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How to Train Your Dragon - Blu-ray Review

5 Stars


How to Train Your Dragon Blu-ray Review

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Far above anything DreamWorks has previously done with its animation soar the scaly wings of How to Train Your Dragon.  This is a marvelously computer-rendered film; surpassing the limits of a familiar storyline that wins over its audience with a serious arc of beautiful art.  3D or not, this is indeed a shiny piece of cinematic animation; smarter with its visuals and its stock character-filled story than James Cameron’s Avatar.

Yes, Mr. Cameron, I went there.  Deal with it.

Based off a series of children’s book by Cressida Cowell (but altered enough by co-directors Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois to reach a more adult demographic), the territory within the story of How to Train Your Dragon is filled with unruly Vikings.  Unfamiliar as we might be with these Norse Marauders, they are certainly familiar “characters” to us.  Stoick the Vast (voiced by Gerard Butler) is ashamed of his ill-equipped son Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) because he has no clue how to handle himself around an invading group of dragons that steal the sheep from the island of Berk.  Yet, Hiccup dreams of snagging a dragon and – one night – he actually does; it’s a rare one, too.  A Night Fury.  Taunted and teased by the other awkward teenagers (voiced by Jonah Hill, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Eiig), Hiccup decides to keep his captured – and wounded – dragon to himself.  Eventually, he discovers that everything his Viking clan knows about dragons is, quite simply, wrong.

Quickly finding himself fond of his rare dragon, Hiccup names him Toothless and “nurses” him back to health, assisting the dragon with its own flying abilities and discovering ways to communicate with the species.  The two of them, bucking what they’ve been taught about the other, form a fast friendship that is challenged by forces outside of their control when both are faced to deal with outsiders that range from the harmless, like Gobber the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and those full of harm, like the Red Death.

Sure, the story, written for the screen by Sanders, DeBlois, and Peter Tolan, is beyond familiar.  And, yes, there is a danger to having too many recognizable actors voice animated characters. Yet, in spite of the arrows pointed against it, How to Train Your Dragon achieves its heartwarming success because it is – at once – a wholly embraceable and clever film that never betrays or takes for granted its own purpose in delivering its story.  It doesn’t think it’s the future of filmmaking nor does it insult its audience by trading effects for emotion.

DreamWorks, pulling a Pixar, brought in frequent Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins to help the movie’s animators improve upon their lighting in order to give the film a more live-action feel and to assist in detailing the 3D aspect and it shows – even without the effect of 3D – with stunning moments of aerial battles and backgrounds full of lush scenery.  John Powell’s highly-charged score for the film – with a beautiful sequence accompanying Hiccup’s first close encounter with Toothless – is exhausting in its depth of field and part of the overall joy in watching the film.

The poignancy of How to Train Your Dragon’s story – essentially about a boy and his dragon – is certainly never lost in its wondrous on-screen persona.  Baruchel’s wise-cracking voiceover work keeps the energy high and spirited and the lively animation is certainly never flaccid.  The film isn’t an epic tale of Good vs. Evil.  It isn’t trying to break the rules of animation or an overuse of 3D in-your-face effects; it is simply telling a good story in an honest and imaginative way.  That’s its focus and that’s its purpose and, to the last, that’s exactly what it achieves.

Bravo, DreamWorks.  Bravo.


Component Grades
Movie
Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars
5 Stars
Blu-ray Experience
5 Stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October15, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles
: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio:
English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); BD-Live

With a 1080p transfer that is as bright and vibrant as expected, one might not expect there to be so much texture to its creatures, but there is.  The dragons are fantastic looking and rendered in a stylized lens that suggests a little Tim Burton influence.  Heck, even the Vikings clothes move with detailed precision.  In fact, it might be the best handling of texture I’ve seen, more so than in a Pixar movie – and that’s saying something.  The audio is bass-heavy in this TrueHD mix and some of the dialogue gets lost in the soundscape, requiring a little adjustment for the main audio to be heard clearly – or you could simply turn the stereo up LOUD and shake the walls with that massive encoded volume of the disc.

Supplements:

Commentaries:

  • An audio commentary comes from co-directors Sanders & DeBlois, along with producer Bonnie Arnold.  In this commentary, they detail the amount of behind-the-scenes technical work that went into making this film feel so much more than another animated children’s feature.

Special Features:

The two discs, much like a Pixar release, come fully loaded with interesting supplemental material.  There is also a new short featuring the cast of the movie in an all-new adventure which is worth a chuckle or two; it also shows off the “look” of a rumored new cartoon spin-off.

  • Viking-Sized Cast (12 mins)
  • The Technical Artistry of 'Dragon' (10 mins)
  • Deleted Scenes: Axe to Grind (5 mins), Goodbye at the Docks (2 mins), and Aftermath (1 min)
  • The Story Behind the Story (8 mins)
  • How to Draw a Dragon (11 mins)
  • Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon (16 mins)
  • The Animator’s Corner – Picture-in-Picture view
  • DreamWorks' Animation Jukebox

The 2-disc set also comes with a DVD copy of the film as well as trailers for Megamind, Shrek Forever After and The Last Airbender.

{pgomakase}

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