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BDs and DVDs I bought or received in the month of May

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • May 2, 2009: Waltz with Bashir (Region ABC UK, BD)
  • May 7, 2009: Weeds: Season Two (Region ABC USA, BD)
  • May 7, 2009: Weeds: Season Three (Region ABC USA, BD)
  • May 7, 2009: Paris, je t’aime (Region A USA, BD)
  • May 7, 2009: L’important c’est d’aimer (Region 0 USA, DVD) [sample copy]
  • May 8, 2009: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Region A USA, BD)
  • May 14, 2009: A Bug’s Life (Region A USA, BD)
  • May 26, 2009: Revolutionary Road (Region ABC USA, BD)
  • May 27, 2009: Weeds: Season Four (Region A USA, BD)
 
Posted: Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 9:30 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | TV
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

A Bug’s Life (BD, Buena Vista, Region ABC, USA)

 
Posted: Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 11:45 AM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Waltz with Bashir BD impressions

Blu-ray

When it comes to animation, I’m pretty much a snob and I make no apologies for it. I think it’s a marvellous medium and one with almost limitless untapped potential, which is why when I watch films like Waltz with Bashir, hamstrung by the constraints of live action, I always feel a bit let down. For those who don’t know, this film is about an Israeli soldier’s repressed memories of his involvement in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese by Christian militia. That soldier is the writer/director himself, Ari Folman, and the dramatised sections are intercut with actual interviews conducted by Folman of fellow soldiers recounting their own memories of the events. The bulk of the material, therefore, appears to have been live action originally, but everything was ultimately overlaid with Adobe Flash cut-outs (barring some horrific real life news footage at the very end). Although the technique appears to have been slightly different, it looks very similar to Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly in practice. I hated the look in that film and it’s just as grating here. My brother, I think, hit the nail on the head when he described it as “floaty toilet paper”, in that it has no real consistency or weight to it. It reeks of stylisation for stylisation’s sake and, while there are some undeniably arresting images on display, the overall effect is to distance the viewer from the reality of what is being portrayed on screen.

At least Waltz with Bashir is a somewhat better film than A Scanner Darkly, though in my opinion far from the masterpiece some have claimed. It strikes me as being rather too aware of itself as an “issue film” for its own good, leaving this viewer at least with the impression that he was being preached to, while the “animation” style is on the whole an eyesore. It also suffers from a degree of tunnel vision: very few of the on-screen events are set in context. You could argue that this is appropriate given the confusion and mindlessness of the carnage being depicted, but on several occasions I found myself somewhat lost and wishing I had a better idea of what was supposed to be happening.

By the way, Hillel Halkin, who fought in the war himself, has written an extremely interesting account of the events which is in part a response to Waltz with Bashir. I must confess to finding it infinitely more enlightening, and more eloquently expressed, than anything in Ari Folman’s film. I’ll say one thing, though: I admire Folman immensely for having the balls to paint such a damning portrait of his country of origin and its involvement in the horrific events that occurred in Lebanon in 1982. In doing so, it has predictably attracted accusations of anti-Semitism, which I must say I fail to understand… unless you’re of the belief that any criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic, a notion that I find incalculably asinine.

Visually, Artificial Eye have done sterling work for this UK BD release. The image is crisp, and the veneer of artificial grain that was added by the filmmakers shines through with no apparent attempts to reduce or mask it. It’s a little too much for the encoder to handle, and a number of the shots below show artefacting. In motion, it’s rarely an issue, although you can occasionally spot blocking in shots with large washes of the same colour. The disc is a BD-25, and I wonder if switching to a BD-50 would have given better results, as it would have given the compressionist more room to play with. High contrast edges (in other words, the black outlines of the characters) show a slight amount of haloing, though I can only speculate as to the reason for this: Filtering? Edge enhancement? Downconversion from the higher resolution source? In any event, it’s rarely bothersome, but it and the slight compression issues to prevent this disc from attaining full marks. 9.5/10

Waltz with Bashir
studio: Artificial Eye; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 21.8 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 34.64 Mbit/sec

Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir Waltz with Bashir

 
Posted: Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 10:35 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Waltz with Bashir (BD, Artificial Eye, Region ABC, UK)

 
Posted: Saturday, May 02, 2009 at 10:12 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

The early bird catches the worm

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

It seems I’m a little late to the party with this news, but I recently discovered that Disney’s upcoming Blu-ray Disc Platinum Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be arriving on store shelves a full seven weeks ahead of its DVD counterpart.

