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DVD image comparison: Unleashed (SD vs. HD)


I lied! Despite earlier claiming that it would probably be “a couple of days” before any actual standard definition to high definition comparisons were made available on this site, I decided to go all-out and have one ready for this very night. The first ever SD vs. HD Image Comparison is for Unleashed, looking at the DVD and HD DVD sides of this combo release.

If you head over to the comparison now, you’ll probably notice that a couple of things have changed from the days when I only pitted one DVD release against another. For a start, the video, audio and extras ratings (out of 10) have been removed, simply because SD and HD are on completely different playing fields, so an actual side by side numerical comparison would be pointless.

Secondly, for my image roll-overs, I have opted to present a portion of each frame rather than the whole thing. This is for two reasons. One, to save bandwidth (although, as I am allocated a terabyte of the stuff every month, I’m not sure that there’s any actual point in this). Two, a full-size HD capture has a resolution of 1920x1080 - I don’t know about you, but that’s more than my desktop resolution. Therefore, to keep things manageable, and to avoid breaking the site’s design, I opted for 720x720 crops. The HD image retains its original resolution, while the SD image is first scaled up to 1920x1080 and then cropped to match its HD counterpart.

With any luck, these changes will be to everyone’s satisfaction, and hopefully you’ll get something out of this first comparison. Unleashed may not be a title that shows off the HD DVD format to its fullest potential, but it constitutes a massive improvement over its SD counterpart, and hopefully the comparison will make this crystal clear.


Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007 at 11:06 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

HD cartoon capers

A selection of 1080p animated delights for your viewing pleasure.

Corpse Bride
(Warner, USA, VC-1, 11.6 GB)

Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride Corpse Bride

Rabbit Hood (on The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD)
(Warner, USA, VC-1, 1.08 GB)

Rabbit Hood Rabbit Hood Rabbit Hood

Robin Hood Daffy (on The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD)
(Warner, USA, VC-1, 926 MB)

Robin Hood Daffy Robin Hood Daffy Robin Hood Daffy

Click the images above to view them full size.

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007 at 9:44 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

Anyone want some full resolution HD DVD screenshots?

At long last, I can now take full resolution 1920x1080 captures of HD DVD titles with no loss in image quality, thanks to Lyris, who figured out a way of accessing the disc contents using a bunch of programs and splitters. This is a fairly time-consuming process, so I’m not going to be able to provide captures of every single title in my collection, but I decided to dig out some of the best-looking ones to give you some idea of what the format is capable of.

King Kong
(Universal, UK, VC-1, 26.7 GB)

King Kong King Kong King Kong King Kong King Kong King Kong King Kong King Kong

(Universal, UK, VC-1, 18.3 GB)

Serenity Serenity Serenity Serenity Serenity Serenity Serenity Serenity

Silent Hill
(Concorde, Germany, VC-1, 21.0 GB)

Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill Silent Hill

Click the images above to view them full size.

Hopefully, when my laptop arrives at some point later this week, I’ll be able to do the same with Blu-ray titles, provided the process doesn’t turn out to be too different.

Also, stay tuned for my first ever DVD-to-HD DVD image comparisons! I’m still trying to decide on an appropriate format for presenting them (given that a single high definition capture exceeds the resolution of most people’s displays, some changes will obviously have to be made as compared to the current format), so I probably won’t be posting anything along these lines for a couple of days, but it’s very exciting to finally get to the stage of being able to offer readers of the site a clear demonstration of the massive leap in quality offered by the high definition formats.

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007 at 4:53 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

DVD review: Zodiac

This release of Zodiac has “stopgap” written all over it. If you enjoyed the film and can’t wait a few more months for the director’s cut, then this release may be for you, but those with more patience are advised to pass on this disappointingly empty and visually compromised edition, particularly with the director’s cut being slated for release on HD DVD.

Released tomorrow in the UK, I’ve reviewed Warner’s Region 2 release of Zodiac, David Fincher’s serial killer thriller based on the real-life late 60s murders.

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007 at 8:10 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews

Zodiac’s great but the DVD ain’t


Yesterday, I received a review copy of the R2 UK release of Zodiac, David Fincher’s latest film. The short story is that it’s a great film, a worthy spiritual successor (of sorts) to Se7en, and you should definitely see it if you haven’t already. For the long story, you’ll have to wait for my full review for DVD Times, which will hopefully be going up on Sunday, ahead of the DVD’s Monday release.

