March 2007

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of March

  • Asterix and the Vikings (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Casino Royale (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Children of Men (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Devil’s Rejects (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • District B13 (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (R0 Germany, HD DVD)
  • Peter Pan: Platinum Edition (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse (RA USA, Blu-ray)

It occurs to me that I haven’t received a a single standard definition DVD that I’ve actually paid for in over a month - Peter Pan and Asterix and the Vikings were review copies. This is a trend that I expect will continue in the foreseeable future: broadly speaking, I feel less and less compelled to actually pay money for standard definition titles. Obviously, it’s a different story with something obscure like the Bava box set I ordered earlier this week, which I know is unlikely to come out in high definition in the near future, if at all, but by and large, I’m finding myself with increasingly little desire to buy mainstream titles on DVD.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

HD happenings

Blu-ray

This morning, I received a copy of the Korean Blu-ray release of Casino Royale from YesAsia. The Korean release, as you may be aware, is, unlike the US version, supposed to be uncensored. Warning lights should have gone off immediately when the disc booted in English and with exactly the same audio and subtitle configurations as the US disc I already own, and a brief glance at the black and white bathroom beating which opens the film confirmed my worst fears: whatever the state of the theatrical and standard definition DVD releases of the film in Korea, the Blu-ray version is the same butchered PG-13 rated cut released in America. Actually, it’s the exact same disc, right down to the “Made in the USA” text on the label. Naturally, I’ll be selling one of them as soon as possible.

Needless to say, I would still like to get my hands on an uncut copy of the film, but I won’t be doing so until I’ve had explicit confirmation that a version exists on Blu-ray that hasn’t fallen foul of the scissors of either the MPAA, the BBFC or the FSK (the body in charge of film and video ratings in Germany, who also saw fit to interfere with Casino Royale). Of course, the real culprit in all this mess is Sony for insisting on low age ratings, but, having seen the film in both its cut and uncut states, I have to say that I find the censors’ editorial decisions to be rather silly. I mean, how can a shot of a bad guy grabbing Eva Green’s leg elevate the film from PG-13 to R territory?

Je suis pissé, as the French would say.

HD DVD

There’s better news all round for the HD DVD camp, however. After a slow few months, sales figures are continuing to rise. Cue the Blu-ray camp once again claiming that the Amazon.com sales figures are meaningless - funny how the boot was on the other foot a couple of weeks ago when the Blu crew had a clear lead. Meanwhile, I received a review copy of the HD DVD/DVD combo release of Children of Men, and I’m pleased to report that it features an excellent transfer and a top notch audio mix (only Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1, no TrueHD, but I doubt many people will complain when they hear it). In fact, I’d go so far as to place them both in the lower 10/10 band, or at the very least upper 9/10. The film is brilliant too. I wanted to see this when it was on at the cinema, but, as is usually the case, I never got around to going. Watching it in high definition with an excellent transfer on Lyris’s brand new 5.1 setup is, I suppose, the next best thing. I highly recommend checking it out if you get the opportunity, although a glance at the DVD side of this combo release reveals that the standard definition transfer is, erm, not very good.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 1:43 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

A double helping of Mythos coming up

Just a quick reminder that the next two sessions of the Mythos alpha test take place this weekend. They’re today at 6 PM to 9 PM Pacific Time (Saturday 2 AM to 5 AM British Summer Time) and Saturday at 10 AM to 1 PM Pacific (6PM to 9 PM BST). I’ll be sure to report back on any startling changes that have been made since the previous build.

 
Posted: Friday, March 30, 2007 at 5:13 PM
Categories: Games
 

The king is dead - long live the king!

Disney/Pixar

Source: Animation World Magazine

The Disney direct-to-video animated sequel is dead.

What more need be said? All hail Big John!

Seriously, I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am to finally see this news given official confirmation. I harbour no ill will towards the artists who worked on the likes of Bambi II, Cinderella III: Dreams Come True and, erm, Leroy & Stitch, but these “films” have run the Disney label into the ground for far too long. This should be proof, if proof was ever needed, that John Lasseter is absolutely serious about making the brand respectable again. Okay, I can’t say I’m too thrilled by the prospect of a CGI Tinker Bell movie, but it’s a long, long way from the sacrilege that has been committed since the concept of Disney cheapquels first came into being in 1994 with The Return of Jafar.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 8:08 PM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | TV
 

Everybody’s gone to war

Guild Wars: Eye of the North

It’s been a while since the last Guild Wars campaign was released. Nightfall came out in October, and, predictably, although I enjoyed it very much, I predictably found some other things with which to engage my free time. I may have to crack open the box again, though, because two rather exciting announcements have been made.