This to me is very pleasing news and is the sort of thing I hope to see more and more of in the future. Before anyone accuses me of being mean in denying those still restricted to standard definition DVD the right to experience this classic, let me just say that I’m not. The BD release of Snow White also includes a DVD copy of the film, as was the case with the recent BD releases of Bolt (itself released 48 hours ahead of the standalone DVD version) and Pinocchio, among others. My reasoning behind this is that, by adopting this strategy, Disney is ultimately encouraging (whether intentionally or not) those who have yet to adopt BD to pick up a future-proof package, making the eventual path to BD that bit more painless for them. (“Gee, honey, why not get a BD player? We’ve already got this collection of discs just waiting to be played in it.”)

What I’d ultimately like to see is the abolition of stand-alone DVD releases altogether, in favour of these BD/DVD combos. I’m not sure how feasible this is at the moment, but I suspect it will become more so as BD replication and licensing costs decrease. It seems fairly clear that the general public will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into high definition. I suspect that BD is long past the point of being considered a failure, so its survival in the immediate future is not in any jeopardy. Simply surviving, however, is not enough.

My ultimate dream is to be able to obtain a BD copy of any film of my choosing, and that won’t happen until the format at least achieves parity with DVD. At the moment, it’s simply not worth the time and money for smaller labels to release their niche collections on BD, because not enough people will buy them for them to even begin to recoup the costs. I don’t blame them. If you’re struggling to make a profit when you release a title on DVD, the last thing you want to do is pay the astronomical licensing fees to author, press and distribute a BD version that even fewer people will buy.

Therefore, it’s up to the majors - the ones who can afford it - to lead the way by helping to increase market saturation, and personally I think that these combo releases are theoretically an excellent means of doing that. It can only work, though, if sufficient incentive is given for the average (wo)man on the street to buy the BD/DVD combo rather than the standalone DVD. Until the day comes that standalone DVD releases disappear altogether, “BD first” strategies like the one being demonstrated by Snow White seem like the best solution.

Source: Blu-ray.com

 
Posted: Monday, April 06, 2009 at 11:50 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology | Web
 

BDs and DVDs I bought or received in the month of March

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • March 4, 2009: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 7, 2009: Bolt (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 12, 2009: Pinocchio (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 13, 2009: Quantum of Solace (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 19, 2009: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Region 0 USA, DVD) [review copy]
  • March 19, 2009: Weeds: Season One (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 20, 2009: Rebus (Region 0 UK, DVD)
  • March 20, 2009: Suspiria (Region B Italy, Blu-ray)
  • March 23, 2009: Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
 
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 8:39 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV
 

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death BD impressions

Blu-ray

First of all, be warned that this BD is a 1080i/50Hz affair, given that the film itself was made for British television, which, infuriatingly, uses that format as its standard. As such, those with Region A players are out of luck, so it’s at times like these that I’m glad I have a BD-compatible BD and can therefore output content at 50Hz.

With that technical hurdle out of the way, this is a terrific-looking disc. The film itself runs for less than half an hour, and was shot digitally in HD, so there would be something very wrong indeed if it looked less than stellar. There is a very small amount of ringing around certain high contrast edges, which might be indicative of slight filtering or could have been caused by something else. Either way, it’s an exceptionally minor concern and is the only black mark against this otherwise stunning transfer. 9.5/10

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death
studio: 2 Entertain; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 6.34 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 30.98 Mbit/sec

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

Oh, and just for fun, here are some shots taken from my Windows Media Center recording of the standard definition broadcast from BBC1 on Christmas Day, upscaled to 1920x1080:

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death

 
Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 5:45 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | TV | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Blu-ray, 2 Entertain, Region ABC, UK)

A word of warning to those living in the old NTSC territories: this is a 1080i/50Hz disc, which isn’t entirely surprising given that it was made for UK TV.

 
Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 at 12:45 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | TV | Technology
 

BD review: Bolt

Blu-ray
The lightweight nature of the extras and the elevated price resulting from the inclusion of two additional throwaway discs aside, this BD release of Bolt is impressive. While I would have liked to see a little more meat in terms of bonus content, the audio-visual presentation can’t be faulted in any way, and the film itself, although occupying the middle ground in terms of the quality of Disney’s animated features, certainly hits all the right spots as far as humour and emotion are concerned.

I review Disney’s Region A Blu-ray Disc release of Bolt, which hits shelves today, just ahead of its standard definition DVD counterpart. Has this film relit the Disney flame, or is it another damp squib? Read on and find out!

Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 5:01 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Pinocchio BD impressions

Blu-ray

Pinocchio is one of my all-time favourite Disney features. I’m not sure whether or not I’d call it the best, but it’s definitely in the running. I watched the new BD release tonight - it’s high definition debut - and am largely pretty pleased with how it looks. Like every Disney feature to get a new master since the Masterpiece Edition DVD of Alice in Wonderland in 2004, Pinocchio has essentially been completely scrubbed of grain, a process which, oddly enough, many enthusiasts don’t have a problem with, despite the resoundingly negative reactions whenever the same is done to live action titles like Patton or Dark City. I can understand why this is: given the comparative simplicity of even the lushest animation when compared to live action, the results of grain removal being applied to this medium is considerably less destructive than when applied to the complex textures of real people’s faces, fabric and so on. However, it’s safe to say that Pinocchio on BD looks nothing like how it originally did in cinemas, and I personally have severe problems with this. The image tends to look unnaturally static, with held shots in particularly taking on the feel of having been freeze-framed. Grain is aesthetically pleasing and is part of the character of these films, and in my opinion the sooner Disney realise this the better. There is one instance, where a bolt of lightning illuminates the screen, which briefly shows what the film could have looked like had its natural grain structure been left intact (see Example 11, which feels like a tantalising glimpse into something altogether more organic.)

Having accepted that the film now looks more like a product of 2009 than of 1940, we ultimately have a very nice presentation. It’s not as crisp-looking as the BD of Sleeping Beauty, and we can only speculate as to why this is. Less inherent detail to begin with? More grain being scrubbed out and taking detail away with it? Either way, it’s pleasing to look at provided you don’t mind the overly static appearance. Additionally, whereas Sleeping Beauty features some occasional nasty-looking digital screw-ups, I could detect nothing of the sort on Pinocchio. (Prior to viewing the disc for myself, I did see in some captures that had appeared online what looked like DVNR artefacts, but in actual fact these turned out simply to be the result of the underwater effect applied to the film’s third act; see Example 15.) There’s the occasional bit of weirdness where the colours are concerned, though: for example, during Stromboli’s puppet show, for a number of shots Pinocchio’s shirt inexplicably turns white instead of yellow, despite this not occurring on the previous DVD release (the 2003 UK special edition):

Pinocchio (2003 UK DVD) Pinocchio (2009 US DVD)

Otherwise, though, I tend to lean towards the feeling that the colours of this new master are more authentic than those of the previous release. I’m well aware that Disney now routinely refer to the original cels in order to determine the colour timing for their HD masters (a process that, as I previously outlined, is not as good an idea in practice as it is in theory), so I would suggest that there’s still a strong chance that the colours on this release are not a good match for those of the original theatrical exhibitions, but even so I would take these over the yellowy-looking 2003 DVD any day. I’m ultimately not disappointed by how the disc looks, although I maintain that, had Disney treated the film with more respect towards maintaining its integrity, it would have been considerably better. 8/10

Pinocchio
studio: Buena Vista; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 22.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 36.31 Mbit/sec

Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio

Oh, and a big “thank you” to Chuck for pointing out that there is a missing vocal effect on both the 7.1 remix and the supposedly “original theatrical soundtrack” (restored mono): Jiminy Cricket’s “Right!” just before “Take the straight and narrow path/And if you start to slide” is completely absent. Additionally, when watching the disc tonight, my brother also immediately noticed that Jiminy’s line “Look out, Pinoke!” at the end of the song, as Pinocchio falls over, has also disappeared into the ether. Both these lines were present and correct on the previous DVD, and on the earlier Gold Collection release. Quite how this happened is a mystery to me, and, while these two omissions don’t ultimately ruin the experience, it’s a disappointing degree of sloppiness on what Disney quite rightly considers one of its flagship titles.

At the end of the day, I’m giving this disc my recommendation, but it definitely falls a couple of notches shy of perfection. Oh well, there’s always the 80th anniversary in ten years’ time…

 
Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:24 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (Blu-ray, Buena Vista, Region A, USA)

 
Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 2:35 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Could this be the worst BD ever released?

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

It’s not often that screen captures of a Blu-ray Disc make me exclaim out loud, but Koch Vision managed to elicit just such a response from me when I saw shots of their release of Dave Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels over at DVD Beaver. I already knew, from discussions on various message boards prior to its release, that the HD presentation of this 1939 public domain title was severely compromised, having been unceremoniously cropped to 1.78:1 from its intended 1.33:1 ratio. Nothing, however, prepared me for the hideous sight that met my eyes when I checked out the DVD Beaver review. Not only does it appear to have been culled from a standard definition master (and one which appears to be afflicted by dot crawl at that), it has also been subjected to a level of digital noise reduction (DNR) that makes the BDs of Patton and Scary Movie look positively unmangled in comparison.

