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High-Definition Matters by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

High-Definition Classics and Beyond has now become High-Definition Matters. The intention of this new approach to my high definition column is to provide a source of information on all forthcoming high definition release dates, as well as some guidance on both recent or current releases and those immediately forthcoming. Classics will still get a special mention in this new column, but the reality is that they have so far and for the foreseeable future will continue to make up only a very small percentage of all high definition releases. Each column will contain the high definition release schedule for movies in both Blu-ray Disc (BD) and HD-DVD (HD) discs. It will typically extend from about one month prior to the date of the current column to as far in the future as announced titles dictate. Specially highlighted in the release schedule will be (in yellow) new announcements since the last update, (in green) classic titles released theatrically prior to 1970 [arbitrarily extended from the traditionally accepted mid-1960s], and (in red) westerns of any era [one of my particular interests].

Current Fare - The Best

Z°diac: 2-Disc Director's Cut (HD-DVD)

Zødiac: 2-Disc Director's Cut

The best of the latest arrivals to cross my desk is Paramount's two-disc HD DVD edition of David Fincher's Zødiac, a stylish and thoroughly engrossing account of the hunt for the San Francisco serial killer of the film's title with plenty of Fincher's characteristic attention to detail in evidence. This is not Se7en revisited, as one might suspect given Fincher's involvement, but more of a police procedural combined with the investigative elements of an All the President's Men. Jake Guylenhall, Robert Downey and Mark Ruffalo star, with the latter coming off best as the police detective in charge of the case. The film has been justly touted as an awards candidate although that has not translated into anything much of a concrete nature, partly due to the movie's mid-year release (which annually seems to pose a problem for those with short memories).

The excellence of the movie is matched by Paramount's HD package (designated the director's cut) which offers us a superbly crisp and detailed image and a raft of supplements highlighted by two audio commentaries (one by Fincher and the other by several cast and crew members) and several hours of documentary material on both the real case and the making of the movie all presented in high definition.

Man on Fire (Blu-ray Disc)

Man on Fire

Man on Fire (available from Fox on BD) is also a winner. The film is a superb revenge tale in which ex-CIA agent Denzel Washington takes on the job of being bodyguard to Dakota Fanning whose parents fear the possibility of her being kidnapped. There are two distinctive parts to the film, the first half building up the relationship between the two principals and the second following Washington's taking revenge for Fanning's kidnapping. The action sequences are powerful and undiluted (though somewhat stylized by director Tony Scott's camera movements and the film's art direction), but the film equally takes time for careful character development. The result is an immensely satisfying though at times disturbing experience. Washington and Fanning are both excellent.

Fox's 2.40:1 transfer is a pleasure to behold. It offers the detail and colour fidelity we expect from a high definition transfer, apparently faithfully portraying the director's colour and lighting choices. The DTS-HD Master Lossless audio is also impressive, handling subtle sounds and the heat of action equally well. Surround activity and LFE are both aggressive. The disc's only disappointment is the complete lack of any supplementary material, particularly given what's available on the two standard DVD editions.

Across the Universe (Blu-ray Disc)

Across the Universe

Worthy of a strong nod is Sony's BD release of Across the Universe, the latest film from director Julie Taymor (Frida, 2002 plus numerous operas and stage plays). The film is a very effective fusion of young love and Beatles music, set in the United States and to a lesser extent England and Vietnam of the 1960s. Using lesser-known players (Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs) who do their own singing (for the most part very successfully), the story begins slowly but builds to an amazing series of set pieces (dare one say, psychedelic at times) that reflect Taymor's background in theatrical staging not to mention puppetry and mime. (The standout is a production number set in an army induction centre.) This is a film that so entrances by its end that you want to view it all again just to try to catch all the details you missed on the first go-round.

Sony's BD presentation is top-notch, certainly among the best image-wise. The 2.40:1 image is crisp, vibrantly colourful, and very finely detailed with some very modest grain nicely retained. The Dolby TrueHD audio also is incredibly clear, with music and dialogue both faring well. I would have preferred a somewhat more enveloping experience than delivered, however. The supplement package is excellent, the highlights being an audio commentary with Taymor and her partner/composer Elliot Goldenthal, and high definition featurettes on the making-of the film and the casting (each almost a half hour long).

