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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/16/99



ANTZ
Signature Selection

1998 (1999) - DreamWorks S.K.G. / PDI (DreamWorks)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

ANTZ Film Rating: A
Woody Allen fits perfectly into this entertaining classic, which has a great deal more adult appeal than A Bug's Life. Some funny moments, and lots of great, A-list vocal talent, make DVD's first full-length, computer-animated release a pleasure.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A+
The anamorphic widescreen picture here is absolutely breathtaking. It REALLY floored me. The 5.1 audio is also excellent, and there are tons of extras to enjoy.

Overall Rating: A+
This is simply one of the best DVDs I've seen, playing to all the strengths of the format. The video quality alone is worth the price. This is absolutely prime demo material. And the extras are a blast. Don't hesitate - just buy it and enjoy.

Specs and Features

83 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 16, at 47:56), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4 TV spots, full-length audio commentary with directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell, production featurette, Basics of Computer Animation, ANTZ Facial System, ANTZ Character Design, production notes, cast & crew bios, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (26 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Review

"When you're the middle child out of 5 million, you don't get any attention..."

ANTZ tells the story of "Z" (voiced by Woody Allen), a lowly worker ant, who longs to find his purpose in life. Z spends his days digging in the tunnels of his colony's ant hill, yet believes that he's destined for bigger and better things. Z gets an opportunity to experience just that, when he shares a dance with a pretty young ant, who turns out to be Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). Bala is the colony's future queen, engaged to the formidable General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and she also longs for more out of her life. Unknown to Z or Bala, however, Mandible has big plans of his own... like starting a new colony, by first destroying the old. Mandible sets his plan in motion, by declaring war with a neighboring termite colony. Z stumbles into the action, and naturally, becomes an unlikely hero.

I have to confess, I didn't see ANTZ when it made the rounds in theaters. I'm not a big Woody Allen fan, and it just didn't hook me when I saw the previews. That was a mistake on my part. First of all, the animation (as created by DreamWorks in association with Pacific Data Images) is excellent - really different than A Bug's Life, or any similar CGI film I've ever seen. ANTZ has a very atmospheric look - dark, moody, and rich in detail. The story is very good, and is definitely geared toward a more adult crowd. There's some death and destruction here. In fact, the battle scenes with the termites could have been lifted right out of Starship Troopers - I kid you not. All that's missing is the shot of a little soldier ant being shaken in the air, in the jaws of a termite, and ripped to shreds (if you listen to the audio commentary, you'll learn that there WAS one originally, which was eventually deleted as being just a bit too intense). Hey... bug war is hell.

The story lacks the kind of amusing supporting characters (the goofy sidekicks) that you normally get in Disney animation, but it's honest, well written, and interesting enough to hold its own. You get some real drama in this film. And there are some very funny moments, not to mention some amusing details to try and find in the background (you PDI guys know what I mean - "Free time is for training!"). But it's the cast of voice talent here that really makes ANTZ shine. Other than the leads, each of whom is terrific, you've got Sylvester Stallone, Danny Glover, Dan Aykroyd, Christopher Walken, Jennifer Lopez, and loads more. Each breathes life into their characters, and helps to make the film that much more fun.

As far as DVDs go, I was expecting to be impressed by ANTZ. DreamWorks has been slowly sneaking up on the other studios, quietly setting something of a new standard for the format. They may only have a few titles, but those they have released, have ALL been special... not to mention special edition. I was not, however, expecting to be as surprised as I was by the video quality on this disc. It's just breathtaking. I mean, I'll be honest - my jaw dropped. The video has been encoded at an average bit rate of 9Mbps, and while I've said before that that doesn't always make a difference, it sure does here. The clarity of the image is stunning, so much so, that the animation almost takes on a 3D quality. It literally jumps right off the screen. There's a shot of Z and his fellow workers in an "elevator" right after the opening title, that really illustrates what I'm talking about. The illusion of depth, of deep space, is amazing. I've seen clips of ANTZ in high definition, and I've got to tell you, this looks almost as good. The color is gorgeous (who's to say what the color of ant skin is anyway?), with subtle hues and very moody tones. And the contrast is first rate - solid blacks, with impressive detail, even in the darkest areas of the picture. It begs the question - how much better can a straight-digital transfer of CGI animation be (like that of the forthcoming A Bug's Life), versus a top-flight, telecine film transfer like this one? I'm not sure how it can get better than this. And ANTZ, at least, is in anamorphic widescreen, so those of you with new 16x9 TVs will appreciate the image quality here even more (Buena Vista has yet to support this all important feature of DVD, while DreamWorks has done so from the start).