On a side note, it’s been a while since I watched a standard definition DVD of a recent film, and I was horrified by just how shoddy this release of Zodiac looks. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by high definition, but I was genuinely shocked by the amount of artefacting (mostly in the form of mosquito noise and horrible noise reduction smears) on display, not to mention the total lack of fine detail. I think Lyris (who saw it at the cinema) put it best when he said to me that, with high definition and theatrical screenings, you can tell what’s supposed to be in focus because you can see a clear difference in clarity between, say, the actor who is the centre of attention and the background which is of less importance, but, in standard definition, or at least poor quality standard definiton, everything just sort of merges together as a flat, indistinct sea of mush.

Paramount is bringing the director’s cut out on HD DVD in the US on January 8th, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be snatching it up and junking the DVD as soon as possible.

Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 9:25 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology

The Giallo Project #8: One on Top of the Other


Alternative titles: Una sull’altra; Perversion Story; Director: Lucio Fulci; Starring: Marisa Mell, Jean Sorel, Elsa Martinelli; Music: Riz Ortolani; Italian theatrical release date: August 15th, 1969

Note: this review contains a number of major spoilers. Much of the body of this text is taken from my review of Severin’s DVD.

When Dr. George Dumurrier’s (Jean Sorel) wife Susan (Marisa Mell) dies suddenly during a vicious asthma attack, the young clinician stands to inherit $2 million. The convenience of this situation does not escape the attention of the authorities, and their suspicions are raised further by the news that George has started associating with a stripper named Monica Weston (Mell again), who bears an uncanny resemblance to his supposedly dead wife. As the net closes in, and George finds himself accused first of conspiring with his wife to commit fraud and then of murdering her, his lover Jane (Elsa Martinelli) is forced to take matters into her own hands to unravel the mystery and prove his innocence.

Lucio Fulci was the second of the “Big Three” (Bava, Fulci, Argento) to hop aboard the giallo train, and this, his first entry, clearly bears the influence of Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah, a fact never denied by Fulci himself. For this review, I watched the French cut of the film, entitled Perversion Story, released on DVD by Severin Films, but in actual fact I prefer both the English cut and its more ambiguous title, One on Top of the Other. The French cut loses a lot of character development in exchange for added sex scenes, and as a result feels considerably more disjointed than the English variant. There is some discrepancy as to the running time of the Italian cut, although I have seen a version, in Italian, which includes all the scenes from both the English and French edits.

I see this as Fulci’s Vertigo, a thriller focusing on a man’s obsession with the image of a dead woman (who is in fact not dead), set in and around the dizzy heights of modern (late 60s) San Francisco. Taking many of its cues from the domestic melodramas popularised by the likes of Umberto Lenzi in the mid to late 1960s, the focus is less on outlandish set-pieces (the events of the film hinge around a single death, which takes place off-screen) and more on conspiracy and psychological torture. This is a very cold film, and one tinged with sadness too, despite the colourful settings and Swinging Sixties vibe: all relationships seem to be distant, comprised of ritual and pretence. George’s marriage to Susan, it would seem, is merely for show, while even his relationship with his lover, Jane, is mechanical and devoid of any real passion. This is most apparent in an early sequence in which, having told him that their relationship can’t go on, Jane boards a train to return home to her family. George then sets off in his car, pursuing and overtaking the train, and meets her at the other end. Later, as they travel together in his car (in a scene removed from the French print), it is made clear that this ritual is carried out on a regular basis: “One day, I’ll take that train, and you won’t be there waiting for me,” she tells him, to which he responds “No, we’ll work it out. Even his relationship with the seductive Monica, a woman who finally seems to be accessible to him, turns out to be a sham, as she is revealed to be nothing more than a mocking construct created by Susan.

One on Top of the Other

Sex is a game in the world in which this film is set, characterised by strip clubs that manage to be both shamelessly salacious and hopelessly naff at the same time, while George, in what is perhaps a manifestation of Fulci’s inherent misogyny, finds himself surrounded by a cavalcade of manipulative and hostile women. Indeed, even ‘plain’ Jane is not all that she seems, transforming into a calculating seductress in a scene in which she turns a photo-shoot with Monica/Susan into an impromptu interrogation. Looked at from a male perspective, it’s essentially a fantasy of submission - perhaps best exemplified by the character of Benjamin Wormser (Riccardo Cucciolla): a love-struck client of Monica, he dotes on a woman who doesn’t even really exist. Perhaps, in this world, people can only truly be in love with themselves: as Monica rebukes the jealous Benjamin, who believes that she has found someone else, “Yes, you’re right. I’ve got a lover who loves me more than you do. It’s a woman, too. It’s me!”

