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James and the Giant Peach - Blu-ray Review


James and the Giant Peach Blu-ray Review

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Released a mere three years after the wildly ginormous earnings of The Nightmare Before Christmas, director Henry Selick returned to the cinematic realm with another stop-motion film, James and The Giant Peach, a musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story.  While Tim Burton was on board as producer, the stylized quirkiness – including the fantasy art - was all from the darkly superb mind of its director.  The signatured magic of Selick worked then, and it continues to work today on Blu-ray.

Obviously, Dahl was not a fan of adults.  Matilida’s parents anyone?  Neither is Selick (Coraline) for that matter, for his stop-motion treatment of adults is nothing short of brilliantly-imagined caricatures of bad, bad and sometimes possessed people.  If you’ve forgotten, remember the absolute spookiness of Coraline’s mother (Teri Hatcher) as she becomes more and more sewnly possessed.  And in the world of children, adults are usually the bringers of bad news.

Yet, the situation concerning adults for our main character in James and the Giant Peach is slightly different.  James Henry Trotter (Paul Terry) – once happy with his parents before they got eaten by a demonic rhinoceros – has no choice but to serve the remainder of his youth by living with two of those ugly caricatures:  his cruelly mean Aunts, Sponge (Miriam Margolyes) and Spiker (Joanna Lumley).  Always dreaming of a better place, one day James, thanks to a mysterious stranger (Pete Postlethwaite), discovers the wonderful magic of ‘crocodile tongues’ as they affect the growth and inhabitants of a local peach tree in weirdly unique ways, causing James to befriend some overgrown invertebrates: Mr. Old Green Grasshopper (Simon Callow), Mr. Centipede (Richard Dreyfus), Mr. Earthworm (David Thewlis), Miss Spider (Susan Sarandon), Mrs. Ladybug (Jane Leeves), and Glowworm (also Miriam Margoyles).  What James soon discovers is that all of them – bugs included - are united in the cause to find a better place to live, instead of being told to “get back to work”.

Just as random as Dahl’s narrative, Selick’s adaptation also provides an imaginative glimpse into a fantastical world of music and mischief.  Equally fun and frightening is the territory of James and the Giant Peach, but still it is capable of winning its audience over with bold storytelling and its musical score, courtesy of Randy Newman.  Sure, Dreyfus shouldn’t be singing as his voice isn’t expressive enough, but I hardly think that’s the point of Selick’s musical additions to Dahl’s beloved story.

Funneled through an overly stylized lens, James and the Giant Peach, both the live-action and stop-motion scenes, are darkly lit and exaggerated, yet remain expressive in background details and wonky-styled disproportioned set designs.  As the narrative expands its scope and allows James to explore the innards of the peach – soon in flight as it is attached to a group of seagulls – we see just how imaginative the absolutely whimsical story is, showcasing more emotional depth with Newman’s score and Selick’s camera than Dahl could ever have imagined.


Component Grades
Movie
DVD
4 stars
2
DVD Experience
3 Stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 3, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.67:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy; BD-Live

Oh boy, where to start with this stinker of a disc?  I say that because this transfer from The Wonderful World of Disney is absolutely awful.  Grainy, splotchy, and juvenile, the case might read 1080p transfer, but it doesn’t look like it…at all.  The appalling transfer of this film makes it look as if were made thirty years before The Nightmare Before Christmas instead of three years after it.  It is that horrible.

Now, the sound is another matter in of itself.  Constantly bumping and rattling the walls, the sonic field on this Blu-ray is golden.  Rear speakers add a certain magic to the experience of James and the Giant Peach and beg to be cranked up to the top volumes.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio arrangement compliments the narrative, but doesn’t make the abysmal transfer any less of a disaster.

Another disappointment is that all of the special features on the Blu-ray have been carried over from the previous DVD release.  There is nothing new.  They are as follows:

Supplements:

Commentaries:

  • None

Featurettes:

  • Production Featurette (4 min): A promo released before the film was released.  Apparently, it was used to market the film.
  • ‘Good News’ Music Video by Randy Newman (2 min):  A clip-heavy music video starring Randy Newman.
  • Spike the Aunts Interactive Game (HD): How many times can you poke James' aunts with a rhino horn?  Play the game to find out.  This is the only thing new to the Blu-ray.  Lame.

Still Galleries: A collection of production photos covering the film’s (1) Concept Art, (2) Puppets, (3) Behind the Scenes, and (4) Live-Action.

Trailers: (2 mins)

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