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DVD review: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin

All in all, Media Blasters have put together an excellent DVD, and one which more than makes up for their previous release of the film. It would, of course, be wrong to say that the disc is perfect: the bonus features are incomplete, the image quality variable and a brief snippet of footage still missing. The first problem could easily have been solved by simply including all of the extras from the previous Media Blasters release (I suppose this gives us a reason to hang on to both versions). The other two were probably unavoidable. It’s looking increasingly likely that the extended shot of Strindberg kneeling before Bolkan and then standing simply cannot be sourced from any known print, while the variable image quality is down to the condition of the available materials. Tim Lucas believes Studio Canal to be in control of the original negative, but it seems that they are unwilling to surrender it to a third party, and, in any event, there’s no telling what state it is in, or how complete. It is entirely possible that this new composite DVD contains material no longer present in the original negative, and, as such, I think we should be thankful that we now have, on DVD, a cut of the film considerably more complete than any other version commercially available.

Described by the DVD producer himself as “the most vocal critic” of Media Blasters’ previous substandard release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, I’ve been rewarded for his moaning with a sneak peek of the remastered edition due out in March…

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 12:39 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews

Lord of the double-dips


Source: HD-Insider

The first details regarding the upcoming high definition releases of The Lord of the Rings trilogy have begun to trickle out. Annoyingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the initial releases will be the theatrical versions rather than the longer (and, in most cases, superior) extended editions. New Line, who, like their parent company, Warner, seem to be committed to supporting both formats equally, will be releasing both HD DVD and Blu-ray versions, although it remains unconfirmed whether these will be separate releases or a dual-sided Total HD disc. Both will be encoded with VC1 and will be the first titles to feature Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio.

Nothing has been confirmed about the extras, apart from the news that, due to “bandwidth constraints”, there will be no In-Movie Experience features. This strikes me as somewhat suspect. If they had said “disc space constraints” then I would have found it more plausible, but what exactly is it about The Lord of the Rings that sucks up so much bandwidth as to prevent an IME stream from being included? Smells suspiciously like double-dip territory to me. Actually, for people who bought both the theatrical and extended editions on DVD and plan to do the same for the high definition versions, this is going to be a quadruple dip. For myself, I’ll wait until the extended editions come out in high definition (unless of course I can get the theatrical cuts for review): Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the book is flawed enough without the massive chunks of essential material missing from the theatrical versions.

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 5:27 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

More Italian delights for 2007


It looks as if 2007 is going to be a truly great year for Lucio Fulci fans. In March, Media Blasters will be delivering the almost definitive version of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, and Severin Films will be unleashing his long-lost first giallo, One on Top of the Other (a.k.a. Perversion Story), in February. Before either of these are released, however, we have another Fulci treat to look forward to: the French distributor Neo Publishing are, on January 22nd, releasing his period drama Beatrice Cenci, considered by the maestro himself to be his best film. This film has never before been released on DVD, and it’s one that I’ve wanted to see ever since I read about it in Stephen Thrower’s book Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci. As with most Neo Publishing releases, I’m not expecting it to be English-friendly, but, provided it has French subtitles (which I’m guessing will be the case), I can probably muddle through it. I’ve placed my pre-order with


Also doing their bit to keep up the Roman side, Dark Sky Films, the company responsible for last year’s Ultimate Edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, are releasing DVDs of both Mario Bava’s highly-regarded Kill Baby Kill and Riccardo Freda’s little-seen horror film Tragic Ceremony (known to some by the amusingly convoluted title of Estratto Dagli Archivi Segreti della Polizia di una Capitale Europea). It’s the latter, starring the talented Camille Keaton (of What Have You Done to Solange? and I Spit on Your Grave fame), that interests me the most, and I’m going to try to get my hands on a review copy, although I’ll probably also pick up Kill Baby Kill, due out on March 27th. Click here for more details on Tragic Ceremony, and here for Kill Baby Kill.

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 4:35 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli

A lizard in a pristine new skin


(See my previous posts on this release: 1, 2, 3, 4)

My sample copy of the new US release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin arrived this morning, direct from Media Blasters (thanks, Richard). As “the most vocal critic” (thanks again, Richard!) of the label’s previous, substandard release of the film, I’m sure you all want to know what I think of their second attempt at this title. The short version: it’s excellent - pre-order your copy immediately. The long version: read on.

First, a little history lesson. Media Blasters first released A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin on DVD back in February 2005 after a lengthy period of delay during which they had tried and failed to get their hands on an uncut film element. Rather than hold the title back indefinitely, they chose to release a compromised edition, putting out a two-disc set containing two versions of the film. The first was a film-sourced, widescreen presentation of the cut US release from American International Pictures, known in some circles as Schizoid. In addition to removing a handful of key dialogue scenes, it also omitted the now-notorious “eviscerated dogs” sequence, as well as making substantial trims to the film’s violence, nudity and sex scenes. The second was a fullscreen presentation of the Italian theatrical release, standards converted from a PAL VHS tape and presented in Italian with English subtitles. This version was substantially more complete than the AIP version, but the quality was, unsurprisingly, poor, and it too was missing some brief material (which, ironically enough, was present and correct in the AIP version). Fan reaction to this release was rather mixed. Some praised Media Blasters’ efforts to do the best they had with the limited materials available to them; others (myself included), were suspicious that corners had been cut and lambasted the DVD makers, finding it hard to believe the claim that these were the best materials available.

