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Mother of spoilers

Source: Dark Discussion

Mariana, who runs the Ode to Azia Asia Argento tribute site, has kindly scanned and uploaded a two-page article on the upcoming The Third Mother from the Italian newspaper l’Espresso. Apparently the text is extremely spoiler-intensive, even going so far as to give away the ending, so you may not want to look at it if you read Italian. Ignoring the text however, however, you can still enjoy the rather fuzzy and hard to make out photos from the film itself and the set, which showcase, among others, Asia Argento and the Mother of Tears herself, Moran Atias.

Composer Claudio Simonetti has also posted about the film on the forum for his web site, and Dark Discussion member Mannfan has kindly summarised some of the most important points:

- The music is done and the mixing of the Italian and English tracks has just been done.
- Simonetti worked almost 4 months on the soundtrack… there are some nods in this music to Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrmann, Carl Orff… its style is classical and also a bit Gothic, especially in the use of choir… Simonetti is very proud of his music, one of his most beautiful and accomplished.
- The cinematography is dark but beautiful and full of colours in the same time!
- The film is full of actions and violence (Walter Fasano’s editing is very good), with many different locations… the scene(s?) in the catacombs are very good.
- The film is full of Lee Wilson’s digital effects and Sergio Stivaletti’s effects.
- The witches are very, very sexy!
- There is one of Dario’s most striking shots in his whole career, a 4 minute and 10 second sequence without cuts (?) when Asia’s character is entering an old house.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. The rumours of the film being cut by distributor Medusa Film are apparently true, and Nick from Dark Dreams has warned fans to expect a film that “will not be Dario’s original vision”. I just pray (not literally, of course) that a version that does represent what he wanted to make eventually sees the light of day on DVD.

 
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2007 at 3:37 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento
 

The latest HD image quality rankings

HD DVD/Blu-ray

It’s been well over a month since I last posted by list of image quality grades for high definition titles, so I thought it would make sense to do it just now, while there seems to be something of a lull in other news worth posting.

Note that I’ve made a slight change to the rankings. From now on, if a title is available on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, and is known to have an identical encode, it will be listed under both. Broadly speaking, the same encodes have been used in every country of release, provided the same company owns the rights, but this is not always the case (for example with Casino Royale, where different edits necessitate different masters for different territories, or Serenity, where the UK release features a slightly more detailed transfer than its US counterpart).

10/10

  • Corpse Bride (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • Casino Royale (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Serenity (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • Serenity (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • The Descent (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)

9/10

  • King Kong (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • Babel (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Looney Tunes: Rabbit Hood (Warner, USA, HD DVD)*
  • Children of Men (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • A Scanner Darkly (Universal, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
  • Miami Vice (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Casablanca (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK, HD DVD/Blu-ray)

8/10

  • Silent Hill (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Constantine (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Devil’s Rejects (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Unleashed (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Red Dragon (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Looney Tunes: Robin Hood Daffy (Warner, USA, HD DVD)*
  • Land of the Dead (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • V for Vendetta (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan, HD DVD)
  • Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA, HD DVD/Blu-ray)
  • Flightplan (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Batman Begins (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • Van Helsing (Universal, UK, HD DVD)

7/10

  • Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Tears of the Sun (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Mummy Returns (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA, HD DVD)

6/10

  • Chicago (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Enemy of the State (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, Germany, HD DVD)
  • Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • Hostel (Sony Pictures, UK, Blu-ray)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Troy (Warner, UK, HD DVD)
  • Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD)

5/10

  • District B13 (Magnolia, USA, Blu-ray)

4/10

  • American Psycho (Lions Gate, USA, Blu-ray)

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

 
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2007 at 2:51 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Bourne on the 24th of July

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

Universal have made an official announcement about the upcoming HD DVD release of The Bourne Identity, confirming that it will be hitting store shelves on July 24th, just over a week before the theatrical release of the third film in the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum. The second entry, The Bourne Supremacy, was one of the first HD DVDs I ever owned, at about the same time last year, and, while it left me rather cold, I very much enjoyed The Bourne Identity (mainly because of the excellent Franka Potente, who made for a far more effective point of audience identification than Matt “gorilla-features” Damon), so I’ll definitely be picking it up in high definition.

