PictureAstro Boy comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio.
As one might expect from computer generated material, and particularly that which comes from Imagi animation studios who were previously responsible for 2007's TMNT, the visuals are top notch. Delineation is sharp and even when factoring in the subtle deliberate softening of some edges it does so in a manner that aids the sense of the cinematic rather than ham fisted smudging. This also has the effect of adding some much needed depth which is so often missing from CG fare.
In terms of colour palette, bold extremes are generally avoided in favour of gentler pastel shades. Blacks are as black as one would expect from such an animation, with Astro's hair being suitably inky.
Gradation in skies and vistas is remarkably stable and other than one extremely minor instance of banding there is no fault to be found in the delicate hues. The exception to this more subdued colour scheme (in relation to other comic-book fodder and CG animations) is that of the primaries red and blue which indicate, in time honoured fashion, good and evil. When they enter the frame everything becomes bathed in a wonderfully translucent aura that should have shown up any flaws in the disc, but once again these scenes passed with flying colours (pun intended).
Detail is uniformly high, with textures ranging from the similarity of the modernist architecture of Metro City, to the intricacies of the foliage and scrap heaps of the ground below. This is an image that shows no sign of instability and apart from one minor instance of banding (that is easily missed) this is absolutely top drawer - refined, full of neat touches like particle and lighting effects and bursting with energy whilst avoiding the major pitfalls of CG animation.
SoundThere is only one track to choose on the disc, that being English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
The image was subtler than expected, but the audio proves far more robust. At the heart of everything is the centre channel and the subwoofer. Speech remains startlingly clear throughout even the most hectic battle sequences and does so in a manner that steers clear of the type of higher pitched artificiality that is usually present when animated fare pushes for intelligibility in the maelstrom of carnage. Voices are rounded and contain a warmth that is well balanced against the rest of the mix.
The second of the core tenets is that of the LFE. Bass is not a constant, but rumbles into earshot when the rockets start flying. It never shakes the room, but it is still clean and free of distortion and packs enough punch to elevate these scenes from the general scrapes Astro finds himself in, the majority of which are handled mainly by way of some tight pans and good usage of the surround speakers. They are not employed in a steady way but rather dart in and out of the action, which may have run the risk of being slightly obvious, but actually blend in with remarkable precision. This is a lively and vibrant track that lacks a bit at the lower end for those wanting to be truly shaken when buildings fall, but for family fodder it is more than potent enough and free from distortion or imbalance of any kind, even when things get hectic.
ExtrasInside the recording booth - 1080i - 10:17
The actors, producer and director take us through how particular cast members were chosen and their affinity for the characters they portray. There's a lot of waxing lyrical but it's nice to see shots of the performance played out beside the end product.
Designing a hero - 1080i - 10:36
Character designer for the movie Luis Grane gives us a brief drawing lesson and then we are shown how the model for Astro was created in 3D. The production designers then explain the lighting and colour design for key scenes, which has nothing to do with the title, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Building Metro City - 1080i - 7:30
Tim Cheung, head of animation at Imagi Hong Kong gives us a brief tour of the studio. Production designers are on hand to also take us through the creation and ideas behind such structures as the Ministry of Science, Dr Tenma's building and the robot arena.
Astro Boy image gallery: Creating a global icon - 1080i - 4:45
Four areas are shown; “The beginning”, “Promo imagery”, “Movie and character development” and “The story of Astro Boy through colour keys”. I'm not usually a fan of slide shows, but this one helps illustrates the lineage of the character, the key scenes and how the movie was marketed well and in a concise manner.
Getting the Astro Boy look - 1080i - 2:44
A hoard of kids all wanting to get their hair style liked Astro prior to watching a screening of the film. There is a brief tutorial for those desperate to run the world's reserves of gel to perilously low levels.
Astro vs the junkyard pirates - 1080p - 3:26
A deleted scene that, whilst a fun interlude, was likely cut because it would have imbalanced the narrative and in truth just doesn't strike the right note in terms of humour or action.
The Robot Revolutionary Front in: The new recruit - 1080p - 1:06
Another deleted scene in which the three hapless robots attempt to recruit ZOG to their cause. Samuel L Jackson hardly had a huge part, but it's understandable why this didn't make the grade.
DVD copy of the film
For those who've yet to enter the high def era.
VerdictAstro Boy is a film that fits in nicely with computer generated family fluff. It doesn't seek to be too cutting edge in its appeal and aims squarely for the middle ground much of the time. That isn't to say that adults viewing it will gain nothing form the experience. Donald Sutherland acts the unhinged baddie with great aplomb and Matt Lucas is as ever a dependable performer in the role of comic relief. There is more subtlety to the story than some may give it credit for, and as a fan of the original source material I found myself thoroughly enjoying Astro's adventures. At heart it may be a simple re-telling of the Pinocchio tale as seen through the eyes of post war Japan, but this version shifts the emphasis far enough into modern territory to remain fresh. Not all the new elements work and some may decry the eco message, but the core is untouched - fast paced fun. Couple this with a reference quality disc and some admittedly light in substance extras and you have a fine package for all the family.
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