July 2007

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of July

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Arrivederci Amore, Ciao (R3 Thailand, DVD)
  • Being John Malkovich (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Black Snake Moan (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Blood Diamond (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Bourne Identity (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Crank (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Fifth Element (remastered) (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • La Haine (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Layer Cake (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Paprika (R0 France, Blu-ray)
  • The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition (R1 USA, DVD)
  • The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season (R1 USA, DVD)
  • The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Syriana (R0 UK, HD DVD)

PS. I know I said I wouldn’t be posting much at all over the course of the next week and a half, but I felt the need to acknowledge that we have lost to cinematic visionaries, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, in the space of 24 hours. Shockingly, I haven’t seen a single Bergman film, but this news has made me feel an intense need to rectify this problem immediately.

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 9:04 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

There’s no need to adjust your television set

Web

You can expect posts on this site to be extremely scarce until the middle of next week. Why? Because I’ll be working two jobs simultaneously, and am going to have much less time (and energy) for posting than usual. Worry not, however, for, by the end of August 8th, I’ll only be working two days a week, and will be able to dedicate some more time to news, reviews and so on. Of course, at some point in September, I’ll be embarking on my PhD, so it’s not as if I’ll just be putting my feet up for the other five days of the week, but hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the process with you via this site. In particular, I intend to undertake a mammoth giallo-watching project, for the purposes of which I’ve been acquiring some rare titles to add to my collection. Stay tuned for a full list of titles and details as to the format and schedule of the project.

Oh, and, mindful of the fact that my lack of posting will quite possibly cause the front page to be virtually devoid of content, given that Movable Type is set to display news posts for the last seven days only, I’ve changed the configuration to show a set number of posts instead (25).

 
Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007 at 8:25 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | General | Gialli | PhD | Web
 

Pixar shorts coming to Blu-ray

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

The Man Room is reporting that a Blu-ray release of Pixar’s various short films is scheduled to come out on November 6th, the same day as the Blu-ray release of Cars. Called, appropriately enough, the Pixar Short Film Collection, a generous 13 segments will be featured, with an RRP of $34.99:

One of the shorts, ‘Mater and the Ghost Light,’ should also be available on Buena Vista’s upcoming ‘Cars’ Blu-ray Disc release. The other shorts include ‘The Adventures of Andre & Wally B,’ ‘Luxo Jr.,’ ‘Red’s Dream,’ ‘Tin Toy,’ ‘Knick Knack,’ ‘Geri’s Game,’ ‘For the Birds,’ ‘Mike’s New Car,’ ‘Boundin’,’ ‘Jack-Jack Attack,’ ‘One Man Band,’ and ‘Lifted.’

This announcement comes as a complete surprise, at least to me, but you can definitely sign me up for a copy. I suppose it’s just too much to hope for an uncut copy of Knick Knack.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 28, 2007 at 7:14 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Random HD update

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

There have been several big announcements in HD-land over the last couple of days, and, for your viewing pleasure, I’ve summarised them all in one post.

First up, Warner have unveiled special editions of several Stanley Kubrick films, due to debut on both HD DVD and Blu-ray on October 23rd. Released separately rather than as a box set, the titles on offer are 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, and a new deluxe edition (presumably with a non-bobbed transfer) of Full Metal Jacket.

All titles have been restored and remastered and will offer both archive and new bonus features. Exact specs are to be confirmed, but initial details suggest all titles will use dual-layer BD50 and HD30 discs (potentially 2xHD30s on A Clockwork Orange if the early details are correct) and boast 1080P Widescreen transfers, English Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround audio on both formats (though the Blu-ray Disc listing for 2001 suggests Blu-ray owners will get a PCM 5.1 offering instead) and of course regular Dolby Digital/Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks in English, French and Spanish languages.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the version of Eyes Wide Shut being released is the American R-rated cut, complete with superimposed CGI figures to obscure some of the more intimate details of the orgy scene. As such, you can probably guess that I won’t be buying it. Instead, I’ll be holding out for a non-American, uncut release.

