Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award winning picture gets another round on Blu-ray with a 10th anniversary edition, but the release doesn’t prove as strong a contender as it could have been.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/VC-1
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/04/2014
Diner waitress Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) dreams of being a professional boxer, but at 31-years old the chances of her seeing her dream fulfilled ranges from slim to none. Nevertheless, she sets her sights on Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), the owner of a rundown boxing gym and sometime fight trainer, to make her a contender.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Frankie, however, isn’t convinced, and keeps her at arm’s length despite Maggie’s repeated efforts to ingratiate herself. Though Frankie’s longtime friend and gym manager Scrap (Morgan Freeman) also thinks Maggie has something to offer, Frankie takes a brutally honest approach, but whether from stubbornness or plain desperation, his criticism only makes her dig in her heels more.
That kind of tenacity seems to count for something, and Frankie soon relents, agreeing to train Maggie until she doesn’t need him anymore. But that time never comes; as much as he tries to find it, Frankie quickly learns he needs Maggie just as much as she needs him.
Clint Eastwood’s 25th directorial effort caused its share of controversy in 2004, turning the director’s quasi-parable about an aspiring boxer and her reluctant trainer into a bone of contention for both disability and right to life advocates. It gave the movie some added attention, particularly during the awards season, but, as usual, didn’t lend much meaningful substance to the conversation.
Of more critical value were observations around the development of the main characters and what seemed like inconsistent behavior – for one, if not both, of them – in the final act. Indeed, Frankie and Maggie’s ultimate decisions are confounding, though possible to rationalize given the enormity of the situation they face, coupled with the inherent unpredictability of being human.
For some, however, the shift can’t be rationalized through existing story and character cues, making the developments seem more like sentimental contrivance than a natural progression of the narrative. Likewise, inaccurate or poorly conveyed medical details proved a distraction, with Eastwood explaining he was more concerned with conveying the story’s emotional throughline than the technical realism of those elements. Understandably, for those with a different view of what a film should contain, it called into question the film’s eventual Academy Award wins for Best Picture and Best Director.
Less contentious were the Oscars granted to Swank for Best Actress and Freeman for Best Supporting Actor. The former, having already established her level of commitment in 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry, once again displays the pyschological and physical lengths she’ll go to in creating a character. Freeman’s role tends to float around the periphery of Maggie’s story, but it carries a powerful arc of its own that reflects and eventually informs her journey. For the subtlety of Freeman’s work and what he lends to the others’ performances, and the film as a whole, the Oscar is most deserved, an MVP award in the absence of such a prize.
Framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec, the transfer appears identical to the one used for the 2006 Blu-ray. Though it earned stellar reviews at the time, when seeing a film in high definition was still a novelty, perceptions of the image quality have tempered after several years, thanks to increasingly sophisticated encoding methods as well as viewer experience. That said, Million Dollar Baby still holds its own, standing out for its deep, deep black levels, fine color depth and strong detail. Depending on the size of the display, some will see patches of noise in background tones and fine patterned areas, though ultimately not enough to distract. What is consistently frustrating, however, is the picture’s contrast levels, which can look quite compacted at the lower end of the spectrum. During more evenly lit scenes, the crushing creates a punchy, but still acceptable, looking image. But in the film’s many high contrast, chiaroscuro images (e.g. Frankie’s heart-to-heart with Maggie in the gym and later their conversation in the car) the fall off from light to dark feels much too sharp, making one look in vain for a bit of detail in the shadows. Granted, this could be how things looked theatrically, and thus as intended by the filmmakers, but I’ll leave such comparisons to those who have better memories than I.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The 10th anniversary edition upgrades the audio to a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that offers a pleasingly crisp center channel, balanced surrounds and clean bass response. Voices, specifically Eastwood’s and Freeman’s gravelly notes, stand out for their detail, while crowd noise, boxing sound effects, and dramatic cues in the score blend seamlessly for an involving experience.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The extras carry over material from the previous Blu-ray and adds a half-hour retrospective video piece.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
New to the 10th Anniversary Edition:
- Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes (26:04, HD): The 10-year retrospective includes interviews with Producers Albert Ruddy, Screenwriter Paul Haggis, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank, describing the film’s initial development, Eastwood’s directing style, Swank’s physical training, as well as providing character and story analysis. The piece tries to make a case that getting the film made was a struggle, but more time is spent hitting the requisite milestones in the production process than proving its assertion. Consequently, it offers neither many insights nor surprises.
- Commentary by Producer Albert Ruddy
- James Lipton Takes on Three (24:45, SD): Lipton interviews Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank shortly after their Academy Award wins.
- Born to Fight (19:13, SD): Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Lucia Rijker (Blue Bear), and Jay Baruchel (Danger) discuss the film’s characters, relationships and themes.
- The Producers: Round 15 (13:05, SD): Producers Albert Ruddy and Tom Rosenberg and Screenwriter Paul Haggis talk about their efforts turning the original stories by F.X. Toole into a film.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:28, HD)
For the 10th anniversary of the Academy Award winning Million Dollar Baby, Warner Home Video provides but a modest effort, re-using the high definition transfer from the early days of Blu-ray, throwing in a perfunctory retrospective, but then upgrading the audio to a lossless format. For first time purchasers of the title, it’s the clear choice, but for those who have the previously released Blu-ray (or HD-DVD), the purchase is largely unnecessary.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
Support HTF when you buy this title: