The Sky Crawlers Blu-ray Review
'Skycrawlers' is presented in widescreen 1.85:1 with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
As is to be expected from an animated feature, the transfer on this BD is absolutely flawless. Not one to fix something that ain't broke, Oshii returns to Polygon Studios to provide the 3D animation for this movie. The traditional animation is simple, uncomplicated and at times can appear a little flat. However, the 3D CGI portions are stunning and expose a huge amount of intricate detail (such as clearly legible aeronautical dials and readouts) that, by default, makes the traditional portions seem very bland, outdated and at times a little soft. That being said, these portions also contain plenty of detail, such as the intricate wallpapers/carpets/furniture of the Kildrens' base but there's just not as much detail on show when compared to the CGI portions.
The colour palette seems almost restricted to steel greys and blues for a large proportion of the run time, with not many other colours entering into the fray. The skyline shots are simply beautiful, with perfectly formed white clouds set to a background of various shades of piercing blues. At times the palette can suddenly spring to life, such as during the outdoor portions, providing some solid greenery and explosions which bring forth lively reds and yellows. The contrast ratio is strong and provides some deep blacks during the darker, indoor portions of the movie. Shadow detail is spot on, with no nuances lost in the gloom at any time.
There are a couple of prime examples of “3D pop” during the presentation, which obviously are only present during the CGI portions. The majority of the aerial encounters have a wonderful depth, with plenty of detail visible far off into the background. I did notice one faint instance of banding but overall this is a very impressive transfer and just falls short of a nine rating, earning a very high eight. It's only a shame that the traditional portions didn't contain the same level of texture and detail as the CGI portions, which would have surely propelled (pun intended!) this release into the nice bracket.
The subtitles are always very legible and the English translation is grammatically correct for the duration.
'Skycrawlers' comes packed with a 5.1 dts HD Master Audio surround track. English and Japanese tracks are available and while I did opt for the Japanese track, I flipped to the English track on occasion and heard no discernible difference.
Right from the opening dog fight scene, it's clear that this track is going to be very impressive indeed and really makes it presence felt. As we progress through the two hour run time, there are many subdued moments as a result of Oshii's painstakingly slow storytelling. However, the audio mix cannot be faulted for directorial decisions and so the slow pace, with moments of audio inactivity (when compared to the action based portions), will not lose this presentation any marks - I just felt the need to mention it! These quieter portions are of course in complete contrast to the aerial battle sequences, which really bring all channels to life with gusto.
Stereo reproduction is crisp and sharp, recreating simple sounds, such as footsteps on wooden floors or the sound of on screen vehicles with precision. Gunfire is also very well rendered, as fighter jets flow from left to right field (and vice versa) with ease. There's constant aural activity as we move to the hanger and to the skies, placing the viewer slap bang in the middle of the excitement. The vocals are always locked to the centre channel and are never difficult to follow.
The surround channels get plenty of moments to really shine, as aircraft come roaring onto the screen from various entry points around the listening position. Gunfire can be heard ricocheting around the room as fighters engage in exciting battles. The surrounds are also used almost constantly to provide ambient effects, such as the whispering of wind, air raid sirens, people entering/leaving the room or the chirping of birds and insects. The subwoofer enters frequently into the fray, underpinning gunfire and explosion with some nice examples of meaty bass.
The score is provided by the impeccable Kenji Kawai. Having previously worked with Oshii on the 'Ghost in the Shell' movies, Kenji is famed for his ability for composing haunting, epic scores. There is nice surround bleed and stereo reproduction, like the rest of the track, is spot on. There are some moments of subwoofer intervention but the score never really dominates in the bass department. All in all this is a fine accompaniment to the feature presentation (especially some unusual French themed moments) but some glaring similarities to Kenjii's prior works and the long drawn out nature of the entire piece, can leave the score feeling a little samey at times.
Overall this mix is impressive, well engineered and is one of the better examples of an uncompressed track that I have heard recently. At times the on screen inactivity perpetuates to the surround track, which is a little frustrating but the rest of the track more than makes up for this shortfall.
The extras portion contains a couple of well fleshed out features that are worth a watch. Bonus points are earning for a full complement of high definition content and the inclusion of English subtitles.
Sky's the Limit: An Interview with Mamoru Oshii (HD 15mins) - In this unusual feature, Oshii speaks about the movie and it's strange themes and settings and its constant strive for reality. Obviously a very deep thinker and passionate director, it's easy to understand how the plot became so abstract and meandering from listening to Oshii speak. Interspersed with the interview portions are scenes from the movie, with accompanying concept and unfinished artwork. Interesting and worth a watch.
The Sound Design and Animation of the Sky Crawlers (HD 32mins ) - Opening with the arrival of Oshii and in team at Polygon Studios in San Francisco, the team discuss the sound and animation preferences with the assistance of a translator. Oshii speaks at length about his vision and the team match his vision with their animated finished product. We get to see Oshii's first reaction in the studio to the visuals and he gives his opinion on how everything worked out. The voice actors also make an appearance (with split screen comparisons of their animated counterparts) and give their views on working with Oshii. We also get to see plenty of behind the scenes and unfinished footage, including the magnificent Kenjii at work. This is more like a making of documentary and is very insightful and interesting.
Animation Research for the Sky Crawlers (HD 30mins) - In this feature, Oshii discusses the creation process for the world of the Sky Crawlers. We get to see how location/wardrobe images from Europe were converted to animated form for the finished product, with Oshii inputting at every possible juncture to ensure that his vision is realised. Research footage for the various aircraft/vehicles which feature are also included. Concept drawings are splashed throughout and the feature ends with the traditional animators putting Oshii's vision to paper.
Trailers - Included here, for your viewing pleasure, are thee high definition trailers for the feature presentation (one is a teaser).
'Sky Crawlers' was released in 2008 and was directed by Mamoru Oshii. A master of Japanese animated movies, Oshii is famed for his work on 'Ghost in the Shell'. Here he portrays the lives of the Kildren, an eternally young group of killer fighter pilots, who are engaged in a titanic struggle with the Laurent Corporation. When Kannami is enroled to take the place of a fallen comrade, his inquisitive nature leads him to uncover some deep, dark secrets surrounding the Kildren (and his current squad of ace fighter pilots). The epic 3D CGI aerial battles, which take place above a futuristic vision of Europe, are a joy to behold but unfortunately the obtuse characterisation and very slow plot progression left this reviewer feeling detached and somewhat bored as the credits rolled.
The transfer is impeccable and the CGI portions really leap forth from the screen, with the benefits of the HD transfer immediately evident. The traditionally animated portions can appear a little soft and less detailed in comparison but overall this is an impressive looking disc. The surround track is impeccable and is very well engineered, making full use of all available channels. The extras portion has a couple of well fleshed out and interesting features. Overall, this is a very well put together disc and really is a must for fans of the movie.
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