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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
 

Wolf Creek HD in December

HD DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

The Weinstein Company have confirmed a release date of December 5th for the already announced Wolf Creek. While I don’t think the film is any sort of masterpiece, I did consider it to be a reasonably effective horror movie, and the fact that it was itself shot in 1920x1080 high definition (the same resolution as HD DVD) should make it an interesting title, because, barring lossy compression, it should essentially be a 1:1 copy of the original source material. Another one for the list, then.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 7:37 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Upcoming Zach Braff projects

Parma Violets’s post first drew this to my attention: Frametracker has written a very amusing article on (fake) future Zach Braff vehicles. The last one especially made me laugh:

Choosers Can’t Be Beggars

Willie (Zach Braff), a thriving Hollwood actor and future legend, is killed in a tragic car accident while being fellated simultaneously by his two bi-curious mistresses (Cameron Diaz and Kirsten Dunst). When he arrives in heaven, God (Woody Allen) tells him that, as a reward for his virtuous life and excellent, cutting-edge acting work, he can return to earth and take any woman he chooses as his wife. But who can choose, Willie? Who can choose?

Seriously, I quite liked Garden State, despite its pseudo-intellectual pretentious “I’m really deep but actually have nothing worthwhile to say” emo overtones, but bitch-slap articles like these are so dead-on it’s scary. I have nothing against Braff, you know, and enjoy his work on the brainless but amiable Scrubs when I’ve got nothing better to do with my time, but his profound(-but-actually-not-really) everyman schtick is beginning to wear a little thin.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 1:12 AM
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

How it feels to be wanted

I got my first rejection letter yesterday. I never mentioned it, because, in the heat of the moment… well, I forgot, but I couple of weeks back I sent out a bunch of job applications. Two were to libraries, one was for a desk job at Strathclyde University’s modern languages department, and the other was to an online firm, Prospect Solution, where I will (hopefully) be writing essays, doing proofreading, and so on. (Hell, supply and demand - if people are willing to pay for it, I’m willing to do it!) I recently got a preliminary acceptance email for the Prospect Solution gig, but am holding off until the results for my MLitt come in before I send them my full details. In any event, it may turn out that it’s something that brings in little work and money, so I need to keep my options open.

Anyway, yesterday morning I got a rejection letter from the Glasgow School of Art’s library. “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, thanks for your application, but we regret to inform you that bla bla bla…” It’s fair enough, I suppose, and I’m all too aware that rejections are a necessary part of the process, but I wish that, in these circumstances, they would give some indicator of why you were turned down. Something like “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, there are other people better qualified than you,” or “Dear Mr. Mackenzie, we saw the picture that you included on your CV and would never employ someone has grotesque as yourself.” Then again, experience has taught me that employers have a habit of trying to let you down gently when they decide they don’t want you. I do, after all, speak with the experience of someone who is one of the few people ever to have been turned away by McDonalds. Much to my relief, I might add, but the spotty-faced deputy manager who interviewed me was typically cagey as to his reasons for rejecting me. He said something along the lines of “I don’t think you’d be right for McDonalds,” which I suspect is polite talk for “You wouldn’t last a minute in front of a deep fat fryer,” or “I actually wanted someone to work from midnight to 8 AM, but you weren’t having it.” Either way, it was a narrow escape.

Sorry, I seem to have gone a little off topic. Anyway, onwards and upwards. I’ll no doubt be firing off a fresh batch of applications before too long. And until someone offers me a job, I’m actually quite enjoying the unexpected leisure time. It’s allowing me to catch up on some of the things I like to do, namely writing reviews, watching movies and trawling my way through Season 7 of Buffy. Although, in the case of the latter, “like to do” is perhaps a bit of a stretch.

 
Posted: Thursday, October 05, 2006 at 1:04 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | General | Reviews | Web
 

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
 

UMD outselling Blu-ray at Amazon

Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

Actually, Sony’s UMDs are selling at a better clip than BR right now!! Check out the bestseller’s for UMD:

#1 Xmen 3 — #2,148
#2 Pirates 2 — #6,894

Blu-ray:

#1 Click — #4,154
#2 Tears of the Sun — #4,706

Please permit me a moment of immaturity. I just find this very funny.

