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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Fly Away Home: SE (1996)

"Can I keep them? Please?"- Amy (Anna Paquin)

Stars: Jeff Daniels, Anna Paquin
Other Stars: Dana Delaney, Terry Kinney, Jeremy Patchford
Director: Carroll Ballard

MPAA Rating: PG for (an opening accident scene and some mild language)
Run Time: 01h:46m:47s
Release Date: 2001-08-07
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+B+ A


DVD Review

Fly Away Home is that rare family film that effectively tells an inspiring story without dipping too much in the way of annoying theatrics or sugar-coated story lines. With a compelling, based-on-fact story, a competent cast of actors (Jeff Daniels, Dana Delaney), including an Oscar®-winner (Anna Paquin), director Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion) and longtime collaborator cinematographer Caleb Deschanel have masterfully assembled the pieces into a beautiful and poignant tale.

Amy Alden (Paquin) is an independent thirteen-year-old, forced to leave her home in New Zealand to live with her estranged father Thomas (Daniels) on a remote Canadian farm after her mother dies in an auto accident. Amy and Thomas have not seen each other in years, and she is less than pleased with having to live with him, as their relationship has been fairly nonexistent over the years. Thomas is a sculptor/inventor, with a passion for hang-gliding, and while it's apparent he cares deeply for Amy, he still struggles to win her affections.

As a result of greedy developers bulldozing the land around her new home, Amy discovers some abandoned Canadian goose eggs. In a moment that serves to drive the remainder of Fly Away Home, she carefully gathers the eggs and attempts to hatch them, using an old dresser and her mother's clothes as a nest. Of course, the eggs hatch and Amy suddenly finds herself as 'mother' to a dozen or so young birds. The problem arises that, without proper parents to teach them, the young goslings will never know how to migrate south, despite an inner need to fly somewhere.

Fly Away Home is a 'message' film at its core, and it educates and entertains, which is no easy task. Director Ballard smoothly integrates the key facts about geese migration, imprinting, other wild bird habits and conflicts with land developers as well as fish and game management without becoming too preachy. Before long the geese are taught to follow an ultra-light airplane, piloted by Amy, which will lead them, hopefully, on their southern migration.

The always likeable Jeff Daniels takes the role of Thomas Alden and gives him more depth than most movie dads get. As Thomas' level-headed girlfriend Susan, Dana Delaney—here looking too much like Kathie Lee Gifford for my tastes—patiently struggles to win the trust of Amy and help with the quest to teach the geese to migrate. Anna Paquin imbues Amy with an engaging, lopsided grin and an independent spirit that would have suffered in the shoes of a lesser actress. As the focal point—after the geese, of course—it is Paquin that must carry the film, and she does so with the skill of an Oscar® winner (The Piano).

Based loosely on the true-life exploits of Canadian artist/inventor Bill Lishman, whose story is detailed in the DVD's accompanying documentaries, Fly Away Home does have its moments of melodrama and predictability. Yet, even the film's 'villains', which may be too harsh of a description, are really nothing more than men doing their jobs, often with the best interest of the geese at heart. Even with some of the drama-by-numbers elements of the plot, Fly Away Home easily rises above and delivers a first-rate family film.

Visually, Ballard and Deschanel are at the top of their game when the flight sequences take over, which easily encompass the bulk of the film. Soaring over panoramic wilderness, and even through downtown Baltimore, the visual of a tiny ultra-light surrounded by Canadian Geese is breathtaking in their hands. Some (cynics, perhaps?) may argue that at some point the film appears to be nothing more than seemingly endless scenes of geese flying. I would guess that those individuals are missing something. They should take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the view.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The beautiful 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer is perfectly complimented by the world-class cinematography of Caleb Deschanel. When the geese take to the air, which is quite often, Fly Away Home becomes a series of a memorable cinematic visuals and the color palette on this transfer remains constant and lush. Fleshtones remain stable, and black levels are solid and have great depth.

There are some edge enhancement issues, particularly during some of the indoor scenes. I noticed a couple of minor nicks, only noticeable because the scene was darkly lit.

The flight scenes remain mesmerizing, and this transfer far exceeds the earlier 'bare bones' release.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanish, Portugueseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The haunting Mark Isham score sounds exceptionally rich via the English 5.1 mix. Dialogue remains anchored in the front channels, while the rear channels are used well for music cues and ambient sound. Spatial imaging is particularly well done, as the 5.1 audio track on Fly Away Home has been digitally mastered.

2.0 surround mixes in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Stuart Little, Madeline, Matilda, Trumpet Of The Swan
Production Notes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel; composer Mark Isham
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Liner notes
Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has packaged this special edition of Fly Away Home with some great extras, and the creme of the crop on this standout release are two documentaries.

Operation Migration: Birds of a Feather is a seventeen-minute bio on Bill Lishman, the man whose exploits Fly Away Home are based on. His work with geese and crane migrations, including the use of ultra-light aircraft to lead the birds along migration paths, is fascinating.

The forty-eight minute The Ultra Geese is a short film put together by Lishman, which consists entirely of actual home video footage he shot during his flights with the geese,that really packs a punch, and helps to drive home the message of battling extinction and wild bird survival. If you are a fan of nature documentaries, then The Ultra Geese is worth the price of the DVD, and makes a powerful follow-up especially after viewing the feature.

A twelve-minute HBO featurette, Leading The Flock is an above average behind-the-scenes piece, with cast and crew interviews. Better than most of the typical HBO fluffumentaries.

The commentary track with Carroll and Deschanel, while a bit dry at times, does serve to shed some light on production issues, and it is very apparent how effectively these two work together.

Composer Mark Isham's commentary on his original score gives the viewer some insight into creative process used when scoring a film. Not exactly a riveting commentary intended for everyone; however, would-be composers might find some worthwhile tidbits, as would any serious film fan. Personally, I would love to hear more composer-only commentary tracks.

The DVD liner notes contain yet more insightful information on Lishman, Ballard and the people behind the film.

The original theatrical trailer (full-frame) and set of kid-vid trailers round out the extras package.

Based on the extras, the new Columbia TriStar release of Fly Away Home is truly deserving of the Special Edition tag.

Extras Grade: A

Final Comments

This special edition release of Fly Away Home has just about everything going for it. A beautifully inspirational story, gorgeous cinematography, a great score, two commentaries, and two solid documentaries. It is a wonderful family film, and Columbia TriStar has really gone the extra mile with this release.


Rich Rosell 2001-08-07