Even with the spiffy Blu-ray treatment, Judge Dennis Prince lifts a leg and says this "Doo" still doesn't do it for him.
When ghosts say "Boo," just say "Doo!"
While it garnered a respectable amount of anticipation prior to its theatrical release, the live-action adaptation of Scooby-Doo proved to be something of a mixed box of Scooby Snacks. Although it was commercially successful upon its big-screen bow and occasionally entertaining, the theatrical adventure of Scooby and the Gang is still an uneven adaptation that, to some, has sullied the reputation of the legendary Saturday morning hit it exploits. And, nice as this new Blu-ray DVD from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment might be, all the high-def polish can't quite make up for the film's many missteps.
Facts of the Case
The story here is straight from the annals of Mystery, Inc.'s 38-year dossier of creepy cases. Upon wrapping up the Case of the Luna Ghost, a simmering ego clash among our troupe of crime stoppers boils over and results in the team splitting up, never to solve another mystery again. Two years later, though, Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Velma (Linda Cardellini), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), and Scooby-Doo are summoned by Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson), owner of Spring Break hot spot Spooky Island, to help unravel the mysterious transformation of visiting college students, each of whom departs the island in a weird zombie-like state. What begins as a competition among the individual sleuths to see who can solve the mystery first soon requires the gang put aside their differences or risk falling victim, themselves, to the strange creatures that inhabit the island. The reunited team needs to draw upon every ounce of their ghost-breaking insight at the risk of having their very souls sucked from their bodies. Jinkies!
While some had originally complained the plot here is just a tired retread of the original show's patented who's-the-spook-on-the-loose template, to veer too far away from the formula would be to stray away from the very fabric of the show's success—that would be a mistake. Sure, we expect spooky things to happen, for our heroes to find themselves in almost certain doom, and for the surprise revelation of the mastermind behind the whole caper—that's what Scooby Doo's all about, right? Somewhat faithfully, then, the film opens appropriately by thrusting the audience into the final act of the solving of a case in traditional Mystery, Inc. style; that's good. Then, the picture detours in a way we wouldn't expect by introducing the conflict that has apparently been brewing among the gang; that's not so good. Character development is fine, especially when given the opportunity to explore each of them more than the classic 30-minute outings ever allowed. But, besides serving as something of a delay to the pace of the story, the film determines to redefine the characters we've known and loved for several decades. This is the film's first major misstep, since expectations of Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby have already been well established, even to the newer generations (thanks to the excellent DVD releases of the classic series). Instead, we're thrown a fast curve when we find Fred is self-absorbed, Daphne is condescending, and Velma is sick and tired of being relegated to the background. Only Shaggy and Scooby seem to be unchanged (thankfully), but they now have to react to the dissention around them. While it's a common mechanism to employ in a narrative—the introduction of the conflict—this one is needless and unwanted since the conflict always stems from the mystery at hand. Therefore, once the gang is on the case, they have to wade through the baggage of their recent dissolution. That's a Scooby-Don't as far as many are concerned.
While it's apparent that Director Raja Gosnell has an affection for the original property here, it's too difficult—even in the realm of a cartoon reality—to accept how far he and his team stray off the beaten path as they tinker with these pop culture characters. Again, it's sometimes permissible to inject more depth into a heretofore two-dimensional animated character, but too much of what's introduced here is obvious repurposing to appeal to a current-day crowd of kids and teens. Although cynicism is the flavor of the day, it should have been clear that these characters required none of it or else they could never have warranted a big-screen venture in the first place. But, as scripted and presented, our beloved Mystery, Inc. is beset with the undesirable attitudes that many of us abhor in modern entertainment, even if pitched for laughs. Case in point: it's a misstep to paint Fred as a self-absorbed, pretty boy bore (is that supposed to be humorous?) when he was originally depicted as a rather humble though heroic leader. Danger-prone Daphne is given a decidedly snotty, rich-girl sass that was never present before (though the original character did come from a rich family), and it's practically ludicrous she would transform herself into a remarkably skilled martial artist during the gang's two-year hiatus. Moreover, the move to make unintentionally androgynous Velma a more sumptuous and curvaceous character at various points in the film is just nonsense, especially when providing a temporary low-cut peep show (pleasing to behold, yes, but definitely not true to her animated personality). Shaggy and Scooby, as mentioned, are the least tampered with, though their pause to engage in a farting contest is simply ridiculous and merely offers an embarrassing and wildly uncharacteristic moment of toilet humor (a complete sell out in this setting).