The first is that Guild Wars will shortly be its first true expansion set. To clarify, three games with the title Guild Wars have been released so far, but they have all been stand-alone experiences which “slot” together if you happen to have more than one (I have all three so far). The upcoming Eye of the North, however, is designed specifically as an expansion for the original Guild Wars: Prophecies (the subtitle was added after Guild Wars: Factions came out; however, either of the three campaigns will be compatible, meaning that, if you have Factions or Nightfall rather than Prophecies, you’ll still be able to play). Essentially, it will feature content that furthers the storylines introduced in Factions, including new areas, abilities, professions, abilities and items. This material will, presumably, be geared towards high level players, which means I’ll have to get cracking at completing the original campaign sometime between now and Winter. More information can be found in the press release and on the official site.

Guild Wars 2

The real news, however, is that ArenaNet are gearing up for a full-blown sequel. The appropriately named Guild Wars 2 looks set to build on many of its predecessor’s strengths - instanced levels, its own particular style of combat, and so on - while bringing in some of the features many people expect from MMORPGs, such as the notion of a truly massive, persistent world. Oh, and, like the original, it will remain free to play (as in no monthly fees). At present, there’s very little information on Guild Wars 2: it really does seem to be in the early planning stages. However, there is expected to be a public beta at some point in 2008, and one thing’s for sure, I’ll be doing my level best to get involved.

By the way, there’s an interview with Guild Wars art director Daniel Dociu here. He has a very interesting painting style - one that I wish was transferred more faithfully to the in-game graphics.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 7:22 PM
Categories: Games
 

70 new HD DVDs between now and July

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

LOS ANGELES, March 28 /PRNewswire/ — The top studios backing HD DVD, including Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Paramount Home Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, Genius Products, and Eagle Rock Entertainment today announced more than 70 specific titles and release windows through July 2007. With movie titles like Smokin’ Aces, The Complete Matrix Trilogy, and DreamGirls, HD DVD continues to deliver on promises made to fans of high definition. Additional titles for the remainder of 2007 will be announced this summer.

With attach rates that still far exceed other high definition formats, HD DVD movies continue to sell briskly at retail to a growing consumer base. The 2007 title line-up from the core HD DVD studios, combined with a strong HD DVD title and hardware presence in North America, Europe and Asia, showcases the format’s global appeal and unmatched technology features. Effective April 1st, Toshiba is implementing strategic retail price reductions on its full line of HD DVD players for the U.S. market. The entry level HD-A2 will have a suggested retail price of $399.99; and the new HD-A20, with 1080p output, will be introduced at $499 (available in stores in April). The top of the line HD- XA2 was already repositioned to $799.99 on March 1st.

“The spring is ramping up well for HD DVD, with an incredible list of movies and the best priced hardware on the market,” said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president, HD Strategic Marketing, Universal Studios Home Entertainment. “Our consumer base continues to buy movies at rates that outpace DVD in its early years, which shows the willingness of consumers to make the transition to high definition.”

“HD DVD continues to perform exceptionally well for Warner Home Video, and we see this continuing as more titles from the HD DVD studios roll out and more hardware hits the market,” said Steve Nickerson, senior vice president of market management for Warner Home Video. “Fans of high definition have a lot more to choose from with the release of long-awaited blockbusters like The Complete Matrix Trilogy on HD DVD.” “As hardware prices continue to fall, this is a great time to experience HD DVD,” said Chris Saito, vice president, marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment. “Our HD DVD line-up for Spring and Summer 2007 has something for every audience, with hits ranging from Dreamgirls to Flags of Our Fathers.”

I was a little sceptical at first, but I’ve had a look and the numbers do add up. Unfortunately, I can’t say that a huge number of them are titles I’m absolutely dying to get my hands on, in high definition or otherwise. Still, there are some big titles in that list that should help shift both discs and players.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 6:22 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

A day in the madhouse

Captain Whiggles has just spent his first full day as a worker bee. I showed up for 10 AM (as of tomorrow, I’ll be starting at 9) and didn’t leave till 5 PM - a bit of a shock to the system, given that I’ve been used to long lies and leisurely days for far too long now.

