Written by: Ron Cotton on August 28th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 2001
Director: Steve Ressel
Writers: Jhonen Vasquez, Frank Conniff, Roman Dirge, Rob Hummel, Eric Trueheart
Cast: Richard Steven Horvitz, Andy Berman, Rosearik Rikki Simons, Billy West, Melissa Charles
DVD released: May 11th, 2004
Approximate running time: 270 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 4.3 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby digital Stereo
DVD Release: Media Blasters
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
“Well, most of this is rather exhausting and hideous, but when I sit down and watch a finished episode, it’s worth it, because I don’t watch it as something that I made, I watch it as something that I would have enjoyed whether or not I made it and that’s the cool part of it.” – Jhonen Vasquez
Jhonen Vasquez an unhinged talent known for writing and drawing of short run comic series like Devi and especially the title Johnny: The Homicidal Maniac (JTHM). He’s recognized with critical acclaim with his comic works which have won Eisner Awards. The artwork and writing progressed further with SQUEE which caught the wondering eye of Mary Harrington. The sick and twisted humor along with the treatment of youth in Jhonen’s comics gave interest to this Nickelodeon Executive Producer Mary to trust his handy work. After a Nickelodeon meeting brainstorming ideas for an animated show, that very night, sleepless Jhonen crafted an alien invasion animation whose central crux was Zim, a self proclaimed genius with an arsenal of technology relentlessly attempting to thwart humanity at all costs. His only hurtle is his own characteristic that trips him up every step of the way, his own stupidity. This humor feels reminiscent to the deceased Douglas Adams, who ridiculed humanity for its own amazement and awe over the simplistic digital watch.
For many Jhonen fans, Invader Zim was a DVD awaiting release. Numerous people have signed petitions requesting for Nickelodeon to release it, while others bought DVD bootlegs of all the episodes on EBay. This underground movement drove AnimeWorks (subsidiary’s of Media Blasters) to gain a large community whose admiration of Jhonen sparred online petitions begging for a DVD release. It’s interesting to note that Jhonen purposely gave young and short characters “pet” names: Zim, Gir, Dib, Gaz. The adults were given longer names with surnames: Miss Bitters and Professor Membrane. Each episode is disjointed, with the ability to leave characters in utter turmoil at stories end without it continuing to the next episode. Unlike Nickelodeon, it sometimes rides the edge with its dark humor.
The Nightmare Begins – Zim goes to Conventia, the convention planet forcing The Tallest to allow him to participate in Impending Doom 2, despite what Zim had done in the past. The Tallest give Zim an advanced robot named Gir. Sent to the far reaches of the galaxy, he learns to blend in with humanity. At skool, he meets a paranormal boy named Dib who wants to expose Zim as an Alien and his indifferent game slave playing sister named Gaz. Bestest Friend – Overhearing that it’s inhuman to not have friends, Zim goes about a trial by fire to find the perfect friend. After proving his normality to the skool masses, he finds it troubling to rid of the human worm baby. Nanozim – After Dib sneaks into Zim’s lair and snaps photos, Zim shrinks himself entering Dib body to destroy all traces of the pictures. Amazing amounts of CGI work for an Invader Zim episode. Parent Teacher Night – Miss Bitters forces every student to bring their parents, including Zim. Zim’s recipe turns to disaster as his robotic parents don’t play with a full deck. Walk of Doom – Zim upgrades Gir’s guidance chip, and yet somehow Zim and Gir find themselves lost in the depths of the city. Germs – Watching Sci-Fi films late at night, Zim discovers that humanity could destroy him with its filth, and must find a solution to the madness. Dark Harvest – Dib discovers that Zim doesn’t have normal organs, hoping that the skool nurse will find out the truth of Zim. Zim’s solution to this problem goes beyond the extreme. Attack of the Saucer Morons – Zim’s ship uncontrollably crashes after hitting a bee and Zim’s ship becomes confiscated artifacts to UFO enthusiasts.
The Wettening – Dib discovering Zim’s weakness of rain starts the battle between Zim with this plentiful resource. Career Day – The Machine decides what the future holds for the students in skool. Zim discovers world domination begins with the meat while dib finds himself working with an idiot. Battle-Dib – Dib must have signed slip to speak in front of the swollen eye members even if that means insurmountable testing to meet professor Membrane. Gaz seeks her vengeance. Planet Jackers – Earth is being stolen and Zim’s jealous that someone else is trying to do it first. Rise of the Zitboy – Zim develops zits and finds that it becomes an asset to world domination. Be amazed by the great puss-tulio. Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain – Gir monitors the download conduit and becomes distracted with his squeaky moose. When he tries to retrieve it, his mind gets transferred to the house. Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy – Only a complete moron would alter the past with a Temporal Object Replacement Device. Zim uses this every device to erase Dib in the present. A Room with a Moose – The skool bus is hijacked and sent into space sans Zim as retribution to his poor treatment by his classmates. Hamstergeddon – Peepi the new classroom hamster is so cute; Zim makes peepi into ultra-peepi. This animation is undoubtedly inspired by Godzilla films. The Pilot – (14 Min.) – Dib wants to rid of Zim using his alien weakness, cafeteria food.
Career Day, Planet Jackers, and The Pilot are perhaps the low points of the animation series. The rest are quite refreshing although because some of the characters motivations are simplistic, some episodes seem formulaic. However, there are many gems, and Jhonen’s stories are never simply linear.
The keep case divides the two disks on either side, sandwiching the ‘chapters and extras guide’ booklet and comment card in the middle with clasps. The clasps holding the booklet and card are so weak that these two inserts repetitively come lose and damage themselves. Presented in 4.3, this animated release is interlaced adding some flicker, increasing depending on color intensity and line art. To Media Blasters benefit, with the exception of the interlacing, the crisp video looks like a true 1:1 digital transfer with an average bit rate of over 8Mb per second! Jhonen within his commentary squeals in amazement to the high quality of this release. You’ll be amazed at the smooth CGI work throughout this series.
The animatics (animation storyboards) are another surprising inclusion to this DVD release, with the exception of the pilot and the opening and closing sequences, it’s all here. Added in as an additional angle, some low end DVD players like early APEX units constantly display your viewing angle. This can be a distraction, but this is no fault to Media Blasters. The commentary is quite enjoyable romp with Jhonen at the helm. Not all fun and games, however, as secrets of the characters and behind the scenes are reveled. This is perhaps the greatest extra feature found on the DVD. The commentary cast changes between episodes, so even the points of view change with very little regurgitated information. The pilot which looks something in between the animatics and animation has interesting qualities unlike the rest of the series. Some techniques look entirely lifted from the Ren & Stimpy series, which makes me pause to think if some of the same crew worked with this project. The pilot compared ‘The nightmare begins’ explains more of the Invader Zim storyline. An additional audio track with faux pig squeals for the episode Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy and the Irken Subtitles add humor to this release, almost letting you know that you shouldn’t take this release so seriously.
This creation, in my humble opinion, eclipsed another great nickelodeon animator, John Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy. Jhonen’s other dark humor is often found as reprints within comic shops or Invader Zim clothing drapes over the walls of Goth shops like Hot Topic and Torrid. Unlike most of short lived Jhonen’s work, Invader Zim, is perhaps the greatest contribution made by Jhonen. If you have a queer sense of humor with a touch of the macabre with animation fetish, this title is for you. I recommend renting this title, because this cult animation either has the knee jerk reaction of loving the Jhonen series or just utter indifference.
“I want to work on something genuinely creepy. I definitely have to, because I have so many ideas I have to get out of my head before I’m dead — which could be anytime now.” – Jhonen Vasquez