DVD Review: Alpha and Omega

Hi all…

Through the summer of 2010, I saw many trailers for a new animated film about an unlikely pair of wolves in Jasper National Park (Alberta, Canada). Alpha and Omega looked like it could be fun, but that it was probably a renter. And it’s now coming out on DVD and Blu-ray today, January 11, 2011.

Alphas are the hunters and protectors for the pack and Omegas are about lightening the mood and keeping the pack from squabbling too much. Typically Alphas pair with Alphas and Omegas with Omegas to keep those traits strong in their offspring. Though Kate, an Alpha, and Humphrey, an Omega, might be friends, they can’t be more than that in the eyes of their elders.

When a squabble between two packs heats up over hunting territory, the pack leaders Tony and Winston revert to an ancient pact that would have their eldest children pair up and combine the packs into a bigger pack. Kate is to pair up with Garth and that’s that.

Well, of course things go wrong when Kate and Humphrey get shot with tranquilizer darts and relocated to a different park in Idaho miles and miles away and they have to get back to seal the deal between the packs to avoid a war. The Alpha and Omega bond on the road trip back home, learning that they make a pretty good team when they work together. Along the way, they meet a golfing goose and duck duo who help them navigate their way home through all the obstacles.

Ultimately the film is about finding new ways to work together to overcome whatever problems may come your way. And that you can have a little fun along the way.

The film stars the voices of Justin Long (Going the Distance, Drag Me to Hell, Alvin and the Chipmunks), Hayden Panettiere (TV’s Heroes, I Love You, Beth Cooper), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, Dreamgirls), Christina Ricci (Speed Racer, Cursed), and Dennis Hopper in one of his final roles before he passed away in May 2010 (TV’s Crash, Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider).

I think even when I saw the trailers six to nine months ago, I felt that it wasn’t going to be a great film. The animation seemed way out of date with the more recent efforts from Dreamworks and Pixar. And the story could have been generated by a computer algorithm. It did very poorly at the box office according to Box Office Mojo earning only $25 million domestically and $39 million worldwide. In a summer with other animated movies like Shrek Forever After (nearly $750 million worldwide), Despicable Me (nearly $550 million worldwide), and Toy Story 3 (over $1 billion worldwide) drawing thousands of moviegoers, Alpha and Omega didn’t draw many so it will be interesting to see how this title does on DVD.

In addition to the movie itself, there are numerous bonus features on the DVD, including a “Log Sliding” game, an Animal Facts trivia game, a personality test to see if you’re an Alpha or Omega, plus a deleted scene, and a few features. We really liked the “Making of Alpha and Omega” and “Wolves in the Wild” features.

It was great to hear how the directors and artists did their research about how gray wolves actually behave in the wild. The “Wolves in the Wild” feature provides a good overview of wolves from biologists and folks from the California Wolf Center who help the public gain a bit more knowledge of these beautiful animals. I think it may be a bit over the head for some kids, but would definitely recommend watching it with your children to learn a bit.

And the “Making of Alpha and Omega” feature is actually broken into three separate parts – “The Alpha of Animation,” “Voicing the Wolves,” and “From Alpha to Omega.” Each provides a glimpse into the work that goes into a full length animated features behind the scenes. It’s always amazing to me to see how the artists go from 2D sketches to how they appear in the final movie. I have a lot of respect for the process even if I didn’t like how stylized the characters became on screen. The voiceover actors also have a lot more input into how those characters come to life. It was obvious they had a good time working with the characters and directors.

Though I liked Alpha and Omega (and my kids loved it), I didn’t love it. It’s a fun, if somewhat forgettable flick that’s very family friendly with a lackluster plot. Honestly, I’d recommend it as a renter and then to buy it if your kids really like it. Check it out when it’s released today!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick this up at Barnes & Noble below along with other films:

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Blu-ray Review: Predators

Hi there…

Back in 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger could do no wrong. Predator and The Running Man both came out that year, when Arnold was at the top of his game. And in both films, he started as the prey and ended as the hunter.

Predator told the story of a team of commandos sent into the jungles of Central America to rescue a man supposedly shot down by a rebel guerilla group in the area. Of course, things are never quite as simple as they appear…

Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team find the downed helicopter, but don’t quite know what to think when they find bodies flayed and hung upside down. Would the guerillas do such a horrific thing? And even after the team takes out the rebel camp, they find themselves hunted by an unseen enemy who eliminates them one at a time. It would be revealed to be an alien creature hunting them using stealth and advanced technology. When only Dutch remains, he eventually finds a way to stop this worthy foe from another world…

Predator spawned a sequel in 1990 called Predator 2, which would pit Los Angeles policeman Danny Glover against another of the aliens in an urban environment. And we’ve seen the Predator aliens in battle with the horrific creatures from Ridley Scott’s Alien twice – in 2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator and 2007’s AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem.

