Movie - 1994, PG, 109 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Drama, Family
Cast - Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, David Ogden Stiers, August Schellenberg, Brian Cox, George Gerdes, John Terry, Penelope Windust
Director - Jeremy Kagan
DVD - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Surround 2.0, (English), Spanish (2.0 Surround), subtitles - English, French; single-sided, single-layered disc; $19.99 SRP, Released 4/23/02

Movie - Iron Will is a sappy, predictable drama that Disney would want you to believe is "uplifting." While I wouldn't classify this movie as bad, it never really transcends mediocrity. The setting is 1917 and seventeen-year-old Will Stoneman (Astin) of South Dakota enters a big dog-sled race to earn $10,000. Will's dad was thinking of entering, but he happened to die, so it's now Will's destiny to enter and win. What this film lacks is the kick to make it believable. Will's dad must die so that the movie has something to move forward with Will. The rest of the 109-minute film deals with Will's journey to win this race. Something like Snow Dogs without the fish out of water comedy and talking dogs scene. Every cliche in the book is thrown into the mix here, from the evil foreign bad guy to the new age Native American mysticism from Free Willy's Schellenberg. Once the viewer accepts the premise, the film begins to draw you in, but by the time the movie reaches its conclusion (and it feels like it's gone on about 15 minutes longer than it needed to), it's all out melodrama and sap, with a patriotic tone. My comments do read harsher than they should, since I didn't entirely dislike Iron Will. In fact, the movie was able to keep me interested for a good portion, when it didn't hit so hard on the saccharine paper-thin emotion. One of the best things about the film is a fine performance from Kevin Spacey as a newswriter who is trying to make "Iron Will" a hero while boosting his articles to the front of the papers. Spacey would be the standout, though, as the most of the other performances, are rather flat. Though, when it seems like most of the film is watching dogs race in the snow set to music, I suppose, acting isn't the highest priority in the film.

Video - Disney presents Iron Will in anamorphic widescreen which, although it should be a given today, is actually a very much welcome minor surprise, considering it was released the same day as DVDs released in Pan & Scan (White Fang) and non-anamorphic widescreen (Angels in the Outfield). Video quality on this 1.85:1 transfer is pretty solid. I noticed some minor digital artifacts and other flaws, and certain scenes seemed a bit darker than they should have been, but on the whole, the predominantly snowy exterior visuals are captured well. The cinematography and framing gets to be seen in its full widescreen glory, and visually, Iron Will is quite pleasing.

Audio - Also pleasing for Iron Will is the Dolby Surround track. The soundtrack relies heavily on the Joel McNeely score, which varies from standard melodrama to something quite better. The snowy, windy scenery translates well in this Surround track, as the audio field properly captures the sounds of the race. Later parts of the movie allow the heavy-handed score to overbear the movie's action as part of the attempt to make this movie "feel-good." Overall, this audio track was definitely up to par.

Extras - Absolutely nothing as Iron Will and other catalogue titles get absolute barebones DVD treatment.

Closing Thoughts - Iron Will is not a fantastic movie, but Disney has put together a quality DVD for this title, with a quality anamorphic widescreen transfer and a good 2.0 surround track. Fans of this title should be pleased with the video/audio aspects, although as with other recent catalogue releases, the lack of any and all extras altogether disappoints.

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