The Simpsons Movie
December 21, 2007 - Dan Ramer, DVDFile.com
One normally has to wait for a popular television series to leave the air before nostalgia and pent up demand motivates a turn on the large screen. But The Simpsons have never been conventional, and Twentieth Century Fox decided that the long running series might make a nice little summer film. It was a little bigger than little. Earning an astonishing $526 million worldwide, The Simpsons Movie ranked seventh in box office for 2007, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Transformers, and Ratatouille.
Iíve been a fan of the series since its origins as short animated vignettes on the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, so Iím predisposed to like the film. I expected an extended TV episode composed for widescreen. The film greatly exceeds my expectations. It even surprised with better production values than I expected. Iíve reviewed respected theatrical anime that blended 24 frames per second CGI with limited hand-drawn cels of either eight or twelve cels per second. Not so here; this cel animation is a full 24 frames per second, adding a level of refinement to the deceptively simple artistic style. And the framing and compositions take great advantage of the 2.40:1 widescreen frame. Every Springfield character is present, and to them the filmmakers have added a few more.
Homer thoughtlessly and stupidly pollutes Springfield's lake, making it the most toxic site in the United States. Environmental Protection Agency Russ Cargill presents President Arnold Schwarzenegger with five draconian solutions, but as anyone whoís seen the trailer knows, this president ďwas elected to lead, not to read.Ē The random selection encases Springfield in a vast glass dome, isolating the pollution and condemning the residents to slow starvation. (Apparently there are neither shovels nor backhoes in Springfield.)
Homerís culpability soon becomes clear, and he, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie must escape the dome to avoid being lynched by furious citizens. (And since the escape was fully visible and no one could manage to take advantage of the route, I have to assume that the rest of the Springfield citizenry are no brighter than Homer.) The Simpsons flee to Alaska, where they could have enjoyed a frigid but peaceful life, but they come to realize that Springfield has been scheduled for annihilation by Cargill and Schwarzenegger. Homer must make things right. Add a couple of subplots about Bartís relationship with his dad and Margeís loss of respect for her husband, and you have an emotional foundation that humanizes the outrageous comedy.
The result is a laugh-out-loud funny PG- 13 film that ever so slightly pushes the boundaries beyond what can be done on network television. Donít expect the filmmakers to deviate too far from the very successful Simpsons formula. The film is overtly funny, but is full of popular culture references. The look and feel of the television series is captured perfectly, but expanded lavishly for the big screen. Whether youíre a fan of the series or recently woke from a ten-year coma, The Simpsons Movie will make you laugh.
The Video: How Does The Disc Look?
The filmís theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is presented in an almost flawless anamorphic video transfer. Iím quite late with this review, and thatís because Fox sends out special screeners replete with superimposed Fox logos and questionable quality (mosquito noise is the usual culprit). I waited for final product to ensure that my review would be accurate. The large areas of color and the infrequent complexity of backgrounds should have made this a snap to compress. And, in fact, contrast, color density, black levels, and sharpness are all outstanding. Alas, the images are contaminated with low amplitude, fairly thick edge halos, a product of MPEG-2 compression. I found this particularly odd in light of the quality of one of the discís trailer; Benderís Big Score has no visible halos and still manages to deliver great looking video. And since The Simpsonís Movie is only 87 minutes long, Iím surprised the compressionist couldnít manage to avoid the halos. Iím confident that the Blu-ray Disc edition will be artifact- free. Regardless, the nature of the filmís animation virtually makes the subtle halos a non-issue.
The Audio: How Does The Disc Sound?
There are two 5.1 tracks on this DVD: Dolby Digital and DTS. The timbre of the instruments in the orchestra for Hans Zimmerís surprisingly entertaining score give the advantage to DTS, as does the more subtle improvement in the dryly recorded voice work. Deep bass is sometimes present, like hefty explosions. Sound effects have a great theatrical dynamic range, but the surrounds are far less active than I would have hoped. Instead of using the audio as another means to amuse, the surrounds kick in for more serious moments, like the massed helicopters installing the dome over Springfield. Unquestionably, the audio far exceeds the aural landscape of the television series, but I was hoping for a more enveloping experience.
Alternate languages are in French and Spanish, both in Dolby Surround 2.0. The audio is supported by subtitles in English and Spanish, and English Closed Captions.
The Supplements: What Goodies Are There?
The disc opens with a full screen promo (2:06, aggregate) for The Simpsons TV series, the embarrassment that is Alvin and the Chipmunks, and a more intriguing preview (2:03) for Futurama: Benderís Big Score.
We begin with the first and more successful of the two feature-length commentaries: Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Yeardley Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Mike Scully, and David Silverman. The group is lively, witty, and much amused by one another (as was I). Very frequently, commentaries suffer from gaps when the participants either run out of things to say or become engrossed in the film. Not here. This is the first film I can recall in which the commentators pause the film (when it temporarily turns to black and white) while they complete a particular discussion thread. Much of the track describes the evolution of the script and how certain arcs and situations were changed to make them funnier or more effective. Itís very clear that the voice actors make significant contributions with adlibs during the recording sessions; they clearly have intimate relationships with their characters. I was impressed with the prolonged preproduction effort; perhaps itís indicative of what it has taken to keep The Simpsons fresh for so many years.
The second commentary is by Silverman, Rich Moore, Steven Dean Moore, and Mike Anderson; this is the director's commentary. They discuss more technical issues, the process of transforming the material from the small screen to the large, and how the plot structure evolved. Expect some duplication of material and a drier experience.
Six deleted scenes (5:15, aggregate, 2.35:1, anamorphic video) are alternate versions of familiar scenes, fill in plot gaps, scenes that didnít make the final cut, and a slightly alternate ending. Fun.
Special Stuff (3:29, aggregate, 1.78:1, anamorphic video) is a small collection of four Simpsons related segments: Homerís Monologue on The Tonight Show; The Simpsons Judge American Idol; Homer Introduces American Idol; and, Letís All Go to the Lobby. Iím not sure what their origins are, but they are clever and mildly amusing.
Within A Lot of Trailers (7:05, aggregate, anamorphic video) youíll find a witty selection of five teasers and trailers: Announcement Trailer; Bunny Trailer 1; Bunny Trailer 2; The Line/Teaser Trailer; and, Theatrical Trailer.
The 87-minute film is organized into twenty-four chapters. Spend a few minutes with the menus for a few sight gags. And remember, the jokes donít end until the feature filmís closing credits are finished.
Exclusive DVD-ROM Features: What happens when you pop the disc into your PC?
None are included on this disc.
Select Deleted Scenes on that featureís menu page and be rewarded with Lisaís Boyfriend Visual Development (0:22).
Select Special Stuff on that featureís menu page and be rewarded with Russ Cargill Visual Development (1:37).
Select A Lot of Trailers on that featureís menu page and be rewarded with Multi-eyed Creature Visual Development (0:37).
For fans of the series, this is a no-brainer. For the ten or fifteen people unfamiliar with the series, this is a very entertaining stand-alone feature film. A nice transfer, a reasonable audio track, and some fine supplements make this an easy recommendation.