The good news is that there is a railway station a mere five minute walk from my place of employment. Better yet, there is a direct train from Bearsden (where I live) that will get me there ten minutes before I’m due to start work, there’s a direct train home at quarter past five in the evening (fifteen minutes after I stop work). My co-workers also all seem to be nice. Oh, and there are no hard and fast clock in and clock out times, with the doors being unlocked at 7 AM and locked at 8:30 PM. In other words, provided I do my allotted 37 and a half hours per week, no-one’s going to care if I show up at half past nine or leave at quarter part four one day… although I intend to do things on a 9-to-5 basis each day (with a half-hour lunch break), simply to keep things straightforward.

On the downside, the office is rather hot, with no air conditioning, and we’re only in March - I shudder to think what it will be like in July and August. At the moment, I’m also working from a rather slow, aged computer hooked up to a CRT monitor with an uncomfortably low refresh rate: cue headaches and eye strain. I can’t tell you how glad I was to get back to my nice LCD monitor this evening.

Not much more to tell, really. I spent most of the day doing data entry - a fairly straightforward process and not as laborious as it sounds. I believe that, later on, I’ll get to perform other exciting functions such as typing letters, diary management and using the telephone. Right now, though, I’m simply recording the fact that Jock Daring from Rutherglen (not a real person - I respect patient confidentiality!) smokes 60 a day and has done so since he was five years old.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 at 5:35 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: General | Technology
 

A big box of Bava

DVD

To celebrate my final day of freedom (I start a full-time job tomorrow - eek!), I decided to head over to DVD Pacific and pre-order the upcoming The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 box set, released by Anchor Bay on April 3rd. This five-disc set includes Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knife of the Avenger and Kill, Baby… Kill!, three of them with commentaries by famed Bava scholar Tim Lucas. I already have the old Image Entertainment DVD of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and a copy of Black Sunday, but I have nothing against picking up new versions of them, especially with the addition of commentaries and, hopefully, improved transfers. DVD Savant has posted a review of the set, and it sounds like a top-notch release. I know that Dark Sky Films had their own version of Kill, Baby… Kill! due for release until it was suddenly and mysteriously pulled, and that it featured a Tim Lucas commentary not included on this Anchor Bay version, but I’m not sure I want to scour eBay in the hope of finding one of the few rare review copies that made it out before the cancellation delay.

Update, March 27th, 2007 08:27 PM: As Tim Lucas points out, the Dark Sky release has not officially been cancelled, merely delayed with no current new release date.

 
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007 at 6:48 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | General | Gialli
 

Buffy the Comic Book Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1

Above: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1

Back in September 2006, I mentioned that Joss Whedon was planning to continue the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, not with another television series, but rather with a “virtual” season in comic book form. News seemed to go pretty quiet on that front, with the only available information being that it would be comprised of six issues and be published by Dark Horse. Well, the first episode finally went on sale on March 14th, and I’m expecting to receive my copy soon. I’m a little sceptical of how successful this continuation of the saga will turn out, given that (a) Seasons 6 and 7 of the TV show were dreadful, and (b) I have it on good authority that previous Buffy comics are nothing to write home about either. Nonetheless, I’m willing to at least give the first couple of issues a shot before writing it off as a failure, and I’m expecting to receive my copy of Issue 1 soon.

Some more information has now emerged in the form of an article at Midtown Comics interviewing series editor Scott Allie, including the rather surprising revelation that there will now be at least 50 issues rather than the originally projected six. Whedon’s plans for the series seem to have grown more ambitious, and the news that the original print run of 100,000 flew of the shelves can’t have hurt either. At the moment, Whedon will apparently write Issues 1-5, 10 and 16-20, while Brian K. Vaughan will 6-9 and Drew Goddard, who was a writer on the show’s final season, will do 11-14.

Ah well, I can’t say I’m wildly optimistic about the whole affair, but we shall see.

 
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007 at 6:17 PM
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | TV
 

Victory in Europe

On Friday morning, all over Europe, people woke up to news of the Playstation 3’s stillborn launch and crushing defeat. But you may not have realised until now just quite how disastrous a launch it was. Thankfully, UK Resistance have collated a mighty catalogue of evidence featuring photographs of various botched events throughout the continent (and Australia). Marvel especially at Virgin Megastore in Newcastle’s spectacular sale of four whole consoles in 24 hours, Myers’ in Sydney’s astounding ability to shift 60 (out of 600) in a single night, and the 5% sell-through of stock at Sony’s official Paris launch event.

