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Reviewed by Bob Banka
March 24, 1999


Widescreen, 1.85 : 1, Anamorphic
Dolby Digital, 5.1
83 Minutes, RSDL
Rated PG 1998

Talk about truly inspired casting! Who could possibly play the part of a non-conformist, neurotic insect better than Woody Allen? Someone at Dreamworks deserves a bonus for coming up with the idea. In the animated feature, ANTZ, the Woodster does the voice for Z, one ant among millions, performing the same task day in and day out, all of his life, for the greater good of the colony. But when a pretty female ant catches his eye, he begins to rebel against the system - against the oppressing soldier ants in the colony. We can recall at least one Allen film with a similar theme - SLEEPER. Woody's a charming little rebel, and for a dedicated fan of the director/actor, it's hysterical to hear his voice coming out of an ant. You can almost see the thick-rimmed glasses. From the film's opening sequence, with Z on an analyst's couch, bearing his soul, Woody fans will feel right at home. Much of the dialogue in ANTZ is humorous simply because we know Allen is saying it, and the various hand gestures and facial ticks included by the CGI artists make the little bug very Woody-like. Being a fan makes one feel privy to a number of inside jokes. We can appreciate some of the humor that'll be less effective on those not as familiar with Allen and his on screen persona.

Z climbs a plant to get a bearing on his location after leaving
the colony with Balla

As is the case with a number of the better animated features released in the past decade, primarily from Disney, the humor in ANTZ reaches all age groups. Some jokes are intended for the baby boomers, and some are for the youngsters. No matter your age, there's something for you in ANTZ. The story is intelligent, yet accessible for all. The humor reaches all viewers, be it dialogue or slapstick, and the animation is superb.

When Dreamworks was founded by Spielberg, Katz, amd Geffen, one of their primary goals was to make features that would be accessible to wider audiences, as well as important films for more mature audiences. Films like SMALL SOLDIERS, PAULIE, MOUSEHUNT, PRINCE OF EGYPT, and ANTZ fall into the former category, and of course AMISTAD, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, are in the later. PEACEMAKER however, doesn't seem to fit in either. Oh well. If one surveys the films of Spielberg's career, it's quickly noticed that many fall into this first category. He's a master at reaching the hearts of younger audiences. Films like ET, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and JURASSIC PARK are examples. He has also done well with somewhat older audiences with films like JAWS, POLTERGEIST (As 'producer'), ALWAYS, 1941, and EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Speilberg succeeded with audiences and critics with these earlier features, and more recently he's been elevated to the status of a 'great filmmaker' since taking on bolder more serious issues in films like SCHINDLER'S LIST, AMISTAD, and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

It was only a matter of time before Spielberg realized that he can't film ALL of the best projects himself. With a company of his own, he can field ideas and farm them out to other directors, and focus more closely on the special ones himself. As film lovers, we can only benefit from this arrangement. Animated features like ANTZ and PRINCE OF EGYPT are only the beginning. It's nice to finally see someone serving up competition for Disney.

Balla hurries to save Z from a fate within a drop
of water. It's a dangerous world out there.

Z (Woody Allen), a disgruntled worker ant among millions of unthinking, conformist drones, is certain there's more to life than endlessly digging tunnels. Z is an uncomfortable little bug that doesn't like crowds or closed in spaces. This makes life difficult if one lives in an ant colony. He needs to get out and do something more with his life. His analyst tells him that he's supposed to feel insignificant - all should be done for the greater good of the colony.

While Z is hanging out at bar, drinking from the anus of aphids with his best friend Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), a beautiful female ant walks in and asks him to dance. It's love at first site for Z, but he's only a worker, and Balla (Sharon Stone) is a princess - the next queen of the colony, and she's already betrothed to General Mandible (Gene Hackman) the leader of the colony's soldier ants.

In a desperate attempt to see Balla again, Z convinces Weaver, a soldier ant, to switch places with him, so that he may attend the royal family's review of the troops. But during the ceremony, Z and his company are sent off to do battle at a termite mound. It's a massacre, but Z survives and becomes a hero. While being honored by the queen, Z's true identity is discovered, and in order to escape punishment, he kidnaps the princess, and together they fall out of mound via a garbage chute. Z is content to remain outside the colony and search for the land of Insectopia - a paradise rumored to exist outside the colony.

