"Cars" DVD Provides Great Flick But Is Light On Extras
Conventional wisdom would be that the film comes first and the DVD second in the review. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m going to switch it up. That way, I don’t have to blunt the criticisms of the DVD with retroactive apologetic tone nor end it on a downer note at all. (Our fellow reviewer Ace the Bathound has avoided this altogether with his excellent review; I’m referring to things I’ve done in the past.)
Forward then, to the DVD. Pixar DVDs are rightly renowned as magnificent in all sorts of ways. I’m no technical expert; doubtless that other DVD-focuse d websites can give you far better and more detailed commentary. I can tell you that the picture looks as amazingly pretty as it did when I saw it in theatres, if not even more. Hell, I can’t imagine anybody stupid enough to complain about Pixar visuals in any medium. It just isn’t done. Same for the sound – even on my average ol’ TV set, you can sense the power of the races around you, especially in all those low-angle shots where the tires are rolling right by your perspective. When it comes to sound and picture, Pixar will always be the king of the hill, and Cars is absolutely no exception in the slightest.
Of course, the question of sound and picture on a DVD relates, ultimately, to the movie itself as opposed to one’s overall perception of the DVD. These days, one perceives a DVD by what it provides you alongside the film. The film’s the main course and always will be, and we’ll get there in a moment. It’s the slate of extras that will define your value of the release, though. As you’ve probably heard, Cars is light on the bells and whistles, especially as compared to the expansive and comprehensive releases of previous Pixar films. Now, it would be folly to say that extras make or break any DVD release. Real masterpieces, while many of them do have big amounts of extras, would be fine just speaking for themselves. A great example is Schindler’s List, the DVD of which has almost no information on the making of the film but has a presentation and a set of features entirely appropriate to its subject matter. The larger range of films, however, that go from good to almost-great often could use the inside look and the extra push that DVD stuff can give. A film speaks for itself, but in the home video market, the assistance a DVD’s extras can give would really help. What we do get is nice; I especially liked the 16-minute documentary of the Route 66 trip that the Pixar crew made, particularly due to its footage of the late Joe Ranft. I just wanted more, and I’d bet that you would too. I suspect a double-dip will occur eventually, a special edition with a commentary and all sorts of artistic insights to the making of the film. It’ll be up to you whether you want the film so much that you’d rather get it now than wait for an eventual second take.
That may be a harder decision than my previous ramblings imply. Personally, I’d want the film. Cars is lesser Pixar, in my opinion, but that’s saying so little. Porco Rosso is lesser Miyazaki, and that’s a fantastic film. When a company is so top-notch all the time, even its weaker entries will stand out as amazing films when compared to the rest of the films Hollywood produces. The weaknesses of Cars are more pronounced than other Pixar films, to be sure. Its plot is more obvious, partially because its mechanisms have been seen elsewhere and partially because the process of getting from point A to point B in this plot provides less options. It also has the challenge of dealing with a jerk for a protagonist in the beginning: Lightning McQueen’s few sadnesses and neuroses aside, he really earns the contempt he gets. That makes the need for him to change credible, but it also ups the difficulty level for that change. Cars can’t quite account for all of the ill will that McQueen works up in the first act of the film, but it does at least do a fair job with the transition. The key, methinks, is in how McQueen is convinced of his own folly by seduction through subjects he always valued: positive personal attention (either through fandom as a racecar or through the love of a single woman) and his own profession itself (either through the Piston Cup or the honest betterment of his own skills that he can get from Doc Hudson). All these stories about workaholic jerks who get their lives turned around take the easy path of just saying that small-town values will trump big-town values when they’re presented side-by-side. Cars, on the other hand, does the tougher and altogether more satisfying thing by seeing how folks in a small-town can actually assist and unite with big-town issues, and how the separation is far smaller than we think.
This keys into what John Lasseter points to as his main theme, which is that balance is what we need between fast and slow life. When I asked John about his theme, that is what he told me. He was speaking philosophically, in terms of the way we live our lives. I completely agree with him, and it certainly comes through in the film. Admittedly, though, my initial reading of the film was more political, and even now it still seems to hit me that way. Art is subjective and we see what we want to see, but Cars definitely felt to me like an insightful laser on the divide between urban and rural life and politics. Each side historically regards the other with contempt and suspicion, thinking that neither side knows anything about what they feel really matters. Cars is a fantastic example of these dueling xenophobias: not only does McQueen have a problem, but so does Hudson, and the film doesn’t shy away from the terrible thing that Hudson does to McQueen late in the film. Both sides, as represented by these characters, are guilty of underestimating and even actively hating the other for no good reason. It’s this meaningless warring that prevents us from being a single country. When the interstate is born in one of those killer Pixar montages of sadness, it’s urban connecting to urban. If the rural were to hate us in the cities, did we earn it? Cars isn’t willing to let us slide on our own BS, even when theirs is also visible.
Naturally, everything else about Cars is great. Randy Newman makes a triumphant return, and the soundtrack also adds quite a few rock songs, which fits the style. (The one that sticks out a little too much to me is “Life Is But A Dream;” too many viewings of Clue has associated that song for me with people kissing corpses.) Great casting, naturally; I think even David Cross would like Larry the Cable Guy’s performance as Mater. I especially enjoyed Tony Shalhoub’s Luigi and Michael Wallis’ Sheriff. And like I said earlier, only a moron would complain about Pixar’s visuals. It’s amazing that they can get such great physical performances out of what are essentially heads on wheels. So, the film is definitely worth owning. Whether you get it now or later is up to you.