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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Dutch: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, Portuguese, Romanian, Bulgarian

    Free Willy

    Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 107 mins . G . PAL


    Boy finds dog, saves dog, loses dog! You've seen it, I've seen it, it's an age-old plot, but it still has the capability to entertain if done correctly. ET managed a new spin on the formula, and while not nearly as original, Free Willy also stirs in a new ingredient. Swap the dog for a whale, and wham! New film!

    Jason James Richter does a passible turn as Jesse, a 12-year-old street kid, taken into yet another foster home after vandalising an aquatic park. While he's cleaning the spraypaint from the observation area, he comes face to face with the park's new attraction, Willy, the orca whale.

    Willy was taken from the ocean when he was too old and he's virtually untrainable, but somehow the boy and whale forge a link, and when the corrupt owner of the park decides to sabotage the whale's tank to collect the insurance, it's up to Jesse to save his new friend.

    It's easy to be cynical about 'family films', but this one really doesn't put a foot badly wrong. Sure, there's a bit of dodgy symbolism, but that's almost expected - you'd go over a kid's head without a villain dressed in black!

    Lori Petty is surprising inoffensive as Rae, the park trainer, and Michael Madsen is his usual imperturbable self as Glen, Jesse's foster father. Best role goes to Michael Ironside, though, doing his best Lord of All Evil shtick. The real star though, is Keiko the whale, who is backed up with an amazing animatronic whale. I say amazing because I simply couldn't tell reality from technology at any point, bar the climactic jump scene, where CGI goes a bit wonky.

    Hey! If Jesse's a street kid, why isn't he doing heroin?


    Well, I'm very happy to see a film aimed at a family audience being transferred in the original theatrical ratio (Disney, are you listening??). The 2.35:1 Panavision image looks great, and I'd imagine many shots would get butchered in a pan-and-scan version, but there's no option to compare. A shame, because it's handy to demonstrate the benefits of widescreen to kids while they're young!

    The transfer is generally fine, with decent colour purity, good contrast and very nice resolution, letting you make out every detail in the picture. Unfortunately this clarity also translates to nasty shimmer on horizontal lines, of which there are quite a few in an aquatic park (think about all those steps and seating and you'll know what I mean). While the disc doesn't look as colourful and vibrant as I was expecting from a family film, it seems to be inherent to the source material rather than this transfer; it looks like the weather wasn't quite as sunny as the filmmakers would have liked.

    Aside from the aliasing, the video demonstrates no annoying traits. The DVD encoding seems fine, which you'd expect, given the company involved and the complete lack of extras on the disc.


    The credits don't list the film as being presented theatrically in discrete surround, so I assume this disc has been remixed into 5.1. Either way, it's an effective soundtrack, while not being especially surround-aggressive, there are moments where you're drawn into the environment.

    Dialogue is clear and intelligible, the score is well recorded and there's a couple of moments where your sub gets to test your floor bracings. Of course, this isn't an action flick, so don't expect fireworks - the front three channels generally dominate.


    No extras. Ba-bowwww.


    Much like Fly Away Home, this is a charming film for both kids and parents, supported by good performances all round, a decent script and a more realistic portrayal of street kids than I would expect from, say, Disney. I have to say it, I was entertained. Recommended, despite the complete lack of extras (and the fact that as an optical medium, your kids can watch this every day for the rest of your life.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=293
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      And I quote...
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