First up is 1989's Dead Zone. Pint-sized and power-mad Garlic Jr. is eyeing world domination, and he already has a big stack of dragon balls at his nubby little fingertips. Only a few stray balls remain between him and a wish for eternal life and untold power from the great dragon Shen Long, and since Goku's tyke Gohan has one of them nestled on his head, Garlic Jr. sends his thugs to grab the kid and bring him back to his fortress. That's...yeah, pretty much where any trace of plot ends, with the rest of the barely forty minute movie careening from one brawl to the next as Goku and his friends mount a rescue and square off against a nearly omnipotent Garlic Jr.
Okay, even though Dead Zone is the first movie in the Dragon Ball Z franchise, neither it nor The World's Strongest bothers with any exposition or setup. They both kind of dive right in -- no explanation about who the characters are, what they're after, or even what dragon balls are, exactly -- and Dragon Ball Z neophytes are probably going to be hopelessly lost. Really, though, that kind of incoherence is a big part of Dead Zone's charm. I mean, the first twenty seconds of the movie open with the beginning, middle, and end of a fight scene. Goku leaps out of a river nekkid with a twenty ton fish in his hand, and he later fights off the badniks with a bo staff that can stretch two and a half miles. You're also looking at Gohan munching on boozy apples and accidentally peeing on Krillen mid-fight, a wish-granting dragon, a rift in time and space that just suddenly appears with no real setup, songs about a dinosaur balancing on a ball and an alien that smells like nuts... Coherent...? Not so much, but Dead Zone is hysterically over the top and never really ever stops to catch its breath, cramming together one massive battle sequence after another for just about every last second of its 41 minute runtime.
1990's The World's Strongest makes
Because Uiro's henchguy didn't think to just wish that his brain be plunked into the mightiest fighter around, they kidnap the strongest man they happen to have on record. 'Course, their files are a half century old, and the kinda wizened Master Roshi isn't really up to the challenge these days. Roshi explains that Goku now holds the mantle of the strongest man alive, but Uiro doesn't even have to send any of this thugs to kidnap him because...hey, there's Goku stormin' the fortress now. A few of Goku's friends and family join him in the fight, but just because Uiro is a disembodied brain doesn't mean he's harmless, and he's armed with his own heavy arsenal, a small army of superpowered androids, and a...gasp! brainwashed secret weapon.
Really, I don't need to belt out some long, rambling review. If you've waded through that recap and haven't already mashed the 'Back' button on your web browser a couple dozen times, you'll probably dig this Dragon Ball Z double feature. Nah, I can't really argue that either of them are great, profound works of art, but for goofy, borderline-incoherent fun and crank-it-up-to-11 ridiculous action, Dead Zone and The World's Strongest are pretty tough to top. Recommended.
Video: Both Dead Zone and The World's Strongest were originally animated at 4x3, but even though some of that animation has been lost in these matted transfers, that should accurately reflect how they were screened theatrically in Japan. The framing generally seems comfortable at 1.78:1, especially throughout The World's Strongest. There were a couple of short stretches in Dead Zone that struck me as kind of tight -- and that's on a display with zero overscan -- such as a fight scene where three badniks line up but one or two of 'em have their heads cropped out of the frame.
Shrugging off any aspect ratio arguments for a minute, Dragon Ball Z looks pretty slick in high-def. Its bright colors pop off the screen, and black levels are mostly deep and inky. The line work isn't as ridiculously crisp as more recent animated fare, but it's reasonably sharp...enough to make it a noticeable step-up over what I'd expect out of a standard definition DVD. The liner notes boast about some of the digital noise reduction that was applied, and maybe that's why some of the linework does look kind of processed and the texture of the image is somewhat waxy. The original film grain thankfully hasn't been completely smeared away, though, and it's worth noting that what's left is rarely intrusive. Light speckling and even a few cigarette burns are frequently visible, but neither are remotely heavy enough to distract.
The English TrueHD soundtracks pack much more of a wallop, of course. The newly recorded voice acting is crystal clear, and with so many characters flinging themselves around, megaton blasts of I-don't-know-what devouring every square inch of the screen, and the bad guys' fortresses crumbling into ruin, it kind of goes without saying that these mixes are much, much more aggressive. It's kind of nice to see the English audio paired with both the American music and the original Japanese score, and the differences can really stand out. For instance, The World's Strongest climaxes with an outer space battle set against a carnival-like oompa beat -- I half-expected a monkey to be turning a crank just off-frame -- while the Americanized version is more subdued and ominous.
I appreciate the fact that FUNimation opted to give viewers a choice of so many different soundtracks, and fans can't go wrong either way. The optional English subtitles are true subs, by the way, not dubtitles.
Extras: There's really only one extra of note on this double feature: an audio commentary over Dead Zone: The Movie with Chuck Huber (Garlic Jr.) and
The disc opens with a forced trailer for Vexille, and additional trailers for Ragnarok, XXXholic, more Dragon Ball Z releases, The Galaxy Railways, Blue Gender, Glass Fleet, and Fullmetal Alchemist round out the extras. All are in standard definition except for a high-def plug for the next Dragon Ball Z double feature.
Conclusion: This Dragon Ball Z double feature is a heckuva lot of fun, fat-packed with a couple hundred thousand motion lines, cacklingly over the top action, and a deliriously incoherent sense of humor. It doesn't seem like this'd be an essential upgrade over the DVD set, but for Dragon Ball Z neophytes or fans who never made the plunge on DVD, this double feature is worth picking up on Blu-ray. Recommended.
Related Reviews: DVD Talk's also tackled FUNimation's Broly double feature along with another take on this Blu-ray set.