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Dinosaur: 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Review Dinosaur is a film of extraordinary potential which as a whole does not live up to it. While ambitious and a delight for the senses, this is project driven by ...

Dinosaur: Collector's Edition DVD Review Dinosaur is a film of extraordinary potential which as a whole does not live up to it The Others Two Disc Collector S Edition While ambitious and a delight for the senses this is project driven by technology not story and that is its major shortcoming The live action division of Walt Disney Pictures acquired the script for Dinosaur in 1988 Six years later they began shooting tests to see if they would be able to utilize technology in a way no one had before This was 1994 while Pixar was busily working on Toy Story which would become the first film entirely animated by computers If Disney was going to make a CGI film they wanted to do it in a way all their own So with Dinosaur they filmed live action background plates in various parts of the world including Hawaii Australia Samoa Venezuela Florida and California Those backgrounds would be integrated and digitally finetuned to match the characters which were wholly computeranimated a first for Disneys own artists The studios digital animation department and DreamQuest an effects division they had purchased not long ago came together to form The Secret Lab a promising facility that could deliver stateoftheart technology in film The Secret Lab closed in 2001 a year after Dinosaur was released and to understand why we must return to story In his notes in this Collectors Edition DVDs nice 6page foldout insert thenhead of Walt Disney Feature Animation Thomas Schumacher states Dinosaur didnt come to us as a story we had to tell It came to us as a concept we wanted to try So while Dinosaur wows us with its unique world of visuals and innovations like the Dinocam to simulate a stampeding carnotaurs point of view its plot outside of a few exciting action sequences is a disappointing bore The earliest concept of Dinosaur began with a dinosaur and a lemur After many revisions the story still centered around that dinosaur an iguanodon called Aladar voiced by D B Sweeney The film starts out triumphantly as we quickly take in the very much alive prehistoric universe with no dialogue uttered outside some brief early narration which is only again employed at the end of the film We observe routine and peril as a raging carnotaur attacks some prey We also get our first taste of James Newton Howards exhilarating score in this emphatic opening while a single dinosaur egg is transported through this world by water air and a multitude of creatures This egg is Aladar and it ends up among a family of lemurs Two of the lemurs Plio voiced by Alfre Woodard and Yar the recently deceased Ossie Davis differ on what to do about the baby dinosaur who has just hatched in their presence Plio yearns to help the defenseless newborn while Yar is reluctant Ultimately the lemurs do raise Aladar in a jungle environment where there are none of his own Dinosaur follows its magnificent first chapter with a so consciously cutesy lemur mating scene thats unworthy of the enthusiastic Newton Howard accompaniment The sequence establishes the character of Zini Max Casella friend of Doogie Howser M D the comic relief as a goofylooking lemur who thinks of himself as a ladies man even though hes repeatedly failed at finding a mate The film then returns to delighting us with a beautiful shower of pink that soon turns deadly In a harrowing sequence which resembles a nuclear explosion the audience realizes fiery meteors are descending upon the seemingly benign Aladar and his silly lemur friends The meteor shower scene lays down the framework of danger for the rest of the film but unfortunately its one of the last inspired sequences thats dramatically potent and visually awesome Dinosaur struggles to find its right tone and it alternates between serving its artistic calling and an audience of 21st century children While portions of the film are unabashedly frightening the unnecessary cuteness detracts from the whole Aladar and the surviving four lemurs join up with a pack of dinosaurs who are painfully marching to the promised land known as the nesting grounds They catch up with the sophisticated Baylene voice of Joan Plowright and Della Reese in styrachosaur form called Eema a couple of slowpokes at the tail end of the march Theres a bit of survival of the fittest philosophy thrown in too care of the two harsh iguanodons leading the pack Kron Samuel E Wright a far cry from Sebastian the crab and Bruton Peter Siragusa Also among the herd is Krons sister a pretty dinosaur named Neera voiced by Juliana Margulies once of TVs ER Two words come to mind at first sight of this character and those words are love interest That sounds like a pretty reasonable if uninspired plot But it is secondary to technology and both drop out midway through the film This weak near