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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - September, 2011

ARTICLE INDEX

"Conan the Barbarian/Conan the Destroyer" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Tyler Stripko

movie-september-2011-conan-barbarian

Synopsis

In Conan the Barbarian, the young Conan is taken prisoner by the forces of Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) and forced into a life of slave labor.  Surviving the “Wheel of Pain,” Conan grows into a truly impressive specimen (now played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is thrown into gladiatorial combat by his masters.  After a string of victories, Conan is set free and goes off in search of revenge for the death of his family.  In his travels, Conan meets up with the thieves Subotai (Gerry Lopez) and Valeria (Sandahl Bergman) who then head off to kill Thulsa Doom and end of the influence of the snake cult that is taking over the world.

Conan the Destroyer opens with Conan still living the life of a thief.  He is recruited by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas) to escort her niece, Princess Jehnna (Olivia D’Abo), in a quest to find the Horn of Dagoth.  In payment for his services, Queen Taramis promises to resurrect Valeria, the woman Conan once loved but was killed by Thulsa Doom.  With the help of Jehnna’s bodyguard Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), the wizard Akiro (Mako), the thief Malak (Tracey Walter) and Zula (Grace Jones), Conan heads off in search of the mystic treasure that will prove to be far more deadly than any ordinary trinket.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 1982/1984, Color, Rated R/PG, 2 Hr 9 min/1 Hr 42 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gaviola, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Grace Jones, Wilt Chamberlain, Tracey Walter, Olivia D'Abo, and Sarah Douglas
  • Directed by John Milius/Richard Fleischer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: No

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Commentary

While Arnold Schwarzenegger had already compiled an impressive run of body-building championships and some small movie roles, Conan the Barbarian turned him into a household name.  While his acting capabilities were still pretty weak, his massive physical presence was simply perfect for the role of Conan.  While the plot of Conan the Barbarian is not exactly Oscar-worthy, the movie rolls along quickly and the action is superb.  Sets and costumes are very realistic and the soundtrack is simply wonderful.  Watching this film with a more critical eye, I did notice some pretty abrupt cuts from scene to scene, which almost made the movie feel a bit disjointed at times.  Fortunately, this doesn’t impact the overall feel of the movie, which is still a whole lot of fun.

Conan the Destroyerwas made shortly after “Barbarian” to cash in on the immense success of the first film.  However, I wish that they could have brought back Subutai from the first film as the terribly annoying Malak character was just a poor excuse for a companion.   On the plus side, Schwarzenegger’s swordplay was significantly more polished in “Destroyer.”  I always thought his moves in “Barbarian” were way too sluggish to prove effective in real combat and hurt the authenticity of the action sequences.  The lack of a strong central villain also hurts “Destroyer.”  Not surprisingly, I think “Barbarian” is the better film.  “Barbarian” just feels a bit better fleshed out to me, with better acting (or should we say minimal acting) and a tighter plot.

Technical

Conan the Barbarian was released in 1982 and the film is certainly showing its age.  Film grain is significant and actually hurts sharpness in my opinion.  Look at some of the blue skies in the film and you’ll see what I mean.  There is also noticeable dust, dirt, and scratches in the print, but they aren’t too distracting and lend a bit of nostalgia to the viewing experience.  Black levels and shadow detail are all over the map, with many of the darker scenes making due with a washed out grey instead of black background.  Colors are decent, if a wee bit washed out.  However, this is definitely the best that “Barbarian” has ever looked and I applaud Universal for not trying to digitally reduce picture noise (DNR) or apply any noticeable edge enhancement to the film.  Without a major effort restoring the source, this is probably the best we’ll ever see “Barbarian” look.   “Destroyer” is a noticeable step up in overall picture quality.  Colors are more vibrant, black levels are deeper and more stable, and overall sharpness is improved over “Barbarian.”  Film grain is still present, but is not as “in your face” as it is on “Barbarian.”  Again, it doesn’t look like any additional processing was applied to the source, which keeps everything looking nice and natural.  Overall picture ratings of 3.5 for “Barbarian” and a 4.0 for “Destroyer.”

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on “Barbarian” is surprisingly good for something created from an original mono source.  There isn’t much action in the surround or LFE channels, but the front soundstage is solid.  The excellent musical score sounded better than I’ve ever heard it before and dialogue is easy to understand.   Days after viewing the film, I found myself humming a few of the key musical themes at random times throughout the day – that’s how good the score is.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on “Destroyer” did not sound as good to my ears.  Basically, the entire soundtrack just seemed a bit flat in comparison.  The music and sound effects lacked punch and there was almost no use of the surround or LFE channels.  Overall, the sound was a bit thin and harsh to my ears and lacked the richness of the “Barbarian” soundtrack.  Overall audio ratings of 4.0 for “Barbarian” and 3.0 for “Destroyer.”

Extras

Conan the Barbarian has a pretty good batch of bonus features including deleted scenes, “Conan Unchained” – a making of featurette, some information on the special effects used in the film, some archive shots/footage from the film, and a feature commentary.  The disc is also D-Box motion enabled.  “Conan the Destroyer” has little to offer in the bonus category, just the original theatrical trailer and D-Box motion enabling.  I’ll give “Barbarian” a 3 and “Destroyer” a 0.5 for bonus content.