Go ahead, click the link and be prepared to lose your lunch. Someone well and truly koched this disc up.

I’ll conclude with a comment by my brother, who seems to me to have done an excellent job of summing up this shoddy situation:

Quite frankly, the BDA should clamp down on garbage like this being put out. At best, it’s a shit disc sullying the ultimate AV format, and at worst, it’s confusing consumers who actually expect High Definition when they buy Blu. My other fear is that unknowledgeable reviewers and buyers think the film looks like shit because it’s old (if I had a penny for every time I’d heard that one). Cut it out, guys.

Quite.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009 at 2:33 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Bolt BD impressions

Blu-ray

Those with more than a passing interest in Disney will probably know that Bolt started off as American Dog, the brainchild of Lilo & Stitch director Chris Sanders. When Disney Feature Animation was shaken up with the arrival of John Lasseter as its new chief, many projects were scrapped entirely or heavily retooled, with Sanders and American Dog being unfortunate casualties of this regime change. The result is that the film that has now made it to our screens bears only a passing resemblance to what it once was, the extent to which the new version has been homogenised and defanged having been documented in a post I made last year. Furthermore, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the plot is a step-by-step retread of Lasseter’s own Toy Story, with the eponymous Bolt going through the same character arc as that film’s Buzz Lightyear. The end result is an enjoyable film, alternately funny and moving in the fairly typical Disney way, and if not quite a return to form then it is at least a significant step in the right direction. However, I fear it will be remembered less for what it is than for what it might have been.

At least there can be no doubt that Disney has struck a home run with the BD transfer. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (slightly opening up the framing from the theatrical 1.85:1), Bolt looks superb from start to finish, and I honestly can’t fault it in any way. As with Pixar’s recent films, the team behind the film have generally favoured a slightly diffuse look, which means that the image doesn’t necessarily scream “razor sharp” at every opportunity, but looks considerably more natural than it would had they gone for a crisper look à la Open Season or (shudder) Big Buck Bunny. The compression is effortlessly handled from start to finish, and there is not evidence of digital manipulation in the form of filtering, edge enhancement and the like. A poster child for what the Blu-ray format is capable of and a nice big stinky sock to shove into the mouths of those who still believe that animation doesn’t benefit from high definition. 10/10

Bolt
studio: Buena Vista; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 20.4 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 30.33 Mbit/sec

Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt Bolt

 
Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009 at 2:24 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Bolt (Blu-ray, Buena Vista, Region A, USA)

 
Posted: Saturday, March 07, 2009 at 9:43 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

The Simpsonzzzzzz…

Television

This Sunday, The Simpsons will be making its jump from standard definition to high definition, and in doing so will be losing its only element that remains remotely cartoony. I’m talking, of course, about the opening title sequence, directed by David Silverman back in 1989 and virtually unchanged in two decades (barring some alterations made at the start of the second season). A copy of the new, re-animated title sequence can be seen on YouTube, and it’s every bit as sterile and lifeless as the animation you now find in the show itself. The Simpsons was always an extremely conservative-looking show, but in earlier years it at least had a bit of life to it, and the intro was always the liveliest part of it, combining fast and at times expressive animation with some humorous sight gags and a memorable theme tune. Yes, it looked crude, but at least it was fun. Watching the new version, it feels almost like listening to a favourite song in slow-play mode. All the energy has gone, and the poses have been evened out (polished, some would say) to the point of indistinction. There’s hardly any snap to the animation now, and the new sight gags are so obvious and poorly timed that it feels like the writers (and I guarantee someone actually sat down and scripted every single one of these gags) are pointing to them and saying “Lookie lookie! See how clever we are, slipping in this subtle joke that you wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t pointed it out?” And, if you think it seems bad after a first viewing, just imagine how you’ll be feeling after seeing the same thing every episode for another twenty seasons.

I understand why they redid the intro. The Simpsons is long overdue in making the leap to HD, and there’s no way the grotty old video-based intro would have held up in 720 or 1080p. However, it just illustrates the extent to which, over the years, the show’s look has stagnated as much as its written humour. I’m not sure why I’m so bothered about this as I don’t actually watch The Simpsons any more, unless it’s a rerun of an earlier episode, but I suppose I just see this as indicative of the state of animation these days.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if they still use people to draw this show, or do they just have a machine to do it now?

