With its Short series of DVD magazines Warner studios has been slowly building a solid reputation as a source of quality independent films. Each disc in the series contains a selection of about a dozen films running from 2 to 20 minutes each and based on a general theme. Short 7: Utopia addresses man's search for a more perfect world.
The first things you'll notice in Short 7 are the beautifully designed menus. With each edition Warner's designers get better and better at interface design and these are the best to date. A brief film precedes each screen and the menus themselves are attractive and easy to use. Most notably Short has abandoned the annoying habit of including non-skipable TV commercials before each selection making the viewing experience much more enjoyable.
Short 7 has some great content but seems a little inconsistent in terms of technical quality. Most of the titles include interesting production notes, director commentaries and even multi-angle content but some (Amplified Man in particular) suffer from noticeable edge enhancement shimmer and others (the cuts in the 'Documentary' section) seem to suffer from a mastering error that splashes the audio tracks across all four main speakers. More on these problems below… The Shorts:
More: More is a fantastic stop motion animation piece that explores an Orwellian reality in which an inventor learns that with innovation comes unexpected consequences. In the process he looses (literally) the fire in his belly. This extremely entertaining short was the first of its kind to be shot on 70mm Imax film and includes a complete pencil test video track and a short production documentary.
Zoltar from Zoran: Erik Paesel's study of teen alienation is a moving and thought provoking student film. The hero, a junior high student who believes he is from another planet, offers an archetypical study of the feeling of displacement that we all experience in adolescence. Zoltar includes an audio commentary track with the director and a disturbing alternate ending.
Amplified Man: We stand, at the dawn of the 21st century, on the threshold of a revolution. Robotics are now in a state of development that mirrors that of computers twenty years ago and if you thought desktop machines and the Internet had a major impact on society just wait and see how automatons will impact our lives in the next two decades. Amplified Man is a collection of interviews with NASA scientists, robotisists and DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh on the issue of machine intelligence and the possible evolutionary tracks they may follow.
Sam L. Grogg on Utopia: Dean of the American Film Institute Sam L. Grogg discusses utopian concepts as presented in current mainstream cinema. He examines the conceptual gap between our desire for a utopian existence and the inability of film artists to portray utopias in a positive light.
The Lion and the Lamb: A very experimental film by Luc Beauchamp featuring strikingly beautiful images and a very rich ambient 5.1 audio track.
Images of Korea: Young Man Kang uses claymation to create a poetic impression of daily life in Korea through the four seasons.
The Bar Channel: Comedian Richard Belzer stars in an absurd and funny commentary on our growing detachment from life fostered by interactive technologies.
Most of the shorts on this disc exhibit fine transfers with nice color saturation, deep black levels and good shadow detail. There are no artifacts to be seen and all of the film elements used appear clean and free of nicks and dirt. The exception (as stated above) is Amplified Man, which shows a good deal of edge shimmer and some compression artifacts.
Just about all of the cuts on Short 7 include well mixed 5.1 tracks that create broad sound stages and impressive 3D environments. Unfortunately the 'Documentary' (Amplified Man) and 'Interview' (Lars from 1 – 10 and Sam L. Grogg on Utopia) seem to have a mastering error that places all of the tracks on the mains and surrounds leaving the center channel mute. Luckily the nature of these clips (mostly dialogue) is conducive to the error but it's a shame that the disc made it out the door with this obvious mistake.
The usual extras are all here. Each clip has text production note screens and most have audio commentaries as well. Some include multi angle and bonus video tracks. The traditional 'Junk Drawer' section comes with several _very_ short films, some of which we've seen on other Short installments.
The Short series just keeps getting better and better. I applaud Warner for taking a chance with these films and encourage anyone with an interest in independent films to have a look at any of the seven Short discs.