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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
 

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
 

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
 

But it’s just cartoons, innit?

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Generally speaking, Japanese animation doesn’t do a whole lot for me, unless it’s by Hayao Miyazaki, and even then I tend to be a bit picky. Back when I was doing my MLitt, however, we had a lecture on anime, during which we were shown Tokyo Godfathers, which, in addition to having an incredibly witty and involving narrative, boasted the most outrageous posing and facial expressions I’ve ever seen outside of Warner Brothers and Spumco - a far cry from the usual static faces with only the mouths opening and closing favoured by anime directors. The director of this film was Satoshi Kon, whose greatest claim to fame appears to be Perfect Blue, described by some as the closest thing in existence to an anime giallo.

Blu-ray

Anyway, his latest film, Paprika, was recently released on Blu-ray in certain territories, including Japan and France. Judging by the trailers and stills that I’ve seen, its animation eschews the flamboyance of Tokyo Godfathers in favour of the more static, conservative look usually associated with anime, but, given the complete and utter dearth of 2D animation on either of the HD formats (barring the three Looney Tunes cartoons included on The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD), I’m willing to take what I can get, and in any event I’m hoping that Paprika demonstrates the same quality of storytelling seen in Tokyo Godfathers. Anyway, I’ve ordered a copy of the French release, which DVDRAMA tells me is region-free and includes English subtitles.

HD DVD

Speaking of 2D high definition animation in France, according to FilmTalk, Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville (or Belleville Rendez-vous, or The Triplets of Belleville, depending on where you are in the world) is to get an HD DVD release (from Warner, presumably, as they released the standard definition version) on October 31st 2007. Given that it is almost completely dialogue-free, English subtitles (or lack thereof) should not be an issue. Needless to say, I’ll definitely be picking this one up too.

 
Posted: Monday, July 09, 2007 at 8:24 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | HD DVD
 

DVD debacle

DVD DVD

Arrivederci Amore, Ciao and my review copy of The Secret of NIMH both arrived this morning. A few quick words on Arrivederci Amore, Ciao before we proceed: I only got the chance to glance at it briefly, but it doesn’t look to be a very good transfer at all. It’s fuzzy, washed out and video-like, and it’s also not progressively flagged. It’ll do until a better English-friendly presentation comes along, but that’s about the kindest thing I can say about it. I highly doubt that the English-unfriendly French release looks this weak.

Anyway, The Secret of NIMH fares somewhat better. Despite the patent lack of serious bonus features in what was supposed to be the 25th anniversary release of this film (after a decent audio commentary and a cursory 15-minute featurette, the only other extras contained in the 2-disc set are crummy kiddie games. Even the accompanying booklet looks more like the sort of menus many restaurants do for pre-schoolers, with a crossword, mazes and join the dots puzzle. Still, the film is ultimately what counts, and I’m happy to say that the transfer improves quite noticeably on the old non-anamorphic UK release. It doesn’t look dazzling, but MGM’s rather conservative restoration (if indeed one was done at all) is still preferable to the overly processed look of Disney titles like Bambi and Peter Pan. Gary Goldman, one of the film’s producers and directing animators, supervised the colour timing for this release, and it shows, because it avoids the garish “pumping” that goes on so often with animated DVD releases these days. The colours look smooth and natural, and will apparently be the first time American viewers will get to experience the film on a home video format in anything approaching its intended timings - previous releases were apparently mangled by incompetent technicians who used Mrs. Brisby’s fur colour as a basis to regrade each scene, without realising that her fur intentionally changed colour depending on the lighting conditions!

But could someone in the know please fill me in on the film’s intended aspect ratio? The DVD includes both 1.33:1 fullscreen and 1.85:1 widescreen versions, and I can’t help thinking that the fullscreen version looks more “right”:

The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH

Below, you can see that a lot of the artwork created for the backgrounds shown during the closing credits is being lost, and the composition to me strongly suggests an intended ratio of 1.33:1:

The Secret of NIMH

The Secret of NIMH

As you can see, the widescreen edition is a fairly straightforward case of cropping the top and bottom of the frame, with a small amount of picture being gained at either side. Now, obviously, as a film released in 1982, it would have to have been projected theatrically in a widescreen ratio - more than likely 1.85:1 for American cinemas, although, as with many Disney titles from the same period, the Internet Movie Database lists an intended ratio of 1.66:1. On their commentary, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman make no mention of which is their preferred presentation, although it may be that they have expressed their opinions in this matter elsewhere. Does anyone know?

