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Prince of Persia (2008) final impressions (long post)

Prince of Persia

Note: this is not a full review as such, but rather a final summing up of some points I didn’t address in my initial post on the game.

We’re only a few days into the new year and already I’m falling behind in my promise to post more. If I’d been keeping up with myself, I’d have told you that I completed Prince of Persia 2008 a couple of days before Christmas. What has motivated me to post about it now is an interesting video feature about it made by Shamus Young, whose blog, Twenty Sided, is one of my daily pit stops. In Shamus’ view, Prince of Persia is “the most innovative game of 2008”. Well, with a claim as brazen as that, I just had to watch the video to find out his reasons, particularly given that my reaction to the game was somewhat more lukewarm.

I’ve only come across a small number of bloggers who write extremely intelligently about games, and Shamus is one of those precious few. His arguments regarding Prince of Persia and the accessibility of games in general make a lot of sense, and I’m even tempted to say I agree with him 100% as far as his overview of the situation goes. Where I disagree is with regard to the desired outcome. In a nutshell, Shamus would like to see everyone playing games, and he believes the best way to do this is to effectively level the playing field. He presents Nintendo’s Wii as an example of this strategy working. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Wii is a prime example of what I don’t want to see happen to gaming on a widespread basis. Ignoring the fact that I find most of the games on that platform dull and anaemic beyond belief (something which Shamus addresses, pointing out that, while the Wii’s games may not appeal to everyone, the overall philosophy behind them can and should be carried over to other styles), I find the whole concept of a “casual” gaming platform where everything is dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator repellent. True, the end result is that everyone’s in the same boat, but that’s only because the control system is so clumsy that everyone, regardless of their gaming ability, ends up thrashing around like a disabled jellyfish.

Prince of Persia (2008)

[Continue reading "Prince of Persia (2008) final impressions (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2009 at 2:09 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Games | TV | Technology | Web
 

Operation red menace

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Attention, comrades! Who can withstand the charms of Tim Curry hamming it up with his most overdone Rrrrrrussian accent?

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Ivana Miličević certainly can’t, which is presumably why she can’t keep a straight face during this mission briefing FMV. Call me crazy, but when I can tell people have had a lot of fun making something, I definitely find myself more likely to enjoy the end product. Silly, intentionally hammy video sequences like these are the perfect antidote to the sort of overblown, pompous imitations of Hollywood that we’re increasingly finding in computer games. The fact that the editor had enough of a sense of humour to leave the aforementioned flub in just seals the deal. You can watch the FMV in question on YouTube at https://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=16Mpc3ux4Wk - skip ahead to 4:25. (Miličević, by the way, appeared in Casino Royale as Mads Mikkelsen’s girlfriend - the one who did very little other than to almost have her arm lopped off. She also played Riley Finn’s annoying wife in that dreadful Season 6 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, As You Were, the only redeeming feature of which was that at least it wasn’t Hell’s Bells, which followed immediately after it. I’m still undecided as to whether her role here constitutes a step up or a step down from these. At least here, she and Tim Curry have fun trying to outdo each other in the “ridiculous accent” stakes.)

Yes, I now own a copy of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. As I mentioned in a previous post, EA have relented somewhat and released a patch for the game, allowing users to deactivate their copies and no longer be limited to the idiotic “five installs only” cut-off. Is the situation ideal? No, it absolutely isn’t. You still have to connect to EA’s server to activate your copy, just so you can play it at all (and that includes the single player mode), which is all well and good until EA either goes down the can or decides to stop maintaining the activation server (whichever happens first), and, in the event of a system crash, preventing you from manually disabling your copy, that means one of your five activations will be lost to the ages. Still, I can’t deny that this is a step in the right direction, and it gives me confidence that EA may, at least, have come round to the fact that their moronic rights management implementation may have done them considerably more harm than good. (Similar deauthorisation tools have also been released for Bioshock and Spore, the latter being the game that kicked off the public backlash against this whole sorry affair. Of course, whether similar tools will be released for Mass Effect, Crysis Warhead et al remains to be seen. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.)

Still, at least I am now able to enjoy a very fun RTS punctuated by FMV sequences that are every bit as entertaining as the game itself. EA have created a great game here; it’s just a shame they had to turn so many potential customers away from it with their needless DRM.

