SCOOBY-DOO / SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED - Blu-ray review

...fans of the movies will have fun watching them in high-def. The rest of us, well, maybe not so much.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

The best thing about this Blu-ray double feature is getting both of the first two live-action/CGI "Scooby-Doo" movies in high definition. The worst thing about this Blu-ray double feature is having to watch the first two "Scooby-Doo" movies, no matter what the definition. Seriously, fans of the movies will have fun watching them in high-def. The rest of us, well, maybe not so much.

SCOOBY-DOO
The characters of Scooby-Doo and the gang have been cartoon favorites on television for decades, the first Hanna-Barbera creations appearing in the late Sixties and appealing, at least at first, mainly to youngsters. OK, so maybe I'm just not a kid anymore, never will be, and can't even begin thinking as one. But, honestly, if I were a kid, this half-baked, 2002, live-action/CGI update would be insulting to me.

The filmmakers pulled in a quartet of teenage idols and heartthrobs to bolster the audience's attention, but for me it didn't work. Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays Fred Jones, the narcissistic, self-appointed head of the detective agency, Mystery, Inc., of which Scooby (voiced by Neil Fanning) is the fifth partner. Prinze's character primps and poses and generally acts in an empty-headed manner that parodies most of the actor's previous romantic-comedy roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar, of fearless vampire slayer fame, plays Daphne, the pretty, young, airheaded princess of the team, who always gets kidnapped. Matthew Lillard provides the comedy relief as Shaggy, the dumb, klutzy member of the troupe, who is also Scooby's best friend. And Linda Cardellini plays Velma, the nerdy brains of the outfit, the one the guys don't notice because she wears glasses, which apparently distract them from noticing her beautiful face and curvacious figure. Sort of a Clark Kent/Superman proposition with the glasses disguise.

The filmmakers undoubtedly intend us to root for these young folks both individually and as a unit and to love them as a family. But the movie disrupts its own plans by making each of them as obnoxious as possible and then splitting them up just minutes into the picture. As the story begins, they solve their last case together and then, getting on one another's nerves (not to mention ours), decide to go their separate ways, which they do for the next two years.

They reunite when the millionaire owner of an island amusement park, Spooky Island, calls them together to solve the mystery of why the students who come to his park arrive happy and carefree and leave grumpy and serious. The only person in the cast who seems even remotely capable of anything approaching subtlety (and I mean this in a relative sense) is Rowan Atkinson ("Mr. Bean," "Black Adder"), who plays the owner of the amusement park. From here on, the team skips around the island chasing ghosts and monsters and being chased by ghosts and monsters and doing a good deal of falling down, all while a loud, pounding rock/rap beat is playing in the background and knocking what little sensibility we have left out the back of our skulls.

Special effects abound; one can see from the start where the filmmakers spent their enormous budget. In fact, I can't think of too many other films with such lavish sets. But the visual display is as far as the money takes us because the film uses none of the sets for anything except crashing into and bouncing off of. The film integrates the CGI Scooby and monsters with the live members of the cast fairly well, but we've seen this done many times before, and much of the fascination has gone out of the process. In the end, the live actors themselves begin looking like cartoon characters and losing their individuality. Why not have made the whole thing in CGI?

One other minor observation: Why upgrade a children's television show to PG-rated status when the odds of attracting an older crowd are minimal? What we get for the PG rating is what the keep case describes as "rude humor, language, and some scary action," plus a goodly array of female flesh, courtesy of bare mid riffs, mini dresses, bikinis, and low-cut tops. I suppose it's the filmmakers' attempt to bring in the older crowd, just as a belching/farting contest between Scooby and Shaggy is a grossly blatant appeal to the youngest possible viewers.

I found no laughs in "Scooby-Doo," no smiles, no thrills, no atmosphere, no emotion, and, worst of all, no sense of wonderment. The story line gets more inane as it goes along and finally degenerates into chaos. Even the title character of Scooby himself gets lost in the proceedings. The movie version of "Scooby-Doo" is all empty action and mindless motion with no payoff. From an adult standpoint, it's a bigger wasteland than television ever was.

SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED
Despite an almost universally negative response from critics, the first, 2002 live-action/CGI movie rendering of the popular "Scooby-Doo" animated series did enormous box office. That doesn't say much for the taste of the average moviegoer, but it's not my job to comment on other people's viewing habits. It's my job to evaluate films. "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed," the 2004 sequel to "Scooby-Doo," is just as bad as its predecessor.

That is to say, "Scooby-Doo 2" is just as silly, just as juvenile, just as inane, just as witless, just as dumb as the first "Scooby-Doo." Which is also to say that if you liked the first one, you'll like this one, too.

The same cast is back for the sequel. Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) remains the cute, conceited, narcissistic leader of Mystery, Inc. Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is still the fashion-conscious glamour queen. Velma (Linda Cardellini) is still the sweet little nerd because she's smart and wears glasses, never mind how pretty she is. Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) is still the comic relief. And Scooby-Doo, the CGI-created hound (voiced by Neil Fanning), is still the special effect he always was, only this time he gets even less screen time than in the previous outing, almost becoming lost in all the nonsense.

The filmmakers again set a relentless pace from the very beginning, as the opening credits make one dizzy with motion. Accompanied by a boisterous rock track, the combination is enough to drive one to another channel, if there were another channel.