No word on the extras yet, but, going by Universal’s track record, we should expect to see all of the features from the standard definition DVD release. The Bourne Supremacy also had an In-Movie Experience-type feature (called “Bourne Instant Access”, and “presented by” Toshiba), so it would be nice if we get something similar for The Bourne Identity.

 
Posted: Monday, April 09, 2007 at 2:23 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

So, this film’s about imaginary cockroaches, huh?

HD DVD

This evening, I made my way through A Scanner Darkly in its entirety, and, while I found that it picked up slightly in its second half, and sported a handful of smile-inducing lines of dialogue, I ultimately wouldn’t rate the whole experience too highly. I’ve found this on numerous occasions with movies about drug addiction - particularly Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a film that manages to entertain and irritate me in equal measure - and I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that this is one of those “you had to be there” phenomena. I’ve never imbibed a single narcotic in my life, and I’m sorry to say that, although I take my job as a reviewer seriously, becoming a drug addict to get a better insight into the logic behind this film would be going above and beyond the call of duty. (Not that I’m saying that everyone who enjoys the film must be a drug addict.) Watching A Scanner Darkly, I felt incredibly distanced from the whole affair, and I suspect that this had as much to do with the subject matter as the visual styling, which, I’m sorry to say, I found clumsy and distracting throughout.

Incidentally, I was shocked to discover that, rather than simply running the footage he shot through a filter, Linklater actually had a team of artists go through every single frame and trace them by hand. The people - I’ll call them clean-up artists rather than animators, because that’s essentially the function they performed - responsible for this task clearly had no small amount of skill, not to mention patience, but I can’t help thinking that this was wasted on a project that could easily have been automated. By the way, the included documentary dedicated to exploring the process reveals that very few of the artists had had any direct animation experience prior to working on the film. To tell you the truth, it shows, although I would probably have been even more horrified if Linklater had actually squandered the talents of real animators on this cute but ultimately pointless exercise.

Oh, and if you’re going to create animation by tracing over live action actors, please, please, please use someone more expressive than Keanu Reeves as your source.

 
Posted: Friday, April 06, 2007 at 11:24 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

DVD image comparison: The Girl Who Knew Too Much

DVD

I’ve put together a DVD image comparison, pitting the new Anchor Bay edition of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, found in The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1, with the older, out of print Image Entertainment release.

I’ve seen a couple of reviews describing the new transfer as a marked improvement on the old one, but I’m not sure why. The same master has clearly been used for both, although the Anchor Bay version has been subjected to some DVNR (digital video noise reduction). This has the result of cleaning up some of the more distracting damage on what was admittedly a very rough-looking print, but at the same time it also freezes the grain patterns, resulting in an image that, overall, looks more “fake” and digital than its predecessor. There’s also a smidge more edge enhancement on the AB transfer.

Both discs feature pretty much the same audio and subtitles - the Image track is 1.0 mono, whereas the AB track is 2.0 dual mono, but this ultimately results in no appreciable difference. Like most gialli, The Girl Who Knew Too Much was shot with the actors speaking English and then post-dubbed. As a result, the Italian dialogue doesn’t match the lip movements of the actors on screen. However, because the Italian and American cuts of the film are so different, matching up the English audio to the Italian cut would probably not have been feasible. In any event, it seems that rights issues have prevented the American version, entitled The Evil Eye, from being included on this disc, and those legal problems probably extend to the audio.

