Critics darling, Oscar winner, and $140 million worth of box office buys. What is the draw of Slumdog Millionaire? It’s a deep question, and one that requires multiple answers, although not all of them explain why the film took off on its successful run.
There’s little doubt the film is technically proficient. Danny Boyle’s use of multiple film stocks, digital photography, pumped up color, and intriguing camera angles make the film a joy to look at. The story is told through flashbacks, with Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) recounting his rough life up until the day he landed on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Editing is sharp, and the pacing is nicely handled.
The problem with Slumdog is how horribly contrived it is. Every question posed to him on the game show (with one exception) just happens to correlate with his life journey. It’s impossible to believe as sheer coincidence, and there’s little to no drama with the game itself. Also, the last question is reaching for maximum emotional pull, and is so ridiculous, any credibility the film had left is completely severed. The title already tells you what’s going to happen.
Instead, the core story of Jamal’s life adds in a romance with Latika (Freida Pinto). Jamal is instantly attracted to Lakita at a young age, and apparently their chance meeting is enough to cause Jamal a life’s worth of heartache without any onscreen indication as to why. This becomes the driving force behind all of his actions. Is it love or his desire to never lose anything?
Jamal is built as a character with a “never quit” attitude. His Millionaire appearance further serves to show his determination, and his life as a parentless street child/slumdog undoubtedly makes the point. When he finally reaches his goals, almost oblivious to his success on the TV show since he finds his true love, the audience should react with joy.
Given what’s come before, there is no reaction. The lack of chemistry, explanation, or logic behind their relationship means little beyond closure to the story. Slumdog doesn’t answer the simple question of “why?” Boyle wants the audience to believe it’s destiny as the final text states, but if that’s the case, why is it destiny for these two people to end up together?
There are memorable moments scattered about. Slumdog undoubtedly makes you root for the young Jamal, even when his schemes are less than legal. His hilarious tour of the Taj Mahal with tourists ranks as one of the movies best moments. Moments of serious drama also work nicely, and the beautiful photography certainly helps draw the viewer into Jamal’s plight.
Slumdog Millionaire is by no means a terrible film. It’s quite competent in its style, tone, and effective drama. It’s immediately apparent something is amiss when the questions on the game show just happen to relate to his experiences as a child, and he’s able to recall the events for the answer. Using the “destiny” angle can only take you so far.
Slumdog, despite the variety of sources, suffers from only mild issues thanks to this AVC encode. Noise is a regular problem, particularly noticeable early on (just past the eight minute mark) on a series of pipes sticking out of the ground. The blacks are loaded with artifacting during the Millionaire scenes and a rather odd vertical banding that’s hard to describe. It was enough to force a check of equipment not long after the movie started. It was definitely the disc.
Even someone without the knowledge of film stock can notice the drastic difference between the styles used. The digital photography is remarkably clean, and presents itself sharply. Detail is at its best using the actual film, and the grain has been left untouched.
Contrast remains hot throughout, with some blooming. Some artificial sharpening dominates a few long shots, at its worst around 54 minutes when the actors are against some smoke. Flaws are mostly apparent for only a few minutes of total screen time, so as a whole the transfer is wonderful, sharp, and impressive.
Surprising, even shocking, is this immersive DTS-HD Master mix. While no single scene stands out in particular, the track is consistently offering something of note. Bass is deep, loud, and clear. When helicopters or planes fly overhead, the subwoofer lights up with activity that is nothing short of incredible.
The surrounds are even better, with non-stop activity. Trains move from front to back with pinpoint accuracy. Large crowds are represented with appropriate audio in each channel, whether in the slums or on the stage of Millionaire. Even quieter or somber moments have something to offer, such as crickets chirping at night. Despite the total lack of action, this is one of the more impressive tracks of this early year.
Two commentaries lead off the extras, the first coming from Danny Boyle and Dev Patel, followed by producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy. A hefty stack of 13 deleted/extended scenes run over half an hour, beginning a string of features in standard def. Slumdog Dreams is a fine making-of that lasts 23 minutes, and offers some excellent behind-the-scenes footage.
Slumdog Cutdown is a rather pointless version of the film set to music and only lasting a hair over five minutes. Script-to-Screen: The Toilet Scene discusses how this pivotal sequence came together. Manjha is a dark short film that follows an Indian boy without a home while trying to care for his sister. It’s somewhat relevant to Slumdog, although why it’s included given the far darker tone is a mystery. A music video and trailer round off a set of extras that assure a double dip is coming down the line.