December 2008

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of December

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • December 4, 2008: My Blueberry Nights (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: Chemical Wedding (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Bodies: The Complete Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Home Alone (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: La Femme Nikita (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Fight Club (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: The Constant Gardener (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Chungking Express (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 17, 2008: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Trilogy (Region 2 UK, DVD) [gift]
  • December 24, 2008: Profondo Rosso (2-disc edition) (Region 2 Italy, DVD and WMV9 HD disc)
  • December 27, 2008: Hannibal Rising (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Night of the Living Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Transformers (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: The Island (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 31, 2008: Trial & Retribution: The Fourth Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)

Quite a haul to round off the year.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 11:58 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

DVD image comparison: Profondo Rosso

DVD

On Christmas Eve, my copy of Medusa’s R2 Italian 2-disc edition of Profondo Rosso arrived. While the first disc contained in the package is exactly the same as the underwhelming single-disc (standards converted) edition released by the company the same year, the second features a high definition (1440x816) presentation of the film encoded in Microsoft’s Windows Media Video 9 format. Playable only on Windows PCs and featuring only a 5.1 remix of the audio in Italian (with no subtitles of any kind), it’s understandably less than ideal, but what it does do is hint at what a hypothetical Blu-ray Disc release might eventually look like.

Anyway, click here for a full comparison featuring the US Anchor Bay DVD, the recent Danish release from AWE, and the two Medusa discs - the standard DVD and the WMV9 version.

Profondo Rosso in standard definition Profondo Rosso in high definition

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:41 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology
 

Home Alone Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

It took some time, but I’m finally able to provide you with direct screen captures for Fox’s recent Blu-ray Disc release of Home Alone.

A slightly revised master appears to have been used compared with that which found its way on to the 2007 Family Fun Edition DVD release. Some additional dirt and scratches have been cleaned up, and a grain reduction pass also appears to have been applied: the DVD actually shows a more pronounced grain structure, which is rather unusual. The compressionist on this title actually contacted me regarding its appearance, and, since he/she has stated that he/she did no additional filtering or noise reduction, we must assume that these steps were carried out at an earlier stage in the chain. In addition to the slightly “digital” look the film now has as a result of the grain reduction, it also has a somewhat soft appearance, but I suspect that this is largely representative of the original materials rather than because of any monkeying around with the master. The bottom line: not an amazing-looking disc by any stretch of the imagination, but watchable enough. 6/10

Home Alone
studio: 20th Century Fox; country: USA; region code: A;
codec: AVC; file size: 30.6 GB; average bit rate: 42.64 Mbit/sec

Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:26 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Priceless

The Omen Trilogy

Dropping a tetralogy down to a trilogy for a UK release is predictable. Failing to notice that the cover artwork consists of a giant “4” is priceless.

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Reap what you sow

Blu-ray Blu-ray

Zavvi, the UK version of what used to be called Virgin Megastore, has gone into administration. Now, this may have had something to do with its main supplier, Entertainment UK (which also provided the bulk of Woolworths’ goods), having recently gone down the crapper, but I’d imagine replacing the memorable Virgin brand with a name as stupid as Zavvi didn’t help either. Either way, I decided to make the most of their clearance sale on Saturday and picked up a few Blu-ray titles at reasonable prices: Hannibal Rising (the one Hannibal Lecter film I’ve yet to see - don’t worry, I’m well aware that it’s supposedly awful), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and, because there’s no shame in watching the odd bit of mindless crap from time to time, Mr. Michael Bay’s The Island and Transformers (the latter an upgrade over my brother’s HD DVD copy, given the BD’s inclusion of lossless audio).

Blu-ray Blu-ray

I’ve already done image galleries for the HD DVD versions of The Island and Transformers, which feature the same video encodes on BD, and will be doing the other two titles before too long. However, as a little sneak preview, I must say I’m very impressed by how good Night of the Living Dead looks. I’m an unrelenting pessimist and wasn’t really expecting much, particularly given how bad some of this film’s DVD releases have been, so I was pleasantly surprised when I popped the disc in to find a transfer that is, at least based on my initial cursory examination, the equal of Warner’s Casablanca.

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Technology
 

Was Santa good to you?