The clear winner, in terms of extras, is the AB release. The Tim Lucas commentary is excellent, and the John Saxon interview, while brief, is enlightening and entertaining. The Image disc does have a couple of filmographies not found on the AB release, but I doubt anyone will mourn their absence.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2007 at 7:44 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli
 

A scanner rotoscoped

HD DVD

Yesterday, I received a review copy of the upcoming (due out on April 10th) HD DVD release of A Scanner Darkly, from DVD Pacific.

Back when this film was released on DVD, I was interested to see it, due to director Richard Linklater’s rather odd choice of shooting it in live action and then applying a “cel-shading” effect to it, to give it the appearance of hand-drawn animation (a look initially popularised by video games like Jet Set Radio, although that particular title, of course, wasn’t shot in live action). It’s really the latest iteration of rotoscoping, a time- and cost-saving measure initially attempted by legendary animators Dave and Max Fleischer in the 1930s. The Fleischers quickly determined that rotoscoping simply wasn’t worth the time of day, because the results it produced, while requiring considerably less time and skill on the part of the animators, were, to put it bluntly, not good. Nonetheless, it would appear that many filmmakers have yet to learn the lessons that the Fleischers learned more than 70 years ago. These tend to be live action directors, who don’t really understand the point or potential of animation as a medium, and approach things from the frankly ludicrous perspective of trying to make it emulate live action as much as possible. This results in films that range from merely being stilted and clumsy (see Ralph Bakshi’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which, unique and at times impressive as it is, falters when it comes to the sloppily traced character animation) to downright grotesque (Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express, among others).

A Scanner Darkly, sadly, falls somewhere between these two extremes. Characters, objects and even details like eyes and facial hair “swim” around the screen in a distracting and at times nauseating manner, movements strobe rather than looking organic, and the main question on my mind was “what was the point?” Why did Linklater go to the trouble of shooting all this material using real actors, only to scan his footage into a computer and slap what looks like a silly Photoshop effect over it all? What does the film gain by being animated (and I use the term loosely, because I consider rotoscoping as illegitimate a form of animation as motion capture)? The answer is nothing. Linklater sees the medium from the perspective of a live action director, and thus isn’t able to harness its unique qualities in the way that a proper animation director could. The end result is merely a gimmick - a “hey, it’s like a real-life cartoon” affair that is probably better suited to a technician’s demo reel rather than a commercial movie or (HD) DVD.

As for the quality of the plot itself (which, given that it is essentially just a live action film masquerading as animation, is ultimately the most important element)… well, I have to admit that I was really tired last night, and didn’t have the energy or patience to get through the whole thing, but, from what I saw… eh, it just wasn’t gripping me. It was okay, I guess, but I felt strangely uninvolved. Since I’ve got a four-day weekend (it being the time of year when Christians celebrate the death of their leader - go figure), I’m going to give it another shot when I’m feeling more awake. Well, I’ve got to - I need to review the damn thing. So far, though, my reaction has been one big “meh”.

 
Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2007 at 5:52 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: Children of Men

HD DVD
Presenting one of 2006’s best films with a stellar transfer and audio, and some genuinely informative extras, this HD DVD of Children of Men is one of the best high definition releases I’ve seen so far, and one that gets my unreserved recommendation. In fact, I’d even go so far as to recommend that those who are currently not yet HD DVD-ready pick up a copy, if they don’t already have a copy of the DVD, given that the DVD side includes all of the content from the stand-alone release.

One of the most powerful films of the last year arrives in high definition. I’ve reviewed Universal’s HD DVD/DVD combo of Children of Men, given a stellar audio-visual presentation and some insightful extras.