 
Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2009 at 1:01 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | DRM | Games | TV | Technology
 

That was the year that was

Writings

With another year been and gone, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I’ve experienced some highs and lows, the lowest of which would undoubtedly be losing my last two surviving grandparents in the space of a few months. On the upside, I feel that I’ve begun to make real progress with my PhD, which is finally evolving into something tangible, the process of which will no doubt continue in 2009. Otherwise, I can’t say that very much has changed for me. I continued to work part-time in my job at the library, with the various rounds of staff transfers mercifully passing me by and life continuing as before. Is it my dream job? No, I should say not, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go through periods of finding it (and the Great British public) incredibly frustrating. However, all things considered, I can think of plenty other less desirable jobs I could be doing. At least this one is convenient and, all things considered, reasonably well-paid.

 
Zeros and Ones

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

In relation to the battle between rival high definition formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, last year’s annual round-up included the statement “With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year.” Well, it seemed that I’d barely finished writing those words when the HD DVD camp threw in the towel. To be honest, the writing had been on the wall for some time, but several people, myself included, still adopted an “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” mentality in the early days of 2008. With Warner’s abandonment of the format only a few days later, however, the writing was well and truly on the wall. Within days, the game was up and the remaining HD DVD-supporting majors (Universal and Paramount) were pledging allegiance to the Blu flag. In any event, once the stragglers got up and running, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year for HD content, with some truly amazing transfers seeing the light of day, while the arrival of several high profile titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight, plus the certainty afforded by there now only being a single HD format, undoubtedly contributed to more people taking the plunge and lending their support to the platform.

I bought myself a new computer - a full tower system after my brief dalliance with the world of small form factors the previous year. After relying on my more technologically competent relatives in the past, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to build the whole thing from scratch myself - seriously, deciphering some of those poorly translated user manuals practically requires a diploma in itself. I also upgraded my PC’s aged Creative audio system with some nice new Logitech speakers and a veritable beast of a subwoofer. I also ultimately succeeded in going region-free for Blu-ray playback, thanks to SlySoft’s AnyDVD HD software, allowing me to use my system as a multi-region HD home theatre PC.

 
At the Pictures

HD DVD

This year, my brother put together a pretty impressive projection system, accompanied by a meaty sound setup, allowing us to enjoy a film-watching environment that more closely approximates the big screen experience. Despite this, however, my overall viewing figures were somewhat reduced in 2008 compared with 2007 (themselves a reduction from 2006). I maintain a log of all the films I watch, and the total tally for 2008 is 128, 67 of which were first time viewings. The increasingly wide array of available Blu-ray titles certainly led to me taking increased risks with titles I hadn’t previously seen, but at the same time caused me to be far less likely to tune in to television broadcasts of films. (I watched 56 films on Blu-ray, 44 on DVD and 14 on HD DVD, versus 7 on TV.)

I got the opportunity to see several what might be termed “significant” films, among them the great - 28 Weeks Later, Across the Universe, Atonement, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark City, Eastern Promises, Enchanted, Fight Club, The Fly (the David Cronenberg version), Juno, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Maltese Falcon, A Matter of Loaf and Death, Mean Girls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Plague Dogs, Rabid Dogs, The Shining, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Volver, Wall-E - the good - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Almost Famous, Blow, The Brave One, Chungking Express, La Femme Publique, Grindhouse, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Memento, My Blueberry Nights, Nikita, Resident Evil: Extinction, School of Rock, Shaun of the Dead, La Vie en Rose - the disappointing - 30 Days of Night, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Dark Knight, Doomsday, Gone Baby Gone, Running Scared, Tekkonkinkreet - and the downright dreadful - Freddy Got Fingered, Omen IV: The Awakening and, last but not least, Seytan.

Best film I saw this year? Definitely Atonement. Worst? Oh, come on, do I even have to answer that? I saw Freddy Got Fingered, for god’s sake.

 
Bibliothèque

Garnethill

Much to my chagrin, my reading this year was pretty limited. In addition to perusing a number of academic tomes as part of my PhD research, I sat down with The Field of Blood, The Last Breath, Garnethill, Exile and Resolution by Denise Mina, Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, Demo by Alison Miller, The Deceiver and The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsythe, and Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante. I also re-read Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and tucked into The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the latter serving as my sole piece of non-fiction reading that had no direct relation to my PhD. I also started Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, a celebrated classic that I must admit I’m making very slow progress with indeed.