Well, another Christmas has been and gone. I’ve decided to put my PhD work to one side until the New Year, but I’m back to work at the library tomorrow, so it doesn’t really feel like I’ve had much in the way of a festive break this year. Alas, I can’t really complain, as it’s simply the luck of the draw: I work Wednesdays and Saturdays, and, with Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, I’ve missed out on any additional days off. Next year, with Christmas on a Friday, I’ll end up with a more generous stretch of time to put my feet up.

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

Anyway, presents! In something of a change in tradition, I didn’t get any movies this year. (As it happens, I’m still waiting on the US Blu-ray releases of Planet Terror, Death Proof and the Canadian Sin City, but, seasonal postal delays being what they are, I’m not entirely surprised that they didn’t show.) Instead, I contented myself with two packets of sour flavour Jelly Bellies, as well as Tomb Raider: Underworld for PC and the 3-disc Legendary Edition of Echoes of War, a symphonic recording of compositions from Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series of games. Oh, and a copy of the From Dusk to Dawn trilogy on DVD from my work colleagues. My final gift, which I’ve actually had up and running since the middle of November (hence it not really feeling like a Christmas present as such, although technically it was), is my very nice speaker setup, which remains something of a rarity for me in that it’s one of the few pieces of computer equipment I’ve bought and had not one single complaint about.

In that past, we’ve generally had the grandparents from both sides of the family over for Christmas dinner, but this year, with all but one of them being six feet under, things were a little different. As a result, myself, my parents and my brother did something we’ve never done before and actually went out for our evening meal, to the Kama Sutra on Sauchiehall St.

A Matter of Loaf and Death

Afterwards, we trooped back home to watch the premiere of the new Wallace & Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, which aired last night on BBC1. I personally enjoyed it a lot, even if it did feel a bit, well, slight in comparison with the previous shorts. It did feel like something of a return to form after the feature-length The Curse of the Were-rabbit, however, which for all its strengths felt like it was lacking the special something which made the shorts so memorable. In any event, Nick Park’s masterpiece remains, for me, The Wrong Trousers, which is just about as perfect as storytelling can get.

 
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2008 at 2:07 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | TV | Technology
 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes of the holiday season to all Land of Whimsy visitors. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white! I’m afraid I’ve been pretty busy this December (I even drew the short straw and ended up working the Christmas Eve shift at the library) and haven’t had time to draw one of my crappy pictures this year, so I thought I’d post a picture of our Christmas tree to warm the cockles of your heart. And yes, that is a hulking great CRT television. My dad bought it close to a decade ago, and it was his pride and joy. It’s now covered with discolouration splotches and hasn’t been turned on in so long that I’ll be amazed if it still works at all.

By the way, there has been an interesting development in my quest to get to the bottom of the Profondo Rosso situation. I’m continuing to investigate the issue and hope to be able to report back on it in a couple of days, but let’s just say that an absolutely gorgeous high definition master appears to exist…

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology
 

Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)

DVD

Note: I am extremely grateful to Thomas Rostock for setting me up with a copy. Thanks!

Another World Entertainment is a Danish DVD company whose mission statement is “to try to secure the best possible transfers and extras available and to lavish attention on each film through booklets, trivia and other bonus features.” They have already released a handful of giallo titles, including Duccio Tessari’s Puzzle, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Sergio Martino’s Torso, and the latest film to come under their radar is Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, called “the giallo to end all gialli” by someone whose name has unfortunately escaped me. Earlier in the year, Thomas Rostock, the person responsible for masterminding this release, contacted me to let me know about it and discussed various matters with me. What follows are my honest opinions on the finished piece, going into as much detail as possible. (Note: I am grateful to Thomas for filling me in on some of the historical issues surrounding this film’s life on DVD.)

[Continue reading "Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

L.A. Confidential Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Not exactly an awe-inspiring image, but I’ve seen considerably worse. It’s a Warner title, and as such I have my suspicions that it has been subjected to the studio’s usual injection of mediocrity. Certainly, it has the look of having been slightly grain reduced, and I suspect that the highest frequency details have been filtered out as well. The picture is fairly flat-looking and never really comes to life, so to speak, while even in the closest of close-ups, there is a degree of softness that I suspect wasn’t part of the way it was shot. Overall, it’s basically what I’d term a reasonably nice-looking catalogue title, and, on the plus side, I can’t spot anything in the way of deliberate edge enhancement, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by this disc. 7/10

