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January 27, 2008
Surf's Up Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
13/9/200730/1/2008Sony PicturesAsh Brannon
Chris Buck
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dolby TrueHDGAnimated

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Enjoying the good life on some boards...
There was something about the trailer for Surf's Up that just made me cringe. Talking penguins who invented surfing done in a documentary style? It just didn't sit well and I bypassed the movie when it hit cinemas last September. But the Blu-Ray disc has landed on my doorstep and being a reviewer you can't really pick and choose what to watch and review so last week I sat down with some mates, grabbed a few drinks and sat back to see if it really was as crappy as we imagined? To put it simply; we were wrong. Surf's Up - while not perfect - is actually a very entertaining movie and one that is sure to have youngsters and those who like animated movies having a good time. But what's it all about you ask...

Surf's Up delves behind the scenes of the high-octane world of competitive surfing. The film profiles teenage Rockhopper penguin, Cody Maverick (voiced by Shia LaBeouf), an up-and-coming surfer, as he enters his first pro competition. Followed by a camera crew to document his experiences, Cody leaves his family and home in Shiverpool, Antarctica to travel to Pen Gu Island for the Big Z Memorial Surf Off.

Along the way, Cody meets surf nut Chicken Joe (Jon Heder), famous surf promoter Reggie Belafonte (James Woods), surf talent scout Mikey Abromowitz (Mario Cantone), and spirited lifeguard Lani Aliikai (Zooey Deschanel), all of whom recognise Cody’s passion for surfing, even if it sometimes goes too far. Cody believes that winning will bring him the admiration and respect he desire, but when he unexpectedly comes face-to-face with a washed up old surfer named Geek (Jeff Bridges), Cody begins to find his own way, and discovers that a true winner isn’t always the one who comes in first.

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The water in Surf's Up is stunning.
As previously mentioned the real twist about this movie is that despite being in CG it is actually filmed in a documentary fashion. The camera shakes and moves, you occasionally get boom mics dropping into the image, and much of the footage is more 'interview' styled then story telling. The movie keeps a pretty brisk pace which is understandable given a runtime of just over 30 minutes. Interestingly most of my enjoyment didn't really come from the main characters such as Cody or the old surfer Geek, but rather the smaller characters such as Chicken Joe and the baby Penguins such as Arnold.

Ultimately thought this movie doesn't quite match up to my other CG animated favourites including Ice Age, Toy Story or The Incredibles, but it's not a disaster either and certainly surpasses other recent CG movies such as Shark's Tale, The Wild, Valiant and even Happy Feet.

The first thing we must point out about this transfer is that it is intentionally grainy in places, with film artifacts, dirt, sepia tones and marks all present for the archive footage. That is intentional, but it also makes assessing the video of this transfer to Blu-Ray terribly hard. Fortunately these scenes are only used on occasion to look back on past events and the majority of the footage is presented in a documentary fashion. The filmmakers have used a very interesting free camera system where, even as a CG movie someone moved a real camera around to give it a realistic look (there's some footage of this in the extras). Unfortunately, be it intentional or not, even the 'normal' documentary footage is still quite grainy in places. Without having seen the film in cinemas I can't be sure that this is all intentional - if it is then it is somewhat disappointing as it did become distracting at times. If it wasn't intentional then the amount of grain in this transfer is verging on unacceptable.

So while we have some issues about the grain in the film we have to say that overall this is still a lush visual experience far removed from the DVD release. Encoded in the AVC MPEG-4 video codec at the films original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 there are some wonderful visuals on offer from the icy cold of Antarctica to the lush tropical jungles. Surpassing all of this though are some of the most stunning computer generated water ever seen in a movie or videogame.

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Chicken Joe is hilarious.
Sony Pictures have also gone all out with the audio by providing a Dolby TrueHD track which, when converted to PCM through the PS3 is absolutely glorious. If you don't have the ability to receive PCM audio on your receiver then the Dolby TrueHD track will output 640kbps audio which is still pretty nice. Voices are always clear and easy to understand while the effects, including water and crashing waves, are impressive. What really did surprise me about this movie was the use of modern music throughout including tracks from Green Day, Incubus and Pearl Jam to name a few.

