Antz (1998)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
Extras: 4 Documentaries, Commentary Track, Cast & Crew Bios, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes

Since Pixar’s acclaimed "Toy Story" hit theaters and video stores in 1995, computer animated feature-length films have been a newly evolving genre. Image rendering technologies have progressed substantially over the past years and new hardware generations keep constantly pushing the high end of microcomputer performance. As seen more than once in recent history, in 1998 finally, two fully computer animated films hit theaters at almost the same time to meet enthusiastic audiences. One of these films was Pixar’s "A Bug’s Life" which will find a find a DVD release in April through Buena Vista Home Video. The other one was Dreamworks’ and Pacific Data Images’ collaboration "Antz" which is just about to hit DVD retail stores in the next days. We had the chance to give this disc an early look to let you know what to expect.

Much as the title suggests, "Antz" presents us the world from the perspective of ants. To them it is an unknown, colorful and gigantic place and to most of them it is limited to the dark and gloomy interiors of their hive. "Z" is a worker in an ant colony but unlike his millions of brothers and sisters, he is unhappy with his existence and the institutionalization of his regimented colony. The boredom of his daily work almost kills him, resulting in an almost manic depression and neurosis. One night the colony’s princess Bala is sneaking into the colony’s bar to mingle with the folks and just to break away from the stiff palace etiquette. She approaches Z for a dance and while the two are enjoying themselves on the dance floor, Z falls deeply in love with the girl. He is shattered when he finds out that Bala is the princess, and that there is no way they could ever see each other again. Desperate, Z convinces his friend Weaver the next day to trade places with him. Weaver is a warrior and today is a special parade for the queen. Z hopes to be able to see Bala again and takes Weaver’s place in the ranks of the soldiers. Unfortunately the colony’s General Mandible has decided to send the troops out to fight a termite colony that threatens to invade their own hive. In a ferocious battle the ants defeat the termites – but at a terrible price. No soldier but Z survives and when he returns home, he is celebrated as a war hero. Soon enough however it turns out that he is only a worker impersonating a soldier – one of the biggest crimes in an ant colony.

Before he can be taken prisoner, he takes Bala as a hostage and flees from the colony in hopes to find his legendary land of dreams, Insectopia. But without any experience in the real world, it is tough for him to survive the challenges the big world imposes on him, and the ever-nagging Bala doesn’t make his life any easier. One night, a scout detects Bala and returns her to the palace. Z follows to get her back, but when he arrives at the colony he finds out that General Mandible has a devious plan to destroy the entire colony. Only he can save the lives of his millions of brothers and sisters!

The film is an enchanting fairy tale that shows us our world through the eyes of a tiny little ant. Cast with a perfect array of actors to lend their voices and personalities to the animated creatures, "Antz" has turned out to be a hugely entertaining animation movie. Who else but the infamous Woody Allen could lend his voice to the neurotic ant Z? Who better than Sylvester Stallone lending his voice talent to Z’s friend Weaver? Much of the film’s appeal results from the exceedingly well done voice acting and the perfectly cast talents for these voices. Sharon Stone is princess Bala while General Mandible is dangerously well portrayed by Gene Hackman. Incredible performances by Danny Glover, Dan Aykroyd and Christopher Walken among many others, help turn the film into a solid, charming and funny crowd pleaser.

Developed by Silicon Valley based Pacific Data Images (PDI), "Antz" owes its life to a true Hollywood visionary. PDI had been shopping the idea of a completely computer animated feature around for some time in Hollywood, but sadly met nothing but blank stares from studio executives. Only Jeffrey Katzenberg at Disney saw the potential in such a film but unfortunately he had just signed up and green-lighted Pixar’s "A Bug’s Life" at the time. When Katzenberg left Disney to form Dreamworks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, the success of "Toy Story" proved Katzenberg right. He brought PDI back in the picture and combined their concepts with a saga about an ant colony developed in-house at Dreamworks. The project promised to be the perfect vehicle to start up Dreamworks’ own animation arm. Katzenberg put "Antz" on the fast track and would beat "A Bug’s Life" to theaters, almost six months ahead of schedule.

One of the challenges of "Antz" was to create an organic world from the eyes of an ant, always keeping the camera a fifth of an inch above the ground. But also creating a look for the world was important, making sure it would not feel too man-made, turning everyday things like soda cans into skyscrapers that look like from another world. PDI even had to re-evaluate their approach to grass, leaves, water and other elements that would inevitable find their way into their film, trying to achieve a very unique look that would believable convey the world of the ants.

Putting five thousand computer models in a single shot was yet another challenge PDI had to tackle. Never before had there been a need to animate so many computer models at the same time in a single frame. Counting in at 140.000 polygons each, this was a task no human being could possibly handle. Through the use of proprietary software, PDI’s graphic gurus were eventually able to bring an entire ant colony to life, make them work, dance, march, fight and rebel with relative ease while the computers did all the hard number crunching. It is obvious by these numbers how computer technology has advanced. Only a few short years ago, computer animators were dealing with thousands of polygons while today they are counting in the millions.

Dreamworks are now presenting this flagship film as their second "Signature Selection" Special Edition on a <$RSDL,RSDL> disc. Containing the film’s 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> version in a gorgeous <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer, the disc also features a number of interesting supplements. The film itself is boasting with colors in beautifully rendered rich hues and elaborate textures. This DVD reproduces all of that in pristine quality without digital artifacts or color bleeding. Noise is not existent and the images’ edges are sharp and well defined, while the picture maintains plenty of shadow detail. It is a pleasure to watch the film in this quality and once again DVD’s quality beats other formats hands down. No tape or Laserdisc can match this picture! Add to that the colorful and fully animated menu screens on this disc and you have a clear winner on your hands. Not only are these menus well done, they are looping absolutely seamless, use a lot of cool music and elements from the movie, integrating it fully with the film’s experience.

"Antz" also features a whimsical and funny soundtrack. It is presented in a well balanced <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 soundtrack that makes very good use of the split surrounds and creates a wide engrossing soundfield. Just like the film’s images, the sound effects are oftentimes exaggerated with emphasized spatial placement in the surrounds. Interestingly this disc contains only an English language track and English subtitles. No other language is supported at all. However, the disc contains a <$commentary,commentary track> with the film’s directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell that digs deep into the basics of computer animation techniques, limitations and other technical aspects of the film.

Although not quite a bolstered up as some other Special Editions, "Antz" contains some supplements that take you behind the scenes of the film. It explains the creation of a computer animated film in a rudimentary form that allows everyone to understand the basic procedures and steps the film has to go through to obtain the final result. Split in a series of small featurettes, the disc covers the general animation practices, facial animation practices, the creation of the characters and a look behind the associated voice recordings and much more in a very entertaining manner. "Antz" is fun, romantic and very colorful. After watching "Antz" on this excellent DVD, I can only say that Dreamworks is well under way to establish itself as a force in Tinseltown. With the ingenious foresight and visionary decision to create this film and then putting it out in such a splendid DVD rendition, Dreamworks are sure to take their place in the hearts of many fans of animated movies all over the world. This disc is flawless and deserves a place in every DVD owner’s library.