Seabiscuit (2003)

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Released 7-Oct-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Gary Ross (Director) And Steven Soderbergh (Filmmaker)
Featurette-Making Of-Bringing The Legend To Life
Featurette-Anatomy Of A Movie Moment
Featurette-Seabiscuit VS. War Admiral: The 1938 Match
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 134:36
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Gary Ross
Studio
Distributor
Spyglass Entertain.
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring David McCullough
Jeff Bridges
Paul Vincent O'Connor
Chris Cooper
Michael Ensign
James Keane
Valerie Mahaffey
David Doty
Carl M. Craig
Michael O'Neill
Annie Corley
Michael Angarano
Cameron Bowen
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Randy Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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
English for the Hearing Impaired
Portuguese
Portuguese Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes, it was still cool in the 1930s
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Seabiscuit garnered quite a lot of interest at Oscar time in early 2004. It succeeded in gaining nominations in the categories of Cinematography, Sound, Costume Design and Best Picture amongst others. Whilst being no horse-person, I thought the positive press made it look like an interesting watch nonetheless.

    To an extent, the hype is warranted. This is a film from the "old school" - no whiz-bang CGI effects, no car chases or screen-burning love scenes - what you get instead is a solid story, generally very well performed and undeniably beautifully shot. There is even a Waltons-esque narration which provides quite a history lesson for those of us who are not that familiar with the history of the period. Seabiscuit reminds me of the sort of films my parents used to love - a grand epic complete with the obligatory triumph over adversity, the feel-good ending and nary a swear-word to be heard. It is the simple story of a small horse, an over-sized jockey and their path to the history books and a Horse of The Year (1938) award.

    The film, based on a true story, is set in and around the Great Depression of 1930s USA, against a backdrop of crashing share-markets, mass unemployment and crippling poverty. John "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man and Wonder Boys) is an intelligent young boy, a keen horse-rider, whose parents are forced to "abandon" him to the life of a stable-hand when they can no longer support their family. Red soon learns to look after himself - although not always too well - taking part in bare-knuckle fights and eventually jockeying to keep body and soul together.

    Tom Smith (Chris Cooper, Adaptation and The Horse Whisperer) is a brooding cowboy. A natural horse whisperer, he generally prefers the company of horses to that of people. When he rescues a crippled horse from imminent doom and declares that "you don't throw away a whole life, just cause he's banged up a little" you can tell that he is a man with a heart.

    Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges, Blown Away and The Big Lebowski) is a bicycle maker who accidentally becomes interested in the newly emerging automobile market, when he is asked to repair a damaged car by a passing motorist. He becomes highly successful, developing his own business and becoming incredibly wealthy in the process. When (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) his young son is killed in an automobile accident, he becomes detached and reclusive to the extent that his wife divorces him. Travelling to Mexico as a diversion - prohibition was in force and gambling was illegal - he meets a new love, in the form of Marcela (Elizabeth Banks, Spider-Man and the awful Swept Away). Their shared love of horses soon sees them developing a racing stable of their own.

    During his stay in Mexico, Charles also meets the reclusive Tom Smith and, impressed by his gentle skills with horses, hires him as the trainer for his new stables. Smith discovers a troublesome, but spirited young horse in the form of Seabiscuit and encourages Howard to buy the animal. Before too long, Pollard stumbles across the Howard stables whilst desperately looking for work, after having lost one too many races and one too many fights in Mexico. Seabiscuit meets his match with the impetuous Red, who becomes just the jockey to ride the headstrong horse and with the help of the enigmatic Smith, they soon begin to win some minor races... The remainder of the film charts the progress of Red and the fiery Seabiscuit as they manage to win not just a race, but a place in the racing history books.

    Seabiscuit is a wonderfully shot film, of that there is no doubt. The cinematography is often breathtaking, with bright colours leaping off the screen and some beautifully composed shots managing to evoke feelings of melancholy and nostalgia in a totally credible cinematic landscape. The period feel is very well recreated and the racing scenes manage to raise genuine interest - even in a non-fan like myself. Cinematographer John Schwartzman (The Rock, Pearl Harbor) has done a commendable job here.

