Son of Rambow (US - DVD R1)
Gabe and some talented kids shout "They drew first blood, not me!"
Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is an imaginative child looking for an escape from his family's stifling religious beliefs. When waiting in the school hallway for a documentary to finish in the classroom (television is against his religion) he encounters Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a miscreant who forces him into a confrontation that puts them both in trouble with the principal. After a bit of bonding the boys become fast friends, and go to work creating a homemade sequel to First Blood called Son of Rambow.
Right out of the gate Son of Rambow is brimming with coming of age clichés. The plot is really just a twist on the Dirty Dancing formula (which wasn’t original in the first place, I’m assuming): conservatively raised character is ‘seduced’ by a forbidden art as presented by a charming rogue. Simply replace the dirty dancing with schlocky movie making, make the conservative parents even more conservative, and replace the romance with childhood friendship. I found myself unable to fall in love with the film because it’s such a familiar story, but good storytelling and loveable characters ensured that I enjoyed the film, even though I could practically count the steps from act to act.
Writer/director Garth Jennings (who also made the unfairly disliked Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has a good eye and ear for the genuine childhood experience. The film never struggles with placation, and the kids aren’t dumbed down or cutesied up for mass consumption. Jennings mixes in just enough character quirk (mostly concerning the b-story adventures of super hip French exchange student Didier Revol) to keep things interesting without devolving into Napoleon Dynomite or Garden State style histrionics. Our leads, Bill Milner and Will Poulter, are fantastic and utterly realistic (just because dim-witted adults think kids are dumb, doesn’t mean they are). Poulter channels the hard edged kid with a heart of gold of Butcher Boy’s Francis Brady (without the murder, of course), while Milner epitomizes that special brand of dual personality (hyper to calm in seconds) that the most creative children exhibit. And both actors do their thing without becoming a nuisance.
Based on the content and trailers my expectations here were very simple. At best I expected a UK kids story at least half as good as Billy Elliot, and my expectations were exceeded— Son of Rambow is at least two thirds as good as Billy Elliot. The one thing Billy Elliot holds over Son of Rambow (besides being a generally more impressive production) is its palpable sense of uplifting morale. Son of Rambow does have a satisfyingly touching ending, but it doesn’t inspire any throat lumps of tears of joy. On the other hand, Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry’s art direction is missing the wonderfully childlike imagery that Garth Jennings thrives on. It’s a little bit Michel Gondry (who’s Be Kind Rewind is apparently very similar to this film, though I haven’t seen it), but little William Proudfoot’s illustrations are likely the film’s strongest suit, especially when his imagine is brought to life through animation, stylized lighting, and gloriously cheap special effects.
Son of Rambow has issues with edge enhancement, especially in middle and backgrounds. These bright white outlines run the whole way though the film. Part of this may be due to the film’s generally high contrast levels in outdoor sequences. Close-up details, like those of faces and of William’s sketches, mostly avoid over-modulation and look generally very nice. Jennings doesn’t go for too many candy or pastel shades (thankfully, we have enough filmmakers that think they’re the next Wes Anderson already), but the pallet does allow for some poppy tones, especially Didier Revol’s neon red boots, and the lush greens of outdoor England. The browns and skin tones under darker writing suffer the most compression noise, but I’ve got no big blocks to complain about.
I should note that the scenes shot through the lens of Lee Carter’s video camera are rife with the usual video quality artefacts, but considering the point of these scenes I’m not going to count it against the transfer.
For the most part Son of Rambow features an easy going soundtrack. The centre channel is devoted to clean and clear dialogue and incidental sound effects and the rear and stereo channels are effectively devoted to Joby Talbot’s whimsical score, along with a few choice ‘80s cuts. There is a small collection of effective and amusing surround effects, like William’s grandmother falling off her wheelchair upstairs. Then, every once and a while, William will have himself a fantasy sequence, and every channel will explode with generally loud wackiness, including plenty of bass and directional effects.
The extras start with a commentary track featuring Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith, and our leads Bill Milner and Will Poulter. Jennings and Goldsmith mostly play comedians, coaxing the boys to talk, and the boys are just as quick witted as the characters they play in the film (and actually offer more behind the scenes information then the director or producer). Commentary highlights include a handful of little songs Jennings’ plays at inopportune moments (I think off of a Casio Keyboard), the bringing in of Bill and Will’s mothers into the booth, and Bill’s answer when asked about his Rambo muscles (‘did you have to work out to get those?’ ‘No, I had to slim down for the skinny bits’).
‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is a general making of featurette, set up around a roundtable interview with the commentators. There’s a bunch of behind the scenes and rehearsal footage mixed in with some choice scenes from the film, and the information spewed forth by the interviewees is almost all grossly entertaining. Probably the strangest thing about the entire production is the fact that the production offices are set up on two boats. The filmmakers didn’t look for their child actors through talent agencies, they went to local schools and gathered the best of the best, a strategy that really paid off considering the natural performances they got out of these kids. Between this and the commentary (not to mention the film itself) I’m just shocked at how authentically adult Milner and Poulter are, and now that I know they were amateurs I’m even more baffled. I worked with kids their age for years, and none of them, even the smart ones, were this quick witted. A very sweet and involving twenty six minute featuette.
Next up is a short film called Aron, which was apparently the inspiration behind the film. There isn’t any real context, but one can gather that Jennings made the film as a lad with his friends, and there are some First Blood-ish moments, but the making of Aron seems to have been the actual ‘inspiration’ behind Son of Rambow. The film shows definite skill for a child, and is more amusing than the short film M. Night Shyamalan includes with his DVDs, or the garbage killer spider movie I made when I was eight. The musical soundtrack is pretty huge and stereo, and takes many cues from Son of Rambow, though I suspect that the original choice music would’ve broken some kind of copy right. The film runs about ten minutes.
The ‘ Son of Rambow Website Winner’ and a series of trailers finishes out the set. Again, no context is given to the ‘Website Winner’, but we can assumer there was some kind of contest on the Son of Rambow website for kid made movies, and this was the winner.
I don't necessarily want a sequel to Son of Rambow, but you've got to wonder what these kids would think about First Blood: Part Two. And what about Rambo III? Would they run off to Afganistan and join the Mudjhaden? As far as I know Best Buy is going to be the only place this disc will be made available in the US. There are no plans to release it to others stores, or even on-line stores like Amazon. There’s also no news of a Blu-ray release. I think this is what experts call a ‘dump’. It’s too bad, because it’s a fun film.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 26th August 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Director, Producer, Actor Commentary, 'Boys Will Be Boys', Short Film, Website Winner, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Garth Jennings
Cast: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Hynes
Genre: Adventure and Comedy
Length: 93 minutes
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