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SHREK

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
Directors:  Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  See Review
Length:  93 Minutes
Release Date:  November 2, 2001

“So, where is this fire-breathing pain in the neck, anyway?”

“In the tower.  Waiting for us to rescue her.”

“I was talking about the DRAGON, Shrek.”

Film ***1/2

Computer animation has come a long way since Toy Story first sparkled on the big screen…in fact, the medium has grown by so many leaps and bounds, it has become one of the most consistently exciting genres in cinema today.

Dreamworks has been a studio on the forefront of this animation form…their revolutionary ANTZ was remarkable in its new software technology that allowed for the most realistic facial animations ever seen up to that point.  With the release of Shrek, they’ve built upon that foundation, and taken it in stunning new directions.

These creatures, whether human or fantasy figures, are remarkably realistic.  They have texture, dimension, emotion, and lifelike movements and expressions, which all help to bring a fantastic world to more vivid life than had been possible in conventional animation.  But even better, the film is entertaining and funny…DAMN funny.

It’s a story about an ogre named Shrek (Myers) who lives a lonely and misunderstood life in his little swamp.  His only visitors are the torch waving mobs who want to kill him, but end up too scared to act.  “Psst,” Shrek tells them helpfully, “this is the part where you run away.”

But when the evil (and short) Lord Farquaad (Lithgow) banishes all fairy tale creatures from his land, Shrek finds his beloved swamp overrun with wolves, pigs, fairies, puppets, and even seven little dwarfs (“No, no, no!  Dead broad OFF the table!”).  Frustrated but determined to get his home back, he sets off to petition Farquaad with an unwelcome traveling companion, a tiny talking donkey (Murphy) (“Talking’s not the problem…it’s getting him to SHUT UP that’s the trick!”).

Farquaad, who wants to be king but can’t unless he marries a princess, makes a counter offer:  if Shrek will rescue the princess Fiona (Diaz) from her tower and bring her to him, he will restore Shrek’s swamp.  The catch, of course, is a fire breathing dragon guarding the tower, along with a moat of hot lava surrounding the castle.  And Shrek, who never wanted to be a hero, reluctantly agrees to the mission.

This is not exactly a kids’ cartoon, to be sure…many of the jokes, including the digs at Disney, double entendres and such will probably be over many tykes’ heads…the adults will laugh at them, while both they and the children will no doubt be captivated by the film’s gorgeous visual stylings.  The level of detail from the texture of rocks to the leaves on the trees is stunning and remarkable throughout, making Shrek’s world a fully realized and functional one, and a great setting for some hysterical comedy.

The cast is perfect, starting with Myers’ Scottish brogue as Shrek…he invests the character with plenty of humor, but heart as well.  And I’ve become convinced that if Murphy chose never to step in front of a camera again that he could make a great living with his voiceover work…as Donkey, he brings a joyous, smart ass (no pun intended) sense of life to one of the year’s most memorable supporting characters.

The only thing the story could have used was a better villain.  Lithgow does a terrific voice, but Farquaad is seriously underdeveloped.  He never seems threatening or imposing, which is a big mistake for an animated film.  He serves the story more as a McGuffin than as an antagonist…he gets the tale rolling, but doesn’t serve it much in any other way.

Nevertheless, that’s a small complaint…the story isn’t nearly as big an attraction here as the humor and visuals, and the movie offers both of those in abundance.  Not lost in the mix is a nice little moral, too, about not judging by appearances.

In a summer that won’t go down as one of cinema’s most memorable ones, it’s no wonder that Shrek towered above the competition.  A remarkable achievement that arrived with superb timing, this is a hit picture that definitely deserved its box office dollars and it’s accolades. 

Video ****

Dreamworks’ animated DVDs are amongst some of the best looking ones on the market, and Shrek adds to that reputation.  This is a flawless transfer from beginning to end, and one that savors every digitally created moment to perfection.  From the wide array of colors to the simulated lighting effects, to the rich, remarkable detail in every frame, this movie rings out with crystal clarity from start to finish without a single flaw to muck up the works…don’t bother looking for grain, shimmer or other compression artifacts; they aren’t there.  Reference quality all the way.

Audio ***

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (DTS also included) was good, but a bit of a disappointment.  I was expecting much better things from it…though both front and rear stages get a good share of work in, and crossovers and pans are smooth and fluent, there is very little use of the .1 channel…in fact, I only noticed it coming to life maybe once or twice during the film, and only briefly.  Certain scenes could have benefited from a stronger bottom end.  Dynamic range is fairly good, but again, not as strong as I would have preferred…maybe the DTS track would be an improvement, but fans with Dolby Digital receivers might find this otherwise good soundtrack a little less stellar than they hoped for.

Features ****

The features are plentiful…I only wish they had all been on the same disc!  If you go looking for all of them, you’ll find a funny and entertaining filmmaker commentary (on the widescreen disc), plus “interviews” with the four main characters, a behind the scenes featurette (with cast and crew interviews), a lively “Shrek in the Swamp” Karaoke Dance Party (it will floor you), technical goofs (see how one wrong keystroke turned Donkey into a Chia Pet), an in-depth look at the “Tech of Shrek” (a must-see for computer buffs), hints for the Xbox game, a progression reel for the character design, a featurette on the international dubbing of the movie, trailer, production notes, talent files, and some hidden fun facts along the way.

My only reservation?  I wish all the features had been on one disc instead of spread out over the two.  The full frame version of the movie wasn’t needed at all, so a better package would have included the widescreen presentation on Disc One and all the features on Disc Two.

Summary:

Shrek will probably be the biggest DVD seller this year, and it certainly merits it.  A funny, entertaining film attractively packaged on a double disc set from Dreamworks?  You can’t go wrong.

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