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

The position of the latter was somewhat vindicated in July 2006 when the Italian label Federal Video put out a new DVD, featuring (broadly speaking) the Italian cut of the film, in film-sourced widescreen throughout. Evidently an actual print source of the Italian version had materialised, albeit one in something of a state of disrepair, and this, in conjunction with the same AIP print used by Media Blasters, was used to fashion a new version of the film. As good as this release was, however, it was plagued by a few problems. In particular, it featured the same two cuts by the Italian censor that also affected the second disc of Media Blasters’ release, while the film’s second dream sequence, which features the murder of Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg), was botched, featuring a combination of the American version, which was slightly cut and included a “ripple” effect of the entire image in order to obscure some full frontal nudity, and the Italian version, which was unrippled. A couple of dodgy splices also resulted in some abrupt audio cuts, and even a scene in which the same piece of footage appeared twice. More fundamentally, however, this version was presented in Italian only - a major problem, and not only for non-Italian speakers, given that this London-based film, which features the actual speaking voices of co-stars Stanley Baker and Leo Genn, not to mention excellent post-dubbing all round, plays much better in English than it does in Italian. This version did, however, contain a brief dialogue scene between Jean Sorel, Silvia Monti and Ely Galleani not seen in either of the versions provided in Media Blasters’ release.

Media Blasters’ new “remastered” version, due for release on March 13th, is the third release of the film in as many years, and I am happy to report that they have well and truly done their homework with this version. Mindful of past criticisms, they have put together yet another new version of the film, using the same elements uncovered for the Federal Video release. However, they have been careful to avoid Federal’s pitfalls, resulting in a version that contains almost every snippet of footage known to exist. There is nothing on this DVD that has not been present in a previous release in some form, but this is certainly the first time that all of this material has been assembled into a single cut, and, in the case of the second dream sequence, this is the first DVD to present it completely unrippled and in widecreen. Unfortunately, there are still a few seconds missing here: a comparison between this release and Disc 2 of the previous Media Blasters release reveals that, in the earlier VHS-sourced version, the shot of Anita Strindberg kneeling at Florinda Bolkan’s feet lasts several seconds longer, continuing to follow her as she slowly stands up, running her hands up the inside of Bolkan’s coat as she does so. (On the VHS version, this shot lasts 22 seconds; in every other release, it runs for a mere 8 seconds.) This piece of footage is mentioned by Professor Paolo Albiero in his discussion of the film’s censorship (see below) as being removed at the demands of the Italian censor, so the question is perhaps not why it isn’t present in this release (or on Federal Video’s DVD) but rather how it ended up on the Italian VHS in the first place. Either way, I believe Media Blasters when they state that they went to great lengths to make this DVD as complete as possible, so I suspect that, in this particular case, the shot in question is simply not obtainable. The whole film can be watched in English or in Italian with English subtitles (although three dialogue scenes for which English audio either never existed or was not obtainable are presented in subtitled Italian on the English track).

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

As far as image quality goes, Tim Lucas noted that this new disc had a rather oversaturated look, and it is true that the colours are more punchy, but only in relation to the Italian DVD: a comparison between this new release and Media Blasters’ previous disc reveals identical colours. As I stated in my comparison between the first two releases, the Italian release has more naturalistic colours and also looks slightly sharper. This remains true, and the rather distracting blue-tinting problem that occurs during the middle of the film is still present (the Italian release, in comparison, has a rather desaturated but far more natural look during these scenes). Federal Video’s handling of the portions sourced from the AIP print, therefore, remains superior to that of Media Blasters. On the flipside, though, the material culled from the battered Italian print is treated far better by Media Blasters, who have eschewed the heavy noise reduction techniques employed by Federal. This means that the material has a harsher look with more noticeable print damage, but it is vastly preferable to the smudged look seen on Federal Video’s DVD. On the whole, therefore, I would say that the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 2006 and 2007 releases cancel each other out, and I can’t say that I prefer one over the other.

As with the previous Media Blasters release, English audio comes in both 2.0 monaural (incorrectly labelled as stereo in the previous release but here correctly identified as mono) and 5.1 surround variants. The latter showcases some rather impressive sound design, combining stereo stems of Ennio Morricone’s music score with 5.1 sound effects. However, it is not a faithful representation of Lucio Fulci’s intentions: the foley track is comprised entirely of newly-sourced, “modern” effects, which feel out of place in comparison to the more strained vocal track, and at times drown out the score and dialogue. As such, the mono version is definitely the way to go, although curiosity-seekers may also wish to give the Italian track a look. Bear in mind, though, that the English version is vastly superior in every way.

