You must try harder
The “remastered” Blu-ray release of The Fifth Element and the HD DVD of The Bourne Identity both arrived yesterday. I’ll discuss the former first, since I’ve watched it from beginning to end, and it’s also the more significant of the two releases, albeit not for positive reasons. As you probably know, The Fifth Element was one of Sony’s launch titles when the Blu-ray format first lifted off last summer. You probably also know, therefore, that many of Sony’s initial Blu-ray discs were mercilessly derided - some unfairly (Silent Hill is still a fine-looking disc in spite of its compression problems), but others most definitely fairly. The Fifth Element, judging by the screenshots I’ve seen, fell into the latter category: lacking in fine detail, horribly compressed and viciously noise reduced, a certain comparison which quickly circulated around all the best home entertainment forums showed there to be surprisingly little difference between it and the standard definition Superbit release.
At the time, it looked as if Sony’s lax quality control could actually end up costing them the format war. The tides now seem to have turned, and Sony’s desire to improve Blu-ray’s image has been realised in a new “remastered” version of The Fifth Element, released on July 17th. As a gesture of goodwill, they event set up an exchange programme so those who were gypped on the original release can trade in their copies for the new edition. The original release has been discontinued, and Sony’s plan is clearly to make the transition from old to new as discrete as possible, given that the packaging of the new version is almost identical to the previous one, the only giveaways being the copyright date, the presence of Dolby TrueHD in the audio specifications, and some other minor changes.
Anyway, on to the image quality itself. My verdict would be “good, but not great”. Lyris does a pretty good job of summing up the pros and cons, so I’ll keep this brief and simply say that, broadly speaking, it seems to be an improvement over its predecessor in terms of compression (the move from MPEG2 to AVC, and from a BD25 to a BD50, is definitely appreciated), but much of the supposed increase in detail that certain reviewers have pointed out is really little more than edge enhancement. Obviously, not having seen the original release in motion, it’s hard to offer a definitive review, but I’d peg this as a low 7/10. The effects shots look considerably less detailed and exhibit more ringing than the non-effects shots, and that’s something that can’t be helped, but that doesn’t change the fact that the edge enhancement is rather pronounced, and the tell-tale signs of a 1080i to 1080p conversion rear their head on occasions in the form of combing artefacts (Lyris noticed them within a couple of minutes, and once we knew they were there, they became extremely difficult to ignore). I’ve no idea if the previous release also shows these (to date we seem to be the only people to have posted about them on either release - then again, we seem also to be the only people to have noticed that the Blu-ray District B13 is also a 1080i to 1080p conversion (and a bad one at that) - but my message to Sony is ultimately: “So near and yet so far.”
Maybe when Pathé release it on HD DVD (whenever that happens), they’ll get it right.
For The Bourne Identity, fortunately, the case seems to be somewhat more clear-cut. What we basically have is a nice-looking transfer that isn’t perfect by any means but it still rather better than most of Universal’s recent catalogue releases. Whereas The Bourne Supremacy’s HD DVD was derived from a digital intermediate, The Bourne Supremacy is film-sourced, and (probably as a result) appears slightly less defined, and with a (naturally) rougher texture. There are also some signs of mild ringing, but all in all I’m happy with what I’m seeing. It won’t find its way into any “best of” lists, but I doubt that too many people will be disappointed by it.