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HD DVD review: Serenity

HD DVD
With the UK release of Serenity, Universal have done what, five months ago, I wouldn’t have thought was possible: taken my favourite HD transfer of all time and improved it. No, I don’t think I’d recommend that everyone who already owns the US version immediately rushes out and picks up the UK release, but the difference is there. If you don’t already have the US disc, be in no doubt: the UK release is the finest-looking digital video disc this reviewer has ever seen, and Universal and their competitors are going to have their work cut out one-upping this beauty.

Eight months after HD DVD first launched, it’s double-dipping time! I’ve reviewed the recent R0 UK release of Serenity, investigating whether Universal’s new, more efficient transfer is any different from its predecessor.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 09, 2006 at 9:22 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Wolf Creek

HD DVD
As the first HD DVD I’ve seen from the Weinstein Company, Wolf Creek is a bit of a mixed bag. It has moments that are genuinely impressive, but on other occasions, technical issues that could probably have been avoided get in the way. However, it goes without saying that this is the best the film has ever looked outside a theatrical environment or the original camera recordings, so, if you are HD-capable, this is definitely the version of the film to pick up.

The Weinstein Company jumps aboard the HD DVD bandwagon this month with a variety of releases. I offer a sneak preview of Wolf Creek, an effective exploitation horror piece from the land down under.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 09, 2006 at 8:12 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

HD for High Disappointment

HD DVD

Two new HD DVDs winged their way to me from DVD Pacific this morning: An American Werewolf in London, from Universal, and Wolf Creek, from the Weinstein Company. Unfortunately, these are the most disappointing high definition discs I’ve received so far.

Let’s start with An American Werewolf in London. Prior to receiving it, I was under no delusions as to how it would look. This is a low budget film from 1981, and one that, despite its cult following, is neither prestigious enough to be eligible for a Casablanca-style restoration, nor for the same standard of storage. So far, all of the HD DVD’s I’ve bought have been of recent (i.e. less than 10 years old) films, many of them sourced from digital intermediates with the film negative itself being scanned almost as soon as it was shot. As such, there is a certain “look” that you can expect from them that you aren’t going to get with something like American Werewolf. Still, I expect the technicians to do the best they can with the materials they are handed, and not to attempt any sort of invasive digital manipulation. Unfortunately, those responsible for the master used for this HD DVD clearly missed that particular memo from the HMS Whimsy, for they have attempted to compensate for the inherently somewhat soft look of the source materials by adding a tonne of edge enhancement. The aliasing on this particular title is the worst I’ve seen on any HD DVD, and would probably be considered pretty noticeable even on a standard definition release. All things considered, this gets a very low 6/10 from me.

Even the sound is a disaster - a 0/10 affair. American Werewolf was, unsurprisingly, mixed in mono, but, for the most recent theatrical re-release, Universal undertook a whiz-bang new DTS 5.1 remix, and in doing so not only fed the existing audio through multiple channels, but also threw in all manner of new sound effects not present originally. Unfortunately, on the DVD, and now the HD DVD, only this mangled 5.1 mix is provided. As far as I am concerned, this is not the film as it was originally released, and as such is a faulty product. Sorry to be harsh, but intrusive revisionism of this sort has absolutely no place on a disc whose cover art proclaims “The Look and Sound of Perfect™”, unless of course the original version is also provided as an option.

HD DVD

Wolf Creek next, and I’m afraid things go from bad to worse. This film is actually not a “film” at all, since it was shot in 1080p high definition. As such, an HD DVD encoded at 1080p should theoretically provide a more or less perfect pixel to pixel replication of the original image that was recorded. Unfortunately, Wolf Creek has what Lyris refers to as “the Blu-ray look”. The image is incredibly inconsistent. Some shots look absolutely brilliant, with razor-sharp details, while the fake grain added to many scenes to make the movie look a little more intense (and less like a home video) is accurately represented. Other scenes, though, show noticeable compression artefacts and give everything an odd “waxy” look, as fine details are smeared out, a little like the HD DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unlike most North American HD DVD studios, the Weinstein Company are using AVC/MPEG4 as their codec instead of VC1, and, while I personally was very pleased by the results that this produced for the Japanese HD DVD of The Machinist, I’m beginning to see why so many people are down on it if Wolf Creek is representative of how it generally looks. Another 6/10.

