Page 22 of 42
<< Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 Next >>

The battle for high definition

Black Book is a solid-looking but not perfect Blu-ray release, highly impressive apart from some light filtering, removing some of the finest details and resulting in some mild ringing in places (look at the top and bottom of the frame, where the film image and the letterboxing converge).

Black Book
(Tartan, UK, AVC, 30.2 GB)

Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book Black Book

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2007 at 8:06 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

Bargain bin brouhaha


Don’t you just love unexpected bargains? There I was, minding my own business as I perused HMV yesterday during my lunch break (one of the nice things about working in the centre of town is the number of decent shops within a few minutes’ walking distance), and I noticed a copy of the DVD release of Fallen Angel, a rather good TV drama shown on ITV1 earlier this year, discounted to £5 from its original £20. This was presumably because the amaray case was slightly scuffed, in comparison to the two more pristine copies selling at the full price.

I also took the opportunity to pick up a double pack containing two Luc Besson films, Subway and Nikita, for a tenner. Unfortunately, the less said about their transfers, the better, but, given that I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything directed and/or written and produced by Besson that I’ve seen (even The Fifth Element, to some extent), I’m looking forward to checking out these two highly regarded earlier works.

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007 at 10:58 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | TV

I am now a gamma-level Thetan


Over the last few days, thanks to me free month of movie rentals from Amazon, I’ve been watching the Mission Impossible films on HD DVD. Surprising as it may seem, this is the first time I’ve seen any of them, and I’d be lying if I said I thought they were brilliant. Actually, I quite enjoyed Brian De Palma’s Mission Impossible, although the only moment that truly stood out for me was a particularly nail-biting sequence involving everyone’s favourite crackpot, Tom Cruise, suspended from the ceiling of a CIA installation and attempting to download a series of files. John Woo’s Mission Impossible II, however, was a tedious wreck, in my opinion.

The best of the bunch, surprisingly, was, for me, J.J. Abrams’ Mission Impossible III. Okay, so it’s essentially just a feature-length episode of Alias, Abrams’ show, with a higher budget and Tom Cruise in the Jennifer Garner role, but that in itself is no bad thing, particularly given that I am quite partial to Alias. It also features by far the best high definition transfer of the series - another home run for Paramount, marred only by some compression problems in a couple of scenes. Okay, so in an ideal world Abrams would just have made an Alias feature film, because I’d much rather watch Garner strut her stuff than the intensely annoying Cruise (Garner is able to frown without smirking at the same time, for one thing), but I suppose this is an adequate compromise. I’ve ordered a copy of the US release, in fact.

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007 at 10:24 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD

DVD image comparison: The Devil’s Rejects (SD vs. HD)


For my first ever DVD to Blu-ray comparison, I’ve decided to go with a tricky title - The Devil’s Rejects. This is an interesting comparison for many reasons, not least because, despite being a recent film, it’s not a slick, clean-looking affair from which perfection can reasonably be expected from an HD release. Shot on 16mm film with a lot of hand-held photography, it was always going to be tough to compress, and to be fair the DVD doesn’t look too bad, although it certainly plays havoc with the grain. For the Blu-ray release, meanwhile, Lions Gate used the aged MPEG2 codec (the same codec used for standard definition DVD) combined with a single layer BD25 disc, and this, unfortunately, results in some pretty severe compression artefacts. Generally, it’s watchable when in motion, but on a few occasions it slips up rather badly, as can be seen in Example 2, which is the final frame of the shot in question. As you can see, the entire frame looks like a ridiculously over-compressed JPEG, and although this is very much a worst case scenario, it does demonstrate the dangers of combining an aged codec, a lack of disc space and and problematic material.

I’m sure a handful of people will take one look at these screen captures and decide that the DVD version actually looks better due to the decreased grain, but make no mistake, the Blu-ray version shows considerably more detail and is a far more faithful to its source materials, regardless of the problems with compression.

Check out the comparison here!

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2007 at 9:24 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

Transatlantic Pan


Source: DVD Times

Not long after the specs were discovered for the upcoming UK HD DVD and Blu-ray releases of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth from Optimum, New Line Cinema have announced their own North American high definition release of the film. Arriving on both HD DVD and Blu-ray on December 26th 2007 (just over a month after its UK counterpart), this edition seems to be the more impressive of the two, boasting a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track and including an “enhanced visual commentary” that, as far as I can gather, is not being offered on Optimum’s release.

