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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: Spellbound

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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted January 20 2004 - 03:55 PM

Posted Image


Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Film Year: 2002

U.S. Rating: G
Canadian Rating: G

Film Length: 97 minutes
Genre: Documentary

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English & French Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English & French
Closed Captioned: Yes

Layer Change: 58m26s

SLP: USD$26.96

Release Date: January 20, 2004

Documentary Rating Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

I remember back in grade one, each of my classmates and I had to be tested on our spelling. We’d wear a pseudo-necklace with words we’ve spelled correctly hanging at the bottom. The teacher privately tested each and every one of us on a variety of words. If we got them right we were rewarded with the word tag to add to our necklace. If we were wrong, we’d bow our heads in shame only to hope the next time around we’d get it right. But these words were so simple. Cow. Milk. House. Food. Pencil. Not so hard, is it?

Now imagine being 10-14 years old and hearing the words connubial, effluvium, diatomaceous, solipsism, insouciant, bidialectalist. I think for most of us these words would be unheard of never mind being able to spell them! Words like this are present in advanced Spelling Bees. Over nine million children enter the regionals each year in attempt to enter the National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC – and hopefully come out as the winner. While back in grade one, I was just learning how to spell; these kids are studying spelling hours and hours a day. Readers of this forum who have participated in such events can attest to this. As Spellbound documents the lives of eight young Americans before entering the 1999 National Spelling Bee, we see their own determination as well as the pressures they face from their parents and their schoolmates.

The movie introduces us to each of the eight kids. About seven minutes is dedicated to each of them showing their home and school life. The movie is a self-narrative, so the interviews with everyone involved takes the story along while the filmmakers stay silent. We learn that spelling is taken extremely seriously and it is very competitive. Each kid has a different personality, and while some integrate spelling into their life with other activities, others make it their life determined to be number one. Most of the parents play a big role in the push to become better – and the stress is rough. They practice thousands(!) of words with them because you never know what word they’ll get when it really matters.

Spellbound was nominated an academy award for best documentary. While a little slow at the beginning, it lets us get to know the kids’ personalities so we get to like them a lot and want them to succeed. But this highly competitive “sport” broadcasted on ESPN only has one winner – so who will it be? The first day has 249 spellers and by day two it is less than half. As the competition heats up between all of them the suspense creeps in quickly. This movie will leave you hanging on the edge of your seat as you watch the joy of those who make it, and the heartbreaking of those who don’t.

Video Quality? Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

This is a video source with an original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 despite being released (top & bottom cropped) theatrically at 1.85:1. The video is bright like we’d expect it to be and this DVD looks like a clone of the original source. Colours look great and detail is really good. There is some edge enhancement consistently throughout and some very minor compression artifacts are noticed around words, backdrop images, and darker parts of the picture. Some larger break-up can occur in the interior shots near the end of the film. Other than this, the DVD looks great for video.

Audio Quality? Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

A simple Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is available. It’s music score reminded me a little bit of the theme from “True Romance” and it sounds clean from noise. Dialogue for the most part is also clean, except for some hard to hear off-stage voices during the National Spelling Bee. The main menu’s harmonica is accompanied by more high-frequency noise that is very loud, distracting, and irritating.

Special Features? Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Navigating through the special features menu was a little tedious, but there are a good bunch of features on this disc. First there is a Coming Soon section of upcoming titles. Next we get to read a little about each of The Spellers, but learn nothing more than we did during the movie. At least the Where Are They Now? feature gives us an insight to what these young adults are now today. Many of them have gone on to be successful university students.

There is also Bonus Footage of another three spellers not in the film, totaling about another 25 minutes. There is also a Filmmakers’ Commentary that delves into the inspiration behind the movie and more insight into the spellers are revealed. This is a commentary that I didn’t get bored on, and I think you will find it equally interesting as the film itself. There is also a little biography About the Filmmakers and a theatrical trailer in 1.85:1, not enhanced for widescreen TVs.

DVD-ROM features include an Interactive Hangman Guide that seems to give me only nouns to play with. Also included is an Education Guide that lets you enjoy the love for words like the filmmakers and students. There are ten sections from the Spelling Bee history and different levels of word lists. The disc said these two ROM features were also available online so I checked out the links to confirm…I always loved hangman…I can’t of how many times I played it on ICQ way back when (in my years)… :P)


Spellbound is a must see documentary that can be intense and exciting. You’ll enjoy this nail-biting experience and it’s definitely worth the rental. Seeing the expressions of some of the kids is really funny, and I can only imagine what some of them are thinking today as they look back at themselves on this video. While the beginning of the movie is a little slow, it’s necessary to get to know our competitors. In the end we want all of them to win – and they are all winners because they’ve made it so much further than the other 8, 750, 000 kids. But all dream being the only one getting the prize and recognition, and that’s just the competitor in us.

