Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie

Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie (2001)
Warner Home Video
Extras: 22-Minute Bonus Episode, Documentary, Trailers, DVD-ROM Features

What do you get when you add martial arts, time travel, killer cyborg beetles, Robin Hood, talking dogs, and a Scottish brute armed with bagpipes and a machine gun for a leg? Samurai Jack from Cartoon Network, of course. This unique effort from creator Genndy Tartakovsky (of "Dexter’s Laboratory" and "Powerpuff Girls") believes in action and atmosphere- and it shows. The opening scene features our young hero witnessing the abduction of his father by the evil demon Aku (Japanese for "Evil", appropriately). This sets our warrior off on a personal quest to save the world. We next see him traveling abroad, training in every warrior discipline imaginable – Sword fighting, wrestling, archery, running, and Shaolin Kung-Fu, among others. Each scene is entertaining and distinguishable with varied characters, backgrounds, and music. Look for a humorous appearance in the archery segment from the infamous thief himself, Robin Hood.

Eventually, boy becomes man and the Samurai is finally ready to confront Aku. A fast-paced and well edited sequence follows with the hero defeating the demon with his father’s magical sword. But, before he can claim final victory, he is banished to the future by Aku ala a time portal in an effort to weaken the Samurai in the new age. In a scene incredibly reminiscent of the "Fifth Element", he finds himself in a strange new world, with flying cars and neon billboards of Aku everywhere. Shortly after, he meets a trio of strange fellows who speak an extreme form of Ebonics and who give him his name – Jack. Eventually our displaced protagonist falls into the company of three talking dogs who are also on a mission to defeat Aku. It turns out Aku has enslaved all the dogs on planet Earth to excavate for jewels which give him his evil power (or something like that). The final 25 minutes of the movie features an exciting battle of strategy and skill between Jack and Friends and a huge army of Aku’s evil robotic beetles. The animators use unique humor, slow-motion cuts, triple-frame edits, and transitions to display a frenetic and entertaining spectacle of destruction which pay noticeable homage to old martial arts movies and anime. The ending sequence features our hero, work done, walking off into the sunset forever bent on destroying his enemy, Aku.

The video is presented in its original <$PS,fullframe> TV format, with no visible flaws or artifacts. Some edge-enhancement is present, but not enough to distract the viewer from the simplified and stylized graphics. Colors and contrast are pretty and rich, which again compliment the boldness of the art.

Audio is where I found this disc to really shine. The opening battle between Aku and Jack’s village is woofer-friendly and features excellent separation with arrows whizzing briskly from speaker to speaker in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital>. The music also is presented aggressively and in variety, with banging Japanese drums, classic warrior themes, and techno beats backing the action onscreen. It definitely seems a large amount of talent and production went into the sound on this disc and its one that will surprise you with its quality.

Special features include a Bonus Episode, which is an interesting companion piece to the premiere movie. It features a large Scot with a machine gun leg and some serious attitude to boot. The ending battle scene is another chaotic and extremely entertaining foray into destruction and mayhem. This segment had a real dose of humor and action, and was a nice side story in the saga of Samurai Jack.

The second special feature features conceptual art, thumbnails, character sketches, and side-by-side storyboard to movie comparisons. Good stuff for future animators or aficionados of the genre. The third is a 10-minute documentary which covers the creation of the show among other facets such as design, voice work, backgrounds, sound, and storyboards. The final special feature is a "Powderpuff Girls" movie sneak preview. Owners of a DVD-Rom will be able to take advantage of additional features such as a screensaver, a Samurai Jack game, and links to the Samurai Jack website on their PC.

As a fan of animation, I relish the homage and also new creativity paid to this art form by this team of animators. If you like older works ranging from "Mr. Magoo’s" psychedelic backgrounds to action scenes found in classics such as "Speed Racer" and other classic anime, this disc will be right up your alley. My only criticism is that the premiere movie sometime suffers from uneven pacing; 15 minutes can go by with nary a word of dialogue and then there is a 30 minute long fighting sequence (The show’s extreme strong point). The humor can be sparse and unusually dry. If you have an open mind and are a fan of different styles of animation as well as unique and quirky plot, characters, art, and backgrounds, you’ll love this disc.

Fans of linear and traditional titles from studios such as Disney will probably be caught off-balance and disappointed. I give this movie a recommendation – but also a recommendation to rent before buying.