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As of this May (2009) there will officially be eleven films in the Friday the 13th and Star Trek film series. There are eight in the Nightmare on Elm Street series (if we’re allowed to once again count Freddy vs. Jason). The Bond series has stacked up twenty-three (twenty-five if you count the two unofficials). But did you know that there are now eight entries in the Air Bud series that started in 1997? The latest film in the series stars a series of puppies (the Air Buddies), who are apparently done with sports, and heading for space—all by accident of course. An adult can only really appreciate a movie like this on three levels: technical achievement, lack of annoyance, and how quickly it shuts up our children. I have no kids, so level three has no effect on me (though I suspect eighty-four minutes of talking puppies and space ships will keep most under ten year olds intrigued).

Space Buddies
The annoyance level is pretty high, unfortunately. The jokes are so old standbys concerning bodily functions, and painfully un-original character types (one dog is the benevolent leader type, one’s a prim and proper girl, one likes being dirty, one likes eating, and the last speaks in stereotyped Ebonics, and these are their only traits). The one-liners are huge groan inducers, and pretty much define all the dialogue. I’m sure kids laugh at this stuff, but I’ve seen enough genuinely funny kid’s films to know that we don’t need to talk down to their lowest expectations.

Technically speaking I can compare this DTV production pretty directly to Disney’s latest theatrical talking dog epic Beverly Hills Chihuahua because I was just subjected to the thing on a recent flight. Chihuahua is a terrible film, but it features some energetic camera work, and pretty impressive dog talking effects and purely digital dogs. In comparison, Space Buddies features mostly static shots during its talking dog effects, and re-use the same practical effects shots over and over (like the seat-belt activation). Other cost cutting measures include jagged camera cranks, and endless shots of uncomfortable puppies struggling to get out of their wardrobes.

Space Buddies
Sci-fi fans might be surprised with some of the technical elements, like the base story concerning an unmanned spaceship made to send tourists to the moon which is controlled by an earthbound pilot’s retina. One also has to admire the addition of the un-disintegrated MIR space station as a plot point (no matter how ridiculous). Space Buddies might be a decent choice for parents looking to get their kids addicted to hard science fiction early. That’s about the nicest thing I can say about this particular movie.

Video


The clarity of this disc isn’t in question, but the focus is so soft throughout the film, and the light so over-diffused that most hi-def fans are going to be disappointed with the detail levels (though I’m not sure what folks concerned with video quality would be doing watching this particular film with precision eyes). The 1080p mostly marks the less than impressive digital effects, the overused of under and over cranking, inconsistencies in Sputnik’s eye-patch size, and the bubbles of spit that form in the corners of Buddha’s owner’s mouth. The colour scheme is nicely pastel infused, but the intensity has been dulled to less than impressive levels. Black levels are relatively deep, but part of the film’s overall softness is a lack of contrast. There is no compression noise to speak of, but some details are fumbled in the low-contrast blah-ness.

Space Buddies

Audio


Made for video productions, and cheap children’s entertainment rarely feature big Hollywood sound design and music, and Space Buddies is no exception. The various qualities of this DTS-HD Master Audio track are pretty modest. The occasional special sound effects, like boosting space ship engines, are pretty weak, missing all the heavy bass and directional representations of bigger productions. There is one meteor shower sequence (yes, the Buddies avoid a meteor show while travelling between the moon and earth) that pumps a little excitement into the mix, but the overall volume is pretty low. The score is sort of Right Stuff light, and is the greatest focus of the surround channels, and is plenty clear, if not a little low on the track.

Extras


The thin extras collection of bloopers, many of which aren’t real bloopers, but pretend bloopers created with digital mouth effects and voice over work. This leads to a thirteen minute ‘Disneypedia’ featurette on ‘The Buddies’ Guide to Space Travel’. It’s an EPK made for kids, who might actually be an informative behind the scenes for the little ones (I’m guessing ages four to seven). The kids can also learn about real life astronaut training and space travel.

Space Buddies
There are two in movie experiences for kids—a fact track and an in-movie finder game. The fact track isn’t very dense, but the finder might make for an interesting activity. It’s too easy for an adult to really enjoy, but assuming your remote control isn’t too complex the little ones should have fun. Extras are completed with a ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ music video, trailers, and BD-Live options.

A special note: The menu screen features two slightly amusing 2001: A Space Odyssey spoofs. The film isn’t once spoofed in the actual film.

Space Buddies

Overall


Space Buddies is a bad movie, but it features a lot of adorable dogs, and runs almost ninety minutes, which is enough time for a quick nap. Puppysploitation may not come from the same illustrious line as stuff like Blacksploitation or even Nunsploitation, but it with films like this it earns its place in the annals of traditional exploitation filmmaking. I suggest parents exploit it as quickly as possible, assuming they don’t really want to spend time with their children. The plush toys Disney sent me with the set are available too, and by mail with other DVD or Blu-ray purchases.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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