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Mother of Tears Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Mother of Tears recently became the first Dario Argento film to get a high definition release (well, discounting his Masters of Horror episode Jenifer, put out by Anchor Bay last year), having been released on Blu-ray by French label Seven Sept. I ordered a copy, and it arrived today. Unfortunately, as I suspected would be the case, it’s coded for Region B only, which is less than thrilling for Region A people such as myself. It also insists on enabling French subtitles whenever you select the English audio track, but neglects to provide you with a means of turning them off again (this “feature” afflicts a number of French DVDs and BDs). Luckily, those of us in PC-land who are armed with a copy of AnyDVD HD can easily correct both of these errors.

The disc is a single layer BD-25, and the film has been treated to a VC-1 encode. Unfortunately, while there are some nice things about the transfer, there are also a number of problems. Chiefly, the image appears to have been quite heavily noise reduced, resulting in waxy facial features and textures, with some edge enhancement added on top to give it that unnatural, digital look. It’s not a dreadful transfer by any means, and it’s a noticeable step up from Optimum’s DVD, but, as I always say, saying a high definition release looks better than a DVD is about the most back-handed compliment you can pay it. Screen captures are, as usual, below.

Mother of Tears
(Seven Sept, France, VC-1, 16.7 GB)

Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears Mother of Tears

 
Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008 at 10:35 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology
 

It’s Keira Knightley HD Screen Capture Day aboard the HMS Whimsy

Blu-ray

…well, not really, she just happens to appear in both the films I’ve put under the magnifying glass. First up is King Arthur, a rather mediocre cash-in on the whole medieval war epic craze by Jerry Bruckheimer and friends, which arrives on Blu-ray with rather odd transfer that virtually defines the word “inconsistent”. Its “look” seems to change on a virtually shot by shot basis, going from noticeably edge enhanced and undetailed to completely natural-looking and razor sharp, and from virtually grain-free to extremely rough and grainy. Sometimes the grain is extremely clumpy, other times it looks very natural. This often happens multiple times within the same scene, and I’m at a loss to explain it.

The bottom line is I just don’t know what to say about this disc. Sometimes it looks stunning, other times it looks quite disappointing, and everywhere in between.

King Arthur
(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 32.1 GB)

King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur King Arthur

Blu-ray

Up next is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, an even worse film but one with a considerably more consistent transfer. Actually, this one is pretty close to perfect. Some very mild compression artefacts are visible at times, but broadly speaking only if you’re scrutinising for them. The only other flaw in this transfer is a very odd moment in the final third of the film, just before the sword-fight which takes place on a water wheel, where, for a single shot only, the entire image suddenly seems to drop to a lower resolution with lots of visible jaggies. Actually, it looks a lot like the Weinstein Company’s train-wreck of a BD for 1408. This shot lasts for less than a second and is easy to miss, but I spotted it the first time I watched the film and thought “What the hell?” It’s really the only negative thing I can say about this otherwise stellar disc, and it lasts for a fraction of a per cent of the running time. The rest of the time, it looks like this:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 32.1 GB)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

 
Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 at 10:14 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Film on Blu-ray in “looking like film” shocker

Blu-ray

On Saturday, I received my copy of The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration on Blu-ray, containing all three films in the series, the transfers for the first two being derived from new restorations carried out by Robert A. Harris, arguably the best man in the field of film restoration. The Godfather Part III, intriguingly enough, is the best-looking of the bunch on Blu-ray, although to what degree this is due to the state of the elements, the way these elements were manipulated, or Coppola’s original aesthetic choices, is unclear.

What is clear is that this disc constitutes the new gold standard to which all film-sourced transfers in high definition should aspire. I was floored by how good this disc looks. As a broad rule, I’ve tended to find that the best-looking titles released in high definition are invariably those sourced from a digital intermediate rather than film elements, with film-sourced materials generally either being treated poorly (see many of Universal’s back catalogue titles) or simply having less available “resolution” to begin with due to the inherent shortcomings of a process which results in reduced quality with each subsequent generation. The Godfather Part III, however, is up there with the best of the DI-sourced transfers. I can see no evidence of any sort of tampering - the grain is wonderfully reproduced, the detail is excellent, and (a rarity, I’ve found, in film-sourced transfers) there is no artificial edge enhancement or ringing to be found. This would be a definite 10/10 were it not for the fact that the compression seems slightly dicey at times - strange, given that the bit rate is approaching 40 Mbit/sec more or less throughout.

