Saturday, 8 January 2011

Will there be any more HD-DVD Reviews?

Well ermmm. No. HD-DVD kind of died (obviously) and for the last couple of years it's been Blu-Ray all the way.

The good news is that I am now podcasting regularly every week, although the focus is purely on new Blu-Ray releases. The new "hub" for all the reviews can be found at

There you'll find the latest audio podcasts, together with links to written reviews of films that include trailers, HD screen captures and links to other bits and pieces associated with the film.


Sunday, 20 April 2008

HD-DVD is Dead!

The inferior format - Blu-Ray - won through sheer marketing muscle and money, but I'm not bitter!

There are no new HD-DVD titles being released so this blog is effectively dead in the water. However if you're shifting over to Blu-Ray (or just sticking with standard DVD) check out my weekly Shiny Disk Show which reviews the new DVD and Blu-Ray releases each week.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Reaping (2007)

The Reaping: Film 4 out of 10, HD-DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 16th October 2007 at a typical import price of £17.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 5.6, Rotten Tomatoes is at a pitiful 7% approval

I should have paid more attention to Rotten Tomatoes, whose summary of the professional critics, with a lowly 7% 'fresh' rating, gives a pretty clear warning that this clichéd, seriously sub-par horror film is a bit of a stinker.

Somehow I got distracted by the slightly more optimistic public rating of 56% over at imdb, and the rather good box office figures, which make it clear that someone, somewhere has made good money. But make no mistake, this is a great steaming turd of a movie - it's enough to make a grown man cry, and not in a good way!

David Morrisey plays the male lead and love interest, but has all the sexiness of Pinnochio in a dry, dull, wooden performance

It could all have been so different. After all, the premise isn't too bad: A cynical scholar Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank), is asked to investigate what appears to be a re-occurrence of the ten Biblical plagues that are infesting a small town. The town is called - wait for it! - Haven (could there be a clue in there, d'ya think?! If you're wondering where the missing 'e' went, my guess is that it was given to whoever decided to fund this nonsense, just before he was asked to sign on the dotted line!)

As the story unfolds we get some of Winter's back-story. It turns out that she used to be married to a priest, and was herself ordained. However, while working abroad in a desert village, her young daughter was brutally killed by superstitious locals who believed the girl to be the cause of a severe, over long drought.

Having turned away from the Church, she now specialises in debunking miracles, giving talks on her experiences. At one such talk she is approached by 'Doug' (David Morrisey) who asks her to help with a series of Biblical plagues that are occurring in Haven. Her first inclination is to turn down the request, until she learns that Haven residents blame a girl the same age as her now-dead daughter for the problems, and are threatening to kill her to end the run of bad luck.

With the love interest established fairly early on (Doug is single, his wife having died of cancer some years earlier), the introduction of a third character - best friend 'Ben' (Idris Elba) - isn't exactly subtle. As the token 'black' character one wonders why the film-makers didn't have him first appear with a big sign 'Guess who's gonna get killed first?!' hanging over his head. Yup, the basics of plot really are THAT clichéd and signalled well in advance, draining the film of any possible thrills or scares it might possibly be able to deliver.

Hilary Swank, or is it Jennifer Garner - hard to tell them apart these days! - realises she's made a bad career choice after seeing the critical reviews for 'The Reaping'

Plagues should have proven to be an interesting, and rather novel, basis for an Omen-like horror story of science vs voodoo, but this promising premise is thrown away in a shoddy piece of writing that has to resort to sudden, loud bangs to generate ANY kind of scare.

One might forgive the appalling dialogue, poor narrative structure and weak special effects if there were any sort of credible characterisation here, but alas there's none, and the only scary thing about this 'horror' movie is that it's actually managed to get made (and apparently turn a profit).

Although the biggest culprit in this excuse-for-a-movie is the writing, the casting hasn't helped either. Swank uses her 'girl next door' Jennifer Garner-type charm to good effect at every conceivable opportunity, and Idris Elba gives a similarly naturalistic performance. But they both struggle to cope with a leading man (Morissey) who seems to have had a charisma bypass just before shooting started. And it's thanks to the appalling script, that even Swank finds herself having to make sudden complete switches in rationality and leaps of faith that make her character less believable than the flimsiest of cartoon caricatures.

