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Waking Life

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: R (For language and some violent images)

Running Time: 99 minutes

Starring: Wiley Wiggins

Written and Directed by: Richard Linklater

 

Studio: Fox

Retail Price: $29.98

Features: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Linklater, Art Director Bob Sabiston, Producer Tommy Pallotta and Wiley Wiggins, Audio Commentary with the Animators, Text Commentary, EPK Featurette, Animation Scrap Heap, Greatest Hits: the Live Action Version, Bob Sabiston's Animation Tutorial, "Snack and Drink" Animated Short, First Pass: Bob and Rick's Animation Test, Biographies, Theatrical Trailer, The Banger Sisters Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Stereo, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (20 Scenes)

Released: May 7th, 2002

 

 

Dream is destiny

 

I personally don't think there is one set way to describe a movie like "Waking Life" and I personally don't think there is no other movie quite like it either. I'm not even sure if I would call it a movie. Sure, it's visually wondrous and lush, and yes, it sets out what it does want to accomplish. But perhaps the latter is why I'd question calling it a film. It's basically a movie of all talk, like a series of lectures almost. There's no set plot, no major character development and basically lacks most what we'd expect in a conventional film. And believe it or not, it's what makes the film work and succeed amazingly. I don't think my words or words at all can do justice to describe and talk about a movie like "Waking Life." I'll try my best, but this is a movie that is best seen with your own eyes and then talked about.

"Waking Life" follows an unnamed man played by Wiley Wiggins, who more or less just travels from place to place listening to other people talk about their own thoughts, their own perspectives, their own feelings, their own theories and their own ideas on a single theme: life (though sometimes Wiley is not in listening to conversations between people or their rants). It seems this man is in a dream or his own world and trying to make sense of the questions he's asking by looking for answers in some kind of reality-alternating state. You get to hear so many different people and so many different insights. I must admit it opened up my mind more and I gained wonderful new perspectives on what life is and approaches on what drives people to love and feel the way they do about the world in general all through various topics. Yet what ties it all together is that one theme of life.

To me, the film seems like a collaborative effort. Not one person dominates why the movie succeeds, but rather, those who have contributed to it make it work wonderfully. I've been a fan of Richard Linklater and really do enjoy all his work, and "Waking Life" just may be his best effort yet (Linklater fans are sure to love the cameos and indirect references to some of his other films). His direction here is pitch-perfect, creating this dream world that is so imaginative yet in another sense highly realistic thanks to its characters and dialogue. The artists who create this movie by giving it the visual beauty that you've probably never quite seen before. And the actors who contribute their real expressions and emotions to give it such a wonderful feeling of passion, hope and strength. Of what they say and how it feels is all their own. This movie is like some beautiful symphony that is all perfectly planned out and comes together. And it is. It's a lovely piece that can really move you.

This movie is also key by not acting like a movie. Like I said, I'm not sure if I'd call "Waking Life" a movie. It breaks so much ground. Sure, you watch it and all, but the elements it does not have but the elements it does make it all what it is. What it brings is real human emotion. It doesn't feel like a movie so much... even if we are sitting down to watch it and there is editing. The film had to have some kind of script... but the way it comes out, you'd think different. It's just so natural... it's people talking like their real people, not giving emotion to lines or anything. They have a true, deep passion when they speak as its themselves and their beliefs. Richard Linklater got sole writing credit for the screenplay, but I believe most (or perhaps all) of the actors contributed something of their own in whatever they say, perhaps most of what one person may say. You'd think that though because of how natural it is. It feels like we're watching natural life, and that's what I think "Waking Life" wants to accomplish and in the end, truly does.

"Waking Life" would stand alone and still stand great as a live-action movie, but if you've seen the trailer or clips from the movie then you know a certain draw of it comes from one thing: the animation. An incredibly unique process was used to create "Waking Life": it was shot on DV over the course of a few weeks and then animated over. What's so great about the animation process in the film is that it's so amazing... it's like a moving mosiac filled with colors, wonderful eye candy and true beauty. It feels like a moving painting... it's so vivid with a style that seems to be changing, yet always remains true to itself. It looks "experimental" but somehow it comes out rather flawless. The color use, how things animate... I found it rather stunning. However, the animation comes to represent what the film is all about: life. Somehow, it seems a bit realistic, yet with that, life can be beautiful and vibrant. I think the animation makes the film better and more unique, it really comes to give it that different state, like the dream our main protagonist seems to wander in. What I also loved is how the animation enhances what the characters are talking about. Their expressions are real, yet even with the touches made to what's around them and their expressions, it just feels all natural. Like I said, we're just watching what life is.

