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Running Time: 122 Minutes
Starring: Hilary Swank, Patrick Dempsey, Imelda Staunton
Directed By: Richard LaGravanese
Retail Price: $29.99
Features: Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Theatrical Trailer, Photo Gallery, Sneak Peaks
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widecreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Chapter Selection
Released: April 17th, 2007
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "Freedom Writers" looks pretty good (a separate full screen version is also available). Richard LaGravense's somewhat gritty visual look for the film is captured well on this transfer, with appropriate color saturation and natural flesh tones for the actors. Black levels are pretty good, detail is pretty strong and overall the image looks pretty sharp - but at times appears a bit grainy and soft. The print is pretty clean too. No major complaints should be had here.
The main option is an English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, and it gets the job done. As you might imagine, there is a lot of talking in this movie. The dialogue is crisp and clean, and comes out well through the center channel. But the film has its fair share of tense moments in and out of the classroom, and I felt the track did a really good job with that - discrete surrounds, good use of the rears and a nice mixing of the sounds to pit the viewer in the more uncomfortable situations. The movie is also music heavy, and the variety of songs and hip-hopish musical score fits really well through the channels. Dyanmic range is strong, and the .1 LFE has some moderate use. Overall, this is well done.
Also included are Dolby Surround tracks in English and French, English subtitles and English closed captions.
Unfortunately, the Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank is a bit of a bust. There's a pretty decent amount of empty space, and Swank doesn't talk too much - apparently this is her first time seeing the final cut of the movie (where's the logic in that?), so she seems a bit distracted. I would have liked to hear more about her preparation for the role. LaGravenese does have some decent info inolving the film's development and production info. For die-hard fans of the film only.
Next up are Deleted Scenes. It's a good most of these were cut, as if they were kept in the film, it may have made it seem a bit repetitive. An excess on Holocaust material seems to have been trimmed from the final cut, as well as how other people "view" the students and having Erin Gruwell's life put in jeporady with racist threats. Decent extensions to the film's themes, but not a necesscity for the final cut.
Freedom Writers Family is a featurette involving the cast and crew's attraction to the project. There are some nice comments here by people as far as the importance of the project, but it is still a bit on the fluffy side. There's a lot of on-the-set footage shown, but the highlight is that the real Erin Gruwell is given screen time and it's interesting to hear her speak about her own story coming to life. It was also nice to hear from the young actors and their thoughts on the movie and their characters. It's a pretty decent watch.
Freedom Writers: The Story Behind The Story gives more background on the film's true life events, and the origins of the Freedom Writers Family. Gruwell takes the reigns here, and a lot of it stems from the Rodney King riots in the Los Angeles in the early 1990s. While it isn't terrible and will give viewers looking to learn more about the reality of the film, it really needs more interviews and to be a bit longer.
The last major supplement is Making A Dream. Hip-hop artists Will.i.Am and Common talk about their collaboration for the film's main song. Sure, it may be a subtle plug for the soundtrack, but there is good will among these two talents, as they discuss their inspiration for the song (seems to be leaders of the 1960s, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kenndy). There's footage of them in the studio too, and it is admirable that the song is rooted in history and fosters good will.
Rounding out the disc is the Theatrical Trailer, a decent Photo Gallery and a ton of Sneak Previews.
This is a more than decent film from Paramount's hit-or-miss MTV banner. Why they chose to release this in North America on one of the worst weekends of the year - the first weekend in January - is beyond me. As far as a DVD goes, this is a strong studio release: the video presentation is solid, the audio mix is pretty good and the supplements fit nicely (although I think there could have been more in-depth stuff). If you missed the film in theaters and were interested, it's well worth a look on our favorite home viewing format.