In other news, look which high definition video format is slowly clawing its way back to the top.

 
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007 at 6:00 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Games | HD DVD
 

The nightmare of Pan

DVD

Yesterday, I received a review copy of the new 2-disc Platinum Edition of Walt Disney’s classic, Peter Pan, from DVD Pacific. Mindful of both the unnaturally harsh look of the earlier (2002) DVD release of the film, as well as Disney’s unfortunate habit of going overboard during the restoration process of their older titles, I was rather curious to see how this enjoyable 1953 lark had fared on of what the publicity describes as Disney Home Entertainment’s most prestigious line-up of DVD releases.

Unfortunately, the new edition really is a bit of a mixed bag. While the rampant edge enhancement of the previous release is nowhere to be found, it seems that DTS Digital Images (formerly Lowry Digital), Disney’s regular partner in these ventures, have once again thrown artistic intent out of the window in an attempt to deliver an impossibly clean, “flawless” digital experience for the 21st century. By far the biggest problem is that the overall colour, brightness and contrast values of the image have been tweaked into oblivion. Tinkerbell was originally supposed to have an overexposed glow, which, on this release, has been dulled down severely, making the glow look more like a muddy shadow. Actually, “muddy” is the word of the day here: the colours are generally dull and sickly. The decidedly red Indians are now a gloomy shade of brown, more suited to something like Pocahontas than this altogether more fun and colourful cartoon world, while Captain Hook now looks like he has liver damage. Everything is so murky that the hand-inked, cel-animated characters, who should be vibrant, threaten to disappear into the backgrounds. I’ve inspected the DVD on both a monitor and a calibrated TV: it just doesn’t look right.

Peter Pan

Respected cel restoration expert Stephen Worth, and animation directors Oscar Grillo and Milton Gray, have all criticised this new restoration, while Chuck Pennington has provided visual evidence that each subsequent home video release of Peter Pan has taken its visuals further and further away from Walt Disney and co’s original intentions. I’ve never personally seen the film on an actual print, but I feel more inclined to trust the informed opinions of experts like Stephen Worth than the staff of DTS Digital Images, who have shown a cavalier attitude towards artistic intent several times in the past, perhaps most significantly with Bambi, which was so heavily noise reduced in an attempt to remove any semblance of the movie ever having come from film that the image smeared and warped during camera movements.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Even the bonus content turns out to be rather disappointing. There really is very little here that wasn’t present on the 2002 release. In the past, just about every Platinum Edition has included a lengthy documentary or at least a series of informative featurettes on the film’s history and production. Not so with Peter Pan, which has to make do with a 15-minute made for LaserDisc featurette, a 20-minute piece showing ideas that didn’t make it into the final film, and a couple of other miscellaneous featurettes. The commentary, moderated by Roy Disney and featuring the observations of a combination of animators and critics, is of a high standard, but it too was already to be found on the previous DVD release. Of the new additions, the most significant is an abridged narration of an essay by Walt Disney explaining his reasons for making the film, while the games, read-along storybook and preview for a horrendous-looking CGI Tinkerbell movie can go hang for all I care.

It’s not the end of the world, though. Unlike the previous DVD, the original mono track has been included, at least on the US release (the European versions predictably lose this vital component of the original film, no doubt in order to make room for additional dubs). It’s too bad that, despite allowing the film to sound as was it was intended, those responsible for the DVD made no attempt to ensure that it looked as it was intended.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 3:17 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

One of the privileged few

Mythos

As you may or may not have gathered from reading this site, Diablo II is one of my all-time favourite computer games. It’s simple enough that you can pick it up and play it any time you want, while the number of different choices you can make, coupled with the randomly generated environments and items, makes it endlessly replayable and means that you always have new decisions to make. In the gaming community, the news in 2003 that David Brevik, Erich Schaefer, Max Schaefer and Bill Roper, the chiefs of Blizzard North, the studio responsible for both Diablo games, had tendered their resignations, was met with no small amount of disbelief, followed by considerable interest as a steady stream of employees left Blizzard North, joining their former bosses at their new company, Flagship Studios, or setting up new development houses of their own. Blizzard North struggled on for a while but, in August 2005, its plug was pulled by parent company Blizzard Entertainment, and with it supposedly died not one but two unannounced projects. One of these, many have speculated, was likely Diablo III.