I’m glad New Line are releasing this title simultaneously on both formats, after they got pissy about HD DVD’s lack of region coding and decided to delay the HD DVD versions of Hairspray and Rush Hour 3 (not that I’m particularly mourning these titles) to give their international distribution partners a chance to release the films worldwide.

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2007 at 7:21 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD

See every fleck of blood in living colour

Lions Gate’s track record for Blu-ray output has been rather spotty so far, but given the right materials, they are capable of producing some absolute gems. The best Lions Gate title that I’ve seen is The Descent, which bears the honour of being one of a small number of films available in high definition that not only looks superb but is also an excellent film. This is a very natural-looking title, pleasingly grainy and not having the extremely clean look of the likes of Black Snake Moan or King Kong. Basically, it looks rough and ready, like the caves in which the heroines find themselves trapped.

The Descent
(Lions Gate, USA, AVC, 20.1 GB)

The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent The Descent

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007 at 10:46 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

Upcoming review copies


This have been a little quiet on the review front of late, but I’m hoping that will pick up soon with the arrival of a couple of new titles.

First up is the recent 2-disc special edition of Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome from Blue Underground. Casting my eye around the net, it seems that virtually every major horror review site got their copy ages ago, but one of the problems that faces UK-based reviewers is that, generally speaking, we don’t have much direct contact with the US distributors. Still, hopefully the wait will be worth it. Given that I already own the Italian release from Medusa, and Blue Underground’s transfer doesn’t appear to improve much on it, if at all, my interest in this release comes primarily from the point of view of its bonus materials, which sound rather impressive.

I will also soon be receiving a copy of the 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition of Disney’s The Jungle Book. This is not my favourite Disney by any stretch of the imagination - in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it heralded the beginning of a particularly dark age in the studio’s history - but it has some great moments, and I never got round to picking up the old Limited Issue DVD release, so I’m looking forward to refreshing my memory of this title. Oh, and it appears to be another of Disney’s semi-controversial matted widescreen releases (see here for the debate surrounding Robin Hood and its intended ratio).

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007 at 11:38 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews

Satan created MPEG2

So far with my HD screen captures, I’ve been selecting the best-looking titles in order to give readers an idea of what HD DVD and Blu-ray are capable of. Today, I’m going to do something slightly different, and show some captures of a title with obvious flaws. The transfer of The Devil’s Rejects on Blu-ray is basically solid in every area except encoding: the movie was shot on 16mm film, and was then encoded on a single layer 25 GB Blu-ray disc using the aged MPEG2 codec. This results, unsurprisingly, in noticeable compression artefacts. Generally speaking, it looks reasonably pleasing on motion, but there are some rather nasty moments where the lack of available space, coupled with an inefficient codec and difficult material, causes a few hiccups (the second shot being the most extreme example).

The Devil’s Rejects
(Lions Gate, USA, MPEG2, 20.4 GB)

The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects The Devil's Rejects

Stay tuned later today for a comparison between the Blu-ray version and the earlier standard definition DVD release.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007 at 10:56 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

Cat People claws its way back on to the schedule


Source: DVD Times

Previously delayed from its original intended release date of September 25th, the HD DVD version of Paul Schrader’s Cat People has resurfaced, with a new street date of December 26th.

No explanation has been given for this delay, but the optimist in me hopes that the additional time has been spent on making the transfer as good as possible. My pessimist half, however, mindful of the quality of many of Universal’s catalogue HD DVD releases, is somewhat less hopeful.

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007 at 9:16 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

They even have HD in the Deep South now

Paramount have an extremely impressive track record in the high definition domain, and Black Snake Moan is no exception. I contrast to Warner, who seem to routinely filter pretty much everything, Paramount’s attitude to their modern, digital intermediate-sourced masters is to leave the damn thing alone - a most admirable approach. Black Snake Moan is one of those titles that really “pops” in HD, with richly saturated colours and most scenes taking place in broad daylight. It’s smooth rather than pin sharp, but this seems to be entirely representative of the film’s look.

Black Snake Moan
(Paramount, USA, AVC, 20.8 GB)

Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan Black Snake Moan

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007 at 8:06 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

James Bond, Sony’s unofficial marketing agent

As promised, here are my first ever Blu-ray screen captures. I decided to start with some of the absolute best the format had to offer (Open Season is, in my opinion, the single best-looking title on Blu-ray, but we no longer have a copy of that film), so it made sense to go with the excellent-looking Casino Royale, a title which showed that Sony had well and truly learned from their past encoding mistakes.