So, as much as some of the character changes are off the mark, the actors are likely hit and miss in their attempts to represent the well-known teens. Lillard has likely found this to be a defining role as he nails Shaggy perfectly, from the loping stride to the straggly mop and goatee to the adopted vocal intonations made famous by Casey Kasem. Second honors go to Cardellini, who likewise pegs the role of Velma, from the nasally brainy pronouncements to the properly demure yet self-assured demeanor, looking more than convincing in the signature oversized orange turtleneck sweater and knee-hi socks. Gellar's Daphne doesn't quite work, vocally or visually; she appears to be "updated" to appeal to the modern "you go girl" set. Freddie Prinze Jr. is also off the mark, since to look at him is to feel somewhat uncomfortable with his almost sissified style; the voice, though, is sometimes accurate (until he goes into a ridiculous hip-hop harangue, that is). As for Scooby, well, he was quite a work of CGI in 2002, though already he's looking dated in comparison to advances made in the five years since this picture was released. Often he has a flat appearance and the matching to live action is often off mark, undermining believability that he and the actors are occupying the same physical space. Nevertheless, he's rendered with approximate authenticity to the original Great Dane and embodies a reasonably proper mix of realistic texture and cartoony exaggeration. Actor Neil Fanning provides the voice of Scoob, offering the best rendition since the late great Don Messick uttered the initial "Rooby-Roo!"
Visually, the production design is quite colorful and generally offers plenty to delight and dazzle the eye. It gets a bit overworked at times, such as during a Tiki Drum dance number, but it generally appears as one bright spot in the picture thanks to a nicely detailed production design. The score, however, serves as another of the film's miscues, coming off as a blaring, teen-tilted, and obvious promotion for the overeager soundtrack CD (although the film's well-known title song is present in rather hyperactive tempo, missing are the show's original instrumental cues).
Like the feature itself, this new high-definition Blu-Ray disc is a collection of hits and misses, culled from the standard-definition release of 2002. The widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is a definite hit, delivering admirably on the HD promise. The color is first to benefit here, absolutely glowing and showing all the subtle gradients you'd expect from a high-definition treatment. The improved detail level, likewise, provides a clear look at every tiny element of the picture without introducing any noticeable artifacts and rendering the image with a truly dimensional quality. Look at the netted wide-brim hat Daphne wears—you'll see every weave. Notice Velma's trademark orange knit sweater—you'll be able to count every loop. And, take a look at Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s persistent five o'clock shadow, heavy with cover-up yet more visible than ever (the actor had to shave twice a day to keep his persistent muff in check). As for Scooby, the high-definition treatment reveals that he lacks the level of detail we've come to expect from CGI characters (recall King Kong's hair and the tiny dander particles that perpetually wafted around him). There's plenty of detail to be seen on the pooch but the HD remaster again reveals how much more is being done with CG rendering these days. The only downside with this particular Blu-Ray presentation is the visible presence of light grain for the duration of the show's 86-minute run time; this isn't to say the format is necessarily responsible—low level grain was noticeable on the SD release—but it does accentuate its presence. It's not a deal-breaker, though, and this can easily be considered a well-done Tier 1/Tier 2 presentation that belongs in a respectable Blu-Ray library (feature content notwithstanding).
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, piped in at 640 kbps, and is a definite improvement over the previous 5.1 track from 2002's standard release. The soundstage has been better balanced this time around and all channels are active, literally from start to finish. Directional effects are plentiful, yet it is the nonstop eking of tiny ambient sounds and subdued bits of film score that keep the viewer well centered in the action. The LFE channel gets put to better use this time around, too, yet it still doesn't absolutely boom as would a high-powered action spectacle. The dialog is very clear and always discernible.
Extras are plentiful here but are not completely satisfying, largely copped from the previous release. The two commentary tracks, one featuring director Gosnell and the producers and the other featuring the five lead actors, provides some insight to the making of the film, yet both suffer from overlong pauses in the conversation. The featurette "Unlocking the Mystery" is an interesting 21-minute look into the making of the film, although it fails to fully divulge the details regarding the animators' work that brought Scooby-Doo into CGI existence. Additional behind-the-scenes segments provide additional, albeit very brief, insight into other aspects of the film. The deleted scenes, with optional commentary provided by Gosnell, are perhaps the most interesting extras to be found, with the alternate animated title sequence proving to be most reminiscent of the original series. A music video, Outkast's "Land of a Million Drums," is also along for the ride. New to this edition is the original theatrical trailer, curiously omitted the first time around (Zoinks!). Not ported from the original standard-def release are the throwaway DVD-ROM content and set-top game, "Spooky Island Arcade Challenge."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What's that you say—this is based on a cartoon, so why get worked up over an altered adaptation? The fact is, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? is a top tier piece of nostalgic history from the Baby Boomers' cherished past. Few were disgruntled about the notion of bringing forth a theatrical treatment, but practically all were dismayed at the result. Perhaps it would have been better to leave well enough alone, huh? Most Scooby purists dismiss this film wholeheartedly, and don't even ask them about the turgid Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed abomination.
Scooby-Doo is a worthwhile investment, either by purchase or rental, for those who are hungry for well-managed high-definition content. It enjoys a dual release from Warner Brothers in both HD formats so no need to quibble over which technology is getting the upper hand here. And, frankly, although it will tempt a look just to enjoy the HD glory and improved audio on board, it nonetheless remains a disappointment as far as the film itself goes.
The filmmakers are hereby found guilty of tarnishing the reputation of one of Cartoondom's most-loved properties. Warner Brothers are acquitted of any wrongdoing, clearly exerting every effort to give some reason to give Scooby-Doo another look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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