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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ryan
Ryan
Rhino // Unrated // August 2, 2005
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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In a nutshell:  An animated masterpiece about the life of an influential animator.

The Show:

Ryan Larkin is an animator who created a few shorts in the late 60's and early 70's that were very influential and groundbreaking.  One of them, Walking, was even nominated for an Academy Award.  After making only a handful of shorts, Larkin stopped making films and pretty much disappeared.  In 2004 film maker Chris Landreth set out to make a documentary about the now forgotten cartoonist.  He had an interesting idea:  What better way to document the life of an animator than in an animated film?  The result is Ryan, an amazing film that is just as important as Larkin's original work.

Landreth is a friend of Larkin, who is now living in a shelter in Toronto and panhandles for change.  For this film he took some of their recorded conversations and animated them.  Most of the film takes place in a cafeteria where the two men sit and talk.  Landreth takes this simple set-up and makes something wonderful and thought provoking with his CGI animation.  He creates a world where mental psychoses and insecurities are presented as physical manifestations to one's appearance.  Every mental scar or trauma that we all carry around with us is visually represented.  Landreth has some colorful gouges on his cheek and an indentation in his head due to previous traumas.  No matter how odd Chris looks though, Larkin is worse.  He is just a skeleton of a man, worn away from years of substance abuse, homelessness and personal demons.  His head just a fraction of a face and a shock of hair on his head.  When he talks about his fears and inability to create new art, colorful tentecals of light burst forth from his body and bind his face, arms and legs tightly, so that he's unable to move, or create.  As the pair talk, Larkin's past is revealed, his quick climb to the top, and his just as rapid decent.

This is a very powerful film that works on multiple levels.  As an animation short it is creative and visually very stimulating.  It is also a good documentary, showing Larkin's personality and very concisely illustrating how drugs and alcohol destroyed a budding talent.  The movie  is also a comment on humanity in general; how we really see things through a lens made up of all our experiences, and how we often can be ruled by our fears.

That's a lot to fit into fourteen minutes, but Landreth does it very well and makes it look easy.  I was literally stunned after I watched this for the first time, and had to immediately play it again.  One of the things that struck me was how creatively Landreth uses CGI animation.  While many animation studios are continually pushing the boundaries of how realistic computer graphics can be, Landreth takes it the other way and show how CGI can be used in a surrealistic fashion to visually illustrate emotions and mental problems.  It's almost like a Dali painting that has come to life.  This is truly a masterpiece and well deserves the Academy Award that it won in 2005.

I would have been happy owning just Ryan, but there is a lot more on this disc too.  The second feature is Alter Egos, a documentary on the making of Ryan and a look at both Ryan Larkin and Chris Landreth.  This film runs nearly an hour and is an excellent supplement to Ryan.  After I screened the short I was very interested to learn more about both Larkin and Landreth.  This documentary answered many of the questions that I had.  It features interviews with both animators, as well as friends of Larkin who know him when he was an up and coming animator.  Though you get to hear more of Larkin's thoughts on his past and present, it is interesting to note that the shorter animated work pegged his personality very succinctly.

The film also examines the relationship between the subject of a documentary and the documentary film maker himself.  Though many of the questions are not answered concretely, it is interesting that it raises them.  Does Ryan exploit an man who is down on his luck?  Is it fair to put someone who is mentally fragile in the spotlight?  What does Ryan get out of all of this?

The only thing I disliked about this film was that they included the lion's share of Ryan itself.  Even if the film wasn't available on this disc, I don't think that including most of it in one large chunk helped the documentary.  It took the focus away from the characters that were being examined and put it on the film itself which was a little distracting.  Aside from that one flaw, it is an entertaining and engrossing documentary.

The DVD:


Audio:

Ryan is presented in both stereo and a 5.1 mix.  Both were excellent, with no audio defects.  The multichannel mix was more forceful and made good use of the soundstage, but the stereo track was nearly as good.  A very good sounding disc.

Video:

The anamorphic widescreen video to Ryan was absolutely top-notch.  I was so wrapped up in the images and story the first time I watched Ryan that I had to view it again.  The second time I looked for digital defects but I couldn't detect any.  There isn't any aliasing or blocking at all.  The image looks great.  The colors are bright and solid, and the picture is very sharp.   I wish all discs looked this good.  Ryan is a reference level film.

The documentary and other shorts on the disc aren't quite up to the high standard that Ryan set, but they are very good overall.

Extras:

This disc is absolutely packed with extra features.  In addition to Ryan and Alter Egos, there are director commentaries to both films.  Both of these are very illuminating and well worth listening to.

There are also selections of animated films that both Ryan Larkin and Chris Landreth created.  These films were all excellent and gave some solid background on both creators.  What's more, all of these shorts have commentaries by the creators where they give insights to what they were attempting to accomplish and say with their animation.

The Ryan Larkin films included are:

Syrinx: an very early effort done in charcoal on paper.  This tells the story of the Satyr Pan persuing the maiden Syrinx.  Larkin created some wonderful textures in this piece,

Walking: An amazing film that was nominated for an Academy Award.  Larkin turns simple human motion into beautiful art.  The piece shows people walking around from different perspectives.  Both nude and clothed figures traipse across the screen with extraordinary life-like movement.  The astounding thing is that none of the images were rotoscoped (tracing over film of actual people moving, like in the movie American Pop.)

Street Musique: Another excellent film.  Larkin morphs shapes and people into colorful and interesting images in this nearly nine minute film.

The Chris Landreth films included are:

the end.: An early CGI film about two animated people who aren't happy being actors in someone else's play.

Bingo: A funny and yet dark short about a man who everyone mistakes for Bingo the Clown.  Although he insists that he isn't Bingo, everyone still thinks he is.  If the rest of the world is sure that he's Bingo, doesn't that mean that he is?  Some excellent images and a slightly disturbing premise make this an excellent short.

There are also text pages on the directors and producers.

Final Thoughts:

This is just a wonderful package.  Not only is Ryan a fantastic short, but Alter Egos is a very good documentary too.  Add to that the animated shorts by Lankin and Landreth and all of the commentaries and you have an excellent DVD.  There isn't anything I can think of that would make this disc any better.  Ryan is a masterpiece, a movie that every film lover should see.  DVD Talk Collector Series.

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