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Babbling about Babel

HD DVD

My review copy of the HD DVD release of Babel arrived today, via DVD Pacific. This is the first HD DVD I’ve picked up all month, due to the complete dearth of titles available for the format, and I’m happy to report that it’s a rip-roaring success. Shot in a combination of 16mm, 35mm spherical and 35mm anamorphic, the greatly divergent visual styles could have spelled disaster, but thankfully whoever encoded this disc knew their stuff. This is Paramount’s first AVC title, having previously used VC-1 for all their releases (their Blu-ray versions, meanwhile, continue to be MPEG2, since Sony handles that side of the deal), and, in contrast to the over-compressed Wolf Creek from The Weinstein Company, there is very little in the way of artefacting on display here. There are a lot of scenes that must have been hard to compress, from the shaky-cam grainy look of Morocco to the pulsating lights in the various Japanese nightclubs, and occasionally you can spot the odd slip-up if you’re paying close attention, but otherwise this is more or less (and I usually hate to use this term) a reference quality transfer. Detail is exemplary, colour and contrast are variable but appropriate, and there is only the slightest hint of minor edge enhancement in a handful of shots. All in all, a very high 9/10.

The film itself is very good too. Alejandro González Iñárritu builds on the fractured narrative style of his previous films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, using the same concept of disparate events involving unconnected characters coming together in different ways, although this time on a global rather than local scale. In broadening the scope, he loses some of the intimacy and focus of 21 Grams, but it’s a great film nonetheless and one that I would certainly like to see pick up a few Oscars in a week’s time.

 
Posted: Friday, February 16, 2007 at 9:31 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

DVD review: This Film is Not Yet Rated

DVD
It’s an oft-overused statement, but I’m going to say it anyway: This Film is Not Yet Rated is something that anyone with any interesting films, mainstream or independent, needs to see. The MPAA’s decisions have such an impact on the viewing experiences of every filmgoer, regardless of whether or not they live in the US, that people really should be more aware of just how what they can or cannot see is decided. The documentary does suffer from a handful of oversights, and it doesn’t even pretend to be unbiased, while the DVD itself is hardly a technical masterpiece, but don’t let those provisos dissuade you from seeking it out.

I’ve reviewed the recent R1 release of This Film is Not Yet Rated, a documentary exposing the practices of the notoriously clandestine MPAA.

 
Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 12:05 AM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

And so the delays begin

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: High-Def Digest

Remember when the Blu-ray camp announced a massive array of titles at CES in January, to be released during the first half of this year? Well, Fox, never one to break its promises, has indefinitely postponed a considerable chunk of that line-up. Eleven titles now no longer have a release date, among them two of the films I was most looking forward to on the format, Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs. It just goes to show that the Blu-ray team may indeed have shot themselves in the foot by making so much noise about their software releases at CES. While the HD DVD studios will presumably spend the next few months announcing titles that are actually coming out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fox, Disney, Sony et al announcing further delays and cancellations.

See? When you announce your entire six-month slate of releases at a single event rather than staggering them over a longer period, the only possible news you can announce from then on will be of the bad variety. I hate to say “I told you so”, but…

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 at 10:25 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Delivery debacle

Blu-ray

My copy of the Blu-ray release of Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven arrived today from DVD Pacific. At 194 minutes, this is one of the longest title to be released on either of the two HD formats, as far as I’m aware beaten only by the 198-minute Spartacus on HD DVD. Anyway, on DVD, this cut of Kingdom of Heaven came in a lavish four-disc set, splitting the film across the first two and showcasing a wealth of extras on discs three and four. For the Blu-ray release, all of the extras, barring the trailer, have been disposed of. And why? Would it really have been so hard for them to include an extra disc - even a standard DVD9 or two - including the extras? Was space on the BD50 really so scarce that they couldn’t toss in the three audio commentaries at a low bit rate? The first question can be answered by simply stating that Fox are cheapskates and have already built up a reputation for diddling customers over when it comes to extras on their Blu-ray releases. The second question can also be answered by going down the “Fox are cheapskates” route: instead of licensing a more efficient codec, they chose to encode the movie using bloated old MPEG2, and in doing so ensured that the only element of the disc that’s “Beyond High Definition” is the pop-up menu.

