HTF REVIEW: "Free Willy" 10th Anniversary SE (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Jan 18, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein

    Free Willy
    10th Anniversary Special Edition

    Studio: Warner Bros.
    Year: 1993
    Rated: PG
    Film Length: 112 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Subtitles: English, French and Spanish

    How far would you go for a friend?
    You won't find it too hard to believe that when
    I received my screener copy of Free Willy
    last week, chills started running up my spine.
    Family films are not particularly my cup of tea,
    and this was a film I had absolutely no desire to
    watch. Still, Warner Bros. was kind enough to
    send me this film and its two sequels, so I
    compromised myself to agreeing to give the original
    film a review. As in all cases like this, I managed
    to come away with a totally different opinion than
    what I expected.
    That's right folks, I am going to admit that I
    found Free Willy to be the most enjoyable
    home theater experience I have had this year (and
    we are only in our 2nd week of that year). Not
    only was I suckered into its heartwarming story
    about the friendship that develops between a boy
    and a whale, but I thought the entire home theatrical
    experience was tremendous. This is one spectacular
    DVD, and I'll tell you why in a moment.
    Jesse (Jason James Richter) is a mischievous twelve-
    year-old boy who has never known his mother or
    father. He has been escaping from one foster home
    to another, living on the streets and stealing
    whatever he can to survive. One night, while
    vandalizing a run-down aquarium with spray paint,
    he comes face to face with a giant Orca killer
    whale named Willy. When Jesse gets caught, he is
    punished and made to clean up his painted graffiti.
    Upon their second meeting, the whale and the boy
    seem to understand one another, and Jesse is thrilled
    when Willy responds to the music of his harmonica and
    imitates his motions. Meanwhile, Jesse has been
    adopted by Annie and Glen Greenwood (Michael Madsen),
    who hope to give Jesse the family support he needs.
    Of course, what would a film like this be without
    a bad guy. In this case, that bad guy is park owner
    Dial (Michael Ironside) whose only interest in the
    whale is to make him money. When the greedy owner
    sees that Willy is not going to repay his investment,
    he devises another means to recoup his financial
    loss. When Jesse finds out about the owner's
    diabolical scheme, he sets plans in motion to free
    the whale and return him to the sea.
    Sure the film is extremely sappy, but you gotta
    hand it to Executive Producer Richard Donner
    (Superman, Lethal Weapon) for putting together
    what has got to be one of the best family films
    of the past 10 years. At its very core, it's a
    film about two outcasts and how love brings them
    home at last. By the way, this film features a
    real killer whale named Keiko (who is doubled in
    some scenes by animatronic models).
    How is the transfer?
    Behold! This is one of the most gorgeous catalog
    transfers ever to be seen on DVD. I was held
    captive for the film's entire length by a picture
    that can be described as nothing short of perfection.
    No kidding! Picture is extremely vibrant, ultra-
    sharp and with colors that are eye-poppingly vivid.
    This is one of those transfers that just leaps off
    the screen because it seems to be multi-dimensional.
    It's been a long time since I have seen a catalog
    title look this magnificent with deep reds and
    blues leaping out from an ultra smooth background
    that exhibits not a single spec of noise or grain.
    There is so much detail to be seen here, and none
    of it gets lost during the film's darker night
    scenes. This is absolute perfection!
    The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also equally as
    impressive as the transfer. This is a highly
    active mix with excellent sound direction. The
    audio is distinctively crisp and clean. Every
    sound is well defined. Dialogue rests squarely
    in the front channel with nice wide dynamic audio
    across the fronts. Basil Poledouris's score is
    the real highlight here, as it warmly wraps itself
    around the rear channels. Speaking of the rear
    channels, there's a lot of activity going on here --
    particularly under water. You'll feel yourself
    surrounded by the sounds of wisping water while
    you watch the ballet-like movements of a pod of
    wales. These underwater noises are later intensified
    as you watch Willy swim inside his holding tank.
    The LFE channel not only provides a nice amount
    of bass support to the film's score but is used
    in accenting things like Willy's tail slapping and
    the amount of force in water rushing out of a huge
    holding tank.
    Special Features
    It's a real shame that very much like the
    Harry Potter DVD, Warner Bros. can't seem
    to put out a family title whose extras serve the
    interests of both adults and kids. Everything here
    is mostly all for young kids -- not that this is
    a bad thing -- but for adults, there is nothing
    about the making of the film. For instance, I
    would have loved to know about the mechanical
    whale that was used in the movie or perhaps a
    behind-the-scenes featurette.
    In A conversation with Bob Talbot, we are
    introduced to the world renowned wildlife
    cinematographer -- a man who has been in love
    with whales ever since he was a young kid. Bob
    gives us some basic background information on
    these intelligent creatures that have a life
    expectancy between 25 and 75 years (pending on
    who you talk to). We learn what an ordinary day
    for a whale photographer is like (mostly waiting),
    and even get to see the photographer and his
    cameraman in action as they photograph a pod of
    whales off in the distance.
    (length: approx. 5 minutes)
    This is great for kids! A Whale's Tale
    is a fun and educational tool that encourages
    your child to use the DVD remote and click on
    any part of an Orca Whale's body to learn more
    about their living environment, body coloration,
    fins, tail and "melon" (to name a few). I must
    confess that I managed to learn a lot about
    whales just from playing around with this for
    a few minutes.
    Escape The Nets is a very simplistic game
    that requires you to maneuver Willy around obstacles
    that block his path. As Willy swims across the
    ocean, a blue dot appears, indicating you press
    the proper key on your remote (up or down) to
    steer the whale in the right direction.
    Whale Ballet is nothing more than a
    2-minute collage of scenes from the film set to
    Basil Poledouris's beautiful score.
    You not only get the film's original theatrical
    trailer, but trailers for Free Willy 2
    and Free Willy 3: The Rescue. There are
    also DVD promotional trailers for Scooby-Doo,
    The Wizard Of Oz
    and Willy Wonka & The
    Chocolate Factory
    Michael Jackson's Will You Be There Music
    Video is also included as well.
    DVD-ROM content is mostly WB KIDS website
    related, although there is a Shockwave game for
    kids to play. Unfortunately, my new computer did
    not have Shockwave installed and MACROMEDIA.COM
    was temporarily down at the time of this review.
    Final Thoughts
    I have to admit, I have always loved the pot shots
    that have been taken at Free Willy -- especially
    Robin William's infamous sexual innuendo joke. It
    was probably those kind of cheap shots that never
    made me want to see this film in the first place.
    Having just seen Free Willy, I can't help
    but applaud the fact that this is probably the best
    solid piece of family entertainment that has graced
    the screen in a long time. What kid can resist being
    moved to tears by this story of a whale in trouble.
    What parent can resist a story that teaches a child
    family values and how human strength can overcome
    any situation.
    For those of you like myself who have no children,
    you'll certainly appreciate the fact that this is
    a tremendously beautiful transfer that is as near
    to perfection as a transfer can get. If the story
    doesn't move you to tears, the gorgeous transfer
    Release Date: January 28, 2003
    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Robert McLay