standstill center places its stunning CGI characters in a dark setting as they trek on in their increasingly hopeless journey to water and life Theres a lot of brooding and very little of the films two chief highlights exuberance in the score and technical marvel to rescue it A title like Dinosaur and this was in place from the start implies something either epic as if this would be the movie you think of when you hear the word or uncreative The film falls closer to the latter with its boring center Dinosaur isnt a bad film but its a very frustrating one How could a film so visually remarkable in pieces be so dull on the whole Part of the answer may lie with Aladar who as a protagonist is as onedimensional and uninteresting as they get More of the blame comes from the filmmakers not willing to venture new ground or take any chances structurally and scripturally You would need a story and structure thats remarkably humdrum in order to undermine the truly magnificent visual sequences and inherently fascinating subject matter of Dinosaur Looking at the film it doesnt seem to be so weak or offensive in the screenplay department And yet overall its mediocre and forgettable enough to make you wonder if some terrible fumble has occurred The film is a hybrid of computer animation and live action backgrounds Its also a hybrid of thrilling evocative spectacle and mundane character cuteness The makers of Dinosaur were more interesting in exploring the medium than telling the story and the efforts to appeal to youngsters ultimately harm the film The trouble does not stem from having the prehistoric creatures talk which they do not during the magnificent opening sequence but rather from what they say Its trite hip and consciously cute With the DVDs option to watch the movie with just sound effects it is aimless and crippled still by that center section and also by the absence of the potent score Still when allowed the visual appeal conquers the plot deficiencies The film never feels like an entirely manufactured production Theres an impressive level of realism to the characters and the reallife backgrounds aptly match the CGI work to create a convincing environment The world is a curious and delightful middle ground which is computeranimated but very creative Life in Dinosaur stems from its miseensc�ne and a few inspired sequences and not from plot at large Dinosaurs domestic gross of 138 million exceeded its mammoth production budget by ten million made it Disneys biggest earner for 2000 and outdid other many box office hits of the year like Charlies Angels and Erin Brockovich But when all was considered including a marketing campaign of nearly 30 million Dinosaur performed below expectations It didnt turn a profit until the international and home video markets were considered When they are considered Dinosaur is far from a flop despite the reputation it has received As mentioned earlier The Secret Lab closed and in the five years since this film we havent seen anything else as visually ambitious with the Disney name on it unless it were followed by the name Pixar In a move that has disappointed enthusiasts of traditional animation i e Disneys fanbase the studio has vowed to move forth completely with threedimensional computer animated productions for Feature Animation in the near future This seems less of a return to the aesthetically pleasing artistic exploration of Dinosaur than a flocking towards the entirely CGI realms of box office smashes from Pixar and DreamWorks While the latters Shark Tale proved you dont need a criticallyacclaimed CGI film to turn a profit settling on a medium for popular appeal wont get you very far artistically Pixar has succeeded with heart and imaginative writing two things sorely lacking in Dinosaur DVD Details 1 851 Anamorphic WidescreenDolby Digital 5 1 English FrenchDTS 5 1 English TheatreVision descriptive trackSubtitles EnglishClosed CaptionedRelease Date January 31 2001Two singlesided duallayered discs DVD9THXCertifiedSuggested Retail Price 39 99 VIDEO and AUDIO Dinosaur is presented in 1 851 anamorphic widescreen and even four years later this remains about one of the most beautifullooking transfers Ive seen on a DVD The direct digital nature of the transfer helps explain why its pristine but it seems to exceed normal definitions of perfection Its invigorating how flawless the picture is and this flawlessness makes it easy for you to appreciate the films beauty Colors are capably rendered with no incident and there appears to be nothing in the way of edge enhancement or color banding two problems which turn up the most in other new DVDs For the dark dull center portions of Dinosaur not much can be done to render them vibrant or too exciting but the transfer doesnt break up in handling the lowcontrast scenes A panandscan version of the film is only offered on the singledisc standard DVD As it should be This DVD packs a 5 1channel DTS soundtrack which today usually only turns up on directtovideo discs which have lots of disc space to spare The