Back home, Z has become an inspiration to other worker ants. A living example of one's ability to rise above his position and do more with his life. This is a threat to General Mandible and his henchman, Cutter (Christopher Walken), who have a plan to drown the entire colony by forcing the workers to tunnel beneath a lake. The general will then set up a new and better colony, run by a militaristic master race of ants, with Balla at his side. Z returns to the mound in time to learn of General Mandible's plan, but is he too late?

Z and Balla narrowly escape a swatter.
Life's no picnic if you're an ant.

Dreamworks dropped a stitch or two with their SMALL SOLDIERS release, but this animated feature looks outstanding. The image is sharp and detailed throughout the presentation, and colors are rich and saturated. There are no instances of shimmer or ringing from digital over-enhancement and no bleeding of colors between fields.

The sequences occuring in the colony are darker - with earthy colors of brown, orange, red, and gray, and 'lighting key' is low. The animation is wonderful and allows for beautiful colors, and shadow, and this transfer doesn't take a bit away from the incredible work done by those at PDI. The long shots of the thousands of worker ants, the soldier ants on parade, and the dance sequnce in the bar, exhibit incredible clarity. The countless ants moving in step can be seen to move individually - no matter how small. The bar sequence in particular, with its hundreds of line dancing ants, is a great example of just how much detail can be seen in an anamorphically enhanced image - if mastered properly. PDI's fine work with textures, light, and shadow, can be fully appreciated thanks to Dreamworks' transfer.

The brighter daylight sequences which occur as Z and Balla search for Insectopia, have a cornocopia of vivid, fully saturated colors. Many shades of greens and blues on the ground and in the sky look oustanding, and when the two cross the lake at dawn - the magic hour, the crimson sky and reflections on the water look mighty impressive. At midday or sundown, no matter the colors, there are no insatnces of 'grain' or image breakup. The image is incredibly film like. The greatest variety of colors and lighting keys can be seen during the 'I Can See Clearly Now' montage as Z and Balla frollic through Insectopia. Colors are intense and woderfully rendered. A real treat for the eyes.

Brightness and contrast levels coudn't be better or more consistent. Shadow delinaition is also excellent. There are no nics, scars, or scratches to mar the picture. It's a clean, mint print. There are no negatives to note here - our highest marks. Dreamworks chose to make this an RSDL disc - not so much because of the special features, since they aren't long enough to forced a need for two layers. Instead, it can be assumed that two layers were used in order to produce better image quality, and we certainly reap the benefits of this decision.

Z and his best friend Weaver chatting it up at the bar.

With a broad and deep forward soundstage, and terrific use of split surrounds, Dreamworks' 5.1 mix produces a wonderful, enveloping, sonic experience. Panning effects are accurate - from left to right, as well as from over the shoulders and forward. The buzzing of the wasps is a highlight. Sound effects placement is also very accurate from all positions in the surroundfield. The battle to the death with the termites, and the bar dance sequence are particularly lively.

The forward left and right channels receive a noticeably wider dynamic range during the presentation. On a number of occasions, they deal out a great deal of bass. A convincing ambient presence is produced by the surrounds, particularly during Z and Balla's quest for Insectopia. Crowd noises are also heard over the shoulders during a number of the scenes in the ant colony. So THAT'S what it sounds like in those things.

The .1 FX channel isn't terribly active during the presentation. A number of the lower rumbles are carried by the front left and right speakers instead. However, there are occasions which DO call for very low tones - for example, when a tennis shoe- wearing human strolls across a picnic ground to give Z and Balla a sticky and frightening ride. Here, the FX channel does serve up the thunder.

Dialogue is well recorded and nicely integrated across the front three speakers. Voices are clear and natural sounding - never distorted or compressed. Harry Gregson-Williams' score, along with a handful of pop tunes like 'I Can See Clearly Now,' and 'It's Almost Like Being In Love,' has a rich and full sound and rises up nicely from all channels. The music is light and lively, with some nice sections for percussion to tap your feet and bob your head to. The clever, fully animated menus are loaded with cuts from the score - in stereo.

Z and Balla shaking an appendage at the bar.

This is a 'Signature Selection' DVD from Dreamworks
Animated scene access menu with links to 26 chapters in the film
Audio commentary by directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell
Short production featurette (FF, Stereo)
Basics of computer animation (1.85 : 1, Stereo)
ANTZ facial system (1.85 : 1, Stereo)
ANTZ character design (FF, Stereo)
Production notes
Cast list and directors bios
Theatrical trailer (FF, Stereo)

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