Plot: What’s it about?
I’ve been a big fan of Will Smith for quite some time. I can remember his days as a rapper with his sidekick, D.J. Jazzy Jeff. His movement into acting wasn’t something a lot of musicians were doing at the time, but “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was a modest success on television and something I watched (and still do, on occasion). Smith became a bona fide movie (super) star with big movies like “Independence Day”, “Men in Black” and “Enemy of the State” and his previous Oscar nomination for “Ali” showed that he had talent enough to at least get noticed by the Academy. Smith was again nominated for his role as Chris Gardner in “The Pursuit of Happyness”. The film is a true story about a driven, yet down on his luck salesman who is trying to fight the odds and land a job at Dean Witter. Smith’s real-life son, Jayden, looks like he has the family gift as well (his mother is Jada Pinkett Smith) as he stars alongside his father in this gripping movie.
The movie takes place in the early 80’s, 1981 to be exact. The United States was at the threshold of “Reaganomics” and the stock market was the place to be. Yuppies were everywhere and if you weren’t trying to become rich then you just weren’t living life to the fullest. Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a salesman trying to get doctors to by bone density scanners. They’re more accurate than an X-ray, but not much. He traipses around San Francisco on foot in the hopes that he’ll sell two a month so that he can afford to pay the rent. Chris’ wife (Thandie Newton) is sick of living in poverty and moves to New York to start her life anew. This leaves Chris and his son (Jayden Christopher Syre Smith) to fend for themselves. To say that bad things happen to Chris is an understatement; he gets evicted from multiple homes and eventually has to stand in line at a church just to have a roof over his head. He hits rock bottom when he and his son are forced to spend the night in a public restroom. The movie focuses more on the relationship between Chris and his son and since we know that this is Smith’s real-life son, it seems all the more genuine.
“The Pursuit of Happyness” wasn’t an easy movie for me to watch. It’s well-made, for sure, but I almost couldn’t handle seeing the things that happened to Chris and his son. The fact that it’s based on a true story only intensifies things and I have to admit that it is inspiring to see someone who’s so determined. It also puts things into perspective: we have so many material things (I’m literally surrounded by them at the moment) that you really learn what really matters. When we’re stripped of all of our possessions, we learn to rely on different things in life. It doesn’t matter how big your TV is or how many DVD’s are in your collection, it’s all meaningless unless you’re happy and following a dream. “The Pursuit of Happyness” is very inspirational and I’d put it right up there with movies like “Rocky” and “Rudy” in terms of pure satisfaction. I’m glad the Academy awarded Smith with a nomination, as it was well-deserved. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Sony is pulling out all the stops here as this movie is presented in a MPEG-4 AVC HD transfer that looks marvelous! The 2.40:1 image showcases much of the beauty of one of the country’s most amazing cities, San Francicso and several landmarks are visible throughout. The movie is new to the format and with this Blu-ray disc, I noticed only a few minor instances in which an eyebrow was raised. A few of the nighttime scenes have a little blemish to them but for the most part, it’s an outstanding transfer. Edge enhancement, of course, isn’t a problem and there are so many minor details (like being able to read writing on a piece of paper) that the good far outweigh the bad. Sony has given us a fine visual presentation here.
Audio: How does it sound?
The PCM uncompressed soundtrack is good, but it’s certainly not the highlight of the movie. The included Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is nearly the same but with only a few chances to show off, I was fairly under whelmed. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds just fine but don’t expect this to be the movie to show off your system with. Dialogue is very clean and natural and though surround effects weren’t used a whole lot, it was apparent when they were used. Most of the action is relegated to the front stage, but it sounds just fine the way it is. I have no major complaints here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The Blu-ray disc comes with enough supplements that those who purchase the disc won’t feel cheated. First off is a commentary by director Gabriele Muccino who gives us some of the background and inspiration for the story. She talks, naturally, of Smith working with his real-life son and manages to convey a pretty good message in the track as well. Next up are a few featurettes, the two that are most notable are “Father and Son: On Screen and Off” which showcases the relationship between Will Smith and his son. There are some outtakes from the movie and it shows them bonding on the set. What’s even more interesting is “The Man Behind the Movie: A Conversation with Chris Gardner”. I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say that there would be no movie if Gardner didn’t have something good happen to him and this conversation with him is about as inspirational as the movie itself. There’s also an interesting featurette on the Rubik’s Cube and a music video “I Can”.