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A picture’s worth a thousand words, part deux


I recently discovered another web site with a library of direct Blu-ray disc captures, Cinema Squid. The layout is a little unwieldy in that there’s no dedicated index of titles that have been capped, but if you dig around you can find some fine work on offer. I was genuinely surprised to discover that, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl looked so perfect, and that Kung Fu Panda had been thrashed with the low-pass filter.

Posted: Saturday, December 06, 2008 at 3:16 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web

Shrooms Blu-ray impressions


Thanks to John for giving me an opportunity to view this disc… I think. No, it’s not particularly good - an Irish twist on the typical “moronic stoner kids get lost in the woods and are set upon by crazy killers” slasher movie formula, with the most blatantly obvious twist ending you’ve ever seen - but at least it provided me with some laughs, albeit of the unintentional variety.

On to the transfer: we have here an encode with an extremely small file size, particularly by Sony’s standards. To be honest, compression artefacts are less of an issue than I expected, but there is definitely some blocking going on in he background at times. There’s also some posterisation going on, with darker scenes suffering from compromised shadow detail. Lyris suggested that it might be that the filmmakers underexposed their material and then tried to compensate by boosting it digitally. That said, the overall detail levels are very good, despite a small amount of ringing resulting from a mild low pass filter (check the letterbox bars).

I was surprised by the lack of lossless audio - only a 640 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a 224 Kbps 2.0 downmix are provided.

studio: Sony Pictures; country: UK; region code: ABC;
codec: AVC; file size: 10.9 GB; average bit rate: 17.98 Mbit/sec

Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms Shrooms

Posted: Saturday, December 06, 2008 at 11:12 AM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

Blu-ray review: Wall-E

It’s easy to become overly gushy about a package like this, not only on account of the film itself but also because of the excellent audio-visual presentation and downright generous offering of extras, but I’m going to take a leap and suggest that Wall-E on Blu-ray is one of the best - or possibly even the best - releases of 2008. A poster child for high definition and a remarkable film in its own right, this release deserves a place on everyone’s shelf.

I’ve reviewed Disney’s recent Region B UK Blu-ray release of Wall-E, a remarkable film in a remarkable package..

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2008 at 3:07 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

You took your time

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

MGM have finally re-announced their delayed Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs, originally scheduled for April 3, 2007. Almost two years on from its original release date, this title must have set some sort of world record for the longest delay on an HD title. (Of course, MGM continues to keep schtum about its sequel, Hannibal, but, given that it has already been released on Blu-ray in Germany, I’m not too fussed.)

No word yet on disc specifications, but, after waiting so long for it, it had better be something a little more impressive than MGM’s usual bare-bones MPEG-2 catalogue effort. Hopefully all of the extras from the previous MGM releases (I’m not holding out much hope for the Criterion-owned materials, such as the audio commentary) will be ported over, and I can safely retire my laser rot-affected 2001 UK 2-discer. Now, the big question is, will this feature the Tak Fujimoto-approved colour timing from the Criterion or the over-lit, watery look of the previous MGM DVDs? The pessimist in me strongly suspects the latter.

Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 9:37 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD

A picture’s worth a thousand words


I want to take a moment to showcase a web site run by one of Land of Whimsy’s regular readers, Bjørn Erik Hundland. Specialising in direct screen captures of Blu-ray discs releases, it proves the old adage that a picture really is worth a thousand words. While it’s not always possible to tell exactly how a disc will look in motion based upon static screenshots (The Stendhal Syndrome being a prime example of how still frames can be misleading), I tend to find them infinitely more useful than the average wordy article written for one of the “professional” review sites. Immediately, you can get a good idea of the transfer’s overall detail levels and, on a calibrated monitor, the colour, contrast and brightness levels. Often, you can also pick out degraining, filtering, edge enhancement and other unpleasantries.

