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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 14: First Date

DVD

Written by Jane Espenson; Directed by David Grossman

The first time I saw this episode was when it aired on BBC2. Back then, I was suffering from a bad case of food poisoning, or some sort of infection, and I ended up falling asleep half-way through it. Watching it again for the first time today, it looks like I didn’t miss much.

This episode begins the character assassination of Giles. Specifically, his treatment of the Chinese slayer Chao-An, which is so ignorant that it borders on racism and is completely out of character for someone who is supposed to be a well-travelled and intelligent person with a solid grasp of at least six languages. Not that Cantonese is necessarily one of these languages, but his “You - new - here, you - no - speak - English” (okay, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s about the level of it) routine is insulting. Once again they sacrifice character for a one-shot joke.

Otherwise, this episode is as throwaway as they come. Xander goes out on a date with a girl… who turns out to be a demon! How unusual! That’s never happened to him before! If this is what passes for character development I’m not surprised Nicholas Brendon said he only stayed on the show because he needed the money. Worse still, the demon in question is played by some pop star called Ashanti, who can’t act to save her life.

Also, I’ve said it before, why in the hell is the murderer Andrew allowed to live in Buffy’s house and not be held accountable for his actions? Then again, I suppose he’s right at home with Willow, Spike and Anya.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: Get it Done.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2006 at 2:07 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 13: The Killer in Me

DVD

Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by David Solomon

In this episode, Willow turns into Warren after kissing Kennedy, because… I don’t know, something about her feeling guilty about flaying him. Oh no, wait, Amy did it because… I don’t know, I stopped caring when Willow started getting it on with the first lesbian who crossed her path. Have these writers got no respect for the integrity of their characters?

Normally I quite like these body-switch episodes. Who Are You?, for example, was brilliant, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku playing each other with considerable accuracy. This time round, though, it doesn’t work, because Adam Busch makes no attempt to adopt any of Alyson Hannigan’s mannerisms. He simply plays it as Warren, and as a result it just seems incredibly hokey.

Additionally, Spike’s chip stops working and Buffy has to seek out the Initiative to sort things out. I’m not sure why it begins malfunctioning - presumably so Buffy can ask for it to be removed and further drive a wedge between her and Giles, because the plot requires that he disapprove. Again, not sure why. Oh, and we also get a thoroughly anticlimactic end to the “Is Giles the First?” puzzle. Turns out that he isn’t - he just wasn’t touching anything or anyone because… sorry, again, can’t answer that.

Overall rating: 2/10.

Next time: First Date.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 7:27 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 12: Potential

DVD

Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by James A. Contner

This is going to be a really short review, because there’s nothing remotely entertaining going on here. The show is just treading water. Buffy spends the whole episode making lame speeches! Andrew’s being annoying again! Dawn’s getting ignored by everyone again - how Season 6 of them! And we have a turgid story about Dawn thinking she’s a Potential, only it turns out the Potential is actually someone else from her class. I guess that’s the potential “Dawn the Vampire Slayer” spin-off dead and buried.

Oh yeah, and Buffy claims the Slayer line runs through her. As I pointed out in my review of the previous episode, it doesn’t. Just saying that it does multiple times doesn’t change what’s already been established.

Overall rating: 3/10.

Next time: The Killer in Me.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 5:50 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 11: Showtime

DVD

Written by David Fury; Directed by Michael Grossman

Another generic and almost completely forgettable episode. More annoying Potentials show up, more whinging from all on sundry, more speeches from General Buffy… And Giles and Anya visit a demon named Beljoxa’s Eye, who says the First Evil has been given the chance to put its plan into action because the line of the Chosen (i.e. the Slayers) has been altered, apparently as a result of Buffy’s resurrection. Um, yes, but it’s been shown already that the line no longer goes through Buffy but through Faith. If it had continued to go through Buffy after her first death at the end of Season 1, Kendra wouldn’t have been called in Season 2, and therefore neither would Faith in Season 3. The fact that a new Slayer wasn’t called when Buffy died at the end of Season 5 only compounds this. Therefore, the writers are once again ignoring their own canon simply so they can make the plot do what they want it to. If the change in the line of the Chosen was what the First Evil needed, it would have sets its plan into action at the end of Season 1 - but, of course, it didn’t.

Theoretically, it would be entirely possible to ignore errors like this, in much the same way that it was possible to ignore The Gift’s many instances of twisting the canon, but the fact that Season 7’s plot is so fundamentally uninteresting makes it difficult to simply gloss over this sort of thing. Note to writers: if you want to make your show all about the plot at the expense of character development, you’d better have an airtight plot. But no, instead we get the first of General Buffy’s many stupid ideas: last week, she fought the Ubervamp and it not only beat her but gave her a thoroughly good hammering. So this week, her grand plan is to… fight it again? What’s changed? Nothing more than the venue. She sends everyone to a construction yard where she faces the Ubervamp in an arena-style showdown - but what precisely is it that allows her to beat it this time, when she’s already injured, that she didn’t have last week at full health? Oh, she has an audience and a cool location for a fight. But she doesn’t have any advantage. She simply beats it because that’s what the script calls for. Someone really didn’t think this through.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Potential.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 4:59 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 10: Bring on the Night

DVD

Written by Marti Noxon and Douglas Petrie; Directed by David Grossman

Today, Giles shows up with a trio of girls in tow - Potentials, i.e. girls who could potentially be called as Slayers when the current one dies (and exactly who is the current Slayer is a matter that will be debated in a subsequent review). They’re incredibly annoying, and none more so than the pair with the most hideous Cockney accents known to mankind. I don’t get why, in what the writers must have, by this time, known was the final season, they decided to bring in a whole roster of new characters and give them more screen-time than the original characters.