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

A few brief notes on the extras are also in order. These are taken almost entirely from the Federal Video release and presented, for the first time, with English subtitles. These include the original Italian opening credits, and two interviews with Fulci expert Paolo Albiero, in which he discusses the film itself and its censorship, for a total running time of 36 minutes. Both of these interviews are highly enlightening, although it’s a shame Media Blasters opted not to port over Kit Gavin’s documentary, Shedding the Skin, from their 2004 release. A Fulci trailer reel is also included, showcasing a variety of the director’s films, from Lizard to Zombie to Murder Rock.

All in all, Media Blasters have put together an excellent DVD, and one which more than makes up for their previous release of the film. It would, of course, be wrong to say that the disc is perfect: the bonus features are incomplete, the image quality variable and a brief snippet of footage still missing. The first problem could easily have been solved by simply including all of the extras from the previous Media Blasters release (I suppose this gives us a reason to hang on to both versions). The other two were probably unavoidable. It’s looking increasingly likely that the extended shot of Strindberg kneeling before Bolkan and then standing simply cannot be sourced from any known print, while the variable image quality is down to the condition of the available materials. Tim Lucas believes Studio Canal to be in control of the original negative, but it seems that they are unwilling to surrender it to a third party, and, in any event, there’s no telling what state it is in, or how complete. It is entirely possible that this new composite DVD contains material no longer present in the original negative, and, as such, I think we should be thankful that we now have, on DVD, a cut of the film considerably more complete than any other version commercially available.

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 12:49 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews

MPAA in the doghouse


Source: Variety

After 85 years of clandestine operation, the American film censorship body, the MPAA, is finally being forced to become more accountable. The reason for this, it would seem, is a little documentary by filmmaker Kirby Dick, entitled This Film is Not Yet Rated. Released on DVD on January 23rd (I’ve got my copy pre-ordered), it is a shocking exposé into the goings-on behind closed doors at the notoriously secretive organisation, revealing many interesting factoids that the MPAA would rather remained secret, including its anti-gay bias, hostility towards independent filmmakers, lack of accountability of its examiners, and seemingly arbitrary classification process.

The result? The MPAA have been dragged kicking and screaming into the public’s eye, and are now being forced to grow up a bit. From now on, the organisation will publish detailed criteria for each classification, filmmakers will be allowed to cite precedents set by previous classification decisions during the appeals process, more will be done to ensure that indie directors are given a voice, and more effort will be made to educate and train examiners before they are allowed to make ratings decisions. Obviously, given the MPAA’s long history of opression, inequity and abuse of power, it’s unrealistic to expect the situation to improve overnight, but it just goes to show that a guy with a camera can force an organisation that prides itself on unaccountability to fess up and sort out their act. Now I just need to see the film for myself…

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 11:50 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD

Waltzing iguanas


It’s been a while since I picked up a new giallo on DVD - Lucio Fulci’s Murder Rock, in July, seems to have been the last one. Giallo DVD releases have certainly slowed of late, although there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of titles that have yet to see the light of day on the shiny disc format. Recently, however, a German company called New Entertainment World released a DVD of Riccardo Freda’s The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, a giallo I’ve wanted to see ever since I first heard its delightfully ridiculous name. Released under the title of Die Bestie mit dem Feurigen Atem (“the beast with the fiery breath”), its image quality is, by the sound of it, not particularly good, but I’ve been starved for good spaghetti slashers lately, and I’m pretty sure I own worse discs (the initial German release of Death Carries a Cane, for example).


As I was placing my order at Xploited Cinema, I happened to glance down at the “Customers who bought this product also purchased…” section, and my lid nearly flipped when I saw that a DVD had been released of The Mephisto Waltz. This is a rather derivative 70s horror movie designed to cash in on the success of the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, but it has a special place in my heart because, back when I caught it on TV on late night in the early 1990s, it was one of the first “proper” horror films I ever saw. My memories of it are so fond that, last year, I bought a VHS dupe of the film on eBay. I never thought 20th Century Fox would ever release this on DVD, but it appears that, in France, they have done just that, under the title of Satan Mon Amour (which probably explains why I wasn’t aware of its existence until now). Of course, I added it to the order.

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007 at 1:03 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli

Nocturnal wanderings


I can’t remember precisely when I first enthused about the impending release of Nocturna, a delightfully twisted-looking nightmarish animated feature from Spain, but I have a feeling it was pretty close to when I first launched this site in 2001. Anyway, it’s been put back and put back, but it seems that it might finally be coming out. A new trailer has surfaced on YouTube, boasting a release date of Summer 2007. Judging by the colour scheme and line style, it’s taken on something of a Les Triplettes de Belleville influence since the last publicly available footage was released, but it still seems to have enough of its own flavour. In any event, it’s great to see more traditionally animated features in the pipeline, and I for one hope this gets a theatrical release here instead of going straight to DVD (or, more likely for me, HD DVD, given that Filmax is an HD DVD partner).

