Updated: Jun 1, 2018
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2018; PG for rude humor and some action; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Before the Beginning of Time: Creating ‘Early Man.’”
IT ISN’T exactly “Gladiator” …but Writer/Director/Producer Nick Park of Aardman Animations had his hopes.
“It’s going to be like ‘Gladiator.’ It’s going to be that exciting,” he says in the making-of, “Before the Beginning of Time: Creating ‘Early Man.’” “I want it to be very visceral and fast and furious. That means I’ve always got to have 22 players in each scene and thousands of people in the crowd.”
That dream translated to lots of kicks, smack and pratfalls, but no blood. No one dies either.
It took 35 animators, 45 shooting units, five studios, and 162 crew onsite every day for the story about a tribe of plucky cavemen and women who battle it out with a Bronze Age capitalist Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston, and his big city citizens.
“Early Man” takes off when an asteroid hits Earth, wiping out the dinosaurs. A tribe of cavemen survive to invent the game of football (soccer to us Yanks), when they must kick a blazing, spherical chunk of asteroid about. Years later, young caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends lives in a beautiful green valley … until an army of Bronze Age war elephants led by Lord Nooth drive them out onto lava-baked wilderness. Nooth builds a huge fortress city with a giant sports coliseum. Complications ensue when Dug and Nooth meet leading to a challenge: Cavemen vs. Nooth’s star sports team for ownership of the valley.
“I started kicking ideas around with [writer] Mark Burton [after the “Shaun the Sheep Movie”] ... riffing on ideas about sports. What about cavemen inventing football?” Park continues in the making-of.
Aardman Animations, known for “Chicken Run” and the “Wallace and Gromit” films, have traded chickens and dogs for a giant, prehistoric duck (with teeth) and a smart, loyal boar named Hognob voiced by Park himself. Like Grommet, Hognob is usually smarter than his caveman master.
“Nick has a natural sweetness, and his characters are very self-deprecating. It’s their ordinariness that makes them heroic in some way,” Hiddleston says.
Aardman’s deadpan humor and physical comedy appeal to all ages. It’s best enjoyed by keeping your eye on the screen. The film opened the same week as “Black Panther,” so the audience remained small during its brief run. Don’t miss it now that you can take it home.
“Early Man” is only available in 4K in the United Kingdom and at iTunes and Vudu. Still, it is a beaut on 1080p (1.85:1 ratio). Finished at 4K, colors are bright and rich, with rock solid detail. Aardman continues to deliver a handmade stop-motion Claymation – actually, plasticine – look. Visuals appear more polished and fluid. This is a big world, with lots of sets ranging from volcanic landscapes to English countrysides and a Bronze Age city.
“The whole of the studio is like one gigantic playground. The animators, when they’re trying to work out how the characters would move, they go and they get dressed up. They just happen to have a load of wigs and broomsticks for spears and ridiculous caveman outfits. We act things out,” Redmayne says.
Even so, “Early Man” does not appear to be rotoscoped. Animation is mixed with CGI for crowd sequences, but the amazing puppets rule the show. As seen in Aardman’s earlier films, there is good depth and contrast. Colors and characters pop; movement is consistently fluid.
The Blu-ray has an excellent six channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack driving dialogue, effects and score throughout the room. We can tell the difference right away as the asteroid zooms down from height speakers.
“Voices are really important to us and Eddie [Redmayne] was a fairly automatic choice,” Park says in the making-of. “That Tom Hiddleston was interested in the role was just amazing. I saw him on ‘Graham Norton’ doing impressions and he was just so good. I loved getting Maisie [Williams] for this role [Goona, the wannabe player from the city]. Obviously, Maisie is so well known in ‘Game of Thrones.’ She’s very versatile as well with her voice and accent.”
There can be several takes on a line; the film’s record was 47.
“[Nick’s] a perfectionist so you need stamina ‘cause the man ain’t gonna let you out of that booth until he hears what he wants to hear. Sometimes you’ll be on the floor crying, ‘Please let me out. I don’t want to do funny voices anymore, I’ve made a terrible mistake.’ And then you’ll give him what he wants.” — Kayvan Novak, who voices Dino and Jurgend.
The score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and Tom Howe. “It’s actually vital with these Aardman films to find the balance between the action sequences and the lighter moments,” Harry Gregson-Williams says.
“One of the most important things is the main character Dug – to have some emotional theme and bring him out as the heroic character he ends up being,” Howe says.
Summit Inc./Lionsgate provides over 30 minutes of bonus features, five more featurettes in addition to the making-of: “Nick Park: Massaging the Funny,” about writing the script and bringing out the best in his team; “The Valley Meets the Bronze,” about the differences between the two factions, and “Hanging at Aardman Studios: A Workshop Exploration.”
“The highest compliment I can give ‘Early Man’ is it’s so silly,” Hiddleston concludes. “There is such delight in the silliness that he’s chasing, whether it’s a physical comedy or the delivery of a line, Nick really wants it to be the sweetest, purest form of silliness.”
And a good time for everyone.
— Kay Reynolds