What I particularly like about Erik’s site is that he’s showcasing titles that are a little off the beaten track - ones which generally don’t get much attention on other sites providing similar services. This is particularly true of titles coming out of Hong Kong and the Scandinavian countries, where, by the looks of it, some very nice work is being produced. So, if you like the HD screen captures I provide on my site, be sure to bookmark Erik’s, which provides a similar service to mine, albeit covering a slightly different range of material.

Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 9:24 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology | Web

My Blueberry Nights Blu-ray impressions


My Blueberry Nights is my second Wong Kar Wai film. My first was 2046, which I found pretty but vapid, and this 2007 effort, starring chanteuse Norah Jones, is similar, in that it’s once again pretty, albeit more so, and vapid, albeit more so. However, any film that has visuals so mesmerising that I can completely ignore a rather limp plot and uneven performances has my immediate respect: admittedly, I caught myself clock-watching by the time the Natalie Portman scenes near the end of the film were drawing to a close, but for a good 90% of the film’s duration I was held rapt by how incredibly beautiful every single shot was. This may be the the nicest-looking film I’ve seen since Amélie. Presumably the effect is diminished somewhat when viewed on a television, but I was lucky enough to be able to view it on a 123” display. The UK Blu-ray disc, from Optimum, is coded for Region B only, but thanks to the magic of the home theatre PC and its solutions to such errors, the studios can no longer deter me from giving them money. Strangely enough, I don’t think they’re going to thank me for lining their coffers.

Ahem, the disc… I’m going to make an assumption here and say that the film was heavily degrained at the DI stage. The result of this is that shots where the camera is in motion take on a very oily appearance, with the grain seeming almost like running liquid. Thankfully, the camera remains static throughout most of the film, and when it does move it tends to do so slowly, meaning that the problem is not as pronounced as it could have been. Detail is generally excellent, although it does vary and certain wide shots tend to become a little on the waxy side - again, I suspect, because of the degraining. Compression is very good on this single-layer AVC encode, and there isn’t so much as a hint of edge enhancement or detail reduction (beyond the side effects of the degraining). A shame, then, that someone forgot to set the black level properly, meaning that there is no “pure” black in the film, just dark grey. Look at the opening logos and you’ll see that the letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the screen are noticeable darker than what is meant to be the logos’ black background.

My Blueberry Nights
(Optimum, UK, AVC, 21.4 GB)

My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights My Blueberry Nights

And yes, I’m aware that I need to see In the Mood for Love. I suspect I’ll hold out for a Blu-ray release of it, and I’ll certainly be picking up Chungking Express when Criterion releases it on BD later this month.

Posted: Monday, December 01, 2008 at 11:25 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

DVDs I bought or received in the month of November

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Hannibal (R0 Germany, Blu-ray)
  • Shrooms (R0 UK, Blu-ray) [gift]
  • The Stendhal Syndrome (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Wall-E (RB UK, Blu-ray) [review copy]

How’s that for self-restraint? I said last month that I’d have to cut down, and by golly, I only went and did it.

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 11:59 AM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli

DVD image comparison: La Femme Publique


It’s been some time since I last did a DVD image comparison, but I’m hoping to get the practice up and running again, particularly where standard definition to high definition comparisons are concerned. Tonight’s little doozy is La Femme Publique, pitting Mondo Vision’s recently released Limited Premium Edition against three earlier versions. Who will triumph? (Hint: it’s not the one that’s a PAL to NTSC video standards conversion.)

Read and weep!

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Technology

Warner has Warner’d The Dark Knight


Screen captures have appeared for Warner’s upcoming release of what is surely its flagship title for this winter, The Dark Knight, and it looks like all is not rosy in Gotham City. Not that is ever was in Christopher Nolan’s plodding, po-faced and frankly yawn-worthy “why-so-serious” bore-fest to begin with, but it shouldn’t have looked like this. You want edge enhancement? It’s there in abundance. Smeared facial textures, you say? Got those too.

