HD for High Disappointment
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.
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.