In any event, you can expect a full review at DVD Times in the not too distant future, although I would like to reread the novel on which the film was based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, before I get started.

 
Posted: Friday, July 06, 2007 at 9:34 PM
Categories: Animation | Books | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

The return of Captain Whiggles

I’m back, and I’m a whole day older. I have now walked this blighted earth for 24 wholes years and a day (give or take a couple of hours), although, believe it or not, I don’t feel a whole lot different. Actually, since I turned 18 and could legally do pretty much anything I might want to do, my actual age has ceased to be much of a concern for me, to the extent that, when people ask me how old I am, I often actually have to stop and think about it.

Anyway, I had a pretty good day, albeit with a couple of minor monkey-wrenches thrown in. I had a bunch of parcels waiting for me when I got up yesterday morning:

Birthday presents 1

The big box at the back is, as you can probably gather, the Lego Café Corner set I ordered a couple of weeks back. I finally finished putting it together this morning, and, while I can’t exactly claim it to have been a challenge, it took me a decent enough amount of time, and the level of detail present in the finished building is commendably higher than what you get in most of the sets aimed at a younger audience. Now, if only Lego would do something featuring a similar level of detail for a castle or a pirate ship…

DVD

In front of the Lego box, from left to right, we have: The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season and The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, Black Snake Moan on HD DVD, and Crank on Blu-ray. And yes, that hideous Homer head for The Simpsons’ sixth season really is as bad as everyone says. The plastic outer “cover” was dented out of shape when it arrived (unavoidable, given its flimsy construction, and I don’t hold DVD Pacific, the US Postal Service, Royal Mail or anyone else responsible for this - the blame lies solely with 20th Century Fox), and the tray housing the four discs that resides inside the cover is a pain, filled with bits of paper (advertisements, episode booklet) that fall out as soon as you open it. It’s very frustrating that the standard cardboard box was never released to buy in the US, as it was elsewhere, because ordering the replacement is, for someone without a North American postal address, a bit of a challenge. By the way, I’ve taken a look at some of the episodes from both Seasons 6 and 7, and, while there are still some visible DVNR artefacts, they are nothing like as bad as the ones affecting the PAL version.

Blu-ray

Me and Lyris also watched Crank last night. First, the bad news: the film looks like ass. It was shot in 1080p, so ideally this should have been a pixel-to-pixel reproduction of the source materials (barring compression, of course). Unfortunately, someone took it upon themselves to add a tonne of edge enhancement, making the picture look harsh and ugly. Strangely enough, the edge enhancement is is inconsistent, with some scenes (basically those in which the protagonist doesn’t appear) being less affected, and the two of us both came to the conclusion that the filmmakers intentionally decide to over-sharpen the image as a stylistic choice, presumably to make it appear “harsh” and “raw”. Whoever is to blame, though, they should be severely chastised for their decision.

Luckily, it’s an enjoyable film. I hesitate to call it “good”, because, to be honest, it was pretty much a complete load of garbage, but it continually kept us entertained, and was, on several occasions, laugh out loud hilarious. Jason Statham’s hard man shtick gets a little old after a while (I’m still not sure why they got a Brit to play this part), but the characters surrounding him help keep him in check, and Amy Smart plays the greatest blonde ditz I’ve seen in a film since Anna Faris in Lost in Translation: “Don’t talk to him like that! My boyfriend kills people!” Oddly enough, the most similar film I can think of to this is not Speed, as most people seem to suggest, but Run Lola Run. Obviously, it’s less high-brow, but it has the same sort of energy and the same basic plot - if “person runs around the city for 90 minutes” counts as a plot.

Oh, and Black Snake Moan has a really impressive transfer, at least judging by the brief glance I had at the first couple of scenes. Paramount has really come a long way in the last few months.

