Monday, March 22, 2010

Free Willy: Escape From Pirate's Cove Blu-ray Review

Disc Size: 18.9 GB
Film Size: 16.9 GB
Film Rating: PG
Region: ABC
The Video
Free Willy: Escape From Pirate’s Cove comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p VC-1 video presentation. Before I talk about the video presentation, I do have to say that the film definitely had a lower budget and therefore it doesn’t look as impressive as a theatrical release film.

The quality of the film definitely compares to many TV shows on Blu-ray. No, don’t expect Lost, but think Smallville. The quality is certainly good in high-definition, but never compares to the best. Detail levels are a bit disappointing at times, but there is a nice amount of clarity throughout.

The colors on this release are a bit on the softer side, nothing is particularly vibrant or rich, but are definitely passable. My biggest complaint has to do with certain moments which appeared a bit on the sharper side, almost as if edge enhancement were present at times.

The comparison between the included DVD showed that the Blu-ray was a clear improvement throughout (of course), but this film doesn’t feature a massive upgrade from DVD like many of my recent comparisons. Those on the fence should definitely stick with the Blu-ray though as the DVD is included anyway, you might as well get both versions in one package.

Free Willy: Escape From Pirate’s Cove won’t be known for its high-def visuals, but the film looks quite good overall. The film’s lower budget is something I definitely understand so I did not expect to be dazzled by the visuals in the film. 7/10.

The Audio
An English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is included as the lossless option. The other audio track included is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track. Optional subtitles include English SDH, French and Spanish.

First off I have to say thank you to Warner Bros. for listening to consumer complaints and stepping up their game in the audio department. Even this year we have seen a couple of DTV releases with lossy Dolby Digital audio tracks included.

While I do understand not all titles get a massive upgrade from a high-def mix, I do think it is something that should be mandatory. Blu-ray discs cost more for consumers and we should expect more than just an upgrade in video quality.

Whether it is a minimal upgrade or massive upgrade, there should be no reason to not include lossless audio. I was definitely very pleased to see a DTS-HD Master Audio mix included for Free Willy and while the results are not entirely impressive, there is a clear upgrade from DVD.

The quality of the DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite good, with dialogue being priority. When compared to DVD the upgrade is clear, lossy dialogue usually sounds very dull and lifeless in comparison. Surround use is minimal throughout, but to be honest I didn’t expect much surround use.

The quality of the mix is good and while it doesn’t always impress audio-wise, it still is a very respectable DTV mix. The audio never felt lifeless, but there were very few moments where audio stood out to me. Younger viewers won’t really care though, but I’m sure adults will appreciate this decent mix. 7/10.

The Extras

Disc 1:

On the Set of Free Willy: Greetings from South Africa (7:38) (HD)
This featurette goes behind-the-scenes of filming. It also features cast and crew interviews and touches on the story as well.

Meet My Wild Co-Stars (3:10) (HD)
Bindi Irwin hosts this feature in which she talks about the many animals she got to work on the film with, featuring plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.

Bindi’s First Movie Video Diary (4:28) (SD)
See Bindi’s video diary while working on the film, featuring more behind-the-scenes footage.

Fact Track
This is a texted pop-up trivia track about the film, cast, crew and more.

Deleted Scenes (2:08) (HD)
Two deleted scenes are included and are presented in high-definition.

Outtake – Kirra Talks To Willy (1:29) (HD)
This is a collection of outtakes from shooting the feeding scene.

Disc 2:

DVD Copy of the film

Digital Copy of the film
Compatible with iTunes and Windows Media.

The extras included on this release are very family friendly and something that will appeal to audiences of all ages. The behind-the-scenes footage is very interesting and entertaining. The included DVD and Digital Copy are a nice inclusion as well and something I think any parent will appreciate. The choice between the DVD or Blu-ray version of the film should be very clear by now.

Please note that the Blu-ray Combo Pack is available only for a limited time and will eventually become a standard Blu-ray release. The version I am reviewing is the combo pack version which will be available at all retailers upon initial release. 7/10.

The Movie
Bindi Irwin (daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin) makes her film debut in Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove. This is the 4th film in the Free Willy series, although has no relation whatsoever to the previous three.

The film comes from Warner Premiere, which is part of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Hollywood is running out of ideas so they tend to go back to popular franchises and produce remakes and even DTV sequels.

When Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove was announced, I was definitely not looking forward to it. I am a big supporter of family content on Blu-ray, the more the better. The thing that kept me apprehensive is how dreadful most DTV sequels of popular franchises have been, even not so popular ones.

I also failed to realize that Bindi Irwin was the star of the film until just a couple of weeks ago. I was actually surprised as I always saw the girl on the cover as an older actress, but was clearly mistaken. Bindi Irwin has had success on television but being her first film, I had no idea what to expect.

Upon viewing Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the talent of young Bindi Irwin. There are a couple of scenes in which her acting was bit mediocre, but as a whole it was far better than I anticipated.

She definitely has a glow about her in the film and I think we will see her in many more film projects in the future. I do think she helps make the film far more enjoyable than it could have been and she also is very likeable.

The latest Free Willy film doesn’t swim too far away from the original, it features the same rescue style story, only not as epic as the original. I was a bit bugged by the CGI Orca used during underwater sequences, but perhaps they did not find it very cost effective for a DTV release.

The story is cute and something I think families will definitely find enjoyment from. This movie definitely has some charming moments throughout that I was surprised by. This is not a great movie by any means and the lower budget is clear throughout, but the quality as a whole is actually not bad compared to most DTV films. I am not rating this film in comparison to all films as it would definitely rank lower, but rather children films. 7/10.

The Blu-news Summary
Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove will easily appeal to family audiences, particularly younger children. The Blu-ray release is good, featuring a good video presentation and pleasant audio mix. The extras on this release are definitely entertaining, and the DVD copy is a definite plus. Overall this combo pack release is ‘Recommended’ to those with children.

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