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A buena, but empty, vista

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

In what is rapidly becoming a predictable trend for Blu-ray, yet another batch of the many titles promises at CES earlier this year has been postponed, with no new release dates given. This time round, the victims are a raft of Disney titles originally scheduled for June 5th: Cars, The Rock, Con Air and Crimson Tide. Looks like the only thing that will be crimson next month, therefore, is my face (crimson with anger, that is): Cars (or, indeed, the promise of any Pixar film in high definition) was one of my main reasons for buying a Playstation 3 in the first place, while Criterion’s release of The Rock is one of the finest standard definition DVDs ever created, so I was understandably eager to see how it would fare in HD.

Now, obviously, Disney are claiming that these are postponements rather than outright cancellations, but that really doesn’t tell us anything. After all, we’re still waiting for all those Fox/MGM titles that were yanked from the schedule after being announced at CES, aren’t we? Come to think of it, how many of the titles announced for Blu-ray at that particular show have been released? Didn’t I predict this a few months ago?

 
Posted: Monday, May 07, 2007 at 10:07 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

Eternal Sunshine of the Noise Reduced Mind

HD DVD

In all the fun, excitement and frustration of my new computer arriving, I forgot to mention that the HD DVD release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind also showed up on the same day (Wednesday). While I was waiting for Guild Wars to install and then download a multitude of updates this morning (my new video card arrived - more on that in my next post), I decided to give it a spin and see how it fared in high definition.

“Underwhelming” is the word of the day, I’m afraid. Naturally, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was never going to wow anyone with whiz-bang 3D effects and crystal clarity - it is, after all, understated in its appearance, comprised of desaturated colours and largely hand-held photography. Still, that doesn’t excuse the transfer from looking as digital as it does. Edge enhancement is blatant, and temporal noise reduction artefacts are visible in the form of frozen grain patterns and smearing textures during movement. Detail is about average, but it’s unclear how much of this is due to the transfer and how much is simply down to how the film has always looked. Either way, the majority of my complaints are the result of digital tampering, and as such, Universal deserve to have their knuckles rapped. Actually, it looks very similar to Fantastic Four on Blu-ray, only without the MPEG2-induced compression artefacts. A 6/10 at most.

 
Posted: Saturday, May 05, 2007 at 11:59 AM
Categories: Cinema | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

What’s going on with The Third Mother?

Last Friday I posted the triumphant news that The Third Mother would be uncut after all, as per Dario Argento himself. Unfortunately, it now seems that there’s more to the story than meets the eye, according to Alan Jones, arguably the one journalist who knows more about Argento than anyone else. As he says in his blog at FrightFest,

Distributor and producer Medusa reeled in shock at Dario’s first cut of the supernatural shocker that went far beyond any extreme they imagined. Didn’t they read the script? So they sent him back into the editing rooms to make it more ‘mainstream’, i.e. attractive to overseas buyers who they thought wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole in the original version. So far they’ve been right. The problems are all to do with the depiction of perverse sex in the witch gathering satanic scenes and one cannibal killing of a major character.

[…]

Argento is now in a standoff position with Medusa. He’s not one to suffer fools gladly and is prepared to fight his corner. His reputation is still so great in Italy that it will be an interesting face-off. I hope for his sake, and ours, he wins and we see The Third Mother in all its gory and orgy glory.

I hope so too. People have been waiting for this film for 27 years - for it to finally emerge after all this time in a form that doesn’t represent its director’s intentions would be a travesty.

Discovered by Cookie at Dark Discussion.

 
Posted: Friday, May 04, 2007 at 9:26 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

What sort of noise does a goblin make?

Are you a fan of Goblin? Do you have a lot of money to fritter away? Then you might be interested in this 8-CD box set from Japan, featuring the scores to Profondo Rosso (2 discs), Suspiria, Roller, Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark, Zombi, Tenebre and Cherry Five. Myself, I doubt that I’d be prepared to spend this much money on music even if I could afford it, but I’m sure it will make a few collectors out there very happy. Incidentally, I do need to pick up the scores to Profondo Rosso and Tenebre, which for some reason are missing from my library of CDs.

Credit for discovering this little gem goes to Andrew Monroe at DVD Maniacs.

