Firebreather (US - BD RA)
Gabe breaths hot stuff with this Peter Chung directed Cartoon Network movie
A long, devastating war between humanity and Kaiju (giant, city crushing monsters) is brought to an end when a human woman named Margaret Rosenblatt (Dana Delany), and the king of the Kaiju, Belloc (Kevin Michael Richardson) fell in love. Their union also brings about a son named Duncan (Jesse Head). We’ll pretend we aren’t thinking about the logistics of that union. Duncan and his mother are obvious persons of interest for various world governments, and are placed in a sort of witness protection program in hopes of providing Duncan with a relatively normal childhood. The boy’s orange skin and scales don’t help his situation. At the age of sixteen Duncan starts life at a new high school, and makes new friends and enemies in the process. Meanwhile, his father decides to become a bigger part of his life, and introduces Duncan to the prospect of him inheriting the leadership of the Kaiju kingdom someday.
Cartoon Network’s Firebreather generally matches the studio’s usual stand-alone movie quality standards, which is to say it’s perfectly entertaining, but not very good. This is a continuing bone of contention, since the station’s regular series continue to impress with very few exceptions. Firebreather’s problems start at its basic script. There’s not a lot of novelty in the story setup, which includes bits of the Superman, Spider-Man (it has a lot in common with both the MTV animated Spider-Man series, and the Spider-Man inspired Batman Beyond series) and X-Men mythos. It reminds me the most of Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman’s more charmingly derivative Invincible, who according to the wiki actually crosses over with Firebreather at one point in the comics. Since pretty much every comic book property floating around waiting for a screen adaptation is derivative in one way or another, the bigger problem is that there isn’t much else to the characters, and a 69 minute run time isn’t enough to build this mythology and these characters, so both end up thinly constructed.
The film is directed by animation prodigy Peter Chung, the man that invented MTV’s thoroughly strange shorts turned regular series Aeon Flux. Chung’s design and expressionistic direction can also be scene in Matriculated from The Animatrix, Dark Fury, the Chronicles of Riddick prequel, and Reign: The Conqueror. Chung’s films are often sexually aggressive, and brimming with abstract and psychologically grotesque concepts. Firebreather represents his first work in family friendly entertainment since his character design on Rugrats, and his first exclusive 3D CG animation. Sadly, the animation here is pretty stiff, and the characters feature all the life of moving action figures. Chung’s weirdo style, which includes gawky, skinny, spider-like humans, comes through in CG, but the lack of budget means the characters don’t move as fluidly as Aeon Flux. The character designs also feature a lot less detail than their 2D counterparts, and don’t have much going on in terms of facial expression. Chung overdoes the floating camera and random dutch angles, but his action scenes are generally dynamic and entertaining, even if they aren’t much more exciting than the average, decently budgeted video game cut scene.
This 1080p Blu-ray disc transfer effectively showcases both the film’s biggest visual shortcomings and achievements. Modern computer generated animation tends to look better than even the best decade old material, but a comparatively low budget will always rear its head in some form or another. The overall smoothness, which is partially a stylistic choice but also clearly a money saver, leads to a general lack of fine detail, and I’m pretty sure the DVD version will look basically the same in this regard. Duncan’s scales, his jacket, and Belloc’s rock-like skin are among the more impressive textures. These all stand up to some pretty tough eyeballing, and suffer only minor digital artifacts. The colour quality is vibrant and relatively clean, and there aren’t any jagged or halo stricken edges, but the colour blends are too often blocky.
For an action flick from the studio that brings us the aurally explosive weekly Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, Firebreather isn’t doesn’t feature a particularly overwhelming or aggressive soundtrack. Overall there isn’t a lot worth complaining about with this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, but there isn’t a whole lot to celebrate either. There just isn’t much in the way of layers to the sound, especially any scene that doesn’t involve a lot of Kaiju fighting action. This empty sound pallet just feeds the whole low budget problem, and the volume levels don’t help. There are a few expressive action scenes, the Kaiju feet create some effective LFE rumble, but the more point of view based shots (one of Chung’s trademarks) don’t really engulf the viewer at all. Between this and the Venture Bros. season four release I’m suspecting that perhaps WB is just sticking a TrueHD label on compressed Dolby Digital tracks for their animation releases.
The disc’s extras are pretty weak, but do cover the visual development process. These start with a deleted scene, which is surprisingly shown as a completed product (00:50, HD). This leads into a 2D animation test directed by Chung that matches his normal style much more closely, and is frankly a more interesting looking product (1:30, HD). There are also four animatics, and three visual development galleries (‘Firebreather: The Comic’, character designs for 2D and character designs for CG).
Firebreather is a solid piece of base level entertainment, but I’m not too excited about a possible series following this standalone release. I’ve heard good things about the comic it’s based on, but this CG movie doesn’t do quite enough to endear me to the characters, or interest me in their further adventures. This Blu-ray release is about average, with some minor video gaffes, a compressed sounding Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and precious few extra features.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 22nd March 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Extras: Deleted Scene, Animation Tests, Development Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Peter Chung
Cast: Jesse Head, Kevin Michael Richardson, Amy Davidson, Tia Texada, Grey DeLisle
Genre: Adventure and Animation
Length: 69 minutes
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