Still, a phenomenal achievement throughout and one that has raised the bar as far as transfers for catalogue titles are concerned.

The Godfather Part III
(Paramount, USA, AVC, 44.3 GB)

The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III The Godfather Part III

There’s an excellent article on the restoration process at the American Society of Cinematographers web site.

 
Posted: Monday, September 22, 2008 at 3:32 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

If at first you don’t succeed

Ren Needs Help Ren Seeks Help

During the first couple of seasons of Ren & Stimpy, a number of episode ideas were either rejected by Nickelodeon’s story editors or simply put to one side as they didn’t work and/or their wasn’t enough time to do them. Towards the end of the Games run, however, the extremely punishing schedule of the final season necessitated a lot of what are best termed “cheater” cartoons (i.e. cartoons that could be churned out fast to meet the schedule). During the second season, Bob Camp directed a handful of “cheaters”, freeing up John Kricfalusi to direct the more ambitious ones. These generally placed Ren and Stimpy in generic situations - e.g. in the army, at a wrestling match, at the zoo - and were less concerned which characterisation than simply stringing together some funny gags to make an entertaining 11-minute short. By 1994/1995, however, it had become a case of simply digging up a story - any story - and turning it into an episode in order to fulfil the order for which the crew had been contracted. As a result, they ended up using a number of storylines that Nickelodeon had originally rejected.

One of these was Ren Needs Help, a John K./Richard Pursel concept in which Ren, after doing something unspeakably horrible to Stimpy, realises just how insane he is and decides to get psychiatric help. The Games interpretation, which credits Jim Gomez and Bob Camp as the writers, follows the basic premise of Ren seeing a therapist, but omits Ren’s feeling of guilt, instead portraying him as being forcibly institutionalised, in what seems to be a botched take-off of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The screen captures below are taken from the final scene of Ren Needs Help, in which Ren finally goes completely insane and ends up being lobotomised. There’s a gag at the end about him being dressed up to look like the president and sent to the moon to make a speech, which I’m assuming is some sort of in-joke that didn’t come across in the finished cartoon. (A lot of the Games episodes are like that.)

[Continue reading "If at first you don’t succeed"...]

 
Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008 at 4:58 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | TV
 

I know kung fu, doop-dee-doo!

Blu-ray

My copy of the Blu-ray release of Kill Bill Volume 1 arrived yesterday while I was at work. We watched it in the evening to put my brother’s beefy new sound system through its paces: finally, uncompressed PCM 5.1 support aboard the HMS Whimsy! It was my first time watching the film in a while, and I have to admit that, although I still got a lot of enjoyment out of it, it went ever so slightly down in my estimation. While more or less everything in the House of Blue Leaves and beyond is top quality entertainment, I must confess to finding quite a lot of the stuff along the way plodding and overly focused on banal dialogue. In that regard, it has something in common with Quentin Tarantino’s most recent film, Death Proof, which had a great final half-hour but meandered along for its first 80 minutes obsessing over trite conversations that I’m sure sounded very cool and absolutely fascinating to Tarantino but left me clock-watching. Kill Bill is a significantly better film overall, but it definitely suffers from similar flaws.

Seeing the US cut of the film after being used to the Japanese cut for so long was a bit of a shock to the system. In particular, I felt that the switch to black and white during the showdown with the Crazy 88 didn’t really work, and ended up making it overly difficult to see what was going on (which, from a censorial standpoint, was presumably the aim all along). I also missed all the little moments of blood-letting that had been snipped away here and there: I’m not what you’d call a gore-hound, in the sense that generally speaking a movie has to be more than deliriously violent to keep me entertained, but remembering what was present in the Japanese really made me miss it. I hope Universal gets round to releasing this film in HD in Japan - or, better yet, the Weinstein Company finally puts out The Whole Bloody Affair, which they and Tarantino have been promising for god knows how long.