Birthday presents 2

Anyway, I also went to Braehead Shopping Centre for lunch and shopping. Luckily, I didn’t see any shifty types looking to ram burning vehicles into buildings (Braehead is just down the road from Glasgow Airport), so I was able to make my purchases in peace. I actually ended up buying a hell of a lot more than I intended, not least an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on. You may remember that I bought one earlier this year and ended up selling it on to a friend, because it didn’t meet my needs. Luckily, the situation has now changed. For one thing, Lyris now has an Xbox 360, so we both decided that this would be the perfect moment to dispose of our large, clunky Toshiba HD-A1 player and replace it was something faster and less space-hungry. In addition, HD decryption software has progressed considerably in the last six months, which makes it much easier now to rip discs to my hard drive and take screen captures for review purposes (the add-on connects to either the Xbox 360 or a PC via USB, so it only takes a couple of seconds to plug it into the required device).

I also picked up two HD DVDs and one Blu-ray disc, all of them blind buys: La Haine, Syriana and Layer Cake. I know next to nothing about any of them, but it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, the goons at HMV not only forgot to take the security tabs out of La Haine and Layer Cake, meaning I couldn’t actually open them to get the discs out (most store-bought UK DVD and high definition cases feature a plastic tab which seals it shut and can only be removed using a special machine in the store), the case for La Haine was also quite badly smashed (okay, so it’s partially my fault for not noticing until I got home). Luckily, my dad was able to run me back in to get the tabs removed and the case for La Haine replaced.

I’m not done yet, though! I also bought the soundtracks to Serenity and Cars, and picked up the games Empire Earth II and Quake 4 in a “2 for £15” deal at GAME.

So yeah, all in all a good day was had, although my wallet is no longer speaking to me.

 
Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 3:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

Cover designers take note

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Bad DVD (and VHS, and HD DVD, and Blu-ray, and…) cover art tends to be the exception rather than the norm, so I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to make a post dedicated to a single example of this dubious trend, but I’ve come across a cover so hideous that I felt the need to make an exception to the rule. I’m talking about Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH, recently re-released as a 2-disc “Family Fun Edition” (god, how I hate that term) through 20th Century Fox, who have taken over the home video distribution of most MGM/UA titles. The cover art used for the old non-anamorphic UK release wasn’t exactly out of this world, but at least it was faithful to the tone of the film contained inside the case. By contrast, the open matte US DVD from 1998 received an eye-searingly bad design, and it is this same odious piece of artwork that has made it on to the latest release.

DVD

Take a look at the image opposite. The Secret of NIMH was, on its release in 1982, one of the darkest animated features ever released, along with Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings and Martin Rosen’s Watership Down. It may have come from former Disney animator Don Bluth, and it may have featured talking animals and moments of slapstick humour, but it was an altogether bleaker and more mature animated feature than those raised on Snow White and Cinderella would have been used to. The DVD cover, by contrast, gives the impression that the film is intended for pre-schoolers, with bright colours, big smiles and an abundance of airbrushing. The crow, black in the film, has even been painted blue, presumably because black is a verboten hue in la-la land.

This may all seem trivial, but I really think distributors should take more care to market their output appropriately. Warner did exactly the same thing with Watership Down, going for bright colours and cute bunnies for their cover art, despite the fact that the film features said cut bunnies having their gizzards ripped out in graphic detail. Not wanting to sound like a bleeding-heart “think of the children” crusader, but isn’t there something a bit morally suspect about effectively wrapping a title that is known to have traumatised many young children in a pink ribbon and selling it as if it was babysitting fare along the same lines as the Disney cheapquels? Even this film’s co-producer, Gary Goldman, has got involved in the debate, slating the cover art and decrying the fact that he and Bluth were not consulted by Fox when it came to marketing.

I’ve got a review copy on its way to me from DVD Times, courtesy of our good friends at DVD Pacific, and I’m genuinely curious to see this most unusual film again. I’m just glad I’ve seen it before, because I wouldn’t have given it a second look based on that sickening cover art.

By the way, you should definitely read the article featuring the aforementioned Gary Goldman quotes. It provides a very interesting retrospective on a film that clearly has significantly more of a following than I’d previously realised.

