The conservative Walden Media is carving out a niche for itself turning children's fantasy books into family films that act as parables and Nim's Island is no exception. Based on the novel of the same name by the Canadian-born Australian author Wendy Orr, the film focuses on a young girl named Nim (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) who lives alone on an island in the South pacific with her marine biologist father Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler, P.S. I Love You, 300). Nim has developed a vivid imagination and has as her friends a group of animals -- a bearded dragon lizard named Fred, a Pelican named Galileo, and a sea lion named Selke.
Nim has also garnered a love of reading, which is what draws her to her favorite series of books about an Indiana Jones-type adventurer named Alex Rover (also Gerard Butler). When Nim's father leaves to go searching for nanoplankton in the sea, a big storm hits and he becomes stranded, leaving Nim all by herself. That is when she sees an email addressed to her father from Alex Rover, the "adventurer," asking for research advice about volcanoes, and the two strike up a friendship via the Internet. What Nim doesn't know, however, is that "Alex" Rover, her thrill seeking, courageous idol is actually Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), the agoraphobic author of the adventure books who is afraid to even take a step out of her house to pick up the mail.
With her father gone, Nim decides to scale her island's volcano on her own to help out who she thinks is her brave idol, and she injures herself. When she lets it slip to Alexandra that she is not a research assistant -- whom Alexandra thought she was -- but that Jack is her father, the author figures out that she is just a kid and finds out Nim is all alone on the island with her father missing. This causes Alexandra to brave the world for a real adventure of her own -- egged on by her imaginary projection of her Alex Rover character -- to go rescue Nim. Meanwhile, Nim begins to fight off a group of cruise ship tourists whom she thinks are from a buccaneer ship that her father told her in stories was responsible for frightening a big blue whale into swallowing her mother.
The greatest strength of Nim's Island lies in its stories of courage -- the courage of Alexandra, drawn out of her shell, compelled to rescue a little girl in a completely selfless act, and the courage of Nim in her battle to save her island (even in the face of her father having gone missing). Like most Walden Media films, there's a moral in there somewhere; perhaps it's about encouraging people to reach out to help others and to stay strong in the face of overwhelming odds.
The film is also well acted; Abigail Breslin as Nim is wonderfully charming and Jodie Foster -- playing a role not typical for her -- gives much needed comic relief throughout. Unfortunately, that is where the good things end. The film's titular characters, Alexandra and Jack, behave too much like irresponsible children themselves -- an obvious device to help put the focus on the character of Nim. For instance, why would any responsible parent leave their 11-year-old daughter alone on an island for two days with nothing but pets to keep her company? The film also falls apart at its dénouement; it doesn't feel well fleshed out and it ends too abruptly. There is also a pervasive feeling of shallowness to the film. When watching the extras, you'll see that many scenes were deleted that would have given the film a slightly weightier emotional bent, but then that may have been considered too "upsetting" for younger audiences. So, what do we get? We get this breezy, sometimes fun, and moderately enjoyable, but in the end quite forgettable film.
Fox is developing a estimable track record when it comes to their video transfers on Blu-ray Disc, coming very close to the consistency of studios such as Disney and Sony for high quality releases. The transfer on Nim's Island is no exception with its high bitrate AVC/MPEG-4 encoding averaging around 30Mbps in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
The film's palette is a veritable coloring book -- an explosion of vivid, hyper-realistic colors that leap from the screen, like the crystalline, cerulean blue of the South Pacific Sea, the verdurous tropical foliage and the golden sands -- with a warm glow that permeates the whole affair. Fox's transfer captures it all in great detail without a hint of any artifacts. There is a fine and consistent level of grain that remains well balanced throughout the presentation helping to impart that true cinematic feeling.
The balance of blacks and contrast is some of the best I have seen to date on any BD release. In the brightest scenes -- of which there are many -- detail remains consistent, with no blooming or clipping and in the dark, night scenes, particularly during the scene where a storm hits the island, the blacks plunge to obsidian levels yet shadow detail remains. Flesh tones are slightly less than accurate, but that is the intentional sunny "glow" of the film. This disc presents the film as it should be seen.
