Frankenweenie 3D - 4-Disc Combo Blu-ray Review
This is the four-disc US package that I am reviewing here. The release is encoded for A, B and C playback, and I must, first, inform you of the fact that there is a dodgy batch circulating out there. Whilst the DVD copy and the 3D copy play perfectly well (and who cares about the digital copy, anyway?), the 2D BD in the set has been widely reported to have some playback issues. There are junctures during the film when the disc skips ahead by sometimes a few minutes, and there are also reports of the disc stopping and freezing altogether. Now, I have encountered a problem with the 2D disc as well. In my case – playing it on both a US PS3 and a UK Panasonic BDT-320 – playing from the start of the movie can only be effected by choosing scene selection and commencing from chapter 2 and then reversing play back to the start. Simply choosing to begin the movie in the usual manner results in … well … nothing happening, and the disc just locking itself up. Apparently, Disney are aware of these errors, and some online suppliers, namely Amazon, are offering an exchange program. Disney are also assuring consumers that the majority of the released discs will be fine.
But with the UK release looking to be almost identical in terms of the overall package, it could well be the case that we actually get the better (or, at least, safer) option than our friends across the Pond. I will make sure to check it out.
Happily, though, the 1.85:1 transfer quality of both the 2D and the 3D alternatives is excellent.
3D MVC presentation 8.5/10.
Frankenweenie was shot in 3D and is not a post-conversion.
Whilst you expect things such as Prometheus, Avatar and Dredd to be terrific examples of the use of 3D, there is still something of a surprise when a black and white image yields similarly jaw-dropping results. You only have to look at the simply superb and quite thrilling 3D image on Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon to witness staggering levels of depth and multiple-planes of field that seem to actually benefit from the heightened contrast that a monochromatic picture bestows. The gosh-wow factor of things popping out from the screen and right into your face is also highly enhanced. And, happily, Frankenweenie also offers this amazing level of depth and clarity, if not the quite the same level of duck, you sucker moments. Coraline, another stop-motion animated feature, looks fantastic in 3D, so I didn’t suspect that the style of filmmaking would necessarily impede the screen-pushing values of the image.
Burtonis going for spatial quality and viewer-immersion rather than all-out eye-poking, though. But there are still plenty of fun moments to appreciate. He has a great little introduction to the Frankenstein household which presents us with a home-movie that young Victor has made in 3D – a monster rampage through an improvised city that can only be saved by Sparkysaurus – and this serves as a little reminder that the film you are watching was definitely intended to be seen with goggles on. Arguably, there is a greater demand for disbelief-suspension when it comes to stop-motion animation. You immediately know that this is a hand-crafted environment and, therefore, devoutly artificial no matter how painstakingly and lovingly created the final image is. Thus, when characters move around a location that you know is actually all very miniature and sat atop a table, there could, conceivably, be more of a sense of dislocation from the on-screen action. The 3D process, in part, is there to place you amidst such activity, so the knowledge of how the film was put-together could potentially work against the success of the visual effect.
But, thankfully, that is not the case here. The smaller environment provides the animators and the director and the DOP, Peter Sorg, complete creative control.
And, to their credit, the 3D works superbly. We have the Disney logo floating supremely in the air before us. Tremendous depth is bestowed by have the camera at ground-level and Sparky racing across the front lawn towards us to collect the paper from the grass. A huge skull looms in the foreground as we are introduced to Victor’s class. Mad moggies hiss directly into our face, and a ferocious were-rat does likewise. The fateful baseball that Victor smacks goes stratospheric – as do we. Kites unleashed into the skies to harness the lightning flutter about with fine screen separation. The spinning cars in a merry-go-round whizz out towards us. There is Sparky caught in the headlights of a passing car, his face leaning out of the screen almost enough for us reach out and stroke. Then there is the terrifying bat-cat that whirls and spins and flies around Weird Girl’s bedroom like one of Harryhausen’s harpies from Jason and the Argonauts. Falling debris in the burning windmill, and the layering of pockets of flame around the characters also yield excellent results.
Yes, although not as out-and-out showboating as many other 3D films, Frankenweenie definitely delivers the goods when called upon.
I particularly love the shot when the other kids invade Victor’s lab. There is tremendous depth to the image when they first survey the room and his intoxicating equipment. Bob peering through the fish tank from the other side is another terrific example of tangible depth, and layering. Object delineation is keen and sharp, with no aliasing.
I will say that although contrast is excellent – with bright, clean whites and profound shadows - there can be pockets of the inkiest black that mask some detail within. Personally speaking, this is a small caveat that some people may find more bothersome than others, but some background information is definitely submerged. I also noticed some shimmering on panning shots, or up and down movements across the image – something that isn’t quite as noticeable on the 2D image.
DNR is not a problem on either version of the film, and I experienced no crosstalk with this transfer. Frankenweenie looks fantastic in 3D.
2D AVC presentation 8/10.
