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WALL-E the robot has been following his programming for almost seven hundred years, collecting and compacting garbage. The problem is that he’s the only one left on the entire planet doing his job, or even moving, save his pet cockroach. Then one fateful day WALL-E meets someone new—EVE, a newer model robot with a directive all of her own. WALL-E has been left lacking social skills after seven hundred years of loneliness, but his love for EVE will take him across the universe, and will change the path of the planet Earth forever.

Wall-E: Special Edition
There was never a question as to whether or not I was going to like WALL-E, but over the past few summers I’d like to think we’ve all learned that it’s basically impossible to expect wild expectations to be met concerning the year’s most anticipated Hollywood releases. The hard core Sci-Fi promised by WALL-E’s early teaser couldn’t possibly be delivered upon by a mainstream children’s film, and the adult treatment of Ratatouille had to be a fluke, attributed to director Brad Bird’s auteur personality. My expectations had to be tempered, and they were.

Director Andrew Stanton had only one solo directed feature films in his repertoire with which we could pre-judge the possibilities of Pixar’s first Sci-Fi feature— Finding Nemo, a seriously sophisticated storytelling endeavour. Though the themes of impending death, or rather, the terror of immortality vs. the possibilities of death John Lasseter dealt with in Toy Story 2 were incredibly adult, Finding Nemo’s morals are shocking in their elegance. By the end of the film the audience, and main character Marlin, realize that part of being a parent is allowing your child the chance to fail, maybe even fatally. Surely this was the guy to deal with the disheartening reality of a post-apocalyptic world.

The first fifteen or so minutes of WALL-E have a sweetheart in the title character, and a cute sidekick in his pet roach, but the overlying bleakness of world is skin-crawlingly depressing. Stanton feeds the bleakness by undercutting it with super saccharine themes from Hello Dolly. The character animation is endearing, but devilishly ironic considering its surroundings, and that makes for a deeply unsettling experience. I love it, and respect Stanton for taking these chances with G-rated entertainment.

Wall-E: Special Edition
Then EVE shows up, and the cuteness quotient is amped into overdrive. The post-human world is still dead and brown, but now that deadness and brownness is treated as part of the joke. EVE’s frustration and WALL-E’s loneliness are also treated as part of an adorable joke. The tonal shift is jarring in theory, but somehow natural in feel. As the story travels beyond the dead and brown earth the heightened charm is again turned up another ten notches, introducing a stockpile of new cute robots with flatly adorable character traits. It’s sickeningly saccharine, and I love it, and respect Stanton for so effectively embracing the stereotypes of G-rated entertainment.

Pixar hasn’t been too attached to the so-called ‘Pixar Formula’ since John Lasseter stepped aside as director (it came back for the studio’s only relative misstep, Cars, which was of course directed by Lasseter), and WALL-E is the largest departure yet. In effect the ‘plot’ doesn’t really kick in until the humans show up. There are elements of the plot introduced while Wall-E still sits on earth, but the narrative meanders for about half the film. Then, when mystery of the plot is revealed, Stanton’s gigantic brass ones once again drop and dangle. In effect, he’s and his co-writers Jim Reardon and Pete Docter challenge every aspect of the nightmare that is modern capitalism. In the world of WALL-E constant consumption has killed the planet, and put a single conglomerate in charge of an increasingly fat and ignorant human race. Wall-E turns into a happier version of Buster Keaton’s The General, or Graham Chapman’s Brian Cohen—an accidental revolutionary leader. Wall-E’s actions from beginning to end bring about the re-humanization of humanity, and effectively save the entire world. ‘Love will conquer all, including hundreds of years of the American way’ seems to be the message. I love it, and respect Stanton for taking even more chances with G-rated entertainment.

Wall-E: Special Edition
But the biggest gamble of them all is the near-purely visual storytelling technique. There are only a handful of real human speaking roles in the entire picture, and only one of those roles holds any sort of narrative fulfilment. The rest of the cast consists of robots conversing with the absolute minimum of spoken dialogue. I’ve heard mainstream audiences accuse the film of being boring, but I think it was more a case of average people finding themselves unengaged by the (almost) uncompromising style. There are many casual filmgoers out there that simply aren’t willing to go along with a tale with so little conversation, it removes an entire element of narration, and many of us aren’t willing to engage on that level.

