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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Clint Eastwood
Cast:
Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman, Jay Baruchel, Mike Colter, Lucia Rijker, Brian F. O'Byrne, Anthony Mackie, Margo Martindale, Riki Lindhome
Writing Credits:
F.X. Toole (stories), Paul Haggis

Synopsis:
"I don't train girls", trainer Frankie Dunn growls. But something's different about the spirited boxing hopeful who shows up daily at Dunn's gym. All she wants is a fighting chance. Clint Eastwood plays Dunn and directs, produces and composes music for this acclaimed, multi-award-winning tale of heart, hope and family. Hilary Swank plays resilient Maggie, determined not to abandon her one dream. And Morgan Freeman is Scrap, gym caretaker and counterpoint to Dunn's crustiness. Grab your dreams and come out swinging.

Box Office:
Budget
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$179.953 thousand on 8 screens.
Domestic Gross
$100.422 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 7/12/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• Trailer
Disc Two
• “Born to Fight” Featurette
• “The Producers’ Round 15” Featurette
• “James Lipton Takes on Three” Featurette
Disc Three
• CD Soundtrack


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RELATED REVIEWS


Million Dollar Baby: Deluxe Edition (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2005)

Sometimes I really believe that there is such a thing as a “make good” Oscar. This theory postulates that sometimes an award recipient gets a prize as a concession to a prior work that failed to take home the gold. For instance, Renee Zellweger’s Oscar for her cartoony performance in Cold Mountain may have been a concession that she really deserved recognition for her superior turn in Chicago.

Perhaps this is why 2004’s Million Dollar Baby won the Best Picture Oscar over a list of stronger contenders. Clint Eastwood directed it, and he also made 2003’s Mystic River, the flick many thought should have beaten The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for Best Picture. Ironically, King itself was seen as a “make good” Oscar since many interpreted its prize as an attempt to reward the entire trilogy but not the specific film itself.

Whatever the case may be, I remain convinced that Baby was an undeserving Best Picture winner. The film introduces us to Frankie Dunn (Eastwood), the owner of a grimy old gym where he trains boxers. Elderly former fighter Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) acts as caretaker for the joint as well. Frankie manages up-and-comer “Big Willie” (Mike Colter), a solid boxer who gets an offer for a title bout. However, the cautious Frankie turns down this opportunity because he thinks Willie still needs two or three more tune-up fights before he’s ready.

Frankie’s promised Willie the same thing for quite a while, however, which makes the boxer think his shot will never come – at least not as long as he stays with Frankie. Because of that, Willie eventually leaves Frankie in the lurch to take on a manager who gets him a big fight.

In the meantime, we see activities back at the gym. In addition to Scrap, its denizens include a scrawny mentally challenged boxer wannabe named “Danger” Barch (Jay Baruchel). He fantasizes about prize fights with Tommy Hearns even though that pugilist hasn’t been champion in years. Scrap takes care of Danger and humors him, but the boy’s presence in the gym irritates some of the regulars, especially mean-spirited and arrogant Shawrelle Berry (Anthony Mackie).

Into this world steps rising fighter Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank). She got into the boxing game late in life – at 31, she’s almost over the hill – but she shows promise and wants Frankie to train her. He refuses to work with her, though his attitude doesn’t dissuade her and she continues to work out at the gym. Won over by her persistence, Scrap lends her a hand when he can.

Eventually Maggie’s persistence wins out and Frankie agrees to train her. He maintains a desire to keep his distance, though, as he promises to teach her the ropes and send her on her way to someone else. Along the way, the pair grow closer, and this relationship becomes the main focus along with Maggie’s increasing success as a fighter.

When I saw Baby theatrically, I left the screening irritated. The film garnered so much effusive praise that I didn’t think it merited. Simple and heavy-handed, the movie left me cold.

However, I realized that I went into the flick with certain expectations. Sometimes I get a better perspective when I watch a movie a second time and I can then better see its charms.

Too bad that didn’t happen with Baby. On second viewing, I thought it seemed just as flawed as the first time through it. While not without its positives, the movie demonstrates way too many significant problems to be so highly regarded.

Note that this area of the discussion may present some spoilers, so if you want to avoid those, skip ahead to the technical ratings!

