With ‘Robots’ currently in theatres, Nat Tunbridge looks at the previous movie from Blue Sky Studios, ‘Ice Age’, available in a 2-disk ‘Extreme Cool Edition’ which looks suspiciously like the Special Edition from three years ago…
Moore’s Law, which – roughly put – has come to mean that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every 18 months, is the digital Damocles’ Sword hanging over the head of every computer animator, because while the ever increasing power of digital workstations means that the Pixars of this world have greater and greater resources to draw upon in order to imagine their fantastic worlds, that relentlessly climbing line will mean that even their very best efforts will look dated in only a few years’ time.
I thought about this as I watched ‘Ice Age: Extreme Cool Edition’, which has been released to cash in on the release of Blue Sky Studios’ new title, ‘Robots’. ‘Ice Age’ was cutting edge when it was released in 2002 but, in animation terms, looks almost clunky today. In terms of computer processing power, ‘Ice Age’ is already a generation old, the equivalent of a prematurely-grouchy twenty-something, compared to the shiny, pre-pubescently perfect ‘Shrek 2’, ‘The Incredibles’ or indeed ‘Robots’, all of which take CGI to new levels and present us with onscreen wonders unthinkable even a few years ago. That’s not to say that ‘Ice Age’ looks bad – it’s generally stunning – but the angularity of some of the graphics and lack of detail in certain areas only becomes apparent having seen those CGI films released in the last year or so. The human characters in ‘Ice Age’ – Neanderthal though they may be – look very basic, their movements in particular appearing clumsy in comparison to the naturalistic gymnastics of Princess Fiona et al.
Anyway, having said all that, ‘Ice Age’ is still a terrific piece of work. The voice acting is extremely good, the three lead roles being taken by actors who may not be too well known this side of the Atlantic. Comic Ray Romano takes the role of the mastodon Manny and his low-key charm works well for the rather melancholy character. Another comic/actor, Denis Leary, voices the scheming sabretooth Diego. Most notably, John Leguizamo, perhaps best known for his role as Tybalt in Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’, does a brilliant turn as the lisping sloth Sid. Leguizamo’s improvisations add a lot to the film’s sense of fun. The screenplay is extremely tight, the script funny and the ending a real tear-jerker.
Earth. The Ice Age. Obnoxious sloth Sid (Leguizamo) has been left behind by his tribe during the annual migration. He falls in with melancholy mammoth Manny (Romano), who has problems of his own. When the two of them save a human baby, they also come into contact with Diego, a laid-back Sabretooth tiger. Sid convinces Manny to return the baby to its human tribe, and Diego agrees to come along to guide them. Neither Sid nor Manny know, however, that Diego has a mission of his own: to return the baby to Soto (Visnjic), the chief of his pack, so it can be eaten alive…
‘Ice Age’ is presented in 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks stunning. My above comments about the character movement aside, ‘Ice Age’ has some of the best lighting effects I’ve ever seen in a CGI movie. One scene that takes place in the early morning and another that happens just before dawn are quite remarkable for their subtle use of colour and shade to evoke the respective times of day. If there’s edge enhancement, I couldn’t see it. This is a great picture although not having seen the original DVD release, I can’t say for sure if it’s an improvement.
The review disk we were supplied with came with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 and a 6.1 DTS track (although this hasn’t been advertised as such). It’ll come as little surprise to anyone when I say that the 6.1 DTS is the way to go. There’s nothing wrong with the 5.1 and I watched the movie quite happily first time around using this track, but the DTS is in a different league. Frankly, it’s awesome, unbelievably loud and with great detail and superb definition. The surrounds were very active, not only throughout the film’s many action sequences but also during the quieter scenes (the blizzards made great use of the rear-centre speaker). Atmospheric effects are crystal clear and beautifully balanced. The integration of David Newman’s musical score with the teeming sound effects is very well handled. The only area where I felt the soundtrack was a little light was in the bottom end; the subwoofer is used occasionally but not as much as I would have thought. All in all though, this is a superb sounding disk and since 6.1 DTS was not included on the original disk, this is one area at least where you’re guaranteed of improvement.
Hmm. The Special Features seem to be the same as those that accompanied the film’s original DVD Special Edition in 2002, though they’re spread over two disks and lack the ‘Sid on Sid’ featurette. Are the two ‘interactive games’ new? It’s a mystery…
There’s the Commentary with Director Chris Wedge and co-director Carlos Saldanha, the ‘Gone Nutty’ short, Deleted Scenes, Games and Trailers.
The Commentary is pretty comprehensive and if you want to know about how ‘Ice Age’ was done then it will not disappoint. Wedge and Saldanha recorded it together (though they occupy different channels) which allows for a more spirited interchange of jokes and anecdotes than when tracks are recorded singly. This is actually a more conservative, low-key commentary track than you might imagine from people who are involved in producing wacky animated films. Wedge generally leads the comments, with Saldanha chipping in regularly, often about how beautiful the water effects are!
