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Who hasn't heard of Shrek by now - not many I expect.  This is the fifth completely CGI* rendered animation movie ever released for the cinema (or sixth, depending on where you think Final Fantasy fits in).  This movie was so much fun in the cinema, I'm sorry that I can't experience the enjoyment of the audience chuckling anymore.  The adults were laughing much more than the kids simply because most of the jokes went right over their heads.  There are so many nods and winks to all our favourite movies and TV shows that only the more mature of us that are able to pick up on them (including a heap of music cues that are undoubtably familiar).

This movie is a definitive revolution in CGI* effects.  Sure, Hollywood has been using them increasingly ever since Terminator 2 showed what was possible in the digital realm, but it's not often that a whole movie is entirely created within the computer itself.  The visual realism in Shrek is astounding, however we take this sort of thing for granted nowadays no matter how much effort has been put into it.  All other movies are easy to create compared with this one, since 80% of the work in modern filmmaking is already done when the actors and environment are filmed on-site, then there are a few tweaks to setup the extra special effects on-screen and ... voila!

But just consider what had to be recreated in Shrek - every leaf, blade of grass, hair, skin, fur, clothes, sunsets, moonlight, clouds, dust, fire, water, mud, ear wax, everything! ... that's just the start though.  Ever tried making all of these objects and material move realistically (including the emotion, mood and body language of every character)?  I thought not.  The more realistic something looks, the less it seems that it was hard to do.  One thing that truly stunned me for its realism was the dirt track just after Donkey escapes the guards ... with all the dead wood clippings, the various treadmarks and general disturbance of the dirt's surface.  This was all done by hand and looks exactly like the real thing - incredible!

It may surprise you to know that this entire project was 10 years in the making and 3 years for the CGI* production, which I'm sure had a slightly detrimental affect on the plotting and motivations of the characters in the story.  But then who's complaining when it's this much fun?  It's also great to find out that a lot of the crew who did the animations, editing and sound design are the ones that provided the voices for the supporting character roles ... Michael Myers (Shrek) himself also contributes to the voice of one of the three blind mice!

* C.G.I. means Computer Generated Imagery.  There are currently only 6 movies that come under the banner of being 100% generated inside the computer (however, Disney's Dinosaur is not one of them because it a combines live action elements with computer graphics).  The movies that belong to this very exclusive domain are:
- Toy Story (Disney/Pixar 1995)
- Antz (Dreamworks/PDI 1998)
- A Bug's Life (Disney/Pixar 1998)
- Toy Story 2 (Disney/Pixar 1999)
- Final Fantasy (Columbia/Tristar 2001)

Shrek (Michael Myers) lives in his home by the swamp where nothing disturbs his peaceful tranquil existence ... not even the local villagers who (from time to time) attempt to drive him out.  They use all manner of pitchforks, shovels and firetorches to try and "scare" the Ogre off their land - Shrek just ends up using these weapons as utensils for his dinner table.

If Shrek thought that the angry villagers were nothing then he has yet to meet the fairytale creatures, one of which is a talking Donkey (Eddie Murphy) - all of whom have been evicted from their homes by Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow).  He wants these cutesy menaces out of his domain to establish his "Perfect Kingdom of Duloc" and these storybook characters have had no choice but to make camp at Shrek's home (only he doesn't want them around his place either).

Then (after a few other plot-points are considered) Shrek is off to rescue the fair maiden Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from the highest room in the tallest tower of a lava-filled dragon-guarded castle.  Adventure, romance and comedy ensue.

Direct from the digital source.  Perfect.

Well, what else can I say about it?

All the DD 5.1 soundtracks on this DVD are actually a few decibels below the norm of what we're used to these days.  But the way it's mixed means that you can either watch it at a normal volume setting and still understand what is going on, or crank it up to experience the action and adventure yet not be blown away by overly loud effects or frustrated at soft dialogue.  This results in a subdued sound mix that actually works in its favour by keeping the movie within the realm of a pleasant fairytale storytelling environment.  A bold move by Dreamworks which pays off here.  (Just a pity we aren't given the DTS soundtrack to compare it with).

This is the type of mix that doesn't use the absolute extremes of the dynamic ranges available in a digital sound format, so the speakers don't get as much of a workout as we would have liked at first.  The sub-woofer comes in almost sparingly with only the most dramatic moments coming to the fore, I'm surprised that it's not used a lot more for subtle enhancement.  The split-surrounds do not draw much attention to themselves but they do come in occassionally, the majority of the soundtrack seems to be mainly frontstage directed though.  Dialogue is all ADR** and naturally very easy to follow, however there are still a couple of instances which had me reaching for the subtitle button to catch some very important key dialogue (mostly from Eddie Murphy and his quick-talking delivery).

The sound imagery is best described as a tool to complement the storytelling, it's not meant to make you go "Wow!" (that's up to the video :-).  The audio is perfectly suited for the movie's needs.

** A.D.R. means Automatic Dialogue Replacement ("dubbing" to the general public) ... (er, maybe "recording all the voices in a studio" might make more sense).

Quite a feast for both young and old here.  Let it be known that there is a more extensive 2-disc set available in R1 (U.S.) that will probably not see a subsequent R2&4 (UK/Australia) release with all the added features.