L.A. Confidential
studio: Warner; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: VC-1; file size: 31.6 GB; average bit rate: 32.9 Mbit/sec

L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential

 
Posted: Monday, December 22, 2008 at 12:35 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

The Bourne Identity HD DVD impressions

HD DVD

Universal catalogue titles are notorious for their lacklustre transfers; this is actually one of the better ones. The only film in the Bourne trilogy to have not gone through the DI process, this one has a different look compared to its successors. There’s a fair bit of ringing around high contrast edges and some evidence of degraining, but overall detail levels are reasonably good, and the end result is fairly easy on the eyes. The two sequels definitely look a lot better in a technical sense, but of course the downside to them is that the camera is constantly shaking around, so it’s somewhat difficult to appreciate this. With The Bourne Identity, at least the camera stays still long enough for you to be able to spot the edge enhancement! I’ll leave you to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I wasn’t planning on doing any more image galleries like this one for HD DVD releases, but this film is coming to BD in January, and I wanted to have the visual evidence ready so we can curse Universal when they once again port one of their catalogue titles over to BD and succeed in making it look worse than its HD DVD counterpart. (Note: this is purely speculation on my part, going by their track record with non-DI material.)

The Bourne Identity
studio: Universal; country: USA; region code: N/A;
codec: VC-1; file size: 18.8 GB; average bit rate: 21.7 Mbit/sec

The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 7:29 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Fight Club Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

I watched German Blu-ray Disc release of David Fincher’s Fight Club from Kinowelt last night. Prior to picking up a copy, I’d heard some negative reports about the disc’s image quality, including a review at Amazon.de which claimed it to be nothing more than a standard definition upconvert. I’m glad I researched the matter more thoroughly, because otherwise I would have steered clear of what is actually a rather good release. That’s not to say that it’s a flawless presentation by any means: a comparison at the AV Science Forum shows a very slight overall reduction in overall detail levels compared with the US DTheater tape from 20th Century Fox, while a couple of segments of the film, one near the beginning and one near the end, do demonstrate an overall blurrier look with less defined grain than the rest of the transfer, suggesting that perhaps these moments were taken from a different source (see capture 15 for an example of this).

Otherwise, this is a pretty impressive film-like presentation, one of only a small number of film-sourced (rather than DI-sourced) titles that I’ve seen in HD that haven’t been overzealously processed. Grain is moderate and very natural, and detail is pretty good too. It’s not razor-sharp, but I don’t think it was ever going to be. It’s definitely worth picking up if you can play Region B titles. I know some people have expressed dissatisfaction with it, saying a new master is needed etc., but I’m not convinced it could be made to look significantly better than it does now. I certainly don’t expect Fox’s eventual US release to improve on it in any meaningful way - and hey, it could even look worse, particularly if they decide to go to down on the degraining side of things. Once New Line get around to releasing Fincher’s Se7en, I would be overjoyed if it looks anything like this… but knowing New Line, they’ll probably pull a Dark City on it.

It also comes in a nice tin case, and has a tremendous DTS-HD High Resolution 7.1 mix (2046 Kbps, 48 kHz, 24-bit), suffering from none of the dialogue bleed and other problems which plagued the 7.1 audio on the previous BD I picked up from Kinowelt, Léon.

Fight Club
studio: Kinowelt; country: Germany; region code: B;
codec: VC-1; file size: 33.2 GB; average bit rate: 34.18 Mbit/sec

Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club Fight Club

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 4:17 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Prince of Persia (2008) initial impressions

Prince of Persia

I picked up a copy of Prince of Persia for PC yesterday - the 2008 reboot, that is, not the original 1989 platformer of the same name. (Incidentally, I’m not what you’d call a fan of this trend of relaunching long-running game series and giving the new edition exactly the same title as the original. It just seems unnecessarily confusing and means you always have to clarify which one you’re referring to. Anyway, I digress.) My primary motivation in getting a hold of this game was its very pretty cel-shaded graphics, which, in terms of colours and overall stylisation, are not unlike those found in Eternal Sonata for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That said, I don’t think anything else quite like it exists on the PC, so for me it’s pretty unique.

