Cars Blu-ray Review
PictureThe SD release had an extremely impressive transfer and was a real benchmark for the format as far as I was concerned, so it should come as no surprise that to see the film in 1080p is considerably better again, bringing the giddily gaudy picture to an even greater degree of life and vitality. The slight edge enhancement that marginally made its presence felt on the previous release has now been removed altogether and the image is nothing short of spectacular. Much of what I said previously still stands now for this higher resolution, higher performance disc ... only, well, more so.
Pixar's movies have always looked amazing - whether on the big screen or on Home Video and Cars is no exception - in fact, this BD transfer may be their finest release to date. Put quite simply, the video transfer here is literally gob-smacking. The 2.39:1 image is overwhelmingly crammed with detail - vast racetracks brimming with crowds and flashing photography, intricate landscapes and densely populated scenes of bright and wild activity - and feels gloriously wide and panoramic. The picture is a constant swirl of beautiful, eye-blistering CG vistas that never fail to take the breath away. I seriously doubted that Pixar's rendering of the jungle island in The Incredibles could be bettered - it was so lush, detailed and deep - but just look at the deserts, highways and mountain ranges that they have come up with this time. Freeze the image at any moment and the view revealed is fascinating, complex and captivating. Horizons really melt into the far off distance with a sense of scale and depth that is mesmerising. The hues painted in for the limbo where the skies blend into the deserts is superlative - from hazy pinks, through the sun-filtered light blues to the deep azure of a cloudless canopy, on to the neon-dripping kaleidoscope of the night that sweeps over Radiator Springs. With its pure digital-to-digital transfer, the image presented here is as close to immaculate as you can get. Even with close scrutiny - which, when the image is this smooth and retina-embracing, is no chore at all - there isn't a blemish to mar the CG canvas, no artefacting, macroblocking or slow-processing even in the deepest swathe of primary colour. The gleams gleam and the sparkles sparkle, unmolested by any digital gremlin. Just scrutinise the image on your display for a trace of anything amiss - it is like roving your vision over a real scene. Detail builds upon detail, back and back. The brickwork on the buildings, the cracks in the tarmac, the grass in the meadows, the tread on the tyres - everything produced with complete clarity.
The colours will blow you away. The primaries are blindingly bold and vivid, literally spilling from the screen with a radiance that just brings a big grin to your face. And for all the brash depth of such colours, there is absolutely no trace of bleed or smearing. For a pure demo of what Cars is capable of delivering, the first ten minutes packs in just about everything Pixar has learned thus far and really pushes the boundary of CG animation. Just look at the gleaming chrome and the fantastic realism of the reflections off the car metal, so much more dazzling in high resolution. And there is zero shimmer on any of these intricate details, like the grills on the cars, or their racing patterns, which could have been affected by the frequent fast motion. There is poetry at work here, folks. Even if the film was thoroughly lousy - which, of course, it isn't - it would still serve as therapeutic eye-candy unlike, say, Polar Express or Monster House, which both had a degree of creepiness to their appearance. There are moments here when awesome photo-realism is achieved. The scene when McQueen returns to re-surfacing the road as dusk begins to fall is a subtle work of sheer excellence - look at how the shadows and the sky appear totally naturalistic, the lighting is that good. Shots of the vehicles moving along the freeway at night look so completely real, too, that is a shock to return to the cartoon-eyed characters again when we meet them up-close.
One of the keenest aspects of a high-definition image is its ability to produce depth and three-dimensionality and Cars is a proud flagship for these two key vital statistics. Every visual frame of the film is three-dimensional, with the cars, the colours, the landscapes and the crowds at the race-track all lifting from the screen with stunning clarity and bold definition. McQueen's first escape attempt from Radiator Springs, with him rocketing towards us down the road and the town and mountain range receding into the distance is utterly terrific and, of course, the epic “romantic drive” that he and Sally take through the canyons and past the waterfall offers just as much eye-popping visual immersion. Check out the cactus spines in the dip that McQueen plunges into - ultra-clear and authentically spiking from the frame.
Here's something I said back when I reviewed the SD version that has come back to haunt me now - Folks, no matter how good hi-definition is, it is really hard for me imagine how Cars could look any better than this. Well, okay, it's hands-up time, then. The BD transfer takes what was an already stunning visual transfer that was virtually flawless and made it even better. Personally speaking, I prefer the look of Ratatouille for its warmer, cosier palette, but this is just my own taste and no reflection on which of the two has a technically superior transfer - they are both of reference quality and it really only comes down to one's own visual preference - gleams and sparkles or warmth and atmosphere. But for fans of Cars, this is definitely the upgrade that I doubted, back then, would be possible.