 
Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 at 10:22 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Music
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of April

  • Casino Royale (R0 Finland, Blu-ray)
  • Dragon’s Lair (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Game (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • King Arthur (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 (R1 USA, DVD)
  • A Scanner Darkly (R0 USA, HD DVD)

Somewhat slim pickings this month, and I note that the decline in my purchasing of standard definition titles continues, with only one actual DVD being bought. I wasn’t sure whether or not to include Dragon’s Lair, as it’s technically a game rather than a film, but I suppose it’s a borderline case, and, given the mechanics of how it operates and the inclusion of DVD-style bonus content, it ultimately makes the grade.

 
Posted: Monday, April 30, 2007 at 10:14 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | HD DVD
 

The end of Jack Valenti

Source: BBC News

Well, let’s just say he left his mark on the industry.

 
Posted: Friday, April 27, 2007 at 10:06 PM
Categories: Cinema | General
 

The Third Mother will be uncut, says Argento

Following the rumours that the upcoming The Third Mother would be cut by distributor Medusa Film before its theatrical release, director Dario Argento has himself weighed in on the issue, and here is what he has to say:

According to Dario, “La Terza Madre” won’t be cut and there will be only one version for the theaters and the DVD. “These days, people are used to a cinema that’s a bit stronger and more vivid, I don’t think there will be any problems. It will be rated, but it’s normal.” In fact he says “I wasn’t asked to do any cuts.” So I hope this will stay this way and that nobody will ask him to cut anything.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this remains the case.

 
Posted: Friday, April 27, 2007 at 8:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Gladiator and others coming to HD DVD

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

A potentially major piece of news has surfaced courtesy of French DVD site DVDRama, where it has been stated that Universal plans to release 60 HD DVDs in France this year, one of which will be Gladiator. The relevant passage is quoted below, using AVS Forum member bboisvert’s extremely rough English translation for convenience:

Whereas Universal right now announced more than 100 titles available by the end of the year to the United States, a recent interview of the director marketing of Universal France has just confirmed the exit in our beautiful country of more than 60 titles by the end of the year 2007. Without giving precise calendar on the dates and films concerned, the few evoked titles have what to give the tournis.

Among the titles headlights of the catalogue of the studio, one will find this year in HD-DVD of the films such as Gladiator, Scarface, or even Ray, one of best “the biopic” left to the cinema these last years. One will also find, at the time of the nearest arrival of revenge in the skin (The Bourne Ultimatum) on our screens, a republication even more thorough technically of died in the skin and the memory in the skin (like what, even for such a recent support, one proposes already republications to us). For the innovations, films like The Holiday, the sons of man or The Kingdom are also announced, and will be at exit simultaneous with the DVD.

Although it’s not my absolute favourite film ever, this is definitely major news. With Gladiator’s US distributor, DreamWorks, currently dragging its feet with regard to high definition output, I’d say that a stateside release of the film is fairly unlikely this year, so this French release will no doubt become a hot commodity. Either way, it’s the sort of blockbuster release the format needs in order to increase its user base. It’s also an HD DVD exclusive in Europe, since the distribution rights outside North America lie solely with Universal rather than the format-neutral DreamWorks.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 10:10 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

A double dose of underwhelming HD

HD DVD

My copy of The Game on HD DVD arrived from Amazon.com this morning. Just yesterday, I read Peter M. “I can’t tell the difference between standard definition and high definition” Bracke’s review of it, and was a little alarmed to discover that he had awarded the transfer a 4/10 rating. Given that he gave the 480i upconverted Traffic an 8/10, I was beginning to panic. Thankfully, The Game doesn’t look that bad, which just serves to underscore the fact that these incompetent reviewers are essentially dishing out numerical ratings at random. The Game looks rather diffuse, and is certainly not what I’d call the best example of what the HD formats are capable of, but it’s watchable enough and looks largely natural, with the occasional impressive moment of detail. I’m going to have to give it a more thorough going-over before awarding a rating of my own, but so far my diagnosis would be “definitely above average”.