It becomes even more disheartening when you look at the comparison posted at the AV Science Forum, which places one of the DVD Beaver shots head to head with a frame from the same shot as seen in one of the downloadable h.264 trailers that accompanied the film’s theatrical release. Here is pure, unadulterated proof of image quality being degraded for a high definition home video release. You might find the notion of a freely downloadable trailer looking better than an actual Blu-ray disc release laughable, but I assure you, it’s anything but.

It’s also nothing new: this has been going on for a considerable amount of time now. I believe the first time I became aware of this practice was when I noticed how much worse The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s DVD transfer looked than that of the trailer for the same film that was hidden on the Rush Hour 2 DVD. I noticed similar problems with The Dark Knight’s predecessor, Batman Begins: the high definition Windows Media trailer I downloaded from Microsoft’s web site looked excellent, but the eventual HD DVD release looked blurry and anaemic. Unfortunately, the DRM on the Windows Media trailer meant that, after a certain date, I was no longer allowed to play it (don’t you love DRM?), preventing me from doing a proper comparison, but luckily smart people have captured the evidence of The Dark Knight’s insidious mangling for all to see. Of course, the usual crowd of “it looks fine on my telly” and “direct screen captures aren’t accurate” ninnies are poo-pooing the evidence, but that’s nothing new. There were people who claimed (and still claim) that the HD DVD of Traffic wasn’t a standard definition upconvert, for crying out loud!

My plea to the studios is this: stop it. Just stop it. Please. You can’t fool us. We’re not stupid. We know you’re doing it. Now kindly get back to delivering superb discs that take full advantage of 1920x1080 resolution instead of diluted mush like this. Whether this was done at the DI or mastering stage, find out who is doing this, rap them soundly on the knuckles and bring in technicians who know what they’re doing. Thank you.

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 5:14 PM | Comments: 26 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DRM | DVD | HD DVD | Technology | Web

The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray impressions


I’m off work today with a stomach bug of some sort, and have been doing my best to distract myself from the stabbing pains and waves of nausea by putting my copy of the recent Blu-ray release of The Stendhal Syndrome, from Blue Underground, through its paces. Overall, we have what I consider to be a strong but problematic presentation, although to what extent these problems were avoidable is open to debate.

The first thing that struck me about it was how grainy it is. The grain is extremely pronounced and harsh, more so than The Counterfeiters, previously the grainiest film I owned in high definition. The intensity and appearance of the grain is such that Lyris immediately suggested that it had been artificially sharpened at some stage in the chain, and, after giving the matter due consideration, I agree. Judging by its appearance, the source material (a 35mm interpositive) was pretty heavy in the grain department to begin with, but, if our theory is correct, this has been unnecessarily accentuated digitally. It’s not awful by any means, and it looks considerably better in motion than in still frame form, but it does look a little on the harsh side and not very naturalistic. It also causes problems for the encoder, which simply can’t cope with this level of grain, meaning that virtually every shot in the film is crawling with tiny compression artefacts. Again, they aren’t overly apparent in motion, but are quite noticeable in still frame form.

I’m therefore happy to report that, other than these issues, I have no complaints about the image quality. Presumably, the same master that was used for last year’s standard definition release was used for the BD, and as a result it is far closer in terms of colour palette and contrast to that release than to the earlier Region 2 Italian DVD from Medusa, which, in comparison, looks decidedly washed out. Detail levels are pretty decent, although the heavy grain means that it never has the crisp clarity that so many crave for their HD presentations. Given that every single Blue Underground standard definition DVD I ever saw was over-zealously filtered, I’m extremely pleased that this odious practice doesn’t appear to have followed them into the HD domain.

Audio-wise, things get rather baffling. In addition to the same 448 Kbps English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks that were present on the DVD release, we also have two 7.1 tracks, both lossless: DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Frankly, I don’t understand the logic behind this, as the presence of one automatically makes the other pointless. I find this particularly confusing given that Blue Underground is a low budget independent label; I’d have thought they would have better things to spend their money on than licence fees for multiple audio formats. Personally, I wouldn’t have objected if one was English and the other Italian, but as both feature the inferior English dub, I can’t imagine either getting much of a workout on my speakers. English subtitles are also included, and they are, as far as I can tell, dubtitles rather than captions for the Italian audio.