One of these Potentials is a brash Hispanic lesbian called Kennedy. Her appearance signals that (a) the writers had abandoned any thought of trying to get Tara back, and (b) they’d decided that yes, Willow going to remain a lesbian. Back during the break between Seasons 6 and 7, Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon actually had meetings to discuss whether or not Willow would “stay gay”. (I’ve seen a made-for-TV documentary, seemingly recorded early during the production of Season 7, in which Noxon described Willow’s relationship with Tara as “college experimentation”!) Unfortunately, Kennedy is an absolutely awful addition to the cast, and it’s not even remotely plausible that Willow would be attracted to this type of person. The addition of this character was, clearly, an attempt by the writers to regain some of the “lesbo street cred” (to quote Tough Love) that they’d lost over the Tara debacle: “Oh, so you guys like lesbians, do you? Well, we’ll give you a new lesbian and Willow can have a steamy lesbian romance with her!” Way to miss the point, again. She’s there only so they can look a little better - a token gay relationship that isn’t going to end in death and destruction (although I’ve read some hilarious fanfics in which Kennedy is killed in a variety of gruesome ways). In all fairness, I feel sorry for the actress, Iyari Limon: she tries very hard, but this is not a gig I would have wished on anybody. But, ultimately, she and Alyson Hannigan have absolutely no chemistry together and their scenes together are uncomfortable in the extreme. The fan-written continuation of the series, The Chosen, actually performs the seemingly impossible task of making this character likeable, to the extent that, when she left at the end of the virtual Season 8, I was genuinely disappointed, but, ignoring fanfic and concentrating only on what exists on the screen, she’s a dead loss.

This episode also begins the “Is Giles the First?” subplot, a pointless little mislead that serves no actual purpose and is completely unbelievable. Basically, the idea is that Giles touches nothing and no-one touches him, which is intended to make the audience suspect that Giles is in fact dead and that the First has assumed his guise. The problem with this is that, like so much of Season 7, it makes no sense. Last time Giles showed up in Sunnydale, Buffy and Anya were all over him, which makes the extremely cold, non-touchy-feely manner in which everyone behaves when he appears at the door extremely strange. Ditto with the fact that, when Buffy falls into a hole, Giles doesn’t stop to help her out - he just kind of stands there. This is never explained and is a perfect example of the writers’ willingness to sacrifice character to service a pointless subplot.

Oh yeah, and why does the First have Spike tortured by holding his head underwater? Vampires don’t need to breathe, remember? Come to think of it, why is the First torturing Spike anyway? Because he didn’t do its bidding? I’d have thought it would have better things to do - like deal with all the Potentials showing up in Sunnydale.

Still, it’s not all hopeless. It’s good to see Drusilla again (the First assumes her form), and written considerably better than she was in Crush. Ditto with Joyce, who shows up in Buffy’s dreams.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Showtime.

 
Posted: Saturday, October 07, 2006 at 12:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 9: Never Leave Me

DVD

Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by David Solomon

Sorry these reviews have been so sporadic. It’s just so hard to get myself motivated to watch these episodes - there’s literally nothing compelling me to go from one to the other. At least Season 6 had a train-wreck quality to it, where I found myself eagerly ploughing through the episodes to see what new low the writers would sink to each week. Here, it’s all just… meh. It’s competently shot, but it’s generic, and there’s nothing happening on the screen to justify my time. We’ve seen it all before: Spike’s dangerous, he keeps being triggered by the First so they have to keep him chained up in the basement; Andrew is annoying and whiny; Xander, Willow, Dawn and Anya serve as set decoration. And what’s up with Wood secretly burying Jonathan’s body? My memory is hazy, but I don’t recollect this ever being explained.

And it gets worse. The very next episode introduces the horror of… the Potentials.

Overall rating: 4/10.

Next time: Bring on the Night.

 
Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006 at 11:54 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Spread the hate

DVD

What is it about Disney and reviews that brings the slavering fanboys out of the woodwork? First I was attacked by “Jens” for my less than favourable review of the direct to video nightmare Mulan II, and again for a throwaway comment in my review of Bambi pertaining to the preview for its own shoddy-looking cheapquel. Now it’s happening again, this time because I’ve had the audacity to suggest that the transfer for the new Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid is not as good as it could have been.

According to the poster by the name of “Dingbats”,

If you want to see reasoned comments from people who actually care about this movie you ought to go to www.ultimatedisney.com and ignore this biased reviewer who clearly hasn’t got a clue what he is talking about, and seems only able to make sounds from his rectum.

