Freedom Writers (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: PG13 (Violent content, some thematic material and language) Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Audio: English, French, Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH Time: 122 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date:2007 HD-DVD Release Date: May 22, 2007 Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) walks in to Room 203 of Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach all full of white bread optimism. She has voluntarily taken an assignment in this gangster’s paradise to try and make a difference in the lives of students who don’t care about their education and administrators who only want to push them through. She stands in front of the racially diverse class trying to gain some control, and more importantly, respect. In a class filled with blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, the lone white kid stands out like Gruwell’s pearl necklace. The “students” are quick to resort to violence as a means to settle every little issue both in and out of class and it is not until Gruwell stumbles upon an analogy that she finally begins to makes some headway. When a Hispanic girl, Eva (April L. Hernandez) flat out tells Gruwell she hates her because she’s white and white’s only oppress others, Gruwell links the rise of the Nazi’s to inner city gang violence with cutting results. The kids can finally get it, and they are a bit humbled by her and the analogy. It is enough for the kids to take some interest in their teacher and what she’s trying to do. Gruwell gives them all blank writing tablets, where they may write whatever they want and share it with her (or not). She quickly finds the tablets coming back to her. As she starts to see a change in the kids, she just as quickly gets dragged into educational politics and road blocks erected by the school district. Gruwell continues to persevere, putting stress on her home life and husband. As the kid’s journals develop, she sees it as an opportunity to get these important works published, so everyone can see the plight of the inner city student. Based on the true story of Gruwell and the Freedom Writers (a spin on the historical “Freedom Riders”), director Richard LaGravenese’s picture shows us a topical if not terribly deep presentation. Gruwell’s story, while inspirational and heartwarming, does not translate into a movie that really has much new to say. We have seen stories such as this before in the same settings (Dangerous Minds, anyone), so the element of surprise is clearly absent. Within the first twenty or so minutes I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, and sure enough, it did. I was even expecting a little more despair on the part of the kids, but it never materialized. LaGravenese does a capable job of showing us everything, but there’s really not too much commentary or suggestions on what could be done to make it better on a global level. While I applaud Gruwell and what she did, her class is a minute segment of the given population to get out of the life. For a far more in-depth treatise on the problems in America’s inner city schools, I would refer you to the third season of HBO’s The Wire to really get the point. While The Wire had several hours to tell its story, I believe you could extract its story and gain far more satisfaction. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. The picture is correctly framed at 1.85:1, and it is encoded in MPEG-4 AVC at 1080p. This is a nice picture, with good contrast and nice saturation in the flesh tones. Colors are vibrant, accurate and plentiful. Detail is good, but not exceptional. Black levels are good and there is a fair amount of detail in the shadows. Edge enhancement is minimal. I did not notice any compression artifacts or video noise, nor was there any film dirt. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack was attained by a 5.1 analog connection. I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track engaged. As was expected, there was not a lot of activity in the surround mix, with the surrounds opening up only a couple times when there were music cues or environmental effects. When the surrounds did engage they combined to produce and enveloping sound field. LFE’s perked up in the music cues, but the rest of the soundtrack is fairly thin in the lower frequencies. ADR was not noticed, and the voices had a natural sound to them. Bonus Material: With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2 encoding unless otherwise noted. Feature-length commentary with LaGravenese and Swank: the two do a good job of going deeper into Gruwell’s and the kids story. There is not much here regarding the actual film making process, but what is here is good information. LaGravenese even makes a comment on Dangerous Minds here! I was surprised Gruwell was not involved in the commentary as I would have liked to have heard her comment on the actual events behind the scenes. Deleted Scenes (10:56): four deleted scenes (Eva Leaves Class, Another Class Trip, Catching a Ride and Protect Your Own) really add nothing to the story and were rightfully excised. Makin’ a Dream (5:26): rappers Common and Will.i.Am talk about the Freedom Writers song and their thoughts behind its conception and execution. Freedom Writers Family (19:21): real-life Erin Gruwell, the cast and crew talk about the story and its impact on them personally. In seeing Gruwell in these interviews, Swank really captured her enthusiasm and essence in the picture. Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story (10:03): the cast and crew reflect on the real-life people and problems presented in the picture. Theatrical Trailer: In MPEG-4 AVC at 1080p Conclusions: Preaching tolerance and respect for others comes off fairly straightforward and basic in this picture. This is a story with few surprises, but leaves you uplifted and hopeful in the end. The HD-DVD looks and sounds just fine, and there is a decent set of extras.