Image quality-wise, Volume 1, as I expected, looks more or less exactly like Volume 2 - which is to say very good, but sadly not perfect. Once again, temporal noise reduction is evident throughout, reducing the grain and giving the image a somewhat digital look. I also spotted a handful of instances of the NR causing artefacts, mostly in the anime sequence, where some of the black outlines of the animation ended up being ghosted from one frame to the next. Most of it is fairly minor, but it does baffle me that this was done in the first place. After all, the animation was created entirely in the digital domain, with the grain that is present in the final composite having been added artificially. Since the technical crew had complete control over the grain in this segment to begin with, why add it and then reduce it? Unless, that is, the NR was added specifically for the Blu-ray release (or the master from which it was derived) after all rather than at the DI stage. Ah well, at least detail is, for the most part spot on, and, NR aside, there is no other obvious digital interference, barring a smattering of what looks to me like edge enhancement in certain shots in the snow garden outside the House of Blue Leaves.

Oh, and can I just say that the PCM 5.1 track kicks major derriere? I haven’t compared the compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track yet, so I’ve no idea how big a difference the uncompressed PCM format makes, but it certainly gave me a new appreciation of the importance of having a decent home audio system.

Kill Bill Volume 1
(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 29.3 GB)

Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1 Kill Bill Volume 1

 
Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 10:50 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Beware of neo-Nazi teenagers and speeding paramedics

Casualty Series 23 cast

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I delivered a fairly damning prognosis of Casualty’s 22nd series, and yet here we are once again, with Series 23 kicking off with a two-parter spread over the previous two nights (Saturday and Sunday). As ever, I made a point of not getting my hopes up too high, but, as with last year’s season premiere, I found myself enjoying the two episodes much more than I’d expected, and am now having to make a concerted effort to temper my anticipation for the rest of the series in case I end up being let down again.

The premise this time was a rather imaginative one, charting the events unfolding around a camera crew shooting a documentary about the hospital and its staff. Ably written by Mark Catley, who handled most of the best episodes in the previous series, and skilfully directed by Keith Boak (despite his over-reliance on the dreaded shakycam), the framing device of the crew interviewing the various regulars was put to great effect, frequently cutting away from the main action to provide an insight into their thoughts on the trials, tribulations and internal politics of the job. The main plot, meanwhile, followed the documentary team as they accompanied one of the ambulance crews out to the troubled Farmead estate, where they ended up trapped in a burning building after Sammy, a delightful teenage girl (choice dialogue: “Your breath stinks… is it coffee or are you sure you’ve not just been drinking shit?”) with neo-Nazi sympathies and a perpetual scowl on her face, set off some fireworks. Their last-minute escape from the inferno, however, was very much a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, as the ambulance in which the camera crew were riding then ploughed into the aforementioned brat, the effect achieved using a dummy so obvious that it gave the killer’s death in Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling a run for its money:

Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out

Dodgy effect aside, it worked, and it also provided a segue into the second episode, where the local community, incensed that the emergency services had put one of their own into Intensive Care, began a full scale riot. Personally, I did have some trouble believing that seemingly the entire estate would erupt into anarchy simply because one girl, who we were initially shown to be an outcast who was hated by her peers and neglected by her family, was injured. I didn’t really buy it and thought it was a tad contrived. Still, what I appreciated about it was the way it conveyed the meaninglessness of the violence, how everyone was getting worked up about something that had happened to someone most of them probably didn’t even know. This was done, to some extent, in the Series 13 episode Trapped, which showed what happens when the police fail to enforce order and mob rule takes over. I also felt that the rioting scenes were somewhat reminiscent of Series 7’s Boiling Point in their depiction of complete and utter carnage with the emergency services trying to help people and finding themselves caught in the crossfire.

Casualty Series 23

I still ultimately think that Boiling Point is the better episode (hey, it’s my third favourite of all time), but the cast and crew really managed to pull off a similar atmosphere effectively here, and I’m impressed that they were able to make it seem this intense and gripping. There is a point in the second part when a group of the show’s regulars venture into the midst of the carnage to look for one of their colleagues, Clinical Nurse Manager Tess (Suzanne Packer), who lies skewered like kebab on a stretch of waste ground (the result of a somewhat contrived series of events), and are set upon by an angry mob headed by Sammy’s brother. Normally, Casualty tends to be rather predictable, but on this occasion the encounter between the staff and the thugs was so tense that I actually found myself feeling concerned for their safety. (The last time I genuinely felt that connected to the characters was in the excellent two-parter written by Barbara Machin for Christmas 2006, when Josh (Ian Bleasdale) was stabbed and I actually didn’t know whether he’d live or die.)

