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Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees.
How did he do it?
A) He cheated
B) He's lucky
C) He's a genius
D) It is written.

I am in awe of Danny Boyle’s range as a director. Slumdog Millionaire may’ve been the season’s surprise hit, and it may’ve bagged a bunch of Oscars, but minus these likely quickly forgotten factoids it still gets to be another shockingly adept genre swing from a genuinely talented underdog. Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg have arguably had greater success working outside of their comfort levels, but the fact is they still have defined comfort levels. Style is an important element to many of the greatest director’s repertoire, but there’s something truly incredible about a filmmaker like Boyle who can embrace entirely different styles from film to film.

Slumdog Millionaire
Running down the man’s filmography we see a Hitchcockian neo-thriller ( Shallow Grave), a gritty techno vision of drug abuse ( Trainspotting), a screwball romance with musical elements ( A Life Less Ordinary), a redefinition of low budget zombie horror ( 28 Days Later), a warm family film ( Millions), and a large scale Sci-Fi disaster flick ( Sunshine). Each and every one of these films is (arguably) successful compared to other films in their genres, and still manage to have a flavour that belongs to Boyle alone. The only film’s I can’t really define are The Beach, which is the director’s big failure, and Alien Love Triangle, which I haven’t seen. Slumdog Millionaire is a standout, along with Transpotting, but overall it’s hard to talk about Boyle from project to project, rather than looking at the entire gallery.

I missed too much in 2008 to have a real favourite, but of the nominations this year Slumdog was my undereducated choice. It’s not a perfect film by any means, or even a nearly perfect one, which we had a lot of in 2007, but it feels good without stupefying, it gives a glimpse into an alien culture without speaking down to that culture, and it isn’t numbing. I’m not sure if Boyle has it in him to make a boring movie, but this particular subject didn’t require the degree of energy it is infused with, and it didn’t require the buoyancy. Those are our treats. The ‘feel good’ nature does make it difficult for Boyle to pull all the pathos and drama out of the situation, which is a valid criticism. The sense of an impending happy ending makes the hard stuff more palatable, so one could accuse the film of being a bit of a Hollywood lie. But Boyle wears the lie with courage and conviction, and never falters in his vision.

Slumdog Millionaire
Buoyancy isn’t a prerequisite for Boyle’s work, but he’s never really made a movie with a downer ending. The Beach is ambiguous enough to be considered a downer I suppose, and the alternate endings of 28 Days Later were definitely less than upbeat, but on the whole his work is uniformly pretty optimistic. There’s a whole lot of pain and sacrifice to get to the feel good finale in the cases of Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Sunshine and this film, but they’re still cautiously positive endings. Again, it’s hard for me to look at Slumdog as a standalone feature, but rather another step in a developing achievement. The problem with this fantasy element is that Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy start to ask the audience to accept greater and greater leaps of faith, and the belief suspension gets a little rough. Overall the film’s final half appears to be missing a lot of footage.

Slumdog greatest detriment is another movie called City of God. The two films have a lot of visual similarities, both follow the journey of lower class youth looking for a way out of their ‘ghettos’, both those journeys take their cast’s into lives of crime, and both feature long standing love affairs. Unfortunately for Boyle Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s film is pretty much perfect, and I personally couldn’t get it out of my head the whole time I watched Slumdog. Boyle’s film features more ‘actorly’ actors (excepting the little children), and a slightly more pleasant sense of humour, both of which make it a more mainstream vehicle. However, against my rather shallow criticism there really isn’t anything else besides City of God that Slumdog Millionaire really resembles, and City of God has the disadvantage of being based on a series of real events, and being filmed by Brazilian natives. Making up a story that takes place in an alien country is a definitively more unique event.

Slumdog Millionaire

Video


Boyle doesn’t do homogenization, and Slumdog Millionaire is no exception in his visually eclectic filmography. Early in the commentary Boyle announces that he’s been asked to make a special mention of the use of several kinds of cameras and stock on the film, and he warns the Blu-ray audience that they shouldn’t expect the full range of 1080p video. He’s correct, some shots do feature more grain and noise than many Blu-ray discs, but it’s all just part of a beautiful potpourri of colour and texture. The film uses an induced documentary style, similar to 28 Days Later (hence the multi camera look), but also features supersaturated colours, and some wacky still frames. There are some pretty severe moments of noise and grain, some very bluish blacks, and some unclear whites, but it’s all in the name of style. I apparently saw a much more dilapidated print of the film when I saw it in theatres, because I’m shocked at the overall clarity of the print. Details are extremely sharp, the colours have diamond cut edges, and the contrast is about as extreme as film will allow, when Boyle intends as such, of course.