    On the downside, I found Tobey Maguire to be little more than adequate in this role, with occasionally wooden delivery which I found to be less than fully believable. Bridges is far better, playing the emotionally injured but altruistic Howard perfectly. Chris Cooper steals most of the scenes in which he appears as the enigmatic trainer, whilst one of my favourite actors (William H. Macy) makes a quirky appearance as the trackside radio commentator "Tock-Tock" McLaughlin. Personally, I felt the film was a tad too long, due primarily to an overly slow scene-setting start. Whilst the racing scenes take their time to make an appearance they are wonderfully shot and provide a fair degree of excitement when they do finally materialise. With the exception of one cloying scene between Pollard and his colleague George Woolf (Gary Stevens), the racing close-ups present a rough and tumble insight into the interaction between jockeys which I hadn't expected.

    For fans of equine affairs this DVD will probably be a must-buy, but for casual film fans I would recommend a rental first. I don't want to sound churlish - the film is surely a very good example of a film the way they used to make 'em (particularly the wonderful cinematography and set design), but it is unlikely to hold too much appeal for those who prefer a little more action from their on-screen entertainment.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Given that this is such a major film it is perhaps unsurprising to find that the DVD presents a video transfer that is extremely good and can be generally considered as reference quality.

    The video is presented 16x9 enhanced at 2.35:1 which is the original theatrical aspect ratio. It is razor sharp throughout and there is no significant grain to soften the beautiful images.

    Black levels are inky and solid with a wonderful degree of detail revealed in shadows and absolutely no evidence of low-level noise. Colours are superbly utilised throughout from the vibrant silks of the jockeys to the startling greens of the turf and all delivered with some rock-solid rendering. This transfer positively leaps from the screen. Skin tones are just fine at all times.

    I noticed no MPEG compression artefacts in the transfer. If you look really closely you may spot some very minor edge enhancement on a large projected image (for example on the trousers at 5:00, the dress at 38:06 or the sign at 56:19), but for most viewers this will not even come close to being distracting. On my (progressive scan) system there was no evidence of aliasing. There is no sign of telecine wobble.

    Film artefacts are absent in what is a spotless transfer.

    To the delight of hard of hearing viewers, the subtitles are excellent with detailed audio cues, being highly legible, well-timed and very close to the dialogue at all times. (In addition, visually impaired fans are catered for with the addition of an Audio Descriptive track - see Extras).

    This disc is single sided and dual layered (RSDL) with the very fleeting layer change cropping up at 78:22. This is placed at a natural pause in dialogue so is almost unnoticeable, however I found it a little strange that it was not placed during the silent freeze-frame of the photo-finish at 78:00).

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The overall audio transfer is very good, with a surprisingly powerful feel at times.

    We are spoiled with a choice of two delightful audio tracks. I listened to the dts 5.1 track (encoded at 768 kbps) in full and sampled the alternative Dolby Digital 5.1 track which is encoded at 448 kbps. They are both crisp and clean, with the dts incarnation having (perhaps) a slightly wider dynamic range. Either track does an outstanding job of delivering crystal clear dialogue, and I noticed no lapses in audio sync.

    The musical score is wonderfully well suited to the epic tale. It is a characteristically impressive affair from the immensely talented Randy Newman (Parenthood, Toy Story and Pleasantville). The orchestral piece is replete with sweeping strings and a sometimes strident, militaristic feel which complements the heart-tugging story to a tee. There are also several vibrant Mexican numbers which crop up in those scenes set "South of the Border" and they are also well selected and well used to bolster the striking visuals.

    The soundstage is mainly frontal, with crisp dialogue firmly centred and a nice spread of sound across the front stage. The main speakers are well used to provide some nice separation and panning effects without being at all showy.

