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Howl's Moving Castle(2004)
Sophie, a diligent teenage girl working in her family's hat shop, finds her life thrown into turmoil when she is literally swept off her feet by a handsome-but-mysterious wizard named Howl. This innocent encounter engages the vain and conniving Witch of the Waste, who transforms into a 90-year-old woman. Sophie's efforts to break the curse bring her to Howl's magical moving castle, where she befriends Markl, Howl's apprentice, and the hot-headed fire demon Calcifer. Her love and support have a major impact on Howl, who can be maddeningly self-indulgent and singularly noble: He defies royal orders to participate in a meaningless war and risks his life to bring peace to the kingdom.
For more about Howl's Moving Castle and the Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray release, see Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
» See full cast & crew
Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray Review
Ghibli at its most audacious, alluring and amiss...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 20, 2013
If My Neighbor Totoro is the humblest of Hayao Miyazaki's fantasy films, Howl's Moving Castle is easily the acclaimed master's most overwrought. Cobbled together from so many disparate dreamscapes and flights of fancy, it's hard to tell exactly which idea sparked the at-times ungainly -- but always stunning -- 2004 visual spectacle, and even harder to accept Miyazaki's surreal vision wholesale. Its artistry and texture are magnificent; its storytelling sensibilities and plotting problematic. Its swimming airships, feathered furies and lumbering castles are wondrous; its characters and storytelling less so. Its fluid, unpredictable imagery unnervingly hypnotic and strangely beautiful; its script a patchwork quilt of more enchanting tales and cohesive elements. Some will no doubt huff and puff at the mere suggestion that Howl's Moving Castle is Miyazaki's least satisfying film, particularly those pitiless souls who find Whisper of the Heart to be a bore. But ambitious, Oscar-nominated Ghibli animation of this caliber shouldn't feel like recycled bits from greater, grander projects, and certainly shouldn't feel so detached from its boundless potential.
Loosely based on the Diana Wynne Jones novel of the same name (which is quite different in most regards), Howl's Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie (Chieko Baisho, Emily Mortimer), a young hat-maker who's transformed into an elderly woman (Baisho, Jean Simmons) after being cursed by the vindictive Witch of the Waste (Akihiro Miwa, Lauren Bacall). Seeking out a wizard by the name of Howl (Takuya Kimura, Christian Bale), Sophie finds herself aboard an enormous walking castle, where she eventually assembles an eclectic band of creatures: a scarecrow (Y˘ ďizumi, Crispin Freeman), a fire demon (Tatsuya Gashűin, Billy Crystal) that powers the castle, a spry asthmatic dog (Daijir˘ Harada), and even the Witch of the Waste herself, rendered powerless by Madame Suliman (Haruko Kat˘, Blythe Danner), advisor to the king. Long before the curse is reversed, though, Sophie is dragged into the middle of a fiery war, develops an attachment to Howl, and sets her heart and mind to saving him from a terrible fate.
Howl's Moving Castle is gorgeous, and that can't be overstated. So gorgeous that it's possible to fall in love with every frame -- even the entirety of the film -- without a breath of hesitation. And as a dazzling, often bewildering exercise in hand-drawn craftsmanship, Miyazaki's sprawling adventure remains one of Studio Ghibli's most daring and triumphant marvels to date. But separate the visuals from the haggard spirit inhabiting the Beauty-and-the-Beast story and you'll instantly begin spotting cracks in Miyazaki's Castle walls; cracks that grow even larger with Disney's commendable but less-than-stirring English dub and its hit or miss voicework. (In other words, forget you read the name Christian Bale and stick with the original Japanese-language track.) It's still a jaw-dropping epic by film's end, with enough humor and heart to lend its reasonably gripping hero's journey age-defying class and charm. It just has trouble hitting its stride along the way, slipping and stumbling with each haphazard revelation and seemingly random flick of Miyazaki's wand.
