Blu-ray Review: G.I. JOE – THE MOVIE

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Hasbro was rolling in the money with their Joe and Transformers toy lines. They also worked hand in hand with Marvel and animation studio Sunbow to create comics and cartoons for each property. At the height of their popularity, Sunbow was commissioned to produce feature-length films based on their hottest selling toys, G.I. JoeTransformers, and My Little Pony.

Though G.I. Joe: The Movie went into production first, it was beaten to the punch by My Little Pony: The Movie and Transformers: The Movie. The commercial failure of both those films led to Hasbro releasing “G.I. Joe” straight to video as well as airing it as a five-part mini-series in syndication. Another side effect of this delay would forever change the lives of many young fans.

For the movies, Hasbro had mandated the animators clear the board. Old characters would be taken out of play and replaced with new ones to keep the toy lines fresh. As such the minds behind G.I. Joe decided the consequences of combat should finally be felt. Traditional guns fired lasers that never seem to hit anything while pilots always parachuted out of exploding planes at the last second. So the writers had it in their minds to kill off the Joes’ beloved team leader, Duke. Hasbro liked the idea well enough that they decided the Autobots’ commander, Optimus Prime (along with dozens of other characters), would bite the big one too. Prime’s death traumatized hundreds of unsuspecting kids and parents weren’t very pleased with the increased level of violence. As such, a couple lines were added into post-production on G.I. Joe and Duke was upgraded from being deceased to simply being in a coma. Believe it or not, a topless scene involving the female Dreadnok, Zarana, was discussed, but never came to fruition.

The concept behind the Joe film was to reveal the origin of Cobra Commander and the formation of the terrorist group Cobra. While Marvel’s comic series delved deeply into the backstories of the characters, their histories were hardly touched upon in the cartoon. Story consultant Buzz Dixon originally came up with the idea of a Karl Marx-type mentor whose teachings were perverted by the Commander. Hasbro approved, but the notion was abandoned in favor of introducing Serpentor, Cobra’s new genetically engineered emperor. Instead, Cobra Commander became something far more bizarre.

G.I. Joe: The Movie gets off to a rousing start with an incredible opening title sequence featuring the Joes (on jetpacks!) battling Cobra’s forces as they attempt to blow up the Statue of Liberty. After that, the story takes a sharp left turn into the Twilight Zone.

In the Himalayas, the Joes test out a new energy device called the Broadcast Energy Transmitter when Cobra attacks in the hopes of stealing it. Beaten back, Cobra Commander calls for a retreat and leads his troops deeper into the mountains where they come across the ancient civilization of Cobra-La. Under the rule of Golobulus, the citizens of Cobra-La use entirely organic technology and were driven into hiding by the rise of man. Cobra Commander was sent out into the world to pave the way for their return, but his failures were unforgivable. Now, Cobra-La plans to utilize mutating spores to de-evolve mankind into a race of mindless beasts.

Meanwhile, the Joes train a new team of rookies that includes Duke’s goldbricking half-brother, Lt. Falcon (Don Johnson).

G.I. Joe: The Movie takes the action of the animated series to a whole new level. The production values are much higher. The animation is more detailed and the action is more epic in scope. The movie’s climactic showdown between the heroes and villains is wonderfully animated. The lighting gives it a great look. As a wrestling fan, I enjoyed the bigger role played by Sgt. Slaughter who gets some of the movie’s best lines. Unfortunately, the majority of G.I. Joe’s leap to the big screen doesn’t live up to my memories.

As silly as some aspects of the cartoon were, many fans felt the addition of Serpentor was the moment G.I. Joe jumped the shark. It veered into the realm of science fiction. The movie dives head first into the world of horror and fantasy. The Joes aren’t dealing with a bunch of poorly trained flunkies in matching uniforms. This time, they’re fighting insect-like humanoids, giant cockroaches, and lizard men. It’s all just too outrageous.

Some of the new characters are all right with Falcon and Jinx, the female martial artist, being the best. The worst, however, is most definitely Big Lob, the only Joe who does his own play by play commentary. Bringing in the new blood means a lot of the popular, established characters are marginalized. It’s heartbreaking to see Snake-Eyes reduced to a mere cameo and taken out by vines. It isn’t just the good guys either. Villains like Storm Shadow and Firefly are hardly used. Poor Major Bludd doesn’t even make an appearance outside the prologue.

Video/Audio: 7/10
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. While the transfer is hardly flawless, the picture is the best it has ever been. The animation isn’t as detailed as some of today’s films, but the colors are brighter and bolder. The transfer still suffers from the occasional dirt and specks.

The audio is presented in a Linear PCM 2.0 track. The sound isn’t overly dynamic, but the action sequences sound superb as does the opening theme song.

Extras: 4/10
The main extra is an audio commentary track with story consultant Buzz Dixon. A former member of the military, Dixon discusses his work on the show and the development of the movie. It’s a very informative track despite the fact that there are a lot of silent gaps. Also, Dixon speaks mainly in short and sweet bursts.

You’ll also get a collection of PSAs, a stills gallery, and trailers for other Shout! Factory releases.

The Blu-Ray includes the movie on standard DVD. Here, the movie is presented in both widescreen and fullscreen with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track. The DVD version contains all the extras from the Blu-Ray along with a downloadable script.

Film Value: 6/10
When I was younger, I always looked forward to the time they would re-run G.I. Joe: The Movie since I could never find the VHS release in any stores. The flick would almost always air with live-action wraparounds starring Sgt. Slaughter. Sadly, none of those are included in this set. The movie itself is fun, but downright corny. Though the Blu-Ray could have included more extras, Shout has given G.I. Joe: The Movie, a great presentation. It’s worth picking up just to watch the opening titles in high definition.

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