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Marlowe Reviews...THE SMURFS (2D; Sony Pictures)

Peter Marlowe
12-16-2011, 11:27 AM
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-2niBeRJ3Ef4/TtsNJFuXrQI/AAAAAAAAGGA/NmsT3Q4M54U/s1600/smurfs.jpg

Studio: Sony Pictures
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Disc/Transfer Specifications: 1080p High Definition; 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio; Region 1 (U.S.) Release Tested
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Raja Gosnell
Starring Cast: Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris

PLOT ANALYSIS:

This wasn’t a title I wanted to see, as I was never a Smurfs fan and thought this was going to just be another kind of corny animation-to-the-big screen project that seems to be beyond all the rage today; the fact that the trailers featured a still-young-looking Neil Patrick Harris in the lead who guides the group of blue little people around the bustling metropolis that is New York City after they’re hurled there unintentionally made it all the more worse. However, there were a couple of surprising performances here, especially from Hank Azaria who kind of steals the show as the evil wizard constantly chasing the Smurfs, eventually landing him in New York City too. Alas, it was my wife who wanted to rent this as she thought it looked…well…you know, “cute,” and she thought the dog would enjoy it was well – don’t ask. The end result wasn’t that bad.

First, let’s get some specifics out of the way. The version of The Smurfs I sampled contained, on one Blu-ray Disc, both the 2D and 3D versions of the film, so having the option to watch the “standard” 2D version was convenient in my case. I could definitely see where a mixed animation/live action project such as this would benefit from the three dimensional treatment as there were plenty of moments that contained magical “objects” being thrown about and some other clever elements, but this review will be of the 2D cut. I previously wrote “let’s get some specifics out of the way,” but that was the only real specific I wanted to discuss…

The big screen adaptation of the renowned Smurfs story begins in an animated, CGI-coated rendering of Smurf Village, in which we meet all the legendary characters…Smurfette, Clumsy, Papa, etc. Hank Azaria and his nasty sidekick companion cat (hysterically altered with some clever CGI work to provide facial gestures and laughs) loom huge above the Smurfs and their town, constantly trying to capture them and steal their “essence” (I suppose this is taken from heavy elements of the backstory and cartoon run). Some kind of “wormhole” or time vortex that takes the shape and form of a water funnel sucks the Smurfs into it and sends them rocketing into New York City, along with Azaria and his cat, and the group find themselves in the Big Apple amidst a massive culture change for them. One of them is accidentally trapped in a box that makes it into Harris’ apartment, and the idea now is for the Smurfs to rescue him from his confines. Harris portrays the typical working guy today – much like Ryan Reynolds’ character in The Proposal, he is the whipping post for a bitchy, overbearing corporate female boss at the cosmetics company he works as a marketing guru at. The Smurfs make their way to Harris’ apartment to try and free their companion and try to get back home, but they are discovered by Harris, his pregnant wife/girlfriend (remember the chick that played Rachel McAdams’ assistant in Red Eye?) and the family dog, immediately leading to surprise, shock and curiosity as the humans learn all about these small blue people and the world they are from (Harris actually Googles this).

Meanwhile, Azaria has arrived in New York as well, and seems unfazed by the fact that cabs, busses and other mayhem are surrounding him – all he wants is to get to the Smurfs and steal their essence, while his companion cat does his bidding and dirty work in chasing down the blue people. Some funny moments ensue, in which Azaria encounters New Yorkers who are sometimes unaffected by his quasi-wizard language and strange clothing and still others (like street hobos) who think of him as just part of the New York landscape (not a far fetch); he even manages to have a run in with Harris’ boss after she sees what his magical powers can do to people and their appearances.

The remainder of The Smurfs depicts Harris trying to keep his job, the Smurfs living in his apartment trying to find a way to get back home by seeking a telescope, Azaria duking it out with the little guys in a climatic battle on a New York rooftop and Harris and his girl eventually, of course, falling in love with the small blue people which leads to a somewhat sad but typical conclusion as they all say goodbye to one another before being “sucked” back to Smurf Village via the same “water vortex” that sent them to New York. Interestingly enough, the conclusion of The Smurfs lends itself to a sequel, and it actually wouldn’t be the worst thing ever considered – the CGI work was clever and for the most part smooth and professional, and the mixture of animation with the live action blended well. Voiceover work for the Smurfs characters included input from George Lopez and Katy Perry, Perry providing the voice for Smurfette.

VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

Wow. I expected a spectacular video presentation based on the material here, but this was truly jaw dropping – from the blue of the Smurfs’ bodies to the rich, eye popping detail in the New York City scenes, the screen-filling Blu-ray transfer of The Smurfs in 2D was wildly satisfying. The sequences depicting Smurf Village exploded with dazzling color, depth and surface detail in the animation, while the live action scenes bested the top shelf Blu-rays on the market in terms of video presentation, as the detail in clothing, street elements, foliage and grass and raw depth-of-field simply exploded off the screen. I could only imagine what the 3D presentation looked like in terms of sheer presence and the aforementioned depth.

AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS:

From beginning to end, The Smurfs’ English DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, in 5.1, was a playful yet unassuming mix, and while not quite as impactful as the video was, the soundstage here was alive with music, effects and a nice solid balance of elements. When wizard-like things are being whipped and thrown about, the supporting audio is hurled into the surround channels appropriately, and directionality and cue execution proved wildly effective. Overall, the track wasn’t hot or overcooked in terms of volume or mastering, but the envelopment work was very impressive, and there are quite a few live action blockbusters I could think of that could have benefitted from the audio engineering found on this release.

SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you have kids, rent this. It wasn’t as corny or cheesy as I was expecting, and the Smurfs will actually pull on your heartstrings a little thanks to solid voiceover and animation work.

I will work on my review of Cowboys & Aliens next!