In short, the film is a bit of a mess from start to finish!

Idris Elba does what he can with a pitifully underwritten part as the heroine's 'best friend'.

As for the HD-DVD presentation... Let's get the good stuff out the way first. The sound is excellent. Every thud, moan and creek is beautifully presented without swamping out the main vocal track as happens so often with horror films. There's a better surround sound presence than you'd get with Dolby Digital 5.1 on a standard DVD.

Unfortunately, the sound is all this disc has going for it. Despite being a very recent film the picture is disappointing throughout. The noise on the dark scenes is amongst the worst I've seen, and even bright outdoor scenes are soft and lack colour and depth. There's nothing here you'd get over and above a standard DVD, and even the copious outdoor foliage looks dull and lifeless when compared with other HD-DVD offerings.

If the film's bad and the picture quality's bad, the extra's, unfortunately, aren't much better. Yet again we get a single 20-minute 'Making of' disguised as five separate extra's to fool casual browsers reading the sealed package's list of goodies into thinking they're getting a bargain. It goes without saying that even these meagre extra's are presented in standard, rather than high, definition.

Stephen Rea wonders how it could all have gone so wrong after such a fantastic start in 'The Crying Game'

A 14 minute documentary Science of the 10 Plagues is the meatiest extra, but has nothing to do with the film itself, other than the fact it discusses the original Egyptian 10 plagues from the Bible which are the backbone to the story told in the film.

We are then into two 5-minute features The Characters and A Place Called Haven which are thinly disguised excuses to just replay excerpts from the trailer rather than give any real insight into the film-making process.

Another feature, The Seventh Plague - Those Creepy Bugs, checks in at under 2 minutes, and is simply on-set home movie footage of a cast member bragging about getting close to the bugs. Finally, a 3-minute Scary Story, written and read by the film's youngest actor, AnnaSophia Robb, is the sort of 'I had a bad dream and then woke up and then the dream became real' infantile doggerel that kids of 5 or 6 would be ashamed to own up to. The fact that this narrated story is accompanied by 'film student' footage of vaguely appropriate images, segued into footage of the actress/story writer herself trying to look moody does nothing to rescue the thing.

At £17.99 (it's an over-priced combo with the HD-DVD on one side, and a Region 1 standard DVD version on the other) this is an HD-DVD you can afford to miss out on, even if you're a fan of B-movie horror. This is possibly worth seeing if you're a fan of Hilary Swank or it's a free rental, but otherwise it's one to avoid.

AnnaSophia Robb really isn't doing a poor impersonation of the boy from 'The Omen'! She's just reacting to feedback on her short story that's included on the DVD.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Where are the new reviews?

A three month contract in Ireland means I don't have access to my home theatre system or indeed the time to publish the full reviews this blog was set up to carry. However occasional "mini reviews" are appearing over on my personal blog in the meantime.

Normal service will hopefully be resumed in late September 2007 when fuller reviews will be published here to tie in with the launch of the new Shiny Discs web site.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Holiday (2006)

The Holiday

The launch of titles on HD-DVD in the UK has been pretty pathetic, and it's only the strong batch of US releases on what is a region-free format that have kept HD-DVD alive. Typically all we've had officially released in the UK are some of the more mediocre US releases, selling at grossly inflated prices months after they've been available from import companies at a far cheaper price. It's small wonder that Blu-Ray sales are outnumbering HD-DVD by a factor of several to one with the release strategy the film companies 'supporting' HD-DVD have adopted for the format.

So when we get an HD-DVD day-and-date release with the standard definition DVD release it's time to sit up and take notice, even if the genre (romantic comedy) is hardly one that's going to benefit from the increased resolution the format gives (unless you count more visible evidence that Cameron Diaz is getting older as a benefit!) and seems an odd choice to have made as a result.