Audio


I think most of us can agree that Bruce Springsteen was ripped off, and that Slumdog Millionaire really didn’t need two best original song nominations. That said, the opening title track sounds just about as perfect as a film soundtrack can. It’s positively overflowing with drums, attacking from every speaker, while bits of the hysteria of Mumbai leak into mix, and MIA shouts at us front and centre. The soundtrack is fluid throughout the whole movie, melding the past and present through music and sound effects. Sometimes the sound precedes the time shift, other times it bleeds over slowly. These effects, some of them entirely unmotivated, along with the music, makes up the majority of the rear channel effects. Most of the sound is presented in the front channels, with a sort of documentary envelopment of all the dialogue and incidental effects.

Slumdog Millionaire

Extras


I own several Danny Boyle DVDs, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to any of the commentaries the whole way through. He’s a fascinating speaker, and listening to this particular track is like getting a layman’s lesson on modern filmmaking and modern India. Boyle works here with lead actor Dev Patel, who isn’t quite the same brand of chatty Kathy, but offers a few nuggets. The most fascinating aspect of the commentary is the many stories of dealing with the unprofessional child actors, who are heartbreakingly good in the film. Another interesting fact concerns the mix of English and Hindi, which was apparently against the film’s original ‘all English’ contract. The other commentary track features producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy, who offer a few alternate takes on the material, but by and large are pretty quiet. Colson has some interesting things to say about the editing process, and Beaufoy knows a lot about India.

Next up are twelve deleted and extended scenes. During the commentary Boyle refers to many of these scenes, but does not supply commentary for them specifically, so take notes if you think you’re gonna be interested. I assumed that the majority of the deleted material would be from the last forty-five minutes or so of the film, but at least half this stuff is either additional Who Wants to be a Millionaire footage, or extra scenes of childhood antics here. I think the film might be a better one with the scenes interrogation scenes, and a brief bit implying the moment where Jamal actually calls to apply for the game show reinstated, but only just. The scenes total thirty four minutes, and are presented in standard definition, non-anamorphic video.

Slumdog Millionaire
‘Slumdog Dreams’, a rather breezy, yet informative little making-of featurette. This bit features the usual mix of raw behind the scenes footage, interview footage, and final film footage. The featurette, which was clearly made for television (it has a commercial break and runs about twenty three minutes) spans inception, writing, casting, filming in Mumbai, filming with children (yeah, you couldn’t have made this movie in the West), the super-tiny cameras, and the final dance scene. There’s still quite a bit of behind the scenes footage I’d like to see, but between this and the excellent commentary tracks I’m mostly satiated.

Manjha is a forty minute Indian-made film, shot in stark black and white, and unfortunately presented in non-anamorphic SD. The short is short on plot and dialogue, but does pertain to some of the themes presented in Slumdog, and is an interesting look at how much darker Boyle’s film could’ve been. The sound mix, which is most obviously mostly produced in post, is a little jarring, but the acting is quite natural, and the cinematography impeccable.

‘Slumdog Countdown’ is actually a music video featuring footage from the film set to the Oscar winning ‘Jai Ho’. ‘From Script to Screen: The Toilet Scene’ is a title that speaks for itself. The five and a half minute featurette actually covers the script process more than the filming process, which is interesting, but the same packs can be grabbed from the commentaries. ‘Bombay Liquid Dance’ is another music video, set to real footage of modern Mumbai, possibly taken B-roll for the film. Things are completed with two trailers.

Slumdog Millionaire

Overall


Slumdog Millionaire didn’t hold up quite as well the second time around, but it is a joyful and mostly unique film that film lovers should see at least that first time. The difference between the DVD and Blu-ray releases are likely more minimal than other studio releases, but the 1080p does lead to some really flashy colours and the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack has a few expressive moments. The extras aren’t perfect, but pretty good considering their relative brevity, including an ace director/actor commentary, deleted scenes, a short film, and a better than average EPK.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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