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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Secret of NIMH



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#1 of 38 Matt Hough

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Posted March 28 2011 - 01:47 PM

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The Secret of NIMH (Blu-ray)
Directed by  Don Bluth

Studio: MGM
Year: 1982
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec  
Running Time: 83 minutes
Rating: G
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, Spanish, others
Subtitles:  SDH. French, Spanish


Region:  A
MSRP:  $ 19.99



Release Date: March 29, 2011

Review Date: March 28, 2011

 

 

The Film

3.5/5

 

Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH is a darker and more ominous animated film than the features that were then being produced at his old home Disney at the time (the closest Disney title in tone and temperament to NIMH was The Black Cauldron which premiered three years after this), and while the animation is first-rate, the storytelling is still a bit rocky and erratic. Based on an award-winning children’s book, The Secret of NIMH likely plays much better today than it did on its first release. A more serious story and the lack of lovable, huggable characters distinguish it from what was passing as top tier feature animation at the time.

 

With her son desperately ill with pneumonia and her home under imminent threat from a man pulling a plow over the concrete block where they reside, field mouse Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman) ventures out into the world to get medicine from Mr. Ages (Arthur Malet) and advice on moving her concrete block from the Great Owl (John Carradine). He suggests that she enlist the “rats of NIMH” to help her with her moving problem, and during the course of her adventures, she learns that these particular rats were scientifically experimented upon resulting in super intelligence and that they have ties to her late husband. The rat pack is in the midst of a struggle for power with the evil Jenner (Paul Shenar) battling with the heroic Justin (Peter Strauss) for control of the group. Head sorcerer Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi) does what he can to instill confidence in Mrs. Brisby that things can turn out for the best if she’s willing to conquer her fears and proceeed with courage.

 

With superb animation on display (but lacking the multiplane camera which would have given the images even greater depth than they now have), the film is a pleasure to experience. It gets off to a somewhat murky start with a pre-credit sequence that’s puzzling (we don’t know who’s speaking or what he’s talking about, and it isn’t cleared up for almost an hour), and some rather flat early sequences as Mrs. Brisby struggles frantically to get to the doctor to get medicine for her child may leave adults squirming in their seats early on. Her initial encounters with the klutzy crow Jeremy (Dom DeLuise) wear out their welcome fast, and while the bewildered bird is probably a kiddie favorite, a little of him goes a long way throughout the film. (Originally planned to be in only two scenes, the actor voicing him was such a hit in the recording studio that his improvisations were incorporated into seven sequences of the movie.) Action picks up and the tone becomes more deliciously threatening as the film proceeds neatly drawing in everyone’s attention to the climactic fight sequence. Earlier, an escape from a cat makes for engrossing viewing, and the “moving day” sequence with frantic field animals scurrying away en masse lend a real air of excitement to the drama of the movie. To their credit, the filmmakers have not shied away from the darker aspects of life. There are three prominent deaths in the movie, and they aren’t sugar-coated for the young ones either. No, the film doesn’t become a blood-spattered canvas, but the realities and harshness of life for these creatures aren’t neglected either.

 

The voice casting is superb. Elizabeth Hartman gracefully segues from tentative fright to real resolve during the course of the movie. The wonderful Hermione Baddeley steals all of her scenes as the scatter-brained know-it-all Auntie Shrew. John Carradine’s naturally low-speaking voice lends a real gravitas to his lordly owl sequence while Dom DeLuise does his usual chattering silliness as the addled crow. There is wonderful contrast to the respective heroics and villainy of Peter Strauss and Paul Shenar as the rivals for the control of NIMH. Look closely into the cast list, and you’ll see the very young Wil Wheaton and Shannen Doherty voicing two of Mrs. Frisby’s children.

 

 

Video Quality

4/5

 

The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While the image has not been given the scrub and polish of the latest Disney animated classics (which some will breathe a sigh of relief about), the integrity of the film look has been retained with grain present and colors alternately bright or muted depending on the shots. Color density is generally fine though occasionally there is slight flicker in the image. There is no banding to be seen in the frame. Sharpness is generally excellent, but there are some shots which seem a bit soft and ill-matched to the shots before and after them. Clean-up has removed all scratches from previous releases and most of the dirt, too, though there are some white and black specks to be seen throughout the presentation. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.