sound is as cinematically rendered and aweinspiring as the picture From the stampeding carnotaurs potent use of bass to the engulfing environments that surround you with the sounds of nature Dinosaur excels at creating a realistic and dramatic aural atmosphere There is undeniable skillfulness to the design of the sound mix which a 5 1 sound effectsonly track allows you to fully admire Throw in James Newton Howards firstrate score and you have one nice and exhilarating sound presentation All of the elements come together for an effective soundtrack complete with projectile rocks and powerful rainstorms A nuisance of all Disney DVDs of the time audio tracks cannot be adjusted during playback This makes it difficult to compare the DTS to the Dolby Digital 5 1 track which doesnt sound too much different from the DTS but is mixed at a lower volume You also cant switch to one of the two audio commentaries French language track or descriptive narration for the visually impaired without going to the menu and starting from scratch Released to DVD in late January 2001 Dinosaur became the first Disney film to receive both standard and twodisc collectors edition treatment on the same day Four years ago Disneys DVDs didnt run as smoothly as they do now Dinosaur is plagued by some slowloading menus and gave several a DVD player some problems back then On better players of today playback should be without incident save for pronounced layer change BONUS MATERIALS DISC ONE Dinosaur Collectors Edition is pretty robust when it comes to bonus features and not all of them are relegated to Disc Two The supplement with the longest runtime is the audio commentary and Dinosaur has two In the first Directors Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag are joined by visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela and digital effects supervisor Neil Eskuri The technical aspects of the film are widely covered as you might expect but it makes for a pretty dry track The more interesting sections discuss some intentions they hoped to convey as well as audience reaction and how it determined some changes in pacing and such Producer Pam Marsden hosts the second track which edits together comments from several members of the production team including composer James Newton Howard coproducer Baker Bloodworth and art director Cristy Maltese Each speaker offers their own perspective on the film Even though theres no group atmosphere the melding of the individual comments with no overlap and no pretenses of being recorded together works well Two additional audio options are offered A sound effectsonly track in Dolby Digital 5 1 enables you to admire the impressive Foley work that went into fully assembling this prehistoric world And for the visually impaired or easily amused there is a TheaterVision soundtrack which describes all of the onscreen action For its intended audience its a useful service which doesnt show up nearly as often as it should There are three ways to enjoy Film Fact Fossil Dig a collection of behindthescenes material The first one doesnt always work but when it does it displays a fossil icon during playback of the film at which point if you press enter you are taken to the supplement While its an innovative way to integrate bonus features into the film a precursor to the video commentaries that depart from playback for vignettes it also disables the pause button for some of the running time A more straightforward way of watching this content is offered with a menu that presents a list of the fourteen interludes for quick access and a Play All option The third way is to go through the Chapter Selection menu scenes which enable you to dig deeper are marked by a dinosaur head fossil icon Theres pretty interesting content to be found in this section and it runs 31 minutes altogether Among the highlights several deleted scenes ranging from fullyanimated but not colored to storyboards and crude animatics Theres a neat splitscreen comparison of foley artists creating sound effects and how the effects are used in the film plus a more commonlyseen storyboard comparison An alternate ending turns up as does an alternate edit of the opening in 3D workbook form Among the lengthier pieces are the original version of 6minute segment that was shot at night but redone to look like dusk in the film and a progression reel which shows the numerous layers that come together to make one shot of the meteor shower scene In addition theres some footage of lemurs a featurette on the use of miniatures and perhaps most interesting part of a recording session with D B Sweeney and Julianna Margulies Aladars Adventure is an elaborate interactive game where you travel on a threedimensional firstperson tour through some caves for three different levels The Others Two Disc Collector S Edition First you set off in search of Eema Baylene and Earl Then you try to gather water In the last and most irritating round you have to move rocks in a correct order to get to the nesting grounds While the computeranimated