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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Firebreather (Blu-ray)
Firebreather (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG // March 22, 2011 // Region Free
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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Ugh. High school. Tell me about it! Being tormented by bullies...the girl of your dreams standing just out of reach...being snickered at just because your complexion's a little scalier and
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more orange than everyone else...drawing weird looks when you start scarfing down charcoal briquettes for lunch...we've all been there, right? Right? Well, Duncan Rosenblatt is a little different than the rest of us. Duncan's mom looks normal enough, sure, but his father is Belloc -- King of the Kaiju! A 120 foot behemoth who led his fellow Godzilla-types into an epic battle against mankind! The Kaiju have been out of sight and mostly out of mind since Duncan was born. The government spooks in MEGTAF have been keeping a very watchful eye on Duncan ever since, but the feds aren't monsters. They allow him to mix in public school with the rest of us, and his latest high school might be the best fit yet! After all, in the Jersey Shore era, having orange skin means he kinda fits right in.

Things go sour pretty quickly. I mean, Duncan humiliates himself in front of his shiny, new crush -- a blonde bombshell named Jenna. Her meathead ex-boyfriend Troy tries to pummel him into the ground, and that's no fun for anyone. Oh, and then mini-monsters start swarming the school. Um, Duncan clues in that he can breathe fire. His dad storms over to a house party to drag him home, which wouldn't be all that strange if his father weren't over a hundred feet tall and hadn't trashed a couple city blocks in the process. And talk about corporal punishment! Dragons don't ground their kids; they throw 'em into molten lava and warn them about in-fighting among the Kaiju for control over what's left of their race. Actually, that's just Bellac's way of prepping Duncan for what's to come. The war between humans and Kaiju has been dormant for sixteen years, but it's about to be sparked again, and should he fall, Bellac wants Duncan to be prepared to take his place. Geez. Kind of a lot to heap on a sixteen year old. I don't know what's stressing him out more: being caught in the crossfire of warring dragons or asking his dream girl out to Homecoming.

I really do want to like Firebreather. After all, it's based on a comic written by the more-than-a-little-bit awesome Phil Hester, and this adaptation is directed by Peter Chung of Aeon Flux fame. Part of the problem is that it's not really the movie it pretends to be. No, it's
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a pilot for a new TV show in disguise. Firebreather just feels incomplete. The movie teases at a lot of character stuff but steps away from just about all of it, dangling threads to be explored later in the season. I guess they're saving the war for the season finale, and this is just the first episode. There's all sorts of chatter about the coming war between mankind and the Kaiju, and that never comes either. A couple of giant monsters squabble over who gets to lead the Kaiju, and the sleepy little desert town where Duncan has set up shop gets caught in the middle. The whole thing seems really rushed too. Since you don't get a chance to really get to know these people, most of the characters come across as two-dimensional cardboard cutouts copied-and-pasted from tvtropes.org. It's a kind of awesome change of pace that everyone knows about the Kaiju -- that a race of hundred foot tall dragons haven't somehow been kept a secret for hundreds and hundreds of years the way a lot of sci-fi/fantasy stories would've told it -- but the mythology is mostly glossed over. That conflict, how civilization's been reeling over the past decade and a half, pretty much everything with MEGTAF...all that's tossed out to make way for lots of mopey teenage angst.

It's not that Firebreather is bad or anything...it just feels like something I've seen many, many times before, and I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that about the comic it's based on. The "movie" feels like such a tease for a TV series that it's kind of shaky when left standing on its own -- rushed and incomplete. The human character designs aren't as exaggerated or inspired as I'd expect from director Peter Chung, although the much more inventive looking Kaiju more than make up for it. The character designs may not scream "Peter Chung!", but the direction otherwise certainly does. Even though Firebreather is dragged down by a really light budget and some surprisingly choppy animation, it frequently still looks great thanks to Chung's choices of extreme, unconventional angles. As you'd probably hope for in a movie with a firebreathing dragon hybrid, hundred foot-plus tall creatures, and military might that's spent sixteen years waiting to flex its muscles, there's a lot of action, and that's all extremely well done.