 
Song and Dance

I picked up the following CDs: Atonement (Dario Marianelli), Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Eminence Symphony Orchestra), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Pink and the Lily (Sandi Thom) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez).

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | Technology
 

Top 10 HD Transfers of 2008

Top 10 HD Transfers of 2008
2008 has been quite a year for high definition. In addition to the emergence of Blu-ray as the clear winner of the format war with HD DVD, it has seen the steady growth of HD as a mass market option, with sales becoming increasingly healthy - aided, no doubt, by the release of high profile titles like The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight. That the latter shifted some 1.7 million copies in its first week, accounting for 13% of the film’s sales on home video, demonstrates that Blu-ray is well on the way to becoming a format not just for AV and cinema enthusiasts but also for the general public.

For my first feature of 2009, I look back over the past year with my picks for the best-looking high definition releases of 2008, boiling the year’s impressive output down to a list of ten particularly distinguished titles. Head over to DVD Times to find out what made the grade.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 1:42 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews | Technology
 

Happy New Year 2009!

Writings

Well, 2008 came and went a lot more quickly than I was expecting. I’ll be doing one of my usual annual summaries later, but for now I thought I’d do something completely new and write down some New Year’s resolutions. In the past, I’ve scoffed at such practices, believing that, if you want to change something, the best time to do it is now, not when you hang up the new calendar. However, I’m beginning to come round to the notion that, sometimes, we all need an extra little kick to do the things we know we should do but can’t face up to, and the start of a new year seems like as good a time as any to make an actual commitment. So, without further ado, here are my goals for 2009, in no particular order:

Write more reviews. Once upon a time, I was quite prolific as a writer at DVD Times. In 2008, however, my output slowed to a trickle. Some of this can be blamed on my workload: I’m researching a PhD and also holding down a part-time job. That said, I could definitely stand to make better use of my free time, so my first resolution for 2009 is to attempt to write one review per week. These might not all be fully-fledged, in-depth pieces like my Wall-E Blu-ray review, which was a massive undertaking, but I could at least stand to write technical reviews of BDs whose DVD counterparts have already been covered either by myself or other DVD Times reviews.

Pay off my student loan. When I did my undergraduate degree between 2001 and 2005, I took out a student loan. Given that I lived at home and was within easy travelling distance of the university, I qualified for the smallest available loan, something which I am now exceedingly glad of, having heard the figures bandied about by some former students (particularly those in the US - yikes!). In comparison, £2,500 feels quite maneagable, and, in any event, payment will be facilitated somewhat by a generous donation I received from a dead relative on Christmas Day (thanks, Gran).

Lose weight. In Spring of 2005, I lost a considerable amount of weight in a short space of time. Unfortunately, some of that has subsequently piled back on, and while I’m far from as large as I once was, I could stand to be smaller. I can also see myself ending up on the slippery slope to becoming a fatty again, something I don’t particularly want to happen. I don’t subscribe to any particularly outlandish diets: my weight loss system is basically “Three square meals a day, five portions of fruit and nothing else in between.” It worked in 2005, and it can work again in 2009. All it takes is a little willpower in the first couple of weeks, and then I don’t even miss the crisps, sweets etc.

Watch more films. I saw a number of “significant” films in 2008, some of which I’ll list in my review of 2008 post. In general, though, viewing figures were down: I saw a total of 67 films for the first time, a mere seven of which were released that year. I’m not much of a cinema-goer these days - I tend to think it’s just not worth the hassle - but I could have done better. I still can’t believe I didn’t at least go to see Quantum of Solace. I know some people try to watch a film every single day, but that’s just not possible from my point of view: as much as I’d like it to, my entire life doesn’t revolve around watching movies. I’m not going to make a pledge to watch X number of movies this year, as I surely wouldn’t be able to keep to it, so I’m simply going to say “I’ll do better.”

