Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (US - BD RA)
Gabe reminds himself that scientific accuracy isn't the point of a kid's movie...
I’ll start us off right—I didn’t really like the original Ice Age. The early promo was one of the better and more endearing teasers in recent history, and the production and character design looked nothing like any other studio CG animated feature (at the time), but unfortunately all the creative design and adorable, speechless rat creatures in the world couldn’t quite save the film from moderately amusing mediocrity. There were a few laughs (the dodo scene was pretty ingenious), but for the most part the film is memorable for probably entirely unintentional reasons (it’s up there with Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Driven for its hilarious ‘accidental’ misogynistic homoeroticism, which I’ll avoid getting into right now). But Ice Age was popular enough to spawn a sequel, which I didn’t see, and eclipse the bulk of Fox’s Blue Sky Studios’ output (their only other films were the equally good looking and mediocre Robots, and their first genuinely good production Horton Hears a Who.
Follow the money, and we’re led to yet another sequel— Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Mammoths Ellie (Queen Latifah) and Manny (Ray Romano) are expecting their first child, and their friends are feeling left out. Diego the sabre-toothed cat (Denis Leary) decides to leave the ‘herd’, while Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) goes in search of his own children. After Sid finds and steals a trio of eggs he finds buried in the ice it turns out they’re dinosaur eggs, and mama tyrannosaurus takes the hatchlings back to her underground sanctum, where other dinosaurs apparently live. Oh, and she takes Sid, so the others follow to save him. You’re favourite Ice Age characters discover The Land Before Time (or that very similar place from Disney’s Dinosaur), in other words. Scientific accuracy aside (and I hate to admit how much it bothers me that this silly kids flick has thrown all scientific merit out the window), it’s a fun enough way to bring something new into the series that was stale the second it was born. It’s really hard to go wrong with dinosaurs, unless you’re adapting Ray Bradbury, apparently.
There really isn’t much to say about the film critically (hence my wordy intro), other than it works very well on base levels. I can’t imagine many people will walk away from the thing with more than the vaguest memories of the experience, and the story is almost embarrassingly thin, not to mention repetitive (something I’m basing solely on the first film), but the action is worthy of budget, and the comedy hits more than it misses. The sheer scale is very impressive, a necessity due to the addition of dinosaurs, which are much larger than the already large mammoth characters. Like Monsters vs. Aliens (which also featured three distinct character scales), Ice Age 3 was made for 3D showings, and the action is tailored towards the format. One assumes that this stuff would be more impressive in 3D, but the scale works well anyway, even on a smaller screen. There are five or six solid set-pieces, and the lack of plot ensures the pacing between these is relatively breathless. I can complain about a lot of stuff here, but I was never bored.
Concerning the humour, it’s not all to my taste here, but the writers don’t fall back too hard on to quickly dated pop-culture references (my biggest pet peeve concerning these types of films). To the contrary all the best jokes are pretty old school, and like recent Dreamworks Animation successes Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar the film uses slapstick styles perfected by the likes of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones decades ago. I’m also ashamed to admit that the helium voice scene had me in stitches, regardless of how played out and simplified the joke is. The biggest tragedy of this series is found in the comedy, and how perfectly the Scrat sequences work. The character humour and dialogue based jokes are so-so, but the dialogue free Scrat scenes, a character defined solely by his love for an acorn and loser’s luck, are spun comedy gold. I don’t think it’s possible to make such an adventure work feature length, but as a series of moments these bits act more to discourage us from enjoying the film proper. Still, I suppose not entirely funny spiked by uproariously funny, mixed with big action is a good as I could expect from the sequel to a film I didn’t really like all that much in the first place.
It’s always difficult to find anything interesting to say about computer generated animated films (and I’ve got two more on the docket). Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a direct digital file, and made for 1080p presentations. Though heavily stylized, similar to classic hand-drawn animation, Ice Age 3 is still brimming with teeny tiny details to make the Blu-ray purchase surely worth your extra dollars. The majority of neato detail is found in the various fur and hair effects. Sometimes it’s wiry, sometimes it’s soft, and all times it’s varied and tangible. The dinosaur scales are cartoonier, but still sharply defined. The tar, and related bubble effect, along with some of the frost effects and dirt are especially impressive, and more or less photo realistic. The killer plants are also impressive in their subtle transparency. The first film in the series was limited by its choice of local in the field of colour, but this story (unscientific though it may be) leads to a much more expansive pallet. Moving beyond brown objects set against white and blue, with hints of green, this film features a world of greens and yellows, warmed over with intense reds. Dramatic, expressionistic lighting assists the overall contrast, and leads to some deep and powerful blacks among the ambitious colours. This particular disc isn’t entirely perfect though; there are some very minor, but still noticeable compression effects during the most busy action scenes.
