Madman Entertainment/AV Channel .
R4 . COLOR . 125 mins .
G . PAL
A floating princess from the sky? What luck!?
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is the third of three Studio Ghibli titles released under Madman’s new ‘Studio Ghibli Collection’, last October. The other two titles have already been reviewed here at DVDnet, and include Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke. Previous to these three have been the Academy Award winning Spirited Away, and the emotionally charged war-drama Grave of the Fireflies. In April of 2005, three more Ghibli titles will be added to the collection, including the famous original Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Madman have done an excellent job, as far, with these highly sought after anime classics.
We begin Laputa with a young girl, Sheeta, kept under tight control aboard an impressive airship soaring through the air. Unbeknownst to her, a number of pirates quickly board the ship, and begin a rigorous search for Sheeta and her tiny mystical necklace. Realising that these pink-pants wearing pirates are feverishly searching for her, Sheeta climbs out of the airship; only to accidentally fall far down to the ground.
Back on the land we meet Pazu; a young, hard-working kind of teenager that is clearly not afraid of a bit of adventure. His father, a famous adventurer, had once seen and then photographed a mythical floating island named Laputa. Naturally, after his father’s death, Pazu’s dreams and aspirations have fallen with discovering this ‘Castle in the Sky’ and proving his father right.
However, in retrospect, this move probably wasn’t so advantageous on Pazu’s part. Now, the pink-pants wearing pirates, secret service and the military are searching for Sheeta, to recover her and her precious necklace – which will prove eventually show us the way to Laputa itself! For, indeed, Sheeta is a descendent of the royal family; rightful leader and princess of the Laputan island. But, unfortunate for her, Laputa is rumoured to contain vast treasures and power – something it seems everyone wants a piece of.
Smile! You're at Mr Smilies!
And from there the adventure begins! Pazu and Sheeta must stay safe while under the close watch of the secret service, and try to avoid the nasty pirates (who actually turn out to be quite nice) who are after some sweet sweet pirate booty.
Joe Hisaishi, Japanese composer, has now featured in all Miyazaki’s films – adding his touch of epic brilliance on every corner. His work in Laputa: Castle in the Sky is nothing short of epic, often providing the sweeping orchestral music we often relate to these fantasy adventures, but then often pulling back to an Apocalypse Now-esque retro theme that will kick in during sombre moments. This is one of his most diverse scores, which will certainly please those who take special consideration. It is somewhat interesting that no Western filmmakers have taken advantage of Hisaishi’s work, as he’s someone who could very easily become the next Jerry Goldsmith of film music.
An English dub was recorded in 2003, featuring a rather star-studded cast of voice actors including James Van Der Beek (Dawson’s Creek) and Anna Paquin (X-Men). Unfortunately this is a very average effort, for a number of different reasons. The voice actors seem far too unsuited the characters they’re voicing, Pazu looks to be around 13 years old but sounds about 25. There have been numerous and significant changes to the script, which detract from the overall ‘vibe’ of the film – making all the dialogue feel very forced. This English dub turns what was an interesting mystery into a melodramatic mess. The Japanese dub (which is the original dub from ’86) is far better.
The rooster of the future.
Unfortunately the video quality isn’t of the high standard set by both Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke, which were all released simultaneously under the Studio Ghibli collection. It is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is 16:9 enhanced. Made in 1986, Castle in the Sky certainly shows its age with its relative poor detail and substantial grain. Nothing seems as crisp or defined as it normally should look, leaving us with quite a soft image.
Sources have said that this DVD is the victim of an NTSC -> PAL conversion, with the same running time as our Region 1 counterpart. This results in a fairly jarred image, with smooth movement or scrolling frequently broken due to the re-compression done with this video transfer. An original (or new) PAL encode would have resulted in a far smoother image, which would have greatly benefited this aging anime. The layer change at around the 63 minute mark is terribly placed, and is extremely noticeable on all players.
It was good to see that the colours are excellently presented in their original, vivid form. This particular film changes quite dramatically from each different sequence to another, in colour and mood, so it’s great to see that the striking colour has been retained.
Overall, it’s a rather disappointing transfer that could (and should) have been far better – especially in comparison to the other titles in the Ghibli collection. However, it is still quite watchable, but just won’t fare well on a large monitor/projector.
Argh, always with the flying tentacles!
Madman have provided us with both the original Japanese dub (in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), as well as the newer English dub (also in Dolby 2.0 Stereo). Unfortunately neither of the two are surround encoded.
Both soundtracks are quite good, delivering the audio effects and dialogue clearly. Joe Hisaishi provides is usual brilliant score, which is also excellently presented. There are times when the dialogue becomes distorted, usually either when there’s a lot happening or when the characters are yelling and screaming, however it’s not particularly noticeable.
The English dub seems to be clearer, and more defined than the original Japanese dub. It may have been that when the Disney crew organised the dub they remastered parts of the soundtrack, as it generally sounds more polished. However, Japanese is the original language this was made in and is therefore the definite first choice.
First up are feature-length original storyboards as an alternate angle to the film. Director/writer Hayao Miyazaki draws the majority of storyboards himself, so it’s always interesting to see where everything started. Often the storyboarded animation differs slightly from the final, coloured animation that makes the film. It is always proves intriguing to see what was left out, and what new elements were included in the final film.
Ohh... an underground star cave.
A textless opening/closing featurette simply removes the opening and closing credits from the animation so you can see more clearly what’s going on. This is usually found on other anime DVDs, but not normally for a feature film. However the opening of the film shows us an interesting aspect of the backstory to the film, so it’s a worthwhile featurette.
Some original trailers and TV spots for Laputa: Castle in the Sky, as well as more trailers for Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Grave of the Fireflies (all part of the Studio Ghibli Collection) also find their way on this disc.
Overall, this is a somewhat disappointing release of a great Miyazaki classic. This adventurous tale of fantasy and friendship will prove entertaining to the widest of audiences. I am highly anticipating the next wave of Studio Ghibli films due out for release some time in April 2005, and i'm sure i'm not alone.