Oh, and the disc took absolutely ages - about three minutes - to boot. Apparently this problem affects all of the Weinstein Company’s HD DVDs, for some reason.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 09, 2006 at 12:30 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Hannibal Rising… or is that sinking?

Hannibal Rising

Well, it seems that Dino De Laurentiis is determined to milk the Hannibal Lecter gravy train for all it’s worth, and this time he’s managed to rope the character’s creator, reclusive novelist Thomas Harris, in to help out. Harris’s latest novel, Hannibal Rising, recently went on sale (I saw various displays promoting the hardcover edition while I was out and about today, but baulked at the price tag), and a film of the same name, written by Harris himself (it’s unclear whether the film is based on the book, or vice versa, or a combination of the two), is due to be released in cinemas in February 2007. The first trailer is now available at Tobis (the on-screen text is in German, but there is no dialogue in the teaser itself), and it looks like a cash-in of the highest order.

I’ve liked all of the previous Lecter films to some degree, from the masterful Hannibal to the workmanlike but effective Red Dragon (I’d need to see Michael Mann’s take on that particular tale, released as Manhunter, again to solidify my opinions on that venture), but this one just doesn’t look particularly inspired. Admittedly, it’s hard to get much of an idea of anything from a trailer, and a brief teaser at that, but a glance at the synopsis on IMDB isn’t exactly filling me with hope. Who really needs “Hannibal: The Teenage Years”, where we get to see the horrific events that shaped him into the vicious serial killer he is today? The tantalising glimpses of that in the novel of Hannibal (omitted from the film itself) were plenty, and I personally think these elements of his character work better if they’re hidden away in the shadows rather than out in the open.

I’ll probably end up seeing this film, if only for completeness’ sake, but my expectations are pretty low.

 
Posted: Friday, December 08, 2006 at 10:00 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema
 

Release date for The Third Mother?

I just noticed that, over at Medusa Film’s In Arrivo (coming soon) section, La Terza Madre (The Third Mother) is listed with a release date of May 11th 2007. I wonder if this is final or just speculatory.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 7:43 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Captain Whiggles’ Christmas list

It’s nearly that time of the year again and, in order to avoid any potential disappointments, I’ve decided to put together my Christmas list and get my orders in now, rather than waiting till the last moment. Therefore, on the birthday of everyone’s favourite fictional deity (Mithras), I shall (hopefully) be receiving the following:

  • Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (R1 USA). For the last few years now, it has been something of a custom for me to receive the latest instalment in this collection of remastered (and sometimes mangled) cartoon classics, and to spend a copious portion of the morning watching them with Lyris. The notion of a whole disc full of Speedy Gonzales cartoons on this set doesn’t exactly seem like the most welcome prospect… although I don’t imagine it being considerably worse than the Road Runner disc in the previous set.
     
  • The Double Life of Véronique: The Criterion Collection (R1 USA). Although Krzysztof Kieslowski’s brand of spiritualism doesn’t really do much for a heathen such as myself, I must confess to being absolutely enthralled by his use of colour and imagery. His Three Colours: Blue is one of my favourite films ever for its cinematography and lyricism. I already own the French release of Véronique from MK2, but, for some reason, I never got round to watching it, and the news that the new Criterion release duplicates all of its extras, plus adds several of its own, in addition to a better transfer, makes this a must-have in my book. Expect to see the French release on eBay before too long. Oh, and check out John White’s review of the Criterion set at DVD Times.
     
  • The Quiller Memorandum and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Ultimate Edition (both R1 USA). Two catalogue titles picked up in the same order from DVD Pacific for a very reasonable combined price. I haven’t seen The Quiller Memorandum, but I do love me my Cold War-era spy thrillers, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest American horror films ever made, so it makes sense to add what is apparently the definitive edition to my collection (having previously sold the non-anamorphic UK release).
     
