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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt (with Todd Doogan) & Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Blood: The Last Vampire

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Blood: The Last Vampire
2000 (2009) - Manga (Starz/Anchor Bay)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 24th, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20 - telecine/digital): 18/19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: B

[The film portion of this review is by Todd Doogan.]

Like so many wickedly cool anime films, we can hardly tell you exactly what the hell's going on story-wise with Blood: The Last Vampire. We gather that the cantankerous and no-nonsense Saya, who appears to be an everyday Japanese schoolgirl, is really the last "original" living in the world (we can assume that to mean she's an original vampire now that there's a fleshed-out live-action movie version, anime series on [adult swim] and manga from Viz). But story really isn't the point of this iteration of Blood. The real point is to be awesome. And in that regard, it's quite successful.

What we know: Saya the Original has been contracted by the American government to hunt down bloodthirsty demons/vampires/spawns of Satan on a U.S. Air Force base in Japan, and kill them with a high quality samurai sword that may - or may not - be specially made for the job. (Considering that she uses a shovel to attack a monster later in the film - commenting that these creatures "have to lose a lot of blood in one strike or they won't die," - it would seem that the sword isn't necessary, but it does the one strike job most of the time.) Saya's latest mission is reentering high school so she can flush out a recently discovered demon there. But when she arrives, she learns that these "demons" are getting even more powerful than the government guessed - and there may actually be more than one on the base. What follows is an epic battle that will leave you scratching your head, while your mouth hangs wide open at the eyeball-popping animation.

Blood: The Last Vampire is awfully cool eye candy. It's also awfully vague and awfully short. The run time is a measly 48 minutes and 15 seconds. But there's enough here for a full-length film; or maybe it's better to say, there's enough missing here (proven by the fact that there's a live action film version that soooo misses the mark with the stuff it fills in. But that is a review for another day). The brevity doesn't take away from your enjoyment, however. It's actually safe to say that this anime is so good in this abbreviated state that we were upset there wasn't more of it to gravitate to. Is that a sign of success or failure? It certainly makes for repeated viewings and a good anime to recommend.

A good reason for the "wow factor" in Blood has to be the fact that Blood was conceived by Mamoru Oshii, the man who gave us Ghost in the Shell... though it doesn't appear that he had anything to do with the overall project creatively other than putting together a wonderful team of traditional animators and computer technicians. The packaging proclaims Blood to be "a breakthrough in digital filmmaking," but it's not really - at least not in this day and age. Still, this is definitely state-of-the-art stuff. There are shots in this film that are so photo-real you'll jump back to see the image again looking for faults. And the character animation, although poorly-synched, features some of the coolest looking characters I've seen in anime. Saya herself is pretty badass and the demon creatures will send a nice willie down your spine.

Manga and Anchor Bay's new Blu-ray release offers the film in two 1080p high-definition versions - a normal film telecine and also an "all-digital" version mastered directly from the original digital animation files. Both look very good, but it's the digital version that really shines. The film version offers good color, contrast and fine detail, with a slightly softer look. The digital version offers slight improvements in color (a bit more vibrant) and contrast (somewhat deeper blacks), but a significant increase in fine detail. The image is just tighter and more refined looking. Either way, both do justice to the imagery itself. The audio is also outstanding, presented in English (technically mixed English and Japanese, per the original Japanese presentation) DTS-HD 5.1 lossless. Overall clarity and imaging are excellent, with highly active surround play. Panning is smooth and natural, and there's substantial bass reinforcement in the LFE. English subs are included where necessary.

In terms of extra, the good news is that everything from the previous DVD release carries over, including the film's trailer and a decent Japanese documentary about the making of the film (both in SD). A lot of work and pride went into this film, and you get see exactly what was involved in the process. The best "extra" if you want to call it that, is obviously the second, all-digital version of the film. Yes, the extras are light, but then you don't really need more than this either.

Blood: The Last Vampire isn't a breakthrough, but it sure is cool. Every animation fan should pop this sucker into their player. The film has never looked and sounded better than it does on Blu-ray, and the cheap price makes it worth a look even given the brief run time. Blood will suck you dry and you'll love every moment... as short as those moments may be.