Simply put, "Waking Life" is not a mainstream movie and is not for everybody. If you're a person who loves mindless popcorn flicks and couldn't care less about the elements that make up a masterpiece, I sincerely doubt that you will understand "Waking Life" at all (and I bet 100 minutes of conversation would bore you). I think a lot of people will be confused and simply not get what this movie is all about. This is a thinking man's movie for the believer, thinker, dreamer and artist in all of us, and perhaps that's why I love it so much. However, if you're into Richard Linklater, art house cinema and like a movie that will inspire you, question you and in the end, making you feel full of wonder and new insights, then "Waking Life" is a must see film. Truly, this is one of the most thought-provoking, original and deepest films I've ever had the pleasure of seeing.

 

For such a visually wonderful and beautiful movie, I knew this would be consistent with Fox's other great transfers as of late, but I honestly didn't expect it to look THIS good. Basically, what we have here is a flawless and reference quality image that is sure to delight fans of the film (I know this makes me excited!). Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, arguably, this is a tricky movie to transfer and get down. There is such a variety of colors and how they are used throughout the film and conveyed, yet the transfer here captures it all. It captures all the feeling, the emotion and beauty of the acting and animation. This transfer is nicely balanced. The image is sparking... no scratches, blemishes, specks of dirt or anything. Color saturation is dead on too... colors are bold, deep and rather vivid. They don't bleed and don't underwhelm the eyes either. It's incredibly sharp and rather fluid... no disappointments here and I'm glad, since the animation really does come to represent the film in some senses and is just so great to watch.

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is decent, but truly not as impressive as the transfer. But that's okay, because one must keep in mind that "Waking Life" is not a movie filled with surrounds, and when it is, it's not to the extremes. "Waking Life" is a film that is purely driven by dialogue. A lot of the film is kept to the center channel. Dialogue is sharp and easy to hear. It pretty much takes controls of the film. However, echoes, background talking, pinball flippers (that scene is toward the end of the film), footsteps and other little sounds bring some activity to the channels and they sound nice. Like the film itself, it's rather natural. The music in the film also lights the channels nicely, yet never comes off too strong. Overall, considering the material, this is a pretty solid track. A Spanish stereo track is included, plus English and French subtitles as well as English closed captions.

 

It's not labeled a special edition, but it sure should have been! The "Waking Life" DVD features a great amount of supplements that are quite interesting and strong, and explores the film even more as far as insight and craft. First up is one of three commentaries. The Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Linklater, Art Director Bob Sabiston, Producer Tommy Pallotta and Wiley Wiggins. This is a pretty low key track, yet wonderfully captures so many aspects of the film as far as technical standpoints and its meaning. Linklater basically leads the track. Linklater talks about his own inspirations, his ideas and the like. Wiggins seems to ask questions mostly and throws in a comment here and there, while Sabiston talks about the process basically of shooting and animating, with Linklater going in there. There are some pauses, but it seems Linklater tries to keep things going and the four seem to ease up as the film goes along. There are some funny moments here, and while it's a bit subdued, it's incredibly strong and wonderful track that perfectly fits with the movie. If you liked the movie and want to know more about it, be it what Linklater shot, the themes of life, the performers and all, it's all here. It's mellow and nicely done and balanced. I really like how the focus of the track was even... I learned more about the film from all the standpoints I wanted from four different kinds of creators. This is really worth listening to and one of the best tracks I've heard recently.

Our next Audio Commentary with the Animators is also very well rounded. This track is obviously edited and each animator talks about what they did, their thoughts on the film, their work, who they are and other things. There are over two dozen people on this track and is a bit technical, but if you loved the animation or like that sort of like myself, this is well worth hearing out. It opens with art director Bob Sabiston (who's also on the other audio commentary) talking about he got to the project, and how he pioneered the animation process (he wrote the software used for the animation). Just about every person here brings something new and insightful about making a film like "Waking Life," and I loved every minute of this track too. There's a lot to learn and study here, and since we have so many different people with different thoughts, it's quite a wonderful listen. Like usual, Fox has edited this commentary together and it works. It's cohesive and solid, getting all the points down. Very nice.

We also have a Text Commentary. This is a bit disappointing. It's just a subtitle track you can turn on while watching the film. Sometimes you wait a good deal of time before a new fact pops up on the screen... but it can be a bit constant. Personally, I would have just put the facts in a separate text supplements page. But it's here and you can turn it on and off at your leisure while you watch the film. I must admit I do enjoy these text commentaries and I'm a sucker for them usually, and there are some neat facts to be learned here.

Our next section of the disc is The Waking Life Studio and where a bulk of the extras remain. There is a lot of cool stuff here to enjoy. The Animation Scrap Heap presents nineteen different scenes in two channel sound and non-anamorphic widescreen. Basically, there is a variety of stuff here. There are some animation tests, scenes that are different in animation and deleted portions of scenes. It's a random mix that's quite cool. Most of the animation is completed on the scenes, but in some scenes, you'll see some rough animation that's not completed and live action still blended in. It's nice to see how there were some different animations (the artists are given credit for their work and what they did) and what was cut. Don't let the magical nineteen number fool you... all of this is rather short adding up to seven minutes and thirty-one seconds. Still, it's neat to check out.

What I found quite interesting was Greatest Hits: the Live Action Version. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (woo-hoo!), this twelve minute montage shows various scenes from the film as they were originally shot: live action digital video. This is quite an interesting comparison when you put it next to the final film and is really neat to watch. You get a glimpse at most of the scenes in their live action glory. Judging from the clips, the film does work as live action, but the animation, as I said in my review, does enhance it.

Bob Sabiston's Animation Tutorial is a nice twenty minute piece in full frame. Mr. Sabiston is right by his computer with someone else who is not identified and interviews him about. He goes through the process of animating... how the film was broken down into five, twenty minute reels and then was animated through his computer with his program, a drawing tablet and whatnot. Sabiston shows examples, how it's animated, what's done and more... it's really amazing and he seems to be quite a true visual genius as we can tell. If you liked the animation, this is a MUST watch. It's a good length and even though you get an idea of the process through the commentaries, this is it in full action and how it's done. I'd love to get my hands on his program...

The "Snack and Drink" Animated Short lasts three minutes and forty seconds, and this is a short film from Bob Sabiston. This was done using the same process that "Waking Life" used, and I guess it's pretty experimental of Sabiston's program that he created and shown what could be done. A cool watch for sure.

First Pass: Bob and Rick's Animation Test lasts a bit under three minutes and is basically a little short film on a variety stuff, kind of like "Waking Life" itself. Here, through a variety of short little bits (there are three of them), we see the variety of animation that can be done and used with the whole process. Another great watch to be sure.

Finally, the rest is all promotional. We have a separate Biographies section for Wiggins and the main crew, the non-anamorphic widescreen Theatrical Trailer, The Banger Sisters Theatrical Trailer that looks a bit shoddy and is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and finally, a EPK Featurette. Like most EPK featurettes, it usually clips from the featurette and has promo-ish interviews with Linklater, Tommy Palotta and behind the scenes footage of the live action shoot. Believe it or not, even if it has a promo feel to it, it's not that bad. Mainly, it's not cheesy and has comparisons of the final film and live action, plus the animation elements. It lasts a little over four minutes.

 

"Waking Life" is one extraordinary and amazing film that had me in awe the whole time I watched it. Because of its nature, this is a film that seems to have endless rewatching value. Everytime I've seen it, I've always found something new to discover be it the ideas, the visuals or whatever the film holds. This is something that I personally would not mind rewatching everytime, there's always something new to gain from it in my opinion and it's rare for a film to do just that. The visual style is mindblowing, Linklater's writing and direction is brilliant, the animation style is striking and the passion within is so wonderfully fulfilling. The transfer is perfect, the sound mix is pretty good and the extras are wonderful which makes the film worth studying more. If you like a movie that may question your views and where you'll gain something from it, "Waking Life" is a superbly drawn-out masterpiece. How did "Jimmy Neutron" score a Best Animated Feature Oscar® nod and not this?