Warner have also announced Blade Runner: The Final Cut for release on both formats on December 18th. With specs suggesting that this release will topple The Ultimate Matrix Collection from its “most feature-packed HD release” throne, this deluxe set will feature a whopping five discs, and will feature four different cuts of the film, including the all-new “final cut” and the fabled work-print version. For the true obsessive, an Ultimate Collector’s Edition will also be available:

The Ultimate Collector’s Edition will be presented in a unique 5-disc digi-package with handle which is a stylish version of Rick Deckard’s own briefcase, in addition each briefcase will be individually numbered and in limited supply. Included is a lenticular motion film clip from the original feature, miniature origami unicorn figurine, miniature replica spinner car, collector’s photographs as well as a signed personal letter from Sir Ridley Scott.

See a picture of the goodies here.

Finally, Highlight will be releasing the director’s cut of Zhang Yimou’s Hero on HD DVD in Germany on October 11th. No word yet on the specs (I’m a little worried that English subtitles won’t be in the offing), but I’ll definitely be keeping track of this one, especially as there currently isn’t anything approaching a half-decent release of the director’s cut on DVD.

Update, July 27st, 2007 07:10 PM: A Warner representative has just confirmed that the Eyes Wide Shut HD DVD and Blu-ray releases will include both the censored R-rated and uncut unrated versions. Thank god for that!

 
Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:45 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Samsung caught two-timing

Technology

Source: Electronic House

The full specifications for Samsung’s upcoming HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid player, the BD-UP5000 Duo HD Player, have been unveiled. Due to be released in the fourth quarter of 2007, this machine is noteworthy for the fact that, unlike LG’s solution, it doesn’t appear to short-change one of the two formats (the LG player doesn’t support full interactivity for HD DVDs). Personally I’m happy with my Playstation 3/Xbox 360 add-on solution, but, if you haven’t got into either of the two formats yet, this player looks set to be an enticing prospect… depending on the reviews, of course.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:19 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Technology
 

The ten highest-rated gialli

Film

According to IMDB

1. Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975)
2. Eye in the Labyrinth (Mario Caiano, 1972)
3. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
4. What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (Massimo Dallamano, 1974)
5. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (Sergio Martino, 1971)
6. Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982)
7. The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Francesco Barilli, 1974)
8. Don’t Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, 1972)
9. Opera (Dario Argento, 1987)
10. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970)

Ignoring the presence of The Perfume of the Lady in Black, which I don’t consider to be a giallo in the first place, this is a pretty interesting list. Deep Red’s Number 1 status is hardly unexpected, as is the general favouring of Argento’s output - 40% of the titles are his (although this probably has a lot to do with the fact that his gialli are likely to be the most widely known). Naturally, I disagree with most of the list, but I suppose that’s what you get when you turn to the IMDB for guidance!

So, what do other people’s Top 10 lists look like?

 
Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 9:19 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

You must try harder

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

The “remastered” Blu-ray release of The Fifth Element and the HD DVD of The Bourne Identity both arrived yesterday. I’ll discuss the former first, since I’ve watched it from beginning to end, and it’s also the more significant of the two releases, albeit not for positive reasons. As you probably know, The Fifth Element was one of Sony’s launch titles when the Blu-ray format first lifted off last summer. You probably also know, therefore, that many of Sony’s initial Blu-ray discs were mercilessly derided - some unfairly (Silent Hill is still a fine-looking disc in spite of its compression problems), but others most definitely fairly. The Fifth Element, judging by the screenshots I’ve seen, fell into the latter category: lacking in fine detail, horribly compressed and viciously noise reduced, a certain comparison which quickly circulated around all the best home entertainment forums showed there to be surprisingly little difference between it and the standard definition Superbit release.

Blu-ray

At the time, it looked as if Sony’s lax quality control could actually end up costing them the format war. The tides now seem to have turned, and Sony’s desire to improve Blu-ray’s image has been realised in a new “remastered” version of The Fifth Element, released on July 17th. As a gesture of goodwill, they event set up an exchange programme so those who were gypped on the original release can trade in their copies for the new edition. The original release has been discontinued, and Sony’s plan is clearly to make the transition from old to new as discrete as possible, given that the packaging of the new version is almost identical to the previous one, the only giveaways being the copyright date, the presence of Dolby TrueHD in the audio specifications, and some other minor changes.