 

 

Audio Quality

4/5

 

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound presentation effectively blends the well-recorded dialogue with the decent (but not outstanding) sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s winning score to produce a very good aural experience. The song “Flying Dreams” makes for a lovely ballad reproduced with better than average fidelity, and there is some good, tight bass in the mix, too.

 

 

Special Features

2.5/5

 

The audio commentary is provided by producer-director-writer-animator Don Bluth and producer-animator-writer Gary Goldman. They have an easy camaraderie and both contribute many memories about the making of the movie. Fans of the movie will enjoy hearing the two men discuss problems they encountered, shots they’d like to go back and fix, and praise to all who worked on the film.

 

“Secrets Behind the Secret” is a 2007 making-of featurette where Gary Goldman and Don Bluth discuss putting their new studio together, the importance of animators being actors, and other assorted memories of making this movie. It runs for 14 ½ minutes in 480i.

 

The theatrical trailer is presented in 4:3 but is in 1080p and runs for 2 ¼ minutes.

 

The disc also contains a promo trailer in 1080p for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

 

 

In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

 

A dark but delightful animated adventure with perhaps a more menacing tone than much of the animation being produced at the time, The Secret of NIMH looks and sounds very nice in high definition, and the sprinkling of bonus material is also welcome.

 

 

 

Matt Hough

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#2 of 38 Johnny Angell

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Posted March 28 2011 - 02:26 PM

I agree with Matt characterizing this movie as darker than most animation.  I'm going to have to give it a rental before I buy because I can't remember how well I liked it.


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#3 of 38 Adam Gregorich

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Posted March 28 2011 - 03:31 PM

Thanks for the review Matt.  I was a little nervous about all the MGM titles being cranked out.  Glad to hear (see?) that the video looks good and it seems to be a good buy at $13.99



#4 of 38 Brisby

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Posted March 28 2011 - 04:33 PM

I still wish they included the 1:33.1 version as well.



#5 of 38 TonyD

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Posted March 28 2011 - 05:47 PM



Originally Posted by Brisby 

I still wish they included the 1:33.1 version as well.


Why is that?



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#6 of 38 Spottedfeather

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Posted March 28 2011 - 06:32 PM

I really love this movie but I'm kind of mad that I got it on blu-ray. The picture is horrible. Almost every shot has what I call Pitting. It's not from age or damage. I don't mind the flicks and film "stuff." Sometimes that can add to the atmosphere of a movie. But this transfer has had the sharpness turned up way too high and created the pitting/blockyness. This is the worst looking blu-ray that I have ever seen. It's even worse than the 10th Anniversary dvd of Highlander. I can't believe they didn't do any restoration at all besides messing up the sharpness. Stick with the dvd. Hopefully they do American Tail and Land Before Time right when they come out. I thought that watching it on a non HD tv would help. But it didn't. Still looks like crap.



#7 of 38 Radioman970

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Posted March 29 2011 - 12:14 AM



Originally Posted by TonyD 




Why is that?



I think it's usually open matte on this particular film.  More visual info...  I think..?


My fav animated film.  Love it!  will upgrade.  So...4th dip on this.  *sigh* 

Glad the trailer is included this time.  The 2-DVD set didn't, but the lacking 1-dvd release did.


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#8 of 38 Matt Hough

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Posted March 29 2011 - 12:20 AM



Originally Posted by Brisby 

I still wish they included the 1:33.1 version as well.



In his commentary, the director expresses his glee that the high def release will be the theatrical widescreen version, not the 4:3 version he's watching while doing the commentary.




