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Featured DVD Review: Up

November 12th, 2009

And the Oscar goes to...

I'm not kidding. If this movie doesn't win many, many Oscars, it will be a crime.

The film tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, whom we first meet as a kid in a movie theater watching a newsreel about his hero, adventurist Charles Muntz. Shortly after leaving the theater he meets fellow adventure enthusiast Ellie and it's love at first sight. They marry and have a life together always dreaming of going on an adventure to Paradise Falls, but life always seems to have other plans. When Carl finally decides it is now or never, Ellie falls ill and passes away. Blaming himself for stopping Ellie from having the adventure she desired, he shuts himself away from life in the house he shared with Ellie for all those years. But when an incident results in him being forced from his home, he instead decides to finally have that adventure and uses his years of experience as a balloon salesman to floats his house away to South America and Paradise Falls. It's just him and the home he shared with his late wife. Well him and Russel, the overactive Wilderness Explorer that accidentally hitched a ride ... snd Kevin, the giant elusive bird they find in South America. And Dug, the talking dog. It might not be the adventure he planned, but it is certainly an adventure.

I watch a lot of movies as part of my job. I would say that so far this year I've watched about 200, in fact, including four winners from last year's Oscars. This is the best movie I've seen all year, and I doubt I'm alone in making that assessment, as it has the best reviews for any wide release of the year. Early in the film there is a montage called "Married Life" that depicts Carl and Ellie's life together. This four-minute segment has more emotional impact that most movies have throughout their entire running time. The film also mixes adventure and comedy into the drama with near perfect precision and there are incredible chase scenes through the South American landscape, as well as humor that ranges from rather broad to deeply character driven. There's something odd about the film; actually there are a lot of odd things about the movie from the septuagenarian lead to the chipmunk-voiced Doberman named Alpha. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, this could have been a disaster. As it is, this could very well be Pixar's best movie to date, and that's saying a lot.

Up is hitting the home market in three versions: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc DVD, and Four-Disc Blu-ray. I only have the last version, but I think I can figure out what each version has in terms of extras using the little known research tool sometimes referred to by movie critics as, "reading the Press Release they sent me."

The Single-Disc DVD has an audio commentary track with the two writer / directors: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. The pair provide a ton of information and bounce ideas off each other in this energetic track. There are two short animated films, the first being Partly Cloudy, which is about where babies come from. Apparently they are made by clouds and carried by storks. This short tells the story of a particular cloud that only seems to be able to make babies that bite, poke, hit, etc., much to the dismay of the stork that has to carry them all to earth. Dug's Special Mission tells the story of Dug, and how he was given a "special mission" to catch Kevin. Very funny and meshes nicely with his introduction in the movie. Adventure is Out There is a 22-minute featurette about the trip to South America the Pixar team took in order to do research for the movie. Working for Pixar must be an awesome job... assuming you like to travel. Finally there's The Many Endings of Charles Muntz, a five-minute featurette on all of the ways they killed off Muntz. They way they choose to kill him off works the best, and it is one of the most common ways for Disney villains to die, if not the most common. Given its price, this is not a bad selection of extras, but I think this one is aimed more at renters than those who want to buy the movie.

The Two-Disc DVD has all of those extras, plus a digital copy of the movie. It costs $4 more, which is typical with this type of release.

The Four-Disc Blu-ray has all of the above extras, including the digital disc, but a couple of new features on the main disc, and a second disc with even more extras. The primary new feature is the Cinexplore track, which is basically a beefed up audio commentary track with picture-in-picture clips, concept art, storyboards, various levels of animation, etc. I have loved almost all of the Cinexplore tracks I've seen, and this one is no exception. There is also an Easter Egg called The Egg, which is a two-minute featurette on a part of the movie that was trimmed from the final product, but for which they still did quite a bit of research.

Disc two has a series of featurettes found under Documentaries on various subjects, mostly on the individual characters, but also on the sets, score, etc. There are seven of them for a total of 47 minutes, roughly. There is a nine-minute featurette on the alternative version of the Married Life montage from the movie. There are six minutes of short promos for the movie and two trailers. Finally, there's the BD-Live game called Global Guardian Badge Game where you have to location states or countries when given their name in easy mode or their capital city in hard more. I was able to get 49 out of 50 in easy mode, and that's only because the controls are a little soft. I know where New Jersey is, but the pointer slid off as I was hitting enter. Hard mode was a lot more challenging, as you have to know the state capitals, and I only answered 33 correct. The worldwide maps were not as kind to my ego, but I probably would have done better had the maps not been distorted, which makes it harder to identify certain countries. This is a good selection of High Definition exclusives, including some that push the technology.

As for the film's technical presentation in High Definition, it is flawless. But fans of Pixar should not be surprised, as every Blu-ray release from them has been flawless. The picture is so good that you can practically read the labels on Carl's prescription bottles. (He gets his medicine from Luxo Drugs, which is a cute inside joke.) The audio is clear as can be and the sound effects and music take advantage of surround speakers, when they need to. (Some of the chase scenes are spectacular.)

On a side note, the animation in this movie has gotten so good, that it now takes a backseat to the story. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's true. The people at Pixar know that they need to tell a story, and that's what they give you. They never give you more, because then the animation becomes more important than the movie. In almost all the previous films there were at least one or two scenes where I thought to myself, "That must have been difficult to render." It's almost like the scenes were made to show off the animation techniques they've learned since the last movie, and were not as much about advancing the story. (The waterfall scene in Cars, for instance.) I didn't notice any scenes like that here. The animation is so good and the story-telling so engaging that you simply accept the world as real. That's as high a compliment as I can think of. The animation is highly stylized at times, but the world feels perfectly real.

Up is the best movie I've seen all year and the Four-Disc Blu-ray is actually cheaper than the Two-Disc DVD on Amazon right now. It is a must have, the DVD Pick of the Week, and worth upgrading to High Definition for. (Although if you don't have a high definition TV and a Blu-ray player yet, I would suggest waiting until the end of the month to grab one during the Thanksgiving weekend sales.)

Filed under: Video Review, Up