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 6:43 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD
 

Visit my thrift store!

Web

Roll up, roll up for the most exciting auction you’ll see all day! A whole host of high quality DVDs (and some not so high quality) are waiting on eBay for your perusal. Today’s batch is comprised of:

I’ve got a bunch more titles to put online, and I’ll probably do so at the same time tomorrow night. Happy bidding!

 
Posted: Monday, July 02, 2007 at 7:43 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Web
 

Beauteous Blu-ray

Disney/Pixar

High-Def Digest is reporting that Sleeping Beauty is to see the light of day on Blu-ray in 2008, according to a press release from Disney. No specific release date of specifications have been given as of yet, but this is excellent news indeed, because there has been a complete dearth of 2D animation in high definition so far (the three Looney Tunes titles included with The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD being the only high-def cartoons I own). Sleeping Beauty isn’t my favourite Disney feature by a long shot, but I’m going to take what I can get at this stage. Let’s just hope that the likes of Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp and Lilo & Stitch (my personal preferences) aren’t too far off.

 
Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 9:43 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Have some cake

DVD DVD

My birthday is looming on the horizon - just over three weeks away, in fact, and I’ve set about deciding what sort of goodies I want. It’s been quite hard this year: somewhat unusually for me, there were no major purchases that I wanted to make (having already bought my new computer only recently). Eventually, I decided that DVDs never let me down when it comes to birthday fun, so I decided to order Seasons 6 and 7 of The Simpsons from DVD Pacific. Personally, I think that the last truly great season of that show was Season 5, but I was watching some episodes from Seasons 6 through 8 (or thereabouts) on Channel 4 recently, and came to the conclusion that there was still much to enjoy, even if the slide into mediocrity had already started. You may remember that, in 2005, I ended up with a review copy of the viciously mangled UK release of Season 6, which I promptly passed on to the first person that would take it off my hands, but I’m fairly confident that the US version won’t be affected by such heinous vandalism… and if it is, well, at least it won’t be a nasty NTSC to PAL standards conversion.

My only regret is that the Region 1 release of Season 6 is only available in that hideous plastic Homer head variant, with the mail-in replacement scheme for a standard cardboard version not being open to those outside North America (schadenfreudes).

Blu-ray HD DVD

Not letting the high definition side down, I also ordered Crank on Blu-ray and Black Snake Moan on HD DVD. I know next to nothing about either of these films, but surprises can be fun, if they turn out to be pleasant ones, and in any event, Crank sounds like it could be the new Shitty Movie™. If nothing else it should, as a digital-to-digital transfer, serve as useful demo material (we’re getting a bit sick of dragging out Corpse Bride every time).

Lego Café Corner

Oh, and because I like a challenge while I’m whiling away the days (I’ve booked a week’s holiday from work to coincide with my birthday), I decided to also order my first new Lego set since Christmas 2005: the recently released Café Corner. With 2,056 pieces and a recommended age bracket of 16 and over, this should hopefully occupy me for a good few hours while offering something slightly different from my collection of medieval castles and pirate ships. If nothing else, it should offer a bit of fun.

 
Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 8:13 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | TV
 

So it looks better, this high definition thing?

HD DVD

A few routine high definition updates for you, just to make you aware of what’s going on in the land of 1080p. I’ve pre-ordered the upcoming HD DVD of The Bourne Identity, due out on July 24th. As per DVD Times, the standard definition DVD being released at the same time will feature an extended cut, and, while the HD DVD will apparently replicate the bonus content from this release, it’s unclear whether or not it will also feature this longer cut. I’d hazard a guess that it will, although whether this is something to be celebrated or decried depends on whether or not director Doug Liman was involved. Simply put, I’m aware, after the likes of the Gladiator fiasco, many of these extended cuts are merely the result of studio executives demanding that a few minutes be added to the running time in order to justify selling a new copy of the same film.

