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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Collector's Edition
Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Collector's Edition
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG // January 29, 2002
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 5, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

In the last few years, computer animation has made leaps and bounds to the point where we're presented with smoothly digital characters in cartoons like "Shrek". The only problem is, has this spoiled audiences towards traditional animation? The only traditionally animated effort that I've been impressed by was Fox's "Titan A.E.", a "Star Wars"-ish feature that did a very nice job of combining CGI and Don Bluth's wonderful traditional animation.

Disney's "Atlantis" does stick with the traditional animation, but jumps the usual "Disney" formula by dropping the animated "sidekicks" and usual Disney songs that populate their features. The result, coming from "Beauty and the Beast" animators Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, is a mixed affair, with some fairly exciting action sequences at the begining and the end, but really not a whole lot in the middle of it all.

The film revolves around Milo Thatch(Michael J. Fox), a young lad who has always tried to prove that the lost city of Atlantis exists. His grandfather tried to find it, and now the mission is in his hands - if only he can convince anyone to believe him. An eccentric businessman offers him the means to get to where he thinks the lost city is and a crew to go with him, lead by a millitary officer played by James Garner, he's also followed by a demolitions expert, truck driver and others. Although Milo is supposedly smart, it takes him an awfully long time to figure out that the intentions of his fellow crew members are not for the best.

After an exciting attack sequence with a monster who guards the opening to Atlanis, there's a suprisingly long journey before the group actually arrives there. Once there, the usual elements fall into place. Milo falls for the Princess of Atlanis, Princess Kida (Cree Summer), who is arguing with her father about the future of the colony. Where the film's trailer made "Atlantis" look like an action picture, there's a long stretch in the middle where the group is trying to find out the city's secret that really doesn't move along the way it should.

It's all capped off with a pretty terrific action sequence that finishes things off. So, we're left with a film that looks fairly good for traditional animation, has a couple of decent action sequences and not a whole lot else. The actors providing the voices do a pretty respectable job, but the highlights of the group are Fox as Thatch and Don Novello, who gets all of the movie's best comedic lines.

I appreciated the lack of the usual Disney accessories in the form of songs and sidekicks, but I was suprised that there was some considerable violence in the film - a couple of the younger children in the audience had to be taken out for a little while after being scared by some of the more intense sequences. It's an entertaining enough way to pass the time for 90 minutes out of a Summer day, but it certainly doesn't have the energy of some of the studio's recent fare like "Tarzan" and it's not nearly as entertaining as "Shrek".


VIDEO: This basic edition of "Atlantis" offers the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen on disc one - thankfully, this release dumps the pan & scan version that the widescreen version shares space with on the basic DVD edition. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen edition is a superb effort from Disney, presenting the terrific mix of traditional and computer animation with remarkable sharpness and detail. The slightest traces of pixelation during a few moments are the only flaws in what is otherwise a marvelous presentation. No print problems or other signs of trouble were spotted. Colors were the most pleasing part of the image throughout the film - "Atlantis" boasted a rich and vivid, although slightly dark, color palette that looked outstanding in all aspects. There's not much to discuss about Disney's effort here, which is a good thing - this is excellent work.

SOUND: The sound design of "Atlantis" was done by Gary Rydstrom, who many DVD enthusiasts will be familiar with, due to his work on such films as "The Haunting", "Toy Story 2" and the impressively detailed, yet subtle sound for "Legend Of Bagger Vance". "Atlantis" is an exciting sound experience, although it can only work with what it has. The film's middle section does not provide as much in the way of agressive sound effects because there's simply not enough going on. On both sides though - begining and end - there are some incredible sequences that really have the surrounds working overtime, such as the underwater attack early on. The soundtrack also provides strong bass at several points. While not a consistently agressive soundtrack, Rydstrom continues his wonderful work putting the viewer into the middle of each sequence, whether it be a quiet moment or a battle scene.

This Collector's Edition of the picture contains both the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that the basic edition boasted, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. I listened to the DTS edition on this presentation and instantly felt differently while watching than the Dolby Digital experience on the basic edition. The differences are not night-and-day, but I felt they were pretty noticable, nonetheless. Sequences like the underwater attack early on had a stronger sense of depth and envelopment; sound effects came in with greater presence and authority and bass seemed stronger, as well. The Dolby Digital presentation of the soundtrack was perfectly satisfactory, but I really felt that the DTS was considerably more enjoyable overall.

MENUS: The animated menus are quite well-done, but it's the menus for the second disc of features that are really special. The animation for the "explore" option is terrific, but the fact that the navigation gives the viewer two other ways to view the features is much appreciated.


Commentary/Visual Commentary: This is a commentary from directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who are joined by producer Don Hahn. The commentary is quite enjoyable, as the three provide a good mixture of fun discussion about their opinions of their work and some light technical details about how the animation was completed. I really liked this track and felt it was a nice balance of pleasant joking about the final product and nice detail about the story, characters and animation. The three do make some bad jokes, although they're bad enough to be funny. While this commentary track is simply a basic commentary on the movie-only disc, this Collector's Edition of the picture adds a "visual" element into the mix. Viewers have the option of watching the visual commentary, which means that, at several points throughout the picture, the film stops and we are presented with outtakes, concept art and other elements, then taken back to the picture and audio discussion. This is a nicely done way of presenting this feature, as similar features always make the viewer jump for the remote to click on a logo to activate the new information.

Atlantis: Fact Or Fiction This is a section that provides additional clips about different historical facts related to Atlantis and other areas.

Also On Disc One: THX Optimizer and ads for other Disney features.