 
Posted: Monday, October 02, 2006 at 4:17 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

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
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
 

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
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

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
 

Close But No Cigar

Listen up, all you crazy people who think Shrek and Family Guy are the height of sophistication! Here’s proof that you don’t require a billion dollars to create good cartoony fun - you just need actual talent.

John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show (the show to which just about every modern cartoon owes its existence), has recently been working on a couple of freelance projects. One is an animated introduction to the upcoming film Tenacious D in “The Pick of Destiny”, while the other is a music video for the new Weird Al Yankovic song, Close But No Cigar. John K posted about the completed video recently in his blog, along with a brief clip, and the full-length piece has appeared on YouTube. The music isn’t really my thing, but watch it now and marvel at the fluid, expressive, and most importantly well-drawn animation. This thing was made on a micro-budget, and in Macromedia Flash of all things. Normally the bane of any animator’s existence, with its generic rotating shapes and “tweening”, John K was the first person to truly harness the format’s potential back in the 1990s when he created the world’s first web cartoons, and now he seems to have done it again, cranking out near feature-quality animation using a format that its creators originally thought could be used for nothing except annoying ad banners.

The animation, by the way, was done by a Canadian firm called Copernicus Studios. They are also doing the animation for the Tenacious D piece.

 
Posted: Friday, September 29, 2006 at 11:16 AM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Music | Technology | Web
 

The Omen: how to make exactly the same movie twice and ruin it

DVD

A review copy of the 2006 remake of The Omen (R2 UK) arrived this morning. I can’t exactly claim that I had high hopes for this latest Hollywood cash-in (a movie made entirely because of the marketing possibilities of a 6/6/06 release date, it would seem), but jeez Louise! Even I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it turned out. I mean, it uses almost exactly the same script as the original (a writer called Dan McDermott was brought in to “update” it, but the changes he made were so minor that the Writers’ Guild of America didn’t even give him credit), and the original is one of my favourite films of all time. I figured that it would at least be competent, if unremarkable. Sadly, I was wrong. The new Omen is not merely bad, it’s a shit film.

I’ll have a full review up before too long (probably October 16th, when reviews of the new UK releases of the first four Omen films will also be going up at DVD Times), so I’ll be brief. Crap acting, crap music, crap “scares”, crap direction (seriously, this is the one horror remake I’ve seen that actually looks less slick than the original), and Jesus Christ, the kid playing Damien is the worst of the lot. Scowling at the camera and wearing pasty make-up does not a scary child make, people. A couple of intriguing dream sequences nonewithstanding, this film is a worthless waste of celluloid. I didn’t think it was possible to take a classic film and screw it up this badly, but sadly I was mistaken. 3/10

 
Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 1:31 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

The Little Mermaid: Technicolor Digital curls out another one

DVD

This morning I received a copy of Disney’s upcoming 2-disc Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid (R1 USA), courtesy of DVD Pacific. Unfortunately, it’s not good news. Yes, the extras are numerous; yes, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s songs sound punchy; no, there’s no crappy inserted “all-new animation”… but the transfer leaves a lot to be desired.

Disney have always had a rather spotty history with their Platinum Editions, especially those for films not shot in the digital realm. Previously, their “restorations” were handled by Lowry Digital Images, the same company responsible for ruining the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies with their overly aggressive digital noise reduction techniques. I first became aware of their destructive influence with Bambi, whose transfer was so horribly mangled that parts of the image that had been subjected to “clean-up” literally warped and swam around before my very eyes, while incompetently handled DVNR eroded the pencil lines of the original animation in much the same manner as the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 cartoons that we were all getting so worked up about last summer.

The Little Mermaid

With Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp, Lowry continued their campaign of mass destruction, this time seeming to get the line mangling under control, but filtering and noise reducing the images so much that any hint of film grain was completely eradicated.

With The Little Mermaid, however, Disney have sunk to a new low. The restoration this time was carried out not by Lowry but by Technicolor Digital Services, who have subjected the film to a series of harmful and inconsistently applied algorithms. Heavy temporal noise reduction is visible on a number of occasions, causing the pencil outlines of the animation to ghost and leave trails, giving a look much like that of an LCD screen with a very low response time. On other occasions, the lines become eroded in the same manner as Bambi and the Looney Tunes cartoons. Perhaps most distracting, though, is that the level grain and detail erosion varies on a shot by shot basis. Some shots look fine, showing a reasonable level of grain and detail, but others will suddenly look oily and smudged, especially shots with a lot of pale hues (presumably because they would be more likely to be affected by grain).

