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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Waking Life (2001)

"Which is the most universal human characteristic, fear or laziness?"
- Professor Louis Mackey

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: April 28, 2002

Stars: Wiley Wiggins
Other Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Richard Linklater, Bill Wise, Kim Krizan, Steven Prince, Tiana Hux, Speed Levitch, Stephen Soderbergh
Director: Richard Linklater

MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent images
Run Time: 01h:40m:37s
Release Date: May 07, 2002
UPC: 024543040651
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A-AA- A

DVD Review

"There's no story. It's just people, gestures, moments, bits of rapture, fleeting emotions. In short, the greatest story ever told." - Novelist in a Bar (Alex Nixon)

Richard Linkater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) has taken an inventive concept for a small film and crafted it into a masterpiece. Waking Life is a completely unique animated film that bombards us with grand ideologies, stirring emotions, and brief human moments. Utilizing the intriguing animation process created by Bob Sabiston, a large group of animators have literally painted over a tale initially shot on digital video. Live actors originally performed each scene in front of a camera, which generated a template for the artists to create a new world. The visual style shifts dramatically through the eyes of each animator and mirrors nothing witnessed before on the screen in feature length.

Dazed and Confused's Wiley Wiggins stars as a young man without a name who encounters numerous odd characters during his journey. At the story's beginning, he hops off a train and hitches a ride from a strange "boat car" that looks exactly how you would expect. His adventure quickly takes the first in a series of mysterious turns, which leads him towards a strange dream. However, Wiley begins to realize that even his supposedly waking state may be a dream, and there could be no escape. Don't worry, this is not a suspense thriller where our protagonist fights demons within an imaginary world; Wiley remains in the background for much of this tale and simply observes the comments of random people. While they discuss theories and feelings on subjects that include evolution, free will, and reincarnation, he often disappears from the frame entirely.

"The worst mistake that you can make is to think you're alive when really you're asleep in life's waiting room." - Guy Forsyth (as himself)

Although it may appear to exist solely for intellectual thinkers, this film is surprisingly relevant for the average filmgoer. While some of the concepts are pretty complex, the animation occurring around the speakers keeps the moments interesting and sometimes helps to clarify their ideas. Also, the topics discussed cover such a wide spectrum that at least certain scenes could appeal to almost anyone. The colors and images range from an almost realistic feeling to a chaotic atmosphere where anything goes. The sparkling colors and stunning creativity inherent throughout the experience keep the mind enveloped within the dreamlike atmosphere.

Linklater has gathered an eclectic collection of Austin professors, famous and unknown actors, radical thinkers, and slightly crazy individuals. Certain people speak one line and never appear again, while others remain for fairly decent conversations. It is impossible to list all of the memorable characters, but a few highlights deserve a mention. Charles Gunning plays a particularly menacing, red-faced convict who intricately describes the planned torture of his imprisoners. Controversial Austin radio host Alex Jones also injects plenty of emotion into his strong words projected to the streets from his automobile. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles from Before Sunrise and have an especially interesting discussion on death and reincarnation. There's also a talking chimpanzee, a confused old man curled up around a pole, and a quick cameo from director Steven Soderbergh. Melodic tango music appears several times and injects some refreshing energy to the proceedings.

"There's only one instant, and it's right now, and it's eternity." - Man playing pinball (Richard Linklater)

