Land of the Dead
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.
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).
So far, my overall rankings for the various HD DVD releases that I’ve seen now look like this (from best to worst):
The Bourne Supremacy
Land of the Dead
Million Dollar Baby
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?