Moneyball (US - BD)
Jonathan reviews the Blu-ray of the award contender starring Brad Pitt...
To save time and hopefully get this review out near the Blu-ray release date, I'm copying my thoughts from my Top Ten of 2011 article for the feature section of this review.
I really don't care about baseball. Despite having played on many teams as a child, watching it just doesn't interest me in the slightest, so I was hesitant to go out and watch Moneyball. I was eventually pulled in by the glowing reviews, and felt silly for ever doubting Bennett Miller's ( Capote) directing and a collaborative screenplay from Steve Zaillian (who also wrote this years The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Aaron Sorkin ( The Social Network).
The story follows Oakland A's general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He's a man who has every reason in the world to doubt the effectiveness of scouts work, and he teams up with a young man (Jonah Hill) who believes that the entire drafting process for baseball should involve statistical analysis, while ignoring the player's image. They put together a team of undervalued players, getting as many statistical "runs" as they can for their meager budget.
The screenplay isn't interested in showing us extended footage of baseball games. Most of the baseball footage is taken straight from the actual games. The focus is very much on the off-field business of the sport, and although the plot follows this team throughout their fascinating season, the movie really belongs to Billy Beane as a character. This is a very heartfelt exploration of what drove Billy Beane to make some of the risky decisions that he did, and thanks to great writing and a memorable performance from Brad Pitt, I found myself rooting this character on.
This is a very strong 1080p transfer from Sony Pictures, much more in line with what I expect from the studio than the recently reviewed The Guard. It's presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The feature has a high bit rate, taking up approximately 31 GB of a BD-50, though a good chunk of that is dedicated to the two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks on board. The movie has a fairly dark appearance, with most of the colours being shades of black, grey, and green. It looks darker than is natural, but it's exactly as I remember the film looking in theaters. Cinematographer Wally Pfister (frequent collaborator with Christopher Nolan) does some of his best work yet here. The transfer from 35 mm to the digital format is nearly flawless. In one scene with bright outdoor lighting I noticed a little blocking in some shadows, and that is it as far as flaws are concerned. Black levels are reference quality and there is a very fine grain that is perfectly consistent from start to finish. Even as objects in the picture shift out of focus and blend in with the surrounding elements, they retain a gaussian-like spread of film grain without a hint of compression artefact. Detail is also very strong, though not as clean and crisp as you would get with a fancy digital camera. This is a gorgeous, highly-textured transfer that reflects my theatrical experience with near-perfection.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English track (a lossless French dub is also available) is great and complements the video transfer nicely. Voices are clear and distinguishable without any hitches, and they keep to the front of the mix where they belong. Mychael Danna ( Capote, Little Miss Sunshine) graces the movie with a smooth and perfectly subtle score that ranges from being dreadfully tense to euphoric, and it sounds as great as ever on this track. The LFE channel gets most of its work done from the score and only chimes in at a few choice moments for the remainder of the sound mix. The movie focuses on the off-field business of baseball, but when there is baseball footage the sound mix is completely up to par. Immersion is achieved through the widespread sound of the cheering fans. The cracking sound of a baseball bat connecting with the ball is loud and immensely satisfying. Off the field, the surround effects are much more modest; limited to ambient noises and mumbling around the offices or changing rooms. It's not a sound mix that will change the way you hear sound in a movie, but the audio track is very faithful to the source.
Blooper - Brad Loses It (HD, 03:11): The title of the special feature is accurate. This is just a three minute clip of Brad Pitt being unable to finish a scene because he keeps laughing.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 12:05): There are three total that can be viewed separately or altogether. The first is a scene of Brad Pitt walking through the club house giving the players pointers and supporting comments before he goes and talks to coach Art Howe about his decisions on field. After Art doesn't listen, Billy decides to confront him on the field during the baseball game. It shows a bit more of the tension and disagreements between the two of them. I thought it was a very interesting deleted segment. The next one is Billy at dinner with a woman, sharing his insecurities about the team and their current standings with her. The dialogue is almost completely redundant with another scene that features Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, and the performances aren't as strong, so it's very easy to see why it was removed. The third batch of deleted scenes shows more of the relationship between Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill's characters, with more dialogue between the two of them.
Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game (HD, 16:02): The director, author of the book, screenwriter, and the real Billy Beane himself all take part in interview footage as they talk about the story of Moneyball and how it changed baseball. Most of the information is redundant with things said and presented in the film, but I thought it was awesome to see some input from Beane and get a sense of how accurate the film's depiction of events really is. It's a well-produced and engaging feature.
Drafting the Team (HD, 20:51) is a cute way of labeling a casting featurette. This feature is comprised of interviews with the film makers, cast members, and producers as they talk about casting decisions and working with each other. They also talk about casting baseball players for the team. It drifts off the subject at hand as interviews talk about the story and cover information from the movie, but when it's on task it's an effective examination of the movie characters and the real people they represent.
Moneyball: Playing the Game (HD, 19:28) is a feature dedicated to the love of baseball and what it was like filming baseball scenes for the movie. One thing Moneyball does brilliantly is mix the filmed footage with archived footage, and the film makers talk about that process here. The wardrobe people also weigh in about making sure the costumes and logos were all accurate. The producers talk about working with MLB and Oakland A's to use the field for filming. It's a neat feature that shows off the film's authenticity while heightening my appreciation of it.
Adapting Moneyball (HD, 16:33) features the screenwriters and producers talking about the origins of the film, and how it made the transition from a book to a film. They share what drew them to the story and how the character arc's were very cinematic already. Director Bennett Miller and author Michael Lewis share some valuable insights and interesting thoughts about the nature of the story. This feature had some of the best pieces of interview footage in it; offering an encompassing view Billy Beane and his unconventional philosophy without just retreading information from the film.
Moneyball is a fascinating true story that demanded my attention despite being about a sport I've never cared for. The strong focus on Billy Beane's personal story helped to make it both a compelling sports movie and a fascinating character study. Sony Pictures delivers on the AV front with a gorgeous video transfer and a faithful audio presentation. Extra features are plentiful and worthwhile, though a commentary track would have been nice for a film like this.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 10th January 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, English Audio Description Track
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Billy Beane: Re-Inventing the Game, Blooper with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, Moneyball: Playing the Game (Behind the Scenes), Drafting the Team, Adapting Moneyball, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Bennet Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt
Genre: Drama and Sport
Length: 133 minutes
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