Spellbound

2002

Comedy / Documentary / Thriller

3
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 97%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 83%
IMDb Rating 7.6 10 11965

Synopsis


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April 03, 2021 at 02:11 PM

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890.53 MB
968*720
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 37 min
P/S 4 / 2
1.61 GB
1440*1072
English 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
1 hr 37 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by FilmOtaku 9 / 10

A surprisingly suspenseful and compelling documentary

When one says that they are excited to see a documentary on the 8th graders' National Spelling Bee, that person is met with a look and an `Oooookaaaay….' I was on the receiving end of these looks for the last two years when I wanted to see `Spellbound', Jeffrey Blitz's 2002 documentary about the `spelling elite'. I finally got my wish recently and was thrilled that it met (and exceeded) my high expectations for the film.

For `Spellbound', Blitz traveled around the United States and chose eight competitors, aged 11-14, to profile before the eventual climax of the actual spelling bee. We see the home lives of the eight students, who range from poverty to upper middle class affluence, single parent families, and two-parent homes. There are even Archie and Edith Bunker reincarnated as the parents of one girl, and another girl whose parents, though having lived in the United States for over twenty years, don't speak English. Though these students come from fairly different backgrounds, they seem to be treated slightly different because of their intelligence, and therefore descend upon Washington D.C. for the Spelling Bee with a commonality.

`Spellbound' is Jeffrey Blitz's first film and he already exhibits a masterful eye for the documentary genre. Though the profiles are fairly routine, the second half of the film, the Spelling Bee itself, is so compelling that I felt the same effect as your average suspense film. The viewer is naturally led to pick a `favorite', though not guided to any specific child. My `favorite' was knocked out fairly early and I truly felt something. There is nothing fancy about the camera work, there are no stark white backgrounds or a Phillip Glass score, or a reactionary topic. What I felt while watching this film was that I was sitting among the audience and letting the camera be my guide – one of the most important elements of a good documentary film.

Whether you think the subject matter isn't worthy of an hour and a half treatment, or didn't notice it in the year of `Bowling for Columbine' (which beat `Spellbound' to win the Best Documentary Oscar for 2003) I would recommend picking up this film. It's heart breaking at times, but mostly, inspirational because some of these kids have more maturity in one arm than a lot of adults I know, and their grace under pressure is both awe-inspiring and something to aspire to.

--Shelly

Reviewed by paul2001sw-1 8 / 10

Wizard film, weird country

In one sense, the U.S. National Spelling Bee is a strange thing, a freakish competition for freaks to take part in, and designed to make them only more freakish. You don't have to understand the words to win, you merely have to spell them, and the winner would seem to have proved little else than their willingness to work hard for no social benefit, and their ability to withstand extreme pressure. Make no mistake, the kids featured in this documentary are bright and talented, but one can't help but wonder whether such ruthless competition, or the attitude that they are in some sense a "gifted" elite, is really good for society or for the individuals themselves.

But it's not the competition that makes 'Spellbound', a documentary about 1999's contest, so gripping (we follow eight of the 249 finalists, but the film is sympathetic to them all, and does not encourage us to set one against the rest). Rather, this comes from the way the 'Spellbound' reminds us what a diverse country America is: ethnically, socially, physically. These kids come from all over, and while on one hand we see a very unusual slice of American life in this film, it's nonetheless a surprisingly broad one. Some of the contrasts are obvious: a family of Indian descent say that in America, if you work hard, you will succeed; but we also meet a family of Mexican descent (who consider that they have worked hard and succeeded, but who have little compared with the Indians), and a black family in a grim district of Washington (arguably failing to thrive after several hundred years). Yet in spite of their differences, their children are all (give or take the final few words) as good as each other (at least when it comes to spelling). Today, social mobility in America is lower than in Europe; but the old American dream, it seems, lives on in the spelling bee. And although the extreme preparation of most competitors appears to place a ludicrously inflated value on the work ethic, and though some (though not all) of the parents are frighteningly pushy, there's also something quite sweet, in this age of guns and violence, in such a fierce competition fought only with words.

'Spellbound' is filmed without tricks, or any special artiness, but nonetheless offers an unexpected insight into contemporary American society. But please let us not copy them and bring the bee back here!

Reviewed by flickershows 8 / 10

The Thrill Of The Bee

NOTE TO SELF: No typos allowed in this review!

I was an excellent speller in school. I thought I was still pretty good now...until the pre-teen dynamos in 'Spellbound' left me in the dust. As 'Bowling For Columbine's chief competition for the 2002 Best Documentary Oscar, this modest gem about 8 contenders for the '99 National Spelling Bee is thrilling. Read that sentence again. A documentary about spelling is thrilling. Wow! How? Is it gripping to see a kid standing in front of a microphone, desperately trying to figure out how to spell words that most of us can't even pronounce? You bet it is. Who needs guns and explosions? THIS is tension.

When one of the girls crumbles and misspells a word, my heart sank. Really, how can you not root for all of these kids? Each entrant in the competition is a super-smart youngster, and it's not cheesy to say they're all winners for having gotten to the National Bee in the first place. Director Jeffrey Blitz can't focus on all of the spellers, so he chooses to highlight 5 girls and 3 boys. We see them at home as they & their families give us the low-down on what makes these brainiacs tick. Then it's off to the Bee, where it's high drama as errors are made and the field is whittled down, one by one.

I was cheering for all of Blitz's star spellers, but Harry Altman was my favourite. He's a hyperactive weirdo and I liked him immediately. Harry is the stand-out oddball in a group of diligent, nerdy types who share the stage. As engaging as he is, it's wonderful that this contest allows for quiet, shy, so-called geeks to be stars. This is the Super Bowl for scholars and it showcases kids from all backgrounds. Plus, there are about as many girls as there are boys. Truly, if you're a great speller, that's good enough.

'Spellbound' is the rare documentary that's more entertaining than it is informative. The kids reveal a great deal about themselves in the interviews, but the film is always building to the climactic moment when one of the last two children makes a mistake and the other wins the crown. You might be surprised by the result, although you shouldn't be. It's almost a 'Hoosiers' moment when the winning speller clinches the title. Every single kid in this movie is a better speller than anybody I know. If they want a job, I could use a proof-reader...even if that proof-reader is a lot smarter than me.

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