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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I remember watching the theatrical trailer for Dinosaur a couple of months before its release and being quite impressed. It was a visually impressive combination of live action environments populated by believable computer-generated dinosaurs. The movie looked very cool, but curiously, very little plot was divulged in the trailer. This made me wonder what Disney was going to do for 90 minutes with these dinosaurs.
Then as the release neared, I learned a bit more about the movie that didnít compel me to go see it in the theaters, including the fact that these very carefully designed and realistically rendered dinosaurs talked! I kept wondering, "Why go to the effort of making the visuals so believable, then disrupt the continuity with talking?" As an adult, it sounded like it was going to be a bit too much for me to buy into and enjoy, although I could definitely see the kid appeal of the movie. After all, many kids absolutely love anything about dinosaurs Ė skeletons, drawings, models, cartoons, etc., and this movie does have some pretty cool looking and acting dinosaurs.
After watching the DVD, I must admit that my adult knowledge of dinosaurs and geologic time frames, as well as my expectations of the computer-generated imaging (CGI) dinosaurís behaviors, prevented me from completely buying into the characters. I was however, quite taken by the very believable environments and the well-done raptors and carnotaurs. My objections are primarily centered on the main characters and how they seem a bit out of place in this exquisitely designed world.
While I really do like the visual environment and can appreciate the CGI achievements (the hair on the lemurs is impressive), the story still left me a bit flat. The first time I watched the movie, it felt like Disney knew it had some great technical tools with which to tell a story, but that the story felt rather forced and contrived. I found myself thinking of other Disney movies from which particular plot points seemed to be stolen, like Tarzan and A Bugís Life.
Over the 12 years that it took to produce this film, Iím sure a lot of compromises had to be made in the story department as they tried to solidify their initial concept. Even Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, admits in the Collectorís Edition liner notes, "...story was something we struggled with in equal measure with our technological efforts." All of this was confirmed in the movie commentaries when phrases like, "this scene had to be retrofitted" or "the original concept for this scene was actually..." kept coming up over and over again (more about this later). Unfortunately, the end result is a plot that falls short of enthralling.
The dramatic opening sequence starts with our introduction to a dinosaur embryo inside an iguanadon egg, just before the egg starts its journey from being taken from the nest to the point it is dropped into a jungle from a couple hundred feet from the air. Itís a bit far fetched, and admittedly so by the production team, but it does introduce you to the primeval world in which the story takes place. The egg lands in a tree that is home of a family of lemurs, and they raise the baby dinosaur like one of them, against the objection of the leader.
Once grown, the dinosaur, Aladar, feels out of place in the lemur troop because there is no one like him on Lemur Island. Then, right after the lemurís spring ritual, a huge meteor strikes Earth and destroys their wonderful island. Aladar and only a few of the lemurs survive the disaster, and they start their search for a new place to live. Along their journey, the group encounters a herd of dinosaurs on the way to their nesting grounds, and Aladar realizes that most of the dinosaurs in the herd are just like him! Aladar and the remnants of his adopted lemur family join the herd and befriend the stragglers, and in doing so, Aladar attracts the attention of the sister of the herdís leader. The trip to the nesting grounds is long and dangerous, with a number of encounters with carnotaurs that threaten the lives of many of the herd.
Following the brutal journey (remember, this movie is rated PGÖ), Aladar and the misfits make their way to the nesting grounds using an alternate route thatís safer than the one the herd is trying to take, and Aladar returns to the herd to help them out. However, his challenge to the leadership of the herdís dictator almost costs him his life. Eventually Aladarís suggestion is accepted by the herd after a close call with a carnotaur, and Aladar saves the life of the leaderís sister. In the end, leadership of the herd moves to Aladar as he successfully gets the entire herd to the nesting grounds. Then, like most Disney movies, everyone lives happily ever after, and the circle of life starts over with a nest and an egg.
After 12 years of development and a fairly shaky story, I had hoped that Disney would have enough bonus material to select from. Indeed, the goodies on the collectorís edition donít disappoint. This two-disc set is so packed with stuff that there have been widely publicized notices about the discs not being compatible with some DVD players. Fortunately, they played fine on my older Pioneer DV-525. However, for one reason or another, I have had some minor problems with fast forwarding through the movie.