Well, it’s good to know that my reviews are so appreciated. You know, when it comes to video-related matters, if people could just say “Well, I don’t see the problems you’re referring to,” it wouldn’t be half as bad, but the fact that some people actually feel the need to tell me I’m wrong and don’t know what I’m talking about really irks me. Do they think my eyesight is defective and adding artefacts that aren’t actually there? No, many of them are just too blindly loyal to Disney to believe that the studio could possibly be in the wrong. What’s even more annoying is the assertion that, because I criticised the transfer, I don’t “care about this movie”. If anything, the opposite is true: I’m voicing my concerns precisely because I think the film deserves better. Read the whole review, moron.

Luckily, people in the know like Home Theater Forum reviewer David Boulet and film restoration expert Robert A. Harris concur with my opinions, which is not particularly surprising to me, but is certainly nice, as it means I’m not the lone voice of dissent. By all means go and read the Ultimate Disney review if you want a sycophantic love letter to Disney written by someone who praised the likes of the grubby, non-anamorphic The Black Cauldron and Hercules releases. But, without getting too full of myself, I like to think that I’m offering a somewhat more objective service.

 
Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006 at 6:12 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

EIV not supporting HD DVD

HD DVD

Back in September, I reported, based on the pre-order catalogue at Play.com, that British DVD distributor Entertainment In Video was planning to release a number of HD DVD titles, among them films owned by studios that are currently Bu-ray supporters, including Saw, Basic Instinct 2 and Gangs of New York. Thoroughly disappointed by the standard definition release of the latter, I pre-ordered the HD DVD, with the expectation that it would be my first European high definition purchase.

Unfortunately, I must now report that I have it on good authority that Entertainment In Video are, for the present time at least, a Blu-ray exclusive studio. This comes direct from EIV themselves, which means that, for the time being, these titles are not going to be available in HD DVD. Of course, that doesn’t mean they won’t be released at a later date, if and when EIV’s Blu-ray sales are disappointing or they see the sense in supporting both formats, but it’s incredibly disappointing news nonetheless. I’d recommend contacting EIV and letting them know what you think, but unfortunately they are extremely difficult to get a hold of. They don’t even have a web site, for crying out loud!

 
Posted: Friday, October 06, 2006 at 12:58 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series

DVD
Darkplace will, I suspect, be something of an acquired taste. An appreciation of its attention to detail and a proper understanding of its comedy requires some familiarity with the material being lampooned, while many are likely to be put off by the fact that it is essentially the same joke repeated over and over again. However, those who grew up on 1980s horror and sci-fi, much of it bad, should get a real kick out of Darkplace. It is in my opinion one of the funniest comedies of the last decade, and the fact that part of me knows that, had it really aired in the 80s, I would almost certainly have tuned in religiously, is proof that it operates on some level beyond simply making fun of its source material.

Finally getting the DVD release that fans have been clamouring for since it originally aired in 2004, I’ve reviewed Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series, presenting all six episodes of the horror/sci-fi spoof on a single disc with numerous extras. Darkplace is released on October 16th 2006.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 12:03 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 8: Sleeper

DVD

Written by David Fury & Jane Espenson; Directed by Alan J. Levi

Spike has started walking around without his shirt on again. One can only assume that Marti Noxon has returned from maternity leave, presumably to take control of the show. Thing is, I liked it better when no-one was in charge, earlier on in the season. (And I truly believe that no-one was in charge. Joss Whedon was busy with Firefly, Noxon was squeezing out a brat, David Fury was - by his own admission - spending more time on Angel, and neither Douglas Petrie or Jane Espenson strike me as having being significantly invested in the show to have taken over showrunning duties. Rather, they strike me as having been writers for hire who were, by this stage, just intent on getting the job done.) It was directionless, sure, but at least it was largely fun and occasionally meaningful. Now, with Captain Marti steering the ship, it remains directionless, but becomes completely boring.

Anyway, nothing much happens in this episode, except Buffy tries to find out whether or not Spike is killing humans again. Yawn. The highlight of the episode is that they managed to get one of my favourite musicians, Aimee Mann, to guest star at the Bronze, where she mimes two songs from (at the time) her most recent album, Lost in Space… although her line as she exits, “Man, I hate playing vampire towns,” is one of those odd “breaking the fourth wall” moments that really doesn’t sit well with me.

Overall rating: 5/10.

Next time: Never Leave Me.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006 at 11:37 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 7: Conversations with Dead People

DVD

Written by Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon (uncredited) & Joss Whedon (uncredited); Directed by Nick Marck

This is the closest Season 7 gets to an episode that is a genuine masterpiece, and the reason for that is that it is one of the few that attempts to do anything approaching an intelligent look at the issues raised in Season 6 and the themes of Season 7. Chiefly, we get to hear Buffy admitting what we’ve all known for a long time: that she has a superiority complex and thinks she’s better than her friends. The episode also manages to be genuinely unsettling in its depiction of the poltergeist that invades the Summers house and attacks Dawn, while the central concept of the episode - none of the main characters come into contact with each other (in fact, Xander and Anya aren’t even in it, making this the one episode out of the entire run of 144 that Nicholas Brendon missed) - is pretty nifty.