Post more. I definitely wrote considerably fewer posts for this site in 2008 than I did in 2007. While I wouldn’t say I neglected the site as such, I do think I could have written more. While I’m not a believer in posting something every day simply for the sake of it, on far too many occasions I neglected to post a news item that either myself or others would have found interesting simply because I couldn’t be bothered. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, but I know some people have a habit of setting aside a specific time of the day for blogging, so that’s one possible answer. In any event, expect to see more activity at Land of Whimsy in 2009.

 
Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 12:47 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | PhD | Web
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of December

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • December 4, 2008: My Blueberry Nights (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: Chemical Wedding (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Bodies: The Complete Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Home Alone (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: La Femme Nikita (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Fight Club (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: The Constant Gardener (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Chungking Express (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 17, 2008: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Trilogy (Region 2 UK, DVD) [gift]
  • December 24, 2008: Profondo Rosso (2-disc edition) (Region 2 Italy, DVD and WMV9 HD disc)
  • December 27, 2008: Hannibal Rising (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Night of the Living Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Transformers (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: The Island (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 31, 2008: Trial & Retribution: The Fourth Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)

Quite a haul to round off the year.

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 11:58 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

DVD image comparison: Profondo Rosso

DVD

On Christmas Eve, my copy of Medusa’s R2 Italian 2-disc edition of Profondo Rosso arrived. While the first disc contained in the package is exactly the same as the underwhelming single-disc (standards converted) edition released by the company the same year, the second features a high definition (1440x816) presentation of the film encoded in Microsoft’s Windows Media Video 9 format. Playable only on Windows PCs and featuring only a 5.1 remix of the audio in Italian (with no subtitles of any kind), it’s understandably less than ideal, but what it does do is hint at what a hypothetical Blu-ray Disc release might eventually look like.

Anyway, click here for a full comparison featuring the US Anchor Bay DVD, the recent Danish release from AWE, and the two Medusa discs - the standard DVD and the WMV9 version.

Profondo Rosso in standard definition Profondo Rosso in high definition

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:41 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology
 

Home Alone Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

It took some time, but I’m finally able to provide you with direct screen captures for Fox’s recent Blu-ray Disc release of Home Alone.

A slightly revised master appears to have been used compared with that which found its way on to the 2007 Family Fun Edition DVD release. Some additional dirt and scratches have been cleaned up, and a grain reduction pass also appears to have been applied: the DVD actually shows a more pronounced grain structure, which is rather unusual. The compressionist on this title actually contacted me regarding its appearance, and, since he/she has stated that he/she did no additional filtering or noise reduction, we must assume that these steps were carried out at an earlier stage in the chain. In addition to the slightly “digital” look the film now has as a result of the grain reduction, it also has a somewhat soft appearance, but I suspect that this is largely representative of the original materials rather than because of any monkeying around with the master. The bottom line: not an amazing-looking disc by any stretch of the imagination, but watchable enough. 6/10

Home Alone
studio: 20th Century Fox; country: USA; region code: A;
codec: AVC; file size: 30.6 GB; average bit rate: 42.64 Mbit/sec

Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone Home Alone

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:26 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Priceless

The Omen Trilogy

Dropping a tetralogy down to a trilogy for a UK release is predictable. Failing to notice that the cover artwork consists of a giant “4” is priceless.

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Reap what you sow

Blu-ray Blu-ray

Zavvi, the UK version of what used to be called Virgin Megastore, has gone into administration. Now, this may have had something to do with its main supplier, Entertainment UK (which also provided the bulk of Woolworths’ goods), having recently gone down the crapper, but I’d imagine replacing the memorable Virgin brand with a name as stupid as Zavvi didn’t help either. Either way, I decided to make the most of their clearance sale on Saturday and picked up a few Blu-ray titles at reasonable prices: Hannibal Rising (the one Hannibal Lecter film I’ve yet to see - don’t worry, I’m well aware that it’s supposedly awful), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and, because there’s no shame in watching the odd bit of mindless crap from time to time, Mr. Michael Bay’s The Island and Transformers (the latter an upgrade over my brother’s HD DVD copy, given the BD’s inclusion of lossless audio).

Blu-ray Blu-ray

I’ve already done image galleries for the HD DVD versions of The Island and Transformers, which feature the same video encodes on BD, and will be doing the other two titles before too long. However, as a little sneak preview, I must say I’m very impressed by how good Night of the Living Dead looks. I’m an unrelenting pessimist and wasn’t really expecting much, particularly given how bad some of this film’s DVD releases have been, so I was pleasantly surprised when I popped the disc in to find a transfer that is, at least based on my initial cursory examination, the equal of Warner’s Casablanca.

