In 1995, Australian Director George Miller took the much loved children's novel The Sheep Pig written by Dick King-Smith and together with perfect casting, cutting edge computer generated effects and clever editing between animatronics and well trained animal stars, crafted a truly heartwarming family film which stands the test of time.
When the young piglet Babe is separated from his family and won in a raffle by the kindly Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell), he finds that the world at large can be a cruel place - but that there is still a place for kindness and manners within it.
Babe took the world by storm upon release with the touching tale of a pig who transcends his place in the world, all the while remaining true to his beliefs and morals. Of course, for those too young to understand the deeper meanings of the film will still marvel at the talking animals, even if technology since developed has made them slightly more impressive than shown here. Despite this, Babe has proven itself to be a classic and I look forward to sharing this childhood favourite of mine with the next generation.
Babe is presented in a full screen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (its original aspect ratio), encoded with VC-1 compression.
Unfortunately, Universal continues their trend of re-hashing what appears to be old HD transfers of films, slapping on a bit of DNR to hide video noise and film grain and spitting out a new encode.
Despite this, Babe does look reasonably good in its Blu-ray debut. Sharpness is relatively strong, revealing more detail than previous releases. Occasionally this can be reduced by a hazy appearance which is probably a result of the aged master. However, the biggest jump from previous releases is revealed in the expanded HD colour spectrum which allows the colours of the farm, including the lush green pastures, to really make their mark.
There is a slight telecine wobble to the image which is reasonably noticeable on shots with text. This really annoys me - how hard is it to keep the film steady as it's scanned? Even if that happens, it can be corrected in post. Sigh. Worse, though, is the overuse of DNR to hide some of the more noticeable film grain and video noise from the source.
I don't mean to be overly harsh regarding Babe. It's still pretty good and infinitely better than my aged NTSC DVD release. But simply bettering a DVD release should not be an appropriate benchmark for success and Universal's cheap Blu-ray tactics are starting to wear thin.
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The main audio track is encoded in DTS HD Master Audio at 24 bits.
The audio track here fares a fair bit better than the video. Babe has never featured an aggressive audio track, but what we have here is a nice sonic reproduction of the original mix. I didn't see any problems with audio sync or other audio nasties.
The surrounds are kept partially active throughout, creating a reasonable sense of being on a farm. Subwoofer usage is fairly light on, but the subject matter rarely calls for it. The score by Australian composer Nigel Westlake has always been a favourite of mine, and the use of 'If I had words' by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley was a masterstroke.
Overall, a reasonably good mix of a passable, albeit conservative, sound mix.
Quite stunningly and supremely annoying, Universal have decided to release Babe on Blu-ray in Europe and Australia without any of the extra features that were included on the special edition DVD, or the recently released U.S. Blu-ray. This is despite the fact that Universal distributes the film in all three territories.
It's not as if the special features of the overseas release amount to much - with barely a George Miller commentary track and brief behind the scenes featurette to round it off, but why Universal went to the trouble of mastering another Blu-ray image without the extra features, rather than simply re-purposing the US master is beyond me. For me, it's not only the last straw, but an obscene example of poor judgment by Universal - especially in its country of production.