WALL-E (UK - BD RB)
Chris Gould checks out the Blu-ray Disc release of the latest Pixar animated flick
At some point in the future the human race has abandoned Earth due to an environmental catastrophe, and while they travel the galaxy aboard luxury space cruisers a team of industrial robots are tasked with cleaning up the planet. The last of these robots is WALL-E, who has been carrying out his programming in isolation (save for his pet cockroach) for the last seven hundred years. After so much time on his own, WALL-E has developed a distinct, quirky personality, which drives him to collect all manner of mundane objects and store them in his makeshift home.
One day, while going about his usual routine of crushing garbage and hoarding trinkets, WALL-E spots a spaceship landing nearby. Upon further investigation he discovers that the ship has deposited a newer model of robot, which seems fairly indifferent to his presence as it goes about its business. A curious WALL-E follows the new arrival and after one or two misunderstandings eventually learns that her name is EVE. Delighted to have a companion after so many years, WALL-E becomes infatuated with EVE, and as time passes he develops a ‘love’ for her that will take him across the galaxy and change the course of human history forever.
I’m not one for writing huge amounts in this section of my reviews—after all, you presumably came here to read about the quality of the disc, not my half-arsed musings on a film you’ve most likely already judged for yourself–but I feel the need to say a few worlds about WALL-E. I'll admit I'm not the biggest animation fan in the world—it’s not that I dislike it, more that I don’t actively seek it out—but I have enjoyed all of the Pixar films that I’ve seen (especially The Incredibles). Even so, the early trailers for WALL-E didn’t exactly fill me with anticipation, as it looked like just another 'cute' movie for kids. However, when the film rolled around it had garnered such positive word of mouth I figured I might as well give it a shot. I’m glad that I did, because I was wrong to dismiss it as just another children’s movie—it really is so much more.
Quite apart from being a 'kids' movie, I believe that the film is actually more suited to slightly older children and, dare I say it, adults. I was utterly captivated by the feature, which is no mean feat when you consider that's there's virtually no dialogue for the entire first act. I was so engrossed in the story that didn't even find the environmental message—the one thing that people seem to complain about—particularly bothersome. Sure it's bit heavy-handed, but you get the feeling that it was never originally intended to be the message behind the film. Whatever its perceived failings, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and for me WALL-E is pretty close to perfection. It does loose a little bit of its impact on the small screen, but I still laughed and cried along with the charters and the quality of the design, animation and sound effects is second to none. For me, WALL-E easily matches any of the year's big live-action films.
Disney presents WALL-E as an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer at its theatrical ratio of 2.40:1. Reviewing Blu-rays is getting harder and harder, as virtually every new release looks just about as good as you could realistically expect on a home format. However, WALL-E might just be the most visually impressive film on the format to date.
Thanks to the direct digital-to-digital transfer, WALL-E looks pristine. There are obviously no film artefacts to worry about, but I didn’t spot any digital nastiness either. Every scene is incredibly detailed, which is all the more impressive given that every element of the picture—no matter how insignificant—had to be created from scratch. As the film progresses, the scorched, earthen tones of the desolate wastelands seen in the opening act give way to the cleaner, almost sterile interior of the Axiom, evoking memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, once WALL-E escapes the confines of the lower decks the transfer really comes to life and the image positively bursts with colour. Shadow detail is fantastic throughout, and although the blacks aren’t quite as inky as some transfers, they are faithful to the theatrical experience.
The first time you watch WALL-E a lot of the incredible work that’s gone into creating the environment will probably go unnoticed, but each subsequent viewing will reveal hidden treasures and depth you wouldn’t expect from an animated feature. At times the photo-realism is such that watching WALL-E on Blu-ray is actually akin to watching a live-action feature. I was worried that the move to the small screen might detract from some of that greatness, but I needn’t have feared. This really is a truly breathtaking transfer, the quality of which sets new standards for animation on Blu-ray.
The back of the slipcover claims English DTS 5.1 as the film's main track, but in reality we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 effort (at least according to BDInfo). I'm limited to 5.1 at home, so the benefit of the sixth channel was lost on me, but I'm sure that it can only enhance what is probably the soundtrack of the year.
Unlike a live-action film, none of WALL-E's effects were recorded 'live'. Instead, every single sound for every little action has to be painstakingly designed and perfected. If Ben Burtt and his team don’t walk away with the Oscars for best sound editing and mixing at next year’s Academy Awards, it will be a huge surprise. Never before have I found a soundtrack as engaging as WALL-E’s, which is an amazing achievement when you consider that the first half of the film has virtually no dialogue, instead relying on inventive sound design to draw the viewer into the film.