HD DVD

Universal has also announced a bunch of titles, including the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, for August 28th, while Sony will be releasing Arlington Road on Blu-ray on August 7th (sans commentary, a move that High-Def Digest rather generously refers to as “streamlin[ing]”). Both of these titles are shoe-ins for me - Arlington Road is a cracking if far-fetched thriller, and the Dawn of the Dead remake, while a pale shadow of the original, has a number of things going for it, in particularly the ever-impressive Sarah Polley and an appropriate dose of black humour. It should also be good HD demo material, if that makes any difference… as will Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, making its debut on Blu-ray on the same day as Arlington Road. I won’t, however, be picking up this particular title - the BD could look like a million bucks and I still wouldn’t have any desire to subject myself to that tedious dry-heave of a movie again.

David Fincher’s Zodiac, meanwhile, is coming to both formats on September 18th, a couple of months after their standard definition counterpart’s street date of July 24th. Lyris, who saw it at the cinema last week, came back raving about it, and I’m certainly game for anything from David Fincher. Speaking of which, I haven’t seen Fight Club yet. How about it, Fox? That’s if you eventually get off your asses and release anything in HD.

 
Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007 at 10:18 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

A buena, but empty, vista

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

In what is rapidly becoming a predictable trend for Blu-ray, yet another batch of the many titles promises at CES earlier this year has been postponed, with no new release dates given. This time round, the victims are a raft of Disney titles originally scheduled for June 5th: Cars, The Rock, Con Air and Crimson Tide. Looks like the only thing that will be crimson next month, therefore, is my face (crimson with anger, that is): Cars (or, indeed, the promise of any Pixar film in high definition) was one of my main reasons for buying a Playstation 3 in the first place, while Criterion’s release of The Rock is one of the finest standard definition DVDs ever created, so I was understandably eager to see how it would fare in HD.

Now, obviously, Disney are claiming that these are postponements rather than outright cancellations, but that really doesn’t tell us anything. After all, we’re still waiting for all those Fox/MGM titles that were yanked from the schedule after being announced at CES, aren’t we? Come to think of it, how many of the titles announced for Blu-ray at that particular show have been released? Didn’t I predict this a few months ago?

 
Posted: Monday, May 07, 2007 at 10:07 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of April

  • Casino Royale (R0 Finland, Blu-ray)
  • Dragon’s Lair (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Game (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • King Arthur (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 (R1 USA, DVD)
  • A Scanner Darkly (R0 USA, HD DVD)

Somewhat slim pickings this month, and I note that the decline in my purchasing of standard definition titles continues, with only one actual DVD being bought. I wasn’t sure whether or not to include Dragon’s Lair, as it’s technically a game rather than a film, but I suppose it’s a borderline case, and, given the mechanics of how it operates and the inclusion of DVD-style bonus content, it ultimately makes the grade.

 
Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:14 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | HD DVD
 

Blu-ray review: Dragon’s Lair

Blu-ray
How much you get out of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray will unsurprisingly depend on how fond your memories are of the arcade original. This is undeniably the best it has ever looked (although pointless “restoration” techniques incompetently applied prevent it from reaching its full potential), and the bonus features are uniformly excellent. However, I personally struggle to find a single kind word to say about the game itself, while there is no guarantee that the disc will work correctly or at all if you do not own one of the small number of players on which it was tested prior to release, thanks to the blasé attitude of the Blu-ray Disc Association regarding the format’s interactive functionality. Caveat emptor, as the saying goes.

For DVD Times’ first ever review of interactive HD content, I dig up some 80s nostalgia for a review of the Blu-ray adaptation of the popular arcade hit Dragon’s Lair.

 
Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2007 at 6:01 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Games | Reviews
 

Chasing the dragon

Blu-ray

I’m well aware that a deliciously derisive review of the monumental suckfest that is Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray should have been forthcoming by now, and I really hope to get it done before the weekend, but the fact is that I’ve been feeling a little down in the dumps since Friday with a rather bad cold. The thing laid me low to the extent that I actually called in sick on Monday and Tuesday (not that I minded not having to go into that sweltering office and sit in front of a flickery monitor), and I’m still feeling a bit zapped of energy and motivation. I’ll give the thing one more try before putting pen to paper, but I have to honestly say that this is going to be one of those rare 1/10 reviews. It’s a failure as a game and an even bigger failure if you try to class it as a movie, so I’m not sure there’s anything nice I can say about it at all. Sometimes genuinely scathing reviews can be fun to write, but in this case, I suspect that it’s going to be little more than a chore.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 9:56 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Games | Reviews
 