    Robert McLay Stunt Coordinator

    Nov 2, 2002
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    Great Review Ron, and I must admit that I always liked this one also - although not the sequels so much.

    Keep up the great work.

  3. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Supporting Actor

    Dec 21, 2002
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    Great review, Ron!!

    This was a definite purchase for me as soon as it was announced, but now that I am sure it will have a beautiful transfer it's even higher priority. It's a shame that I don't have the money for the entire trilogy, but this one will be great by itself too.

    [rant]It's just a shame that Warner Bros. can't give a family title a good special edition in the extras department. While Universal's barebones, P&S-only "Balto" came pretty close, the award for the most disappointing DVD of last year has to go to Harry Potter, since it had the potential to be one of the best releases in the history of the format but decided to go the dumbed-down kiddy route. WBHV had crew doccumenting every day of production and yet all they use are 15 minutes of interviews in which the perticipants say nothing that a Harry Potter fanatic doesn't already know from other sources. Hopefully they will do better on Chamber of Secrets, but I doubt it. To be fair, this Free Willy release seems to be a vast improvement over the largely barebones and now out of print movie-only edition; the information on whales should be interesting, at least. But still, why not a "Freeing Willy" making-of doccumentary or something? Come on, it's the tenth anniversary of the original release, it would be the prime chance to at least get some retrospective interviews from cast and crew members, or to do a featurette on what happened to the whale that played Willy during and after filming wrapped up. At least give us a commentary, or something! for crying out loud! Oh well, at least the video quality is reportedly exceptional.[/rant]

    Okay, there, I'm done....
  4. Dave Scarpa

    Dave Scarpa Producer

    Apr 8, 1999
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    David Scarpa
    Ron, I gotta Ask did you ever get Band of Brothers ? I just watched the last couple of Eps today and that baby is dying for a review.
  5. Ryan Peter

    Ryan Peter Screenwriter

    Sep 15, 1999
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    Jake - I love your "last name" [​IMG]
    Ron - nice review!
  6. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein
    Jake's name is in violation of forum rules.

    As far as Band Of Brothers, no, I never
    bough it. I should ... but I probably will never
    get to watch it at this rate.
  7. Wade M.

    Wade M. Extra

    Oct 26, 2002
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    Well at least his real first name is there, like mine. (I'm not "big" enough yet to include my last name except the initial.) I guess NO fake name can be anywhere in the handle (Baggins), even if a part of the real name is in there (Jake)? Just asking for a clarification [​IMG]
  8. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

    Jan 12, 1999
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    Monroe, LA
    Real Name:
    Tim Glover
    Kind of surprised at Ron's review of the transfer and audio. They obviously improved the original release. It's great news though and will be getting this! Nice Review Ron. [​IMG]
  9. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein
    My mistake. I should have handled this privately
    instead of turning this review thread into one
    about usernames. My apologies.

    We just don't want names that look like phony
    nicknames. If you don't want to use your real
    name here, fine -- but please don't make it obvious
    that you are faking it.

  10. Jake Lipson

    Jake Lipson Supporting Actor

    Dec 21, 2002
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    Before signing up I did read the name rules thourgly and it asked for a real first name. My first name IS Jake. It did not specify that the last name had to be real. But, anyway...this is off topic, so I'll be quiet now.
  11. Angel Pagan

    Angel Pagan Second Unit

    Aug 15, 1998
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    Wow, what a glowing review. I guess I was thrown off by the absence of the "Highly Recommended" tag.

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