PictureAnamorphically enhanced with a very accurate 2.35:1 presentation, Cinderella Man looks just the same as the print I saw at the cinema. The image is rock steady and holds the attention without any glaring errors, or evidence of any compression problems or digital gremlins. Some slight edge enhancement encroaches but this is not in the least distracting. The colours are deliberately muted and the palette downplayed, the resulting spectrum earthy and warm and, typically for films covering this era, favouring the browns and the rustic hue of grubby vintage. As a consequence of this deliberate visual decision, the film is suffused with a somewhat dour appearance that is, nevertheless, clean and relatively sharp. However, look at the scene where Mae marches up to Gould's hotel for a nice reproduction of the bright sunlight and the smart reflections on the cars parked up outside - it proves that the colours are there, after all.
The contrast is well-handled, with lots of flashbulb photography, subdued hues for interiors and a naturalistic sheen to the exteriors, and a harshness depicted for the ringside lighting. Faces look pale and malnourished and the cold of the winter offers a clear image of the snowy, frigid streets. Skin tones are spot on and very well detailed, especially the lumps and bumps on Crowe's withered and sunken chops. Black levels are pretty decent, offering good levels of murk for the shadowy interiors of the Braddocks' humble abode and nice depth for the far reaches of Madison Square Garden.
The image is suffused with a very filmic layer of grain that I can assure you is intentional and, unlike the hindrance caused to Spielberg's War Of The Worlds, actually serves to enhance the film with a respectable sheen of vintage. It may smack of stereotype to lens a period movie in this way, but Howard was going for the look of the sepia tinted photographs of the era that he loves so much - and the transfer on this DVD does his intentions justice.
SoundCinderella Man has a fairly robust DD 5.1 mix that supplies plenty of oomph and spatial swirl across the front soundscape, but leaves the rear speakers behind for much of the time. They are utilised well when called upon, but then this isn't really that kind of film. As spectators, the action is mainly directed in front of us, although the punishing impacts and the roars of the crowd are well integrated into the environment with clear and clever steerage. The flashbulbs go off with a very realistic whump! and Thomas Newman's score whistles around the set-up with distinction, too.
Ambience is well maintained throughout and dialogue is always clear and well delivered. Separation across the front is nice and wide and there is a texture to the sound that feels very well produced, allowing the multiple layers of the crowds and the bustle of the streets or the workers on the docks to build quite smartly with realism and accuracy.
So, overall, I can't find much to complain about in the grand scheme of things, but Cinderella Man still lacks the bite, energy and wrap-around dynamics of many other releases out there. A great soundtrack then, but perhaps a little understated.
ExtrasWell, there's certainly a lot of backup in Braddock's corner with this 2-disc release.
Side A of Disc 1, which is a DVD14, contains the film and three commentaries, as well as an audio descriptive track which is a marvellous addition that I totally applaud. The first Commentary is from Director Ron Howard, who proves to be exceedingly chatty and informative. He delivers fact and anecdote with speed, detail and with a genuinely comprehensive knowledge of the material. Allowing us into his movie with an affable, warts and all approach, he covers the casting, the screenplay, the interpretation of the real story and manages to supply some engrossing background to the fights themselves, those faked for the film and the real McCoy. Plenty of good stuff here, from the “Thousand Punches” to the incredible use of archive footage during the production. The truth behind the tale is fascinating and Howard does a great job of steering us through it, rarely quiet and making even the simplest of scenes sound interesting.
Sadly, the other two Commentaries, one each from the writers Akiva Goldsman and Cliff Hollingsworth, carry a large degree of repetition (something that will inevitably plague more of the special features) and I think that it would have been a much better idea to have combined the pair together. On their own, and totally unlike Ron Howard's chat, they lack spontaneity and come over a lot drier and more methodical. My advice, folks, is to stick to Ron's sweet science, it's a lot more fun.
This side also contains previews for the excellent Gladiator Extended 3-Disc Edition (but with some terrible non-Gladiator music playing over it), Law And Order and the Keira Knightly version of Pride And Prejudice.
Turning over to Side B delivers us a lot more goodies. Firstly, we get a selection of Deleted Scenes (20.59 mins) with an introduction from Ron Howard, who also supplies an optional commentary for the series. He likes to set the scene for each of them before offering a brief but incisive explanation as to why they never made the final cut. I liked his reasoning, especially when he revealed the motives for dropping such tremendous scenes as the “hand bandaging/realisation of failure” moment from early on in the film. The quality of the deleted scenes is somewhat grainier than the movie and the black levels appeared to be slightly off, too. However, all the scenes are good, with lots of nice character beats and location work. One or two might be a little superfluous, but they all showcase some marvellous performances. On the whole, these are much better than your usual deleted scenes. Great to see.
