Background: I've long been a fan of Mike Myers the comedian for his over the top characters as much as the execution of his witty replies so I feel pretty safe inside my comfort zone discussing his works to date; and contrary to popular belief, he has a pretty decent range compared to many of his peers. One of the weaknesses of the man though is his willingness to keep going back to the proverbial well even when it yields less satisfactory results, something seen on his SNL characters when he was making the transition to movies as much as his often funny Austin Powers flicks. Well, this weekend I got a chance to look at his latest release in the form of Shrek The Third; a movie using a plethora of voice acted characters and the latest animation techniques in what has become a sly, updated look at children's fairy tales in a series that adults have found humorous thanks to the multitude of double entendres; that is, until now.
Movie: Shrek The Third is the most recently released sequel to the wonderfully original first release, a story about an animated ogre that finds true love. I know how sappy that sounds and for whatever brief moments of "happily ever after" have been tossed in to solidify the links to generations of children's classics, the driving thrust of the series has been to goof not only on dozens of fables, stories, and Walt Disney movies, but also popular culture topics galore in rapid fire style where those who don't get one joke will be beaten over the head with another within seconds. The basis for any such story begins with Shrek (Mike Myers) himself, an oafish lout of an ogre with a mean temper and the personal hygiene habits of a porn reviewer, his previous releases detailing his finding true love with Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and saving the day from a host of bad guys that would take advantage of his bad rap. As the series progresses, Shrek becomes the popular good guy too (after substantial resistance from Fiona's parents and the kingdom itself) thanks to his relentless attitude and the magic of love.
That said, this third adventure was a lot less ambitious as it started off with King Harold (John Cleese) "croaking" and naming Shrek as the rightful heir. While the question of why Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) couldn't assume the throne, especially given the liberated manner in which the ladies have been portrayed in the series, for another time. No, to avoid being saddled with the responsibilities of a job that did not suit him, Shrek sets out to find another to fill the role as leader; Arthur (Justin Timberlake) as in King Arthur but several decades before he's be ready to install a round table. This power vacuum leads an old enemy of Shrek's to try a bold scheme in the land of Far, Far Away, with bad old Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) enlisting the help of all the fairy tale villains hanging out at a local pub one day. See, in any morally straightforward child's classic tale, there are two sides; the good guy and the bad guy with no shades of gray. In the usual tales, Charming is the savior and guy on the white horse that saves the day but in our more politically correct times, he ends up as the bad guy by virtue of his representing the "old school" tales that are so offensive to some out there in Hollywood.
Charming takes advantage of the situation with the help of Captain Hook (Ian McShane), The Puppet Master villain from Pinocchio (Chris Miller), and others that ended up on the wrong side of righteousness in classic tales as Shrek sails off to find "Artie", a bothersome youth with the social skills of, well, an ogre as he shows contempt for the townsfolk of his village. While the ogre is away, the bad guys play, soon establishing a coup on the kingdom and setting a trap for Shrek and his pals upon their return. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) still steals all the thunder in his scenes, and Puss (Antonio Banderas) is relegated to secondary sidekick status yet again but their trials and tribulations lead them to Artie. Shrek lies to get him to join them and after some admittedly forced humor, the show results in the confrontation between the forces for good and bad; with expected results. Toss in Fiona's pregnancy to provide something to work with in a fourth volume of the series and you have the basis for the movie at hand.
I skipped this one in the theaters based on the word of mouth and scores of critics suggesting it was a watered down version of the previous efforts but came in clean to see if it was really as bad as they said it was. In short, it was as if all the best material had been used or simply wouldn't fit the situations made, the cleverness of the puns and references a lot more forced than before. For every brilliant gem of an exchange between characters (the interrogation of Pinocchio was a highlight far better than the material surrounding it), there would be the low brow jokes designed for the kids or mentally challenged; almost as if new writers were needed or simply a better screenplay to tie them in together. The voice acting was such that those in the domestic anime market (ADV Films et al) would do well to take notes but aside from the eye candy look of the show, it was all style and no substance. I wanted to like it more than I could but there was about enough decent material to make a made for TV special, a direct to video release, or an extra on a better Shrek release as far as I was concerned so I rated this one as a Rent It in terms of the content of the movie itself. If you already like the movie but want to know more about the HD DVD version, then read on.
Picture: Shrek The Third was presented in the original 1.85:1 widescreen color offering as directed by Chris Miller using the standard VC-1 codec in a brilliant 1080p picture. Whatever the limitations of the content might have been, the picture was bright, crisp, and generally top notch as far as I was concerned. It was clean looking, the animation fluid, and I could recommend this as a transfer to showcase your new HD televisions and players with but for the movie itself. I saw no aliasing, the CGI looking as fine as state of the art animation can look, and the level of detail was certainly better than the SD version that looked first rate too (until compared with this one).
Sound: The audio was presented in a hearty 5.1 Dolby Digital 5.1+ with English, French, and Spanish choices for those who care (subtitles in each language were also available). Like the video, the audio was very well done and outdid the thematic limitations handily. The dialogue was crisp and clear, came largely from the center speaker, and showed sufficient directionality to give one a limited sense of headspace. The music and special effects provided more separation and used the rear speakers nicely enough; the thunderous bass employed just frequently enough to work to full advantage without sounding forced. It could have made more extensive use of the 5.1 set up but the lack of aggressive audio tracks is common these days; perhaps thanks to studios "dumbing down" such things to favor the weaker systems of the masses. In short, it was good but could have been better, not really needing any of the more advanced codecs to achieve this so much as more effort on the production end from what I could tell.
Extras: Like the technical areas, the extras were another place where you get your money's worth. The HD DVD exclusive extras included an interesting feature called The Animator's Corner where the disc allowed for a picture in picture set up of the storyboards used in the movie. At first, I thought this was kind of lame but upon checking it out more fully, I found it to be more interesting than the movie itself at times. There was also a menu set up that allowed for customizable character menus but I really didn't care much about that one. On the plate of other extras were a couple I couldn't access (yet) in the form of a few web based trivia track, a coloring book, and a feature called The World of Shrek; presumably detailing the universe of the series for newcomers and nitpicky fans to enjoy. There were then a lot of other extras I believe were ported over from the SD version of the movie, though thankfully done in HD as well. You could learn the silly Donkey Dance, sing songs in karaoke fashion with the words on the screen during songs, listen to inane parenting tips by some of the main characters (Donkey's suggesting in almost all cases to give the kids a present), environmental tips by the voice actors, a "Magic 8" ball type of game called Merlin's Magic Ball where you'd get random, usually limited answers to questions you'd think up in your head; some bonus songs and trailers, features on the CGI process used to make the movie and voice acting. There were some lengthy sets of bonus scenes but apparently they were never shot (very expensive) and included a narration of what they were going to be; making me wish at least half of them were made for the movie in the Lost Scenes section. The blooper reel was really short and there was a paper booklet (4 pages) inside the case describing some of the extras too.
Final Thoughts: Shrek The Third will likely appeal to fans of the series that are on the younger side more than anything else since many of the double entendres that made the previous volumes in the series worthy of adult viewing seemed truncated in favor of the kids this time but the jokes were also locked into specific references too. Like previous titles of this nature, that makes them less timeless and increasingly out of date as the clock ticks away. The look and feel of the show along with the extras gave some added value but the movie fell short far too often for me to suggest it as an outright purchase for most people. Still, it was fun seeing the same old characters doing essentially the same old stuff and the highlights added in enough juice to keep my attention so give it a look as a rental and make up your own mind. In a related matter though, make sure you update your firmware to play this one as it gave my HD DVD player some troubles.