Antz (1998)

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Released 21-Mar-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Eric Darnell (Director) & Tim Johnson
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-(4:24)
Featurette-Basics Of Computer Animation (11:10)
Featurette-Facial Animation (1:09)
Featurette-Character Design (10:31)
Theatrical Trailer-(2:22)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 79:31
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:26) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Eric Darnell
Lawrence Guterman
Tim Johnson
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Woody Allen
Sharon Stone
Anne Bancroft
Christopher Walken
Sylvester Stallone
Danny Glover
Gene Hackman
Dan Aykroyd
Jane Curtin
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Harry Gregson-Williams
John Powell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Dutch
German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    From the start of this review I'd better point out that I'm a big fan of Woody Allen, and despite pretensions of being a children's movie, Antz is firmly placed in the territory of the best of his comedies, albeit with a little more action.

    Z (Allen) is an ant in the midst of something of an existential dilemma. Antz opens with Z on his psychiatrist's couch, complaining of his insignificance in his role as a worker in a colony where the life of one ant is nothing in the face of the good of the colony. But then it all changes for Z, when by chance he meets the beautiful Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). In order to see her again, he swaps roles with his lifelong friend, the soldier Weaver (Sylvester Stallone). Unbeknownst to Z, though, Weaver's unit has been chosen by the evil General Mandible (Gene Hackman) for a suicide mission as part of Mandible's plan to unseat the queen (Anne Bancroft) and take control of the colony. From soldier, Z becomes a would-be kidnapper, and this leads him and Bala on an odyssey to far flung places. But Mandible's right hand man, Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken) is on their trail.

    And so commences an adventure that takes in love, danger, war and wonder, and liberal sprinklings of sophisticated humour. Along the way, there is more than a little philosophizing: topics covered include individualism as against conformity, the relative merits of communism and ethnic cleansing: one hopes that some of these go nicely over the heads of the kiddies, although be warned: some of the action is quite dark in tone indeed, and there may be some tears if watching with younger viewers. In the main, though, it seems that the writers have struck a balance with enough to keep both adults more than interested, and children entertained.

    Inspired by the likes of Metropolis, the colony is a dark and forbidding place. The totally computer generated animation, though, is wonderful, with bagloads of detail in every scene. Some of the crowd scenes have to be seen to be believed, but the real triumph of the animators comes in the form of the facial expressions of the characters which are truly expressive. Coupled with the uniformly excellent acting performances (the characters so closely resemble the actors behind their voices that you are left in no doubt as to who they are), Dreamworks' first animated feature is a resounding success.

    I found Antz to be hilarious, and the animation outstanding, but it is the likeability of the characters and the skills of the actors that voice them that put it up there with the Toy Story series and A Bug's Life as an excellent instalment in an emerging genre: that of the computer generated animation feature, which is one of the more exciting around these days.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Overall, this is a superb transfer. The only thing barring me describing it as the best I'd ever seen was a smattering of film artefacts.

    It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement. This DVD is also encoded with automatic pan and scan information: setting your player's display settings to "4:3 normal" (or its equivalent on your player) will engage this feature. I had a brief look at the pan and scan version: it was enough to remind me why the only way to see a movie is in its original aspect ratio (or in this case, reasonably close to it). What would have been preferable would have been a full frame composite such as that which appears on A Bug's Life.

    A beautifully crisp and clear transfer is provided, however, to be honest, I expected no less. There were a couple of scenes that I felt could have been a little sharper, however, it is explained in the commentary that this was an intended effect to suit the mood of those scenes. This is a dark and shadowy movie, and happily, there was no grain to be seen, and I feel that everything that the animators intended the viewer to see in the shadows was represented. There were no instances of low-level noise.

    Much of Antz is set underground, and rather than a bright, cheery representation of the insect world (as found in A Bug's Life), the makers chose to more accurately frame the colour. Thus by far the majority of the colour palette features earthy tones, such as brown, and there is little in the way of vibrant colour. But occasionally, there were burst of brightness, in particular such as the scene where Z and Bala discover a picnic. At these times, vibrancy was displayed, and there were no problems with colour bleed or oversaturation.

