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).
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).
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.