Perhaps the most misanthropic element of the film, however, is not the sex but the general impersonality of life itself. Fulci shows us a world in which everything is done by proxy: we, the audience, aren’t sure how Susan “died” until it is actually spelled out for us by Henry (Alberto de Mendoza), because we never actually see the event. Even the conspiracy to have George bumped off does not require that its participants lift so much as a finger against him since, as Henry so eloquently puts it, “the State” will kill him for them. This extends to the film’s conclusion, which actually turns out to be its weakest moment, despite being thematically appropriate: George’s last-minute rescue from the gas chamber takes place off-screen, with the events instead described to us by a news reporter. Given George’s complete lack of agency throughout the whole affair, his slinking into the shadows is rather fitting, but it is unsatisfying nonetheless, as it means that both he and the audience are denied a proper sense of closure.

It is, therefore, appropriate, that the biggest impression is made by Marisa Mell. Given top billing in English language prints but listed after Jean Sorel elsewhere, she pulls off a remarkable feat by playing two completely different characters who are, in fact, one in the same. So complete is her transformation from the cold, strait-laced brunette Susan Dumurrier to the blonde, energetic and highly sexual Monica Weston that it comes as a shock to learn that both are played by the same person. A Jungian reading reveals a world full of doppelgangers, none more so than Susan/Monica, who is introduced as a reflection in a window, fleetingly spotted gliding around the house. Effectively, the film is telling us, she’s a ghost even before she’s dead, and her spirit continues to haunt George long after her apparent demise. Even the title is a double entendre: “one on top of the other” may superficially be seen as a reference to sexual activity (of which there is plenty in this film), but it could just as well refer to the notion of layering one persona over another, as Susan does when she creates the character of Monica.

One on Top of the Other stands as the beginning of a high point in Fulci’s career, and a niche which, had he continued to explore rather than being drawn to the more visceral but less satisfying thrills of gory zombie horror flicks, would probably resulted in a better legacy than being known simply as the “godfather of gore”.

Next time, I’ll be looking at Piero Schivazappa’s 1969 thriller The Frightened Woman.

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 10:42 AM
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project

Mother of Tears sails into the Bay

Mother of Tears

Source: Bloody Disgusting

It is being reported that the North American distribution rights for Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears are to be jointly picked up by Anchor Bay and the Weinstein Company. What this means in terms of the film’s chances of getting a theatrical release are anyone’s guess, but let’s just say that they’re somewhat higher than they were previously. It’s also unclear how any potential high definition home video release would work out, given that Anchor Bay is Blu-ray exclusive while the Weinsteins are HD DVD exclusive. Oh, and, naturally, the usual fears have arisen that, given the Weinstein brothers’ track record of butchering foreign titles, the film will eventually show up in America in a form decidedly unrepresentative of Argento’s artistic intentions.

Whatever happens, though, let’s look on the bright side: a semi-major has got involved, which gives the film a better chance of some form of theatrical exhibition than any of Argento’s other projects since Opera.

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007 at 4:11 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | HD DVD

Blu-ray review: Black Book

Call it a guilty pleasure if you like, but Black Book is one of the most engaging films I’ve seen in recent years, and definitely Paul Verhoeven’s best offering in a long time. Tartan’s Blu-ray release offers up an impressive transfer and audio options, alongside extras that are insightful but rather limited in quantity.

Tartan kicks off their Blu-ray support with Paul Verhoeven’s World War 2 thriller Black Book, released on the UK on September 24th. I’ve reviewed this Region 0 disc, which features an excellent transfer and boasts solid audio support.

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2007 at 3:37 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

HD DVD debacle


We now have a new HD DVD to add to the HD Image Quality rankings list. Conversely, it’s probably the worst film I’ve ever watched in high definition. It’s Aeon Flux, which Lyris bought from DVD Pacific. While we marvelled at the sumptuous transfer, I was first baffled, then downright infuriated, by this shoddy excuse for a movie. Ironically, the end result of watching this live action travesty was that we both decided that Peter Chung’s original animated series looked vastly more interesting and that we had to see it at once. Result: Lyris ordered the DVD release of Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection from eBay. There - who ever said that paying money for a dreadful film was always a bad thing?