Sadly the Australian version of Surf's Up misses out on the Uncompressed PCM track that appeared on the US disc, however that isn't really required given the Dolby TrueHD track on offer here - just make sure your PS3 is set to convert the TrueHD track to PCM.

Strangely for a Sony Pictures release there are only two subtitle tracks on this disc, English and English SDH, which is well below their usual 20+ subtitle options.

Surf's Up includes a few extras worth your time - and they're not all aimed at kids. The big bonus for Blu-Ray owners is that the disc includes a second commentary track that didn't appear on the DVD release. So let's take a look at this (pretty extensive) list of extras...

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Note the 'documentary' boom microphone...
Commentary with Filmmakers: Directors Chris Buck and Ash Brannon, and producer Chris Jenkins participate in this commentary. Given that the movie is CG-only there obviously aren't a lot of details about actors, nor information about locations however there is quite a bit of discussion about the CG techniques used in the film. Overall though it's a little drier then I would expect from a movie such as this.

Commentary with Visual Effects Crew: This second commentary is exclusive to Blu-Ray and features Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Gradel, Animation Supervisor David Shopp and Layout Supervisor James Williams. Again, quite technical, but for those interested in the CG and animation process this is worth a listen.

The Chubbchubbs (11:24/HD): Not only do we get the Academy Award winning Short called The Chubbchubbs but also a brand new short called The Chubbchubbs Save Xmas. These two shorts are very entertaining, with some great take offs of other movies and franchises (keep an eye out for ET, Darth Vader and even Jar Jar!). Both shorts are presented in High Definition (with MPEG-2 encoding), and with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio at 448kbps.

Lost Scenes (8:17/HD): Scenes that were recorded (dialogue) and presented here with storyboard sequences. Introductions are given by the producer and two filmmakers.

Arnold's Zurfinary (4:12/HD): A pretty funny little clip starring Arnold (one of the baby Penguins) where he discusses various terms used by surfers including Dude, Bro, Pearling and Wipeout!

All Together Now: Surf's Up Voice Sessions (17:03/HD): A decent look at the process or recording the voices in the movie including split screen showing the recording and final footage. This is a pretty lengthy and interesting feature.

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The baby penguins are hilarious.
Surf Like A Pro (10:11/HD): A documentary featuring Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Sal Masekela teaching you how to surf. Obviously pretty basic in the limited time.

Meet the Penguins (3:53/HD): Filmmakers with two real penguins to promote the movie.

Not A Drop Of Real Water (22:20/HD): Split into three sections this looks at the process of making the film look like a documentary including camera movements (which is quite fascinating), and creating the water. Includes footage of the crew going to the beach to look at waves and surfing. The final section looks at the six stages in production; storyboards, rough layout, animation, feathers and fur, effects, and the final film.

Progression Reels (5:19/HD): A look at the visual effects used in various sections of the movie from the water, to deteriorating the footage for archived video, and lighting.

Galleries (HD): 44 images of characters and locations used in the production of the movie.

Music Clip (3:27/HD): Ms Lauryn Hill Presents 'Lose Yourself' music video. While presented in High Definition, doesn't fill your screen and is obviously formatted for 4:3 TV's.

Open Season Trailer (1:15/HD): A trailer for Open Season which is on Blu-Ray now.

While I didn't expect much from this movie I was pleasantly surprised to discover a most delightful way to spend some time in front of the TV. I actually enjoyed this movie a lot more then Happy Feet, primarily due to the lack of singing! The transfer to Blu-Ray is absolutely superb while there are a host of extras to sink your teeth into, something which movies aimed at the younger market often neglect. This is a Blu-Ray disc well worth adding to your collection. Expect a release on January 30.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyright© Sony Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.