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WHALE RIDER ($27) is a simple, moving and very beautiful film. Based upon the book by Witi Ihimaera, WHALE RIDER tells a very universal story of traditional beliefs coming into conflict with the modern world. Set in Maori village in New Zealand, WHALE RIDER tells of what happens when a next generation chief dies at birth and is survived by his twin sister Pai. Twelve years pass and Pai (beautifully played by newcomer and Academy Award nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes) is loved, but not totally accepted by her traditionalist grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene), who still yearns for his estranged firstborn son to produce another male heir to take the leadership of their people.

However, when Koro finally realizes that his greatest wish will never be fulfilled, he begins training the young firstborn males of the village in an effort to find a successor. Although the virtue of her sex denies Pai what would otherwise be her birthright, she seeks to learn the ancient ways of her people, which only serves to drive a wedge between her and her stubborn old grandfather, who feels that it is inappropriate for a girl to undertake the training of a warrior. Their relationship is further strained when Pai begins show signs that she may be indeed the person best suited to fulfill destiny. The cast of WHALE RIDER also features Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, and Mana Taumaunu.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made WHALE RIDER available on DVD in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. WHALE RIDER is a beautifully photographed independent movie that really shows off the visual splendor of the New Zealand locations. The image is generally quite sharp and nicely defined. There is some softness here and there, with available lighting dictating how good an individual sequence will look. Colors tend to be quite vibrant, with bright sunlit scenes displaying some of the most fully saturated hues. Blacks are accurate, whites are crisp and contrast is very smooth. There is very little appreciable grain and the film elements used for the transfer are very clean. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.

WHALE RIDER features a fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The mix tends to be rather simple, since this is a dialogue driven independent movie. As such, the mix favors the forward soundstage. Sound effects are never too intricate, but are fairly well deployed. The surround channels primarily add atmosphere and ambient sounds, as well as musical fill to Lisa Gerrardís haunting score. Speaking of the score, it is rendered on the DVD with wonderful fidelity. I didnít have any trouble understanding the English dialogue, even though some of the New Zealand accents get a bit thick. An English Dolby Surround track is also provided on the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the enjoyable supplemental materials contained on the disc. Director Niki Caro is on hand for a running audio commentary, which not only looks at the making of the film- it also offers more insight in the Maori culture. There are eight deleted scenes provided with optional directorís comments, where we learn most of the material was eliminated for pacing purposes. Behind The Scenes Of Whale Rider is a nearly thirty-minute featurette that includes interviews with cast & crew, which shed light on how the project came together. While a bit fluffy in places, the program has more substance than what one will find in a similar featurette for a mainstream Hollywood production. Te Waka: Building The Canoe runs eleven minutes and looks at the creation of one of the filmís central props. Whale Rider: The Soundtrack is a bit of promotion, but offers up several complete cues from Lisa Gerrardís marvelous score. Closing out the supplements is an Art And Photo Gallery, plus a theatrical trailer and five TV spots.

As I stated above, WHALE RIDER is a simple, beautiful and moving film. Columbia TriStar has done a fine job with the DVD, offing a solid presentation and interesting supplements. If you havenít had the opportunity to experience WHALE RIDER (or Keisha Castle-Hughes captivating performance) yet, you canít go wrong with the DVD.



Whale Rider (2003)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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