Diablo III may, therefore, have died with Blizzard North, but its creators seem intent on bringing us the next best thing. This summer, they will be releasing Hellgate: London. The spiritual successor to Diablo II, this game combines the familiar concepts of randomly generated environments, as well as action/RPG hybrid gameplay with concepts more commonly associated with MMORPGs, including guilds, instances and a persistent world. Better yet, unlike most MMORPGs, there will be a free online multiplayer mode for those who don’t want to fork out cash ever month for the privilege of playing, as well as a single player mode for those who prefer to go solo (such as myself).

Mythos

The best is yet to come, though. In preparation for the release of Hellgate: London, Flagship have created an entire game for the sole purpose of testing their server architecture. This game, Mythos, will be entirely free, and this morning, in my capacity as an alpha tester, I got my first glimpse of what looks even more than Hellgate: London to be the true successor to Diablo II.

Call it Diablo 2.5 if you like, because, while the graphics and world are completely new, the game mechanics are almost identical. Anyone who has played the Diablo games should be able to jump straight in and feel right at home. The interface and controls are virtually identical, and old favourites like the skill tree, a feature first introduced in Diablo II, are in their proper places. The usual point and click controls are in place, and, over the course of the two hours that I’ve been playing, I’ve found myself getting that same buzz that I first did back in late Spring 2000 when I participated in the Diablo II stress test.

Mythos

Obviously, there have been some major changes. The look of the game, for instance, is about as far removed from its forebearers as possible. While Diablo’s graphics were moody and gothic, Mythos is a much more colourful, exaggerated (I refuse to abuse the word “cartoony”) and warm affair, more along the lines of Warcraft, with its primary colours and over the top animation and character designs. The closest point of comparison, arguably, is a little game called Fate which I played back in Summer 2005. This is perhaps not entirely surprising, given that that game’s creator, Travis Baldree, has a hand in this title.

As you would expect, the gameplay is fairly straightforward. Equip your weapon, point the mouse at an enemy and hold down the button till it’s dead. Rinse and repeat. It’s simple, but fun - as the millions of people who wore out their mouse buttons on Diablo can attest. No, it won’t make you smarter, but it is a great stress reliever, and highly addictive in the best sense of the word. The exaggerated visuals go hand in hand with this type of simple, no-nonsense gameplay, although the move from 2D to 3D does mean that, unsurprisingly, some of the Diablo series’ precision is lost. On the plus side, though, the game runs very smoothly thanks to its fairly simple graphics, with the impressive art direction meaning that it never looks cheap and clunky. I suspect that those who find themselves unable to run the more graphically complex Hellgate: London will find this to be a more than acceptable substitute.

Mythos

Other minor miscellaneous complaints? Well, the manner in which skills are equipped seems to have changed. In Diablo II (and, or so I’m led to believe, Hellgate: London), you can bind an ability to each mouse button simply by clicking on the relevant icon and selecting a skill of your choice. Not so with Mythos. Instead, you have to go into the Skills menu and bind your abilities to various hotkeys (in this case, the F1 to F12 keys). It’s not the end of the world, but it’s an extra step that detracts from the otherwise simplistic nature of the interface. Also, whenever you descend (or ascend) to another level or area, the game asks you to confirm whether or not you want to do this. When you simply need to travel, it’s a mildly irritating extra step. When you’re running from a horde of angry monsters, it can mean the difference between life and death. I really hope that, for the final game, Flagship will consider either doing away with this “are you sure?” mechanism entirely, or at least give players the option of turning it off. I’m also not a fan of the tiny little minimap in the corner of the screen - I much preferred the larger overlaid Diablo style of map. Oh yeah, and the interface graphics end up being stretched if you select a widecreen (16:9 or 16:10) resolution. It’s not the end of the world, but it does look a little sloppy.

I hope to be able to bring you more observations as I continue to play. Because the alpha is designed primarily to test Flagship’s servers, the game can only be played at specific pre-arranged times (in order to get as many people thrashing them as possible), and, because the game originates from America, the times aren’t always entirely convenient for me. I wasn’t able to attend last night’s session, for example, because it wouldn’t have started until 2 AM GMT. (As luck would have it, though, a technical glitch meant that it got postponed anyway, so the server was still online when I got up this morning.) Presumably as the game enters the beta phase and more testers are gradually added (I believe I’m currently one of the few people playing who isn’t a family member or friend of the developers), the server will stay online for longer, but it is slightly annoying to have to adhere to a specific schedule. Still, I’m grateful that we’re getting this great game for free, and that I’m getting to participate in this early sneak peek. Stay tuned!