#9 of 38 Carlo Medina

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Posted March 29 2011 - 04:40 AM

I'm hoping this is a proper widescreen. I don't remember all the hubbub around the original DVD release, but I think it amounted to this:


Some people claimed (and I am no expert so I can't confirm) that the 1.33 image on the original DVD was not true open matte, but a pan and scan version. Then the "widescreen" version was simply a matted down version of the pan-and-scan, so the resulting image was a severely cropped version of the movie--although the aspect ratio is correct it wasn't the entire theatrical picture you saw on the DVD, but something that was cropped on all sides, preserving the "ratio" but robbing you of a lot of picture image on all four sides.


Again, I can't confirm or deny, just what I recall reading/seeing. I've already preordered this and so I have high hopes that this is the true theatrical aspect ratio. If it truly was drawn in 1.33:1 it would have been cool to have that version (being the completist that I am) but I'll definitely settle for the true theatrical aspect ratio.


What worries me is that the director is talking with glee about a product he hasn't seen. He's doing the commentary on a 1.33 version and he's been told by the disc authors that the widescreen version will be the true theatrical version, but who knows how involved he is on that front. If he's a hands-on Ridley Scott type of director then I have faith. If he's just believing what the disc authorers are saying, then I have some reservations until I see the final product. Should arrive tomorrow so I look forward to screening it tomorrow night and comparing with the DVD version I have.



#10 of 38 Radioman970

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Posted March 29 2011 - 08:12 AM

I hope it looks at least as good as the blu ray for Heavy Metal.  I was very happy with it.  I felt it was how the film should look, warts and all.

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#11 of 38 Mark-P

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Posted March 29 2011 - 08:42 AM

LOL! Methinks he doesn't like natural film-grain...

Originally Posted by Spottedfeather 

I really love this movie but I'm kind of mad that I got it on blu-ray. The picture is horrible. Almost every shot has what I call Pitting. It's not from age or damage. I don't mind the flicks and film "stuff." Sometimes that can add to the atmosphere of a movie. But this transfer has had the sharpness turned up way too high and created the pitting/blockyness. This is the worst looking blu-ray that I have ever seen. It's even worse than the 10th Anniversary dvd of Highlander. I can't believe they didn't do any restoration at all besides messing up the sharpness. Stick with the dvd. Hopefully they do American Tail and Land Before Time right when they come out. I thought that watching it on a non HD tv would help. But it didn't. Still looks like crap.






#12 of 38 Colin Jacobson

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Posted March 29 2011 - 08:52 AM



Originally Posted by Mark-P 

LOL! Methinks he doesn't like natural film-grain...





"NIMH" goes well beyond "natural film grain" - it's super-grainy.  And dirty.  And often fuzzy for no apparent reason.


I don't agree with the high rating the transfer got here - I thought the image was a 2.5/5 at best...



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#13 of 38 Lord Dalek

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Posted March 30 2011 - 01:01 AM



Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson 




"NIMH" goes well beyond "natural film grain" - it's super-grainy.  And dirty.  And often fuzzy for no apparent reason.


I don't agree with the high rating the transfer got here - I thought the image was a 2.5/5 at best...



Sounds more like artifacts brought on by budgetary issues. Remember, Bluth was working outside of the studio system for this. To try to "fix" (ala Disney) a lot of the cell dirt and exposure problems would be too detrimental to the final product.




#14 of 38 Colin Jacobson

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Posted March 30 2011 - 02:01 AM



Originally Posted by Lord Dalek 




Sounds more like artifacts brought on by budgetary issues.



Maybe.  It was still an ugly picture much of the time and that a 4/5 overstates what you'll see...



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#15 of 38 Spottedfeather

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Posted March 30 2011 - 07:34 AM



Originally Posted by Lord Dalek 




Sounds more like artifacts brought on by budgetary issues. Remember, Bluth was working outside of the studio system for this. To try to "fix" (ala Disney) a lot of the cell dirt and exposure problems would be too detrimental to the final product.

