Judge Ryan Keefer believes that it's only a matter of time before people start putting Buzz, Woody, and Lightning stickers on the back of their pickup trucks.
Ahh…it's got that new movie smell.
The animated studio that is Pixar has become a powerhouse of box office clout. In 2007, they had one of the most universally praised films (Ratatouille) and in 2006, their film Cars received almost as much praise, and more importantly brought in almost $250 million in domestic receipts. After being released on standard definition disc, some new high definition exclusive extras have been added to its Blu-ray release. So is Cars better the second time around?
Facts of the Case
Pixar creative head John Lasseter co-wrote and directed the story with Joe Ranft. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson, The Royal Tenenbaums) is a young hotshot race car who has taken the Piston Cup by storm in only his first year. He is locked in a battle for the championship, coming down to the final race between him, the old successful veteran named The King (NASCAR legend Richard Petty) and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton, The Company). On the way out to the final race, Lightning is thrown from the truck taking him to the race, and he becomes lost in the great southwest, landing in a town named Radiator Springs. He is arrested by the town's sheriff, and sentenced to work on the roads up until the day of the race. So over the course of the next five days, he finds himself starting to develop an awkward relationship with a Porsche named Sally (Bonnie Hunt, Return to Me), and bumping heads with the older Doc (Paul Newman, The Color of Money). But in his brief time in Radiator Springs, he might learn more about himself than he realizes.
Far be it for me to meet or exceed the standard that Chief Justice Michael Stailey set when it came to reviewing Cars the first time it came around, but I do take a minor point of pride by saying that I damn near bullied the honorable Mrs. Keefer into watching this, as her contention was basically that "talking cars aren't cute." I said look, give me the first 10 minutes of the film, then we can watch an unnamed Pixar title that also recently came out on Blu-ray. She agreed, sat down and watched it, and I think that she had a fun time out of it, much like I did. I think in large part because the film is slightly more character driven than story driven this time, people might not like it so much, but at the end of the day, if you don't stop to smell the roses, to paraphrase an earlier message said in the film and in some reviews, you're going to wind up losing yourself.
For the sake of brevity, I'm moving straightaway to the technical and supplemental details because there are a few new additions to this Blu-ray release. And technically, these high definition releases that don't involve a film telecine are four on the floor buddy, because this AVC MPEG-4 encoded 2.39:1 widescreen film looks great. Any one of the scenes in the film stands out for its clarity, depth and detail, and the introductory sequence of the rival cars at the night race in the Bristol-themed track looks great. The detail holds up once Lightning gets to Radiator Springs, as you can feel and notice the dust and dirt. The PCM soundtrack is also perfect, and you get a hint of that within the first minute, as there's a quick cut of cars racing by a point on the track before going to black. The racing scenes at the tracks are enveloping, involve a lot of your surround speakers and your subwoofer will go on quite a jog, and anytime when the cars rev their engines, it's a moment in bass usage. From either an audio or video point of view, this disc is as good as you're going to get.
The extras on the standard definition disc were a little flimsy, but at least the Blu-ray disc has those extras and more, starting with an interactive game that runs over the course of the feature named "Car Finder." You get a choice of five cars that you have to identify throughout the course of the film. When they appear in the film, select it and you get points. Miss it and a new choice comes up in its place, but the number of cars you miss picking gets counted too. There's also part of the sequence where you have to pick out the cars in a timed challenge. The cars you pick are housed in a "Showroom" area where you can look at them in more detail as well, where they're saved, or you can start new games. Moreover, there's an additional Blu-ray exclusive piece entitled "Cine-Explore," similar to other interactive features done by Warner Brothers and Universal. A dashboard pops up similar to a car, and by pressing the "manual" option, you can navigate the extras/deleted scenes/artwork yourself, or by doing "auto," it's all done for you. This option can be selected in the extras on the disc itself, and comes with an introduction by Lasseter to boot. I've talked about most of the material that's covered in this piece in the subsequent paragraphs, so there's some time saved right there. But put it all together and it's a pretty cool feature. And I haven't even talked about the commentaries, of which there are two. The first is with Lasseter, as he discusses his inspiration for the film and what he wanted to accomplish in it. It' quite a personal project from Lasseter, and you really get that impression on this track. The second commentary is with the production crew, no less than a dozen people occupy this track. They discuss their various roles and the challenges in bringing Lasseter's intentions to fruition. It does bring a valuable look into some of the intentions of the film.
Aside from those big new features, things are broken into two sections on the disc, akin to a fork in the road for the film. In the "Tour Pixar Studios" section, there are seven short documentaries (lasting about five to seven minutes each) on various parts of the film. "Radiator Springs" starts with Lasseter's thoughts on this film and what he wanted to accomplish with the town of the same name, featuring location scouting and early sketches. "Character Design" shows the thought and detail went into the cars/characters in the film. "Animation and Acting" covers the challenge of making the cars look and respond realistically, and how to refrain from making the "expressions" on the cars look too silly. "Real World Racing" discusses Lasseter's attempt to keep authenticity and "get it right." "Hudson Hornet" is an examination of the car that Newman voiced, and there are historical details about said vehicle. "Graphics" is three and a half minutes about the storyline and character interaction. Seriously, it's about the graphics. The last piece looks at the museum of cars that Darrell Waltrip (who voices Darrell Cartrip in the film) owns to this day. The section is quick and easy. The "Inspiration for Cars" is an approximately 15-minute look at Lasseter's intentions for the film, and recalling some of his youth when it came to the film, while driving along Route 66 in the process. NASCAR drivers and raceway directors discuss the role they played in the film, and the entire piece is okay. Next are five deleted scenes that round out this section. The "Visit Radiator Springs" section contains four Pixar short films, three in high definition. The only one not related to the feature is "One Man Band," which follows two competing musicians for the adoration (and money) from a child. And the "Movie Showcase" where the audio and video of specific scenes are highlighted for their Blu-ray goodness is here to round things out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although the whole idea of stopping and taking a metaphorical pit stop in the rat race of life is a pretty effective message for anyone to take notice of, I think that over the course of an almost two hour film, where there are several songs played for an extended period of time, things feel like they're stretched a little bit thin. Plus some of the more recognizable voices and names in the film feel as if they've gone underused. '70s comic legends George Carlin (Dogma) and Cheech Marin (Up In Smoke) appear to lend their vocal talents to a couple of the Radiator Springs townsfolk, not to mention the superb Tony Shalhoub (Monk). If they had diluted some of the copious amounts of screentime given to Lightning's friend Mater, played by Larry the Cable Guy (Delta Farce), I would have been a little bit happier.
Cars is full of lush visuals and humorous lines in one fashion or another, using a topic that much of America can relate to. However, it's the next generation technical abilities that make this a star. Reference quality video and audio, and a significant bump in extras to turn this disc from a rental into a must-own. PS3, Pioneer, Panasonic, whatever, if you've got a big TV, get a player and pump this thing up, it's worth showing off the merits of the technology.
No asphalt to work on here boys, you're free to go. Git 'er done!!!
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• Commentary with John Lasseter
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