The Little Mermaid

The end result is very disappointing, and it’s clear that these so-called restoration “experts” should be kept away from films such as these, because they obviously have no understanding of how to deal with animation. These transfers are certainly watchable, but are far from pleasant, and in my opinion constitute artistic vandalism, given that these are likely to serve as the masters for several subsequent generations of releases of these highly-regarded films.

It’s also worth mentioning that this transfer is cropped. Compared with the 1.66:1 transfer of the Limited Issue release from 2000, sourced from a LaserDisc master, this 1.78:1 transfer is missing information at both the top and bottom of the frame. Obviously, the film would have been intended to be exhibited in a variety of ratios from 1.66:1 to 1.85:1, depending on the specific dimensions of the cinema screen on which it was being projected, but the use of 1.66:1 transfers for just about every other Disney film from The Rescuers onwards suggests, to me, that those responsible prefer to have the full image visible for their DVD releases. Either way, cropping or not, this is a disappointing transfer, especially given the film’s historical value.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 4:54 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Two gialli from Neo Publishing in October

Source: DeVil Dead

Neo Publishing, a French DVD distributor who put out special editions of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Seven Notes in Black last year, are releasing another two gialli on October 9th: Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? and Umberto Lenzi’s Seven Bloodstained Orchids. I already own both these films, and, in the case of the former, am extremely happy with 01 Distribution’s Italian release (beyond any doubt the best transfer I’ve ever seen for a giallo), but the menu screen captures have caught my eye. Seven Bloodstained Orchids doesn’t have anything much on offer, but Solange promises a new documentary, “Whatever Happened to Solange?”, interviewing producer Fulvio Lucisano and star Fabio Testi, as well as a stand-alone interview with Testi.

Now, the thing is that Neo Publishing’s releases have been variable at best. Both of their Fulci releases were loaded with exhaustive extras, but The New York Ripper’s transfer was a poor-quality standards conversion of the NTSC release from Anchor Bay, while Seven Notes in Black lacked an English audio track. In the case of Solange, provided Neo license 01’s stellar transfer and remember to include an English track, then I’ll probably pick it up for the extras. Otherwise, forget it. Either way, I won’t be bothering with Seven Bloodstained Orchids: it’s not a very good film, and I don’t really feel like buying another copy of it, even if it improves on Media Blasters’ botch job.

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2006 at 1:23 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Technology
 

eBay extravaganza

It’s time for yet another eBay pimping spree, and this is the biggest sale I’ve ever done. Everything must go! So bid, bid, bid, and give me money!

http://search.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQfgtpZ1QQfrppZ25QQsassZlyrisQ5f1

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 4:25 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | TV | Web
 

The Machinist

HD DVD

I’ve just ordered my first ever non-US HD DVD: the Japanese release of Brad Anderson’s The Machinist. It was a somewhat pricy £23.36 from YesAsia, but I’m keen to see a Japanese HD DVD, and, of the Japanese titles not currently also available in the US, it’s the one that most appealed to me (although The Machinist is a Paramount title in the Americas, so they could release it at a later date).

Something that should be pointed out is that, unlike the American studios, who have been using VC1 almost exclusively as their codec of choice (although Paramount, for some reason, released U2: Rattle and Hum as an MPEG4 title), all of the Japanese titles so far have used MPEG4. This, I believe, is because most of the titles have been put out by Toshiba, who own patents in MPEG4 (a bit like Sony does with MPEG2). Anyway, I’d like to see what it looks like as a compression format (I’ve heard decidedly mixed reports), so I’m looking forward to seeing a slightly different HD DVD release.

 
Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Red Dragon

HD DVD
Fans of Manhunter will continue to debunk Red Dragon as a lifeless remake, but in reality it is far from the disaster that many have made it out to be. It is ultimately a worthy attempt to serve up an adaptation of the first chapter in the Lecter trilogy while providing a level of intertextual continuity not offered by Mann’s film. The end result is not a masterpiece on the same level as The Silence of the Lambs or Hannibal, but to be honest it was never going to be, and the final product - a smart, competent thriller featuring a highly qualified cast and slick production values - is as good a result as anyone could have reasonably expected.

