Title: How to Train Your Dragon
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller
Directed by: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
Written by: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (Screenplay), Cressida Cowell (Novel)
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Runtime: 98 min
Release Date: October 15, 2010
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a viking, or at least he's supposed to be a viking. A member of a small but proud island settlement Hiccup is the son of the village chief Stoic the Vast (Butler) - the only problem is that he's a runt, all brains and no brawn. On Hiccup's island every day is a battle for survival against hordes of dragons that constantly seek to steal their livestock and destroy their buildings. Without the strength or will to fight, Hiccup is an obvious misfit with an unfortunate tendency to break things and cause accidents. Working for the blacksmith Gobber (Ferguson) Hiccup gets the opportunity to invent contraptions to make up for his physical shortcomings, and one of these is a net launcher. Most vikings can capture a dragon by putting it into a headlock and wrestling the beast to the ground - but poor Hiccup doesn't have a hope. Instead, Hiccup plans to use his net launcher to catch a Night Fury, the most fearsome type of dragon there is - completely silent and never before killed or captured.
Hiccup sneaks from the village one evening in the midst of a battle to kill his first dragon, he sits on the clifftop watching when a streak of purple flame shoots accross the sky. Hiccup takes careful aim and fires, and is astonished to find that his shot knocks the invisible target from the sky in the nearby forest.
The next day Hiccup treks out into the forest to see what he has captured. What he finds is a large black dragon tangled in nets and breathing with difficulty. Hiccup draws his knife, all he has to do is make the killing blow and finally he will become an accepted member of his people. Hiccup raises the blade over his head and closes his eyes - wincing at what he is about to do. Hiccup hears the dragon turn its head in resignation and pauses - realizing that the dragon is as scared as he is.
In a moment of reckless impulse, Hiccup slices the lines holding the dragon in captivity and attempts to turn and run. The beast has Hiccup on his back within a heartbeat - Hiccup is terrified. His people believe that a dragon always goes for the kill, without exception. Hiccup is convinced he is about to die - yet the dragon simply roars at his face and bounds away through the forest.
Over the following weeks Hiccup learns he is going to be forced to take the dragon training course in his village - he cannot bring himself to kill a creature after his recent experiences and runs to the forest in desperation. Hiccup heads in the direction where the Night Fury ran off - hoping he will see where it went. What he finds is that the dragon is trapped in a large depression, unable to fly due to damage to his tail. Over the course of weeks Hiccup befriends the dragon and earns his trust, naming him Toothless.
When Hiccup's village eventually learns of Toothless' existence and captures him Hiccup must confront the realization that everything he and his people believe about dragons is false and risk everything to save an unlikely friend.
How To Train Your Dragon is rated PG - this is a family movie with a wonderful story presented in a tasteful manner.
Many readers here will recall that in the early days of Blu-Ray as a format one of the best looking (and sounding) discs around was a DreamWorks title, Kung-Fu Panda. Since the release of How to Train Your Dragon in theaters, I have been eager to see what a modern DreamWorks title can do to best the already impressive Kung-Fu Panda. So, on to the important bits:
How to Train Your Dragon comes to Blu-Ray with an utterly jaw dropping 1080p AVC encode with an average bitrate of 22 Mbps. I was hoping that this title would best its predecessors and it does more than that, it completely destroys them. The video quality of this disc is without question reference quality, colors are superbly rich and accurate, blacks are infinite and shadow gradation and detail is incredible. The film has such incredible sharpness and detail that from start to finish I was noticing things that the 4K IMAX presentation left out, flames, dragons and vikings literally pop off the screen during this film and the result is in a word: breathtaking. I have only seen one film on Blu-Ray to date that left me with the same impression of raw video perfection, and that was Avatar. As is the trend with most animated titles, How to Train Your Dragon looks far better than any live action film out there, Avatar included. As a title produced entirely in (and for) the digital domain there are no flaws to speak of: no DNR, no noise, no grain, no banding or artifacts, and no black crush.
This is the best looking Blu-Ray disc in my collection bar none. If you want to own what in this reviewers opinion is the best looking Blu-Ray in the history of the format, go out right now and purchase How to Train Your Dragon.
DreamWorks must read forums and make lists of things that we AV junkies love in movies:
Crystal clear picture, check. Perfect color reproduction, check. Amazing sound quality, check. Bass that will kick you in the chest, check.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack in How to Train Your Dragon defied all expectations, proving a match to the reference visuals. The sense of scope the soundstage conveys is enormous, with palpable depth and pinpoint accuracy. The opening attack on the village will see your surrounds shedding any dust that may have built up as they are seriously put to the test. Fireballs and explosions come from all directions and give the viewer a complete sense of immersion. The dialogue throughout is clear and completely intelligible, no matter how much other noise is present. Quiet scenes in the film are full of natural ambience with the wind sighing behind your head and twigs crackling on the forest floor. There is plenty of cause for subwoofer maniacs to rejoice here as well, I found that my sub was active throughout the film and in such a way that it never stole the stage - well, except for one mega-explosion at the end of the film which many of you will no doubt replay many times.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable surround sound experience that completely surpasses all expectations.
An excellent collection of HD special features rounds out this incredible disc.
Legend of the Bonekeeper Dragon [HD] – Short film (16 min) with 7.1 TrueHD audio.
Soaring Special Features:
Viking Sized Cast [HD]– 11 minutes
The technical artistry of How to Train Your Dragon[HD]– 10 minutes
Deleted Scenes (3) [HD]
The Story Behind the Story [HD] – 7 minutes
Racing for gold [HD] – interactive game
How to draw a dragon featurette [HD]– 10 minutes
Your Viking profile [HD] – interactive
Filmmaker’s commentary with directors/co-writers Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois and producer Bonnie Arnold
The animator’s corner – Bonusview pop-up interactive feature
Trivia track – Bonusview pop-up interactive feature
DreamWorks Animation: Video Jukebox [HD]– Featuring Shrek, Madagascar, Over the hedge, Bee Movie, and Kung Fu Panda
How To Train Your Dragon is a superb story told with a perfect balance of humor, seriousness and respect for the intelligence of the viewer. The actions of each character have real and plausible repurcussions and the story is both uplifting and engrossing. The film is diminished in no way by the move to Blu-Ray, with a reference video and audio presentation, a great collection of HD extras and a bonus disc thrown in for good measure this is an incredible value.
As family films go, rarely do I find myself enjoying them quite as much as the intended audience (kids). How to Train Your Dragon is the exception to that rule, and as a film it remains my top pick of 2010 thus far. Whether your motivation for purchasing films is that they be family friendly, great to look at, or incredible from a sonic perspective, you have no need to worry. How to Train Your Dragon is a no compromise package deal with everything a good film needs to have. Whatever your qualifications are to enjoy a Blu-Ray disc (or a film in general) this film has something to offer to both you and your family. If you want this reviewer's advice, go out right now and purchase what I'm willing to bet will soon be your favorite disc.