National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Home Video Picks & Passes 06.15.14

BY Steven D. Greydanus

Film Critic

June 15-28, 2014 Issue | Posted 6/9/14 at 10:02 AM

 

Coinciding with the big-screen release of How to Train Your Dragon 2, the original How to Train Your Dragon arrives in a new two-disc edition including Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy.

One of the better family-film surprises of 2010, the film is a nerdy-cool genre mashup: a coming-of-age, Vikings-versus-dragons, brains-over-brawn, boy-and-his-dog story with creatively differentiated dragon species.

The makers of Lilo & Stitch create another gorgeous island world, though with less richly realized characters. Still, Hiccup is an endearingly abrasive protagonist whose love of book learning is vindicated to his peers; tough, old dragon-slaying trainer Gobber is a sympathetic authority figure; ice-maiden Astrid is more sensitive than she seems; and Toothless the dragon makes an impression without uttering a sound.

The now-expected reversal that the dragons aren’t evil, just misunderstood, is itself subverted by the revelation of a mega dragon who embodies all the implacable malice of the dragon archetype.

Most of the bonus features are from previous editions, including commentary and trivia tracks. New material includes a 22-minute TV series spin-off, a 17-minute short going into more depth on dragon lore and an interactive dragon-lore feature.

Also new on Blu-ray is Steven Spielberg’s slavery-trial epic Amistad (coinciding with the similarly themed indie Belle that is now in theaters).

Like Schindler’s List, Amistad is structured as the redemption story of a self-interested bystander: In this case, it’s Matthew McConaughey’s attorney, who initially acts out of self-interest in defending a group of slaves involved in a slave-ship uprising, but gradually becomes involved in their plight. Morgan Freeman plays a fictional freed slave, and Anthony Hopkins has a small but important role as John Quincy Adams.

Also similar to Schindler’s List, focusing on characters other than the victims enables Spielberg to allow the victims to retain a certain remote unknowability, rather than reducing them to fictionalized characters with invented motivations and character arcs and so forth. Only a few slaves, such as Djimon Hounsou’s Cinque and a pair of prisoners in a standout scene where they are trying to work out the life of Christ from pictures in a Bible, emerge as individuals.

A 26-minute making-of featurette from the DVD edition is the only substantial extra.

 

Caveat Spectator: Amistad: Some gory violence; brief nonsexual nudity. Mature viewing. How to Train Your Dragon: Much intense animated fantasy violence; some scary images; brief mildly risqué humor; a few Norse polytheistic references. Too much for sensitive youngsters.