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3.5 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: February 4th, 2014
Movie Release Year: 2004
Release Country: United States
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Million Dollar Baby: 10th Anniversary Edition

Review Date January 30th, 2014 by
Overview - "I don't train girls," trainer Frankie Dunn growls. But something's different about Maggie Fitzgerald, the spirited boxing hopeful who shows up daily at Dunn's gym. All she wants is a fighting chance. Clint Eastwood plays Dunn and directs, produces and composes music for this tale of heart, hope and family. Swank plays resilient Maggie, determined not to abandon her one dream. And Freeman is Scrap, gym caretaker and counterpoint to Dunn's crustiness. Grab your dreams and come out swinging.
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: Blu-ray
    BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:132
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.40:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features: Audio Commentary by Producer Albert Ruddy (NEW)
    Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes (NEW)
    James Lipton Takes on Three
    Born to Fight
    Producers Round 15
    Theatrical Trailer
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: February 4th, 2014

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

3.5 Stars out of 5

Maybe I'm becoming a curmudgeon in my old age, but the words "Academy Award" just don't mean much to me anymore. Not only is the whole concept of giving out awards for creativity rather silly, I look back on the Best Picture Oscar winners of the past few years, and I just don't know - is anyone going to remember these movies 10 years from now? Or even 10 months? Think 'Gladiator,' 'Chicago,' 'A Beautiful Mind' or - heaven help us - 'Crash,' and it is hard to imagine any of these films having much of a legacy.

So it was with much trepidation that I came to the game late with 'Million Dollar Baby.' After all the hosannas and its four Academy Awards - including Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actor nods for Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, and Best Director for Clint Eastwood - I couldn't help but fear that, even if the acclaim for the film might not be unwarranted, it would still become yet another example of a perfectly fine film transformed into a disappointment thanks to being overhyped. Turns out my fears were far from confirmed, but not entirely unfounded, either.

"I don't train girls," says Frankie Dunn (Eastwood). And this guy means it. He's the very definition of "grizzled" - an aging boxing coach whose fighters are losing as many bouts as his gym is losing money. But then in walks a spirited, dirt poor young hopeful named Maggie (Swank), whose desperation is matched only by her resilience, and something inside Frankie motivates him to take her on. With the help of gym caretaker Scrap (Freeman), soon Frankie and Maggie are on their way to becoming the most unlikely underdog success story in the ring. But then a third act knockout propels their destiny into a direction neither ever saw coming.

'Million Dollar Baby' is a very fine film indeed. Eastwood's combined 70-odd years in front of and behind the camera shows - every moment of his 25th film as a director is perfectly modulated. No shot is wasted, no plot point unmotivated, and not a single line of dialogue is extraneous. He also wrings career-best performances out of Swank and Freeman (who also narrates), which is saying a great deal for two actors who have been terrific in so many other films (and their two Oscars were certainly as deserved as any that year). Eastwood is also aided by no-frills yet hauntingly evocative photography by Tom Stern, sharp editing by Joel Cox, and his own appropriately unobtrusive score (with additional songs by Eastwood's son, Kyle).

Ironically, then, what kept the movie shy of true greatness for me was also Eastwood - both his character and performance. Though in retrospect, the film's surprise third act seems almost predestined (and I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen the film), it left me feeling that 'Million Dollar Baby' became two films in one - foremost a spiritual journey for Frankie, which relegates Maggie's story to the sidelines. Quite frankly, I found her far more interesting than him, which wasn't helped by a rote performance from Eastwood. He can do a character like Frankie in his sleep, while Swank's energy and ferociousness often blew him off the screen. So by the film's climax, their separate but intertwined tragic journeys left me feeling devastated for her and uncaring for him. Weird.

But despite my reservations, 'Million Dollar Baby' is well worth seeing. It is also, despite what you may have heard, not a "message movie." Its surprise left hook does tackle a topical issue, but ultimately it is a tale of redemption through sacrifice that uses the boxing ring as a metaphor for our human quest for respect and validation. That makes it ultimately a humane and decent film, despite the bloody and violent sport at its center. I may not be quite as sold on 'Baby' as some critics, nor quite as enthusiastic as the Academy - and I absolutely abhor boxing - but I would never dissuade anyone from seeing this excellent motion picture.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The 10th anniversary edition of 'Million Dollar Baby' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/VC-1 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray
    BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:132
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.40:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary by Producer Albert Ruddy (NEW)
    Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes (NEW)
    James Lipton Takes on Three
    Born to Fight
    Producers Round 15
    Theatrical Trailer
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: February 4th, 2014

Video Review

4 Stars out of 5

This is the exact same transfer that graced the previous Blu-ray edition of 'Million Dollar Baby,' right down to its VC-1 encode and bitrate. That's not bad news, because the transfer is quite good. Here's what we had to say about it back in 2006:

As I wrote in my original review of the HD DVD release of 'Million Dollar Baby,' the movie seemed like an odd choice for one of Warner's launch titles. A visually direct film, 'Million Dollar Baby' is bathed in shadows and devoid of any visual gimmicks - no special effects, no explosions, no CGI. It also possesses an intentionally muted color scheme, as well as intentionally underlit, grainy sequences. So though I don't know why Warner chose 'Baby' to kick off HD DVD, watching its Blu-ray counterpart several months later, I'm again struck by how sharp the film looks in high-def, and what a pleasant surprise this transfer is.

