LION Blu-ray Review

LION Blu-ray Review
  • The Movie
  • The Video
  • The Audio
  • The Supplements
3.5

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The Oscar snooze-fest LION looks decent and sounds great on Blu-ray.

By Matt Cummings

When the 2017 Oscar nominees for Best Picture were announced in February, audiences were miffed to learn that LION had made the cut. Not exactly a powerhouse – it made just $51m with the bulk of that arriving after the nominations – LION enjoyed only outer-edge chances at a win and probably would have struggled to $10m had the nominations not kicked in. The proof resides in the movie itself: while it does offer moments of beauty and is an overall capable production, LION wallows in a pool of unhealthy third-world water, never attaining its true potential with plot holes the size of the trains which dominate this story of a boy’s search for his mother. Its arrival on Blu-ray is also uneven, with excellent audio but only decent video and supplements.

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THE MOVIE
LION follows the story of Saroo (Sunny Pawar), a young Indian boy who is separated from his big brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and loving mother when he falls asleep at a train station. Intent on finding Guddu, Saroo becomes locked in a decommissioned train which travels so far away that the boy cannot even speak the Bengali of his new surroundings. Escaping the hands of child kidnappers, he’s eventually placed in an orphanage where he’s adopted by a loving Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Fast forward 20 years and Saroo is now a confident adult (Dev Patel), when he’s jolted back into his past, setting him off on a journey that will consume him. Caught between two worlds, Saroo’s journey will test his relationship with his Caucasian family and newfound girlfriend (Rooney Mara), before reuniting him with his distant past and forcing the inevitable questions of his return.

While LION is a capable and sometimes beautiful production, several plot issues arise once Patel enters the picture. The fact that a dessert food would set him off in search of a family he apparently hasn’t missed since he was 7 is just not realistic, nor are the lack of questions a person his age might have ignored until said food presented itself. A child is wondrously questioning about everything, and the idea that Saroo would never have asked his new parents for more answers is not breached at all. Director Garth Davis and Writer Luke Davies spend too much time setting things up than addressing the bigger questions about family loyalty, the feeling of being trapped in a less-than-ideal situation, and the drive that compels humans to go the extra mile in seeking answers. The two adapted the memoirs of the real Saroo, but in presenting such an emotional ride, they forget to fill in the blanks until the ubiquitous title cards. This becomes especially problematic when we learn of his first family’s fate, focusing entirely on Saroo and not the effect such a personal journey might have on his new one.

Patel delivers a quality performance, imbuing Saroo with boyish good looks but also a deep sense of drive in finding his real family. But as stated before, LION gets caught up in the emotion instead of finding a balance for those of us who appreciate having the holes filled in. Patel and Kidman have good chemistry while Wenham suffers as merely a plot point to get Saroo home. The same goes for Mara, who’s reduced to faithful girlfriend but who steps out into the light just enough for Davis to shove her back in her box when things get going.

While LION is a capable and sometimes beautiful production, several plot issues arise once Patel enters the picture. The fact that a dessert food would set him off in search of a family he apparently hasn’t missed since he was 7 is just not realistic, nor are the lack of questions a person his age might have ignored until said food presented itself. A child is wondrously questioning about everything, and the idea that Saroo would never have asked his new parents for more answers is not breached at all. Director Garth Davis and Writer Luke Davies spend too much time setting things up than addressing the bigger questions about family loyalty, the feeling of being trapped in a less-than-ideal situation, and the drive that compels humans to go the extra mile in seeking answers. The two adapted the memoirs of the real Saroo, but in presenting such an emotional ride, they forget to fill in the blanks until the ubiquitous title cards. This becomes especially problematic when we learn of his first family’s fate, focusing entirely on Saroo and not the effect such a personal journey might have on his new one.

LION is more concerned with Oscar glory rather than telling a compelling story of one man’s struggles to connect his old life to his new one. Even his mentally-challenged half-brother suffers as yet another plot point to be discarded once Saroo’s story becomes the central focus. The film is perhaps the classic definition of ‘Oscar Bait,’ pulling on our heartstrings instead of simply telling what should have been an intensely personal story of courage and determination.

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THE VIDEO
LION is presented by Starz and Anchor Bay with a decent MPEG-4/AVC transfer. The image is presented with an overall softness by Director Garth Davis, but add in several moments of banding, and you’ve got a real problem. It’s not something that persists, but the lack of attention by both Davis and the studio leaves colors a bit pasty and details not as great as they could have been. There’s a lack of detail in clothing, and the streets of Calcutta and Saroo’s village fail to resonate with the necessary detail. The same goes for colors: Australia has been depicted better, as its earthy color palette should be on glamorous display as the opening credits roll. Instead, the scenic landscapes are a bit drained of color and that softness creeps in. Blacks and shadows are also brighter than needed, resulting in a transfer that’s perhaps the worst I’ve seen in 2017. What we see here would have sufficed circa 2012 when I began writing for HDN, but given the amazing work by studios like Disney and even Sony, it’s inexcusable now.

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THE AUDIO
Starz and Anchor Bay’s audio presentation of LION fares much better. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is immersive throughout, forcing us into this world with sometimes powerful results. Left and right speakers deliver a mix of music from Composers Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran, as well as some dialogue and sound effects. The center channel produces an accentuated track, dialing down other elements, so it’s not entirely separated; but, one never loses any of the heavily-subtitled film. But it’s the surround track which delivers the knockout punch. Crowd noise is everywhere, from the crowded marketplace to the busy train stations and even Saroo’s home village. Dance crowds and busy city streets resonate and become full and detailed, almost as if you’re there. Meanwhile, the LFE rumbles each time a train travels across the soundstage, while music engages the listener from the haunting piano to the dance music around 1:13:00. It’s a complex and engaging affair all the way around, demonstrating what great surround tracks can accomplish.

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THE SUPPLEMENTS
Sadly, much of LION’s supplements suffer from a lack of creativity and leave out a much-needed commentary track in favor of rather standard featurettes. All of the items are presented in HD:

  • Deleted Scenes (4:36 total): Scenes include Dance Party, Panic Attack, and Saroo in the Lake.
  • Behind the Scenes Gallery: This five-part feature includes Conversation with Saroo Brierley (7:49), Dev Patel ( (3:22), Nicole Kidman (3:10), and Director Garth Davis (3:37). They’ll remind of you of EPK and give very few insights into what should have been wrapped into a commentary.
  • Making the Music (4:16): This featurette balances a conversation with Patel and the film’s composers.
  • Official Lyric Video by Sia (3:45)
  • Trailers: THE FOUNDER and LA LA LAND.

Our evaluation copy arrived as a single Blu-ray with an UltraViolet digital copy code. The slipcase is colorful but offers no embossed lettering or interior artwork. At the time of this posting, we were not aware of any special versions.

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THE BOTTOM LINE
LION suffers from a story that fails to evoke the emotional pull necessary to make it anything other than Oscar Bait. Patel’s presence adds at least one star to my review, but the usually top-tier Kidman turns in a less than stellar performance. Technical details are all over the place, while the supplements are standard and predictable. It’s a sure-fire Netflix rental but I can’t recommend this for purchase until the video issues are addressed and the supplements include a commentary. For a film that frankly snuck into the Oscar race (for reasons that still confuse me), the least we can expect is a stellar product. This is not that.

LION is rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sensuality and has a runtime of 118 minutes.

About the author

Besides being an ardent burrito eater and an exceptional sleeper, Matt shares in your passion for all things movies and Blu-ray. He also loves special editions and is known to triple-dip on command.