Anyway, on to the image quality itself. My verdict would be “good, but not great”. Lyris does a pretty good job of summing up the pros and cons, so I’ll keep this brief and simply say that, broadly speaking, it seems to be an improvement over its predecessor in terms of compression (the move from MPEG2 to AVC, and from a BD25 to a BD50, is definitely appreciated), but much of the supposed increase in detail that certain reviewers have pointed out is really little more than edge enhancement. Obviously, not having seen the original release in motion, it’s hard to offer a definitive review, but I’d peg this as a low 7/10. The effects shots look considerably less detailed and exhibit more ringing than the non-effects shots, and that’s something that can’t be helped, but that doesn’t change the fact that the edge enhancement is rather pronounced, and the tell-tale signs of a 1080i to 1080p conversion rear their head on occasions in the form of combing artefacts (Lyris noticed them within a couple of minutes, and once we knew they were there, they became extremely difficult to ignore). I’ve no idea if the previous release also shows these (to date we seem to be the only people to have posted about them on either release - then again, we seem also to be the only people to have noticed that the Blu-ray District B13 is also a 1080i to 1080p conversion (and a bad one at that) - but my message to Sony is ultimately: “So near and yet so far.”

Maybe when Pathé release it on HD DVD (whenever that happens), they’ll get it right.

HD DVD

For The Bourne Identity, fortunately, the case seems to be somewhat more clear-cut. What we basically have is a nice-looking transfer that isn’t perfect by any means but it still rather better than most of Universal’s recent catalogue releases. Whereas The Bourne Supremacy’s HD DVD was derived from a digital intermediate, The Bourne Supremacy is film-sourced, and (probably as a result) appears slightly less defined, and with a (naturally) rougher texture. There are also some signs of mild ringing, but all in all I’m happy with what I’m seeing. It won’t find its way into any “best of” lists, but I doubt that too many people will be disappointed by it.

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 9:14 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Life after Mother of Tears

Film

Mother of Tears may not have been released yet, but, according to the Profondo Rosso shop web site, Dario Argento is already giving thought to his next project. Desertrain at Dark Discussion has kindly offered an English-language summary of what the post conveys:

At profondorossostore.com they say that Dario is already thinking about his next project that should be a horror diptych…they say he still doesnt have the right idea but that’s what he wants to do: 2 films strictly connected and dedicated to the same facts…

A diptych, according to Wikipedia, is “any object with two flat plates attached at a hinge”, and “the term is also used figuratively for a thematically-linked sequence of two books”. This sounds like a very interesting prospect, although I had half-expected his next film to be a giallo rather than more horror.

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2007 at 8:40 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Viewer discretion is advised

Web Viewer discretion is advised
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

dead (6x)

I must say I’m a tad disappointed, especially as the Baron earned an illustrious NC-17.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2007 at 10:02 PM
Categories: Web
 

HD DVD debacle

HD DVD

The HD DVD release of Being John Malkovich arrived yesterday from Amazon. Knowing that the most recent Universal catalogue titles generally haven’t looked all that hot, and having read some rather critical reports from individuals known to be - let’s say - less than discerning, my expectations weren’t exactly all that high. In fact, I was partly fearing a 480i upconvert à la Traffic, so I was actually somewhat relieved to discover that it doesn’t look all that bad. No, I wouldn’t call it good as such - there is some fairly obvious DVNR and also quite a bit of edge enhancement - but it’s far from the worst HD transfer I’ve ever seen. I’d put it on about the same level as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which, coincidentally, shares the same writer, Charlie Kaufman, and the same studio, Universal) - a low to mid 6/10.

