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Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/6/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/6/2007
When the Godzilla remake debuted in 1998, the hype-machine accompanying the film attempted to convince us that "Size does matter". In relation to that film, the message was meant to say that bigger is better. The movie taught us that bigger certainly does not equal better. This is a lesson which can be applied to many things in life. For example, over the last few years the movies from Pixar have gotten longer and longer, but the movies haven't gotten better and better. Their latest release, Cars, is a shining example of how less can definitely be more.
Cars takes place in a world inhabited solely by automotive machines. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is a very fast race car who races on the Piston Cup circuit (very similar to NASCAR). He is in line to become the first rookie to win the Piston Cup if he can defeat his two rivals, The King (voiced by Richard Petty) and Chick Hicks (voiced by Michael Keaton). When their races ends in a three-way tie, it is decided that there will be a tie-breaker race in California. As the cocky Lightning has alienated his pit crew and rebuffs his sponsors, his only companion for the trip is his tractor-trailer transport, Mack (voiced by John Ratzenberger). However, through a series of mishaps, Lightning gets separated from Mack during the night, and, in a panic, leaves the interstate only to become hopelessly lost on the backroads. His heightening anxiety causes Lightning to run amok in the small town of Radiator Springs.
When Lightning comes to his senses, he finds that he’s been arrested and assigned to community service repairing the road which he damaged. He is aghast at this sentence, as he wants to get to California as soon as possible. To make matters worse, Lightning is annoyed by the locals in the nearly-deserted town. Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is a good-natured but ignorant tow-truck. Doc Hudson (voiced by Paul Newman) is the judge who sentenced Lightning. Sally (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) is a Porsche who is the town attorney. Lightning is not only reluctant to work at first, but he adamantly refuses to acknowledge the other cars. But, as he completes his task, Lightning lets his guard down and begins to learn the history of the town and the personalities of the cars which inhabit it.
50 years from now, when movies will have most likely been replaced by holograms which are shoved in the viewer's ears, some may look back on the early part of the century and ask which company defined computer generated animation. And the answer will most certainly have to be Pixar. But, while dominant, Pixar is not infallible and Cars shows the company at their best and their worst.
As the Pixar folks are consummate professionals and certainly know a thing or two about entertainment, Cars does many things right. First of all, we have the animation. There’s no doubt that Pixar’s work personifies the best in CG animation. (Although, I do think that Blue Sky (Ice Age, Robots) is pretty good as well.) The detail in the cars is amazing (they’ve done some great things with metals and reflections) and the desert landscapes are breathtaking. The scenes where nothing is happening are just as convincing as the shots where race cars are barreling down the track. The characters are charming and likable. We’ve seen talking cars before (ie: those claymation commercials), but the cars here have a lot of personality and a great amount of attention has been payed to their eyes. Even Lighting McQueen, who is supposed to be a jerk at the beginning of the movie, is charming (this is most likely due to the voicework of Owen Wilson.) Speaking of the voice acting, things are top-notch here, and kudos to Pixar for getting Paul Newman involved.
However, Cars suffers greatly in the story and pacing departments. As noted above, Pixar’s films keep getting longer and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Toy Story was perfectly fine at 81 minutes. But their recent efforts have ballooned from 100 minutes (Finding Nemo) to 115 minutes (The Incredibles) to Cars which stands at 116 minutes. I can only assume that Pixar’s success has inspired them to put as much into their films as possible. But this creates problems. For starters, the movie is simply too long. First of all, this film is primarily aimed at children, and the running time far exceeds the attention span of most kids today. Secondly, that length allows director John Lasseter to stuff some unnecessary subplots into the film. The movie’s basic premise, cocky young race car learns to slow down and appreciate life, may not be an original one, but it works. But once Lightning McQueen gets to Radiator Springs, the movie becomes mired in side-stories about how the world has forgotten the town. We then get a heavy-handed message about how, by using interstate roads, Americans have left much of their country behind. A featurette on the DVD sheds light onto why this message is in the film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate. If Cars could have been edited down into a sleek 90-minute racing machine, then the movie would have been much better.
As someone who grew up in NASCAR country and thusly hates the product (note how I didn’t say sport), I had serious reservations about Cars. But, I found the film to be semi-charming. I really liked the characters and the film’s main idea, but the sluggish in the middle took away from the experience. If the excitement of the opening and finale could have been maintained throughout, the Cars could have easily taken the checkered flag.
Cars zooms onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Disney. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 with a 1080p HD AVC transfer. The image, to put it simply, is perfect. The image shows no defects whatsoever, including grain, distortion, or blurring. The picture is incredibly stable and shows a very nice amount of depth, especially with the desert landscapes. The colors look fantastic, most notably the night-time scenes in Radiator Springs when the neon is lit. This transfer really enhances the amount of detail in the image and shows off the amount of work put into the movie. The Blu-ray has a Linear PCM 5.1 Uncompressed audio track which runs at 48 kHz and 6.9 Mbps. While not as impressive as the video, the audio here is certainly above average. The dialogue and sound effects are also sharp and clear. The cars zipping by in the races sound great, as they fill the speakers with surround sound action and provide a solid bass response, but I have to say that I expected it sound better. The "Frank" attack scene has one nice moment of bass and then it goes away. It's almost as if this soundtrack wasn't correctly adapted for the home 5.1 system.
The Cars Blu-ray Disc contains a bevy of extras, most of which are exclusive to this release. "Cine-Explore" is sort of like the HD version of New Line's InfiniFilm series. A dash-board control appears on-screen during this feature. This allows the viewer to watch the film with AUDIO COMMENTARY by director John Lasseter or with 12 members of the production team. The viewer is also treated to background photos of sketches or research stills. Deleted Scenes or Documentary Shorts will also be available while watching this. This feature really takes the viewer behind-the-scenes. For those who didn't choose "Cine-Explore", the seven "Documentary Shorts" can be viewed individually. They are; Radiator Springs (5 minutes), Character Design (6 minutes), Animation and Acting (5 minutes), Real World Racing: Getting Geeky with the Details (6 minutes), Hudson Hornet (3 minutes), Graphics (4 minutes), and Darrell Waltrip Museum Tour (7 minutes). Similarly, the 5 DELETED SCENES, which run about 14 minutes, can be viewed individually. These are all in storyboard or animated storyboard form. They show an alternate view of the story where Lightning McQueen was number 57 and he was to participate in a race in Radiator Springs. We have "Inspiration for Cars" (16 minutes) which details how the Pixar crew journeyed down Route 66 with author Michael Wallis (who would go on to voice the Sheriff in the film) and how John Lasseter's cross-country trip with his family inspired him to make a movie about the great American highway. This is an unusually emotional featurette, and it's nice to see a segment which focuses on from where the story came. "Movie Showcase" allows the viewer to pick from four scenes which the fimmakers have chosen as the best in the movie. The Blu-ray also features the animated shorts "One Man Band" (5 minutes) and "Mater and the Ghost Light" (7 minutes), both in full 1080p HD. "Epilogue" (4 minutes), also presented in 1080p HD, shows the segments which played during the closing credits, but this time we see them in full 1.78:1, instead of crammed to one side of the screen. "Boundin' Cars" (46 seconds) has the "Boundin'" short with Mater and Lightning replacing the Lamp and the Jackelope. Weird. "Car Finder Game" is an option where the viewer tries to spot specific cars in each scene.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long