One final note on the audio: the stereo mixes that accompanied the film on both the Blue Underground and Medusa DVD releases are missing in action. Now, I know that there is some debate as to whether the film was original mixed in stereo or surround, but this, coupled with a similar absence on Blue Underground’s BD of The Final Countdown (released theatrically in stereo), does give me some cause for concern. Are Blue Underground doing a Warner and neglecting to present these films with their original audio intact in HD? If so, Bill Lustig should know better, given the flack he received for his bungled remixes of (among others) Suspiria. Let’s put it this way: if The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrives on Blu-ray in February sans its original mono English and Italian tracks, I will be sorely disappointed. My advice, in the unlikely off-chance that anyone is listening: ditch the redundant 7.1 remixes and include the original mix as a matter of priority. By all means include one lossless remix, but any more than that is overkill, particularly if it impacts on the film’s original audio.

The Stendhal Syndrome
(Blue Underground, USA, AVC, 35.1 GB)

The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome The Stendhal Syndrome

Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:38 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

Wall-E Blu-ray impressions


On Tuesday, my brother received his copy of the US Blu-ray release of Wall-E (the 2-disc edition, naturally, not the pointless 3-disc version with a useless Digital Copy to inflate the price tag). Almost immediately, he had to leave for London to receive Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) training, so I took the opportunity to nab the disc from his shelf and give it a quick run-through.

I should point out that, until I’ve watched the film on the big screen, which we should hopefully be doing over the weekend, I won’t be assigning the transfer an overall rating, but I was very impressed by what I saw and would, at this early stage, call myself 99% satisfied. As with the BD of Pixar’s Ratatouille before it, the look of Wall-E is smooth rather than pin sharp. I take this to be an intentional cinematographic choice; certainly, it allows the film to avoid the sterile look that plagues most CGI films. As such, while it doesn’t have the razor sharp look of, say, Open Season, it’s by far the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. There is, however, one mild caveat: compression. Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost completely flawless, but as soon as I saw the surprisingly low bit rate of 21.1 GB (on the disc, a total of 28.6 out of a possible total of 50 GB is occupied by data), I did begin to be rather concerned. This is by no means a compression nightmare, but eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot some occasional artefacts affecting a handful of scenes combining fast motion with high amounts of detail. Take a look at Example 12 for an idea of what to (occasionally) expect.

Overall, it’s a highly impressive transfer, but Ratatouille remains Disney’s best-looking BD. I just hope the film is still as magical as I remember it being.

(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 21.1 GB)

Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E

Posted: Friday, November 21, 2008 at 7:49 PM
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

More Four Flies details


Following up on my report on Thursday that Dario Argento’s long-lost Four Flies on Grey Velvet is to finally receive a legitimate DVD release next year, more details on the disc have been revealed. In addition to the impressively tasteful cover art, the specs have been revealed in a promotional flyer posted by Marc Morris at the Cult Movie Forums:

  • 16x9-enhanced anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, restored from the original negative elements
  • English and Italian mono audio
  • Teaser trailer
  • Original trailer
  • English opening and closing credits
  • Extensive poster and photo gallery

I’m really excited about this release. While the included extras are not quite as all-encompassing as many of us would have liked (given this film’s troubled history, I really was hoping the red carpet would be rolled out), but, as the saying goes, it’s better than nothing. To tell the truth, I’m just happy to know that I’ll finally be able to own a copy of this film that has at least passable (and hopefully better than that) image quality. Roll on February 24th!

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 7:38 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

Big screen blunders


Friday night was movie night aboard the HMS Whimsy, and we started with a screening of the German Region B Blu-ray release of Léon, using my computer as an HTPC thanks to the disc’s odious region coding preventing it from playing on my Region A Playstation 3. By and large, I’d call it a success, although the decidedly problematic nature of the disc’s video and audio made it a rather frustrating venture.

