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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Complete Season One

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars - The Complete Season One
2009 (2009) - Lucasfilm/Cartoon Network (Warner Bros.)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 3rd, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby Digital

Program Rating: B
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 10
Extras: B

You know... this is a show I didn't expect to like. I watched Warner's original Clone Wars Blu-ray (essentially the pilot film for this series) when it was released last year, but I found its animation style and obvious effort to appeal to younger audience members a bit off-putting.

And the fundamental problem with this series, at least from a dramatic standpoint, is that anyone who's seen Episodes III, IV, V and VI already knows the fate of most of these characters. The continuing adventures of Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano are mildly entertaining to be sure but, without going into details for those rare few of you who might NOT have seen the films, theirs is a pretty bleak future. Still, given the obvious creative effort that's gone into producing this series - and the accolades it's earned from critics - I resolved to give it a fair shake when it finally arrived on Blu-ray. And I'm glad I did. The ham-handed dialogue still drives me a bit crazy, but the animation has grown on me a lot. More importantly, the overall stories and situations presented in these 22 episodes are, in most cases, more interesting than the prequel films themselves. Yeah, I know... that's not hard to imagine. But still.

The visual quality of Warner's Blu-ray set is absolutely stunning. The video looks as good as any CG animation you'll see in high-def. Contrast and detail are excellent, and the colors are terrifically vibrant. The episodes are also presented in a scope aspect ratio that matches the feature films - this is wider than the 1.78 ratio they're shown in on Cartoon Network HD. This is absolute Blu-ray eye candy. Unlike the pilot film however (which included a Dolby TrueHD mix), the audio here is presented in 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 only. Still, don't let that put you off too much. The mix quality is quite good for a lossy track. The soundfield is smooth and natural, with lively surrounds and good bass. And the fact that there's no lossless track gives Warner the room to really max out the video data rates, so (for me at least) it's an acceptable trade-off.

The set includes a very nice batch of extras for a TV series release. First of all, several of the episodes are presented in slightly longer "director's cut" versions. Each episode also has its own short, HD featurette that looks at the story and/or various aspects of its production. These include lots of behind-the-scenes footage, as well as director and artist interviews. What's particularly cool is that you also get to see footage from the live-action feature films in HD - a nice tease of their own (hopefully) forthcoming Blu-ray release. Each of the featurettes is also available in BD-Java "enhanced" versions, which allow you to branch out to interactive galleries packed with 2D and 3D conceptual artwork, previz animation and more. This enhanced material is also available by navigating the Jedi Temple Archives section. The disc-based content is rounded out by a preview of Season Two (now showing on Cartoon Network), a trailer for the Republic Heroes video game, and a Star promo. All of the video-based content is in full HD. The discs come packed in a very slick looking and embossed book-style hardcase, and there's an actual 68-page book bound inside that features TONS of additional sketches, artwork and notes. All together, it's a gorgeous package.

To be fair, I should note that I had trouble getting Discs Two and Three of this set to work in the Oppo BD player. For some reason, while the selection menu interface popped up just fine on Disc One, it failed to appear entirely on the other two discs. But all three discs worked just fine on my Panasonic BD55. Oppo reports that their test copy's discs all work fine for them, so I'm starting to suspect that there might be select copies out there that are at least partly defective and won't work in all players. If you have any troubles with this set, drop me an e-mail and let me know.

If you're a die-hard Star Wars fan - even after the prequels (or perhaps BECAUSE of them), then you probably already love The Clone Wars. But even if you're a lapsed original trilogy fan, I suspect that you'd enjoy this series a lot more than you might expect. It's clever, imaginative and surprisingly entertaining - in short, everything the prequel films were not. It's also a lot of fun in high-definition, so if you're interested, Blu-ray is definitely the way to best experience it.

Bill Hunt, Editor

Galaxy Quest

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Galaxy Quest
1999 (2009) - DreamWorks (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 17th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: B+

As you may know, Galaxy Quest is a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Star Trek - not just Trek's fictional world, but the show's cast and fans as well. It's also one of the most affectionate and clever send-ups you'll ever see. The humor is completely good-natured, so if you're a Trekkie, you'll love this. It's also wonderfully universal, so you're likely to enjoy it whether you're Trek-savvy or not. Galaxy Quest is just damn funny.

