Dinosaur (2000)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Blu-Scape Short Film, Movie Showcase

As part of their first high definition line-up, Walt Disney Home Entertainment has decided to include "Dinosaur" to the title selection. This wonderful blend of live-action photography and computer-generated characters is a great example to show what fully computer-animated films like Pixar's fare may look like once they hit high definition formats. I was eager to take a look at this early offering.

"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."

Although technology has been evolving at a heart-stopping pace over the past 10 years offering up computer-generated effects that look better than the real thing and fully animated movies that sometimes rival live-action films, "Dinosaur" still holds up pretty well. The characters nicely integrated with the live action footage that creates a nice illusion of dinosaurs roaming the earth.

One of the movie's main strength's is the simplicity of the story itself. Unlike many other animated films, "Dinosaur" has a fairly simple plot, and one that seems oddly familiar at that. 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. However, 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 fascinating movie experience that is quite a thrill ride.

So now "Dinosaur" comes to high definition and the transfer that Buena Vista Home Entertainment is serving up here is absolutely wonderful. Taken from the digital source, the image in this presentation is marvelously rich and sharply detailed. The print is entirely free of defects or blemishes, which is not surprising as it comes directly from the digital source. What is impressive form the first minutes is how vibrant and rich the colors are in this transfer, as we follow the dinosaur egg on its voyage. Add to it the incredible level of detailed put on display here and it is easy to fall in love with the film and the transfer instantaneously. Restoring the movie's original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the transfer also has impressive contrast with very deep and solid blacks that give the image good visual depth. Highlights are perfectly balanced allowing the transfer to run the entire gamut of shades and hues. It is an impressive transfer that will convert any viewer to the advantages of high definition with ease as its improvements of the DVD version for example are readily visible and striking.

To go along with this brilliant transfer, Disney has provided stellar soundtracks, the key track being the uncompressed 5.1 channel track that reproduces the soundtrack in its entirely unaffected beauty in full 48kHz/24-bit resolution. In a word – audio doesn't get much better or clearer than that!
The track is complemented by a 5.1 channel DTS track as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in English, French and Spanish. All of them are very well balanced and clear, offering the best presentation for each format's capabilities. Clearly, however, the uncompressed track reigns supreme as it delineates nuances and subtle textures that are sometimes diminished somewhat in the encoded tracks.
The subwoofer works overtime on this disc reproducing all of the pondering dino-sound effects and in addition, we get clear dialogue and a beautiful reproduction of the score by James Newton Howard.

The extras on the release are different form the previous DVD versions and are presented in a full 1080p high definition as well. First up is a commentary track that features directors Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag, visual effects supervisor Neil Krepela, and digital effects supervisor Neil Eskuri. This commentary has be culled from the DVD and is full of valuable information while also having a very entertaining flair to it. One thing to note is that the commentary track is actually subtitled, so that even hearing impaired viewers will be able to follow the discussion of the commentators, which I find a very nice and considerate touch to this disc.

Next up is "The Monster Cloud," an exciting in-depth look at the comet impact scene in the film.

With "Blu-Scape" is trying to establish a bonus feature that ties in with the movie as a theme instead of production details. "Origins," which can be found on this disc has been directed by Louie Schwartzberg. It is a short film that ties in thematically with the feature film and consists of gorgeous landscape and nature footage from locations where "Dinosaur" was originally filmed. Look for grand footage of Kauai, its waterfalls and lush jungles as well as its Waimea Canyon and other fascinating and amazingly beautiful points.

The Blu-Ray disc also contains a "Movie Showcase," which is a feature in which Buena Vista Home Entertainment has isolated selected key scenes from the movie for direct access. The idea behind this is that if you want to show off the movie or your high definition home theater, these showcase scenes are just the way to present it in an easy to access fashion.

Because of current storage restrictions on these first-generation Blu-Ray discs, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has not been able to include the bonus materials that were originally found on the DVD Collector's Edition. With dual-layer Blu-Ray discs becoming available in a few weeks, this will change, of course, and future releases will no longer be held back by storage limitations. For the time being, having "Dinosaur" look so spectacularly rich and detailed alone is what counts.

With this first batch of Blu-Ray titles, Buena Vista Home Entertainment shows that they put a lot of consideration and effort into the release. Clearly focusing on the feature presentation to ensure it is presented in the best possible quality, the studio has created a product here that can easily serve as a family-oriented showcase in retail stores around the country, and that is what fledgling high definition formats need.