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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Holes (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)



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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 17 2003 - 04:00 AM



Posted Image
Holes
Studio:Disney
Year:2003
Film Length:117 minutes
Aspect Ratio:16X9 encoded 1.85:1 (separate 4x3 encoded P/S available…so watch out!)
Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 Spanish and French
Subtitles:English
Extras:2 Feature Commentaries, “Boys of D-Tent” interview, “Digging the first hole” documentary, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, “Dig it” Music Video
Release Date:September 23, 2003


Story...


Based on the book by Louis Sachar who is also responsible for the screenplay of the film, Holes is nice mix of fun, drama, myth and folklore. I don’t want to give away too much of the story because part of the enjoyment of this film is how the story gradually unfolds and “reveals” itself bit by bit. But I can safely get you started: Young Stanley is sent to a “reform camp” of sorts after having been caught in an apparent theft. This sort of thing is consistent with his family's usual experience of bad luck that his father is fond of blaming on a “curse” that has plagued their family for several generations. The camp is located out west on a dried lake-bed where the activity of choice is digging 6-foot deep holes. As one might imagine, there’s more to this hole digging exercise than a simple character-building activity for wayward boys and this imparts a nice sense of mystery to the film. Ok, you'll have to watch the movie to find out the rest! Sorry to cut this short but I don't want to steal any of the movie's "thunder". The resolution of this rather unorthodox plot-premise is well worth the 117 minute ride.

The quality of acting is excellent and film-style is pleasing. Brightly-exposed scenery communicates the heat and sensation of the environment very effectively. This film is an interesting union of serious drama, light-hearted fun, and mythical folklore. It all comes together beautifully for the viewer willing to explore these seemingly divergent paths. The many young-actors display their roles well in the film and create characters for whom it is easy to care which is important because the power of this film depends in large part on the emotional involvement of the viewer. Sigourney Weaver does a fantastic job in her role and seems a perfect fit for the part—the same way in my mind Carol Burnett seemed the ideal actor for the role of Miss Hannigan in “Annie”. Unlike the jarring (distracting) presence of Julia Roberts in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Weaver seems as able at pulling off a less-assuming supporting role with aplomb as she does taking center stage blasting Aliens with a flame-thrower. She garners my respect more and more with each film where I encounter her.

Holes is a movie that can be enjoyed at many levels by young and old alike. There are some complex connections that take some time to fully untangle and give this film good repeat-viewing status. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



Picture...


Disney has done it right. This DVD being my first encounter with the film, I can’t directly compare the image with the memory of a projected film print, but I can tell you that this DVD is mastered to marvelous perfection. Despite the plethora of extras, compression seems unchallenged and I was hard-pressed to find any obvious digital artifacting to fault.

Colors are bright and varied, and the sometime slightly over-exposed look of the film is rendered with gorgeous accuracy. Subtle gradations in dark tones are smooth and natural with no “banding”. Film-grain (yes, it’s present at times) comes through with naturalness and doesn’t cause the compression to impart “digititis” as often happens. I didn’t notice much in the way of DNR “dithering” noise but I didn’t have a chance yet to view this large-scale (just on my 34” 16x9 direct-view). If I get a chance to do that I’ll post back with a projected-image update (and as usual once the disc is in your hands I invite you to share your impressions along with a description of your display equipment).

No haloing/ringing from edge-enhancement anywhere to be seen. Plenty of natural detail leaving an image that does not look over-filtered or processed. All in all a *very* film-like picture that deserves nothing but praise from what I can see. Thanks Disney!

Picture: 5 / 5
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p.s. A separate P/S version is also available...so beware...and don’t blindly grab the first DVD off the shelf at Walmart!




Sound...