The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)

Source: Yahoo News

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 5:11 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Animation | TV | Web
 

Kung Fu Panda Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

I don’t like to tar an entire studio with the same brush, but broadly speaking I haven’t thought much of DreamWorks’ animated output. Barring their collaborations with Aardman, most of their stuff leaves me cold, with unattractive character designs, stiff animation, bland celebrity voices, irritating pop culture references and a lack of actual story development. Tonight, though, we watched the UK Blu-ray Disc of Kung Fu Panda, a rental copy of which has been sitting on my desk for some time, and I have to say it entertained me. It still suffered from some of the same problems that have plagued other DreamWorks films, most notably the overuse of celebrity actors who no-one remembers for their voices, as well as some truly hideous-looking character designs, but it was, overall, an enjoyable 92 minutes and certainly a whole heap better than, say, Shrek. Overall, I’d say it clocks in a couple of pegs below Pixar’s worst, which would be (in my opinion) A Bug’s Life.

Transfer-wise… well, this one has been praised in virtually every circle as “perfect”, “reference quality”, etc. Some viewers do seem to be under the impression that digitally-sourced animation is inherently flawless and couldn’t possibly look bad on BD. Unfortunately, in the wrong hands, it can. Discs like Ratatouille and Open Season are basically perceptually perfect (at least to my eyes), but, at the other end of the spectrum, The Simpsons Movie and Asterix and the Vikings, both of which are traditionally animated but were composited entirely on computers, suffer from needless low pass filtering, which removes the finest level of detail and adds unsightly ringing to edges with his contrasts.

Unfortunately, Kung Fu Panda is in this latter category, again thanks to filtering. The overall effect is actually far from awful, and indeed I can even understand why many people have failed to notice this problem, but it’s definitely there, and it’s consistent throughout. If you look at any of the screen captures below, you’ll see that the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the image suffer from a mild amount of ringing. This sort of thing is almost always indicative of filtering of some sort, and indeed if you look at, for example, the branches in Example 13 or the rope bridge in Example 14, you can see clearly the extent to which it affects the image as a whole. In the end, it’s definitely a very watchable transfer, but it’s a shame it looks like this, because it didn’t have to. Digital animation may not automatically look perfect, but it could and should. 8/10

Kung Fu Panda
studio: Paramount; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 22.8 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 35.44 Mbit/sec

Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda Kung Fu Panda

 
Posted: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Prince of Persia (2008) final impressions (long post)

Prince of Persia

Note: this is not a full review as such, but rather a final summing up of some points I didn’t address in my initial post on the game.

We’re only a few days into the new year and already I’m falling behind in my promise to post more. If I’d been keeping up with myself, I’d have told you that I completed Prince of Persia 2008 a couple of days before Christmas. What has motivated me to post about it now is an interesting video feature about it made by Shamus Young, whose blog, Twenty Sided, is one of my daily pit stops. In Shamus’ view, Prince of Persia is “the most innovative game of 2008”. Well, with a claim as brazen as that, I just had to watch the video to find out his reasons, particularly given that my reaction to the game was somewhat more lukewarm.

I’ve only come across a small number of bloggers who write extremely intelligently about games, and Shamus is one of those precious few. His arguments regarding Prince of Persia and the accessibility of games in general make a lot of sense, and I’m even tempted to say I agree with him 100% as far as his overview of the situation goes. Where I disagree is with regard to the desired outcome. In a nutshell, Shamus would like to see everyone playing games, and he believes the best way to do this is to effectively level the playing field. He presents Nintendo’s Wii as an example of this strategy working. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Wii is a prime example of what I don’t want to see happen to gaming on a widespread basis. Ignoring the fact that I find most of the games on that platform dull and anaemic beyond belief (something which Shamus addresses, pointing out that, while the Wii’s games may not appeal to everyone, the overall philosophy behind them can and should be carried over to other styles), I find the whole concept of a “casual” gaming platform where everything is dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator repellent. True, the end result is that everyone’s in the same boat, but that’s only because the control system is so clumsy that everyone, regardless of their gaming ability, ends up thrashing around like a disabled jellyfish.