Casualty Series 23

Something else I really appreciated about these two episodes was the feeling of teem spirit that seemed to permeate throughout them. Although the raging fire in the block of flats in Part 1 and the rioting scenes in Part 2 provided a lot of adrenaline-packed action, my favourite moments were the interactions between the regulars. A major problem I’ve had with Casualty of late is how fragmented it has become. Whereas, in the old days, the team felt like an extended family who all got along despite their differences, in recent years I’ve felt that everyone was splitting off into their little groups and not really interacting with each other. Add to that the endless bickering, oneupmanship games and “who’s having sex with who” storylines, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an endless playground squabble. Here, just about everyone seemed to actually pull together and function as a single professional unit. I’ve never really liked Tess as a character so I can’t say I really cared whether she lived or died (I find her a flat, uninteresting cipher whose only purpose is to bark orders), but, when she was wheeled into Accident & Emergency, I really did feel the team’s concern for her. Unfortunately, I still got the feeling that certain characters were being forced out on to the periphery and weren’t really interacting with the others, a problem that also affected the previous series, but it’s early days yet, and given how much action was crammed into the space of two hours, I’m not surprised some characters were, to a degree, left by the wayside.

Casualty Series 23

Overall, Series 23 has got off to a strong start with a really good pair of episodes, and once again I find myself crossing my fingers (without a great deal of hope, it must be said) that they aren’t just a flash in the pan. Last year’s My First Day and Charlie’s Anniversary are still the better pair of episodes overall, but this year’s two-parter was a lot better than I was expecting and I’m once again finding myself looking forward to next week’s episode. It does seem to prove that Series 22’s opening episodes weren’t just a flash in the pan and that the current cast and crew can continue to deliver the goods if all the stars are properly aligned.

 
Posted: Monday, September 15, 2008 at 12:20 PM
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | TV
 

The spirits without

Blu-ray

I picked up a couple of Blu-ray discs yesterday in a sale at Zammo that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have bought were it not for the fact that they were on sale in a “2 for £20” deal. (Anyway, I was in a buoyant mood because I’d just received a large sum of money that had been incorrectly taken off me in taxes over the past twelve months of so, and felt like treating myself.)

One was Tekkonkinkreet, which caught my eye a while ago because it’s one of those rare anime productions that I actually think has a semi-interesting visual style. The other, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, is a film that I’m not a massive fan of - in fact, the only reason I tolerate its soulless, stilted, so-called “realistic” visual style is the knowledge that the various imitators it spawned (e.g. Robert Zemeckis’ butt-ugly The Polar Express and Beowulf) are a whole lot worse. Still, I kept hearing about how good the BD transfer supposedly was, so eventually I got fed up waiting for it to become available for rental and decided to plonk down the cash for it.

Anyway, I took a look at it tonight, and yes, it’s a very good transfer. Not perfect, but still really impressive. My purchase of the standard definition DVD release, back in 2001, actually marked something of a special event for me because it was the point at which I started becoming aware just how many DVD reviewers were full of the proverbial. Put simply, the glowing 10/10, A++ and 100% ratings for image quality didn’t match my own impression of it being overly filtered and riddled with compression artefacts. But I digress. The Blu-ray release is about as far as you can get from the DVD as you can get, although a small amount of filtering has been applied and is present throughout: check the light ringing around the text in the final capture below. It’s fairly minor, but it means that the disc does just fall shy of perfection. I wonder why they thought it was necessary to do this.

Oh, and, as a side note, I do like that, despite the film never having touched celluloid, someone was thoughtful enough to actually try to make it look like film by adding a sheen of grain to it. The illusion is actually quite effective and goes some way towards making the motion captured CGI visuals look slightly less clunky and fake than they otherwise would have.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 25.2 GB)

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

 
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 9:52 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

An ode to B-movies that looks oddly glossy

Blu-ray

Last week, I ordered the recent US Blu-ray releases of both volumes of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I’m sure I said at some point that I wouldn’t buy Volume 1 in high definition unless it was the longer, gorier Japanese cut (which most people know as the version which includes the House of Blue Leaves fight scene in full colour, but which in fact also features increased bloodshed and some additional tweaks here and there), but that doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon at the moment. Anyway, the image quality of my Japanese DVD of Volume 1 is so god-awful I decided “to hell with it” and ordered the cut American BD.

