127 Hours [Blu-ray]

127 Hours has a reputation of being a difficult film to watch. It’s a well-deserved reputation, since a guy, you know, cuts his own arm off onscreen. Who wants to see that? You do, that’s who. Well, you want to see the movie anyway, and with the magic of Blu-ray you can avoid the unpleasant arm cutting if you're so inclined. It’s not exactly a secret that James Franco, as outdoor adventurer Aron Ralston, cuts his own arm off in 127 Hours. Well, his character cuts his arm off; I’m pretty sure Franco walked away with full use of his limbs. The movie is based on a well-publicized event in 2003 when hiker Ralston got trapped in a Utah canyon with his arm pinned to the wall of a crevice by a boulder that he couldn’t move. After the titular time period and no one aware of his location, Ralston decided it was time to stop drinking his own urine and go to work with a cheap knife on his trapped arm so he could, you know, not die. Sounds like a real feel-good story, doesn’t it?

Actually, though, it is. It’s an amazing story that Franco and director Danny Boyle turn into a tense and exciting movie about the will to live. The whole film, shot by Boyle using handheld HD cameras, rises and falls on Franco’s performance as Ralston. He shows fear, anger, despair, and resilience in equal measure, all without moving away from the rock pinning his arm or having anyone to talk to aside from his camera and himself.

There is really nothing in Franco’s background that makes you think he’s capable of this type of powerhouse performance. Sure, he was Harry Osborne and the stoner from Freaks and Geeks, but this is way beyond that stuff. He lets his whole body sell his performance with each shot as Ralston begins to deteriorate from lack of food and water. Sure, there are the screams of fear and frustration that anyone can do convincingly, but when Ralston points out, to a nonexistent television audience watching the talk show he makes up to pass the time, that he left without telling anyone where he was going and says "...oops,” it’s a perfectly realized shot. Franco than goes beyond by letting his face crumble as the “oops” of so many decisions hits home and leaves him pinned to the wall of a canyon, waiting to die.

Boyle, of Slumdog Millionaire fame, uses every last item in his bag of tricks to turn the story of a guy pinned to a wall into a thriller. It’s amazing that it works. He cheats a bit by having Ralston hallucinate as the lack of food works on him. So a possible drowning in the rain, a nonexistent meeting with his family, his presence at a kegger that’s going on as he sits in the canyon, all of these take the camera away from Ralston's solitude and allow us to refocus when we come back. It’s pretty damn exciting most of the time.

Despite nominations for Best Picture, Actor, and Director, the movie didn’t do so well at the box office. The most likely reason is that word got out that the arm-cutting scene is pretty gruesome. Well, it is. But here is where Blu-ray works for you. You don’t have to watch that scene to get all you want out of the movie. If you let it roll on by at quad speed, you’ll get the gist without getting sick, and you won’t miss out on a tremendous acting/directing feat. Simple.

Some will claim heresy; that you must watch every second or not at all. Screw them. It’s a good movie, and if you can’t stomach an arm amputation with a dull knife, you’re pretty normal, and that shouldn’t disqualify you from seeing one of the better films of 2010. So check it out with your hand on the fast forward button and see James Franco’s best performance. As stated above, 127 Hours really benefits from Blu-ray. First, you get to skip the unpleasantness of the arm cutting without really sacrificing anything. Then, you get the whole thing in beautiful HD. It’s really something to behold the crisp and clear picture, which captures the sharp lines of the Utah canyons and the crevice where Ralston is trapped. It seems like a movie with one location and little movement wouldn’t benefit from such a clear picture, but it makes the film so much better to have the attention to detail you get with HD.

There is a commentary track available. Director/writer Danny Boyle, producer Christian Colson, and writer Simon Beaufoy cover the entire process. Boyle dominates the conversation as expected, but everyone adds to the mix, and while it’s not exactly indispensable information, there is lots of insightful and helpful comments. A commentary with Franco and Boyle would have been the best option, or perhaps bringing the real Aron Ralston on to talk in a separate track would have been a nice bonus. Still, what is provided by the creative crew does the job.

For a movie that lasts just over 90 minutes, the inclusion of 35 minutes of deleted scenes seems a bit puzzling. However, 20 minutes of them comprise an alternate ending. Instead of finishing up with the emotional high of Ralston’s rescue, the original plan was to have a lengthy reuniting of Ralston with family and his ex-girlfriend. I can’t begin to describe how this would have harmed the movie, but it is good to see the scenes that provide some payoff to scenes while Ralston was trapped.

There are two featurettes: “Search and Rescue” and “The Extraordinary View.” The first is about the real-life search for Ralston, which started the day before he cut his arm off and resulted in a helicopter being in the area to pick him up when he stumbled out. It’s amazing when you realize that without some luck, it was likely he would have died even after getting unpinned. The second is a standard “making-of” featurette that provides real insight to the set where they built the crevice and the filming process. Franco and Boyle are open about disagreements on some issues but do the standard back-patting of each other you’d expect.

The final extra is really odd. A short film called God of Love is included even though it has absolutely nothing to do with the film, James Franco, Danny Boyle, Aron Ralston, or anything else related to 127 Hours. I guess it won Best Short Film at this year's Oscars, and it’s pretty cute, but it’s certainly not of the same tone or theme as Boyle’s film. Still, it’s not like you’d ever get to see the Oscar-winning Best Short Film any other way, so why not.

This is a Blu-ray worth picking up. You get the HD film, a digital copy, a good commentary, some decent extras, and the option of making the film slightly more watchable. Check it out.