Review: 127 Hours DVD

STUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle | CAST: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Treat Williams, Kate Burton
RELEASE DATE: 3/1 /11 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray $39.99
BONUSES: commentary, deleted scenes; BD adds two featurettes, short film by Luke Matheny, digital copy
SPECS: R | 94 min. | Drama | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and starring James Franco (Howl), 127 Hours can be categorized as an adventure movie or a thriller. But with the intensity of its leading character’s focus on matters of life and death, coupled with its primarily single location and general lack of physical movement, we’re gonna classify it as a drama. And movies nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Screenplay don’t get more dramatic than this!

127 Hours movie scene

James Franco stuggles to survive in 127 Hours.

The movie is based on outdoor extreme sportsman Aron Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, about his five-day-plus experience trapped under a boulder in a crevice while canyoneering alone in the Utah mountains, resulting in him ultimately cutting off part of his own arm to survive. This filmed version is an exceptional cinematic experience.

All the elements come together in this one: a naturalistic but carefully measured performance by Franco as Aron Ralson, a fine screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (who also wrote Slumdog Millionaire) that offers us what goes on in front of Ralston’s eyes just as it navigates through the inner recess of his mind (prompting dreams and flashbacks that flow seamlessly into the narrative) and, of course, veteran helmer Danny Boyle’s masterful direction.

It’s almost as though Boyle approached the project as an experiment: How does one make an engaging movie where the lead character is trapped under a rock for three-quarters of the time? Sure, it’s a true story, but that doesn’t mean it lends itself to the movies. Wrong! Boyle’s inventive camera placement and movements and attention to color and sound design are peerless in this outing. From Trainspotting to 28 Days Later to Sunshine to Slumdog Millionaire to this. The guy can do anything.

The bonus features on the DVD are highlighted by a commentary track featuring Boyle, screenwriter Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson. A comfortable, lucid and quite informative track that finds all three contributors in the same room and not interrupting each other, the commentary sheds light on the physical, logistical and even spiritual aspects of the production — from the anatomically correct prosthetic arm that Franco cuts off to combating the elements while filming on location in Southern Utah to the filmmakers’ music choices and microscopic editing philosophy to well-deserved praise for Franco’s performance.

It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between Colson and Beaufoy during the more general talk, but Boyle stands out with charm and intelligence to spare whenever he has something to add.  “These tiny things that happen in life which we take for granted become seismically crucial when things don’t go the way we planned,” he says at one point, referring to everything Franco has encountered before his mishap and subsequently returns to in his mind to keep his sanity. Boyle describes Franco’s acting technique in getting these ideas across while trapped in his crevice as “proper method.”

Also included are seven deleted scenes, the weakest of the bunch seeing Franco dealing with hikers Kate Mara (Shooter) and Amber Tamblyn (Spring Breakdown) in the early part of the film and the best of which find him solo and struggling to survive as the time ticks by.

Most fascinating is a 20-minute alternate ending. Overall, the unused ending trades the film’s poetic self-realization climax for a more literal look at what happens after Ralston is subsequently airlifted to safety: his hospital stay, waking up in his mother’s home, his wedding and, humorously, playing one part of “Heart and Soul” on the piano with his new artificial hand.

The Blu-ray offers a much more generous bounty of supplements, including a look at the events that aided in the search and rescue of Aron Ralston and an examination of the unique and challenging collaboration between Boyle and Franco on the project.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.