HD DVD

This morning, Blood Diamond, which I must confess I’d actually forgotten I’d ordered, arrived from DVD Pacific. It came out on Blu-ray more than a month ago, but, given that, thanks to the incomplete status of the BD-Java spec, that release lacked the picture-in-picture In-Movie Experience feature, so I decided to just wait and get the more complete package. I haven’t had a chance to watch it from beginning to end yet, but I’ve taken a look at the transfer and it seems to be pretty decent. I was initially concerned that it looked a little diffuse, but a quick look at its technical specifications on IMDB reveals it to have been shot using an anamorphic process called Hawk Scope. I’ve been tending to notice that anamorphic films tend to look a little soft at 1920x1080, presumably as a result of the short focal range of the lenses, and, looked at in that light, my guess is that Blood Diamond’s slight softness is inherent in the source material rather than as a result of digital tampering. Certainly, there is no ringing or clumpy grain to suggest filtering.

By the way, I’m aware that I haven’t posted an updated HD Image Quality Rankings list for some time. I’ve got a handful of titles that I haven’t looked at closely enough to rate with any certainty yet (La Haine, Layer Cake and Syriana), so I’ll leave it till I’ve had a chance to watch them from beginning to end. My current (35 and a half hours per week) job ends in just over a fortnight, so my lighter load come mid-August should afford me ample opportunity to engage in some much-missed movie-watching.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2007 at 9:32 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Mother of teasers

Mother of Tears

A higher quality version of the Italian teaser trailer for Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears has surfaced at Yahoo. It’s still fairly low resolution, but all the same it’s a massive step up from the camcorded version that showed up on YouTube recently. In particular, the colours are much purer, and a couple of brief shots even show that some of the old Suspiria and Inferno primary colour magic is on offer.

Credit for discovering this goes to Guillaume (Mannfan) at Dark Discussion.

Update, July 21st, 2007 11:20 AM: A downloadable version is now available here.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 7:58 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

High-def happenings

Blu-ray

I’ve got a whole parade of high definition updates for today. First of all, after being postponed from its original June 5th release date, High-Def Digest has revealed that Cars will now see the light of day on Blu-ray in North American territories on November 6th. The reason for the delay, it would seem, is “additional involvement from Pixar”, which comes in the form of two BD-exclusive bonus features: a new deleted scene and a BD-Java “Car Finder”. Woo. How about some worthwhile bonus materials, Disney - like, I don’t know, a visual commentary? Cars is currently the only Pixar film not to have been released on DVD as a fully-loaded 2-disc special edition, and I was somewhat hopeful that the Blu-ray release would feature all the usual bells and whistles… but it would seem not. Oh, well - even so, it’s still a must-have.

Meanwhile, New Line would appear to have tired of waiting for Warner’s TotalHD dual format discs to appear, and have decided to get cracking with HD releases of their films, beginning with Hairspray (the remake, not the John Waters original), coming to both HD DVD and Blu-ray at some point in the fourth quarter of 2007. Hairspray is currently the only title to have been announced, but I’m crossing my fingers for some of the rumoured titles before too long, especially Blade, Final Destination and Se7en… oh, and Peter Jackson’s version of The Lord of the Rings, provided it’s the Extended Editions and not the theatrical cuts. (I’d still rather have Ralph Bakshi’s version, though.)

Oh, and, after many delays, Entertainment In Video have finally confirmed their intention to release on Blu-ray in the UK, with a roster of eight titles to come out on August 13th: Gangs of New York, The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback Mountain, The Departed, The Crow and Lucky Number Slevin. Several of these titles are already available on HD DVD (or HD DVD and Blu-ray) in the US, and the only title to take my fancy from that list is Gangs of New York. Unfortunately, EIV have decided to punish people like myself who own Region A Blu-ray players by encoding these discs for Region B only, so it looks like I’ll have to wait for Disney to release it in North American territories, or for the proposed HD DVD releases to materialise in Spain or France. Way to lose business, EIV.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 7:57 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Lost in translation

Blu-ray

This morning, I forced myself to sit down and watch Paprika… with an emphasis on forced, because I really did find it a chore to sit through. I have nothing against nonsensical films that operate in the world of dream logic - Mulholland Drive and Inferno being two of my absolute all-time favourites - but, if the director doesn’t know what he or she is doing, or loses his or her sense of perspective, it’s easy to lose track of what counts. With Paprika, I can only assume that, as with Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (another dream logic film I saw recently and hated), everything made sense to writer/director Satoshi Kon in his head, but he was unable to translate this on to the screen in a way that resonated… with me at any rate. I never felt as if I was actually experiencing a dream, just viewing one nonsensical scene after another.

