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Holes DVD Review

"Holes" movie poster Holes

Theatrical Release: April 18, 2003 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Andrew Davis / Writer: Louis Sachar (novel & screenplay)

Cast: Sigourney Weaver (The Warden), Jon Voight (Mr. Sir), Patricia Arquette (Kissin' Kate Barlow), Tim Blake Nelson (Dr. Pendanski), Dulé Hill (Sam), Shia LaBeouf (Stanley Yelnats IV), Henry Winkler (Stanley Yelnats III), Nate Davis (Stanley Yelnats II), Rick Fox (Clyde "Sweetfeet" Livingston), Scott Plank (Trout Walker), Roma Maffia (Carla Morengo), Eartha Kitt (Madame Zeroni), Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Stanley's Mom), Khleo Thomas (Hector 'Zero' Zeroni), Brenden Jefferson (X-Ray), Jake M. Smith (Squid), Byron Cotton (Armpit), Miguel Castro (Magnet), Max Kasch (Zigzag), Noah Poletiek (Twitch)

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Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) is the fourth Stanley Yelnats in his family and all four have been cursed. This Stanley's bad luck goes further than ever before when he is arrested for stealing sneakers which he didn't steal and sentenced to one year at Camp Green Lake.

Green Lake is a reform camp, not a prison, but prison couldn't be much worse. There, Stanley gets to put up with extremely hostile campmates and a near-psychotic staff, headed by Mr. Sir (Jon Voight). The boys are subjected to digging five feet-by-five feet holes in the blistering sun, in the middle of the desert which surrounds the camp. Why they are doing this? No one really knows, except the Warden (Sigourney Weaver). The boys are told to report anything interesting that they find to Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), a counselor who seems fairly reasonable at first.

Stanley is introduced to Camp Green Lake by Mr. Sir (Jon Voight). Sigourney Weaver plays the mysterious Warden.

At the same time that this unusual labor is going on day in and day out, Stanley begins to unravel some kind of connection to events that happened in the area many years ago. These events involve Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette), a schoolteacher who turns outlaw, taking on the name "Kissin' Kate" and preying upon the corrupt townspeople.

In the midst of his sentence, Stanley finds a friend at Camp Green Lake in a short quiet boy known simply as "Zero" (Khleo Thomas).
Zero helps Stanley digging his holes, while Stanley teaches Zero to read, and both discover they have more in common than one would expect.

Holes means well, but the film doesn't really excel as either odd comedy or thought-provoking drama. Instead, it's disjointed and a bit overlong. Furthermore, the pieces that all supposedly fit together are neither as clever nor as cryptic as the film wants you to think, and the cheery ending feels unsatisfyingly contrived.

Shia LeBouf is likable in the lead role, but the film doesn't suit him as well as the wonderful Disney Channel show "Even Stevens" did, and his strong comedic skills are not put to good use. The adult cast, primarily the trio of Green Lake staff employees (Weaver, Voight, and Nelson) are called to play characters unlike any they have before and unlike the typical one-note grown-ups of family films.

Patricia Arquette plays Kate Barlow, a schoolteacher of the past who enrages the town and then becomes an outlaw. Zero and Stanley try to rough the desert.

If the film feels edgier than your typical Disney fare, that may be because it was produced entirely by Walden Media, and was later picked up by Disney for distribution, a pattern followed by this year's big-budget Around the World in 80 Days.

What you wind up with is a family film that seeks to be different, with its colorful characters, and two-tiered story, adapted from Louis Sachar's popular children's novel. Holes is far from a bad film, but despite (or perhaps, because of) its lofty intentions, the film disappoints by coming across as merely odd and cloying. There's a lot that's interesting to see, from some keenly captured cinematic moments to the atypical adult characterizations, but the film never quite pulls off everything. The result is something that is bound to be embraced by teenage girls and the most ardent fans of the book, but may come up short for those expecting the great American family film.

Holes: Widescreen Edition DVD cover art -- click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
(Separate Fullscreen Edition available)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
THX-Certified with Optimizer
Release Date: September 23, 2003
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $6.25 (Reduced from $29.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Holes was released in separate widescreen and fullscreen editions. Here, it's presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen matching its theatrical aspect ratio, and it looks terrific. The impeccably clean print shows off vivid colors, perfect sharpness and a good range of detail. The film's diverse photography (from the sun-drenched desert to the rustic flashbacks) is aptly rendered. No complaints at all here.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also without problems. The contemporary pop soundtrack feels like an awkward choice for the film, but it is an active part of the audio which is sufficiently presented. Dialogue remains crisp and natural-sounding and the film shows a good range of sound, without any apparent limitations.