Due to a delay in dispatching, Volume 1 hasn’t arrived yet, but Volume 2 turned up yesterday while I was at work, and I took a look at it last night. The bottom line is that this is a good transfer and one that I suspect is an accurate representation of the master. I say this because I seem to recall that, at the time of the films’ release, Tarantino stated that he wasn’t entirely happy with the look of the DIs (digital intermediates) prepared for them, feeling that they were too clean and failed to successfully recreate the gritty texture of the films he was aping. (I’m afraid I haven’t been able to dig up a source for this - sorry.) I have a feeling that the cleanness he complained about was in fact the level of temporal noise reduction that has been applied to the material. It’s not the horrible waxy kind you see in the likes of the Dark City BD, and as such doesn’t really show up to a great extent in the captures posted below, but it is noticeable when in motion, giving the image a slightly synthetic look, with textures and facial details tending to drag a bit. The closest equivalent I can think of is Flightplan, also from Buena Vista and also with the NR applied at the DI stage (a fact confirmed independently on IMDB and by my brother, who noticed the artefacts when he saw the film at the cinema).

What’s particularly interesting is that, on certain occasions, particularly the extended Pai Mei section, the NR is either turned off completely or at least lowered to an acceptable level, which I take as further evidence pointing to this having been done at the DI stage rather than some inept technician simply flicking a switch when the Blu-ray transfer was being encoded. (At the risk of sounding like a jerk, most people in the encoding business don’t seem to want to invest the effort required to approach things on a scene-by-scene basis, unless their name happens to be David Mackenzie and they work on DVDs of Andrzej Zulawski films.) The result is that the Pai Mei sequence is the best-looking part of the film, despite the fact that I get the feeling Tarantino shot it with an eye to it looking like the roughest, lowest budget segment.

So, overall what we have is a reasonably pleasing-looking disc that has a slightly synthetic feel to it but is, ultimately, a massive upgrade on the rather mediocre-looking standard definition release. For the most part, all 1080 lines of resolution are being put to use and many scenes feature a per-pixel level of detail. It’s too bad about the NR, but, if my suspicions are correct, then nothing much can be done about that short of going back to the original camera elements and redoing all the post production work.

Kill Bill Volume 2
(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 35.8 GB)

Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2 Kill Bill Volume 2

 
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 4:06 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Technology
 

Top-rate film gets third-rate treatment

Amélie Blu-ray

Much to my surprise, I discovered yesterday that one of my favourite films, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, had, without my knowledge, received a Blu-ray release, courtesy of Canadian label TVA Films.

I was all set to pick up a copy… until, that is, I read the review at Blu-ray.com. Not only does it not feature English subtitles (not unreasonable, given that it is a French film and TVA Films services the predominantly French-speaking Québec community), it also features a 1080i transfer, with a very mushy, low detail appearance, which can be seen from the screen captures posted along with the review. (You need to register with Blu-ray.com to see them at their full 1920x1080 resolution.)

So, while I would love to own this film in high definition, and while I don’t doubt that it constitutes a noticeable upgrade over the standard definition DVD releases, I’m going to exercise considerable restraint and bide my time until another studio comes along and does it justice.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 3:03 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Technology | Web
 

The depths of insanity

Blu-ray

I got home from work yesterday to discover a veritable storm brewing over at the AV Science Forum. The topic was The Descent, one of my favourite horror films of the last few years and also one of my favourite Blu-ray releases. The controversy surrounded what can only be described as the most baffling anomaly I have seen regarding the format so far: apparently, there are two separate encodes being sold, one AVC and the other MPEG-2.

Yes, I wasn’t prepared to believe it either at first. Why on earth would Lions Gate go to the trouble of pressing two completely different discs of the same film? We’re still no closer to finding the answer to this perplexing conundrum, but what we do know is that, thanks to the in-depth investigations of AVS poster msgohan, there is absolutely no doubt that two different versions are doing the rounds. Does this ultimately make any difference to the end user? Well, take a look at the captures below and judge for yourself. They show the same frame on each of the two different discs.

