I love butt jokes. I love farts. I love the color green. I love animation. So what’s not to like about Shrek? Not much, really, except the fact that Shrek The Third was hit by the Summer 2007 Trilogy Curse. Like Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Shrek The Third stumbled into and out of theaters like a franchise trying to milk its fans for a few more bucks. Sure, the movie was entertaining, but it lost a bit of the personality, uniqueness and flair that made the first two films so magical. With its recently released HD-DVD counterpart, it’d be tempting to say Dreamworks and Paramount are trying yet again to fleece their fans. But that would be wrong. The combination of a stellar video transfer and generally solid bonus features actually makes Shrek the Third on HD-DVD a bit more enjoyable than the theatrical release itself.
Shrek The Third follows Shrek and his new bride Fiona, who are still doing the ogre thing in Far Far Away Land. With the King on his deathbed, Shrek is asked by the Far Far Away ruler to take over the throne. But if Shrek didn’t want to save a princess in his first outing, he’s not likely to want to save the entire kingdom, right? And sure enough, Shrek bolts out into the countryside with Donkey and Puss in Boots to find Arthur, the other guy in line for the throne. With Merlin and a few other new characters thrown in for good mix, the predictable plot has some fun moments. Still, the tired film from this past summer hasn’t miraculously found a jolt of energy, rendering Shrek The Third by far the least enjoyable of the three Shrek films.
Ironically, as far as the narrative and personality have dropped in quality since the first outing, the multimedia production values have shot just as high. And that’s reflected on this HD-DVD transfer. Computer-animated films are some of the best showcase pieces for high-definition TVs and HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players, and Shrek The Third shows why. The VC-1 encoding presents vivid colors, spot-on shadows and crisp (read: grain-free) images, and the subtle animations and minute graphical touches are all the more appreciated when seen from the comfort of your own 1080p television. The audio quality drops a bit compared to the stellar video presentation, both because it’s “just” Dolby Digital Plus and somewhat quiet. But let’s face it: a fart joke’s a fart joke’s a fart joke. It really doesn’t matter if it’s surround-sound flatus.
The bonus features are where the film’s HD-DVD release really picks up steam, particularly with the Animators’ Corner. This picture-in-picture feature runs the entire length of the movie but in storyboard format. While you watch, a frog icon will periodically appear that, if clicked in time, enables you watch the related deleted scenes. In addition to being an effective use of picture-in-picture, this feature is also a refreshing break from the standard behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes seen on nearly every other home release.
That’s not to say those things aren’t included here, mind you. In fact, it’s got several, including the 10-minute Meet the Cast, the 10-minute Shrek Tech, 25 minutes of Lost Scenes and two minutes of Big Screen Goofs. It’s just that Shrek The Third on HD-DVD doesn’t focus on these segments to carry the bonus feature section, which is really quite a nice change. In fact, Dreamworks has gone a step further with the interactivity and included a couple of Web-enabled features: Shrek’s Trivia Track (mildly entertaining trivia about the film) and The World of Shrek (downloadable bios of primary and secondary characters).
Now, there are a couple of stinkers here, most notably Shrek’s Guide to Parenthood (silly tips from multiple characters about how Shrek can be a good parent) and Donkey Dance (a video of Donkey singing his own version of the 1980s classic “Safety Dance”). But two stinkers amid all the other great bonus content? That’s a pretty good batting average.
It’s not often an HD-DVD release outdoes its theatrical counterpart, but that’s precisely what Shrek The Third has done. Some would say the bar was set low with the third film’s quality. I would say Dreamworks raised the bar in terms of bonus features. Couple the generally solid bonus features with the fact that you seldom see video transfers this crisp, and you’ve got a worthy HD-DVD release for a very popular franchise. Still, I must say that Dreamworks should let Shrek fart off into the sunset rather than bring him back for a fourth installment. It’s really time to let the ogre stay in his swamp for good.
- Score: 7.8
- A fantastic video transfer and great bonus features are hampered a bit by a not-so-magic movie and an audio track that just “gets ‘er done.”
— Jonas Allen