DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Looney Tunes - Back In Action.

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Feb 26, 2004.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]

    Looney Tunes – Back In Action





    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 2003
    Rated: PG
    Film Length: 92 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD 5.1
    Color/B&W: Color
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $27.95
    Package: Snap Case





    The Feature:
    If you read my recent review of the Looney Tunes – The Golden Collection, then you know I am passionate about vintage WB animation. I don't know if that makes me any more qualified than the next guy to review this disc, or if it in fact, hinders my ability based on my bias for the original animation. Admittedly, try as I might, I can assure you it's the latter. Just like Space Jam, I knew I had to go into this without wanting to feel any connection with the familiar characters. Let’s face it, other than general appearances, without the likes of Clampett, Freleng, Jones, McKimson and Blanc et al in the credits, do Looney Tunes even exist?

    Although I didn't see Looney Tunes – Back In Action theatrically, I recall having heard many favorable things about the film, including its all star studded cast consisting of Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton, Heather Locklear and Joan Cusack, among others. It's a modern film with a sizeable budget written by Larry Doyle and directed by Joe Dante. He is responsible for some of the live-action/live-animation films like Small Soldiers and the Gremlins films.

    Since this film will undoubtedly appeal to kids and those of us who grew up watching Looney Tunes, I watched this with my two boys (aged 6 and 8) since they're up and coming Looney Tunes aficionados (ah... the power of persuasion...).

    Kate (Jenna Elfman) is a WB studio executive who fires Daffy Duck. DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser) is a WB lot security guard and aspiring stunt man who, while escorting the dithpicable duck out, virtually destroys much of the lot and is subsequently fired. DJ happens to be the son of Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton) who is a spy and parodies his past James Bond character. Daffy, who is now out of work follows DJ home only to find that he has been summoned by his father to help him on an assignment to retrieve the Blue Monkey Diamond, a mystical jewel that has supernatural powers.

    While DJ is in search of his father and the elusive diamond, Kate discovers she now faces the axe if she doesn’t return Daffy to WB and restore his contract. The pair team up with Daffy in tow, in a search that will take them around the world. The evil Acme Corporation is headed by Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) who is over the top as the evil villain and willing to do anything to get his hands on the Blue Monkey Diamond. It’s now a race to see who can secure the jewel and stop the evil chairman from turning the world into monkeys. Our course, along the way we see many familiar faces rounding out the cast, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Taz, Marvin Martian, Foghorn, Porky Pig and Yosemite Sam who all make cameo appearances.

    One cannot help but think or want to compare this to the past blockbuster with a similar plot (as hard as those last two words were to type, you heard me correct), Space Jam. It’s glaringly obvious that this is nothing more than an attempt to replicate the formula of placing animated characters in the real world and vice-versa. Even though Daffy takes the lead, the story, is secondary to the characters, but features those characters with the hope of their presence being enough to carry the entire film.

    Whether the comparison is fair or not, one can't help but think this was
    some sort of an extension of Space Jam or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It tries too hard to achieve something that's simply not possible... and in all fairness I'm not sure that any attempt would be possible other than to cash in on the previous financial success of Space Jam. There are literally dozens of pop-culture and past motion picture moments referenced and parodied, which I felt was mildly entertaining and was really the only reason I remained even remotely interested.

    However, when it was all said and done, at the end of the movie we exited the theater and my boys said, "that was great, Dad. It looked and sounded really good too"... and in this case, that's all that really matters. In an attempt to be diplomatic to the bitter end, I said “yeah guys… well… it did have some… er, funny parts”…



    Video:
    I was rather disappointed with the overall appearance of this transfer, although it might be faithfully representative of the theatrical presentation. Unfortunately (er… fortunately), I didn’t see it theatrically, so it’s hard for me to say. However, I felt the image was overly soft with only occasional sharpness. There were several scenes which did look superb but that particular look wasn’t the norm.

    The colors were mostly vibrant, particularly during the animation sequences and appeared nicely saturated. Skin tones were somewhat inconsistent, with a bit of a red push at times, but overall satisfactory. Black levels were exceptional and whites were stark and clean.

    There was virtually no grain to speak of and the print seemed to be crystal clear of any debris, dust or scratches as we would expect for such a new release. They seemed to have handled the disc nicely in that there were virtually no compression issues nor was there much in the way of edge enhancement as a distraction. There were a number of sunny outdoor desert scenes and EE only surfaced on a couple of occasions which I didn’t find bothersome.

    It seems as though the bar for our beloved format gets raised on a weekly basis as to what we have come to expect. My expectations of new releases exceed what has been presented with this disc and I would grade the video as satisfactory at best.



