Ron Clark Story (The) (TV)
R1 - America - Echo Bridge/ Marvista
Review written by and copyright: Rob Hunt (26th December 2006).
The Film

I must admit, TV movies are generally something I avoid. Perhaps I am biased by an abundance of negative or "average" reviews; perhaps I simply don't wish to risk a film to see if it's worthwhile (and then be disappointed). Reviewing DVDs helps here, as I get to see films I would probably not have touched otherwise, and whilst some are "average", there are some that rise above and ones I'm glad I've watched. "The Ron Clark Story" is one of these.

It's not a great film by any means, but "The Ron Clark Story" tells a simple tale in a very enjoyable and watchable way. Hollywood star Matthew Perry plays the main character (Ron Clark) - an elementary teacher whose heart and passion is for the children he teaches. He wants to see them achieve their best, and recognises the talents within. Ron is in New York looking for a job when he comes across a position at an elementary school in Harlem. The class is rowdy and troublesome, but Ron wants them anyway. He manages to convince Principal Turner (Ernie Hudson) that he will bring them up to a high level - the highest he can. Where Turner sets the bar low, Ron wants to set it high. Ambitious and impassioned, Ron begins his new job.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "The Ron Clark Story", for me at least, was the fact that it was based in reality - and fairly close to reality too (as observed in the bonus features). Ron Clark is a real person, and this is his story. It's encouraging and challenging in ways, and this comes across through the various emotions Ron displays to the kids. He may not instantly appeal, but his heart is in the right place - and a place that the children can share with. Slowly, over time, he wins their trust, but not without almost calling it off on the way, and releasing his anger at one point. It's good that these bits are shown, whether exaggerated or not; Ron is only human after all, and there's only so much one man can take.

There are some drawbacks to the film, but these aren't distracting from the overall viewing experience. The emotional scenes could have had more impact, although there are times that do make you at least think, even if you've know the points that are going to be presented well. They aren't thrust at you in any patronising way, and if the message is worth hearing once, it's worth hearing again.

The performances in this, whilst not mesmerising, are uniformly wonderful - Perry is likeable and warm, whilst the children do well in their respective roles. Arguably, misbehaving probably doesn't sound too hard, but some of them display well the change from wanting Ron to leave, to being glad he hasn't. Most delighting for me, there were almost no scenes that made me cringe (I'm ignoring the "presidents rap", although I can appreciate the idea behind it - explained better in the Interview with Ron Clark in the extras), and the film doesn't outstay its welcome. A pleasant viewing.

Video

After reviewing two DVDs for Echo Bridge that were DVD-5s, it was nice to find that this disc is a DVD-9. Image is in a ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced and there aren't any particularly annoying faults. The picture is, however, quite soft and lacks some detail - but considering it was intended for television, I'm willing to let this slip by; it's the only 'major' issue I would take up with the transfer. Other than this, the transfer is clear and clean (as it should be) and it's as always pleasing to see Echo Bridge have transferred widescreen presentations both in the correct aspect ratio and with anamorphic enhancement on their DVDs. Certainly something all companies should do as standard, where they can.

Audio

As far as I know, this audio track is a 2.0 Dual Mono track. As a made-for-TV movie it doesn't demand extensive surround depth, and the film itself has few (if any) scenes that would warrant it. The dialogue was clear as was the music, and I found no audio problems - just a track that does everything it needs to do.

Extras

Refreshingly, this DVD comes with some extras, although they aren't anything to write home about. Unfortunately, as I quite enjoyed this film, there are no commentary tracks available - but the most interesting comments (from Ron Clark) are provided for select scenes in some of the features. Below is a review of the (fairly extensive) extras that have been provided. Most of the extras concern the real life Ron Clark, rather than the film per se.

- "Behind the Scenes of The Ron Clark Story" featurette runs for 9 minutes and 25 seconds and contains behind-the-scenes shots combined with interviews with Matthew Perry and Ernie Hudson as well as the younger cast members, the real Ron Clark and the production team. It's clear the kind of passion that the cast and crew feel for the story and their enjoyment of working on the project is clear. It's even more amazing to see the real Ron Clark, as despite his enthusiasm and affection for teaching the children, he can appear to be quite hard to endear to. This feature is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

- Next up is an Interview with Ron Clark (8:04). This interview is very interesting to see the smart way Ron transformed music like Sisqo's "Thong Song" and as a new and innovative way to reach out to the children as well as teaching them simultaneously. He also compares some of the scenes in the film with their real life equivalents, which is also an intriguing watch. This man certainly has the right spirit and attitude. The interview is presented anamorphically in widescreen.

- "Welcome to The Ron Clark Academy" featurette is the longest extra, clocking in at 11 minutes 31 seconds, and is a promotional piece for Ron Clark's school "The Ron Clark Academy" (which opens in Atlanta in September 2007) - incidentally the same building this featurette and the interview with Ron Clark is shot in. The school sounds specialised, and perhaps a dream for some kids, but it does present a new way of teaching and, crucially, a way that relates what the children learn with reality. This is also presented anamorphically - and is an extension (albeit with subject change) of the Interview with Ron Clark.

- "Construction Tour of The Ron Clark Academy" featurette is another promo piece for the school, and explains the design. Once again it's clear that Ron has a clear ambition and passion for what he does, although at times it does seem a little grandiose and pretentious at times. Hopefully it won't be, though. This runs for 5 minutes and 9 seconds and is once again anamorphically presented.

- The last of the 'major' features is "Field Trip: Ron Clark in South Africa" featurette (10:01) and is important to show the effect on the students Ron took with him; an appreciation of a more welcoming and 'warm' society, one with a very close community which has a strong desire to learn. It shows the bonding between different societies, and although this too has the potential for being very pretentious, for the most part I found it avoided it in favour of what was learnt. This, being filmed on handheld cameras, is in fullscreen.

The last features on this disc are quite short and come under the title "2000 Disney's American Teacher Awards Acceptance Speech" - and is exactly what it says it is - Ron Clark winning at the "American Teacher Awards". The first is for the award Outstanding Elementary Education Grades 3-6, lasting 1 minute 50 seconds, and the second, Teacher of the Year runs 2 minutes 59 seconds. He's moved by being awarded these, but has the grace to acknowledge the bigger picture and other people's efforts too. It may be typical stuff, but it's always pleasant to see such respect and community spirit. This too is in fullscreen.

Overall, the extras are a good addition, although they don't really cover the movie much. This has its pros and cons, but I was interested to see the 'real' behind-the-scenes, although more on the film itself wouldn't have gone amiss.

There are a few trailers upon start-up. These are for "The Adventures of Black Stallion: CE" (1:34) and "Angel in the Family" (1:08).

Overall

An above average film that is well worth anyone's time. I'd recommend a purchase if it's your sort of thing and you see it cheap - or perhaps a rent, if it's not something you think you'll want to keep. It is a worthwhile watch, and I found it a very enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes!

The Film: C+ Video: C Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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