WOW. I’d love to shake the hand of the guy who mixed the audio for this disc. As impressive as the picture is, the audio on this disc impressed me even more. Frequency response is wide. Bass is solid and highs are open and airy. Mid-range timbers (vocals) are natural, clear, and non-fatiguing. Sound is dynamic yet I never felt I needed to adjust the volume to tame loud passages or boost low-level dialogue. The soundstage spreads seamlessly across the front and out into the room around the listener. Dialog is surprisingly directional (a good thing IMO) for a modern movie...following the action off screen or tracking characters as they change position. Surround use is plentiful and used to outstanding effect. And this leads me to discuss something very special about the audio mix on this disc...

There is something beyond ordinary “sound quality” that makes the audio of this DVD so impressive. This is not at action movie. No big explosions or space-ships flying overhead. Yet I think I may have found the “reference” film to demonstrate 5.1 recording to its best advantage.

I’ll explain:

You’re sitting in front of your computer. If you’re at work (and I know that none of you ever surf the HTF while at the office so this is completely hypothetical Posted Image ) you hear the air circulating from the ductwork overhead, you hear a phone call from a coworker far off to the right and behind you to your left another coworker is having a conversation with someone while you hear a windows “beep” to your left-rear because someone just got a new message in their MS Outlook email.

You’re experiencing a 360 degree sound field (actually more if you consider the vertical axis) and all without explosions, helicopters flying over head or Terminator gun-shots wizzing by.

If “normal” life takes place with 360 degrees of sound, then a movie filming “normal” situations can too. And Holes does just that.

From the very opening scene we hear the sound of singing and instead of a stereo presentation up front like a normal movie “soundtrack”, we’re surrounding by the laborers hard at work putting their toil to song. This sound presentation immediately engages you as a participant in this movie...not a spectator. Dialog and sound-effects are highly directionalized for a modern film and create the same sense of 360 degree space. In almost every scene the sound mix is used in some way to communicate an experience that contributes a level of story-telling as meaningful as the visual film style or screenplay. Indeed, I consider the sound-mix of this film to be an invisible “actor” with a leading role.

It is unusual for the creative team of a low-action film to approach sound-mixing with this degree of care; but for Holes they have incorporated sound as a principle device used by the film not just by the raw “content” of the audio, but by the *way* they’ve mixed and mastered it. Just like folks who watch the P/S version will miss out on a key layer of the film’s communication, those who watch Holes in anything less than 5.1 decoding will be missing a key element of the experience this film was intended to deliver. To all those responsible for the audio mix of this film and its presentation in 5.1 DD on this DVD, I congratulate you on a job well done.


Sound: 5/ 5
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p.s. Both Spanish and French soundtrack options are also delivered in 5.1 though I didn’t have time to do a critical evaluation to compare with the English 5.1...



Extra Stuff...


There’s a nice helping of extras on this disc that Disney managed to include without any apparent compromise in picture quality to the feature film.

Commentary is presented in 1.0 DD mono (center channel only) and we have 2 commentary tracks to choose from: The “kids” which is mildly entertaining but not very insightful IMO, and commentary by the director and screenplay writer (who is also the book author) which I found very worth-while. Many key decisions regarding direction-choices, film style, location issues and why some aspects of the story were modified from the book-original are all discussed. If you read the book or you enjoy commentary to better get-to-know a movie then you’ll find it very worthwhile.

Next up are the six deleted scenes. Presented in 4x3 letterbox, image quality is wanting (appear to be sourced from video) but worth watching. I found myself appreciative that some scenes were cut/trimmed but also found myself wishing that others had been incorporated into the final film (especially the court-scene).

We get a group-interview with the young cast presented in 4x3 letterbox (see a trend starting?) that’s fun to check out. It seems to be shot on video so I just have to wonder...*why* didn’t the guy push the “16x9” button on the camcorder if they were shooting a 1.78:1 image? In any case it’s not like the interview is a visual masterpiece that’s going to put your calibrated HDTV to the test so maybe it’s not that big a deal...but after getting all those luscious 16x9-encoded extras on my Lord of the Rings DVD I’m kind-of spoiled Posted Image.

