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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Review by Lisa Perkis, contributing writer
If the above paragraph makes any sense to you, you are either a boy between the ages of 7 to 12, or a Legomanic of any age. Lego and Miramax films released the direct-to-video Bionicle: Mask of Light on September 16 to videotape and DVDand believe it or not, thousands of Bionicle fans are very excited to see the first film release.
The Lego Company's Bioniclea combination of the words biological and chronicleis the biggest toy franchise for boys. It started as an interactive Web site and comic book line in 2000 and expanded into action figures, video games, a Nike shoe line and many independent fan sites. By August 2001, the toy line was outselling every other action figure on the market, and was recognized with two Toy of the Year awards: Most Innovative Toy and Best Toy of the Year by the American Toy association.
Miramax Films partnered with the Lego Company to produce Bionicle: Mask of Light, and even the Disney Company is in the act, with Buena Vista Home Entertainment marketing and distributing the film This movie is nothing like a Disney direct-to-DVD production, however. The production values, storyline, and fan base make it a unique release.
Bionicle: Mask of Light is a CGI animated film, which, for non-computer animation buffs, stands for Computer Generated Imaging. The animators dissected Bionicle toy parts in order to make the characters true to the original comic books and toy characters. One of the changes they made from the original characters was the addition of hands so the characters could be more expressive onscreen. Dozens of animators and artists worked on the film, and the result is a rich, visually interesting movie.
The storyline of Bionicle is rather complex for someone not familiar with the background or characters from the toys or comic books, but the film does a pretty good job of introducing them. In the time before time, the great spirit Mata Nui brought the Matoran tribes to inhabit his island paradise. His brother Makuta grew jealous of what his brother had created and cast a spell over him to cause Mata Nui to fall into a deep sleep. Makuta's power soon dominated the land, yet all hope was not lost. Legends spoke of six mighty heroes, the Toa, who would arrive to save Mata Nui from Makuta.
Unlike a Disney story, which usually focuses on one hero or heroine, the Bionicle story has six heroes, called the Toa, which have power drawn from different elements (Gali, the Toa of Water; Kopaka, the Toa of Ice; Lewa, the Toa of Air; Onua, the Toa of Earth; Pohatu, the Toa of Stone; and Tahu, the Toa of Fire). The film introduces the Toa and explains how they work together to defeat the villain Makuta. The names of the characters and the lush island setting of Mata Nui are very reminiscent of Polynesian myths and tales.
Lego has hit on a gold mine with the Bionicle franchiseit's difficult to capture the interest of 7 to 11-year-old boys, but with the fan base Lego already acquired through the games and toys, this movie should do very well.
The film carries a positive message of loyalty and friendship without a lot of graphic violence. There are definitely scenes of excitement and peril and of course a menacing bad guy, but nothing too intense for most children. At one point in the story one of the characters appears to die but is brought back at the end of the film.
I was curious to see my daughters' reactions to the film since they don't have any familiarity with Bionicle toys or story, and are not the target audience. Surprisingly, the 6-year-old was very enthusiastic and spent a lot of time cruising the extras on the DVD to learn more about the characters. The 9-year-old was a little cooler in her reaction, stating, that would never happen in real life. As this was the same girl who was so enthusiastic about Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis switching bodies in Freaky Friday, I explained that Bionicles was a fairy tale or fable, a story to teach positive ideas about courage, loyalty and unity. She tried watching it again and on the second viewing had a much more favorable response. Now she's asking for the constructible action figures.
I enjoyed the film a lot more than I anticipated. It was an interesting, well done story with sympathetic characters and an uplifting message. I wouldn't mind sitting through it several times on the couch with my children--and that's high praise considering I avoid most direct to video productions.
The DVD: The Goodies
Review by Kevin Krock
My boys are not yet old enough to be hooked by Bionicle, so I have to admit that I, too, was new to the rather extensive background story behind Bionicle. When I first read about the Bionicle: Mask of Light DVD, I was a bit skeptical about not only the movie but also the disc presentation. After a little indoctrination from the disc bonus material, I agree with Lisa's assessment of the movie, and the goodies end up playing a rather critical role in helping parents and neophytes understand the world of Bionicle.
The first time I watched the movie, I was also being distracted by a number of other activities around our house, and I found myself completely lost. Characters and locations just did not make any sense to me, and it was clear that your attention is necessary to follow the movie. I then took the time to browse through the Mata Nui Explorer, which does a nice job of introducing the island of Mata Nui, each of the Toa (the heroes), and several of the other key characters in the story. It takes about 15 minutes to explore, but if you want to understand either the movie or what your children are talking about, it is well worth the time.
There is also a short making-of documentary, which does an adequate job of filling in some of the behind-the-scenes development work that went into the movie. It features several interviews with artists, producers, directors, and voice actors, and it also has video from story and design meetings. It does not go into the normal depth that I like to see in a making-of, but in combination with the other bonus material, it is a good place to start.
The next step to gaining a better understanding behind this unique story and world is to listen to the full-length commentary from the two directors, David Molina and Terry Shakespeare. It is interesting to listen to, and it seems like the directors are making an attempt to target their commentary towards the target audience more than parents. However, there is plenty of information and stories to keep parents watching and listening.
As an unfamiliar viewer, I found it interesting to both listen to the commentary and turn on the Wall of History mode, which uses a subtitle channel to put pertinent Bionicle historical information on the screen. It is almost information overload, but I really helped me understand what was going on in the movie.
Finally, there are a few other items that are very nice additions that should be on any DVD. First, there is a series of deleted scenes, which feature an optional filmmaker commentary, and it is nice to be able to listen to the director describe why a particular scene was cut. The disc also includes two trailers and a storyboard-to-film comparison, and while brief, they are perfect compliments to the rest of the material. Finally, there is a sneak peek into the next Bionicle storyline, which is less than a minute long and only confirms what is revealed at the end of the movie. All in all, there is much more bonus material than I expected, and it is encouraging to see all this material on a standard DVD edition.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
Simply stated, the audio and video transfers on this disc are wonderful. The video is crisp, clean, and detailed, and the colors are stunningly balanced. The abundant saturated reds, blues, and greens look great, and the subtle surface textures of the characters and environment shine with the high level of detail. Additionally, the video transfer is done in anamorphic widescreen, and it should look very nice on any home theater system.
The audio transfer is equally impressive. The disc contains both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks, and given the active surround effects, those of you with DTS decoding systems will be especially pleased. The Dolby Digital track is clean and nicely balanced, and the aforementioned abundant surround and directional audio effects work well with the vibrant visuals.
As for the user interface, it is well themed, clearly laid out, and features animated menus and transitions. It is on par with most of Disney's recent DVDs, and it does a good job of getting you into the Bionicle world before you even get to the movie. It truly helps round out the technical features of this disc and enhance the viewer's experience.
The Final Evaluation
Bionicle fans should be very pleased with both the movie and the DVD. It is a nice extension of the storyline, and the look and feel of the movie should be close to those you or your children have dreamed up with the toys. Along with a beautiful video transfer and active Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks, the movie is action packed and successfully maintains a decent plot and pace throughout the move. Top those off with an ample amount of bonus material for both parents and young Bionicle lovers, and you have a pretty solid DVD. So, if Bionicles have invaded your house, this disc is worth adding to your video collection. Next Fall, we will see if Lego and Miramax can pull if off again.
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