SoundWell, if the image actually surprised me by improving on something I thought looked damn-near perfect as it was, then the audio side of Cars is where I would seriously have expected an improvement all along. Although the SD edition had sound that was excellent, the DD 5.1 EX track on offer seemed, to me at any rate, as though it was holding something back. It just sounded tame in that “family friendly” style that often accompanies animated features that are reluctant, or even afraid, to push the envelope with their sound design and dynamism for fear of blowing out the eardrums of their core audience. And, pleasantly, I can reveal that the BD transfer effortlessly drives all over it with its PCM Uncompressed track (encoded at 48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps). The atmospheric steerage, pounding and insistent score and plenty of zip-along, roaring engine action that came across as slightly cushioned first time around, now possess more energy and vigour, lifting the lid on Pixar's car-crowded world. Like Ratatouille's BD debut, the studio has jettisoned its former considerations and delivered a track that is as immersive and enjoyable for wraparound-sound junkies as the latest action blockbuster.
Steerage, rather aptly considering the subject matter, is superb, with split-channel finesse and seamless panning around the full set-up that places you, no questions asked, firmly in the centre of the action. Whether it be the roaring cacophony of the race-track - alive with so many individual effects that it would be pointless to attempt to list them all here - or the relative tranquillity of Radiator Springs that is still constantly alive with subtle sounds and activity, from the incessant bug-noise to the general town ambience. Listen out for the huge gamut of effects that Lasseter's engineers have come up with - gravel under wheels, the hum of neon, placement of voices and other noises around the town, the tinkling of car-parts like Mater's bits bouncing off on McQueen's lousy road surface, and even the swirl of dust. This is a reference track of detail and presentation.
The bass levels now have far more depth and aggression, underpinning the entire movie with much more conviction than they could muster for the EX track on the previous release. The sub, like in Ratatouille, is utilised heavily and lends the movie a deliberate and strong new edge. The action really kicks and every impact is keenly felt, with the roar of the engines and the multitude of collisions and clashes thundering across the soundtrack. Another major thumbs-up.
Overall then, to sum up, the dynamics are strong, with great separation and depth, and directionality that is precision-tuned with fiercely gunned engines, screeching tyres, voices barking out from every corner and a soundscape of densely active hubbub emanating from the full set-up. There are a couple of big booming moments that rush around the room, offering delicious sonic sweeps front to back and vice versa, and the aural effects are often quite ingenious. For out and out sonic bliss you can't possibly take anything away from Cars' simply splendid audio performance.
There is also a DD 5.1 mix (at 640 kbps) accompanying the film, but this naturally pales in comparison with the PCM and regains that “lid” of granny and neighbour approval. Stick with the PCM, folks.
ExtrasOn its Standard DVD test-run, Cars came off the assembly line with only the barest minimum of extra features - a really glaring oversight with regards to a Pixar release. Well, whilst the souped-up BD edition still retains those scant bonuses, it also brings enough new supplemental material to fuel a Nascar Championship.
The original stuff includes a couple of excellent shorts, One Man Band, which accompanied the film upon its theatrical run, and Mater And The Ghostlight, which sees the loveable old rust-bucket getting his spooky comeuppance after playing a few pranks on his chums and the full version of the fun and games that plays alongside the end credits under the title of Epilogue.
A selection of Deleted Scenes have a Play All option and run for roughly ten minutes. These take the form of early sketches, which have been very loosely animated (more like frame-by-frame fits and starts) and capped off with real sound effects and character voices. Only the first one, which details the original manner in which McQueen loses Mac and winds up adrift in the wilderness of the desert, is really any good. At least it features a less troublesome means for their separation than the irresponsible joyrider approach seen in the finished film. The other scenes feature a ghostly vehicle graveyard that McQueen stumbles into, a bizarre dream sequence that sees our hero's engine being transplanted into a wheezy old asphalt spreader and a romantic trip down memory lane for Ramone.
The familiar features end with a little featurette entitled Inspiration For Cars, which runs for 16 mins. Although this shows some real footage of actual Nascar racing - which is nice to see just how accurate the animators managed to get it - and a reveals just how, and why, John Lasseter chose to make the film (something to do with a much-needed family sabbatical that took the Lasseters on a cross-country road trip), this piece is really a factual epitaph for the real towns that suffered the loss of Route 66. Along the way we meet lots of colourful road-siders and travellers as the pre-production crew travel along the famous road under the tutelage of tunesmith, and Route 66 aficionado, Michael Wallis, who also voices the police car, Sheriff. Flimsy, daft and irreverent, this little feature may be interesting, but it is no substitute for a proper making of. However, as part of a much bigger, and more comprehensive package, this would still be a nice addition.
