‘Seinfeld’ remains one of the most acclaimed comedies of all time, a lightning-in-a-bottle sitcom that quite literally focused on nothing from week to week. Many subsequent sitcoms have attempted to replicate the cast’s on-screen chemistry, the series’ absurdist tone, and the episode’s multi-plotted structure, but very few have achieved a sliver of ‘Seinfeld’s popularity. Even when the former cast members have taken shots at recreating their success, they’ve only managed to distance themselves further from their fans’ fond memories.
However, series creator Jerry Seinfeld took his time returning to the spotlight after his hit series went off the air. He didn’t attach himself to another television series, he never tried to parry his success into a film career, and he refused to show up for cameos in his former castmates’ fledgling sitcoms. Aside from a small role in the ‘Dilbert’ animated series, a walk-on in an episode of co-creator Larry David’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and an appearance on ’30 Rock’ last year, the standup comedian has spent his days… well, working as a standup comedian. So it was that I had immensely high hopes for 2007’s ‘Bee Movie,’ a DreamWorks production that pulled the “Seinfeld” namesake out of hiding.
Barry A. Benson (Seinfeld) is an average worker bee who dreams of being a part of an elite squadron of Pollen Jocks, brave risk-takers who fly pollen-gathering runs outside of the hive. When a twist of fate gives him the opportunity to join the Jocks on a mission, Barry leaves the confines of his methodical life to discover a world of dangerous humans and vast possibilities. He instantly takes to the freedom and fresh air, losing himself in the moment. Before he knows what’s happening, a mishap with a tennis ball separates him from his squadron and sends him on a series of misadventures through the city. Just as he decides it would be best to return home, a chance encounter with a kind florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) convinces the small bee to break the first law of his world -- don’t talk to humans. His subsequent introductions lead to a quick friendship between the pair as Barry takes up residence in Vanessa’s apartment. However, a visit to a local grocery store reveals a human conspiracy to enslave bees and rob them of their honey for mass consumption. Taking his pleas to court, Barry challenges an American industry, starts a bee revolution, and fights to free his kind from slavery.
If you think my synopsis seems convoluted, you should sit through the film itself. ‘Bee Movie’ is an unfocused melting pot of ideas whose plot could have been spread across three different flicks. Just when Barry’s adventure in the city is gaining momentum and the reclusive world of the bees is becoming intriguing, the film launches into a bizarre romance with a human that feels contrived, underdeveloped, and, quite frankly, a little creepy. Yet before this new relationship can get off the ground, the film abandons everything that has occurred to pit Barry against the world at large. Still unsatisfied with the plot, the filmmakers then offer a trio of conflicting morals that never allow the story to resonate at any level. If we’re supposed to feel for the bees’ plight against slavery, why does Barry’s revolution nearly end with the destruction of plantlife on the planet? For that matter, why does his society react so casually when one of their own breaks their prime directive? It’s these thematic contradictions that hinder ‘Bee Movie’ from really saying anything -- instead of engaging my sensibilities or teaching my young son something valuable, the film confused us both and left us looking for another flick to throw in our Blu-ray player.
Worse still, ‘Bee Movie’ thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is. Whereas the writers at Pixar aim to create timeless laughs and inject a magical sense of awe into their productions, DreamWorks Animation continues to rely on pop culture references and distinctly modern sarcasm. The result is a hit-or-miss comedy that will appeal to some and sail straight over the heads of everyone else. A Larry King parody, a series of Ray Liotta jokes, and a Sting cameo are as predictable as you could imagine and feel dated before they've even reached the screen. About the only thing I laughed at in the film were the references to scenes from classics like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ ‘The Graduate,’ and ‘War Games.’ The humor didn’t even register with my son. When we watched ‘Bee Movie’ together, he trotted off to play with his toys before the film even reached its half-way point. Since my son sat undeterred through 125 minutes of ‘Speed Racer,’ his reaction to ‘Bee Movie’ was fairly damning.