Kate Winslet plays Iris, a British lass who does a holiday home swap and lands up in Los Angeles

Rom-coms are not known for their subtlety, or believability, but The Holiday takes the levels of ridiculousness to new depths. In the world of The Holiday a junior journalist can afford a chocolate box thatched cottage in the countryside (and happily commute to London each day), editors in Hollywood can afford Beverly Hills mansions with every conceivable gimmick installed, Jude Law can't get a date, snow will fall on Christmas Day despite there having been a blazing hot sun on Christmas Eve, a retired Hollywood writer can have a well-attended awards event held exclusively for him at just hours notice over the Christmas vacation, Kate Winslet can happily fall for chubby, double-chinned Jack Black, and... well you get the drift! This is fairy tale nonsense for those fantasists who still believe in the tooth fairy and Father Christmas!

The basic premise of the film is that 'a change of address can change your life'!Iris (Kate Winslet) is a junior journalist at The Telegraph in London. She's been wasting years of her life infatuated with senior journalist Jasper (Rufus Sewell), a cartoon character sleaze-ball, who sleeps with her when convenient, but shocks her by announcing at the staff Christmas party that he has become engaged to another co-worker.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the ball-busting workaholic Amanda (Cameron Diaz) finds her live-in musician boyfriend has been sleeping around while she's been putting all her efforts into building up her career as an editor of trailers for big Hollywood movies. After ditching the boyfriend she decides she needs a break to get away and nurse her wounds, and just happens to do so at the same time that Iris is looking for somewhere to go for Christmas. So the two women swap homes and (of course!) find true love on the other side of the Atlantic from the one they've been inhabiting all their lives.

Jude Law is Iris' brother, a single parent looking for a partner

In the crazy fantasy world that is The Holiday Iris has a widowed, unfeasibly good-looking brother (Jude Law with two impossibly cute daughters who just happens to stumble in on Amanda on her first miserable day in her holiday cottage. I think you can guess where this is going to go!

Back in Los Angeles Iris makes friends with a film composer (Jack Black) who just happens to get dumped by his girlfriend around the time Iris is getting ready to return to London. I wonder how that will affect their friendship! (Not!)

It seems somehow appropriate that this film should be released over Easter, because it induces exactly the same sickly nauseous feelings you get when you've eaten too many Easter eggs. I know rom-coms are meant to be light, fluffy 'feel good' films but The Holiday is saccharine-sweet 'comedy' featuring ridiculously honourable characters and pantomime villain ex-boyfriends that take the genres to new lows in any kind of believability. You not only need to turn your brain off before diving into this film, but ideally should have had it removed too.

Cameron Diaz is Amanda, a Hollywood film editor who has just escaped a bad relationship

If you're looking for the direction to improve a squirmingly awful script you're on a sticky wicket too. This is a film that believes having two women sending each other endless emails, reading them out word for word as they appear on screen, and doing this for minutes at a time, can pass as 'entertainment'. Even when the script tries to introduce a few genuine gags (the Hollywood trailer voice-over criticising her behaviour that Amanda hears, and the spoof trailer for a brain-dead Hollywood blockbuster have potential) the director throws away the opportunity to get a few good belly-laughs by repeating the rather weak joke far too often. Subtle, this isn't, and the director seems to have forgotten the most important rule of any rom-com: NEVER have your film run for more than 90 minutes. This 'epic' clocks in at well over 2 hours!

The film does have a few redeeming features: the picture quality is excellend, and it has an excellent main cast.

Kate Winslet is never less than charming, so much so that one ALMOST falls for the situation her character finds herself in. Cameron Diaz is fine at playing her usual manic 'cooky blonde' self. Jude Law doesn't have to do much except look pretty, but the real surprise is Jack Black who, arguably for the first time in his life, tones his performance down so that one doesn't get the impression he's doing a tiresome stand-up comic routine that's been shoe-horned inappropriately into the film. If only all this were enough. Admittedly the film looks good, but with a budget of $85 million (sheesh! For a rom-com??!!!!) it damned well should!

Jack Black is a Hollywood musician who strikes up a friendship with Iris

If the film is disappointing, and overly predictable, so are the extra's: there aren't any! Not one! Not even so much as a short five minute Making of featurette. I'd go into a rant about rip-off false advertising for what the HD-DVD format was going to give us, but having sat through two hours of the film, I really didn't feel I could face any more, and the lack of any additional material is actually a distinct advantage, earning the DVD an extra point from me!