The Descent: AVC encode The Descent: MPEG-2 encode

Now you can understand why people who were sold the MPEG-2 version are rightly aggrieved and demanding to know what on earth is going on. I own the AVC version and I too am not a happy bunny. After all, last Halloween I reviewed the AVC version and gave it a 10/10 for image quality, a rating I still stand by. However, the fact that there is no actual discernible way of knowing which version of the disc you are picking up when you purchase it complicates the review somewhat. My 10/10 rating, after all, most assuredly does not stand for the MPEG-2 encode, which not only features more noticeable compression artefacts, but has also been pre-filtered to remove grain and fine detail. Now I’m in the unfortunate position of having written a review that may or may not actually be valid on a case by case basis.

As msgohan quite rightly puts it:

Not at all what I expected. So much for a nice, fair codec comparison. The Descent has been Warner’d! What numbnuts at Lionsgate thought this was a good idea?

You can see a whole series of captures, saved as lossless .png images, comparing the same frames from both versions, here.

 
Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2008 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Halloween | Reviews | Technology | Web
 

The first person who says it looks grainy gets a good hard slap

HD DVD

Way back last December, back when the ill-fated HD DVD format was still just hanging in there, I was pretty psyched when German distributor Senator Home Entertainment announced high definition releases of Planet Terror and Death Proof, the two instalments of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s ode to the B-movies of yesteryear. With US rights holders The Weinstein Company having disappeared off the face of the HD map, it looked as if Senator were our best chance of seeing these films in full 1080p glory.

Then Bob and Harvey struck. Apparently the Weinsteins didn’t like the idea of these films appearing in HD in Europe before they had been given such a release stateside, so the release date was pushed back and back and back again. Then, of course, the HD DVD ship capsized, with Blu-ray editions remaining on the schedule; however, with the likelihood of them being coded for Region B only, they obviously wouldn’t be of much use to Region A people like myself. Anyway, to this day they still haven’t come out.

Grindhouse

Thankfully, The Weinstein Company has finally got off its fat ass and announced US Blu-ray releases of both films. As High-Def Digest reports, they will be released separately on December 16th. No specs have been revealed yet, but I would imagine that they will mirror the currently available standard definition DVDs in terms of content - in other words, they’ll be the longer extended cuts, and Rodriguez’s Planet Terror will be in its home video aspect ratio of 1.78:1 instead of its theatrical 2.39:1 (when paired up with Death Proof, it was reformatted to match the ratio of its stablemate). Currently, the Japanese 6-disc release from BroadMedia is the only way to see both films as they were shown in cinemas, and by the looks of it the picture quality on the theatrical version isn’t too hot.

I’m rather looking forward to seeing these films again. I rented the DVD versions of both earlier this year (these days, I’m rather reluctant to buy standard definition copies of major studio films that stand a good chance of an HD release), and liked Planet Terror considerably better than Death Proof, which was Tarantino at his most annoyingly self-indulgent, with only the killer final half-hour redeeming it. I’m definitely interested to see how the intentionally grubby, scratched-up look translates to 1080p, having only seen them in SD so far.

 
Posted: Friday, September 12, 2008 at 7:57 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD | Technology
 

Quelle surprise!

I got home from work yesterday to find this waiting for me.

La Femme Publique sample copy

Now, before anyone gets a head of themselves, I need to point out that La Femme Publique is not actually shipping just yet. This is an advance copy that was sent to me by the good people at Mondo Vision, and a very nice surprise it was too. (Entering shameless self-promotion mode for a moment, it was also very cool to see my name in the “special thanks” section on the DVD credits screen.)

It’s a very nice package overall, with a 24-page booklet including translations of materials from the French press kit and a new essay by Daniel Bird, as well as a handy little sheet that tells you how to set up your display properly (why more DVD releases don’t include this basic information is a mystery to me). And, of course, that’s in addition to the excellent transfer, exclusive interview and commentary with Andrzej Zulawski (his story about how he persuaded the 20th Century Fox executives to agree to the casting of Valérie Kaprisky is priceless), and, last but not least, the film’s first ever English subtitle translation.

