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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/2/99

The Mighty
1998 (1999) Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

The Mighty Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C-

Specs and Features

100 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, short "behind-the-scenes" production featurette, Sting music video for The Mighty (includes making-of interviews), film-themed menus, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

The Mighty is the story of two boys who are loners both at their school and in life. One, Max (Elden Henson), is big, dumb, and ugly… at least that's what his classmates think. He's quiet, he can't read, and he lives in the basement of his grandparents house, in a poor Cleveland neighborhood, the product of a very troubled family history. The other is Max's new neighbor, Kevin (Kieran Culkin), who lives with his caring, but over-protective, single mother. Kevin is smart, witty and outspoken… but he suffers from a crippling degenerative disease, forcing him to walk on crutches. Kevin doesn't let that cramp his style, however, or his continual optimism. And when Kevin and Max become friends, the two learn to be much more than the sum of their parts. Max's strength and legs give Kevin access to a larger world, and the protection of a trusted friend. And Kevin opens Max's mind, teaching him to read, and to not live in fear of life, despite the shortcomings of his situation.

Based on the Rodman Philbrick novel Freak the Mighty (and adapted for the screen by Philbrick and Charles Leavitt), The Mighty is a truly wonderful film. Director Peter Chelsom creates a very rare gem, that manages to be at once fresh, touching and even a measure whimsical. The book Kevin uses to teach Max to read, is King Arthur and his Knights, and as they work their way through the first chapter, the story of the book and its legends becomes interwoven in the fabric of the movie. The movie eventually takes on the chapter-like aspect of the novel, with on-screen titles like: "Chapter Two: Walking High Above the World". As Max and Kevin's imaginations bond their friendship, and give them the courage to walk the world together proudly, there are wonderful little visual comparisons between them and the knights of old.

The ensemble cast here is one of the best, and arguably one of the more interesting, that I've seen in a film in years. In addition to Henson and Culkin, who are both nothing short of terrific, Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton absolutely shine as Max's concerned grandparents, Gram and Grim. Sharon Stone gives a very touching performance as Kevin's mother Gwen, revealing just the right amount of fierce, loving pride in her son, and pain for his condition. And Gillian Anderson is wonderful as Loretta Lee, a poor-white-trash floozie, whose brief appearances in the film are the key to revealing Max's past, and important to the resolution of the story. Anderson is a definite talent, and she shows some great range here, playing a character about as far from her Agent Scully role on The X-Files as can be. There's even a great cameo by Meat Loaf - no kidding.

The widescreen video on this DVD is generally very good, outside of being occasionally a touch grainy - a print issue, and not so much a transfer problem. What is a problem transfer-wise, is that Buena Vista once again chose to make one of its most wonderful recent films non-anamorphic on DVD. And that's really disheartening. It's bad enough that they do it on so-so titles, but when it happens to the really good ones, it's extremely disappointing. Outside of this issue, the transfer does look very good, with terrific color. It's vibrant when necessary, and muted where appropriate. The blacks also are excellent - deep and true, with still plenty of detail. And there's very little in the way of edge enhancement visible. The audio is also generally good, in full Dolby Digital 5.1. It isn't especially immersive - you wont hear a lot of rear channel effects. But for a more personal story like this, that's okay. You do get some nice atmospheric fill, and enough bass channel to make the experience satisfying.

What is a little disappointing, is the presentation and the extras. This film, with its Arthurian knights thread, would have really lent itself to the creation of fun animated menus on DVD. Just think of what DreamWorks, for example, would have done with the menus on this disc. Instead, we get a really boring main menu page, and even more boring sub-menus. As far as supplemental materials, you get a short "behind-the-scenes" piece, with very brief interview clips (the kind of thing you'd see between movies on HBO), and the Sting music video for the title song, with some brief "making-of" footage and interviews as a lead in. Now, I'm a big Sting fan, so the having the video is pretty cool for me. And as a huge fan of The Police, I dig the fact that the band's former guitarist, Andy Summers, makes a rare appearance reunited with Sting in the video. The two were apparently recording a song for a Summers' album at Sting's estate in England, and Sting asked Andy to hang around for the weekend when the video shoot took place. The result is that fans get to see the two clowning around (literally) on screen again. But both shorts have a very digitally compressed look to them (think artifacts), as if the disc makers were pushing the bitrate lower to fit it all on a DVD-5 disc (single-sided, single-layered). And again, just think of all the kinds of fun little extras this disc could have had? This is, at heart, a magical tale. But other than the movie, there's not much magic on this disc. And, no… the Film Recommendations section doesn't count.

The Mighty is one of those films you just shouldn't miss. The film got largely overlooked in theaters, despite the high caliber of its cast. I'm not sure the studio had any idea how to market this film. I mean, just look at the DVD case artwork - no one but Sharon Stone looks anything like their characters in the film. This was just the old, "let's put the stars' pictures on the poster, and hope that sells it" approach. In the end, I think the marketing dollars this film deserved, were spent instead on Simon Birch. And that's too bad, because this is a much better film. This is a great one to watch with your whole family, and it's every bit as captivating for adults as the younger set. The discs' lackluster value aside, this is a movie you should definitely see. Buy the DVD online at a reduced price, get it at retail on sale, or rent it at least - it's one of the better little movies I've seen in some time. Bite deeply and savor.

Bill Hunt
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