Prince of Persia (2008)

As has been the case with all the Prince of Persia games since Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, the gameplay borrows heavily from the Tomb Raider series, played from a third-person perspective and with an emphasis on climbing, acrobatics and puzzle-solving, albeit with an Arabian Nights twist. This time round, the central character of the Prince has been redone from the ground up, and, as is perhaps fitting for a game released in 2008, he’s a wise-ass punk who most sane people would dearly love to kick in the teeth. It could be worse, though: compared to what’s happened to Sonic the Hedgehog of late (a character who arguably always had an unhealthy amount of ‘tude, but which seems to have reached epidemic proportions in the last few years), he’s fairly bearable. And at least, this time, he’s teamed up with a female companion, Elika, who isn’t just a damsel in distress. Rather than simply being a sidekick, she holds her own and actually turns out to be pretty useful.

Prince of Persia (2008)

By “turns out to be pretty useful”, I should perhaps have said “makes the game incredibly easy”. There’s a lot of hand-holding in this instalment: Elika not only shows you exactly which path you have to take through each area (if you ask her), she also helps you fight and prevents you from ever dying by swooping down and pulling you to safety if you happen to mistime a jump. Given that the previous reboot of the franchise, The Sands of Time, was a little too obtuse for my tastes, I’m actually quite happy to have Elika along for the ride, but so far, the game certainly hasn’t offered anything approaching a challenge and, if the reviews are to be believed, this stays the same right up to the end. I’m not sure I’d call this a “casual game” in the most obnoxious sense of the word - in other words, something extremely simplistic designed for every man and his grandmother to play without any attempt to cater to core gamers - but if you’re looking for something that taxes the old grey matter, I suspect this isn’t it. Good thing it looks and sounds absolutely beautiful, so much so that it’s possible for me to overlook the relative lack of substance… kind of like My Blueberry Nights, really.

Oh, and it is indeed 100% DRM-free. There isn’t even a CD key, nor does the game check that the disc is in the drive before playing. This seems to be a change of policy for publisher UbiSoft, and I for one applaud them for not assuming that their customers are all potential pirates. I just hope it’s an intentional decision and not simply an oversight.

 
Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 7:51 PM
Categories: Cinema | DRM | Games | Technology
 

Chungking Express Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

A bulging chest of swag was hauled aboard the HMS Whimsy today, including separate packages from the far lands of Germany and the United States of America. The former contained Blu-ray Disc releases of Fight Club and The Constant Gardener (both locked to Region B, I’m sorry to report), while the latter contained my first ever Criterion BD, Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express.

I watched this tonight and, sacreligious as it will no doubt sound, I’m afraid it did very little for me. This is not a case where I can point to individual elements and say “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t sit well with me”: I can’t really criticise the film at all, and yet it just left me completely cold. It was as if there was some sort of barrier between myself and the film that prevented me from connecting with it. It just came and went and, to borrow a saying from my brother, “I don’t regret watching it but I don’t care if I never see it again.” I suppose some films are just like that: you can’t please anyone, and you’d be foolish to try, but (and here I’m only tightening the noose around my neck) I enjoyed My Blueberry Nights considerably more. Given my apparently-notorious dislike of most anime (while I love a lot of Western animation), perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

As far as the BD itself is concerned, I strongly doubt that this is going to be a demo title for anyone’s collection. As with my reaction to the film itself, I can’t pinpoint anything “wrong” with it per se, but, I suspect due to the limitations inherent in the source material, it basically looks completely natural without ever being overly impressive. I don’t doubt that it’s a completely faithful reproduction of the materials, but in that case the source materials can’t have been particularly amazing to begin with. It’s therefore extremely difficult to know how to rate a title like this. Taking into account faithfulness to the original materials, it’s probably a “10”, but, ignoring such concerns and concentrating on pure aesthetics, it would be considerably lower.

Sorry if this post comes across as overly negative. I have a huge amount of respect for Criterion’s dilligent efforts to retain a filmic look in the home video environment, but something we have to bear in mind is that a lot of the films in their catalogue, due to their very nature, simply aren’t going to have the “wow” factor in HD. That’s something to bear in mind when evaluating the quality of their discs. That said, it never ceases to amaze me how willing reviewers are to give Criterion the benefit of the doubt. I’ve yet to read a review of this disc that gives the image quality anything less than a glowing appraisal, and yet I feel pretty certain that, if the likes of Universal were to put out exactly the same disc, many would be calling it a sloppy effort and demanding that a new master be struck (ignoring the fact that a new master was created this year).

