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Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Disc review by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits

The Host: Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Host: Collector's Edition
2006 (2010) - Magnolia
Released on Blu-ray on July 24th, 2007
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 20
Extras: B-

What would happen if the Loch Ness monster turned up in the Han River in South Korea? Director Bong Joon-Ho answers that question with The Host, one of the finest monster movies of recent memory and, to date, South Korea's biggest box office draw.

While The Host is first and foremost a brilliant re-envisioning of the classic big budget monster movie, there's also a prolific amount of social satire and political commentary baked into the story. Instead of focusing on a plot driven entirely by the monster itself, the plot is instead derived from the monster's effects on the protagonists around it, giving the audience a movie that focuses on its characters more truthfully than any Hollywood film like it could possibly hope to. The story in a nutshell is that the daughter of a kiosk owner's son is taken by the monster into the river nearby and it's up to him and his family to get her back. On another level, you could also see the film as a simple kidnapping tale, but in this instance, the kidnapper is a monster and not a human being. It can also be seen as a commentary on the American military involvement in Korea, and whether or not their presence is a good thing. The point is that there are so many things going in this movie that you can come away with your own personal take on what it's about. Regardless of the subtleties woven into the story, The Host holds up strongly on the basis of its main plot with a straight-forward narrative and wonderful performances from its cast. The recent King Kong remake, Godzilla '98, Cloverfield and Super 8 have all had a go of it, but The Host manages to come up with more than its genre's kith and kin.

For a director with such immense ambition story-wise, Bong Joon-Ho also exceeded stylistically and created a beautiful-looking and sounding film. This Blu-ray shows off the fine detail immensely, with the video presentation being significantly high. The film looks just phenomenal in nearly every category. A fine and pleasant layer of film grain is evident throughout with some of the more darkly lit scenes showing the depth of it. There seems to be some over-exposure in some scenes, but I think this was a stylistic choice and not a mastering flaw. Colors are mostly washed out, contrast is a bit higher than normal and there are also hints of edge enhancement. I'm not sure exactly how much but it's worth mentioning. Overall, it's a very crisp-looking presentation that does the film a lot of justice. When it comes to the soundtrack there are a variety of options to choose from: Korean & English 5.1 PCM Lossless, Korean & English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and Korean & English Dolby Digital 5.1 (6 in all). Obviously the Lossless tracks are the best of the bunch with the DTS-HD tracks following a close second. Both sets of tracks certainly put out a nice heavy amount of decibels to give the old home theatre set-up a good work out. There's also a nice amount of LFE moments sprinkled in for great effect here and there. The original Korean tracks are my favorite of the bunch being that the performances are better, but there should be enough options here to please pretty much everybody. Subtitle options include English SDH, English and Spanish.

In the extras department, there's a fine amount of material to cover but a lot of the extras from the 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD didn't carry over. On the Blu-ray, you get an audio commentary from Director Boon-Joon Ho (albeit moderated), the Making of The Host documentary which is divided up into four parts: Making of The Host with Director Bong Joon-Ho, Storyboards, Memories of the Sewer and Physical Special Effects, The Creature, which another set of four videos: Designing the Creature, Animating the Creature, Puppet Animatronix and Bringing the Creature to Life, The Cast section: The Family: Main Cast Interviews and Training the Actors, a gag reel, deleted scenes and the original Korean theatrical trailer. Rounding things out are trailers for other Magnolia titles. What's not been in included from the 2-Disc Collector's Edition is the following material: Bong Joon-Ho's Direction, Set Design, Sound Effects, Composing the Music, Conceptual Artwork: The Birth, Building the Creature: The WETA Workshop, Why Did It Do That?, The Crew, The Staff, The Production Team, Film Production in Korea, Casting Tapes, The Extras Behind the Scenes, Monster Appeal, Additional Cast Interviews, Extras Casting Tapes and Saying Goodbye. All of these various featurettes and extras seem to have been squeezed out of the Blu-ray release to make a single disc of material, as well as to include the lossless audio tracks. If that's the case, I feel like it was a poor decision on both the Blu-ray production and distribution teams' parts not to have included a second disc of extras. It wouldn't have been that big a deal, especially if they were included on a DVD instead of an extra Blu-ray disc. So if you own the Collector's Edition DVD, hang on to it for the missing extras if you want everything.

In closing, I would highly recommend The Host to anyone looking for something both entertaining and refreshing in a mostly stale genre. If King Kong popularized the monster movie genre then I would have to say that The Host perfects it. It also seems like a movie that'll be forgotten in the years to come by the general public (if it hasn't already). That should be reason enough to go out and pick up a copy. The Blu-ray is definitely the way to go for image and sound quality, but the extras could certainly use a good beefing up in any future releases.

Tim Salmons
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