GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Blu-ray review

I left the Marvel Universe when I started college and return there only to check my “stash” in the attic occasionally, so my memory of the Guardians of the Galaxy is hazy. Maybe everyone else’s is, too, because I haven’t heard a single complaint about a film adaptation that’s so loose it’s probably more accurate to say it was inspired by the 1969 comic book and subsequent mutations.

I did a little checking, and it turns out that the original Guardians were a bunch of aliens led by a human, but that’s where the similarities to this film end. The human in the comic had been cryogenically frozen for a millennium, while the aliens were an interplanetary mish-mash featuring a giant from Jupiter, a crystalline guy from Pluto, and a red-skinned archer with a fin for a Mohawk who hailed from Alpha Centauri. As a well-written Den of Geek! article on the full history points out, characters like Thanos, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, and Star-Lord, meanwhile, had been “bouncing around the Marvel Universe.” Credit Disney for finding a way to bring them together into a cohesive, slam-bang sci-fi/fantasy adventure that takes the original Guardians concept and runs with it, while also generating a comic-book vibe built on non-stop action . . . with humor riding along in a sidecar.

As I wrote in my This Week column, I would never have bet that a Han Solo type, a talking raccoon, a walking tree, an ill-tempered green-skinned woman, and a shirtless tattooed convict would make such an entertaining group to follow, but they have great chemistry to match an accomplished screenplay and direction from James Gunn, who also—hard to believe—gave us the clunky live-action “Scooby-Doo” movie.

Aside from the humor and clever writing, what really struck me about “Guardians of the Galaxy” was the science fiction. Although the cityscapes looked a little too second-wave “Star Wars” for my taste and Chris Pratt’s character seemed to me another version of Han Solo—the quick-quipping small-timer who reluctantly rises to the occasion of a big-time destiny—there’s a surprising amount of futuristic mechanical and operational details that feel newly invented. I won’t spoil it for you by giving examples, because half the fun of this film is the sci-fi tapestry that Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman weave using their own imaginations and prompts from comic book writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Pratt is infectiously likable as Peter Quill, an Earthling who’s snatched by a blue-skinned interplanetary rogue (played rather menacingly in Woody Harrelson “Natural Born Killers” fashion by Michael Rooker). Like Jim Hawkins and Oliver before him he’s adopted and taught the ways of thievery, thuggery, and skullduggery. But a stint in prison puts him in contact with Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a mutation that’s intelligent enough to know he’s the product of wild experimentation, and Rocket’s sidekick, the talking, walking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). There he also meets Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned woman who, like him, was adopted and trained for a life that goes against her nature, and Drax (WWE star Dave Bautista), a tattooed shirtless hulk who’s bent on avenging his family’s death. Together they figure out how to break out of prison, and when responsibility for saving the universe falls their way they all stand tall.

The villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), seems a bit familiar, but every time you see something that gives you a sense of déja vu, the spectacular special effects and superior science fiction elements in the art decoration and set design make you quickly forget.  In the end, you really do marvel at how this universe feels both fun and action-packed—a real visual page-turner.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Video:
The action sprawls across a 2.40:1 screen, brought to 50GB Blu-ray disc via a flawless AVC/MPEG-4 encode. Some of the scenes are deliberately dark, but we can make out the clear edges of figures and objects, even in those dimly lit shots.

Audio:
BAM! Disney-Marvel’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 English audio is as immersive as it gets, filling the room with rocking bass and making every screech, every crunch, every blast ring with authenticity. It’s easily one of the strongest audio presentations of the year, and good thing, because an actioner like this one demands it. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.

Extras:
Don’t think you have to buy the 3D Blu-ray combo pack to get the best bonus features, because they’re identical to this single Blu-ray release that you can buy at Best Buy. Included is a pretty good “Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn” that talks about the creation of this particular corner of the Marvel Universe, though it’s been edited down to 21 minutes and feels as if it could have covered more ground . . . or atmosphere. What’s here is good, though, and well worth watching. Gunn is even more exuberant on the full-length audio commentary, in which he dissects nearly every scene according to all aspects of filmmaking, from the script he co-wrote to the minutest of details. For film fans and would-be directors it’s an exceptional commentary track.

Other than that, there are just three very short featurettes:  “The Intergalactic Visual Effects” (7 min.), which combines interview clips with scenes, a pretty funny four-minute gag reel, a four-minute round-up of deleted and extended scenes (though at four minutes total, you can tell the extension won’t be much), and an “Exclusive Look at Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron” teaser that you can already see on YouTube in some format.

Bottom line:
With a debut that’s every bit as luminescent as “The Avengers,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” seems a sure bet to become one of the brightest firmaments in the Marvel film universe.

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