Monday, July 15, 2013

Up 2D / 3D Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios take moviegoers up, up and away with a wildly original adventure with their latest comedy-fantasy.  Up follows the uplifting tale of 78-year-old balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen, who finally fulfills his lifelong dream of a great adventure when he ties thousands of balloons to his house and flies away to the wilds of South America.  But he discovers all too late that his biggest nightmare has stowed away on the trip: an overly optimistic 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell.  Their journey to a lost world, where they encounter some strange, exotic and surprising characters, is filled with hilarity, emotion and wildly imaginative adventure.

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is a grumpy old man.  He wasn’t always that way as we see from a montage of his younger years where we see a shy dreamer meet a fellow spirit named Ellie, who like him idolized the explorer Charles F. Muntz.  The irrepressible Ellie draws Carl out of his shell and we watch them grow up, fall in love, get married, try to have children and fail, and then grow old together.  And sadly, we watch her get sick and die along with Carl.  This entire opening sequence is almost wordless and yet very powerful as we clearly get how much Carl and Ellie loved each other and it’s beautifully accompanied by composer Michael Giacchino (who won two Grammy, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for this score).
Time passes, and we reconnect with a gruffer Carl who still talks to his absent wife and rails against the construction crew that’s building all around him.  The city is building up on all sides of him and Carl had been offered money for his property so they could remove the last obstacle to their construction plans, but Carl refused adamantly.  When Carl notices one of the construction workers accidentally hit the mailbox that Ellie had painted, he loses what little restraint he has and hits the man with his cane.  Realizing immediately the trouble he”s in, Carl returns to his house to await the trouble he’s brought down on himself.  It’s not long before the bad news arrives as he’s labled a public menace and ordered to surrender the house and to report to a retirement home.
Carl has no intention of going to the Shady Oaks Retirement home and he rigs his house with thousands of balloons to carry his house away.  He plans to go to to Paradise Falls, the place where his idol Muntz returned to in order to clear his name by finding a rare bird, and it’s also the place where he promised Ellie he would take her.  While the balloons do indeed enable his escape, there is one unforeseen hitch as Carl inadvertently kidnapped a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) who had been hiding under the porch waiting to be able to earn a merit badge for helping the elderly.  Unable to return Russell, Carl lets the boy inside the house just before a huge storm sends the house spinning in the wind.  Carl races around trying to protect his mementos of Ellie while Russell guides them to South America using his GPS unit which he promptly loses when trying to show it to Carl.
It doesn’t matter as Russell managed to get them to Paradise Falls where Carl plans to set the house down in the exact spot that Ellie wanted.  The only problem is the fact that they landed a distance away from that spot and the helium in the balloons won’t last much longer.  Carl and Russell drag the floating house through the jungle to their destination and encounter a large bird that Russell calls Kevin.  Neither of them realize that this is the bird that Muntz has been searching for for the last several decades.  They also meet a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson) whose collar (that was designed by Muntz) that allows him to talk.  Despite the immediate love from Dug, Carl wants nothing to do with either Dug or Kevin and does his best to leave them behind.
None of them realize that Dug’s collar also contains a camera and Muntz’s other dogs saw Kevin and know it’s the bird that they’ve been looking for.  Tracking Dug’s collar, the pack of dogs led by a Doberman named Alpha ambush the group and force them to walk to Muntz’s airship.  Carl is at first ecstatic to meet his childhood idol, but he quickly learns that the years spent on his obsession have left Muntz paranoid and ruthless.  In fact, Muntz has killed many previous visitors because he believed that they were there to take the bird that he had been searching for away for their own glory.  When Muntz learns that they they not only have seen the bird but that it followed them, he attempts to kill them too.  From that point on, Carl, Russell, Dug, and Kevin are forced to race for their lives with Muntz and his dogs in hot pursuit.  By the end of the film, Carl will be forced to decide what’s more important to him – his past possessions of his life with Ellie, or his future with the very much alive Russell who is in grave danger.
Up is another fantastic movie by Pixar and director Pete Doctor that continues the more adult themes that started with Finding Nemo and Wall-E that adds some more layers to traditional family fare.  The opening sequence that shows Carl and Ellie’s life is both sweet and heartbreaking and I remember that it really set the tone for the movie and it threw the audience I was with for a loop.  I don’t think anyone expected the movie to start like that but then again this movie was co-written and directed by Pete Doctor who also did Finding Nemo, which started with Nemo’s mother’s death so maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising.  Of course, once we get past that and Carl smacking the construction worker, the movie shifts into the traditional Pixar film with a lot of laughs and heart.
The cast is perfectly tailored to their roles, especially Ed Asner as the crotchety old man Carl.  Not many people could pull of the balance of being as gruff yet caring as Carl, but Asner has some good experience doing that from his past role of Lou Grant.  He once again knocks it out of the park and Christopher Plummer is also great as the obsessed Muntz. Newcomer Jordon Nagai is also a lot of fun as the lovable Russell as is Pixar veteran  Bob Peterson as the loyal Dug.  This is a touching movie that reminds us that sometimes we have to let go of the past to have any kind of a future which can be very hard to do.  I love that these Pixar movies actually mean something instead of just being mindless entertainment. There’s some good messages here that are delivered along with laughs which makes it blend just right. 