design is impressive its mostly just using the arrows to move through dark places and hopefully not get eaten by any carnotaurs There have been more entertaining settop activities since this but this still offers a bit of diversion and plenty of frustration too The second game DinoSearch is far simpler and kind of odd A model of a dinosaur is provided and you must find the pieces obscured among a setting Dinopedia is a childoriented feature which seeks to educate with some facts about dinosaurs In ten short clips of film footage the young narrator informs the viewer about the different types of creatures seen in the film With the Play All option this section runs 7 minutes and 25 seconds The DVDROM section doesnt offer too much but if youre a big enough fan of the film and computersavvy enough its worth checking out Mostly it just links to the already covered games and Dinopedia supplements A tiny gallery at the bottom of the window provides some pictures of each character The Online section adds more housing eight colorful wallpapers each offered in three different resolutions There was once a couple of additional behindthescenes featurettes to download from the Internet but while the page loads the videos no longer do Lastly the Evolutionary Timeline provides a simple chronological overview of life as we understand it In a touch thats either nice or annoying depending on your disposition the menus of the DVDROM content feature some ambient noises from the prehistoric age At the time Dinosaurs DVDs were released Collectors Editions went straight to the menu without playing the Sneak Peeks automatically This was the day when automatic previews were still new and unusual on DVDs Still a Sneak Peeks menu on Disc 1 offers promos for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Disneys California Adventure Atlantis Lady and the Tramp II Scamps Adventure 102 Dalmatians The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and the Atlantis prequel video game Theres no option to Play All so if youre interested in all of these youll have to select them one at a time BONUS MATERIALS DISC TWO The second disc offers no paucity of bonus material Much of it is technically oriented as it would be for such a stateoftheart production Numerous featurettes explore how the prehistoric world was brought to life via a combination of live action footage from exotic locations and breakthrough computer animation Sprinkled throughout the supplements disc are four exciting Easter Eggs which are everything they should be loosely related and not something which youd feel cheated not knowing about but cool rewards for those with keen eyes The first section Development houses a number of reels from the years before Dinosaur came to theaters These reels establish that the visuals in the film could be pulled off First is Proof of Concept Test March 1996 a 2minute clip with some pretty much complete animation in Cinemascope and a bit of storyboards depicting a scene between what would become Aladar and Zini While its not as refined as the final product it certainly seems they had most of the technology down there Live Action Backplate Test from October 1996 is brief 22 seconds showing a couple of fraternal dinosaurs walking through impressive live action scenery Next the Early Presentation Reel dated December 1996 shows off mostly conceptual artwork and bit of animated composites to preview what the film might look like Its presented in fullscreen and runs just under 2 minutes Then the Presentation Reel 140 from October 1998 is a trailer of sorts which shows some entirely completed scenes and others in progress with uninspired dramatic text screens like an uncommon hero and a desperate journey It seems like most of the completed footage is culled from the terrific opening which would make sense that it was done first Finally a Visual Development gallery holds 74 stills of artwork both blackandwhite and colored and onlocation photography The first Easter Egg on Disc 2 can be found in this section and it is a great one which animation enthusiasts will recognize as one of the mediums very first projects Winsor McCays Gertie the Dinosaur 1914 Its easy to appreciate as an important chapter in the history of animation In this short excerpted from a Disneyland episode with a brief introduction from Uncle Walt the charismatic animator McCay interacts with Gertie giving her orders which she sometimes obeys More than 90 years later the short still has plenty of charm Altogether with the explanatory notes at the end this hidden bonus runs 6 minutes and 22 seconds Creating the Characters is divided into two sections Dinosaurs and Lemurs The former category gives us Designing the Dinosaurs 720 an informative but dry featurette on how the characters came to life through computer animation Building the Dinosaurs 738 focuses more on how the animators tried to convey different things in the physical appearance of the dinosaurs Finally theres a massive Character Design section For Aladar Kron Neera Bruton