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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (co-director: India)
Cast:
Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Rajendranath Zutshi, Jeneva Talwar, Freida Pinto, Irrfan Khan
Writing Credits:
Simon Beaufoy, Vikas Swarup (novel)

Tagline:
Love and money ... You have mixed them both.

Synopsis:
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is just one question away from winning a fortune on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" But how has this uneducated young man from the slums succeeded in providing correct responses to questions that have stumped countless scholars before him? And will he ultimately win it all or lose everything, including his true love?

Box Office:
Budget
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$360.018 thousand on 10 screens.
Domestic Gross
$137.178 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9
Audio:
Hindu/English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 3/31/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Danny Boyle and Actor Dev Patel
• Audio Commentary with Producer Christian Colson and Writer Simon Beaufoy
• 12 Deleted Scenes
• “Slumdog Dreams: Danny Boyle and the Making of Slumdog Millionaire” Featurette
• “Slumdog Cutdown” Featurette
• Previews


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 31, 2009)

Before 2008, I must admit that Danny Boyle wasn’t high on my list of directors who I figured would win an Oscar someday. Boyle made a good name for himself with 1996’s Trainspotting but his subsequent résumé didn’t exactly scream “Oscar bait”. After all, graphic horror flicks like 28 Days Later and sci-fi efforts such as Sunshine don’t attract Academy attention.

Boyle’s career path will clearly change now that he has an Oscar on his mantle. 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire earned him that prize, and did so in unusual fashion, as it doesn’t feel like standard Best Picture fare.

Slumdog takes us to India where we meet Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a Mumbai resident who prospers on the local version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Only one question away from the top prize of 20 million rupees, Jamal finds himself undergoing violent police interrogation. No one believes a “slumdog” from the Mumbai ghettos can know all those answers.

Jamal maintains his innocence, and the film engages in flashbacks to illustrate how a poor ghetto kid came to possess so much knowledge. We hear each question Jamal receives along the way and then head back in time to discover how learned the answers. We trace Jamal’s destitute childhood as an orphan (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and later Tanay Hemant Chheda) with his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail/Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala/Madhur Mittal) and see how he came to his current position. A primary focus falls upon Jamal’s undying love for another abandoned urchin named Latika (Rubina Ali/Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar/Freida Pinto)

Films like Slumdog remind me that I wish I could always see movies without any foreknowledge of their reviews. Even if I hear only a couple of notices before I watch something, those opinions color my expectations. When a flick receives the lavish praise heaped upon something like Slumdog, I run into an even greater challenge. I anticipate such a transcendent experience that the actual movie itself might find it tough to succeed.

So perhaps it became inevitable that Slumdog would disappoint me. That said, I’m not sure how much I would’ve liked this spotty experience anyway. While not without its merits, the movie seems much too trite and predictable to deserve all its plaudits.

Seriously – can anyone who watches Slumdog not claim to know exactly what path it’ll take from very early in the film? I won’t say that the viewer can easily anticipate each and every turn, but at least 95 percent of them seem telegraphed from the start. There’s absolutely no question where this story will go and what will happen to its participants.

And that makes the film rather tedious, a factor not helped by the one-dimensional nature of its characters. Maybe I should refer to them as caricatures instead, for the participants here never turn into anything more than two-dimensional. From the start, Jamal is the smart, airy dreamer while Salim is the dark, practical one. Latika is little more than a lovely prop, a charming beauty over whom Jamal can obsess. In Hitchcockian terms, she’s a MacGuffin; she exists to motivate the plot, but she never becomes more than that.

In addition to the flat characters, Slumdog tells a pretty ordinary story that doesn’t depart too much from the Oliver Twist realm. I really flashed back to the Dickens work quite often; while more graphic, Slumdog still feels a strong kinship with that classic. If you’re going to steal, it makes sense to do it from the best, but I wish the writers of this film had come up with something more original.

Granted, the framing technique of the interrogation and game show do provide something different. Honestly, that side of things becomes the most creative aspect of Slumdog. Rather than simply have Jamal narrate his life story, the game show format allows the filmmakers to add a layer of tension. Not only do we watch his interrogation, but we also wonder if he’ll win the money. (Though I wouldn’t wonder too much about that in this predictable flick.)

And that’s where the creativity begins and ends. Not only do we get a trite, predictable story, but also we find one that makes little sense at times. Jamal does some illogical things on the game show – like use a lifeline when a chimp could guess the right answer – and aspects of the kids’ lives make no sense. If someone could explain how these street beggars suddenly learn flawless English over a few years with no formal schooling, I’d appreciate it.

Actually, even though I praised the flashback framework, it comes with a problem as well. One minute the cops interrogate Jamal with torture methods, but then suddenly the inspector decides he’d rather do so over a cup of tea. Does this make the slightest bit of sense? No – the choice exists to create the narrative format but it doesn’t seem logical in the movie’s world.

The flashback framework illustrates the contrived nature of Slumdog as well. Every game show question Jamal receives seems connected to a Meaningful Life Event that allows him to know the answer. Amazing, isn’t it? Jamal never knows anything for a simple reason. There’s always an important story attached to every question, and that makes the story seem awfully convenient and absurd.

Boyle moves things along at a nice clip and gives the movie a good visual sense of style, though he goes overboard on Dutch angles; those slanted camera shots abound and get old. A viewer should never notice framing; if I actually attend to the camera angles, that means I’m not involved in the story. The fact that I was so aware of all the Dutch angles means that Boyle dropped the ball at some point.