You can find more information (and pictures) at the official web site.

Update, January 15, 2007 02:12 PM: There’s another trailer here. You can also see artwork from directors Victor Maldonato and Adrian García’s next project, Monsieur Collieu, here, and a trailer, here.

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007 at 11:35 AM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD

This year’s HD DVD releases


Source: HD DVD Promotion Group

Here is a partial list of some of the 300 new titles we can expect to see on HD DVD this year in the US. Note that I’ve omitted concert, nature show and “screensaver”-type releases to concentrate on films and the odd TV show. I also haven’t included titles that already have a street date.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner)
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin (Universal)
  • Above the Law (Warner)
  • American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile (Universal)
  • American Pie: Unrated (Universal)
  • The American President (Warner)
  • Angels in America (HBO)
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (New Line)
  • The Aviator (Universal)
  • Awake (The Weinstein Company)
  • Band of Brothers (HBO)
  • Battlestar Galactica (Universal)
  • The Black Dahlia (Universal)
  • Blade (New Line)
  • Blade Runner (Warner)
  • Blood Diamond (Warner)
  • The Blues Brothers (Universal)
  • The Bourne Identity (Universal)
  • Braveheart (Paramount)
  • Breaking and Entering (The Weinstein Company)
  • Bruce Almighty (Universal)
  • Bubble (Magnolia)
  • Bullitt (Warner)
  • Catwoman (Warner)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Warner)
  • Coach Carter (Paramount)
  • Conan the Barbarian (Universal)
  • Contact (Warner)
  • Cowboy Bebop (Bandai)
  • Dante’s Peak (Universal)
  • Dark City (New Line)
  • Dawn of the Dead [remake] (Universal)
  • Deadwood: Season 1 (HBO)
  • Decameron (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Dirty Harry Collection (Warner)
  • DOA: Dead or Alive (The Weinstein Company)
  • Elizabethtown (Paramount)
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia)
  • Eraser (Warner)
  • Executive Decision (Warner)
  • The Exorcist (Warner)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (Warner)
  • Face/Off (Paramount)
  • Flags of Our Fathers (Paramount)
  • Forest Gump (Paramount)
  • Friday (New Line)
  • Friends: Season 1 (Warner)
  • From the Earth to the Moon (HBO)
  • Galaxina (BCI)
  • The Getaway (Warner)
  • Ghost (Paramount)
  • Ghost in the Shell (Bandai)
  • Golgo 13 (BCI)
  • The Good Shepherd (Universal)
  • The Goonies (Warner)
  • Gothika (Warner)
  • Grease (Paramount)
  • The Green Mile (Warner)
  • Grindhouse (The Weinstein Company)
  • Hannibal Rising (The Weinstein Company)
  • Hard to Kill (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Warner)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Warner)
  • Idlewind (Universal)
  • Inside Man (Universal)
  • Killshot (The Weinstein Company)
  • Last Legion (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Lemon Drop Kid (BCI)
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Paramount)
  • The Libertine (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (New Line)
  • The Maltese Falcon (Warner)
  • The Mask (New Line)
  • The Matrix (Warner)
  • The Matrix Reloaded (Warner)
  • The Matrix Revolutions (Warner)
  • Maverick (Warner)
  • Mission: Impossible (Paramount)
  • Mission: Impossible 2 (Paramount)
  • Mrs. Henderson Presents (The Weinstein Company)
  • The Music Man (Warner)
  • Mystic River (Warner)
  • Natural Born Killers (Warner)
  • Next of Kin (Warner)
  • Night of the Werewolf (BCI)
  • North by Northwest (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Eleven (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Thirteen (Warner)
  • Ocean’s Twelve (Warner)
  • One Last Thing (Magnolia)
  • Passenger 57 (Warner)
  • The Player (New Line)
  • Pride & Prejudice (Universal)
  • Red Planet (Warner)
  • The Return (Universal)
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Warner)
  • Rush Hour (New Line)
  • Save the Last Dance (Paramount)
  • Scarface (Universal)
  • School for Scoundrels (The Weinstein Company)
  • School of Rock (Paramount)
  • Scoop (Universal)
  • Se7en (New Line)
  • The Shawshank Redemption (Warner)
  • The Shining (Warner)
  • Sin City 2 (The Weinstein Company)
  • Singing’ in the Rain (Warner)
  • Sister Street Fighter (BCI)
  • Soldier (Warner)
  • Son of Paleface (BCI)
  • The Sopranos [various seasons, it would seem] (HBO)
  • Spawn (New Line)
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Paramount)
  • Star Trek: First Contact (Paramount)
  • Star Trek: The Original Series (Paramount)
  • Superman: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner)
  • That’s the Way of the World (BCI)
  • Transamerica (The Weinstein Company)
  • Twister (Warner)
  • The Ultimate Star Trek Movie Collection (Paramount)
  • US Marshals (Warner)
  • Vanilla Sky (Paramount)
  • Vengeance of the Zombies (BCI)
  • The War at Home (Magnolia)
  • The War Within (Magnolia)
  • The West Wing: Season 7 (Warner)
  • Wild Wild West (Warner)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Warner)

Obviously this is not a concrete list - we can probably expect to see considerably more titles from Universal than are included here - but there are many, many titles in that list that I will definitely be picking up.

Posted: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 4:07 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD

Tim Lucas on the new Lizard


I’m expecting my own sample copy to arrive at some point very soon, at which point I’ll offer my own opinions, but it would seem that the redoubtable Tim Lucas has beaten everyone to it, posting his impressions of Media Blasters’ new integral release of Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin on his Video WatchBlog.

Shriek Show is hoping to make good for their earlier release by issuing a new and improved single-disc remaster of Fulci’s classic psycho-thriller that, they hope, will provide the best of all possible Lucertoli for the film’s admirers. Having been given a first look at the new disc, I can attest that this new version is — like the Federal presentation — a unique cut of the film that was likely never shown in any theater anywhere in the world. It runs a full minute longer than Federal’s earlier composite and is certainly the most complete version of the film likely to surface on DVD.

Visit Lucas’ site for a full rundown of his findings: it certainly seems like this release is as complete as humanly possible, although a handful of his references to footage missing from various versions is inaccurate (for example, the Federal Video DVD was missing some Sapphic canoodling during the opening dream sequence, not the footage of Florinda Bolkan writhing around as referred to by Lucas), so there is still room for doubt in a couple of instances. In any event, you can expect a full rundown of what is and (hopefully not) isn’t on the new DVD when my copy arrives, as well as a full-blown review at DVD Times. Preliminary observations, however, would suggest that Media Blasters have come up with a winner.

Stay tuned!

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 5:49 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews

Mother of god, it’s the Mother of Tears!

Source: Dark Dreams

It’s only a few seconds, and it doesn’t appear to have been colour timed yet, but the first honest-to-god footage of Dario Argento’s upcoming The Third Mother has materialised online in a Cinecittà promo video hyping up this year’s major Italian movie releases (fast forward to around the 2-minute mark).

At this stage, it’s a little hard to form any definite opinions on the film, and the poor image quality and (I assume) lack of finished colour timing mean that this is unlikely to be respective of the final product, but this has got me quite psyched.

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento

A taste of things to come if Blu-ray wins


Source: High-Def Digest

Want to know why I’m so against Blu-ray winning the format war? Stories like this. Okay, I know, dodgy low-rate porn movies - who cares - but this is merely a foretaste to the sort of control Sony could have over the industry if they emerge triumphant from this shambles. Basically, none of their copying facilities agreed to cooperate with porn producers Digital Playground, and Sony even went so far as to threaten to revoke the company’s Blu-ray licenses if porn appeared on the format. As a result, Digital Playground have defected to HD DVD - hopefully they are just the first of many.

So, the question now is, what other titles will Sony decide are not “appropriate” for release on Blu-ray? We already know that Synapse Films were told that they couldn’t release Thriller: A Cruel Picture, among other titles. This is the sort of nightmare situation we could be faced with if the industry takes the Blue Pill, and I’m sure I speak for every movie fan with any sense when I say that the last thing we want is a future in which a company with its own films to sell can dictate what others can and cannot release.

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 8:45 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD

The CES obituary


The show itself is not over yet, but there are unlikely to be any further major announcements between now and when it finishes tomorrow - and in any event Universal have already confirmed that, somewhat surprisingly, they won’t be announcing any titles at the show. Many HD DVD fans are currently a little down about the fact that the Blu-ray camp unveiled a roster of major titles for release this year while HD DVD had little to show on the software side of things, but I’d like to read this slightly differently.

Let’s put it this way: CES stands for “Consumer Electronics Show”, implying a decided emphasis on hardware and technological innovation. The HD DVD camp certainly had much to show in that regard, announcing several new player manufacturers, the development of triple-layer 51 GB discs, and the news of Microsoft’s plans to bring more cost-effective solutions to customers. On the hardware side, what did Blu-ray have to show for itself? Bugger all. Apparently announcing a combined total of less than 90 titles for release between now and summer (many of which were already announced months ago) is news-worthy and points to the impending demise of HD DVD… while the HD DVD camp’s technological breakthroughs and commitment to deliver more than 300 new titles this year is nothing? Yes, I’m surprised and disappointed that Universal didn’t at least hint at what titles we can expect to see from them, but I think that those crowing over the fact that Blu-ray has announced Casino Royale and Pirates of the Caribbean are getting a little ahead of themselves. The announcement of these titles is not news: anyone with any sense could have guessed that they were coming. So don’t give up on HD DVD yet: on the contrary, start wondering what’s going on with Team Blu-ray if the best they can come up with to announce at a major electronics show is a handful of new movies.