The most obvious drawing point of Waking Life is the remarkable animation, but it also conveys a pure joy of thinking that has often disappeared in recent cinema. The individuals in each segment have stirring feelings and thoughts about the world, including much positive discussion about making the most of life. While the larger questions concerning the universe do not receive much air time these days, many are still valid and can have an effect on our daily existence. Linklater has created a wonderful atmosphere where anything is possible and the only obstacle exists within our own minds.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The bright, stunning animation of Waking Life is given top-notch treatment on this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I noticed almost no defects during this film, which increases the wonder generated by its images. The colors appear pristine and distinct, and they shine with impressive clarity. Considering the importance of the visuals to this story, this movie would sink with even a mediocre transfer. Luckily, 20th Century Fox delivers with an elegant transfer that presents the diverse moments in all their lively glory.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Much of this story includes lengthy discussions on a wide array of complex ideas, but that fact does not lessen the importance of this effective 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The dialogue is clear and easily understandable, which is an essential aspect of this presentation. The accordion- and string-driven music flows nicely through the soundfield and exudes plenty of force. The dialogue and music balance nicely, and the volume level remains nearly constant throughout the film. The rear speakers are fairly quiet, but it is only a minor drawback given the story's talky nature.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Banger Sisters
19 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Richard Linklater, producer Tommy Pallotta, art director Bob Sabiston, and actor Wiley Wiggins; 25 animators; and text commentary
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Snack and Drink animated short
Extras Review: Although not labeled a special edition, Waking Life contains enough worthy extras to easily warrant that heading. This disc offers a wealth of impressive commentaries and featurettes that provide a comprehensive look at the production. The highlight is a feature-length commentary from director Richard Linklater, art director Bob Sabiston, producer Tommy Pallotta, and lead actor Wiley Wiggins. This enjoyable track runs nearly constantly during the film and includes plenty of compelling information. Linklater does much of the talking during his self-described "kitchen-sink" movie and nicely reveals his concepts. Sabiston also injects some good points concerning the numerous difficulties for the animators and how they overcame them. Wiggins and Pallotta add some interesting tidbits, and all four speakers have a nice camaraderie. This track features technical items that could generate boredom, but they're presented in an entertaining, understandable fashion.

The second commentary features words from the huge group of 25 animators who worked on this picture. Sabiston begins the track and appears periodically to describe his role within a specific segment. Surprisingly, this experience is great, due to an unbelievable amount of worthwhile information. Most animators appear individually and state a quick background before delving into the scenes. There's also a few individuals who appear together and have a brief discussion. I found the vast differences among the personal information of the artists fascinating, and it really presents the wealth of talent utilized on this picture.

An essential bonus for this type of film is a text commentary, and this one gives us a plethora of information about each speaker and the stated ideologies. It identifies the characters, which is a major help given the abundance of people involved here. This track also spotlights certain theories and offers books and web sites for greater study. The one drawback of this commentary is the quick cycling through the text, which often require the pause button to catch them all.

I especially enjoyed "Bob Sabiston's Animation Tutorial," a 20-minute feature that allows the art director to explain his revolutionary process. He brings up the material on his Macintosh computer and goes through the basic aspects of the animation. While I still don't completely understand how everything works, the explanation is very straightforward. Sabiston doesn't bother with any promotional fluff and simply shows us his creation. It is amazing to note the extreme length of time required to animate even a fairly brief scene. One 45-second moment took Sabiston three weeks to complete! This extra is an example of the best aspect of DVDs with its intriguing explanation of the action required to make a film.

A movie with such a large number of animators is bound to have extra footage, and the "Animation Scrap Heap" contains 19 pieces. Running for about seven minutes, the collection of brief entries includes test sketches, earlier versions, and deleted segments. Everything runs pretty quickly, but there's still some nice material here. A text introduction describes each part and its place in the production.

Waking Life was originally shot on digital video and edited into a live-action feature. "Greatest Hits: The Live Action Version" showcases 12 minutes of the footage from this fascinating piece. Some silly scenes include Wiley floating into the air through a rudimentary green-screen technique and J.C. Shakespeare pretending to burn with no flames around him. This extra appears with impressive 2.0-channel Dolby sound, and it would work decently as its own film. Another worthwhile addition is Snack and Drinka similar short film created by Sabiston and Pallotta several years earlier. It features the autistic boy from the main feature and follows him through a convenience store. The animation here is a crazier and less-polished version of Sabiston's technique, and it reveals the progress of his work. There's also the odd short First Pass: Bob and Rick's Animation Test, which has a few quick animated interviews on random subjects.

The remaining supplements include an EPK featurette, the original theatrical trailer, and the preview for The Banger Girls, which stars Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon. The EPK runs for about four minutes, and it is not as pointless as the usual promotional items. It contains interviews with Linklater and Sabiston about the animation and presents some behind-the-scenes footage.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Waking Life is a truly unique film that presents substantial ideas in a brilliant display of artistry and visual invention. Repeating viewings only reveal more intricate details within the animation that broaden the scope and effectiveness of this picture. Filled with countless personal moments of entertaining peculiarity and compelling philosphy, this top-notch disc receives my highest recommendation.


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