 
Posted: Wednesday, April 04, 2007 at 9:52 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews
 

The Girl Who Was DVNR’d Too Much

DVD

My copy of The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to go through it in depth (that probably won’t happen till the holiday on Friday, or perhaps Thursday night), although I did rip the Tim Lucas commentary on The Girl Who Knew Too Much to my MP3 player, and listened to it today at work (which I can do when I’m doing data entry and licking stamps - it’s a little harder to do when I’m on the phone to someone!). It’s a solid, very interesting track and well worth listening to, although I don’t think it’s quite on the same level as the track on Blood and Black Lace, the only other Lucas commentary I’ve heard (to date). I’m a big fan of his style of mixing factual information about the cast and crew members, and the production, with his and other critics’ interpretations some of the key elements in the films he discusses, and it’s a format that I personally try to emulate in my (admittedly inferior) fan commentaries. (Speaking of which, I’d really like to do another of these one day, if I ever get the time.) There are quite a few blank spots in this track, in comparison with that of Blood and Black Lace, although it’s possible that these only jumped out at me because I was listening to the audio without any visuals.

I’ve also had a look at the presentation of the disc itself. I must say that I really like the menus Anchor Bay have gone for with this, and presumably the other discs in the set. They’re static and clearly laid out, but stylist and well-designed, with music from the film in question playing in the background. As far as the transfer is concerned, I get the impression that Anchor Bay have used the same rather tattered print that was the source of the old Image Entertainment DVD. I’ve no idea whether or not a more pristine source exists, but, to tell you the truth, I’ve always considered print damage to be a far less obnoxious artefact than the variety of types of digital interference that can be added at DVD level. The latter applies to this new transfer, which has been heavily noise reduced, presumably in an attempt to conceal the admittedly at times severe print damage, as well as slightly edge enhanced. The result is a transfer that looks superficially superior, and will probably fool a lot of the online review sites, but which in my opinion is not as good as its predecessor. I personally believe that restorations should either be done by hand (i.e. manually “painting out” individual instances of damage) or not at all. The film now looks a little too false and processed, at least based on the scenes I looked at. I’ll give it a closer look when I get the chance, and will of course do a full image comparison, probably at the weekend, but for the time being, my judgement is that I prefer the Image disc for its presentation of the film itself, but prefer the new Anchor Bay disc for its excellent commentary.

 
Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2007 at 7:00 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli
 

DVD review: Peter Pan: Platinum Edition

DVD
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider Peter Pan to be the most disappointing release yet in the Platinum Edition series. While Disney has released other, poorer DVDs, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect something more from a line that the studio itself claims delivers “state-of-the-art bonus features” and top-notch audio-visual presentations. Those who don’t already own this title on DVD should pick this release up, if only for the inclusion of the mono audio, but those who have one of the earlier editions would be advised to consider whether it’s worth it in the long run.

Following the the second star to the right, I’ve flown away to Never Land to do battle with the nefarious Captain Hook in a review of Disney’s recent Platinum Edition release of Peter Pan

 
Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007 at 11:18 AM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

April 1st Criterion extravaganza

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, has just announced the addition of several extremely prestigious titles to their ever-growing library. Why, there’s Problem Child, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Crossroads: A Britney Spears Tale, and even Road Trip! With prices ranging from $39.99 to $79.99, this is clearly an exclusive range, so which one will you be purchasing first?

 
Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007 at 12:03 AM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | General
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of March

  • Asterix and the Vikings (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Casino Royale (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Children of Men (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Devil’s Rejects (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • District B13 (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (R0 Germany, HD DVD)
  • Peter Pan: Platinum Edition (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse (RA USA, Blu-ray)

It occurs to me that I haven’t received a a single standard definition DVD that I’ve actually paid for in over a month - Peter Pan and Asterix and the Vikings were review copies. This is a trend that I expect will continue in the foreseeable future: broadly speaking, I feel less and less compelled to actually pay money for standard definition titles. Obviously, it’s a different story with something obscure like the Bava box set I ordered earlier this week, which I know is unlikely to come out in high definition in the near future, if at all, but by and large, I’m finding myself with increasingly little desire to buy mainstream titles on DVD.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

HD happenings

Blu-ray

This morning, I received a copy of the Korean Blu-ray release of Casino Royale from YesAsia. The Korean release, as you may be aware, is, unlike the US version, supposed to be uncensored. Warning lights should have gone off immediately when the disc booted in English and with exactly the same audio and subtitle configurations as the US disc I already own, and a brief glance at the black and white bathroom beating which opens the film confirmed my worst fears: whatever the state of the theatrical and standard definition DVD releases of the film in Korea, the Blu-ray version is the same butchered PG-13 rated cut released in America. Actually, it’s the exact same disc, right down to the “Made in the USA” text on the label. Naturally, I’ll be selling one of them as soon as possible.

