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|Kevin Krock, editor|
|DVD Review - Sparky's Shrek Trek|
Yet again I start my review today with: Coincidence? Or conspiracy?? Two new DVD releases that at first glance have nothing to do with each other - actually do have one big thing in common - studio executive Jeffrey "Sparky" Katzenberg!
Thanks to the almost limitless space available on the DVD format, studios nowadays are rushing to fill discs up not only with stunning looking and sounding transfers of movies, but also with all sorts of bonus material about the making of the film.
When the format made its debut this usually meant that Directors would chatter away for hours on commentary tracks telling us just what they were thinking shot to shot, storyboard artists would get to show off stuff that never made it, and deleted scenes usually relegated to the dustbins of history were now lovingly cataloged or even sometimes put back into the movie in a never ending quest to outdo the last big DVD release from a competing studio.
With the expanded programming canvas DVD offers it comes as no surprise that the list of people involved in making a movie and be showcased on a title can now grow past the usual suspects (directors, composers, editors) all the way out to the executives who greenlight or otherwise administer these projects.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) and Shrek both not only feature interview moments with Jeffrey Katzenberg, but they also sort of end up being a set of bookends to his career. You can see Katzenberg reminiscing about how difficult a project ST:TMP was, then you can watch him sort of bask in the success of Shrek. "Sparky" (his nickname in the past, unless of course you're Michael Eisner, whereupon his nickname was "Midget") gets to finally do this year what Walt Disney pioneered with his television show way back when, he gets to tell the story behind the making of the movies.
Since you, kind reader, have probably seen both of these films, I'll give only the most brief summary of each to start with, then we'll dig into what else is on the discs that you may be interested in.
ST:TMP basically was made when the suits at Paramount saw the huge success of Star Wars and asked the minions "Hey, do we have anything like that around here?" After they were gently reminded they were sitting on the growing rerun popularity of the original Star Trek TV show - they basically co-opted a script and a series return project and made it into a movie instead - launching the franchise yet again.
Plagued with a late start, a set in stone premiere date, and then the failure of one major special effects outfit to do its job (glossed over in the disc's supplemental materials), the movie was never really what everyone had intended it to be. Scenes never got fine tuned, and some special effects shots were never completed. Having released the film, director Robert Wise was told by Paramount he wouldn't get the chance to fix it since it could be seen as a sign of trouble, so as successful as it ultimately ended up being it never quite got the polish he wanted for it.
The new Director's Edition finally allows Wise to complete the film in the manner he had intended - with a bit of editing and tightening of the pacing, plus the completion of several key effects shots, carefully matched to what was already on screen, even down to the film grain.
While the movie is still not one of the best in the series, (though I can still remember one hard core Trekkie in front of me at the Chinese on opening weekend during the ever so long Enterprise fly around scene squealing "it was more beautiful than I ever imagined") the refurbishment helps things a bit. The restoration of the picture and sound bring it up to the current standard for films of this age, the additional bonus materials are all very well put together and add a great deal of value to this remarkable set.
Jumping ahead twenty two years Shrek was this year's biggest hit, a mark most likely to be surpassed by the new Harry Potter movie. An irreverent fairy tale that makes fun of the genre, but in essence is a prime example of it - it takes a contemporary, almost crass approach in telling its story, with lots of appeal not only for kids, but for adults too.
After an opening sequence designed solely with eight year boys in mind, it settles down a bit and becomes a buddy comedy, with the vocal talents of Eddie Murphy taking the center stage. A simple story, with almost sitcom sensibilities, it is a clever assembly of quirky gags and nonsensical jokes with a romantic story at its core. It certainly won't be "a tale as old as time" - its not built that way (the pop culture jokes will fade) - but it will certainly entertain everyone now and for quite a while.
The extras are terrific on both films - as each is a deluxe two disc set, value priced at about what a single disc used to cost only last year.
ST:TMP has the more scholarly set of materials - the crux of which are the three featurettes discussing the before, the making of, and then the work done for the special edition of the film.
All three featurettes are quite fascinating - and in particular hearing the story behind the original return of the TV show, which was used as the basis for the movie, is quite interesting. The featurette discussing the new special effects the weakest of the lot, but it still gives a lot of insight as to how the restoration took place. (Let's hope it was done to film, as the recent Superman film / DVD project was - many restorations only are done to video elements, leaving the negatives still deteriorating in the vaults.)
"Sparky" Katzenberg makes his appearance in the middle "making of" feature - he comes across as quite fond of the picture, and tells of his adventures as the executive given the task of bringing the film in on time for its premiere. (Disney fans may also want to pay close attention to actor Walter Koenig's interviews - because in the background you can see his huge collection of character figures. Fellow MousePlaneteer David Koenig [no relation] interviewed him about this, which you can read about at this LINK.)
What really is a nice bonus is having all the deleted and unused scenes on the disc - in anamorphic widescreen no less! It's a model of what other DVD releases should do in a special edition of the film.
