Tarantan films presents…
Today I received my first ever high definition check disc - a review copy of the upcoming UK Blu-ray release of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book from Tartan Films… or “Tarantan Films”, as the label misspells it. I already have the US version from Sony Pictures, due out on September 25th, on pre-order at DVD Pacific, and I intend to keep the order open in order to get the US-exclusive Verhoeven commentary plus other assorted extras, but the UK version, due out a day earlier, on September 24th, is a rather impressive package in terms of image quality, and one that Sony will have to work hard to better (if indeed they don’t just use the same encode).
For a start, Tartan have clearly decided to go the whole hog, delivering the film on a dual-layer BD50 disc with a 1080p AVC encode (no repeats of their early days with the DVD format here). The transfer, which hovers consistently around the 30 Mbit/sec rate, is very impressive, slightly pre-filtered and as a result exhibiting some mild ringing and not quite hitting the heights of, say, Open Season or King Kong in terms of fine detail, but otherwise absolutely magnificent.
For audio, as seems to be Tartan’s custom, the default track is a stereo affair (at 224 Kbps), with Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 Kbps) and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks also included. Unfortunately, neither the Playstation 3 nor any other currently available player can decode the high definition audio content of such tracks, so it falls back on a legacy DTS 1.5 Mbit/sec stream, but to my ears it sounds very good in its own right and constitutes an improvement on its 768 Kbps predecessor from the DVD. I’ll have to do a more in-depth comparison between the two before offering my final verdict, however. Annoyingly, despite the bulk of the film being in Dutch and German, English subtitles are not enabled by default, making a pit-stop at the Setup menu (or a few button presses on the remote control) necessary before beginning the movie.
Tartan have also chosen to approach the presentation of their bonus content in a rather unusual manner, and this is likely to attract some consternation from certain parties. Whereas every other distributor I know either upscales their legacy 480i content or has the player itself switch to standard definition to play it, Tartan have embedded the material in a small window on the Extras menu. While this has the effect of making the quality look better (because it’s smaller, natch), it’s also going to be a bit of a pain in the neck for people with smaller displays. On a 40” screen viewed at fairly close range, it’s not that big a deal, but I wouldn’t like to watch it on my 20” monitor, or even on our older 32” TV.
Expect a full review at DVD Times in the near future. After a fairly lengthy period of what I can only term writer’s block, I’m finally getting back into the sway of penning regular reviews.