Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Gorillaz: Phase One - Celebrity Take Down

Celebrity Take Down is, at heart, a companion piece to the debut Gorillaz album, offering closure to the first chapter in the band's existence as well as teasers of what's to come and hints of what might have been. Each of the faux-group's first four videos are featured in their entirety, from the still-life anti drama of "Tomorrow Comes Today" to the goofy, horror satire of "Clint Eastwood," and the audio is mixed brilliantly in Dolby 5.1 surround. It really is a whole new experience, taking these videos in with a crisp voice shouting from the front of the room, while the drums hit you from behind and the guitars ring on both sides.

Each video is accompanied by a variety of extras, including early-production versions of the computer graphics used in "19/2000," as well as storyboards and developmental sketches composed for "Rock the House." There's even a full storyboard for an unfinished video, "5/4," that's set to music and fits right in alongside its peers with an offbeat sense of humor and a great, imaginative premise. Rounding out the disc is a vast collection of promotional slicks and sketches of the characters "behind the scenes" at the various music video shoots, interviews with the fictional members of the band, five bizarre short films starring said band members and a lengthy mock-u-mentary about creators Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. The short films are fun to watch, if just to see more of the characters and Hewlett's visual flair, but lack the substance and dark, self-deprecating humor of the videos, and the documentary is more of the same. The extras are filled to the brim with slapstick comedy and silliness for the sake of being silly, while the videos never seem to force a joke and come off as much more refined and intelligent.

The interface is a little strange, breaking from the traditional "Play All, Hands Off" nature that dominates today's DVD market. If you ever visited the Gorillaz web site when the band was first starting to take off, this will look very familiar. There's no quick and dirty way to navigate the disc's contents, instead you must navigate between the various rooms of the band members, look for a television screen, open magazine or personal computer, and click on it. You won't know which video you're about to watch or what bonus material you're about to discover until you're already knee-deep in it. It's a clever idea, but I don't know that it works as well on the TV, where people are conditioned to sit and stare, as it did on the monitor, where you're much more familiar with forced interactivity. Some of the allure of the site is missing from this DVD interface, as the developers had to make it obvious which areas were interactive and which weren't, and overall the experience is somewhat disorienting.

Easily enough, this disc is a Gorillaz fan's dream come true. The audio mix and video quality alone are worth a look if you enjoy the band's gimmick in the slightest, which I do, and the attention to every detail of the videos' production is really nice to see. I can live with an underdeveloped interface design and a few out-of-place featurettes.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.3



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