If 'chick flicks' are your thing then this might be worth a rental. But for the vast majority of us this is a time-waster of a movie with no depth, no personality, no value and absolutely no basis in any kind of reality. My advice is to avoid it and look for something else!

Rufus Sewell is the rather unsavoury Jasper, who won't commit to Iris, but won't let her go either

Friday, 6 April 2007

The Good Shepherd (2007)

The Good Shepherd (HD-DVD)

Robert de Niro's second film (as director), The Good Shepherd is still in British cinema's, even as it gets an HD-DVD release State-side. Unfortunately it's one of those nasty, rather expensive combo-releases where the standard DVD, but Region 1 only, features on the reverse side. Fortunately the high definition side, unlike the rival Blu-Ray format, is region free and with Universal being the only film company that are exclusive to HD-DVD, long-suffering HD-DVD fans at last have something to feel good about with this 'exclusive' release, albeit at the rather inflated 'combo' import price.

Whether sales of this title will be strong remains to be seen. Recent negative reviews for the theatrical release are still likely to be fresh in potential purchasers minds. The film is directed by a man that many critics have (rather foolishly!) called 'this generation's finest actor', so why did so few critics appear to like the film? With a cast list to die for this should surely count as a 'must see'?

Mumble is an Emporer Penguin who hatches rather late, possibly because his father inadvertently dropped the egg while Mum was away

The Good Shepherd tells the story of the CIA, as seen through the eyes of Edwin Wilson (Matt Damon) over a period of more than twenty years. We follow Wilson's induction into the mysterious 'Skull and Bones' secret society, his work in England during the War for the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS, the precursor to the CIA), the formation of the CIA itself and conclude with the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion that was intended to topple Fidel Castro in Cuba.

The Cuban failure highlights the fact that there appears to be a mole inside Wilson's department, and this sub-plot forms the main backbone of the film. Wilson struggles to find the mole and prove that he is not the guilty party, while also trying to ascertain the meaning of a blurry video-tape sent to him by his Russian counterpart 'Ulysses' that may or may not have some bearing on the matter.

There's a lot to cover, and based on the running time of 2 hours 40 minutes, the film appears to have been allowed the time it needs. The film is a complicated one to tell since it involves numerous tales of treachery, double-crossing and double-double-crossing. As if that weren't complex enough there's the added complication of continually shifting timelines as the story in told in non-linear fashion.

There are two separate, and oft-times conflicting, plot-lines here: the history of the birth of the CIA, as told through Wilson's personal history and involvement with the organisation; and the story of the mole investigation which takes place alongside his attempts to discover the meaning of the video-tape. With sub-plots mashed up and timelines constantly shifting as the film jumps from one story strand to another, things get very confusing very quickly. A missed whispered sentence can mean the difference between having a clear understanding of the intricate, interwoven plot versus being totally flummoxed as to what is really happening and how one event relates to another. I suspect that your enjoyment or dislike of the film will rest entirely on your ability or inability to keep up and pay attention to every line spoken throughout the constantly twisting timelines and sub-plots. I guess it's not hard to see why so many critics dismissed the film as 'over-long' or 'poorly directed'.

Matt Damon in drag! Euuugh! But probably needed to show us the character isn't as repressed and buttoned down as he appears to be for most of the rest of the film

I think those critics pointing the finger of blame at De Niro have missed the point - the fault lies not with the direction (which is excellent), but partly with the rather-convoluted script - which, I admit, I'd find hard to put together any other way - and mainly with the fact that the central figure of Wilson, used to tell the tale, is not anyone the audience can readily identify with. Wilson is on screen throughout almost the entire running time of the film, and although his portrayal represents an incredible performance on the part of Matt Damon, it's just not a performance that the audience are likely to empathise with.