Current Fare - The Rest

Sunshine (Blu-ray Disc)


Sunshine has been highly touted in some quarters as a thinking-person's science fiction tale. It's certainly a step up on the usual space opera or space horror offerings that we so often get, but for any confirmed science fiction reader, there's little new here. Directed by Danny Boyle, the story follows the happenings aboard a spacecraft sent to kick start the Sun which, 50 years from now, is apparently dying. The movie starts promisingly enough buttressed by some fine art direction and special effects, but a shrill music score that too often belies the movie's efforts to tell a serious futuristic tale becomes increasingly annoying. When an abandoned spacecraft is intercepted, one suspects we could be headed into Alien or Event Horizon territory and that proves correct to some degree.

The cast (Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity) provides a workmanlike but ultimately completely unmemorable effort. Fox's BD presentation is satisfactory. The image never really jumps off the screen like the best high definition offerings, although it is quite detailed-looking during most close-ups. The DTS Lossless audio is powerful if somewhat front-heavy in its delivery - not very helpful when dealing with the most objectionable aspects of the score. Most of the supplements (deleted scenes, web production diaries) are delivered in standard definition. Two audio commentaries, one by Boyle and particularly the other by the movie's technical director, are the best of the extras.

Resident Evil (Blu-ray Disc)

Resident Evil

Resident Evil is the first of a trilogy of movies based on a video game. It along with the other two (Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Extinction - box set available here) is now available on BD from Sony. These are movies that are sometimes described as guilty pleasures, mainly by male viewers, I suspect. I imagine that arises principally from the skimpy outfit of the heroine (effectively played by Milla Jovovich) and her impressive ability to deal with the varied baddies she encounters (zombies, deranged animals and mutated creatures most of which seem to have their skin flayed from their bodies). Certainly the plot is standard video game stuff (get to centre of mazelike structure, conquer boss villain or computer-gone-wild, get out) married to the too-often-used apocalyptic crazed-zombie sub plot. But it's all executed with considerable style and with enough shock value to be truly scary at times.

This first of the trilogy is inventive enough to maintain one's interest, but the others offer diminishing returns. Sony's high definition presentation is quite good with vibrant colour and superior image detail. A Dolby TrueHD track is offered, but its merits are frequently buried in the noise that passes for a music score. The disc's best supplement is a visual effects audio commentary. Most of the supplementary featurettes, which are informative on the whole, are delivered in standard definition.

Me, Myself & Irene (Blu-ray Disc)

Me, Myself & Irene

Me, Myself & Irene is a disappointing outing from Jim Carrey who stars as a Rhode Island state trooper with a split personality who has to escort a supposed fugitive-from-justice (Renee Zellweger in a fairly winning performance) to New York state. Directed by the Farrelly brothers, the comedy is a generally unfunny misfire rife with the Farrellys' usual preoccupation with bodily functions as a basis for humour. The directors also try to mine racial and minority stereotypes for fun and profit, a source of rapidly diminishing returns as the movie progresses. No wonder Carrey's career seems moribund after stuff like this. About the only positive thing worth noting is the appearance of Robert Forster, underused as Carrey's immediate superior.

Undeterred, Fox delivers a generally superior-looking image that offers a noticeable improvement on the standard DVD release. An audio commentary with the Farrellys and some deleted scenes are the key supplements.

Wall Street (Blu-ray Disc)

Wall Street

Wall Street has had two standard DVD releases to date, the most recent a Special Edition last year. Fox's new BD version replicates the content of that SE; unfortunately it also presents pretty much the same look of that version. That is to say, it looks like a good DVD presentation and lacks almost entirely any of the enhanced detail and certainly any of the "pop" that the best high definition transfers offer. The film itself remains a winner as a dramatic vehicle despite its somewhat predictably-played-out tale of a young stock trader (Charlie Sheen) seduced by the quick buck approach of the corporate raider (Michael Douglas in a deserved Academy Award winning portrayal).

On the BD, it's supported by a very good documentary and audio commentary by director Oliver Stone. It's just too bad that Fox didn't go back to the well to make this look all it should be. The DTS Master Lossless audio is clear but otherwise unremarkable. If you've got the recent standard DVD SE, there's no reason to upgrade to the BD.

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