Taylor Hackford’s drama Ray tells the remarkable story of singer Ray Charles’ life – dealing with subjects such as his drug addictions, his blindness and his family. We also get a look into his various recordings, his quick rise to stardom and his impact within the recording industry. More notable then the film itself is the Oscar-winning performance of Jamie Foxx in the lead role. Foxx does a fabulous job in his portrayal of Charles – most deserving of his Best Lead Actor statue.
There are scene… where, according to Director Hackford, Foxx acted so similar to Charles that he couldn’t distinguish between the two. Foxx did an unimaginable amount of work into acting just like Charles – from researching his life, to jamming and meeting with Charles himself, to wearing prosthetics over his eyes making him partially blind. In fact, Foxx is so truly good that you sometimes forget that Foxx is actually acting and wonder sometimes if Charles himself was acting in the film. Yes, Foxx is truly that good in this roll.
While most the film chronicles the period where Charles signs with Atlantic Records and begins to record numerous songs, Hackford also delves into some detail on a few of Charles’ other problems. Haunting Charles for years was the drowning of his brother when he was a child – shown in numerous scenes as Charles falling on the ground, splashing around as if he himself is about to drown, only to realize that it’s all in his imagination. The other big issue is Charles’ heroin addiction, caused partially by his guilt over his brother’s death and the pressures he had to record hits.
The numerous musical performances in Ray were very enjoyable. Prior to this film, I had only heard music by Ray Charles occasionally; it was after viewing this film that I realized how masterful his work truly is. The level of energy and raw, pure power he put into each performance was lifting to say the least. No matter what issue he had going on in his life, music was always number one.
Let me take a minute to spell a word for you here. R-E-F-E-R-E-N-C-E. Yes, Reference. Ray is presented in an absolutely gorgeous 1080p High-Definition 1:85:1 Widescreen Aspect Ratio. I could not find one problem wrong with this transfer. Grain was nowhere to be found, colors were vibrant and fluid giving every little scene a new life and feel (from the early years on the farm, to the final scene where Charles is performing the always great ‘Georgia on My Mind’). Due to the film being rather new, the image quality was amazing – so amazing that if you pause a scene where Charles is right on screen, walk up to the screen and look carefully, you will be surprised that you will see little details like hairs, scratches, pores, etc. Talk about amazing detail. I truly loved this transfer as it breathes new life into a film that I’ll always be showing off to demonstrate the true power of HD-DVD.
We’re given the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track (in either English or French) as well as a DD 2.0 track on this release. Due to this film being mostly about the music of Charles, I would me more than satisfied with the end result. Hit after hit, I found myself closing my eyes loving what I was listening to. One of my favorite demo scenes would have to be the Charles’ performance of Hit The Road Jack. The only real possible negative that I could think of is that the track is somewhat front heavy – not relying on the surround channels as much as it could have – but that would only be myself nitpicking to find a problem. Granted the audio isn’t as powerful as the video, but it more than does its job of showcasing the life and career of Ray Robinson Charles.
Universal has chosen to include all of the features found on the hard to find Ray Limited Edition 2-Disc DVD for this HD-DVD release. Sweet!
- Audio Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford: This is, simply put, one of the best audio commentaries ever recorded. Since Hackford worked closely with Charles for nearly 15 years, Hackford gives us information on Charles that the film didn’t even bother to tell us. Every little note and detail is told by Hackford resulting in a track that is never once boring or dull. Also included is a DVS Descriptive Video Service narration for the blind, which was a nice afterthought on Universal’s part.
- Deleted Scenes: Here we’re given over 27 minutes of various deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hackford. It was a shame that some of these scenes were taken out in the end as they added a lot of detail into the film, but Hackford informs us that a majority of the scenes were overly long and would have made the film even longer.
- Extended Musical Scenes: Here we’re given 9 different musical scenes. If one is even slightly a fan of Charles music, this will be one of the best features available.
- Stepping Into The Part: Another great feature here as this one shows us various footage of Foxx and Charles working together on the piano.
- Ray Remembered: What a necessary remembrance feature here. While the feature was short, it was nice to see what some of Charles closest friends had to say about the man.
- A Look Inside Ray: Here is a super short basic feature that seems like it was more of wrap up feature for those who don’t want to sit through the longer features.
- Trailer: Here we’re given the films’ Theatrical Trailer.
- The Filmmaker’s Journey: Here Hackford tells us exactly what he had such a high level of interest into brining the life of Charles to the big screen.
- The Women of Ray: This short feature goes over the various actresses that portrayed the various women in Charles life.
- Ray: An American Story: What a great wrap-up feature here. This feature deals with the cast and crew telling us about the life of Charles, what it was like working so close with the man, and how they felt while working on the film.
Simply put, Ray is an amazing package. The HD-DVD boasts MORE features than the 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD and is cheaper too. The video transfer is reference quality, and the audio is almost as great. What makes Ray better than your standard biopic is the portrayal of Charles by Foxx. Add in a great film, amazing picture, fine audio, excellent features and what is your sum? The HD-DVD that Universal and Toshiba should be showcasing on their ‘The Look and Sound of Perfect’ Tour so that everyone can see the power of HD-DVD. Don’t walk, do yourself the favor and run to your nearest retailer and grab this gem.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford
- Deleted Scenes
- Extended Musical Scenes
- Stepping Into The Part
- Ray Remembered
- A Look Inside Ray
- The Filmmaker’s Journey
- The Women of Ray
- Ray: An American Story