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DVD Review: Million Dollar Baby

By Glenn Abel

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photo Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" -- the undisputed heavyweight champion of the film world -- takes a dive on DVD.

Check out the extra-features undercard: An embarrassing round-table session with Eastwood and his stars; a leftover promo piece; talking-head bits with the producers; and a trailer. It adds up to about an hour of extras -- a puny showing for any major film on DVD, much less the most honored movie of the year. Feel free to throw beer and popcorn.

As for the main event, there's still reason to cheer: "Million Dollar Baby" looks and sounds like, well, a million bucks. The film's flat color scheme comes across suitably downbeat with its queasy greens, pale blues and nicotine grays. The widescreen images unspool in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), as shot. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio delivers the body blows with authority; the subwoofer shovels out foreboding and menace. The surround arena seems mostly abandoned until the big fight scenes, when it comes to life with a jolt. There is no DTS option.

The triple-disc "Deluxe Edition" (retail $39.98) includes Eastwood's soundtrack on a previously released stereo CD. Warner also released two-disc sets (no CD) in widescreen and full-screen versions ($29.95).

Eastwood and his actors Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman sat down the morning after the Oscars for the interview session that became "James Lipton Takes On Three." Down goes Lipton in a laugher.

The reverential host of Bravo's "The Actor's Studio" appears dazzled by best picture winner "Million Dollar Baby" and its quartet of Oscars, three of them wielded by his guests. "This movie is full of stunning revelations," Lipton notes sotto voce. "That's genius."

Eastwood wasn't quite so gobsmacked by the big trophy trot: "I know the feeling of going home empty, and I know the feeling of going away with your hands full," he says, a reference to "Mystic River's" losses last year.

Freeman downplays the honors as well. "The Academy Awards is a contest, and we're not making movies to win a contest."

Lipton seems content to fawn and read from his blue cards, but he does get off one great question: "Do you think you could take these guys?" he asks Swank, looking over at Eastwood and Freeman. "No," she says. "Are you kidding?"

The promo featurette "Born to Fight," clocking in at a TV-friendly 20 minutes, features the real-life boxer Lucia Rijker, who played cheap-shot artist Billie the Blue Bear. Rijker has charisma to burn as she discusses the sport of queens and how "Baby" got it right. "I've been there," she says, needlessly. Swank talks mostly about her character, and Eastwood explains what the film is about, for the benefit of last year's TV viewers. Half of the piece is devoted to oddly distorted clips, some of them spoilers.

There is no discussion of how the boxing was shot or staged -- a shame because this "Baby" delivered some of the most visceral fight scenes since "Raging Bull." (MGM's recent DVD of "Raging Bull" got it right, with exhaustive breakdowns of Robert De Niro's bouts.)

The 13-minute "The Producers: Round 15" tells how Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg and Paul Haggis got involved with "Baby." (The interviews appear to have been filmed between the Golden Globes and Oscars.)

Ruddy says he came by the source book, F.X. Toole's "Rope Burns," via Anjelica Huston. Ruddy read the short story "Million $$$ Baby" "with tears streaming down my face." Toole's tales were headed for serialization on HBO until Ruddy courted the author with a bout of heavy drinking. "The Irish thing came through," the producer recalls. Haggis, who wrote the script, hails Ruddy and the late Toole as "two great characters."

Rosenberg marvels at Eastwood's artistry and efficiency as a director. "It was like a cool jazz musician at the top of his game." Production wrapped without a minute of overtime, Rosenberg says. "I've never seen anything like it. It was beautiful."

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

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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