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: The Complete Recordings (on CD). Last Christmas, I bought the Complete Recordings package of The Fellowship of the Ring, a 4-disc set (3 CDs and one audio DVD) turned out to be a massive improvement on the heavily-truncated single-disc release, so it stands to reason that this instalment should also be a worthwhile acquisition. The Two Towers always struck me as having the weakest score of the three Lord of the Rings films, but I suspect that this is because, perhaps more than the other two films, it was severely short-changed by having some of its most impressive cues left out of the single-disc release.
ASUS EN7600GT/HTDI/256M

I’m also currently pursuing replacing my current video card, Sapphire’s ATI Radeon X850XT, with the similarly-performing nVidia GeForce 7600GT from ASUS, the EN7600GT/HTDI/256M model of which includes an HDMI output and HDCP compliancy, in addition to various high-end video processing features, such as inverse telecine, temporal de-interlacing, bad edit correction and hardware VC1 decoding. I’d originally planned on waiting to pick up a DirectX 10-enabled card from nVidia, but the price and power consumption of even the lower-end 8800GTS model were enough to persuade me to forego sheer brute strength and just settle for improved DVD (and eventually, I hope, HD DVD) playback. Besides, such a high power graphics card would probably be all but useless on my now-outdated Pentium 4 configuration.

Anyway, I bought a EN7600GT/HTDI/256M on eBay for a not unreasonable price, but, due to a mix-up, I was sent the non-HDMI, non-HDCP model instead. The correct model has been located, however, and I sent the other card back yesterday, so should hopefully be receiving the right one before too long. As an added bonus, the fact that I am buying what is technically a card from the previous generation of graphics technology means that I should hopefully be able to sell my current ATI card for not too much less than what I’m paying for this new one.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 1:57 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

New Third Mother photos

Source: Dark Discussion

Éditions è®e has posted a summary of Bernard Joisten’s upcoming Crime Designer: Dario Argento et le Cinéma, a French book on Dario Argento. The main point of interest in this article, however - for me, at any rate - is two black and white still photographs taken on the set of The Third Mother in Turin. The first, especially, shows some very nice decor and suggests that all those promises of a return to the baroque look of Suspiria and Inferno weren’t just marketing-speak. Of course, since the primary draw of these first two films was their outrageous use of colour, these black and white stills probably don’t do the film justice (and, indeed, much of the final colour will be achieved in post production through a digital grade), but even so, the more of these tantalisingly fleeting glimpses I see, the more excited I am about the film.

 
Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006 at 11:14 AM
Categories: Books | Cinema | Dario Argento
 

More Blu-ray “exclusives” on HD DVD

HD DVD

Source: AV Science Forum

Courtesy of our friends at DeAPlaneta Home Entertainment and Filmax in Spain, several more titles that are Blu-ray exclusives in the US are due to be released on HD DVD between now and the first quarter of 2007. These include Underworld: Evolution, Saw and Saw II. The title that especially excites me, however, is Asterix and the Vikings - presumably the first ever high definition release of an Asterix film, not to mentioned the first 2D animated title. I’m practically soiling myself with excitement.

Oh, and for all you spaghetti western fans, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is also listed.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 8:37 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

First Optimum HD DVDs announced

HD DVD

Source: DVD Times

The HD DVD cause has just been given another boost as Optimum Home Entertainment, holders of the rights to several key European and Asian titles, have leapt into the fray, announcing Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist for release on December 11th. Both films will of course be in 24 fps 1080p format, while audio will be comprised of a variety of DTS-HD options: French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and German 5.1 DTS-HD Hi-Resolution Audio on La Haine, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French 5.1 DTS-HD Hi-Resolution Audio on The Pianist.

I can already think of several Optimum titles I would love to pick up in high definition. The entire Studio Ghibli catalogue, anyone?