Blu-ray

I also received a review copy of Dragon’s Lair on Blu-ray - something which Dave over at DVD Times asked me if I’d be interested in covering the other day. For those who don’t know, Dragon’s Lair is an arcade game released in 1983, featuring cel animation supervised by Don Bluth, whose greatest claim to fame is staging a mass walk-out of the Walt Disney studio in 1979, due to a growing belief that Disney had lost sense of its very essence. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Bluth and co produced a series of saccharine and badly-written animated talking animal movies, including The Secret of N.I.M.H., An American Tail and The Land Before Time. He hasn’t managed to get anything off the ground since 2000’s horrendous Titan A.E., and, for some reason, Dragon’s Lair remains one of his most popular efforts.

I can’t think why, though. The animation has that naff 80s look, and the whole thing is let down by rubbish game design. It’s basically built around a process of trial and error: wait for the game to become interactive, and then guess which of the five buttons you need to press in order to get to the next area; memorise and repeat ad nauseam. On the Blu-ray version, this becomes even worse as, when you fail a certain section, instead of being made to repeat it, you are simply moved on to the next area. This not only makes the game more or less pointless, it also renders it completely incomprehensible as the whole thing essentially becomes a series of brief clips of animation that fail to link together in anything approaching a coherent manner.

What’s worse, during development of the Blu-ray version, the programmers apparently didn’t have access to the BD-Java specification (see this article), meaning that compatability problems are rife. One user failed to get it to work at all on his Philips player, while it has been confirmed that the only devices on which this release was actually tested are the Samsung BD-P1000, Panasonic DMP-BD10, Sony BDP-S1 and the PlayStation 3, in addition to PowerDVD BD for Windows. If my experience with the PS3 version constitutes an accurate representation of how the game was intended to be played, then I shudder to think what it would be like when it was playing incorrectly. Small wonder the manual accompanying the disc carries the following disclaimer:

Although Digital Leisure Inc. believes this program performs the functions described in this guide, the program is provided ‘as is’ without performance warranties of any kind, either expressed or implied, including but not limited, [sic] the implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The entire risk as to the quality and performance of this program is with you.

Translation: it might not work, so don’t come crying to us if this is the case. Even the menus don’t work properly - the background artwork flashes up for a fraction of a second and then disappears - while the diamond icon that the manual claims will pop up when you are supposed to issue a command doesn’t actually appear (at least not on the Playstation 3).

Dragon’s Lair is a charmless, shambolic mess of a game. I can only hope that the arcade original was somewhat better, and that the total shoddiness of the gameplay is due to the buggy implementation of the game on Blu-ray. According to an interview with the programmer responsible for porting it over, he basically had to bend over backwards due to the rough state of the development tools and lack of access to the source code, so I suppose it’s a wonder it works at all. Regardless of whose “fault” it is, though, the fact remains that it’s a completely unplayable mess and one that I’m glad I didn’t pay for.

Oh, and if you want some thoughts on the shoddy digital “restoration” performed on it by dunderhead technicians who haven’t got a clue how to use the tools at their disposal, check out Lyris’ post on the matter.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 6:47 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | HD DVD | Technology
 

It’s a royal flush!

Blu-ray

Wrong game, I know, but I don’t know anything about cards. The point is, my copy of the Finnish release of Casino Royale on Blu-ray arrived today.

(Coincidentally, Lyris also received the free copy of the UK release which, as Playstation 3 owners, we were able to sign up for. I had a look at the torture scene on this copy, and found the manner in which it was edited quite curious. Gone is Le Chiffre placing the rope on Bond’s shoulder, and his line, “Such a waste.” Some of the sound effects and Bond’s screams also seemed to have been toned down slightly, although, without doing a side by side comparison, it was impossible to be sure, so don’t quote me on this. Either way, Bond’s balls still get a bloody good walloping, and I remain incredibly disturbed by the notion that the BBFC found elements of this scene to be sexualised.)

Anyway, on to the matter at hand - the Finnish disc. I can confirm that it is indeed region free, and that it is indeed completely uncut… although I had a rather hare-raising moment at first, because, in my eagerness to take a look-see at my new disc, I accidentally put the American disc in by mistake! Put that down to having four copies of the same film, each with almost identical covers, in the same room. Thankfully, I had enough sense to rectify this mistake before I went blustering on to the Internet to verbally abuse those who had told me the Finnish release was uncut. The disc label, incidentally, also has an Australian OLFC certificate on it, lending credence to the theory that the exact same disc was released down under, which should please those who prefer enormous ratings stickers on their front covers to non-English text. Furthermore, although I will be doing some careful inspections of the various releases before offering my final judgement, an initial glance at this disc suggests that it has identical image quality to the US/Korean version.