But, expanding almost exponentially from this meagre offering, the Blu-ray adds a whole lot more.
With a choice of how to view the special features - either by clicking on them individually from some rather cluttered menu screens or by sitting back and letting the cool new Blu-ray interactive innovation, Cine-Explore, bring up all the necessary extras for you. Personally, I'd opt for the latter.
What is really nice about the new Cine-Explore mode - also to be found on Ratatouille - is that it literally fills the screen with information, asides and interesting snippets whilst the film is on, with BD-Java's answer to HD's picture-in-picture. Accessed via “Automatic” or “Manual”, this unique collection of special features includes a commentary from John Lassetter - that is wonderfully frank and amiable, taking wide diversions into memories, obsessions, the love of the road and of cars, in general, as well as a detailed overview of the film, itself - and one from an assembled group of twelve personalities from the production team - which is just as detailed and far-ranging, but somehow less engaging than the director's - as well Deleted Scenes, Artwork and background featurettes that utilise either seamless branching or pop-up windows to peddle their wares. This all works very well, actually, and my advice would be to simply initiate the Auto mode, since this means that the disc will do all the work for you and bring up the relevant feature as and when it appears during the course of the movie. There are times when more than one feature is engaged and this makes for an interestingly packed screen. Overall, I enjoyed this approach but couldn't resist slipping back into the pop-up menu (like a dashboard along the bottom of the screen) and flipping between the chat-tracks. The branching featurettes and deleted scenes, as usual, take you out of the movie for their duration and then place you right back into it where you had left off after they have finished. Taken as a whole, this Cine-Explore environment is very comprehensive and entertaining and well worth your time investigating.
Next we have a series of seven Documentary Shorts. These take the form of five-minute pieces that cover specific aspects of the film, such as facets of the animation, character design, a look at the Hudson Hornet with some great vintage footage of them racing, the locations created and even the adherence to “real world” racing detail. In Production Artwork we can enjoy plentiful early conceptual car ideas and rough sketches. As I say, all of these things can be presented in the Cine-Explore environment as well.
There is also a new game called Carfinder that is to played whilst the movie is running. You have to spot the vehicles that have been listed for you at the bottom of the screen as and when they appear in the film. Careful now - some may look spot-on but they may have a different colour round the eyes or some other small but distinctive variation just to trip you up. In the scheme of things this is not so bad a game ... however, once again, my old Sammy player ran afoul of it somewhere down the road and the whole locked-up on me. But, at least, I got started on this game ... with Ratatouille I couldn't even load the damn thing. Donations for a more advanced player would be very welcome. Er ... ahem.
We also get to see a whole new Deleted Scene, entitledne, dubbed "Traffic School." Running for about 4 minutes this, like some of the other cut scenes was never fully rendered, so is presented in a sketchy, rough form. Obviously cut for timing reasons, this is nevertheless worth a watch.
The only downside to all this is the rather cluttered and slightly awkward menu design which, although pretty to look at and revealing a huge investment of time and effort, all seems somewhat overly elaborate and not that easy to navigate. But this is only a minor complaint about what is actually a very enjoyable and highly comprehensive selection of special features that more than make up for the lacklustre turn-out last time around.
VerdictA two-lane type of story that mixes the hi-octane with the leisurely, Cars marks another unique stepping stone in the illustrious career of Pixar Studios. A proud son of the great Disney, Pixar remains dedicated to trying out new genres, new settings and yet still brandishing those simple, life-affirming messages and epithets that would have made Uncle Walt dab the tears from his eyes. The visuals are truly sublime and the story itself is a fun and free-wheeling journey of self-discovery down a road of wistful Americana. The tone is evidently not to everyone's taste, but I continue to be enraptured by it and far prefer the slower-paced middle section than the more conventional and formulaic extravaganzas that bookend it. Once again, characterisation is fundamental to the film's charm and effortlessly achieved with grace and wit by an excellent voice cast.
This BD release, just like Ratatouille, is of pure reference quality. The pixels employed in the presentation of a disc have never looked so positively jubilant to be activated. Both picture and sound are breathtaking and pass their MOT with flying colours. When you reach for something to show off your system, Cars will surely be one of the closest examples to hand. Extras-wise, there is plenty to keep you going here and the Cine-Explore mode is a smart new device in Blu-ray's arsenal that really adds to the enjoyment of, and viewer involvement with, the movie. Excellent value and very highly recommended, whether you want to put the pedal to the metal or simply cruise along and take in the scenery.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £21.67
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