Disc one is packed with all kinds of audio features including the movie in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, DTS surround audio, a French language track, TheatreVision narration for the visually impaired, an isolated sound effects track and two commentaries! The first is by the directors and effects supervisors, and it comes across as a bit more technical in nature. The second is by the producer and production team, which covers a bit more general development information. Theyíre both worth a listen, and they do help to understand some of the challenges that this team had to overcome to piece this beast together.
Besides the audio goodies, thereís a neat feature called "Film Facts Fossil Dig." This feature allows you to watch the movie, and when some background material is available for a particular scene, an icon appears on screen to indicates that you can branch from the movie to a supplement. There are a total of 14 very cool featurettes, which can also be viewed independently of the movie. There is a "Dinopedia" with some good information about the dinosaurs that appear in the movie, but it isnít terribly in-depth. Finally, there are a couple of games that are interesting for a little while, but have little long-term appeal. All in all, it is an impressive package for one disc!
Disc two also contains at least three hours of goodies that help make the collectorís edition a treat for those of us that like all the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes info on animated features. The full list of features is in the sidebar, and many of them look familiar to owners of other Disney Collectorís Edition DVDs.
The material is broken up into six sections: Development, The Production Process, Creating the Characters, Music and Sound, Abandoned Scenes, and Publicity. Each section has a number of submenus for additional information. For example, the Creating the Characters section is initially broken up into menus for the dinosaurs and the lemurs. Each of these subsections contain content on designing and building the creatures, as well as individual character concept art and 3-D CGI model turn-arounds. Itís a lot of stuff to dig through, but it helped me appreciate the effort that went into this production that I might otherwise have missed.
On top of the listed bonus material, the folks at Disney have included several "Easter eggs" (hidden features in the menu system) that, unlike some other DVDs Iíve seen, are fairly easy to track down. I wonít give away their locations, but here are the ones I found:
The Video, Audio and Interface...
As with most of Disneyís recent feature releases, the video portion of the DVD was created from the original digital files. So, the colors and detail throughout the movie are wonderful, and the video also shines in the darker scenes, like the cave scenes, where maintenance of subtle shades and detail make all of the difference in reproducing an image. Additionally, the movie is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) which has been enhanced for widescreen TVs, and which ought to look absolutely great on a big screen (I just wish I had one!). The supplemental material is also equally pleasing, and its formatting (widescreen or full-frame), varies depending on the source material.
It's difficult to fault a DVD set like this when it's absolutely packed with audio features. As mentioned, on the first disc alone, there are three movie soundtracks, one isolated sound effects track, a TheatreVision soundtrack for the visually impaired, and two commentaries. Everything I tried sounded great on my relatively low-end Dolby Pro Logic audio system, and I didnít come across any obvious problems with any of the audio tracks I tried. Iíd expect this to be a very high-performing audio package on anyoneís audio system.
With regard to the user interface, Disney must be learning something from the Pixar folks. The menu system on Dinosaur is wonderfully animated with abundant musical accompaniment. Both discs start off with a brief scene from the movie that results in the formation of the top-level menu, and it makes for a creative and attractive introduction to the movie material. The menus on Disc 1 are closely themed to scenes in the movie, whereas the menus on Disc 2 are themed like a computer screen showing each of the stages of animation. As for the menu items themselves, the selections are clearly identifiable and easy to use, as they should be.
The Final Evaluation...
Even though Iím still not a huge fan of the story, I found the collectorís edition to be an interesting study in Disneyís first internal foray into a heavily CGI-animated movie. It was an area that they werenít experts in, and the discs help you understand some of the growing pains they experienced in bringing Dinosaur to the screen. It will be interesting to see if Disney ever uses this technology again, but after 12 years of learning, they ought to be at the top of the learning curve!
With the abundant audio features, beautiful visuals and an impressive array of supplemental material, the collectorís edition has a lot going for it besides the movie. If youíre like me, the collector's edition is really the only way to go to appreciate this movie. Without the supplements, I donít think I would have taken a second look at it.
On the other hand, for those of you who are big fans of the movie but not the supplemental stuff, go for the standard edition. Youíll get all of the previously mentioned audio and video advantages without the commentaries or overly detailed supplements. Thereís no need to spend more on stuff youíll never watch, and the standard edition provides a nice alternative.
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