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also excellent. The sound field is very natural, particularly the dialogue. That's surprising, given that most of the actors recorded their dialogue separately. The sound effects are very well mixed, such that there seems to be little separation between the front and rear hemispheres. Your subwoofer will get a good solid workout during the more intense action sequences. Even the music sounds great here, right from the get-go, as we hear thousands of ants whistling while they work over the opening titles. Unfortunately, the audio is only available in English, which is a small strike. Still, the sound you do get is impressive.

You want extras? The ANTZ DVD's got lots of them. You get the original theatrical trailer. You get no less than 4 TV spots. You get the usual production notes, and cast and crew bios. And you get a short production featurette. Now, here's where it starts getting really good. The disc contains a trio of excellent behind-the-scenes video shorts (I guess additional featurettes, really), which serve to nicely illustrate the process of animation and design involved with making a full-length CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) film of this scope. First, you get to see the process of how each of the main characters was designed, by looking at lots of pre-production artwork and sketches. The directors take you over each one in detail, and describe why each was rejected or selected, and what qualities they were looking for in each character. Then, you get to see the process by which the characters' faces were literally fleshed out by computer, with digital muscles and bones, so that a full range of facial expressions could be developed. Finally (and this was my favorite), you get to see the process of actually doing the animation, starting from the original, hand-drawn anamatics, through the layout and final rendering stages. Multiple scenes are used as examples to illustrate the process, and then all of the stages are shown together on the screen at once, so you can compare them. It's really fascinating stuff.

But that's not all. An excellent commentary track is included on the DVD, in which directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson discuss the difficulties of working on a film made entirely by computer. There's lots of insightful talk about the research they undertook into the real lives of ants, some ideas that didn't quite make it into the final film, the voice work of the actors, and loads more. And you get those great DreamWorks disc menus to boot, full of funny little animations, great transitions and sound. As you watch the main menu, for example, a tiny little line of ants marches across the bottom of the screen. You even get an Easter Egg - an animated section of the DVD's production credits.

There's also a lot of little touches here, that make me happy, happy, happy. For example, when you're in the scene selection menu, all you have to do is highlight the "next" arrow, to move to the next page - no pressing of your remote's Enter key is needed. That's just good old-fashioned viewer friendliness in my book. When you're in the special features menu, notice how the text changes color? It adds just that much more to the menu - a subtle, dynamic quality that really pleases, without you really perceiving it consciously. And when you start the disc, you're taken right into the main menu, following the DreamWorks logo. You don't have to sit through ten minutes of FBI warning screens (some in no less than 3 languages!), that all of your remote's buttons have been disabled for, so you can't skip past them. That's a MAJOR pet peeve I have with some studios' DVDs. Here, you only have one such screen, and ONLY after you start playing the film - there's no wait to get into the experience of the disc. DreamWorks has just figured out that what people want from the DVD format, is a quality experience and lots of extras. And they're delivering both in spades.

Bottom line

I'm gonna come right out and say it - DreamWorks has really upped the "ante" with this DVD (oh, come on... you knew that was coming)! Honestly, this is absolutely an amazing disc. You can't go wrong with it - there's just tons of entertainment here. Lots of nice little touches, stunning quality all around, and a darn fun movie. This is one to show off to your friends. Not to be missed.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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