There are two commentaries during the movie, an audio one and a text one. The audio one is standard stuff, and repeats some of the information offered in the featurettes. The text one is more fun - authored by Michael Okuda, a co-author of the Star Trek Encyclopedia - you finally get to learn how all the warp speed stuff works, what the little lights in the elevator mean, and perhaps the most insightful, how many of the original movie's sets have been recycled over and over again for all the subsequent movie and TV spin offs. It can go by really quickly, so be ready to use that remote to scan back a bit to catch it all.
The ST:TMP disc makes the claim that there are 7 plus hours of material to wade through, and in my experience with it that is a pretty valid statement.
On the other hand Shrek's crowing on the package that there is 11 hours of supplemental material on the discs is a bit much - maybe it could take that long if the user were very slow, and that is being kind here. The materials are also split in who they are trying to appeal to - between offering a wealth of games to amuse kids on the first disc of the set (which we won't dwell too much on) and the more informational stuff for the older set on the second disc.
The most fun is what they call the "Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party." It is essentially a short where all the characters in the film get to party (like they do at the end of the movie) and is quite entertaining. For some reason a full frame version is offered on the first disc right on the menu, a widescreen version is hidden on the menu of the second disc (you need to key UP to highlight a musical note on the menu - then select it). There are also fully animated "interviews" with three of the main characters (not four as the package says) which are pretty funny.
Thanks to a cranky DVD-ROM drive on my computer I wasn't able to access any of the computer games or the ReVoice studio feature (which allows you to dub your voice into movie scenes - complete with software that adjusts your recording to their lips), but I will update this review should I be able to get this stuff to work. (Mac users are out of luck here - as with many DVD-ROM offerings the stuff only works on PCs.)
Of the other materials on this disc, the technical goofs are something you may watch once, as well as the Tech of Shrek (if you've seen one of these on any past animated DVD special edition discs - from Disney or DreamWorks - you've now seen them all). The dubbing featurette is boring, I like instead how Disney takes a scene from a film on their discs and just switches around the language tracks to show you how many dubs they have to do. Don't bother with the Easter Eggs on this disc either (selected by choosing the gumdrop buttons on the gingerbread man in the menus) the random "fun facts" you trigger are just text screens with info already on other parts of the disc.
For Disneyland aficionados and "Sparky" Katezenberg watchers the most interesting bit of supplemental material is hidden away in the "Storyboard Pitch of Deleted Scenes" section on the second disc. Select the third one - "Fiona Gets them Lost" and then watch what happens when a runaway mine train car manages to smash through a jewel mine, goes under a talking pirate skull, careens by an abominable snowman, and then whizzes past some very country looking bears. I think it's quite telling that the ONLY reaction shot actually showing "Sparky" laughing away is in this ONE storyboard segment.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Both films look great - but Shrek wins hands down as first rate demo material due to the fact it literally came out of the computer and onto the DVD - so you pretty much get on the screen what the animators saw on their monitors (what with a little MPEG fussing of course). It has a crystal clear, ultra detailed picture.
ST:TMP on the other hand looks a bit bedraggled - why they couldn't clean up some of the dirt on the print with all the other work that has been put into it I will never know. Its a bit grainy, which is typical for a film of this age with the large amount of special effects work it had (the more layers of effects, the more grain, they didn't have computers to do it all back then.) If you have a larger set, this kind of stuff does end up mattering.
Shrek benefits from a state of the art digital soundtrack and a very active surround mix. Your 5.1 system will get a good workout with it.
ST:TMP has been entirely remixed from the ground up for this release For the first time you can hear many sound effects that were done for the original, but left out due to time restraints in getting the movie ready. Jerry Goldsmith's score which already sounded great in the first issue, gets a real expansion sonically here - it is among the finest work he has ever done and is a joy to hear on this new mix. It's too bad he's not fond of music only tracks on DVD.
Both movies have simple menu setups - complimenting the respective film's subject matter quite well.
Shrek has new animation done especially for the menu screens and transitions - although if you leave the starting (main) menus running for any amount of time they can get quite annoying. (By the way, the gingerbread man's laments on the secondary screens are a bit sick in a way, but very amusing. ;) ) The set is packaged in a single disc width keepcase, with a very flimsy tray attached to the spine inside to hold the second disc. (I prefer the second disc tray the Star Wars and Ultimate Mummy DVD editions provide, they seem to be sturdier.)
ST:TMP has a much simple "technical manual" menu design. After some of the more elaborate recent releases that make you wait and wait before they finally show you the options, this comes as a welcome relief. Nothing is more than two or three screens away. The double width keepcase protects each disc nicely, but takes up more room on your shelf than the versions noted above.
The Final Evaluation
Both releases are bargain priced at the moment - they can be had for about $20 to $25. Each has two discs full of material, and state of the art transfers for both video and sound. They are wonderful examples of what a great time it is now with the DVD format for movie lovers. Either would be a great addition to your home library.
And you even get to see "Sparky" Katzenberg then and now on top of all that.
Such a deal.
Disc One (full frame):
Disc Two (widescreen anamorphic):
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