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I am Legend Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Back in September, I promised Land of Whimsy reader LGANS316 that I would watch and offer my thoughts on a number of Blu-ray titles, among them I am Legend. I don’t often get direct requests, so I’m somewhat ashamed that it’s taken me so long to get round to this one. (In my defence, it took forever for LoveFilm to send me the rental disc.) Anyway, we watched it tonight. I’m not going to say too much about the film, which I found amazingly dull for something featuring Will Smith fighting zombies and Emma Thompson curing cancer, and instead concentrate on this disc itself.

Referring back to LGANS316’s original request:

I am Legend - (Blu-ray) - In-depth analysis on the encode and whether the picture quality is really reference grade ? I discerned banding artefacts and compression noise on few scenes on my Panny Plasma but these claims were disregarded by AVS forum members which is fine. However there is some amount of DNR smearing going on in certain fast motion scenes.

Watching this title on my brother’s 123” projection screen, I can’t honestly say I noticed any instances of banding. However, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a reference grade title. As with so many Warner discs, it has been filtered and grain reduced, robbing the film of its original texture and eradicating high frequency detail. Whenever I’m watching a well-known actor, I tend to find myself mentally comparing his or her appearance on the disc in question with that of other releases, and throughout I was constantly reminded of 20th Century Fox’s I, Robot disc - a vastly superior product in every way. It just looks flat and underwhelming overall, with the depth of field tending to be artificially limited by the fact that nothing truly comes into focus, except in the most extreme close-ups. It’s also not all that brilliantly compressed - I detected instances of blocking during fast movement - symptomatic, perhaps, of Warner’s generally stingy bit rates. The theatrical cut (the version I watched) has an average bit rate of 23.37 Mbit/sec, including six 640 Kbit/sec Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks and a lossless TrueHD 5.1 track. Oh, and instead of using seamless branching, Warner have included two different versions of the film on the disc. No wonder the encoder was starved.

Is it an awful transfer? No, it’s not. It’s just an underwhelming one, and one that is symptomatic of Warner’s output in general. 7/10

I am Legend
studio: Warner; country: UK; region code: ABC;
codec: VC-1; file size: 16.4 GB; average bit rate: 23.37 Mbit/sec

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And just for reference… I, Robot.

 
Posted: Friday, January 09, 2009 at 10:29 PM | Comments: 10
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

 
Comments

1.

It also doesn't hurt that the film elements of I, Robot were scanned at 4k. Looked fantastic in the theater via 2k DLP.

The special edition Blu-ray of IAL is supposedly the same encodes just on separate discs. Bummer.

Posted by: Kram Sacul, January 9, 2009 11:51 PM

2.

Thanks a lot Whiggles for doing a fair evaluation of the true Picture Quality of IAL. I checked for banding artifacts in my new Panny plasma and it looks a bit less pronounced. Maybe the Plasmas are prone to banding at low brightness and poor lighting. IAL is another filtered product from Warner. As Kram mentioned the original BD features 2 separate version of the film encoded at an average video bit rate of 17 Mbps. The average bit rate you have mentioned also includes the bits taken by the audio tracks. Warner is yet to figure out a way to implement seamless branching.

The Ultimate Collector's Edition of IAL is said to sport a high bit rate encode though the reviewers couldn't discern any noticeable improvement in overall picture quality.

Posted by: LGANS316, January 10, 2009 1:28 PM

3.

I sold my edition on Ebay....I just didn't care for the film much at all and found the first half a lot more interesting than the second half and the fake looking zombies. In fact i prefer Charlton Heston in The Omega Man where it's vampires and not zombies.

I disagree with one aspect of your review though and that concerns the detail levels.

They filmed this with a different camera's and film stock and were going for a completely different look than the one in I Robot so comparing two different films is just never going to reach a fair conclusion.

Tech specs for I Robot

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343818/technical

Tech specs for I Am Legend

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0480249/technical


I believe low grain film stock will account for the fact that grain is not that noticeable in I Am Legend but will concede some minor DNR work has been done to achieve low bitrates. But this film is detailed and looks good and i believe what you are seeing is a result of cinematic choices when they filmed it rather than any real lack of detail.

It's supposed to look flat and downbeat as the central theme of the film is also the same.

Regarding noticing blocking....Is the projector calibrated because if the contrast or brightness levels are too high then some of the darker scenes will show blocking....Don't bite my head off for asking but i have taken stills from a number of Blu Rays and put them into paint Shop Pro and increased brightness levels and zoomed in and often you can see faults that just aren't there when in motion and when watching on a fully calibrated projector.

I didn't like the film anyways but i considered the Blu Ray to be of decent high quality ( But due to cinematic choices in the way they filmed the movie its not eye candy )

Posted by: FoxyMulder, January 10, 2009 3:35 PM

4.

Kram:
I'm not sure how much of a difference that would make to the detail, but the problems with this title are far beyond that initial difference.

