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High-Definition Matters by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

I have a somewhat shorter edition of High Definition Matters for you this time out as I wanted to provide coverage of a few current releases before going on holiday for a few weeks. Included are I've Loved You So Long from Sony, The Silence of the Lambs and Quantum of Solace from MGM, The Robe and South Pacific from Fox, An American in Paris from Warner Bros., and Bolt from Disney.

As usual the site's Blu-ray release database has been updated.

Capsule Reviews

I've Loved You So Long (Blu-ray Disc)

I've Loved You So Long (Sony)

Despite success on the 2008 film festival circuit, this French-German co-production didn't linger very long in the theatres last autumn and that's a real shame as it allowed a superb acting performance by Kristin Scott Thomas to go virtually unrewarded in the year's various awards. I cast no aspersions on last year's Best Actress Oscar nominees when I say that Thomas's effort was easily the year's best work by an actress.

Not only that, her work is nearly matched in the film by Elsa Zylberstein. The two play sisters in a film in which the Scott character comes to live with her sister and her family after having spent 15 years in prison.

The story behind the reason for her sentence is gradually revealed during the film's two-hour running time, a stretch that passes so quickly, you wonder where the time when, so entrancing is Scott's powerful portrayal of the anguished sister. The emotional depth that Scott is able to impart with few words and some body language is remarkable. That Zylberstein is able to hold her own as the eager-to-please younger sister is a testament to her own skillful and subtle performance. Almost overshadowed is the suite of uniformly effective and naturalistic supporting efforts, particularly that of Lise Segur as Zylberstein's 8-year-old daughter.

Sony's 1.85:1 transfer is a very satisfying film-like effort. Image detail is excellent and the disc really shines in the many lingering shots focused on the Scott Thomas character. Colour fidelity is very good, particularly so for skin-tones. The Dolby 5.1 TrueHD audio is very clean and clear in this dialogue-driven film. Some ambient effects add a pleasing contrast from time to time. Both the original French sound track (with easily read English subtitles) and an English track with Scott Thomas dubbing herself are provided. Supplements consist of several deleted scenes with commentary by director Philippe Claudel and the film's theatrical trailer. Highly recommended.

The Silence of the Lambs (Blu-ray Disc)

The Silence of the Lambs (MGM)

Only the third film to snag all five top Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay), this 1991 combination of police procedural, horror film, and psychological study was and remains a tremendously satisfying artistic achievement and entertainment. Most viewers remember the horrific sequence of Hannibal Lector's escape from prison or the suspenseful conclusion as Starling attempts to catch serial killer Buffalo Bill, but for me and many others, the highlight of the film is the series of interactions between stars Anthony Hopkins as Lector and Jodie Foster as young FBI agent Starling, their effectiveness heightened by director Jonathan Demme's decision to film them in extreme close-up. The Silence of the Lambs is a film that bears repeated viewings with ease, so consummate is its orchestration.

Both Criterion and MGM have previously released the film on DVD, but this new MGM Blu-ray release improves on them. The close-ups are generally well-detailed and film-like with very natural-looking skin tones, while the colour fidelity on the film as a whole (an issue to some extent on the previous releases) is very good. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Lossless audio provides clear dialogue and a fairly robust delivery of Howard Shore's marvelously atmospheric score, but little else of significance given the film's limited surround usage. A healthy package of extras both from the older DVD releases and ones newly created, though no audio commentary, complements the release. Highly recommended.

An American in Paris (Blu-ray Disc)

An American in Paris (Warner Bros.)

Warners has followed up its Special Edition DVD release of this film last September with the Blu-ray edition which carries over the same superb collection of supplements (with the fine documentary now in HD). Treated to the Ultra Resolution process, the 1951 Best Picture winner, which includes an amazing climactic ballet sequence tuned to the styles of various Impressionist painters, looks simply sumptuous. The SE was an impressive treatment of the image, but the Blu-ray improves it further with added fine detail and an even warmer and vibrantly colourful look. There's no evidence of DNR. A truly impressive effort by Warners. The mono sound is completely adequate. Very highly recommended.

Quantum of Solace (Blu-ray Disc)

Quantum of Solace (MGM)

After the successful debut of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, there was much anticipation for this follow-up film. It takes up Royale's story virtually within minutes from the latter's ending and ties up most of the threads left hanging. Unfortunately it does so without the style and at times subtlety of the previous film. Craig does maintain a firm hold on the gritty Bond character he gave us in Casino Royale, but everyone else in the cast seems much diminished. Olga Kurylenko as the requisite Bond woman is one of the weakest yet, a real let-down in comparison with Royale's Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. Even Judi Dench is reduced to shrillness at times rather than the controlled flintiness that made her M so impressive previously. It doesn't help that the story line is needlessly convoluted and too much infused with ridiculously-edited action pieces inappropriate to the style of the best Bond films.