The track is finely nuanced, with the rears benefitting from just as much attention as the front channels. Panning is excellent and used to great effect throughout the film, with incredibly precise placement of the sound effects. Dialogue—whether human or robot—is always perfectly positioned in the mix and the livelier scenes pack just the right amount of punch. Bass heads might have preferred a little more oomph at the low end during certain scenes (such as the rocket ship taking off), but I think that would have run the risk of unbalancing things. As it is the track is pretty much perfect, with no one element dominating the others. Even Thomas Numan’s outstanding score blends seamlessly with the effects to create a thoroughly entrancing aural experience.
Disc one's bonus offerings kick off with a 'Cine-Explore' option (for those with Profile 1.1 players and above), which is basically another way of saying 'video commentary'. Director Andrew Stanton talks us through the movie, with various concept drawings and the like popping up at appropriate moments. Owners of older players aren't left completely out in the cold, because Stanton's commentary is still available in an 'audio only' version. The second commentary is a 'Geek Track', in which four of Pixar's 'geek squad' production staff point out all of the ultra-nerdy things you might have missed. At least two of the people on the track speak Huttese, which might give you an indication of the level of geek we're dealing with.
Next up we have Presto, the animated short that accompanied WALL-E's theatrical run. In it, a hapless magician struggles with an uncooperative rabbit with hilarious results. Meanwhile BURN-E tells the story of the unfortunate repair droid that WALL-E encounters as he boards the Axiom. The runtime is extended with new footage created especially for the home release, showing the little bot trying his damnedest to fix the ship (with predictably comical results). BURN-E can also be viewed with accompanying cinematics and commentary, if you so desire. Both of these short features are amusing in their own right, even after repeat viewings.
Finally on disc one we have a selection of ‘Sneek Peeks’, or in other words, trailers for other Disney releases. Trailers include: Up, On Blu-ray Disc (a Disney showreel), Pinocchio 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition, Bolt, The Princess and the Frog, Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure and Disney Channel: Wizards of Waverly Place.
Disc two's content is divided into two sections: Humans and Robots. 'Humans' is where the bulk of the interesting material resides, kicking off with a series of five deleted scenes (23:08) with optional introduction by director Andrew Stanton. The scenes vary in their completeness from almost final to rough storyboards, with the first scene being closest to the final product. In fact, the first scene is one of the most interesting, because had it not been for the alteration the third act of the film would have played very differently. I had to laugh at the third scene, as it features a pretty decent impression of William Shatner, who really should have voiced the character in the completed film (if only for my amusement).
'The Imperfect Lens: Creating the Look of WALL-E' (14:30), focuses on the extreme measures Pixar took to ensure that Wall-E looked as 'realistic' as possible, even going so far as to enlist the help of noted cinematographer Roger Deakins. Deakins was brought in to help the animators with lighting effects, but more than that is the terrific amount of effort that went into making WALL-E look like it had actually been photographed in traditional 35mm anamorphic. As evidenced by the finished product, the effort certainly wasn't in vain.
'Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from the Sound Up' (18:44) comes next and focuses on the person responsible for crafting some of the most memorable sound effects in movie history, none other than Ben Burtt. Not only does the featurette explore WALL-E's sound design, but also the techniques used by the masters who worked on the earliest Disney animated features. It was fascinating watching the collision of the practical, hands-on effects of old with the ultra-modern computer-aided tools at Burtt's disposal (although he's not afraid to go back to basics when necessary). The featurette even featured a few hi-def shots from the Star Wars films, which was nice.
'Captains Log: The Evolution of Humans' (07:57) takes a look at the evolution of the human characters featured in the film. The humans actually started out as gelatinous alien blobs, before being reworked into the human characters seen in the film. Director Andrew Stanton touches on how the aliens were his preference at the start of the production, but he also talks about the need for the audience to connect with the characters, which ultimately necessitated the move from alien to human. However, it's clear that WALL-E was originally envisioned as a much darker story.
'Notes on a Score' (10:39) focuses on composer Thomas Newman’s work on the film. Director Andrew Stanton is on hand to tell us how much he admires Newman—with whom he previously worked on Finding Nemo—and how they share a very similar creative outlook. Neman’s WALL-E score plays just as big a part in creating the film’s immense atmosphere as Ben Burtt’s sound effects, so it was interesting to watch him at work as he played with various compositions to find the best fit.
'Life of a Shot: Reconstructing the Pixar Process' (05:08) is a brief featurette that takes one short scene from the film and has the various people involved in creating it talk about their role. Actually, only a fraction of the people involved actually get any real screen time, simply because so many people worked on the film at any given time. This one really drives home the sheer number of people required to create an animated film.