Well, immediately, the image here is brighter and this certainly aids with discerning all of those details in the background and in the darker corners that were lost in the 3D. The contrast and timing is also geared a little differently. Whilst the 3D has deeper blacks and bolder whites, the 2D is permitted to slide through a greater range of shades, which certainly gives the overall picture something of an alternative look. As such. there is probably more to commend with this version in terms of detail. You only have to look around the classroom, or Victor’s laboratory to discover much more information in the frame. But the texture on the gravestones and on the burning timbers and the rough grass surrounding the windmill is also very keenly observed.
What you will notice more in this flatter version is the minute shifting about of puppet texture. Now, obviously, don’t go mistaking this for any sort of digital muck. It is part and parcel of the stop-motion process, and it could definitely have been removed using some sort of digital muck … but why? It adds to the charm and it doesn’t detract or distract from a lustrous image that remains crisp and sharp and reflects the hours of manipulation that went into creating the illusion of life. Individual hairs and whiskers and fur can be determined, as well as the texture in the costumes, and the blades of faux-grass. There is lots of detail to be found in the were-rat and themutant sea-monkeys, and the fiery finale, with its intricate use of shadows and flames, fast action and falling debris, is marvellously vivid.
Something that doesn’t seem to rear up as apparently in 3D, however, are the little hints of banding that occur in the flatter image. You can detect their presence at various times throughout, though you should remember that I was looking for such things in the first place so, hopefully, you won’t pick up on them so swiftly. It is not troubling, but it is there. For example, when Toshiaki is digging in the pet cemetery, there is some small fuzzy banding taking place in the glow of the torchlight illuminating his act of desecration. In fact, all these occasions are very brief and always occur during an instance of on-screen illumination.
Contrast, again, is excellent with an incredible level of clean white and smoothly blended shadow. As I said, there is more scope to the greyscale, allowing for finer shifts in tone and more variance in the overall image. Lightning-streaks are dazzling and sharp, providing a wonderful visual jolt, but the skies also yield a little more subtlety in hue.
Finally, there is no annoying edge-enhancement, and no artefacts. But the same slight shimmering and drag seems to afflict some of the panning shots, giving a slight stutter to some of the wider shots incorporating movement.
Overall score for the release 8/10
Disney provides a likeable DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio track that I’ve read some rather fawning reports about.
Yeah … well … as I say, it is likeable. At best.
For this is a restrained mix that never once lets rip. The whole thing feels very subdued to me, and I found that I had to crank it up a bit to get some effective juice out it.
Dialogue is clear enough to understand, but it still sounds a touch weedier than is necessary, situated deeper down within the mix than, perhaps, it should be. Voices can come across as sounding quite weak, and even frail. Obviously, Landau’s Euro-brogue has a perfectly nuanced quality to it and the track reflects this, but many of the voices are brittle in comparison. Even the equally Transylvanian-lilt of Nasser gets dampened down, with one early line about the windmill drifting in the mist of the mix. But there is something of a deliberate retro-sound to the laryngitis-tinged bark of the big monster doing the Gojira impression, so I don’t think that its gravelly growl has necessarily lost anything in translation to disc.
There is certainly some surround use, but nothing to get excited about. The approach is most assuredly led and dominated from the front. The film is quite subtle in many ways – if you can imagine such a thing when storms and monsters are on the rampage – and the extra channels seem to be quite content with buoying-up Elfman’s excellent score and rippling through a few atmospheric and electrical effects rather than playing tennis with any dynamic, room-crossing signals. I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed with the wraparound ambience but I never really felt particularly immersed within the action either. I’m sure there is some smooth distribution going on around the set-up but, right now, I cannot recall anything to single-out for any praise.
Going in-tandem with this more family/neighbour mix, bass is hardly tested to any great capacity, though there are a fair few impacts and crash-bang-wallops on offer. Thunder cracks resonate, but never enough to make you or your sub shudder. The mad monster rampage is naturally where most of the more strenuous audio activities occur. The funfair becomes fodder for the freshly invigorated creatures, and we get crunching metal, shattering glass, splintering wood and all manner of chaotic shenanigans as they stomp on cars and tear up the place. There is some agreeable depth to the awakening of Nasser’s pet, Colossus, both in the sound of its ascent of the crypt steps and in Elfman’s appropriately spine-tingling cue. Just sticking with the score for a second, it is worth noting that all of those trademark ooohhhs and la-la-laaaas come over with all the appropriate ethereal sugar of typical Elfman, and there are lots of soothing moments suffused with keening strings, xylophone, piano and harp that genuinely float quite beautifully into the soundscape. The more dramatic elements have range, though I would have preferred a bit more power. That may be just me, however.
