Gnomeo & Juliet (3D Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Kelly Asbury
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 84 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Review Date: May 22, 2011
Romeo and Juliet has been around for more than four hundred years, and the story (which was not original to Shakespeare, mind you, who adapted a lengthy narrative poem for his own tragedy) has been molded and shaped in a variety of ways with the tale of feuding families and their tragic consequences showing up additionally on the stages for opera, ballet, and musical theater interpretations as well as many different stage and screen incarnations. Gnomeo & Juliet takes the rival family scenario and a few of the characters from the Shakespearean version translated into a story of feuding garden gnomes and has played it for laughs. Too bad that the laughs are few and far between with a large slate of writers (which includes director Kelly Asbury) relying on the innate cuteness of the statuary to fulfill the precious quotient for the movie. In different hands, this could have been a mega-charmer, but set pieces aren’t developed with thoroughness, much of the humor is desperate, and the characters, even with some superb voice talent behind them, aren’t as memorable as they should have been. Chalk this one up as a near-miss.
The blue garden gnomes of Miss Montague and the red garden gnomes of Mr. Capulet have had animosity for one another ever since their owners declared their mutual distaste for one another. Regardless, the blue Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and the red Juliet (Emily Blunt) meet cute and fall instantly in love with one another. They know their families will never approve of their match, and when Juliet’s competitive cousin Tybalt (Jason Statham) gets broken during an altercation with Gnomeo and Gnomeo himself appears to be smashed, Juliet feels her life has come to an end. To make sure there is nothing amiss, Juliet’s father (Michael Caine) glues her to her pedestal so she can’t go anywhere, and it’s left to their mutual friend Featherstone (Jim Cummings), a slow-witted plastic pink flamingo, to try to repair the damage to the lovers’ feelings.
Knowing that director Kelly Asbury was one of the directors of Shrek 2 helps us understand why many of the sight and sound gags in the movie trade rather cheaply on imagery from movie history. It was very easy to spot lines and images borrowed from the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Rambo, American Beauty, and Grease, and inserting someone like the unmistakable Dolly Parton into this very British world of garden sculpture seems a even cheaper way to garner some laughs with instant recognition. (Hulk Hogan as the hyper-voiced commentator on a TV infomercial is far easier to excuse.) Was the script so bankrupt of humorous ideas that the writers (who include Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, Mark Burton, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, and Steve Hamilton Shaw in addition to the director) had to resort to these derivative tricks? The movie starts with a wonderful sight gag as a gnome pays tribute to the Shakespeare original by reading the Chorus’ Prologue, and other delightful moments in the film like the lawn mower race and the poignant story of the overgrown, unkempt garden where Featherstone is found set to a new and effective Elton John tune “Love Built the Garden” show that the filmmakers were not completely insolvent of ideas. But apart from another new and appealing John tune “Hello, Hello” (which sets up their meet-cute), the movie relies too much on retreads of his hits “Rocket Man” and “Crocodile Rock” (done in a kind of Soul Train-inspired finale) and some characters (Featherstone, frog statue Nanette) which aren’t nearly as funny as their makers are hoping they’ll be. There are a couple of Shakespearean verbal puns thrown in for good measure, but they’re connected to his other plays like Macbeth and Hamlet and really have no business here.
Emily Blunt and especially James McAvoy wring out wonderful emotion in voicing their title characters, and Michael Caine and Maggie Smith add their own patented class as the heads of the respective feuding families. Jim Cummings as Featherstone and Ashley Jensen as Nanette try their best to bring some comic vivacity to the proceedings (she’s more successful than he is but mostly because the animators give her some good sight gags with her water-spouting ability). Jason Statham is at his blustery best as Gnomeo’s hot-tempered adversary Tybalt. As Gnomeo’s fun-loving friend Benny, Matt Lucas doesn’t distinguish himself.
3D implementation – 3/5
The film has been framed at its theatrical 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. As with many CGI animated films, the images are exceptionally sharp, pointedly bright, and supremely colorful. The images are so detailed that scratches, chips, and nicks on the plaster of the gnomes are readily apparent. Colors are deeply saturated but never bleed (impressive since red figures so prominently in the color scheme of the movie). In fact, the images would be reference quality were it not for some slight banding noticed in some lighter colored backgrounds later in the movie. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
In terms of the 3D implementation, the filmmakers seem to have converted the film to 3D rather than filming originally with the process because almost innumerable instances where objects could have emerged from the screen into the audience’s faces (Featherstone’s beak, the gnomes’ pointed hats, a garden hose) have not been exploited in the least. There is a moment where some cut grass almost seems to come toward us and some dandelion florets flutter in tantalizingly close proximity to the edges of the screen, but those are the only examples of image projections, and they go by in the blink of an eye. The 3D transfer does feature impressive depth of field, and the placement of objects on multiple planes certainly is successfully rendered, but this film could have been a feast for multi-dimensional exploitation, and it simply isn’t.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix does a fantastic job of piping Elton John’s songs and James Newton Howard’s score throughout the soundstage with resonant and extremely appealing fidelity. Elsewhere, though, the surround channels don’t get the kind of intricate use that Pixar and Dreamworks CGI features manage to implement so thoroughly in their releases. Dialogue has been beautifully recorded and while most of it has been placed in the center channel, there are some welcome instances of directionalized dialogue which extend the soundfield appreciably.
The 3D disc in the set contains only a 3D 1080p trailer for Cars 2.
The 2D Blu-ray disc contains the following bonus features:
“Elton Builds a Garden” is a 5 ¾-minute series of brief interviews with executive producer Elton John, producer David Furnish, and director Kelly Asbury discussing bringing the movie to the screen, the casting of the leading players, and the classic and new songs Elton John decided to use with the film. It’s in 1080p.
There are two alternate endings, both introduced by director Kelly Asbury explaining why they weren’t ultimately used for the film. They’re presented in story reel format and are in 480i. They may be watched separately or in one 4-minute grouping.
There are eight deleted/alternate scenes again each introduced by the director who explains why they didn’t make it into the final film. Again presented in story reel format, these 480i clips run a total of 42 ½ minutes together but can be viewed individually.
“Frog Talk with Ashley Jensen” is a (too) brief look behind the scenes as actress Ashley Jensen records some of her dialogue for the film. This 1080p vignette runs 1 ¾ minutes.
“The Fawn of Darkness” shows rocker Ozzy Osbourne recording his lines for the movie and describing his lawn fawn character. It runs 1 ½ minutes in 1080p.
“Crocodile Rock” music video is performed by Nelly Furtado and Elton John in a 1 ½-minute featurette presented in 1080p.
There are promo trailers for The Lion King, Winnie the Pooh, Spooky Buddies, Dumbo, Epic Mickey, and The Fox & the Hound/The Fox & the Hound 2.
The other disc in the set combines the DVD copy of the movie with the digital copy of the movie. Instructions are enclosed for installing it on PC and Mac devices.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Gnomeo & Juliet is reasonably entertaining, but it’s a litany of missed opportunities suggesting that the makings of a real classic were just missed by the filmmakers. The high definition release doesn’t offer the rich bonus feature package that is often part and parcel of successful CGI films, but the video and audio quality of the movie are excellently rendered.