PS. If I hear the song California Dreamin’ one more time, I may inflict physical violence on the first person I find.

Chungking Express
studio: Criterion; country: USA; region code: A;
codec: AVC; file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate: 40.66 Mbit/sec

Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express

 
Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 11:32 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

La Femme Nikita Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

La Femme Nikita, or Nikita to give it its correct title, is a film that I’ve owned on DVD for over a year now. I always intended to sit down and watch it, but, given how atrocious the DVD’s transfer was, I always seemed to come up with an excuse to watch something else instead. Luckily, Sony have now released the film on Blu-ray Disc, meaning that we can now finally throw away our blurry, aliased old standard definition discs. It’s altogether better-looking than Kinowelt’s recent BD of Léon, with a far more natural grain structure, superior detail and considerably less in the way of blown-out contrast. Some of the whites do look a little on the “hot” side, but a comparison with my old DVD revealed that they looked just the same there as well, so I don’t believe any boosting has been carried out - well, no additional boosting, at any rate. In any event, the master is new, judging by the presence of the 2007 Gaumont logo at the start.

By any standards, this is a very good-looking disc. However, when you consider that the source material is nearly 20 years old and the film is slightly more obscure than a lot of the titles being put out on BD, the end results look even more impressive. I was going to say “If you want a catalogue title done right, take it to Sony,” but then I saw Erik’s screen captures of Joan of Arc: The Messenger, another Besson film also released by Sony on the same day, and decided I’d just be embarrassing myself if I said that.

On a semi-related note, can I ask Sony to please stop positioning their subtitles over the letterboxing on their 2.39:1 discs instead of placing them within the frame? This sort of thing basically makes foreign language films unwatchable for those with 2.39:1 displays, and is extremely irritating for the rest of us because it means our eyes are automatically drawn to the black at the bottom of the screen rather than the picture itself.

La Femme Nikita
studio: Sony Pictures; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: AVC; file size: 26.4 GB; average bit rate: 32.33 Mbit/sec

La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita La Femme Nikita

 
Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 4:20 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

“Where are you, you little creep?”

Blu-ray

Yesterday, I was greeted by the arrival of one of my most anticipated Blu-ray Disc releases of the season (don’t laugh): Home Alone. Watching this film is a Christmas tradition aboard the HMS Whimsy, and last night, we dimmed the lights and got to enjoy this holiday classic all over again, for the first time in high definition.

I’d like to be able to post screen captures, as I normally do when discussing the image quality of a BD, but unfortunately, Home Alone, like a number of other recent 20th Century Fox releases, comes with an insidious new version of their pointless BD+ content protection system which the usual suspects have yet to break. I’m assured that they’re working hard on it, though, so hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time before normal business is resumed.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to dazzle you with words rather than pictures. As per usual, we have a 1080P AVC encode on a dual-layer BD50, in the proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1. A less than convincing 5.1 remix (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio) is provided, along with the original matrixed 2.0 surround mix as a lossy Dolby 2.0 track. Transfer-wise, the same master used for last year’s DVD re-release was presumably the source again here, judging by the similarities in overall colour balance, plus the fact that I can’t see yet another a new master being created so soon. Unfortunately, the BD has been degrained noticeably more than the DVD, making the image look a bit synthetic. It’s not up to Patton or Dark City levels of badness, but it doesn’t look very film-like. This is not what you’d call a crisp-looking film, but I suspect that this is largely representative of the original materials rather than any monkeying around with the master. In any event, the presentation is reasonably satisfying overall, but it’s likely to disappoint both purists who crave faithfulness to the source and “it has to be threeee-deeeeeeee!” kiddies like the Blu-ray.com crowd.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2008 at 3:47 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Doing the right thing

DRM

I was informed today (thanks, Avanze) that the latest patch for Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 adds an option to deactivate your install of the game, freeing up the activation to allow you to install it on another system. In case you weren’t already aware of the scandal surrounding the game’s draconian DRM implementation, to briefly explain: you can activate the game on up to five different systems, connecting to EA’s server in order to authenticate your copy every time you do so. Until the most recent patch, this then meant that, once you’d used up your five shots, you’d have to call EA’s pay-by-the-minute help line and plead to be allowed to install the game again (a process that, as you can no doubt imagine, appears to be considerably less than straightforward).

