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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt


The lovely 2008 Pixar feature about a robot who rescues humanity, WALL-E, has been released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. With minimal dialog but plenty of sound effects and music, the 99-minute computer-animated film depicts the robot cleaning up the trash on Earth left after all of the people have long since departed (in Disney cruise ship-style spacecraft). The robot then meets and essentially falls in love with a sleek advanced robotic probe sent to determine how much Earth has changed, following the probe back into space and causing a major ruckus onboard one of the cruisers. What happened to all of the other cruisers is never explained. The sequences set on Earth are gorgeously realistic, while the segment set aboard the spacecraft is more cartoony, but by then the viewer is entirely won over and ready for an energetic romp. There are visual references to many sci-fi films, with 2001 at the top of the list, and a great deal of humor in the slapstick encounters the robot has with the world around it, and with the human and mechanical population it finds on the ship. Pixar’s very first film was a short about a desk lamp that is alive, and their first feature film was about toys that are alive, so the skills that led to WALL-E were well established and rise quite gloriously to the occasion.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The color transfer is immaculate and the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound, with EX-encoding, is super, with many directional and surround effects. There are optional English subtitles, 10 minutes of deleted scenes (the plot underwent a substantial number of alterations as the film was constructed, also leaving some minor but dangling plot points which are partially explained in the deleted scenes), a good 19-minute segment on creating the film’s sounds that also explores sound effect traditions at Disney, an amusing 8-minute short based on a throwaway gag in the film (in the movie, a robot gets locked outside the ship; in the short, you see much of what happened, both before and after, from that robot’s point of view), and a very funny 5-minute short entitled Presto, about a rabbit battling with a magician on stage.

Writer/director Andrew Stanton supplies a commentary track, systematically going over his creation process and the contributions of others. He describes the various story paths that were followed and then changed, describes in detail how the non-verbal emotional expressions of the characters were developed, points out a few of the cultural references and in-jokes, and generally supplies a comprehensive and informative talk.

Disney has also released a 3-Disc Special Edition. The first platter is identical to the single-platter release and the third platter contains a copy of the film that can be downloaded onto handheld viewing devices. The second platter contains a number of special features. While the story of Pixar’s development has been well documented in other special edition DVD releases of their films and shorts, the central program on the platter is an outstanding documentary about the history of the company that somehow manages to come up with all sorts of fresh and insightful material, from the first animated films John Lasseter created in college to the positioning of Pixar’s leaders in key positions at Disney after their merger (the personal stories of several Pixar figures are adeptly woven into the narrative). Running 89 minutes, it is an engrossing tale that charts not only the success of the company, but the advancement of the art of animation through computer applications, from the very first efforts to the sophisticated and far-reaching storytelling it has facilitated.

The deleted scenes on the first platter feature completed or nearly completed animation, but there are another 13 minutes of deleted scenes on the second platter from an earlier point in the film’s development, further explaining a few otherwise curious details in the completed film. The backstory is also enhanced with 10 minutes of ‘industrial’ shorts presented as if they had been created by the mega-corporation that created the robots, the spaceship and pretty much everything else in the film’s future world. There is an outstanding 15-minute production featurette about how the animators programmed their computers to better imitate the flaws and idiosyncrasies of genuine cinematography (several cinematographers stopped by to advise them), a passable 11-minute piece on the music, an enjoyable 5-minute short depicting the film’s hero interacting with various objects (a soccer ball, a magnet, headphones and so on) on an otherwise white background (with consistent shadows), and 26 minutes of other featurettes focusing mostly on the characters. Curiously, however, you learn more about the human animators of Finding Nemo in the Pixar film than you do about any of the animators working onWALL-E in the rest of the DVD, although otherwise, the segments are highly informative and worthwhile. Featured as well is an interactive look at the various robot characters and their functions, and a well-designed ‘read along’ game.

December 23, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon