Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman
Extras: Featurettes, Roundtable Interview, Theatrical Trailer

"Million Dollar Baby" is the latest film in Clint Eastwood's remarkable career. Once again he directed the film and stars in it and once again he takes on a premise that may appear completely simple and straight-forward and turns it into an experience that you probably would not expect. I will watch anything that Clint Eastwood is in, quite frankly, and as a director he has proven over and over again that he is far from formulaic or straight-forward. He is in fact a filmmaker who crafts his movies with such perfection and with such empathy for the subject matter that you can't help walking away form them, thinking about them for a long, long time.

"Million Dollar Baby" is no different and it certainly deserved its accolades it received and the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2005. It starts out so simple. Frankie (Clint Eastwood), an aging boxing trainer refuses to train Maggie (Hilary Swank) when she approaches him in adoration. "I don't train girls," he simply says and walks off, over and over again. She is persistent and catches the eye of Eddie "Scrap" Dupris (Morgan Freeman), a former boxer who is now helping Frankie run his gym. Scrap is giving her some pointers and eventually even manages to get Frankie to reconsider his decision. When his world-champion-class boxer leaves Frankie and switches to another manager, Frankie decides to give Maggie a chance after all and soon he realizes that she does have a lot of talent. But there's more, in a way she allows Frankie to find some sense of closure with his past and his own daughter who abandoned him many years ago.

The film is marvelously acted and serves up a magnificent cinematography. Every shot in this film has been composed for maximum effect, whether it's a simple shot of Maggie training, the ring-shots during competition, the dimly lit nighttime shots in the gym or any other image you see in this film.
Characters are dimensional and have depth, values and motivation and it is easy to root for or against them. Maggie's family member have very little on-screen time but you despise them for every second they show their faces, even though these are people we don't really know. Eastwood's sure-handed direction and the film's overall pacing and depth make all this possible – and more.

Given the beautiful cinematography of the film I was expecting great things of the HD-DVD version and I wasn't disappointed. Once again the high definition plays its muscle by rendering an image full of detail and texture. Presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio the transfer is absolutely clean and without any defects or any hint of grain. It has a wonderful film-like quality that truly makes you feel like you're sitting in a movie theater watching a projected image. In terms of overall sharpness and definition it is somewhere between "The Phantom Of The Opera" – which is extremely sharp with its controlled imagery – and "The Last Samurai" which almost appears soft at times. The image always looks natural and once you start focusing on details, such as fabric or an actors hair or skin, you suddenly notice the wealth of definition the picture contains.
The movie has very deep blacks and makes masterful use of them and this transfer reproduces them magnificently – a tad better than the DVD I would say. Colors are faithful and even the must subtle hues are perfectly rendered as well as the vibrant moments when we have lush outdoor shots or the championship match.
I was looking really closely but no edge-enhancement can be found in the presentation, giving it a natural look throughout, as described above.

Once you start navigating this HD-DVD's menus you will quickly notice that it also contains a number of bonus materials.
These bonus materials include a roundtable interview featuring the "Inside The Actor's Studio" host James Lipton along with Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. It is an interesting and also entertaining roundtable that truly gives valuable insight into the creation of the movie. Characters, ambitions and backgrounds are discussed as well as general ideas and notions the film offers up. Lipton is known for his wonderful interviews and his ability to bring actors out of their shell to show their true selves, and this interview is not exception.

"Born To Fight" is a featurette that highlights the sports of boxing and offers up a series of interview snippets with Lucia Rijker, the real-live boxer who plays Maggie's opponent in the championship match. Many of the cast members also talk about the sport, making this 20-minute featurette quite interesting.

"Producers Round 15" is a short featurette highlighting the production of the film and offers up more interviews with crew members, most notably Eastwood, producer/writer Paul Haggis and producer Tom Rosenberg. It offers up some interesting tidbits and certainly adds some depth to the release.

The disc is rounded out by the movie's theatrical trailer.

All bonus features on his release are once again presented in 480p format. My sentiment still is that it would be great to have the bonus materials in 1080p as well, I do understand that in order to save money on this unproven format, studios will be using the original 480p DVD assets fro some time before producing dedicated high definition extras.

"Million Dollar Baby" is a fascinating film with unexpected twists – at least I did not see the major plot turn in the movie coming when I first watched it ad I certainly did not expect its ending. Clint Eastwood has a hand for some wonderfully heartfelt films that deal with real issues and characters that treat these issues like real people and not superhumans. Masterfully brought to the screen and coming as a very cool HD-DVD, this is definitely one of those movies you have to add to your HD-DVD collection.