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Soul Surfer (2011)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/2/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/7/2011
In my recent review forLimitless, I wrote about movies which have strange messages, as that film seemed to have a pro-drug stance at times. A deeper point here is that we can each take away different messages from movies, even ones which divert from the filmmaker's original intentions. For example, Soul Surfer is clearly meant to have a positive, uplifting message, but I saw a much darker moral in the film.
Soul Surfer tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a girl who grew up in Hawaii and was born to surf. Bethany (played by AnnaSophia Robb) is a teenager who lives with her parents, Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt) and her two brothers, Noah (Ross Thomas) and Tim (Chris Brochu). The whole family loves to surf and Bethany is one of the best young female surfers in the area. One day, she goes surfing with her best friend, Alana (Lorraine Nicholson), and her family. While waiting for a wave, a shark suddenly bites of Bethany's left arm. She's rushed to hospital and survives. Once back home, Bethany begins to adjust to life with just one arm, and she insists that she wants to surf again, but this idea is initially met with some resistance. However, this young woman is undaunted by her new situation and won't let anything stand in the way of her love for surfing.
Unlike most of the docu-dramas that I see, I was familiar with Bethany's story, as I'd seen her on talk shows. But, even those who remember seeing this on the news will find a lot to learn here, as the movie takes us inside Bethany's life to see how important surfing is to her and her family. We learn that there is a close-knit surfing community in Hawaii and that it's more than a recreational activity -- it's a way of life. We learn about the family dynamic in the Hamilton family and how surfing effects them all.
But, even more so, Soul Surfer is the story of Bethany's courage and determination. Following a shark attack, most people would be petrified at the thought of ever going back into the ocean. That must not have crossed Bethany's mind, as this isn't even mentioned in the film. On top of that, as arms are integral in maintaining balance while surfing, those who weren't afraid of the water wouldn't consider surfing again, but the accident didn't deter Bethany. Surfing was her favorite thing to do and she couldn't wait to not only get back on a board, but to begin competitive surfing again. Even the most cynical person (which could be me) will be moved by her drive. (Although I must question all of the fruit slicing.)
Having said that, the movie's main message gets skewed somewhat. Soul Surfer has a decidedly spiritual slant, and I don't have a problem with that, as it helps to explain where Bethany gets the courage to try surfing again. The movie's overall point is supposed to be that you can do anything that you set your mind to. However, two key scenes in the film's first act seem to be sending another message. Bethany turns down an offer to go on a mission trip and then she disobeys her parents and goes night-surfing. Following these two events, she gets her arm bitten off. I don't think it's out of the question to suggest that what the movie is telling us is that because Bethany did these two things, she was punished. Her hard work to get back into surfing appears to be atonement for these acts.
As noted above, Soul Surfer is a fairly good character study. The surfing scenes are well-shot and the shark attack is quick and shocking (just as it must have been in real life). However, the movie has some flaws. While we get to see life in the Hamilton household, we never learn what Tom and Cheri do for a living. The third act drags a little, as we wait for the finale. American Idol alum Carrie Underwood appears as Bethany's youth group leader and let's just say that she should stick to singing. Soul Surfer isn't bad, but I think that a straight-forward documentary could have been better (one which took a more objective view than the one included in the extras).
Soul Surfer made me wonder what Cody Maverick would have done with those waves on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 27 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, show no notable grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, most notably the blue water, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture shows a very nice amount of detail, and the depth in the surfing shots looks great. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects are nicely done here, most notably during the surfing scenes, giving the illusion that we are surrounded by waves and water. The stereo effects join in as well, showing nice detail. The subwoofer helps to drive home the power of the crashing surf.
The Soul Surfer Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. The Disc offers eight DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. All of these are quite brief and don't introduce any new ideas or characters. "The Making of Soul Surfer" (13 minutes) contains comments from the cast and filmmakers, as well as the real Bethany Hamilton. The speakers discuss the challenge of making a true story and the themes of the film. We also see how the real family was involved. The challenge of shooting in the surf and the visual effects of the missing arm are discussed. "Surfing for the Screen: Inside the Action" (5 minutes) has Director Sean McNamara talking about how much work went into making the surfing look authentic. AnnaSophia Robb chats about getting to know the real person in "Becoming Bethany" (4 minutes). "'Heart of a Soul Surfer' Documentary" (31 minutes) tells Bethany's story in a documentary. Starting with home video from her childhood, we learn about Bethany's life and how she came back from the accident. Some of the interviews are a bit awkward, but otherwise we learn a lot. The focus of the film talks about her career in "Bethany Hamilton on Professional Surfing" (5 minutes).
Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long