Ray 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. Only minor problems cropped up in this generally strong transfer.
For the most part, sharpness looked very good. The occasional wide shot came across as slightly soft and indistinct, but those instances weren’t frequent. The majority of the flick was detailed and concise. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but I noticed some light edge enhancement at times. Print flaws remained absent, as I saw no specks, marks or other defects.
Ray went with a stylized palette that depended on the setting. The main differentiation was between the “modern day” shots and Ray’s flashbacks. The former went with a somewhat muted, golden look, while the latter demonstrated exaggerated greens and other tones. Within the restrictions of the visual design, the colors were firm and clear. Blacks also seemed deep and firm, while low-light shots displayed good definition and delineation. The minor softness and edge enhancement knocked this one down to a “B+”, but it was satisfying overall.
Given the film’s focus, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack maintained a logical focus on music. Charles’ songs dominated the mix and demonstrated very good imaging. The tunes showed strong localization and spread smoothly across the front channels. The surrounds bolstered the music somewhat, but those elements remained heavily oriented toward the forward speakers.
Other than the music, the track stayed oriented toward general information. The movie didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for slam-bang action, so environmental material was fine. The track created a decent sense of place and worked just fine.
Audio quality also worked nicely. Speech consistently came across as natural and distinct, with no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Effects didn’t play much of a role, but they stayed accurate and clean. Music fared pretty nicely. The various songs appeared well-rendered, as they demonstrated smooth tones and clear delineation of the various elements. Overall, the soundtrack served its movie well.
When we look at extras on this two-disc set, we start on DVD One with an audio commentary from director Taylor Hackford. He presents a very active affair that covers many good elements. Hackford talks about the facts of Charles’ life and various liberties taken, the cast and their work, shooting mostly in New Orleans and adapting it for other locations, the music, story and pacing concerns, the story’s long path to the screen and various concessions made along the way, and the film’s visual scheme.
Hackford maintains a brisk pace throughout the commentary, as he seems excited to discuss his flick. His enthusiasm makes it fun to listen to the track, and Hackford fills in the time with many interesting tidbits. In fact, he gets so carried away that he makes some goofy mistakes; for example, at one point he refers to the presentation of the songs in “alphabetical” order, when he clearly means chronological order. It’s a very strong chat that goes by quickly.
We can watch Ray as either its theatrical cut or as an extended edition. If you choose the latter, it adds nearly half an hour to the flick’s running time. When a new scene appears, the movie branches off automatically, but I definitely wouldn’t call it “seamless”. Before an added clip appears, some musical notes pop up at the bottom of the screen, and then it cuts to the new sequence. On my player, this moved acceptably quickly, but it still created some jarring shifts that didn’t flow terribly well.
Also, I don’t think my player caught all of the extra scenes. On DVD Two, we’ll find a set of deleted scenes, and I think almost all of those appear as part of the extended edition as well. I know one with Ruth Brown isn’t in the longer version, but otherwise, I believe the extended cut includes all DVD Two’s deleted pieces. Nonetheless, a few of them didn’t look familiar to me. These might not be included in the extended cut, but because of potential player error, I don’t want to claim that as a definite.
I’ll discuss the specific scenes a little more when I get to that area on DVD Two, but I do want to note that some odd choices show up as part of the extended cut. Most of the scenes expand on appropriate topics, but a couple seem like weird additions in this forum. The primary offender comes from one bit that simply shows additional takes of the same scene. While it’s fun to watch Foxx improvise, it really takes away from our involvement in the movie. That kind of sequence should be left for an outtake reel and not be part of a film. The extended cut simply throws in everything without much rhyme or reason, so I think these clips work best when viewed separately; you’re probably better off just watching the theatrical version of the movie.
Note that another problem stems from the presentation of the added scenes. They’re non-anamorphic 1.85:1, so they’ll stand out when viewed on anything other than a standard 4X3 set. For my WEGA, I use the “anamorphic squeeze”, and that made the extra bits look squished. These scenes also use different color timing, as the filmmakers didn’t finish them to match with the rest of the movie. Again, these are reasons why the sequences fare best when viewed separately and left out of the completed flick.
Finally, Disc One presents Cast and Filmmakers. This area includes biographies for actors Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Richard Schiff, Aunjanue Ellis, Bokeem Woodbine, Sharon Warren, Curtis Armstrong, Regina King and Larenz Tate as well as Hackford, writer James L. White, and producers Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin and Karen Baldwin. These entries vary in quality but offer decent overviews of the participants’ careers.
As we move to DVD Two, we start with 14 Deleted Scenes. Via the “Play All” option, these run a total of 27 minutes and 43 seconds. I already talked a little about these when I went over the extended edition; as I stated, it looks like everything that got reintegrated into the flick also appears here. While I didn’t like them as part of the final movie, I do think a lot of good material shows up in this section. The scenes help expand on characters and relationships and give us a little more depth. They’re definitely worth a look.
We can watch these scenes with or without commentary from Hackford. He mostly talks about the material and what he wanted to do with the sequences. Hackford provides only rudimentary details about why he cut the shots, though time factors seem to cover the lot of them; he clearly likes them and occasionally lets us know that they got the boot due to length. Although I’d have liked more specifics about the rationale for the edits, Hackford still gives us a lot of good information here.
In addition, two Expanded Musical Scenes appear. We get “What Kind of Man Are You” (three minutes, 10 seconds) and “Hit the Road, Jack” (1:18). Both also pop up through the extended cut, so they’ll look familiar if you examined that version.
Three featurettes come up next. A Look Inside Ray goes for a mere three minutes and 20 seconds. We see movie clips, behind the scenes shots, and remarks from Hackford and actor Jamie Foxx. It provides a very basic overview of the production but doesn’t tell us much. Other than a couple of interesting looks at Foxx with the real Ray Charles, there’s nothing useful here, and “Look Inside” stands as a glorified trailer. Skip it.
Somewhat stronger, the 10-minute and 40-second Stepping Into the Part focuses on Foxx’s work. It includes notes from Foxx, Hackford, actor Larenz Tate, music producer Quincy Jones, and co-producer Ray Charles Robinson Jr. We find some insights into how Foxx got into the part as well as his interactions with the real Ray. More fun behind the scenes footage of the pair appears, and a smattering of good details pops up as well. It’s fluffy and light, with a lot of praise for the actor, but the shots of Foxx with Charles are worth a look.
For the final featurette, we discover Ray Remembered. In this four-minute and three-second program, we get comments from Foxx, Jones, Hackford, actor Sharon Warren, and musicians Al Green and Reba McEntire. We also see some text plaudits from other notables. Essentially an homage to the late musician, everyone involved reminds us of Charles’ greatness. I suppose a piece like this was inevitable due to Charles’ demise, but it’s not really very interesting.
Lastly, DVD Two includes some ads. We get the trailer for Ray itself plus some others in the Previews area. That domain includes promos for Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, The Motorcycle Diaries and Vanity Fair.
Although Ray presents a consistently entertaining experience, it rarely rises above the level of a fairly standard film biography. A rich lead performance from Jamie Foxx helps, but the movie just doesn’t manage to turn into anything particularly distinctive. The DVD presents consistently positive picture and sound along with a roster of extras highlighted by a slew of deleted scenes and an excellent audio commentary. There’s enough here to merit a rental, but the movie doesn’t impress me to warrant a stronger recommendation.