I'm not bland, I'm just not good at expressing my emotions.

“I’m not bland, I’m just not good at expressing my emotions.”

It doesn’t help that, unlike the other Satoshi Kon film I’ve seen, the excellent Tokyo Godfathers, the visual style is that bland, stilted, lifeless look that I (rightly or wrongly) associate with anime. Rather than moving their whole faces when they speak, characters’ mouths just open and close, and the voices (in the original Japanese - the English dub is unsurprisingly cringe-worthy) certainly don’t add any more life to these wooden personalities. There is some nice colour work, and a couple of interesting visual images, but most of the latter are to be found in the opening credits - really not a good sign. The designs are mostly bland and generic, and I find myself wondering how the same director could produce such inventive visuals in Tokyo Godfathers, working with a much more reality-based storyline, and yet give this high fantasy such an uninspired look.

I do intend to seek out Satoshi Kon’s other work - Perfect Blue and Millenium Actress - but I sincerely hope my enjoyment of Tokyo Godfathers wasn’t just a fluke.

4/10.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 10:01 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Asterix and the HD Vikings

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

A while back, I reported that the most recent Asterix film, Asterix and the Vikings was due to be released on HD DVD at some point in the first quarter of 2007 by DeAPlaneta in Spain. As you can probably gather, it has yet to materialise, but the good news is that, according to FilmTalk, it will be coming out in France on October 3rd. Of course, I’ll definitely be picking up a copy, and the fact that the French standard definition DVD included English audio and subtitles also bodes well for the HD DVD. I just hope it has a better transfer than Paprika, the only full-length 2D animated feature I currently own in HD.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 9:56 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Finally, some Blu-ray titles worth owning

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

So far, a few decent titles have been released as Blu-ray exclusives, but hardly any of them have been must-haves. For me, Casino Royale, The Descent, The Devil’s Rejects and Kingdom of Heaven are the only titles that would fall into that category, with only The Descent standing out as a near-classic. All that will change in October, however, when Starz Home Entertainment/Anchor Bay will release their first slate of titles. DavisDVD has the scoop on the cover art, rough specs and release dates of their initial line-up:

October 2nd, 2007: Dawn of the Dead, Halloween, Evil Dead II and Day of the Dead
October 16th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 1 (Cigarette Burns, Dreams in the Witch-house, The Fair Haired Child), Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 2 (Jenifer, Sick Girl, Deer Woman)
November 6th, 2007: Beowulf & Grendel
November 13th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 3 (Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Dance of the Dead, Pick Me Up)
December 11th, 2007: Masters of Horror Season 1 Volume 4 (Imprint, Homecoming, Haeckel’s Tale, Chocolate)

I’ll definitely be picking up all of the October 2nd releases, and am currently undecided on Masters of Horror. I’ll probably get Volume 2 for Jenifer, so I can own some HD Argento, even if it’s bottom drawer HD Argento, but I’m not convinced I can see myself splurging on the other volumes. I’ll probably wait to see what my finances are like at the time, or perhaps look into the prospect of a review copy or two. Beowulf & Grendel is the odd one out in this otherwise horror-themed line-up, and I can’t see myself rushing out to pick it up… although it does star Sarah Polley, who can make just about anything watchable (why else d’you think I’m buying the Dawn of the Dead remake on HD DVD?). One thing’s for sure, Anchor Bay are to be commended for having the guts to step into the murky waters of high definition, and I sincerely hope the sales of these releases persuade them to continue releasing titles on Blu-ray. (How ‘bout those Tenebre and Phenomena special editions - pleeeeease?)