The excessive contrast boosting has already been documented on this site, but I haven’t previously mentioned the thoroughly odious sound mix on the disc. Whereas the Superbit and Deluxe Edition DVDs both featured a rather nice DTS 5.1 track, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on this disc is curiously mangled. The dynamic range is severely compressed (the gunfire when Stansfield is blowing apart Matilda’s family seems decidedly muted), the music is mixed far too loud, meaning you have to strain to hear some of the dialogue, and perhaps worst of all, the dialogue bleeds into the rear channels throughout the film, making voices seem disembodied. This, coupled with the extremely problematic image, lead me to suspect that whoever supervised the new HD master for this film didn’t have a clue what they were doing. I put my old Deluxe Edition DVD back in tonight and, even though the image quality was horrible, aurally it was a much nicer experience. I still think the disc is, overall, an improvement on the standard definition releases, but I find it extremely hard to recommend it unequivocally. I hope Sony, who own the North American rights, exercise more quality control if and when they get round to doing their version.

To ensure that the problem wasn’t being caused by my PC or the software being used, we checked out some discs we were more familiar with, and, surprise surprise, no problems to report. Casino Royale, one of the best-looking and -sounding discs out there (uncompressed PCM 5.1 = t3h g00dne$$), was particularly impressive, and a purely subjective viewing and listening revealed no discernible differences between viewing it on the PS3 and on my PC using PowerDVD 8. The only problem I could determine was an intermittent frame skipping issue when outputting the signal in 24p - my guess is that PowerDVD isn’t able to resolve this mode properly, given that it disappeared when I switched to 60 Hz. If so, using the PC for HD playback isn’t going to be perfect, but it will be pretty close to that, and will certainly be more than adequate until we can get our hands on some sort of standalone multi-region player. The only inconvenience is having to crawl behind my computer to switch the cables connected to my sound card every time we want to watch a movie on the big screen in this way. Does anyone know of some sort of splitter that could be used to plug in two sets of speakers at once? (The sound card has three 3.5mm jacks, one for the L and R channels, one for the L and R rears and one for the center channel and subwoofer.)

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 9:16 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

La Femme Publique LE looks great!

La Femme Publique: Limited Edition

Here’s a special peek at the contents of the Limited Edition of Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique, recently given its first ever English-friendly DVD release. You can click the image above for a closer look at the package, which includes the DVD, a soundtrack CD, a sizeable booklet, an individually numbered certificate of authenticity, and ten black and white reproductions of Japanese publicity stills.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 10:00 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Music

Four Flies to get legit release

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Above: Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Source: Horror-101

After German DVD outfit Retrofilm released a highly dodgy copy of Dario Argento’s lost giallo, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, last year, it was only a matter of time before the rights holders, Paramount, showed their hand. The megacorporation, notorious for sitting on the title for years and refusing to license it to interested parties, appear finally to have conceded and have sold the DVD rights to MYA Communication and Ryko Distribution, who will officially release the it in the US on February 24th, 2009. Not that this has anything to do with Retrofilm’s bootleg being such a hot commodity, my goodness no!

No specifications for the disc have been revealed yet, but it would be nice to think that a title as elusive as this will be granted some choice bonus features. I know absolutely nothing about MYA Communication, barring the suggestion, as per posters at the AV Maniacs forum, that they are an offshoot of the seemingly defunct NoShame Films. I hope they do this release justice: the film deserves to shine after so many years of being confined to grotty pirate copies.

