2 Featurette - 'The Windows of Pinocchio' and 'The Voices of Pinnochio'
Buena Vista/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 83 mins .
PG . PAL
Remember the cheesy Christmas panto? When I was a lad - well before puberty pulled a cynical shroud over my eyes - my parents would dutifully deposit my brothers and I at the local RSL club for a little yuletime entertainment. Typically some half-baked fable performed by whatever out-of-work soapie stars were around at the time, we went more for the bag of lollies to scoff than for the show itself. Still, there was something fun, something sublimely innocent, about those performances and, watching Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio, I was transported back to those dingy seats, the overacting, the distant tinging of poker machines on the edge of hearing…
What is that on your head?
For, truth be told, although a little of this same innocence manages to peep through, Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio shares many of the overacted panto's defining qualities. Maybe that's not entirely fair; more accurately I guess I should say that Miramax’s international release of Pinocchio - emblazoned as it is with a little gold star promising an ‘ENGLISH VERSION featuring the voices of Hollywood stars’ suffers in this. The reason, basically, is that Miramax's dub of Benigni’s pet project is an absolute bloody disgrace. Without supplying the original Italian dialogue, even having watched the disc in both its available languages (English and French dubs), I don’t honestly feel like I’ve seen Benigni’s film. While the French dub is adequate, the English attrocity completely ruins the film, and without a definitive version to view, I'm left me feeling one very, very cheated reviewer. How can I possibly do the film any justice? Miramax certainly haven't.
One has only to look at Life is Beautiful to know that as an acting writer-director, Benigni has both impeccable comedic timing, and a special gift for storytelling. Pinocchio was a labour of love for the animated Italian, and the time and effort that he has poured into the film shows in every perfectly constructed frame, in the beautiful sets and costumes, and in the wondrous and detailed production design. Yes, to look at, Pinocchio is stunning, and this makes the loss of the original vocal performances – from some of Italy’s finest actors - all the more infuriating. Miramax’s English dub, packed as it is with so-called ‘Hollywood stars’ removes any sense of performance from the film and the result, devoid of charm or even comedic timing, feels stilted, cobbled together and amateurish in the extreme. The dub is so bad that at one stage I even wondered whether it could all be some sick joke a la Hercules Returns.
The Blue Rinse Fairy
The ‘stars’ collected by Miramax to voice this atrocity include Brecken Meyer in the titular role, James Belushi, Queen Latifah and others. Certainly not the most illustrious list I could have imagined! I mean, don’t get me wrong, Brecken’s a pretty funny guy, and I personally loved him in Clueless and Josie and the Pussycats, but is he really the actor to voice the visual antics of Roberto Benigni? Hardly - it’s a feat that few could accomplish. I still can't imagine why anyone would ask them to try.
Thank's Miramax. He may have wanted to be a real boy, but for me the digital incarnation of this little puppet is dead on the table.
Pull my strings
Whatever the other deficiencies in Miramax's release may be, the video quality displayed by Pinocchio is nothing short of stunning. Flawless in every respect, the anamorphic (2.35:1) image is razor sharp without undue aliasing or edge enhancement, and the level of detail is high both in well lit and dimly lit scenes; the latter making up much of the film. Indeed the majority of film displays an almost monochromatic palette - the dull earthy browns of shadowy 17th century villages with their dusty, narrow lanes and dim interiors - and a high level of contrast helps to bring the detail to the fore. It's not all drab, however, and when the colour does come - whether it be Pinocchio himself in his white suit, the brilliant reds and oranges of the Donkey circus or deep blues of the blue rinse fairy or the ocean at midnight - they are vivid and well balanced. Flesh tones too, taking into account the gaudy 17th century makeup, look natural. Benigni has worked hard to make his Pinocchio look wonderful, and Miramax's transfer does justice to his unique vision.
In the belly of the beast
I've ranted enough about what a travesty Miramax's English dub is. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the English soundtrack is joined by two French soundtracks - a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix similar to the English, and remarkably a French DTS mix. Why Miramax decided on two French tracks rather than the original Italian is beyond me, but the reason may stem from the fact that while they handled the international distribution of the film, they did not handle distribution in Italy. It's also rather telling, don't you think, that Miramax never bothered to produce a DTS English mix?
Having watched both the English and French dubs, the French is easily the language of choice for me. While it still suffers from trying to replace the original performances, the French voice talent sound much more genuine; easily outshining the half-hearted Hollywood 'stars', providing a better match for the look and feel of the film, and removing the cringe factor that pervades the English effort.
In terms of the soundtracks themselves, Pinocchio is a dynamic listening experience, with the same attention to detail paid the sound of the film as was sunk into the image. While the DTS mix is a little more clear in terms of channel separation and overall fidelity, all three mixes utilise all six channels continuously to provide an immersive viewing experience. Without doubt the star of the show is the magical, fairytale score by Nicola Piovani. Both subtle and dramatic when called for, it provides a perfect accompaniment to the film and is mixed perfectly between the front and rear channels to envelop the viewer. When the score is not in full flight, ambient sound abounds in the rear channels, whether it be the general hubbub of Pinocchio's village (especially when the little puppet is causing havoc), the hint of tinkling bells when the Blue Fairy is around, the pandemonium of the lost boys as they cavort in 'Fun Forever Land', or the rumble and creak of timbers in the beast's belly. The subwoofer also gets a great workout supporting the action; be it an early scene where a runaway log careens through the village, Pinocchio trying to murder Cricket with a hammer, or the crash of the giant fish as it leaps out of the water.
Simple, static menus provide access to two short featurettes that I promise you won't be coming back to. The first, The Windows of Pinocchio (4:50), is a behind the scenes look at the production of five Christmas window displays for New York’s FAO and Swartz; each based on a scene from the film. Roberto and his wife the Blue Fairy even turn up at the unveiling. The second featurette, The Voices of Pinocchio (3:55), provides short interviews with members of the English cast from the dubbing studio. Comments include those from Brecken Meyer, Cheech Marin and John Cleese as they talk about what it was like to dub their corresponding Italian parts.
As it is, without Benigni's original Italian performance we're only getting half the show here and the disc certainly suffers for it. Is Pinocchio a good movie? In all honesty I can't tell you. But if you're still interested in seeing it, be sure to avoid the English dub like the plague. May you grow donkey ears and a tail for even attempting it.