Permit me for one moment to sound like a shill, but, if you want a copy of the film and haven’t ordered it yet, get yourself to Amazon.com and pre-order either the special edition or premium edition now.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 11:08 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Technology | Web
 

The lavish detail before my eyes

Blu-ray

Tonight, Lyris and me watched his recently-acquired Blu-ray release of The Life Before Her Eyes, a film by The House of Sand and Fog’s director, Vadim Perelman, in which Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood play the same character in two different time periods.

In addition to being a very good film, albeit one that knocked me for six at a certain point (not unlike, say, Swimming Pool), Magnolia’s Blu-ray release has a really nice transfer. The bit rate is occasionally a little low for the material being thrown at it (check the mild artefacting around the text in Example 1), but for the most part this is an excellent encode of excellent source materials. I did spot some evidence of light degraining having been applied, occasionally causing facial details to smear slightly, but this is about as far from the horror of Dark City or Patton as you can get. Yes sirree, this disc gets the thumbs-up from me.

The Life Before Her Eyes
(Magnolia Home Entertainment, USA, AVC, 15.6 GB)

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Posted: Friday, September 05, 2008 at 9:19 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Additional Nightmare notes

Blu-ray

My post from a few days ago on the new Blu-ray release of The Nightmare Before Christmas attracted some negative attention from a small number of people, including a fellow Blu-ray reviewer who accused me of “irresponsible sensationalism designed to stir up controversy”. I’d like to take the opportunity to address some of the issues relating to both the disc itself and my post.

First of all, the reviewer in question feels that my post “blows any small issues with the disc way out of proportion” and “makes almost no mention at all that the disc actually looks pretty damn terrific”. To some extent, I agree in principle with the latter point. The disc certainly does not look “pretty damn terrific” (then again, on certain occasions I have found this reviewer’s impressions to be so far off the mark as to be laughable), but it does look pretty good for the most part, with a high level of detail in most scenes, solid compression and rich, deep colours. Admittedly, I neglected to stress these positives in my review, but here’s the thing: I expect high detail, a lack of compression artefacts and an accurate colour palette in my HD transfers. So sue me, I’m an optimist and like to think, when I pop in a shiny new disc, that I’ll get gold. Despite the number of times the studios have let their customers down, I still hope for the best.

As a result, when I notice flaws, I have a tendency to make them the focal point of my posts and reviews. That, to me, is not unreasonable. Of course it’s important to accentuate the positive so that the studios can see that we appreciate a job well done, but it’s even more important to call them on the boners they pull so they can take steps to ensure that the same things don’t happen again. If you look through the various Blu-ray and HD DVD image quality reviews I’ve written on this site, I think you’ll find that, if a disc looks particularly good, I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops. I take the opportunity to point out problematic discs, but equally well, if a disc is flawless (or nearly flawless), I have a feeling that I’ll be among the most vocal in my praise of it.

I can appreciate the need for balance in reviews, so let me take the opportunity to fill in the gaps in my previous post by summarising the situation.

The Nightmare Before Christmas on Blu-ray is:

- Colourful
- Well encoded
- Detailed in around 90% of shots
- Still the best film Tim Burton attached his name to
- When all said and done, the best representation of the film on optical disc

It is not:

- Flawless
- An accurate representation of its source materials
- Film-like
- Free of DVNR artefacts

Overall, it works out at around a high 7/10 in my book. No, it’s not a “pretty damn terrific” transfer, but it’s not exactly shameful either.

 
Posted: Thursday, September 04, 2008 at 10:28 AM | Comments: 14 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

See the president get shot at in full HD!

Attention Disney, Universal and all other DNR bandits: here is film grain. It is not your enemy. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

Vantage Point
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 22.9 GB)

Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point Vantage Point

 
Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2008 at 7:56 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Christmas comes early

Blu-ray

My brother received Disney’s recent Blu-ray release of Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas today. This is a film that Disney initially got cold feet over releasing and so put it out under the Touchstone Pictures banner instead, only to reclaim it years later (quite probably after they realised what a money-maker it was).

Anyway, the disc has been the recipient of some extremely positive reviews. I’m sorry to report, however, that it is yet another DVNR victim. That’s not to say that it’s an awful transfer by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s extremely inconsistent. Some shots are Dark City bad, but others are as good as, say, Corpse Bride, with most shots lying somewhere in between the two. Grain-sucking has been applied, but not consistently, so some shots retain their original grain, but the majority don’t. For the most part, the grain reduction is not massively destructive, but some shots look extremely waxy, with the optical effects shots (basically everything with Zero, fire, glowing lights, etc.) looking particularly bad. Overall this could have been a lot worse, but don’t believe the people who are claiming that this film is unmolested.