Then again, I’m one to talk, as I recently indulged in a bit of “buying for the sake of image quality” myself, picking up a copy of the HD DVD/DVD combo release of 300 from It arrived yesterday, and a cursory glance suggests another magnificent transfer. However, I’d be lying if I said this was normally my sort of thing - I generally don’t go in for comic book adaptations, and certainly not ones featuring bare-chested men doing a lot of yelling and fighting each other. There’s only so much testosterone I can take. Still, I’ll be sitting down to watch it before too long, and we’ll see whether or not my initial impressions were correct.

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 10:39 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD

Inspector Negro rides again

Day After Day

Yesterday was pay day, so, during my lunch break, I took a wander over to Borders and picked up a copy of Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, the sequel to his giallo Almost Blue (see here for my review of that title). I wonder if there have ever been any plans to turn this one into a film, as Alex Infascelli did with Almost Blue? Either way, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this one without knowing the plot and its outcome beforehand.

I’ll get cracking on it just as soon as I’ve finished the books I currently have out of the library - Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin and Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin.

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 10:17 PM
Categories: Books | Cinema | Gialli | Reviews

HD DVD review: Silent Hill

Constituting a distinct improvement over the earlier Sony Pictures release in terms of image quality, Concorde Home Entertainment’s release of Silent Hill features an amazing transfer and impressive audio. Despite being bare-bones, I highly recommend that fans of the film, or those who are just dying to add another magnificent-looking disc to their HD collections, get their order in immediately.

Just over a year after launching on Blu-ray and receiving much criticism for its image quality, Silent Hill shows up on HD DVD courtesy of German distributor Concorde Home Entertainment. I investigate how this new VC-1 encode compares to Sony’s older MPEG-2 release.

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2007 at 1:35 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

It’s “we love Germany” day in the Land of Whimsy…


…well, not exactly, but everything I have to say in this post relates to Germany in some way.

First up, yesterday, I received a copy of The Lives of Others on Blu-ray from DVD Pacific. This German film, which won the Best Foreign Language film at the 2006 Academy Awards, is one of the few films I’ve picked up in high definition as a blind buy (so far, most of the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases I’ve received without having seen the films themselves beforehand have been free review copies), so I’m hoping the positive word of mouth doesn’t turn out to have been hot air.

I’ve had a brief look at the transfer, and it seems to be good without being exception. It’s AVC-encoded and comes on a BD-50, but, while detail is generally pretty good, there is some rather harsh edge enhancement on display, and also the tell-tale signs of noise reduction in the form of sluggish grain patterns. Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means a bad transfer, but it certainly disproves the myth doing the rounds in certain circles that everything Sony is putting out these days is solid gold.


Luckily, I am considerably more impressed by the transfers of the German HD DVD releases of Silent Hill and the extended cut of Underworld, both of which arrived from today (huzzah for the Germans and their reputation for efficiency!). Actually, “more impressed” is putting it lightly because, pending a more thorough investigating during the process of watching both titles from beginning to end, both of these should be ending up in the “10/10” category on my HD Image Quality Rankings list (the most recent iteration of which can be viewed here).

Both films are VC1-encoded, and in both cases it turns out that the final releases were extremely accurately represented by the Concorde Home Entertainment promo disc that Lyris brought back from the IFA convention in Berlin. Silent Hill especially is just draw-dropping, having been minted from the same magnificent master that was used for Sony Pictures’ 2006 Blu-ray release, but, thanks to the increased efficiency of VC1 over MPEG2, exhibits none of the severe compression artefacts that plagued that release. Lyris has put up a couple of snapshots illustrating just how improved the compression is in the most problematic scenes, and, suffice to say, I urge anyone contemplating picking up this film in HD to abandon any thought of buying Sony’s version. Concorde are releasing their titles on both formats, so this improved version is also available to those restricted to Blu-ray.

Finally, Sony comes to HD DVD!

Finally, Sony comes to HD DVD!

Underworld, meanwhile, doesn’t look quite as good, but that, I suspect, has more to do with the look of the film itself than the quality of the master or the encoding. Certainly, I can see no flaws at all that should prevent it from also attaining “10/10” status, and there are some moments in which the details are so pronounced, particularly in close-ups, that they practically leap off the screen. Oh, and I know it’s silly, but I did get a kick out of seeing the words “A Sony Pictures Entertainment Company” appearing on an HD DVD title, underneath the Screen Gems logo at the beginning of the film.

