Dinosaur (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Animation Tests, Story Reel, Workbooks, Publicity Materials and much much more

Let me take you back to the beginning of time. I’m not talking about the history of the Earth, I’m talking about DVD time. When Disney first began releasing DVDs, they were regarded by most collectors as being of poor quality. These titles offered few special features if any, questionable soundtracks, and no <$16x9,anamorphic> support, all at a price that was typically higher than most other studios. Well, here we are in the year 2001, and Disney has come out of the stone-age and now makes some of the most impressive discs on the market. The newly released "Dinosaur: Collector’s Edition" is another feather in the Mouse’s cap. The feature-packed set is a perfectly example of the kind of quality work being done at Buena Vista Home Entertainment and shows just how far they’ve come in such a short time.

"Dinosaur" opens with a five-minute segment (which became the film’s teaser trailer), showing the perilous journey of a dinosaur egg. After a nest is trampled by a runaway Carnotaur (which looks like a T-Rex on steroids), the egg is carried by various dinosaurs, floats down a river, is snatched by a Pterodactyl and eventually lands in the jungle. There, the egg is found by a family of lemurs, led by Yar (Ossie Davis) and Plio (Alfre Woodard). The egg hatches to reveal a baby Iguanadon. The lemurs decide to adopt the young dinosaur and raise it as their own. The film then jumps ahead in time. Aladar, the young Iguanadon, is now grown up and is assisting his friend Zini (Max Casella) and the other lemurs with their annual courting rituals. Then, suddenly, a meteor shower begins, which destroys the lemur’s island. Aladar, Plio, Yar, Zini, and young Suri (Hayden Panettiere) escape from the island and find themselves on the mainland. They find that this area has been damaged by the meteors as well. Because of this, a herd of various dinosaurs are heading for "the nesting grounds", with their promise of food and water. But to reach this destination, they must cross a desolate wasteland. Aladar and his lemur family join the herd and soon befriend two older dinos, Eema (Della Reese) a Triceratops and Baylene (Joan Plowright), a Brachiosaur. Aldar also meets Neera (Julianna Margulies) and her brother Kron (Samuel E. Wright), the vicious leader of the herd. From the point on, "Dinosaur" becomes an exciting adventure as Aladar learns the true meaning of heroism and helps his friends to overcome many obstacles (such as Carnotaurs) to reach "the nesting grounds."

Two things immediately stand out about "Dinosaur". The first thing is the technical achievements of the film. "Dinosaur" sets computer-generated characters in live-action backgrounds to create a seamless environment. The CGI dinosaurs are very impressive and their insertion into the real-world creates a believable image. The second noticeable item is the simplicity of the story itself. Unlike many other recent animated films, "Dinosaur" has a fairly simple plot and one that seems oddly familiar. The dinosaurs must cross the desert in order to live. The lack of a convoluted plot allows the animators to tell the story using the technical tools at hand. It’s always disappointing when a promising animated film gets bogged down in a complicated story, but that isn’t the case here. This allows the film to be accessible to children of all ages. Actually, the only reason that kids wouldn’t like this film is because the desert setting offers a lack of bright colors (a la "Toy Story"). Parents should note that the film is rated PG, as there is some dino-violence and several characters do die. But, all in all, "Dinosaur" is a satisfying film, offering fascinating animation, combined with a classic story, creating a unique movie experience.

"Dinosaur" comes to DVD by way of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. As with the "Toy Story" films and "A Bug’s Life", the DVD of "Dinosaur" was created directly from the digital source. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1 and is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. The digital transfer has given us a perfect duplication of the film. The picture is solid and clear, free of any noise, distortion, or grain. And obviously, there are no defects from the source print. This crystal clear transfer gives the image a nice depth, giving the film a true "life-like" look. The colors on the DVD are also truly impressive. Although, as stated above, much of the film takes place in a beige desert, there are several scenes offering brilliant colors. The blues, reds, and greens really stand out on the image. Overall, this is a pristine visual transfer of reference quality.

To go along with this brilliant transfer, Disney has provided two stellar soundtracks; a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 track and a <$DTS,DTS> 5.1 track. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track offers an impressive sound field and nice bass response. There is nearly constant use of the surround sound speakers, offering accurate screen/speaker placement of the sounds. The subwoofer works overtime reproducing all of the pondering dino-sound effects. In addition, we get clear dialogue and a beautiful reproduction of the score by James Newton Howard. The DTS track once again manages to put up the bar a notch and turns "Dinosaur" into a sonic spectacle that is utterly impressive. With rampant low ends, and its very finely reproduced spatial information, the DTS track is simpy one of the best audio tracks available on any DVD. Also, it should be noted that this DVD contains a "TheatreVision" track, which describes the onscreen action for those with visual impairments.

