When both G.I. Joe and The Transformers proved to be massive after school hits for Hasbro when the animated series' debuted in the eighties, it only made sense that each series would receive an animated theatrical release to cash in on the success of their respective TV series'. G.I. Joe: The Movie, directed by Don Jurwich, debuted on screens around the world in 1987 and while it wasn't exactly considered a masterpiece of animated entertainment, it rightfully found its fan base.
The movie starts off with a bang, as the instantly recognizable opening theme song from the TV series blares at us and thrusts us head first into a battle between G.I. Joe and the evil forces of Cobra squaring off at the Statue of Liberty. The results of this battle wind up with Serpentor putting Cobra Commander on trial for screwing up and not doing his job all that well. Before the trial can really get moving, however, a bizarre woman named Pythona shows up, claiming to be from the land of Cobra-La and seeking the aid of Serpentor in her quest to retrieve the BET (Broadcast Energy Transmitter), an energy creating device that could allow Cobra to finally rule the world. Cobra-La, if you didn't already know, was essentially a bizarre city-state under an ice dome full of evil bugs and was the birth place of Cobra Commander and Serpentor. The baddies at Cobra figure they can use the BET to send some spores into the Earth's atmosphere that will destroy mankind as we know it
Meanwhile, somewhere innocuous and snowy, the Joe team are testing the very same BET that Cobra so desperately wants to get their hands on. Cobra attacks, and in the ensuing battle, team leader Duke gets seriously injured and if that weren't bad enough, the leader of Cobra-La, Golobulus (Burgess Meredith) has got a heavy hitter named Nemesis Enforcer on his side. Cobra is seriously bringing their A-game this time around, but thankfully for all of humanity, Duke and his brother, Falcon (Don Johnson), have got a whole bunch of brand new Joe's on their side to help them stop Cobra before it's too late. Some of the more notable newbies include a female Asian martial arts expert named Jinx, a tough guy who doesn't talk named, an underground specialist guy named Tunnel Rat, a do-gooder named Law and his pet dog, a guy named Big Lob and last but not least, Sgt. Slaughter and his Renegades, made up of Mercer, Red Dog and Taurus.
The most common complaint about G.I. Joe: The Movie is that it was basically a feature length advertisement for a bunch of new toys, and that's a pretty valid and obvious complaint to make. It's hard to deny that the new Joe's are put front and center as a means to make the intended children's audience bug their parents for the new figures, vehicles and accessories that were made available on store shelves around the same time that this movie came out. The movie was also meant to tie together the second and third seasons of the show, but since the third season of the show never happened, that aspect of it doesn't really work and so the movie just kind of stands alone, focusing on newer characters that we don't really care about as much as the more established ones who are really just tooling around in the background.
The movie does deserve credit for trying to branch out a bit from the formulaic TV series, however. This is G.I. Joe on a much larger scale than anything that had come before it, and it's also a fair bit more violent and quite a bit darker than the animated series it was spun off of. Duke was originally supposed to die after what happens to him in the movie (the original script included with the extras confirms this) but because of fan backlash to what happened to Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie this was changed and he instead simply falls into a coma.
The animation in the film is pretty decent by the standards of the day. It's more effective and a bit more realistic than the television series and while it looks dated in this day and age of Pixar and Dreamworks animated titles, it still looks pretty decent in its own right. The plot, however, is completely ludicrous even by the sensational standards of the franchise. The whole 'Cobra-La' subplot is interesting in that it lets us know that there's more to Cobra than just Cobra Commander and his cockamamie plans and that there is in fact a more sinister force at work, but it doesn't quite come together the way that it should. On top of that, Cobra-La is a dumb name. The emphasis on the Falcon character is decent enough and Don Johnson doesn't do a bad job with the voice work at all, but it's hard not to watch the movie and wish we had Flint or Duke in the lead instead. The introduction of Sgt. Slaughter and his crew is pretty cool, especially when Slaughter takes on Nemesis Enforcer, the fight scene that, opening sequence notwithstanding, is absolutely the high point of the film.
Logic gaps and blatant 'KEY KIDS BUY NOW' advertising aside, G.I. Joe: The Movie is still entertaining enough. It moves at a pretty quick pace and although not every one of its action sequences if mind blowing or even all that inspired, it definitely delivers all the action and adventure a ten year old kid in the eighties could want. It's a fun movie, if a flawed one, and if the inevitable nostalgia rush it's sure to provide makes it hard to look at it objectively, so be it. Children of the eighties will appreciate this one on its own merits.
G.I. Joe arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. How does it look? It's not bad. It's not perfect, mind you, but it's not bad at all. Colors tend to look quite good and the bolder and brighter hues really stand out here but they don't impress the way a more modern animated feature might. There's a fair bit of film grain present on the picture and some really mild print damage here and there but there aren't any problems with compression artifacts to note nor is there really any obvious edge enhancement. Detail is improved over the DVD version (also included, fullframe) in pretty much every way but there's still only going to be so much you can do with this movie. It looks like the eighties animated feature that it is, and you can't really fault Shout! for that at all. Those accustomed to the film's visuals should be pleased with the high definition transfer.
The only audio option on the disc is a Linear PCM 2.0 48kHz 1.5 Mbps track that actually sounds pretty good. There's a fair bit of noticeable channel separation throughout the movie, with the left and right channels used well as far as directionality goes. Levels are well balanced and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion. A lossless surround mix would have been fun, what with all the battle sequences that are scattered throughout the movie, but what's here is pretty good. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow, which is good because there are no alternate tracks or subtitles provided.
First up is a commentary track with story consultant Buzz Dixon, who is quite frank and honest about the film's positives and negatives. He talks quite earnestly about his involvement on the film and about what he feels works and what he feels doesn't work quite so well. He's got some interesting stories to tell about his involvement on the picture and talks about some of the story ideas that were originally intended to be used for the film and which were eventually tossed and used in the animated series instead. He also speaks quite frankly about which characters he feels are strong and interesting and which ones don't work at all in the 'Joe Universe.' He slows the talk down now and then and isn't constantly bombarding us with facts and trivia, but for the most part he keeps it going at a good pace and fans of the film and the animated series alike should enjoy this quite a bit.
The Blu-ray disc also includes a collection of the still enjoyable G.I. Joe Public Service Announcements, the likes of which have cause an entire generation of kids to use the catchphrase 'knowing is half the battle' far more often than they should have the right to. As corny as these are, they're still going to provide a huge nostalgia rush for anyone who remembers the original animated series and it's nice to see them included here. A still gallery and some snazzy menus are also included.
The Blu-ray release is a combo pack, and so it also includes a DVD version of the movie. The transfer on the DVD is fullframe, so those who want that format have got it. The extras are identical to those found on the Blu-ray disc, but the DVD does include the film's script in PDF format that you can access through your DVD-Rom.
This isn't a reference quality release by any stretch but it does definitely offer a nice upgrade to the previous out of print standard definition release that came out years back. The inclusion of the commentary and public service announcements is a nice touch and while G.I. Joe: The Movie may not be the be all, end all of Blu-ray releases, it should please the film's fans and it comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.