Next up is The Fight Card: Casting Cinderella Man (22.57 mins). Here we meet the director and the stars, Crowe, Zellweger, Giamatti, Bierko, McGill and Considine and Jane Jenkins, who, as Casting Director, maintains how easy her job was once the big names had read the screenplay. Howard is clearly a fan of Russell Crowe. He understands the danger inherent in the actor, and his uniquely deep and intense firebrand attitude. The physical training he did for the part is briefly touched upon, but this vital element will be explored in a lot more detail later. The painstaking research that each actor did in order to nail their character is fully covered, with Paul Giamatti, especially, utilising the font of technical advice in the diminutive form of trainer and boxing legend, Angelo Dundee, in order to get his spiel just right for Braddock's trainer, Joe Gould. It's nice to see Craig Bierko talk about his role as the brutal Max Baer, and the big guy comes across really well and with enthusiasm. Paddy Considine gets a little moment to examine his role of the only fictional character in the film and we even get to meet Braddock's real-life granddaughter, Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Sarah, Mike's wife. This is a good all-rounder that doesn't outstay its welcome and seems to hit just the right notes.
The Man, The Movie, The Legend: A Filmmaker's Journey (14.01 mins) has one of those overly-important and pompous titles and, indeed, the featurette tries hard to play up the noble genesis of the project, but ends up being nothing more than Crowe, Howard, Producers Penny Marshall and the wild-haired Brian Grazer discussing how they came together to make the movie. Unfortunately, we get some direct repetition and a fair amount of raking-over of old, familiar ground. Lots of clips and vintage photographs are offered and there is a nice look at the costumes, but this featurette is more like your conventional filler.
For The Record: A History In Boxing (6.40 mins) is a look at Angelo Dundee's participation in the production of the movie. Now, I defy you not to warm to this boxing celebrity because he's great - a fast, enthusiastic straight-talker who seems totally dazzled by the bright lights of movie-making. He is also, and somewhat surprisingly considering the talent he's worked with in his chosen field, completely in awe of Russell Crowe. “The best left hook” he's ever seen, eh? Again, this ends up being a praise-fest for Crowe's dedication, but there is a little bit of Dundee's total immersion into the magic of the movies to lighten things up. Basically, folks, he lost it and had a ball. And that's just fine with me.
Ringside Seats (9.10 mins) is a smart little feature that shows the estimable Norman Mailer giving his insight and critique into the real Braddock v Baer fight as he and the makers - Howard, Goldsman and Grazer and others - sit and watch the footage during a round-table discussion. This is actually quite cool, with Mailer pointing out the key strikes and strategies as they happen and supplying the movie-men with valuable analysis with which to construct their version. The screen is occasionally split between the discussion and the fight footage. Very good.
Jim Braddock: The Friends and Family Behind The Legend (11.12 mins) gives us a chance to hear the voice of Braddock, himself, see more footage and photos. His relatives are seen meeting Howard on the set and, later, they give some personal insight into the man and share some memories. His son, Howard, supplies a nice, gentle account of a hard-working father who only ever did his best for his family. Also features some good footage of Braddock training and the vintage interview with Jim and his wife in which Mae utters that terrific line mentioned earlier about Jim getting punched, that is recapped in the movie.
Kodak Cinderella Man Gallery (2.00 mins). Well, folks, it had to happen, didn't it? After all this good stuff, we get this appalling travesty. Nothing more than a sickly sweet commercial for Kodak, I'm afraid, all set in an art gallery full of kids on a tour and being taught the value of photographs. Dire, in every way. The Cinderella Man connection - just a couple of poignant photos included, that's all. Avoid.
Disc 2 commences with another round of Deleted Scenes (15.22 mins in total) with Howard's optional commentary. The same introduction precedes the set and this time we get a pretty good sequence involving Considine's Mike fighting for the common man against the street evictions. An entire subplot revolving around a piece of steak surfaces, which is wonderfully acted and touching and features some nice improvisation from Crowe. And there is an intriguing scene featuring the removal of sheep from Central Park. Howard states that Cinderella Man had remarkably few good bits to cut out, but I would have to disagree with him as there is a lot of stuff here that I enjoyed.
Next up, we get an excellent featurette entitled Russell Crowe's Journey: Becoming Jim Braddock (27.51 mins) which starts off with the man himself gravely intoning deeply serious platitudes towards his director (Master And Commander was obviously much in his mind at the time) before revealing that he, along with the other boxers and fight choreographers/trainers decamped for months of intensive preparation at his ranch down under. With little Angelo Dundee along for the ride, the cameras then follow the gruelling regime of physical build-up and fight training that Crowe underwent to literally transform himself into Jim Braddock. Now, I love physical training, so I found this to be an extremely cool feature, but I realise that it may not be to everyone's taste. We get lots and lots of sparring, running, conditioning and technical advice from the experts. The infamous shoulder injury is covered, and we even get to see the re-constructive surgery done on it and hear Crowe bargaining with Howard and the producers for a bit more time to recover and train. There is some footage in what appears to be Crowe's trophy room - Oscar and Maximus helmet proudly displayed - and a few practical jokes being played on some boxers jittery of the outback. Great stuff but, as I say, some people may be bored rigid by it.
