Blu-ray Disc reviews by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits
The Day the Earth Stood Still: 3-Disc Special Edition
2008 (2009) - 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on April 7th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
One of the most dangerous things you can do in Hollywood is to remake a beloved classic film that's mostly stood the test of time for the last fifty years. Yet that's exactly what's been attempted here with Fox's new The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Keanu Reeves picks up Michael Rennie's suit as Klaatu, an alien who comes to Earth representing many worlds to warn humanity about our impending self-destruction, but quickly runs smack dab into human paranoia and fear. Will he find humanity worth saving, or will Klaatu green light our destruction to protect the other intelligent races of the galaxy?
Is it possible for something to be described as both muted and intense at the same time? That's how I feel about The Day the Earth Stood Still's color palette. While virtually the entire film is draped in blues and grays, the clarity and sharpness of the overall image lifts the visual presentation into another level entirely. The intense oranges and reds of an explosion, or the piercing whites of the spaceship, are enhanced by the level of detail here. Blacks are deep and inky, and no artifacting or artificial enhancement is visible at any time. When it comes to new titles, Fox continues to raise its quality bar. I suspect that even if I were able to view the digital intermediate master, there wouldn't be an appreciable difference between that and this Blu-ray.
The audio is encoded in DTS-HD MA format, in a mix that generates a nicely dimensional and holosonic soundfield at almost all times, whether the scene is set in the middle of a chaotic military mobilization or a quiet forest. This is definitely reference audio to match the disc's reference video, and the track isn't afraid to go subtle when it's not kicking you in the pants via your subwoofer.
Any new movie on Blu-ray should have great extras, and The Day the Earth Stood Still mostly succeeds in covering the ground people want to see. In-movie extras include a Picture-in-Picture track that shows conceptual art, pre-viz footage and other production imagery, that coincides with what's happening on-screen, as well as a storyboard stream. Both of these features are also accessible to those with only profile 1.0 players through the Klaatu's Unseen Artifacts selection. This is one great thing that Fox is doing that the studios others aren't - making sure that all Blu-ray customers can enjoy the complete extras package. Narrative-based supplements include a set of "making of" featurettes. You get Re-imagining The Day (which looks at the conceptual stages of the film), Unleashing GORT (which looks at the effort to make the original "guy in a suit" more threatening to today's audiences), Watching the Skies (which examines SETI and the real search for extraterrestrial life), and The Day the Earth was Green (which covers the production and Fox's general efforts to become carbon neutral for their operations). Of course, what's a modern Blu-ray without a BD-Java game of some sort? Here, you get to Build your own GORT - essentially an interactive factory that lets you match up body pieces to assemble your own robot. Last, but not least, you get several still galleries and the film's theatrical trailer. All of the above is included on the first disc of a "3-Disc Special Edition." Included on Disc Two (available only on the first run of the movie) is a movie-only Blu-ray of the original 1951 film. The stellar transfer on that film is a sight to behold as well. Finally, portable media enthusiasts can enjoy the film anywhere via the Digital Copy version on Disc Three. Ultimately, I wouldn't call the overall quality of the bonus material in this set stellar, as it's a little too EPK-ish for my taste. Still it does the job, and the Green and Skies featurettes in particular are definitely worth watching if you're going to pick and choose.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don't much like reboots of any film or franchise, but this movie leaves me torn. It's different from the original, but contains the same heart at its core. Most of the major set pieces are updated, but the essence remains virtually unchanged. I wouldn't say this was a successful remake, but there's much here to like regardless. As with the original, this movie should make viewers think more about the larger consequences of our actions as a species on this planet - this time about our wholesale destruction of the environment rather than the threat of our weapons of mass destruction. And while Keanu Reeves haters may not be converted by his performance here, it totally works for this film. Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed this film for what it tried to accomplish. And the rocking soundtrack and pristine image quality make this Blu-ray a technical winner.
2010: The Year We Make Contact
1984 (2009) - Warner Home Video
Released on Blu-ray Disc on April 7th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 16
Audio (1-20): 17
For many people, 2001 is one of those classic films like The Wizard of Oz that should never be remade and will never be equaled. Still, when author and sci-fi visionary Arthur C. Clarke decided to pick up his pen and write a sequel novel, everyone knew that a movie adaptation wasn't far away.
Set nine years after David Bowman's disappearance from the doomed spacecraft Discovery, 2010 begins with relations between the United States and the Soviet Union having reached the boiling point. When it's learned that Discovery's orbit around Jupiter's moon Io is decaying, a joint U.S./Soviet space mission is launched to seek answers before the remaining evidence of what happened is lost for good. Naturally, upon arriving in Jupiter's vicinity, the crew of the spaceship Leonov encounters the infamous Monolith (from the original film) themselves, and the stage is set for the next great leap in human evolution.
