‘The Illusionist’ pulls a rabbit out of the hat on American Region A locked Blu-ray with a particularly impressive looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer framed in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The high definition image possesses such great clarity and detail that you can just imagine an animator at work at his light table. Although there was also some CGI work involved, the fine lines of the artwork are so clearly defined that they look like they could only be produced by an artist using cel animation techniques. The colour palette isn’t of the bright, garish cartoon type but more of a delicate watercolour painting with subtle pastel tones used throughout. The effect is very pleasing to the eye and one that lifts ‘The Illusionist’ to a level way above the run of the mill animation that litters our cinema and TV screens. There’s the occasional shot over the city of Edinburgh that seems to use the multiplane camera and, in general, the transfer delivers a very atmospheric feeling. The film not only has a charming story but there is visual charm as well as flair in the whole production design. Very rarely do you see such beauty in an animation. Contrast is excellent throughout and we get bright whites as well as solid blacks. Film grain is hardly, if ever, noticeable and there’s no obvious application of DNR or image sharpening – yet the picture is just so wonderfully sharp without being clinical. This is one truly lovely looking film.
The audio on ‘The Illusionist’ comes in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround flavour which scores on the fine detail front as you are able to place many discrete sound effects. When the Illusionist unrolls his bill poster, or when someone handles paper money you are amazed by the crispness of the sound. The surrounds are mainly reserved for atmospheric effects such as general street noise, rain fall and audience hubbub, but my attention was mostly taken up with the wide front soundstage which helped keep my eyes focussed on the screen. The minimal use of dialogue isn’t a problem as most messages are communicated via gestures. It would, therefore, be wrong to claim that dialogue is clear and intelligible as it is deliberately toned down so that the characters simply appear to be making the right noises. Strange though it may seem, this works well and fans of Monsieur Hulot, or even Mr Bean, will be used to it. The gentle music does not intrude, yet it augments the delicate theme of the film and is a pleasure to listen to. This is, above all, a very precise mix that does its job with great care and does not destroy the illusion by being heavy handed. Very nice indeed.
The version reviewed was the American, Region A locked Blu-ray combo pack which has the High Def version on one Blu-ray disc and the Standard Def version on a DVD. For such a recent film, it’s remarkably light on bonus material.
The Making of ‘The Illusionist’ (SD, 4 mins) — We are presented with a collection of concept art, storyboards and computer-generated animation. Strangely, there are no interviews with the director or animators.
Animation Line Tests (SD, 2 mins) — Here we have five segments showing some line drawings used for rostrum camera tests and animatics. The final piece shows how it all comes together.
Before and After Animation Sequences (HD, 9 mins) — Another three segments showing the progress from rough sketches to the finished film.
Trailers (HD, 2 mins) — We get the honest original theatrical trailer for 'The Illusionist’.
The recent Oscar nominated animated film ‘The Illusionist’ appears, as if by magic, on American Region A locked Blu-ray with an absolutely beautiful looking 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, framed in the widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is wonderfully clear and sharp with excellent contrast and delicately rendered pastel tones. It is truly a joy to behold. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is a delicate infusion of intricately detailed sound effects that allow you to place actions precisely across the spacious front sound stage, while surrounds add great atmosphere to the piece.
Though light on bonus material, we do get some short examples that depict the animation process from start to finish – as well as the theatrical trailer. The story is a gentle tale of the father/daughter relationship between an aging Illusionist whose career is on the wane and a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. Changing times herald the demise of the Music Hall, yet the Illusionist continues to find ways to provide for young Alice. It’s touching without being overly sentimental. A simple story, well told and with immense charm.
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