It's not artifacts from budgetary issues. The colours are fine and the film grain is fine. It seems like there is a blanket over the entire picture that made of tiny blocks. It seems to be more from some strange digital manipulation than anything else. It's a horrible transfer. This "pit grid" that covers the entire movie hasn't been there in other transfers of the movie that I've seen. It's not film grain, which is fine. It's not flecks or "old movie flicking", which is also fine. There is just a sort of pitting or haze over the entire movie.






#16 of 38 Spottedfeather

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Posted March 30 2011 - 07:34 AM



Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson 




"NIMH" goes well beyond "natural film grain" - it's super-grainy.  And dirty.  And often fuzzy for no apparent reason.


I don't agree with the high rating the transfer got here - I thought the image was a 2.5/5 at best...


2.5 is really being generous.






#17 of 38 Edwin-S

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Posted March 30 2011 - 11:28 AM

I was hoping to finally add this film to my collection, but it sounds like, once again, Bluth's best film has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to a quality release. Even the cover art is shit, with a zero sense of design: just characters randomly plastered over a generic background. It makes it look like this film was just your typical made-for-TV shlock animated film with low budget, low quality animation and design.  This film deserves better. It deserves a proper clean-up and transfer and with proper cover art, meaning the original theatrical poster art which was a great piece of work. Maybe one of these years a proper release of this film will finally get done: I hope before I shuffle off this mortal coil. In the meantime I'll have to keep waiting for this film, along with another favorite: The Plague Dogs.


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#18 of 38 Radioman970

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Posted March 30 2011 - 10:54 PM

^^ Posted Image


I think that's how all of us think with this film.  The studio should take note.  How many potential buyers are steering clear of this because of that stupid cover and how many parents are buying this film for their 4 year old?

God.  *puts head in hands* Plague Dogs.  You had to bring up Plague Dogs.  *refills anti-depressant drugs...then refills them again with forged prescription...then gets another forged prescription and takes it to another pharmacy in another town and fills it*   To quote HeeHaw:  "gloom despair and agony on me...oooOOOOhhh!"


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#19 of 38 Carlo Medina

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Posted March 31 2011 - 06:07 AM

I watched about half of this last night. My rating is somewhere in between Colin's and Matt's. I think I saw some of the things (some occasional haziness that I don't think I'd attribute to some post-processing, but rather maybe from the master they used) that Colin described, but not to the point where I'd knock it down to a 2.5. I'd probably rate this about 3.25/5 for picture. I would stop short of calling it super-grainy and dirty. I saw grain, but not anything I would consider egregious, and I saw some dirt but nothing out of line with other catalog titles that haven't gone through an extensive cleanup or restoration.


Not sure about the aspect ratio question - it is framed at 1.85:1 (I saw the minute black bars on my non-overscanned 16x9 TV) and nothing looked too tightly framed or abnormally off-center. I hate to sound like I'm settling, but for $14 shipped from Amazon, I think I got roughly what I paid for. As with everyone else, I'd love to have a full restoration of one of my favorite animated films of all time, but I think it's a matter of financial sense for the studio. I don't think this title would generate the sales that the Disney titles do with regards to justifying a restoration, and Bluth Films is now defunct and Fox shut down Fox Animation (which is where he made Anastasia and Titan A.E. - an underrated film IMHO which bombed in the B.O.).


I just don't think Bluth has the financial cache anymore to be able to do this title justice, unfortunately.



#20 of 38 Mark-P

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Posted March 31 2011 - 06:37 AM

Ah, the voice of reason. I think expectations are just too high for some of these catalog titles on Blu-ray. Sure it's possible for the studio to sink a ton of money into a full restoration by scanning original elements and using digital tools to make it look like high-def video. Obviously they do it for some high prestige titles but I really don't have a problem with putting catalog titles out on Blu-ray that just replicate the original look of the movie on film. If I can find this BD for under $10 I will buy it.

Originally Posted by Carlo Medina 

...I'd probably rate this about 3.25/5 for picture. I would stop short of calling it super-grainy and dirty. I saw grain, but not anything I would consider egregious, and I saw some dirt but nothing out of line with other catalog titles that haven't gone through an extensive cleanup or restoration...









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