January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

Student in grade school have different subjects. Some excel well in the subject of English. In some cases, schools hold different bees in their subjects to test students skills. One of the most popular bees in school is the spelling bee. Just this year, documentaries had come off a strong year with some titles surround around film history as well as some controversial issues. One documentary took the rush of a spelling bee and put it to use to form a story about a few walks of life that are all Spellbound.

It is 1999 and the focus is eight students who are all champions in their own right not in any team sports or in any cheerleader competitions, but the sport of spelling a word hoping not to come out with the wrong letter or the wrong point of origin or wrong use in a sentence. They are from all different parts of the USA and have won their regional spelling bees out of a great many students. All eight of them are excited about one thing. The chance to compete in the National Spelling Bee in Washington DC. Some have been their before with little success and some are there for the very first time. This is one time of the year where one round can be dangerous and four rounds gets you on ESPN. They all have their different takes and the children strive to be the National Champion without being too competitive.

The subject of a spelling bee might sound like boredom to some but the focus on these eight elite is intriguing, constantly interesting and as a whole very entertaining. Just by their subtle excitements, I cared for all of them and cheered them on in their quest. The parents were not wildly overenthusiastic but genuinely proud of their children and hopeful. Some were a bit relieved after going through the tension of the competition. I do admit there is one winner and it is one of the eight but it certainly was not the one this viewer expected but one viewer that certainly was a winner was this viewer from being rewarded by experiencing a documentary that was so captivating and so suspenseful, some films that advertise themselves as suspense films couldn’t even come close to the level that this documentary provided. I credit the entire creative crew that put this together, particularly editor Yana Corskaya, who pieced together all the stories and the clips of the bee into one startling documentary that doesn’t give in to the cliches and succeeds on more levels that I anticipated.

Video: How does it look?

Spellbound is shot on video and the full-frame aspect ratio fits in for a nice transfer and the colors and the quality are very good. The main upshot of the transfer is the edge enhancement on the disc. At times it can be a pain but despite that, the video transfer of the film is free of any of the problems that plague many films like specks and grain and muddiness and thus without those three make for a respectable transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

The audio on Spellbound is quite good. The clarity is superb although at times it lowers down and in some cases of documentaries that does happen with the limited amount of sound equipment. Nevertheless, it keeps up without becoming a lingering distraction and the effects and the bell (which is uncommon in Peanuts land with the students and Charlie Brown in the Spelling Bee taken out with the “pop” sound), but most importantly the dialogue comes out sharp and without any muteness on the track. This film also has a French Audio track as well as French subtitles, although some English subtitles could’ve helped in many scenes which happens to be lacking in most documentaries transfered to DVD. However you do get the spelling even in the French subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Columbia supplies this documentary with a healthy supply of extras. First, the menu is precious with the blackboard motif and the pseudo-Sesame Street score that is used throughout the documentary.

Next is a commentary with director Jeffrey Blitz, producer Sean Welch, editor Yana Corskaya, and re-recording sound mixer Peter Brown (not to be confused with the singer of the seventies). They all provide informative info in their valuable contributions to this documentary. It’s noted that Blitz has a stutter which is not evident on this commentary. They cover all aspects of filming this documentary as well as how they came to meet most of these students, including ones that were cut from the film, as well as the result of the documentary. Overall, from all participants, a nice combination from all ends and a satisfying commentary.

After that is a segment called The Spellers, which covers the eight students listed in text like the bios of the cast on a feature film. Here’s it’s listed very nicely and not open to errors as many of the bios on DVDs are evident of.

There are also filmmaker bios, and an interactive Hangman game along with an educational guide for a forming of a spelling bee and many words that are used in spelling bees. those two features can be used in the CD-ROM option on your computer.

There is also a interesting feature entitled Where Are They Now? that details the eight students in text present day a little more grown up and spread out into different paths away from their spelling past.

There are also Bonus Footage focusing on three other students that were to be featured in the documentary but the result was they were cut due to time and the possibility of the documentary running three hours. They are all interesting additions and quite curious pieces but valuable to the DVD.

Finally, there’s the films theatrical trailer along with trailers of Winged Migration and Endurance

Overall, how do you spell a deserved Oscar nominated documentary that succeeds on all levels? S-P-E-L-L-(pause)B-O (pause) U-N-D. (I hear no bell).

Disc Scores