This is a complex tale, even without all its time jumps. At the risk of sounding condescending, the problem is there are just too many different characters and intrigues going on for the average viewer to be able to keep up, even given the deft performances and direction used here. Since this is a spy story told mostly about men who sit behind desks and have little-to-no personal lives, it's not hard not to see why modern audiences, more used to endless eye candy or touchy-feely rom-coms, might find the film somewhat hard to digest!

The attempt to breathe life into the script by showing so much of Wilson's private life should have worked, but fails here because he is such a buttoned-down caricature of a man that his personal life just isn't that interesting. This is in spite of the fact that it includes suicide, an indiscrete affair, resentful family members and ultimate treachery. Clearly there's something wrong when even having a wife as beautiful as Angeline Jolie can't make Wilson appear more interesting. He may make a great CIA employee, but as a human being he is really, really boring. And that doesn't make for a gripping or involving film experience.

Oleg Stefan plays Wilson's Russian counterpart 'Ulysses'

That beind said, I thought the film was beautifully executed. Direction and cinematography are excellent - there's a strong sense of style and consistency, without the direction ever being too showy or distracting. The score from Bruce Fowler and Marcelo Zarvos heightens the mood and subtlety of the piece, instead of distracting from it. And the performances are uniformly excellent.

The cast are a film-maker's dream. The big name leads of Matt Damon and Angeline Jolie are both excellent, but the real surprise is the number of big-hitters that impress even when given just minor roles. William Hurt, Michael Gambon, John Sessions, Billy Crudup and John Turturro all deliver note-perfect performances. Ironically enough it's only the director's own performance, and perhaps that of Alec Baldwin too, which hit a slightly sour note. Both De Niro and Baldwin come across as playing roles we've seen them play too many times before. Reading the cast list there are even a couple of strong actors I failed to spot (Timothy Hutton and Joe Pesci), so I guess a second viewing might be necessary. A special mention for two actors I've not seen before who deliver incredible performances. Oleg Stefan is delightfully charming but creepy as the Russian operative 'Ulysees'; and Tammy Blanchard playing Wilson's first girlfriend - a deaf beauty called Laura - lights up the screen every time she appears.

The film is shot mainly using cold blues, greens and greys that help enhance the mood of the piece, without resorting to the sort of de-saturated look that has annoyed me on so many other recent releases. The transfer to HD-DVD is good, without being stunning enough to highlight as reference quality. The picture is often soft and, if I'm honest, there's little here that impresses over and above what would be available on the best standard DVD release (assuming the title gets a high quality standard Region 2 DVD release later this year).

William Hurt is Philip Allen - Wilson's boss and the man Wilson suspects may be a traitor

Extra's are a mixture of the good and the bad. 'The good' is sixteen minutes of deleted scenes that are presented in fully finished form ie high-definition, with music and effects all up to the standard of the main feature. They add depth to some of the characters and sub-plots that have had to be rushed through in order to get the running time of the main feature down to 2 hours and 40 minutes. 'The bad' is the U-Control feature. This probably sounds treacherous coming from a supporter of the 'rival' to the Blu-Ray format, given how 'picture in picture' is proving to be a silver bullet in HD-DVDs claims for superiority (more on this in my personal blog 'Wednesday Wibble' next week), but one has to ask 'What on earth were Universal thinking?' in using this feature on this release.

U-Control is a feature that allows you to view a subsidiary 'feature' using a 'picture in picture' feature which, at the moment, Blu-Ray doesn't support. The idea is that when you switch the feature on an icon pops up whenever there is something of interest you might want to watch while the main film is still playing. In the case of The Good Shepherd what this means is that the usual Making of featurette is missing. Or rather it's spread across the whole duration of the film in a ridiculous postage-stamp sized window that can only be watched while the main feature is playing. If you want to hear Robert de Niro or any of the other film-makers talking about the film it's all here, but you have to spend two hours 40 minutes waiting for various bits of it to pop up at reduced size. How is this any kind of advantage over standard DVD? I know we live in a world dominated by the decisions of an MTV-raised generation that has the attention span of a newt, but this is a gimmick too far. It makes an interesting feature - a behind the scenes 'Making of' - absolutely useless. The only consolation the viewer has is that the standard DVD purchaser doesn't get this 'HD-DVD -exclusive' featurette at all.