Still, there are some major problems. As good as the aforementioned poltergeist material is, it makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. Originally, I thought it was either the First preventing Joyce’s spirit from contacting Dawn, or indeed that the vision of Joyce was the first. Either way, her line to Dawn, “When it’s bad, Buffy won’t choose you. She’ll be against you,” is never followed up on. If it’s Joyce genuinely trying to warn Dawn, then it’s nonsensical enough, but if it’s actually the First, then the attacks make even less sense, since it is established that the First is incorporeal and can’t affect anything physically, which means that it would be impossible for it to smash up the house and give Dawn a thrashing.

The other big problem is the Willow material. I’ve seen the original script, and the plan was for Willow to be visited by what first appears to be the ghost of Tara, but eventually reveals itself to be the First, after failing to convince Willow to slash her own wrists. In the episode as it airs, Willow is visited by the First in the guise of Cassie (the girl from Help). Unfortunately, this makes little sense, as Willow never even met Cassie. And, if the First can appear in the guise of (and I quote) “any dead person it wants”, including Buffy (who has, after all, been dead twice), Spike and Drusilla (who are, after all, technically dead), the Mayor, Glory and so on, who not Tara?

There is of course a completely straightforward answer: Amber Benson flatly refused to have anything to do with an episode that would cause even more heartache to a community of fans already extremely uset by her character’s death. And this, more than anything, is perhaps the biggest scandal of Season 7. When the season ended, Joss Whedon, confronted in an interview with IGN about various problems with the season, came up with a grand story about how his original plan was that Tara was eventually going to be resurrected and return to Willow and everyone would be all smiles and he cried every time he pitched the story because it was so heartwarming… but then that horrible Amber Benson refused to do it. As it happens, though, Amber tells a completely different story, saying that Whedon never once mentioned a happy ending to her, and that she was under the impression that he wanted to appear as the First and only as the First, something that she wasn’t prepared to do to her fans. (And I can’t say I’m surprised. She of all the cast and crew members seemed to be the one who most “got” the social significance of the role she played - although, given that at least one lesbian viewer told her that she didn’t commit suicide “because of Willow and Tara”, it would take a very dim person not to get it.)

Here the vindictiveness of Whedon really comes out, as he did his absolute best to make her out to be the bad guy, pulling his usual “tortured artist” schtick, when, as has been pointed out numerous times, if he hadn’t made the decision to kill off Tara in the first place, the whole sorry situation could have been avoided. He behaved in a similar way with Charisma Carpenter on Angel, deciding not to renew her contract after she got pregnant and therefore required his precious artistic vision for the fourth season to be altered (although, given that they seemed to be making that season up as they went along, I suspect that he was once again looking for someone other than himself to blame for its shortcomings). Then again, it’s always someone else’s fault with this guy: apparently Alien: Resurrection’s problems are Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fault, the Buffy movie sucked because of Donald Sutherland, and so on and so forth.

Am I rambling? Sorry.

Oh yeah, and one other thing I forgot: Andrew kills Jonathan in this episode. That’s right, murders him in cold blood. And yet somehow, despite knowing this, Buffy and co are more than happy to let him hang about in their house for the rest of the season.

Overall rating: 8/10.

Next time: Sleeper.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 at 2:48 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 6: Him

DVD

Written by Drew Z. Greenberg; Directed by Michael Gershman

What’s the biggest problem with Season 7? (Apart from it generally being boring and lifeless, that is.) Continuity. This episode is fun in a ridiculously cheesy throwaway manner, but it seems to exist in its own reality because, outside of a brief moment near the start that acknowledges what’s been going on in Anya’s life, the characters act as if the events of previous episodes never took place. Anya, who was utterly depressed at the end of Selfless, is back to her cheery Season 4-5 self; Willow, who, less than six months ago, was standing with the love of her life’s blood splattered all over her, is busy falling head over heels for a generic high school jock and contemplating casting a spell to rid herself of the slight inconvenience of him having a penis (I don’t care that he’s wearing an enchanted jacket that makes all women crazy about him - Willow would never do this!); and Spike - Spike - is busy moving in with Xander. You know, the same Spike who Xander wanted to kill after he boned Anya and tried to rape Buffy? Well, apparently not, because in this episode the two behave pretty much like old pals who’ve had a minor tiff in the past. Perhaps, though, this is Drew Greenberg’s niche: stupid, throwaway episodes that have nothing to do with the main story arc and can be syndicated out of their original production order. To be honest, I suspect that this is the sort of material we would have seen with the aborted Buffy animated series. Who knows? Perhaps the episode was even written for it. That said, as mediocre as it is, it’s certainly considerably better than anything else he ever wrote for the show, although I’m still not ready to forgive him for Older and Far Away or The Killer in Me (review for that particular travesty forthcoming).

This is, by the way, the last filler episode before the main Seasonal Arc of Morbidity kicks into gear, so you might at well savour it. It’s more or less all doom and gloom from here.

Overall rating: 6/10.

