Dinosaur Blu-ray Review
PictureWell, the amazing thing about this 1.85:1 MPEG-2 transfer is that it tends to be the grey, bleached-out desolate wastelands that bestow the best that is on offer. Detail during this majority of the film is absolutely excellent, with plenty of attention lavished on the rocks, the mountains, the dust and landscape. There is ample demonstration herein of what Blu-ray could deliver even in the early days. The “journey of the egg” sequence is a great standout for visual splendour, making the most of the deep and wide vistas, the copious close-up and far-off action, varied textures and hues and terrifically seamless motion capture. Colours, once we are on the lemur island are vivid and bold, featuring deep but well saturated reds, greens, browns and some simply gorgeous-looking orange and blue crystal-clear eyes for the little lemurs, themselves. The lovely pink skies of twilight are well-caught by the transfer as well as is the rolling sea. Of course, the big moment comes when the meteors come hurtling into the atmosphere, streaking the sky with well-delineated trails and luscious red fireballs. I like the way the light of the really “big one” illuminates Aladar and the tree as he looks up. The ensuing chaos is good too, though this is where, perhaps, you begin to wonder just why you aren't as blown away by the image as you thought you would be. Colourful and intense, yes, but somehow, the conflagration just isn't as sharp as it should look in full 1080p. But the subtler hues that were almost certainly apparent on the SD version all the time are much more appreciable now. For one thing, the different shades on the dinos' hides are now stand out much more, with swirls of purple and pink and other mottled colours integrated with the base grey. Blacks are also nice and deep and shadow-play is reassuringly strong and betrays nothing in the way of grey fall-off. Contrast works well and keeps the whites from blooming and the darker portions of the image stable and well-balanced. But there is still the niggling suspicion that this picture just isn't as highly-defined as a Disney barnstormer should appear on Blu-ray.
And then it becomes apparent that detail, although still very good, is actually still quite soft in places. Oh the close-ups are glorious, all right. Aladar's face leaning in, Kron's wildly craggy hide, the lemur's oh-so-cute little furry visages - but glance around the rest of the frame and the detail is not as clear or as finely etched. In fact there are a few too many instances when the background is actually sort of smudged - foliage, rocks, etc. There is even a degree of edge enhancement, although this is very tolerable. The subjects fail to lift from the screen, even in such text-book shots of big looming animals rearing up against the horizon or moving past the camera. Though hardly flat, the picture lacks the three-dimensionality that would have benefited this movie no end.
Another cause for concern is during the scene when Aladon and his chums first meet up with the herd trekking through the desert. Amid the huge dust clouds being kicked up by the lumbering beasts is evidence of quite glaring colour banding wavering across the image. On my 52 inch Sharp this looked truly hideous and at first I thought this was a problem unique to my player, but having since viewed the disc on a PS3 and on a different panel to boot, I discovered the same horrible effect. Now, having also had a look at the standard disc, there appears to be no trace of this so, unfortunately, this is a bad one for the Blu-ray process. Still, there are plenty of times when the image shines ... it is just that I think it could have shined a little brighter. Even with the colour-banding error, I think Dinosaur still warrants a 7 out of 10.
SoundAgain, there is something of a disappointment when it comes to the sound of Dinosaur. Quite simply, it lacks life and vigour. Okay, so I've gone on and on about the merits of PCM Uncompressed in review after review, but occasionally even this new format mix can seemingly produce little of worth within a disc's sound design. The annoying thing is that the mix doesn't actually do anything wrong. Everything is clear and sharp. Effects are steered around the set-up. James Newton Howard's score swells in all the right places and sounds warm and full. Dialogue is delivered without any hitches and there is a little bit of oomph to the bass levels.
So why no excitement?
Well, despite the neat directionality and the engineering that has gone into it, Dinosaur just doesn't hit you with anything spectacular. At the cinema, the film seemed alive with effects and the stomping and crashing of the big beasts was floor trembling and gut-punching. Here on BD, the sound just doesn't deliver anything like that kind of exhilaration. Even cranked up a bit, the cumulative effect was unconvincing in the wall of sound department with supposedly grandslam sequences such as the meteor storm, the tussles with the Carnataurs and the thunderous progression of the wandering herd all lacking the weight, power and aggression that PCM would normally have exhibited in spades.
I sound really negative, don't I? Trust me, I don't wish to. I really had high hopes for this transfer, even though I'd heard some less-than-glowing accounts about the US disc that came out a lot earlier. The tracks do sound good in a lot of ways. The front-soundstage is nice and wide and steerage around the speakers is certainly effective. The torrential rain in the infamous night-time sequence is nicely extended into the listening environment. But the whole shebang comes over as slightly suppressed and kept in check. The speed and character of individual effects is lessened - dampened down by their immersion in the fuller soundscape. Disney, of course, is always looking for the happy medium with its soundtracks, as though they want to display the fact that they can definitely achieve full set-up wraparound excitement, but they truly don't want to worry young ears - or rather the older people looking after those young ears.
So, overall, the sound quality is great - and does nothing worthy of marking it down - but I feel could have been so much better.
ExtrasThe US Blu-ray release featured the commentary with the directors and the effects people but, sadly, you won't it find it on this UK disc. In fact, all you will find the short Disney film “Origins” by Louie Schwartzberg - which takes us on a brief musically-backed high-definition tour of the locations created for and used in the film (nice ... but decidedly ho-hum at the end of the day) - and a small featurette entitled The Monster Cloud that probes the making of one of Dinosaur's more spectacular visual effects, again in high definition. Considering the masses of extras that adorned the double-disc edition of the film, this is a very, very poor show indeed.
I'm not counting the Movie Showcase feature as an extra, folks. If you want to find the best bits of a film on Blu-ray - or any bits for that matter - then you can use the skip buttons or chapter stops like anybody normal.
VerdictA great film that actually tells a darker and more vicious story than you would normally expect from Disney. All the prerequisite things that the studio endorses are here in spades - outsider gains acceptance, finds love, family values of trust and dependability, standing up for oneself as well as the greater good - but the villainy involved is of an altogether different order than usual. Conniving crooks and swindlers are out, as are greedy, back-stabbing siblings. "In" are prehistoric animals that are just nasty because they are either bigger or hungrier than the good guys.
If you have the SD double-disc release, I really can't see the point of an upgrade to this edition. The picture may be better, barring that colour banding issue, but not by enough of a margin. The sound isn't even much of step-up from the old DD mix - definitely granny and neighbour-friendly - and the extras are simply woeful. Disney were quick to roll this one out it seems, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover them unearthing it again for a remastered, all-singing, all-dancing version some time in the future. For the time being, leave Dinosaur's Blu-ray fossils were they are and make do with your more, perhaps, primitive standard copy.
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