Whale Rider (2002)

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Released 6-Jul-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Audio Commentary-Niki Caro (Director)
Deleted Scenes-8, With Optional Commentary
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-27:05
Featurette-Te Waka - Building The Canoe (11:12)
Featurette-Keisha Castle-Hughes Audition
Theatrical Trailer-2
DVD-ROM Extras-Knitting Pattern
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 97:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Niki Caro
South Pacific Pict.
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes
Rawiri Paratene
Vicky Haughton
Cliff Curtis
Grant Roa
Mana Taumaunu
Rachel House
Taungaroa Emile
Tammy Davis
Mabel Wharekawa
Rawinia Clarke
Tahei Simpson
Roi Taimana
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Lisa Gerrard

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Let's do a quick check: do you have a pulse? Yes? Good. Are you taking heavy doses of emotion-changing drugs? No? Good. Eyes working? Excellent. Can you understand a New Zealand accent when you hear it (or can you read subtitles in English)? Yes? Marvellous — you pass: this film will reach you on some level.

    This film is set in a small Maori community, and expressed in terms of Maori traditions and legends, but it is a story that could have been set in many places and times, and expressed in terms of many cultures. The story is about family, and caring, and sexism, and change, and rejection. Although the core of the story is deadly serious, there's plenty of levity and moments of delight.

    The basics of this story are simple enough. Paikea is the name of a man out of legend — the original chief of a Maori tribe who arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) riding on the back of a whale — he was the Whale Rider. Koro (Rawiri Paratene) is his direct descendant: the first-born son of a first-born son of a... Koro's first-born son Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) is expected to have a first-born son, to carry on the line. But his wife dies in child-birth, and one of the twins she was giving birth to dies too. The boy twin dies, leaving the girl. The last word his wife says as she dies is "Paikea", so he names the girl Paikea, much to the horror of his father. Then he leaves. Eleven years later, Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is living with her grandparents, Koro and Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton).

    Koro is chief, but his son is a disappointment — he spends most of his time overseas, giving exhibitions of his carvings (he's a recognised sculptor, not that Koro respects this path). Koro decides that it is time he taught the first-born boys in the old ways, preparing for one of them to be chief. To a man so bound in the old ways, it is inconceivable that a girl should learn the concerns of a chief. Paikea doesn't see it that way — she responds to an inner urging to learn, even though it means defying her grandfather, her chief. Her grandmother, although a quiet woman, is at least as stubborn as the old man, and encourages her, even suggesting who she should go to to learn the way of the taiaha (the Maori wooden weapon that is part sword, part stick).

    Koro doesn't say it, but he is grasping at the desperate hope that one of the boys will be the great leader who will rescue his people.

    Most of this story takes place in the world of today, but there is a thread that relates to a different world, a world where some gifted people are aware of something more than what can be seen and heard, a world of myth and legend.

    This film reminds me of others. The most obvious is Once Were Warriors, which considered the problems of today's Maori from a different point of view (don't worry, this film is much less violent, and much easier viewing, even though it is just as worthwhile). Another, less obvious, resemblance is Picnic at Hanging Rock, another film that used evocative music, particularly to emphasise the other-worldliness of events.

    This film was shot in and around a small town in New Zealand. This small town is the origin of the Whale Rider story, and the locals provided most of the extras (suggesting that they approved of the way the story has been told...).

    It is not surprising that this film has already won awards at film festivals. Note the names of the awards they chose to advertise on the front cover, though: The World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance, the People's Choice Award at Toronto, the Audience Award at San Francisco, the Audience Award at Rotterdam... This film isn't winning awards from the critics (whose taste can be at variance from our own), but from the audiences (whose taste might be more reasonably expected to parallel ours). Oh, it has won other awards (lots of other awards): the AFI (that's the Australian Film Institute, of course) gave it Best Foreign Film for 2003. And now, just recently announced, Keisha Castle-Hughes has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar — she's the youngest actress ever nominated (the youngest winner so far was 20 years old — Keisha is 13).

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    This transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced. That's the original and intended aspect ratio. The director remarks on the deliberate framing of one of the opening shots to use the whole of the wide frame.

    The image looks perfectly sharp, but this is an illusion — there's a tiny hint of softness there. It's made harder to judge by a complete absence of edge-enhancement. Shadow detail is good. There's only a little bit of film grain, but it simply adds to the smooth film-like appearance. There's no low level noise. The image is deceptive: pause the disc and it looks soft, but press play and it looks limpidly clear.

    Colour is carefully handled — the colours are often a bit drab, but that is deliberate production design; nothing makes the grass and sky drab, however. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There may be two, possibly even three, film artefacts. Maybe even more, but I didn't make note of a single one: none were obvious enough to be worth noting.

    There is no moiré. There are no MPEG artefacts. On a progressive system there is no aliasing at all, and no background shimmer — this disc looks magnificent. On an interlaced system there is some light aliasing every so often, and just a trace of shimmer.