LGans:
PDP technology is prone to posterisation and PWM noise (dancing pixels), yes.

FoxyMulder:
Low film grain stock is one thing, but IAL has been overly post-processed to remove grain. There are times where fast moving objects confuse the algorithm and the grain reappears for a second (the flashing lights in the car scene).

"Detailed" is a subjective term, what's your reference here? There is a distracting lack of high frequency video information; take a look at any long shot - everything looks out of focus. This is completely contrary to the point of High Definition video.

I really, really doubt that the director intended for the film to be grain reduced and low-pass filtered to remove high frequency video information. This sort of pre-filtering is done for compression reasons, which will probably be one of the last things on a director or DoP's mind when they're making movies for theatrical exhibition.

As for the projector being calibrated: yes, absolutely. I'm ISF Certified (with a passing score of 97%) and did it myself.

You're right about blocking in dark scenes, in fact Sonic Solutions (the granddaddies of DVD authoring and a company with a presence in the encoding arena) published a white paper which deals with this issue specifically. It's quite a challenge on BD (and HD DVD!) - especially at these bit rates.

Once again, please do not mistake aesthetic choices on the filmmakers' part with a compromised digital representation. We're not talking about aesthetically unappealing ("Ugly") movies here, we're talking about digitally bad. (Take "300" for example, I think it looks ugly as hell, but the HD DVD and BDs are fantastic).

Posted by: David Mackenzie, January 11, 2009 11:22 AM

5.

Kram:

I didn’t know I, Robot was scanned at 4K. Impressive, but I’m not convinced it would ultimately result in any visible difference in “mere” 1920x1080 versus a “standard” 2K scan.


Foxy:

I’m afraid I don’t agree at all. Yes, the two films in question were shot using different cinematographic processes (Super35 for I, Robot versus anamorphic Panavision for I am Legend), but that should not cause the massive difference in detail we’re seeing here. If anything, the Panavision-shot I am Legend should theoretically show more detail than I, Robot, given how much more of the negative was used. No, I, Robot doesn’t just look less sharp, it looks downright blurred.

The DNR is not just minor, it’s excessive. Well, not Dark City excessive, but overkill nonetheless. The most annoying part is that, at times, the natural grain does kick in. During the flashbacks where Will Smith and his family are driving through New York at night, whenever a siren flash lights up the screen, the grain appears for a brief instant. It’s clumpy grain thanks to the HF filtering, but it’s grain nonetheless, and quite pronounced it is too. My conclusion is that I am Legend has been well and truly Warner’d.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, January 11, 2009 11:37 AM

6.

Mackenzies,

I am slightly confused now. Foxy has trained eyes and the equipment to discern video artifacts and I am not in a position to blindly discredit his opinions. The banding could be caused by my Plasma especially when the movie is shot under very low and poor lighting and when compressed using very low bit rates. However, the filtered look in conjunction with DNR smearing are the other areas which have been bothering me for a long time. I was about to pull the trigger on IAL:UCE but have put the purchase on hold unless experts confirm the absence of these compression artifacts. Anyways, thanks a ton for coming up with a fair assessment.

Posted by: LGANS316, January 11, 2009 12:06 PM

7.

Regardless of who's giving opinions, the best thing to do is look at the screen grabs. They tell a good proportion of the story. Granted that this is not the same as looking at it on a display in motion, but I still think it's the best way for people to make up their own minds.

Posted by: David Mackenzie, January 11, 2009 12:13 PM

8.

See this is the problem i have.....Without ever having seen the film at a great cinema which means a cinema showing a great print with a well focussed projector it's hard to really call it on whether the DNR is excessive because to my eyes something like Basic Instinct is excessive but this film was not.

My reference for judging this film would have been Constantine which is directed by the same guy and uses the same Primo lenses and the same film stock and funnily enough gets the same accusations of being filtered and lacking detail.

I know you guys have a far stricter regime than me on this sort of thing though so i'll respect your call on this.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, January 11, 2009 4:31 PM

9.

I suppose that, on some level, any DNR is excessive to me. Well, maybe “excessive” was the wrong word to use - “significant” might have been more appropriate. You’re right, compared with something like Basic Instinct (well, the Studio Canal release at any rate; I haven’t seen Lions Gate’s BD, but I’ve heard that it apparently looks worse), I am Legend comes out looking pretty reasonable.

By the way, Constantine is filtered, but not as heavily as I am Legend. It shows more detail, although once again it’s slightly difficult to compare them directly given the different cinematographic processes (Constantine was a Super35 production).

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, January 11, 2009 5:08 PM

10.

It's the Lionsgate edition of Basis Instinct i have and it is just atrocious....There needs to be a quality control department for releases like that one.

With regards I Am Legend well as i say i bought it on Blu Ray and i sold it a few months back because as a film it just disappointed me.

I do agree with you about DNR and think it's use on high definition film titles should be restricted.

Posted by: FoxyMulder, January 11, 2009 8:39 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

https://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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