Audio-wise, German and English tracks are offered, the German variant in DTS-HD Master Audio, and the English in the lower bit rate DTS-HD Hi-Resoltion format (on Silent Hill, the German track is 6.1 discrete while the English track is plain old 5.1, while on Underworld, both tracks are 5.1). While it’s a little disappointing to see preferential treatment given to dubbed versions, it’s somewhat moot at the moment given the lack of hardware that can decode the high definition content of the DTS-HD audio codec (instead, current hardware falls back on a legacy DTS 1.5 Mbps stream). In any event, the English tracks on both films sound magnificent, although I’ll have to do a comparison between the Dolby Digital track on the Sony Pictures BD of Silent Hill and the DTS-HD variant on the Concorde HD DVD to see just how much of a difference there is. (It’s a real shame I don’t currently have the means to play the PCM 5.1 track on the BD, thanks to my PS3’s lack of analogue outputs and my audio receiver’s lack of HDMI support.)

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

As with Warner’s HD DVDs and BDs, these titles go straight to the film itself after playing the company logo and the usual copyright warnings. They default to German audio with no subtitles, but a quick press of the Menu button brings up the main menu, allowing you to switch to English audio. Doing so automatically turns on German subtitles, but worry not, for they can easily be disabled via the menu or using the Subtitles button on your remote.

As has been reported elsewhere, there are no extras on either title. In the case of Silent Hill, the same was true of Sony’s release, so this can’t exactly be considered a downgrade, but for Underworld, Sony’s standard definition DVD of the extended edition, plus their upcoming Blu-ray release, are quite feature-packed. Myself, I’m not too bothered as I’ll be hanging on to my standard definition copy anyway for the included comic and concept art booklet, but for others not in this situation, the Sony Blu-ray version will probably be a more attractive choice for those who can play it

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 4:16 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

LA Times: “Warner’s next”

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: Film Talk

I don’t make a habit of reporting on every rumour that crops up in the high definition format war, because, frankly, the vast majority of it is complete nonsense. However, this particular article, which comes from the Los Angeles Times, caught my eye, as it quotes “Hollywood insiders” as saying that

[t]he brinkmanship is intensifying. Another major studio, Warner Bros., is being courted by both camps and believed to be mulling over a lucrative offer that could bring such popular titles as “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” into the HD DVD camp, according to Hollywood insiders who requested anonymity because the talks were confidential.

(Full article here.)

Mr. Moneybags

Were this to come to pass, it would be huge. It should be no secret that both sides are likely to be actively courting the studios and making very lucrative offers in exchange for exclusivity deals - it’s a business, after all - so it stands to reason that there is a hint of truth in the article, whatever its source. After Paramount’s shock decision to support only HD DVD, both sides will have upped their game substantially. If Warner is actually actively considering renouncing their neutrality, then I honestly believe the writing could be on the wall for Blu-ray: as one forum poster put it, Warner, despite their neutrality, are basically Blu-ray’s biggest supporter. True, many of their releases are HD DVD-only, but they have given a massive number of titles to the Blu camp, and their back catalogue is arguably the most impressive of all the majors.

The gloves are well and truly off. The next few months are going to be very interesting.

PS. Have a look at how the Blu-ray die-hards (or “Smurfs”, as they are coming to be known with increasing regularity), are coping with these latest rumours, in this handy collation of posts over at High Def Forum.

Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 at 12:34 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD

Semi-decent version of Flour Flies coming soon?

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Marin Spanic of German DVD publisher New Entertainment World (responsible for, among others, the recent release of The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire) has been teasing members of the DVD Maniacs forum with screen captures of a copy of Dario Argento’s long-lost giallo Four Flies on Grey Velvet which blows away every version available at the moment.

This film, the director’s third and the concluding part of the Animal Trilogy, is the only one of his films to not have a legitimate DVD release. Seemingly tied up in a series of endless rights dispute, it is only available in the form of a variety of heavily compromised bootlegs which fail to do is justice in any shape or form. These new captures, however, while not brilliant, are an enormous step up.

