Judge Ryan Keefer thinks that if you took Burgess Meredith or Danny DeVito, in their current conditions today, and put them in the tube, they might have made for more compelling viewing than that was actually seen here.
Our review of Surf's Up, published October 2nd, 2007, is also available.
A major ocean picture.
Aside from the usual storylines, the summer of 2007 can be known as the summer of Shia LaBeouf. The awkwardish young actor was cast in the fourth Indiana Jones film, appeared in the huge slam bang action film Transformers, voiced the main role of Cody in the Sony animated film Surf's Up, and celebrated his 21st birthday to boot. So how does Surf's Up rank on the list of accomplishments?
Facts of the Case
Written by several different individuals, including Don Rhymer (Big Momma's House), and directed by Chris Buck (Tarzan) and Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2), Cody is an aspiring surfer in Shiverpool, living at the South Pole. He wants to follow in the legacy of Z (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski), a talented, charismatic surfer who one day disappeared from the public eye. Tank (Diedrich Bader, Office Space) filled that void and has won many trophies, but not a lot of friends in the process. Cody trains for the Penguin World Surfing Championship and the film recounts how he got to where he was.
So let me get this right: in 2005, we had March of the Penguins, a documentary about penguins. In 2006, we had Happy Feet, an animated film with penguins featuring a lot of recognizable names lending their vocal talents. So naturally, the next installment in America's love with the flightless bird was Surf's Up, a faux-documentary, which is animated, about penguins with a lot of recognizable names lending their vocal talents. I'd like to think that the horse is now officially dead on the penguin theme, and we can all move on with our lives, right?
The film certainly does try to have its moments, but it's clear that the creators of this film have watched Riding Giants, Step Into Liquid and the Bruce Brown surf documentaries. A lot of the animated shots mirror things quite faithfully, even down to the "archived" footage of Z or of penguin surfing's origins. The problem with that is that I saw them the first time in those live action films, and at least there Brown, Stacy Peralta and others have a better idea of not when to interject something like a silly predictable story in the middle of nature, be it an animated environment or not.
You know what the problem is with second or third tier animated films released by major studios? You never really seem to hear about who's in the thing until you get on IMDb and start saying, "Holy crap, they were in this?!?" But yeah, LaBeouf was nice in the film, Bridges played an extension of the Dudarino, and as the protagonist, Bader seemed to be the only one having any fun in the film. Well, that's not if you don't count Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), who plays a character named Chicken Joe, but has carved out a niche for himself as playing absent-minded roles since the guy who danced to Jamiroquai. Zooey Deschanel (Elf) is the closest thing to a romantic interest in the film, and other familiar names include James Woods (Once Upon a Time in America), Mario Cantone (Sex and the City) and marquee surfers like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado.
I was expecting to be impressed. Animated film, next generation video, MPEG-4 encoded, so it's got to look great, right? While there are moments that do, the choice of making things look like a documentary provide a lot of distressed tactics that left me bored. The audio is a top notch effort, the PCM and TrueHD tracks are active throughout the film, surround effects are frequent and dialogue pans subtly to other front speakers when required. To add to this, the film features quite a few songs that sound crystal clear and solid.
Supplements wise the extras from the standard definition film are ported over here, save for some DVD-ROM material. You get not one, but two audio commentaries. The first is with Buck, Brannon and producer Chris Jenkins. They discuss some of the early concepts of the story and recall some of the early challenges during the production. Of course, they all have warm thoughts of the actors as well. They joke around a lot and watch the film quite a bit, but they don't do anything really memorable on the track. There is a second commentary with the visual effects team in which they "try not to make it too boring," but it eventually becomes such and is equally forgettable. From there, two six minute short films follow on a group of characters called the Chubbchubbs, one of which won an Oscar for Best Animated Short film. They're cute and in a lot of cases look better than the feature itself. Four deleted scenes (in various stages of animation) follow, they're about five minutes in length combined and don't really add much to the film. A primer on surfer's dialogue is next, followed by several longer featurettes. "All Together Now" shows the actors in voiceover sessions, but there was a lot of footage of the directors laughing at the actors' antics, which felt distracting. "Not a Drop of Real Water" is broken down into several areas about how the film's waves were created for use in the film, which altogether comprise about twenty minutes. "Meet the Penguins" has the crew bringing in some penguins from Sea World for a day "on the set," and some progression reels of footage of the film are next. A pinball game on the disc (which works well on the PS3 but is still a little clunky) is next, followed by two stills galleries and a music video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I blast the documentary-style of the film, but it does lend itself to some fairly humorous moments that I've got to admit I laughed at. Or there would be other times where the film would cut back to something said by a character that would refute a claim they made earlier, which I liked too. Very Arrested Development. The voiceover sessions usually tried to employ a feeling of togetherness and interaction among the actors, and that's something you can feel. One would hope similar films employ this tactic in the future.
When it comes to next generation discs with penguins as the central theme, the better looking, and more enjoyable film is not Surf's Up. If you don't know who Bruce Brown is, then you might actually enjoy this thing, but for me it's copying real life far too conveniently and thus worth skipping.
Guilty as charged, now let go club these things! Oh wait, that's seals, my
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Directors
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