Now that I have a copy of Casino Royale that I’m happy with, I can finally get on with my long-delayed review.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2007 at 10:10 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

HD DVD celebrates first birthday with 100,000 sales

HD DVD/Blu-ray

HD DVD turns a year old today (the official release date for the initial line-up of titles was April 18th 2006, although a few retailers started selling them early on the 15th, hence last Sunday’s buyathon). With the format having made major gains in the charts recently, now seems like the perfect time to convey more good news: HD DVD has now passed a major milestone, having sold (not shipped, sold) 100,000 stand-alone players since launch. Note that this figure does not include the number of Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drives sold.

In addition, Planet Earth on HD DVD became the first title on either format to reach a sales rank of 4 in the DVD sales charts (covering DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray and the, ahem, special interest formats like UMD), ousting the previous king, Casino Royale on Blu-ray, with a high of 7, from its throne. Now that the disc drought of early 2007 seems to be at an end, HD DVD seems to slowly but surely be clawing its way back to its previous position. Clearly, the gap between the two HD formats is going to be a lot narrower than it was in the glory days of mid to late 2006, and I expect that both formats will overtake each other at various points throughout the coming months, but I must say that those who poo-pooed HD DVD and predicted its demise spoke rather too hastily. One thing’s for sure, 2007 is going to continue to be very interesting.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 18, 2007 at 10:02 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | TV
 

Third time’s a charm

Blu-ray

In what is becoming something of an obsession for me, I’ve just ordered my third copy of Casino Royale on Blu-ray, and am hoping that this will finally be one that I am satisfied with. After discovering that the supposedly uncut Korean release did in fact feature the same censored PG-13 version of the film as its US counterpart (actually, an identical disc was released in both territories, right down to the “Made in the USA” text on the disc label), I vowed to be more careful about my double-dips in future. However, several independent sources have now confirmed that the film has been released uncut on Blu-ray in both Australia and Scandinavian territories, and that, contrary to previous suspicions, it is in fact a multi-region (ABC) rather than Region B release. This makes the US/Chinese/Korean/Thai Region A release the only one to be region coded - ironic, considering that it features the most butchered of all the cuts of the film.

I was going to pick up the Australian version, simply for the convenience of having English text on the cover (silly, I know), but unfortunately it has sold out at EzyDVD, my regular port of call for Aussie discs. Instead, I headed over to Finnish site Filmifriikki and placed an order for the local disc from that country.

Once I have my hands on a copy of the film that I’m happy with, you can probably expect me to finally get round to that review I’ve been intending to provide for so long.

 
Posted: Monday, April 16, 2007 at 9:36 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Happy birthday, HD DVD!

HD DVD/Blu-ray

HD DVD is nearly a year old! Doesn’t time fly? The format officially launched in North America on April 18th, 2006, with the rather bizarre line-up of Million Dollar Baby, The Phantom of the Opera, The Last Samurai and Serenity. The HD DVD crowd at the AV Science Forum have decided to celebrate the format’s one-year anniversary by buying a bunch of titles from Amazon.com, although for some strange reason they have elected to do so today, the 15th, rather than waiting till the 18th.

HD DVD HD DVD HD DVD

Well, no matter, and I’ve decided to toss my hat into the ring and place some orders. I’ve picked up The Game, The Skeleton Key and Being John Malkovich, none of which are actually ready to ship yet, but this did seem like as good a time as any to get the pre-orders placed. I haven’t seen The Game yet, but I’ve been led to believe that it’s something of an under-appreciated gem from David Fincher, whose work I generally find quite enjoyable, at least on a technical level.

 
Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2007 at 1:37 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

The Bill Lustig syndrome

DVD

Blue Underground boss Bill Lustig recently gave an interview to Belgian site Cultfilms en Kultfilms, in which he discussed a number of pertinent issues, including his own career as a director, the status of upcoming titles, and, perhaps most importantly, the company’s future. Sadly, the news does not appear to be good: apparently the DVD market is currently at a stage where saturation is so high that it’s impossible for obscure titles to compete against the big guns and make a profit.

