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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/31/99

The Prince of Egypt
Signature Selection - 1998 (1999) - DreamWorks S.K.G.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Prince of Egypt Film Ratings: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/A+

Specs and Features

99 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:13, in chapter 22), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with directors Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells), Making of Prince of Egypt documentary, When You Believe multi-language presentation, Basics of Animation featurette, Focus on Technical Effects featurette, 3 theatrical trailers (2 for Prince of Egypt, and a sneak preview trailer for The Road to El Dorado and Chicken Run), production art gallery, cast & crew bios, production notes, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Well, this may be something of a first. I don't know that I've ever given out straight "A+'s" for a DVD's Disc Ratings in a review before. But I guess there's always a first time. Let me just quickly say, thatThe Prince of Egypt is an extremely impressive disc. There have certainly been DVDs which have been more innovative in terms of features. And there have been a few discs with greater depth of supplemental content. But no DVD, that I've reviewed at least, has managed to deliver so all-around complete a package, in terms of both DVD quality and features, as The Prince of Egypt. DreamWorks deserves some serious kudos for this one, folks.

The story of The Prince of Egypt is one of the oldest known to man - the book of Exodus from The Bible. The Exodus tale has many analogues in the world's major religious faiths, the idea of people being chosen by God for deliverance being the key theme. But whatever your particular faith (or lack thereof), The Prince of Egypt strikes many universal themes for people to identify with, among them the individual search for meaning and identity, the struggle of a son following in his father's footsteps, the bond between brothers, and faith in something greater than one's self.

As the film opens, we see a Hebrew mother casting a young baby adrift in the Nile river, in the hope that it will be spared from the slaughter of young male children ordered by the Pharaoh. As luck would have it, the child is found by the Pharaoh's wife, and is adopted to be raised as a prince of Egypt. Many years later, we see that the baby, Moses (voiced by Val Kilmer), has grown into a rambunctious young man, and is constantly getting into trouble, along with his older brother Rameses (Ralph Fiennes). This is fine for Moses, but Rameses bears the weight of one day taking on his father's responsibilities, and struggles for his approval. Before long however, Moses learns the truth about his heritage. At first he can't accept it, but soon he believes, and then cannot condone the cruel treatment of his people (who toil in servitude as slaves to the Pharaoh). Moses runs away in shame, but eventually finds a measure of happiness in marriage, and in the simple life of a shepherd. Still, God has other plans for Moses - he appears in a vision, and tells Moses that it's his destiny to return home, to deliver the Hebrew people from oppression. When he finally does return, he learns that his brother has indeed become Pharaoh, and while Rameses is happy to see his long lost brother, he has no intention of letting his slaves go free. And so the stage is set for a sacred struggle, that will pit brother against brother, and unleash the very wrath of God.

The Prince of Egypt boasts some of the most amazing animation you will ever see, combining traditional hand-painted work, with various types of 2D and 3D computer animation, to form a dazzling whole. From the appearance of the hand of God, to the parting of the Red Sea, there are some very impressive and stylized visuals to feast your eyes on here. And the cast of voice talent in this film is equally good. In addition to Kilmer and Fiennes, are Patrick Stewart, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helen Mirren, and Matrin Short. Mel Brooks even does a voice or two. The Prince of Egypt has some serious themes, but manages to be completely entertaining along the way. And thankfully, it tells the story of Exodus with the utmost of respect for those who hold it sacred.

Now, let's talk about the DVD, which is (as I mentioned earlier) impressive. The film itself is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, and is enhanced for anamorphic displays (as are all DreamWorks DVDs). The picture is simply stunning. You'll see gorgeous color, excellent detail and well-defined blacks. Very little edge enhancement shows itself, and I dare you to find defects in the print used in this transfer. I looked hard, but could spot only very few specks of dust or dirt - most have been digitally cleaned away. This disc just provides a wonderfully rich visual experience. I know that Disney's upcoming DVDs will all bear the THX stamp, but they aren't going to be anamorphic, and I'm guessing that they'll pale in comparison to The Prince of Egypt. Hollywood take notice: THIS is how animation should look on DVD.

As if the picture isn't good enough, the audio on this disc thrills as well. The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (a 2.0 track is also available), and the mix creates an expansive soundfield. Make no mistake - this isn't nerve-rending surround sound like Titanic, but it's every bit as good in its own way. The audio here is clean and clear, with great subtlety and excellent dynamic range. Right from the very opening credits, you'll hear the soft notes of a choir floating in from the rear channels, and the hushed whisper of wind swirling all around. In chapter 3, the shouts Moses and Rameses will echo from afar behind you, and then explode by your head as their chariots race into the distance in front of you, in a thunder of galloping horses. The soundfield is very unified, with rich deep bass, creating a completely natural-sounding audio experience. The score by Hans Zimmer is beautifully presented, and the dialogue is completely natural, and well positioned in the mix. I particularly liked Patrick Stewart's audio introduction - there's no mistaking his booming voice, as it echoes all around: "Why do the gods torment me..!"

So okay, this disc has got quality. What about the goodies? What about the extras? Worry not, 'cause they're all here - just about everything you'd want from a film (and disc) like this. To start with, you get very nice animated menu screens (all based on film-themed imagery) with nice sound effects and music to back them up. The folks at DreamWorks do more to advance the science of "DVD menu ergonomics" than anyone I know, and as always, the menus here are nicely laid out, and easy to navigate (with the least amount of button pushes necessary). And again, as always, DreamWorks has provided nifty little animated transitions that add just that much more gee-whiz factor to the DVD experience. As for content-related extras, you get a feature length commentary track by the film's trio of directors (Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells), a 26-minute Making of Prince of Egypt documentary (which includes cast interviews), a 10-minute Basics of Animation featurette (which focuses on the chariot race), another 6-minute Focus on Technical Effects featurette (which talks about the merging of traditional and computer animation), a gallery of production artwork (with some 80 images), 2 theatrical trailers for the film, cast and crew bios, and several pages of production notes.

But one of my favorite extras is the special preview trailer for a pair of upcoming DreamWorks feature animated titles, The Road to El Dorado (with the voices of Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh) and Chicken Run (from Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit, and starring Mel Gibson). Sneak previews of upcoming projects are just plain cool, and are a nice touch on a DVD (can't wait for Chicken Run!). By far the most amazing extra on this DVD however, is the multi-language presentation of the Academy Award-winning song, When You Believe. I don't know how many of you were aware of this, but The Prince of Egypt premiered in theaters simultaneously in some 49 different countries around the world (not including the U.S.), and in 27 different languages. The production team worked for months to find voice talent that could perform in the various languages, that perfectly matched the film's original cast. This multi-language presentation allows you to watch an important musical sequence in the film, as the audio changes from one language to the next seamlessly - you'd never know you were listing to different people singing if they didn't tell you. It's one of the most impressive demo pieces I've ever seen (or heard) on a DVD - you just really need to experience it for yourself to understand how incredible it is.

Once again, DreamWorks has delivered fully on the promise of the DVD format. I definitely wish that a few other studios in the DVD game (which shall remain nameless) would follow their lead. The Prince of Egypt sets a new standard for all-around quality, and well-rounded, substantial features (the kinds of features consumers want and expect on DVD), and it absolutely sets THE standard for animation on the format. I can't recommend this disc more highly. And I think, once you've given it a spin yourself, you'll see why. The Prince of Egypt definitely delivers.

Bill Hunt
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