A double dose of underwhelming HD

HD DVD

My copy of The Game on HD DVD arrived from Amazon.com this morning. Just yesterday, I read Peter M. “I can’t tell the difference between standard definition and high definition” Bracke’s review of it, and was a little alarmed to discover that he had awarded the transfer a 4/10 rating. Given that he gave the 480i upconverted Traffic an 8/10, I was beginning to panic. Thankfully, The Game doesn’t look that bad, which just serves to underscore the fact that these incompetent reviewers are essentially dishing out numerical ratings at random. The Game looks rather diffuse, and is certainly not what I’d call the best example of what the HD formats are capable of, but it’s watchable enough and looks largely natural, with the occasional impressive moment of detail. I’m going to have to give it a more thorough going-over before awarding a rating of my own, but so far my diagnosis would be “definitely above average”.

Blu-ray

I also received a review copy of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray - something which Dave over at DVD Times asked me if I’d be interested in covering the other day. For those who don’t know, Dragon’s Lair is an arcade game released in 1983, featuring cel animation supervised by Don Bluth, whose greatest claim to fame is staging a mass walk-out of the Walt Disney studio in 1979, due to a growing belief that Disney had lost sense of its very essence. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Bluth and co produced a series of saccharine and badly-written animated talking animal movies, including The Secret of N.I.M.H., An American Tail and The Land Before Time. He hasn’t managed to get anything off the ground since 2000’s horrendous Titan A.E., and, for some reason, Dragon’s Lair remains one of his most popular efforts.

I can’t think why, though. The animation has that naff 80s look, and the whole thing is let down by rubbish game design. It’s basically built around a process of trial and error: wait for the game to become interactive, and then guess which of the five buttons you need to press in order to get to the next area; memorise and repeat ad nauseam. On the Blu-ray version, this becomes even worse as, when you fail a certain section, instead of being made to repeat it, you are simply moved on to the next area. This not only makes the game more or less pointless, it also renders it completely incomprehensible as the whole thing essentially becomes a series of brief clips of animation that fail to link together in anything approaching a coherent manner.

What’s worse, during development of the Blu-ray version, the programmers apparently didn’t have access to the BD-Java specification (see this article), meaning that compatability problems are rife. One user failed to get it to work at all on his Philips player, while it has been confirmed that the only devices on which this release was actually tested are the Samsung BD-P1000, Panasonic DMP-BD10, Sony BDP-S1 and the PlayStation 3, in addition to PowerDVD BD for Windows. If my experience with the PS3 version constitutes an accurate representation of how the game was intended to be played, then I shudder to think what it would be like when it was playing incorrectly. Small wonder the manual accompanying the disc carries the following disclaimer:

Although Digital Leisure Inc. believes this program performs the functions described in this guide, the program is provided ‘as is’ without performance warranties of any kind, either expressed or implied, including but not limited, [sic] the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The entire risk as to the quality and performance of this program is with you.

Translation: it might not work, so don’t come crying to us if this is the case. Even the menus don’t work properly - the background artwork flashes up for a fraction of a second and then disappears - while the diamond icon that the manual claims will pop up when you are supposed to issue a command doesn’t actually appear (at least not on the Playstation 3).

Dragon’s Lair is a charmless, shambolic mess of a game. I can only hope that the arcade original was somewhat better, and that the total shoddiness of the gameplay is due to the buggy implementation of the game on Blu-ray. According to an interview with the programmer responsible for porting it over, he basically had to bend over backwards due to the rough state of the development tools and lack of access to the source code, so I suppose it’s a wonder it works at all. Regardless of whose “fault” it is, though, the fact remains that it’s a completely unplayable mess and one that I’m glad I didn’t pay for.

