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Samurai Jack
The Premiere Movie

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 90 minutes

Starring the voices of: Phil LaMarr, Mako

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

 

Studio: Warner

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Bonus Episode, Samurai Jack Archives, Behind The Sword, Powerpuff Girls Movie: Sneak Peek

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby 2.0, French Dolby 2.0, Scene Selection (14 Scenes)

Released: March 19th, 2002

 

 

Debuting on cable's very popular Cartoon Network in August 2001, "Samurai Jack" was backed by massive hype and a lot of pedigree. This is not your average cartoon show for a number of reasons. While certainly children can enjoy it, it's one of those shows that breaks all age barriers. This show can be enjoyed by any age for any fan who likes good storytelling. Though if you're really into film and animation, you'll probably get the most out of this show as it has a lush, epic feeling to it.

The premiere movie launched the show on Cartoon Network and sets up the show's plot and characters quite nicely. The premiere movie consists of the first three episods of the series. From these episodes, the origins of our hero is told. It begins with the villian Aku, thought to be banished, re-emerging from his his own locked depths, wrecking a certain village where a young warrior and his family lives. He is saved from his mother and trains in various locations and learns many different skills.

From there, he returns home and receives a special sword from his mother. This warrior frees those enslaved in his wrecked village and goes off to fight and finish Aku off. But before he can, Aku transports our hero to the future. There, he gains the nickname Jack, help talking dogs gain their freedom from working in mines and goes to war with insects sent by Aku to attack the dogs and Jack.

"Samurai Jack" is the brainchild of Genndy Tartakovsky, who also created another excellent and successful show for "Cartoon Network," that being the marvelously witty, whimsical and fun "Dexter's Laboratory" (which was spun off from one of his original shorts). There's no denying the wide range of talent Tartakovsky holds, not to mention his love of popular culture and storytelling. It's impossible to compare the two series, since they are quite different visually and in their own styles. Still, I think they're held in common by one thing: the art of simplicity to give off great effects.

All of this is perfectly balanced and really a nice start to an excellent series. There are so many things that make "Samurai Jack" really special and really worth checking out. The plots and writing are original and quite sharp, perfectly blending epic feels with unique characters with their own charms. The whole series is quite imaginative, quite entertaining and quite breathtaking all at the same time. There truly hasn't been anything like "Samurai Jack" ever.

What really adds to it though is how each episode is told. You have wide angles and glorious ways to show off the strong visual aspects of the show. But the visuals in the show are something special; they are bold and have interesting colors which give off assorted different moods and feelings. You really have to see the show to really know in what a careful manner it's told, not to mention the stunning manner. The animation may not be entirely complex, but its designs give off fine effects and fit really well with the story being told. This is one of the best animated shows I've seen visually. The sound effects and music also fit in perfectly. Tartakovsky has a knack for this sort of thing as he's shown in "Dexter's Laboratory," and the sounds in the show sound natural, smooth and very real. They can be magical, eerie or just plain cool at any given moment and give off some undescribable sense. A sword clash can tell more than words and expressions combined.

Despite the massive fanbase for "Samurai Jack," (not to mention two upcoming films: an animated one and a live action one due to be directed by "Rush Hour" helmer Brett Ratner) there are a lot of people out there who dislike the show. I personally think the show's harshest critics don't quite understand the show. Like I said in my opening of this review, "Samurai Jack" really isn't your typical animated program. It's not exactly what people think a cartoon should be, and once again, we have another series that breaks new ground.

The film and cultural inspirations and references in "Samurai Jack" are quite fitting, nice and skillful. Yet what I think turns off some viewers is that the main aspects of the show are about patience. There are long stretches without dialogue, but only incredible, detailed and wonderful animation that is so rich in its tapestry and gives you a whole epic sense and feeling inside. "Samurai Jack" is a saga that is one of a kind. Yes, each episode has a plot, but on the whole, they're more of subplots in Jack's greater adventure: to return home and stop the evil Aku.

I simply thing the viewers who dislike the show don't see everything the show offers in its beauty, scope, details. A certain amount of attention and patience is needed to reap the benefits of this series, as its beauty always unlocks itself throughout and slowly hitting your subconcious and thoughts. There is some great and powerful stuff here that certainly had me in awe. "Samurai Jack" may not be for everyone... but if you like great entertainment and great visuals, all wrapped in fine storytelling, this is certainly one DVD worth checking out, especially if you don't have cable to catch the show.

 

Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio (the way it was made and the way it was aired), this transfer of the premiere movie perfectly captures and shows off the beautiful visuals that consist of "Samurai Jack." The only complaints I have are some slight shimmering and noise here and there. Everything else is rather magnificent. Black levels are strong, detail is great and this is a really, really sharp transfer. But as I've said, this show is quite visual, especially with it's excellent use of colors. Hues and shades are also great, while color saturation looks excellent, fitting right in. Be it the reds of Aku, the whites of Jack's outfit, the bleak purples of the future... it's all realized here very nicely.

 

The premiere movie has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), and the results sure are spectacular. There are a bevy of surrounds for the premiere movie, and they're quite nice. Be it the echos of Aku in his cave, the sword fighting, whip cracks, footsteps, background sound elements and the many action scenes... they're all wonderful and really immerse you into the world of Samurai Jack. Everything here is mixed really well with much creativity. The musical score sounds nice through the channels, while the dialogue is clear and crisp. Everything is balanced too, so nothing overlaps. .1 LFE is strong as well. Strong stuff here. Also included are 2.0 tracks in English and French.

 

This is quite nice supplements wise. Behind The Sword is a nice featurette with clips from the show, and I suppose it makes up for the lack of commentary. Series creator Genndy Tartakovsky explains the show and his vision for it, while other elements that are key to the show are touched here. There are behind the scenes footage of the animators and some interviews with that, stuff on the sound elements and interviews with the voice actors and them performing. Sweet.

Samurai Jack Archives is just a moving slideshow with storyboards, designs and a bunch of artwork played against music from the show. It's pretty sweet, lasting quite a few minutes.We also have a Bonus Episode of the show (always a nice addition). Unfortuantly, instead of putting in the show's fourth episodes to keep continuity, the bonus episode is random - it's the ninth episode of the series, as Jack meets up with an insecure Scottish guy on a bridge. An argument - and action - ensues.

And why not hype it? There's a Sneak Peek of "The Powerpuff Girls Movie" (directed by Tartakovsky friend/callobarator Craig McCracken). It has some clips from the actual show, and McCracken explains what the movie is about. There are also some interviews with the voice actors.

 

"Samurai Jack" is an excellent animated series for all ages, complete with great plotlines and wonderful visuals and sounds to entice the senses. This DVD release is excellent, serving up a super transfer for the premiere flick with a great 5.1 remix, in addition to some decent though somewhat sparse extras. If you've never seen the show it's worth checking out. Fans of the show, it's a must buy.