    Audio:
    The soundtrack provided is encoded in DD 5.1 and is relatively healthy and somewhat aggressive as we might expect.

    Most importantly, the dialogue was always crystal clear and even with all of the zany antics, gags and explosions it was always clear and intelligible. One of the highlights is an impressive score by Jerry Goldsmith which is nicely rendered with a sufficiently wide soundstage. Frequency response was slightly above average allowing many of the effects to sound rather solid and robust.

    The surrounds were deployed quite effectively with the many explosions, car chases and general woo hoos of Daffy. There was also a decent amount of LFE use to accentuate many of the explosions and action sequences.

    All in all, a better than average soundtrack. Nice job.



    Special Features:
    There are several special features, starting with:
    [*] Behind The Tunes is a short featurette and ground tour of the WB lot, narrated by Bugs and Daffy which includes Joe Dante, set creations, props, transportation and how they procured six 74’ Gremlins. It also features short cameos from Fraser and Elfman. Duration: 08:46 minutes.
    [*] Bang, Crash, Boom!. This is a short feature also narrated by Bugs and Daffy describing many of the special effects and the inclusion of animation into live action as well as the water tower crash. Duration: 07:25 minutes.
    [*] Looney Tunes: Out of Action. Best Scenes You’ve Never Seen which is self explanatory. There’s about a dozen or so scenes as well as an alternate ending and an alternate opening, many of which weren’t even completed before they were cut. No surprises here, as these wouldn’t have done much to enhance the film. Duration: 10:35 minutes.
    [*] Whizzard of Ow is a newly produced and rather dull animated short featuring the Coyote and the Roadrunner. Duration: 07:09 minutes.
    [*] Theatrical Trailer… an impressive trailer which looks great but surely isn’t representative of the 92 minutes you’re about to endure…
    [*] Finally there is some DVD-ROM material included as well.



    Final Thoughts:
    As I was watching this movie, I found myself almost distracted, constantly asking myself two questions over and over; 1. Why does there seem to be a need to keep creating these modern day versions of Looney Tunes, other than for the obvious reasons in which even that didn't work in this case. And, 2. Steve Martin... what were you thinking? The same Steve Martin responsible for bringing us Neal Page… Without belaboring the point, Martin's choices have been laughable at best, over the past couple of years.

    Perhaps I'm simply too much of a purist for my own good but the cashing in on the brilliance of the animation most of us know and love is tantamount to sacrilege, especially when virtually nothing is accomplished artistically speaking, other than to make a buck.

    The problem with this film is that most of what is supposed to be funny will go clearly over the heads of our kids. For those of us sitting with our kids, it’s pretty clear that the intent of the so-called humor was to have it surface by way of tugging on nostalgia. It just didn’t work. Personally, I wasn't even remotely amused. If you're looking for a better movie, conscious of value the Space Jam SE is the better package. It might be nothing more than a two hour Michael Jordan advertisement, but it does what it sets out to do; entertain - never taking itself very serious in the process.

    For Looney Tunes – Back In Action, I'd be hard pressed to pull the trigger on a rental, never mind a purchase.




    Release Date: March 2nd, 2004
     
  2. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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    Damn solid review, Herb, although I enjoyed the movie a lot more than you did! [​IMG] Looking forward to this DVD!
     
  3. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    Herb, great review as always I really do enjoy them. I'll probably end up picking this up, if and only if I can get a good price on it, 27 bucks is a bit much IMO!

    Thanks as always
     
  4. Doug Wallen

    Doug Wallen Cinematographer

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    My 10 year old son is eagerly awaiting this film. Glad he doesn't read reviews. Neither of us has seen this, hope he will enjoy this next week when it arrives.
     
  5. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    herb i noticed you dont have stars or thumbs up's on your reviews.
    is this something you just don'tlike or never thought of adding?
     
  6. Dave Vaughn

    Dave Vaughn Stunt Coordinator

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    I had very low expectations going into this movie, but I did enjoy it. My kids, 5 & 7 loved it. That is the audience that they were after.

    Dave
     
  7. Sean Campbell

    Sean Campbell Second Unit

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    Although it wasn't a great movie, the very fact that it featured Bugs and Daffy in the same scene as two Daleks makes it a must purchase for this WB animation/Dr Who fan [​IMG]
     
  8. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Tony, I prefer to give a summary explanation of the movie (most importantly) and the disc's presentation. Personally, I have concerns with stars or ratings in terms of remaining subjectively consistent. My preference is to give as much detail as possible and let you folks decide whether or not it works for you.