Baylene Eema Url Carnotaurs and Velociraptor youll find a gallery of conceptual artwork ranging from three stills for Baylene to 40 in Aladars gallery and a turnaround where the 3dimensional computer model remains still and rotates 360 degrees twice for you the audience There are still additional turnarounds for nine herd dinosaurs and nearly 100 more designs for unused characters Suffice it to say theres a lot of design artwork The Lemurs section follows the same structure Building the Lemurs 708 looks at the design of the lemurs who they admit did not exist around the time of the dinosaurs We mostly see animators tinkering with computers but its interesting to see how the lemurs went through a stage of humanlike proportions to their final look in the film Its also odd to see what the lemurs look like before they get covered with fur the creation of which is documented This section also houses design galleries and turnarounds for Plio Yar Zini and Suri In addition 44 stills showcase the preliminary lemur designs that were wisely retooled for the final film In this characters section youll find another Easter Egg This one is an outtakes reel 130 but its not like the ones Pixar makes so no need to fear dinosaurs acting This is actually made up of errors in computing that made for some odd results Its silent blackandwhite and each error is seen twice in a row so its not exactly going for entertainment value or laughs But it does show some odd visuals The third section of Disc 2 is called The Production Process It opens with Creating a Prehistoric World a slick and entertaining 8minute overview of the techniques used in Dinosaur complemented by a nice selection of clips from the film The Monster Cloud 408 documents one of the films most memorable scenes the one in which a harrowing presence attacks the dinosaurs which we recognize as a meteor shower and a disastrous wave This featurette breaks down the pyrotechnics used to create the dazzling explosions with comments from several crew members who worked on it with miniatures and phosphor The Dino Cam 147 is a reel which takes you through the various stages which come together to create the firstperson carnotaur stampede Its accompanied by commentary from Digital Effects Supervisor Neil Eskuri who explains each of the stages from story sketches to 3D workbook to live action background plate through the final composite In the Story Reel & 3D Workbook listing you get to view the 4minute sequence Aladar Joins the Herd in a number of different ways First you can choose to view the sequence at fullsize in Story Reel 3D Workbook primitive computer animation where different character groups are represented by bright colors or as it appears in the Final Film You can toggle between these three stages with the Angle button on your DVD remote Through Comparisons to Final Film you get to view a splitscreen of the sequence with the final product in the bottom half In the top half you can choose to view the sequence Story Reel or 3D Workbook and you can toggle between the two with the Angle button Its interesting to compare among the different stages but you probably wont find enough appeal to view all five different combinations separately Three Progression Reels take you stepbystep from story sketch to final composite through the Opening Sequence 425 Aladar Meets the Misfits 150 and Aladar Finds Water 112 The various components of each complex shot are isolated and elaborated on by Mr Eskuri who again provides audio commentary here This section holds a third Easter Egg which is a 1964 clip of Walt Disney with three baby Brontosauruses who he dubs Huey Dewey and Louie Of course theyre not real Brontosauruses theyre part of the Disney studios contributions to the New York Worlds Fair Walt talks a bit about dinosaurs and footage then shows the AudioAnimatronics being produced and showcased With the explanatory scroll at the end this runs just under 5 minutes Music & Sound houses two short featurettes Music 3 minutes offers praise for composer James Newton Howard and discusses the interesting blend he brought to scoring the film in his attempts to create something not identifiable with any specific culture Lebo M whose screaming vocals so memorably open The Lion King was brought in to help with the choral elements Sound Design 3 minutes briefly covers its subject with some information about what was used to create the sound effects in the film We hear comments from Foley artists and some of the voice cast Audio Mix Demonstration coolly allows you to view a 1minute scene from the meteor shower sequence with just dialogue just music just sound effects or a mixture of any of those Its cool to have that kind of power In Abandoned Scenes we find six sequences which were deleted somewhere along the films production Each is presented in letterboxed widescreen and preceded with a few sentences explaining where the scene would have fit None of the scenes are entirely finished visually so even with the context its tough to consider how they would