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DVD Review: Holes

By Glenn Abel

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photo The inmates run the DVD asylum on Disney's release of the down-and-dirty teen adventure "Holes."

The boys of D-Tent -- teen actors Shia LaBeouf, Khleo Thomas, Jake Smith and Max Kasch -- get their own DVD commentary track, turning in a raucous rap session that captures the rebellious spirit of "Holes," and then some.

Disney has something here. No big-brother director or producer keeping the commentary boring and on topic. Just kids running their mouths for the benefit of (presumably) other kids. It's fart jokes, raging teen hormones and a swarm of sick slang. Along the way, they squeeze in some great stories about the production. Brilliant.

Disney has released "Holes" in both widescreen (1.85:1, as shot) and full-screen formats (retail $29.99). Video and audio (your basic Dolby Digital) are up to major studio standards. The disc opens with ads that can be avoided by skipping a few chapters.

Extras include two decent making-of featurettes, shot for the DVD. A high-energy music video features the boys singing the film's opening work song, which they wrote with producer Doug E. Fresh. A handful of decent deleted scenes unspooled without explanation of why they were cut.

Director Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive") and "Holes" author-screenwriter Louis Sachar tell their side of the story on a second commentary for those north of 18.

Producer Teresa Tucker-Davis championed Sachar's book, a school yard favorite about a teen sent to a desolate work camp where the punishment is digging endless holes. The kid's story is interwoven with a tale from the past about his family's curse and the saga of a beautiful Old West outlaw. "Louis really hit a nerve with a lot of kids," says producer Mike Medavoy, another big fan.

Davis had the challenge of recruiting Sachar. "Louis had heard the usual (Hollywood) horror stories," says Davis, who was determined not to make an adaptation disavowed by the author.

"I'm a visual director," Davis told Sachar. "You do the words." Sachar did, writing the screenplay, standing guard on the shoot and even making a cameo in the film with his family.

Casting Sachar's strongly defined characters was a lot easier than Tucker-Davis feared. The seven main kid actors seemed "as if they had just walked out of the pages of the book -- they just showed up," she said. The DVD rolls some of the audition tapes for proof.

Before shooting, Davis sent his young charges to "boot camp" with stunt coordinator Alex Daniels, by all accounts a drill sergeant to be reckoned with. "You had to be in shape to do this movie," Davis says. For two weeks, the kids ran, did push-ups and bonded in the rural California heat. Mostly they learned how to dig holes. Lots of holes.

Sachar says he started his novel with the sole intention of writing about the heat in his home state of Texas. California's Cuttyback Dry Lake Bed, location for most of "Holes," provided a credible simulation. Temperatures reached 120 degrees (the kids insist it was 140), with grit-packed windstorms and mini-twisters. "We had to be very protective of each other -- it was quite brutal out there," Davis says.

Jon Voight, who played Mr. Sir, the camp's crusty, crazy boss, was the shoot's alpha male. He had the boys simultaneously star-struck and intimidated ("We were so scared of him"). But he was actually a nice guy who threw a hell of a football, they say.

Sigourney Weaver (the warden) and Patricia Arquette (a Cat Ballou-type outlaw) limned the strong female characters needed to balance all that male energy. Weaver "smelled so good," the boys said, "but there was no messing with her."

Davis aims his talk at a film-savvy audience, spending a lot of time on how CGI helped him achieve varied naturalistic looks on a tight budget. Stock footage intercut with shots of the cast held down costs on the Wild West scenes.

Davis and Sachar discuss the challenge of making a gritty, sometimes violent film that had to have a PG rating. The movie had to be "not too scary for young kids and tough enough for older kids." Sachar fills in some plot holes and discusses book-to-film issues such as the changed point of view.

The men sound like friends who go way back. "You did a great job," the author tells the director, who seems to have achieved his goal of honoring the author's vision.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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