I have to say this up front: This is the first non-classic Warner title I've seen that doesn't suffer from excessive Digital Noise Reduction. I'm happy to say that this Blu-ray image actually looks like film, as it should, with all the visible softness and grain that's always been inherent to 2010 since its theatrical debut. The model spacecraft here, which appear to have been shot on 70mm, are breathtaking when combined with imagery of Jupiter and its moons. The transfer exhibits exceptional detail and great, hard shadows, just like those you would really find in space. It's a shame that the interiors are softer looking, like footage from many 80's movies due to the stocks used, and don't quite stand up to the space shots. Still, I'm judging the film on its own merits and I'm glad that (for a change!) Warner hasn't degraded the Blu-ray image with excessive post-processing.
In what's hopefully another example of a positive change for Warner Blu-rays, the lossless Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is exceptional, bringing home all the highs and lows of the film's dynamic soundtrack just as they were meant to be heard. Like it's predecessor, sound is very important to 2010 in terms of establishing mood and influencing the viewer's emotional state to create tension or wonder. This mix is so far above the reedy, sloppy Dolby Digital 5.1 track from the 1998 MGM DVD version (later reissued by Warner) that it's simply no contest. Obviously, any movie from that period is still going to be limited by its source material, but I doubt it sounded this good even in the best 70mm 6-track theaters back in 1984.
The only drawback here is that the supplements are the limited batch we got on the DVD, which include a paltry "making-of" featurette and the film's trailer. Sadly missing once more is the 8-page booklet from the MGM release. I always found those to be one of the highlights of their DVD releases, and was really sad when MGM discontinued them. Still, it's something that Warner's ported over all disc-based extras to this Blu-ray - something not every studio is seeing fit to do for their catalog BD releases.
2010 is surely a flawed film, and a product of its time. But while it bugs me to no end that the novel's Tsien subplot (where the Chinese attempt to beat the joint mission to Discovery and meet with disaster) isn't part of the film, this is still a satisfying adaptation for the most part. It certainly isn't anywhere near the level of 2001, but it's still an enjoyable film in its own right. It's also worth nothing that the original DVD release was non-anamorphic so, for those of you considering the Blu-ray upgrade, know that it's without question worth the $13.99 it'll cost you on Amazon.
Spears & Munsil: High Definition Benchmark
2009 - Stacey Spears & Don Munsil
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 10th, 2009
Read more on this title here.
Program Rating: A+
Video (1-20): N/A
Audio (1-20): N/A
As any good home theater enthusiast knows, the proper calibration of your display is the key step in achieving presentation quality that will knock your socks off. If, like most people however, you're reluctant to invest in a professional ISF calibration of your equipment, then a do-it-yourself calibration disc is exactly what you need. For years, Joe Kane's Digital Video Essentials has been the benchmark in this regard. Now, noted video and compression experts Stacey Spears and Don Munsil have created an excellent alternative.
The disc contains video test patterns that have been perfected based upon their extensive experience encoding high-definition footage. They've even gone so far as to align colors along macroblock boundaries to ensure that there's no distortion from compression. Everything on the disc was created using proprietary tools that cover existing ground in a whole new way. The de-interlacing tests are a torture rack that will show you how well your display handles 1080i material. After trying the disc out on multiple displays and Blu-ray players, I've determined that the TV is almost always the better part of the chain. So unless you've got a cheap HD display like a Vizio or a Westinghouse, configuring your player to its "auto" settings is recommended before running these tests.
The most important part of any calibration disc is how easy it is to use, and this is where High Definition Benchmark is absolutely superior to Digital Video Essentials. Every time I calibrate a television with DVE, I have to hunt around to find the patterns I'm looking for, and then usually need to refresh myself with tedious instructional video on how to properly use them. HDB gets right to the meat of this process. Not only do you get a helpful printed book of instructions, each pattern also features helpful pop-ups to explain the key steps of the calibration process. I've certainly never done a calibration faster, and for that alone, this disc is well worth the purchase.
When your calibration process is complete, the disc also features a great montage of HD imagery that's designed to torture test your new settings. You also get the most controversial segment - HD audio samples. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio test trailers are provided, and the HD video montage features audio recorded in both codecs (note that DialNorm is disabled on the TrueHD according to the creators) as well as uncompressed PCM. They all sound identical to the creators' (and to my) ears, but I'm sure die hard adherents to one codec or another will find fault in the opposition mix anyway. At least, for once, there's a great apples to apples to apples comparison to be made here audio-wise.
Of course, it would REALLY be nice if, along with all of the new video patterns, there was at least some basic pink noise for audio calibration here. Unfortunately there isn't, so I don't see this as a complete replacement for DVE in a serious home theater enthusiast's arsenal. Still, what HDB does do it does extremely well. High Definition Benchmark includes the best quality video test patterns I've seen to date, and its help features make it (in my opinion) the default purchase for those new to calibrating their own HD displays.