 
Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Technology
 

Was Santa good to you?

Well, another Christmas has been and gone. I’ve decided to put my PhD work to one side until the New Year, but I’m back to work at the library tomorrow, so it doesn’t really feel like I’ve had much in the way of a festive break this year. Alas, I can’t really complain, as it’s simply the luck of the draw: I work Wednesdays and Saturdays, and, with Christmas falling on a Thursday this year, I’ve missed out on any additional days off. Next year, with Christmas on a Friday, I’ll end up with a more generous stretch of time to put my feet up.

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

Anyway, presents! In something of a change in tradition, I didn’t get any movies this year. (As it happens, I’m still waiting on the US Blu-ray releases of Planet Terror, Death Proof and the Canadian Sin City, but, seasonal postal delays being what they are, I’m not entirely surprised that they didn’t show.) Instead, I contented myself with two packets of sour flavour Jelly Bellies, as well as Tomb Raider: Underworld for PC and the 3-disc Legendary Edition of Echoes of War, a symphonic recording of compositions from Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series of games. Oh, and a copy of the From Dusk to Dawn trilogy on DVD from my work colleagues. My final gift, which I’ve actually had up and running since the middle of November (hence it not really feeling like a Christmas present as such, although technically it was), is my very nice speaker setup, which remains something of a rarity for me in that it’s one of the few pieces of computer equipment I’ve bought and had not one single complaint about.

In that past, we’ve generally had the grandparents from both sides of the family over for Christmas dinner, but this year, with all but one of them being six feet under, things were a little different. As a result, myself, my parents and my brother did something we’ve never done before and actually went out for our evening meal, to the Kama Sutra on Sauchiehall St.

A Matter of Loaf and Death

Afterwards, we trooped back home to watch the premiere of the new Wallace & Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, which aired last night on BBC1. I personally enjoyed it a lot, even if it did feel a bit, well, slight in comparison with the previous shorts. It did feel like something of a return to form after the feature-length The Curse of the Were-rabbit, however, which for all its strengths felt like it was lacking the special something which made the shorts so memorable. In any event, Nick Park’s masterpiece remains, for me, The Wrong Trousers, which is just about as perfect as storytelling can get.

 
Posted: Friday, December 26, 2008 at 2:07 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | TV | Technology
 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes of the holiday season to all Land of Whimsy visitors. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white! I’m afraid I’ve been pretty busy this December (I even drew the short straw and ended up working the Christmas Eve shift at the library) and haven’t had time to draw one of my crappy pictures this year, so I thought I’d post a picture of our Christmas tree to warm the cockles of your heart. And yes, that is a hulking great CRT television. My dad bought it close to a decade ago, and it was his pride and joy. It’s now covered with discolouration splotches and hasn’t been turned on in so long that I’ll be amazed if it still works at all.

By the way, there has been an interesting development in my quest to get to the bottom of the Profondo Rosso situation. I’m continuing to investigate the issue and hope to be able to report back on it in a couple of days, but let’s just say that an absolutely gorgeous high definition master appears to exist…

 
Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology
 

Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)

DVD

Note: I am extremely grateful to Thomas Rostock for setting me up with a copy. Thanks!

Another World Entertainment is a Danish DVD company whose mission statement is “to try to secure the best possible transfers and extras available and to lavish attention on each film through booklets, trivia and other bonus features.” They have already released a handful of giallo titles, including Duccio Tessari’s Puzzle, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Sergio Martino’s Torso, and the latest film to come under their radar is Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, called “the giallo to end all gialli” by someone whose name has unfortunately escaped me. Earlier in the year, Thomas Rostock, the person responsible for masterminding this release, contacted me to let me know about it and discussed various matters with me. What follows are my honest opinions on the finished piece, going into as much detail as possible. (Note: I am grateful to Thomas for filling me in on some of the historical issues surrounding this film’s life on DVD.)

[Continue reading "Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)"...]

