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The Impossible Blu-ray + UltraViolet Review

The Impossible (2012) movie poster The Impossible

Theatrical Release: December 21, 2012 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: J.A. Bayona / Writers: Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay), María Belón (story)

Cast: Naomi Watts (Maria Bennett), Ewan McGregor (Henry Bennett), Tom Holland (Lucas Bennett), Samuel Joslin (Thomas Bennett), Oaklee Pendergast (Simon Bennett), Marta Etura (Simone), Sönke Möhring (Karl), Geraldine Chaplin (Old Woman), Ploy Jindachot (Caregiver), Jomjai Sae-Limh "Maew" (Red Cross Nurse), Johan Sundberg (Daniel), Jan Sundberg (Daniel's Father), La-Orng Thongruang (Old Thai Man), Tor Klathaley (Young Thai Man), Douglas Johansson (Mr. Benstrom), Emilio Riccardi (Morten Benstrom), Vorarat Jutakeo (Doctor in Stockroom), Karun Konsaman (Young Nurse in Stockroom)

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The Impossible tells the true story of a family's harrowing experience in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, one of the deadliest natural disasters on record. The Bennetts of England -- consisting of mother Maria (Naomi Watts), Scottish father Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three young sons -- spend Christmas
in a picturesque beachfront Thailand resort. Their holiday familial bliss proves to be short-lived, however, when giant waves crash down on them, devastating the region and dividing the clan.

We wind up with Maria, a physician who has stopped working to raise the kids, and her eldest son, 12-year-old Lucas (Tom Holland). Both have been injured in the chaos; Lucas' backbone is bruised, while Maria has deep gashes in her chest and leg. They fear the rest of their family has died, having been in the pool upon on the waves' impact. Mother and son find temporary safety along with a solitary toddler they look after. When help arrives, Maria is in need of desperate medical attention, her limbs and life endangered. When he's not staying by his mother's side bravely offering hope and encouragement, Lucas goes around the bustling hospital, compiling a list of individuals and their separated loved ones with whom they are eager to reunite.

Without divulging some major spoilers, that is all the plot I can detail. It's all that The Impossible needs, with the gripping, cinematic real-life experience at its foundation.

Thailand vacationer Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts) clings to a tree trunk for life amidst the deadly waves of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Though you wouldn't know by watching it, this is a Spanish film. Screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, directed J.A. Bayona, three producers, and all their principal crew members hail from Spain. As a matter of fact, so does the Belón family, the real-life fivesome on whom the film is based. The decision to portray a family of Spaniards with white actors from the United Kingdom is a little troubling. It's far from unprecedented; Hollywood has done its fair share of white-washing minority individuals, be they Asian-American (21) or Latina (A Beautiful Mind). Geographically, The Impossible is far from a Hollywood film. In a way, that makes its decision to eliminate perhaps the most distinctive feature of its focal characters more curious and upsetting.

A film that could have been about Spanish heroism is instead revised to be more relatable and appealing to the western world. You can argue, as the makers do, that Watts and McGregor were the right choices for the roles as written, an argument that both overstates their types and underestimates their range. But the fact of the matter is that the casting is at least partially motivated by commercial considerations. It's true that English language productions have a substantial global advantage, that only three current Spanish actors rival Watts and McGregor in international fame (Antonio Banderas and real-life couple Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem), and that film is as much of a business as it is an art. With an estimated $45 million budget, this drama would have needed some big names to secure funding and distribution in certain markets. The casting and language seems to have paid off in strong returns of $172 M worldwide. If Spain was insulted by the makeovers, they didn't show it, their $55 M gross standing as the film's top-performing market.

Interestingly, despite their higher population and usual strength, the US and Canada's contribution of just $19 M was fairly paltry, even trailing the UK's $21 M. North American distributor Summit Entertainment has had little success outside the Twilight franchise and their parent company Lionsgate has rarely fared well outside of a few reliable brands. Neither studio has much experience with what The Impossible appeared to be: a year-end release designed to roll out on critical acclaim, strong word of mouth, and an awards season presence. The Impossible drew warm reviews and Best Actress nominations at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. All that contributed to better legs, but still less impact, than the typical contemporary film.

Upset twelve-year-old survivor Lucas (Tom Holland) gets an update from an English-speaking nurse. We get a bird's eye view of the deadliest tsunami in history, as water comes crashing into a Khao Lak, Thailand resort.

Even ignoring the Anglicization, the film is easier to like than love. It is an inspiring tale of triumphing over tragedy. The values it espouses -- survival, family, perseverance -- are among those most highly regarded in the human heart. The presentation drips with authenticity, from the staggering tsunami visual effects to the believable ordered chaos that follows. And yet, a few notes feel wrong. The movie relies heavily on manipulation; much of its runtime goes to misleading you to suspect outcomes that aren't true. It's also a tad melodramatic. Given the true subject matter, that seems most forgivable, but plays for tears always feel a little cheap,
easy, or crude. The other reactions it tries to draw -- cringes and winces at the bloody horrors of natural disaster, gasps at the fights for one's life -- may be entirely accurate, but also somehow hollow.