Add to these flaws other issues such as crummy dialogue and mediocre performances and I find it exceedingly difficult to figure out why Slumdog Millionaire got so many positive reviews, much less why it took home Oscar’s biggest prize. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, but it’s not one with any real depth. It provides a mediocre fable that almost never distinguishes itself in any notable way.


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

Slumdog Millionaire 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. Only a few mild concerns cropped up in this generally strong presentation.

For the most part, sharpness looked good. I noticed a smidgen of softness in some wide shots, but these instances remained minor. Overall, the movie boasted good delineation and clarity. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent. I witnessed no source flaws; grain occasionally looked somewhat heavy, but that stemmed from the photographic choices.

In terms of colors, Slumdog went with a stylized palette. The movie featured a lot of hot yellows, and the game show shots favored a chilly blue. Within the constraints of the color selections, the hues seemed well-reproduced. Blacks were tight and deep, and shadows showed nice clarity and smoothness. The smattering of slightly soft shots left this transfer short of “A” level, but it was good enough for a “B+”.

As a character drama, I didn’t expect from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Slumdog. To my surprise, the audio provided a dynamic and involving affair. Even quieter scenes boasted a good sense of ambience, while many others featured a lot of activity. This meant bustling street scenes packed with various vehicles that swarmed around us and created a fine sense of the dense environments.

Music acted as a strong participant as well. The score and songs played a significant role and formed an active part of the mix. Surround usage was consistently positive, as the back speakers added a lot to the experience.

Audio quality always seemed satisfying. Some issues with intelligibility resulted from accents, but the lines themselves were recorded well and seemed natural. Music was lively and full, as both score and songs showed excellent vivacity and definition. Effects appeared accurate and dynamic, with crisp highs and deep lows. This was a surprisingly excellent soundtrack.

When we shift to extras, we start with two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Danny Boyle and actor Dev Patel, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They discuss sets, locations and shooting in India, cast and performances, cinematography and editing, story issues and pacing, music, and cultural elements of the piece.

While Patel throws in the occasional useful observation, Boyle dominates this track. And that’s fine with me, as the director offers a strong look at the film. He gives us a good overview of the various production topics and makes sure the commentary moves at a nice pace. Overall, this turns into a solid discussion of the movie.

For the second commentary, we hear from producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy. They offer a running, screen-specific piece that examines many of the same topics as the first track, though it focuses a bit more on the script and the adaptation of the source work. Combined with occasional dead air, the moderate redundancy makes this commentary less than enthralling. We get some good insights about subjects like the movie’s title and Beaufoy’s research, but there’s not a ton of fresh information here.

12 Deleted Scenes run a total of 33 minutes, 35 seconds. These include "Chase Through Slums – Longer Version" (4:38), "Boys At Container Yard/Beanbags/Yellow Dress" (2:04), "Prem at Police Station" (2:43), "Frederick Stevens Question" (4:39), "Jamal at Opera, Boys Leave Agra" (3:58), "Jamal Searches, Finds Arvind" (1:28), "Chowpatty Beach and Tulip Star" (1:59), "Jamal Returns to Tulip Star" (0:30), "Jamal Wakes in Slum" (1:39), "’Why Can’t You Leave It Alone’" (1:16), "Jamal Loses Latika, Calls Salim" (1:40) and "The Folder" (7:00).

Don’t expect anything in the form of lost treasure here. Mostly we get more of a) the brothers’ conflicts, and b) Jamal mooning over Latika. Yawn – we get too much of those topics in the final film. The most interesting clips involve Prem ("Police Station" and "Stevens Question"), mostly because he’s a more compelling character than dishwater dull old Jamal; I’d rather see a movie about the arrogant game show host than one about this boring "slumdog".

Two featurettes follow. Slumdog Dreams: Danny Boyle and the Making of Slumdog Millionaire runs 22 minutes, 56 seconds and features Boyle, Colson, Beaufoy, Patel, and actors Freida Pinto and Anil Kapoor. "Dreams" looks at the project’s adaptation and development, what brought Boyle onto the project, story and characters, cast and performances, shooting in India, the musical number, and some technical aspects of the production.

Because we already went through two commentaries, we don’t find a lot of fresh information here. Still, "Dreams" acts as a good recap of various topics, and it comes with some nice footage from the set. I especially like the shots of Boyle as he works with the film’s young actors. "Dreams" gives us a decent examination of the production.

Finally, Slumdog Cutdown fills five minutes, 34 seconds with music. Essentially it acts as a cut-rate music video; it mixes movie clips with the song "Jai Ho". It’s forgettable.

A few ads open the DVD. It includes promos for Notorious, S. Darko, Bottle Shock and The Other End of the Line. No trailer for Slumdog appears.

I’ll leave it to history to judge how Slumdog Millionaire will eventually compare to its Best Picture-winning peers. Unfortunately, my gut says it won’t stand up well among its competition. Slumdog seems relentlessly mediocre, as it tells a predictable story about two-dimensional characters in an unspectacular way. The DVD offers excellent audio, positive picture and a generally good set of extras. Its status as an Academy Award winner means Oscar fans will want to give Slumdog a look, but don’t expect anything more than an average piece of fluff.

Footnote: Fox released a "rental version" of Slumdog that eliminates the extras found on the retail edition. The studio goofed and released a number of "rental copies" in the retail packaging. If you get one of the rental discs when you buy Slumdog, you can get a replacement by calling 1-888-223-4FOX (4369).

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.98 Stars Number of Votes: 50
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main