Santa is Russian. There is nothing wrong with being Russian, but seeing the jolly old guy designed in the scheme of a circus sideshow strongman with a Russian accent? It’s weird. Oh, and the Easter Bunny? He’s Wolverine in that the voice work is Hugh Jackman and he has a short temper. That does not seem to be the right fit either.
But, credit where credit is due, Rise of the Guardians is trying something different. Why not knock around the established myths and do something different, right? In some sense, they do. These designs are completely off-the-wall with just a shred of the traditional identifying characteristics. In another sense, we are following a character, Jack Frost, who needs to find himself in the midst of crisis. Ho hum.
Into this mix steps Pitch Black (Jude Law), the Boogeyman who weirdly looks like a characterized Robert Pattinson. Maybe Guardians is meant to poking at Twilight a bit, who knows. It’s never clear why Pitch chooses this exact moment to strike; the Guardians have been around for – at minimum – 300 years. Pitch has been out of the game for even longer, dropped by the unseen Man in the Moon due to his penchant for dishing out nightmares. Apparently his plan, which amounts to sending dark horses into dreams and bowling over the Guardians, took that long to design.
There is a far more interesting story here with the stock Guardians than a Justin Bieber-esque Jack Frost. His introduction is utterly bewildering, thrilled that he can create ice… on ice. He skates over a frozen pond, gleefully striking it with his wooden staff to create more ice. In the doling out of super powers, Jack Frost was screwed.
A lot of little annoyances creep up, including kids celebrating a snow day when grass is clearly visible and roads show no signs of moisture. Streets are littered with kids at the end in the middle of the night, and none of them are questioned by adults. The scene where a child needs to stand up for their beliefs is waiting to happen, even necessary given the context, and instead the little ones are brushed aside for the battle.
There are a few nice ideas here. The concept of teeth grabbed by the Tooth Fairy holding the memories of the children who lost them is different. That creates a purpose and a need to track teeth down when stolen, fuel the story, and give the villain some clout. Creativity is on display, and the film is quite beautiful, but it smacks of tired scripting that follows a direct path into the arms of cliches.
What a stunner. Rise of the Guardians is as textured as they come, filled with generous amounts of defined fur, cloth, snow, and ice. Every scene revels in the sharpness and resolution it is afforded, thick and brilliant with each edit. All new environments bring about new challenges, like the Easter Bunny’s aged lair loaded with moss covered rocks. Skin has a definite human quality where appropriate, and Sandman’s glittery coat is spectacular.
Despite being backed by darkness for most of its runtime (Guardians work under the moon for the most part), this animated effort is adorned with splendid color and super saturated primaries. Santa Claus’ deep red coat, despite visible wear to rough him up, is a gorgeous example. Greenery is a marvel, and the pastel colored eggs being readied for distribution are ridiculously bright.
The gift of black levels has graced Guardians too, creating an image with not only flawless contrast peaks, but density and weight. Night scenes carry the same level of dimensionality as the day ones, bulking up the imagery to absolute perfection. Everything here feels entirely surreal, while things such as color and black levels keep it in reality. There are no signs of potential animation gaffes like aliasing, sharpness always pure and shadow detail preserved. This is a marvel, even by animation standards.
Therein lies the kicker for 3D. With a dazzling start to introduce the Dreamworks logo, an effect that is as close as they come to the forefront of the effect, you suspect the disc will maintain that quality. For the most part, it does. There is a lot going on, and the level of particle effects keep an almost constant sense of floating objects in front of the frame. Guardians is loaded with flying objects, at times exploitative of the 3D, other times subtle yet still awesome.
And yet, all of it is dimmed. Usually, it is not much of an issue. Here, switching from 3D to 2D feels like a veil has been lifted. For all of the fun of the 3D, it loses so much of the punch from the perfectionism of the 2D, the added boost is often not worth it. This is still a dazzler during its action peaks, but make a comparison to Frost’s first Guardian meeting. The gold sheen in the room does not seem to shimmer, and the depth is all within the effect of the glasses, not the imagery.
A full, rich TrueHD 7.1 mix lies at the heart of the film, outstandingly active and heavy on positional use. Jude Law’s performance of Pitch Black is a mover, separated from the center channel as the character moves around the soundfield or warps into different positions. Chatter always tracks, and stereos as well as surrounds are willing to oblige.
Action is dense too, with plenty of low-end activity to build scale such as when Santa first jets out his North Pole homestead. Hooves of reindeer are strong, selling their size. Thunder creates a solid rumble as Pitch begins his attacks, and blows to the heroes are weighted in the LFE channel during a crucial fight at 45-minutes.
Never lose sight (hearing?) of the surrounds either which carry an unusually high amount of debris. Both Sandman and Pitch have powers related to sand, utilizing them en masse to create full swirling effects. Demon-esque horses fly about, and mini-Tooth Fairy combatants chirp as they buzz around the soundfield. This is an always-on mix with lots to offer.
Extras reside on the 2D disc with the exception of a trailer for Turbo. That is in 3D. Two games for the kids are Blu-ray exclusives, but it’s doubtful those will hold their attention. For the more technically inclined, a commentary is delivered by director Peter Ramsey and two producers: Nancy Bernstein and Christina Steinberg.
Behind the Magic is a four-part, half hour or so making of with the general run through of story and animation design. Man Behind the Guardians discusses the concept with author William Joyce for six minutes. Dreamers and Believers deals with the casting, and short interactive piece tells kids what their dreams mean.
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