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 7:36 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

And my first HD DVD double-dip is…

HD DVD

Bet you didn’t think I’d be double-dipping this early in HD DVD’s life, did you? Well, neither did I, but the news that the UK release apparently featured a better transfer than its American counterpart made it difficult to resist. (Well, actually, this is not technically a double-dip for me, since my brother owns the previous version, but it does mean that we now have two copies in the house.) The US release of Serenity was one of the very first HD DVDs to be released, and it was also one of the first to be encoded, using an early and less efficient version of the VC1 codec. For the European release, therefore, the compressionists decided to revisit it and encode it more efficiently, partly to allow for additional language tracks to be included, thus facilitating a Europe-wide release of the same disc.

I know what you’re thinking: “But Captain Whiggles, isn’t Serenity your number one HD DVD demo disc?” It is, or rather was, because the US disc has just been knocked down a peg by its younger European sibling. No, the differences aren’t massive, and I don’t expect the majority of people to even notice them, but the new encode takes an already spectacular-looking disc and makes it look just a hair better. The most significant difference, if we can actually call it significant, is that the grain is very slightly more pronounced, further amplifying the film-like nature of the HD presentation. It also seems to be microscopically more detailed. This tends to be most noticeable in the form of improved definition of the skin texture during facial close-ups, although some of the wider shots also look a little crisper. Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d recommend that everyone immediately rushes out and picks up the UK release if they already own the US version, but the difference is there. I rated the US version a 10/10 for image quality, and I don’t think I’d drop it to a 9 even having seen the UK version - perhaps more of a 9.8 (although I prefer not to get that specific when it comes to overall ratings). It’s too bad I don’t have more than one HD DVD player, and it takes upwards of a minute to switch discs, because that makes it pretty much impossible to perform any sort of a scientific comparison. I really hope that affordable PC drives and software capable of displaying titles in their full 1920x1080 resolution become available before too long, because I’m itching to subject some HD DVDs to the same in-depth comparisons as I currently do for standard definition material.

The UK disc also includes an additional bonus feature not found on the US release: the 20-minute A Filmmaker’s Journey, which is not particularly substantial - but hey, the more the merrier!

Serenity

A minor point, true, but the UK release has a much nicer cover. The US version, for some reason, has been designed to look like it houses some sort of intergalactic space porno, while the UK edition, while still a bit cluttered, looks considerably less embarrassing.

Serenity

CD

Oddly enough, the UK release comes in a different type of case from what I’ve been used to seeing for HD DVD so far. The spine, this time, is much wider - the same width as a normal amaray DVD case, in fact. The reason for this seems to be to allow UK stores to fit those special plastic security tags that can only be removed by a dedicated machine. Oddly enough, the other UK HD DVD release I own, Warner’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, uses the same size of case as its US counterparts, so it may be that only Universal has opted to use this alternate design. Either way, if I end up buying more of them, my HD shelf, already almost full, is going to be filled up a lot more quickly!

Oh, and I also received, in the same order from Amazon UK, the ominous score to V for Vendetta by Dario Marianelli.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 at 6:29 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 

Mulholland Dr. HD DVD confirmed for March 2007

HD DVD

Source: Resetmag

Studio Canal have announced their second wave of HD DVD releases. A slew of titles, including one of my favourite films ever, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., have been confirmed for release in France with a street date of March 5th 2007. Other titles include Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, a title that, in the US, is a Blu-ray exclusive. The RRP for each title should be around €25.

A word of warning, though: this will be a very limited release, with the first run being comprised of only 4,000 copies for the four countries included in the release plans (i.e. only 1,000 copies for France). If you want any of these titles, therefore, get your pre-orders in as soon as they’re listed!

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

V for Vendetta

HD DVD
For all its flaws, I admire V for Vendetta for being ballsy enough to tell a mainstream audience that blowing up buildings can be a legitimate means to an end. Warner’s HD DVD release is far from the top echelon of high definition releases, but it constitutes a solid package overall, and the improvements to image, audio and extras should be enough to convince those who already own the DVD to upgrade.

Remember, remember… Okay, so it’s the 5th of December rather than the 5th of November, but I’ve reviewed the recent HD DVD release of V for Vendetta anyway.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 05, 2006 at 12:05 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Site problems

If you’ve been having trouble accessing this site in the last few hours, it’s because my host, Fuitadnet, are currently upgrading their service, and in doing so are transferring all of the data over to new servers. Depending on your web host, you may or may not be able to see the site.