Firebreather is a pretty decent way to kill sixtysomething minutes, but it's too routine to really recommend shelling out any money to buy, especially since it doesn't feel like much of a movie in the first place. Rent It.

At least up to a point, Firebreather looks about as good as its lean made-for-TV budget allows. The computer-rendered animation is definitely crisp, showing off a pretty nice sense of texture and detail, and its colors also pack a wallop. The downside is...well, the same thing that creeps into pretty much all of Warner's animated titles. Firebreather's AVC encode is saddled with an anemic bitrate, and the image is littered with compression artifacts, posterization, and very heavy banding. Expand the image below up to full-size for one case-in-point. That's a particular nasty shot, sure, but you'll see similar hiccups in all the other screengrabs scattered across this review too. If you have a smallish TV or sit really far away, you'll probably never notice, but otherwise...yikes! Very sloppy authoring.
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Firebreather is dished out on a single-layer Blu-ray disc but leaves about half of the space available completely untouched. That's...probably why the compression's such a trainwreck. Go figure! The movie's presented on Blu-ray at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Firebreather is packing a soundtrack with some impressively cinematic specs -- 24-bit, six-channel Dolby TrueHD audio -- but it still sounds like a movie made for the small screen. Don't get me wrong, though: the voice acting is wonderfully clean and clear, and the score fills every speaker at its fingertips. Like a lot of made-for-TV stuff, the audio is very heavily weighted up front overall. Sometimes a character will dash from the surround channels to the front mains, and the action scenes open up with effects like volleys of missiles raining down, but otherwise, it's all light atmosphere and music. I get that pretty much everyone tuning into Firebreather will be listening to it in stereo, and I guess the folks at the mixing board realized that too and didn't put all that much effort into fleshing out the surrounds. Bass response is passable but lighter than I'd hope for in a movie with 120 foot monsters stomping around, stacks of heavy artillery, and...why not?...an avalanche. My kneejerk reaction is that the audio sounds kinda thin overall. Fine but underwhelming.

No dubs or downmixes this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) only.

Not much. There are
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only around fifteen minutes of extras in all, and it's closer to two minutes if you're not all that into storyboards and image galleries.
  • Deleted Scene (1 min.; HD): There's one really short deleted scene between Duncan and his mom leading up to the homecoming dance. I guess it got the axe really late in the game since it's fully animated and everything.

  • 2D Animation Test (1 min.; HD): The best of the extras on this disc may clock in under a minute and a half, but it's still kind of amazing. Some kaiju walloping is animated in Peter Chung's instantly recognizable Aeon Flux style. It does seem kind of...intense?...for something airing in primetime on Cartoon Network, so it's not hard to see why the visual style was toned down and retooled.

  • Animatics (8 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc also piles on lightly animated storyboard reels for four sequences: "Duncan Goes to School", "Parkour Chase", "Duncan Asks Jenna to the Dance", and "Kaiju Attack".

  • Visual Development (5 min.; HD): Rounding out the extras are three small image galleries. The first shows off cover art and pages from the "Firebreather" comic. There are also galleries for character design and conceptual art from when Firebreather was being eyed as a 2D project as well as updated designs when it made the move to CG.

Firebreather comes packaged in a cardboard slipcover.

The Final Word
Firebreather is okay, but it plays less like a movie and more like a pilot for a really forgettable new show on one of Cartoon Network's action blocks. The $28.99 sticker price on this Blu-ray disc seems awfully steep for a not-really-a-movie that's a little over an hour long and this light on extras. You're probably better off waiting for Firebreather to pop back on Cartoon Network's high-def channel again, but if you really wanna catch the flick on Blu-ray, my vote would be to Rent It.

A Couple More Screenshots...
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