Oh, and it seems that New Line has elected to toss its hat into the ring with HD DVD but not Blu-ray. Food for thought, no?

Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 4:53 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

Another financial blunder

Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. That sound is me metaphorically banging my head against my desk. I don’t have a job, and my funds are rapidly drying up, and yet I’ve just committed yet another expensive mistake.

Back when it was first discovered that Microsoft’s $200 HD DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360 could be connected to any PC, I was overjoyed: here was an affordable way of making my computer HD DVD-enabled, and, in conjunction with the latest software solution from Cyberlink or Intervideo, begin taking screen captures in earnest for reviews, comparisons, an HD Hall of Fame, and so on. Everything was in place, or so I thought: my system was HDCP-ready, and it seemed that everything would fall into place just fine.

Or so I thought. The drive arrived today from Hong Kong (they’re rarer than gold dust on UK shelves, and in any event I only ended up paying about £5 more than I would have paid for a local model), and I wasted no time in hooking it up to my PC via USB and popping in a disc (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, if you must know). I fired up PowerDVD Ultra, the HD DVD-enabled version of Cyberlink’s popular DVD software, and waited as it span up. The Warner Home Entertainment logo then appeared for just over a second, and then…

“Cannot initialize player, please make sure your system meets minimum system requirement criteria. You can find extra information from Cyberlink FAQ website - - (Error Code = 0103). Please run the BD-HD Advisor tool for more information.”

And so I did. I scanned for HD DVD support, only for the advisor to tell me that apparently my display is not HDCP compatible. Bollocks. Complete and utter bollocks. I know for a fact that the display is compliant because my standalone HD-A1 player has interfaced with it without any problems. I also know for a fact that, when I ran the BD/HD Advisor a couple of weeks ago, when I still had my Nvidia card, everything was in working order. Now, initially I thought that I had been screwed over and that my video card was in fact not HDCP compliant - but that wasn’t right either, because the advisor recognised both the card and the graphics driver as compliant. Why, then, does connecting the monitor to this ATI card make the program think it isn’t HDCP, while connecting it to a different card makes it think that it is? The only possible answer I can come up with is that Cyberlink have screwed up somewhere, and have written crippled software that is shutting out users who should be allowed in. A quite perusal of Cyberlink’s customer forums revealed that I’m not the only person with this problem: another user is also being locked out for no reason, with no explanation other than the dubious claim that his HDCP-compliant Dell monitor was “without HDCP”.

Now here’s the real kicker. Remember the whole point of HDCP? To lock out those unsecure analogue connections and only allow 100% safe, encrypted connections in order to prevent piracy? Well, guess what - if you hook up an analogue monitor, the HD DVD plays just fine, in full 1920x1080 resolution (which my crusty old CRT supports). No error message, no nothing. The reason for this, of course, is that, facing a barrage of complaints, the various studios who insisted on HDCP in the first place agreed not to enable the Image Constrant Token, which would either limit resolution severely or else prevent playback at all, until 2012. But this still doesn’t explain why Cyberlink has chosen to bar users with digital displays unless they have HDCP support. Frankly it reeks of paranoia and fellating the Hollywood studios lest they lose their precious licenses.

In any event, it’s all rendered somewhat moot by the fact that Cyberlink have disabled the screen capture process for HD content. What do they think I’m going to do? Pirate a movie by pressing PrintScreen on every frame? That was my main (okay, make that only) reason for getting this drive, so it’s as good as useless for me. Disabling the overlay through my usual method (opening a video file in Windows Media Player, then, with the overlay now in use, running PowerDVD and forcing it to fall back into software mode) doesn’t work either, because it just spits out yet another error code about not finding the appropriate drivers. None of the screen capture programs that supposedly allow you to capture the overlay work either.

Result: I’m now saddled with a drive that is all but useless, and have spent no small amount of money on a video card that is, for at least one program, not interfacing with my monitor properly. This is every bit the nightmare scenario that I correctly predicted when I first heard about these newfangled monopolisation… sorry, content protection measures. At least the drive is in short enough supply that I can probably expect to resell it for a reasonable price, but right now I’m extremely concerned about my video card. If PowerDVD and its advisor program don’t think my monitor is HDCP-compliant when it’s hooked up to it, how can I be sure that other programs aren’t going to think the same?

Posted: Tuesday, January 09, 2007 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

Lizard in March


Fangoria has unveiled detailed specs for Media Blasters’ upcoming re-release of Lucio Fulci’s classic giallo A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Due out on March 13th, this DVD will feature the full-length 103-minute cut of the film, with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and English 5.1 and mono and Italian mono soundtracks. Special features include:

  • Half-hour interview with Fulci expert Professor Paolo Albiero
  • Featurette on the history of the film’s censorship, with Albiero
  • Original Italian titles
  • Fulci trailer reel
  • Shriek Show trailers

All the extras from the already available Italian release are therefore being included, no doubt with English subtitles. This is definitely good news, but it’s a shame that the extras from Media Blasters’ previous release aren’t being ported over. A reason to hang on to the old one, I suppose.