"Dinosaur" is being offered in two DVD editions. They both contain the superb transfer of the film, which is the most important feature. But, if you want to know everything there is to know about "Dinosaur", then you must check out the 2-disc Collector’s Edition, which contains many more special features than the single-disc version. We’ll start this monstrous collection of extras by checking out the first disc. There are two audio commentaries on this disc. The first features directors Eric Leighton & Ralph Zondag, visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela, and digital effects supervisor Neil Eskuri. The second <$commentary,commentary track> has producer Pam Marsden hosting a panel discussion with many of the production team members. Both commentaries are informative and entertaining, especially the first one, where it is obvious that these guys had a blast making the film. However, the second <$commentary,commentary track> can be a bit confusing at times, because you aren’t sure who’s speaking.

One of the most unique features on the disc is the "Film Facts Fossil Dig." This is similar to the seamless branching technology used on other discs, but this takes the viewer to behind-the-scenes footage. An option can be chosen where a bone icon where appear in the corner of the screen during certain scenes. By clicking this icon, you will be taken directly to behind-the-scenes materials dealing with that particular scene. So, instead of waiting until after the movie to learn "how’d they do that?", you can see it in the context of the film. The 14-segments, which comprise the "Film Facts Fossil Dig" can also be accessed individually from the Bonus Materials menu. To me, the most interesting segment here was the alternate ending.

For the young ones, this disc also features two games. "Aladar’s Adventures" allows the viewer to use the remote control to guide Aladar through a series of caves. The goal is to find Aladar’s friends without running into the fierce Carnotaur. "DinoSearch" is a sort of puzzle game, in which pieces of the various characters are hidden on the screen. Using the remote, the viewer must locate and highlight these pieces and correctly construct the dinosaur. For educational purposes, we have the "Dinopedia" which gives background information on the different kinds of dinosaurs featured in the film. The two games are fun and the "Dinopedia" is full of fun facts, but these are the kinds of features that are viewed once or twice, and then never again. This concludes the extras on Disc One.

It’s Disc Two of this set that really offers a glimpse into the technology that was used to create "Dinosaur." We are first treated to information about the development of the film. Of the six sections on this DVD, this is by far the weakest. Here, we can view test and presentation reels dating back to 1996, as well as a visual development gallery. While this gives us an idea of how the film evolved over the years (apparently Aladar and Zini were once Noah and Adam!), there are no interviews or commentaries by the filmmakers to tell us how the film was conceived and created.

The next two sections, "Creating the Characters" and "The Production Process" are the real "meat and potatoes" of this DVD. For those of you who want every detail on how this film was shot, from the live-action backgrounds to the computer animation, then these sections should satisfy you. We get to see, first hand, the development and creation of the CGI characters. There are many interviewers with the animators and tons of behind-the-scenes footage, as we are taken through the various stages of character development, and the eventual integration into the live-action backgrounds. While watching "Dinosaur", one can’t help but think, "This must’ve taken a lot of work." These behind-the-scenes segments prove that it truly did, but it appears that all of the animators had fun doing it.

The "Music & Sound" section is pretty self-explanatory, but it must be seen to get a glimpse of the vicious Chihuahua who is secretly the star of the film. The "Abandoned Scenes" section gives us an idea of the film that "Dinosaur" once could have been. This section is comprised of two scenes from an earlier version of the film and four scenes that were cut from the present version. Of these, five are either sad or depressing and it’s probably a good thing that they were cut, as the tone of the film is serious enough as it is. Although, the scene in which Eema discusses the origin of "the nesting grounds" would’ve actually added to the film. Finally, we have the "Publicity" section, which offers us three trailers (including the "Convention Trailer" (they don’t say which convention), which has a great soundtrack), four TV spots, and a gallery of print advertising. While the depth of all of this information isn’t as impressive as say the "Toy Story: Ultimate Toy Box" of Collector’s Edition of "A Bug’s Life", there is still 3 hours of footage here to sort through and the viewer will definitely learn a lot about the film.

Contrary to my fears, "Dinosaur" isn’t a film where the technology overpowers the story. "Dinosaur" contains a powerful and moving plot that is made all the more emotional by the stunning animation involved. And the power of the DVD helps to bring this animation to life, providing us with a pristine transfer and an awesome soundtrack. While some may be satisfied with the film only, true filmphiles will want to check out the 2-disc Collector’s Edition, which contains enough extras to choke a T-Rex. "Dinosaur" is a film that is set millions of years in the past, yet offers us a glimpse into the future of entertainment.