More interesting to my mind is the (4x3 letterbox) “Making of” documentary that ties in nicely with those who enjoy the film’s commentary. And don’t be fooled by the “music video” notation on the packaging. This is *not* a full-length video as one would normally expect...it’s more of a music-video “intro” that shows the boys from the film doing a bit of karaoke to a pop-hit and it fades-out after just a minute or so (you don’t get the whole song). Audio for the Music Video is ProLogic-flagged 2.0 DD and...you guessed it...4x3 letterbox video presentation.

There’s a gag-reel which I managed to miss the two times I put the DVD in to check out the “extras” on the disc. I should add that the box label specifies Spanish subtitles but on my player I only could access English subtitles for the film.


Wrap-up...


This film can be enjoyed equally by people of all ages. A heart-warming story that utilizes an unusual premise and some interesting plot elements set it apart from the more common formula-driven movies you find. Superb image quality and a genuinely outstanding audio presentation add a meaningful contribution to the presentation of this charming film. If you saw it in the theater chances are you’re happy to hear the DVD does the film justice allowing you to place your pre-order without fear. Those of you who are not familiar with this film, if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be well-rewarded if you buy this title sight-unseen. If you have any doubts...give it a rent. However you manage to make it happen, I heartily recommend that you watch it!

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED




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#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Jeremy Allin

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Posted September 17 2003 - 04:34 AM

Great review, David.

I especially enjoyed reading your comments on the audio. As someone who has a great deal of passion for sound, I find myself paying close attention to sound design. It is wonderful to hear about movies like this that receive extra care Typically these types of movies feature a massively front-heavy mix with little-to-no activity in the surrounds (except for some musical cues and almost inaudible ambience).

I reviewed Life As A House when it was released and came to similiar conclusions you arrived at with Holes. Although Life As A House does not feature any action set-pieces it features incredibly enveloping sound. Directional effects pan appropriately across the front soundstage and back to the surround channels when the situation calls for it.

Based on your review, I'll surely check this one out!

#3 of 17 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 17 2003 - 04:49 AM

Yes...Life as a House was very similar in this regard...it's been a while since I saw it so it didn't come to mind during my review but not that you mention it I can remember. Good call!

-dave
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#4 of 17 OFFLINE   Adam_S

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Posted September 17 2003 - 07:33 AM

YES! I knew DaViD would like Holes and have been anxiously awaiting a review! This film is in my top five for the year and I can't wait to have the DVD. A wonderful overlooked gem that can be enjoyed by any audience. I'm more than thrilled that the video and audio are so excellent.

For those that have ever gone on long familiy car trips, I highly, highly, highly recommend checking your local library for the unabridged audio of the book. It's one of the best audiobooks I've heard and completely enraptured our entire family on a trip--the silence was pretty incredible, actually.

The book is a damn fun read by itself as well, and if you're in the mood for something much more lighthearted try Sideways Stories from Wayside School also by Louis Sacher.
 

#5 of 17 OFFLINE   Brian Harnish

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Posted September 18 2003 - 02:18 AM

I thought this was an excellent film. If you haven't seen it yet and buy it sight-unseen you won't be disappointed. Posted Image

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   Andy Overby

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Posted September 18 2003 - 02:27 AM

I agree!! A wonderful movie that VERY closely matches the book. As David said, the screenplay was written by the books author.

My fiancee is a teacher and she got me to read the book before we saw the movie. I read the book in a flash, it is a wonderful piece of literature. I recommend it highly as well!

This movie will be added to my collection!

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#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted September 18 2003 - 04:11 AM

Great review David!

Holes was a fun movie in the theater. I thought Jon Voights character nearly stole the show. Good performances throughout.

Looking forward to next Tuesday. Posted Image

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted September 21 2003 - 01:49 PM

I agree entirely with David's review of this gem of a movie. I went into it without any preconceptions and ended up watching it twice in a row (highly unusual for me since I have such a backlog of movies to watch.)

Definitely a demo quality disc - especially for the sound! I'll be watching this several more times with my grandkids. This is one of those rare films (other than some kid-oriented stuff) that I can recommend without reservation for kids of all ages.