I like that Sánchez doesn't linger on establishing these characters, giving them just enough definition to know and appreciate. The family's personalities do not seem to matter much, because faced with adversity, humans react in much the same way. Their shows of solidarity and fragile optimism are noble and relatable in any situation, even one as extreme as this that effortlessly wins sympathy.

Teenaged Holland gives the film some of its strongest acting, carrying many scenes believably. Watts is good, too, as she usually is, though her second Oscar nomination does speak somewhat to the lack of substantial leading woman roles. I don't at all dispute her deserved recognition, but the bulk of the performance is either bed-ridden or secondary to the make-up the MPAA's hard-PG-13 rating describes as "disturbing injury images." McGregor is comfortable in his native accent and in displaying emotion, but his screentime is limited. Director Bayona, following up his debut, 2007's Guillermo del Toro-produced The Orphanage, proves to be a technically and emotionally nimble storyteller who seems at complete ease in the English language.

While returns continue to trickle in from a few dozen theaters, The Impossible makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, each edition equipped with UltraViolet digital copy for stream or download.

Premium Rush Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly, The Impossible boasts top-notch picture and sound on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 video is altogether satisfying; sharp, clean, and stunning in moments of serenity and horror alike. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack packs a strong punch as well, although perhaps too strong. The often soft dialogue and sometimes overpowering sound effects require a bit more volume adjustment than desirable. The involving mix is perfectly crisp and highly directional. It's just inconsistent, probably by design.

Real survivor María Belón looks nothing like Naomi Watts, but that doesn't faze her in "Casting 'The Impossible'" and the audio commentary. J.A. Bayona is a giant among Spanish filmmakers, at least he seems like one on the one-third scale model Thai resort set seen in "Realizing 'The Impossible.'"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's central bonus feature is an audio commentary by director Juan Antonio Bayona, screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez, producer Belén Atienza, and the real-life version of Naomi Watts' character, María Belón. Naturally, Belón, who receives story credit on the film, provides the most interesting perspective,
testifying to the production's authenticity ("one of the biggest lies...the [inflatable beach] ball was yellow, [not red]"). The filmmakers speak more to the structure and compositions, while standing by the fact that they never explicitly assign a nationality to the family. For her part, Belón addresses the language and nationality change with a "Who cares?" All in all, this is an okay listen, though your interest may flag long before the track's end.

On the video side, a few short clips are all presented in high definition.

"Casting The Impossible" (6:38) glosses over the color-blind casting to celebrate the lead actors. "Realizing The Impossible" (5:54) focuses on production, specifically the use of real dirty waves and one-third scale models instead of CGI for the tsunami scenes. One would have thought the subject lent to a longer making-of documentary, but these brief featurettes cover the bases quite well.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) surveys his surroundings in this deleted scene. A fully healthy Naomi Watts appears in the Blu-ray's artistic menu montage.

Five deleted scenes (running 8:34 altogether) unfortunately lack a "Play All" option. These inessential extensions fill in some gaps in the movie, in a manner closely resembling the rest without much of note occurring.

The Impossible's original theatrical trailer (2:32), which interestingly focuses more on McGregor and the other kids, is kindly preserved,
making Summit one of the few studios to include this once and should-be standard feature.

"Also from Lionsgate" repeats the two trailers with which the disc opens, promoting Now You See Me and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A Naomi Watts PSA for Happy Hearts Fund follows them at disc insertion but not from the menu.

That menu fills the screen with artful, evocative clips from the film that are mixed with waves and other nature imagery. The disc supports bookmarks, but does not automatically resume playback.

Alongside the plainly-labeled disc, the slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase holds a single insert. It supplies your unique, complimentary UltraViolet redemption code, while reproducing the cover artwork yet again on back.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) and the two youngest sons (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin) brace themselves for the wall of water heading their way.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

To dislike The Impossible is to dislike humanity's will to live. The first feature dramatization of the 2004 tsunami, this English language Spanish film appeals to our notions of compassion, family, hope, and survival. It's an emotional ride not all will enjoy taking, marred slightly by a manipulative design and ethnic whitewashing that does not sit well. Nonetheless, it is a powerful, uplifting, and sharply-made drama that is very much worth seeing.

Summit's Blu-ray provides stellar picture, strong but inconsistent sound, and a decent smattering of bonus features. Though not quite a must-own disc, it's a satisfying release that now stands as your best way to see the film.

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Reviewed April 22, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Summit Entertainment, Mediaset España, Apaches Entertainment, Telecinoc Cinema, and Lionsgate.
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