Life, love and a flock fowl.
If I were a Hollywood executive (*snicker*) and someone pitched the idea of Fly Away Home to me, I'd have told them to take a long hike back to Burbank. "That's the silliest thing I've ever heard!" would have been my initial response. Fly Away Home went on to do respectable business at the box office as well as garner critical and audience acclaim. I think we can all admit that it's a good thing I am not a Hollywood executive. Fly Away Home is based on the true story of Bill Lishman, a Canadian artist who proved that geese could be taught a new, safer migration pattern as winter approached. Lishman's life story was bought, tweaked, and turned into the Anna Paquin/Jeff Daniels drama Fly Away Home. Directed by Carroll Ballard (Never Cry Wolf, The Black Stallion), Columbia Pictures lets soar the special edition of Fly Away Home.
Facts of the Case
Thirteen-year old Amy Alden (Paquin) lives in New Zealand with her loving mother. One night while driving in dangerous weather, their car careens off the highway and crashes into a guardrail. Amy's mother is killed in the crash, and when she recovers, Amy finds that she is now moving to Canada to live with her estranged father Thomas (Daniels) on a sprawling farm. Thomas is an eccentric artist not used to having little girls around. Amy starts to feel out of place at school and withdrawn from her father.
While Amy adjusts to her new surroundings, a construction company has plans to bulldoze the nearby forest to make way for urban expansion. After the damage is done, Amy finds some abandoned goose eggs in the rubble. She takes them home and with the help of some incubating equipment watches them hatch into newborn geese!
As exciting as this is, it poses a problem: the geese have no mother to show them the way south when the winter comes. A game warden says that their wings must be clipped, but Amy's dad has a better plan: have Amy teach the geese how to fly to safer weather with the help of a mini biplane built specifically for this purpose!
Fly Away Home finds a delicate balance between sappy kid's stuff and engaging drama. Though I had a fair amount of interest in seeing Fly Away Home, I was expecting it to be general kiddy fluff. To my surprise, Fly Away Home was much more than that. The first thing that struck me was the visuals by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (who also worked with director Carroll on The Black Stallion). Deschanael's visuals capture some of the most striking scenes I've ever witnessed. Amy soaring above the clouds with a flock of geese behind her is a wondrous sight to behold. Equally enticing is Mark Isham's haunting score, a perfect companion to the touching, iconic images. The beginning tone is well set with singer Mary Chapin Carpenter's "10,000 Miles" sweeping over the initial car wreck.
Paquin's portrayal of Amy shows how wide a range this actress possesses. Paquin won an Academy Award in 1993 for her stunning work in Jane Campion's The Piano. Since then Paquin has amassed a wide body of work, including Bryan Singer's X-Men. Many children will be able to relate to Amy's harsh change of lifestyles; one moment she's living happily in New Zealand with her mother, then she's suddenly sent to live with her estranged father in the middle of Canada. At one point Amy storms in the house announcing how much she hates school. I can understand this harsh sentiment. I remember changing schools when I was in fifth grade and hating every minutes of the next few years. Having your roots pulled and then forced to assimilate at such a young age can be a tough. Amy finds her solace in the geese that she raise, and experiences freedom in helping them find their wings.
The supporting cast around Paquin also finds the right pitch to the film; Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) as her odd father is wonderful. Thomas is a man who is just as out of his element as Amy is. At one point Thomas leaps from his bed and out the door to yell at a local construction company, not realizing that he is clad in only his BVDs. Amy is less than amused. Daniels character is loosely based on Bill Lishman (who was also an artist in real life). Dana Delaney ("China Beach") as Thomas' girlfriend is mostly on the periphery of the script, though she plays the part well. Terry Kinky (Save The Last Dance) amuses as Thomas' brother, a character who seems to be included mostly for comic relief.
Though the script is nothing extraordinary, it finds very soft moments in Thomas and Amy's interaction. The gradual curve that their relationship takes is never unrealistic or cheesy. Through the migrating geese, Amy and her father are able to come to a better understanding of what makes each other tick. Even the Dana Delaney character has a nice arc with Amy; though slightly underwritten, Delany's character comes to terms with Amy's compassion and protective nature of the birds. Many kids (and adults) could take a lesson in the way people treat each other in a film like Fly Away Home.
Fly Away Home: Special Edition is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has done a fine job with the transfer, including vibrant colors and solid black levels. Fly Away Home depends on having a crisp, clean picture, and Columbia doesn't disappoint with a beautifully rendered transfer. Only a small amount of edge enhancement was spotted, though nothing intrusive to the viewing.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, as well as a Dolby 2.0 Surround track in French, Spanish and Portuguese. This is a very nice track, utilizing all of the speakers at various stages during the movie. When Amy's plane soars over the screen, you can almost feel it take off into the distance. Dialogue was clean with music and effects mixed evenly. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, and Chinese subtitles are also included.
Fly Away Home comes in a new Special Edition with a nest full of extra features. The first feature is two commentary tracks: one by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and director Carroll Ballard, and another by composer Mark Isham (Of Mice and Men, Blade) that is a music track only. The first track is a less than stellar listen, drawing out as very dry and informative, though always insightful. Deschanel and Ballard know the ins and outs of this film, and they seem happy with the finished product. Unfortunately, the track is just not that exciting to listen to. However, it should provide fans of the film with enough behind-the-scenes information to wet their whistles. A second track is included featuring Mark Isham's delicate score, plus commentary by the composer. For film music buffs this is an essential track, as a score CD was never issued for the movie. Isham tends to drone on a bit, but finding out his reasons for utilizing certain instruments and themes makes this track worth your time.
Three separate featurettes are included: "HBO Special: Leading the Flock," "Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather," and a 49-minute documentary titled "The Ultra Geese." All three of these documentaries are well produced, "The Ultra Geese" being the best of the three. "The Ultra Geese" is a lengthy look at the life and work of Bill Lishman. Contained in the documentary are many interviews with Lishman as he discusses his reasoning behind the flight, as well as some great video footage of Lishman and the actual geese in-transit. This documentary is one of the best companion pieces I have ever seen for a movie, showing the real life story and interweaving it with the Hollywood version. "Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather" is about 20 minutes in length and is a general summation of "The Ultra Geese." Informative, though much of the information seemed to be covered in "The Ultra Geese." "HBO Special: Leading the Flock" deals primarily with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Fly Away Home. Much of this consists of interviews with Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin, Dana Delaney, and Terry Kinney, among others. Included are various snippets and scenes from the movie, which is not surprising as this was used to promote the film on TV. Bundled together, these three documentaries are a wonderful way for the viewer to learn more about the movie and real-life adventure Fly Away Home is based on.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's hard to find any negative comments about Fly Away Home. It's a cute movie that will entertain and inspire. Kids will love the story while adults enjoy the stunning photography.
A film that easily appeals to all ages, Fly Away Home is a touching story with some extraordinary cinematography. Columbia has included some excellent bonus materials along with a fine transfer and Dolby 5.1 mix. I highly recommend this DVD to those with children. Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels give faultless performances, and the geese…well, those things certainly do poop a lot.
Fly Away Home: Special Edition earns its wings as a cute film about the rewards that come with compassion, persistence, and letting your dreams run wild.
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Scales of Justice
• Director and Cinematographer's Commentary
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