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Kevin Krock, editor
DVD Review
Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Collector's Edition (2 discs)
(2001) | Approx. 95 Minutes | PG | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value
ADVANCED HOME THEATER - Great demo, but oh those previews...
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (1 disc)
(2001) | Approx. 95 Minutes | PG | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value

The Movie

To say the least, Atlantis is a departure from the Disney norm. The combination of a straightforward fantasy adventure and the angular, high- contrast style of comic books may a bit much for fans of the traditional softer, more natural- looking style of animation with copious doses of musical numbers (like my wife). The plot is a rough- and- tumble journey with a lot of explosions, peril, and a bit more racy depiction of the feminine characters than most other Disney heroines or villains. Those, along with a couple of violent moments during the climax of the movie, resulted in the movie receiving a PG rating, so if you have not seen this movie before, you may want to take a look at it before popping it in for your toddlers.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

So, what is the story about? Here is the synopsis from the press kit:

In "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," an inexperienced young adventurer becomes the key to unraveling an ancient mystery when he joins a group of intrepid explorers to find the legendary lost empire. At the center of this action-filled animated adventure is naïve- but- determined museum cartographer / linguistics expert Milo Thatch (voiced by Michael J. Fox, "Spin City"), who dreams of completing the quest begun by his late grandfather, a famous explorer.

When a long lost journal surfaces, providing new clues to the location, and an eccentric billionaire agrees to fund an expedition, the action shifts into high gear. Milo ultimately leads Commander Rourke and his team to the elusive undersea kingdom, but what they find there defies their expectations and triggers an explosive series of events that only Milo can resolve.

While Atlantis will probably not go down in history as a Disney masterpiece of storytelling, I have to admit that I found it more enjoyable and humorous than I had expected. The action keeps things moving along pretty well, and the comedic relief from several of the characters also helps keep the movie moderately interesting for young and old.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

The one factor that I found to complicate the storyline is the large cast of characters. Because of this, some of the characters do not get fully fleshed out before the rapid conclusion of the movie, and it ends up leaving the viewer a bit blasé about the fate of those characters.

As for the animation, I found it to be a pleasant change. The character animation style is similar to that in Tarzan and Hercules, but it is taken to an extreme that may be more of a distraction to some people than to others. Additionally, the movie is very heavy on special effects, and just about every shot in the movie contains both cel and computer- generated animation. Fortunately, unlike a number of recent animated movies from other studios, most of the scenes blend the various animation techniques surprisingly well. Altogether, the bold saturated colors and the wide variety of characters, vehicles, and settings make for an impressive visual presentation. Just be prepared for something different than you might be used to.

The Goodies

As with all of Disney’s recent collector’s edition DVDs, there is a wonderful selection of background information. The first disc alone contains a nice array of items. First, there is an interesting, full- length audio commentary by the production team, which it truly helps you understand where this movie came from. After listening to it and having some additional context, the production team’s efforts seem to make a bit more sense. In addition to the audio commentary, there is a “video commentary” option that plays in concert with the audio commentary. At several points in the movie, you are presented with commented deleted scenes, alternate ideas, and so on, displayed in storyboards or partial animation. It is a fun addition that helps put the bonus material into the context of the movie, rather than the other way around. The last item of interest is the DisneyPedia, which provides a series of short video clips about the facts and fiction of Atlantis.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

On the second disc, you have a choice:

  • Explore Mode – view the bonus material as you explore the bridge of the Ulysses submarine,
  • File Mode – view a simple list of all of the material on the disc, or
  • Tour Mode – watch the interviews, rough animation, and other video- based goodies as a single documentary that runs about two hours.

One cool thing about the documentary is that much of it is presented in anamorphic widescreen rather than the typical full-screen format.

If you are pressed for time or not interested in poking around to find a certain clip, the Tour Mode presents a slick and comprehensive way to view much of the material on the disc, but it bypasses all of the still frame galleries. The File and Explore modes are the only way to access the numerous art galleries, storyboard reconstructions, and 3D models. As for the material itself, the best nuggets beyond the two hour Tour Mode documentary are the a few other abandoned sequences and the abundant 3D model turn- arounds, including digital extras, vehicles, and creatures. For those of us that crave the behind- the- scenes scoop, there is plenty here to satisfy.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

The standard edition DVD is no slouch, though. Equipped with the audio commentary, the Viking Prologue deleted scene, the DisneyPedia, and a couple of the 3D model tours, there is plenty for those more interested in the movie than the behind the scenes. If you are not a big fan of collector’s editions but you enjoyed the movie, the standard edition should keep you in good stead.