All these chances don’t come without their price, though. WALL-E may be the most emotionally manipulative motion picture ever made. The filmmakers really grapple for their laughs and tears, and sometimes they come up almost meanly, as if Stanton is somehow feeding off his audience’s empathy. I totally cracked and welled up at the appropriate moments, so I guess Stanton wins, but there is something cheap about some of these heart-string yanks that verges on sappy. Those of us concerned with the hard Sci-Fi elements of the film may resent the occasional mainstream embracement, especially after watching some of this collection’s extra features. Some of the original ideas were even more unusual, like humans being so fat they were simply slugs, and the original tone was pretty dark.

Wall-E: Special Edition

Video


Visually speaking the most revolutionary element of WALL-E was the hiring of famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, and effects supervisor Dennis Muren as visual consultants. Their efforts have created the closest thing to live action ever achieved by a computer animated film. I know I’ve been whining lately about CG animation’s recent obsession with realism, but WALL-E has different goals than disposable entertainment like the Shrek series. The animation begs comparisons to the special effects animation of live action films, and in turn I’m able to compare this Blu-ray disc’s transfer to the best live action transfers, rather than the unnaturally clean transfers that usually accommodate CG animated discs.

The advantage of Blu-ray over DVD is clearest during the earthbound scenes, which are swimming in tiny, dirty details. The wide shots of WALL-E riding through his disgusting dystopia are filled with photo realistic garbage piles, grit, and hazy skies. The later sequences aboard the Axiom are much different. There is a whole lot of Stanley Kubrick cleanliness going on, leading to stark whites and spotless surfaces, which work ok on standard definition DVD, but are much brighter in hi-def. In this environment the solid, noiseless hues available on Blu-ray can really shine, and some of the widescreen images are breathtaking in their depth. It’s difficult to find anything more to say about the transfer beyond dubbing it perfect.

Audio


I want to call Ben Burtt’s sound design revolutionary as well, but the fact of the matter is that this particular genius has been geniusing since before I was born. Film historians will call the Star Wars films his masterwork, but the vast expanse of his efforts in WALL-E may be the most incredible thing in his filmography. If the film isn’t awarded all the sound Oscars next year it will be a travesty. The sound design is such that even in Mono sound this track would have depth. Fortunately Disney’s nice enough to include a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track anyway.

Wall-E: Special Edition
There’s so much to explore aurally in this track that I’m unable to find a specific to latch onto. Burtt and company are in such utter control of every aspect of the mix that there isn’t even a chance for anything to go wrong. The levels are steady, the surrounds are treated as importantly as the front channels, and the more aggressive moments feature plenty of punch. Some folks may be looking for more bass in their rocket sound effects, but I found this LFE track wonderfully subtle.

One kind of vague problem I’ve had with Pixar’s ‘classics’ since the beginning was Randy Newman’s serviceable, but ultimately conventional scores. Randy’s good at doing his thing, but it always sounds like Randy. His son Thomas Newman is a much more interesting fit for Pixar, and his two films with director Andrew Stanton have proven the most interesting in terms of music. WALL-E’s score is haunting, even when it’s acting bombastically or heroically. On the DTS track the score is crystal clear, and there is a clear tonal difference between Newman’s use of electronic and traditional orchestral instruments. The Hello Dolly themes are a nice addition to the track to, sometimes overtaking the mix, other times moving about the channels with WALL-E.

Extras


I think it’s time for me to really start saving up for that PS3. Once again my Profile 1.0 player doesn’t allow me to view all the extras offered in this particularly fine set. Though the video didn’t quite work, my Ratatouille Blu-ray allowed me to view the film with at least the commentary part of the ‘Cine-Explore’ option. This WALL-E disc shuts me down the second I try. The Disney people were nice enough to send me the DVD release as well, so I was able to listen to director Andrew Stanton’s commentary, minus visual aids. Stanton is engaging and informative, and some of his answers are pretty surprising, including the fact that he and his co-writers really didn’t intend on the film’s preachy anti-consumerist, pro-environmentalist message. There isn’t as much mention of all the Kubrick and Spielberg jokes as I was expecting, but Stanton does talk quite a bit about the scientific research that went into the script.

Wall-E: Special Edition
Also on disc one are high definition versions of Presto, the short that originally preceded WALL-E in theatres, and BURN-E, a new short made for the home video release. Presto is simply just another in the long line of perfect standalone Pixar shorts. This one really channels the early ‘50s era Warner Bros. classics, and revels in the purity of good, old fashion slapstick. BURN-E is the little fixer robot that gets locked outside the Axiom when WALL-E and EVE re-enter the ship. BURN-E’s adventure is a little depressing, but ultimately very funny, and packed with twice as many Kubrick references as the feature film (I count The Shinning, Clockwork Orange, and of course, 2001). BURN-E can also be watched with optional animatics.