Little is known about the source at the moment. Marin would almost say that New Entertainment World is not releasing the film, but that he received a preview version comprised of excerpts from the film from a source that he is not at this stage able to disclose, and that he will hopefully be able to say more soon.

I don’t want to jinx this, but it looks like we might just get a half-decent release of this mistreated film before very much longer.

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2007 at 10:58 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

Tarantan films presents…


Today I received my first ever high definition check disc - a review copy of the upcoming UK Blu-ray release of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book from Tartan Films… or “Tarantan Films”, as the label misspells it. I already have the US version from Sony Pictures, due out on September 25th, on pre-order at DVD Pacific, and I intend to keep the order open in order to get the US-exclusive Verhoeven commentary plus other assorted extras, but the UK version, due out a day earlier, on September 24th, is a rather impressive package in terms of image quality, and one that Sony will have to work hard to better (if indeed they don’t just use the same encode).

Black Book check disc - spot the spelling mistake

For a start, Tartan have clearly decided to go the whole hog, delivering the film on a dual-layer BD50 disc with a 1080p AVC encode (no repeats of their early days with the DVD format here). The transfer, which hovers consistently around the 30 Mbit/sec rate, is very impressive, slightly pre-filtered and as a result exhibiting some mild ringing and not quite hitting the heights of, say, Open Season or King Kong in terms of fine detail, but otherwise absolutely magnificent.

For audio, as seems to be Tartan’s custom, the default track is a stereo affair (at 224 Kbps), with Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 Kbps) and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks also included. Unfortunately, neither the Playstation 3 nor any other currently available player can decode the high definition audio content of such tracks, so it falls back on a legacy DTS 1.5 Mbit/sec stream, but to my ears it sounds very good in its own right and constitutes an improvement on its 768 Kbps predecessor from the DVD. I’ll have to do a more in-depth comparison between the two before offering my final verdict, however. Annoyingly, despite the bulk of the film being in Dutch and German, English subtitles are not enabled by default, making a pit-stop at the Setup menu (or a few button presses on the remote control) necessary before beginning the movie.

Tartan have also chosen to approach the presentation of their bonus content in a rather unusual manner, and this is likely to attract some consternation from certain parties. Whereas every other distributor I know either upscales their legacy 480i content or has the player itself switch to standard definition to play it, Tartan have embedded the material in a small window on the Extras menu. While this has the effect of making the quality look better (because it’s smaller, natch), it’s also going to be a bit of a pain in the neck for people with smaller displays. On a 40” screen viewed at fairly close range, it’s not that big a deal, but I wouldn’t like to watch it on my 20” monitor, or even on our older 32” TV.

Expect a full review at DVD Times in the near future. After a fairly lengthy period of what I can only term writer’s block, I’m finally getting back into the sway of penning regular reviews.

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2007 at 7:07 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology

Happy birthday, Dario Argento!

Mother of Tears

Dario Argento turned 67 today, and he celebrated the event in style last night with the world premiere of his new film, Mother of Tears (La Terza Madre), at the Toronto International Film Festival. Mannfan over at Dark Discussion is doing the admirable job of collecting together the various reviews and opinions that have been cropped up all over the web from those who were lucky enough to attend last night’s screening. It seems fairly clear that it’s going to be as divisive as any of Argento’s recent films, with those expecting something identical to Suspiria and Inferno likely to be sorely disappointed.

Of course, I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen it for myself. I just hope I don’t have long to wait.

Posted: Friday, September 07, 2007 at 4:11 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Web

Soon on this screen…


The good news is that the HD DVD releases of Silent Hill and Underworld are now shipping from… at least for some of us. My copies went out just before midday, but the official word from Concorde Home Entertainment is that Friday is the target date for availability.

It would also appear that there will be no extras on either of these discs. Supposedly, if they sell well, future titles from Concorde will include bonus materials. For Silent Hill, which was bare-bones in its Blu-ray incarnation too, this isn’t that much of a big deal, but Underworld in its standard definition incarnation (and, presumably, the US Blu-ray version due to be released on September 25th as well) was quite feature-packed, so that’s a bit of a shame. Oh well - provided the image quality is excellent, I won’t be complaining too much.

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 10:18 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD

HD DVD review: Dawn of the Dead (remake)

The HD DVD release of Dawn of the Dead is a definite improvement over the standard definition release, maintaining all of the original bonus features and boasting a solid transfer and audio mixes. Of course, the upcoming release of Romero’s superior original version on Blu-ray is likely to put this release in the shade, at least in terms of the quality of the film itself, but those who enjoyed Snyder’s reimagining are highly recommended to trade their DVD copies for this new release.