Anyway, what of the transfer itself? It’s impressive, and in the upper echelon of Blu-ray efforts. No, it’s not The Descent or Silent Hill, and it doesn’t hold a candle to HD DVD greats like Serenity and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, or even almost-but-not-quite titles like King Kong and The Adventures of Robin Hood. It is very good, though: a solid 8/10 affair marred only by some artefacting in the opening snow-laden scenes (MPEG2, look at you!) and some mild but persistent edge enhancement. Obviously, I’ve not watched the entire film yet, so I may uncover some additional problems when I go through it with a fine toothcomb, but first impressions would put it more or less on a level with Constantine and Robin Hood Daffy.

DVD

My copy of the French collector’s edition DVD release of Lucio Fulci’s Beatrice Cenci also arrived today, from FNAC, along with the two most recent “Grande Collection” Asterix books (interesting that one, shipped on the final day of the last month from Amazon.fr, arrived on the same day as the other, shipped four days ago from FNAC). I’ve given it the once-over, and it appears to have a decent if unremarkable transfer (it’s 1.85:1, which appears to be the intended aspect ratio, although some of the opening credits on the right-hand side are barely contained within the frame on a zero-overscan display), although the lack of English subtitles is going to be a bit of a pain. Still, at least my French (rudimentary) is better than my Italian (non-existent), so I suppose I can probably just about muddle through with the help of the subtitles.

 
Posted: Monday, February 12, 2007 at 11:09 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Blu-ray round-up

Blu-ray

A plethora of Blu-ray discs went through the patented HMS Whimsy benchmarking system today, starting with American Psycho, which arrived from DVD Pacific this morning. Unfortunately, this is hands-down the worst high definition transfer I’ve seen to date. In fact, it’s downright guff, with edge enhancement that makes An American Werewolf in London’s ringing seem mild, and intrusive noise reduction that destroys the texture of the actors’ faces, making it look like everyone has taken a bath in a tub of grease. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that I’m strongly considering selling it on and just hanging on to the standard definition version: it’s not that the HD version looks worse, but I can probably get more money by selling it than I would with the DVD. That’s how bad this looks.

Next up, Hostel, a rental copy of which arrived from LoveFilm. It’s not as bad as American Psycho, but it’s pretty naff, marred once again by edge enhancement, which gives it a decidedly harsh appearance. How can a master for a film little more than a year old look this bad?

The film itself was pretty disappointing too. It’s part of the recent wave of exploitation horror movies originating from the US, such as Saw and The Passion of the Christ, which have no actual purpose beyond repulsing the viewer with as much mindless gore as possible. In these films, there is no real plot to speak of, and the violence takes the form of sadistic torture carried out against defenceless prisoners with no justification. I have a feeling that this type of film is going to come to define the horror genre in the early 2000s, just as the late 90s were characterised by self-referential, “post-modern” Scream rip-offs, and the 80s became known for their Halloween-inspired teen slashers. For the first 70 minutes, it’s frankly tedious, a sort of bizarre look at an imaginary, squalid, barbaric Eastern Europe populated by skinhead ogres and busty, sex-crazed sirens who lure innocent young American boys to their deaths. If it’s meant to be ironic, it doesn’t come across, with the two aforementioned Americans neither annoying enough to give cause for cheer when they finally started getting hacked up, nor likeable enough to care what happens to them. The final 20 minutes do constitute something of a reversal of fortunes, with the sole survivor turning the tables against his torturers and staging a dramatic escape attempt, but it’s too little, too late. 4/10

Finally, Lyris received his DVD Pacific order containing Chicago and Flightplan. Unfortunately, the grossly edge enhanced Chicago looks like it’s going to be another title to go up on eBay in the very near future. Flightplan, meanwhile, looks considerably better, albeit not stunning. It’s one of a tiny number of Blu-ray titles to be encoded with VC-1, the codec more commonly associated with HD DVD.

