Title: Free Birds
HTS Overall Score:78.5
Time traveling turkeys.
If those three words read like fingernails slowly scratching down a chalkboard, then it’s probably best that you stop here and skip to the audio, video and summary portions of the review. Have mercy on yourself. However, if they pique your curiosity, then read on...this one takes some explaining. It seems that most holidays have their fair share of dedicated films, with Christmas annually returning as the reigning champion. It’s not often, though, that Thanksgiving is given a chance to shine. Sure, there are few classics that take place during that time of year (Scent of a Woman and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles are two obvious ones), but not many focus on the essence of Thanksgiving: the turkey. Let’s be honest...it’s understandable that turkeys have gone largely ignored and cast away to the barn. They aren’t the most interesting of creatures nor are they the most attractive. But, they are undeniably tasty and – unfortunately for them – the center piece of America’s largest face-stuffing holiday. As you can imagine, this doesn't sit well with turkeys. Hmmm...if only they could alter history and change their soon to be carved and slathered with gravy destiny.
Owen Wilson enthusiastically voices the character of Reggie, a blue headed turkey outcast living out his days on a turkey farm. He’s gangly, awkward, and apparently the only member of his rafter that’s aware of every turkey’s certain destiny: the dinner table. He’s not quiet about his advanced knowledge and tries to rally a rebellion, which backfires when his rafter finally listens to his antics and decides to make him the next bird on the chopping block. Reggie, however, wins the lottery by catching the eye of the President’s daughter and receives the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Presidential pardon. This turns Reggie into a celebrity worthy of a life at Camp David, and that’s exactly where he goes.
Reggie settles into his new life by spending days on end watching telenovelas on cable television and chowing down on piping hot pizzas. He’s in turkey heaven, but comes crashing down to earth when he’s kidnapped by Jake (Woody Harrelson), a quirky meatheadish alpha turkey on a mission to alter time. Against Reggie’s will, the duo clumsily infiltrate a secret underground government base where they find an egg shaped time machine (named S.T.E.V.E.). Upon opening a rift in the space-time continuum, the egg jettisons the birds back to colonial America and the final days before the first Thanksgiving of 1621.
Reggie and Jake run into a flock of wild turkeys that are innocently living near a fort of hungry settlers. Here, Reggie falls head over feathers for a young turkey named Jenny (Amy Poehler), who conveniently has a softside for dorky turkeys. Jake, meanwhile, focuses his attention on another pumped-up alpha turkey named Ranger; the two birds don’t like each other and begin a National Geograhpic-esque nature competition of one-ups-man-ship and domination. The fort of humans has a weathered and confident alpha male of it’s own, Captain Standish (Colm Meaney). His one mission is to capture as many turkey’s as possible for the starving settlers, thus beginning a flock and fort clash that might forever alter an American tradition on dinner tables across the land each Thanksgiving.
Free Birds is a flawed, remotely charming, film that is more of a lame duck than a Thanksgiving feast. Screenplay writer and Director Jimmy Hayward (animator for films such as Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.) and his creative writers deserve some credit because the basis of the story is rather unique. Never before have we witnessed turkeys traveling through time in an egg to save the future. The beautifully rendered computer animations and finely detailed audio track are also well above average and, like most computerized flicks, mesmerizing. But, you can only plop so much gravy onto a piece of over cooked dried turkey before it becomes obvious that the meat is still going to taste substandard, and substandard is probably the best way to describe Free Birds. It struggles with uninteresting characters and a feeling of hollowness; many of the characters' personalities are unoriginal (a nerdy hero, a bullish sidekick, the adoring girl, and a nasty and a seemingly undefeatable foe). Several key moments in the film suffer from simplified solutions that are annoyingly convenient, and a few food coma inducing filler scenes are just too uninteresting to stomach. This isn’t to say that there aren’t a few chuckles to be had, but even those feel tired and plucked.
The Blu-ray release comes with several extras that are mildly interesting, but result in making the creative team look somewhat amateurish. Like most rental releases, there's a chance they won't be included on the disc...if they aren't, don't feel cheated.
PG for some action/peril and rude humor.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/birds3.jpg[/img]Free Birds is released by 20th Century Fox with a 1080p AVC transfer in 1.85:1. The only visual knock on the film is it’s minimized aspect ratio; it’s another stunning computer animated film that easily could have increased it’s visual impact by squeezing a bit more landscape out of a cinemascope presentation. Nevertheless, Free Birds is a visual delight riding on the back of a perfectly balanced image. A neutral color palate brings the film to life, exuding an earthy warmth that isn’t overly bright or punchy. Blacks are incredibly deep and contrast is excellent leading to loads of fine details remaining visible in dark scenes. Not surprisingly, the film is fully loaded with jaw dropping amounts of details, right down to the thousands of hairs (including a few strays) on Reggie’s blue head, textures on the birds beaks, intricate details and depth held within the eyes of the characters, and the crusty patina on Captain Standish’s rifle. There are also some nice touches, like the occasional lens flair, that help to make the film feel alive. There’s no evident banding or blocking for the duration of film, capping-off what is truly an incredibly smooth image.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news//birds4.jpg[/img]Free Birds scores five stars for a perfectly balanced and detailed DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound presentation. Much like the video description, the operative word here is “smooth.” The film’s audio rolls out a buttery smoothness with never a moment of harshness. It's a total auditory delight. Dialog is elevated and dispersed across the screen with excellent range and weight, frequently moving to the left and right channels to match characters placed to the sides of center (and off the screen). Accurate sound pans and directionality perfectly match action and object placement in the movie, with quite a few moments of sounds whizzing side to side and from corner to corner. Surround activity is typically mild, however moments of intense action result in an up-tick of surround intensity. Speaking of surrounds, they are utilized to perfection when projecting the voice of S.T.E.V.E., the computer voice of the time machine (there are moments that this creates an amusement park ride effect). The presentation also contains finely detailed ambient sounds like howling wolves and the snaps and crackles of fire. Dominic Lewis’ original score is soft and airy, beautifully pushing outward and back, extending the soundstage well beyond the edges of the room. Bass-heads will be glad to know that LFE is present throughout the film, with a few thunderous rumbles associated with explosions and the activation of the time machine.
• Birds Flipping History
• Animating Free Birds: The Main Course
• Winging It: Animators In Action
• Talking Turkey With Composer Dominic Lewis
• Shake A Tail Feather Music Video
To give credit where credit is due, Free Birds deserves a pat on the back for theme originality. Turkeys, time machines, and the quest to alter the past to save millions of birds each Thanksgiving is definitely unique. Unfortunately, the film’s execution misses the mark with a few not-so-original plot mechanisms resulting in bland predictability. That’s not to say that this is a film that should be ignored. It generates a few chuckles and can stand-in as entertainment for a family night in a home theater (although, leaving as a children's only viewing might be advisable). Enthusiasts will marvel at the film's audio and video characteristics which are perfectly executed and wonderfully toned. Unfortunately, Free Birds is a recommended rental due to a limited replay value.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Dan Fogler
Directed by: Jimmy Hayward
Written by: Scott Mosier (screenplay), Jimmy Hayward (screenplay), David I. Stern (story), John J. Strauss (story)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Runtime: 91 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 4, 2014
Buy Free Birds on Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Rental, at best