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Pete's Dragon (Blu-ray) (2016)
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Details At A Glance
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Notes to Self: A Director's Diary
Deleted Scenes-"Disappearing" Moments
Music Video-"Nobody Knows" by The Lumineers
Music Video-"Something Wild" by Lindsey Stirling
Featurette-Welcome to New Zealand
Year Of Production
||Cast & Crew
||Language Select Then Menu
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Bryce Dallas Howard
Isiah Whitlock Jr.
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2016’s Pete’s Dragon is a Disney movie through and through. It’s a formulaic endeavour from a narrative perspective, and the characters are predominantly standard-order, including some antagonistic archetypes. In addition, it’s a remake of a motion picture from 1977, and remakes are rarely necessary. But hell, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. Another step in Disney’s grand plan to transform their animated catalogue into live-action movies (the original Pete’s Dragon was only partially animated, mind you), this reimagining does away with all the singing, dancing and mugging in favour of a more dramatic, heartfelt feature. Pete’s Dragon is simply enchanting; an incredibly poignant and engrossing family film with shades of E.T. that was clearly assembled by a passionate team of filmmakers who set out to do more than just cash in a paycheque.
Orphaned as a young boy after a car crash left him stranded deep in the wilderness, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is befriended by a furry, kind-hearted dragon who seeks to protect the boy. Naming the dragon Elliot, Pete manages to make a home for himself away from civilisation, but the forest becomes threatened by a logging company overseen by the steely Gavin (Karl Urban). While running around one day, Pete is discovered by friendly local forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who seeks to take the young lad home to her daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) and fiancée Jack (Wes Bentley). Pete is suddenly ripped away from his beloved friend, with nobody believing that Elliot actually exists, except for Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford), who has long spoken about a brief encounter with a big green dragon. As Pete bonds with Grace and her family, Gavin grows determined to capture Elliot for all the world to see.
Whereas any number of remakes are arguably unnecessary, Pete’s Dragon is a premise ripe for reinterpretation, and it is in good hands under co-writer/director David Lowery, who has spent many years as a writer, director and editor of small-time indie features and shorts. It was a bold move on Disney’s part to give Lowery a shot over a more experienced filmmaker, but the gamble pays off - the movie bursts with genuine passion, feeling like far more than just another paint-by-numbers visual effects blockbuster. It’s a dramatic and meditative film, even opening with a heartbreaking sequence depicting the tragic car wreck that strands Pete in the wilderness where he meets Elliot. Even though it’s a familiar story, Pete’s Dragon works because it’s an extremely competent version of an age-old tale of a boy and his wondrous companion.
Shot in idyllic New Zealand locations, the film looks magnificent, bolstered by Bojan Bazelli’s eye-catching cinematography and Daniel Hart’s touching original score. Fortunately, the adults are not portrayed as unfeeling or negligent, and the child characters aren’t cloying, making this a rare family movie which respects its audience. Performances across the board are strong, with young Fegley in particular making a positive impression as Pete, sharing wonderful chemistry with Laurence. Howard is amiable as Grace, but Redford is even better, espousing endless charm and warmth. Urban’s role is a bit too clichéd, but the actor acquits himself well enough. As for Elliot, the dragon is brought to vivid life by way of marvellous digital effects, and it helps that the design of the creature is agreeably unique - you won’t mistake Elliot for Smaug or one of the dragons from Game of Thrones.
With Pete’s Dragon, The BFG and Kubo and the Two Strings, it seems that 2016 is the year of heartfelt family movies that nobody bothered to see. Whatever flaws exist in the screenplay are compensated for in the top-flight execution, and it’s wonderful to see a Disney film that manages to be uplifting and emotionally powerful, devoid of cheap theatrics and computer-generated artifice.
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Disney may not support 4K Blu-ray at this point in time, which is disappointing, but the House of Mouse nevertheless continues to deliver amazing-looking 1080p transfers for all of its new release titles, and thankfully Pete’s Dragon is another effortless winner. To allow for maximum breathing room, Disney have placed the film on a dual-layered BD-50 despite a shortage of extras, and in turn the bitrate consistently hovers above 30 Mbps, which is certainly above-average even for new release titles. Framed at 2.40:1, this AVC-encoded transfer leaves little to be desired, and it’s wholly faithful to the theatrical presentation.
Pete’s Dragon was shot digitally with Arri Alexa XT rigs, and the Blu-ray image does exhibit some of the shortcomings associated with digital photography that were evident in the cinema - namely that it does look a bit soft and smooth from time to time, and there is a certain haze that seems to be a creative decision but nevertheless restricts detail. But this aside, the presentation is strong, bringing out plenty of detail no matter the environment. Textures on clothing and car seats are perpetually strong, and sharpness is frequently above-average, allowing you to discern every leaf and hair. You can also marvel at the strength of the digital dragon, which features hundreds of thousands of individual hairs. Close-ups fare best of course, but the transfer never looks smeary or unrefined in long shots.