Though Predator made nearly $100 million worldwide on a $15 million production budget, Predator 2 only made $57 million worldwide… More recent films including Predators have done fairly well at the box office — AVP made more than $170 million worldwide, AVPR made more than $125 million worldwide… So I think it’s safe to say that Aliens and Predators make money at the box office.

That brings us to 2010 and a new generation of stories in the Predator universe with Predators. Director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez decided to base a sequel not on Predator 2 or the AVP movies, but more on the original material. With a reported production budget of $40 million, the film has earned more than $125 million worldwide. (Film income and production budget numbers from BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

Rodriguez and Antal took a slightly different approach to the story, moving it completely off the Earth and sending it to the stars. On an alien world used as a huge game preserve, the Predator aliens drop killers from other worlds into the preserve – observing and hunting them one at a time to hone their battle skills.

This time, it’s a group of killers from Earth who have to figure out where they are and what they need to do to survive. Adrien Brody (The Pianist) plays Royce, a mysterious mercenary who takes the lead dog role. Alice Braga (Repo Men, I am Legend) plays the beautiful and deadly sniper Isabelle who acts as the conscience for the group. The two of them lead a group of criminals, soldiers, and killers-for-hire through the alien jungle as they are hunted by the Predators.

The rest of the cast of characters spreads the field… Topher Grace’s (That 70s Show, Spiderman 3, Valentine’s Day) fish-out-of-water “Doc” Edwin, Walton Goggins’ (Justified, The Shield) death-row inmate Stans, Oleg Taktarov’s (National Treasure, By the Will of Genghis Khan) Russian soldier Nikolai, Danny Trejo’s (Heat, Machete) machine-gun toting Cuchillo, and Mahershalalhashbaz Ali’s (Crossing Jordan, The 4400, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) death squad fighter Mombasa from Sierra Leone. Even Laurence Fishburne (CSI, The Matrix) appears as a crazy survivor from earlier rounds of the game. But my favorite was the nearly silent Hanzo played by Louis Ozawa Changchien (Gigantic).

Though I liked the film, I never got drawn into the story quite as much as I did with the original film. The slow reveal of the real reason Edwin was chosen was fun and the scene where Hanzo challenges a Predator to a swordfight in a green field was my favorite of the film. But because the story is spread out across nine different characters, it becomes a bit watered down.

That said, the special effects, sets, and costumes were amazing. The three-dot laser targeting devices from the original film and the infrared and other views from the Predators kept the same feel as the technology in the original film. But they created three very different Predator characters, each with his own customizations to his helmet and tools. And the “dogs” in an early scene with the horns growing out of their bodies all had a high “creepy” factor that was done with a combination of actual props and computer-generated effects.

As far as the sets and locations went, the jungles were alien but still evoked memories of the Central American jungles Schwarzenegger was exploring in 1987. And the hunting camp of the Predators reminded me of the swamp where Arnie turned the tides on the original Predator with the mud and the huge trees.

I saw this film in the theater and I have to say the Blu-ray reproduction appeared crisper on my HD television at home than it did in the theater. The widescreen (2.35:1) display was simply gorgeous. And the soundtrack (in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) was equally sublime – there’s something about listening to Brody fall from a spaceship in the first seconds of the film that surrounds you quickly. And the ambient crunching as the characters tramp through the jungle paired with the voluminous gunfire and explosions all sound terrific.

In the extras department, the Blu-ray doesn’t skimp… If you like commentary, you’ll enjoy the commentary track from Rodriguez and Antal as the film progresses. The cast and crew also share their insights in the “Evolution of the Species: Predators Reborn” series of features. I really enjoyed seeing the different phases of the sets and character designs done by the production crew.

Also included is a series of motion comics called “Moments of Extraction” – each of which presents a vignette voiced by the actor about their characters. These prequels provide a bit of context as to how and why each character was chosen by the Predators to be prey.

Other features include “The Chosen”, “Making a Scene” from Fox Movie Channel, deleted and extended scenes, BD LIVE extras, and a digital copy on DVD.

Overall, if you liked Predator, you’ll enjoy parts of Predators. In addition to the film itself, which is fun, the extras show how much the cast and crew believed in the production from start to finish. At the very least it’s great to see the Predators get into the limelight and away from those acid-bleeding Aliens!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Predators and other great movies below!

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