But then again, if bombast is not in such great demand, then the subtle things are extremely well catered-for, and go some way to providing a degree of finesse. You can hear some fine detail and clarity afforded the fizzing snap, crackle and pop of electricity, sizzling circuits and streaking lightning-bolts during the rebirth sequences. The equipment and accoutrements in Victor’s attic-laboratory all enjoy plentiful whirs, clicks, groans, oscillations and gyrations. The chains on the gurney and the screwing-in of the quintessential electrodes in the neck are richly observed with realistic detail and positioning. The pellets hitting the metal targets have a fine resonance. The crackling and collapsing of burning timbers are also reasonably realised.
Overall, this does a fair job. But I did not find the track to be anywhere near as exciting or as dynamic as some people have reported.
This US release contains 3D Blu, 2D Blu, DVD and digital copies of the film, all one separate discs.
Well I would normally rue the omission of a commentary, but in the case of a Tim Burton movie, this is actually a blessing. Let’s face it, he’s rubbish at doing them.
There’s not much here but, that said, I found what little there is to be very enjoyable.
There is another little adventure for Sparky via a specially produced home movie courtesy of Victor, entitled Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers. It doesn’t last very long, but it is pretty good fun, nonetheless.
We can go behind the scenes during the production of Frankenweenie to see how the puppets were constructed and filmed in Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life. Burton crops up to say a couple of things, but the majority of the piece is spent in the company of producer Allison Abbate and various animators, sculptors and artists, who take us through their roles and show us, extensively, how they brought the characters and the world of Frankenweenie to life. I have to say that I would stick little black dots on ping-pong eyes all week long if it meant working next to Alexandra Walker, the art director!
What comes across is the absolute love and devotion for this medium that these people have. Obviously they are smitten with the process, as almost everybody who ever appears in any behind-the-scenes or making-of featurette falls over themselves to reveal,but there is a sincerity and enthusiasm here that is undeniable, and all rather touching. Also, watch how the visuals depicting the hustle and bustle of London have been made to appear as though we are watching an animated miniature city. Nice.
Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit finds us calling in on Allison Abbate again as she organises and shows us around the marketing display for the production at the San Diego Comic-Con. We get to see many of the models and puppets and design work that we saw earlier, but this is still a nice little piece that allows such creepy works of art some time in the spotlight. As with the previous featurette, there are clips from the film to help illustrate the project from concept to release.
The original live-actionshort of “Frankenweenie”
Running for 30 mins, this is the brilliant slice of inspired lunacy that Tim Burton brewed-up a long, long time as a reaction to the loss of his own dog. This is excellent, with many moments and images carried-over immaculately into the new version. Starring Barrett Oliver as Victor (Barrett would explore some more fantasy in The Neverending Story) and Sissy Spacek and Daniel Stern as Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, and with Roger Corman regular Paul Bartell taking on the role of the science teacher who sets the whole thing in motion, this has a great lab rebirth, some clever little vignettes of suburban paranoia and a dazzling windmill finale a la James Whale, of course, and it is all topped-off with a bravura score from Michael Convertino and David Newman, which takes a different tack from Elfman, but still revisits the tempestuous tropes of the original Universal Horrors. Most Burton fans have already seen this, but it makes for a tremendous companion-piece to the revamped interpretation and fully deserves its placement here.
We also get the music video for the Plain White T’s “Pet Sematary” and some preview trailers, with a terrific one for Sam Raimi’s impressively mounted Oz The Great and Powerful.
In a year that saw several horror-themed animated movies, Frankenweenie is, for me, the best. Paranorman is excellent fun, but Burton pips it to the spooky-kooky post with heart and soul so spare, and a delightful ambience of creepy nostalgia. Hotel Transylvania was much more entertaining than many would have you believe, but it still doesn’t hold a flaming torch to Burton’s delightfully simple and decidedly un-wise-ass depiction of retro, family-acceptable dark fantasy.
The story is an emotive one, but the tragic elements are giddily and swiftly spun around into quirky suspense and amusingly macabre set-pieces. Kids digging up the dead and bringing them back to life? That’s a bit subversive, isn’t it? Yes, it is … but only the stone-hearted could fail to be moved by the simple act of devotion that bridges the gap between life and death witnessed here.
The 3D is extremely well handled and definitely adds to the experience. The 2D version – providing it doesn’t hail from the faulty batch that has been doing the rounds – offers a brilliant image too, albeit one that suffers from a touch of more noticeable banding and judder. The audio is fine, but undemanding, and the extras, though sparse, are still interesting and worth a look. The inclusion of the live-action original short is, naturally, the icing on the cake. It still works wonderfully today, and it sits perfectly alongside the more elaborate stop-motion update.
Tim Burton can easily lose his way again, I’m sure. It always strikes me that if you opened-up his gypsy-coiffed head, you would unleash a cascade of question-marks, play-dough, half-formed sketches and tweety-boyds, so it is hardly surprising that his career blunders off down the wrong path on occasion. This time, though, like his young Victor Frankenstein, he has knocked it out of the park and delivered a little slice of the sweetly manic/melancholic magic that we all know he can do so well.
Frankenweenie comes highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £30.99
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