Still, we do have some nice releases to look forward to, the main one for me being the upcoming special edition of The Stendhal Syndrome, which will replace the Troma monstrosity as the official American release of this often-underappreciated 1996 gem from Dario Argento. I previously expressed reservations, based on Blue Underground’s track record of often not including Italian audio options for such films (and The Stendhal Syndrome is a film that needs to be experienced in Italian). Any fears can be laid to rest, however, as, according to Lustig:

Will you feature both the English and the Italian versions?
Yes - the English and the Italian. We just finished the transfer in high-definition under the supervision of the director from the composite, so it’s the definitive version.

Let’s just hope they remember to throw in English subtitles, unlike some of those multi-language Anchor Bay titles where the non-English dubs are essentially useless unless you speak the language.

Information has also been provided on the bonus content:

Would you consider letting Dario Argento do an audio commentary in subtitled Italian?
Well - no - we’re not doing an audio commentary, but we’re shooting an interview with him next thursday. Him and Asia and Guiseppe Rotunno, Sergio Stivaletti and the author of the book. We’re shooting those interviews in Rome on the 18th and the 19th. And when I say ‘we’ - I’m not going to Rome, it’s going to be David Gregory who works for me.

I’m slightly disappointed by the lack of a commentary (I had hoped that we’d get another of Alan Jones’ excellent efforts), but the interviews sound excellent. Sign me up for this release.

Update, April 15th, 2007 10:02 PM: Apparently Lustig was misquoted in the original interview, so “director of the composite” should read “director of photography” (i.e. Giuseppe Rotunno).

 
Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 9:25 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

HD DVD review: A Scanner Darkly

HD DVD
A solid presentation of an extremely flawed film, this HD DVD release of A Scanner Darkly should please those who enjoyed the film. While this is not a title that shows off the prowess of high definition to any great extent, it is an undeniable improvement on the standard definition release and, if nothing else, a curious novelty in that it is one of only a tiny number of animated (or, in this case, quasi-animated) titles to be available in HD.

A revolutionary technique or just a gimmick? I ponder Richard Linklater’s curious live action/animation hybrid A Scanner Darkly, released on a solid HD DVD by Warner. Review courtesy of DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 4:02 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

DVD image comparison: Black Sunday

DVD

As you may have noticed, yesterday was Friday the 13th, and I celebrated in grand style by watching an ‘orror film (as Letícia Román would say), in this case Mario Bava’s Black Sunday with audio commentary by Tim Lucas, as found on the new disc in The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 from Anchor Bay. This is a title that continues to leave me rather cold, as many of Bava’s more celebrated films inexplicably do. It’s beautifully shot, and Barbara Steele is magnificent (the perfect blend of horror and beauty), but it doesn’t grip me in the way that The Girl Who Knew Too Much does. I suppose that, generally speaking, you could argue that this is because I prefer gialli to gothic horror, but that doesn’t explain why my reaction to Blood and Black Lace is similarly lukewarm, or why Suspiria is my favourite Italian film, horror or giallo.

Anyway, I’ve put together a comparison between the old Image Entertainment disc (kindly supplied to me by Lee) and the new Anchor Bay one. It’s so close that I’m not going to call it either way. The new Anchor Bay disc is minutely more contrasty than the Image version, giving the illusion of a slight detail boost, and some print damage has been cleaned up. Both exhibit noise reduction artefacts in the form of “crawling” grain during camera movement. As with The Girl Who Knew Too Much, the sound on both releases is effectively the same, although the AB version is 2-channel mono rather than single-channel. There is also little appreciable difference between the extras, although the newer release does gain a US trailer, TV spot and Barbara Steele biography while losing the rather informative text-based notes on the Italian version of the film. All things considered, they more or less cancel each other out.

Ultimately, if you already own the Image Entertainment DVD, I don’t see much point in rushing out to pick up the Anchor Bay release. However, the fact that it is packaged in The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 with four other Bava titles, many of which do contain noticeable improvements on their predecessors, means that many people will no doubt end up with this disc anyway.

