THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The "DEMO" scene is one that is probably unfamiliar to most folks as it was to me before watching Mindcandy Volume 1: PC Demos. Mostly European, Demo artists take the computer technology most often used to make video games and create their own music video-style presentations that combine surreal imagery, trance or rave-style music and snarky sloganeering. The thing that distinguishes Demos from standard art-video projects is that they utilize each computer's ability to render out the animations live. As some of the participants in the Mindcandy DVD point out, the difference between Demos and animation is like the difference between theater and film.
Of course, that's not a totally accurate distinction because in theater the actors are creating the work live while in Demos the work of the artists is finished and only the computer is sweating it out in real-time. (I guess if you think of the Demo artists as the authors and the computer as the cast, but whatever...) Still, it's an interesting discipline that has, by the fact that computers aren't designed with Demo-making in mind, created an opportunity for innovation throughout the years.
The Mindcandy DVD is split into two sections, one on each side of the disc. Side one features a selection of Demos from the late nineties and early naughties. The second side features samples from the golden age of Demos, the eighties and early nineties. The difference is pretty dramatic. During those earlier times Demos were mostly 2D affairs with graphics similar to the video games of the Amiga or Commodore variety. The limited color spectrum and jerky text scrolls are charming and funny, as are the incredibly immature phrases that pop up on the screen, usually proclaiming the artists as the best around and bragging about their kick-ass text scrolling. The later Demos, however, are far more slick and nuanced, with complex graphics and transitions, made all the more impressive by the fact that the computers they were made to run on were rendering them in real-time.
This, however, points to the one major thematic flaw of Mindcandy. While the Demos originally ran on PCs and part of the fun was the risk of them crashing the machines or not working at all, the Demos presented here have been transferred to video and DVD and are now, really, not much different than any old Mind's Eye-style animation. Sure, you can still appreciate the millions of lines of code that were written to make each piece run but some of the original thrill is lost in the translation. Still, there's no way around that and Mindcandy is a good museum for these strange, quirky, and sometimes beautiful pieces.
The full-frame video, taken directly from computer, looks excellent. A standard definition TV can't compete with a computer monitor for resolution and purists can probably track lost detail but overall the colorful, chaotic images look fine.
The Dolby audio is also fine and aficionados of this music will probably be in heaven. I find it repetitive and unimaginative, but that's a taste thing. It is well-produced. The earliest Demos, however, have hilarious Ghosts N' Goblins-style soundtracks, filled with beeps and boops. Classic stuff.
There are two extras that make Mindcandy far more than just a collection of animations. The first is the commentary track from the creators of the DVD that runs through every Demo. While it's hardly the most mind-blowing commentary ever committed to disc (the guys are definitely in their own little world of computer expertise, with most observations sounding like "There're lots of circles in this one.") but the information and insight are invaluable to any newbie looking for an introduction to Demos. Similarly, a behind-the-scenes segment featuring interviews with some top Demo artists is excellent for explaining what it is exactly that makes a Demo worth watching.
Mindcandy explores a world that most viewers probably aren't familiar with. And even though the context is buried in the extras, the DVD does a good job of explaining what it is that makes these things worthwhile.