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

L.A. Confidential Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Not exactly an awe-inspiring image, but I’ve seen considerably worse. It’s a Warner title, and as such I have my suspicions that it has been subjected to the studio’s usual injection of mediocrity. Certainly, it has the look of having been slightly grain reduced, and I suspect that the highest frequency details have been filtered out as well. The picture is fairly flat-looking and never really comes to life, so to speak, while even in the closest of close-ups, there is a degree of softness that I suspect wasn’t part of the way it was shot. Overall, it’s basically what I’d term a reasonably nice-looking catalogue title, and, on the plus side, I can’t spot anything in the way of deliberate edge enhancement, but it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by this disc. 7/10

L.A. Confidential
studio: Warner; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: VC-1; file size: 31.6 GB; average bit rate: 32.9 Mbit/sec

L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential

 
Posted: Monday, December 22, 2008 at 12:35 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

The Bourne Identity HD DVD impressions

HD DVD

Universal catalogue titles are notorious for their lacklustre transfers; this is actually one of the better ones. The only film in the Bourne trilogy to have not gone through the DI process, this one has a different look compared to its successors. There’s a fair bit of ringing around high contrast edges and some evidence of degraining, but overall detail levels are reasonably good, and the end result is fairly easy on the eyes. The two sequels definitely look a lot better in a technical sense, but of course the downside to them is that the camera is constantly shaking around, so it’s somewhat difficult to appreciate this. With The Bourne Identity, at least the camera stays still long enough for you to be able to spot the edge enhancement! I’ll leave you to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I wasn’t planning on doing any more image galleries like this one for HD DVD releases, but this film is coming to BD in January, and I wanted to have the visual evidence ready so we can curse Universal when they once again port one of their catalogue titles over to BD and succeed in making it look worse than its HD DVD counterpart. (Note: this is purely speculation on my part, going by their track record with non-DI material.)

The Bourne Identity
studio: Universal; country: USA; region code: N/A;
codec: VC-1; file size: 18.8 GB; average bit rate: 21.7 Mbit/sec

The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity The Bourne Identity

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 7:29 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Fight Club Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

I watched German Blu-ray Disc release of David Fincher’s Fight Club from Kinowelt last night. Prior to picking up a copy, I’d heard some negative reports about the disc’s image quality, including a review at Amazon.de which claimed it to be nothing more than a standard definition upconvert. I’m glad I researched the matter more thoroughly, because otherwise I would have steered clear of what is actually a rather good release. That’s not to say that it’s a flawless presentation by any means: a comparison at the AV Science Forum shows a very slight overall reduction in overall detail levels compared with the US DTheater tape from 20th Century Fox, while a couple of segments of the film, one near the beginning and one near the end, do demonstrate an overall blurrier look with less defined grain than the rest of the transfer, suggesting that perhaps these moments were taken from a different source (see capture 15 for an example of this).

Otherwise, this is a pretty impressive film-like presentation, one of only a small number of film-sourced (rather than DI-sourced) titles that I’ve seen in HD that haven’t been overzealously processed. Grain is moderate and very natural, and detail is pretty good too. It’s not razor-sharp, but I don’t think it was ever going to be. It’s definitely worth picking up if you can play Region B titles. I know some people have expressed dissatisfaction with it, saying a new master is needed etc., but I’m not convinced it could be made to look significantly better than it does now. I certainly don’t expect Fox’s eventual US release to improve on it in any meaningful way - and hey, it could even look worse, particularly if they decide to go to down on the degraining side of things. Once New Line get around to releasing Fincher’s Se7en, I would be overjoyed if it looks anything like this… but knowing New Line, they’ll probably pull a Dark City on it.

It also comes in a nice tin case, and has a tremendous DTS-HD High Resolution 7.1 mix (2046 Kbps, 48 kHz, 24-bit), suffering from none of the dialogue bleed and other problems which plagued the 7.1 audio on the previous BD I picked up from Kinowelt, Léon.

Fight Club
studio: Kinowelt; country: Germany; region code: B;
codec: VC-1; file size: 33.2 GB; average bit rate: 34.18 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at 4:17 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Prince of Persia (2008) initial impressions

Prince of Persia

I picked up a copy of Prince of Persia for PC yesterday - the 2008 reboot, that is, not the original 1989 platformer of the same name. (Incidentally, I’m not what you’d call a fan of this trend of relaunching long-running game series and giving the new edition exactly the same title as the original. It just seems unnecessarily confusing and means you always have to clarify which one you’re referring to. Anyway, I digress.) My primary motivation in getting a hold of this game was its very pretty cel-shaded graphics, which, in terms of colours and overall stylisation, are not unlike those found in Eternal Sonata for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. That said, I don’t think anything else quite like it exists on the PC, so for me it’s pretty unique.

Prince of Persia (2008)

As has been the case with all the Prince of Persia games since Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, the gameplay borrows heavily from the Tomb Raider series, played from a third-person perspective and with an emphasis on climbing, acrobatics and puzzle-solving, albeit with an Arabian Nights twist. This time round, the central character of the Prince has been redone from the ground up, and, as is perhaps fitting for a game released in 2008, he’s a wise-ass punk who most sane people would dearly love to kick in the teeth. It could be worse, though: compared to what’s happened to Sonic the Hedgehog of late (a character who arguably always had an unhealthy amount of ‘tude, but which seems to have reached epidemic proportions in the last few years), he’s fairly bearable. And at least, this time, he’s teamed up with a female companion, Elika, who isn’t just a damsel in distress. Rather than simply being a sidekick, she holds her own and actually turns out to be pretty useful.

Prince of Persia (2008)

By “turns out to be pretty useful”, I should perhaps have said “makes the game incredibly easy”. There’s a lot of hand-holding in this instalment: Elika not only shows you exactly which path you have to take through each area (if you ask her), she also helps you fight and prevents you from ever dying by swooping down and pulling you to safety if you happen to mistime a jump. Given that the previous reboot of the franchise, The Sands of Time, was a little too obtuse for my tastes, I’m actually quite happy to have Elika along for the ride, but so far, the game certainly hasn’t offered anything approaching a challenge and, if the reviews are to be believed, this stays the same right up to the end. I’m not sure I’d call this a “casual game” in the most obnoxious sense of the word - in other words, something extremely simplistic designed for every man and his grandmother to play without any attempt to cater to core gamers - but if you’re looking for something that taxes the old grey matter, I suspect this isn’t it. Good thing it looks and sounds absolutely beautiful, so much so that it’s possible for me to overlook the relative lack of substance… kind of like My Blueberry Nights, really.

Oh, and it is indeed 100% DRM-free. There isn’t even a CD key, nor does the game check that the disc is in the drive before playing. This seems to be a change of policy for publisher UbiSoft, and I for one applaud them for not assuming that their customers are all potential pirates. I just hope it’s an intentional decision and not simply an oversight.

 
Posted: Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 7:51 PM
Categories: Cinema | DRM | Games | Technology
 

Chungking Express Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

A bulging chest of swag was hauled aboard the HMS Whimsy today, including separate packages from the far lands of Germany and the United States of America. The former contained Blu-ray Disc releases of Fight Club and The Constant Gardener (both locked to Region B, I’m sorry to report), while the latter contained my first ever Criterion BD, Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express.

I watched this tonight and, sacreligious as it will no doubt sound, I’m afraid it did very little for me. This is not a case where I can point to individual elements and say “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t sit well with me”: I can’t really criticise the film at all, and yet it just left me completely cold. It was as if there was some sort of barrier between myself and the film that prevented me from connecting with it. It just came and went and, to borrow a saying from my brother, “I don’t regret watching it but I don’t care if I never see it again.” I suppose some films are just like that: you can’t please anyone, and you’d be foolish to try, but (and here I’m only tightening the noose around my neck) I enjoyed My Blueberry Nights considerably more. Given my apparently-notorious dislike of most anime (while I love a lot of Western animation), perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

As far as the BD itself is concerned, I strongly doubt that this is going to be a demo title for anyone’s collection. As with my reaction to the film itself, I can’t pinpoint anything “wrong” with it per se, but, I suspect due to the limitations inherent in the source material, it basically looks completely natural without ever being overly impressive. I don’t doubt that it’s a completely faithful reproduction of the materials, but in that case the source materials can’t have been particularly amazing to begin with. It’s therefore extremely difficult to know how to rate a title like this. Taking into account faithfulness to the original materials, it’s probably a “10”, but, ignoring such concerns and concentrating on pure aesthetics, it would be considerably lower.

