Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Book of Life Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment invites you and your family to join Manola, Maria and Chuy as they embark on a magical journey that takes them on an adventure of a lifetime in The Book of Life available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD January 27. Written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the characters venture to the Land of the Remembered and embrace the rich culture and family history brought to life by the all-star voice cast of Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Christina Applegate and Ice Cube.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)
I remember the theatrical release of The Book of Life, and it seemed like it flew through the theaters. My family had every intention of seeing it in the theater and just missed the chance. I had been excited to see the film after attending the Comic Con press conference where I heard about the film from actors Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman and Christina Applegate as well as the filmmakers. Although it is a shame to only hear, not see Channing Tatum, The Book of Life is a unique and interesting film.

The Book of Life tells the story of Maria Posada (adult character voiced by Zoe Saldana) who is best friends with two local boys. Manolo Sanchez (Diego Luna, as an adult) is a sensitive musician whose father wants him to be a bull fighter. Joaquin Mondragon (adult character voiced by Channing Tatum) wants to be a soldier.
The two young men are very different but they are both in love with young Maria. As the children celebrate the Day of the Dead, a wager is made. Xibalba (Ron Perlman) rules the underworld, the land of the forgotten souls. He bets with La Muerte (Kate de Castillo) who rules the land of the remembered, on which boy will marry Maria. If Xibalba wins he will trade territory with La Muerte. You just can’t trust the ruler of the underworld, as he doesn’t exactly play fair.

Maria’s father sends her away and the boys grow up without the lovely Maria. She returns as an adult and both Joaquin and Manolo still hope to win her hand in marriage. You’d expect a competition between Manolo and Joaquin, but Xibalba can’t help but get involved. After a journey to the underworld, the ancestors pitch in and give the town’s greatest foe an epic battle.

If I hadn’t watched this with my almost seven year old, I would have said the Day of the Dead is an extremely dark subject and an elementary school child wouldn’t be interested. Now it’s no Lego Movie (with accompanying song that a child never gets tired of) but my son did like it. Just as I did when he was drawn to The Nightmare Before Christmas, I wondered if I’m showing him something inappropriate. He asked no questions about the Day of the Dead, or lost loved ones, he just enjoyed the film. Maybe I’m over thinking it.

Heavy subject matter or not, I renew my objection to children’s movies always having a sad element. Why do so many characters have to have dead loved ones? Can’t a family film be happy from start to finish? In Up I had to feel bad for the kid with the balloons, and more recently in Big Hero 6 I had to mourn an important family loss. Even in The Lego Movie, there’s some real life family drama to crush then lighten the mood. Does it really make the highs higher if you’ve just gone through all the low points? Even in a children’s movie, I should have realized with Guillermo Del Toro involved, it was going to go dark for a bit.

The Book of Life is a good movie, but it probably won’t be one my son and I watch frequently. We’ll probably pull this one out annually, just as my son has forgotten what it’s all about. Luckily, parents shouldn’t mind as this film which has real heart, with both sweet and sad moments, not all of which your child will pick up on. In the case of my son, he was far too busy talking about how cool it was that people are skeletons.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Book of Life is stunningly presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. The animation is unlike anything you’ve seen in other animated films and the colors and shadows are increasingly important. The textures of the characters that appear to be made of wood is striking. The film transitions from the world of the living to the worlds of the dead and it is well supported by excellent fine detail and appropriate black levels.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
While The Book of Life is certainly visually impressive, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix fares even better. Both dialogue and music are weighty and can be heard clearly and consistently throughout the film. Some of the actor’s accents can make bits of dialogue a bit hard to understand but that’s certainly not the fault of the audio presentation.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The film contains a good list of special features, and as with the film, they will be enjoyed by an adult audience.
  • The Adventures of Chuy – A three minute bonus short film.
  • Closer Look at The Book of Life – An in depth look at the film with cast and filmmaker interviews.
  • The Music of Life - Featurette focused on the Gustavo Santoalalla’s score.
  • Digital Carpenters: Behind The Book of Life at Reel FX - This featurette looks at the film’s animation process.
  • Music Machine – Just under 25 minutes of music from the film, which can be played individually or with a play all feature.
  • "No Matter Where You Are" -  Music Video by Us the Duo
  • Audio Commentary - Director Jorge R. Gutierrez provides audio commentary, which would not keep the kids interested, but definitely holds value for the adult audience.
  • Gallery – Images in the following categories
  • Meet the Cast 
  • Visual Development - Production Art
  • Visual Development - Color Keys
  • Background Poster Paintings
  • The Final Look
  • Theatrical Trailer
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
The Book of Life has a lot going on and includes a very adult story. That may just be my Americanized view on storytelling. The film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray and contains a decent, but not overwhelming list of special features. With children’s movies being recycled over and over it’s nice to have a truly unique experience. My six year old enjoyed the movie without asking too many questions. I wouldn’t recommend this for the preschool audience, it’s a bit too heavy for that crowd. This won’t be your go to film to keep the kids quiet so you can get a task accomplished but it is something that the family can sit down and enjoy from time to time.

Order your copy today!


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