Million Dollar Baby (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I can’t help but feel some remorse for Martin Scorsese as he once again lost out on the coveted Best Director Academy Award to yet another actor-turned-director. His “Raging Bull” lost to “Ordinary People” (Directed by Robert Redford) and “GoodFellas” lost out to “Dances with Wolves” (Directed by Kevin Costner). The rematch pitted Scorcese’s “The Aviator” against Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” and we all know who won that battle…I feel, had Eastwood’s movie not been released, that “The Aviator” would have won Best Picture but seeing the two movies – it really wasn’t a question as to which was the better movie – you could say it was a knockout. And what is it about boxing movies that makes most of them great and memorable? “Raging Bull”, “Rocky”, “Million Dollar Baby” and even the recent “Cinderella Man”? The images of two people beating the hell out of each other is certainly a way to evoke emotion and a boxing movie, although not too common, is usually a good candidate for a great movie. This movie won 4 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor (giving Morgan Freeman his long overdue statue). I feel Eastwood’s performance was certainly worthy of a nomination and had it not been for Jamie Foxx’s magnificent turn as Ray Charles – I think Eastwood would have nabbed the trophy. All of this, naturally, takes a backseat to how simply wonderful this film is and the controversy it sparked.

Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) comes from a blue collar, redneck family. She’s moved away from them to pursue her dream of becoming a professional female boxer. The only problem, though, is that she’s got no training and as Eastwood’s character says “Tough ain’t enough, kid”. She lives in poverty, works a job as a waitress and uses all of her spare money on gym fees and equipment. Eddie “Scrap Iron” Dupris (Morgan Freeman) starts to notice her and takes her under his wing to teach her the basics. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with Frankie (Clint Eastwood) who “doesn’t train girls”. After enough begging and pleading, Frankie reluctantly agrees to train Maggie, teaching her discipline and the correct techniques. The two form an unlikely bond as she rises in the ranks of the female boxers. Everything seems to be going well, Maggie is earning money and her family is doing everything they can to extort it from her…and then something happens. I won’t say what it is as it will ruin the movie. I didn’t know about it going in and I wouldn’t want to ruin the central focus of the film for anyone who is unfamiliar with what happens.

Suffice it to say that “Million Dollar Baby” was certainly worthy of winning Best Picture, no matter how many people thought Scorcese was “due” – I’m glad it came down to what the better movie was as opposed to whose turn it was to win. Hilary Swank, at the age of 31, now has two Best Actress Oscars under her belt (she won in 1999 for “Boys Don’t Cry”) and Eastwood has a couple for his Directing in “Unforgiven” and this. While on Eastwood, how many good things can be said about him? He’s had one of the most stories careers in Hollywood, directing nearly as many films he’s acted in, even though he’s most closely associated with his role as “Dirty Harry”. With “Mystic River” last year and “Million Dollar Baby” this year, I’m eager to see what the 75 year old will do next.

Video: How does it look?

Like Warner’s other HD-DVD releases, “Million Dollar Baby” looks great. As I mentioned in my article, this isn’t a night and day difference from the standard DVD – it was pretty good as well. Word has it that Toshiba’s player might not be displaying the correct signal through the HDMI input and that the component input (which is analog) might actually look better. That said, the 2.40:1 image is crystal clear and well-defined througout. The boxing scenes look great contrasted against the white boxing floor. Every bead of sweat is visible on the boxer’s faces. While the technical issues will work themselves out, it’s nice to have such a good-looking version of “Million Dollar Baby” out there.

Audio: How does it sound?

The issue with the first three of Warner’s HD-DVD’s is the audio. They all contain Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, yet if you own a DTS receiver, it will default to the DTS track (even though one doesn’t exist). Even if you try and switch it to another Dolby Digital track, it won’t work. The sound is sampled at a much lower rate and therefore you really have to crank up the volume to hear the movie in the way you’ve been accustomed. As I mentioned, I’m sure Warner will correct this issue and all will eventually be well, but for the time being this isn’t what home theater is all about.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Warner makes sure you’ll be getting the same supplements when you buy their HD disc as the regular edition. “Million Dollar Baby” starts off with “Born to Fight” in which Swank and Lucia Rijker (“The Blue Bear” from the movie) talk about the movie and the controversey it sparked. We get some input from Eastwood and Freeman who share their thoughts on the film as well. Next up is “Producers Round 15” in which Albert Ruddy, Paul Haggis and Tom Rosenberg tell the roots of the movie and how it was adapted for the screen (with author F.X. Toole). Lastly, there is a 25 minute conversation with James Lipton, cleverly titled “James Lipton Takes on Three”. They talk about the movie, its impact and the acclaim it received. All seem very relaxed and it’s a nice feature to have. That’s about it as far as supplements go. There’s enough to whet the appetite, but for a Best Picture winner – I was expecting a bit more. Still, “Million Dollar Baby” was easily the best film of last year and it deserves to be seen.

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