    Herb.
     
  9. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    Herb, it is this statement that best explains why I like your reviews so much, so basically it works for me.
     
  10. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    I JUST WATched it and thought it was excellent, except for steve martin, just too silly for me.

    the cameos from the sci fi monsters were great and the others near the beginning were just too funny.

    well worth owning for any loony tunes fan.

    only comparing to spy kids 3-d because it just came out a couple weeks ago, but this movie is so much funnier and more fun that it is a much better movie for kids and families to watch.
    SK 3-D is just a waste.

    the new short with the cyote and road runner was funny too. nit as good as the classics but still funny.
    it started out in wide ratio then seemed to turn into full frame.
    it looked to me like it was a cropped version as the sides were very tight and alot seemed to be missing from the edges.
    was this shown in theaters before the movie?
     
  11. Dan Rudolph

    Dan Rudolph Producer

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    I saw this in the theater and there was no short.
     
  12. Sean Campbell

    Sean Campbell Second Unit

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    The short played with the movie during the European release. If memory serves me correct it was widescreen ( looked 2:35:1 actually )
     
  13. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    Picked this up today, as I saw it in theaters and really enjoyed it.

    And thank you for the very well-written review, but I've got to disagree with you Herb. I thought Back in Action was vastly superior to Space Jam. I mildly enjoyed Jam, but it was mostly because of Bill Murray, who was funnier than the Looney Tunes characters were, and that's not the way it should be.

    Like most of Joe Dante's films, Back in Action spoofs everything, including itself. And while the magic of the classic shorts isn't perfectly recaptured, the characters seem a lot more like themselves than they did in Jam. Although I do agree that Steve Martin was too over-the-top.

    A really fun movie for kids and adults, I thought.
     
  14. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    You sure you did not get the Full-Frame version by mistake? If this film was shot anamorphically it would not be strange at all for sections containing titles to be shown letterboxed, because it's against guild rules to crop out credits from the frame.
     
  15. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    will what are you asking?

    do you refer to the movie or the short because i was talking about the short.

    the movie i watched was oar.
    the short appeared tobe chopped.
     
  16. WillG

    WillG Producer

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    Oh, never mind then. I didn't catch that part.

    But it could be the same reason.
     
  17. Carlos Mendoza

    Carlos Mendoza Stunt Coordinator

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    What makes this movie so brilliant are the many "homages" to the classic looney tune cartoons. Everyone from the sheep-watching dog, to Michigan J. Frog, to Pepe Le Pew, is depicted doing exactly what you would expect, totally in keeping with their long-standing cartoon legacy, but often with just enough of a contemporary edge to make them seem new and fresh.

    There are also references to many, MANY other hollywood movies, including a shot-for-shot spoof of the "Psycho" shower scene that alone is worth the rental, if not the purchase.

    The movie also has some hilarious spoof-ridden social commentary. Embedded into the contrived and cliched plot (which, let's face it, exists only to convey the hilarious quips and spoofs) are Porky's musings on political correctness, the debate over the effects of cartoon violence on kids, and the business-drivers behind product placement. Cameo's abound, with Jeff Gordon, Michael Jordan, and many others checking in for brief but well-timed appearances.

    Fans of Looney Tune Cartoons will have a fantastic time with this movie. The jokes are delivered with a rapid-fire, laughing-so-hard-you'll-miss-the-next-gag pace that will merit a second viewing just to be sure you caught it all.


    Carlos.
     
  18. Bill Williams

    Bill Williams Screenwriter

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    Isn't there supposed to be an Easter egg on this disc? If so, what is it?
     
  19. Jeff Reis

    Jeff Reis Stunt Coordinator

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    I know people get tired of a lot of the griping about cover art, but man...this is one ugly cover. [​IMG]
     
  20. James Reader

    James Reader Screenwriter

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    Well, I was disappointed. Joe Dante is my favourite director and (in my opinion has never let us down). That said, I read a behind the scenes article on Back In Action and every scene seemed to be a fight between Dante and Goldberg on one side and the Warner Bros executives on another.

    In which case, it's amazing the film was as sharp as it was. Look at the film and (as has already been pointed out) it's pure satire. From the how the studio is run to ACME's plans.

    Also, stuff like the Robot dog was added by the executives, for no particular reason other then they thought it would look "cool".

    Still, there's lots in here, and I'm sure a re-watching will reveal more. My favourite sight gag? The various Looney Tunes dogs playing poker in the casino!

    I'm disappointed there's no Dante commentary track - they're always a hoot. Perhaps making Back in Action was a worse experience for him than even the article I read hinted at.
     

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