Universal has made no secret of its Oscar dreams for “Cinderella Man,” a well-reviewed box office disappointment when it bowed this summer. And the studio, which has made a habit of award-season DVD launches, takes its best shot at Acad riches with extra after polished extra that showcase the contributions of helmer Ron Howard, star Russell Crowe and co-scribe Akiva Goldsman.
Is it really coincidence that the first trailer on both discs is for the extended cut of “Gladiator,” a Crowe Oscar winner? Or that several features end with box art of “A Beautiful Mind,” the Oscar-rich collaboration between Crowe and Howard, as an almost subliminal reminder how award-worthy the team has been in the past?
Campaign positioning aside, the collector’s edition serves up plenty of interesting nuggets about filming techniques, Crowe’s training and the real heavyweight champ. D.P. Salvatore Totino not only created a camera that the actors/fighters could punch, he turned himself into a human punching bag to give the blows more wallop.
The crew also takes great pains to explain their efforts to add grit — through lighting or production palettes — to Depression scenes and avoid a nostalgic sentimental glow. During one of two sections devoted to deleted scenes, Howard talks about excising a subplot involving little Rosemary to avoid any suggestions of “Our Gang” preciousness.
After a while, the extras start to blur together due to mounting overlap. The same careful anecdotes pop up over and over: Thus we hear Howard tell us once more that his first longer-form feature was a high school docu on the Depression and Crowe earnestly attest to Braddock’s family values. Again.
It’s all so polished and polite one wishes more of Crowe’s legendary brio — or some of that Depression-era grit — had found its way into the extras. There are hints of it in a featurette about Crowe’s training, which alludes to a few hijinks and chronicles the actor’s shoulder injury complete with wince-inducing surgery footage. (File that under too much information.)
Original scribe Cliff Hollingsworth’s refreshingly blunt commentary serves up the most dirt about the production, from changes “they” (meant to generically refer to Howard, Crowe and Goldsman) made to his three scripts and where creative license was used to heighten the Braddock family’s financial straits. But it’s the family members themselves who provide the sweetest moments in the extras, bringing the fighter to life with their proud reminiscences.
Some of the repetition is no doubt eased in the single double-sided flipper disc, which contains three commentaries (by Howard, Goldsman and Hollingsworth), first installment of deleted scenes and featurettes on the Braddocks and boxing.
The second bonus disc in the collector’s edition includes more deleted scenes, original fight footage and a several featurettes on the music and score. (Hear that Acad voters?)
Also in the collector’s edition: a handsome booklet and four production stills.