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Slumdog Millionaire

Fox // R // March 31, 2009
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 5, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Jama Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees.
How did he do it?
A:  He cheated
B:  He's lucky
C: He's a genius
D:  It is written

The Movie:
Truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of the Oscars.  It seems that, more often than not, when one film sweeps the awards it's never a great film.  Entertaining, good, and finely crafted, yes, but rarely great.  (Looking back, did Titanic or Gladiator really deserve all those awards?)  This year was the exception however.  Slumdog Millionaire won an amazing eight Oscars are really did deserve them.  A decade from now the film will be considered director Danny Boyle's masterpiece and still widely viewed.  Fox has released this amazing film on Blu-ray with copious extras and a top notch image and great soundtrack.

Jamal Malik is an uneducated product of the slums of Mumbai.  Yet when he goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire he breezes through the questions making it all the way to the final round before the show's time is up.  When doctors, lawyers, and other educated people can't come close to what Jamal has done, the host has the police question the young man.  After a night of torture where he refuses to confess, a detective finally sits him down and goes through a recording of the show, question by question.  Jamal explains how he knew the answers and in doing so tell his life story one of extreme poverty, crime, violence, and even love.
As a young boy, Jamal and his older brother, Salim see there mother murdered by a mob for being a Muslim and from that moment on they are on their own.  Teaming up with another orphan, Latika, the three survive by their wits, often being protected by the older Salim.  When Latika becomes separated from the brothers, Jamal vows to find her, and though years pass and tragedies befall them all, Jamal never forgets the young girl he's know for most of his life and refuses to give up looking for her.

The plot for this film would have fit in well in a Dickens novel, but the unique style that the story unfolds, mostly told during flashbacks as Jamal is being interrogated, is what propels the movie along and makes the two hour + running time seem much shorter.  There are actually several plots unfolding at the same time, but since the film is subtle and assumes that the viewers are intelligent, it doesn't bang you over the head with its MESSAGE.
The most obvious story line follows how Jamal got as far as he did on the game show and tells the story of his violent and unpleasant life.  This shows the horrors of being an orphan in a developing country where (according to the movie) children are intentionally maimed to make them more sympathetic when they are begging.  Parts of the film are hard to watch, make no mistake about that, but it's this horror that makes Jamal's struggle so engrossing.
The more interesting plot line as far as I was concerned was the exploration of the two brothers and how the events that shaped their lives made them radically different people.  They both witnessed horrific and terrible things, and this made Salim, the older brother, tough, cruel, and nearly emotionless.  These were traits he had to take on if he was going to protect his younger brother, which he did though not necessarily in a nice way.

These same events on the other hand made Jamal sympathetic and kind.  He had empathy for people's pain, having been through worse himself.  Though this made him a nice person, it's not a trait that helps survival and Salem often had to make tough decisions for both of them.
One of the great tragedies of this film is Salim's story, and how from a very young age he's put on a track that leads to no good.  When Jamal decides to search for the missing Latika, the pragmatic Salim knows that no good will come of the search but goes along with it anyway.  This lead him to a string of choices where only one will lead to he and Jamal surviving, but it will also push him deeper and deeper into trouble.
Finally there's the mystery of why Jamal is so unexcited by his winnings and so calm on the show.  A point that is missed by some critics of the film.  How could it be that someone who grew up in abject poverty could not care about winning a fortune and continue to risk it when the odds seem against him?

In addition to the excellent script and award winning visual style (more on that in the video section) the film features bravura performances by the entire cast.  The youngest child actors were simply amazing, and the adult leads were excellent as well.  Dev Patel (Jamal) resisted the temptation to overplay his role, which would have been easy to do given the script, and created a subtle but strong character that really makes the film.  Another stand out performance was given by Anil Kapoor, the slimy game show host.  The parallels between the host and Salim are striking and the 'battle' between he and Jamal makes for interesting drama.
When all is said and done this is a magnificent film.  Told in a unique way with an arresting visual style, Slumdog Millionaire is an intelligent and engrossing film that truly deserves all of the public and critical praise that it has received.
The Blu-ray Disc:


