Spielberg's Amistad, the director's first movie for his DreamWorks SKG
studio, is a courtroom drama with a liberal social conscience. It's a
pretty gripping yarn, however, based on the true story of a group of black
men and women found drifting at sea and brought to the US in chains to
be tried as escaped slaves.
the group is legally - and/or morally - slaves is the focus of this movie,
and along the way we learn some really disturbing things about the treatment
of slaves from the time they're captured until they're delivered to their
eventual owners in the New World.
stars Matthew McConaughey as the lawyer who attempts to prove the defendants
are legally free people. Morgan Freeman is the anti-slavery activist who
hires him. Djimon Hounsou turns in a powerful and moving performance as
Cinque, leader of the Africans at the center of the controversy. Anthony
Hopkins pops up again, in what's actually little more than a cameo role,
but he does a terrific job as former president John Quincy Adams, who
takes the plaintiffs' case to the US Supreme Court. He may not be in the
movie much, but he makes his presence felt.
was a pet project of co-producer Debbie Allen, who (according to the disc's
production notes) brought the project to Spielberg after seeing his "Schindler's
List." They apparently tried to cast as many African actors as possible
in the film, to add to its feeling of accuracy (though that makes one
wonder why Sir Anthony is there, playing an American!). The film does
have kind of a documentary feel to it - and the scenes depicting the slaves'
horrible treatment during their Atlantic crossing will remain forever
etched in our minds.
of the film is a relatively straightforward courtroom drama, at least
as straightforward as such a case could be. One of the most interesting
aspects was the Americans' attempts at communicating with, and therefore
understanding, the Africans. Fortunately, they happen across an "African
Brit" who understands and can speak the Africans' tongue and from
there their case becomes a lot more straightforward.
DVD, we had a large problem with Amistad: our home theater DVD player
- and a DVD ROM drive we were testing, had great difficulty tracking the
change from one layer to the other. The picture would freeze, or jump,
and on one occasion when the layer change was actually accomplished, we
discovered that the subtitles had somehow turned themselves on.
was really annoying, especially since it happened at one of the most riveting
moments in the film. Hopefully this was just a flaw in the disc we were
sent and isn't representative of the entire production run.
than that, the widescreen (1.85:1) picture is outstanding, as is the Dolby
Digital Sound (we're sure Spielberg wouldn't have it any other way). Only
the widescreen version is offered on this disc.
has a good selection of extras, too. There's pretty good documentary on
"the making of Amistad" as well as a substantial section of
production notes. Naturally, you also get cast/filmmakers' bios/filmographies
and the theatrical trailer.
than the major problem we had with the manufacturing of the disc, we found
Amistad to be a moving and involving tale of humanity, inhumanity, and
the pursuit of truth and justice.
from DreamWorks Home Entertainment
155 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1)
starring Matthew McConaughey, Djimon Hounsou, Morgan Freeman, David Paymer,
Pete Postlethwaite, and Anthony Hopkins
Written by David Franzoni, Produced by Steven Spielberg, Debbie Allen,
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Signature Selection packs lots of extras
and PDI's computer animated feature ANTZ is an enjoyable bit of fluff
that takes us into the gigantic world inhabited by those six legged critters
of the misspelled title.
because it's a cartoon doesn't mean this is a kids' movie. In fact, it's
much darker and more adult than Disney's "A Bug's Life". Today's
oh, so sophisticated kids will still enjoy ANTZ, and it isn't as frightening
as "Bug's Life" is in places, but it's really a movie for "grownups
of all ages."
Allen) is a worker ant disillusioned by life. Through a series of misadventures,
he ends up a war hero, kidnapper, lover, and saviour - all in the 83 minutes
it takes for the movie to spin on your DVD player.
Allen, the well cast voices include Sharon Stone as Princess Bala, along
with Sylvester Stallone, Gene Hackman, Anne Bancroft, Christopher Walken
and "a cast of millions."
is a must see for computer/animation buffs, and it's really quite spectacular
to watch these creepy crawlers exploring their huge world. The animation
is excellent, as are the special effects - and the voice casting is inspired.
"Signature Selection" DVD release is "autographed"
by directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, but that's only the beginning
of the disc's extras. The widescreen release also includes decent liner
notes inside, an audio-track commentary by the directors, a production
featurette, production notes, cast/crew bios, and theatrical trailer.
isn't all. You also get a selection of ANTZ TV commercials, and a terrific
selection of computer animation featurettes showing the development of
a few of the film's scenes - from traditional storyboard sketches to final
rendered and scored product. There are also a couple of tracks showing
character design genesis and how the technowizards at PDI got the bugs'
(sorry, ANTZ') faces to move so realistically.
and sound quality are terrific, though the earthy tones of the ants' underground
colony are a little dark at times. This isn't the fault of the disc, however,
it's the way the movie was designed.
ANTZ is worth having if you're a movie student or computer/animation aficionado.
