Based on a popular book I'd never heard of, "Holes" arrived with trailers and advertisements that were noticably vague. Imagine my surprise when the film became one of the year's biggest hits, grossing nearly seventy million dollars. Imagine my further surprise after watching it; this has to be the oddest family fare to ever become such a smash hit, although not nearly the strangest film of the year ("Dreamcatcher" still holds that title).
Stanley Yelnats IV (Shia LaBeouf) is from a cursed family - his father (Henry Winkler) and every male in the family before him suffered from the same run of bad luck. Stanley's troubles occur early in the picture, when he's arrested for stealing a pair of shoes he didn't steal. He's sent off to a camp in the desert, where he befriends the inmates: Zero (Khleo Thomas), Squid (Jake M. Smith), Armpit (Byron Cotton), X-Ray (Brenden Jefferson) and Magnet (Miguel Castro). They all dig holes all day, supposedly to "build character", but obviously for a secret reason the camp's counselors (Jon Voight, Sigorney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson) are withholding from them.
Once Stanley enters the camp, he finds more about Kissin’ Kate Barlow (Patricia Arquette, who looks even better in Western wear), an old-time robber who fell in love with a local admirer (Dule Hill). Unfortunately, their romance was never to be. Her fortune, however, may have been very real. It's to "Holes" credit, however, that it keeps the audience guessing throughout much of its nearly two-hour length. While that may be a little too long for this tale, but director Andrew Davis does keep things moving fairly well. An interesting soundtrack that's a mixture of modern (Beck, Moby) and bluegrass also adds to the mood.
Overall, "Holes" was one of those movies that I found perfectly pleasant, but nothing too terribly memorable. Colorful characters and fine performances make the story of the kids fairly entertaining, but I was a bit more involved in the flashbacks to the Arquette character, as she and Hill are quite good together and Arquette creates a more complex and sympathetic character than any of the other actors in the picture. As for the adults in the present day, Voight does gruff like he has so many times before, and Weaver and Nelson do a bit better at getting into their characters. Still, like I said before, the picture's a little long for a tale that's mostly about kids digging giant holes in the desert and even moreso for a film that's neither particularly funny or dramatic, instead operating sort of in-between the two.
VIDEO: "Holes" is presented by Disney in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is also THX-Certified. Although I can't say that the presentation wasn't without some flaws, it was still quite good. Sharpness and detail are first-rate throughout the majority of the film, with fine details visible in many shots.
Edge enhancement is the one noticable issue throughout the show; although it's never too much of a distraction, a mild amount was present in a couple of scenes. A couple of specks were also spotted on the print used, but no pixelation or other flaws were noticed. The film's earthy, dusty color palette was well-rendered, with natural, accurate looking colors.
SOUND: "Holes" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 by Buena Vista. The film's soundtrack does have a few moments of surround use scattered throughout the proceedings, but nothing in the story really requires much beyond a few effects in the rear speakers here and there. Some ambience - a bit more dusty wind blowing around the listening space - would have been nice, but what's present is fine enough. Dialogue remained crisp and clear.
Commentaries: This is a commentary from author Louis Sachar and director Andrew Davis. The two provide a low-key, informative track and generally keep the discussion going. Davis discusses his attraction to the project, technical details such as the film's visual effects and other issues, like locations, sets and casting. Sachar discusses the differences between the book and the film, and offers his opinions on some of the aspects of the film. However, Davis does most of the talking.
The other commentary, which includes participants Shia Labeouf, Keleo Thomas, Jake M. Smith and Max Kasch is a little more lively. The kids aren't as informative, but they seem like they're having a lot of fun (early on, when Stanley gets busted with the shoes, one of the actors goes, "You got sent to jail for a pair of shoes that look like that?"). Soon after, the participants brake into a rap. I didn't learn much of anything about the movie from this track, but I was entertained by the consistently goofy discussions.
Boys of B-Tent This is a 10-minute documentary that features the cast and discusses both the relatively new cast and casting decisions.
Digging the First Hole This is a 9-minute documentary that talks about how director Andrew Davis became involved, casting and how the filmmakers wanted to be faithful to Sachar's novel.
Also: 6 deleted scenes, music video, sneak peek trailers for other BV/Disney titles and gag reel.
Final Thoughts: I didn't feel that "Holes" offered a particularly involving story, but the performances were generally able to carry the picture. Kids may enjoy it more than adults. Disney has put together a fine DVD for the popular picture, with lots of supplements and good audio/video quality. Recommended for fans.
The Film ***