Casino Royale
(Sony Pictures, Finland, AVC, 31.5 GB)

Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale Casino Royale

The actual process took me longer than I was anticipating - a combination of my laptop’s slow 5,400 RPM hard drive and the fact that I was attempting to install several Windows Updates in the background, while copying a substantial amount of data from one machine to another. I hope to follow this up with some shots of The Descent and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the two other Blu-ray exclusives that I’ve seen which warrant 10/10 transfers, but I don’t have an ETA on them.

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007 at 6:44 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

MC VAIO is in the hizzouse!

My Sony VAIO VGN-FZ11Z laptop arrived this morning, fresh and new, just as the description on eBay stated. After scratching my head as to where the Windows install DVD was (it turns out there isn’t one - bizarrely, the user has to create their own set of recovery discs - very stingy, Sony) and discovering that I am entitled to yet another copy of Casino Royale on Blu-ray (free this time, as a reward for registering the laptop online), I got the thing set up and ran Windows on it for the first time.


Sony’s laptops now come with Windows Vista as standard, which I’m ultimately fine with, because, although I still use Windows XP on my main system, thanks to issues with my sound card, digital TV stick and a couple of legacy programs, I can’t think of anything that I would want to do on this laptop that Vista would create problems for. It is, after all, intended primarily for word processing on the go for my PhD, and the odd bit of Blu-ray watching and screen capturing. In any event, this install of Vista comes complete with the much-needed WinDVD BD for VAIO software, which I would have to pay for separately if I did my own install of Windows XP on the machine. By the way, the laptop comes with an HDMI output, supporting full 1080p video, which is yet another point in its favour as a Blu-ray device… although the fact that the sound card only supports 2-channel audio means that it isn’t exactly viable as a home cinema system (unless you have an HDMI-compliant AV receiver, in which case it may be possible to get the whole shibbang).

Oh, and I had a brief moment of panic when, popping in my Kingdom of Heaven Blu-ray disc, I was greeted by a message telling me that my player was not a Region A device and the disc could therefore not be played, but it turns out that, as with standard definition DVDs, Blu-ray drives and playback software allow you to change the region code a handful of times before becoming permanent, so it was a simple case of heading into WinDVD’s setup screen and changing my locality from “UK” to “USA”. Blu-ray playback seems to be reasonably solid in WinDVD, although I was disappointed to discover that it suffers from the chroma upsampling error (not sure whether this is an issue with the video card or the software, or both).

Unless I run into any problems, my aim is to be able to provide a few Blu-ray screen captures later tonight.

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007 at 3:04 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | PhD | Technology

Action Jackson

Now that I’m finally getting under way with my PhD, I thought I’d create a category dedicated to the subject. I hope to give frequent reports on my progress, partly to prevent myself from going insane and partly prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I’m actually doing something.

This afternoon, I had my first actual meeting to discuss the project. As I previously mentioned, both of the supervisors to whom I had been assigned are currently on leave, which left me in the rather unfortunate position of not really having any idea of what I was going to do. Today, however, I sat down with the post-graduate convenor, who has offered to be my main supervisor for the first year of my research, and one of my original intended supervisors, who was good enough to come along despite being on leave, and we hashed out my road map for the coming weeks and months.

For the moment, the plan, in a manner of speaking, is to forget about the films themselves and concentrate on shoring up my knowledge of Italian cinema history and also Italy in the period in question (the late 60s and early 70s). By Christmas, I am to have made some definite decisions on my area of focus and research questions, but for the time being, I’m free to toss around any ideas that come to me during the course of my reading, and also watching films for my Giallo Project (sorry there haven’t been any reviews for that since One on Top of the Other - I’ve been a bit sidetracked). The two main things to decide on, as far as I can tell, is how I’m going to structure the thesis (my original proposal suggested a star-oriented approach, but two other possibilities that we kicked about today were to organise the project by directors or time periods), and which films I’m going to refer to. Obviously, the former is going to influence the latter a great deal: am I, for example, going to compare the output of a couple of directors, or a couple of stars, or two (or more) different periods in the giallo’s history?

Anyway, my supervisor has arranged a series of fortnightly meetings between myself and him, during which I’ll essentially provide a progress report and flag up any difficulties into which I’ve been running. That’s all for now.