After watching some of the deleted scenes I agree that many of them would have probably made the movie a little less kid-friendly and more violent. I like the film as it stands.

Like the others have said, good call on this one, DB.

(And stay through the end of the credits, gang.)

Posted Image Posted Image
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#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Neil Joseph

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Posted September 21 2003 - 02:02 PM

I know absolutely nothing about this film and I had it in my hands twice already but put it back down. Based on these posts, I just may have to check it out.

Thanks for the review.
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#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Adam_Reiter

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Posted September 22 2003 - 04:17 AM

Wow! I would have never expected this movie to be so good. Thanx for the revew David, that was AWESOME. You definately have me sold on this movie.

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted September 22 2003 - 09:31 AM

Quote:
I know absolutely nothing about this film and I had it in my hands twice already but put it back down. Based on these posts, I just may have to check it out.

Neil,
That was exactly my experience. I purchased it based on who was in it and some early "buzz" about it, but I really thought it was probably something like "Tremors" or some other "We've got holes in the desert" scenario.

I was checking it out to see if it would be too scary for the grandkids. Boy, was I wrong! Give this movie a bit of time and I am fairly certain it will grow on you. David's review has captured the essence of this "sleeper" as far as I'm concerned. The fact that it has some great performances, a nice story line, and demo quality sound makes it a very, very good package. On a second viewng I was able to see things that I had overlooked the first time around. Nicely interwoven plot. "Holes" has very few "holes" in it!

Let me know what you think once you've had a chance to see it. (Don't want to over-sell it though. Otherwise there's no way you'd be satisfied.)

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#12 of 17 OFFLINE   DaViD Boulet

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Posted September 22 2003 - 09:55 AM

Exactly...always worried about "overselling" and it's hard to gauge just how much enthusiasm to convey...I went back and forth on the "highly recommended" thing for a while for this reason but decided on it in the end. This film is surprising, unconventional, charming and has a heart-warming element that, mixed with good acting, delivers some realistic characters for whom you care. Not the world's greatest or most perfect film (it's got flaws like they all do), but one that most folks shouldn't miss and most likely would have except for coming accross a review and discussion like we're having here.
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#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Adam Tyner

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Posted September 22 2003 - 11:08 AM

It's not that obscure. Posted Image It and grossed close to $70 million theatrically, debuting at #2 and staying in the top 10 for nearly a month and a half.

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted September 22 2003 - 11:14 AM

Quote:
It's not that obscure.

Adam,
Very good point. What I probably meant to say was that I had dismissed it as "another Disney flick" in a season that saw some good Disney stuff and some dreadful Disney stuff. I recall seeing "Holes" up on the charts and even saw the ads on TV. It's just that after seeing promos that seemed to suggest it had to do with lizards in the desert (an important part, but not the main focus of the story) I mistook "Holes" to be in the same category as something like "Tremors."

I'm just glad to have purchased it and to have discovered that this is a rewatchable film. I'm even tempted to read the book, based on the movie and the extras.
RAF
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#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Bryan Tuck

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Posted September 24 2003 - 12:49 AM

Quote:
Hating to put a negative blot on this thread of a great movie, I am disappointed that the trailer (or teaser) with the great mandolin score is not included.

This is becoming commonplace as if the studios think people don't want to see a preview of the movie they have because they have the movie itself!

Yes, and Disney is the chief studio doing this right now. It's really annoying, as trailers have been such a standard feature on DVDs from the beginning.

There shouldn't be a music licensing problem nowadays as they know in advance they're going to be assembling materials for the DVD. Why don't they just license the music for the DVD while they're at it? And in the case of Disney, I can't see this being the problem most of the time anyway, as trailers for these movies (using the same music) appear on different DVD releases.

Also, it can't possibly be a space issue, as most trailers are 3 minutes or less in length. There is no good reason I can think of nowadays to leave a trailer off of the DVD release for such a recent film.

I sent an e-mail to Disney's customer service asking them to make sure the trailers for Pirates of the Caribbean are on the disc for that movie. That may seem a tad obsessive, but surely there's got to be a way that we can get through to the studios that we want trailers included on a film's DVD release.

