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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Paddle to the Sea

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#1 of 5 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 18 2008 - 09:52 AM

Paddle to the Sea
Directed by Bill Mason

Studio: Janus
Year: 1966
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 28 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH
MSRP: $ 14.95

Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 18, 2008

The Film


Bill Mason’s Paddle to the Sea is a sweet cinematic trifle. As airy as a bubble, the movie is a lovely little short film, a kind of feel good tidbit that might pave the way for a more substantial journey-film to be sampled later.

Kyle, a sickly Canadian lad, whittles an Indian in a canoe out of wood which he names “Paddle in the Sea.” On the underside of the carved object, he also carves the words “Please put me back in the water” for anyone who happens upon the object and decides to keep it. His goal for his creation is for it to travel from Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. To do that, it has to go down river to Lake Superior, traverse through all of the other Great Lakes, maneuver its way through the Erie Canal to emerge into the Atlantic Ocean. On its journey, it runs into all sorts of adversaries from predatory birds, snakes, beavers, and frogs to other nonliving facets of Mother Nature herself with her glacial temperatures, powerful waterfalls, and fire. There are also selfish human beings like fishermen or a little boy with his dog who might covet the adorable carving as a prized trophy rescued from the briny. So its odds of actually reaching the ocean are minimal, but the journey is everything.

Based on the Caldecott-winning children’s picture book by Holling C. Holling, Paddle to the Sea couldn’t be more endearing. One can imagine teachers for decades using the book (and the film in 16mm or video form) to teach the geography of Canada and the northeastern United States, especially the Great Lakes regions. There is even some “green appeal” to the story as the wooden object has to maneuver itself through industrial waste and sludge on its epic journey, clearly an impressive forward-looking criticism of water pollution and a plea for clean-up efforts from major industrial concerns.

Bill Mason’s transitions between shots aren’t always so smooth; it’s obvious the filming took many months, and sometimes continuity is a trifle sloppy. Still, the story, the wonderful cinematography, and the appealing music score by Louis Applebaum combine to make a very pleasurable journey-film for the young and the young-at-heart.

Video Quality


The film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio is presented in a slightly windowboxed DVD transfer. The film has a very dated look with focus not the sharpest (except in a couple of late scenes) and the image littered with debris, hairs, and dirt specks. Colors are rather drab, too, betraying the age of the film elements. The film is divided into 10 chapters.

Audio Quality


The Dolby Digital 1.0 track is standard issue mono. The narration, music, and sound effects are all listenable and clear, but it’s definitely a workable audio track and nothing more. At least there are no digital artifacts: no hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter to mar the audio experience.

Special Features

½ /5

The DVD case contains an insert with some black and white and color stills from the movie as well as liner notes by Michael Koresky. A chapter listing and the crew credits are also provided in the insert. Oddly, there is no cast listing identifying any of the people in the film either in the insert or in the credits to the movie.

In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

Paddle to the Sea is a slight, special little movie. Not a great film (it was Oscar nominated for Best Live Action Short Film but didn’t win), it’s still a sweet, tasty little morsel easily consumed and easily digested.

Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC


#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted April 23 2008 - 04:36 AM

Thanks for the review Matt, although I am appalled that the video quality is as poor as you indicate. Sounds like it's time for another letter to the NFB. Posted Image

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted April 23 2008 - 11:34 AM

I, too, am surprised at what is turning out to be a less than ownable piece of legendary NFB cinema. They are typically very protective in terms of archiving, but I think that Criterion was probably not prepared to do too much in terms of digital cleanup on a title that's currently pre-selling for less than $10 on Amazon. It makes me nervous about how they are going to be presenting The Red Balloon, another school-age memory for so many of us. A PPR copy on VHS from our local public library shows how badly the film has deteriorated over the years.
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#4 of 5 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted April 23 2008 - 04:16 PM

I've reviewed THE RED BALLOON (in fact, of the three Janus films released this month, I did it first), and its video quality is quite beautiful.

#5 of 5 ONLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted April 23 2008 - 05:21 PM

Paddle to the Sea was shot in 16mm, probably color reversal. Judging from DVD Beaver caps, it looks the same as others shot that way. By contrast, I believe that The Red Balloon was shot in 3-strip Technicolor (35mm) and White Mane was also 35mm.

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