Oh, and, in related news, a teaser for Argento’s upcoming film, Giallo, has materialised online. Quite apart from the eye-rollingly amateurish nature of the trailer, this looks like yet another project for hire for Argento, similar to his Masters of Horror hack jobs. I’ll wait ‘til I’ve seen it before making an actual judgement on it, but this footage doesn’t look particularly promising.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Web

Christmas comes early (long post)

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

Apologies for the posting constipation recently. I’m currently in crunch mode on the latest submission for my PhD, which is due in early next week and will consist of an introduction to my thesis, covering its origins, key aims and my working definition of what exactly a giallo is. (One of the downsides to choosing such an obscure branch of the movie tree for your research is that, at the start of every article you write or presentation you give, you have to squander precious words or minutes explaining what the hell you’re talking about.) Still, despite this being a pretty intensive period, I’m enjoying this phase a lot more than the last one (the literature review), which I felt dragged on for too long without me having a clear sense of direction.

Anyway, I just thought I’d check in to post that I decided to finally replace my PC’s ageing Creative Inspire 5.1 Digital 5700 speakers with a spruce new Logitech Z-5500 Digital package as an early Christmas present. I did this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted better audio than I was currently getting, and, while I knew I could never compete with my brother’s setup, at least not without having access to vastly more money and space than I currently have, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to go for the best setup I could get my hands on within my current means. Various reviews swung me towards the Z-5500, which, unlike most of the current generation of PC speakers, has the added bonus of including its own internal Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, should I ever want to send it encoded signals in either of these two formats.

[Continue reading "Christmas comes early (long post)"...]

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 6:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | PhD | Technology

La Femme Publique - c’est fantastique! (Part deux)

Mondo Vision

More reviews of Mondo Vision’s La Femme Publique are beginning to trickle in. Today’s comes from Svet Atanasov at DVD Talk, who was extremely impressed:

It is almost too good to be true - Mondo Vision have assembled a package that will warm up the hearts of many film aficionados who have been hoping to see Andrzej Zulawski’s La femme publique treated with the proper dose of respect. Well, the wait is over. I would like to go on record here stating that even Criterion could have not produced such a terrific package. This is a gift for all of us and I hope that Mondo Vision will be around for many years to come so we could benefit from their admirable desire to please. Good luck Mondo Vision and thank you for this most beautiful release!! DVDTALK Collector Series.

The review gives the transfer, audio and extras a 10/10 rating each.

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2008 at 2:55 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Mondo Vision | Reviews | Web

Great game music

Music Games

One aspect of the games industry that I feel doesn’t get the attention itself is its music. Steve Townsley of film music review site Tracksounds says that he pays particular attention to the gaming scene not because he is by nature a gamer but because he considers it a “proving ground” for composers from which “musical talent seems to flourish”. I completely agree with him. Whereas movie soundtracks are becoming increasingly bland and derivative, often dominated by what the industry has termed “sonic wallpaper”, I often find myself marvelling at the richness being achieved by composers in the gaming field, virtually none of whom are household names but who frequently outdo their better-known colleagues in the film industry. A few game composers have crossed over to the world of movies (perhaps most notably Michael Giacchino), but by and large there is little back and forth between the two media.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of my top ten pieces of game music. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and my tastes are such that I can go through a period of overdosing on one particular piece or soundtrack, before becoming burned out on it and latching on to something else. It’s also, unavoidably, coloured somewhat by my genre preferences - RPGs and RTSs on the PC, mainly - so no doubt there are a whole bunch of great golf game scores I’ve missed out on… or perhaps not. I should also point out that I haven’t played nearly as many games as I’ve seen movies, so I’m sure I’ve missed some real corkers out there. This is particularly problematic when you consider that very few game soundtracks are released on CD or to download, meaning that more often than not the only way to hear a game’s score is to dig out the CD-ROM and re-install it.

Still, after much consideration, I came up with the list below. I set myself a rule of only choosing one track from a single game, in order to avoid the list from becoming overly populated with pieces from a small number of titles (there are at least a dozen tracks in Icewind Dale that put most movie scores to shame). I also opted not to order it in any way (well, actually, that’s a lie - I sorted it alphabetically). Because these scores are not exactly well-known outside the immediate circles of fans of the games in the question, I’ve linked to online clips of the tracks I’ve nominated wherever possible. Bear in mind, though, that their quality in many cases will be less than stellar, concealing the subtle nuances of the original compositions.

