Posted in: Disc Reviews by David Annandale on January 27th, 2004
This documentary follows eight children as they compete in that peculiarly Americaninstitution, the National Spelling Bee. The first half of the film profiles each of the eight, andwe see them at home with their families, getting ready for the big competition. The second half isthe Bee itself, brilliantly edited to generate maximum tension in the viewer. One of the film’sremarkable achievements is that, unlike so many other documentaries which centre around acompetition, we…aren’t rooting for one child in particular. They’re all so likeable (well, there isperhaps one rather irritating exception), that we can’t help but cheer them ALL on, even thoughonly one can win. The parental foibles that surround the contestants are worth the price ofadmission themselves, and the whole phenomenon becomes a peculiar incarnation of theAmerican Dream.
There are some nice environmental effects of traffic now and then, and the music is decentlyserved by the sound mix, but given that this is a documentary, and given what its subject is,surround considerations are very much beside the point. The 2.0 mix is perfectly fine for the job,and the important aspect (clarity of dialogue) is beyond reproach.
The picture can look a bit soft, we must remember what kind of film this is, and thenecessary constraints under which the filmmakers were working. The colours and contrasts aregood. There is some edge enhancement visible, and the layer transition is just awful, jerkilyinterrupting a pan across the competition hall. The aspect ratio is 1.33:1.
Producer/director/DP Jeff Blitz, producer/sound man Sean Welch, editor Yana Gorskaya andre-recording mixer Peter Brown do the honours on the solid commentary track. Round tables thissize are often close to incoherent, but they illuminate many aspects of how the film was made.The bonus footage consists of profiles of three additional spellers. There are print profiles of thespellers, as well as a print “Where Are They Now?” file. There are still more text profiles, thistime of Blitz, Welch and Gorskaya. Then there are trailers for Spellbound, WingedMigration and The Endurance. DVD-ROM features are a Hangman game and aneducational guide. The menu is fully animated and scored.
An utterly charming and engaging, documentary, with the kind of suspense you lastexperienced at a final exam.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Text Profiles of Spellers and Filmmakers
- Where Are They Now? File
- Bonus Footage
- Theatrical Trailers
- DVD-ROM Educational Guide and Hangman Game