Blu-ray, so far, has been a really, really mixed bag. Basically, I’ve seen two stellar transfers, several mediocre ones, a couple of poor ones and one outright awful one. Obviously, I’ve only seen a small number of Blu-ray titles in comparison with those available on HD DVD, but at this stage it’s fairly clear which format is delivering the more consistently impressive experience.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 11:36 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Throwing my toys out of the pram

Disney/Pixar

Back when Pixar Animation Studios was acquired by Disney back in May 2006, one of the first changes made by John Lasseter, Pixar’s Creative Vice President and the new CCO of both animation departments, was to shut down production of Toy Story 3, a sequel being produced without Pixar’s authorisation by Disney themselves. Now, it seems that production will go ahead after all, although this time by the Pixar team. The bad news, though, is that John Lasseter will not be directing (unlike the previous two Toy Story films). This is not in itself particularly surprising, given that, with his responsibility for running both animation studios, finding the time to direct a film into the bargain would be pretty much guaranteed to be out of the question. It’s still a shame, though, and the news that Michael Arndt, the screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine, is writing a script for it, fills me with dread. I’ve not seen Little Miss Sunshine, so I’ve no opinion on it one way or the other, but I’m incredibly suspicious of the notion of a live action screenwriter penning a script for any animated film, let alone a Pixar film, given that the studio has always prided itself on having actual artists develop their storylines. Still, the film will be directed by Lee Unkrich, who has served as co-director on several Pixar projects, including Toy Story 2, and let’s not forget the fact that, for all these setbacks, this will be a 100% Pixar venture, so I’m sure there’s hope for it yet.

In other Disney news, the Variety article linked to above (which I’m translating into something resembling English here) reports that the rumours were true and that Lilo & Stitch co-writer/co-director Chris Sanders is no longer with the company, and that the reins for his upcoming pet project, the CG American Dog, have been passed to Chris Williams, who served as a story artist on several of the studio’s films, including Lilo & Stitch. Whether Sanders left voluntarily or was given the boot is unclear, but one thing’s for sure, the end result is sure to suffer without his guidance. Oh, and Lasseter and Disney/Pixar animation president Ed Catmull have refuted the rumour that Disney would be switching back to an exclusively 2D slate after the release of their upcoming Meet the Robinsons, although they did confirm that 2D was well and truly back at the studio, with the John Musker/Ron Clements project The Frog Princess, expected to be the next in line for release after American Dog, being traditionally animated.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 5:29 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Technology
 

Deep Red… the Musical?

Oh my…

 
Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 12:17 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Music
 

The Day of the Jackal/Casino Royale

At first glance, it might seem strange to be reviewing these two books together, but there are in fact some valid reasons. Both are spy thrillers written by journalists turned novelists, both take place in Cold War-era France, and both were adapted into successful and highly enjoyable films which were, by and large, very faithful to their literary roots. Oh, and finally, I started reading one within hours of finishing the other, so there.

Beyond that, though, the similarities do admittedly end. The Day of the Jackal’s draw comes from its staunchly realistic portrayal of the events depicted, and Frederick Forsythe’s painstaking, some might say anal, attention to detail. Far from making the book boring, this actually increases the tension, because everything is conveyed so precisely and in such a journalistic style that it becomes easy to forget that this is in fact a fictional tale. This feat is made doubly impressive because virtually anyone reading the book will know that Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated, so the outcome can never be in any doubt. The Day of the Jackal is definitely a page-turner - and I mean that in the best sense of the phrase, not in the “this book has short chapters and is printed in a large typeface on small paper” sense of The Da Vinci Code.

