- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Conker Live and Reloaded, by Microsoft Games for Xbox, rated M: Content suitable for ages 17 and older, $49.99. If Hollywood can remake classics such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Bad News Bears,” why not give game developers a chance to revitalize some of their legendary titles?

Such is the case for a profanity-laced third-person Nintendo 64 staple from 2001 starring a bushy-tailed squirrel that has been given a brilliant graphics overhaul.

The simple tale of a drunken rodent named Conker just trying to get home to his aerobicizing mate, Berrie, takes on epic proportions as developers introduce parodies of famed films such as “The Matrix” with nuances of “South Park” and a pinch of Monty Python to deliver a very twisted adventure.

The genre-melding title mixes third-person fighting, first-person shooting, vehicular control, puzzles and classic platforming into one steaming pile of pop culture.

A single-player game follows the paths and spirit of the original Conker’s Bad Fur Day and, when the new version strays slightly, the hero lets us know about it by breaking the fourth wall and directly commenting to the player. Missions set in Looney Tunes-style landscapes lead to plenty of exploring, collecting and shooting while being exposed to some sophomoric shenanigans.

One of the classic confrontations occurs with a smelly creature from Poo Mountain that introduces itself with a song and will cause a giggling frenzy among connoisseurs of the bizarre.

Great colors and textures permeate the game. Especially impressive are fur and rock detail and droplets of various bodily fluids and liquids splashing onto the screen.

Multiplayer options that greatly expand upon the war missions of the game can involve 16 players via Xbox Live or System Link.

Conker’s return definitely should be enjoyed by the older game player because of the quotient of “Pulp Fiction”-enhanced violence mixed with a bevy of potty-mouthed animals.

Steamboy: Director’s Cut, Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, $26.99. Japanese animation legend Katsuhiro Otomo released his 10-years-in-the-making masterpiece to movie audiences this year, and now a single DVD of the work has arrived that takes little advantage of the medium.

Engineering and ethical questions over mankind’s use of technology spew forth in a story set in Victorian England as three generations of scientists harness the power of steam. A beautiful blend of traditional, hand-drawn 2-D artistry culled from 180,000 illustrations and 400 computer-generated 3-D shots give viewers an eye-popping look at a fantastical past.

One would think it would be a no-brainer to offer a plethora of bonuses that explore the complicated creative process and meticulous vision of the director. The single disc, however, only touches upon Mr. Otomo and his team’s genius.

First, a transfer of the 126-minute film requires a brightness boost for monitors so the viewer can truly appreciate the indoor environments, such as the detailed workings of the Steam Castle — a floating island of gears, weapons and machinery.

Viewers do get an uninteresting five-minute interview with the director and a much more informative 20-minute landscape study showing a simultaneous trio of panels revealing English landscapes compared to the lifelike animated efforts as well as some of the animators commenting on their experiences with the project.

A flowing look at production designs enlightens, and a segment without narration shows the development of five scenes and how key animation, computer-generated animation, camera direction, backgrounds, texture, camera maps and shading work together to bring magic to the screen.

I would have appreciated a primer on the history of the steam engine, a documentary on Mr. Otomo’s world and a much deeper look at the techniques animators used to create some marvelous machines.

Considering that DVDs of mediocre movies allow me to listen to directors blather away on optional commentary tracks, follow scripts side by side with the on-screen action and even journey to the World Wide Web to view exclusive content, “Steamboy: Director’s Cut” falls short in the digital video revolution.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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