    The only subtitle choice is English for the Hearing Impaired. These subtitles are easy to read, quite accurate, and well-timed to the dialogue. There are a couple of instances of subtitles burnt into the image — they subtitle a few lines in Maoritanga — the burnt-in subtitles are smaller than the soft subtitles, but have a similar font.

    The disc is single-sided (with an attractive picture label), formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 70:01. It's placed at a cut between a scene that contains many pauses, and a silent scene. When you are watching the film, this layer change is close to invisible, even on a slow player. When listening to the commentary, however, the layer change is quite obvious, because it breaks the flow of the director's speech — I don't think anyone's going to be to disturbed by that.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are four audio tracks provided, all in English. We get the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps), Dolby Digital 2.0 (224kbps — it's not surround-encoded), and dts 5.1 (768 kbps) — note that the Region 1 disc does not include a dts track. As far as I can tell, however, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and dts 5.1 are essentially the same. We also get the director's commentary in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kbps).

    The dialogue is clear and as easy to understand as New Zealand accents ever get — none of the speakers have a really thick accent. There are no audio sync problems.

    Lisa Gerrard has provided a superb score; ethereal, evocative, and highly effective. This score strongly enhances the movie.

    The surrounds seem not to be used at first hearing, but they are in use — they contribute subtly and effectively to an immersive sound. There are no directional sound cues, but they aren't needed.

    The subwoofer is not used heavily, but where it is used (mostly in whale effects), it is marvellous, providing a deep reinforcement of the sound. The mains get some serious bass in these passages, so you don't miss out entirely if your sub is off, but you'll be glad if you have it switched on.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are plenty of extras on this disc.


    All the menus are animated with music. They are easy to operate.

Audio Commentary: writer / director Niki Caro

    This commentary is not on the Special Features menu. You'll only find it on the Audio Setup menu.

    This commentary is not a technical one: we hear next to nothing in the way of "we used a long lens and narrow aperture to get great depth of field". Instead we hear anecdotes about the filming, comments about things that went well, and not so well, and about changes made to the script during shooting. This is an interesting commentary, and one that I suspect more people will find worthwhile than a more technical commentary. There's some decent bass for a 2.0 track.

Deleted Scenes (8:33)

    You can watch these with or without commentary from the editor and director — they tell us mostly why they cut each scene. A couple of these are extended versions of scenes still in the film.

    You can play these individually, or all in a row.

Behind the Scenes (27:05)

    A fairly normal making-of, with interviews featuring the main actors. The video footage is not as good as the film, but it's not bad. One of the most intriguing parts is seeing what the real Keisha Castle-Hughes is like — it makes it quite clear how well she's acting.

Featurette: Te Waka — Building the Canoe (11:12)

    A interesting little documentary on the making of the waka. It's amusing to see the use of modern materials and tools (like shaping polystyrene with a chain saw!) to make something so traditional.

Audition: Keisha Castle-Hughes (6:12)

    This is illuminating — it shows a young girl who has no acting training doing an excellent job of trying out for a role she didn't believe she'd get.

Theatrical Trailers

    An entertaining comparison: we get the Australia/New Zealand trailer (1:55) to compare with the US trailer (2:22).

Photo Gallery

    About 20 photos from behind the scenes.

DVD-ROM: Knitting Pattern

    I haven't looked at this, but there is supposed to be a knitting pattern, "Inspired by a Kete" by Margaret Lewis, on this disc when you insert it in a PC's DVD-ROM drive.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this movie was released some months back — I bought a copy on the day of release, but haven't had a chance to watch it before now. Now I can compare it directly with the Region 4 disc. If you bought a copy of the R1 as I did, then I have some sad news for you — you'll probably want to buy the R4.

    The Region 4 disc is missing:

    The Region 1 disc is missing:

    These differences are not huge, and weigh in favour of the Region 4 release. The big difference, however, lies in the transfer. The Region 4 transfer I have described above. The Region 1 transfer has poor shadow detail (dark shades drop off into black far too quickly: have a look at 44:49 and 75:54 for examples), and exaggerated colour rendering (as though someone turned up the chrominance). By itself, the R1 doesn't look awful, but if you compare it with the R4, then it looks dreadful.

    I recommend the Region 4 disc unreservedly — I doubt I'll watch the R1 again.


    A superb movie on an excellent disc.

    The video quality is excellent, especially if you have a progressive system.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are comprehensive. I can't think of another extra I'd want.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
Something seems wrong - MickJT (Have a look at my biography) REPLY POSTED
Whale rider/picnic/once were warriors - wolfgirv
I don't know about Australia - cztery REPLY POSTED
Lisa! - Winter
Pitch correction - MickJT (Have a look at my biography)
RE: Lisa! - Martin F (read my bio)
R1 Easter Eggs - cztery