Casino Royale, meanwhile, may be many things, but it is not a page-turner. It’s certainly a brief and enjoyable read, but it didn’t have the draw of The Day of the Jackal that made me eager to start another chapter as soon as I’d finished the last. Despite the fact that Ian Fleming’s novel is much shorter than Forsythe’s, I’d estimate that I actually took roughly the same number of days to read both. Whereas The Day of the Jackal seems painstakingly real, Casino Royale is clearly a work of escapism, fantasising about the sexy, cutting-edge life of espionage while sidelining the doldrums of paperwork and surveillance.

Both books are fairly light on character development, although this tends to work in the favour of Forsythe’s novel. We never get to know much about his protagonist, the Jackal, apart from the fact that he is ruthless, methodical and slightly cynical, and that he lavishes great care on guns. We never manage to get inside his head and, perhaps contrary to expectations, this is what makes him scary. Bond, on the other hand, is a little more open as a character, in that we are often privy to his thoughts, and he is certainly an intriguing fellow: a sexist, a cynic, committed to the task in hand almost to the point of insanity, and someone who probably has a lot of emotional baggage but has learned how to “lock it away” in his mind. He’s not very likeable, and I get the impression that this is intentional. He doesn’t seem real, though: more of a construct than a character… although this may change with Fleming’s later novels - I haven’t read any of them, so I wouldn’t know. Both books are, on the whole, very enjoyable, although The Day of the Jackal is the better of the two by a country mile.

Update, May 10th, 2007 07:52 AM: I’m disabling comments on this entry due to the ridiculous amount of spam it has been receiving.

 
Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007 at 1:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema
 

The latest HD image quality rankings

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Time for the latest high definition image rankings update. This one is particularly noteworthy because, thanks to a combination of buying various titles myself and renting a handful to give the once-over, I’ve been able to add Blu-ray releases to the list. (I would have liked also to have added Hostel and S.W.A.T. to the list, but some dumdum managed to render the rental copies I received unreadable by attacking the data surface with some sort of CD cleaner and a rather coarse rag.)

Of the new additions, there are a few surprises. Chiefly, it seems that once again my views on image quality are out of step with those of the bulk of the reviewing populace. Silent Hill was held up to be wildly inconsistent, with some moments of awful image quality, when in reality it is a stunning-looking disc. Fantastic Four and Tears of the Sun, meanwhile, both received charitable if not outright ecstatic reviews, when in actual fact it turns out that both have been subjects to a disturbing degree of digital manipulation. Of the two, Fantastic Four is the worse, but Tears of the Sun is not what I expect from HD either: edge enhanced and with a strangely “waxy” look to it (not to mention more compression artefacts than I’ve seen on any other Blu-ray title), it sums up the sort of excessive tinkering I hate to see in a transfer. Perhaps, though, these fake-looking, processed, edge enhanced titles are what people actually want? How else can you explain the rave reviews of the likes of Brokeback Mountain on HD DVD, and of standard definition titles like The Lord of the Rings, Final Destination 3 and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes? The same goes for the HD DVD of Batman Begins (which, along with some other titles, I also rented), which is the worst-looking Warner disc I’ve seen this side of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Far be it for me to say “Everybody’s wrong except me”, but sometimes that’s genuinely how I feel.

10/10

  • Corpse Bride (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • 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

  • Looney Tunes: Rabbit Hood (Warner, USA, HD DVD)*
  • King Kong (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
  • Miami Vice (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Silent Hill (Sony Pictures, USA, Blu-ray)
  • Doom (Universal, UK, HD DVD)
  • Casablanca (Warner, USA, HD DVD)
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK, HD DVD)

8/10

  • Unleashed (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Red Dragon (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Constantine (Warner, 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)
  • 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)
  • Enemy of the State (Buena Vista, USA, Blu-ray)

6/10

  • Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, UK, Blu-ray)
  • Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount, USA, HD DVD)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA, HD DVD)
  • Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France, HD DVD)

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

 
Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007 at 12:21 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Descending into the Blu