have worked in the film Furthermore several of the scenes were from an earlier version when the Aladar character was called Noah and his grandparents and he were part of the march to the nesting grounds The scenes are in various stages of production from storyboards with minimal color to 3D workbook and fullyanimated but not colored For the most part temporary dialogue tracks which are somewhat distorted and an electronic sounding score which doesnt hold a candle to Newton Howards fine work are employed None of Disc 1s deleted scenes are repeated here although one sheds some light on the alternate ending thats there Altogether though there is 13 minutes of footage most of it seems disposable at least within the frustrating final cut of the film These abandoned scenes illustrate that there certainly was development and creative work that went into the film But it just didnt all come together right The Publicity section shows off the seemingly skillful way in which Dinosaur was marketed Three trailers are provided First is the nearly 5minute preview comprised mostly of the amazing beginning sequence this played before Toy Story 2 in theaters and was on Tarzans DVDs The other two are a more standard clipmontage 2� minutes and an appealing convention trailer which strings together impressive dialogueless shots There are four cool TV Spots something we rarely see on Disney DVDs included The 30second snippets promote different aspects and can make it look like a very different film from the kidfriendly spot which uses Walk the Dinosaur to the more dramatic countdown back through time A Play All option would have been nice All of the video previews essentially shun from the using clips from the dark dull middle sequences that comprise a significant portion of the film This is another wise decision and yet even with the keen marketing the result was a disappointing box office performance Go figure In Print Advertising there are 14 stills of promotional and poster artwork From the Publicity menu youll find another Easter Egg This is an educational cartoon called Recycle Rex which features an environmentallyconscious dinosaur named Rex who seeks to make sure people dont make a lot of waste and do reuse resources Other than the obvious the characters are cartoon dinosaurs theres nothing to connect it with the film but its a delightfully quirky little extra complete with a musical number With credits it runs twelve minutes MENUS and PACKAGING As mentioned earlier the menus can be slow to load on some DVD players particularly older ones Thats because theyre among the most ambitious of Disneys earlier DVDs fullyanimated accompanied by score All of the menus on Disc 1 are 16x9enhanced as are several of the bonus features and the main menu cycles through various scenes within a big dino paw print Before loading into the Main Menu Disc 2 very cleverly depicts the opening carnotaur dash in its final form and then in various stages of animation and the live action footage by itself The Disc 2 menus in 4x3 are all neatly designed and transitioned like a computer in an office Almost all the menus are animated and accompanied by some stellar selections of score Some may prefer simpler menus which Disney has adopted as part of its EasyFind system these days but I was quite impressed the first time I saw these selection screens and they still boast a lot of effort in design even if they dont play fluidly Plus the long introductions can be skipped if youd like Inside the case youll find the Spring 2001 catalogue of all of Disneys DVDs theyve since stopped printing these and an utterly expired coupon book But the real nice thing is the sixpage foldout insert printed on thick cardboard stock This contains three pages of notes from then Feature Animation President Thomas Schumacher and plenty of pleasing photography from the film plus a map of Disc 2s extras and a chapter listing CLOSING THOUGHTS This twodisc Collectors Edition of Dinosaur ranks up there with one of the best DVD releases the studio has put out The film isnt bad but its uneven and disappointing dramatically in contrast to the spectacular visuals Those visuals are splendidly conveyed as is an immersive sound mix with firstrate digital video and audio presentation While a good general documentary would have made for a fine inclusion the specific featurettes are substantial and thorough enough to satisfy with their coverage of this interesting production from various perspectives The highlights of Disc 2 are many from revealing development reels to theatrical release marketing from the audio mix demonstration to massive art galleries with several scene deconstructions and some neat Easter Eggs thrown in for good measure If Dinosaur were a better film almost any DVD collector would have this fantastic set in their collection already Nonetheless the feature presentation and exhaustive supplements certainly help you appreciate what went right and what went wrong with this fascinating chapter in the history of Disney animation More on the DVD