Movie: I watch a lot of animated shows and have done so for many years. For all the complaints by those who don't like the genre, I've found a lot to like in the multitude of styles and stories I've had the good fortune to see. Perhaps the biggest problem with such shows is that they are far too often designed solely for children, leaving adults to suffer through the weaker shows as the chaperone (after all, we're the ones to bring the kids to the movies or want to watch the shows with our kids in order to be responsible adults). Having just reviewed a show relying on computer graphics rather than the more traditional cell format, Beast Wars, one that was made long ago in terms of technological advances, I was treated to see a new release, Bionicle: Mask Of Light: The Movie.
The movie is based on the comic book series, which in turn is based on a set of children's toys put out by LEGO. It is the first of a series of such movies that expand on the legends established in the books with a few additions, and subtractions, in order to take advantage of the aspects a feature film allows. Before you write off the movie as one big advertisement for the toys, which was almost certainly part of the tie-in nature of the show (just like every other children's release in the last 20+ years), read on.
In the movie, it is explained that the story takes place in a completely alien world on an island. On that island, there are a number of villages, each with it's own protector (Toa) with all of the residents sharing a common heritage. The residents are robotic, rather than human, yet are very much made in the form of humans with all the weaknesses and strengths included. They can be hurt, even die, and show all the common emotions organic beings display.
The show focused on two young residents of the world, both given to misadventures as youth are want to do. While in a volcanic cavern, they stumble across a mask of power, one that could lead to the fulfilling of an ancient prophecy, and help fight off a powerful, and very evil, being. As it stands, the forces of good and evil are continually fighting to a near standstill and the mask may be the key to the forces of light prevailing. After a short expositional scene, the two youngsters are sent off to find the missing Toa that will wear the mask, and the forces of evil pursue them. After numerous close calls, the duo finds that the significance of such missions is due in part because of the danger. If there were no danger, the mission wouldn't be important. The characters face a number of challenges and meet many of the series' regulars during their journey, until the final confrontation at the end.
Okay, the CGI animation looked exceptionally crisp and clear given the limitations of the technology but light-years ahead of shows like Beast Wars or Scourge Of Worlds which is natural. The use of lighting, shadows, a variety of effects and camera angles all combined to make this look really advanced by comparison to most animation styles. In the commentary track, the two directors spoke at length about the way so many of the visual aspects were considered in an effort to push the boundaries of the art. The audio was also taken care of with a solid mix between the vocals and score as well as the sound effects.
The technical aspects covered, what about the story and characters you ask? The storyline was solid enough to carry the movie as a stand-alone project although fans more familiar with the series will get more out of it. The writing was good enough in terms of character development too. Making full use of the skill of the voice actors, the parts allowed the characters to grow, making the show far more tolerable than average for such a show. As an adult, I thought there were some darker themes that might not be suitable for the youngest of children but it wasn't so bad that most kids wouldn't be okay with it. The show borrowed heavily from a variety of sources too in this sense with homage's to the Lord Of The Rings, Ray Harryhausen, and a host of other fantasy-related players from years gone by.
On the down side, the show did rely pretty heavily on the material that had taken place before it. If you haven't read the books, played with the toys or the computer/video games, you'll be at a disadvantage here. As an introduction to the Bionicle Universe, the movie certainly served as a good entry point but it left enough material assumed to make me uncomfortable with rating this as anything higher than Recommended. Fans will consider it a must have though so check it out if this is your type of show. Even an adult such as myself found plenty to enjoy here and I'm guessing kids will be enthralled.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen. It looked visually stunning with minimal grain and only a few artifacts.
Sound: The audio was presented with an option for either a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or DTS English track. Both of the tracks sounded very crisp and clear with captions provided for the hearing impaired.
Extras: The disc included a lot of extras. There was a director's commentary with the two directors describing some of the background of the show as well as technical aspects of it's making. There was a short feature on the making of the movie, which lasted over 9 minutes and had scenes from the show with interviews of the creative staff. There was a section where you could click on various parts of a map (for the island, Mata Nui) and learn more about them, a "Wall Of History" feature that would allow background information to appear on the screen as you watch the movie, trailers, a sneak peek into the next movie, some deleted footage with optional commentary, a storyboard to film comparison, and even a translation chart for the various letters (which allows you to find hidden messages in the movie), and finally, there was a catalog for some of the Bionicle line.
Final Thoughts: The show was entertaining and had plenty of replay value for kids. The extras were solid and the animation style itself very advanced (Pixar could learn a few lessons here). The themes of Unity, Duty, and Destiny were interestingly woven into the show and I think kids, as well as some adults, will enjoy watching this one. Granted, most of the ground the movie covers has been done before but friends suggest that this is the case with all works of fiction (and I believe them).