Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

"Adventure Is Out There!"

"Happily ever after" is an unusual place to begin a story, but, as the prologue of Pete Doctor's second Pixar film Up illustrates, it a very dishonest place to end them. In a ten minute tour de force, Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is introduced through the memories he has of his wife Ellie, and the "married life" vignette firmly establishes Carl's devotion to her, vital to understanding the motivations for his actions later in the film. It is also a prime example of how the animators at Pixar can imbue characters with such life that as stylized as they are, they feel quite real, and it is that quality that make Up such an intense and wonderful experience.

Indeed, the issues facing Carl are quite real when, in a move of personal desperation, he uses thousands of balloons to lift his house and fly it to South America to fulfill a promise he made to Ellie when they were children. This is Carl's central intention, but he is constantly being distracted by others with their own goals: Junior Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nakai) hopes to earn his "Assisting the Elderly" badge so that he can bond again with his father; the giant tropical bird Russell names Kevin is trying to return to her babies; Dug (Bob Peterson), a golden retriever outfitted with a collar that allows him to speak English, is part of a pack of dogs hunting Kevin on behalf of Carl and Ellie's childhood hero Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), who hopes to catch the bird and reclaim his reputation.

Each of the characters intersect with one another in pursuit of their own objectives, but a major theme of the film is how real life often confounds expectations, and how staying "on mission" may cause a person to lose perspective over time. Some of these goals are indeed achieved over the course of the movie, but often at a cost that makes them empty victories at best. Carl's inability to change his perspective often causes him to endanger many of the characters around him. Muntz's entire obsession is based upon acceptance in a world long gone; one wonders how the modern scientific community would view Muntz after having taken a rare animal away from its young out of its natural habitat.

This was Pixar's first feature to be exhibited in 3-D theatrically, which made several of the film's visual setpieces go from being merely beautiful to being breathtaking (Carl going up and the reveal of the tepui are two examples), but it also added a sense of distance from the house to the ground that can not be replicated on home video. Other than that, the Disney Blu-ray presentation is as flawless as expected. While there is no literal depth to the image, there is nevertheless the appearance of such, and the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio is crystal clear and makes wonderful use of the full soundstage. Michael Giacchino's outstanding score (arguably his finest to date) has fallen victim to Disney's new media policies and unfortunately is a download-only release. Digital files with lossy compression may be sufficient for pop music but are woefully inadequate to convey all of the nuances of an orchestral recording, and as a result the music sounds much clearer on the Blu-ray's DTS-HD MA track than it does on the soundtrack album. Disney's Blu-ray is a four-disc set, only two of which are Blu-ray discs. The second disc contains several production documentaries that cover every aspect of production from how the design of the characters reflects their personality to in a fun and engaging manner. Disc three contains the film on DVD (presumably so the kids can take the film with them over to grandma's house for the weekend) and disc four is a digital copy.

The film itself is accompanied by a commentary track in an "Cine-Explore" format that is not too dissimilar from the "Visual Commentary" included on the DVD of Finding Nemo. In addition to the discussion track between directors Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson, which is informative and great fun, visual elements are also incorporated, including artwork from various stages of production, which sometimes supplements what is being discussed and sometimes just what is on the screen. It was a great self-contained overview of the project, and excellent use of the format's capabilities. Supplementing the film on the first platter are "Dug's Special Mission," a prequel of sorts to the film, "Partly Cloudy" the delightful short that preceded theatrical showings of Up (again, unfortunately not presented in 3-D) and two documentaries, "The Many Endings of Muntz" in which the filmmakers agonize over the fate of the villain and "Adventure Is Out There," which details a journey several of the animators took to Monte Roraima, Matawi Tepui and Angel Falls in Venezuala to observe the terrain and wildlife there to incorporate that imagery into the film. This provided not only for the interesting visuals these exotic locations could provide, but also added a tactile quality to their work.

It is a shame that there is no option for viewing the film in 3-D considering how well the effect was used in the theatrical showings of the film, but the characters lose none of their depth and the story none of its refreshing originality.
Tags: cinema, film music, michael giacchino, reviews
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