‘Gone Nutty’ is a four and a half minute short film devoted to the hugely popular character Scrat. It’s billed as ‘Scrat’s Missing Adventure’ and will, among other things, reveal Scrat’s role in the current formation of landmasses on Earth! If you haven’t already seen it, I don’t want to give (else) anything away, but it’s brilliant and definitely one of the best special features in this Special Edition.
The Deleted Scenes mostly stem from the same area in the movie, in the first quarter. They are Paying Toll with Aardvarks, Sylvia and Sid Introduction, Sabre Stake Out, No More Fruit For You, Sid and the Ladies and Sid and Syliva. The optional Commentary with director Chris Wedge and co-director Carlos Saldanha reveals the reasons why the particular scene was cut. One thing that’s notable about these deleted scenes is that almost all of them have been fully rendered, making for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.
The Games are, like every other DVD game I’ve ever seen, very basic and lacking in play value. Hide and Eek and Frozen Pairs are for very young children or drunk adults only.
The Special Features on Disk 1 end with a choice of Trailers; the Theatrical Teaser Trailer A, Theatrical Trailer B and Theatrical Trailer C.
The bulk of the Special Features are on disk 2, and there’s loads of them: Extreme Cool View, Scrat Reveals, Animation Progression, International Ice Age, Under the Ice, Bunny animated Short and Design Galleries.
Extreme Cool View is an interesting idea; while the movie plays in a window in the upper left of the screen, a documentary plays in the lower right, occasionally stopping to allow the viewer to read Scrat’s Facts, a selection of brief facts covering the movie’s development and also the period its set in. The documentary material is extensive and covers character creation and design, film development, how the film’s animals compare with the real beasts they’re based on and much more. Interviews with director Chris Wedge and other crew from Blue Sky, plus actual ice age experts, are included. This Special Feature, obviously, runs the full length of the film. Only English HOH subtitles are available for this Feature.
Scrat Reveals are exactly what they sound like, three mini-scenes in which Scrat’s endless lust for acorns inadvertently reveal the familiar Fox logo. There’s Mt Rushmore, Push and Block.
Animation Progression will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the Special Edition of an animated movie before. Watch three scenes from ‘Ice Age’ at five different stages of the animation process: storyboard, 3D layout, un-rendered animation, final render and a composite of all the stages. Cycle through the different views using the Angle key. The scenes are the famous Opening, Tigers Attack and Almost Home/Lava. I found the composite view is the best to get a sense of how the movie has been built up layer by layer.
International Ice Age is a fun feature. Watch a two-and-a-half minute segment of the film dubbed for different languages, including French, German, Italian and Cantonese.
Under the Ice contains the bulk of the background material for the film and is divided into eight sections of varying length: Behind the Scenes of Ice Age introduces the Feature in a comedic style with lead voice actor Ray Romano coming into the studio to prepare for the “making of’ skit and interacting with a crew member. Brief soundbites come from Producer Lori Forte, Director Chris Wedge and several of the lead voice actors. The next sections, Making a Character, Art of Rigging, Animators Acting, Art of Effects, Lighting and Materials, and Using 2D in a 3D world all cover different aspects of the animation process and are each about a minute long. Different members of the Blue Sky production team take you through the area of animation they’re concerned with and are pretty cut-and-dried about it; much of the dialogue sounded scripted and a bit stilted. The last featurette Sid Voice Development is still one of my favourite features on the DVD, even at only three and a half minutes long. John Leguizamo agreed to do the voice work on ‘Ice Age’ while he was in Australia working on ‘Moulin Rouge’. He recorded 30 possible voices for Sid on a minidisk and sent them to Chris Wedge (who didn’t like any of them!). This feature lets us hear some of the potential Sids that never came to be. If you want to know what Peter Lorre would have sounded like as a sloth, listen to this!
Bunny animated short is, as it says, the short animated film that won Academy Award for best Animated Short in 1998. An intro from Chris Wedge describes the aim of the short and how it was achieved. There’s also an optional commentary from Chris and Carlos Saldanha where they talk further about the inspiration behind the short and how it was carried out. ‘Bunny’ is just under nine minutes long, has music by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan (!) and is a worthy addition to the Special Features disk.
Design Galleries actually combines two things into one feature. The Create Your Own Gallery feature allows you to design your own selection of still images taken from the design sketches for the film. Size Comparison/Science Behind Ice Age lets you look at how the different members of the ‘Ice Age’ cast measure up to each other. You can select any of them and zoom in for a closer look and to discover factual information about the animals they’re based on. A nice educational touch.
‘Ice Age’ is all round great family entertainment and this Special Edition looks and sounds superb. If you don’t already have it on DVD, then this DTS 6.1-equipped edition is definitely the one to get. If you have the previous version, I can’t really argue – given the lack of new special features – for you to fork out the shekels for this one, unless you absolutely love the film and are a 6.1 obsessive. NOTE: the mark I’ve given the extras is based on the assumption that you don’t own the previous version.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum