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Open Season: Special Edition

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation/Imageworks (September 29 2006), Sony Home Entertainment (January 30 1007), single disc, 86 mins plus supplements including limited-time Amazon-exclusive bonus DVD of The ChubbChubbs, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated PG, Retail: $28.95

Storyboard:

After trained performing grizzly bear Boog (Martin Lawrence) flips out on a sugar rush and helps hunter Shaw’s catch, Elliot the deer (Ashton Kutcher), escape, park ranger Beth (Debra Messing) has no choice but to release Boog back into the forest. With open season about to begin, Shaw (Gary Sinise) ventures into the woods with both animals in his gun sight, as Boog and Elliot hit the trail to try and find their way back home…

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The Sweatbox Review:

As with Over The Hedge, Open Season takes its inspiration from a cartoonist, in this case the work of Steve Moore. And, again like Hedge, the film features a bunch of humanised country critters who end up finding out more about themselves than they thought they knew. But there the similarities end.

Whereas DreamWorks took its inspiration and ran with it to provide a surprisingly warm family comedy, this first feature to be directly developed and produced from Sony’s own in-house animation pipeline surprises in a very different way: basically in how unexpectedly crude it is! Sold as another all-ages adventure with heart, Open Season is less another does of The Wild or Over The Hedge and more an assault on the senses that soon wears thin and, at one moment, totally shocks despite wearing its PG rating on its sleeve.

Apart from several well timed and laugh-out-loud moments, the main issue with Open Season is the over familiarity we’ve come to expect and have ultimately grown tired with in our animated films. Various elements from countless movies we’ve seen before – Boog’s arrival in the forest is pure Fox And The Hound, for instance – meld together to create a hodgepodge that’s nowhere as satisfying as its ingredients suggest. This is strictly by-the-numbers movie making, only emphasized by the second act break up of the Boog/Elliot dynamic before the inevitable team up for the finale, a comical animal attack, which has some nice random gags but could have been much more fun if the now “trendy” use of rock songs instead of score hadn’t been used.

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And that points up the film’s second problem. Open Season’s mainstream aspirations almost burst out of every frame, and its certainly unabashed at screaming out its all-star cast in the main titles with commercial pride. Unfortunately though, for the most part, this collection of performers is so non-descript in the recognisable vocals department that their voices don’t overly detract or even barely register. I’ll come clean and say that I have yet to warm to Martin Lawrence’s particular brand of comedy, even if he did grow on me over the course of this film, but I only really know Kutcher from the dramatic The Butterfly Effect and the Bernie Mac knockabout comedy Guess Who. Open Season will appeal to fans of that film, and to those who enjoy Lawrence’s stuff, but Kutcher may as well have been Eddie Murphy (Lawrence’s Life co-star), since the whole Boog/Elliot dynamic feels so closely modelled on the Shrek/Donkey double act (but comes off as a pale imitation) that I’m surprised DreamWorks didn’t have their lawyers watching more closely (not that I’d suggest anyone sitting through this movie again).

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Much, much better is Gary Sinise, a great actor probably best known to the potential Open Season audience as Forrest Gump’s pal Lieutenant Dan. Here he has a ball with himself in the role of the comically twisted hunter Shaw, easily coming out of the film in the best light. One does have to wonder, though, if the stars were being paid by the improvised word…even more so than Cars, Open Season is simply a very, very talky movie, without much action other than the required half-way mark chase and the animals’ rebellion on the hunters in the climax, and the jibe-packed script just doesn’t hold the attention.

It is, sadly, distinctly average, especially after other “wild” comedies such as Madagascar, The Wild and Over The Hedge, all of which had things to recommend them to varying degrees, whereas Open Season is content to go with a scene that even breaks the age-old (and, boy, are those gags old) fart barrier with a moment of regurgitation and – I kid you not – at one point actually has one character defecating on screen. Yes, you read that right.

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As such, the movie finds itself more in tune with an older audience due to these vulgar jokes and overtly streetwise humor – this is definitely a boisterous teenage frat comedy dressed up in heart-warming animated family picture colors. That’s certainly what the previews suggested, and what I was expecting, but the unsophisticated language, which includes words such as “crapping”, just felt jarringly out of place. I’m no prude – Team America: World Police remains one of the best satirical and profanity strewn works of the past few years – but, as with Father Of The Pride, selling your show as one thing when it’s actually something far different in reality only leads to audience disappointment, thus instantly explaining Open Season’s less-than-stellar box office take.

It’s a surprising change of tact from director Roger Allers (here co-helming with Jill Culton and Anthony Stacchi) after the majesty of The Lion King and the poignancy of The Little Matchgirl. Undeniably its not as successful as Allers’ Lion King co-director Rob Minkoff’s Stuart Little pictures nor as fun as Sony’s own Monster House from last summer. Who knows, maybe someone had a lot of issues to work out of their system, but the edginess that looks to have been sought after only comes out as angry energy, and therefore is it any wonder that the bad guy is the most rounded character?

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For their debut feature, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ animation is serviceable, if a little too enamoured with packing in as much squash ‘n’ stretch as possible and exposing the rubbery look all too apparent in Imageworks’ computer graphics. Not helping things tremendously are the character designs, which looked fun in a Tex Avery kind of way on the posters, but don’t translate all-too-appealingly to moving character animation, especially against the otherwise gorgeous backdrops and digital matte paintings as inspired by the work of Sleeping Beauty designer and painter Eyvind Earle. In a nice touch, and in addition to offering a wrap up for one of the central characters, the final credits intersperse their names with snippets of original production concept art that really shows the Earle stimulation and demonstrates how the deliberate 2D style was translated to CGI as intended.

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Kudos to Sony for attempting something a bit different, but it has fallen at the first hurdle with a movie stuck with formulaic structure, overly familiar character types and a tone of humor that is too risqué for young kids but too juvenile for adults. Such a balance can be achieved, of course, as other more successful and again similar CGI fare proved last year, but Open Season isn’t in their neck of the woods.

Is This Thing Loaded?

If you’re buying Open Season online from Amazon.com, you’ll find the extras really start as soon as one opens the case, with the surprise inclusion of a bonus DVD of the animated short The ChubbChubbs. Not advertised as part of the specs – and a surprising omission at that – The ChubbChubbs was Sony’s first short; a very funny sci-fi send-up set in a bar frequented by some of film’s most recognisable aliens, robots and villainous space creatures.

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The Eric Armstrong-directed short was Imageworks’ test project to prove they could produce their own in-house fully animated projects while still handling their expanding SFX work on such blockbuster features as the Harry Potter and Spider-Man series. Released theatrically with Stuart Little II and Men In Black II, The ChubbChubbs ended up only appearing on the MIIB DVD after winning the Oscar for Best Animated Short, as well as its own (overpriced) disc. It’s that version bundled in here, complete with dated previews for other Columbia titles such as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Men In Black II, I Spy and 8 Crazy Nights.

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It’s not clear if the Chubbs will make it to every set as it seems Sony are simply looking to shift unsold copies, so this could very well be limited to the initial pressing or until stock runs dry. Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, The ChubbChubbs plays in regular Dolby 5.1 (despite the ample space, there’s no DTS, but the image is full bitrate), looking and sounding wonderful. Packed in with the main movie, this certainly sweetens the deal and is obviously better value than shelling out ten bucks for the original disc. I’m glad to finally be able to add this very fun short to my collection!

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As if that neat little bonus wasn’t enough, Open Season itself comes to DVD as a full-blown special edition to boot! As soon as the disc spins we get a preview of Sony Animation’s next, the penguin comedy “documentary” Surf’s Up that reveals that their game plan seems to be to push the envelope with regards to its feature animation output. After the success of other penguin features, most notably Happy Feet of course, Sony could have much more of a hit on their hands this second time out, especially since they seem to be selling this one more appropriately.

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The disc’s menus come loaded with running “commentary” by the characters, which reminded me of the same approach as used on the Finding Nemo set, but still quite funny all the same. The big extra, as usual with CGI animation on DVD, is the new bonus short, Boog And Elliot’s Midnight Bun Run, an extra few minutes of fun, again presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic. As with many DVD shorts, this one pushes supporting characters to the fore as Boog and Elliot try and swipe cookies from the Bigfoot-tracking couple’s sleeping dog. While fun, this again could have been much more fast and furious; the central idea of carrying out a task while someone sleeps having been done to death in classic cartoons, and the lack of a decent pay-off doesn’t make for very rewarding viewing. In fact, being set as it seems to be in the middle of the main movie, this actually feels little more than a deleted scene that’s been fleshed out for marketing value.

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Onto the good stuff, and the feature-length Audio Commentary with directors Allers, Culton and Stacchi, and producer Michelle Murdocca is surprisingly one of the best I’ve heard recently. Not expecting much after viewing the film itself, I was surprised to really enjoy the discussion here. It’s a light-hearted chat, but in-depth all the same, and the group point out their inspirations, in-jokes and technical cheats that carried them through production. It’s also clear that the filmmakers were out to make a much “meaner” film but had some of their ideas pulled back, which possibly explains the neither here nor there tone of the finished piece, and they admit that even they were surprised that certain scenes were kept in.

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An intricate and enjoyable listen, I wasn’t too surprised to hear a hint that the material featured in the Boog And Elliot bonus short was in fact taken from a scene that was cut earlier in production. Also in the commentary section are three scenes with remarks by some of the characters – funny enough if you like that sort of thing, but it only seems to have been done on the filmmakers’ whims and is otherwise a waste of six minutes.

Staying with the serious stuff, we head into the Featurettes area, which comprises two decent-length pieces on the making and the vocal talent of Open Season, with a handy Play All option running the two together.

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Behind The Trees runs just over 15 minutes and is as good a packed promo documentary as you’re likely to see, covering the source material from Steve Moore’s In The Bleachers strips and crew zoo visits for animal character reference, to the use of Eyvind Earle’s work as inspiration for the backgrounds and the production process at Imageworks Animation. Slightly revealing is the admission that Imageworks had never really used squash and stretch in their visual effects and had to create new tools to achieve the movement the directors wanted, which leads me to believe that they wound up overplaying this trick, hence my problem with the sheer amount of rubbery-ness on show in the finished movie.

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The Voices Behind The Stars runs 7:35 and completes these two companion pieces, naturally concentrating on the famous names providing the characters’ vocals. Most fun is hearing Gary Sinise describing how he found his character Shaw – one can really see he cut loose and had fun after many years of playing superbly realised but usually straight-laced roles. This is as opposed to Patrick Warburton, once a fresh and funny voice artist, whose shtick has become increasing tired and who always now plays the same roles.

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Deleted Scenes presents two such clips of material cut at storyboard stage. Forest 102 is more Boog/Elliot patter while Facial Tick can’t help itself by including another dirty pee joke. Combined in a Play All option, they run a couple of minutes in letterboxed 4:3. The Deathray music video for I Don’t Wanna Lose Control (Uh Oh) (again in letterboxed 4:3) doesn’t add much either, being a montage of shots from the movie accompanied by one of the soundtrack cues, which seems totally made up of a chorus that merely repeats the title over and over. Running just over two minutes, this wouldn’t inspire me to buy the featured album at the end of the promo.

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A series of three Ring Tales is next. I’m not sure what a ring tale actually is – and there’s no explanation – but what we get are some quick sketch-like spots featuring hand-drawn versions of the characters closer to Steve Moore’s original cartoons. I’m assuming these were created for the web, since they look Flash-animated and promote the site prominently, so having them in here is a welcome thought. Rabbitball, Security Camera and Camouflage, presented in 4:3, run around a minute combined, though there’s no Play All option.

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Rounding up the collectors’ features is an assortment of picture Galleries for Environments (highlighting the strong Earle influence again), Characters and Beat Boards, from pencil concepts to paintings that convey the mood and lighting for certain scenes. A particularly nice touch on all of the 60 or so images is the noting of the artists’ names; so often we are left unaware as to who created such work.

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It’s back to the silly stuff as we head into the Activities area, which comprises Elliot’s Voice-A-Rama, a diversion that plays selected lines from scenes with the viewer’s choice of alternate voices or international dubs, and a Wheel Of Fortune: Forest Edition game that plays like the version on TV but with an interactive twist as up to two players take on characters from the movie. It’s fun enough, if repetitive, as these things usually are, but a fair use of an established format in a new guise. The Swept Away Scene Deconstruction isn’t really an activity, but cool all the same, being the now tried and tested application of your remote’s angle button to allow stepping through the four stages of animation, in this case on the dam busting scene. As usual, it’s an intriguing look into the process that shows off the tricks of the trade and reveals how some of the effects were achieved. Running the scene’s full three minute-plus length, a fifth angle setting displays all four stages on one screen for instant comparison. Finally in this Activities section is a prompt to head to the disc’s Online Fun department, where there are more interactions to be found if you bung the disc into a PC drive.

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On doing so, the DVD-ROM player springs into action to offer up the choice of launching your default video player, plus links to the Sony Newsletter and other DVD weblinks to Sony Pictures and Home Entertainment. Open Season’s ROM features aren’t actually on the disc itself, but at the end of an exclusive weblink to a series of games, activities and printables, though confusingly one page offers up an advertisement to buy the Open Season DVD! Surf’s Up gets another mention in the form of Meet Cody Maverick, the surfing star of Sony’s next movie, at another webpage again accessible only from the DVD-ROM. On this “secret” site, there’s a game, wallpaper and the movie’s teaser trailer.

Sony seem to be pushing their penguin surfers for all their worth. Back on the video portion of the disc itself, it gets its own Surf’s Up section, which is pretty extensive considering, with a two minute sneak peek, the teaser trailer (again!) adding another couple of minutes, and an 8-page gallery of character shots. Wrapping things up is a selection of other previews, including Monster House but, naturally (sigh!), the Open Season teasers and trailer must be hiding in the woods as they’re nowhere to be seen.

Case Study:

Initial pressings come with a glossy, embossed slipcase that replicates the sleeve artwork underneath (in a “family-friendly” white keepcase). The Amazon-exclusive The ChubbChubbs bonus disc is tucked away in its own sleeve inside, along with a four-page promo book that pushes the Zoom: Academy For Superheroes DVD (did no-one hear of Sky High from the year before?), several other Sony titles including the Stuart Little series, plus a KOA camping coupon that promotes the great outdoors – but no chapter index.

Ink And Paint:

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Being a brand new digitally created movie from one of the pre-eminent special effects houses in Hollywood, how could Open Season look anything other than gorgeous? Of course it does here, even amid all the bonuses squeezed in, with finely textured fur on Boog and the Eyvind Earle-styled scenery popping off the screen. A high-definition version on Sony’s proprietary Blu-Ray format is also available.

Scratch Tracks:

Sounding as good as the image looks, Open Season plays in sturdy old Dolby Digital. Like the film, its an aggressive mix that suits the movie’s nature, though I did feel that dialogue was perhaps a little pushed to the fore – understandable in such a talk-heavy outing, but sometimes tiring, but when the action comes, all the speakers blare away and there’s some fun to be had. A French 5.1 dub is thrown in, as well as Spanish Surround, with subtitles available in all three languages.

Final Cut:

After the rash of critter comedies audiences had to endure throughout 2006, I wasn’t expecting too much from Open Season but was hoping to be surprised. Within the first few minutes of Boog and Elliot yelling at each other, I felt I’d seen all this before, and as the film dragged on I found myself, for some reason, hearing the spikier dialogue jump out at me more pointedly than usual. After Boog’s throwing up and Elliot’s onscreen pooh, I lost interest. The wild river chase mid-way and the final ambush of the hunters by the animals peeked my attention again, but overall this is a schizophrenic movie that has an ill-advised smattering of truly outrageous moments and language sprinkled over what is otherwise what the previews promised: a fairly amusing comedy with an albeit commercially manipulative warm center. If it had been one thing or the other, Open Season might have worked, but as it is that outer layer is a bitter and tough nut to crack.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

open-seas-21.jpg MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD

 

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