The disc presents a Region free theatrically correct widescreen 2.35:1 1080p transfer. During the December podcast I, in amongst the choices for best picture of the year, listed Toy Story 3, that was before I had seen this title, because for the first time I have to say that Dreamworks have topped a Pixar release, as How to Train your Dragon is an astonishingly good picture, that can literally take your breath away. First up, the detail – ok detail, as we know, is limited by the animation process and the artist ‘pen’, but here they have gone overboard with their craft to bring an amazing amount to the image; look at the barnacles under the ships, or the various knick knacks/tools in the rooms, the dragons' respective skin detail, Gobber's hairy arms, clothing weaves and the sea – the sea looks photo realistic, you can swear it is actual film, not digital animation. Add to this a colour and lighting scheme that if it wasn’t for the stylised animation you could easily be fooled into thinking is real.
Colours are incredibly lush, the greens and blues of the forest, the reds and oranges of the village or the dragon’s fire breath are so vivid and bold as to shine off the screen. The colours of the dragons themselves are amazing, even Toothless, being black, shows incredible ‘colour’. What also really stands out are the evening set scenes, the hues form such an amazing set of sunset colours that have to be seen to be believed. Flesh tones, look like flesh, amazing for an animated film.
Contrast and brightness are set to give wonderful, wonderful blacks that flow deep into the picture giving some spectacular depth, which includes as much shadow detail as you are meant to see; take a look at the background in the father and son talk, or any of the night time scenes for a near glossy take on the black, terrific stuff. 3D pop is very prevalent, even in this 2D version of the film.
Digitally there were no compression problems or edge enhancement, no banding or posterization. In all a first class picture.
To match the visuals the disc presents a stonking English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that is every bit as reference as the picture. Right from the off you are greeted with an aggressive, but perfectly steered, surround track that makes full use of the dynamic range and every speaker to place you firmly in the centre of the action.
Stereo separation is wide across the front, wide across the back and wide between the two, effortlessly creating effects such as the whoosh of air while the dragons are in flight, or the creak of ships stealthily making their way through the mist. Dialogue is natural sounding and given plenty of directionality when needed. Discrete effects, ambient effects, both are used to add plenty of dimension to the sound field.
Bass is phenomenal, grounding everything naturally, and, when needed, there are plenty of LF effects to give the sub a thorough workout; dragon fire, catapult firing, the final battle add so much depth to the bass depth you think it’s going to form a vacuum and suck the room in. A blistering sound track and absolutely reference.
- Audio Commentary
Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois along with producer Bonnie Arnold give a very enthusiastic and informative discussion combining technical and anecdotal information with ease, in what amounts to a surprisingly engaging listen. All the bases are covered, including animation, casting, the music and the various themes explored – for a ‘kids film’ this one is well worth a listen.
- The Animators' Corner
A picture in picture feature that uses a little of the above commentary, but also contains interviews with cast and crew, story boards, animatics and behind the scenes footage.
- Trivia Track
A pop up text based trivia track that offers little cross over with the above information, can be played at the same time as the audio commentary for an information overload!
- Viking-Sized Cast – HD, 11.44
Looks at the behind the scene recordings of the voice talent used to bring the characters to life.
- The Technical Artistry of Dragon – HD, 10.13
Seems there is always new animation techniques with each new film released, How to Train your Dragon is no different, here the animators and designers discuss how the film achieved is spectacular look.
- Musical Jukebox
Plays songs from Shrek, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie and Kung Fu Panda.
Housed in the ‘Keep Out’ section on the menu are trailers for other films and games available from Dreamworks
A DVD of the film
Slightly annoying is the fact that this UK version is missing a number of the extra features available on the US version, most telling is the new animated short Legend of the BoneKnapper Dragon, and some worthwhile material on BDLive (if you can believe that!) However, what we do have is plenty to keep enthusiasts happy for a few hours.
The best Pixar film that Pixar never made - How to Train your Dragon is a spectacular film, telling as it does the story of Hiccup as he tames a dragon and in doing so heals rifts, saves lives and gets the girl, in what is a very mature and layered film dressed up as kids animation. Truly wonderful stuff.
As a Blu-ray package, Dreamworks provide an absolute reference disc in terms of picture and sound, and whilst we lose some of the extrea material to the US disc what we do have is well worth the time to invest. Highly recommended.
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