Ben 10: Race Against Time (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is graced by the live action appearance of the popular cartoon...
Ben Tenison (Graham Phillips) comes back to his hometown of Bellwood after a summer of adventurous alien fighting. School proves dull, and having a secret identity isn’t as much fun when you actually have to keep it a secret. Fortunately for the bored Ben, an evil alien named Eon is on his tail, seeking the powerful Omnitrix for his own evil gains. Ben, his sister Gwen (Haley Ramm), his Grandpa Max (Lee Majors), and a group of anti-alien agents codenamed ‘The Plumbers’, must defeat Eon before he gets a hold of the Omnitrix and brings about the end of the world.
My interest in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League seems to have put me on some kind made for kids mailing list. I have actually enjoyed the handful of Ben 10 episodes I caught on Cartoon Network over the last couple years, but I wasn’t really looking forward to a live-action, made for TV movie adaptation. I was planning on sticking this disc into the ‘when Hell freezes over’ pile of unsolicited DVDs, when I double-checked the press material. The director’s name caught my eye—Alex Winter. That’s right, Bill S. Preston, Esq. directed a made for TV, live-action Ben 10 movie (this isn’t Winter’s directorial debut of course, he’s responsible for a rascally cult flick called Freaked).
At its best, Ben 10: Race Against Time is the kind of man-in-suit (though digital suits) creature fighting fun time the two live-action Guyver adaptations were, at its worst it’s just a slightly pricy episode of Power Rangers. The plot is a mix of Spider-Man and Men in Black (including specific jokes like an alternate explanation for the Chicago Fire). Ben is a loser in real life and resents the fact that he can only be a superhero in private, and he’s introduced to an underground alien intelligence agency. In a way this unoriginality is a blessing given the film’s brief runtime because we can fill in the blanks ourselves, and the brief runtime is a blessing because it means we don’t have to sit through another superhero origin story (that’s so 2005).
The special effects are mostly budget row, like morphing effects and some explosions, but a lot of the digital creature animation is pretty impressive (though Ben only turns into four of his ten alien personalities). But there isn’t a lot of action, and that’s this fluffy little goof’s real problem. The flat acting (even Lee Majors and Robert Picardo don’t impress) and unimaginative narrative are hard to handle after a while, and without monsters hitting each other Winter’s Barry Sonnenfeld inspired visuals just didn’t hold my interest.
Ben 10: Race Against Time is a live-action cartoon adaptation, and Alex Winter gets the best out of his meagre budget visually. This 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer is very colourful, and the colours pop pleasantly (look out for those reds, oranges, and villainous purples). There’s a flatness to the image, but this meshes nicely with the cartoony look, kind of like a moving comic book. Contrast is pretty high, and blacks are nice and inky. Details are about average for a standard definition release, with only a little edge enhancement and compression.
The addition of a 5.1 Dolby Digital track should be a nice surprise for kids with decent sound set-ups. Most of the film is stereo friendly, but the fleeting action scenes are a fun time. Monster sounds are loud enough, and whip around the back speakers with eager ferocity. The soundtrack’s production values are lacking, for sure, but canned and over-the-top effects fit nicely into this cartoonish environment.
Are only extras are a collection of three, two minute ‘behind the scenes’ commercials, which give a tiny bit of insight to the making of process, a ninety second video of Winter introducing the film at the L.A. premiere, and another small series of thirty second quick looks at the making of with some kid host named Fried Dynamite(?). No one ever acknowledges that Winter was in the Bill and Ted movies.
Ben 10: Race Against Time isn’t really good enough to enthral most adults, but it has its cute moments, and the special effects are much better the expected. I know that when I was a kid the idea of seeing my favourite cartoon characters in live action was super keen, so I imagine the little ones will have a blast.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Behind the Scenes Featurettes, Premiere Footage
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alex Winter
Cast: Graham Phillips, Haley Ramm, Don McManus, Beth Littleford, Andrew John Ferguson
Genre: Adventure and Family
Length: 67 minutes
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