Unfortunately, the backups Fuitadnet used were decidedly out of date - going back to around November 20th. Luckily, Movable Type managed to maintain an archive of all my news posts, so restoring them was a simple matter of hitting the “Rebuild Site” button. Unfortunately, it does mean that a number of the files uploaded to the site in the last couple of weeks have to be uploaded again, including my Profondo Rosso commentary. As such, the commentary is currently not accessible, but should be back online in the next hour or so (curse my slow upload speed!).

Update, December 4, 2006 09:12 PM: Everything should now be in its proper place once again, although a number of web hosts still seem to be unable to access the site.

Update #2, December 4, 2006 11:42 PM: A couple of comments seem to have been lost in the resulting chaos, including one may in the New Lizard DVD on its way (buy it!!!) thread.

Update #3, December 19, 2006 06:17 PM: Fixed dead link.

 
Posted: Monday, December 04, 2006 at 6:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology | Web
 

New Lizard DVD on its way (buy it!!!)

DVD

Over the past few days, I have been in correspondence with Richard York of Media Blasters, who is supervising the company’s upcoming re-release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Since I’m apparently “the most vocal critic” of their previous release (which both alarms and thrills me in equal measure), he wanted to give me the opportunity to ask any questions that I might have about the version they were putting together, and, having discussed the matter with him, I am now supremely confident that the upcoming release will not only blow away the existing Media Blasters version, but should finally be the definitive release of the film that fans have been waiting for for years.

First of all, this will not simply be a straight copy of the Italian release by Federal Video. Richard is aware of and has viewed this release, but instead Media Blasters have created their own transfer from the same film elements used for that DVD. In doing so, they have been able to identify and avoid a number of the problems affecting that release, including material missing from the opening sex scene and Julia Durer’s party, as well as the mangled “rippled/unrippled” dream sequence and the dodgy splice where the same footage of Jean Sorel’s character appears in two different places. The running time of the final version will be 103 minutes, making this a proper NTSC presentation rather than a PAL to NTSC standards conversion.

Currently, Richard feels that it is unlikely that the new DVD will be ready in time to hit its announced December 19th release date, expecting a late December/early January release instead, but an official statement should be forthcoming as soon as the entire package is assembled and the final specifications are known.

One thing’s for sure, with this and One on Top of the Other (from Severin Films) on their way, early 2007 looks as if it will be an exciting time indeed for Fulci fans.

 
Posted: Monday, December 04, 2006 at 6:09 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Dario Argento film rankings

Updated to include Pelts and to reflect my own personal changes in taste since I last did one of these.

  • 1. Suspiria (1977) 10/10
  • 2. Profondo Rosso (1975) 10/10
  • 3. Opera (1987) 10/10
  • 4. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) 9/10
  • 5. Inferno (1980) 9/10
  • 6. The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) 9/10
  • 7. Tenebre (1982) 9/10
  • 8. Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) 8/10
  • 9. Phenomena (1985) 8/10
  • 10. The Card Player (2004) 7/10
  • 11. The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) 7/10
  • 12. Non Ho Sonno (2001) 7/10
  • 13. Trauma (1993) 6/10
  • 14. Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, TV) 6/10
  • 15. Door into Darkness: Eyewitness (1973) 6/10
  • 16. Masters of Horror: Pelts (2006, TV) 5/10
  • 17. Door into Darkness: The Tram (1973, TV) 4/10
  • 18. The Phantom of the Opera (1998) 4/10
  • 19. Masters of Horror: Jenifer (2005, TV) 3/10

Who knows where The Third Mother will end up?

 
Posted: Sunday, December 03, 2006 at 10:16 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | TV
 

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics: suburban dystopia

If Amber Benson is one thing, it’s committed. During the production of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season, she juggled appearances on that show with work on her own independent project, an offbeat comedy called Chance, on which she served as lead actor, writer, producer and director. The film, shot on video with a budget of $25,000, was decidedly rough around the edges, but ultimately quite charming for all its eccentricities, and showed the multi-faceted Benson’s talent for writing quirky yet believable characters.