    I saw no instances of MPEG artefacts or film to video artefacts, however, somewhat inexplicably, there were a number of intrusions from film artefacts. In the main, these consisted of white flecks that looked like nicks, although there were some black dusty type occurrences. They were mainly solitary, and thus not really apparent unless you were looking for them, however there were a few occasions where they constituted a sprinkling, namely at around 58:10, 61:21 - 61:29, and at 61:57.

    This DVD is RSDL formatted, with the layer change placed between Chapters 20 and 21, at 53:26. It is poorly placed mid scene, and hence is quite distracting: it comes only seconds after a scene change, where it would have been more appropriately placed.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    This is an absolutely brilliant transfer: it is dynamic yet natural, and covers the entire frequency range. This DVD now sits amongst those that I designate as demonstration discs.

    There are 5 audio tracks in total on this DVD. I listened to the default English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and subsequently the audio commentary. I did sample the French, German and Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and noted that the sound quality was comparable. It is amazing, though, how much of the character of the movie is lost with the change of voice as opposed to the change of language.

    The dialogue was always extremely clear and easy to understand, but this is to be expected from an animated feature where all of the sound is carefully laid down in a recording studio. There were no audio sync issues.

    The score is credited to a cast of five. In the main, it is orchestral (although it features some "dreamy" type vocals so popular lately), and it suits the mood of the individual scenes well. Also featured are a couple of more traditional songs, including an excellent rendition by Neil Finn of I Can See Clearly Now, the old Johnny Nash classic.

    There's only one word that I can use to describe the use of the surrounds on this DVD: awesome. From booming voices and endless activity throughout the cavernous expanses of the ant colony to directional effects such as the entry of flying insects, the surrounds were buzzing (pardon the pun) for almost the entirety of the feature. Helped by the fact that all of the effects were laid in the studio, the soundstage is seamless and immersive from the very first minute.

    The subwoofer channel got a real workout: it was obviously most apparent during the action sequences (such as where Z and Bala are stuck to a human foot) but it was also used well for general ambience and to fill out the lower end of much of the sound (such as for the deep voice of Weaver). This mix featured the best general use of a LFE channel that I have ever heard.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu is 16x enhanced, and features a static shot of our hero with a looping excerpt from the score in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound.

Audio Commentary - Directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson

    The two directors speak fairly constantly throughout the feature. They never get bogged down in anything too technical, and their enthusiasm and love of the material is obvious. As a result, the commentary is quite entertaining, and it covers many aspects of the production, including the actors, the animation process, and the various influences which are apparent at various points.

Featurette-Behind the Scenes (4:24)

    Presented at 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded sound, this is little more than an extended preview trailer, with some clips from the movie interspersed with sound bites from some of the cast and crew.

Featurette-Basics of Computer Animation (11:10)

    This featurette consists of a discussion by the two directors of the animation process, from storyboarding, through layout, then motion, to final lighting. The analysis centres firstly on the dance sequence, and then to the water drop sequence, and it is quite interesting to see the progression between the stages. The image is understandably a lot softer than the feature.

Featurette-Facial Animation (1:09)

    A brief look at the construction of facial expressions presented in a similar manner to the above featurettes.

Featurette-Character Design (10:31)

    The directors take us through a series of still images that consist of a progression toward the designs that were used for Z, Bala and Mandible. It too is presented in a similar manner to the other featurettes.

Theatrical Trailer (2:22)

    This is presented at 1.78:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are two versions of this DVD available in Region 1. The first features a dts soundtrack, and minimal extras. The second, "The Signature Selection" edition, features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and is full of extras.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 dts version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 "Signature Selection" version of this disc misses out on;     So if you want the dts soundtrack, you have to give up the majority of the extras. Otherwise, the Region 4 release only loses relatively little against the "Signature Selection" release - probably not enough to drag me away from the PAL formatting.

Summary

    Antz is a superb example of a genre that is at the same time establishing itself, and pushing movie-making in new and exciting directions. Excellent video quality and an amazing 5.1 mix lead me to almost nominate this DVD for a spot in the Hall of Fame: the only thing missing is a little more on the human side of the production in the extras package to showcase the excellent acting.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Anthony Curulli (read my bio)
Monday, March 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D608
SpeakersFront: Yamaha NS10M, Rear: Wharfedale Diamond 7.1, Center: Wharfedale Sapphire, Sub: Aaron 120W

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