Prince of Persia (2008)

[Continue reading "Prince of Persia (2008) final impressions (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2009 at 2:09 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Games | TV | Technology | Web
 

That was the year that was

Writings

With another year been and gone, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve experienced some highs and lows, the lowest of which would undoubtedly be losing my last two surviving grandparents in the space of a few months. On the upside, I feel that I’ve begun to make real progress with my PhD, which is finally evolving into something tangible, the process of which will no doubt continue in 2009. Otherwise, I can’t say that very much has changed for me. I continued to work part-time in my job at the library, with the various rounds of staff transfers mercifully passing me by and life continuing as before. Is it my dream job? No, I should say not, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go through periods of finding it (and the Great British public) incredibly frustrating. However, all things considered, I can think of plenty other less desirable jobs I could be doing. At least this one is convenient and, all things considered, reasonably well-paid.

 
Zeros and Ones

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

In relation to the battle between rival high definition formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, last year’s annual round-up included the statement “With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year.” Well, it seemed that I’d barely finished writing those words when the HD DVD camp threw in the towel. To be honest, the writing had been on the wall for some time, but several people, myself included, still adopted an “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” mentality in the early days of 2008. With Warner’s abandonment of the format only a few days later, however, the writing was well and truly on the wall. Within days, the game was up and the remaining HD DVD-supporting majors (Universal and Paramount) were pledging allegiance to the Blu flag. In any event, once the stragglers got up and running, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year for HD content, with some truly amazing transfers seeing the light of day, while the arrival of several high profile titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight, plus the certainty afforded by there now only being a single HD format, undoubtedly contributed to more people taking the plunge and lending their support to the platform.

I bought myself a new computer - a full tower system after my brief dalliance with the world of small form factors the previous year. After relying on my more technologically competent relatives in the past, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to build the whole thing from scratch myself - seriously, deciphering some of those poorly translated user manuals practically requires a diploma in itself. I also upgraded my PC’s aged Creative audio system with some nice new Logitech speakers and a veritable beast of a subwoofer. I also ultimately succeeded in going region-free for Blu-ray playback, thanks to SlySoft’s AnyDVD HD software, allowing me to use my system as a multi-region HD home theatre PC.

 
At the Pictures

HD DVD

This year, my brother put together a pretty impressive projection system, accompanied by a meaty sound setup, allowing us to enjoy a film-watching environment that more closely approximates the big screen experience. Despite this, however, my overall viewing figures were somewhat reduced in 2008 compared with 2007 (themselves a reduction from 2006). I maintain a log of all the films I watch, and the total tally for 2008 is 128, 67 of which were first time viewings. The increasingly wide array of available Blu-ray titles certainly led to me taking increased risks with titles I hadn’t previously seen, but at the same time caused me to be far less likely to tune in to television broadcasts of films. (I watched 56 films on Blu-ray, 44 on DVD and 14 on HD DVD, versus 7 on TV.)

I got the opportunity to see several what might be termed “significant” films, among them the great - 28 Weeks Later, Across the Universe, Atonement, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark City, Eastern Promises, Enchanted, Fight Club, The Fly (the David Cronenberg version), Juno, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Maltese Falcon, A Matter of Loaf and Death, Mean Girls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Plague Dogs, Rabid Dogs, The Shining, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Volver, Wall-E - the good - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Almost Famous, Blow, The Brave One, Chungking Express, La Femme Publique, Grindhouse, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Memento, My Blueberry Nights, Nikita, Resident Evil: Extinction, School of Rock, Shaun of the Dead, La Vie en Rose - the disappointing - 30 Days of Night, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Dark Knight, Doomsday, Gone Baby Gone, Running Scared, Tekkonkinkreet - and the downright dreadful - Freddy Got Fingered, Omen IV: The Awakening and, last but not least, Seytan.

Best film I saw this year? Definitely Atonement. Worst? Oh, come on, do I even have to answer that? I saw Freddy Got Fingered, for god’s sake.

 
Bibliothèque

Garnethill

Much to my chagrin, my reading this year was pretty limited. In addition to perusing a number of academic tomes as part of my PhD research, I sat down with The Field of Blood, The Last Breath, Garnethill, Exile and Resolution by Denise Mina, Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, Demo by Alison Miller, The Deceiver and The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsythe, and Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante. I also re-read Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and tucked into The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the latter serving as my sole piece of non-fiction reading that had no direct relation to my PhD. I also started Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, a celebrated classic that I must admit I’m making very slow progress with indeed.

 
Song and Dance

I picked up the following CDs: Atonement (Dario Marianelli), Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Eminence Symphony Orchestra), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Pink and the Lily (Sandi Thom) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez).

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | 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
 

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
 
 

 
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