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics

Fast forward four years, and her second film, on which she returns as star, writer, producer and director, and also adds film editor to her roster of talents, has just been released on DVD, like Chance sold directly through her production company, Benson Entertainment. Exactly how much it cost to make is unclear, but it seems to have been funded, at least partially, through a series of fund-raisers, auctions of personal possessions and of a series of Willow and Tara action figures. From the first film, it’s clear that a lot has changed. The source material is now 35mm film, and the camera setups are considerably more ambitious than those of its predecessor. It’s not always successful - there are some instances of truly bizarre framing, a handful of shots in which the focus is on something other than the main point of attention, and some rather problematic moments that lack establishing shots, making it difficult to get a feeling for the geography and positions of the various characters - but by and large the film has a slicker, more professional feel than that of Chance. Jakobine Motz’s cinematography is functional rather than particularly impressive (the lighting is rather flat), but, with the move from video to film, Benson has abandoned the hand-held, quasi-documentarian format of the previous film in favour of something more controlled. On the aural front, the dialogue recording is sometimes a little ropey, but the orchestral score, which kicks in occasionally but effectively, helps paper over the cracks.

The plot, meanwhile, is enough to sustain the 87-minute running time, but isn’t hugely substantial. Essentially, two incompetent robbers break into a suburban household, but quickly find themselves caught up in the neurotic family’s own dysfunctional relationships. Benson, this time, although given title billing, takes more of a back seat as far as acting goes, given that this is, for all intents and purposes, an ensemble piece, with eight main roles and a handful of secondary parts. The black humour of Chance, meanwhile, is maintained throughout, although the actors are at times hamstrung by a script that is very talky - Benson’s other writing credits are primarily as a novelist, and it shows in what appears to be an intermittent reluctance to show things visually (characters will frequently mutters to themselves phrases like “Fucking bitch!” and “I hate him!”, which should be self-evident to even the least attentive viewer).

Lovers, Liars and Lunatics

The film also ends on something of a false note with a conclusion that seems intended partially to be blackly comedic and partially to be shocking: in a sense, the abrupt change of tone results in an ending that seems too dark to be successful given the film’s otherwise light-hearted tone.

Despite these problems, though, it’s hard not to admire the film for its bare-faced enthusiasm. Yes, it’s considerably slicker than Chance and, to some extent, more market-friendly (the narrative is more conventionally linear, there are no monologues to the camera, no guitar-strumming troubadours entering the scene to narrate the plot, and Benson has reigned in her use of the word “cunt”), but it’s still an odd and distinctive film with a decidedly hand-made feel to it. I’m not sure exactly how many people are going to end up seeing it, as the $30-33 (depending on whereabouts in the world you’re located) price tag, plus the fact that the DVD can only be ordered from the official web site, will put a lot of people off, but it deserves an audience. 7/10.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 02, 2006 at 11:55 PM
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Disney aspect ratio conundrum

DVD

(Also posted at DVD Times)

In Disney fandom, there is a long-running debate surrounding the intended aspect ratios of a number of the studio’s animated features, including everything from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) up to and including The Fox and the Hound (1981). For a long time, the eight films encompassed by this 20-year period were all available on DVD in a 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio, barring The Rescuers (1977), which was released in 1.66:1. No-one could really decide exactly which ratio these films were meant to be shown in: theoretically, they were all released at a time when cinemas equipped to display Academy material were no longer common, so it makes sense to assume that they would have been exhibited in a ratio somewhere between 1.66:1 (European widescreen) and 1.85:1 (American widescreen). This was substantiated somewhat by the admittedly unreliable IMDB, which listed an intended ratio of 1.75:1 for these titles.

The DVDs, however, suggested otherwise. Many argued that Disney would not have released these films in 1.33:1 on DVD if that was not their intended ratio, especially given their otherwise solid track record for presenting the other Animated Classics on DVD properly. Opponents of this theory pointed to The Rescuers as the odd one out, wondering why Disney would have made this film in widescreen and then gone back to the Academy ratio for their next project. Likewise, the obviously cropped DVD and VHS releases of The Fox and the Hound strongly indicated that something foul was afoot in Neverland.