[Continue reading "Great game music"...]

Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 10:55 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Games | Music

La Femme Publique - c’est fantastique!

Mondo Vision

The first review of Mondo Vision’s upcoming DVD release of La Femme Publique is now online. Over at Bagatellen, Alan Jones appears to be very impressed with the fledgeling company’s efforts:

Here’s a film that has been highly regarded among buffs since its 1984 release, one with blatant abstractions that are readily defended as inventive. Having finally seen it, I couldn’t agree more, and perhaps the experience is sweetened from such a long wait. Now enjoying its debut among English-speakers, La Femme Publique is again available and is, you will agree with me, among the best transfers this side of BluRay since the advent of the DVD.

Hopefully you won’t have to wait too long for your own copies.

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 at 11:28 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Web

Hannibal Blu-ray impressions


Well, it took long enough, but Ridley Scott’s Hannibal has finally been released in high definition. In my opinion the best of the Hannibal Lecter films, this was one of my most eagerly anticipated titles for an HD release since both formats launched. It was initially announced for an April 2007 Blu-ray release from MGM in the US, but it disappeared into the same void that claimed several of the studio’s catalogue titles when distribution partner 20th Century Fox staged an abrupt exit from the format over copy protection concerns (LOL). Then, it showed up in the schedules again on the other side of the Atlantic, this time as a French HD DVD release from Universal. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with French home video releases, it missed its August 2007 release date and ultimately never surfaced. Luckily, however, German distributors Universum Film, UFA and Tobis have come to the rescue, releasing it on October 30th. My copy arrived today.

First, the good news. It’s region free, and includes separate English and German DTS-HD High Resolution (i.e. non-lossless) 6.1 audio tracks, with PowerDVD reporting a constant bit rate of 4.6 Mbps. English and German subtitles are included, both optional. Finally, all of the bonus materials from the original 2-disc DVD release have been ported over, including the Ridley Scott commentary, deleted scenes and 75-minute documentary Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal.

On to the transfer, we have a VC-1 encode on a dual-layer BD50, and it’s an above average but not particularly amazing presentation of the film. The same master that was used for the various DVD releases appears to have been trotted out again here, as evinced by the higher than expected amount of print damage and gate weave that it exhibits (not that either of these are overly troubling, but for a film from as recent as 2001 they are surprising to see). The biggest problem appears to be noise reduction, which particularly affects the wide shots, giving them a waxy and insubstantial look. It’s not Dark City bad, but it’s closer to that particular disaster than I would have liked. Close-ups fare far better, as close-ups invariably do, and luckily they take up the bulk of the film’s running time. There’s a moderate amount of ringing on display, again most noticeable in the wide shots, while the grain tends to look a little clumpy. Detail is about average, never really “popping” but at least offering a sizeable improvement over the Region 2 Superbit DVD, previously the sharpest of the bunch (Julianne Moore’s delightful moustache, for instance, is for the first time readily visible during the tense climax in the kitchen).

In the overall scheme of things, I’d rate this somewhere around the middle echelon for catalogue titles. It’s nothing like as bad as, say, Universal’s worst, but at the same time don’t expect anything as ravishing as The Godfather: Part III or Scott’s Blade Runner. With a new master, I suspect the image quality could have been noticeably improved, but I have a feeling that isn’t going to happen any time soon. I certainly wouldn’t hold out for MGM to get off their fat asses and release it in the US: we’d be unlikely to see any significant gains in the image quality department, and they’d probably drop all the extras to boot. Basically, you can safely buy this with the assumption that it’s the best you’ll get in the foreseeable future.

(Universum Film/UFA/Tobis, Germany, VC-1, 33.1 GB)

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Update, November 5th, 2008 09:16 PM: I should point out that the extras are all standard definition PAL rather than NTSC, and as such won’t play on North American equipment.

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 at 5:01 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology

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