The plot is nonessential, and nonexistent in any case. The Mystery, Inc. team members are being honored at a new museum of criminology in Coolsville, a museum exhibiting the costumes of all the evildoers the gang has thwarted over the years. Suddenly, several of the baddies appear in the room as spirits--the Black Knight ghost and the Pterodactyl ghost--wrecking havoc through the festivities and pretty much discrediting everything that Mystery, Inc. had stood for. The only way for the heroes to get back in the good graces of the people of Coolsville is to find out where these ghosts came from, what they want, and stop them.

And that's about it. They do it, and it's over.

Alicia Silverstone shows up as a mean-spirited TV reporter. The film pretty much wastes her in the part, a throwaway for her, probably a lark. Peter Boyle plays a mysterious and very suspicious character named Old Man Wickles. The film pretty much wastes him, too. Seth Green gets a meatier role as Patrick, the nerdy curator of the crime museum and a potential match for the nerdy Velma. And Tim Blake Nelson appears in a thankless cameo. Raja Gosnell directs the movie, as he did the first one, by injecting as much physical movement as possible into the affair to hide the fact that there is nothing else going on. The screen is awash with gaudy colors and busywork, making it more painful than entertaining to follow.

The gags are just as insipid and uninspired as they were the first time around, with slapstick chases the order of the day. The detective team has to track down a secret ingredient necessary to make ghosts, and this leads them to an old Wild West mining town that looks like the set for a thrill-park ride. Here, we get a barrage of garbage jokes, flatulence jokes, vomit jokes, and the like, obviously designed to titillate and amuse a young child's mind. But for the adult they fall flat.

"Scooby-Doo 2" plays like a children's version of "Ghostbusters," which for the youngest of kids, I suppose, works. But instead of there being an ounce of wit or charm that might appeal to adults, it's all running and mugging and falling down amidst a host of eyeball-scorching, computer-generated special effects and excruciatingly pumped-up music. I was very glad when it was over.

Video:
As you might expect, both movies feature color, color, and more color, splashed around in typical cartoon fashion. Funny thing, though: The movies appear more colorful than most of the old "Scooby-Doo" TV shows, so real-life is more colorful than cartoon life? In any case, WB use a pair of dual-layer BD25's with VC-1 codecs to transfer the movies to Blu-ray in high definition, reproducing them in their theatrical ratios of 1.85:1. Yes, the image is overly bright and shiny, and even in high def it was a little hard on my eyes; still, other viewers may find it scintillating. Colors are deep and solid, however, with a very clean screen image and crisp definition.

Audio:
The first "Scooby-Doo" movie comes only with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which is more than a bit forward, bellowing, raucous, and garish by turns. The transient response is very quick and strong, and as it did the first time I listened to it, it made my head spin this time, too. There is a plentitude of vague rear-channel musical enhancements, although there is not a lot of discrete, directional surround sound. The whole motion picture seemed basically noisy to me.

The second movie comes with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, all the channels blazing away in one big, loud, blaring event. I found it about as headache inducing as the first movie, perhaps more so since the dynamic range seems wider, the impact stronger, and the bass deeper. Channel separation and surround activity appear better in the second movie as well.

Extras:
For both films, Warner Bros. pile on the extras, but I'm not sure what age group they might appeal to. With "Scooby-Doo" there are two audio commentaries, one by the cast (Prinze, Gellar, Lillard, and Cardellini) and one by the filmmakers (director Raja Gosnell and producers Charles Roven and Richard Suckle), but doubtless neither of these would interest young children much, and the film itself I'm sure wouldn't appeal to many adults; so who's left to listen to all the talk? Next up on the first movie we find thirteen minutes of additional scenes, including an alternate opening sequence, that a person can play with or without commentary. I saw little difference between what they cut out and what they left in. After that is a twenty-minute documentary, "Unmasking the Mystery of Scooby-Doo," that takes the viewer behind the scenes of the filmmaking. Then, there are several more brief featurettes: "Scary Places: Production Design," four minutes; "The Mystery Van," one minute; "Daphne Fight Scene," two minutes; and "Rain on the Set," one minute. Finally, we get a music video, "Land of a Million Dreams," by OutKast; twelve scene selections; a theatrical trailer; a soundtrack spot; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

With "Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleased" we find seven minutes of deleted scenes that again a person can play with or without commentary. Next, there is a ten-minute promotional featurette, "Scooby-Doo Triple Threat," that takes us behind the scenes of the moviemaking process. After that, there is a five-minute, mock documentary, "True Ghoul Hollywood Story"; followed by a five-minute segment called "Dancing Dog," showing how the filmmakers made Scooby-Doo dance and cavort around; and a pair of music videos, "Thank You" by Big Brovaz and "Don't Wanna Think About You" by Simple Plans. The extras conclude with twenty-five scene selections; English and French spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
My reaction to these first two CGI/live-action "Scooby Doo" movies remains the same as when I first saw them: I'm not sure for whom the filmmakers intended them. My guess is the filmmakers meant them to appeal to the youngest of youngsters, maybe below the age of ten, and to older viewers nostalgic for the animated "Scooby-Doo" of their youth. In any case, there was no reason they had to aim the movies only at these limited viewers. After all, the third live-action movie, a direct-to-video product using a smaller budget and a largely small-name cast, was far superior, with characters and actions more in the spirit of the old cartoons and an appeal to young and old and everyone in between. Oh, well. Here, we've got both of the big-budget productions in one high-def package, and at least the fans of these movies will appreciate them.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
8
Extras
6
Film Value
4