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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monsters University 3D Ultimate Collector’s Edition (3D + 2BD + DVD + Digital Copy) Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
MonstersUniversityBlurayComboArt 160After scaring up big laughs in theaters, the in-home release of Monsters University opens its doors to the movie in stunning high definition Blu-ray, and provides hours of all-new bonus material, in-depth behind the scenes features, deleted scenes, the animated theatrical short “The Blue Umbrella” and much more.  Ever since college-bound Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) was a little monster, he has dreamed of becoming a Scarer.  Mike’s plans are derailed when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, “Sulley” (voice of John Goodman), a natural-born Scarer.  The pair’s out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of Monsters University’s elite Scare Program. To make matters worse, they realize they will have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right. Monsters University bravely explores themes of self-discovery and the revelations that come with growing up.  Joining Crystal and Goodman as part of Monsters University’s monstrously talented voice cast are Steve Buscemi (voice of Randy Boggs), Helen Mirren (voice of Dean Hardscrabble), Alfred Molina (voice of Professor Knight), Charlie Day (voice of Art), Sean P. Hayes (voice of Terri Perry), Dave Foley (voice of Terry Perry), Nathan Fillion (voice of Johnny Worthington) and Aubrey Plaza (voice of Claire Wheeler).

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

I was a big fan of Pete Docter’s Monsters, Inc. when it came out as I thought it was brilliantly cast, had an interesting and original story, great animation, and it was really funny.  I always hoped for a sequel but as they years went by, it seemed like that was never going to happen.  Well the sequel never happened but we did finally get this prequel which was a lot of fun but for me never reached the same lofty heights as the first one, but it comes pretty close. Starring the original cast from the first movie which adds a ton of enjoyment to the movie, Monsters University tells the story of how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) met each other in college and how they eventually became best friends.  We also get to see some of the other characters from the first film including the weaselly Randall, who at this point in his life goes by Randy and is a major nerd who’s desperate to win the approval of the cool kids.
The prequel starts off with a look back even further when Mike was very young and having to deal with being much smaller than the other kids.  After a chance meeting with Frank (John Krasinksi), one of the scarers at Monsters, Inc., Mike’s new purpose in life is to be a scarer too.  Time passes and we see Mike now about to start his first day of college and being a scarer is still his life’s ambition.  He discovers his roommate is a chameleon named Randy (Steve Buscemi) and they become friends, which as we know from Monsters, Inc. won’t last for long (and in a funny throwback to the first movie, we see Randy take his glasses off to look cool only to start his trademark squint that was his permanent look in the original movie).
As it turns out, both Sulley, Mike, and Randy all want to be scarers, although the odds are the highest against the diminutive Mike.  Sulley, on the other hand, is popular from the start and the most popular fraternity Roar Omega Roar and it’s leader Johnny Worthington III (Nathan Fillion) inducts him into their fraternity.  It isn’t long before Mike and Sulley become rivals because Mike is jealous of how easy scaring comes to Sulley, while Sulley is secretly worried that he’s not good enough to live up to the long line of scarers in his family and Mike seems to know everything about it.  Their rivalry ends up getting them kick out of Professor Knight’s (Alfred Molina) scare class by the school’s Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren).  No longer part of the Scare Program, both Mike and Sulley are angry and blame each other for their downfall.
When Mike gets the bright idea to enter the school’s Scare Games as a way to prove that he can be a scarer, he is challenged by Dean Hardscrabble who makes him a deal that if he wins the Games, he can re-enter the Scare Program, but if his team loses, then he will leave Monsters University and not return.  Desperate to get have a team to compete, Mike joins the most unpopular fraternity on campus, Oozma Kappa and is forced to accept Sulley as part of the team to have enough members for the competition.  The other members of Oozma Kappa are just as unlikely to win the Scare Games as Mike is but unlike Roar Omega Roar, this group of friends is supportive of each other and tries their best even if they are living in Squishy’s (Peter Sohn) mother’s house.  The other Oozma Kappa member include an older insurance salesman named Don Carlton (Joel Murray), Art (Charlie Day), a long limbed monster who looks like he could be a Muppet, and a two-headed monster named Terri Perry (Sean Hayes) and Dave Foley as the other half, Terry Perry.
When the Scare Games begin, the Oozma Kappa team is woefully unprepared as Mike and Sulley are determined to beat each other even at the cost of their team and the other team members just aren’t really up for this kind of challenge. When they almost lose their first competition thanks to Mike and Sulley’s selfishness, it’s a wake up call for the team who start to realize that they only chance they have to win or even stay in the Games is to start working together.  To achieve that, the team will have to accept each other as they are with both their weaknesses and strengths and try to use those to their advantage because if they want any chance of returning to the Scare School, they will need to beat the reigning champs – Johnny Worthington III and Roar Omega Roar.
While I would have preferred a sequel, I did really enjoy Monsters University as I enjoy spending time with this fun characters and their world.  I think the decision to tell a story before Monsters, Inc. really drained this movie of any real suspense as we already know what’s going to happen in the future, but the filmmakers did try to throw a couple of curve-balls along  the way.  While this movie isn’t as good as the original as it lack the heart of the first movie and the wit and sheer originality, it does still offer a lot of laughs and the promise of the original cast members returning for more hijinks.   The film does a nice job capturing the college atmosphere and I also enjoyed the throwbacks to the first film.
If you judged this movie as a standalone movie, it would fare pretty well as it’s light and fun, but when compared to the original it does pale somewhat in comparison.  I’m not sure audiences wanted to see Mike and Sulley go from being best friends to hating each other for most of this movie, especially when they know how it’s going to end.  I also believe that there’s too many other characters in the movie and I would’ve preferred that the movie focus on Mike and Sulley like the first one did.  One of the things that I really liked about the movie was the amazing cast assembled for it as Helen Mirren, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Aubrey Plaza, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Hader, and more joined original stars Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi.  Any movie that features that group of actors has got to be pretty good.  It was great seeing the characters again but I will still keep hoping for that sequel to Monsters, Inc. where we can see what happened to Boo and what happens next for Mike and Sulley, because not knowing how it’s all going to end makes movies a lot more enjoyable.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