Oh, and if you want some thoughts on the shoddy digital “restoration” performed on it by dunderhead technicians who haven’t got a clue how to use the tools at their disposal, check out Lyris’ post on the matter.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 6:47 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: A Scanner Darkly

HD DVD
A solid presentation of an extremely flawed film, this HD DVD release of A Scanner Darkly should please those who enjoyed the film. While this is not a title that shows off the prowess of high definition to any great extent, it is an undeniable improvement on the standard definition release and, if nothing else, a curious novelty in that it is one of only a tiny number of animated (or, in this case, quasi-animated) titles to be available in HD.

A revolutionary technique or just a gimmick? I ponder Richard Linklater’s curious live action/animation hybrid A Scanner Darkly, released on a solid HD DVD by Warner. Review courtesy of DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 4:02 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

The latest HD image quality rankings

HD DVD/Blu-ray

It’s been well over a month since I last posted by list of image quality grades for high definition titles, so I thought it would make sense to do it just now, while there seems to be something of a lull in other news worth posting.

Note that I’ve made a slight change to the rankings. From now on, if a title is available on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and is known to have an identical encode, it will be listed under both. Broadly speaking, the same encodes have been used in every country of release, provided the same company owns the rights, but this is not always the case (for example with Casino Royale, where different edits necessitate different masters for different territories, or Serenity, where the UK release features a slightly more detailed transfer than its US counterpart).

10/10

  • Corpse Bride (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • Casino Royale (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Serenity (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • Serenity (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • The Descent (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)

9/10

  • King Kong (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • Babel (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Looney Tunes: Rabbit Hood (Warner, USA, HD DVD)*
  • Children of Men (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • A Scanner Darkly (Universal, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
  • Miami Vice (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Casablanca (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK, HD DVD/Blu-ray)

8/10

  • Silent Hill (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Constantine (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Devil’s Rejects (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Unleashed (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Red Dragon (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Looney Tunes: Robin Hood Daffy (Warner, USA, HD DVD)*
  • Land of the Dead (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • V for Vendetta (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan, HD DVD)
  • Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • Flightplan (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Batman Begins (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • Van Helsing (Universal, UK, HD DVD)

7/10

  • Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Tears of the Sun (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Mummy Returns (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA, HD DVD)

6/10

  • Chicago (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Enemy of the State (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, Germany, HD DVD)
  • Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • Hostel (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Troy (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD)

5/10

  • District B13 (Magnolia, USA, Blu-ray)

4/10

  • American Psycho (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)

* Found on the The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD.

 
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2007 at 2:51 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

So, this film’s about imaginary cockroaches, huh?

HD DVD

This evening, I made my way through A Scanner Darkly in its entirety, and, while I found that it picked up slightly in its second half, and sported a handful of smile-inducing lines of dialogue, I ultimately wouldn’t rate the whole experience too highly. I’ve found this on numerous occasions with movies about drug addiction - particularly Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a film that manages to entertain and irritate me in equal measure - and I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is one of those “you had to be there” phenomena. I’ve never imbibed a single narcotic in my life, and I’m sorry to say that, although I take my job as a reviewer seriously, becoming a drug addict to get a better insight into the logic behind this film would be going above and beyond the call of duty. (Not that I’m saying that everyone who enjoys the film must be a drug addict.) Watching A Scanner Darkly, I felt incredibly distanced from the whole affair, and I suspect that this had as much to do with the subject matter as the visual styling, which, I’m sorry to say, I found clumsy and distracting throughout.

Incidentally, I was shocked to discover that, rather than simply running the footage he shot through a filter, Linklater actually had a team of artists go through every single frame and trace them by hand. The people - I’ll call them clean-up artists rather than animators, because that’s essentially the function they performed - responsible for this task clearly had no small amount of skill, not to mention patience, but I can’t help thinking that this was wasted on a project that could easily have been automated. By the way, the included documentary dedicated to exploring the process reveals that very few of the artists had had any direct animation experience prior to working on the film. To tell you the truth, it shows, although I would probably have been even more horrified if Linklater had actually squandered the talents of real animators on this cute but ultimately pointless exercise.

Oh, and if you’re going to create animation by tracing over live action actors, please, please, please use someone more expressive than Keanu Reeves as your source.

 
Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007 at 11:24 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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