The AVC/1080p encoded disc presents the film with its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it looks very good.  The film was created in an unusual, stylized manner that worked very well:  the flashback scenes were shot on Fuji film and the present day segments were recorded on high definition video tape.  This works as a nice visual cue as to when events are taking place.  The past sequences were a bit overexposed, with whites tending to run a little hot and colors are slightly washed out.  There was also a fairly strong amount of grain in the low light scenes such as when the young Jamal, his brother, and Latika are in the empty hotel at night.  This is how the film was intended to look, and contrasted to the present day segments it works well.
In the digital video segments the blacks were a tad off, not quite as deep as I would have liked them to be, but the lines are generally sharper and the level of detail is a bit higher.  On the digital side of things there's nothing to complain about.  The powers that be resisted the urge to monkey with the film by adding edge enhancement or digitally manipulating the film, which I very good, and compression artifacts are not present.
Overall this is a very nice looking disc.  It gives viewers a real taste for what the slums of India must be like, the dirt and grime are so realistic you can almost taste it.
The lossless DTS-HD MA soundtrack is also very nice with only a few small defects.  The full soundstage is used throughout the film, putting the viewer right in the center of the action.  The chase scene at the beginning where the kids are being pursued by the cops has the sounds of Mumbai coming from all corners of the room. Likewise with the background music; it has a very nice dynamic range and is thrown to all the speakers so that viewers are immersed in the sound.  The lows are represented well and though this won't give your sub a workout like an action film there's plenty of reason to be thankful that you invested in the low frequency speaker.
The only real problem I had with the audio track was with the levels in some sections.  In a few scenes the music was so loud that I had to turn it down, while in others it was hard to make out what people were saying when they were whispering without turning the volume up a couple of notches.  In any case this was a relatively minor matter.
This disc has a great collection of bonus material that really adds a lot to the film.  First off is a great commentary track with director Danny Boyle and star Dev Patel.  This is one of the better commentaries I've heard in a while; fun, informative, and lively.  The pair talk about the trial of filming on location (and why they didn't film in the real red district) and share several interesting behind the scenes anecdotes.  Well worth listening to.  The second commentary track features producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy.  I found this track good though a little dry, especially when compared to the first commentary.  There was some new information about the production and filming presented which makes it worth listening to.
There are 12 deleted scenes (all in SD) on the disc that run over half an hour all together.  Usually I find that there were good reasons for deleting scenes, but in this case I felt that they should have all been included in the theatrical cut.  These scenes plug some of the plot holes that are in the final cut of the movie.  After Jamal confesses to being present at a murder, why don't the police charge him with being an accessory, especially since they are looking for a reason to arrest him?  Why did the two brothers suddenly leave the Taj Mahal where they were making good money scamming tourists?  Why was the game show host so antagonistic towards Jamal?  The cut scenes answer (or at least imply answers) to all those questions and more.  This should be the first thing you watch after seeing the film.
The main featurette is Slumdog Dreams: Danny Boyle and the Making of Slumdog Millionaire (SD), a 23 minute look at the production.  I only wish that more making-of pieces were like this.  They keep the back-patting to a minimum and look at the actual production. It was quite refreshing.
That would be more than enough for most disc, but there's more.  They also include a 5-minute look at a single scene, From Script to Screen: The Toilet Scene (one of the most amusing segments in the film), a "short" Indian film: Manjha which runs for 41 minutes and my not be everyone's cup of tea, and a music video Bombay Liquid Dance.  The disc is rounded out with the American theatrical trailer (HD), and the European theatrical trailer (SD).
A second disc contains a digital copy of the film for iPods and such.  (Are there really a lot of people who have invested in Blu-ray set ups and then watch movies on a 3" iPod screen?)
Final Thoughts:
An arresting film that will have you glued to your seat for its whole two hour running time, Slumdog Millionaire is was rightfully awarded the Academy Award for Best Picture (among many other awards) last year.  Now that it's available on Blu-ray with strong A/V quality and copious extras, there's no reason not to add this disc to your library.  Highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

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