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2007 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | PhD

DVDs I bought or received in the month of September

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • 300 (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Black Book (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Dawn of the Dead (remake) (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • House of 1000 Corpses (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Lives of Others (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Silent Hill (R0 Germany, HD DVD)
  • Underworld (R0 Germany, HD DVD)
  • Waking the Dead: Series 5 (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Zodiac (R2 UK, DVD)

Another month with high definition content in a dominating position. I’ve essentially stopped buying standard definition material unless it (a) stands no chance of being released in HD or (b) wouldn’t benefit from being in HD (e.g. TV series shot and/or edited in standard definition). Zodiac, the anomaly, was a free review copy.

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | TV | Waking the Dead

Pan’s delights


Source: AV Science Forum

Optimum Home Entertainment have unveiled the bonus materials for their upcoming HD DVD and Blu-ray releases of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, due out in the UK on November 19th. Impressively, especially considering that all of their HD releases so far have been bare bones, it appears that they intend to port over almost everything that was on their 2-disc standard definition DVD release.

- Director’s commentary
- Director’s prologue (35 secs)
- The Power of the Myth featurette on DVD comics (20 mins)
- El Fauno Y Las Hadas featurette (32 mins)
- The Colour & The Shape featurette (4 mins)
- Director’s notebook (20 mins)
- Storyboard video prologue (26 secs)
- Notebook video prologue (33 secs)
- Storyboard/thumbnail comparisons
- UK theatrical trailer (1 min 06)
- Picture galleries
- Guardian/NFT interview with Guillermo Del Toro (30 mins)
- Where applicable, all have English and Spanish subtitles and English Closed Captions available

As far as I can tell, the “Mercedes Lullaby”, “Guillermo Del Toro and the Green Fairy” and “The Melody Echoes the Fairy Tale” featurettes are absent, as is the poster gallery, but everything else seems to be present and correct.

Obviously, these details may be incomplete or unfinalised, and we still don’t have any confirmation on the release’s technical specs, but this is shaping up to be a very good release. It’s likely to appeal to all those in need of an English-friendly HD release, regardless of whether or not they live in the UK, especially with the US distributor, New Line, currently playing sillybuggers over their HD DVD releases.

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007 at 4:05 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD

More bee action


Last night, I watched the remake of The Wicker Man, a film so staggeringly awful that, a mere year after its original release, it has become a cult classic. You may already have seen the reel put together on YouTube showing its most hilarious moments, but you may not have seen this fan-made trailer which markets the film as, and I quote, “a straight comedy”. Definitely worth a look if you’re in need of a giggle.

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2007 at 3:45 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Web

Aaaaaargh! Not the bees!

Cunningly disguised as a bear, Nicolas Cage rescues little Madeleine... I mean Rowan

Above: Cunningly disguised as a bear, Nicolas Cage rescues little Madeleine… I mean Rowan

In case you aren’t aware, Amazon UK runs a DVD rental service similar to that offered by the likes of Blockbuster and LoveFilm, albeit without such a wide range of available titles. Anyway, if you have an Amazon account, it seems that you can get a month of free rentals. I’m not convinced that the various packages offered are cost-effective enough to be worth it in the long run, but a free trial certainly doesn’t hurt, and I decided a few days ago to start renting some titles.

Top of the list was the remake of The Wicker Man, a film with such an awesome pedigree of awfulness that I couldn’t just rely on the word of mouth - I really had to see it for myself. I had already seen a hilarious reel collecting many of its more intentionally funny scenes, but I felt the need to understand them in context, especially after reading my good friend the Baron’s excellent review of both this atrocity and the very good 1973 original.

In retrospect, perhaps “context” is a misleading word to use, because there really is no such thing. This film is so moronic and damn near incompetent that I actually think clips of Nicolas Cage karate-kicking Leelee Sobieski in the abdomen, donning a bear costume, stealing children’s animal face masks and finally having a hive of bees poured over his head work better in isolation than they do when integrated into this meandering, preposterous tale about a policeman with a crippling allergy to bees invading an island-based matriarchal commune in search of his missing daughter.

Just to put this into perspective, in the original, the protagonist, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), was a devoted Christian lured to an island by a group of pagans who needed a virgin for their yearly harvest sacrifice. Obviously, the writer/director of the remake, Neil LaBute, came to the conclusion that Nicolas Cage was such a dishy catch that no-one would believe he was a virgin, so this particular aspect of his character has been replaced by a tendency to flap his arms and faint when in the vicinity of bees. Guess what the women of this island are famed for producing? That’s right: honey. (“Well, Christianity and bee allergy, they’re kind of the same thing,” a friend said to me today when I told him about the film.)