Specs for the first four releases are as follows, by the way: 1080p transfers (duh), PCM 5.1 audio, and all of the extras from the standard definition releases. Each disc will carry an RRP of $29.97. No word on the video codec - I’m just hoping it’s not MPEG2, which their HD distributor, MGM, favours. Oh, and I’m assuming Dawn of the Dead is just the standard theatrical cut.

 
Posted: Monday, July 16, 2007 at 12:36 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD
 

DVD review: The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition

DVD
This new release of The Secret of NIMH comfortably renders its predecessors obsolete, sporting a decent transfer and audio track. The extras are disappointingly sparse, and the whole package has clearly been aimed at a younger age group than the film’s original intended audience, but even so, fans should not hesitate to pick up a copy of this version.

Courtesy of DVD Pacific, I’ve reviewed the new 2-disc “Family Fun Edition” of Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, released to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

 
Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2007 at 12:04 PM
Categories: Animation | DVD | Reviews
 

Cease your meddling!

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

George Lucas isn’t the only filmmaker to indulge in revisionism. That’s right, the Wachowski brothers are at is as well. No, the alterations that have been made to The Matrix aren’t quite on the same level as the “Greedo shoots first” debacle - no footage has actually been reshot, and the special effects are unchanged - but they’re significant nonetheless. When the film was re-released on DVD in 2004, the entire film was digitally graded to bring its look into line with the two rubbish sequels, and, now that I have the ability to take screen captures of HD DVDs, I can show you just how extreme the difference is.

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

I’m curious as to how people feel about this. On the one hand, I do think that the re-graded version is aesthetically preferable. Creating a digital intermediate allows filmmakers much more control over the final look of their movie than traditional lab work, and we can therefore presumably assume that the look of the new version of The Matrix is closer to representing what the Wachowskis originally intended than what was initially released. On the other hand, it’s hard not to see this as being a “because we can” situation. The central concept - that the Matrix had a green tint, whereas the “real world” had a blue tint - was conveyed subtly in the original version, but, in the re-graded version, has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The shadow detail is also seriously hampered by the manner in which the contrast has been pumped up.

The Matrix: the original 1999 version

Above: the original 1999 version; below: the re-graded 2004 version

The Matrix: the re-graded 2004 version

Edge enhancement

Oh, and the HD DVD of The Matrix is indeed edge enhanced. It’s not as bad as on some titles - it’s no Crank or An American Werewolf in London, for example - but it’s there all right. I noticed it within less than a minute of the film starting, and yet many people continue to tell me that I’m imagining things, or that there is a problem with my equipment, or whatever other outlandish excuse they can come up with. That’s the great thing about being able to do screen captures: I can now provided visual evidence! Now who’s crazy, guys?

 
Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 6:25 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Tartan slaps on the woad

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: DVD Times

In a move that certainly surprised me and, I suspect, will have surprised a lot of others as well, UK independent DVD studio Tartan Video has announced support for Blu-ray, and will be debuting high definition editions of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book (also due out in the US from Sony a month later) and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal on August 27th, with Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy to follow on September 24th. Expect AVC encodes, DTS-HD Master Audio and, it would seem, some but not all of the extras from the standard definition variants. The RRP for each, by the way, is a rather bloated £29.99, seemingly because Tartan intends to package the standard definition version on a separate disc in the same case.

I hate to say it, but the pessimist in me suspects that this may be the beginning of the end for HD DVD. This time last year, I never in a million years dreamed that any of the independents would back Sony’s format, but with this, and the announcement of Starz/Anchor Bay’s decision to launch a Blu-ray line via MGM, suggests that one of HD DVD’s key advantages - cheaper manufacturing and licensing costs - really isn’t enough to entice the little guys. All I can say is that Sony must be offering some major incentives to these smaller studios (one commenter suggests that they may be supplying free authoring services) to get them on the bandwagon. I’d still like to think that HD DVD can get its act together and reclaim some of the momentum that it lost in its disastrous decision to basically sit back and do nothing at the beginning of the year, but I’m beginning to have serious doubts… especially as, for me, the news of support by Tartan and Anchor Bay is worth a thousand 20th Century Foxes.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 2:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Blurry Blu-ray

Blu-ray

My copy of the French Blu-ray release of Paprika arrived today from FNAC. Time didn’t permit me to actually sit down and watch the whole thing, but I have a few preliminary observations to make.