Next time: Conversations with Dead People.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 at 1:41 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Reviews | TV
 

Fear and Loathing of the State

DVD

The extended edition of Enemy of the State (R1 USA) and the recently-released HD DVD version of Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (R0 USA) both arrived today from DVD Pacific. I’ve given Enemy of the State the once-over, and my report will, for now, be brief. Basically, it contains the same extras as the R2 UK release I already own - nothing more, nothing less. The transfer, meanwhile, features considerably less obtrusive edge enhancement than its British counterpart, but on the downside looks abnormally soft. Additionally, it strikes me as having much weaker colours than the R2, although I’ll have to do a side by side comparison to make sure. Either way, I’m curious to see the extended cut, but the new transfer doesn’t exactly set the world on fire.

HD DVD

On to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where I’m happy to report that things are better all round.

We all know how weak Criterion’s transfer of the film was, right? Actually, we probably don’t, because practically every review I’ve ever read of that release gave it a 10/10 (or equivalent) for image quality.

(On a side note, isn’t it amazing how a company’s own self-publicity can convince the public that said company is providing a better service than it actually is? The number of reviews I’ve read where writers praise Criterion to the heavens is just astounding, when in fact the discs they’re praising are so mediocre that they’re clearly not in a position to distinguish in the first place between a good disc and a great one! I actually bought into it myself for a long time, on the basis of a couple of stellar titles and a couple of not so stellar ones, whereby I believed the hype and assumed that the not so stellar ones were just blips. As it turns out, the reverse is closer to the truth: the stellar transfers are the ones that are the blips. In the end, as it happens, the average Criterion release is no better in terms of image quality than one from any other studio. I still thank them every day for spearheading the movement to present films in their original aspect ratios, and for creating the first LaserDiscs with bonus features, and for brilliant-looking discs like The Rock and Naked Lunch, but nowadays I’m convinced that the praise of their DVDs is a prestige thing rather than something grounded in reality.)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Anyway, the Criterion DVD looked abnormally poor, as did Universal’s version. Luckily, though, they’ve now been superceded by an HD DVD release which, while being rather bare-bones in comparison with Criterion’s stacked 2-disc release, and while not featuring a “perfect” HD DVD transfer like Serenity and Unleashed, is so much better than what preceded it that it’s literally like watching a different film.

Taken from a film element (presumably the 35mm interpositive also used for the Criterion and Universal standard definition releases, judging by the identical print damage), the first thing that leaps out is the monumental increase in clarity. The opening drive through the desert looks fresh and new, lacking the hazy, foggy appearance of the DVDs and literally coming alive in terms of film grain. The close-ups are eye-popping - for example, I never noticed Johnny Depp’s character’s clumsy shaving job before. Naturally, the increase in clarity continues to be evident throughout the film, although this is more evident in some scenes than others. The dark, low contrast sequences in the hotel, for example, unsurprisingly look slightly less defined than those taking place in the stark sunlight of the desert. The transfer is also pleasingly free of tampering, although, like Red Dragon, it also exhibits a degree of horizontal edge enhancement.

This is overall a mid to high 8/10. It’s fairly near the bottom of the heap as far as Universal’s HD DVD transfers go, but that’s no small achievement given how uniformally excellent they’ve been so far. For comparison, I’d put it on around the same level as Warner’s Constantine, which also suffered from slight edge enhancement.

 
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2006 at 5:09 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Films I want on HD DVD

HD DVD

Just for laughs, I thought I’d compile a list of movies that I’d dearly love to see released on HD DVD, either because the current standard definition release is particularly poor, or because the film is particularly visually stunning and could especially benefit from the increased resolution, or just because I love the film in question. I’ve also listed the relative probability of each title seeing the light of day on my high definition format of choice.

