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BIONICLE 2
Legends of Metru Nui

Review by Ed Nguyen

Voices by: Christopher Gaze, Alessandro Juliani, Michael Dobson, Paul Dobson, Brian Drummond, Lee Tockar, Tabitha St. Germain
Directors: David Molina, Terry Shakespeare
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1, French
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Buena Vista
Features: Making-Of featurette, Metru Nui explorer, The Legend Revealed, promos
Length: 75 minutes
Release Date: October 19, 2004

"Matoran into Toa, Toa into Turaga, Turaga into legend!"

Film ** Ż

All little boys love toy soldiers.  From G.I. Joes to Star Wars creatures to Transformers, each generation has had its own favorite action figure.  For children of the twenty-first century, the latest fad is the LEGO phenomenon of Bionicle«.  LEGO "action figures" used to be little firemen, cowboys, or policemen with smiley faces and cute little caps.  But times have changed, and now the new LEGO Bionicle action figures all resemble large metallic insects and vaguely amorphous robots.

In 2003, the film Bionicle: the Mask of Light used the Bionicle franchise as the basis for an epic CGI animated tale.  Young fans gobbled it up, making the film one of the year's top DVDs.  Subsequently, Bionicle merchandise sold like hot cakes.  A sequel was inevitable, and so, in time for the holiday seasons, Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui has now been released.  This second CGI animated film is actually a prequel that chronicles the early mythology of the Matorans, a race of cute, living robotic plebs in the Bionicle world.

The film is narrated by the Turaga Vakama, who tells the epic story of a land before the existence of Mata-Nui.  In this pre-historical time, towering heroes named Toas protected the Matorans until a dark evil named Makuta began to creep across the land.  It defeated all the Toas save one, Toa Lhikan.  This last Toa, before his fall, managed to retrieve six sacred stones and deliver them to chosen Matorans in each Metru, the subdivisions of the Matoran's giant city of Metru Nui.  The chosen few were the toolsmith and archivist Whenua, the scholarly Nuju, the racer Matau, the carver Onewa, protodermis protector and teacher Nokama, and most significantly the mask maker Vakama himself.

Armed with the stones, these Matorans met in the sacred temple of the Great Spirit.  Therein, the Great Spirit used the power of stones to transform the diminutive Matorans into six new giant Toas.  And now, these new heroes must utilize their hidden powers to recover six sacred discs hidden throughout Metru Nui.  These pure Kanoka discs hold the secret to defeating the great evil, which has assumed the guise of the Metru Nui city leader, Turaga Dume (while the true leader lies dormant in captivity).

The key to victory lies in the creation of a great Kanohi mask, the Mask of Time.  In the hands of evil, such a device would surely destroy all that is good.  In the hands of the Toas, it will help them to vanquish evil and to save the Matorans and their beloved city, Metru Nui.  But time is running out to stop Makuta's grand plan to shut down all Matorans and later to revive them like a mystical (but still evil) savior demanding god worship.

Among the new heroes, Toa Vakama possesses a prophetic sight that will help him to eventually become the natural, if reluctant, leader of the Toas.  These heroes must navigate treacherous protodermis waterways, brave the arid wastelands ruled by roaming Kikanalo beasts and avian Vahki, and defeat Makuta's two evil Dark Hunters - Nidhiki, a spidery villain, and Krekka, a muscle-headed brute.  The Toas must search the Place of Unending Whispers for their missing comrades before assembling together for a final confrontation with the great Evil on Mount Doom (actually, it's called the Metru Nui Coliseum but we're not fooled).  Only the courage and perseverance of the Toas will determine whether the Matorans will awaken to a dark future enveloped by evil or a hopeful, new existence upon the isle of Mata-Nui.

Catch all that?  Hey, don't roll your eyes at me!  It's not my fault, I'm just the messenger.  Bionicle 2 is technically in English, though it might as well be in Japanese for all the comprehensibility of its pseudo-mystical mumbo jumbo and scientific psychobabble.  The strange thing is the children will instinctively grasp the entire storyline while adults will just stare blankly at the television in bewilderment.

Let's be perfectly blunt now.  Bionicle 2 is a sleek, 75-minute infomercial masquerading as a movie.  Its true agenda is to promote and sell LEGO toys.  Since holiday consumers can hardly be accused of possessing rationality or insight, Bionicle 2 will almost certainly sell by the bushel as young boys nationwide clamor with increasing persistence for this DVD.  But at least the film's themes are honorable, being about overcoming one's fears and finding strength and courage within oneself.  Sure, the film is fairly derivative in its storyline (borrowing freely from Attack of the Clones, the Lord of the Rings, various Ray Harryhausen films, and Ecco the Dolphin video games, just to name a few).  But honestly, if I were still a little boy, I would be totally salivating as well over Bionicle 2, which has admittedly great production values and a heroic and uplifting story.

Video ****

Being a direct-to-DVD CGI animated film, Bionicle 2 looks quite fantastic.  The details are crystal clear and the colors jump out at you.  There are no compression defects at all, although the animation is somewhat blurry at times and not quite up to the theatrical standards of Pixar films.  Still, Bionicle 2 compares quite favorably with most other CGI efforts.

Audio ****

Bionicle 2 excels in its dynamic DTS 5.1 track, which rumbles at every opportunity and establishes a truly immersive audio environment.  The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is practically as good as the DTS one, and anyone with a powerful enough home audio system should be quite satisfied with the reference quality of these two tracks.  An optional French track is also available.

Features **

The features included with the Bionicle 2 disc are aggressively directed at pushing Bionicle toys, action figures, and even shoes!  The packaging is quite nice and features a Velcro-opening slip-on jacket.  But don't expect anything of great merit among the DVD's actual bonus features.

First is The Making-Of Bionicle 2 (9 min.).  This featurette shows the various animators and creative artists behind the Bionicle toys and the film itself.  If you watch until the end, there is a also a preview of some of the new LEGO toys now available for the Bionicle franchise.

The Legend Revealed (5 min.) is a short question-and-answer session that provides a brief FAQ about the movie, the franchise, and the history and future of Bionicle.  This feature is only for diehard fans.

Metru Nui explorer gives a tour of the Matoran city Metru-Nui and its individual sub-divisions.  This is the most extensive bonus feature, providing details about the city core and the six sub-cities with their respective Toa protectors.  Again, this feature will appeal mostly to diehard fans but casual viewers might find it interesting, too.

Animated sneak peeks are available for Power Rangers: Dino Thunder, The Incredibles, Spider-Man: the Venom Saga, Bionicle: the Mask of Light, the Aladdin Trilogy, and Jetix.  The most significant previews are those for the excellent My Neighbor Totoro, Porco Rosso, and Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind, all films by Japan's greatest animator, Hayao Miyazaki.

Ads round out the remaining supplements.  There are various promos for the Bionicle website, stories, and also the LEGOLand theme park in California.  Don't forget the LEGOLand coupon inside the DVD case, either; it gives a discount on admission.  And last but not least, there is a quick reminder about Bionicle 3, coming out on DVD in the Fall of 2005!  Joyfulness!

Summary:

This DVD is strictly for kids.  Adults may enjoy some of the nice CGI animation but will otherwise be left scratching their heads.  However, if you have a son or nephew who's a big fan of the LEGO Bionicle toys, the battle is already lost, so you might as well purchase this DVD for him as a holiday gift.

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