Sorry for the rant; this has just been bugging me lately. The Holes release is great other than that.
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#16 of 17 OFFLINE   RAF

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Posted September 24 2003 - 03:39 AM

Quote:
Sorry for the rant; this has just been bugging me lately. The Holes release is great other than that.
Byran,
Speaking of "bugging me" (and I'm not sure that Holes is even guilty of what I'm about to describe because I don't have the disc in front of me right now) a recent trend in DVD movie releases has been the omission of cast biographies and, more importantly, filmographies.

It wasn't too long ago that just about every DVD contained this information which I found helpful on several levels. For one thing, I would occasionally see an actor or actress in a movie whose face was familiar and I'd have a "what else did I see him/her in recently?" moment. A quick scan of the list of films and other shows the person had been in would quickly answer that.

Additionally, with such a large DVD collection I would very often find myself pulling some of these other titles starring the person in question and this was a very enjoyable way to watch films with "connections." Sometimes there were very serendipitous results!

Yes, I realize that I can always go to the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for the same (and more) information but it didn't have the immediacy of this being part of the extras. And, as people have stated, how much space could this take up? If anything it could be a great marketing tool: "If you liked him in XXXXX you'll love him in YYYY" Sometimes there were even trailers for related films (to bring this back to the original discussion.)

I've heard from some people in the industry that one of the reasons that filmographies on DVDs were dropped in some cases was because they soon became dated. For example, if you watch a DVD that was released in 1995 you are not going to see any references to Elijah Wood being in the Tolkien Trilogy. While that's true, my feeling is that people who take the time to examine filmographies are usually savvy enough to handle this. Besides, it's usually the older films that raise the "what was he/she in?" questions.

Take care.
RAF
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#17 of 17 OFFLINE   JakeLip

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Posted October 13 2003 - 10:44 AM

Well, yesterday I went out looking for The Nightmare Before Christmas SE, but since Borders did a marvelous job of hiding it from me I got Holes instead. I must admit I'm a tad disappointed I didn't end up with Nightmare, but the Holes DVD is absolutely wonderful. As a longtime fan of the book, I was very annoyed at not having the money for it release week, but it's definitly worth the little extra wait.

Disney's on a roll this season -- the video quality is again prestine. It easily matches or exceeds the quality of the print I saw theatrically on opening weekend back in April. There were no problems or defects with the transfer that I could spot. (It was also nice to see that they kept the post-credits "suprise" intact.)

I really can't comment on the audio track, since I don't have a home theater system, but I can say tthat it sounded just as crisp, clear and clean as the theatrical mix.

I spent some time with the makng of doccumentary and the featurette on adapting the book, scenes, and they're more than servicable for this movie. As a fan of the book, it was nice to see a lot of the deleted scenes (some of which were in the book) realized on the screen. I would have put in the scene with the trial in there, perticularly the part about Stanley missing the bus because of a bully. Although it's not fully explained in the movie, his attorney was able to prove his innocence because of testomony from classmates that he was in the bathroom fishing his notebook out of the toilet at the approximate time the shoes were stolen; thus, he couldn'tve taken them.

I haven't had a chance to listen to the commentary track yet, but I do intend to check out the Louis Sachar/Andrew Davis track soon. About a week after the movie opened I had the privilage of seeing Mr. Sachar speak, and his speech was all about Holes. He did a really nice job covering pretty much everything from writing the book to writing the screenplay, and he read us a bit (too much) of the then-new "Stanley Yelants' Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake," which he wrote to cross promote with the movie. It's not a sequel (nor will there be one) but it's a really funny spinoff for fans of the novel, simmilar to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter spinoffs "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "Quidditch Through the Ages." I also got a copy of Holes signed in hardcover by Sachar, which was really nice. Although he seemed a bit unprepared when I saw him speak he did talk a lot about the making of the movie and I'm hoping the track will be just as good if not better.
 

 






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