Halloween comes early this year as I review Universal’s recent HD DVD release of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Posted: Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 6:22 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

The latest HD image quality rankings

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

I have a new favourite HD demo disc: it’s Sony’s Blu-ray release of Open Season. Sony gave Lyris a stack of free Blu-ray discs when he went to make his reportings on their format in Berlin last week, and this was one of them (one of the others, unfortunately, was Black Hawk Down, which looks horrendous). While the film itself is doing my tits in, it’s hard to deny that the visual presentation is absolutely stellar - the sort of quality you can get when you feed a pristine source into an advanced codec like AVC.

I’ve taken the opportunity to update my HD image quality rankings chart, and have also included the codecs used for each release.


  • Open Season (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Corpse Bride (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • King Kong (Universal, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Casino Royale (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • The Descent (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Serenity (Universal, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Serenity (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Black Snake Moan (Paramount, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC


  • Babel (Paramount, USA, HD DVD) - AVC
  • Looney Tunes: Rabbit Hood (Warner, USA, HD DVD)* - VC1
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Mr. Bean’s Holiday (Universal, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Children of Men (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA) - VC1
  • Miami Vice (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Layer Cake (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Dawn of the Dead (remake) (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Blood Diamond (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • Reign Over Me (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Casablanca (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • A Scanner Darkly (Universal, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1


  • Silent Hill (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • The Bourne Identity (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Ghost Rider (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Mulholland Drive (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Constantine (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Matrix (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Matrix Revolutions (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Matrix Reloaded (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Devil’s Rejects (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Unleashed (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Red Dragon (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Looney Tunes: Robin Hood Daffy (Warner, USA, HD DVD)* - VC1
  • The Skeleton Key (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Land of the Dead (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Syriana (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • V for Vendetta (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan, HD DVD) - AVC
  • Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • Flightplan (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - VC1
  • Batman Begins (Warner, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Van Helsing (Universal, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA, HD DVD) - AVC


  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Arlington Road (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Tears of the Sun (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Mummy Returns (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • King Arthur (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Paprika (Sony Pictures, France, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, Germany, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Fifth Element (remastered) (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC


  • Chicago (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - AVC
  • Enemy of the State (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Lost in Translation (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Hostel (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • The Fountain (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray) - VC1
  • An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Troy (Warner, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Being John Malkovich (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • The Game (Universal, USA, HD DVD) - VC1
  • Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD) - VC1


  • District B13 (Magnolia, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Crank (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2
  • Black Hawk Down (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray) - MPEG2


  • Brotherhood of the Wolf (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD) - VC1
  • La Haine (Studio Canal, UK, HD DVD) - VC1
  • American Psycho (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray) - MPEG2

* Found on the The Adventures of Robin Hood HD DVD.

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 at 10:54 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

Sprinting zombies look even more ridiculous in HD


My copy of the remake of Dawn of the Dead on HD DVD arrived from DVD Pacific this morning.

The DVD always stood out to me as being one of the better standard definition releases, so my hopes were high for its high definition debut. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed, as this is a very nice-looking transfer. Not perfect, but towards the higher end of the quality spectrum all the same. It has a very contrasty look, with the highlights often ending up being blown out and shadow detail rather limited, but this replicates the look of the film when I saw it at the cinema, not to mention the DVD, which seems to have come from the same master, as evinced by the slight increase in ringing and print damage during scenes that have been spliced in for the director’s cut.

Rewatching the film for (if my memory serves me correctly) the third time also allowed me to warm to it a little more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still in the shadow of the original, but it’s enjoyable enough and has some genuinely funny moments. It is inconsistent, though, seeming quite well-made in places and then somewhat shoddy in others, while the characters, with the exception of the asshole mall cop CJ, are all incredibly one-dimensional, and the writer’s attempts to give them pathos fall incredibly short. Some moments are so ridiculous that I can’t help wondering if the filmmakers were being tongue-in-cheek - I’m thinking particularly of the sacrifice made by Michael who, knowing that he has been infected, stands heroically on the pier watching his friends sail off into the sunset - cue swelling music and Ving Rhames with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned behind him. I’m just amazed he didn’t salute.

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2007 at 10:34 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD

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