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

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

As far as I’m concerned, the company to beat on 3D releases is Disney.  No one else has their stellar track record when it comes to 2D and 3D transfers and this one is no different.  Up’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer offers some flawless imagery that’s just dazzling to see.  Both transfers are amazing and full of eye-popping color, spot on contrast, and the detail provided is astounding.  These transfers look even better than they did in the theater as it looks cleaner and now even the littlest details are easy to see.  From Kevin’s multi-hued feathers  that are now distinct in all of their individual qualities to the detail found in Carl’s aged face and his soft fuzzy hair, it all looks incredible.  Neither transfer suffers from a single blemish of any kind to detract from the movie’s video quality.  If you are still on the fence about getting a 3D TV, this transfer should allay any worries you may have as it’s practically perfect.  The depth it provides makes you feel like you are right there with Carl and Russell.  Seeing Carl’s house lift off (and out of the TV) by the thousands of balloons is now even more delightful and fun in 3D.  The jungles of South America also benefit from the added immersion that the 3D offers.  There’s no ghosting to be found in this transfer and it looks just as bright and colorful as the 2D version.  In fact, both of these transfers are reference quality but if I had to pick one to watch, I’d go with the 3D one with no hesitation.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

As if that awesome video quality wasn’t enough to recommend this Blu-ray as a must buy, just check out this amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is just as good.  This is one of the most playful and fun surround tracks I’ve heard in awhile.  From the balloons lifting the house to the incredible sounds of the storm as Carl guides the house to South America, this mix just gets better and better.  Disney puts out a ton of great mixes on their releases, but you can sense that they really went all out to create a total immersive experience for the viewer with this one.  The rear speakers are in constant use as they provide wall to wall ambiance and dead accurate sound effects nonstop.  The dialogue is crystal clear throughout the movie even during the action sequences that never drown it out.  Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score also sounds incredible in this mix and its well balanced with the rest of the track.  Between the video and audio quality, it’s safe to say that shoppers will be seeing this disc used to show off equipment for some time to come.   

Extras (5 out of 5 stars) 

The extras on this set don’t disappoint either as there’s a ton of goodies to go through including a great commentary, bonus cartoons, and a comprehensive look at how the film came together.
  • Dug’s Special Mission – An all new original short film that follows the misadventures of Dug as he attempts to complete his “special mission.” The short is directed by Up Story Supervisor, Ronnie Del Carmen.
  • The Many Endings of Muntz – Many ideas were hatched about how to dispose of the film’s arch villain, Muntz, and now viewers can see the many alternate endings proposed during story development.
  • Partly Cloudy – The fun short film t hat preceded the screenings of Up.  Everyone knows that the stork delivers babies, but where do the storks get the babies?  The answer lies up in the stratosphere where the cloud Gus is a master at creating “dangerous” babies, which prove to be more than a handful for his loyal delivery stork Peck.   Directed by Pixar story artist, animator and voice actor Peter Sohn.
  • Adventure is Out There – This action-packed documentary tells the story of the filmmakers’ own trek to the tepuis mountains of South America to research the design and story of the film.
On Blu-ray only:
  • Cine-Explore – A visual montage of concept art, clips and documentary coverage that illustrates the directors’ commentary with Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson that offers a picture in picture video commentary that is a great extra if you are a fan of the film.  They are accompanied by concept art, storyboards, and some pre-production materials that help show the evolution of the film.
  • Geriatric Hero – A character study of Carl, from research to realization including art and design, rigging, animation and story. It focuses on the issues of aging, “simplexity”, shape-language and compelling character arcs.
  • Canine Companions – For anyone who ever wondered where CG puppies come from, an introduction to the design, behavior and language of dogs.
  • Russell: Wilderness Explorer – A character study of Russell from inspiration and design to finding the character arc and authentic voice for this wilderness ranger.
  • Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin – Find out how avian research and development at Pixar helped bring a mythical, 13-foot tall iridescent bird to life.
  • Homemakers of Pixar – Carl and Ellie’s house is an important “character” in the film. Fans follow the development of the house from story to art to its ultimate realization in the computer.
  • Balloons and Flight – Carl’s house and Muntz’s dirigible presented the filmmakers with two different problems—how could they make a physical impossibility possible?  And, in the case of the dirigible, how would they unearth a fallen giant and let it soar?
  • Composing for Characters – Composer Michael Giacchino returns to score his third Disney•Pixar feature film. See how the Up filmmakers collaborated with Giacchino to create the memorable score and compelling musical themes.
  • Married Life – The original story concept that became the powerful “Married Life” scene, showing Carl and Ellie’s love story.
  • Global Guardian Badge Game – Players try to locate countries, states and capitals around the globe in a multi-layered BD-Exclusive geography game enhanced by BD-Live.

Summary (5 out of 5 stars) 

Up is a wonderful film that strikes the right balance between happiness and heartbreak which makes it even more touching.  It’s a wonderfully original film and the cast is superb in their roles, especially Ed Asner.  This Blu-ray is reference quality across the board and it’s sure to be a demo disc for both the 3D and for the audio enthusiasts.  The extras are also top notch and comprehensive so this set is a very easy one to recommend!
Order your copy today!

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