BLU-RAY REVIEW: James and the Giant Peach Special Edition
Roald Dahl's children's book comes to life in hi-def...
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Roald Dahl's classic 1961 children's story James and the Giant Peach was brought to life on film nearly 15 years ago by producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick, who utilize a combination of live-action and stop motion animation to deliver the amazing tale of James, a young boy who loses his parents and must reside with his despicable aunt and uncle. Following an odd turn of events involving some crocodile tongues, a massive peach, and some instrument-playing insects, James learns to explore and discover a world all his own.
Personally, when James and the Giant Peach originally hit theaters back in 1996, I wasn't that impressed. I was 17 years old and working in my home town movie theater, where it played for 2 weeks. The film seemed a bit juvenile to me and I wasn't that big a fan of Burton's style. Now, however, at 31 years old with a daughter of my own, I love James and the Giant Peach for what it can do.
While the live-action portions of the film may somewhat drag the overall pace of the film, the stop-motion animation (which Burton fans will find familiar and comforting) is beautiful, captivating and spot-on. Likewise, the story, which develops gracefully with little forcing, accomplishes its mission of inspiration and accomplishment. James is a child hero with authentic dreams, fears, and desires and, while the film may be set in an imaginative place with imaginary characters, from the standpoint of a young child, it reveals a realism in the personal struggle for liberation and escape from those fears.
This "special edition" Blu-ray and DVD combo set includes the film across both standard and hi-def mediums, ensuring fans with either or both of these can enjoy it. The hi-def film is faithful to its original nature, but sadly will disappoint many die-hard hi-def fans. The film's gritty look (which many fans appreciated in 1996) including the deep colors, shadows, and graininess originally seen on the big screen. Staying true to the desired composition, the video transfer will look comfortingly familiar to those adults who grew up with this 15 years ago. Sadly, the video suffers from some major transfer issues, including poor contrast during the live action, too dark colors (which are almost impossible to see at points), and even some blurring and instabilities which will surely distract any watcher. Overall, the blu-ray is still better than the DVD, but most viewers will find themselves with a few complaints throughout.
Thankfully, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is great. The surround sound allows for an enjoyable experience with plenty of use of each speaker. Likewise, the dialogue is easy to hear as is the Academy Award-nominated soundtrack, which, while sometimes overwhelming, is still amazing to behold.
Though called a "special edition," the blu-ray doesn't really include that much. In fact, the DVD doesn't either, which makes one ask why this is considered a "special edition." The blu-ray includes only one exclusive, an interactive game called "Spike the Aunts" which young children may find fun. Otherwise, the blu-ray includes the same as the DVD: an electronic press kit with some interesting material for die-hard fans, a Randy Newman music video, a still-frame gallery, and the film's original trailer. Fairly simple for a "special edition."
Overall, James and the Giant Peach is - to many young adults today - a classic film from their childhood. With impressive stop-motion animation, a beautiful story of personal discovery and exploration, and a beautiful score, this is one film which 20-somethings and parents with young children will appreciate watching again and again.
- Jess C. Horsley