 
Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 11:29 AM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD
 

HD my left walnut

As most people will be aware by now, there have been some amazing high definition transfers on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and some rather less than amazing ones. When you’re working with a native resolution of 1920x1080, you’d better hope that your master is of the highest quality, because little flaws that would go unnoticed in standard definition will stick out like sore thumbs. The two titles most commonly dragged out for a public for a ritual flogging are Sony’s House of Flying Daggers and The Fifth Element on Blu-ray, transfers that are generally regarded to constitute a decidedly miniscule improvement on their DVD counterparts. Indeed, even Sony have apparently realised this, given that they are currently in the process of preparing a new version and setting up a disc replacement programme.

Unfortunately, it seems that the crown for worst HD transfer must pass from Blu-ray to HD DVD. AV Science Forum member Xylon recently started providing side by side comparisons of standard definition and high definition titles, many of which admirably demonstrate the undeniables improvements that are possible in HD with even the least visually inspiring films. Unfortunately for certain less than proficient reviewers, however, these highly effective demonstrations have shown up their amateurish postulating for the sham that it is. These screenshots serve to confirm many of the opinions I’ve been expressing for a while now, e.g. that Batman Begins looks underwhelming, while Serenity looks fucking incredible.

The shit really hit the fan a few days ago when Xylon posted a comparison of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, released last September on HD DVD by Universal. When initially released, many people commented that the transfer looked less than stellar. Such individuals were quickly put in their place by being told that Traffic intentionally looked rough and grainy, and that they shouldn’t expect 3D whizz-bang effects and crystal clarity from every title (a sentiment that I fully agree with). Now, however, Xylon’s screengrabs demonstrate the truth that dare not speak its name:

Traffic DVD

Traffic HD DVD

Traffic on HD DVD is a 480i upconvert.

Not only that, it actually looks worse than the DVD, with additional ringing and what appears to be even less fine detail. I really am absolutely flabbergasted, especially given some of the reviews that have emerged. The notorious Peter M. Bracke of High-Def Digest gave the transfer a 4/5 and said this:

Bottom line, this HD DVD transfer delivers. The source material is as good as the film stock allow, with no major defects visible such as print tears or distracting blemishes, though grain is intentionally excessive for much of the film. Black levels are consistent throughout, while contrast is all over the map. Some story threads have whites so blown out that fine detail is all but obscured, while others are bathed in darkness or excessively saturated colors. Thus, there is some noise and smeared hues, but again it appears intentional. Overall detail and depth to the image is about as good as can be expected. No, I was never blown away by the presentation as I’ve been with other HD DVD releases, but then I never anticipated otherwise.

The infamous Joshua Zyber of DVD Talk, meanwhile, rates it 3/5, and claims that

The disc looks exactly like the film is meant to look, and it actually has some fascinating textures, but this just isn’t the type of movie you buy for crystal clear HD image quality. While certain scenes show off the High-Def fairly well (primarily the blue-filtered Michael Douglas segments), on the whole there isn’t much fine object detail or depth. Aside from some minor edge ringing in a few scenes, the disc represents the movie’s intended style faithfully and I can’t fault it for that, but most viewers will probably not find it a huge upgrade over standard DVD.

Sorry, but the comparisons speak for themselves, and, coupled with some additional screen captures from a still crummy-looking but undeniably superior 720p broadcast version, it’s difficult to imagine anyone trying to claim that Universal have done anything other than screw up royally. Unfortunately, this is not the case: Zyber is currently ransacking what little dignity he has left by attempting to poo-poo the screenshots and tell us that what we’re seeing is untrue.

Josh Zyber, Peter Bracke: please consider retracting your reviews. The visual evidence speaks for itself, and not even the most blinkered individual could attempt to claim, based on the screenshots in question, that the Traffic HD DVD is anything other than a standard definition upconvert. Reviews such as these bring this profession into disrepute and mean that prospective buyers cannot make an informed decision about their purchases. Worse, they give lazy distributors ample reason to pump out any old garbage and charge a premium for it rather than spend money on new, decent-quality masters. Based on these phenomenally misguided reviews (and I’m sorry, but in this particular instance, we are talking about fact, not opinion), I highly doubt that I will ever trust a single article from these two writers ever again.