Blu-ray

The Blu-ray releases of Enemy of the State and The Descent arrived from DVD Pacific this morning. Having just watched Enemy of the State, I can categorically state that my first encounter with a Disney BD was a mixed bag. First of all, although the disc has all of the extras from the recently released Extended Edition DVD, it actually contains the theatrical cut of the film itself. Given that the Extended Edition merely spliced in some previously deleted scenes, as far as I can tell without the involvement of director Tony Scott, I tend to think that the theatrical cut is preferable, but opinions will no doubt differ. In terms of transfer, “underwhelming” is probably the word of the day. This looks like an old master to me - likely the same one used for the old 1999 DVD - and it shows signs of edge enhancement and filtering at all times. The film also looks fairly diffuse throughout. Unlike most of your recent 2.35:1 blockbusters, Enemy of the State was not shot in Super35 but Anamorphic Panavision, which theoretically allows for increased resolution (because it uses the entire area of the negative), but also has poorer depth of field and can lead to focus problems. Initially I wondered if the softness was due to this, but Red Dragon on HD DVD, which is also an Anamorphic Panavision film, looks much crisper. I’d peg this as a low 7/10.

Blu-ray

I haven’t had a chance to watch The Descent all the way through yet, just sample a few scenes here and there, but it looks much better: very crisp, no sign of edge enhancement, nice grain. I suspect that there are some compression artefacts in the darker scenes, but I’ll have to look more carefully to confirm. Incidentally, this is one of two notorious Lions Gate BDs which feature a “fake picture-in-picture” mode (the other is Crank). Essentially, because the BD-Java functions required to get PiP to work are not yet ready (and, of the currently available players, only the Playstation 3 will ever be able to support it), Lions Gate created a PiP experience by including two copies of the film on the same disc, one with a video window superimposed on top of it. Great use of those oh-so-expensive BD-50s!

 
Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2007 at 10:49 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: Brokeback Mountain

HD DVD
The original DVD of Brokeback Mountain felt rather empty in terms of extras. Even in this more feature-packed variant, it still feels as if the bonus materials are only scratching the surface, providing a strangely superficial look at what is as much a cultural event as a movie. As such, in conjunction with the very disappointing transfer, this release really doesn’t feel as if it’s all that it could have been, although it is undoubtedly the best home video iteration of the film thus far.

Courtesy of DVD Pacific, I’ve reviewed the HD DVD/DVD combo release of Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, presented here in a package replicating all of the extras from the recent 2-disc Collector’s Edition DVD.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 at 2:01 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews
 

So much to see, so little time

DVD DVD

It looks as if this is going to be quite a busy month for me as far as reviews are concerned. In addition to Brokeback Mountain (HD DVD) and Waking the Dead: Series 4 (DVD), which are hold-overs from January that I still need to complete (and I really should also do a write-up on last year’s Waking the Dead: Series 3, for the sake of completeness), I’ve also put in reservations for this month’s upcoming releases of Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (personally, I prefer its more literal translation title of One on Top of the Other), and Dario Argento’s episode for the second season of Masters of Horror, Pelts. Having already seen both, albeit not in the most ideal form, I’m expecting to lavish praise on the former and deliver a more lukewarm appraisal to the latter, although I am looking forward to seeing them both again.

HD DVD

I’ve also managed to snag a chance to review Paramount’s upcoming (February 20th) HD DVD of Babel, the latest film by Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose previous film, 21 Grams, I thought was excellent. Incidentally, it’s nice to see Paramount finally releasing something in high definition, even if its arrival does little more than to highlight how threadbare their slate of titles is: barring this, Failure to Launch and Payback are the only titles they have announced for 2007 so far. Oh, and interestingly enough, for Babel they would appear to have abandoned VC-1 as their HD DVD codec in favour of AVC (the Blu-ray variant is MPEG2, because Sony handles their HD release on the Blu front).

