Fox // 2009 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // November 16th, 2009
Proof that $878,701,244 worldwide really can mean nothing.
I enjoyed 2002's Ice Age as a well written and enthusiastically realized animated gem, a movie with big laughs and a healthy dose of heart to match. Many seemed to agree as in 2006 the movie was granted a sequel, Ice Age: The Meltdown. Things started to feel a little thin and stretched out this time around, the story was virtually non-existent and the characters, despite obvious charm, struggled to hold together another feature film. Still the movie offered a few giggles and despite bordering on mediocrity managed to maintain some semblance of forgettable entertainment value. This summer past, the trilogy came full circle with Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the least impressive adventure so far. The movie cleaned up at the box-office turning numbers Pixar would be happy with, but an air of unforgivable laziness hangs over the product. Dawn of the Dinosaurs has an incredibly patchy laugh rate and one of the silliest and most relentlessly boring stories I can remember in a recent kids movie; it really is time that this franchise was rendered extinct.
The film picks up with the improbable herd of Sloth Sid (John Leguizamo, The Happening), Mammoths Manny (Ray Romano, Welcome to Mooseport) and Ellie (Queen Latifah, Sphere), Sabre Toothed Tiger Diego (Denis Leary, Small Soldiers), and excitable Possums Crash (Seann William Scott, Role Models) and Eddie (Josh Peck, The Wackness). With Ellie and Manny expecting their first child Sid starts to feel the desire for his own family and by chance comes across three seemingly abandoned eggs. When they hatch what comes out is surprise, three young T-Rex babies. Sid nurtures them for a day or so before the angered mother arrives, taking her children and their well meaning abductor back to her realm. The rest of the herd follow in a bid to save Sid, finding a world of lush vegetation and Dinosaurs below the ice. They meet a psychotic Dinosaur hunter named Buck (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz) who pledges to help them retrieve their friend, but it's a dangerous new world and the gang may already be too late.
It makes me worry a little bit when I see movies as unadventurous and banal as Dawn of the Dinosaurs make a load of cash, it's not truly terrible but that so many people would clamor to see something so plain and lazy is troubling. I viewed the movie with an open mind and even the hope this effort might recapture the standard of the excellent original, but alas, it was foolish naivety on my part. Dawn of the Dinosaurs isn't nearly as good as the first Ice Age film and sadly even resides a few notches below the underwhelming initial sequel, making me pretty concerned about the fourth, almost a certainty at this juncture given Dawn of the Dinosaurs' stellar financial earnings.
The biggest problem is the poorly assembled and historically laughable script, the fact the makers had to settle for the ludicrous idea posed here should have been evidence enough that this series had run its course. One can imagine the screenwriters desperately cycling through ideas that might offer the potential for a third movie, looking with crossed fingers and prayers on their tongues for a kid-friendly wild card. So they settled for Dinosaurs? To say that this in itself is a commentary on the slack nature of the plotting here would be justified but the mechanism used for explaining the monster's existence is a complete joke. Even children with little in the way of cinematic understanding or demands will have their eyebrows raised courtesy of this narrative blunder, so what are more discerning filmgoers supposed to do? I realize that this is in its most basic form a glorified fantasy cartoon, but hey, shouldn't they also have credible stories? Apparently not it would seem. Other elements are equally hackneyed and uninspired, Sid's taking of the eggs and an angry mother's swift retribution is hardly an original idea whilst the subplots concerning the forthcoming Mammoth baby and Diego's loss of his predatory instincts are equally mishandled. From nearly every angle, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is one big storytelling fumble, all the way up to its finale involving a truly unmemorable and faceless villain.
The joke rate is a little sharper than the plot but it still underperforms. I chortled on a handful of occasions, though it has to be said I can scarcely remember as to what these gags entailed. Goofiness is the primary comedic vibe pushed by the Ice Age franchise and Dawn of the Dinosaurs holds strong to that creed, many of its best moments coming via the character of Scrat. Scrat is the small mammal that is constantly in search of his acorn, going through hell and high water to keep it safe and preserved. This time around the writers give him a love interest, who is equally interested in attaining his sole cherished possession. This represents one of the more creative and enjoyable aspects of the feature, certainly Scrat is the only character who has maintained the whole of his charm. The rest of the cast seem on autopilot and the key figures no longer appear that engaging or interesting, this threequel losing alot of the once abundant heart in the process. The first movie had a lovely chemistry between Manny, Sid, and Diego; the other films have unwisely added new characters that have disrupted said dynamic.
Visually the film is fantastic, looking particularly pristine and attractive on Blu-Ray. I have issues with it's presence in the story but the Dinosaur environment is rich and gorgeous to look at, it's inhabitants also imaginatively sculpted and lavished with detail. On Hi-Def Dawn of the Dinosaurs looks superb and inordinately vibrant; this is a luscious and meticulously presented transfer that avoids grain or any moments of soft video. The audio also packs an almighty wallop, marking this out as one of the best technical Blu-Ray discs I've seen all year. Adding to the value are a wealth of extra features, a commentary, tons of featurettes, short films and BD-Live connectivity just some of the assets this three-disc release offers. The set has a few fairly disposable Fox specials but the rest of the bonus content is surprisingly substantial and fun. The extras are pretty accessible for kids and adults alike, especially the commentary which despite overcrowding is a jubilant and informative affair. The short films all star Scrat and are more enjoyable than most anything in the actual feature whilst a pair of storyboarded deleted scenes also pop up. Fox has opted to offer a version of the film on DVD and a digital copy to further cement the depth of added material available here. Overall this is a borderline exceptional package for a decidedly sub-par flick.
Aside from the visual stimulus, Scrat, and the awesome Blu-Ray release there was one other thing that tickled my fancy in Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Simon Pegg's crazed character Buck is pretty amusing and the British actor addresses the part with a comedic gusto sadly lacking in the rest of the movie. The subplot involving Buck's search for a creature that dwarfs even the T-Rex isn't up to much but the character himself is entertaining and Pegg's exuberance and assurance grants the part an extra dose of quality. It's hardly the sort of addition that deserves acclaim but amidst an otherwise poor film, Buck stands out as reasonably cool.
It's fair to say that Dawn of the Dinosaurs has probably put the final creative nail in the coffin for this franchise, but the box-office receipts mean it's probably not the last we'll see of it. The Blu-Ray release is kick ass but the film is an exercise in pointlessness and incredibly uninspired writing. Kids should demand and certainly deserve better.
Guilty of leaving me cold.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Films
* Music Video
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy