Saturday, March 22, 2003

DVD Overview

What exactly to expect on the new ROGER DVD
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
(March 4, 2003)

DVD One includes The Roger Rabbit Shorts. These include "Tummy Trouble" (seven minutes, 45 seconds), "Rollercoaster Rabbit" (seven minutes, 50 seconds), and "Trail Mix-Up" (eight minutes, 52 seconds).

Next we get Who Made Roger Rabbit, a new featurette hosted by voice actor Charles Fleischer. During this 10-minute and 57-second program, Fleischer leads us through the film's production and gives us the basics about its creation. Since it seems meant for kids and newbies, it provides a decent little introduction.

DVD One continues with Trouble in Toontown, a new "set-top" game. This involves some simple activities like shooting pies at weasels. It seems bland but mildly enjoyable, though it includes no reward for successful completion.

Lastly, DVD One provides some Sneak Peeks. Here we find ads for Schoolhouse Rock and Ultimate X.

DVD One features some cute and clever menus, but these make the disc tough to navigate. For example, who would know that "Valiant's Office" equals the DVD set-up screen? Thankfully, DVD Two doesn't saddle the viewer with such odd menus.

As we move to DVD Two, we get the widescreen edition of the film along with an audio commentary from director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, and screenwriters Peter S. Seaman and Jeffrey Price. All six were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Originally taped for a 1998 laserdisc release, the commentary covers a lot of ground and provides a useful experience.

All facets of the production receive attention here. We get notes about the project's origins and different script issues/changes that occurred along the way. Of course, lots of technical information crops up as well, as we learn of all Rabbit's challenges and the solutions for these. At times, the gang just watch the movie and laugh, and the occasional empty spot appears as well. However, overall the Rabbit commentary seems lively and informative.

In addition, we get a text commentary called Toontown Confidential. This piece spans the whole movie and offers a pretty good little addition. It covers a variety of topics. We get biographical notes about many participants and technical details about the production. A great deal of movie-related trivia appears as well, and some of these bits seem very interesting; for example, we learn about a number of actors considered for the role of Eddie. Though not quite as good as the terrific text commentaries that accompany the Star Trek films, "Confidential" offers a lot of useful information.

Next we move to a new 36-minute and 36-second documentary called Behind the Ears. This piece combines movie clips, behind the scenes material and new interviews with director Robert Zemeckis, producer/2nd unit director Frank Marshall, associate producer Don Hahn, director of animation Richard Williams, film editor Arthur Schmidt, screenwriter Peter S. Seaman, associate producer Steve Starkey, visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, director of photography Dean Cundey, animator Dave Spafford, supervising animator Phil Nibbelink, supervising animator Andreas Deja, voice actor Lou Hirsch, animator Nik Ranieri, actor Bob Hoskins, supervising animator Simon Wells, voice actor Charles Fleischer, special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, chief puppeteer David Alan Barclay, chief executive and supervising animator Dale Baer, optical camera operator Jon Alexander, optical photography supervisor Ed Jones, and composer Alan Silvestri. In addition, we find archival interview snippets from 1987 with Fleischer, executive producer Steven Spielberg, and mechanical effects supervisor George Gibbs.

Whew – that's a long list of participants, but "Ears" packs them in neatly and offers a terrific look at the film. The program follows many facets of the production and nicely illustrates the different issues. Mostly these focus on technical concerns, and we see all of the methods used to meld toons and humans. Of particular interest is the human/toon composite test, but we also find a great deal of interesting material from the set; for example, we check out the puppets used to help with actor eyelines. The speakers all contribute depth to these pieces, as they go over all of the various issues they faced. "Ears" gives us a great examination of the creation of a difficult film.

After this we locate a deleted scene. Called the "Pig Head Sequence", this area starts with a 97 second introduction from Zemeckis, Ralston, and supervising animator Simon Wells. They discuss the creation of the sequence, where it would have occurred in the film, and why it got the boot. We then watch the entire three-minute and 54-second clip. Though Zemeckis regrets its omission, I'm glad it was cut. It's entertaining, but I like it better when Eddie's first visit to Toontown in the movie occurs toward the end. Given his history, that means the sequence has more punch. Anyway, it's still very cool to see this unused footage.

Inside the "Valiant Files" domain, we locate scads of still galleries. Character Development covers six areas via thumbnails: "Roger Rabbit" (18 frames), "Jessica Rabbit" (9 images), "Baby Herman" (6), "Benny the Cab" (11), "the Weasels" (12), and "Judge Doom" (10). These offer a mix of conceptual designs, character model sheets, and maquettes. (Note that the "Doom" section includes shots of miscellaneous others as well.)

Art of Roger Rabbit splits into six smaller subjects. "Development" shows 36 images of storyboards and conceptual drawings. "Chuck Jones Artwork" shows six drawings of Donald Duck. "'Somethin's Cookin'" gives us seven bits related to the short that opens the movie; it includes posters and backgrounds. "Toontown" features 18 conceptual drawings of that realm. "Deleted Ideas" provides some interesting tidbits as it shows 16 sketches for bits that didn't materialize such as Acme's funeral. Lastly, "Deleted Titles" presents 13 unused ideas for the credits, many of which depict rejected names for the film like Toon.

The Production area divides into three subdomains. "Production" features lots of great shots in its 46 stills. We see examples of the way the crew didn't want the animation to meld into the live-action, and we also get photos from the set, production stills, and close-ups of materials that go by quickly in the film. "Special Effects" gives us 14 images from behind the scenes, while "Set Decoration Posters" lets us examine five Roger Rabbit ads seen briefly in the flick.

In the Promotional domain, we get a nice collection of 25 frames. This area includes some publicity photos as well as poster concepts and drawings meant for PR purposes. Lastly, Theme Parks includes three smaller areas. "Designing Toontown at Disneyland" provides four images related to that realm's development. "Disneyland" then offers seven photos from the final result. "Walt Disney World" presents seven shots of Rabbit-related bits from the Florida park. (Disney World includes no Toontown, unlike Disneyland.)

That finishes the "Valiant Files". Before and After provides glimpses of shots that include animation. This segment follows Eddie's first few minutes in Toontown and lasts three minutes and eight seconds. On the top part of the split screen, we see the completed scenes. On the bottom, we watch the actors as they perform without the added animation. This offers a very cool look at the source material, and it further helps us appreciate all the work the actors – especially Hoskins had to do to make us buy the existence of the toons.

We find similar materials via Toon Stand-Ins. After a quick introductory comment from Ken Ralston, this three-minute and 15-second piece shows more pre-animation footage. However, these shots include the stand-in puppets and dolls used for actor eyelines; we see a mix of clips from the final flick plus a few rehearsal bits. In addition to Ralston's remark, we also get a few notes from Steve Starkey, Richard Williams and Robert Zemeckis. I love this sort of raw footage, and these scenes offer a lot of fun.

A final batch of archival footage appears in On Set!. This four-minute and 51-second piece includes more material from the set. We see behind the scenes interactions, with an emphasis on shots of Zemeckis as he worked with the actors. This offers yet another great view of the production I only wish we found more of this stuff here.

To complete the Rabbit set, the package presents some physical materials. Inside the case you'll find a companion booklet. This lists the movie chapters and supplements as part of Eddie's notebook, which makes it a cuter version of the usual insert. Finally, we get two Collectible Glossies. These offer "signed" publicity shots of Roger and Jessica.

If nothing else, Who Framed Roger Rabbit would go into the cinematic history books as a terrific technological achievement. Happily, the movie deserves attention as more than just a smooth marriage of live-action and animation. After 15 years and many screenings, I continue to enjoy Rabbit, as it provides a creative and amusing experience. The DVD presents very good picture with serviceable sound and a splendid roster of extras. The VISTA Rabbit gets a high recommendation across the board. Even if you already own the old release, you'll want to upgrade to this one, as it provides a substantial improvement on the original DVD.