Oh, and I finally got fed up waiting for Amazon.fr to ship my copy of Beatrice Cenci, and ordered it instead from Fnac, who actually have it in stock. In the past, I’ve found Amazon (.fr, .co.uk, .com - you name it) to be irritatingly slow for deliveries. Basically, unless it says “Usually dispatched within 24 hours”, it’s more or less a foregone conclusion that it won’t actually ship for weeks, if at all. The same is true of the recently released Grande Collection edition of Asterix and the Goths, which I also cancelled from Amazon and ordered from Fnac (its partner in the February release schedule, Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, did, however, leave Amazon in a reasonably timely fashion). Amazon.co.uk did, however, dispatch my copy of the score to The Iron Giant, which I ordered last night, in less than 12 hours. Luckily, I should be able to afford all these expenses, given that I punted my Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on to a friend for £130 today.

 
Posted: Monday, February 05, 2007 at 7:53 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Music | TV | Technology | Waking the Dead
 

More high-def movie madness

HD DVD

I’ve pre-ordered the upcoming HD DVD release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (due out on April 24th) from Amazon.com. This is one of the few HD DVD titles announced with a definite release date that I’m actually interested in, which is sad to say the least - particularly given the impressive momentum that team HD DVD had last Autumn.

In the meantime, there are a few Blu-ray titles due out between now and Summer that I’m definitely interested in picking up. I’ve already got Casino Royale on pre-order, and I’ll also be picking up American Pyscho (February 6th), Hannibal and The Silence of the Lambs (both April 3rd), Cars (June 5th) and The Rock (June 8th). Whichever way you look at it, it’s not the most stellar line-up ever announced, but Lyris has also got Flightplan and Chicago on the way, and hopefully Warner and Universal will provide some definite HD DVD release dates before too long, so with any luck we won’t be left completely high and dry.

DVD

By the way, with all this high definition fun and excitement, I forgot to mention that the DVD of This Film is Not Yet Rated arrived last Thursday (February 1st). If you have any interest in films, Hollywood or otherwise, this is a must-watch, as it delves into the very heart of the Motion Picture Association of America, one of the most clandestine bodies in America, revealing just how messed-up the whole industry is. Weary, battle-scarred veterans, who have had their tussles with the sinister MPAA, bravely appear on camera to recount the hypocrisy, prejudice and pettiness with which they were faced in the process of trying to get their work certified. Particularly revealing are side by side comparisons of R-rated heterosexual and NC17-rated homosexual sex scenes, which clearly highlight the organisation’s anti-gay bias, while the most excitement comes in the form of private investigator Becky Altringer’s efforts to dig up dirt on the organisation and uncover the secret identities of its nameless, faceless raters. There are certainly some areas in which I felt it could have gone into more detail - perhaps, for example, discussing the ins and outs of a movie industry in which a rating which bars children from seeing a film is such a kiss of death, or indeed debating whether or not children should be allowed to see films such as Se7en and The Passion of the Christ in the first place, with or without parent supervision - but on the whole I found this to be an enlightening, and often shocking, look at the whole process. Now, I just wish someone would make a similar documentary on the (admittedly more accountable) BBFC…

Update, February 4th, 2007 11:50 PM: I pre-ordered American Psycho from DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2007 at 10:37 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Blu-ray review: Silent Hill

Blu-ray
All things considered, Sony has delivered a stellar audio-visual presentation for Silent Hill’s high definition debut, but the complete lack of bonus materials makes it difficult not to feel a bit short-changed. Still, if all you’re after is the best home theatre presentation of the film, this release will not disappoint.

As one of the earliest Blu-ray discs, Sony’s Region 0 release of Silent Hill met with considerable consternation from reviewers. But is it really as underwhelming as was made out? I set the record straight at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007 at 10:02 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

I’ve been a bad little boy

Playstation 3

What better piece of equipment to play the excellent-looking Silent Hill Blu-ray Disc on than the world’s best Blu-ray Disc player, the Playstation 3? The ugly hunk of junk (and it is really ugly) arrived today, shortly behind a £64.96 customs charge, which I strongly intend to contest, given that the declared value of the package, $129 US (which isn’t what the item cost, I know, but it’s what was listed on the package and invoice, so it’s what Thieves & Excise should have gone by), converts to a mere £65.61 - and I don’t know about you, but £64.96 doesn’t sound like 17.5% (the VAT rate in the UK) of £65.61.