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and encoded in 1080p/VC-1, 'Million Dollar Baby' is certainly a test of how much detail a video format can deliver. Because the film's director of photography Tom Stern uses shadows so extensively, there are often very minute details detectable in the corners of every frame, just ready to fall off into darkness. Whether the barely-lit texture of a gym's back wall or a silhouetted boxer nearly as transparent as a ghost, shadow delineation is truly incredible, possessing a smooth, detailed, and often three-dimensional appearance throughout. The most brightly lit scenes - primarily the competitive boxing sequences - shine the most, with a film-like look that is striking if only because I didn't expect it. Colors are also dark and slightly desaturated, but clean and free of apparent video noise (though film grain is obvious). Sure, 'Baby' is not really a movie made to be demo material, but in terms of fine gradations of color, black level, and contrast, there are shots here that are really exceptionally good.

Audio Review

4 Stars out of 5

Lossless audio is now pretty much a required element of any Blu-ray release, but back in 2006 during the format's infancy, lossy tracks were still being included on some discs. 'Million Dollar Baby' was one of the unfortunate victims of such a trend, but Warner has righted that wrong here, at last including a DTS-HD Master Audio track that offers a surprising amount of distinct surround activity. Atmospherics, such as crickets chirping, bleed nicely into the rears, and the wide expanse of the gymnasium and roaring crowds at the various fight venues are well rendered, and help provide a tightly focused multi-channel experience. Stereo separation across the front speakers is noticeable, too, and a wide dynamic scale keeps distortion at bay most of the time. Bass frequencies are strong, especially during the fight scenes when punches are thrown and bodies come crashing onto the canvas.

The delicate strains of Eastwood's music score enjoy a good level of fidelity and tonal depth, but dialogue is the track's main star. I had a little trouble understanding Freeman's narration early in the film, but conversations between the principals are usually clear and comprehendible. A few words get lost here and there, depending on the situation, but such lapses don't inhibit enjoyment of the film.

All things considered, this is a fine effort and solid upgrade for those who want the best audio presentation.

Special Features

2.5 Stars out of 5

A couple of new supplements grace this 10th anniversary edition, along with all the special features that appeared on the previous Blu-ray release.

  • Audio Commentary – With his rough, gravelly voice, producer Albert S. Ruddy sounds like a character out of a 1940s mob movie, and though his vocal timbre might suit a commentary for a boxing movie well, he's still a poor substitute for Eastwood. In fact, I'd probably rate this commentary as one of the worst I've heard, and that's saying something. While he praises the director's "lean" style and notes that Swank performed all her own stunts, Ruddy's remarks focus almost exclusively on the film's plot. He describes every scene in tedious detail and analyzes each one from every conceivable angle. There are no on-set anecdotes, discussions of technique, or identifications of locations. If you appreciate the art of filmmaking and the nuts-and-bolts of production, you will get absolutely zero out of Ruddy's presentation. But if you like hearing about character motivations and dramatic subtext, then you've found your dream commentary.
  • Featurette: "'Million Dollar Baby': On the Ropes" (HD, 26 minutes) – This reverential retrospective piece allows Eastwood, Swank, Freeman, and producers Paul Haggis (who also wrote the screenplay), Tom Rosenberg, and Albert S. Ruddy the opportunity to reflect on the making of the film and its lasting impact. Ruddy calls 'Million Dollar Baby' "a movie nobody wanted to make...period," and then recounts the laborious process of getting the picture into the production pipeline. We learn how Eastwood got involved and how Swank and Freeman were cast. We also hear about Swank's six-day-a-week training regimen and strict vegetarian diet, as well as Eastwood's unique directing style. Though not terribly enlightening, this is a solid featurette that shows just how much 'Million Dollar Baby' means to the people who made it.
  • Featurette: "James Lipton Takes on Three" (SD, 25 minutes) – This TV special was recorded right after the film won its four Academy Awards. Lipton totally gives me the creeps, but at least he asks fairly perceptive questions of the movie's trio of stars. Swank and particularly Freeman are insightful, with Eastwood playing the "I just am what I am" role. A little dry, but worth a watch.
  • Featurette: "Born to Fight" (SD, 19 minutes) – This piece consists of on-set EPK interviews with Swank and her boxing coach Lucia Rijker, who discuss not only Swank's often rigorous training regime, but also the appeal of the sport of boxing. Personally, I just don't get it (it's stupid and barbaric, if you ask me), but I admire Swank's commitment to really getting inside her character, instead of just going through the physical motions.
  • Featurette: "Producers Round 15" (SD, 13 minutes) – Producers Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg, and future Oscar winner Paul Haggis sit down for an informative if dry interview that touches on several topics, including the gestation of 'Baby,' which on its own is fascinating enough to make this featurette worth watching
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) – The film's original preview is presented in full 1080p video.

Final Thoughts

'Million Dollar Baby' is a very good film - heartfelt, powerful, and thought-provoking. It is worth seeing for the performances alone, and for its knockout third act, which is truly a stunner. This 10th anniversary edition, however, isn't much to write home about. The addition of a lossless audio track is the disc's most notable selling point, and a couple of new extras sweeten the pot, but as far as celebratory releases go, this one is a bit of a party pooper. The video transfer, which was always quite good, remains the same, as do the majority of special features. If you've never seen 'Million Dollar Baby' before, then by all means grab this disc, but if you already own the previous Blu-ray release, you might want to think twice before upgrading. The high-def audio is worth the extra expense; the supplements, though, are not.

Sale Price 10.26
List Price 15.64
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Usually ships within 6 to 10 days.
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  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray
    BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:132
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.40:1
    Audio Formats:
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
    Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH
    French Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary by Producer Albert Ruddy (NEW)
    Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes (NEW)
    James Lipton Takes on Three
    Born to Fight
    Producers Round 15
    Theatrical Trailer
    Movie Studio: Warner Brothers
    Release Date: February 4th, 2014