Sorry if this post comes across as overly negative. I have a huge amount of respect for Criterion’s dilligent efforts to retain a filmic look in the home video environment, but something we have to bear in mind is that a lot of the films in their catalogue, due to their very nature, simply aren’t going to have the “wow” factor in HD. That’s something to bear in mind when evaluating the quality of their discs. That said, it never ceases to amaze me how willing reviewers are to give Criterion the benefit of the doubt. I’ve yet to read a review of this disc that gives the image quality anything less than a glowing appraisal, and yet I feel pretty certain that, if the likes of Universal were to put out exactly the same disc, many would be calling it a sloppy effort and demanding that a new master be struck (ignoring the fact that a new master was created this year).

PS. If I hear the song California Dreamin’ one more time, I may inflict physical violence on the first person I find.

Chungking Express
studio: Criterion; country: USA; region code: A;
codec: AVC; file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate: 40.66 Mbit/sec

Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express Chungking Express

 
Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 11:32 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

La Femme Nikita Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

La Femme Nikita, or Nikita to give it its correct title, is a film that I’ve owned on DVD for over a year now. I always intended to sit down and watch it, but, given how atrocious the DVD’s transfer was, I always seemed to come up with an excuse to watch something else instead. Luckily, Sony have now released the film on Blu-ray Disc, meaning that we can now finally throw away our blurry, aliased old standard definition discs. It’s altogether better-looking than Kinowelt’s recent BD of Léon, with a far more natural grain structure, superior detail and considerably less in the way of blown-out contrast. Some of the whites do look a little on the “hot” side, but a comparison with my old DVD revealed that they looked just the same there as well, so I don’t believe any boosting has been carried out - well, no additional boosting, at any rate. In any event, the master is new, judging by the presence of the 2007 Gaumont logo at the start.

By any standards, this is a very good-looking disc. However, when you consider that the source material is nearly 20 years old and the film is slightly more obscure than a lot of the titles being put out on BD, the end results look even more impressive. I was going to say “If you want a catalogue title done right, take it to Sony,” but then I saw Erik’s screen captures of Joan of Arc: The Messenger, another Besson film also released by Sony on the same day, and decided I’d just be embarrassing myself if I said that.

On a semi-related note, can I ask Sony to please stop positioning their subtitles over the letterboxing on their 2.39:1 discs instead of placing them within the frame? This sort of thing basically makes foreign language films unwatchable for those with 2.39:1 displays, and is extremely irritating for the rest of us because it means our eyes are automatically drawn to the black at the bottom of the screen rather than the picture itself.

La Femme Nikita
studio: Sony Pictures; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: AVC; file size: 26.4 GB; average bit rate: 32.33 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 4:20 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

“Where are you, you little creep?”

Blu-ray

Yesterday, I was greeted by the arrival of one of my most anticipated Blu-ray Disc releases of the season (don’t laugh): Home Alone. Watching this film is a Christmas tradition aboard the HMS Whimsy, and last night, we dimmed the lights and got to enjoy this holiday classic all over again, for the first time in high definition.

I’d like to be able to post screen captures, as I normally do when discussing the image quality of a BD, but unfortunately, Home Alone, like a number of other recent 20th Century Fox releases, comes with an insidious new version of their pointless BD+ content protection system which the usual suspects have yet to break. I’m assured that they’re working hard on it, though, so hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time before normal business is resumed.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to dazzle you with words rather than pictures. As per usual, we have a 1080P AVC encode on a dual-layer BD50, in the proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1. A less than convincing 5.1 remix (lossless DTS-HD Master Audio) is provided, along with the original matrixed 2.0 surround mix as a lossy Dolby 2.0 track. Transfer-wise, the same master used for last year’s DVD re-release was presumably the source again here, judging by the similarities in overall colour balance, plus the fact that I can’t see yet another a new master being created so soon. Unfortunately, the BD has been degrained noticeably more than the DVD, making the image look a bit synthetic. It’s not up to Patton or Dark City levels of badness, but it doesn’t look very film-like. This is not what you’d call a crisp-looking film, but I suspect that this is largely representative of the original materials rather than any monkeying around with the master. In any event, the presentation is reasonably satisfying overall, but it’s likely to disappoint both purists who crave faithfulness to the source and “it has to be threeee-deeeeeeee!” kiddies like the Blu-ray.com crowd.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2008 at 3:47 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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