Anyway, despite its alarming obesity and general unattractiveness, the PS3 handles surprisingly nicely. The games don’t interest me in the slightest, but, as an all-in-one media centre, it looks to be impressively versatile, with a slick menu interface and a solid range of features. One slight annoyance is that, in order to get the PS3 Blu-ray remote (which must be purchased separately - I did) to work, you need to update the firmware, but this is easily achieved by simply connecting the machine to the Internet via the Ethernet port. Still, this isn’t much use for those without Internet access (or those without an Ethernet connection). Controls are, on the whole, far more responsive than the Panasonic DMP-BD10 (which Lyris has recently reviewed here), and the price of the PS3, along with its support for picture-in-picture functionality (which none of the currently available stand-alones support), make me wonder why anyone would choose to buy a stand-alone Blu-ray player.

 
Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007 at 5:00 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | Reviews | Technology
 

Don’t believe all they tell you

Blu-ray
It’s a decent picture, but not superb.

- James Plath, DVD Town

Here we have yet another wildly inconsistent HD transfer from Sony. The movie has terrific photography and production design that should make nice High Definition eye candy, but what we get on disc alternates between periods of mediocre, awful, great, mediocre, great, and awful again.

- Joshua Zyber, DVD Talk

Granted, the transfer’s consistency does seem to improve a bit as the film’s runtime drags on, but maybe I was just getting used to the compression craziness. Either way, this one is just not a great example of what pre-recorded high-def should look like.

- Peter M. Bracke, High-Def Digest

These reviewers are talking about the Blu-ray release of Silent Hill, which arrived on our doorstep this morning (Lyris picked it up for a mere £10.49 at MovieTyme). Based on these advance warnings, we were expecting a frustrating viewing experience followed by a rapid listing of the disc on eBay. As it turns out, we were misled. Grossly. Reviews like these, as Lyris puts it, do damage to home theatre. Silent Hill on Blu-ray is a magnificent achievement, one of the most detailed and film-like high definition presentations I’ve ever seen, mirroring Kong Kong in terms of overall clarity and coming amazingly close to the top (10/10) tier. The compression isn’t perfect, due to Sony’s insistence of using MPEG2 as opposed to something more robust, and there is a hint of edge enhancement at times, but I was floored by this presentation. It is an exceptional piece of work by a talented encoder who clearly knew his stuff. It pains me that beautiful transfers like this are rubbished by incompetent reviewers while mediocre crap like Fantastic Four is praised to the high heavens.

Expect a full review at DVD Times soon to set the record straight.

 
Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007 at 1:42 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Blu-ray review: Fantastic Four

Blu-ray
Fantastic Four arrives on Blu-ray with a superb, demo material certifiable audio track. However, the sheer lack of material contained on this disc, combined with the lacklustre visual presentation, make the £28.99 RRP frankly outrageous. For fans of the film this will no doubt be an essential purchase, despite the loss of several extras in comparison with the DVD release, but probably only once the price is reduced.

For DVD Times’ first ever Blu-ray review, I take a look at 20th Century Fox’s recent Region B UK release of Fantastic Four

 
Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007 at 1:35 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

It’s an HD DVD capture extravaganza!

King Kong

King Kong

King Kong

King Kong

King Kong

King Kong

As I mentioned in a previous post, I took out a subscription to LoveFilm to facilitate the reviewing of Blu-ray discs I wouldn’t want to actually buy. Unfortunately, the number of available region-free Blu-ray discs in the UK is pretty small, and LoveFilm requires a minimum of ten titles to be in your “wanted” list before your account will become active. As a result, I threw in a bunch of HD DVDs I hadn’t yet seen, and, despite marking them as low priority and the Blu-ray titles as high priority, it was the HD DVDs that arrived today, including Doom and Van Helsing (both very good, but not outstanding transfers), and King Kong. Kong truly is a beauty to behold, and Microsoft were extremely wise to bundle this title with their Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive (unlike Sony, who were daft enough to include the apparently poor-looking Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby with the Playstation 3). Were it not for some very light edge enhancement, this would undoubtedly be the best-looking title I’ve ever seen. As it is, it’s an extremely high 9/10 (and I mean something like 9.9/10), but I really do want my 10/10 ratings for high definition material to mean absolute perfection.