Needless to say, I would still like to get my hands on an uncut copy of the film, but I won’t be doing so until I’ve had explicit confirmation that a version exists on Blu-ray that hasn’t fallen foul of the scissors of either the MPAA, the BBFC or the FSK (the body in charge of film and video ratings in Germany, who also saw fit to interfere with Casino Royale). Of course, the real culprit in all this mess is Sony for insisting on low age ratings, but, having seen the film in both its cut and uncut states, I have to say that I find the censors’ editorial decisions to be rather silly. I mean, how can a shot of a bad guy grabbing Eva Green’s leg elevate the film from PG-13 to R territory?

Je suis pissé, as the French would say.

HD DVD

There’s better news all round for the HD DVD camp, however. After a slow few months, sales figures are continuing to rise. Cue the Blu-ray camp once again claiming that the Amazon.com sales figures are meaningless - funny how the boot was on the other foot a couple of weeks ago when the Blu crew had a clear lead. Meanwhile, I received a review copy of the HD DVD/DVD combo release of Children of Men, and I’m pleased to report that it features an excellent transfer and a top notch audio mix (only Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1, no TrueHD, but I doubt many people will complain when they hear it). In fact, I’d go so far as to place them both in the lower 10/10 band, or at the very least upper 9/10. The film is brilliant too. I wanted to see this when it was on at the cinema, but, as is usually the case, I never got around to going. Watching it in high definition with an excellent transfer on Lyris’s brand new 5.1 setup is, I suppose, the next best thing. I highly recommend checking it out if you get the opportunity, although a glance at the DVD side of this combo release reveals that the standard definition transfer is, erm, not very good.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 1:43 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

The king is dead - long live the king!

Disney/Pixar

Source: Animation World Magazine

The Disney direct-to-video animated sequel is dead.

What more need be said? All hail Big John!

Seriously, I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am to finally see this news given official confirmation. I harbour no ill will towards the artists who worked on the likes of Bambi II, Cinderella III: Dreams Come True and, erm, Leroy & Stitch, but these “films” have run the Disney label into the ground for far too long. This should be proof, if proof was ever needed, that John Lasseter is absolutely serious about making the brand respectable again. Okay, I can’t say I’m too thrilled by the prospect of a CGI Tinker Bell movie, but it’s a long, long way from the sacrilege that has been committed since the concept of Disney cheapquels first came into being in 1994 with The Return of Jafar.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 8:08 PM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | TV
 

70 new HD DVDs between now and July

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: AV Science Forum

LOS ANGELES, March 28 /PRNewswire/ — The top studios backing HD DVD, including Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, Paramount Home Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, Genius Products, and Eagle Rock Entertainment today announced more than 70 specific titles and release windows through July 2007. With movie titles like Smokin’ Aces, The Complete Matrix Trilogy, and DreamGirls, HD DVD continues to deliver on promises made to fans of high definition. Additional titles for the remainder of 2007 will be announced this summer.

With attach rates that still far exceed other high definition formats, HD DVD movies continue to sell briskly at retail to a growing consumer base. The 2007 title line-up from the core HD DVD studios, combined with a strong HD DVD title and hardware presence in North America, Europe and Asia, showcases the format’s global appeal and unmatched technology features. Effective April 1st, Toshiba is implementing strategic retail price reductions on its full line of HD DVD players for the U.S. market. The entry level HD-A2 will have a suggested retail price of $399.99; and the new HD-A20, with 1080p output, will be introduced at $499 (available in stores in April). The top of the line HD- XA2 was already repositioned to $799.99 on March 1st.