Holes DVD Main Menu The Boys of D-Tent

EXTRAS

Holes offers a decent amount of bonus features on DVD. Most substantial are the two audio commentaries. The first, a cast commentary, puts together young stars Shia LaBeouf, Khleo Thomas, Jake M. Smith, and Max Kasch.
This is not a professional track, but rather a glimpse into teenage boy dynamics, as the actors hoot, holler, fart, and sing their way through the movie. There's talk of "pig pee", what's "sick" (as is in "good"), and who's "hot" or "flyer than a fly on the wall" (as in "pulchritudinous"). These cast members lend a bit of insight from their moviemaking perspective. Otherwise, it's just like watching the movie with some rowdy teenage boys, which can be interesting, but doesn't make for the most informative bonus feature.

The second track ("Filmmaker Commentary") brings together director Andrew Davis and author/screenwriter Louis Sachar. Davis and Sachar are more concerned with how their movie turned out, and they discuss how things came together, remarking on what's on-screen with dramatic or technical background to scenes and characters.

"The Boys of D-Tent" is a good featurette (10:40) which details what making the film was like, with the focus on the young, untrained cast. From interview clips with the cast and crew, we learn about changes the filmmakers made to the book and the challenging location and boot camp training. Which makes it easier to take the young cast members giving their "shout outs."

In the second making-of featurette "Digging the First Hole" (9:05), the focus is more on the book, the director, and the adult cast. Director Andrew Davis comments on how he was able to convince Louis Sachar to sell the rights and then agree to write a screenplay. Much praise is offered to everyone involved, but there's some insight into the film and story, through interview clips with Davis, Sachar, Sigourney Weaver, Shia LaBeouf, and Jon Voight. Between these two featurettes, you get a nice mini-documentary, and they probably weren't joined for contractual purposes regarding supplement length.

Shia LaBeouf Louis Sachar in "Digging the First Hole" Deleted Scene: "The Second Hole is the Hardest"

"Deleted Scenes" provides six sequences that were not used in the film or not used in full. They're interesting, even if it's easy to see why some weren't used. These scenes are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen and they run 6 minutes and 35 seconds altogether, with the "Play All" feature. According to the commentaries, there apparently are more deleted scenes that weren't included here.

The "Gag Reel" (1:42) is actually a collection of unused snippets of film, and on/off-set antics from the cast. There aren't really any outtakes, just the cast fooling around, which isn't too amusing.

Lastly, there is a 1-minute music video for the song "Dig It", performed by the "D-Tent Boys." In the video, we see the young cast members rapping, mixed with some clips from the film.

The 16x9 animated menus are set in the hole-y desert with selection screens made to look like an old-time newspaper with clips of "Kissin'" Kate Barlow. From the Setup menu, one can access the THX Optimizer, tests designed to perfect your audio and video settings for optimal viewing of the film.

The disc opens with sneak peeks for The Lion King on DVD, Brother Bear (coming to theaters), George of the Jungle 2, and Finding Nemo. The Sneak Peeks menu adds previews for The Santa Clause 2 and Freaky Friday.

At home, Stanley Yelnats III (Henry Winkler) has been struggling to find a cure for foot odor. The D-Tent Boys get back from a day of digging.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Holes is recommended as a rental. It is an interesting adaptation that tries to achieve many things, with middling results. Those who liked the film should be pleased with this DVD presentation, and should be more inclined (along with fans of the book) to add this to their collection.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / The Book: Holes by Louis Sachar

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Related Reviews
Also starring Shia LaBeouf:
The Even Stevens Movie | The Greatest Game Ever Played | Disturbia | Eagle Eye | Transformers

Walden Media/Disney Collaborations:
Bridge to Terabithia | The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe | Around the World in 80 Days

Recent Live Action Disney Films:
The Lizzie McGuire Movie | Freaky Friday (2003) | The Princess Diaries | Ghosts of the Abyss
Sky High | The Santa Clause 2 | The Haunted Mansion | Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen

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Reviewed August 12, 2004.