Pre-Fight Preparations (25.15 mins with a Play All) contains four brief featurettes. Focus On Script details, once again, how the project came into being, with participation from Cliff Hollingsworth, Akiva Goldsman, Penny Marshall, Ron Howard, Russell Crowe and Brian Grazer. Quite honest and candid, the most amazing thing that keeps coming over is just how nice a guy Jim Braddock really was. The writers, researchers and performers kept trying to find some dirt on him, but there just wasn't any. Creating The Reality has the sets and location work given an overview from designer Wynn Thomas and location manager Keith Large, paying attention to the Braddock apartment and Madison Square Garden. Russell's Transformation has some good shots of Crowe in the makeup chair and some interesting behind-the-scenes footage of him in the ring. Angelo Dundee pops up again to shower the star with praise, but this really doesn't add a great deal to what we already know. And finally, we get a fun featurette on Inflatable People, which covers the way in which the crowds of spectators were added to. Joe Biggins discusses the tricks employed for fooling you into thinking Madison Square Garden was really packed to the rafters. This'll guarantee that you watch the scenes again, just to try to spot the fake fight fans.
Lights, Camera, Action: The Fight From Every Angle(21.25 mins) covers the brilliant techniques employed to film the fighting, detailing just how DOP Salvatore Totino got in so close to the action. Wearing protective garb, he had the boxers lay into him with combinations that he could vividly capture from the receiving end. Even the poor camera, encased in a cushioned box, took a beating for the sake of art. And we get to meet the real-life boxers again (including Bierko, this time out) as boxing/stunt co-ordinator Steve Lucescu and fight choreographer Nick Powell take us through the film, fight by fight. Smart stuff, folks.
Now we get, arguably, the greatest extra feature in the entire package - the actual World Heavyweight Championship 1935 bout between James Braddock and the reigning champ Max Baer. Lasting for 31.57 mins, this is a tremendous presentation from the Madison Square Garden that, although, containing some print damage, which is unsurprisingly, still looks pretty damn fine. Time between rounds has been removed and we get a little cartoon bell-ringing pugilist to start each new round. Folks, you shouldn't need me to tell you just how wonderful it is to see this. But the clever thing now is that you can compare just how accurately they captured it in the movie. From the look of the two fighters to the styles and the moves they use, Howard, Crowe and Bierko got it spot on. Marvellous.
Photo Montage (3.13 mins) is a musically accompanied journey through the film, its story and its characters. Set to Thomas Newman's hauntingly wistful and slightly melancholic score, the montage is punctuated by moments of live-action and dialogue. This is very nicely done and contains some great images.
The Sound Of The Bell (6.24 mins) is a look at the composer, himself, as both he and Ron Howard discuss the musical themes of the film and the inspirations that brought the score into play. Newman says that the best way for him to work is to watch the film first and draw his feelings and inspirations from the imagery itself, rather than try to work it out from the screenplay beforehand.
Cinderella Man - Music Featurette (2.14 mins) is actually just a direct follow-on from the previous featurette, and quite why they chopped it in two is beyond me. There's even a line or two that get repeated. A bit sloppy, really, in an otherwise splendidly put together package.
And finally, at long last, we get The Human Face Of Depression (6.03 mins) in which Ron Howard divulges his fascination of the great collapse of American society after the Wall Street Crash. He reveals that his first film, a student project, was a chronicle of the entire upheaval and economic disintegration and offers up plenty of impressive images - many of which he has attempted to emulate within Cinderella Man. But when Brian Grazer pops up, the history lesson soon drifts back to the topic of James Braddock and how he caught the imagination of the downtrodden and offered them hope once again. But, in a slight change of tack, this time they reference the direct impact the stock market crash of 1929 had on him and his family. Nice, but brief.
Oh, and let's not forget the little Photo Booklet and the four stills from the film. Classy.
VerdictCinderella Man is a fantastic film. I love boxing and Russell Crowe still vies for my top slot with Christian Bale for the position of most intense, yet charismatic character actor, so, in essence, it really couldn't go wrong. The film may tread a well-worn path, but its heart and soul are laid bare with the lead's magnetic performance, some of the best fighting ever put on celluloid and the simple, unequivocal fact that this actually happened.
Universal's Collector's Edition is similarly awesome to behold. The wealth of extras is incredible. We may have a little too much in the way of repetition, but just look at the overall quality of the features on offer. If the novelty of the makings of and the behind-the-scenes stuff wears thin, just go back and watch the original bout again. Inspiring, gripping and an education, in itself.
A terrific movie and a superlative DVD package. At the cinema, I thought that the film won on points. Here, with this edition, I declare it a winner by knockout. Highly recommended.
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