'Robo Everything' (05:45) deals with the design challenges involved in bringing the Axiom's robotic inhabitants to the screen. It's incredible how much work went into crafting the robots, even those that don't get much screen time. Andrew Stanton's idea was basically to have a robot to fulfil every human need that would usually require social interaction, and a lot of the bots' jobs were based on those of the staff of a real cruise ship.
'WALL-E and EVE' (07:01) is the final featurette in this section, and as the title suggests it deals with the relationship between the un-cool WALL-E and the hyper-efficient EVE. Whereas WALL-E's design came about after the Pixar guys examined bomb disposal robots and tank treads, EVE is much sleeker, almost organic in her movement. Once again it's easy to forget just how much work does into designing the characters in a film like WALL-E, but not after watching this featurette.
The 'BnL Shorts' (09:02) are a series of five satirical short films that can be viewed either individually or as a whole. Mixing animation with live-action footage in much the same way as the film, these shorts offer everything from an overview of the Axiom from the Captain's point of view to the history of the Buy n Large Corporation. Next up we have some '3D Set Fly-Throughs', which offer the viewer unparalleled access to all of the key locations featured in the film. Fancy a closer look at the Axiom's docking bay, or maybe WALL-E's makeshift home? Well, this is for you.
The 'Gallery' option provides access to character designs, layouts, backgrounds, visual development and publicity stills. I'm not really a huge fan of still galleries, but if you're into the creative process they're sure to delight. Seven theatrical trailers are also included, three 'domestic', one French Canadian, Japanese, Italian and the Superbowl Spot with Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
Finally we come to the last feature in the 'Humans' section, and indeed the stand-out feature on the disc: 'The Pixar Story by Leslie Iwerks' (01:28:30). This is a feature-length documentary that examines the company’s rise to power starting way back in the 70s. We’re introduced to a young John Lassiter as he studies under the great Disney animators known as the ‘nine old men’ at the California Institute of the Arts (where he met future collaborator Brad Bird), before graduating to work for Disney itself. Lassiter recounts the events that lead to his eventual dismissal from Disney and his journey to Lucusfilm’s computer animation division (later renamed Pixar), which was subsequently acquired by Apple CEO Steve Jobs for the bargain price of ten million dollars. The documentary includes plenty of archival footage and interviews with everyone from Lassiter and Jobs to George Lucas and the surviving members of the ‘nine old men’, making for a truly fascinating document of Pixar’s history.
The 'Robots' section contains all of the materiel aimed at the younger viewers, such as 'WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets' (04:56), which is basically just WALL-E and friends goofing around for a bit. 'Lots of Bots' (03:07) is an animated storybook narrated by Kathy Najimy and John Ratzenberger. It offers the viewer a choice between watching passively or interactively, depending on their mood.
The 'Axiom Arcade' includes four retro games: 'EVE's Bot Blaster', 'WALL-E's Dodge and Dock', 'M-O's Mop-up Madness' and 'BURN-E's Break Through'. The games are a throwback to the old 8-bit arcade games you might have played on computers like the ZX Spectrum, playing like WALL-E themed versions of Asteroids and such. The controls are simple enough, but can be a little fiddly using the remote (or at least my remote). However, on the whole the games are good fun, especially compared to the useless games usually found on Blu-ray titles.
The final feature in this section (and the disc) is 'Bot Files', which details twenty-eight of the robots featured in the film along with their respective functions. Useful if you want to know more about the myriad of robots that populate the Axiom. There is also at least one Easter eggs included in the set, details of which can be found elsewhere on the site (or by clicking the link in the ‘Disc Details’ section of this page).
Barring any major surprises in the next four weeks or so, WALL-E is almost certainly my Blu-ray of the year. Every facet of the release is a resounding triumph, from the quality of the film to the outstanding package assembled by the folks at Disney and Pixar. I never thought I'd see the day when an animated family film would sit at the top of the year's best releases, but that day is most definitely here. I don't believe in giving perfect tens to any film or disc, simply because I don't think anything can ever be 'perfect', but as previously stated, WALL-E comes pretty damn close. There's really not much more to say. If you own a Blu-ray player and a high-definition TV you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy as soon as possible.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable for all
Release Date: 24th November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-ES 5.1 Belgian, DTS-ES 5.1 Dutch, DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 English, English, Audio Descriptive, Flemish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Subtitles: Dutch, English, English HoH, French
Extras: Director Commentary with Cine-Explore, Geek Track, 'BURN-E', 'Presto', The Pixar Story, WALL-E's Treasures and Trinkets, Lots of Bots Storybook, Axiom Arcade, Bot Files, WALL-E's Tour of the Universe Sneak Peek, Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, 3D Set Fly-Throughs, BNL Shorts, Trailers, Galleries
Easter Egg: Yes
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Fred Willard, Sigourney Weaver, MacInTalk
Length: 98 minutes
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