Nim's Island

(2008) ** Pg
96 min. Fox Walden. Directors: Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett. Cast: Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler, Alphonso McAuley, Peter Callan.

This kooky kids movie—based on a Wendy Orr novel—stars Abigail Breslin as Nim, an eleven-year-old living with her marine biologist dad (Gerard Butler) on a remote island she describes as "our own perfect, secret little world." When Dad goes off in search of nanoplankton and gets lost at sea (uncomfortably echoing the fate of Nim's dearly departed mom), Nim is left alone with her animal buddies. Someone call child services on this dad!

Desperate, Nim strikes up an email correspondence with a spastic agoraphobic (Jodie Foster) who writes adventure novels. She's named Alex(andra) Rover, and her conversations with her Indiana Jones-like hero Alex Rover (also Butler) establish that she has a serious, if creative, dissociative disorder. Nonexistent Alex goads real Alex out of her house to attempt to rescue Nim: "Be the hero of your own life story."

There's a Swiss Family Robinson vibe to this island fantasy, complete with tree house. Kids will squeal with glee over the animals: pelican Galileo, lizard Fred, and Selke the sea lion, even when they conspicuously morph into gauche CGI to do more complicated tricks. It's always nice to see a film promote books as a vehicle of escape into other lands, and co-writers/directors Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett open the film with a bit of wondrous paper animation that's happily low-tech. On the other hand, we get six brand-name product placements in less than two minutes when we first meet Foster's character. I guess this is the new economic reality of Hollywood at work, but really? Six in two minutes?

Nim makes a good role model, and shy girls can also get an object lesson in empowerment from Alexandra. But this tortured plot is awfully silly and makes its adults unnecessarily risky and irresponsible in order that something, anything of interest might happen. There's a sad feint at a seeming invasion by "buccaneers," including an awkward interlude between Nim and a boy from Brisbane. All in all, Nim's Island is overplayed: there are entirely too many beaming smiles and emotional flip-outs. All live happily ever after, but the only reason to see this movie is Foster, whose overplaying somehow succeeds at charming where her costars fail.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/12/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox's Blu-Ray of Nim's Island (mirrored on DVD) presents a solid AV transfer and a very impressive, kid-friendly collection of bonus features. The picture quality on this high-def transfer suffer a bit from overheated contrast and oversaturated color, but the film looks pretty much as I remember it looking in theatres, and it's a clean, crisp, detailed picture. I can't imagine anyone complaining about the vibrant DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track, which gives the dialogue and underlying music and sound effects an energetic and well-balanced workout.

Fox went the extra mile in providing not only a feature-length commentary with writer-directors Mark Leven & Jennifer Flackett, but also a feature-length "Adventure Commentary" with stars Jodie Foster & Abigail Breslin. The former is a guided tour of the movie by the two people who know it best; as both writers and directors, they're in the position to tell viewers everything there is to know about the development of the script and the film, the experience of production (including entertaining attendant anecdotes), and the judicious application of special effects and live, wrangled animals. Foster and Breslin's track is a girl's day out, with the two sharing an easygoing rapport while discussing the animals, the environment, and their memories of the shoot (Foster promises they'll talk about their favorite books, but maybe I missed that part...).

Next up are Deleted Scenes (15:29 with "Play All" option): "Imaginary Characters" (8:46), which includes an excised plot device involving Huck Finn, Alice, and Long John Silver; "Alexandra's Assistant 'Russell'" (4:19); and "The Great Blue Whale" (2:24). There's also an Island Explorer Mode or, in other words, a trivia track that displays during playback of the feature information in the categories of Cast & Crew, Page to Screen, Science & Education, and Behind-the-Scenes.

The Nim's Spyglass BonusView Mode is a picture-in-picture option allowing behind-the-scenes footage and interviews to pop up during playback. Fox chooses wisely to make all of these segments available from the Special Features menu, as well--I wish all the studios would follow suit with their PiP tracks. One can "Play All" (32:37) or select any one: "The Oceanographer & The Whale" (:57), "Nim's Friends" (:51), "Family Films" (1:23), "Nim's Zip Line" (:22), "Nim's Hut" (2:48), "Alex Rover & The Lava Pit" (:33), "Selkie the Sea Lion" (2:57), "Galileo to the Rescue" (1:17), "E-Mail from Alex Rover" (:45), "Climbing the Volcano" (1:19), "Nim's Request for Help" (:45), "Jodie Foster" (2:27), "Alexandra's Plane Ride" (1:13), "Defending the Island" (:33), "Alexandra's Boat Ride" (:57), "Fred Attacks" (1:02), "Helicopter Landing" (:48), "Alexandra at Sea" (1:48), "Nim Rescues Alexandra" (2:00), "Alexandra Lost in the Jungle" (:57), "Alexandra Finds Nim's Hut" (:27), "Nim and Alexandra" (2:02), "Nim's Alone" (1:35), "Happy Endings" (2:15), and "Happy Family" (:23).

In the category of behind-the-scenes Featurettes, you'll find "Nim's Friends" (6:17), with Breslin, Levin & Flackett, co-screenwriter/producer Paula Mazur, Foster, and animal coordinators John Medlin & Katy Brock chatting about the animals on set. "Abigail's Journey" (6:42) adds Gerard Butler to the mix as the focus hones in on the young star's experience. Lastly, "Nim's Island: Working on Water" (6:07) adds comments from stunt coordinator Glenn Ruehland and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh as the cast and crew discuss the always tricky task of shooting ocean and underwater sequences.

Kids (or bored adults) can occupy themselves with three Games. Write Your Own Island Adventure! is a Mad Libs-style feature, but unfortunately, my PS3 would not advance me to the second page, so I can't report more. Coconut Soccer is a simple and fun game involving kicking as many coconuts towards a beach as one can as a clock ticks away the time. Seaside Shuffle is a literal shell game, also timed, involving shifting shells into rows and columns of three to make them disappear. Finally, you'll find previews for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Horton Hears a Who.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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