First of all, this disc features no less than nine audio tracks (Japanese PCM, and Japanese, French, English, German, Czech, Italian, Spanish and Polish Dolby Digital) and 24 subtitle tracks. This, combined with the fact that the disc is multi-region and displays an FBI logo if your player’s default language is set to English, strongly suggests that Sony is planning to release the same disc throughout much of the world.

Second, for the first full-length 2D animated HD title I’ve picked up, the transfer is decidedly underwhelming. It’s an MPEG2 encode, and, while compression problems don’t appear to be too apparent based on my viewing of the opening 15 minutes, the image looks rather soft and filtered, lacking the crispness that I would have hoped for from an animated film produced entirely in the digital domain. Like many of the Studio Ghibli releases, it’s also windowboxed, needlessly throwing away several lines of resolution. I’m not sure why this practice seems to be so widespread with anime films, but it’s a very annoying one and I wish the companies wouldn’t do it.

As for the film - let’s just say it hasn’t grabbed me yet. I’m going to sit down with it at some point this weekend and give it my full concentration, but my initial impressions suggest that my various esteemed commenters were right.

Oh yeah, and Sony has announced a few new Blu-ray titles for release in the US on September 25th, including Black Book and the extended cut of Underworld. I’ve already got the German HD DVD release of Underworld, due out on September 3rd, pre-ordered, and that will remain the case, since the early bird catches the worm, but I’m all over Black Book, which, in addition to being an extremely engaging film, looked a little underwhelming in its UK DVD release from Tartan.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 10:13 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Fox, king of lies

Web

Guess it’s full steam ahead for Phase Hydra.

It may have escaped your notice, but a brand new web site geared around marketing Blu-ray, entitled Hollywood In Hi-Def, was recently launched. The idea, presumably, is similar to the HD DVD Promotion Group’s The Look and Sound of Perfect, with the only differences being a URL that’s easier to remember, and the fact that Hollwood In Hi-Def doesn’t make its Blu-ray bias explicit. It’s fairly obvious (the next-to-zero mention of HD DVD and the blue colour scheme are dead giveaways), but it’s underhand tactics like these that cause me to view the Blu-ray camp with a great deal of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong: I know that both sides are, at the end of the day, out to make money by any means necessary, but I always feel that there’s something slightly more honest about the way the HD DVD camp conducts itself.

Nowhere is the Blu-ray Disc Association’s willingness to lie, in spite of how blatantly transparent their porkies are, than in a recent article regarding the lack of titles from 20th Century Fox so far this year. Fox, as you may or may not be aware, haven’t released a single Blu-ray disc since Night at the Museum on April 24th. Recently, however, the forums became abuzz with the news that several new titles had been announced for release in various European countries, including France and Germany. Not so, according to Fox themselves:

There have been reports of Fox releasing on Blu-ray internationally while still on hold in the U.S.

A Fox executive told us and some late-night commenters at High-Def Digest that it isn’t true. Fox has made no Blu-ray announcements in Europe, Asia or the U.S. since its last Blu-ray title, “Night at the Museum,” on April 24.

Quiet!

Oh really?

Is that so?

Wait a minute…

Do Fox seriously think their US customers are so isolated from the rest of the world that they will somehow fail to notice the various sites not only listing the various titles announced for release on the other side of the Atlantic, but also their cover art, technical specs and bonus content? That would appear to be the case, as a comment posted to the article in question, featuring links to announcements for various German releases, was mysteriously deleted as I was typing this entry. Based on the evidence, I’d have to say that Fox really do think we’re as stupid as they are.

Update, July 12th, 2007 08:31 PM: Looks like the links were not deleted after all. By default, the site only displays the four most recent comments.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2007 at 8:07 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Web
 
 

 
 
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