Bill Hunt and Todd Doogan

Inglorious Basterds: 2-Disc Special Edition

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Inglorious Basterds: 2-Disc Special Edition
2009 (2009) - Weinstein Co./A Band Apart (Universal)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on December 15th, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: B+
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C+

Inglorious Basterds was apparently been germinating in the mind of director Quentin Tarantino for nearly a decade before its production. (Note that the film shares only the name of the original 1978 Italian film.) Now finally brought to the big screen, Basterds is the WWII-entrenched story of an elite squad of Jewish soldiers dropped behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on German morale.

At least that's what the trailer tells us. In reality, Basterds is actually the tale of a Jewish woman who escaped the murder of her family as a girl (while they were in hiding) by the Nazis, and her one chance to truly avenge them. It also delivers a series of delicious 'battles-of-wits' between a Nazi SS officer (played with great relish by Christoph Waltz) and just about everyone else in the film. So despite the film's seeming bait-and-switch story, I'll be darned if it isn't pretty damn good.

No one who's seen Tarantino's previous films would question his love of 70s cinema, and Basterds visually captures that period aesthetic perfectly. Almost all of the colors in the film (and Universal's new Blu-ray) are slightly de-saturated, with lush forest greens and bloody reds being notable exceptions. The opening of the film is really a study in contrasts, as it moves from the bright, colorful fields of a French dairy farm into the farm's small house, which is mostly lit through the windows. The scene - in which the SS officer attempt to get the farmer in question to reveal that he's hiding the aforementioned family in his cellar - is a joy to behold. As their conversation plays out, the camera pans down to reveal the frightened eyes of the family through cracks in the floorboards. It's this kind of scene that tremendous visual contrasts and textures of Blu-ray are really made for. Sharp-eyed viewers might think they see some evidence of noise reduction and other manipulation in the image, but fear not - everything you see on screen matches the look and feel of the theatrical run, and nothing's out of place.

If there's another thing Quentin Tarantino has always understood well, it's the importance of a film's sound design. Almost every scene here has a multi-layered ambient sound mix that puts you right in the middle of the scene. On disc, it's all those little intangible things - the little sonic nuances that lossy codecs usually throw out - that turn a good 5.1 mix into greatness, and Basterds' lossless DTS-HD presentation has them in spades.

Unfortunately, Basterds on Blu-ray doesn't have as robust an extras package as most people would like. There's no PiP track and no commentary, but maybe that's just as well. What you DO get is a little more avant-garde than normal. The best of the lost is video of actors Brad Pitt and Elvis Mitchell sitting down with Tarantino for half an hour to talk about how they put the movie together. You also get the "movie within the movie" - the fictional Nazi propaganda film, Nation's Pride. It's included in its 6-minute entirety, though oddly it's not in full HD. I say oddly, because there's a featurette on the making of Nation's Pride that IS in full HD and includes HD footage from the film. In any case, Pride is incredibly tongue-in-cheek - classic exploitation cheese - and is well worth watching. The making of piece is also fun, in that the actors appear in-character, as they taut Pride as "Goebbels' propaganda masterpiece!" Two more featurettes (Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel and Hi Sally's) are also entertaining and unusual. The former centers of Tarantino's clapper girl, and the second video is a nods to Tarantino's longtime editor. Also included are two pieces with actor Rod Taylor, the first about playing Churchill here and the second about his director's battle for beer, and a look at the original 1978 film and its director (Enzo G. Castellari, who gave Tarantino permission to reuse the title and also has a cameo here). Finally, BD-Java interactivity takes the form of a trivia game, and you also a Digital Copy disc, PocketBlu enhancement for iPhones (and other smart phones) and access to Universal's BD-Live portal.

Inglorious Basterds was just the jolt this summer needed after a series of loud and brainless action flicks. It delivers a dash of twisted humor, an entertaining and unique alternate history story, and some incredible performances from the likes of Waltz, Mélanie Laurent and Brad Pitt (I just wish there was more of him). I'm not a fan of Tarantino's other non-Kill Bill work, but Basterds just succeeds in spades because he puts substance over style. Basterds on Blu-ray is an accurate representation of the theatrical experience, with some fun (if slim) extras and it's well worth a look.

Jeff Kleist
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