Update, March 24th, 2007 04:16 PM: The server has now gone offline, and an in-game text message from one of the developers indicated that all characters have been wiped, meaning that, when they go live again, everyone will have to start from scratch.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 24, 2007 at 11:03 AM
Categories: Games | Technology
 

Entering the workforce

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to announce that I finally have a job. Well, more or less. On Tuesday the 27th I start work at the Glasgow office of the NHS’s smoking cessation project on a sessional basis, until my contract materialises. This means that, in a short while, I’ll be working 9 till 5 Monday to Friday. Given that the last time I put in anything approaching a full day of work was when I worked briefly at ASDA for one summer which I’d prefer to forget, I’m sure this is going to be something of a shock to my system. My official job title is “Administrative Assistant”, which apparently will cover everything from keeping diaries to typing letters to calling up people to ask them if they’re still smoking 40 a day.

I suppose I should look at this in the most positive way possible: it’s a foot on the ladder. No, I don’t think anyone would call it a dream job, but at least it’s for a worthwhile cause and should give me some much-needed experience. Of course, the fact that it’s a full-time affair does mean that exactly what is going to happen when the time comes for me to start my PhD remains to be seen. I’ve been given an unconditional offer from the University, with an October start date, and I’ve sent off my funding application, so we shall see what happens. In the event that I get funding, my plan is to do it full-time. If not, I intend to do it in conjunction with a part-time job.

All this, of course, means that my Jobseeker’s Allowance will be coming to an end soon. All told, I’ve amassed just over £660, all of which has gone into a PhD fund. Given that a year’s worth of part-time self-funded PhD study costs £1,620, not counting expenses, that much on its own isn’t going to get me very far in the event that I don’t end up getting funding (and I know how competitive this sort of thing is, especially for Arts-based degrees). Still, on the plus side, it’s a start.

I suspect that most of you who visit this site are probably wondering what effect, if any, my finding employment will have on this site. The answer, I hope, is none. I don’t intend to post any less than I do now (although, as you can probably tell, the frequency of my updates tends to vary anyway), but it does mean that updates will probably have to wait until evenings and weekends (or, depending on company policy, lunch breaks). Have no fear, the site isn’t going anywhere just because I’m no longer a sponger. In fact, if past experience is anything to go by, actually spending the day doing meaningful things is likely to make me more eager to escape into the wonderful world of the Internet and trivial pursuits such as rants about DVD and HD image quality, gialli and the like. It’s an unfortunate aspect of my mental make-up that the less I have to do, the less compelled I am to do non-essential things. In the past, I’ve always found that essay or dissertation deadlines have inspired me to bang out a wealth of DVD reviews in record timing, so I suspect that my job may end up having the same effect on me.

In any event, I’ll keep you posted.

 
Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007 at 8:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: General | PhD
 

This is what apathy looks like

As you probably know, after having its November 2006 “worldwide launch” cut back to a “North America and Japan” launch, the Playstation 3 was finally released throughout the rest of the world at midnight last night (local time for each country, obviously). Get a load of the crowds that came rolling out for the momentous occasion:

Photo: Kotaku

Here’s Sydney. Turnout: approximately 80 people.

Photo: JeuxFrance

The population of Paris was even more enthusiastic.

Photo: UK Resistance

A massive crowd gathered at Virgin in Oxford Street, London, a day before launch. Final turnout: more than 100 (translation: less than 200). Note that this was the only store in London to stay open for a midnight launch.

Photo: UK Resistance

And here’s another London store, yesterday. This dodgy fellow was trying to hawk the thing before the official launch date and still couldn’t garner any interest.

Seriously, if a couple of years ago you’d told me that the launch of the successor to the Playstation 2 would be met with such apathy, I’d have laughed out loud and recommended that you be sectioned. But this is no joke - especially not for Sony, whose executives are no doubt waking up to some rather less than positive company memos. Do I feel the slightest bit sorry for them? To be honest, not really: they’ve had this coming for a long time now.

