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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Free Willy: 10th Anniversary
Free Willy: 10th Anniversary
Warner Bros. // PG // January 28, 2003
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 11, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

While the sequels seem necessary and the original film does often seem rather predictable, the first "Free Willy", now re-issued for the film's 10th anniversary, still works fairly effectively as a drama about a troubled teen whose friendship with a whale makes him end his destructive behavior. The film stars Jason James Richter as Jesse, an orphan who was abandoned when he was younger by his mother. Ever since, he's been in and out of foster homes and occasionally in trouble with the police.

As the film opens, Jesse is caught spraypainting graffiti across the observation windows of the local aquarium. Before he's caught by the police, Jesse notices Willy the whale staring back at him. As punishment, he's made to clean up the mess that he made and, all the while, he strikes up a friendship with Willy and begins to become a better person. Of course, there has tobe conflict, so we get drama in the form of the evil park owners, who at first, don't see the profit in building a bigger tank for the whale, then decide to harm Willy in order to get insurance money.

"Free Willy" is kept from greatness by the fact that it does embrace formula and cliches a bit too often, but the film does keep afloat thanks to both a keen sense of how to play the material without becoming too corny (although it does get a bit melodramatic now and then) and fine performances (Michael Madsen and Lori Petty offer fine supporting roles). The special effects also play a fine part, as animatronic whales are surprisingly convincing.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Free Willy" is presented once again here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Warner Brothers. Thankfully, there is no pan & scan presentation and the widescreen presentation gets a dual-layer disc all to itself. Although the fact that I haven't seen the original release makes it improssible to compare this new transfer and the older release, I would think that the added space has made a difference, as this new presentation looks awfully nice, although it does have some problems. Sharpness and detail are often excellent, as the picture appeared almost consistently bright and crisp, aside from a couple of minor instances of softness.

The only problem of real concern throughout the presentation is mild edge enhancement. While EE isn't always present, it is noticable in the several scenes where it does appear. On a positive note, the print used looked excellent, with no noticable wear or tear, while no compression artifacts were seen, either.

The film's natural color palette looked bright and well-rendered, with nice color saturation and no smearing. Black level remained solid throughout, while flesh tones also looked accurate. This isn't a transfer without some faults here and there, but I appreciated the ability to see the film's strong widescreen photography presented so well.

SOUND: "Free Willy" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. The 1993 release offers a fairly early 5.1 soundtrack, so while there are some noticable instances of surround use (for example, the thunder effects about eight minutes in), the film's soundtrack is often pretty forward-focused. Audio quality is fine, as dialogue remained clear and natural-sounding, while effects and the somewhat overdramatic score remained crisp.

EXTRAS: For a "10th Anniversary Edition", there's really not that much in the way of supplements here: we get an interview featurette with wildlife cinematographer Robert Talbot, interactive whale guide, interactive game, Michael Jackson music video, trailers for all three "Free Willy" pictures and trailers for "Willy Wonka", "Wizard of Oz" and "Scooby Doo".

Final Thoughts: It's a little long, a little predictable and occasionally a little corny, but "Free Willy" still offers fine performances, some adventure and respectably well-done family entertainment.
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