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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » DJ Qbert's Wave Twisters
DJ Qbert's Wave Twisters
Other // Unrated // April 30, 2002
List Price: $31.98 [Buy now and save at Djqbert]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted April 23, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Highly Recommended
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The world of DJ'ing allows for a wide variety of styles, but the most popular DJ's today, or at least the ones making the biggest impact, are the ones that, no matter how far out their concepts go, always keep the basic tenets of hip hop in the back of their minds. This style, covered in Doug Pray's excellent documentary Scratch crosses generations, genres, and soundscapes. DJ Qbert may be the most highly celebrated modern DJ, with two DMC world championships under his belt. His Invisibl Skratch Piklz crew redefined hip hop DJ'ing, bringing the old school emphasis on scratching back into the forefront while inserting tons of new variations.

One of the things that you take away from Scratch is the sense that these guys feel, on some level, like their skills come from outer space. So when QBert envisioned his album Wave Twisters as some sort of sci-fi space scratch opera, it probably came as no surprise. With the help of animation directors Syd Garon and Eric Henry, as well as the character design of Doug Cunningham and the talents of countless others, QBert was able to visualize his story and create something totally unique.

DJ QBert's Wave Twisters is a phantasmagorical ode to hip hop, specifically the four components of old: DJ'ing, MC'ing (rapping), breakdancing, and graffiti. Only MC'ing is really present in modern mainstream music, and even then in watered down partying-with-Martha-Stewart-in-the-Hamptons style. The story of Wave Twisters involves a search for a return to those basic elements. The hero, the Inner Space Dental Commander, and his motley crew of sidekicks (the luscious Honey, old school Grandpa, and the very R2D2ish Rubbish) have to combat the Red Worm and his horde of scratching soldiers. This army has imprisoned the universe and locked them away from the lost arts of hip hop. Luckily our dentist hero finds a "Wave Twister," which is really a wrist-mounted turntable which emits a deadly green ray when scratched.

The journey through space in a ship that looks suspiciously like a Chevy Impala, is full of references to other movies, chiefly Star Wars. The story isn't where Wave Twisters originality lies. Rather, it's in the mix of styles, from simplistic Flash style animation to sophisticated 3D CG shots. The montage of styles, as well as the jerky editing, mimic the collage of QBert's music, which makes up the entire soundtrack. Dialog is culled from snippets and samples of old movies and lord knows what else. When the Red Worm announces in a booming voice straight from some 50's sci fi flick "I am the RED WORM!" the grandeur is hysterical, especially when you consider that the Red Worm, this film's Darth Vader, looks like a diaper clad baby with a Mexican wrestling mask on.

The visuals are full of cues. Graphics from Donkey Kong and other classic arcade games turn up sporadically, as do in jokes for nerds. For example, the good guys use a program called "Da Disc Docta" to try to rid their system of the effects of the Red Worm and when the program, modeled on Norton Disc Doctor, gets to work, the animation of the guy fixing the disc drive, taken directly from the actual software, looks just like a guy scratching a record. Admittedly, its a small joke, but its a terrific detail that had me laughing out loud. Maybe that says something about me, but QBert and the animators are obviously keyed in to some very specific humor.

One of the best parts of the film features QBert, D-Styles, Flare, and Yoga Frog (who delivered some of the funniest moments in Scratch) performing a ritualized torture on the heroes consisting of shooting lasers from their turntables. This sequence mixes animated backgrounds and characters with live action footage of the DJs in a smooth and convincing way. The opportunity to catch these masters in the act is excellent. It helps ground the film. Even though the soundtrack drives the story and the characters, this one peek at the creation of the sounds fills in the blanks.

From old school video game graphics to modern animation techniques, the visuals of Wave Twisters match the constantly shifting sounds of QBert's production. His style is incredibly sophisticated and complex, but is also filled with a furious speed and rhythm when needed. He has the ability to develop each character with tempo and pacing, solely through his music. That the animators were able to match his skills is really impressive.

The full screen video is excellent. The colors are bright and energetic, the image is crisp, especially considering how densely packed with information most of the frames are, and the detail is strong. QBert and the animators envisioned a wild, visual world and this presentation communicates that expertly.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is excellent. The film features a 5.1 mix of DJ QBert's stereo album, created by Joel Jaffe, touted on the disc as one of the top surround mixers out there. The mix is energetic and has tremendous range and life. Some sequences feature strong, booming bass, while others use high-pitched noises to great effect. It's only fitting that this disc would feature such good use of sound.

There is something especially funny about the subtitles (which are available in English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Russian, Polish, Swedish, and Finnish): They reflect the scratching, in all its stuttering, repetitive glory. It's a fun read.

This is one loaded disc. First, there's a pretty lengthy making of video that covers every step of making the piece in detail. The animators and musicians are interviewed and many of them offer tutorials in how they do their work. It's a terrific piece.

A commentary track from DJ Qbert and some of the lead animators on the project.

film-to-animatic sequences are available that illustrate the process of going from rough animated storyboards to the finished sequences. Assorted other animated tests and character sketches are also available.

The live action DJ sequences are presented here in the original green screen location format, but with five angles each, so the user can cut around from lose-ups of the DJs' flying fingers to wide shots. A very cool feature.

A trailer for Wave Twisters is available, as is one for Scratch, although the latter it looks like it was downloaded off the web which is a shame since Scratch is a beautiful looking film.

There is something bold and ingenious in the works of these wily DJ's. Musicians like QBert and his crew use such disparate elements - not just old James Brown loops - to create entirely new works that transcend genre and categorization. By teaming up with the animators here QBert has opened up the opportunity to create something really unique and, even though not every plot element is fresh, the overall effect is to design a bright, eye-catching, ear-catching whole that should attract a wide range of viewers.

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