Overall, it’s a definite upgrade over the DVD releases (and that includes the very good anamorphic 1.66:1 release from Scandinavia, which trounced every other version), but, as is often the case, it’s frustrating to think how much better it could have been. The massive irony is that, had this been a modern film made within the last couple of years, the technicians would probably have assumed that it didn’t need any sort of digital “restoration” applied to it and, as a result, it would therefore have ended up looking far grainier.

Oh, and, in a further instance of tampering, the Touchstone Pictures logo at the start of the film has been replaced with a Walt Disney one. I’m not happy about that. It may not sound like the end of the world, but it’s yet another example of the creeping revisionism that studios feel they can get away with inflicting on their movies. From there, it’s a slippery slope towards modifications of the George Lucas variety.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 21.7 GB)

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Update, September 2nd, 2008 10:19 AM: While watching the film last night, we both spotted a number of instances of the DVNR eroding picture elements such as characters’ limbs. A comparison with the Scandinavian DVD revealed that this problem is new to the Blu-ray release (and probably also the concurrent standard definition re-release). An example can be seen at Lyris Lite. At least four instances were spotted in the course of a single play-through.

 
Posted: Monday, September 01, 2008 at 5:46 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of August

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Afterlife: The Complete Series 1 & 2 (R2 UK, DVD)
  • The Counterfeiters (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Doomsday (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Spooks: Code 9 (R2 UK, DVD) [review copy]
     
 
Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 11:57 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | TV
 

DVNR city

Blu-ray

As “a pretentious arse […] with no sense of humour” (it’s fascinating the sort of things you can happen to find written about yourself on the Internet), it’s sometimes difficult for me to tell whether something is meant to be a joke, so here’s my question: is New Line’s treatment of Dark City intentionally funny? That’s certainly how it feels to me, and I certainly can’t imagine any semi-competent technician actually thinking this looked good, but oh well. Take a look at the waxworks on display and judge for yourselves.

Then have a look at how one of director Alex Proyas’ other films, the vastly inferior I, Robot, looks on Blu-ray, and weep.

Dark City: Director’s Cut
(New Line, USA, VC-1, 20.3 GB)

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Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 5:27 PM | Comments: 22 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Could you shake that camera a bit more, Mr. Bay?

HD DVD

At the time of its release, Transformers was the fastest selling film on any HD format, shifting 100,000 copies in its first day, for a total of 190,000 in the first week. As such, it’s fair to say that this would be a large number of people’s first introduction to high definition, so it’s probably a good thing it looks as great as it does. That’s not to say it’s perfect: in terms of compression, the action-packed final half-hour is something of a struggle for the encoder, whether because of disc space or bandwidth limitations, but by and large it looks excellent. I suspect that it may have been pre-filtered just a teeny-tiny bit, but this is still a sterling effort from Paramount and one that would belong in every HD enthusiast’s collection if the film itself wasn’t such a heap of dung.

Transformers
(Paramount, USA, AVC, 25 GB)

Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers Transformers

 
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 10:54 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

The only waxiness here is in Rowan Atkinson’s facial expressions

HD DVD

Mr. Bean’s Holiday seems like a slightly odd choice for a day-and-date high definition release. Even stranger is how good it looks. If I were to use the words “demo material”, you probably wouldn’t normally expect me to utter this film’s title in the same breath, but, honestly, I think I would. It has exactly the same look two other Universal 1.85:1 releases, Children of Men and Eastern Promises, and by that I mean that there is a small amount of filtering going on, resulting in a very slight loss of detail and some ringing, but nothing overly wondering. I wonder if Universal have two different algorithms for their day-and-date releases: one for 1.85:1 movies (slight filtering) and one for their 2.39:1 ones (no filtering). I’d have to investigate more 1.85:1 titles in order to be sure, but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Mr. Bean’s Holiday
(Universal, UK, VC-1, 16.1 GB)

Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday Mr. Bean's Holiday

 
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 10:01 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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