More ill-informed reviews:

DVD “Authority”
Upcoming Discs

One thing that should be remembered, however, is this: as ignorant, ill-informed and damaging as these reviews are, they are the small fry in this debacle. The people who should truly be hanging their heads and grovelling for apologies are Universal, who blew a 480i master up to 1080p, slapped it on a disc and had the nerve to sell it as “The Look and Sound of Perfect”.

Update, April 12th, 2007 09:08 PM: A separate thread has now appeared at AVS, with the topic starter demanding (rightfully so) that Universal acknowledge their screw-up. Unfortunately, Mr. Zyber is continuing to make a fool of himself by refusing to admit the obvious.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2007 at 6:49 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Mother of spoilers - redux

Here’s a piece of advice: DON’T click this link if you want to have any surprises at all when you finally get to see The Third Mother. Mariana at OdeToAzia.com has kindly translated the text of the article on the film which appeared in l’Espresso (see my previous post on the matter). This article, for some inexplicable reason, provides a synopsis for the entire film, including the ending. I glanced at it briefly, but stopped myself before I ruined too much. I’m providing the link here just in case you want to be completely spoiled, but I strongly advise against reading it.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 10:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

DVNR - an illustrated demonstration

DVD

News is incredibly slow in movie-land at the moment, for some reason (although I apologise for not reporting on the announcement of the impending release of the DreamWorks classic Norbit sooner), so I’ve essentially been browsing the web for things to report on. During my adventures, I came across a rather interesting DVD image comparison on a French forum called Sans Commentaire. The title under the microscope is Rob Zombie’s highly entertaining The Devil’s Rejects, specifically the Canadian release by Maple Pictures (which presumably uses the same master as the US Lions Gate version) and the French release by Metropolitan. As many of you probably know, this film was shot on 16mm, giving it a harsher, grainier look than its predecessor, House of 1000 Corpses. Why should you give two hoots? Why, because the screenshots of the Metropolitan release demonstrate just how destructive DVNR (digital video noise reduction) can be on a grainy source. Look especially at the second capture, and what happens to the texture of William Forsythe’s skin. The same thing happens again in Capture 6, where poor Captain Spaulding now looks like he’s wearing a wax mask rather than mere face paint (look what it does to his scraggy beard too).

Here’s the thing: Rob Zombie shot The Devil’s Rejects in 16mm for a reason… and no, it wasn’t because he couldn’t afford to go to 35mm, as evinced by the fact that both it and House of 1000 Corpses cost an estimated $7 million. He shot it that way because he wanted it to look raw and documentary-like, a callback to similarly rough and ready 70s exploitation flicks like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Attempting to remove, or more accurately, smother the grain not only destroys the film’s texture, making it look unnatural and digital, it also goes against the grain (apologies for the unintentional pun) of what the director was trying to achieve. On the Maple DVD, The Devil’s Rejects features some compression artefacts as a result of the visual complexity of the grain pattern, but this is, in my opinion, vastly preferable to the diffuse smush that the Metropolitan disc seems to be.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 10:26 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

They had edge enhancement in the Dark Ages too…

Blu-ray

My copy of the Blu-ray release of King Arthur arrived today. Oh, what? It’s not that bad.

Unfortunately, like the film (which I find enjoyable enough to justify rebuying in high definition), the transfer is a bit of a mixed bag. Disney are pretty quickly establishing themselves as the most wildly inconsistent studio when it comes to HD image quality. King Arthur seems to vary on a shot by shot basis. Some shots are horrendously (and I mean horrendously) edge enhanced, whereas others look overly soft; others still show both detail and smoothness and look largely natural. However, there are some fairly obvious DVNR artefacts, particularly visible in the various sweeping vistas of the grey-green English countryside, where grass and other details smear as the camera pans. The usual facial suspects - beards, stubble and rough skin textures - are also affected. On the plus side, the AVC encoding is largely very good, with no obvious compression artefacts (although some minor blocking is occasionally visible when the image is paused).

Disney have also now decided to start throwing in their trademarked pre-movie advertisements, and there are some very nice-looking (and some not so nice-looking) trailers. The crispest, by far, is for everyone’s favourite homophobic racist director Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, while the clips of Chicago look just as harsh and edge enhanced as the final product, which I saw when Lyris bought it.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 at 8:37 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 
 

 
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