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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Dutch: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    French, Dutch, English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • 3 Featurette - Basics of Computer Animation, Facial Animation, Character Design
  • Production notes - 4 page booklet
  • Awards/Nominations

Antz

Dreamworks/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 79 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Trying... struggling......

....failing...

A Bug's Life.

There. I mentioned it. Invariably, this film has to be compared to Pixar's juggernaut, due to unfortunate timing. Disney were apparently interested in producing Antz but had already committed themselves to A Bug's Life when creators Pacific Data Images pitched their story. Luckily, backing was found courtesy of the new Dreamworks SKG studio, and PDI's first feature film was brought to life.

"Call me crazy, but I have a thing about drinking from the anus of another creature."

As the above quote may give away, this isn't a film aimed directly at the kiddies. In fact, I'd suspect that the producers knew full well what they were up against (A Bug's Life) and deliberately aimed for a more mature market. They made a crafty casting choice, placing Woody Allen in the title role, knowing that his presence alone would stir interest amongst filmbuffs that wouldn't normally consider seeing an animated feature.

Allen is perfect in the part, which seems tailor-made for him. He plays a worker ant, Z (or to be more precise, Z-4195), one of millions working in a colony, completing a new tunnel to the surface. Problem is, he's suffering an existential crisis - he feels he has no identity, as his society places the needs of the colony over that of the individual.

His mood changes rapidly when Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) spends a night slumming in the worker ant's bar, and Z is instantly smitten with her. Of course, a worker could never meet the princess, or even see her under normal circumstances, so Z talks his soldier buddy Weaver (Sylvester Stallone) into trading places for a day so that he can attend the army's march.

What Z wasn't aware of was the reason for the march - the ants are marching into battle against a termite colony, as part of a plan by the demented General Mandible (Gene Hackman) to rid the colony of lower-class creatures. Of course, there's the usual romantic subplot as well, and an excellent example of overt corporate sponsorship (mmm, I'm feeling thirsty!).

  Video
Contract

It seems that Dreamworks are determined to maintain their excellent reputation for film-to-video transfers in Australia as well as the US. Only a couple of white specks give this away as a transfer from film.

While A Bug's Life is full of bright primary colours, Antz goes for a more realistic, gritty palette with a lot of dark, earthy tones. The ants themselves are deep shades of orange and purple, far removed from the bright blue tones in Pixar's film. This tends to make the video less eye-popping than you might expect, but the image is as close to perfect as you could hope for in all other areas.

We're talking great black levels, very good sharpness and a near complete lack of artefacts of any kind. Examining the bitrate for the film shows why the picture is so good - it barely drops below 8Mbps for the entire runtime. This is very close to a reference transfer, only missing out from slightly less-than-stellar sharpness and a lackluster layer change.

  Audio
Contract

This is pretty much business as usual in a big-budget animated film. It seems that mixers are starting to get over the habit of underutilising the full capabilities of digital sound formats for fear of scaring the kiddies, so we can finally enjoy some serious bass extension and rear channel sounds.

Which is just what Antz delivers. This film was featured on a DTS demo disc a year or so ago (and there's a DTS DVD edition available in the US), simply because it's so dynamic and expansive. The LFE channel gets a thorough workout (passing my window-shaking test), and action scenes get the rear channels buzzing with split-surround effects. Dialogue is obviously ADR-produced, and sometimes doesn't integrate into scenes as well as could be expected, but the score is spacious and well-produced.

  Extras
Contract

Animation fans/geeks should have some fun here, as Dreamworks have included a bunch of extras detailing the technical processes used to make the film.

  • Audio Commentary - with directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. Although I would have enjoyed hearing Woody Allen provide a commentary, directors can really provide more information on an animated film, as they've had full approval on every light, every gesture and even every surface texture. Darnell and Johnson provide plenty of technical information, as well as detailing changes made to story and characters as production continued.
  • Featurette - Behind The Scenes - A fairly basic promo piece, limited replay value, move along.
  • Featurette - Basics of Computer Animation - Here we start to get into the meat of the production process, with the two directors explaining how the scenes are built up from storyboards, to basic layouts, through full lighting and texturing. The 11-minute featurette is quite heavily compressed, with obvious MPEG artefacting, but it's interesting to watch and certainly shows the amount of work that goes into even the basic details of a scene.
  • Featurette - Facial Animation - This demonstrates PDI's animation system, which seems quite different to Pixar's Renderman system. PDI's software constructs faces with bone structures which are then covered with virtual muscles, and the manipulation of these muscles affect the overlaying skin. Pixar's system seems to omit the concept of muscles as I understand it. Short, but informative.
  • Featurette - Character Design - Here the directors show the development stages of the designs for Z, Bala and General Mandible and discuss the creative process.
  • Theatrical Trailer - Nearly two and a half minutes of widescreen, 5.1 channel goodness.

  Overall  
Contract

For me, while this movie definitely had more 'head' than A Bug's Life, it seemed to have less 'heart'. I could appreciate the Allen-esque humour, but whether it was the subdued palette or the characters, I simply didn't enjoy it as much as the Disney film.

Don't get me wrong, this is still a worthy film, and definitely worth picking up, but to my mind it lacks that essential spark that Pixar has managed to imbue in all of their films to date.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=457
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      And I quote...
    "A sophisticated examination of individuality in an oppressive totalitarian society... with slapstick."
    - Paul Dossett
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