Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 1/30/99
1997 (1998) - DreamWorks
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Think Gremlins meets Toy
Story (only not as good as either), and you'll have a
pretty good idea of what to expect here. Your basic G.I. Joe-type
action figures go on a rampage, when equipped with military
artificial intelligence chips. Clever... kinda.
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A/A-
Decent anamorphic widescreen video, if a bit soft on occasion. But
an outstanding Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, and a boat-load of
extras allows this DVD to pack punch. Plus, you know... you get Joe
Dante's signature in gold-stamped foil.
Overall Rating: B+
OK, the flick isn't the greatest, but this disc has a whole lot of
what you want from DVD. It's fun to watch, and there's enough
goodies here to keep you busy for a while. If you think you'll like
it, it's worth a look.
110 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 9, at
65:22), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, deleted
scenes & effects shots, outtakes, behind-the-scenes featurette,
Play Station game preview, cast & crew bios, production notes,
film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene
access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), Spanish &
French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Close
When Heartland toys is taken over by super-conglomerate Globotech,
a pair of bumbling toy designers, desperate to impress their new
boss (Gil Mars, played by comedian Denis Leary), implant their new
line of Elite Commando and Gorgonite action figures with
state-of-the-art artificial intelligence microchips. The problem?
These are some bad-ass chips, designed for military weapons use.
Enter young Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith), who inadvertently
obtains a set of the action figures while minding his Dad's toy
store. Before long, the Elite Commandos, who are programed to seek
out and destroy the Gorgonites, come to life and attempt to do just
that, leaving the store in shambles. The leader of the Gorgonite
figures, Archer (voiced by Frank Langella), asks Alan's help to find
the rest of his kind, who have hidden from the Commandos' wrath. And
when the Commando leader, Major Chip Hazard (Tommy Lee Jones),
learns than Alan is helping the Gorgonites, Alan's friends and
family (and an annoying neighbor played by the late Phil Hartman)
become targets for extermination.
Joe Dante films have never been big favorites of mine. That's
nothing against Dante - it's just that of all his films, only Matinee
and Explorers (OK, that one's
tough to admit) have entertained me. I was not a fan of Gremlins,
and Small Soldiers is similar
to the earlier film in many respects. The story is pretty
simplistic, and some of the dialogue is downright awful (almost
anything recited by a Gwendy doll comes to mind here). That's OK I
guess, because although there are some in jokes meant for an older
crowd, this film is definitely going after a PG-13 (give or take a
couple of years) audience. Be warned though, some of this humor has
a dark, twisted bent - definitely not for the younger viewers.
There are some darned fine effects on display in Small
Soldiers. The action figures are brought to life on
screen, by no less than Industrial Light & Magic and monster-man
Stan Winston - some serious talent indeed. In some cases (as you'll
learn in the featurette included on the disc), several puppeteers
were required to produce the character movements on stage. And CGI
imagery was blended seamlessly with the practical effects, to create
the full range of character movement. The result is fun to watch,
even if the movie is less than thrilling.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this film, is the impressive
supporting cast of vocal talent assembled. The Gorgonite characters
are voiced by Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean...
better known to film fans as Spinal Tap.
And who better to speak for the Commando squad, than the cast of
The Dirty Dozen, including Jim
Brown, Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy, among others.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer included on this DVD is
generally good, if occasionally a bit lacking in detail. The picture
at times has a soft quality about it, and the contrast was a bit
overblown. Not really enough to bother me, but certainly not up to
the level of DreamWorks' other recent DVDs, The
Peacemaker and Mouse Hunt.
Thankfully, however, the sound makes up for the video issues. The
disc defaults automatically to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (a
nice touch). The sound field is excellent, with aggressive use of
the surround channels, solid bass, and good overall clarity. Almost
any battle sequence will demonstrate the audio quality (after a
certain point in the film, it's all combat). And the dramatic score,
by composer Jerry Goldsmith, is nicely woven into the overall sound
There's a good batch of extras here as well. You get a theatrical
trailer, a nice featurette on the making of the film, a preview of
the Play Station game (OK, a commercial, but better than the "If
you liked this film, try..." crap we see on some other studios'
DVDs), a few bloopers and deleted scenes (including a couple of
unused effects shots), and plenty of production notes, and cast and
crew biographies. Given that this is a director-approved signature
edition, a commentary track by Dante would have been welcome, but
that's a small complaint.
I do have to give DreamWorks a lot of credit - their menus are
impressive. They're full of animation and sound, including the scene
selection page, where all of the chapter selections are previewed in
full motion video. When you select options from the main menu, one
of several Gorgonite characters appears on screen, and wipes the new
menu on. And best of all, as with the other DreamWorks DVDs, you
don't have to sit through disclaimer pages at the outset - the title
graphic appears almost instantly, when you put the DVD in your
Dante fans, go nuts. I have to say, even though the flick isn't
exactly high brow fare, it's at least entertaining. The voice talent
assembled here is definitely fun. And the disc has got some nice DVD
content value. I'd definitely recommend Small
Soldiers on DVD, to anyone who thinks they might be