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April 21, 2010
The Black Balloon Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
6/3/20086/4/2010Icon FilmsElissa Down
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
VC-1DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MRhys Wakefield

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Gemma Ward in The Black Balloon.

Australian cinema is a failure on so many levels when it comes to the finances with only a small percentage managing to turn a profit. That isn't, however, a reflection of the quality of the films on offer, with so many great films simply being lost among the Hollywood squeeze. The Black Balloon is one such film. Only generating $2.1 million at the box office from a budget of $5 million it wasn't a commercial hit, however it managed to win several major awards including the Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

When Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) and his family move to a new home and he has to start at a new school, all he wants is to fit in. When his pregnant mother has to take things easy, his father puts him in charge of his autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ward). Thomas, with the help of his new girlfriend Jackie (Gemma Ward), faces his biggest challenge yet.

There are so many areas where this film succeeds including the fine acting, capturing the Australian way of life, and the comedic moments which are pure gold on many occasions. There's plenty of emotion at the core too and while the events of the movie surround the actions of Charlie, this really is Thomas's story and how he struggles to deal with growing up with an autistic brother, and trying to gain independence.

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The Black Balloon is a great Australian film.
Perhaps most importantly the portrayal of autism, for me, seemed right on? How would I know, well I've been working at schools for the better part of a decade and have seen my fair share of special education students to get some idea. Of course I don't have experience of this at home or with any relatives, but I can imagine this would be a pretty accurate portrayal of the hardships.

Of course one of the big selling and discussion points of this movie is the performance by Australian supermodel Gemma Ward who is in only her second role here after the horror movie The Strangers. Not only is she absolutely stunning to look at, but she can indeed act and her performance as Jackie Masters, while not award worthy, hasn't done her aspirations of acting any harm at all.

All-in-all The Black Balloon is a great movie which manages to hit all the right notes, never bogs down, and provides a brilliant insight into living with autism. Acting is great, and the first time direction from Elissa Down is impressive. Well worth checking out...

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The Black Balloon has some very funny moments.
The Black Balloon is presented on Blu-Ray at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio which will fill you HDTV and has been encoded with the AVC MPEG-4 codec. According to IMDB the original theatrical release of this film was presented with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but we're not sure if the image has been opened up on the top and bottom, or if the left and right side of the image has been cropped off. We suspect it's the latter, however there weren't any glaringly obvious signs of loss of image.

When Thomas walks down the street in the darkness from the 1:16:15 mark there is some noticeable compression issues in the darkness, and this is true of several scenes throughout this film. It's never horrible, but there are some small niggles here and there making it a less then stellar presentation overall.

Also fairly impressive is the audio which is provided in either a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) or a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Both are pretty impressive however we settled on the DTS-HD track which seemed quite a bit clearer. Surround sound channels are mixed in well and the LFE channel is used sparingly, but kicks in when required.

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Cast of Black Balloon: Gemma Ward, Erik Thomson, Toni Collette, Luke Ford and Rhys Wakefield.
The disc also includes English HOH (Hard of Hearing) subtitles which are accurate to the dialogue, and are placed on the screen and colour coded according to who is talking in the scene.

Sadly there are no extra features on this Blu-Ray disc at all.

The Black Balloon really is a great, often humourous and often heartwarming, Australian film, which highlights the difficulties of raising an autistic child. This Blu-Ray looks and sounds great and we highly recommend this film if the subject matter takes your interest.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Icon Films. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.