Disc two divides the extras into two camps: Robots and Humans. Under Robots (which is code for Kids) extras start with ‘WALL-E’s Treasures and Trinkets’, five minutes of faced paced animated humour. WALL-E messes about with stuff he’s found, usually ending in catastrophe, while M-O and EVE offer assistance. No plot, just stuff happening. ‘Lots of Bots Storybook’ is a two option extra. Option one is a passive viewing of the animated storybook, narrated by actress Kathy Najimy, while option two allows for a more interactive experience, co-hosted by Pixar’s lucky charm John Ratzenberger.

Wall-E: Special Edition
The ‘Axiom Arcade’ features four games: ‘EVE’s Bot Blaster’, ‘WALL-E’s Dodge and Dock’, ‘M-O’s Mop-up Madness’, and ‘BURN-E’s Break Through’. This is the first time I’ve ever had genuine fun playing a DVD or Blu-ray extra game. Those that have seen the film may recall the 8-bit versions of the characters that accompanied the end credits, well here’s your chance to play with them, complete with old school 8-bit music. The controls are simple and actually work, and the execution is endearing.

‘Robots’ is completed with ‘Bot Files’, chronicling twenty-eight of the film’s robots and their purposes, and a sneak peek at ‘WALL-E’s Tour of the Universe’, which I guess is an upcoming interactive game of some sort.

The ‘Humans’ section is where the substantial extras hide, starting with twenty-three minutes of deleted scenes. The scenes total four in all, and come with an introduction from director Andrew Stanton. The first and second scenes feature (mostly) finished animation, but the others two presented in rough, storyboard animatic form. Watching the first scene (the finished one) it’s clear that the last minute choices made post-test screening really saved the last act of the film, and the third scene is actually terrifying. Also interesting to note is the apparent intended hiring of William Shatner in the sole live action role.

Wall-E: Special Edition
Behind the scenes is broken into three segments starting with ‘The Imperfect Lens’, fourteen minutes concerning the look of the film, and the tricks utilized to create a more realistic filmic look. I said in the video section of my review that the live action direction of the visuals was one of the films more revolutionary aspects, but I hadn’t realized how much effort went into that process, nor had I noticed all the minor details that really sold the effect. ‘Animation Sound Design’ concerns Ben Burtt’s unbelievably awesome sound design. The eighteen minute featurette doesn’t only explore WALL-E’s sound design, Burtt (who I believe partially left production on Revenge of the Sith to work with Pixar) also walks us through his history, and the history of early animation sound design. ‘Captains Log’ is an eight minute look at the evolution of the human characters in the film. The human characters started as alien blobs (who kind of made it into the short film Lift that preceded Ratatouille), and eventually became more human, and gained more human structure. Maybe someday we’ll see the all the original storyboard animatics, because I for one am very curious about this darker version of the film.

When you buy this set you actually get two great movies, the marquee title, and Leslie Iwerks’ The Pixar Story. Narrated by Stacy Keach, The Pixar Story follows the trials and tribulations of the creatively impacting studio from birth to the release of Cars in 2006. Considering that most of this information is already available in books and on the internet, the most exciting aspect of the doc is the inclusion of all the test footage we’ve heard about all these years. Included among all these prizes is the early 3D/2D tests made using ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, which I didn’t realize existed. And the hungriest hi-def fanatics can look forward to clips from Tron, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and all the Pixar movies not yet available on the format.

The set is completed with 3D set ‘Fly-Throughs’, five satirical Buy N Large shorts totalling almost nine minutes, four interactive image galleries, and a trailer gallery (the Japanese trailer totally lies). The third disc of the three disc set is the film in digital copy form.

Wall-E: Special Edition

Overall


WALL-E is probably going to be considered a classic in a few years, and so far my favourite movie of 2008, but director Andrew Stanton could’ve taken it even further. Fortunately Stanton’s been hired by Pixar for their upcoming adaptation of John Carter of Mars, and you can’t get more out there than that. This Blu-ray collection marks the best Pixar home video release in a since Finding Nemo extras-wise, and the A/V presentation is positively perfect. The only thing the DVD release has over the BR is its packaging, which is 100% biodegradable, which is in keeping with the film’s themes and morals.

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


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