    The surround speakers are used intermittently, mainly in supporting the musical score. When they do kick in however, they deliver an immersive experience which adds greatly to the drama of the moment, for instance around 64:00 or 77:00. There are a few ambient effects delivered from the surround channels - such as the crickets at 17:30, and the crowds at 33:07. Whilst they could have been used just a tad more assertively for locational effects, the sound mix is very satisfying nonetheless.

    The subwoofer is quite dramatically used to convey the thundering of the horses' hooves at the early muster (3:42) or during the numerous races as they power around the tracks (for example at 18:35), as well as supporting the overall soundstage with a satisfying bottom end. It just goes to show that you do not need gunshots and car-chases to create a visceral bass experience. Nicely done.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are several extras on offer and they are all genuinely worthwhile for fans of the film.

Menu

    The main menu is a well designed and nicely animated affair accompanied by music from the movie. It allows the options of playing the movie, making subtitle and language choices, choosing one of twenty-five chapter stops and access to the following extra features:

Audio Descriptive Track

    A wonderful addition which I personally have not heard before. A narrator provides descriptions of every scene, in between the actors' dialogue, painting a very clear picture of exactly what is happening on screen at the time. This is presumably to assist visually impaired users of the DVD and it is a fantastic addition.

Commentary Track

    Screenwriter/Director/Producer Gary Ross and "filmmaker" Steven Soderburgh provide a wide-ranging and interesting commentary on the film. Much better than the average fare.

Bringing The Legend To Life: The Making Of Seabiscuit

    This "making of" featurette runs for a short but informative 15:05, and is presented at 1.33:1 with letterboxed clips and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps. It is a good watch and is better than the usual EPK offering.

Anatomy Of A Movie Moment

    Presented at 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps this runs for 4:47 and allows us to hear Ross as he provides quite a detailed breakdown of his process for writing, envisioning and then filming a scene.

Seabiscuit Vs. War Admiral, The 1938 Match Race

    Presented at 1.33:1 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 192 kbps and running for 2:12, this superb little extra is the original (monochrome) 1938 film footage of the race which features heavily in the film. It is in surprisingly excellent condition.

R4 vs R1

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

    Given that this is a rental release, please be aware that the extras on the final sell-through version of the Region 4 disc may vary from those listed above. The Region 1 version of this film has been released in three different incarnations, namely a widescreen release, a Pan & Scan version and a two-disc Ultimate Gift Set:

    All the Region 1 releases miss out on:

    Compared to the single-disc Region 1 versions, from what I can gather, the Region 4 release misses out on:

    Compared to the two-disc Region 1 version, the Region 4 release additionally misses out on:

    The Region 2 release appears to be identical to our own version. For serious fans the two-disc Region 1 release will be a must buy (although some of the extras sound a little gimmicky to me). For those less obsessed, the Region 4 release may just win by a nose due to the presence of the original Race Match footage and the dts audio transfer.

Summary

    Seabiscuit is a good old fashioned movie for grown-ups. It is a tad too long in my view, being a little slow out of the gate to begin with, but once it hits its stride it turns into a different beast. Superb cinematography, great set design, strong performances and a fairly exciting and uplifting story make it well worth a rental. Fans of all things equine will want to purchase it, and will not be even slightly disappointed by the audio or video transfers, plus the well chosen extras. Highly recommended as a rental, and a worthy purchase for many.

    The video quality is pretty close to reference standard.

    The audio transfer is very good and just for a change Region 4 gets a dts track not found on the Region 1 version.

    The extras are limited in quantity, but the quality is better than average.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
Great Movie - Trevor REPLY POSTED
Re:Great Movie - catindahat
R1 Version - Bill T REPLY POSTED
Re R1 Version - Bill T
Progressive Scan - REPLY POSTED
best Cinema Photograhy I have seen yet!! beside LOTR - Pendergast (Why not take a look at my bio, you might think it stinks.)