The Video, Audio and Interface

Simply put, the video and audio on both editions of this DVD are top- notch. The video is presented in amazingly crisp, clean, THX-certified, digital- to- digital anamorphic widescreen, and on the standard edition you also get a pan- and- scan version. The highly saturated color scenes, as well as the darker cave and submarine scenes, are wonderfully presented with impressive detail. Likewise, the audio simply sucks you into the movie. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has abundant surround and panning effects, and the dialog is clear and nicely staged. The musical soundtrack is also a pleasure to listen to. In addition to the Dolby Digital soundtrack on the collector’s edition, a DTS 5.1 soundtrack is available for those with DTS decoders, and I imagine it too sounds equally good.

Disney has been doing a fantastic job at providing user interfaces that draw you into the disc and get you in the mood even before you watch the movie, and Atlantis is no exception. On the movie disc for both editions, there is a nice opening animation that develops into the main menus, and just about every menu screen features some sort of animation and music from the movie. Both DVD versions provide fun and enveloping interfaces that should please just about everyone.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

In addition to the movie discs, Disc 2 of the collector’s edition provides you with the three ways you can experience the bonus material that I mentioned in the Goodies section. The Tour Mode, by definition, is minimally interactive since the focus is on presenting the goodies for you. The Explore Mode is interesting but not terribly groundbreaking, and I found it to be quite similar in style to other recent Disney DVD titles, such as Tron. When I read about this mode, I was hoping that the menus were going to be spread throughout the Ulysses, with cool 3D animation linking them together, but it turns out that all the menus are presented on the ship’s bridge.

Finally, the File Mode is purely utilitarian, but it allows direct access to all of the features without having to drill down through a series of menus. As an advanced DVD user, I found this last mode pretty handy and would like to see it as an option on more releases. I love perusing the animated menus, but sometimes I just want to find one particular clip or gallery without spending a bunch of time skipping through menus trying to find which menu the producers decided to put it.

Overall, this is probably one of the best user interface experiences that I’ve seen, and I hope to see it in future Disney releases.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

The Advanced Home Theater

I have to agree with Kevin on this one, the movie is no great shakes. But the collector's edition is lots of fun - and again Disney does a great job in the transfer and presentation, enough so that it is quite a demo piece for anyone's home theater, especially the well equipped one.

The color in this transfer is rock solid, and the picture is free of artifacts - typical of a direct to digital conversion of the original elements. In some scenes you can almost gage the depth, the details are so clear, all this is really great when you have a big screen. One very nice touch (already mentioned) is the presentation of the vast majority of the extras in anamorphic widescreen. If you have one of the new 16x9 sets this is a real plus - there's no more annoying switching between screen modes as the various materials are shown on screen. More studios should follow this lead.

For sound, both the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks are equally impressive - and playback in ES / EX (6.1 channel mode, instead of 5.1) helps lock down the rear soundstage even more. There is plenty of low end to rattle your floors with, especially if you have a good sized subwoofer. (I am always impressed at how what is basically a silent animated film literally has to have entire sonic environments built for it.) One could always hope for a bit more aggressive surrounds with the Disney movies - but there is no ignoring them on this disc like some productions / directors do.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

I do have two complaints, and they are substantial. One is that Disney does not include the full frame edition in the more expensive collector's set, unlike some of the other studios do, such as Universal (Ultimate Mummy) and Dreamworks (Shrek) - or even Disney did in the past (with A Bug's Life). You get it only in the lower priced single version (as they did with Toy Story 2), but if you're paying extra for the bigger set, it really should be on the second disc as a bonus. There are many times, for example, when you may want to play the full frame if the screen isn't big enough, or the kids just want to keep the full frame disc in the player all day.

