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

The Wonder of It All

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The Wonder of It All
2007 (2009) - Indican Pictures
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 15th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby Digital

Program Rating: A
Video (1-20): 16.5
Audio (1-20): 16.5
Extras: B

With the recent 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, there have been any number of documentaries and TV specials to mark the occasion, including a few very good DVD and Blu-ray releases. One of the more interesting of the lot is Jeffrey Roth's The Wonder of It All, released on both DVD and Blu-ray by Indican Pictures.

Whereas most of the other films focus on the actual flight, documenting the mission minute by minute, and the impact of Apollo on the world, The Wonder of It All takes a more narrow and personal approach. This film isn't about the moonwalk or even spaceflight itself. It's about the astronauts themselves (including Buzz Aldrin, Al Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt and John Young) - who they were, what they experienced and how they reacted to it, and who they later became. As such, it's an absolutely fascinating look at a group of human beings who were fortunate and driven enough to find themselves at a unique place during a singular moment of human history.

When these men first were chosen by NASA to become astronauts, they were all - as mostly test pilots and engineers - perfectly prepared to face the physical, mental and technical challenges of flying to the Moon. But they were almost as perfectly unequipped to deal with the emotional impact of the flight, and the questions they would face from their fellow humans upon their return. As test pilots, they dealt with the dangers they faces by simply shutting down their emotions. So it's only been in the decades since that they've each had to reflect back on what they achieved and experienced, and try to come to terms with it. That's what makes this film unique. I simply don't think it would have been possible to make a film like this until now.

On Blu-ray, the film is presented in a 1.78 aspect ratio, in quality that varies based on the source (sometimes it's native HD video, sometimes it's historical film, sometimes old photographs, etc). There also isn't as much dazzling outer space eye-candy here as in some other documentaries on the subject. But the overall quality is good - certainly as good as it needs to be. Audio is also presented in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, and again the mix is just fine. This isn't going to challenge the limits of your A/V system, but it's every bit as good looking and sounding as it needs to be.

Extras on both the DVD version and this Blu-ray include a Miles O'Brien interview with Aldrin, audio commentary by the Roth with Young and Duke, a second commentary by Mitchell with producer Paul Basta, a third commentary by Roth and Basta, a presentation by Young at the world premiere of the film, an outtake reel and trailers. The Blu-ray also adds an interview featurette with several current and former NASA employees about Apollo and the planned return to the moon, a look behind-the-scenes at the Kennedy Space Center, an interview with Martha Chaffee (wife of the late Apollo 1 astronaut, Roger Chaffee) and an introduction to the film at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library by the 41st President himself.

As you listen to these seven Apollo astronauts talking about their lives in the wake of having walked on the Moon, you get the sense that it's been a real struggle to comprehend the enormity of the event, and each has done so in their own unique way. But to a man they believe that the flights were important to this country and the future of humanity as a whole. In that, I think, they are truly ahead of the rest of us. As Young notes in the film, humans explore in order to survive - whether it's medicine, or the unknown over the horizon or even the moon. He's absolutely right. One can only hope the rest of us catch up sooner rather than later. Recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor

Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection

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Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection
1989-2008 (2009) - Aardman (Lionsgate)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 22nd, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby DigitalDolby Digital

Film Ratings (all 4): A+
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: B+

Animator Nick Park's eccentric clay creations, Wallace and Gromit, have entertained audiences for more than 20 years now, in short films and even full-length features. Now, Lionsgate has finally collected most of these classic adventures together on Blu-ray, where I'm pleased to say that they look and sound better than ever.

This new Blu-ray collection includes all four of Park's beloved shorts with Wallace and Gromit, including A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and the new A Matter of Loaf and Death. All are presented in full 1080p resolution, in the varying aspect ratios of their original production (the first two are 1.33, the third 1.66 and the newest is 1.78). All look terrific, with good color, contrast and detail, through the older shorts do reveal modest grain and other occasional print artifacts. Unless you've seen original theatrical projections of these films, you've never seen them looking better. Audio is available in PCM 5.1, as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, and the mix quality of each is well matched to the visuals.

One of the most satisfying thing about this Blu-ray release, is that it includes a TON of great extras. Each short includes audio commentary with Park. You get all 10 of the Cracking Contraptions shorts, the Off the Baa! bonus episode of Shaun the Sheep, a scrapbook of photos and contraption blueprints, a videogame demo short, and "making of" featurettes for each of the short films, including Amazing Adventures of Wallace & Gromit, Inside The Wrong Trousers, How It Was Done and How They Donut: The Making of A Matter of Loaf and Death.

One quick note: If you have either of the previous DVD versions, you MAY still wish to hang on to them in order to retain ALL the available extras. The original DreamWorks DVD release includes one bonus item not available here - a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the Cracking Contraptions shorts. And the previous Warner BBC DVD release includes storyboards, additional behind-the-scenes featurettes and some of Park's early shorts, also not available here.

That small issue aside, this is a first-rate Blu-ray collection of these delightful shorts. This is a great gift for the whole family. Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection on Blu-ray is very highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor
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