Whether you phone a friend, consult the audience, or narrow your choices—Judge Bill Gibron says do whatever you can to enjoy this Blu-ray.
Our review of Slumdog Millionaire, published March 31st, 2009, is also available.
The best film of 2008 gets one of the best Blu-ray treatments ever.
It remains one of the most unusual rags to riches stories in all of Tinsel Town—and we're not talking exclusively about the film's famous plot. Danny Boyle, the UK auteur responsible for such motion picture masterworks as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Millions, and Sunshine, was in the process of post-production on his latest effort, an adaptation of Vikas Swarup's novel Q&A. Set in Mumbai, India, and dealing with a young man poised to win the jackpot on that country's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, it featured the filmmaker's usual combination of whiz bang visuals and storytelling genius. But when financier Warners Independent laid eyes on it, it determined the film was "unreleasable." Thus began a behind the scenes battle which almost saw the title dumped as a direct to DVD release. Luckily, Fox Searchlight liked what they saw, bought the movie, and gave it a proper release. Eight Oscars and $311 million worldwide later, one studio's stumble is now another's post-millennial bragging right—and with good cause. Of all the films of 2008, Slumdog Millionaire was the most visually uplifting, culturally aware, and aesthetically diverse of them all. And on Blu-ray, it's a revelation all over again.
Facts of the Case
While appearing on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jamal (Dev Patal, Skins) is arrested by the police and accused of cheating. He is only one inquiry away from the jackpot, and no one can believe that a poor boy from the slums can be so knowledgeable. After a severe and rather brutal interrogation, the cops discover some interesting facts about Jamal's life. Born into abject poverty, he recalls his life as an urchin while proving that he knows the answer to every question asked. We learn of his mother's death at the hands of anti-Muslim protestors. We see his tenure as a part of an orphanage as organized crime begging scheme. We meet his hotheaded trickster brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, Say Salaam, India), and the girl he has loved ever since he first laid eyes on her, Lakita (Freida Pinto). After a stint as a faux tour guide at the Taj Mahal, and his current trade as a coffee boy in a cellphone call center, he appears streetwise, if not particularly educated. Still, Jamal does indeed know the answers. They just so happen to be the landmarks in his otherwise unexceptional life.
It's rare when a movie draws you in, transporting you to places familiar and yet wholly foreign to your own sphere of influence. Even with some cultural or historical perspective, a working knowledge of the region or realm being discussed, or a propensity toward a certain subject or situation, a great film will find the things you've missed and magnify them exponentially. So if someone told you that one of the best films of 2008 centered around a poor kid in India who winds up on the country's version of a now defunct game show, and just so happens to know the answers to all the questions based on his colorful life experiences, you'd probably feel comfortable with the material. Even with the East Asian setting, you'd figure the film out from its premise and prepare for a heartwarming and string tugging experience. And indeed, that's what director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy deliver with the amazing, monumental Slumdog Millionaire. Fortunately for those of us in the audience, however, the combination takes the simplistic tale and gives us much, much more.
Part travelogue, part tall tale, Slumdog sings of things unique as well as universal. Growing up in the slums of Mumbai is not everyone's frame of reference, but the feeling of being outside society and picked upon by the surrounding public is something everyone can relate to. In addition, we all hold a secret love in our heart, either one that got away, or if we're lucky, one that's stayed around for the fireworks. The framing device of the game show and the police who need proof that Jamal is not cheating is just that—a gimmick. It gives us easy access to the vast wealth of information about a country completely new and mostly unknown to us, and when Boyle and Beaufoy are banging on all eight cylinders, it's electrifying. But there is much more to this movie than the Trainspotting auteur's standard visual flair. Time and time again, the talent onscreen and the places they are interacting with literally threaten to usurp anything the duo can achieve with writing, imagery, music, and fancy editing.
If we didn't feel for Jamal, Salim, and their female parallel Latika, if we didn't instantly sync up with their "struggle and survive" wavelength, the movie could be made of diamonds and we wouldn't see the sparkle. Boyle has the innate ability to move the narrative in ways that teach us something solid about each of these individuals, and thanks to the acting of both their childhood and adult version, the sentiments of the characters are solidified and emphasized. Everything young Jamal does, from diving into feces to get his favorite star's autograph to running away from a ruthless orphanage is meant to illustrate his desire and determination. Similarly, Salim's story seems made up of shortcuts, swindles, and slides into criminality. Only Latika remains esoteric, and that's because all dream girls require an air of mystery. Even as a small kid shivering in the rain, she's enigmatic without being wholly vague. Growing into the gorgeous Ms. Pinto doesn't hurt, either.
