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Whale Rider – 15th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

An uplifting and empowering coming-of-age movie centered on a determined young Maori girl, Whale Rider is an inspiring drama that is sure to captivate the whole family.  Ripe for rediscovery, this award-winning film tells a poetic story that transcends the usual tropes of coming-of-age films, unfolding into a graceful tale about challenges of changing customs, community, and courage. Bolstered by stunning cinematography and smart storytelling, this touching tale makes its Blu-ray debut August 22nd, 2017, as a 15thAnniversary Edition from Shout! Factory’s Shout Select line. Bonus features include audio commentary with director Niki Caro, “Te Waka: Building the Canoe” featurette, a “behind-the-scenes of Whale Rider” featurette and more! Fans can pre-order their copies now by visiting ShoutFactory.com.

Film 

A small Maori village faces a crisis when the heir to the leadership of the Ngati Konohi dies at birth and is survived only by his twin sister, Pai. Although disregarded by her grandfather and shunned by the people of her village, twelve-year-old Pai remains certain of her calling and trains herself in the ways and customs of her people. With remarkable grace and courage, Pai summons the strength to both challenge and embrace a thousand years of tradition in order to fulfill her destiny.

Niki Caro’s Whale Rider is a wonderfully shot and pretty engaging story of a young girl stuck in the challenges of a small village and ancient ways and traditions in her culture. Her estranged father has found himself out of it, moved on and living a good life, yet Pai (That’s her name) chooses on staying back and embracing the order. But, its moreso trying to prove the old discriminative ways wrong and that she can be the someone that it was expect of her (Dead at birth) twin brother to be. Its a story strong enough, that it can be classified as timeless.

One thing Whale Rider holds onto is that it has one of the best child/youngster performances of all time from Keisha Castle-Hughes. Castle-Hughes has gone on to make a solid career, even if it has moreso picked up in the past couple years, highlighted by a recurring role on Game of Thrones. She can back it up by also being (at the time) the youngest person nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. She did lose to Charlize Theron for Monster, but damn if that isn’t a pretty awesome feat and nice liner note for this movie.

Whale Rider is a nice coming of age story of a young girl and in a setting and culture that still feels untapped, fresh and original. The film really tackles its characters well and lays pretty heavily on its challenges and drama. Though, it never feels super down in the dumps when you’re watching it. Part of that could be how the film is scored and presented in its cinematography. Overall, its still a solid film and one for all of the family to enjoy in an equal sort of fashion.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: At times this transfer on Whale Rider look absolutely gorgeous, like during some of the beach and sunset scenes. Even a couple schoolyard ones impress.  Then there are times where the film can look like its just a DVD upconvert.  A lot of this comes in some of the opening moments. It could be a product of the source, maybe the lighting that causes this. Overall, its looks pretty great and untampered for the most part.

Depth:  Its not flat, but its just above average. Movements are cinematic and smooth with little notice of blurring of jittering during quicker movements.

Black Levels: Blacks have a little hint of a gray to them. Details are still solid within darkness on hair and clothing. No crushing witnessed during this viewing of the film for the review.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid and lifelike in their appearance. It takes on a bold look for how appealing some of the clothing can be. In certain shots, the water from the ocean gives of a very lovely blue. Yellows and straw colors come on pretty impressively.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and maintain a consistent appearance from the start of the film to the close. Facial features look good in medium and close up shots, showcasing wrinkles, scars, stubb, cracks, glossiness, sweat, zits and more.

Noise/Artifacts: Some grain, a little bit of what looked like noise a couple minimal places.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Whale Rider features a really well realized and executed 5.1 surround track. It heats all the right beats and motions in the mix, giving it a fun, lifelike feel. Its a mix that is both free and loose in hearing it. The balance of the music, vocals and sound effects is quite good, with each getting to showcase themselves without stepping on one another’s feet.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Wind bustling, canes stomping on wood floor, engines rumbling, and waves crashing all get a nice boost from the subwoofer at a perfect beat, not overdoing it.

Surround Sound Presentation: Sound traveling is a immensely well thought out and accurate. Even little things you’d expect to just have some sort of mono feel to them, come out in a great sounding fashion. Rear speakers even get their own unique action in addition to good ambiance.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are crisp and clear.

Extras 

Whale Rider – 15th Anniversary Edition comes with a digital copy of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • By Director Niki Caro

Behind-the-Scenes of Whale Rider (SD, 27:02) – This is carried over from the previous DVD of the film and features retrospective interviews with the cast and crew on bringing this story to life.

Te Waka: Building The Canoe (SD, 11:15) – Ported over from the DVD, this is a history about the canoe featured in the film. The audio on the narrator is peaking and very sharp.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (SD, 8:33) 

Keisha Castle-Hughes Screen Test (SD, 6:11) 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:57) 

TV Spots (SD, 2:37)

Photo And Art Gallery (HD, 1:57)

Summary 

I hadn’t seen Whale Rider since it came out on DVD. And I thought it was good then and is still pretty good now. Not one I’m over the moon for, but solid nonetheless. Its comes to Blu-ray in this 15-th Anniversary Edition, but aside from jumping to the Blu-ray format, I’m not sure what else is new. It looks to carry the same bonus features that it did 15 years ago.  That said, it’s still an upgrade for those who have been waiting for it.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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