  • Amelie. Owned by Miramax (Disney) in the US. Disney are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. In the UK, the rights are owned by Momentum, a division of Studio Canal, who have committed to HD DVD in Europe. Likely.
  • American Beauty. Owned by DreamWorks, whose titles will from now on be distributed by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Likely.
  • American Psycho. Owned by Lions Gate, who so far have released titles for Blu-ray. This particular title was announced for an October 17th release, but was recently delayed until “early 2007”, apparently because Lions Gate are switching to VC1 as their codec of choice. Nothing has been publicly announced yet, but it is generally acknowledged that Lions Gate are preparing to go dual-format, so are likely to support HD DVD before the end of 2006, and intend to release all their Blu-ray titles on HD DVD as well. In the UK, the film is owned by Entertainment In Video, who, judging by the pre-orders at Play.com, intend to support both formats. Possibility.
  • An American Werewolf in London. Owned by Universal, who are HD DVD exclusive. It has been announced as an HD DVD/SD DVD combo, with a street date of November 28th 2006. Definite.
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Owned by Blue Underground, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • The Birds. Owned by Universal, who are HD DVD exclusive. Likely.
  • Blade. Owned by New Line, who intend to release for both HD DVD and Blu-ray starting in early 2007. Likely.
  • A Bug’s Life. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • A Clockwork Orange. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. This title is one that Warner have confirmed that they intend to release, but no date has been given yet. Definite.
  • Crash (Cronenberg). Owned by New Line, who intend to release for both HD DVD and Blu-ray starting in early 2007. Likely.
  • Deep Red. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • The Descent. Owned by Lions Gate, who so far have released titles for Blu-ray. Nothing has been publicly announced yet, but it is generally acknowledged that Lions Gate are preparing to go dual-format, so are likely to support HD DVD before the end of 2006, and intend to release all their Blu-ray titles on HD DVD as well. In the UK, the film is owned by Pathé, who have committed to HD DVD in Europe. Likely.
  • Dial M for Murder. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. Likely.
  • Don’t Look Now. Owned by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. In the UK, the title is owned by Studio Canal, who have committed to HD DVD. Likely.
  • Eyes Wide Shut. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. This title is one that Warner have confirmed that they intend to release, but no date has been given yet. Definite.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Already available from HD DVD from Universal, and constitutes a massive improvement on the SD releases from both Universal and Criterion. Available now.
  • Finding Nemo. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • Frenzy. Owned by Universal, who are HD DVD exclusive. Likely.
  • Gangs of New York. Owned by Miramax (Disney) in the US. Disney are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. In the UK, the rights are owned by Entertainment In Video, who have sided with Blu-ray and are releasing it in November. Possibility.
  • Hannibal. A co-production by MGM and Universal. MGM owns the rights in the US, while Universal owns them in Europe. Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns, now own MGM’s catalogue, so the title is unlikely to see a US release in the near future. In the UK, however, it is a distinct possibility. Likely.
  • Home Alone. Owned by the HD DVD-phobic Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns. Unlikely.
  • The Incredibles. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • The Indiana Jones Trilogy. Distributed by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. However, given that the rights are held by the Fox-friendly LucasFilm, who took forever to release them in standard definition, it seems unlikely that they will be released soon. Unlikely.
  • Inferno. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • The Iron Giant. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. Likely.
  • Kill Bill. The rights to the original theatrical versions of Volumes 1 and 2 are owned by Miramax (Disney). Disney are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. The rights to the uncut, single-film “The Whole Bloody Affair” version, however, are owned by The Weinstein Company, who are committed to both formats. Likely.
  • Kingdom of Heaven. Owned by the HD DVD-phobic Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns. This director’s cut is currently announced for release on Blu-ray on November 14th 2006. Unlikely.
  • Lady and the Tramp. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • The Last of the Mohicans. Owned by the HD DVD-phobic Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns. Unlikely.
  • Lilo & Stitch. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin Owned by Media Blasters, who have yet to announce any HD plans, and, given their general lack of regard for quality, are unlikely to do so for some time. Unlikely.
  • Lost in Translation. Owned by Universal in the US, who are HD DVD exclusive. In the UK, the rights are owned by Momentum, a division of Studio Canal, who have committed to HD DVD in Europe. Likely.
  • Léon. Owned by Columbia Tristar (Sony) in most territories, so you can rule that one out. However, the rights in Germany are owned by Kinowelt, who have yet to make any announcements either way, while the Japanese rights are owned by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Possibility.
  • May. Owned by Lions Gate, who so far have released titles for Blu-ray. Nothing has been publicly announced yet, but it is generally acknowledged that Lions Gate are preparing to go dual-format, so are likely to support HD DVD before the end of 2006, and intend to release all their Blu-ray titles on HD DVD as well. Possibility.
  • Monsters, Inc. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • Moulin Rouge! Owned by the HD DVD-phobic Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns. Unlikely.
  • Mulholland Dr. Owned by Universal in the US, who are HD DVD exclusive. Un Europe, the rights are owned by Studio Canal, who have confirmed that they will be releasing it in early 2007. Definite.
  • Naked Lunch. The rights are split across various companies in different territories. Criterion, who struck a deal with distributor 20th Century Fox, currently releases on DVD in the US, but it is not clear whether this deal would cover high definition distribution as well, and in any event they have made it clear that they intend to sit the format war out. In the UK, the rights are owned by Optimum, a division of Studio Canal, who have committed to HD DVD in Europe. Likely.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas. Owned by Touchstone (Disney), who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • North by Northwest. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. This title is one that Warner have confirmed that they intend to release, but no date has been given yet. Definite.
  • The Omen. Owned by the HD DVD-phobic Fox, who are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns. Unlikely.
  • Opera. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • Panic Room. Owned by Columbia Tristar (Sony), so you can rule that one out. No chance.
  • Phenomena. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • Pinocchio. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • Rear Window. Owned by Universal, who are HD DVD exclusive. Likely.
  • Rosemary’s Baby. Owned by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. In the UK, the title is owned by Studio Canal, who have committed to HD DVD. Likely.
  • Se7en. Owned by New Line, who intend to release for both HD DVD and Blu-ray starting in early 2007. Likely.
  • Sex and Lucía. Owned by Palm Pictures in the US and Tartan in the UK, neither of whom have announced their intentions regarding the HD formats. Unlikely.
  • The Silence of the Lambs. Owned by Fox, who inherited MGM’s catalogue, and are currently a Blu-ray exclusive studio and unlikely to budge until Blu-ray crashes and burns, so the title is unlikely to see a US release in the near future. Unlikely.
  • Sin City. Owned by Dimension (Disney), who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • The Stendhal Syndrome. The US rights are a bit of a wasteland. Troma officially holds them, but the master they own is nothing more than a standards converted VHS dupe. In Europe, the rights are split across various companies, none of whom have yet announced any HD plans. Unlikely.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Owned by Paramount, who support both HD DVD and Blu-ray. This title is one that Paramount have confirmed that they intend to release, but no date has been given yet. Definite.
  • Suspiria. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. I suspect that, if Anchor Bay do jump aboard the HD DVD train, this will be one of the first titles they announce. Possibility.
  • Swimming Pool. Owned by Universal in the US, who are HD DVD exclusive. In France, the film is owned by Pathé, who have committed to HD DVD in Europe. Likely.
  • Tenebre. Owned by Anchor Bay, who have yet to announce any HD plans, but, like most independent labels, are likely to go with HD DVD due to the lower cost and lack of monopolisation by Sony. Possibility.
  • The Three Colours Trilogy. Owned by Miramax (Disney) in the US. Disney are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. In the UK, the rights are owned by Artificial Eye, who have yet to announce their HD intentions. Possibility.
  • Toy Story. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • Toy Story 2. Owned by Disney, who are currently committed to Blu-ray, although they have shown no open hostility to HD DVD, and indeed executives have been quoted as saying that they expect to eventually release titles for both formats. Possibility.
  • V for Vendetta. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. It has been announced with a street date of October 31st 2006.Definite.
  • What Have You Done to Solange? Owned by Media Blasters, who have yet to announce any HD plans, and, given their general lack of regard for quality, are unlikely to do so for some time. Unlikely.
  • Where Eagles Dare. Owned by Warner, who release for both formats. Likely.
  • Wolf Creek. Owned by The Weinstein Company, who are committed to both formats. This title is one that The Weinstein Company have confirmed that they intend to release, but no date has been given yet. Definite.

