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Featured 3D Blu-ray Review: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

August 26th, 2012

The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, 3D Combo Pack

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the latest film from Aardman Animations, a studio that has created many wonderful films like the Wallace & Gromit franchise. However, only one film of theirs, Chicken Run, has reach $100 million domestically while this film barely made more than $30 million theatrically. It made more than $25 million in the U.K. alone, despite that market being five or six times smaller. So is the film "too British" to find an audience here? Or was it a matter of bad marketing? Or were the critics just too kind to the movie?

The Movie

The film begins in London, 1837, at the royal palace. Admiral Collingwood has come in to give Queen Victoria a status report on the state of their navy, which now rules all of the oceans, except for one small part. There are still pirates. ... And Queen Victoria hates pirates.

Meanwhile, aboard the Pirate Captain's Ship, we meet The Pirate Captain and his crew, Pirate With a Scarf, Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate, Pirate with Gout, Albino Pirate, Fish in a Hat, and of course the heart of their crew, Polly, the Big-Boned Parrot. They are celebrating Ham Night, the best part of being a Pirate. However, The Pirate Captain has an announcement. The Pirate King is again holding the annual Pirate of the Year competition, and The Pirate Captain is determined to win it, after losing out the last 21 or so years in a row. He figures he's due for a win.

He does have competition from Peg Leg Hastings, Cutlass Liz, and of course, Black Bellamy. After seeing the the amount of loot those three have brought in, Pirate Captain gives up on his dream, but when the other pirates laugh at him, he's more determined than ever to win. His first eight attempts go poorly, so poorly in fact that he contemplates retiring. The next ship they target is the H.M.S. Beagle, Charles Darwin's ship. He has no gold, but when he sees Polly, he gets excited. For you see, Polly isn't a parrot, but a Dodo, a species thought to be extinct for the last 150 years. He wants to buy Polly to take to London so he can win Scientists of the Year. At first The Captain refuses to sell Polly, but when he hears about the prize money, he's got a plan.

All he has to do is go to London, the home of Queen Victoria, win the science prize, take the prize money, and use that to win Pirate of the year. It can't possibly go wrong.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a very clever and very funny film that has a decidedly British flavor to hits humor. "Pythonesque" is a term that has been used to describe the movie, and it is a very apt term. It has a very silly sense of humor to it; one needs to just see the names of the various pirates to get a sense of that. Any movie with a character named Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate is not your typical kids movie. But this just proves that the best way to make a movie for kids is to make a movie for adults that kids can enjoy. Too many kids movies treat their audience like they are idiots instead of just young and this film avoids that mistake. The film moves at a very brisk pace with the jokes-per-minute very high, and it is not a case of quantity over quality, because most jokes hit their mark. It is also a very smart film, certainly smarter than out cast of characters. There's even a good message there about not putting ambition above your friends.

As for the technical quality, the film's stop-motion animation is incredible. I really wish more movies like this were made, but they so rarely become more than midlevel hits. Most struggle to get that far. There's something about the style I really like, while this film looks better than almost all that have come before it. It certainly gets the water right, which is a particularly hard task for this medium.

There are a couple minor complaints I had. Firstly, Bobo the monkey felt too much like a Gromit clone. I still think the character works, and the use of his flash card communication resulted in some of the funniest jokes in the movie. But even so, it felt like self-plagiarism given Gromit's place at Aardman Animations. Secondly, I was a little annoyed how real historical figures like Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin were treated by the film. However, this is more of a pet peeve than a serious complaint. Don't get me wrong, they are good characters. I especially love Charles Darwin narrating his journal entries, but they are not historically accurate.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include an audio commentary track with the director, Peter Lord; co-director, Jeff Newitt; and editor, Justin Krish. So You Want to Be a Pirate? is an 18-minute short film with instructions on how to be a pirate, hosted by the Pirate Captain, in the format of a late night talk show. Mr. Bobo's Flash Card Challenge is a simple word game. Finally, there are printable DVD-rom pages.

The Blu-ray has most of these extras, but not the game or the printable pages. The Blu-ray does comes with the DVD, so you do get the extras, you just have to use the DVD. It does have a different game, Pirate Disguise Dress-Up, where you see a mixed up pirate for a few seconds and have to recreate it. From Stop to Motion is a 21-minute long making of featurette while Creating the Bath Chase Sequence is an 8-minute making of featurette that focuses on the chase scene. Finally, there are two of Peter Lord's previous short films, Wat's Pig and War Story, which can be watched with optional audio commentary.

There are no extras on the 3D Blu-ray disc itself, but the 3D Blu-ray does come with the DVD and the Blu-ray, so you are not missing anything. But I really would have liked the audio commentary track on the 3D disc itself.

As for the technical presentation, the Blu-ray looks impeccable. The level of detail is so high that there are times you can see finger prints in some of the models. This is one of the interesting touches I like about stop-motion animation. The colors are vivid and the blacks are deep. There are no instances of compression artifacts. The audio is not quite as good. The dialogue is always clear and there is more than enough activity in the surround sound speakers to be a treat. But, it is not quite as active as some other similar films.

The 3D effects are good, but not great. There is good depth to the image with nice separation between foreground and background. We get enough "in your face" shots that it is fun, but not so much that it becomes obnoxious. Overall, the 3D adds enough to the movie to be an asset, but it is not essential, so if you are stuck with 2D, it is still worth checking out.

Finally we get to the prices. The DVD costs $19, while the Blu-ray costs $25. Given the exclusive extras and the excellent audio and video, that's worth the upgrade. However, the 3D Blu-ray also costs just $25, so if you haven't made the leap to 3D yet, but think you might sometime in the future, you might as well buy the 3D now.

The Verdict

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a rousing adventure that is silly enough to entertain kids and adults alike. The DVD has enough extras that it is worth picking up, but the Blu-ray Combo Pack and 3D Combo Pack are by far better deals. The latter is a contender for Pick of the Week.

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