I can’t see a goddamn thing, Jim!
The Kingdom on HD DVD is an example of what I would call the second tier of Universal’s HD output. At the very top, you have titles like The Bourne Ultimatum and King Kong: recent releases which, barring any instances of compression artefacts, are as perfect as HD gets. There’s no sign of filtering, edge enhancement, noise reduction or any other unwanted tampering. Then you get titles like Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Eastern Promises, which still look very good, and appear to have come from excellent sources, but which introduce a layer of digital manipulation, usually a light sheen of filtering.
In the case of The Kingdom, there is clear evidence of ringing, particularly visible in the first shot. This is the thin, sharp, high frequency type usually associated with straight edge enhancement rather than the thicker, blurrier sort you get with filtering, so my theory is that someone sharpened this transfer. The fact that the credits text is also affected shows that this took place at the very end of or after the DI process: in other words, the editor wasn’t simply being fed a bunch of pre-sharpened footage. (Sometimes you’ll get transfers where the film-based material has been tampered with but the credits themselves are problem-free.) Theoretically speaking, therefore, it should be possible, one day, to go back to the source and get a “clean” master.
Trying the get clear screen captures of this disc was tough given the nature of the camerawork. The film was produced by Michael Mann, and the director, Peter Berg, seems to have attempted to replicate his, ahem, style by constantly shaking the camera around like a stoned monkey. The result is that the whole film is essentially one long jittery zip pan, so I found myself limited to the more serene, static moments, which are few and far between. Broadly speaking, it looks better in motion, although it does tend to make you feel seasick. Did I mention I hate this look?
(Universal, UK, VC-1, 18.6 GB)