When you break it all down, it actually looks like a pretty impressive list.

Update, October 6, 2006 01:52 PM: It turns out that Optimum has been acquired by the HD DVD-friendly Studio Canal, making the release of Naked Lunch a possibility.

Update, October 6, 2006 05:08 PM: Entertainment In Video are not supporting HD DVD after all, so Gangs of New York has been demoted from “almost definite” to “possibility”.

Update, October 19, 2006 02:06 PM: V for Vendetta has been confirmed with a release date of October 31st 2006.

 
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2006 at 1:57 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics delayed

Source: Lovers, Liars and Lunatics official web site

The DVD release of Amber Benson’s new film, Lovers, Liars and Lunatics, originally scheduled to be released at some point in September, has been delayed until October 15th due to “technical difficulties”. Presumably there’s nothing sinister going on, although I wonder if there’s any truth in the rumour that she has yet to receive 500 orders, which was the number of copies in the first batch, all of which were to be personally signed. In any event, I’m certainly looking forward to receiving my copy, signed or otherwise, since it seems like ages ago that I parted with my $33.

 
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2006 at 12:40 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of September

  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • Land of the Dead: Unrated Director’s Cut (R0 USA, HD DVD/SD DVD combo)
  • The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • The Omen (remake) (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • Red Dragon (R0 USA, HD DVD)

Pretty lean pickings all around this month. Luckily, things should heat up in the run-up to Christmas as the studios committed to HD DVD start to crank out the big guns.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 9:52 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | TV
 

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a Garth Marenghi production (inassociationwithDeanLearner)

DVD

Constantly delayed and long overdue, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: The Complete Series (R2 UK) finally showed up today courtesy of a review copy from DVD Times.

Darkplace, for those who haven’t heard of it, is in my opinion one of the best TV shows in recent years. Originally aired on Channel 4 in January to February of 2004, it’s basically a parody of all sorts of bad horror and sci-fi movies and TV shows from the 80s. The framing device, however, is a series of interviews and introductions by its “creator”, the enigmatic Garth Marenghi (played by the show’s co-writer, Matthew Holness), which are intended to give the impression that Darkplace really is a show from the 1980s written by, directed by and starring a megalomaniac by the name of Garth Marenghi (who happens to sound a lot like film critic Mark Kermode). Of course, it’s all an elaborate scam, but it’s a jaw-droppingly convincing one, and contains more laugh out loud moments than any other TV show I’ve seen in the last few years. It’s aim, I suppose, is somewhat similar to that of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the difference being that Darkplace is actually funny, and instead of making fun of actual films, those responsible have created their own material.

Expect a review of this witty little number in the next week or so. I’m holding the check disc in my hand as we speak, so I can confirm that it’s actually coming out this time (it’s scheduled for release on October 16th).

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: DVD | TV
 

The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition

DVD
As one of Disney’s most beloved animated features ever, fans of all ages are sure to be queuing up to pick up this 2-disc edition of The Little Mermaid before it is placed back in the notorious Disney Vault. Still, while the extras are plentiful and largely informative, the transfer is a real disappointment and one that betrays a lack of understanding or regard for the medium of film-sourced, hand-drawn animation. The sad thing is that, for the foreseeable future, these flaws are likely to be here to stay, so holding out for a later release (e.g. a high definition version) is unlikely to improve matters substantially. One thing’s for sure: Disney should definitely never again commission Technicolor to undertake a restoration of one of their films.

