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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/31/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/1/2009

When discussing movies, people often talk of "guilty pleasures". These are movies which people in theory shouldn't like, so if you do like it, you should feel guilty about it. I've never believed in this idea, because you should never feel guilty for liking what you like. (Assuming of course, that the movie didn't come from that back room at the video store.) However, there are movies whose content can make you feel guilty. Movies in this vein offer material which make us look inwardly, perhaps at something that we usually don't see. Slumdog Millionaire certainly falls into this category.

As Slumdog Millionaire opens, we are introduced to Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a young Indian man who is being tortured by a police officer. We learn that Jamal has been winning on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and that he's being accused of cheating. As part of the interrogation, Srinivas (Saurabh Shukla) plays a tape of the game show and as Jamal gets each question correct, he asks the frightened young man how he knew the answer. Through flashbacks, we see Jamal's childhood, and learn how he gained a wealth of general knowledge which is unusual of someone like him. Young Jamal (played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Tanay Chheda) and his brother, Salim (played by Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, and Madhur Mittal) are orphaned at a young age, and must survive on the streets of Mumbai on their own. They meet another orphan, Latika (played by Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, and Freida Pinto), and Jamal instantly feels a bond with her. Throughout their lives, the youngsters are forced to move from one place to another, always looking for their next meal and facing dangers. As the questions on the game show advance, we watch Jamal and Salim grow and grow apart, as their efforts to better themselves lead them down different paths. All the while, Jamal never stops thinking about Latika.

I hate to sound like a Negative Nick (Ned? Nelson?), but when it comes to recent Oscar winning or nominated films, I haven't been impressed. As far as I'm concerned most of these movies are made in/set it foreign countries (The Academy needs to look beyond a movie's language and re-define what a "foreign film" is) and the content is something which audience and critics convince themselves is important. The results are typically films where are boring and interchangeable.

However, Slumdog Millionaire is a different story. This multi-faceted film works on several levels. For starters, the narrative structure immediately draws the viewer into the film. The movie could have simply shown Jamal on the quiz show and the audience would have been asked to imagine his past. Or, conversely, it could have portrayed Jamal's life story and brushed aside the fact that he's on a game show. Unlike so many so-called "art house films", Director Danny Boyle and Writer Simon Beaufoy have chosen to make their movie as detailed as possible. For nearly every question, we get a flashback into Jamal's life to view how he learned that particular fact. Not only does this allow us to really get to know Jamal and the other characters, but it delivers a surprising amount of suspense. There are several scenes where young Jamal's life is in danger, but because we've seen him in the present, we know that he survives. Nevertheless, Boyle has managed to put tension intothese scenes. Similarly, we know at the outset that Jamal has made a great deal of progress on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, but, true to that show's spirit, waiting to see if he gets a question correct is nerve-wracking. While all of this is going on, the actual present is taking place in the police station as Jamal is being interrogated. Unlike many films, the transitions are never confusing and the movie never tries to outsmart us.

The story itself is certainly interesting, and it probably could have worked in any culture. But, Slumdog Millionaire gives us a very detailed and unflinching look at life in the Indian slums. But, Boyle has done something very clever here. At no point does the movie say, "Hey! Look at how awful this is." As the conditions in the country are a fact of life, the movie presents this in a non-chalant way. The awful conditions in which Jamal and Salim are raised and the terrible things that they see are appalling to us, but it's just life to them. In many ways, this makes the film even more powerful. The movie could have easily drawn unneeded attention to the poverty and become too melodramatic. Now, here we sit, watching the movie on Blu-ray Disc on an HDTV, while people with nothing at all go on about their business. This dichotomy certainly puts things into perspective and gives the film an emotional edge.

To say that Slumdog Millionaire is multi-faceted is an understatement. It's an examination of a culture, a love story, a thriller, and it ends with a Bollywood dance number. Boyle has managed to take the film's huge scope and present it in a way which is both palatable and uncorrupted. The acting is top-notch and the movie is very well-shot. Did it deserve best picture? I haven't seen all of the nominees, so I can't say that for a fact. I can say that I still enjoyed The Dark Knight more, but given my typical distaste for "important" films, I was impressed by Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire jumps out of an outhouse on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC transfer which runs at an average of 4.5 Mbps. On the audio commentary included here, Boyle lets us know that the film was shot using several different cameras and the Blu-ray will enhance the noise or grain of some shots. And he was right. The transfer reveals several different looks. For the most part, the image is fairly sharp and clear. However, certain shots do show an notable amount of grain. I'm glad that Fox didn't attempt to alter these shots and effect the entire movie. The colors look very good, as there are bright tones which stand out against the typically drab backdrops. The depth and level of detail is fairly good and despite the grain, there are no defects from the source material. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very muscular track which is quite dynamic. The stereo effects are highly detailed and show a nice amount of separation. Likewise, the surround effects are nearly constant and place us in the midst of crowd scenes. The in-film music sounds fantastic and lends energy to the film. The music provides nice low-end to the subwoofer which got quite a workout. The subtitles are presented in a unique fashion and are easy to read.

The Slumdog Millionaire Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Danny Boyle and actor Dev Patel. We next have a second with Producer Christian Colson and Writer Simon Beaufoy. The Disc contains 12 DELETED SCENES which run about 34 minutes. Given the detail and running time of the film, it's not surprising that some of these are simply extended versions of existing scenes from the film. There is an interesting scene where Prem Kumar visits the police station, and we get to see a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? question which was cut from the film. And in case you are wondering, we do sort of see a scene where Jamal attempts to get on the show. "Slumdog Dreams: Danny Boyle & The Making of Slumdog Millionaire" (23 minutes) has the director, Colson and Beaufoy discussing how the project came together. They then talk about the cast, and we get comments from the actors. Boyle talks about working with the kids. There is a then a detailed look at the film's production. "Slumdog Cutdown" is simply the entire film edited down to 6 minutes. "From Script to Screen: Toilet Scene" (5 minutes) has Boyle and Beaufoy discussing the importance of this scene, with the writer describing his inspiration for the moment. "Indian Short Film - Manjha" (41 minutes) is a black and white movie which explores life in the slums. "Bombay Liquid Dance" (3 minutes) is a visual tour of the city set to music. The extras are rounded out by the U.S. and European THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long