Elsewhere, Boyle does his best Graham Parker, except this time, we are 'discovering' India. There are moments of moviemaking that literally take your ability to breathe away—the children seeking shelter in an abandoned luxury hotel, a series of upscale apartments cut directly into a sheer mountainside. From the Taj to the TV studio where Jamal makes his bid for slumdog immortality, we are experiencing the world through the eyes of someone who comprehends how simply pictures can influence you. While he's been brilliant in other arenas, from science fiction (Sunshine) to horror (28 Days Later), Boyle bathes in the hot, steamy scenery of the curry and cardamom city, and comes away smelling sweet and very, very tempting. It's hard not to be seduced by Slumdog, to walk in prepared to find the film overrated or underdeveloped and not be swept up in Boyle's beautiful creativity. Of course, there will always be cynics drawn to the dark side of nonsensical naysaying, but this is one film that tends to foil such depreciation.
In the end, Slumdog Millionaire is a movie about endurance, both internally and externally. It's amazing to think that, as stated before, a movie almost tossed out directly onto the home video format would rise like a saffron phoenix to garner the Academy's highest rating. Additionally, in a nation still growing in its appreciation of multiculturalism, such a hit would seem like a massive gamble. But it was always a mistake to underestimate Boyle. If there was one filmmaker who could take this material and turn it into something magical, lyrical, and emotional, it was him. Sure, some have cast him aside as a soldier of style over substance, and many have taken his missteps (A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach) and bellyache that he's not as great as his geek contingent make him out to be. But when you revisit Slumdog, when you remove it from the Oscar race, the overflowing hype and rampant politicking, you are still stuck with a masterpiece. You can try and deny it, and perhaps require a little perspective to recognize it, but this is one of the best films of our modern times—not just for the tale it tells, but for the way it is told as well.
Also available in a standard DVD edition, the Blu-ray version of Slumdog Millionaire argues effectively for a conversion over onto the new format. The film looks sensation here, and this is coming from someone who saw the movie twice in theaters. The use of color that Boyle excels at is heightened here, the attention to detail and panoramic vistas recreated superbly within the 2.35:1, AVCX 1080p encode. Remember—Boyle utilized both 35mm stock and digital cameras to capture the action, so there will be a definite distinction between the two. The use of grain, the occasional muddiness and lack of clarity are artistic choices on the director's part (his accompanying commentary track assures us of same). Sonically, the Blu-ray comes with only one audio mix—an English-Hindi 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that engages all the channels without subjecting us to aural chaos. Indeed, the balance between dialogue and ambient elements is excellent, and the use of music and effects really elevate the overall immersive effect. While the film itself is subtitled out of necessity, there are optional SDH, French, and Spanish translations offered.
Speaking of the added content, Fox apparently brings only one new element to the previous standard DVD, along with a second disc offering a digital copy of the film. On the primary DVD, we are treated to the aforementioned Boyle discussion, who along with star Patel, takes us through his Mr. Toad like wild ride across the backstreets and countryside of India. As with most of his accompanying commentaries, Boyle is a lot of fun to listen to. The second track features writer Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson and they are much more matter of fact about the film. Indeed, if you want more of the hands-on aspects of the movie's making, this is the conversation to listen to. There are also 12 deleted scenes provided (not in HD) which add backstory but little else, a "montage" of clips from the entire film (entitled "Slumdog Cutdown"), a wonderful Making-of which gets right to the heart of filming in a problem filled India, and a video for the song "Bombay Liquid Dance." There are also some trailers and a look at how the infamous "toilet scene" went from script to screen.
The main new feature though is a short film by Rahi Anil Barve entitled Manjha. For those who think Slumdog is too "Hollywood" in its depiction of life on the streets of the Mumbai slums, this amazing 41 minute film will give you all the horror and squalor you can handle. While it ends well, this could easily be the antidote to the misgivings many had with this film's portrayal of the Indian people.
As the first Best Picture winner to go directly from accolades to the new digital technology in less than a month, Slumdog Millionaire deserves your attention. Not only for what it stands for, film wise, but for how the Blu-ray format can recapture an actual experience. The VCR could never recreate the jaw-dropping dynamics of a theatrical film. Even laser disc and the DVD have their drawbacks. The big Blu may not be perfect, but then again, technology keeps tramping ever forward. Still, even without the near Cineplex particulars, this is an amazing movie, a "wow" that continues to elicit the same long after the excitement should have worn off. Danny Boyle's promise has always been present throughout his mostly astonishing career. Slumdog Millionaire is the supreme moment when it all came together. Luckily, the world and awards presenters were watching.
Not Guilty. Sensational Film. Excellent Blu-ray presentation.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.