Growing up my father had a pretty decent record collection and while it was dominated by Jazz music there was also a disc or two with Ray Charles. Growing up with the music it has always held a place in my heart however it was his very short role in The Blues Brothers (coming to Blu-Ray in the next six months if rumours are to be believed) the cemented me as a fan of his and had me in recent years reliving his music. It was amazing to hear then that financing the movie of his life was a decade long exercise, but when that fell in place, and Jamie Foxx took the starring role things just clicked. The film won two Academy Awards, and was nominated for four others.
Ray chronicles a four-decade period of Ray Charles' life, beginning with and occasionally flashing back to his impoverished childhood in Georgia in the 1930s. During this time two traumatic incidents occur that would forever affect his life; at the age of five he watches his younger brother drown, and by the time he is seven, he has become blind. A great inspiration is his mother, Aretha (Sharon Warren) whose determination not to allow her son's blindness to make him "a cripple" teaches him to be independent in the world of darkness he would inhabit for the rest of his life. Ray encapsulates the man's life up to this period – a life that is certainly not without its drama, but perhaps even more significant is the music.
Of course a movie about a musicians life is certain to feature his or her songs and Ray is no exception with around twenty of his most popular songs featured including "Mess Around", "Georgia on My Mind", "Unchain My Heart", and of course "Hit the Road Jack" to name a few.
If there's any criticism of the movie it's that the script bogs down at times and skips some information. Indeed the flashback sequences, to me, added little to the storyline - perhaps though it really did affect Ray Charles over his life as portrayed. What is interesting though is that in the film Ray stands back as his brother drowns in the wash tub. In real life Ray - who was only around five at the time - tried to pull his brother out of the tub unsuccessfully. To me that would have been much more powerful than having him just stand there in shock. Also disappointing is that the movie never really covers Ray's womanizing ways - he had twelve children to almost as many women! Still, these are minor niggles in an otherwise fantastic story.
One disappointment for me in this Blu-Ray release is that Universal have only included the 152 minute theatrical version of the film, and not the extended version which appeared on DVD a few years ago. Surely they could have included that version as well given the Blu-Ray's capacity levels.
While the script misses the mark occasionally there is no denying that Jamie Foxx truly becomes the legendary Ray Charles. On that performance alone, and of course the brilliant music, Ray is one film when everyone who has the slightest interest in the legendary performer should check out - although some aspects of his life may surprise many. A superb film.
Ray is presented on Blu-Ray in the standard 1920 x 1080p resolution with the film encoded at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The transfer has a clean, natural look to it, with some excellent fine detail and a natural level of film grain.
If there is one minor niggle, and this is a complaint about the film itself rather than the transfer, it's that on a few occasions the filmmakers have used "stock" footage which is certainly of a lower quality then newly recorded images.
Other Audio tracks on this disc include a Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish DTS 5.1 track encoded at 768kbps, while Portuguese, Spanish (Latino), Russian tracks encoded with Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448kbps are also included. Finally we have a Descriptive Video Service which is encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192kbps.
Introduction by Director Taylor Hackford (1:34): A very short introduction from the director of the movie introducing you to the extras on the disc.
Audio Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford: There is no doubt that the director loves the subject matter and he has plenty of details about the story, the filming and all manner of related topics.
Deleted Scenes (27:36): With optional directors commentary we have fourteen deleted scenes presented here. Given the film runs for over 2 1/2 hours already it's understandable why these were cut for time/pace but there's still some good stuff here however the Standard Definition presentation disappoints.
Stepping Into The Part (10:40): Jamie Foxx talks about his experiences with Ray Charles, including meeting the musical legend, and how Jamie already knew how to play the piano. This short featurette then looks at how Jamie became Ray Charles including being blinded with prosthetics for over 12 hours a day.
Ray Remembered (4:03): A nice little montage with the filmmakers and other musicians remembering the great Ray Charles, who passed away in June 2004, only four months before the film was released in American theatres.
The Women of Ray (9:55): This featurette looks at the number of women in Ray Charles' life from his mother to his many girlfriends, and wife and includes interviews with the actresses playing the parts.
The Filmmakers' Journey (9:22): This featurette looks at the struggles to get the funding to make the film, but then the complicated development and scripting process.
A Look Inside Ray (3:20): Almost a teaser trailer for the film with clips from the director, Jamie and Ray talking about production.
Theatrical Trailer (2:42): The Theatrical Trailer for the film which is well put together, although, like all extras here, is only presented in SD.
Review By: Dave Warner