Sony's Blu-ray presentation is pretty much on a par with how Casino Royale looked in its first release. The disc has a fine film-like look with a crisp, nicely detailed look infused with modest grain at times. Colour fidelity is very good. The DTS-HD Master Lossless audio is very impressive in clarity, surround activity, and LFE - its aggressiveness in keeping with the typical generic action picture after which Quantum of Solace seems unfortunately to have styled itself. The supplement package offers a number of interesting featurettes in HD, but the lack of an audio commentary, deleted scenes, etc. almost guarantees a two-disc edition to come.

The Robe (Blu-ray Disc)

The Robe (Fox)

The first CinemaScope film, originally released in 1953, has been given an impressive restoration by the studio. Readers are directed to the Home Theater Forum chat transcript here at The Bits wherein Fox preservationist Shawn Belston elaborates on the restoration's many challenges. The Robe is a long but inspirational tale about the effect on a Roman centurion's life when he (Richard Burton) wins Christ's robe in a gambling game at the foot of a cross. The film is often derided for its staticness, perhaps by those whose attention wanders if not stimulated by some action sequence every few minutes. Others more attuned to the pleasures of thoughtful and measured narrative will find much to savour and inspire, however. Burton's performance is a little wooden at times, but it's more than compensated for by several strong supporting efforts from Jean Simmons and Michael Rennie. Even Victor Mature is a positive (his character would feature in a sequel - Dimitrius and the Gladiators).

The 2.55:1 image is impressive given what Fox had to start with. Colours are very vibrant and realistic. Close-ups look particularly detailed and sharp with some softness evident in more vista-like shots. Appropriate grain is evident while the image appears free of DNR effects. The audio (either 5.1 DTS Master Lossless or 4.0 Dolby Digital) offers decent directionality and is quite clear though dynamically limiting in respect to the fine score by Alfred Newman. The range of supplements is impressive, highlighted by a very informative audio commentary by film composer David Newman and film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. Also of value is the Picture-in-Picture comparison of the film's widescreen and flat versions. Very highly recommended.

Bolt (Blu-ray Disc)

Bolt (Disney)

Here's a clear thumbs up for Disney's latest CGI animation offering, another dog-themed effort in what seems to be a season top-heavy with them. Bolt is a dog who appears on TV as an animal with super powers. It's a world so real to him that he believes he is exactly what appears on the screen. When he accidentally gets shipped to New York, losing contact with the young girl who's both his real-life mistress and TV co-star, he faces an uphill battle to return across the country to the world he knew. Not the least of his problems is the realization that his super powers are non-existent at a time when he could use them the most. John Travolta does a particularly good job voicing Bolt, and he is ably abetted by Miley Cyrus as his mistress and Susie Essman and Mark Walton as Bolt's traveling companions.

The tale is familiar but well written with smart dialogue and interesting situations. All the characters are likable and their various personalities mesh well. The story is perfectly timed at just over 90 minutes in length and the whole experience leaves a good taste in the mouth.

The Blu-ray image is likely generated directly from the original digital files and looks superb, with eye-popping colour and a fine level of detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is very immersive with ample use of the surrounds and some very effective LFE. Supplements include an ample number of short production-related featurettes (most in HD) and some deleted scenes and various storyboard galleries. DVD and digital copies of the film are included in the three-disc set. Recommended.

South Pacific (Blu-ray Disc)

South Pacific (Fox)

As with all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, the delightful South Pacific has had ample airing on DVD to date, with both single and double disc versions having been released. It becomes the first of the pair's musicals to make it to Blu-ray and the results are impressive. Fox delivers a two-disc release that focuses on the 157-minute theatrical version with the 172-minute road show one added as a standard definition supplement - both presented in the 2.2:1 Todd-AO ratio.

The colours on the Blu-ray rendition of the former are strikingly beautiful and lush; the image detail is outstanding; and the colour filter work for which the film is known registers well. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio is very dynamic and provides as good a translation of the film's music as you're likely to hear.

Both film versions are supported by audio commentaries (the one on the road show version by Richard Barrios is the better of the two) and the other supplements from the previous SE DVD, but most impressive is a new and lengthy making-of documentary hosted by Mitzi Gaynor - Passion, Prejudice and South Pacific: Creating An American Masterpiece - that is a model of its kind. Highly recommended.

Well, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.

Barrie Maxwell

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