“The spring is ramping up well for HD DVD, with an incredible list of movies and the best priced hardware on the market,” said Ken Graffeo, executive vice president, HD Strategic Marketing, Universal Studios Home Entertainment. “Our consumer base continues to buy movies at rates that outpace DVD in its early years, which shows the willingness of consumers to make the transition to high definition.”

“HD DVD continues to perform exceptionally well for Warner Home Video, and we see this continuing as more titles from the HD DVD studios roll out and more hardware hits the market,” said Steve Nickerson, senior vice president of market management for Warner Home Video. “Fans of high definition have a lot more to choose from with the release of long-awaited blockbusters like The Complete Matrix Trilogy on HD DVD.” “As hardware prices continue to fall, this is a great time to experience HD DVD,” said Chris Saito, vice president, marketing, Paramount Home Entertainment. “Our HD DVD line-up for Spring and Summer 2007 has something for every audience, with hits ranging from Dreamgirls to Flags of Our Fathers.”

I was a little sceptical at first, but I’ve had a look and the numbers do add up. Unfortunately, I can’t say that a huge number of them are titles I’m absolutely dying to get my hands on, in high definition or otherwise. Still, there are some big titles in that list that should help shift both discs and players.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 6:22 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

A big box of Bava

DVD

To celebrate my final day of freedom (I start a full-time job tomorrow - eek!), I decided to head over to DVD Pacific and pre-order the upcoming The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 box set, released by Anchor Bay on April 3rd. This five-disc set includes Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knife of the Avenger and Kill, Baby… Kill!, three of them with commentaries by famed Bava scholar Tim Lucas. I already have the old Image Entertainment DVD of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and a copy of Black Sunday, but I have nothing against picking up new versions of them, especially with the addition of commentaries and, hopefully, improved transfers. DVD Savant has posted a review of the set, and it sounds like a top-notch release. I know that Dark Sky Films had their own version of Kill, Baby… Kill! due for release until it was suddenly and mysteriously pulled, and that it featured a Tim Lucas commentary not included on this Anchor Bay version, but I’m not sure I want to scour eBay in the hope of finding one of the few rare review copies that made it out before the cancellation delay.

Update, March 27th, 2007 08:27 PM: As Tim Lucas points out, the Dark Sky release has not officially been cancelled, merely delayed with no current new release date.

 
Posted: Monday, March 26, 2007 at 6:48 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | General | Gialli
 

The nightmare of Pan

DVD

Yesterday, I received a review copy of the new 2-disc Platinum Edition of Walt Disney’s classic, Peter Pan, from DVD Pacific. Mindful of both the unnaturally harsh look of the earlier (2002) DVD release of the film, as well as Disney’s unfortunate habit of going overboard during the restoration process of their older titles, I was rather curious to see how this enjoyable 1953 lark had fared on of what the publicity describes as Disney Home Entertainment’s most prestigious line-up of DVD releases.

Unfortunately, the new edition really is a bit of a mixed bag. While the rampant edge enhancement of the previous release is nowhere to be found, it seems that DTS Digital Images (formerly Lowry Digital), Disney’s regular partner in these ventures, have once again thrown artistic intent out of the window in an attempt to deliver an impossibly clean, “flawless” digital experience for the 21st century. By far the biggest problem is that the overall colour, brightness and contrast values of the image have been tweaked into oblivion. Tinkerbell was originally supposed to have an overexposed glow, which, on this release, has been dulled down severely, making the glow look more like a muddy shadow. Actually, “muddy” is the word of the day here: the colours are generally dull and sickly. The decidedly red Indians are now a gloomy shade of brown, more suited to something like Pocahontas than this altogether more fun and colourful cartoon world, while Captain Hook now looks like he has liver damage. Everything is so murky that the hand-inked, cel-animated characters, who should be vibrant, threaten to disappear into the backgrounds. I’ve inspected the DVD on both a monitor and a calibrated TV: it just doesn’t look right.

