist/producer Will.i.am. They discuss the flick’s title song and its creation. Will also tells us a little about how his school years influenced his involvement. The program doesn’t soar, but it’s a decent exploration of the musical side of things.
Freedom Writers Family fills 19 minutes, 21 seconds with comments from LaGravenese, Swank, teacher/inspiration Erin Gruwell and actors Mario Barrett, Jason Finn, April Hernandez, Gabriel Chavarria, Hunter Parrish, Vanetta Smith, Giovonnie Samuels, and Deance Wyatt. We find out how LaGravenese came onto the project and how it got off the ground, cast, characters and performances, thoughts about Gruwell and her impact on the production, the flick’s message and elements of the shoot.
The segments that spotlight the real Gruwell prove the most interesting. A lot of these add up to praise since they lather up the happy talk for the teacher, but it’s still nice to see a little about the real person behind the flick. A few other good moments emerge, but the tone does lean too far toward generic positivity. It’s a mixed piece that nonetheless has enough good stuff to work.
Next comes the 10-minute and three-second Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story. It includes details from Barrett, Gruwell, LaGravenese, Swank, Finn, Hernandez, Parrish, actor Sergio Montalvo and producer Stacey Sher. The piece looks at the inspirations for the flick and aspects of the story. This doesn’t really tell us a lot, as it comes heavy on movie clips and doesn’t feature much insight.
A Photo Gallery offers a mix of stills. It gives us 64 shots that combine images from the set and from the film. It’s a passable collection without much substance.
In addition to the film’s Trailer, we get some ads at the start of the disc. We find promos for Dreamgirls and Norbit. These also appear in the DVD’s Previews area along with a clip for Transformers.
Well-intentioned but trite, Freedom Writers gives us a very predictable inspirational tale. The film’s disjointed structure doesn’t help, as the movie tries to combine a few different disparate tales all into one. It fails. The DVD offers good picture and audio, while extras are decent but a little too full of happy talk. This is a fairly positive release for a flick that doesn’t manage to stand out within its genre.