Plot: What’s it about?
Jesse (Jason James Richter) is back and now at the age of sixteen, he retains an interest in the oceans and the residents within. He has taken a position on board a whale research vessel, but he’s in good hands, as old friend Randolph (August Schellenberg) also happens to be part of the team. But not everyone on the vessel is as kind, as scientist Drew (Annie Corley) seems to have a sharp tongue and a short temper. Jesse loves being out on the waters, tracking whales off the Pacific Northwest shores, but of course, he often thinks of his good old pal, Willy. At the same time, a market has surfaced for whales, but not a good one, as hunters are killing them and selling the meat to Asian contacts. One such hunter is John Wesley (Patrick Kilpatrick) who sees it as a chance to make some money and looks past the cruelty, though his young son Max (Vincent Perry) is very conflicted over the situation. He holds his feelings inside however, though it becomes harder when he meets Jesse. And when Willy returns to his friend, Max begins to see that whales are more than food, they’re vibrant living creatures. With Willy and his family in the waters, Max reveals the truth about his father’s business and that sends Jesse into action. But can a few people manage to mount a rescue and save the whales in the area, or will business win out and prove that money is more important than wildlife?
I’ve seen Old Yeller and numerous movies of its kind, in which a child becomes attached to an animal of some kind. Although a lot of them work and carry genuine emotion, Free Willy played like an environmentalist propaganda picture, devoid of real emotion at all times. In fact, it almost seems like a commercial most of the time, instead of a heartfelt drama. Even so, it raked in some cash at the box office and of course, produced a couple of sequels. Just when you thought this series couldn’t get any worse, Free Willy 3 comes along and delivers an even more lame, boring experience than the previous two volumes. Once again, Jason James Richter takes time out of his busy movie schedule to return to this series, but most of the other regulars have abandon ship, so I guess at some folks realized what a miserable idea this was. Another ninety minutes or so of forced emotion, mechanical whales, and environmental propaganda, the kind of thrills & chills we’ve come to expect from this plague of films. But this one makes the others look almost tolerable by comparison and that seems nearly impossible, if you ask me. I know we need family films out there, but we don’t need ones this bad and you know some other,superior project was turned down to finance this one. At least this is the last one, which is the best news about Free Willy 3.
As this is his sole path into movies, Jason James Richter returns yet again as Jesse, the role that has defined his career. Then again, he’s only had a few other efforts and of course, those weren’t in high profile or successful pictures. If you’re interested in why Richter’s career hasn’t blossomed, simply watch these three whale movies and it will become rather obvious, as Richter isn’t that skilled in front of the cameras. He mugs for the lens when he needs to, but lacks depth as a performer and fails to carry his share of the load. I mean, we all knew the mechanical & natural whales would upstage the poor kid, but come on, you can almost hear the audience begging Willy to devour the little brat at times. I wouldn’t expect a top flight effort from anyone in these movies, thanks to the poor material involved, but I did expect better than this. Other films with Richter include Free Willy, Cops and Robbersons, Laserhawk, and The Setting Son. The cast also includes Annie Corley (Juwanna Mann, The Cider House Rules), Vincent Berry (Soulkeeper, The Little Rascals), and Tasha Simms (I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Family of Strangers).
Video: How does it look?
Free Willy 3 is presented in full frame, which compromises the intended aspect ratio. Even the laserdisc was in widescreen, so why not give us a direct port, if not a new anamorphic treatment for this release? The answer is buried somewhere in Warner’s incompetent market research squad, who have ruined this release, hands down. As if carving up the image wasn’t enough, the visuals come off as flat and lackluster. You’ll note some improvements over the VHS edition, but come on, this is DVD and Warner is a major studio, so they should be able to deliver brand new, gorgeous transfers on these recent releases. But they have spoiled this one and without question, no one should purchase or even rent this disc.
Audio: How does it sound?
As Warner hasn’t put much effort into this release, I will reprint my thoughts on Free Willy 2’s audio, which hold true for this sequel as well. The audio here is fine and acceptable, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 option never gets much of a chance to shine. The surrounds are used for the musical score and some assorted background atmosphere, but little else. I know this isn’t an action blockbuster, but it could sound better than this, or at least more active and immersive. With all the splashing water, oceanic noises, and such, the potential is here, but this mix fails to put it to good use. But the audio is solid, it just isn’t as memorable as it could have been. I found dialogue to be well presented, with no lost or muffled vocals to mention here. This disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes a whale guide, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.