By the way, this is, I think, pretty much conclusive proof that, during my screen capturing process, some detail is being lost. Compare my Shot 6 with almost exactly the same frame as captured by AV Science Forum member Gooki. I hope to get to the bottom of this eventually, but I’m selling my HD DVD add-on to a friend on Monday, so I’m afraid that, for the time being at least, this is likely to be my final HD DVD capture gallery.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 01, 2007 at 11:56 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of January

  • Brokeback Mountain (R0 USA, HD DVD/SD DVD combo)
  • The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (R0 Germany, SD DVD)
  • A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin: Remastered Edition (R1 USA, SD DVD)
  • The Mephisto Waltz (R2 Spain, SD DVD)
  • Waking the Dead: Series 4 (R2 UK, SD DVD)

DVD and HD DVD purchases this month were somewhat overshadowed by the ordering of a Playstation 3 and some Blu-ray discs to play on it. Look for impressions on these some time in early February.

 
Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 10:48 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Feeling Blu

Panasonic DMP-BD10

My Playstation 3 and the three Blu-ray discs to play on it haven’t arrived yet, but this afternoon I got to experience Blu-ray in the comfort of my own home for the first time, thanks to the Panasonic DMP-BD10 that Lyris managed to snag for review. It’s a rather nicely-designed piece of equipment, and it certainly boots considerably quicker than our HD DVD player, but nothing that I’ve seen so far this afternoon has made me regret the decision to go with HD DVD way back in June.

We got three discs with the player: two demonstration reels, one from Panasonic and one from 20th Century Fox, and a copy of Fantastic 4 from Fox. Of the two demo discs, the Panasonic one, which features three music performances from different artists, encoded with MPEG4 AVC and featuring a variety of audio options, including uncompressed 7.1 LPCM and DTS 5.1, was the most visually impressive, with the only visible flaws seemingly being the result of the digital photography itself rather than the encoding. The same cannot be said about Fox’s MPEG2 demo disc, which featured clips and trailers from a variety of different films, ranging from striking (Walk the Line), to decent but soft-looking (Kingdom of Heaven), to completely unimpressive (X2: X-Men United). The latter description perfectly sums up Fantastic 4, which is one of the worst-looking high definition presentations I’ve seen so far. Virtually every artefact associated with a digital transfer is present here to some degree, from light edge enhancement to heavy-handed temporal noise reduction, which causes grain to clump and textures to drag when in movement. It also looks decidedly soft, much closer to, say, Studio Canal’s Basic Instinct HD DVD than I would have expected for such a recent, CGI-heavy blockbuster. Given that it is an MPEG2 encode on a 25GB disc, I’m slightly surprised that I didn’t find more compression artefacts than I did, but they’re definitely there, and the fact that most of the bonus materials have been tossed aside in order to cram the film on to the disc speaks volumes about how inefficient the codec is.

Oh, and the Java-powered menu system is an absolute nightmare. It’s slow and unresponsive, and makes me see just how much better a deal our HD DVD player is given that, despite its slow booting time, menu access is smooth and instantaneous.

Obviously I can’t evaluate an entire format based on one film and a couple of demo discs, but so far I’ve not seen anything to wow me. If I’d just spent £1,200 (which is what this player costs in the UK) on what I’d been promised was “the ultimate home theater [sic] experience”, I’d be a bit pissed.

PS. We have this player for a couple of weeks, so I intend to make the most of this by renting and reviewing as many Blu-ray titles as possible.

 
Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 6:13 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Music | Technology
 
 

 
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