2D Video (5 out of 5 stars)                   3D Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

These 1080p (1.78:1) transfers are simply flawless and will leave you astounded with their beauty. Both versions offer lush colors of such variety that you could easily use this disc to calibrate your color settings as there’s no other disc in recent memory that offers so many variations of explosive color.  The black levels are inky, solid, and perfectly dark which is a good thing considering that a good portion of the movie takes place in dark areas as the Oozma Kappa group competes with the other fraternities in sewers and such.  Detail is stupendous and you can see every strand of Sulley’s fur, every glistening suction cup, every scale, and more in perfect clarity.  As utterly fantastic as the 2D Blu-ray’s video quality is, the 3D version is even better as it combines a perfect presentation with extra depth and dimensionality which makes the viewing experience even more fun.  Plus, this is the perfect kind of movie to benefit from 3D as there’s hundreds of monsters with tentacles, claws, and more to reach out with.  The 3D version is just as bright and bold looking as the 2D version without any of the dimness that some 3D presentations end up with.  I’m also happy to report that there’s no ghosting issues present or any kind of defect or blemish to be seen for that matter.  Both of these transfers are perfection exemplified in each of their categories.
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

You’ve now read how awesome Monsters University’s video quality is, so you may be wondering if the audio quality is just as good.  Let me put those concerns aside as this Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix is so good that you’ll want to keep this movie near your Blu-ray player so it will be on hand to show off your sound system when friends come over. This lossless mix is so good, that when Sulley roared upon entering the classroom, it made my son jump out of his chair and he’d already seen the movie!  The dialogue is clean, clear, and masterfully mixed together with the score and sound effects.  Every channel combines to create a sonic wall of sound that completely surrounds the viewer and the LFE channel deliver a powerful kick often and with gusto.  There’s a ton of ambiance all the time, both in the classrooms or during the Scare Games as the rear channels let the atmosphere swirl around you.  Directionality is perfect and the cross channel placement for the sound effects couldn’t be better.  This audio mix is reference quality and it’s going to blow the roof off of your house if you turn the volume up!
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Extras (5 out of 5 stars) 

