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|Kevin Krock, editor|
June and most of July were quite slow for Disney DVD releases, so let's look at a couple of Disneyís recently released live-action titles.
The first disc brought back a lot of memories, and I still find Blackbeardís Ghost to be a fun and generally enjoyable family movie. Famed actor, Peter Ustinov, stars as the ghost of legendary pirate Blackbeard who is cursed to remain in a small New England town until he performs a good deed. Disney film regular, Dean Jones, plays a local college track coach who is helped by Blackeardís ghost to save the townís historic inn. The early portion of the movie tends to drag a bit, but the track meet and Roulette game in the last half of the movie is worth the wait.
I heard several good reports about the movie on the second disc, Muppet Treasure Island, and since Iím a pretty big Muppet fan, I had high hopes. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. This wacky and offbeat adaptation of Robert Louis Stevensonís classic pirate tale remains true to the Muppet spirit, and the movie is filled with plenty of slapstick, bad puns, big musical numbers, and all your favorite characters Ė even the Swedish Chef makes an appearance.
On the human side, Tim Curry stars as Long John Silver and delivers a perfect balance of charisma and menace for a pirate of Silverís stature. It all adds up to an enjoyable adventure, but even though it is rated G, it does have some violence and may be a bit more appropriate for elementary school-age children than toddlers.
Blackbeardís Ghost is easy to summarize: there is absolutely nothing extra on this disc. Next!
Muppet Treasure Island provides a couple goodies of note. The disc contains an interesting and enjoyable documentary and a full-length commentary by director Brian Henson. The documentary touches on all of the expected topics such as story development and set design, but it also includes a lot of behind-the-scenes shots of the Muppet performers working their magic. There is plenty of interesting stuff to make it well worth watching.
To add to the documentaryís information base, the commentary provides additional tidbits that are not in the documentary. And even though Hensonís delivery is a bit flat, the stories and information are enough to keep your attention.
To put a fun twist on the commentary, every once in a while during the movie, Rizzo and Gonzo break in and show short "Hidden Treasures" video clips that show production footage or interviews that pertain to an upcoming scene. It is a cute idea and works pretty well.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Blackbeardís Ghost was generally disappointing with regards to the video, audio and interface. The video shows every film defect in glaring digital clarity, including dust, scratches, focus, and grain. Iím sure finding a pristine print of this 34-year-old film was tough, but this is one of the more visually distracting transfers Iíve seen from Disney in a while. The audio is not as disturbing, but it is a very simple, clear transfer that sounds a lot more like mono rather than the advertised stereo surround soundtrack. Then, there is the interface, which consists of about three screens, and it lacks any sort of animation or audio. It is simply unimpressive.
For the most part, Muppet Treasure Island, was put together much better than the other disc. The most significant technical shortcoming was the lack of an anamorphic widescreen video transfer. It is clear that this movie was intended for a widescreen presentation, but Disney insists that family home video should be full-screen because fewer people will complain about the black bars. From here on out, every family DVD will be reformatted to fit a TV screen, and deviations from that are decided on a case-by-case basis. This should have been one of those cases.
Moving on, the full-screen video itself is very clean and detailed, and there are very few digital transfer artifacts. The colors throughout the movie are solid, well-saturated, and highlight fine details and shadows pleasingly. Additionally, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack sounds great and should play well on any sound system. The music, voices, and effects are clean, well-balanced, and spread around the soundstage. Finally, the interface features fairly extensive live-action video and audio antics from Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat. The menus are fairly simple, but the addition of the Muppet characters instantly gets you into the mood and mindset for a Muppet movie.
The Final Evaluation
Blackbeardís Ghost was fun to see again, but nothing was apparently done to bring this movie up to the DVD-quality level. This leaves a rather light and enjoyable family movie looking and sounding older than it really needs to. A little additional TLC on Disneyís part could have considerably improved this disc. While not worth buying, the movie is worth watching on one of those family movie nights, so give it a rent next time your local rental outlet is all out of the latest blockbuster children's movie.
While at the rental store, you may also want to also check out Muppet Treasure Island. This disc is well worth the rental, but the lack of an anamorphic widescreen transfer and a little more bonus material puts it just shy of a full buying recommendation. This will make a good addition if you are a big Muppet fan and have an ongoing collection, but for home theater buffs, it falls a bit short.
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