Besides being an animated film with a fully formed universe of artificial sounds, Ice Age 3 features dinosaurs, which are defined as not being able to speak like the other animals. Thus we’re privy to all manner of growls, grumbles and roars that stand above the already effective aural environment. Interestingly enough, despite the many visual references to the Jurassic Park and Godzilla films, the dinosaurs sound somewhat original. The sounds are familiar, but have texture all their own. This Blu-ray’s DTS-HD soundtrack is at its best when these creatures are screaming and rumbling the LFE channel with their footsteps, but is just as effective when it’s subtly filled out with low-level background sounds. In all this isn’t the most overtly impressive animated feature mix in my collections, but there aren’t any overt shortcomings. The music is a constant undercurrent, and is mostly delegated to the stereo channels. The mix usually keeps the score low on the track, sometimes so low it’s hard to even hear, but usually brings it up when bombast is called for (the crazy ferret’s recall of his fight with the giant dinosaur is an especially rousing example). I’m kind of tired of popular movies using ‘Do the Dinosaur’, but the use of ‘You’ll Never Find a Love Like Mine’ in different forms is quite enjoyable.
The Blu-ray extras begin with a filmmaker commentary featuring directors Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier, producer John Donkin, art director Michael Knapp, character designer Peter DeSève, producer Lori Forte, and a supervising animator whose name is garbled. The track is fact filled, and relatively involving, but the focus leans more towards the technical aspects of the film. The commentators work well off each other, acting as interviewers and moderators when necessary. Everyone’s a little too proud of the final product if you ask me, but I’m guessing you aren’t, so I’ll keep my mouth shut. PS: Lori Forte— The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III both feature dinosaurs with maternal instincts. They’re actually pretty important plot points. Not being a dick, I’m just sayin’.
Next up is the ‘Storybook Maker’ option. This interactive mode begins with three age levels (1-5, 6-11, and 12 and up), and allows for a choice of character, and cover art. Then we’re allowed to capture screen caps from select scenes, select a layout, move the screen cap within the layout, and select text. All-in-all a decent time-waster.
Featurettes begin with ‘Evolution Expedition’ (18:30, HD), a scientific look at the animals found in the film. Without dumbing it down too much for the wee ones, this featurette lets the experts at the Santa Barbara Zoo, Natural History Museum of LA and La Brea Tar Pits break things down animal by animal, pointing out the differences between the real thing and their animated counterparts. I’m guessing there are several nerdy kids out there that already know all this stuff. Not that I was one. This is followed by ‘Buck: From Easel to Weasel’ (07:00, HD), a look at the creation of the film’s major new character, voiced by geek fav Simon Pegg. Cast and crew fluffily talk the guy up and delve a bit into his genesis, set to footage from the film, and of Pegg shouting into a microphone. That is followed by ‘Unearthing the Lost World’ (09:00, HD), a general making-of EPK that covers the new animation technology, the storytelling progression, production and character design, and the nitty gritty of animation.
Next are two Scrat shorts—‘Gone Nutty’ (05:00, HD), which was available on the original film Blu-ray and DVD, and ‘No Time for Nuts’ (07:00, HD), which is available on the Ice Age 2 Blu-ray and DVD. ‘No Time for Nuts’ is actually a work of slapstick genius, and both shorts go to prove that the series is only as strong as this single, non-speaking character. These are followed by a selection of Scrat related featurettes, ‘The Saber-Toothed Squirrel’ (informative gag), ‘Scrat: From Head to Toe’ (character design), ‘Scrat: Breaking Story’ (joke trailer), ‘Scrat: News Report’, and ‘Falling for Scratte’ (10:00, SD and HD).
The disc is completed with five vintage, made for TV featurettes (28:00, SD) two deleted scenes (presented in animated storyboard form, 04:30, HD), a ‘Walk the Dinosaur’ music video, and Fox trailers.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is overall not a particularly great movie, but it features some great action, and is generally pretty amusing (especially those Scrat scenes). I’m a little dumbfounded by the film’s international gross, which have handily overtaken Finding Nemo and Fellowship of the Ring when inflation isn’t taken into account. There just isn’t enough theme or plot here to obsessively latch onto. This Blu-ray release does not feature a 3D option (which is fine since it never quite works on home video), but the 1080p video looks pretty gorgeous, and the DTS-HD sound is great. The extras aren’t super, but feature a solid commentary, a good, kid-friendly science featurette, and HD versions of Scrat’s short film adventures.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 27th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French and Portuguese
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese
Extras: Filmmaker Commentary, Storybook Maker, Evolution Expedition, Buck: From Easel to Weasel, Unearthing the Lost World, Scrat Shorts, Scrat Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Fox Movie Channel Featurettes, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier
Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg
Genre: Adventure, Animation and Comedy
Length: 94 minutes
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