The release of a new edition of Robin Hood, however, goes some way towards answering these various questions. Previously, this film was, like its counterparts from the 1961-1981 period, released on DVD in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which showed no obvious cropping. Personally, I always suspected that, barring The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound, all the films of this 20-year period were being released in an open matte format - substantiated by the fact that zooming the DVDs in on a widescreen TV generally resulted in few if any framing problems. Now, Robin Hood has been released in a new “Most Wanted Edition” (how on earth do they come up with these titles?), and it turns out to be a 1.75:1 anamorphic presentation (i.e. with very thin black bars on either side of the widescreen frame). The Ultimate Disney review, which includes a screenshot comparing this release to its 1.33:1 predecessor, clearly shows that the earlier version was open matte. Indeed, flicking between the two captures of the same frame from both releases, it’s clear that, on the left and right hand side of the frame, there is barely even a pixel’s worth of difference. At the top and bottom, however, the new release obscures a considerable amount of the dead space that was present on the previous release.

The reviewer admittedly does have some reservations about this new presentation, pointing to the fact that “some elements do feel slightly cramped in the vertical direction”, and a few of the screen captures accompanying the review do substantiate this. I’m not particularly convinced, however, by the various arguments he puts forth in favour of 1.33:1 being the intended presentation (although, to his credit, he doesn’t attempt to claim one or the other to be the “correct” way to view the film). It seems, to me at least, clear that Robin Hood (and, therefore, presumably also One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Aristocats and so on) were exhibited theatrically at around a ratio of 1.75:1 (which falls fairly squarely between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1), therefore making this new DVD an accurate representation of its intended appearance. I consider Robin Hood to be one of the worst films from a generally poor period in the Disney studio’s history, but I’m sorely tempted to pick up this new version and bin (or, more likely, eBay) my old fullscreen disc.

The only question now is why did they go to the effort to get Robin Hood right, but weren’t willing to take this extra step for The Fox and the Hound?

 
Posted: Saturday, December 02, 2006 at 4:53 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Home Alone: Family Fun Edition

DVD
Dodgy name tag aside, this new release of Home Alone more than makes up for the inadequacies of its predecessor, and is unlikely to disappoint even the biggest Grinch. Whether or not you already own a copy of Home Alone, I recommend you pick up a copy of this solid new release forthwith, and partake of the Christmas spirit.

In the run-up to Christmas, a perennial festive favourite is dusted off for a long-awaited special edition release. I’ve reviewed the newly released R1 “Family Fun Edition” of Home Alone, and yes, given it a 10.

 
Posted: Friday, December 01, 2006 at 9:48 AM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of November

  • Alias: The Complete Fifth Series (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • Astérix et les Vikings (R2 France, SD DVD)
  • Cars (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Home Alone: Family Fun Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • Lovers, Liars and Lunatics (R0 USA, SD DVD)
  • Peep Show: Series Three (R2 UK, SD DVD)
  • V for Vendetta (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Veronica Mars: The Complete Second Season (R1 USA, SD DVD)

Some interesting titles this month, including my first ever British HD DVD. Although, given that it’s actually just a US release relabelled, that probably doesn’t count for much.

 
Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Alternative Bond titles

Source: Dark Discussion

Well, it made me laugh at any rate. Actually, it made me guffaw. And spit up a little. I had the good fortune to see Bond’s Balls Get a Bloody Good Walloping quite recently, but I must confess that the majority of the others have so far passed me by. Bond Screws 8 Birds in This One, Lads sounds like a right cracker, though, as does All Black-skinned People are Drug Pushers, Pimps, Rapists and Corruptors of Civilised White Society… although I’m rather worried that the latter will now only be available under its politically-correct title of The Larger Majority of Black-skinned People are Drug Pushers, Pimps, Rapists and Corruptors of Civilised White Society. Ah well, that’s the nanny state mentality for you.

 
Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 2:32 PM
Categories: Cinema | General | Web
 
 

 
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