My biggest concerns stem from the superficial qualities of most characters. Only Frankie comes across as an actual full-blooded human being. He displays real subtlety and depth, primarily via his haunted past. We know he did something major to hurt and alienate his daughter, and clearly this continues to affect him. It also seems to have made him excessively cautious, as though he avoids entanglements so he doesn’t hurt or get hurt again. The film occasionally telegraphs Frankie’s issues, but it leaves enough to the imagination to make him a three-dimensional personality.

Unfortunately, the other main characters don’t get the same consideration. Maggie displays two moods. Usually she’s golly-gee-whiz chipper and determined. Occasionally she reflects her own hurt, primarily due to the pain inflicted on her by her uncaring family. Maggie loved her dead dad, but her mom and siblings have done nothing but cause her pain.

Oh, the Fitzgerald family! What a cartoony conglomeration they make! Trailer trash so nasty they’d look more at home in a John Waters movie, I get the feeling Eastwood gave the actors one piece of direction: “Think Jerry Springer!” These rednecks would look right at home on tabloid TV but they seem badly out of place in the real world Baby purports to portray.

But back to Maggie. Swank took home an Oscar for her role, and that just stuns me. Granted, the actress does her best to develop Maggie into a real personality, but she can’t overcome the shackles placed on her by the one-dimensional writing. Maggie’s a determined hick with little personality beyond that.

Similar constraints make Scrap a weak character. I love Morgan Freeman and I’m happy he finally took home an Oscar. Why couldn’t it have been for a good role like the one he played in Seven? Frankly, he exists as a plot device. He brings together Maggie and Frankie, and he also acts as the latter’s conscience. Scrap is little more than Jiminy Cricket come to life, and that just isn’t much of a character.

The rest of the world comes chock full of even less defined roles. In addition to the idiotic Fitzgerald clan, we get Danger, who essentially is the Chicken Hawk from Looney Tunes come to life. Danger’s even more of a plot device than Scrap. Heck, Danger exists solely so Scrap gets the audience-pleasing moment when he clocks Shawrelle.

Then there’s Billie “The Blue Bear”. I’ve not seen a boxer so overtly villainous since Drago from Rocky IV! She displays no more humanity than that Soviet robot and her path is laid out even more obviously. With all her dirty tricks, does it surprise anyone when she seriously injures Maggie?

Which leads to the movie’s other major flaw: all its plot gaps, telegraphed concepts and leaps in logic. Billie gets away with an awful lot during her bout, and then we’re supposed to believe she wins anyway! Thousands of witnesses saw her violate the rules, but apparently this fight occurs in pro wrestling world where combatants get away with everything as long as the ref doesn’t see it.

Maggie’s fate comes as absolutely no surprise either. Much has been made about the film’s controversial ending, but we could see it coming from a mile away when Maggie talks about how her daddy had to put down an old dog. We get it: when she can’t live up to her peak anymore, she wants to die. Go ahead and kill her already to make this nonsense end.

I could go on about the inconsistencies and idiocies, but I’ll stop there before I work myself into a lather. One can argue that I’m a hypocrite because I’ll accept stupidity and much bigger flaws in a movie like Independence Day but then I pick on something like Baby. The difference comes from how high each flick sets the bar. ID4 is nothing more than a moronic popcorn flick, but Baby aspires to be something more. Too bad it falls far short of those goals.

Though not without some charms – primarily the warm interaction between Eastwood and Freeman - I thought Baby was too much like a damned TV movie. It had too many obvious plot points spelled out too far in advance and too clumsily. The film presents exceedingly little depth or nuance as it bashes us over the head with its themes. This doesn’t make for a satisfying movie.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+

Million Dollar Baby appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. No problems emerged during this fine transfer.

Sharpness always appeared very positive. Even during extreme wide shots, I found the image to remain nicely crisp and well defined. At no point did I discern any signs of softness or fuzziness in this tight picture. Jagged edges and shimmering created no concerns, and I noticed virtually no edge enhancement. Print flaws also seemed absent.

Baby featured a fairly quiet and stylized palette to match the subdued subject matter. The tones tended toward light greens and blues, though a little more vivacity emerged in boxing sequences. The DVD replicated the visual design nicely, as the colors always appeared the way they were intended to look. Black levels also came across as dense and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively heavy. Overall, Baby provided a strong visual experience.

