As most of you already know MGM (in conjunction with Fox) has released a new DVD of the Secret of NIMH. I bought a copy of it today at Best Buy, and here's my thoughts on this edition.
The release is a two-disc set. On the first disc you get the movie itself, in both 1.33:1 Full Screen and (for the first time in the US) 1.85:1 Widescreen, as it was seen in theaters. It has a Dolby 2.1 Surround (or glorified stereo) English track, a stereo Spanish track, and a mono French track, and English and Spanish subtitles. There is also a commentary track from Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.
Disc two contains a 15-minute long featurette titled "Secrets Behind the Secret," again featuring Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, and 5 set-top games.
There is also a small activity sheet included inside the DVD package, geared towards children.
First, a little history lesson. NIMH was originally filmed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, known as an "open matte". This was later transferred to 1.85:1 film for the theatrical release. The fullscreen version more closely matches the original 1.33:1 open matte, so you see more on the top and bottom than you do on the widescreen version, with a small amount of cropping along both sides that the widescreen version doesn't have.
In this version, the picture has been very much improved, with better contrast, color correction and general cleanup, supervised by Don himself. I noticed a good number of things in this version that were either too blurry or too dark in the background in the original DVD version, and all-in-all, it just plain looks better. The widescreen version of the film is in a higher definition than the fullscreen version, meaning that the characters appear slightly larger and more detailed than they do in fullscreen, making the widescreen version a very worthwhile way to view the movie, in spite of my expectations. If you want to get a feel for how the new DVD looks, I've posted some screengrabs here: http://www.thornvalley.com/gallery/fan/v/studio/screen/dvd/
Fullscreen from the old
Fullscreen from the new DVD:
Widescreen from the new DVD:
The sound also seems somewhat improved from the older NIMH DVD release, though I can't say for certain. In any case, I didn't notice any problems with the sound quality.
The most interesting new feature of this DVD is the director's commentary with Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. They provide a competent and interesting commentary, giving insights into the process of the movie's creation, including animation techniques, experiences with the voice actors, story decisions and so forth. While they keep the dead air to a minimum (I hate commentaries that consist of mostly the word "um", throat-clearing and silence), they do seem to run out of things to say from time to time and resort to stating the obvious. I find it funny, but some may find it a bit irritating. ;)
Second to that is the featurette "Secrets Behind the Secret," in which Don Bluth and Gary Goldman describe some of the background of the directors and how the film came to be. It has very little overlap with the commentary, and contains photos and footage taken by the filmmakers while they were working on the project. I won't say too much about it, since I don't want to spoil things for everyone, but suffice it to say, it's a very interesting and well-produced feature.
There are also five set-top games. These are largely unremarkable, but they at least have the virtue of not being extraordinarily corny, as these games are prone to be. Briefly, here's a rundown of them to complete things:
[li]Who's Footprint - Match an animal seen in the movie with its footprint.
[li]Fuzzy Focus - Identify an out-of-focus scene or character from the movie.
[li]Untangle Jeremy - Figure out the correct order to remove the string from Jeremy to save him from Dragon.
[li]Origami Mouse - step-by-step instructions on how to make an origami mouse.
[li]Memory Game - After a scene from the movie is shown, answer a question about it.
Finally, the menus in this version have been reworked, including a semi-animated main menu that is entertaining to watch in and of itself, and they are all in keeping with the flavor of the film.
I've had high hopes for this release ever since I found out about it, though I couldn't help but wonder if MGM would still find a way to somehow screw it up. I am happy to state, therefore, that the [i]only[/i] things that are bad about this release is the cover art and overall lack of promotion. This is easily the highest quality transfer that they have ever done for a consumer format, and the commentary and special features only add to a wonderful viewing experience. As I mentioned, I was worried about the loss of the top and bottom of the frame when going to widescreen, but the higher definition of the widescreen version makes it worth it. And for those who do want to see the bigger picture at the cost of some resolution, the fullscreen version is available and just as beautifully restored as the widescreen one. These features alone make it better by far than the original DVD release. You've got the best of both worlds, as far as the DVD format allows.
Could it be better? Perhaps. A cast commentary could've been interesting, and it'd be nice to see a 1.33:1 transfer that shows the whole frame without /any/ cropping, but honestly, we're talking about pipe-dream territory at that point. (I seriously doubt that a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD would be a huge improvement, but then I don't have a player for those formats either.)
The price is also a very reasonable $15 at most outlets. I found my copy at Best Buy and I've heard it's available at Walmart for a dollar or so less, in addition to Amazon.com.
Due to the very attractive combination of quality, features and price, I can confidently recommend this release, both to first-time buyers and to NIMH fans who have already purchased the DVD. And, since you'll be giving up nothing (except the trailer for the movie, which isn't included in the new release, but that hardly counts as a feature in my book), you can easily give your old DVD away to someone who hasn't seen NIMH before. ;)
[i]Edit: Replaced the image that was "enhanced" by my DVD software with an unenhanced version, and added a shot from the old DVD to compare with.[/i]