Second Disc: The second disc opens with an old-fashioned animated introduction, then presents the viewer with three options: file, explore and tour. File presents the user with simple text listings of the supplements included within. Explore is the same thing, only with additional animated menus. Tour puts all of these extras together and presents them as a whole feature that lasts just short of two hours. Most impressive is that not only are these featurettes/documentaries more substancial than those found on previous Disney special editions, most of them are presented in anamorphic widescreen.

The Journey Begins: This is a nine-minute documentary that provides insights from many of the main animators of the picture about how the project got started. This piece starts off the "History" section.

Creating Mythology: This eight-minute documentary provides an interesting look at the research that the filmmakers did for the picture, as well as what they "created" for the story that they were about to tell.

Shepard's Journal: The next three sections in this area discuss one of the most important pieces of the story; one section provides an animated look at the book itself, another one provides additional text while the final one offers concept art.

How To Speak Atlantean: A fun little featurette on translations between English and Atlantean. This little supplement ends the "History" area.

Finding The Story: This eleven-minute documentary leads off the "Story and Editorial" section. It provides thoughts from the film's directors as well as the writers and some of the animation staff. It's a very interesting discussion, trying to show how the development process of the story of an animation feature is considerably more difficult to pull together than a live-action picture. We also learn more about some of the early concepts for the picture that didn't make it into the final film. This featurette compresses a lot of information nicely into a small package; I learned a fair deal about the process of building an animated feature that I didn't previously know.

Deleted Scenes: A deleted (although fully completed) sequence that shows Vikings unsuccessfully trying to find Atlantis. It's interesting to watch, but it's not particularly necessary. That scene is also available on the regular, movie-only DVD edition of the DVD. On the Collector's Edition DVD of the film, that sequence moves to the second disc and it is joined by three other sequences that are interesting, but not fully completed. While these sequences would have added action (specifically Lava Whales, Land Beasts and Squid Bats) and thrills to the film, it was making the journey to Atlantis take considerably too long.

Original Treatment: The original story treatment in text form is the final supplement included in the "Story and Editorial" section.

Designing "Atlantis": This documentary leads off the "Art Direction" section. It provides insight from the directors and animators about the attempts to define a style for both Atlantis and its characters.

Galleries: Also included in this section are several galleries focusing on the different locations of the film, including "Washington, DC", "The Mothership", "Aboard The Ulysses", "The Road To Atlantis", "The City", "The King's Chamber", "The Crystal Chamber" and an additional gallery of designs by comic artist Mike Mignola.

Art Direction Style Guide: Ending off this section is the style guide, which provides animators a key to the look of the characters and backgrounds.

The Voices of Atlantis: This documentary kicks off the "Animation Production" area. The directors and actors provide their thoughts about both providing the voices for the characters as well as how those actors fit the characters. Rather than being promotional, this piece actually provided some fun looks at the actors recording dialogue and some fairly insightful interviews.

Creating the Characters: This documentary provides the thoughts of the directors and animators about the process of taking characters from still drawings and fleshing them out to give them further details, even taking from watching the actions of the actors who are voicing the characters while they record dialogue. This section also talks more about the process of cleaning up and adding to the basic animation.

Setting The Scene: Where "Creating the Characters" discussed the process of the bringing the characters to life, "Setting The Scene" is a documentary about taking those characters and providing the layouts and backgrounds for the characters to be in. This also involves where the audience perspective is in the particular sequence. Also, this featurette discusses the many positive aspects of producing an animated feature like this one in 2.35:1 widescreen.

Galleries: Next are two galleries, providing "Layouts and Backgrounds" as well as "Color Scripts".

Characters: This section is split into several areas, each covering a different character. Milo, for example, shows the characters Dossier file, design concepts, animation tests and also offers a multi-angle production progression demonstration, which shows the rough animation, cleanup animation and final color. The rest of the character areas show their dossier, design concepts and most show animation tests.

Digital Production: This documentary about the use of computers in the animation process for "Atlantis" kicks off the final section dealing with the animation itself. We hear and see more about how the 3D computer animation blended with the more traditional forms of animation. It's an easy-to-understand discussion of how these old and new-fashioned ways of working for the animators come together to form a visually interesting landscape and characters.

Digital Production Tests: This featurette offers director Kirk Wise discussing and showing the tests that the animators did that combine traditional animation with computer generated elements. Interestingly, we are also shown tests that didn't work of ideas that didn't end up in the film.

Vehicles: This section offers areas for the vehicles of the film; each section has concept art, digital production presentations and turn-arounds (views from all around the object).

Music And Sound: This section is simply one documentary, but it's an interesting one. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom discusses the job of a sound designer on an animated film like this one, where he's working with a blank canvas where he can create "the sound" for all of the fictional elements. It's also interesting to hear what real-life elements made up the sounds. The second half of the documentary visits composer James Newton Howard while he comes up with the score for particular scenes in the film.

Trailers: Four trailers from the film are offered, some of which seem to give a hint of why the film might not have done as well as it could. The early teaser trailers for the picture give it a very sleek tone or make it seem like a consistently action-driven picture when it's not either. The main trailers don't quite spark, either. Also in the publicity section are the poster/print ads for the film.

Atlantis Found: Last, but not least, almost all of the participants come together in this documentary that first shows the directors at the "Atlantis" premiere, then offers interviews with the animators as they sum up their feelings about working on the film. It's a nice way to end out the disc.

Final Thoughts: "Atlantis" is enjoyable, but a bit on the bland side and not as enjoyable as the other main children's fare that was released in 2001. Disney's Special Edition of the feature is an impressive 2-DVD set, offering stellar audio/video quality, including the DTS track, which I felt was an improvement over the Dolby Digital presentation. The Special Edition also certainly shines in the area of supplements, as the supplements are not only substancial and interesting, but incredibly easy to navigate. Highly recommended.
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