Dreamworks has its sights set firmly on Disney’s once exclusive territory with the release of their first animated movie. The Prince of Egypt is essentially a highly condensed retelling of The Ten Commandments, covering much of the biblical life story of Moses. The story starts with baby Moses being placed on the river, to float downstream to what is hopefully a better life. The Queen of Egypt finds the basket and brings the baby up as a royal member of the household. Years later, the once close "brothers" are split by Moses’ sudden discovery of his true heritage. He escapes from the opulent city to the dry, harsh desert where he eventually meets a group of shepherds and decides to live with them. Then, one day as he is looking for a lost sheep, he comes upon a bush burning most mysteriously. It is there God speaks and commands him to go once more back to Egypt and set his people free.
Dreamworks has aimed squarely for top-level quality by integrating traditional hand-drawn 2D cells with 3D CGI rendered material. The finished result is quite impressive and truly must be seen to be fully appreciated. This DVD release contains a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that is practically perfect in every way. The vast, detailed backdrops are brought to life with rich, vibrant colors and phenomenal clarity typically unseen in such films. Black levels are well calibrated (though as with other Dreamworks films are of a slightly different shade than the widescreen bars). There is no evidence of dirt or lint, similarly I detected no compression artifacts – a feat in itself considering how difficult animation is to encode with MPEG. The 99-minute film comes on a dual-layered disc containing 7.8 gigabytes and 28 chapters, with the rather noticeable layer transition occurring at 1:09.12 (during chapter 22).
The Dolby Digital audio track doesn’t disappoint either, making excellent and almost constant use of the rear channels. The powerful, room-filling orchestral score by Hans Zimmer is reproduced with better-than-CD quality and dynamic range. Two or three action sequences will really get your subwoofer rattling – your neighbors knocking at the door! As should be expected from an animated film, the dialogue track is crystal clear with no background hiss or other unwanted glitches. Also included is a 2.0 Dolby ProLogic soundtrack and English subtitles.
Dreamworks has billed this as a "Signature Selection" edition which means that in addition to a few reproduction signatures on the cover and a $5 higher list price, this DVD is packed with extras. First there is a full-length directors’ commentary featuring Brenda Chapman and Steve Hickner. Continuing, there’s an informative 25 minute "Making Of" featurette with interviews with the crew and voice talent covering the many technical and creative aspects of making a feature animated movie.
Then there are a few additional featurettes that go into greater depth on particular facets of the production. The first is 9 minutes long and titled "The Basics Of Animation". This delves into four distinct creative steps, from rough sketches and two different working copies, to the finished film. It uses split-screens of the chariot race to demonstrate how things progress and change during production. The next is the 6-minute "Focus on Technical Effects", showing four of the different animation techniques used in the film. The third is a multi-lingual presentation of the music video "When You Believe," demonstrating how seamlessly the many international language tracks are recorded and can be switched between. All featurettes are presented with full-screen video and stereo sound, while the music video is in 5.1 Dolby Digital.
But it doesn’t end there! You’ll also find a 7-minute long art gallery slide show with many sketches, still frames, backgrounds and other pieces inspirational to the artists. Next are two theatrical trailers, one in 1.85:1 video and 5.1 sound, the other in 1.78:1 widescreen and 5.1 audio. Rounding out the disc are previews of two animated films from Dreamworks slated for future release (Chicken Run and The Road to Eldorado), cast and crew biographies and filmographies, production notes, elaborately animated interactive menus and scene selection screens with full-motion previews. The 4-page Alpha case insert contains text production notes.
So, should you own The Prince of Egypt? Dreamworks certainly has produced an excellent disc, albeit with a high list price. The superb quality of the film and generous selection of interesting extras certainly deserve serious consideration for inclusion in your DVD library.
- Reviewed by Daniel Tonks on September 20, 1999.
1-Poor 2-Fair 3-Good 4-Excellent
Sony DVP-S500D DVD Player
Sony STR-GA8ES 5.1 Receiver
Sony KV-27V65 27" Television using S-Video
Nuance Spatial & Star Series Speakers