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007 at 10:07 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli

HD DVD at CES: the buzz


Well, CES proper hasn’t actually started yet, but last night the HD DVD camp held a pre-show press event to unveil some important pieces of news regarding the format’s future over the next 12 months. Here’s a quick rundown of the major announcements:

  • No defections or declarations of neutrality on either side, although Lions Gate will be distributing their films in HD online via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Video Marketplace service. As the only Blu-ray-exclusive studio to do this, this bodes well for their future neutrality.
  • Toshiba announces triple-layer 51 GB HD DVD disc, taking the format’s capacity beyond that of Blu-ray. Currently it’s unknown whether this will work in current players (it hasn’t been ruled out, though), or whether any studios will actually consider it worthwhile enough to use, but it does make the format more appealing on paper to those who judge its merits based on pure specs.
  • Several hardware manufacturers will be releasing HD DVD players, including Alco, Jiangkui/ED Digital, Lite-On, Shinco, Meridian and Onkyo.
  • From the more than 41 studios and distributors now supporting HD DVD worldwide, we can expect to see upwards of 300 new titles being released in 2007, including the entire Harry Potter and The Matrix series, Blade Runner and the original episodes of Star Trek. New Line will also begin releasing titles early this year, including both catalogue (Se7en, Austin Powers, Final Destination, etc.) and new day-and-date titles.

All in all it sounds fairly promising. I would have expected more concrete announcements from Universal and Paramount - once again it seems that Warner is carrying most of the weight - but perhaps they’ll say something during the actual show over the next few days.

Stay tuned…

Update, January 8, 2007 12:01 PM: Updated with Lions Gate info.

Posted: Monday, January 08, 2007 at 11:23 AM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

CES: what will it mean for HD?

As previously mentioned, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starts tomorrow in Las Vegas. All the major players will be out in full force, and both sides of the high definition home video war - HD DVD and Blu-ray - will be in attendance, touting their wares. I haven’t yet said much about the early buzz regarding what we can expect to see tomorrow, but I feel that now is as good a time as any to point out that the HD landscape looks set to change dramatically, with the introduction of HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid discs from Warner and a HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid player from Lucky Goldstar. This, to me, says that neither side made any real headway over the Christmas period, and at least some companies are buckling down to make the most of a market in which both will be around for a long time.

Would I buy a dual-format player? I can’t deny that it would be nice to be able to play any HD disc that came out, but I can’t say I’d be willing to plunk down the $1,200 (US) that this player will initially cost, even if I did have that kind of money to burn - especially when you consider that, for the time being, there are at most five Blu-ray exclusive titles that I would even consider buying (a number that will most likely drop to two if Lions Gate go dual-format as predicted). For the time being, I expect this house to stay HD DVD-only, but it’s nice to know that the option is there to get in bed with both in the future without having to own two different players.

Speaking of Blu-ray, here’s their latest boner: apparently the blue camp can’t get picture-in-picture working because the only player that supports it is the Playstation 3. How, then, did Lions Gate manage to enable picture-in-picture on their recent release of The Descent? Answer: by including two copies of the film on the same disc, one with a video window superimposed. Nice to know those 50 gigabytes are being put to good use.

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007 at 6:57 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

HD DVD review: An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London is the most disappointing HD DVD title I have reviewed thus far, although it constitutes an undeniable improvement on its standard definition counterpart. Unfortunately, edge enhancement and a lack of the original mono audio mix make this release difficult to recommend to all but the most dedicated fans.

HD pickings have been slim for horror fans so far, but Universal has sought to rectify this with the release of John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London. I’ve reviewed the R0 US DVD/HD DVD combo.

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007 at 1:12 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Reviews

Make your mind up, Warner!


Source: High-Def Digest

Seemingly intent on dragging this misbegotten format war out for as long as possible, Warner is set to announce HD DVD/Blu-ray hybrid discs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), due to begin on January 8th. What exactly does this mean for the industry? In reality, I suspect not a whole lot. It means that studios supporting both formats will be able to release a single disc for both, but it’s unlikely to suddenly bring Blu-ray only or HD DVD only studios into the dual-format fold. It will also probably mean more expensive discs for consumers, which is never a good thing if you want a new format to succeed.

In an exclusive pre-CES interview with the Times, Barry M. Meyer, the chairman and chief executive of Warner Brothers, claims the studio created the idea of Total HD as it became apparent that while neither the Blu-ray or HD DVD formats would be going away anytime soon, continued consumer reluctance to invest in rival technologies could stall the widespread adoption of high-definition.

