In 2010, the eyes of the world turned to Chile, where 33 miners had been buried alive by the catastrophic explosion and collapse of a 100-year-old gold and copper mine. Over the next 69 days, an international team worked night and day in a desperate attempt to rescue the trapped men as their families and friends, as well as millions of people globally, waited and watched anxiously for any sign of hope. But 200 stories beneath the surface, in the suffocating heat and with tensions rising, provisions—and time—were quickly running out. A story of resilience, personal transformation and triumph of the human spirit, the film takes us to the Earth's darkest depths, revealing the psyches of the men trapped in the mine, and depicting the courage of both the miners and their families who refused to give up.
Based on the gripping true story of survival – and filmed with the cooperation of the miners, their families and their rescuers – The 33 reveals the never-before-seen actual events that unfolded, above and below ground, which became nothing less than a worldwide phenomenon.
In 2010, a mine collapse in Copiapó, Chile, trapped 33 miners over 2,000 ft. below the Earth's surface. For 69 long days, the world watched as those above tried to save those underground. 'The 33' tells that story, and while most viewers going into this movie will probably already know the outcome, that doesn't necessarily make it any less entertaining or engaging to watch.
Antonio Banderas stars here as Mario Sepúlveda, who becomes the reluctant leader of the miners during their ordeal. Also cast is Lou Diamond Phillips – in honestly his best role in years – as Don Lucho, the mine foreman, who is seen (of course!) before the collapse complaining to the mine's management about the questionable safety of the mine, only to discover after being trapped, that things are even worse than he thought (one example: ladders that were supposed to reach the surface were never completed). Both Banderas and Phillips are great here, and prove to be a big reason why 'The 33' never dives too far into melodrama (despite Banderas being given the rather corny line, "That's no rock...that's the heart of the mountain!).
No doubt to appease the studio and hope for the biggest theatrical success (although, sadly, 'The 33' didn't get much love at the box office), the choice was made to have everyone in this movie – including the Chilean miners – speak English instead of Spanish. This includes even when things are written – as when the miners are able to get a note to the surface and when one of them writes on the mine's wall during the conclusion of the movie. While the filmmakers have hired Banderas, Phillips, and a number of other Latinos in major roles, they've also provided some head-scratching casting here as well. French actress Juliette Binoche plays a sister of one of the trapped miners, native Californian Bob Gunton plays the Chilean President, and – in my pick for the most bizarre bit of casting – Irishman Gabriel Byrne plays the Chilean engineer who played a major role in the rescue operation. Watching Byrne try to master a South American accent might be the most (unintentionally) laughable part of an otherwise solid movie. James Brolin also has a small role here – but at least he's playing an American.
With 33 miners trapped, it would be virtually impossible to relay all their personal stories within a movie that runs a little over two hours. So instead, the film focuses on a half dozen or so of the miners, including the Banderas and Phillips characters. In fact, Director Patricia Riggen even fudges on the actual number of men she shows beneath the surface, as I don't think 33 actors ever appear on screen at the same time. There's even a scene at the midway point of the movie where all the miners have gathered around a table to eat the last of the available food. A wide shot reveals that the director has only placed 20 actors in the shot. Where are the other 13? At the craft services table, I guess.
But despite all these odd choices, 'The 33' knows exactly what it is as a movie and propels forward in an engaging way. I particularly appreciated the fact that, despite a couple of scenes where the mine owners are criticized for the poor safety conditions, this didn't turn into a movie with a moustache-twirling manager not caring about the fate of his employees. This movie doesn't need a villain, and we don't get one here – the focus is on survival and that proves to be engaging enough for the audience. There's some early friction and trust issues between the families and those called in by the Chilean government to oversee the rescue (Rodrigo Santoro plays the government's point man, and he's quite good here), but they soon realize they're all working together for the same outcome – getting the miners out alive.
Yes, 'The 33' is predictable and hits all the marks one would expect in telling a real-life disaster tale such as this one. I'm not an expert on these particular events, but like all such films, I'm sure some things were changed or manipulated for the purposes of better storytelling. But the purpose of this movie is to honor these men (both those below and above ground) and to entertain viewers in the process. 'The 33' succeeds on both counts. This one gets a solid recommendation from me.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The 33' digs its way onto Blu-ray in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, which houses the 50GB disc along with an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the movie. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with a trailer for In the Heart of the Sea, a Warner Bros. on HD promo spot, plus trailers for Creed, Point Break, and Our Brand is Crisis.
The main menu has the standard Warners' design, with a still of the box cover image and menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is region-free.
'The 33' was shot digitally on Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras and is presented here in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Visually, there's a vast difference between the footage shot within the mine sets and those shot outdoors (in the Atacama Desert in Chile near where the real-life mine was). The outdoor sequences are full of color, depth, detail, and just about everything one would expect on a Blu-ray transfer of a digitally shot film. The mine sequences, however, are a little more borderline. While black levels are decent, they aren't exactly inky deep, and more than a few shots have a slightly murky look to them. Noise also creeps into several of the underground sequences, but not as much as one might expect. Overall, though, we need to keep in mind that those underground shots are intended to be dark and I imagine they looked pretty much the same up on the big screen (alas, I did not get the chance to see 'The 33' during its theatrical run).
Other issues like banding or aliasing don't seem to be a problem here, and I could detect no noticeable instances of either. The bottom line is that this is a very good – although short of great – transfer that makes for an enjoyable viewing experience.
The featured audio here is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track. As you might expect, the track does a pretty impressive job with both the mine collapse early in the movie (there's some impressive LFE use here) as well as with the sounds of the various bits of machinery used as the story progresses and attempts are made to rescue the miners. Dialogue is always clear and distinct, and everything is properly mixed, including James Horner's (this is one of his final scores, and the movie has been dedicated to his memory) music, which oddly reminded me of some of his work from 'Another 48 Hrs.' believe it or not.
In addition to the lossless English track, a Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital track is included, as well as an Enlgish 5.1 Dolby Digital Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Even though most viewers will go into 'The 33' knowing exactly how things are going to end, that doesn't make the movie any less engaging to watch. While the film is limited in how much time it can spend developing each character, the overall urgency of the situation is the driving force here. Yes, much of this movie may be predictable by-the-numbers filmmaking, but it's still well made. Recommended.