Animated Menus - Very entertaining and quick to get where they're going (except for one of them).  This is 16:9-enhanced for widescreen TVs and the same screens are cropped into a "fullscreen" image for (the currently) normal 4:3 display TVs out there.  (Note:-  This example of utilising a widescreen image downconverted to a fullscreen one confirms the possibility of creating a 4:3 image with the alleged Pan&Scan decoding techniques available - not that I condone the use of P&S).

Filmmakers' Commentary - This is a very laidback and informal discussion by the main people involved in the movie's creation.  This was obviously a labour of love that extended way back into their kindergarten days when they first read about Shrek in a children's book.  The directors and producer go into many avenues of the process ... from their experiences and inspirations in making the story come alive, as well as touching on the technical decisions made and the various difficulties in achieving the intentionally "hyper-realistic" environment.  They had to tone back the detailed artwork and look of the characters so that it didn't become "too real".

"The Tech Of Shrek" featurette - A brief (made-for-TV) 22 mins documentary which is hardly enough time to cover all aspects of the story design and CGI* work involved.  It probably won't appeal to the kiddies because of its technical nature but adults will garner some interesting facts out of it.  It does pat itself on the back quite a lot but, considering the achievements that they've accomplished, I'm more forgiving of it in this case (at least they don't use that annoying word "collaborative" all the time!).  It's a pity that the DVD couldn't have expanded on this with a much larger and informative piece, however I still remember my days of wading through The Mummy's hour-long CGI investigative extravaganza.

Animation Interviews: "Meet The Press" featurette - Contains "character interviews" as though they were on the set.  Under 3 mins long that has some nice "blink-and-you'll-miss-it" jokes of the kind that you see in the movie itself.

Production Notes - The text here is presented in the same "fairytale book" opening of the movie (static pages though).  These notes are the only indication that there was ever any history to the world of Shrek, which first started life as an award-winning illustrated children's book by author William Steig.  It then describes the advances made at PDI/Dreamworks in CGI* to make this book come alive for the big screen.

International Dubbing featurette - Running under 3 mins, not that one I'd come back to in a hurry.  Generally states how they chose international voice actors to portray the fun that their English speaking counterparts had at the time of recording their dialogue.  Not many examples of their work are exhibited here which is surprising considering what it's about.

Shrek In The Swamp Karaoke Dance Party - This is the "extended ending" that is claimed to exist from the DVD front cover, but it's really only a tacked-on music video clip that comes in after the closing credits.  Also running under 3 mins, this is almost like a fun-day that the characters decided to hold at the end of filming (so to speak :-).  A bit on the short side but it still has a number of musically related in-jokes that fly straight by you if you're not overly familiar with the movie's content (which is part of the fun).  All the characters get involved and have a great time ... it also shows the fate of Lord Farquaad.

Games - Mostly for kids, but there is one that the adults will want to play with ...
- Shrektacular Trivia (Kids only) - A simple multiple-choice selection of questions from the movie.  Even if you answer wrongly it'll give you another chance, the reward being a related clip from the movie.  Not bad, but thankfully not terrible either.
- Character Morph (Kids only) - Near useless sectioning off of body parts from the four major characters that ends up looking like some bad blue-screen effect.
- Decorate The Gingerbread Man (Kids only) - Again, not a very fascinating look at what the guy looks like in a dozen or so outfits.
- Shrek's ReVoice Studio (DVD-ROM) (Kids & Adults) - This is where the DVD stands out from ANYTHING else on the market.  It's such a cool feature, I can't begin to tell you how much fun it is.  As complex as the method sounds it's done very simply and intuitively, as long as you can understand the concept of following 3-2-1-Talk!  This gives you many scene selections to play with and will also automatically "resync" your voice to match what is being said on-screen - it works so well it's uncanny!  It must be noted that any attempt at trying to talk as fast as Eddie Murphy takes a lot of skill and timing that I only just managed to successfully perform myself (even with my musical training) - most people will have a hard time keeping up with him.  I'd hate to think what it would sound like after an all-night drinking session with your mates!

Cast & Filmmakers Biographies - A very (very) brief summary of the work that the main players have been involved in over the years (just their popular stuff really).

The missing extras that are found in the R1 (U.S.) version are the Multi-Angle Story Pitch;  Technical Goofs (some of this is in the "Tech Of Shrek" featurette);  Character Design Progression Reel;  HBO Making Of (25 mins);  Trailer (Sneak Peek) for movie Spirit;  Two Music Videos;  Many PC Kiddies Games.

This is one DVD that can't go past anyone's collection.  The extras here are mainly for the kids' benefit with some liberal splashings of adult-friendly fun to keep both camps happy.  However for the discerning collector, it's a shame that we don't get the choice to own either a definitive Collector's Edition or the standard disc like what was done for Men In Black.

Parents will know the benefit of kiddies videos when they can play them on the TV to keep their kids occupied for the next hour or so.  But not many of these are able to tempt the adults back from their house duties to relive their favourite scenes again and again - this movie is one such example.  It is one of those few "made-for-kids" productions that can truly claim its appeal to people of all ages ... with many of the subtle comic one-liners that will have more mature minded viewers giggling and gaffawing to themselves constantly.

If you loved Shrek at the cinemas and don't mind missing a few extras (as listed above) this is one DVD which I'm sure won't get boring in a hurry.