Peter Pan

Respected cel restoration expert Stephen Worth, and animation directors Oscar Grillo and Milton Gray, have all criticised this new restoration, while Chuck Pennington has provided visual evidence that each subsequent home video release of Peter Pan has taken its visuals further and further away from Walt Disney and co’s original intentions. I’ve never personally seen the film on an actual print, but I feel more inclined to trust the informed opinions of experts like Stephen Worth than the staff of DTS Digital Images, who have shown a cavalier attitude towards artistic intent several times in the past, perhaps most significantly with Bambi, which was so heavily noise reduced in an attempt to remove any semblance of the movie ever having come from film that the image smeared and warped during camera movements.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Even the bonus content turns out to be rather disappointing. There really is very little here that wasn’t present on the 2002 release. In the past, just about every Platinum Edition has included a lengthy documentary or at least a series of informative featurettes on the film’s history and production. Not so with Peter Pan, which has to make do with a 15-minute made for LaserDisc featurette, a 20-minute piece showing ideas that didn’t make it into the final film, and a couple of other miscellaneous featurettes. The commentary, moderated by Roy Disney and featuring the observations of a combination of animators and critics, is of a high standard, but it too was already to be found on the previous DVD release. Of the new additions, the most significant is an abridged narration of an essay by Walt Disney explaining his reasons for making the film, while the games, read-along storybook and preview for a horrendous-looking CGI Tinkerbell movie can go hang for all I care.

It’s not the end of the world, though. Unlike the previous DVD, the original mono track has been included, at least on the US release (the European versions predictably lose this vital component of the original film, no doubt in order to make room for additional dubs). It’s too bad that, despite allowing the film to sound as was it was intended, those responsible for the DVD made no attempt to ensure that it looked as it was intended.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 3:17 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Perfume: The Story of Rampant Filtering

HD DVD

About a week ago, I ordered a copy of the recent German HD DVD release of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer from Amazon.de. It’s the latest film from Tom Tykwer, and it tells the story of a young man who, driven to create the perfect perfume, starts knocking off young ladies. As you can probably guess, it’s somewhat different from Run Lola Run, the film for which Tykwer is best known. For one, it’s a period drama set in 1700s France, and as such doesn’t have any insane video game/music video editing and visual styling (although it does have some pretty whacked out moments). Anyway, it arrived today, and it’s basically a watchable enough film, although heavily flawed. It’s both over-long and tonally very inconsistent, and suffers from a rather underwhelming performance by the lead, Ben Whishaw. I wouldn’t call it a must-have by any means, but I found it rather intriguing, and it certainly makes a change from the Men & Guns type of films that tend to be released on both high definition formats.

Unfortunately, despite some positive advance word, I have to report that the transfer is rather disappointing. While I was watching it, I thought it looked rather soft and underwhelming, but fairly watchable. Some distracting noise reduction artefacts are apparent, but no problems with the compression. Then, I switched to the extras menu and selected the theatrical trailer, which is presented in full 1080p high definition (a feature that more HD DVD titles need to have). One word: wow. The trailer looks so much better - so much crisper and better defined - that it blows away the transfer of the film itself. I’m really getting sick of this. It happened all the time with standard definition DVDs (The Lord of the Rings films being particularly egregious examples), but I really would have expected better from studios producing high definition content. There’s no excuse for it apart from plain old stupidity. Seriously, if the transfer of the film had looked like that of the trailer, it would have been a 10/10 easily, perhaps even knocking Casino Royale and Corpse Bride off their respective thrones. As it is, though, this is a very low 6/10 and a very high disappointment.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 9:21 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

You take the blue pill…

HD DVD

Oh, wait. Sorry - the blue pill isn’t ready yet. It’s been delayed due to continued BD-Java problems. The red pill will, however, be ready for you to swallow on May 22nd, at which point you’ll be able to see just how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