Offering English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless and French & Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options, Nim's Island lossless soundtrack is fittingly well done to match its exceptional picture quality. Utilizing all five main channels for an active mix, the surrounds are filled with all the sounds of the island, from the hush of the surf to birds chirping away. Dialogue is full and clear in the center channel, and during the most intense sequences, such as during the storm or when Nim rescues Alexandra, sound is mixed into all the speakers for an encompassing, 360 degree experience, with weighty amounts of low frequencies that give the sound a big, hefty feel. The dynamic range is wide, but never jarring and Patrick Doyle's pleasant score is mixed to a perfect level that never drowns out the action or the dialogue. The only minor flaw I noticed in this soundtrack is that high frequencies are a bit overemphasized and could cause slight listener fatigue.
This Nim's Island Blu-ray release comes with an abundance of extras, some more entertaining than others. Most notable are the BonusView (Profile 1.1) materials, BD-Java trivia track, and BD-Java based games that take full advantage of this advanced format's interactive features.
Extras available on this release are:
Adventure Commentary with Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster -- This audio commentary is far more approachable and casual than most, with Foster and Breslin carrying on more of a friendly conversation about everything from the different wildlife they saw while filming in Australia and snorkeling near the Great Barrier Reef to environmental concerns and Foster's kids and their knowledge of bearded dragon lizards. It's a relieving fresh take on the usual audio commentaries that appear on these discs, no doubt geared towards children, but as enjoyable as an audio commentary can be nonetheless.
Commentary with Director/Writers Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett -- In stark contrast to the audio commentary with Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster, this commentary is the typical fare. Levin and Flackett talk dully over the meandering film and point out all the minutia of filming and writing the production.
Deleted Scenes (2.40:1/standard definition) - this series of deleted scenes is quite revelatory in that it seems the film might have had a slightly darker undercurrent and more of a comedic bent before these portions were excised. All of the scenes dealing with Nim's imaginary friends, such as Huck Finn and Alice in Wonderland were removed or reworked and the scene where Nim saves Alexandra from drowning was initially to involve Nim imaging a giant whale swallowing Alexandra. In this reviewer's opinion, if they had left the deleted scenes in, the film would have had much more emotional depth.
"Nim's Spyglass" BonusView Mode -- This BonusView feature viewable on any BonusView/Profile 1.1 capable BD player will display a picture-in-picture window during playback of the film of behind-the-scenes filming of scenes, storyboard sketches, etc. For all of the Blu-ray owners out there who do not have a BonusView player, the option is also offered to watch each "feature" individually.
Nim's Friends (1.78:1/standard definition) -- This featurette shows the young Abigail Breslin working with the numerous live animals in the movie, such as the sea lions, bearded dragon lizards, and pelicans in preparation for filming Nim's Island so as to build a rapport with the creatures.
Abigail's Journey (1.78:1/standard definition) -- This featurette is all about the young actress as she films Nim's Island. She is shown behind-the-scenes on set and with her tutor, speaking about her daily required 3-hours of schoolwork, etc.
Working on Water (1.78:1/standard definition) -- In this featurette, the filmmakers and actresses Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin discuss the challenges of filming on and under water.
Games -- The most entertaining set of extras on this release are the games, created in BD-Java, that offer some mild entertainment, but will most likely please younger children rather than any adults with this title.
The games include:
Write Your Own Island Adventure! -- An interactive story where the user makes certain choices to determine where the story leads. I could not get this game to work properly on my Sony BDP-S350 BD player, unfortunately.
Coconut Soccer -- One or Two Player game in which you select a character and swim around the surf while hitting as many coconuts into the sand as possible before time runs out.
Seaside Shuffle -- Shuffle seashells around on aboard to arrange three like kinds in a row and clear them from the board. The object is to clear the board before the tide comes in.
Island Explorer Mode -- An in-movie pop-up trivia track that displays trivia about the cast and crew, the writing and production of the film, and general educational trivia related to the film, its animals and filming location.
Nim's Island is a typically quaint, "feel good" family film from Walden Media and as such may very well be rather forgettable. Still, it offers a fine level of family entertainment with its lighter fare for children and adults alike so it would make a good addition to any Blu-ray collection. This Blu-ray release offers a spectacular level of quality in its picture and sound plus good value in its robust supplemental materials, making a purchase an easy pill to swallow.