I’m not going to call this new solution perfect, because it doesn’t explain what you do in the event of a system crash (presumably you can’t de-authorise an installation if your hard drive has been wiped), and it also adds the hassle of having to remember to de-authorise your copy before formatting your hard drive or upgrading your system. Additionally, I’m still not happy at all about having to “talk” directly to EA’s servers in order to activate my copy. What happens if, ten years from now, I decide I want to install the game again and I find out that they’ve taken the activation servers offline? However, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, so much so that I’m now considering picking up a copy of the game - something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I’m also very excited to check out the latest revamp of the venerable Prince of Persia series, unnecessarily confusingly named Prince of Persia. A post by “UbiRazz”, a representative of the game’s publisher, UbiSoft, contains the assertion that this title will ship without any DRM - which is somewhat surprising as it is out of line with the company’s current policy regarding copy protection on their PC releases. Still, the game looks so damn cool that I’ve decided to take the representative at his/her word and pick up a copy.

Note: the image above was created by Alfredo Daniel Rezinovsky and is available under a Creative Commons BY-SA 2.5 Argentina License.

 
Posted: Sunday, December 07, 2008 at 6:32 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: DRM | Games | Technology | Web
 

A picture’s worth a thousand words, part deux

Web

I recently discovered another web site with a library of direct Blu-ray disc captures, Cinema Squid. The layout is a little unwieldy in that there’s no dedicated index of titles that have been capped, but if you dig around you can find some fine work on offer. I was genuinely surprised to discover that, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl looked so perfect, and that Kung Fu Panda had been thrashed with the low-pass filter.

 
Posted: Saturday, December 06, 2008 at 3:16 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Shrooms Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Thanks to John for giving me an opportunity to view this disc… I think. No, it’s not particularly good - an Irish twist on the typical “moronic stoner kids get lost in the woods and are set upon by crazy killers” slasher movie formula, with the most blatantly obvious twist ending you’ve ever seen - but at least it provided me with some laughs, albeit of the unintentional variety.

On to the transfer: we have here an encode with an extremely small file size, particularly by Sony’s standards. To be honest, compression artefacts are less of an issue than I expected, but there is definitely some blocking going on in he background at times. There’s also some posterisation going on, with darker scenes suffering from compromised shadow detail. Lyris suggested that it might be that the filmmakers underexposed their material and then tried to compensate by boosting it digitally. That said, the overall detail levels are very good, despite a small amount of ringing resulting from a mild low pass filter (check the letterbox bars).

I was surprised by the lack of lossless audio - only a 640 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a 224 Kbps 2.0 downmix are provided.

Shrooms
studio: Sony Pictures; country: UK; region code: ABC;
codec: AVC; file size: 10.9 GB; average bit rate: 17.98 Mbit/sec

Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms

 
Posted: Saturday, December 06, 2008 at 11:12 AM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Blu-ray review: Wall-E

Blu-ray
It’s easy to become overly gushy about a package like this, not only on account of the film itself but also because of the excellent audio-visual presentation and downright generous offering of extras, but I’m going to take a leap and suggest that Wall-E on Blu-ray is one of the best - or possibly even the best - releases of 2008. A poster child for high definition and a remarkable film in its own right, this release deserves a place on everyone’s shelf.

I’ve reviewed Disney’s recent Region B UK Blu-ray release of Wall-E, a remarkable film in a remarkable package..

 
Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008 at 3:07 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

You took your time

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

MGM have finally re-announced their delayed Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs, originally scheduled for April 3, 2007. Almost two years on from its original release date, this title must have set some sort of world record for the longest delay on an HD title. (Of course, MGM continues to keep schtum about its sequel, Hannibal, but, given that it has already been released on Blu-ray in Germany, I’m not too fussed.)

No word yet on disc specifications, but, after waiting so long for it, it had better be something a little more impressive than MGM’s usual bare-bones MPEG-2 catalogue effort. Hopefully all of the extras from the previous MGM releases (I’m not holding out much hope for the Criterion-owned materials, such as the audio commentary) will be ported over, and I can safely retire my laser rot-affected 2001 UK 2-discer. Now, the big question is, will this feature the Tak Fujimoto-approved colour timing from the Criterion or the over-lit, watery look of the previous MGM DVDs? The pessimist in me strongly suspects the latter.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 9:37 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 
 

 
 
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