As an example of DVD technology, it's also first rate; the move may be
short, but the dual layer DVD disc is long on extra content.
makes us very contented.
from DreamWorks Home Entertainment
83 minutes, widescreen (1.85:1)
starring Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone & Gene Hackman
Written by Todd Alcott and Chris Weitz and paul Weitz, Produced by Brad
Lewis, Aron Warner, Patty Wooton
Directed by Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson
Live action Cartoons
Dreamworks SKG movie studio looks like it can be depended on to release
the imaginative, special effects-laden film for which the director has
become justifiably famous. Two of the studio's earliest DVD releases,
MouseHunt and Small Soldiers, are basically comic books or cartoons translated
into "live" action big screen adventures, one of which is successful
and the other of which is a disappointing failure.
Rodent's a trap...
Nathan Lane and Lee Evans as a couple of oafs trying to evict a mouse
from their house, is basically a Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon. And
that's not necessarily a bad thing! Peter Bogdanovich did the Bugs Bunny
thing nearly 30 years ago with "What's Up, Doc?" and that was
a terrific movie.
isn't nearly as good. The premise has promise: a couple of down and out
brothers inherit an old house that - despite being a rundown dump - turns
out to be extremely valuable. They decide to auction it off for the money,
but for some reason come to the conclusion that they have to get rid of
the mouse that has made the house its home.
What follows is the
sort of action you expect from a cartoon like this. When they attempt
to "evict" the rodent, it fights for its home and survival.
The only thing missing is the mouse saying "Of course you know, this
means war!" as Bugs would utter after Elmer Fudd's (or whomever's!)
first attempt at rousting him from his peaceful existence.
The mouse here is
a lot smarter than the two brothers, and since he's basically defending
his turf, it's hard not to root for the mouse. And perhaps that's part
of the problem with MouseHunt: you can't really find it in yourself to
root for the human characters, whose motivation is basically greed. Perhaps
if they had filmed MouseHunt from the mouse's point of view it would have
been a more satisfying movie. Unfortunately, they didn't.
Other than that, the
production values, special effects, etc. are first rate, as one would
expect from Spielberg's sphere of influence
As a DVD, MouseHunt
is fine. You get the widescreen and the "full screen" versions,
which is how it should be, and the image and sound quality are top notch.
Extras are a bit sparse, limited to theatrical trailers, a couple of "from
the cutting room floor" scenes that aren't bad, cast/filmmakers'
bios, and production notes.
The disc (as does
Small Soldiers) also has a fancy, animated main menu that's kind of cool
to see once, but which quickly made us wish for a straightforward menu
that didn't sing and dance. We'd rather see more substantive extras than
fancy menus. Give us substance over form any day.
Small Soldiers (also
from DreamWorks) is the latest treat from director Joe Dante, who in the
past has brought us Gremlins, Explorers, and the Howling, among others.
It's very much like Gremlins in a lot of ways, but that isn't necessarily
a bad thing.
tells the tale of a struggling toy company that, thanks to some high tech
microrprocessors it gets from its parent company, unleashes upon an unsuspecting
neighbourhood a set of action figures that bring the term "action"
to new heights.
The Commando Elite
is a set of military action figures whose mission is to destroy the Gorgonites,
a peaceful and humourous bunch of figures whose purpose is to be defeated
by the Elite. Naturally, the toys get loose and run amok - generally trashing
the neighbourhood in question and nearly destroying the people in it along
are first rate, and the special effects of the action figures are spectacular.
There's one scene in particular, in which a Commando tries to fight its
way aboard the main character's (Gregory Smith) bicycle, that's not only
a great action sequence, but is funny and amazing at the same time.
Also in the live action
cast are Phil Hartman, Kirsten Dunst and Denis Leary, while Tommy Lee
Jones voices Commando Elite boss Chip Hazard and Frank Langella provides
the voice for his Gorgonite nemesis, Archer. All of them play their roles
straight, and pull it off well.
The effects that bring
to live the Commando Elite and Gorgonites are a combination of animatronics
courtesy Stan (Terminator/II, Jurassic Park) Winston and computer generated
effects from Lucas Digital's Industrial Light and Magic, a company that
has made a regular habit of redefining the special effects state-of-the-art
over the past twenty years or so. The techniques blend seamlessly, and
you're almost convinced that these action figures are real.
Selection" DVD (Joe Dante's autograph adorns the case) is only in
widescreen, which is a shame. It features another one of those noisy animated
menus we can do without, and a reasonable selection of extra features.
You get a behind the scenes look at the making of Small Soldiers, some
outtakes, a demo of an interactive game, and the usual trailers, production
notes, and bios.
The extras are nice,
but it's the movie itself that makes this package worthwhile - and the
DVD video and audio transfer is very good.
Neither Small Soldiers
or MouseHunt look as good as, say Starship
Troopers, but they still blow VHS and even laserdisc out of the water.
And that makes them both excellent home video experiences.
by Gore Verbinski
Small Soldiers, directed by Joe Dante
from Dreamworks Home Entertainment
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