Holes review by Mike Long

If you're like me (and here's to hoping that you aren't), you were totally baffled when the promotional spots for Holes begin to air back in April (for the movie's theatrical release). Beyond the obvious, I had no idea what "The book is now the movie!" meant, as I'd never heard of the novel. I now know this is because the novel "Holes" is "young adult fiction" and is aimed at 5th graders. Well, if the book is half as good as the movie, then this will be yet another example of how labels can hinder the scope and appeal of a product, because Holes is a damn good movie.

Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), a teenaged boy who is wrongly accused of stealing a pair of shoes (which literally fall from the sky.) Stanley is sentenced to 18-months at Camp Green Lake, a site in the desert, which isn't green and certainly contains no lake. Stanley, and the other boys in the camp, are forced to dig holes in the desert each day. The adults in the camp, Mr. Sir (John Voight), Dr. Pendanski (Tim Blake Nelson), and especially, The Warden (Sigourney Weaver), claim that hole-digging is meant to build character. But, the boys suspect that there is something else happening in the camp. This story is intertwined with a two tales from the 19th century -- one concerns Stanley's ancestor and the curse which plagues them, while the other deals with a wild-west town and forbidden love. As Stanley begins to find himself at Camp Green Lake, all of these plotlines start to intersect.

While watching Holes, it's very obvious that the film is based on a novel, if nothing else because the story is so deep (no pun intended). The movie intricately weaves all of its characters and storylines together in a way that most films don't. (Although, I've heard some pundits of the film say that the movie doesn't begin to scratch the surface (once again, no pun intended) of the book.) Leaving the book aside for a moment, the film could have easily focused solely on Stanley's trip to the detention camp and its effect on him, and that would've made for a fairly interesting story. But, novelist Louis Sachar (who also wrote the screenplay) and director Andrew Davis have filled the movie with enough story for at least two (if not three) movies, and come away with a winner. This was quite a gamble considering that the film was, once again, marketed towards children, and I can see younger kids becoming confused by all of the goings on. But, Davis, best known for The Fugitive and his work on several Steven Seagal movies, does a great job of reigning in the epic tale and keeps things moving along very nicely. Also, I admired the fact that Holes wasn't an artificially happy movie. Camp Green Lake is a bad place and the people there are mean, and because of this, we see Stanley suffer. This adds an emotional element to the film which makes the story all the more compelling. The story is filled with many twists and turns and you will want to hang around to see how it ends.

The great story also gets a boost from the film's fine cast. Most of us only know Shia LaBeouf as the whacky brother from Disney Channel's "Even Stevens" (if at all), but he's asked to carry Holes, as he appears in most every scene which isn't a flashback, and does a fine job. Stanley is a confused teenager who has basically been sent to Hell and isn't sure why. LaBeouf handily tackles all of the emotions needed for this role. Sigourney Weaver is great as The Warden, a tough lady who can get anything that she wants by simply saying "Excuse me?". The incomparable Tim Blake Nelson provides some much needed comic relief in his role. But, it's Jon Voight who steals the movie, for, like most of his role, he seems to be in a different movie altogether. In addition, the young actors who play the other camp kids bring credibility to their roles as well. Aiming Holes mainly at youngsters was a crime. This is a very well-made movie which tells an engrossing story. It doesn't matter that the story is about kids, as anyone can fall into Holes.

Disney DVD has unearthed Holes for its DVD release. The film is being offered in two separate releases, one full-frame, the other widescreen. For this review, the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs and is THX-certified. The image is very sharp and clear, although there is some noticeable grain at times during the desert scenes. The bleak, barren landscape gives way to bursts of bright colors, such as the orange suits the boys wear, and the fleshtones are realistic. There are some odd moments of artifacting and edge-enhancement, but not enough to be distracting to most viewers. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no discernible hissing. The film offers nearly constant surround sound effects, ranging from the howling wind which crosses the desert to various effects during the flashback sequences. The bass response is good as well. Overall, this is a nice transfer.

The DVD is relatively light on extra features, given the film's following. We start with a pair of audio commentaries. The first features director Andrew Davis and author/screenwriter Louis Sachar. This is a very good chat, as the two split their time between discussing the technical aspects of the film, such as the location and the actors, and the differences between the novel and the film. The second commentary features actors Shia LaBeouf, Khleo Thomas, Jake M. Smith, and Max Kasch. If you'd like a more visceral experience with a commentary like this one, simply screen Holes to a middle school detention class, and you should get roughly the same results, as this talk is just a group of teenage boys yelling "Look at that guy!". There are some funny comments here, but you won't learn anything about the making of the movie.

The DVD contains two featurettes. The first is entitled "The Boys of D-Tent". This 11-minute segment focuses on the young actors in the film, and offers audition footage, as well as a look at how they trained to shoot the film in the desert. "Digging the First Hole" (9 minutes) examines author Louis Sachar's involvement with the film. This featurette contains a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and also gives insight into how director Andrew Davis tackled the project. There are 6 deleted scenes, which really don't offer anything new, as well as a 90-second gag reel. The extras are rounded out by a music video for the song "Dig It", performed by D-Tent Boys, who are simply a collection of the kids from the movie.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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