Michael Osadciw

Michael Osadciw

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#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Bob Turnbull

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Posted January 20 2004 - 04:29 PM

I loved this movie...Like the best documentaries, you end up caring a great deal about the people. The results of the competition seem somewhat secondary to getting to know the children and their families. My wife wasn't able to see this with me in the theatre, so I can't wait until my pre-order arrives and we can watch together. I know she'll love it too.

#3 of 13 OFFLINE   Matt Pelham

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Posted January 20 2004 - 04:35 PM

Great movie, but I thought the DVD had a little too much edge enhancement. Still, this was more suspenseful than most thrillers of the past year. I highly recommend it.

#4 of 13 OFFLINE   Jack Shappa

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Posted January 20 2004 - 04:57 PM

Was this film 1.33 ratio in the theatres? It hardly needs anything more than that but I just wondered as the DVD box says "full frame". It should say something like "1.33:1 aspect ration as was theatrical release" or something. With the shape of TVs changing, the term "full frame" should be scrapped. - Jack

#5 of 13 OFFLINE   Julian Lalor

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Posted January 20 2004 - 06:07 PM

The film was matted to 1.85:1 for theatrical release. It was filmed 1.33:1 and I suspect that was its originally intended ratio (probably made for TV but sold to cinema release instead).

#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted January 21 2004 - 02:42 AM

Good review Michael. This is the best documentary I saw last year. Glad that it is getting some more notice.
¡Time is not my master!

#7 of 13 OFFLINE   GeoffBr



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Posted January 21 2004 - 03:47 AM

Picked this up as a rental last night; I had been dying to see it since I missed it in theaters. Very interesting to watch, especially to see the kids who have devoted themselves to the bee, instead of simply being pushed into it by their parents. I did have a problem with the audio, though, which I found to be very soft and uneven. My roommate and I had to frequently adjust the volume up and down, as some parts were nearly inaudible and other parts seemed to be quite normal. I had less trouble understanding the deleted scenes dialogue in Alien 3. All in all though, a fascinating documentary.

#8 of 13 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted January 21 2004 - 05:33 AM

Sounds good. One more sale here. Posted Image

Question -- Not that it really matters at all, but does anybody know what the reason was for the delay in releasing this film to DVD? It was in theaters in 2002; not released to DVD for another 1.5 to 1.75 (??) years. That's a long theater screen-to-DVD interval nowadays.

EDIT -- Further research on this indicates that "Spellbound" was in theaters as late as June 2003. Was it "re-released" because of its popularity? Because it *had* to have had an original release date of December 31, 2002 or earlier, in order for it to have been nominated for an Oscar for a 2002 film.

#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Craig S

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Posted January 21 2004 - 05:40 AM

Spellbound was indeed a 2002 release (it garnered a Best Documentary Feature Oscar nomination last year), but I don't think it saw a theatrical release in much of the country until mid-2003.
Three truths about movies, as noted by Roger Ebert:

* It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.
* No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough.
* No good movie is depressing, all bad movies are depressing.

#10 of 13 OFFLINE   David Von Pein

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Posted January 21 2004 - 05:49 AM

Thanks Craig.

By-the-by ..... For people who use www.dvdpricesearch.com to compare prices -- Disregard that site's claim that this film is presented in 16x9 LBX. It's obviously yet another AR error on that site. Posted Image

(And also disregard the 5.1 Surround notation on there too. This film certainly doesn't need a 5.1 soundtrack in the first place.)

#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted January 21 2004 - 07:07 AM

In Dallas it made a film festival in 2002. Theatrical realese was later (late 2002 or early 2003).
¡Time is not my master!

#12 of 13 OFFLINE   ClaytonMG


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Posted January 22 2004 - 11:35 AM

Actually, when we had this film at the theater I worked at, it was 1.33:1. I remember because we couldn't find the right plate to show the movie.

#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Eman_Ramos


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Posted January 22 2004 - 07:48 PM

I just saw this movie, and it was really good. But I had a lot of Jr. High flashbacks while watching it. Which kinda sucked cause I didn't really Jr. High. But you do really involved with the kids and you want them win it. Again, great movie. Highly recommended.
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