Monster’s Ball appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was an erratic presentation.
The biggest problems stemmed from digital tinkering, as the image suffered from obvious examples of both digital noise reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement. It looked like those behind the transfer sucked the detail out of the image via DNR and then tried to fix this with artificial sharpening techniques, a method that left us with prominent edge haloes.
This resulted in a hyper-sharp presentation that would probably look fine on smaller TVs but that suffered on larger sets where the shenanigans became more obvious. Definition looked too sharp and seemed false, like a TV with the “sharpness” setting all the way to the top. The DNR also resulted in unnatural clay-like skin tones.
No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, but we did get some print flaws. These remained minor, but I saw occasional specks and marks. While these failed to become a big issue, a movie of this one’s vintage should’ve been cleaner.
Ball featured a fairly stylized palette, especially during its first half. As the relationship between Hank and Leticia developed, the colors became more natural and realistic. During the earlier portions of the film, though, many of the tones appeared intentionally desaturated, and the jail scenes featured a distinct green cast. In any case, the disc replicated the colors nicely; whether stylized or natural, the hues appeared clear and vivid at all times.
Black levels also came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was decent; some interiors seemed a bit muddy – probably connected to the noise reduction – but they weren’t bad. In the end, the heavy-handed DNR and sharpening techniques made this a disappointment.
While the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Monster’s Ball lacked any significant problems, I gave it a “B” due to its general lack of sonic ambition. The soundfield largely resided in the forward channels. Music displayed good stereo presence, and effects created a modestly engaging level of ambience.
The surrounds usually stayed with general atmosphere, and they only came to life moderately during a few scenes; the execution segment used the rear speakers effectively, as did a rainstorm and a couple of other bits. However, the score and dialogue dominated the film, so don’t expect a lot of effects activity from the sides or surrounds.
Audio quality seemed positive. Dialogue appeared natural and warm, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects sounded accurate and distinct. They presented good depth and fidelity and displayed clear and realistic tones.
Music worked best, as the score seemed vivid and lively. Dynamic range was positive, and bass response appeared deep and tight. Overall, the soundtrack worked fine for the movie.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original 2002 DVD? Audio sounded a bit richer and fuller, while visuals appeared more concise. Even with the problems on display, this was still a step up over the DVD – it just lacked the expected levels of improvement.
The Blu-ray mixes extras from the original DVD and a 2003 reissue. We open with an audio commentary from director Marc Forster and writers Milo Addica and Will Rokos. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/character/script areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, music, editing and connected areas.
The commentary takes on an unusual flavor due to Forster’s participation. While the director throws in some of his own observations, he often acts more as interviewer – and as a needy interviewer at that. Forster peppers the writers with questions about their work but also seems to seek their approval, as he often wants to know what they think of the end result. This creates a commentary with reasonable informational value but not consistency.
Four deleted scenes run a total of four minutes, five seconds. The first of these sheds a little more light on sad little Tyrell and seems moderately interesting. Another depicts Hank as he chats with Lawrence and feels pointless. The other two deal with Hank and Buck, and they appear redundant.
We get a few featurettes. On the Set lasts four minutes, 21 seconds and isn’t really a featurette at all. Instead, it offers a collection of outtakes, all of which show Billy Bob Thornton at his goofiest during the shoot. These aren’t the standard “flub a line and laugh” chum. Instead, we see Thornton as he offers bizarre improvised lines and also plays one scene as his character from Sling Blade. It’s good stuff - we could have used more of it.
Music for the Film takes eight minutes, 20 seconds and gives us interview clips from composers Chris Beaty, Thad Spencer, and Richard Werbowenko as well as director Forster and editor Matt Chesse. We also watch the composers at work in the studio. The program offers a decent look at the musical efforts, as the participants discuss the tone they wanted to achieve. However, the show seems a little thin and doesn’t provide a lot of depth about the subject.
Behind the Scenes with Producer Lee Daniels goes for 18 minutes, 24 seconds and offers info from Daniels. He discusses his movie career, the roots and development of Ball, financing and locating a director, casting, his role in the production, and some connected areas. Daniels offers an open, frank take on the material that gives us a good view of various production topics.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get 19 minutes, 41 seconds of Cast and Director Interviews. We hear from Forster and actors Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, and Sean Combs.We learn about what drew the participants to the project, characters and performances. A few decent notes emerge, but much of the content remains fairly superficial.
What does the Blu-ray lose from the original DVD? It drops two audio commentaries, one from Forster and director of photography Roberto Schaefer and another from Forster, Thornton and Berry. I thought both tracks seemed spotty, but I still feel disappointed they didn’t show up here.
I wanted to like Monster’s Ball and honestly thought I would, as I often find a lot of merit in this sort of dark tale. However, the movie revels in its misery and fails to deliver a realistic or involving experience. Instead, it suffers from heavy-handed storytelling and excessive simplicity. The Blu-ray offers good audio and some useful bonus materials but visuals suffer from problems related to noise reduction and edge sharpening. If you want to own a copy, I’d still recommend the Blu-ray over the DVD, but this wasn’t an impressive transfer.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of MONSTER'S BALL