None of this really makes any sense. Why does Cage have a bee allergy? Why is the island dominated by women, with the few male inhabitants subservient mutes? Why does he spend the final act of the film violently assaulting many of said women? Why did LaBute decide to make the missing girl Cage’s daughter? Why would anyone in their right mind commission this heap of drivel? Presumably, someone in a position of power genuinely believed in this project. Cage, who also gets a producer credit, certainly did, although his hammy, outrageous performance as the marauding Edward Malus (yes, that is his name - the man who ends up being murdered by a group of crazy women just happens to be called… oh, never mind) might make you wondering if the whole thing is just an extended piss-take. Rest assured that it isn’t, more’s the pity: it’s deadly serious, and it’s a strong contender for the worst film of 2006.

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 8:26 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews

Death on my mind


Well, I’m back from the research students’ induction meeting - it was essentially just nibbles, drinkies and a blather - and it occurred to me that I hadn’t mentioned either of my recent acquisitions.

On Tuesday, I received my copy of the Blu-ray release of House of 1000 Corpses from DVD Pacific. It features a decent but not outstanding transfer, with a VC-1 encode (intriguing, given that all of Lions Gate’s previous releases have been MPEG2 or AVC). Detail is very good, and the compression is well-handled (the disc is a single layer BD25), but there is noticeable edge enhancement, and the image has been quite severely noise reduced. I haven’t noticed any visible smearing, but the frozen grain in the backgrounds looks decidedly unnatural and unfilmlike, making this transfer a 7/10 for me at best. Oh, and, much to my disappointment, they haven’t maintained the hilarious menus from the DVD release, which featured various members of the Firefly family instructing the viewer on menu choices. Obviously, since this material was shot in standard definition, it would have been somewhat problematic to port over, but it’s too bad the footage couldn’t have been incorporated into a standalone reel, because a lot of it really was very funny. “Pick a feature!!!”


I also picked up a copy of the fifth series of Waking the Dead. I was originally hoping to receive a review copy, but BBC’s home video distribution division, 2 Entertain, seem to be rather inconsistent when it comes to sourcing check discs. With Casualty, I was able to get review copies of Series 1 and 3 but not 2, whereas with Waking the Dead, I got copies of Series 2 and 4 but not 1, 3 or 5. Anyway, I’m quite looking forward to seeing this series again, which aired at around this time two years ago (for some reason, there were no episodes in 2006, with the rather disappointing sixth series airing in early 2007). My memory of it is that it takes a while to find its footing, having to cope with the departure of two key cast members, but eventually turns itself around with some very strong episodes in the second half.

Incidentally, this six-disc set, just released this month, has an RRP of £34.99, but I was able to find it at for a mere £17.95 - definitely worth considering if you’re planning on picking up this title.

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 8:13 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | TV | Waking the Dead

DVD image comparison: Silent Hill (SD vs. HD)


I’m just about to go out to attend this enrolment meeting at the university, but before I leave, I thought I’d upload my latest standard definition to high definition image comparison. Today, I take a look at the UK Region 2 DVD release of Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill, surely the best video game adaptation created to date, and see how it compares against the stunning HD DVD recently released in Germany by Concorde Home Entertainment. It can only end in tears.

Walk this way!

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 4:21 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

DVD image comparison: Underworld (SD vs. HD)


For my second standard definition to high definition image comparison, I’ve pitted the R1 USA 2-disc Unrated Extended Cut release of Underworld from Columbia Tristar against the recent German HD DVD release (also of the extended cut) from Concorde Home Entertainment. In terms of image quality, both are towards the upper echelons of their respective formats, so it’s interesting to see how they compare. Underworld may not have the razor sharpness of King Kong or Silent Hill, but the HD DVD constitutes a very faithful and natural-looking reproduction of the source materials.

Note that a US Blu-ray release by Sony Pictures, featuring an AVC encode, a PCM 5.1 audio track and most (but not all) of the extras from the 2-disc DVD release, is also available. I haven’t seen it so I have no idea how it compares to Concorde’s version.

Have a look!

Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2007 at 12:40 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

Back to...


Category Post Index