The second complaint is the automatic play of previews - this is always annoying no matter what the title is, but to force them on you in the higher priced collector's editions (even if you can skip them with a menu button push) is a bit of a slap in the face to the upper scale demographic that purchases these titles. (It's bad enough we have to endure some of the longest FBI and warning screens on the market as the disc ramps up - it's a real annoyance to sit through plugs for the dreadful made- for- video sequels they now keep pumping out of all their most classic properties.) No other studio abuses their DVD customers at the levels Disney does in this matter.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

In the documentary on the second disc, one of the filmmakers lets us know they had made T-shirts up for this movie that said "Disney's Atlantis - Less Songs, More Explosions." While I now understand where they coming from with this (basically everyone involved were big fans of all the old Disney action pictures, like 20,000 Leagues and Swiss Family) it made me wonder if maybe in this case imitation wasn't necessarily the most sincere form of flattery. What they probably needed to do was something even more radically different with this movie, rather than just salute / revisit all the old clichés. That may be the core reason I only saw this one in the theaters once, and didn't go back for another helping, unlike some of the past Disney animated films.

But as a DVD collector's set the final result is still quite watchable in parts, and it does make a great home theater demo disc. The one thing Disney should be applauded for (yet again) is the technical quality and care they take in producing these special editions.

- Al Lutz

The Final Evaluation

For a movie that got a pretty bad rap before and during its theatrical release, I actually found it to be a rather fun fantasy- adventure movie. The animation is impressive, and the combination of CGI and traditional animation is much better than I have seen in the past. Yes, it has its occasional moments, highly stylized character designs, and story flaws, but maybe the extensive background information and commentary on the DVD helped put the movie in a better context than the movie presents by itself.

Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved
Promotional art © Disney Enterprises, All rights reserved

Regardless, if you enjoyed the movie, you will want to get one of the DVD versions. Both of them provide a wonderful home video presentation, and the only decision that you need to make is how much bonus material you want or need. I am partial to the collector’s editions, and would like to encourage Disney to continue producing these high quality sets.

Promotional art © Disney
Promotional art © Disney

COLLECTOR'S EDITION DVD FEATURES

Goodies

Disc One:

  • Audio Commentary – Producer Don Hahn and Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
  • Visual Commentary – Producer Don Hahn and Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise Take Viewers Behind the Film During Key Scenes to Show How the Film Was Made
  • DisneyPedia – Fact of Fiction of Atlantis

Disc Two:

  • Multiple Platform Navigation System (3-D Menus)
    - Explore Mode: Tour the 3-D Environment of the Ulysses Submarine and Select Menu Options
    - Tour Mode: Enjoy All the Bonus Features as One Continuous program
    - Files Mode: Lists All Features In Sequential Order
  • Many Features Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen Format
  • Deleted Scene: Viking Prologue
  • How To Speak Atlantean
  • Virtual Tour of CG Models – Ulysses and Leviathan
  • Whitmore Industries Industrial Film
  • History
  • Story & Editorial
  • Abandoned Sequences
  • Art Direction
  • Character Designs
  • Music and Sound Designs
  • Animation Production

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 Encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • English (DTS 5.1)
  • French (Dolby Digital 2.0)
  • 19 chapters
  • THX certified
  • English subtitles
  • Anamorphic Widescreen – 2.35:1
STANDARD EDITION
DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Audio Commentary – Producer Don Hahn and Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
  • Deleted Scene: Viking Prologue
  • How To Speak Atlantean
  • DisneyPedia
  • Virtual Tour of CG Models – Ulysses and Leviathan

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 Encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • 19 chapters
  • THX certified
  • English subtitles
  • Anamorphic Widescreen – 2.35:1
  • Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1
FILM INFORMATION

Stars:

Michael J. Fox - Milo Thatch

Cree Summer – Princess Kida

James Garner – Commander Lyle T. Rourke

Claudia Christian – Helga Sinclair

Don Novello – Vincenzo Santorini

Florence Stanley – Wilhelmina Packard

John Mahoney – Preston Whitmore

Jim Varney – Cookie

Phil Morris – Dr. Joshua Sweet

Jacqueline Obradors – Audrey Ramirez

Corey Burton – Gaetan Moliere

Kashekim Nedakh – Leonard Nimoy

Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Producers: Don Hahn, Kendra Halland

Art Director: Dave Goetz

Production and Character Design: Mike Mignola

Linguist: Marc Okraud

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