Tim Allen plays Jason Nesmith, a washed up (and full of himself) actor who played Commander Peter Quincy Taggart (think William Shatner/Captain Kirk) on a 20-year-old TV show called Galaxy Quest. He and his fellow cast members make their living now on the Sci-fi convention circuit, doing public appearances and signing autographs for their slightly-over-enthusiastic fans (think Trekkies). But just when things are getting depressing for these typecast actors, a group of fans approaches Nesmith with a job offer. But here's the twist - these particular "fans" are really aliens (Thermians to be exact), whose race is being wiped out by the evil villain Sarris. As it turns out, the Thermians have been watching re-runs of Galaxy Quest for years. They assume the show is really a "historical document", and they've based their entire culture (and their last hope) on its example. So in their darkest hour, naturally they turn to the great Captain Taggart and his crew for help.

What ensues is a classic fish-out-of-water tale, with an extremely funny twist. The script is very well written, loaded with funny gags and some hilarious dialogue - there are tons of throw-away lines here that will have you rolling. And for those familiar with Star Trek and other sci-fi shows, there are plenty of in-jokes. One of the actors (played by Sam Rockwell) was just an extra who was killed in the first five minutes of episode 81 on the Galaxy Quest TV show. So naturally, he's afraid he's going to die at any moment. When the crew lands on a strange planet, and Tony Shalhoub's character opens the door, another reacts: "Hey, don't open that - it's an alien planet!! Is there air?! You don't know!!" And when Weaver and Allen find themselves crawling through air shafts at one point, Weaver's character comments dryly, "Ducts... why does there always have to be ducts" - a wry nod to her earlier work in the Alien films.

But without great performances, Galaxy Quest just wouldn't work, and the cast definitely rises to the occasion. Allen is simply perfect as the show's Captain - his performance is at times appropriately Buzz Lightyear-ish. Alan Rickman is hilarious as a former British stage actor, who got pigeon-holed as the slightly-alien, super-intelligent character on the show (his droll attitude recalls the words: "I am not Spock!"). Weaver is equally good as the show's busty-blonde T&A, who simply repeated everything the computer said. Daryl Mitchell is the boy-genius who flew the ship (think Wesley Crusher), and who's now all grown up. And Shalhoub steals the show with some of the film's best lines as the Scotty-type chief engineer character, while Just Shoot Me's Enrico Colantoni steals it right back as the geek-boy leader of the Thermians.

On Paramount's new Blu-ray, Galaxy Quest arrives with a very nice high-definition presentation. Colors are a little muted as a result of the film's production design, but they're fully accurate to the theatrical experience. Contrast is satisfying, there's a good level of fine image detail and a very soft grain texture is just visible, rendering a nicely film-like image. The film's audio is presented in a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that matches the visuals well. Dialogue and music are clearly presented, and the dynamic range is quite nice. The surround play is a little more directional that more recent mixes, but the rear channels are lively and the overall audio experience is excellent.

The Blu-ray includes most everything of importance that was on the original DVD (including the deleted scenes, the trailer - now in HD - and the Thermian language track). Missing is the EPK-style featurette and a few left-over actor interview clips. More importantly, the Blu-ray includes EVERYTHING that was on the recent Deluxe Edition DVD, including all of the new documentary featurettes and a new, Blu-ray exclusive Galactopedia fact track. The disc's content isn't going to outshine the most elaborate, state-on-the-art BD special editions obviously, but for this film, it's pretty much everything you'd want.

Galaxy Quest is an oft overlooked comedy gem. Here at The Bits, we're all big fans of this movie, as you'd expect. But even our wives/significant others dig this one... and that should say something! I'm STILL hoping DreamWorks does a sequel someday. In any case, Galaxy Quest on Blu-ray is a hoot - fire-all-phasers good fun. And it's highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor
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