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Castle in the Sky

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // Unrated // April 15, 2003
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Blair | posted May 20, 2003 | E-mail the Author

The Movie

If you've been wondering if all the hype over famed Japanese writer/director Hayao Miyazaki is warranted, then I implore you to check out what he was doing in 1986. Just one year after creating the production company Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki created this homage to Jonathan Swift's epic tale, Gulliver's Travels. Expanding on the premise of Swift's flying city of Laputa, he created an ambitious epic that is both exquisite and mesmerizing. Chalk full of subliminal messages and spiritual innuendoes, Castle In The Sky truly is a monumental achievement in Japanese animation.

Every time I sit down and watch a Miyazaki movie, I say to myself, "Disney can't touch this guy!" Part of the reason is because Miyazaki has no fear. He doesn't try to market to the mass media. Instead, he writes a story that is important to him, and can only be told in his unique style. His movies are filled with adventure, action, humor, and love, and display a graceful beauty that Disney can only dream of recreating. If you've never seen a Miyazaki movie, then you have never fully experienced the powerful potential that hand drawn animation possess.

Castle In The Sky is an old film, released in 1986, but the tale is timeless. Set amidst a harsh, futuristic industrial setting our adventure begins in the air when a band of money-obsessed flying pirates attempt to steal a precious crystal that is known to have great powers. The keeper of the crystal - a young girl with a secret past - manages to escape both the pirates and her kidnappers. She falls (quite literally) into the arms of a young boy who takes it upon himself to help her and find the mythical lost city of Laputa. From here our two young heroes embark on an adventure that is riddled in both discovery and enlightenment.

I was amazed at how perfectly paced this movie was considering it had a lengthy run time of two hours. It starts out kind of slow, but it doesn't drag because it sets the story up so brilliantly. Every scene from the very first shot is beautiful and breathtaking, from the sweeping landscapes to the magnificent air ships that instill awe and humility. Like all Miyazaki films, the story goes much deeper than the surface plot. There's no denying his stand on the Earth, and our role to help preserve its harmonious state. It's these messages that lift his movies above what you are normally exposed to in any kind of animation, even today.

Castle In The Sky is something that really needs to be experienced to appreciate. It's just so good, you'll wonder how Miyazaki ever topped it. But the best part is, he did. The renowned Princess Monanoke and his latest masterpiece, Spirited Away quickly come to mind. And despite Buena Vista's horrendous video transfer, this is a must have DVD for all lovers of animated films. Anime doesn't get any better than this, unless of course it's another Miyazaki movie.


Video: Castle In The Sky is presented in roughly 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced for 16x9 TV's. Frankly, this movie deserved more respect than the treatment it received. The most noticeable, and distracting defect in this video transfer is the hideous overuse of increased edge enhancement. This could very well be the worst display of edge enhancement I've ever seen, and the fact that it was done to a movie like this made me want to cry. There's no escaping the halos as they're visible in every seen in the movie, and they are very distracting. It was so bad, I fooled with my video setting for a while thinking it was a problem with my hardware, and unfortunately, it wasn't. In addition to the unholy halos, there was a small amount of pixelation visible throughout the film. This was nothing horrible, but disappointing nonetheless. Also, from time to time, (usually during a fleeting second between scene changes) a digital combing artifact was visible. I found this odd as I have an excellent decoder in my DVD player. This may or may not be visible with your machine, but it's something to keep an eye out for. This was the first time however that I've ever noticed this using my machine, so it could be the DVD.

Colors were good, but I felt Miyazaki's stunning artwork was dulled down during the digital transfer. Granted, the movie is now 17-years-old, so that may have some bearing on the outcome, but I still believe this movie should have popped off the screen better. Overall, this was a huge disappointment in terms of video quality. A movie of this caliber deserves better, and it's unfortunate that Buena Vista Home Video couldn't deliver.

Audio: Here we get an English audio track in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the original Japanese audio track in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. The Japanese track is the better of the two when staying true to the spirit of the movie, but the lack of dynamic range in the 2.0 track leaves one drawn to the English dub. The 5.1 track has nice separation in the front three speakers, but the rear surrounds get little use. But the best part about this soundtrack is the beautiful score, which rivals the best scores ever to accompany a film. The music enhances Miyazaki's flow effortlessly, and without compromise. This is a wonderful sounding DVD, despite the lack of rear surround effects.

Extras: Castle In The Sky is a two-disc set, but I'm left scratching my head why this is so. The feature selection is so sparse and unsatisfying, I would have gladly dumped all the special features offered to get a decent video transfer.

Here you'll find an introduction by Pixar's John Lasseter that's so short you just might miss if you blink. Also included is a Behind The Microphone With James Van Der Beck and Cloris Leachman. (Don't even get me started on Van Der Beck's voice-over dub. Awful doesn't even begin to describe it). You'll find original Japanese trailers, and on disc two, you get the entire movie shown via the original storyboards. In short, this was a total waste of a two-disc set. I'd give anything to have a superbit version released with a new and improved video transfer. Buena Vista, if you're listening, please release this again and give it the treatment it deserves!

Final Thoughts:

Movies like this are hard to come by nowadays. You just don't see animated films that dare to be adventurous, spiritual, and epic and pull it off all at the same time. Hayao Miyazaki is the master of animation in Japan, America or anywhere for that matter. To think that he could make a film like this in 1986 that kicks the butt of nearly every animated film that has come out since then is remarkable. In fact, only Miyazaki himself was able to top it, several times over I might add.

Despite the dreadful video transfer, I still have to highly recommend this title. The movie is just that good. If you haven't seen Castle In The Sky, and you call yourself an anime lover, then you need to buy this DVD, plain and simple. Highly Recommended

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Highly Recommended

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