What am I babbling about? Why, the announcement of The Ultimate Matrix Collection for HD DVD, of course. The Matrix was one of the most hotly anticipated high definition titles last year (and rightly so - it certainly helped sell plenty of DVD players, so chances are it will do the same for HD DVD), with many expecting it to arrive at some point in the run-up to Christmas. When it failed to materialise, customers were understandably disappointed, but it seems that Warner are intent on making up for lost time by releasing what looks set to be the single most comprehensive and all-inclusive high definition box set to date. In addition to the first film, the shoddy The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (which I haven’t actually seen - Reloaded was that bad), each film will include an In-Movie Experience feature and all of the extras from both the original and Ultimate Matrix Collection standard definition releases. (Read the full press release at the AV Science Forum. (A slightly cheaper, less extras-intensive version, The Complete Matrix Trilogy, will also be available.)

Part of me is slightly disappointed that the films are not being released separately, given that I only really want the first one. Then again, this does sound like the HD DVD box set to die for, and part of me really wants to listen to the notorious “critic commentaries”, in which an increasingly disgruntled group of film reviewers lay into the trilogy. Knowing me, I’ll end up splurging on the full package - unless, of course, I can get a review copy.

Oh yeah, and in case it wasn’t clear enough from the little reference to one of the film’s iconic scenes at the start of this post, the Blu-ray release will be arriving “later”, giving the HD DVD version free reign until it deigns to put in an appearance. Many will no doubt say “Oh, it’ll come eventually,” but how many format-neutral customers are going to wait for that? It certainly looks like Warner have delivered a Pirates of the Caribbean beater to wipe the smirks off the Blu-ray fanboys’ faces come May.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 10:14 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Casino Royale high-def comparisons

Blu-ray

A nice chap has put together a comparison between the standard definition and Blu-ray releases of Casino Royale - well worth checking out if you remain unconvinced as to the benefits of high definition. I particularly recommend having a look at the third image - when watching the film, this shot was the one that leapt out at me personally as the most obvious example of the stunning amount of detail that you can get from 1080p. You can even read the lettering on the wine bottle - HD product placement!

By the way, I’ve pre-ordered the supposedly uncut Korean Blu-ray release of the film from YesAsia. It’s due for release on March 29th, at which point I’ll sell off my cut US copy.

Update, March 21st, 2007 05:43 PM: There’s a whole thread filled with comparison screengrabs, from both HD DVD and Blu-ray, at the AV Science Forum.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 at 12:42 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

The Blue Underground Syndrome

DVD

Source: Dark Discussion

We’ve not heard much from cult DVD producers Blue Underground recently, barring a few Argento and Fulci re-releases, with news so quiet that many people began to speculate that the company might be on the verge of folding. On a recent webcast interview at Deadpit.com, however, head honcho Bill Lustig let slip some morsels of information, the tastiest of which was the news that the company plans to release a 2-disc special edition of The Stendhal Syndrome, Dario Argento’s best film of the last two decades, in August. For Region 1-restricted American fans especially, who currently have to make do with Troma’s monstrosity, this is huge news. For the more fortunate, a good but not brilliant 2-disc release has been available from Italy since late 2003, but even so I’ll be all over this if Lustig and co are able to deliver on the bonus content, and perhaps even issue a better transfer.

Of course, if they don’t include the superior Italian dub (which features Asia Argento’s own voice) then I would personally consider the disc more or less worthless, as the film is incredibly painful to watch in English (and is also missing a couple of minutes of footage only found in the Italian print). Blue Underground were kind enough to include Italian audio for their 2005 2-discer of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and also for Paolo Cavara’s The Black Belly of the Tarantula, but it must be said that, as far as including Italian audio is concerned, their track record isn’t all that great. Still, here’s hoping.

Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

 
Posted: Monday, March 19, 2007 at 9:09 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 
 

 
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