In addition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Million Dollar Baby served the movie nicely. As one might expect, the majority of the audio tended toward general environmental material. Music demonstrated excellent stereo imaging, and the effects spread out the information well. Boxing scenes worked the best, as they added dimensionality from the crowd and other elements. Gym scenes were also solid since they broadened out to present a natural feel. The rear speakers contributed a fine sense of atmospherics throughout the flick, and they were quite active when appropriate.

Audio quality seemed very good. At all times, dialogue came across as concise and crisp. I noticed no problems with edginess or intelligibility, as the lines always sounded smooth. Music was appropriately bright and dynamic, as the score and songs seemed nicely reproduced. Effects were also clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion. Bass response pounded well when necessary, such as during the aforementioned panic attacks; the low-end really kicked in solidly. Overall, the soundscape lacked the ambition to enter “A”-level, but the mix earned a firm “B+”. The mix was involving without being showy, and that made sense for this sort of film.

As a three-disc set, fans might get excited about Million Dollar Baby. They shouldn’t, as it comes light on supplements.

Disc One includes no extras other than the film’s trailer. I don’t think actor/director Clint Eastwood’s ever recorded an audio commentary, and I guess he didn’t choose to start here.

Three supplements appear on Disc Two. We start with a 19-minute and 11-second featurette called Born to Fight. It presents movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and comments from Eastwood and actors Hilary Swank, Lucia Rijker, Jay Baruchel, Anthony Mackie and Morgan Freeman. They discuss the characters and the story, personal reflections, training and the boxing scenes, and general remarks.

Don’t expect much meat from “Fight”. Do expect spoilers, so if you’ve not seen the movie yet, avoid this program. Mostly the show includes fairly bland notes about the main personalities and the plot. These usually lack insight. Really, Rijker’s comments are the only good ones. She tells us some interesting boxing tales and a personal story about her past. Otherwise, this is a dull piece.

Next we find The Producers’ Round 15. It goes for 13 minutes and offers information from producers Albert S. Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg, and producer/screenwriter Paul Haggis. They go into the movie’s origins and development, casting and Eastwood’s involvement, the director’s style and shooting the film, and reactions to the film’s success. “Producers” easily accomplishes more than its predecessor. It provides a reasonably informative look at the flick and presents actual substance. It’s still too short and never becomes special, but at least it doesn’t waste our time.

Disc Two finishes with James Lipton Takes on Three. This show fills 24 minutes and 40-second and features Lipton’s post-Oscars roundtable chat with Eastwood, Freeman and Swank. They chat about the movie’s reception, why they chose to work on the flick and its script. Improvisation, the start to Swank’s career and her approach to Maggie, her injuries during the shoot, acting together, Freeman’s dancing past and his take on Scrap, influences, Eastwood’s techniques on the set, and the movie’s voiceover.

In regard to its quality, “Three” falls between the other two programs. It certainly betters the superficiality of “Fight” but it lacks the concise coverage of “Producers”. Lipton is such a fawning, obsequious presence that he gets on my nerves, and he doesn’t ask questions that prompt great information. Nonetheless, enough decent data emerges to make the show watchable and sporadically informative.

Over on Disc Three, we get the flick’s soundtrack CD. As was the case with Mystic River, this includes Eastwood’s score for the film. If you like movie music, this is a good extra. If you don’t, it’s a waste of time. It doesn’t do much to compensate for the paucity of supplements elsewhere in the package, though.

Maybe I'll watch Million Dollar Baby again someday and decide I was totally wrong - it's happened. But based on my two screenings, I scratch my head about all the praise. It was simplistic, obvious and heavy-handed. Sideways was the only subtle and nuanced film of the 2004 Best Picture nominees, and it should have won.

As a DVD, Baby satisfies where it matters most. Both picture and audio quality appear top-notch. Unfortunately, it skimps on substantial extras, especially if you don’t care about the soundtrack CD. Note that a two-disc version also exists; it retails for $10 less than this one’s $39.98; without the soundtrack, I’d give the release a “C-“ for supplements. If you want the CD, I’m sure it’s worth the extra bucks, but most people will be happy with the two-disc version.

If you’re new to the movie, I’d rent it first. As a Best Picture winner, Million Dollar Baby has the historical standing to warrant a screening. I just don’t think it merits its success.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0609 Stars Number of Votes: 82
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