The Florida Project, Looking Beautiful On Blu

Well, 2017 Academy Award nominee The Florida Project just touched down this past week on blu-ray, except for a few lucky pre-orderers on Amazon, who wound up getting their discs a month early due to a little screw up.  But hey, I'm not bitter... At least not like I was two weeks ago.  haha  But it's funny how all release data drama washes right under the bridge once we finally get our hands on what we want.  And now I do: Sean Baker's latest and greatest film on blu, by way of Lions Gate.

Update 7/12/18: I've added the DVD edition for comparison.
Well, I call this Baker's greatest film, but to be fair, I haven't seen all of them.  I saw several, though, even that IFC show about the stuffed bunny.  And I just recently revisited his last and probably mots popular feature, Tangerine, which is particularly interesting having now watched The Florida Project.  You can really see how the look and feel of this picture, from the style of the performances and editing, right down to specific shots, are directly carried over from there.  Like, the precious framing of the locked establishing shot of businesses like the Orange World or Wizard Gift Shop feel like they're taken from the same movie as the Donut Time shot in Tangerine.  Even if you had no idea the same filmmaker made both movies, you'd instantly recognize that somebody behind the camera of the one film had clearly worked on the other.
But where The Florida Project excels is in its maturity.  Tangerine had a touching, poignant ending that really elevated the preceding 90 minutes or so.  But until then, it felt like a pretty superfluous, entertaining piece of fluff.  Transgender characters constantly cracking about having penises felt like a young straight writer playing out of his element.  But what everybody's latching onto here is how authentic the characters in this film come across, especially the children.  We're really drawn into this world of dirt poor Floridians living in the shadow of Disney World.  We find Halley (newcomer Bria Vinaite, who really should be among this year's nominees) and her children having lunch on a pink park bench giving the middle finger to one of the low flying helicopter tours that are constantly buzzing past them day in and day out.  It's really more of a character study than plot-driven narrative as we explore the world of a handful of impoverished families living month to month in a cheap hotel called The Magic Castle, not to be confused with The Magic Kingdom.  Willem Dafoe is the manager who also lives there, trying to maintain order but who can't help but empathize as the lives of people around them fall apart.
2018 US Lions Gate DVD on top; 2018 US Lions Gate blu-ray bottom.
2018 US Lions Gate DVD left; 2018 US Lions Gate blu-ray right.
This is a brand new release, so I think it's safe to assume we're getting the final DCP straight out of the filmmakers' editing software slapped onto a disc, so there's not a lot of potential issues to police.  This was primarily shot on 35mm, with some digital shots mixed in, and they do a fine job blending them together, although savvy viewers will certainly be able to spot the switch.  Grain looks natural and the colors are bold and appealing without being overly saturated.  The film is presented in 2.38-2.39:1 (they feather the edges, so it's a bit of an arbitrary call) with a lot of high focus, wide angle imagery, so you're really going to want to see this eye candy in HD.  I added a little close-up comparison, so you can see the extra detail that comes to life on the blu, which is just sort of rendered out of focus on the DVD.  The audio is a strong, if a little low on dialogue (I found myself cranking the volume higher than I do on most blus) DTS-HD 5.1 mix, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
So yeah, with a new release like this, assuming Lions Gate didn't screw something up (and they didn't), there's not a lot to question about the PQ.  It's a safe assumption it's going to look about as good as it possibly could.  But a department to really question is the special features.  Especially since, looking at the back of the case, it looks disappointingly light: a 'making of' featurette, a gag reel and cast and crew interviews.  That's it.  But actually, some of this is a lot better than they make it sound.

That 'making of' featurette is not the generic, promotional featurette we see on just about every disc.  It's an original, 22 minute documentary that uses no clips from the film, but instead gives us a very candid look behind the scenes, from the early production meetings to the director yelling at a truck for spoiling his shot.  The gag reel is what you'd expect, a very short but amusing string of outtakes, mostly involving the precocious kids.  And the cast and crew interviews?  They actually run for almost a full hour, and while the cast interviews are a little softball and repeat the same anecdotes you've probably already heard (they cast the lead off of instagram), but the interviews with the director and co-writer are particularly interesting.  Lions Gate also loads this disc with bonus trailers (but not the film's official trailer!) that will play for like half an hour on start-up if you don't do something about it, and it does come in a slipcover.
So, at the end of the day, I found this disc to be more rewarding than I was expecting.  Having already seen the film before, I knew it was a must-have regardless.  But it' plays even better the second time, and it turns out the disc was a little less no frills than I was expecting.  Overall, it's a great, highly recommended experience.

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