There's also the almost unbridgeable chasm that lies between the story told by the animation and the story told by the herky-jerky assortment of character and creature designs. I suppose the connective tissue is Howl's castle, itself a jumble of mismatched pieces and rusty innards, but even the wonders of the fortress crumble the moment any rhyme or reason is required or requested. Great fantasy hinges on the familiar in the guise of the fantastical. Here, though, the fantastical exists to lure the viewer along on Sophie's quest, but offers little in the way of substance. It's a genre grab bag, and that doesn't cut it. Not that the film is shallow by any means. In true Miyazaki fashion, there's far more going on under Castle's hood (especially where the war is concerned) than the various design trappings allude. But the answers are rarely as fulfilling as the riddles, as the joy of Howl's Moving Castle is in the search, not the finding. Attempts to recall Ghibli classics of old fail to surpass or even live up to those classics. Its high-soaring exploits and heroine falter in the face of Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind. Its airships and flying fortresses crash and burn in the shadow of Castle in the Sky. And its fantasies never quite congeal as confidently or completely as Miyazaki's best. Howl's Moving Castle isn't a mediocre film by any stretch of the imagination; it just stretches the imagination too far and somehow, at the same time, not far enough.
Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you thought Howl's Moving Castle was stunning, just wait till you lay your eyes on Disney's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer; a bold, colorful infusion of masterclass artistry and technical prowess that looks as good as any Ghibli Blu-ray presentation thus far, and perhaps even better. Miyazaki's painterly palette is awash with vibrant hues, striking primaries, inky blacks and rich contrast, not by way of invasive meddling, but a pristine, first-rate remastering of its source. Significant macroblocking, banding and aliasing are held at bay. Anomalies are absent, detail is -- dare I say -- perfect, and grain, fickle and unobtrusive, is as wonderfully resolved as the film's line art and hand-painted brushstrokes. Try as I might, I didn't come up with the slightest criticism, or even the most innocuous nitpick. Howl's Moving Castle is as magnificent and beautiful as the animation upon which its built, and fans will be swept away by its potent, oh-so-proficient presentation.
Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Both the original Japanese and Disney-produced English-language dub receive a full DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and the resulting lossless powerhouses are outstanding. Voices are clean and clear, without a buried line or drowned outcry to be found, and every effect, no matter how subtle or boisterous, is reproduced with the utmost clarity. The rear speakers aren't always firing on all cylinders -- such is the film's original sound design -- but the moment Howl's castle begins to move, an airship roars into view, a battle erupts or the adventure resumes, the soundfield becomes as enveloping as it is assertive. LFE output is aggressive and precise as well, and never leaves a thoom or boom to its own devices. Dynamics are exceptional, pans are smooth, directionality is playful, and longtime Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi's score has never sounded better. All in all, both tracks deliver a marvelous experience... so long as you're willing to ignore the English-language cast's at-times average voicework, that is.
Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Howl's Moving Castle isn't a perfect film, or even a great film for that matter. But even a relatively average Miyazaki production is an adventure unto itself. Regardless of whether or not you respond to its convoluted, oft-times disconnected fantasy realm, there's more heart and imagination in a single frame of Howl's Moving Castle than there is in too many a newer CG-animated bore. Thankfully, Disney's Blu-ray release is beyond reproach... at least if you look past its much-too-slight supplemental package. With a stunning video transfer and a pair of terrific DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, it stands as yet another must-own Studio Ghibli Blu-ray.
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Howl's Moving Castle Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: May 21-28 - May 19, 2013
For the week of May 21st, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is bringing Side Effects to Blu-ray. Steven Soderbergh has claimed that this feature will be his last theatrical venture - he shot his Liberace docudrama, Behind the Candelabra, for HBO - and if the ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: My Neighbor Totoro & Howl's Moving Castle - May 15, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering five members the opportunity to win a Studio Ghibli prize pack that includes My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle. Both Hayao Miyazaki animated classics arrive on Blu-ray on May 21st.
• Upcoming Studio Ghibli Blu-rays Detailed - February 24, 2013
Walt Disney Home Entertainment and Studio Ghibli have officially detailed the Blu-ray releases of My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle. Both Hayao Miyazaki animated classics are available for pre-order and arrive on May 21st.
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