I’ve read some fairly positive reviews of ‘Bee Movie’ so I know it has an audience out there. Unfortunately, I didn’t laugh at its jokes, enjoy its story, or feel any connection to its characters. Maybe I’m just spoiled by the top-to-bottom quality of Pixar’s new classics, but ‘Bee Movie’ is yet another DreamWorks animated film that left me feeling empty.
I may have been disappointed by 'Bee Movie's overcooked plot and dull humor, but I was more than pleased with the gorgeous 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer featured on its high-def debut. The opening scenes in the hive bring with them an onslaught of vibrant primaries, inky blacks, and perfect contrast that never waver or falter. Every bee, near and far, is rendered with the same exacting care as each strand of hair on Barry’s head. The sheer volume of characters and contraptions buzzing around the screen is a testament to the ever-evolving artistry of the studio's animation wizards. Even so, there wasn't a single shot in the hive that could prepare me for the explosion of color and detail that accompanies Barry's exploration of the outside world. If I were so inclined, I could have counted the individual windows on skyscrapers miles away, read every sign in every window in the city, and pointed to individual leaves on distant trees. While I did notice a few brief instances of unintrusive banding, the film's incredibly clean transfer isn't burdened by artifacting, source noise, or other pesky technical issues.
If I can muster a single nitpick of 'Bee Movie's Blu-ray bow it’s that the transfer doesn’t pack the same punch as those featured on last year's Pixar releases. The culprit seems to be the DreamWorks Animation style itself -- the studio's cartoon-flavored aesthetics look slightly flatter since they don't utilize the sort of three-dimensional texturing and subtle lighting that's showcased in ‘Ratatouille’ and ‘Cars.’ While I’m certainly not about to penalize 'Bee Movie's video score for such relatively minor artistic decisions, its transfer didn't floor me to the degree that Pixar’s high-def offerings have. Regardless, this direct digital transfer is a technical showstopper that will dazzle fans and keep every eye, young and old, transfixed.
DreamWorks presents ’Bee Movie’ with a versatile Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that juggles each flutter and flitter in the soundscape with ease. Dialogue is crisply nestled amongst the front channels, echoes and acoustic elements are a blast to track moving through the soundfield, and high-end sounds are solid and stable. LFE support is selective at times, but altogether aggressive considering the whimsy of the tale -- it pumps extra oomph into the pollen jocks’ wings and plenty of additional menace into the city traffic. The rear speakers also get a workout dealing with crowd noise in the hive, the organic mechanics of the machinery within, and the trails of worker bees rushing through the soundstage. Each component of the soundscape is prioritized perfectly in the mix, never drowning out conversations or neglecting to accurately place a background element in its appropriate location.
Rounding out the experience is a series of naturalistic pans that make it sound as if there’s an additional speaker sitting in the middle of the soundfield. The channels work in tandem to create this illusion of sonic depth and often fooled me into thinking a sound was occurring elsewhere in my home rather than in the film’s soundscape. Sure, ‘Bee Movie’s cartoony atmosphere extends to its sound design -- effects are over-the-top, low-end elements are overemphasized, and ambient noise is less than convincing during quieter scenes -- but this impressive TrueHD track still earned my respect.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Bee Movie’ includes all of the multi-generational supplements from the 2-disc Special Edition DVD -- DreamWorks has even packed in a slew of exclusive bonuses that take full advantage of the format (discussed at length in the next section). Better still, the disc’s video features are presented in high definition. If the supplements were comprised of higher quality content and more extensive material, this would be quite a thorough release.
I’m a huge fan of animation so I expect a lot when it comes to animated features. Sadly, ‘Bee Movie’ is a pretentious parade of sarcasm, dull pop culture references, and convoluted plotlines that didn’t resonate with me or my son. Thankfully, the Blu-ray edition of the film offers fans a more reliable experience. It boasts a gorgeous video transfer, a powerful TrueHD audio track, and a seemingly endless stream of special features, many of which are exclusive to this release. In the end, your interest in ‘Bee Movie’ should fall squarely on the shoulders of the film itself -- if you haven’t watched this DreamWorks production, be sure to give it a rent before making a purchase based on the merits of the high-def presentation.