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Rhino presents
Ryan: The Special Edition (2005)

"This story is about Ryan."
- Chris Landreth

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 07, 2005

Stars: Ryan Larkin, Chris Landreth
Other Stars: Derek Lamb, Felicity Fanjoy, Laurence Green
Director: Chris Landreth, Laurence Green, Ryan Larkin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:05m:15s
Release Date: August 02, 2005
UPC: 603497045327
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AA+ A+

DVD Review

Chris Landreth's not quite 14-minute-long Ryan took home the Short Film (Animated) Oscar in February 2005, and Rhino has smartly selected to release not just the winning project, but a number of closely related entities and commentaries, all under the umbrella of Ryan: The Special Edition DVD. The animated short film category isn't necessarily a big marquee one, but the presentation for this release is impressive for a work that was probably seen by very few people prior to its Oscar nod.

The titular Ryan is Ryan Larkin, a talented and troubled Oscar-nominated Canadian animator who in the late 1960s and early 1970s produced some groundbreaking animated films for the National Film Board of Canada, including the magically fluid movement of Walking, a short stream of consciousness piece about movement that in 1968 had many mistakenly believing the work had been rotoscoped rather than drawn freehand. Larkin collapsed into a self-destructive chasm of alcohol and drug abuse, effectively ending his promising professional career and falling into a marred personal life that for the past few decades has found him living in a homeless mission and panhandling for spare change on the street.

For the short film Ryan—essentially a 14-minute animated biography—Chris Landreth incorporates actual conversations he had with Larkin about his life into what the director refers to as "psychorealism," a strange and surreal animation style that is an amalgam of computer-modeled and hand-drawn images. The effect is disarming as Landreth, as interviewer, imagines Larkin as a skeletal visage with only partial features and an incomplete skull, clearly representing a fragment of what he once was. Landreth weaves in a condensed version of Larkin's life and those who were part of it, building to an explosion of rage that leads to a beautifully haunting and forlorn sequence that closes the film.

Also included here is Alter Egos (52m:27s), a Laurence Green-directed documentary about the making of Ryan, initially meant to be a primer or promotional piece, but one that more than stands on its own as a doc, and fleshes out what Landreth only touches upon. There are interviews with Larkin and those who worked with him during his time at the National Film Board of Canada, with Green and Landreth connecting the dots in the life of the tortured artist. Seen together with Ryan, Alter Egos flows like a natural extension, culminating with an awkward and tense moment between Larking and Landreth immediately following a private screening of the completed short.

The Short Film (Animated) Oscar category rarely raises a blip beyond the animation or art house circles, and Rhino has taken a big step to introduce one of the winners to the masses with this superb release. This DVD is a cumulative effort of sorts, made up of a documentary, commentaries, and related animated shorts, with Landreth's brilliant work being just a part of the whole Ryan Larkin experience, itself a tragic story that reeks of wasted potential, seen here through the eyes of an artist.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Ryan and Alter Egos are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and though Green's doc looks good, Landreth's animated film simply looks spectacular. Image detail is very, very sharp, with no compression problems, and a steady palette of bright, vivid colors.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on Ryan—even though it is just 13 minutes long—is the dramatic highpoint on this disc, an actively aggressive mix that contains the kind of unexpectedly thunderous .LFE channel that will frighten small animals (just ask my rabbit). Swirling voices bounce from speaker to speaker with great clarity, creating an ideal soundstage for Landreth's psycho-realist animation style. A 2.0 option is also available, but the 5.1 track is the way to go.

Alter Egos also carries the 5.1 and 2.0 options, though the impact is not as pronounced, as this is more of a traditional documentary.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 2 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
7 Feature/Episode commentaries by Chris Landreth, Laurence Green, Ryan Larkin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 3 Ryan Larkin films
  2. 2 Chris Landreth films
Extras Review: It is difficult to differentiate exactly where the feature ends and the extras begin, because all of the pieces are so interconnected that it seems one can't exist without the other. The only thing that truly seems "extra" is a menu option that allows the text to be displayed in French.

Chris Landreth includes two of his earlier short works—Bingo (05m) and The End (06m:11s)—both of which are bizarre, inventive and odd, showing that the wild imagining of Ryan was certainly not a fluke. The perverse circus theme of Bingo, accented by its nightmarish clowns, is really something to let wash over you.

Making this disc complete are the three Ryan Larkin animated films— Syrinx (02m:54s) from 1965, Walking (05m:06s) from 1968, Street Musique (08m:45s) from 1972—because they all figure prominently in either Ryan or Alter Egos. The opportunity to see these works in their entirety not only gives Larkin's dream-like animation style a platform, it makes the dark side of his personal life seem all the more wasteful.

There are seven outstanding commentary tracks, with three from Chris Landreth (Ryan, Bingo, The End), one from Laurence Green (Alter Egos) and three from Ryan Larkin (Syrinx, Walking, Street Musique). The Landreth track is an absolutely essential companion to his animated short film, in which he explains his artistic intent, as well as providing a backstory on Larkin, all in 13 minutes. Likewise with the Green commentary for the Alter Egos doc, running longer at 52 minutes, where the director sheds light on the making of a documentary about the making of an animated documentary. But the real treat is hearing Larkin himself talk over three of his short works, because after being exposed to his undeniably sad story from Landreth and Green, everything comes full circle. To hear Larkin expound on the creative force he had in the early 1970s is as exciting as it is bittersweet.

A foldout insert provides descriptions of all the films, and the disc also contains short bios of Landreth, Green, Larkin and the assorted producers involved.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Here's a deep mixture of animation and documentary that is a heartbreaking piece of brilliance. Rhino has done so much more than simply issue a 14-minute animated short film, and instead has assembled a well stocked collective narrative about Canadian animator Ryan Larkin that is depressingly beautiful.

Highly recommended, and certainly a contender for my year-end Top 10.


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