“The next best thing is to recognize that there will be two formats, and to make that not a negative for the consumer,” said Meyer. “We [Warner] felt that the most significant constituency for us to satisfy was the consumer first, and the retailer second. The retailer wants to sell hardware and doesn’t want to be forced into stocking two formats for everything. This is ideal for them.”

As for CES in general, who knows how things are going to pan out? One visitor asked me for my predictions regarding the show, so I might as well reiterate them here:

  • A least one major manufacturer will announce an HD DVD player
  • Warner will announce the Matrix trilogy and perhaps some Hitchcock and Kubrick titles, in addition to some more recent blockbusters like A Scanner Darkly
  • Universal will do likewise, perhaps with some Hitchcocks and more recent offerings
  • Paramount will continue their lacklustre support of both formats
  • Perhaps a couple of TV box sets
  • If any Blu-ray supporter makes a commitment to HD DVD, it will be Lions Gate
  • New Line may or may not say something with regard to their HD plans

Bear in mind that these are mere guesses, not informed predictions, so don’t take them as in any way reliable. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how many, if any, turn out to be accurate.

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 2:58 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | TV | Technology

HD DVD review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seems to be considered by many fans of the franchise to be the worst film in the series so far, but, whether it’s because I wouldn’t class myself as a Harry Potter fan or for other reasons, my reaction to it was quite the opposite. I still don’t really understand what it is that makes so many people fanatical about this series (I expect that I would have to read the books to get my head around that), and it hasn’t given me any particular desire to rush to the cinema and see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when it is released in cinemas in July, but, as a stand-alone film, this fourth part in the septology is a nicely-executed if meandering piece that should engage both children and adults, whether or not they have read the books.

For the first HD review of 2007, I take a look at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, released in the UK in December 2006 but yet to appear anywhere else in the world. Warner’s disc features a stunning transfer and an exclusive In-Movie Experience feature.

Posted: Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 2:14 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

Zimmer 13

Zimmer 13

Note: thanks to Keith for setting me up with a copy of this film.

West Germany/Denmark/France: Harald Reinl, 1964

Zimmer 13 (Room 13) is my first encounter with the krimi movement, a series of thrillers produced in Germany during the late 1950s to early 1970s based on the writings of British novelist Edgar Wallace and his son Bryan Edgar Wallace. These films are often compared to the Italian giallo movement, and indeed many gialli were marketed in Germany is krimis - for example The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, What Have You Done to Solange? and Seven Bloodstained Orchids. Compared with their Italian counterparts, these films tend to emphasise professional detectives and organised crime rather than amateur sleuths up against lone madmen, while the (70s) Italian modernism favoured by giallo directors tends to be eschewed in favour of an image of what appears to be a pre-World War 2 England.

Zimmer 13

I’m feeling in the dark here, so bear with me. The plot focuses on a private detective, Johnny Gray (Joachim Fuchsberger, who also appeared in Solange, further emphasising the krimi connection), asigned to protect Denise (Karin Dor), the daughter of Sir Marney (Walter Rilla), who finds himself owing a favour to the wrong crowd and fears for her safety. There’s also a razor-wielding maniac on the loose, and a maverick ganster named Joe Legge (Richard Häussler), planning a grand heist with his lackeys in the ominous Room 13.

The strongest element of the film, and its most giallo-like part, is the mystery surrounding the identity of the razor killer. I didn’t guess the outcome, and it came as significantly surprising, although I tend not to think too analytically about a killer’s identity the first time I watch a film. The heist itself, as it happens, is not particularly interesting or remarkable - the whole thing is made out to be intricately planned, right down to the second, but in reality it’s just a run of the mill train robbery. The ominous-sounding Room 13 also turns out to be anything but - it’s just a room in a club where the gansters meet (given that the film is named after it, I was expecting a little more).

Zimmer 13

Still, the film is nicely-paced, and the monochromatic Scope photography, by Ernst W. Kalinke, is rich and evocative (I always considered a shame that so few gialli were shot in black and white, with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much being pretty much the only one I can recall right now). Elsewhere, Fuchsberger makes a reasonably effective lead, even if he’s not particularly convincing as a “brilliant” detective - a failing of the script rather than his performance. Karin Dor is also a sympathetic heroine/damsel in distress, cut from the Nora Davis (to again reference The Girl Who Knew Too Much) mould - vulnerable, but not completely gutless. Some attempts at comic relief, most involving bumbling police scientist Dr. Higgins (Eddi Arent), don’t work particularly well, given that they tend to crop up at the most inappropriate moments - usually immediately following a death.

As my first krimi, I don’t really know how this compares to the rest of the line-up. Chances are I’ve either slated what is considered a masterpiece or bigged-up a clunker. Who knows. I also have Dead Eyes of London to watch, so maybe I’ll have a better idea of what these films are generally like soon. In the meantime, this gets a 7/10.

Posted: Monday, January 01, 2007 at 9:56 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews

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