Rider sets standard for indie DVD releases

Whale Rider is a story of female empowerment for once without shameless catchphrases (à la Spice Girls) and pathetic prepubescent issues (i.e. high school crushes). The film dives into the culture of the Maori people, who first populated the area that later became New Zealand. It plays like a history lesson turned into a gratifying 105-minute journey of personal struggle.

As the movie opens, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis) watches his wife give birth to fraternal twins, a girl and a boy. Complications arise shortly after, claiming the lives of the mother and her newborn son. Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) survives and is viewed with disdain by her traditionalist grandfather, Koro, who sees her gender as a flaw.

Koro strongly believes in the ancient Maori folklore, which states only the eldest male of the leading family, which happens to be Koro’s family, can become tribal leader. When Porourangi leaves to pursue a career as an artist, no male is left to lead the family. Koro shafts Pai as he begins to educate the local boys on the way of the Maori. Pai’s sheer determination leads her to eavesdropping on the lessons, but despite all her efforts, she’s unable to overcome Koro’s rejection.

The newly released DVD takes fans of the film further than just the storyline by giving them an inside look at “The Making of Whale Rider,” which deconstructs the film’s central images.

For an independent film that astounded most (especially since Castle-Hughes pulled in a Best Actress Oscar nomination at the age of 13), the disc comes beautifully equipped with extras.

The DVD is packed with eight deleted scenes, mostly involving Pai, her father and grandfather. Four of the scenes are decent, offering something more than just settings and back story. But these hit the cutting room floor due to time constraints.

“Behind the Scenes of Whale Rider” is a standard look at the elements that went into the making of the film. The segment boasts fun interviews with all the movie’s main characters.

At first glance, Whale Rider: The Soundtrack seems like an obvious ploy to get consumers to purchase the dreamy score, but the five compositions are crystal clear and a nice supplement that more releases should include. The typical promotional material wraps up the disc with a theatrical trailer, five TV spots and a photo gallery.

The commentary, however, is nothing viewers haven’t heard before: director Niki Caro talks audiences through the film offering interesting insights and some unnecessary filler.

Rider is a movie with heart and a theme that centers on beating impossible odds.