Luckily, the Blu-ray retains the colours I recall seeing in the cinema, with a noticeable push towards green. The colour palette is deliberately understated, so the movie doesn’t exactly look as vibrant as the best presentations on the Blu-ray format, but this traces back to the intentions of the filmmakers. Blacks are agreeably deep, and at no point does the transfer fall victim to any crush. Furthermore, I did not detect any other encoding anomalies. It’s smooth sailing across the board.
As ever, I would prefer a 4K Blu-ray release (even though it was completed at 2K), as the HDR grading, increased bitrate and added resolution would almost certainly represent an improvement over this 1080p Blu-ray. Nevertheless, this will do for the time being. As somebody who viewed Pete’s Dragon in the cinema, I’m happy with this effort from Disney.
Video Ratings Summary
Just as Disney ostensibly refuse to release 4K Blu-rays at this point in time, Disney also has something of an aversion to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X tracks, even though Pete’s Dragon was actually mixed in Atmos for its theatrical release. Thus, the primary track on this Blu-ray is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio mix, which is still extraordinary on the whole. The audio is understated to a certain degree, and this is a mostly front-centred presentation since the movie is a drama first and foremost. The surround activity is limited but effective, with environmental ambience in forests, as well as the music filling the rear channels. In addition, the subwoofer is smartly used for certain scenes involving Elliot as he stomps around and breaks trees.
Dialogue is well-prioritised and clear, primarily coming through the front channels. The chatter is a touch too soft at times, but the mix is otherwise free of issues. Atmos-compatible viewers will be disappointed, but this lossless 7.1 track sounds exceptional nevertheless.
Audio Ratings Summary
|Surround Channel Use|
A short selection of special features.
Note to Self: A Director’s Diary (HD; 7:31) In this much-too-short featurette, director David Lowery narrates his personal production diary from the shoot, which is full of his thoughts and feelings about the filmmaking process, his cast and crew, and other aspects. The narration is layered atop a fair bit of on-set footage and film clips. Considering the length of the shoot and the many technical aspects involved in bringing the movie to life, this should be a lot longer.
Making Magic (HD; 2:12) In this even shorter segment, the cast and crew discuss what it took to bring Elliot to life. Film clips and behind-the-scenes footage is complemented with on-screen factoids about the process. Again, this is too short.
“Disappearing” Moments (HD; 9:12) Lowery introduces this nice selection of excised scenes and moments which didn’t make it into the final cut for various reasons. It’s worth pointing out that the scenes are not distinguished or separated by title cards - they basically play as a montage. CGI is incomplete, of course (and the music seriously overwhelms the dialogue), but these scenes are still worth watching.
Bloopers (HD; 1:55) A short reel of the actors fooling around, sneezing, flubbing lines, and cracking up. This is well worth watching.
Audio Commentary A rather packed group commentary featuring director Lowery, co-writer Toby Halbrooks, and actors Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence. This is a very easy-going, amiable track, and it’s clear that the four participants all get along extraordinarily well. They tenderly joke around, but there is also a tremendous amount of insightful production information beyond simply describing what’s happening on-screen. Topics include the use of natural lighting, rubber feet for Fegley in outdoor scenes, shooting in real rain in one scene, training in pre-production, and so on. Star Wars is even brought up. Considering the lack of video extras on the disc, it’s fortunate that we have this commentary, as it provides enough insight into the production to make it worth a listen if you’re interested in the filmmaking process.
“Nobody Knows” Music Video by The Lumineers (HD; 3:12) A music video, which features clips from the movie.
“Something Wild” Music Video by Lindsey Sterling Featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (HD; 3:45) Another music video, logically enough, which again features film clips. A nice inclusion, but hardly essential.
Welcome to New Zealand (HD; 1:56) More or less a tourism commercial for New Zealand, with Howard and Lowery gushing over the beauty of the country.
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Pete's Dragon deserved far more success than it received, and I hope that director David Lowery is given the opportunity to make more movies of this ilk. This is a Disney movie which genuinely works, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Kids and adults alike will find it enrapturing.
Disney's Blu-ray features a top-flight technical presentation, while the scant special features are of good quality. I would have liked a 3D release, and of course more extras, but nevertheless this disc comes recommended.
© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Saturday, January 28, 2017
|DVD||Samsung UBD-K8500 4K HDR Blu-Ray Player, using HDMI output|
This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver.
This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
|Amplification||Samsung Series 7 HT-J7750W|
|Speakers||Samsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up|