One of Disney’s most popular animated classics has finally been given a re-release on DVD, getting the deluxe 2-disc Platinum Edition treatment. I’ve reviewed the R1 US release of The Little Mermaid, due out on October 3rd, which unfortunately features a decidedly substandard restoration.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 6:21 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 5: Selfless

DVD

Written by Drew Goddard; Directed by David Solomon

The crazy new costume designer strikes again! In Beneath You, it was Spike and his horrifying blue shirt; this week, it’s Streetwalker Willow in her wacky red tights.

Anyway, a lot of people are crazy about this episode, but I consider it rather overrated. It’s worth watching, though, because it’s the last time Anya gets any meaningful character development. Trouble is, it seems to exist for no reason other than to cap off the “return to vengeange” plot that was introduced late in Season 6. What was the point? Was it because they realised the plot wasn’t a very good idea after all? Buffy does, of course, have a moral obligation, and indeed duty, to kill demons, especially those who are themselves making a habit of slaughtering people wholesale. How on earth could they justify keeping Anya alive after what she’s done? Buffy does, after all, stake random vampires as they rise from their graves before they’ve had any chance to kill anyone. If she’s not going to give them the benefit of the doubt, what’s so special about Anya?

Answer: Emma Caulfield. She was originally going to be a one-shot villain, but Joss Whedon liked her so much that he kept her around until the show ended (although he did give her a crappy pointless death in the final few minutes because he was pissed off that she’d decided to quit whether or not the show was renewed). It’s the same with Spike and, I suspect, a number of other characters who Buffy, for no tangible reason, allows to live, simply because people like the characters and their actors. In all honesty, Buffy might as well have killed Anya in this episode, as was her intention, because Emma gets precious little to do from hereon in, other than get drunk with Andrew and have a surprise bout of kitchen-floor sex with Xander just before the final battle.

This was the first episode written by a new writer, Drew Goddard, as his first ever gig in the industry. A number of people have commented that, had he run the final season, it would have been a whole lot better and actually lived up to the promises of “going right back to the beginning”. I can sort of see why: he does well with the continuity in this episode, referring all the way back to Xander’s “kick his ass” lie at the end of Season 2, and also throwing in a fun musical number set at the time of Once More With Feeling (although it’s vastly inferior to anything in that episode). These are just window-dressing, though. The “kick his ass” line is promptly buried without ever being exploited (if the writers wanted to drive the gang apart, surely dirty secrets from the past such as that should have been the perfect tools with which to do so), and the song is nice for what it is but ultimately empty. I’m not saying the season wouldn’t have been better with Goddard in the driving seat, because at least then someone would have been steering it, but, based on his contributions to the Buffyverse, I don’t think he’s the wunderkind some people have made him out to be.

Overall rating: 7/10.

Next time: Him.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 30, 2006 at 12:43 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | DVD | Music | Reviews | TV
 

Land of the Dead

HD DVD

My copy of the HD DVD/SD DVD combo release of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead Unrated Director’s Cut (R0 USA) arrived this morning, and I’m happy to report that it’s another strong release from Universal. No, it’s not “perfect” in the manner of Serenity and Unleashed, but it is very, very good and a step up from Red Dragon, released shortly before it, also by Universal.

Like many of the more recent films getting the upgrade to high definition, such as Serenity and Constantine, Land of the Dead is sourced from a digital intermediate, and as such has a “cleaner” and more static look than titles sourced from film elements, such as Red Dragon and Sleepy Hollow. The level of detail is, for the most part, excellent, although the darker scenes, of which there are a fair number, are obviously not as crisply defined as the day scenes or the brightly lit interiors. This is, of course, a result of the original photography. Unlike Red Dragon, edge enhancement is also pleasingly absent, apart from a handful of close-ups of Big Daddy at around the 33 minute mark. In these shots, there is some prominent ringing around his head, but the fact that, out of the entire film, only these shots are affected, suggests that some digital tomfoolery went on during the post production process, rather than any tampering with the transfer. In any event, the shots are gone after around 30 seconds, and the problem never crops up again.

Land of the Dead

The compression is also well handled, barring some blocking on a single explosion towards the end of the film - once again, impressive results for an HD15/DVD9 flipper release. Overall, therefore, this is another stellar effort from Universal. It’s not their best, but it’s not far behind my personal “Big Three” (Serenity, Unleashed and The Bourne Supremacy). Of course, flip it over and take a look at the standard definition side, and it’s another story entirely. I know the R1 DVD release of Land of the Dead was a particularly weak effort, but yikes! Softness and thick blurry edge enhancement halos galore! This is Fellowship of the Ring bad (i.e. really bad, especially for a big budget release of a digitally sourced modern film).

Land of the Dead

So far, my overall rankings for the various HD DVD releases that I’ve seen now look like this (from best to worst):

10/10:
Serenity
Unleashed

9/10:
The Bourne Supremacy
Land of the Dead

8/10:
Red Dragon
Constantine
Sleepy Hollow
Million Dollar Baby

7/10:
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Before the year is out, I hope to be able to add Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, An American Werewolf in London, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride and Miami Vice to the list (the latter three are review copies that I’ve put my name down for), as well as the Japanese release of The Machinist and the UK release of Gangs of New York… provided the latter (a) actually comes out and (b) actually plays in the HD-A1. And who knows what other titles will be announced before Christmas?

 
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2006 at 9:32 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 
 

 
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