Thursday, June 9, 2011

127 Hours: Well worth its six Oscar nominations

127 Hours (drama, biography, adventure)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring James Franco, Clémence Poésy, Amber Tamblyn and Kate Mara

20th Century Fox | 2010 | 94 min | Rated R | Released Mar 01, 2011

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
French, Portuguese, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Single 50GB Blu-ray Disc
Digital copy (on disc)

The Film 4.5/5

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars and many of his team return for 127 Hours. I’m always impressed at the variety of Boyle’s subject matter. He’s not afraid to tackle crime, drama, comedy, romance, horror or science fiction. This time he gives us a film based on a true story, dealing with events in the life of Aron Ralston.

Ralston likes adventure. He’s seen climbing and canyoneering in Utah and it’s clear that he loves what he does. The events took place in 2003 and the title refers to the amount of time he was trapped in a canyon. Although that’s a bit of a spoiler, it’s the way he approaches the situation that makes this film a gripping story. Like Apollo 13, the drama depends on his actions rather than the known outcome.

There’s a scene near the start of the film in which Ralston reaches up into a cupboard. He touches a Swiss Army knife, but fails to retrieve it. That simple failure causes him a lot of trouble.

We see Ralston reach the canyons and set off on his bike. When he crashes, we briefly consider the fact that he’s out there alone, but he’s able to continue. I think Boyle used the scene to prepare us for Ralston’s eventual accident.

Ralston meets two girls and we start to learn more about his true nature. He guides them to their destination, but by a route that isn’t marked on the map. It leads to a scene in which the three deliberately drop into an underground pool of water. Boyle uses the scene as a contrast to those in which Ralston is trapped. Instead of being surrounded by water, he’ll soon be relishing every single drop.

The girls invite him to an upcoming party and eventually part ways. He travels on alone and soon suffers his accident. A loose boulder is dislodged when he steps on it and tumbles down a crevice after him, trapping his arm in the process. It’s here that the film really starts. In fact, the title is displayed on the screen 17-minutes into the story to prove that point.

What would you do if you were trapped, alone, and running out of food and water? Ralston tries anything he can think of. Brute force is his first thought, but he tries just about everything before considering his final options. Franco’s acting is excellent throughout and he deserved his Oscar nomination.

It doesn’t sound like much of a visual feast, does it? A man trapped in a canyon. But Boyle uses all the tricks he can think of to make things interesting. We see a variety of unusual camera angles, such as a shot from the bottom of Ralston’s flask while he’s drinking. Boyle also zooms out to show the overall predicament and the surrounding terrain.

Going 127 hours with hardly any food or water also means that Ralston is prone to dreaming or hallucinating. We also see flashbacks of his childhood and some more recent memories. He has a video camera with him and makes messages for his parents. Some are serious and others aren’t.

It’s a brilliantly conceived way of telling the story.

Can there be anyone who doesn’t know Ralston’s ultimate solution? I won’t mention it in case it ruins the experience. A few of the scenes may be hard to watch for some viewers, but it would ruin the story if I mentioned which ones.

Video Quality 4.5/5
Boyle uses a variety of cameras and the picture quality depends on the source. When we first see the Utah scenery, the presentation is reference quality. Detail is strong and colors striking. But other scenes, shot with the cameras used in Slumdog Millionaire, are often dimly-lit. When Ralston uses his video camera, the image is deliberately grainy and washed-out. So this is a mixed bag, but the high rating is given because I think it’s largely presented the way Boyle intended.

Audio Quality 4.5/5
Most of the film takes place when Ralston is alone and so quiet scenes dominate the film. But when there is noise, it’s heightened. The clink of metal on rock, running water, or the movement of insects is all clearly defined in the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I enjoyed A.R. Rahman’s score and it matches the scenes well. There’s a sense of adventure while Ralston is exploring, and more intense themes when he’s trapped and trying to break free.

Special Features 3.5/5

The special features are all presented in high definition:

Commentary by Director Danny Boyle, Producer Christian Colson and co-writer Simon Beaufoy.

Deleted Scenes (34:13)

Search and Rescue (14:51) – Meeting some of the people involved in the rescue, as well as Ralston, his friends and family.

127 Hours: An Extraordinary View (35:30) – Easily the best of the features. Boyle shows the set and explains how some of the scenes were shot. Franco gives his take on how Boyle approaches things.

Short Film: God of Love (18:46) – An Oscar-winning short from the same studio, but not otherwise connected with 127 Hours.

BD Live Exclusive (3:53)

Sneak Peek

Digital Copy

I saw five of the Best Picture nominations in three days, including three in one day. The first of those three was 127 Hours and I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it. But I was hooked within 15 minutes and it proved to be one of the best films of 2010. I would rank it in my Top 5. 

Franco has to carry the film in the way that Will Smith does in I Am Legend and Tom Hanks does in Cast Away. I like all three because it makes me feel like I’m sharing their predicament. Unless you are squeamish, 127 Hours is a great film with plenty of replay value. This was my fourth viewing and I’m very happy with this Blu-ray presentation.


  1. Nice review. I liked the movie too, although maybe not as much as you did. It was very well done, but maybe because I went into it knowing what was coming, the movie did not exceed my expectations. Still, it is a good story and I agree that James Franco did an excellent job to carry the film.

  2. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for the positive feedback.

  3. I really loved this movie. I knew a lot about Ralston before I saw it, but even though I knew how it would end, I still felt a lot of tension and nervousness through the whole film. I loved the score of the film - the sounds effects during "the scene" were pretty much perfect and horrible at the same time.

  4. Yep, the score fit the scenes well. I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire too, made with largely the same crew. I do like films that deal with solitude. I regularly watch this, Cast Away and I Am Legend because of that. I haven't watched 127 Hours with anyone else yet because I don't think my friends would like this kind of film.