I continue DVD Times’ HD DVD coverage with a review of Red Dragon, the first of the various Hannibal Lecter films to arrive in high definition. This unfairly maligned readaptation of Thomas Harris’s gripping novel is given an impressive presentation and is stacked with an array of bonus materials.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 24, 2006 at 12:01 AM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Red Dragon

HD DVD

My copy of the recently released HD DVD of Red Dragon (R0 USA) arrived this morning. Some general notes and observations follow.

First of all, this release includes all the extras from the standard definition 2-disc “Director’s Edition” release, and yes, that includes the isolated score with commentary by composer Danny Elfman, which is not listed on the packaging or in any of the online reviews I’ve read so far (which makes me wonder if some of these reviewers even bother to look at the bonus features, or just write some general blather using the press release as a guide). The menu system is the same generic style used for Unleashed: just the Universal logo with a menu pane down the left-hand side and some score from the film playing in the background. It would seem that Universal has abandoned its short-lived habit of playing a montage of footage behind the menu (see Serenity and The Bourne Supremacy).

Red Dragon

The transfer is, in all but one area, excellent. Red Dragon on DVD was always one of the better-looking standard definition releases I’d seen, but the HD DVD naturally takes it to a whole new level. Sharpness is almost always exemplary, except in areas in which the shot itself seemed to have been defocused. A lot of this film takes place in darkness, and the shadows are magnificently deep, with excellent contrast across the board. Colour reproduction is fabulous too, and little things like the red lettering in the opening credits, which were rather smudged and diffuse on the DVD (due to the low resolution of 720x480 being further reduced for primary colours due to MPEG2’s half resolution colour storage - a problem which still exists in the new formats like VC1 and H.264, but which is offset by the much higher source resolution of 1920x1080), are smooth and crisp here. There are also no compression artefacts visible, while the grain is handled very well. Red Dragon was shot in anamorphic Panavision and, as such, has an inherently finer grain density than Super35 films like Serenity and The Bourne Supremacy. On certain occasions, however, the grain does become more pronounced, such as when Graham is investigating the Leeds’ bedroom at around the 18 minute mark, and it is handled very well. On a related note, it should be pointed out that this, like Tomb Raider and Sleepy Hollow, comes from a film element rather than a digital intermediate, and as such it looks a little more “film-like” than DI-sourced material like Constantine and Unleashed, exhibiting a very slight telecine “wobble” and a smattering of film artefacts (which I have no problem with at all, as this is how it was meant to look).

Red Dragon

The downside is something that I haven’t seen in any Universal HD DVD releases until now, and that is edge enhancement - and it is at times rather pronounced. As with the Warner titles I’ve seen, Million Dollar Baby and Constantine, both of which have been edge enhanced, it’s quite high frequency, so the halos are fairly thin and only tend to affect highly contrasted edges. Unfortunately, due to the visual style of the film, these crop up quite often, such as the opening credits sequence, in which the camera crawls over pages of typed lettering and handwriting. The edge enhancement seems to be almost entirely horizontal, so while you won’t see any ringing at the top and bottom of objects, it can be quite pronounced at the sides.

Once again, though, I must impress on you that this is, in every other respect, a top-drawer transfer. It’s a shame to see Universal sullying their track record with the use of edge enhancement, which makes this the weakest of their HD DVDs that I’ve seen so far, but it’s still very much a mid to high 8/10, and compares very favourably to anything I’ve seen from either Warner or Paramount.

Update, September 23, 2006 08:07 PM: Oops, not quite all the extras have been ported over. The theatrical and teaser trailers are nowhere to be found.

 
Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006 at 1:56 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

DVD debacle

DVD DVD DVD

I bought a bunch of DVDs last night - something which, believe it or not, I haven’t done for a while. From DVD Pacific I ordered the Extended Edition of Enemy of the State. I currently own this film in its vanilla “remastered” UK edition, which has some of the most unsightly edge enhancement known to man. Hopefully this more recent version, released earlier this year, will feature a somewhat better transfer.

I also pre-ordered the “Family Fun Edition” of Home Alone (due out on November 20th), and the never before released on DVD Operation Crossbow (due out on December 19th).

 
Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006 at 11:40 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD
 
 

 
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