This is another jam packed set that includes three Blu-ray discs, one for the 3D version, another for the 2D version, and a third for the bonus features.  There’s also another DVD disc of the movie and an HD Digital copy for iTunes too.
  • Audio Commentary - This is an engaging commentary with director/writer Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and story supervisor Kelsey Mann who talk about how the story evolved and the difficulty they faced trying to explain away a line from the first movie.  Since this is also Pixar’s first prequel, they also talk about how that changed the characters as they are now younger and not best friends.  There’s also talk about the cast and the film’s animation and more.
  • Campus Life – What’s it like being on a production crew at Pixar? Get a look at a day in the life of the “Monsters University” crew through their own eyes.  This is very similar to their other behind the scenes extras on their other sets.
  • Story School –  An interesting documentary examines the challenges of creating a prequel as well as themes that run through the story, and the change in focus from Sulley to Mike.  We’ll also look at how gags are developed – from writing jokes to brainstorming a million ideas, only 5% of which actually end up in the movie.
  • Scare Games – The Pixar motto is work hard and play hard and we get to see this in action in this featurette.  The same people who keep the film production moving – producers, managers, coordinators and artists – are also the ones who bring spirit and excitement to some of their extracurricular activities. We get to see the MU production teams as they go head to head in the mostly playful Pixar Scare Games competitions.
  • Welcome to MU – Sets aren’t just buildings, they are the worlds our characters live in and explore.  This look at the Monsters University campus and its development is told from the perspective of the artists who created each piece of the campus from the architecture to the ivy leaves.  .
  • Music Appreciation – Randy Newman’s scores are a mainstay of Pixar films, and this documentary will give you a privileged look at his creative process.  We follow the Monsters University scoring process from spotting to writing and on to the scoring session including special college-themed recording sessions with Newman, Scanlan, and music editor Bruno Coon.  It’s nice to see something devoted to a composer for a change I hope this kind of extra continues.
  • Scare Tactics – Animators are actors who digitally bring the characters to life.  In this look at how the MU animation team worked, you’ll see their process of how they channeled their own monster-selves and created moments on screen that were really funny, really scary and also really serious, sometimes all at the same time.
  • Color and Light – How can a single painting set the tone for an entire scene? We’ll look at the creation of the colorscripts and how they were realized technically in the final film.  Along with the process, this piece explores the many layers of technical innovation required to produce such a naturalistic feel.
  • Paths to Pixar – MU Edition – When one door closes, sometimes another door opens – one with an even more exciting opportunity behind it. Members of the MU crew tell their own compelling back-stories and share the challenges they overcame along their paths to Pixar.  This is another recurring extra that you can find on other Pixar titles.
  • Furry Monsters: A Technical Retrospective – Explore the difficulties in creating characters that are 20 years younger with tools that are 10 years more advanced in this contrasting look at the differing technical challenges that arose when making Monsters, Inc., and Monsters University.
  • Deleted Scenes – Four separate scenes – “Rivalry,” “Recon,” “Movie Night,” and “Drama Class” – are included along with an introduction from director Dan Scanlon.
  • “The Blue Umbrella” – This animated short film from Pixar Animation Studios, directed by Saschka Unseld and produced by Marc Greenberg, played in theaters in front of “Monsters University.” “The Blue Umbrella” tells the story of an evening commute in which the rain starts to fall and the city comes alive to the sound of dripping rain pipes, whistling awnings and gurgling gutters. And in the midst, two umbrellas—one blue, one not—fall eternally in love.  This short is very well done but all of these Pixsr shorts are starting to blend together.  I wish they would try something completely new.
  • Monthropology - A six minute look at how Pixar uses every available option to create the monsters in the movie including how they design, animate, and more to make them look believable and distinct.
  • Promo Picks - A collection of promos for the movie including: “Monsters Mashup,” “College Campaign” and “Theatrical Campaign.”
  • Set Flythroughs - A virtual tour of the Monsters University campus, the Scare School, Frat Row and the OK House in a series of cool high definition fly-throughs of the sets.
  • Art Galleries - A collection of artwork that’s divided into five categories: “Characters,” “Color Keys,” “Development Art,” “Environments” and “Graphics.”
  • 2D Blu-ray Copy of the Film
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • HD Digital Copy of the Film
MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

Summary (5 out of 5 stars) 

Monsters University is a fun movie that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but it’s still great to spend time with these characters again and I would welcome a third one.  This Blu-ray is reference quality on every count with fantastic video and audio quality as well as an amazing 3D presentation.  The extras are top notch and certainly live up to its “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” name.
Order your copy today!
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