The Good Shepherd was a film I enjoyed, albeit a fundamentally flawed film that will not be to everyone's taste. It's certainly worth a rental if you can spare the time, and possibly a purchase if you need to revisit it to catch the subtleties you are likely to miss on a single viewing.

Matt Damon and John Turturro - as Wilson and his closest assistant Ray Brocco - consider there may be a traitor in their midst when a Cuban operation is blown

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Happy Feet (2006)

Happy Feet

With the advent of DVD and big screen TVs cinema attendance figures are falling, but one film genre remains buoyant - the one aimed at kids.

CGI 'toons are the name of the game these days and although expensive to produce, the profits are so huge it seems everyone's jumping on the band wagon. It's unusual for kiddie-oriented fare to deliver less than 300 million dollars at the box office, particularly if released around school holiday time. Add in a few well-known 'voices' from the Hollywood A-list, and a few adult-oriented jokes and you're guaranteed a winner, regardless of the quality of the script or the CGI, as the abysmal A Shark's Tale proved.

CGI 'toons are a God-send for lazy film companies who want to make bucketloads of cash, with box office sales just being the tip of the iceberg where profits are concerned. Tie-in merchandising is a sure-fire seller, and kids love to watch and re-watch their favourite 'toons over and over again on DVD. A successful 'toon delivers a triple-whammy, as those parents who took the family to see the film at a cinema then buy the DVD and stuffed toys and games too. All-in-all it's a wonder anybody bothers to take risks by making films that aren't 'toons these days!

Mumble is an Emporer Penguin who hatches rather late, possibly because his father inadvertently dropped the egg while Mum was away

Happy Feet is yet another in the 'cute animal' series of CGI films that have hit the multiplexes this year. Fortunately it's written to a higher standard than most of this fare is, and although it can get a little preachy at times, especially in its final five minutes, there's enough here to keep the most jaded parent amused. The film probably deserves an extra star just for the innovation of NOT having a series of fart jokes in it!

CGI films generally look superb on DVD, but on HD-DVD they really shine and Happy Feet is no exception - this is a stunning looking disc, and a great advert for high definition (whether you're talking the HD-DVD disc reviewed here, or the Blu-Ray version that's also available).

Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood, is an Emperor Penguin who's a little different from the other penguins in the colony. This may or may not be down to his father accidentally dropping him while his mother was away foraging for food. In this story Emperor Penguins are generally born with a talent for singing, and the ability to compose and deliver a unique song that reflects their personality and helps attract a mate. Mumble, because of his 'disability' can't sing. He does however have a talent for tap-dancing, which the other penguins, and the Scottish Presbyterian leaders of the community in particular, find decidedly odd, if not downright abnormal.

Shunned and rejected Mumble makes friends with a group of foreign-sounding penguins, the 'Adelie Amigos', all seemingly voiced by Robin Williams, with outrageous foreign accents who love his tap-dancing in a way that his own breed can't. Mumble takes it upon himself to try and meet 'the aliens' who appear to have abducted the all-knowing Rockhopper penguin (again voiced by Williams) and who, he feels, may have some answers as to why the ice is melting and his own breed are struggling to survive.

Barry White-inspired Lovelace is a Rockhopper Penguin, one of (too) many characters voiced by Robin Williams

The CGI work is stunning, but there were times when I found the directorial style rather irritating. Too often the point of view is from ground level, so that the characters are nearly always towering over the camera and looking down. I can only assume this was a deliberate move as it's done so often, but I'm not sure why. The aim should be to involve the audience, but this tends to alienate the feeling of participation or reality: penguins are not known for being tall creatures! That issue aside some of the scenes are breath-taking, almost life-like, and appear to be almost 3-dimensional in quality thanks to the clarity of high-definition. For most of its running time the film is breath-taking and internally consistent, and it's only in the last five to ten minutes that things start to fall apart.