 
Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007 at 10:51 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Games | General
 

Perfume: The Story of Rampant Filtering

HD DVD

About a week ago, I ordered a copy of the recent German HD DVD release of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer from Amazon.de. It’s the latest film from Tom Tykwer, and it tells the story of a young man who, driven to create the perfect perfume, starts knocking off young ladies. As you can probably guess, it’s somewhat different from Run Lola Run, the film for which Tykwer is best known. For one, it’s a period drama set in 1700s France, and as such doesn’t have any insane video game/music video editing and visual styling (although it does have some pretty whacked out moments). Anyway, it arrived today, and it’s basically a watchable enough film, although heavily flawed. It’s both over-long and tonally very inconsistent, and suffers from a rather underwhelming performance by the lead, Ben Whishaw. I wouldn’t call it a must-have by any means, but I found it rather intriguing, and it certainly makes a change from the Men & Guns type of films that tend to be released on both high definition formats.

Unfortunately, despite some positive advance word, I have to report that the transfer is rather disappointing. While I was watching it, I thought it looked rather soft and underwhelming, but fairly watchable. Some distracting noise reduction artefacts are apparent, but no problems with the compression. Then, I switched to the extras menu and selected the theatrical trailer, which is presented in full 1080p high definition (a feature that more HD DVD titles need to have). One word: wow. The trailer looks so much better - so much crisper and better defined - that it blows away the transfer of the film itself. I’m really getting sick of this. It happened all the time with standard definition DVDs (The Lord of the Rings films being particularly egregious examples), but I really would have expected better from studios producing high definition content. There’s no excuse for it apart from plain old stupidity. Seriously, if the transfer of the film had looked like that of the trailer, it would have been a 10/10 easily, perhaps even knocking Casino Royale and Corpse Bride off their respective thrones. As it is, though, this is a very low 6/10 and a very high disappointment.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 9:21 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

You take the blue pill…

HD DVD

Oh, wait. Sorry - the blue pill isn’t ready yet. It’s been delayed due to continued BD-Java problems. The red pill will, however, be ready for you to swallow on May 22nd, at which point you’ll be able to see just how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

What am I babbling about? Why, the announcement of The Ultimate Matrix Collection for HD DVD, of course. The Matrix was one of the most hotly anticipated high definition titles last year (and rightly so - it certainly helped sell plenty of DVD players, so chances are it will do the same for HD DVD), with many expecting it to arrive at some point in the run-up to Christmas. When it failed to materialise, customers were understandably disappointed, but it seems that Warner are intent on making up for lost time by releasing what looks set to be the single most comprehensive and all-inclusive high definition box set to date. In addition to the first film, the shoddy The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (which I haven’t actually seen - Reloaded was that bad), each film will include an In-Movie Experience feature and all of the extras from both the original and Ultimate Matrix Collection standard definition releases. (Read the full press release at the AV Science Forum. (A slightly cheaper, less extras-intensive version, The Complete Matrix Trilogy, will also be available.)

Part of me is slightly disappointed that the films are not being released separately, given that I only really want the first one. Then again, this does sound like the HD DVD box set to die for, and part of me really wants to listen to the notorious “critic commentaries”, in which an increasingly disgruntled group of film reviewers lay into the trilogy. Knowing me, I’ll end up splurging on the full package - unless, of course, I can get a review copy.

Oh yeah, and in case it wasn’t clear enough from the little reference to one of the film’s iconic scenes at the start of this post, the Blu-ray release will be arriving “later”, giving the HD DVD version free reign until it deigns to put in an appearance. Many will no doubt say “Oh, it’ll come eventually,” but how many format-neutral customers are going to wait for that? It certainly looks like Warner have delivered a Pirates of the Caribbean beater to wipe the smirks off the Blu-ray fanboys’ faces come May.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 10:14 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Casino Royale high-def comparisons

Blu-ray

A nice chap has put together a comparison between the standard definition and Blu-ray releases of Casino Royale - well worth checking out if you remain unconvinced as to the benefits of high definition. I particularly recommend having a look at the third image - when watching the film, this shot was the one that leapt out at me personally as the most obvious example of the stunning amount of detail that you can get from 1080p. You can even read the lettering on the wine bottle - HD product placement!

By the way, I’ve pre-ordered the supposedly uncut Korean Blu-ray release of the film from YesAsia. It’s due for release on March 29th, at which point I’ll sell off my cut US copy.

Update, March 21st, 2007 05:43 PM: There’s a whole thread filled with comparison screengrabs, from both HD DVD and Blu-ray, at the AV Science Forum.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 12:42 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

The Blue Underground Syndrome

DVD

Source: Dark Discussion

We’ve not heard much from cult DVD producers Blue Underground recently, barring a few Argento and Fulci re-releases, with news so quiet that many people began to speculate that the company might be on the verge of folding. On a recent webcast interview at Deadpit.com, however, head honcho Bill Lustig let slip some morsels of information, the tastiest of which was the news that the company plans to release a 2-disc special edition of The Stendhal Syndrome, Dario Argento’s best film of the last two decades, in August. For Region 1-restricted American fans especially, who currently have to make do with Troma’s monstrosity, this is huge news. For the more fortunate, a good but not brilliant 2-disc release has been available from Italy since late 2003, but even so I’ll be all over this if Lustig and co are able to deliver on the bonus content, and perhaps even issue a better transfer.

Of course, if they don’t include the superior Italian dub (which features Asia Argento’s own voice) then I would personally consider the disc more or less worthless, as the film is incredibly painful to watch in English (and is also missing a couple of minutes of footage only found in the Italian print). Blue Underground were kind enough to include Italian audio for their 2005 2-discer of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and also for Paolo Cavara’s The Black Belly of the Tarantula, but it must be said that, as far as including Italian audio is concerned, their track record isn’t all that great. Still, here’s hoping.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

 
Posted: Monday, March 19, 2007 at 9:09 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

Mother of Scissors

Source: Dark Discussion

According to a news post on Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso shop web site, The Third Mother’s distributor, Medusa, have not only delayed the film’s release date to October 31st (so they can have a Halloween-themed advertising campaign), but are also demanding cuts to the film’s more violent scenes and effects. This sort of thing truly beggars belief. Did Medusa seriously think that the sequel to Suspiria and Inferno wouldn’t be violent? What is the point of this? This isn’t even a censor attempting to cut things, just a bunch of meddling executives sticking their oar in.

I suppose the best course of action right now is to hope that the news becomes widespread and a backlash from angry fans convinces Medusa to rethink their decision. Failing that, we can only hope that it will eventually surface in an uncut form on DVD. This really is the story of Argento’s career, isn’t it? Something tells me that something is seriously wrong with the way people think when Pelts can be screened on American television without any cuts, but what has got to be one of the most highly-anticipated sequels of all time for the Euro-cult crowd looks set to be butchered at the whims of a bunch of people in suits.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 5:25 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | TV
 

“Talking Ass” Thompson bites off more than he can chew

Jack Thompson

Source: GamePolitics.com

You’ve probably heard of Jack Thompson. He’s a crazy Florida attorney who seems to blame all of society’s ills on video games and has taken it upon himself to crusade against them. He is best known for repeatedly suing companies such as Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar Games and Sony, and repeatedly having his ridiculous claims laughed out of court. During the last such instance, Jack-Jack went on a rant against the judge who ruled against restricting sales of violent games; the judge, in return, called his behaviour “inappropriate […], unprofessional and contemptible”, while Blank Rome, the attorney firm representing Rockstar Games, filed a motion to have Jack-Jack’s behaviour declared in contempt of court.

Now, it seems that the ball is in the other court, as Take-Two, expecting fresh attacks from Jack-Jack in the run-up to the publication of Grand Theft Auto 4 and Manhunt 2, have launched what GamePolitics.com refers to as “a pre-emptive strike”:

The software publisher seeks to block Thompson from trying to have the games declared a public nuisance under Florida law. Thompson filed a similar action against Take Two’s Bully last October, but a Florida judge rejected Thompson’s contention, allowing Bully to be sold by retailers.

[…]

The suit alleges that Thompson’s public nuisance tactic violates Take Two’s First Amendment rights. Lawyers for the game publisher argue that the Florida statute under which Thompson is seeking to have the games declared as nuisances essentially makes the controversial lawyer “a private attorney general on behalf of the State of Florida.”

Take Two is also seeking to recover from Thompson its attorney fees and other costs incurred related to the pending legal action.

Jack-Jack, unsurprisingly, is not particularly popular with the gaming community, not least because of his general disparaging comments about its members and continued refusal to open up a sensible dialogue with them. As you can probably imagine, therefore, the news that Take-Two has decided to fight back has won them considerable favour with gamers around the globe. Seriously, try to find a games fan, regardless of whether or not they play the type of violent material Jack-Jack disparages, who has a single kind word to say about him. I shall be following this story very closely - if the fool was driven to bankruptcy, I genuinely think things would be better all round.

You can read the full legal document here (PDF).

 
Posted: Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 3:19 PM
Categories: Games
 
 

 
 
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