In the final section of the film, where the ecological sub-text suddenly gets ramped up a number of notches, real-life humans are added into what has been completely computer-generated imagery up to that point. Since humans have already been depicted in CGI this comes across as a rather hokey effect to emphasise the importance of the 'green' message. With everything that's gone before, the effect is not dissimilar from someone who's been driving a car down a straight road for 90 minutes suddenly deciding for no apparent reason to swing a hard left! The overall impression, increased by not just the change in tone, but the visual representations used, is of an ending that's been tagged on from a completely different film, and for no apparent reason!

The colony, and Mumble in particular, are bullied by their elders, all of whome seem, rather oddly, to be Scottish Presbyterians!

I also found the use of 'modern' pop songs irritating to the extreme. What happened to having songwriters actually write NEW songs for such films, instead of presenting us with hackneyed karaoke cover versions of 'popular' songs? There are a few word changes to acknowledge the fact the original song has been transplanted into a story, but the choice of songs doesn't seem particularly relevant to the story. Nor are the different songs consistent in style. One can only assume the decision was made based on needing to sell some obscure compilation album where the tracks available were negotiated at a bargain price, rather than their relevance to the plot.

Where the film does impress is in the casting. Of course if, like me, you find Robin Williams over-the-top performances more irritating than amusing, you may beg to differ, particularly since he's over-used here, voicing several characters instead of just one. But at least there is a script (of sorts)with a limited number of lines stopping him from completely taking over proceedings. Plus it's a relief we don't actually have to watch him.

Elijah Wood is perfectly cast as Mumble in a role that was tailor-made for him. Hugh Jackman shows with this film, as he does with Flushed Away (officially out on DVD tomorrow, when I'll be reviewing it), that he has a real talent for voice acting in the role of Memphis. Nicole Kidman turns in a surprisingly apt performance (I've never really been a fan of hers) as Norma Jean, and Hugo Weaving demonstrates (yet again) what a terrifically versatile actor he is, in the role of Noah the Elder.

Searching for the 'aliens' who seem to be causing the colony problems, Mumble is saved from almost certain death and lands up in a zoo, pictured here with a couple of the 'aliens' watching him from behind a glass screen

Despite the inclusion of the song Let's Talk About Sex (WHOSE idea was that??!!!), this is a very family-friendly movie, targeted mainly at a young age group. Unfortunately the same can't be said for the two 'new' scenes (actually deleted scenes) included as extra's on the 'Special Features' menu. One of these introduces the late Steve Irwin, voicing a bird who encounters Mumble on his travels and calls him a 'wanker'! Lord knows what they were thinking when they recorded that, let alone included it on a DVD that will no doubt be played by toddlers around the land!

While there's plenty of interest in the main feature for those adults happy to re-kindle their inner child, there are none of the usual adult 'in' jokes that usually dominate such fare. This may be a curse of a blessing, depending on your viewpoint of whether such deliberate tactics to maximise the potential audience generally work in favour of the film as a whole, or have the opposite effect.

The extra's on the disc are, unfortunately, a bit thin. There's no real Making of,cast interviews or even snippets of the celebrities who voice the characters at work, as has become the norm on DVDs of this sort of film. There are a couple of 'new' scenes that were deleted from the film, but both are short and add little value or real excitement, the way a genuinely new 'mini-feature' usually does.

The main addition is a rather tedious Take a Private Dance Lesson featurette where Savion Glover explains the choreography performed by the penguins and demonstrates the tap-dancing sequences - dull as dishwater for adults, let alone children with a short attention span. The package is rounded out with a couple of short music videos, together with an old Warner Brothers cartoon I Love to Singa, presumably included because it has a similar 'odd one out' theme to Happy Feet. There's nothing here to get very excited about, and certainly no real usage has been made of the much-touted HD-DVD features like the U-Control in-picture feature that the tentpole releases have implemented.

If you've got kids then Happy Feet has to be a purchase rather than rental. This is one that is likely to get played over and over again. Even if you haven't got kids, if you're looking for a high definition showcase disc, this is as close to perfection as it gets, with some breath-takingly sharp hi-resolution scenes. Happy Feet is rather flawed in several respects, but it has a good heart and is a little gem of an HD-DVD nevertheless. Recommended!

Oddly, CGI toon work is abandoned for real life footage for the 'message' at the end of the film