"Hanna" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-september-2011-hanna

Synopsis

Hanna, a young girl now just 16 years of age, was raised in a remote forest cabin by her father Erik and trained to be a self-sufficient hunter and killer. Finally the time has come and her father feels she is ready to face the world and the truths it may hold. He gives her the option to stay with him or flip a switch on a location device, alerting the CIA of their location.  Hanna decides she is indeed ready and it is time.  Shortly after flipping the switch, her father leaves on his own and Hanna is left only to be greeted by a helicopter and a swarm of armed soldiers who take her captive.  CIA Agent Marissa Wiegler has been hunting down Erik and his daughter for the last 15 years since her attempt at killing them failed, resulting in only the death of Hanna’s mother.  That has left quite a large chip on Hanna’s shoulder and she intends to get vengeance for her mother’s death.


Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
  • Directed by Joe Wright
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I felt Hanna had a decent amount of buzz when it arrived in theaters and I was looking forward to checking it out.  I was not sure what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed what Hanna is.  It is definitely not your average “I am a trained assassin killer movie”, nor is it a pretentious art piece that leaves you wondering what the heck you just watched.  Hanna fits nicely among other great movies such as Salt and The Bourne series as a story about an exceptionally trained rogue killer.  The movie is very dynamic, ranging from the quiet stillness of a snowy forest, to an intensely loud chase scene through an underground facility. The score by The Chemical Brothers is very good and fits perfectly into the world of Hanna. Highly recommended.

Technical

Picture quality is consistent and very good.  Hanna is not a boring looking film, as Joe Wright pays careful attention to every shot in the movie. It has a unique look and the Blu-ray captures the details effortlessly.

The sound mix for Hanna is intense. With a great score by The Chemical Brothers, the soundtrack is powerful and well mixed with plenty of room shaking bass.  This movie had some of the lowest frequencies I have heard in awhile. A great test disc if you just got a new subwoofer.

Extras

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending, a couple short featurettes including one about the films soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers which was pretty good, and Audio Commentary.


"Dexter Season 5" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Season 5 of Dexter picks up right where Season 4 left off with the murder of Dexter’s wife Rita.  Dealing with tremendous guilt at his mis-handling of the Trinity killer, Dexter is suddenly a single father with a new son and Rita’s two kids to raise.  His need to kill quickly takes over though as he seeks out a new victim.  Unfortunately, a mysterious woman appears at the scene of his latest murder and catches him in the act.  Dexter must keep her under wraps while he figures out the situation.  It turns out she was the captive of a group of serial rapists and is solely bent on revenge for the crimes committed against her and 12 other women.  The police latch on to the case as well and Dexter has his hands full staying one step ahead of his colleagues in Miami Metro as he helps Lumen (Julia Stiles) eliminate her attackers one-by-one.

Specifications

  • Showtime
  • 2010, Color, Not Rated, 10 Hr 18 min (12 Episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English, Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Starring: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Desmond Harrington, C.S. Lee, Lauren Velez, David Zayas, James Remar
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I always look forward to the release of the latest season of Dexter each summer.  I don’t subscribe to Showtime so I have to wait for the discs.  I usually manage to knock the whole season out in a week, it’s that addictive.  Each season so far has been brilliant and engaging and Season 5 is every bit as good as its predecessors.  As always, Michael C. Hall’s performance is superlative.  Even though his supporting cast is excellent, he still steals the show with his amazing projection of mood and intent.  There are few finer actors working today, in my opinion.  The storyline is unique as well with a perfect balance of suspense, action and comedy.  Even though this is adult fare, the sex and violence are used sparingly.  It’s not nearly as over-the-top as True Blood for example.  Still, you’ll want to watch after the kids are in bed.

Technical

Image quality has taken a turn for the better with a more natural color palette than previous seasons.  Dark material has lost the graininess I was accustomed too with deep rich blacks and excellent shadow detail.  Contrast is never over-blown and detail is among the best TV has to offer.  If I were to compare Dexter only to other TV shows, it would rate five stars for video.

The lossless TrueHD soundtrack is finely detailed with an ideal dynamic range for watching in the living room.  Dialog is always clear and properly balanced with ambient sounds and music.  The sub and surrounds are used sparingly but there isn’t much material that demands killer sound the way, say, a super-hero flick might.  The score, once again penned by Daniel Licht, retains the upbeat Latin flavor that fits the scenery and the characters so well.

Extras

Bonus features include interviews with all principal actors including Julia Stiles who makes a season-long guest appearance as Lumen Pierce, Dexter’s mysterious sidekick.  Also included are preview episodes for other Showtime series’.


"Good Will Hunting" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) twenty year old living in the same part of Boston that he grew up in who spends his time hangout out with his friends, picking fights, and often finding trouble with the law.  During his job as a janitor at MIT he also enjoys solving complex linear algebra equations since he is also a natural, self-educated genius.

After getting into trouble yet again, he’s offered a deal by an MIT professor: Work with him to cultivate his obvious mental gifts and see a therapist and he can avoid jail.  After running off a wide variety of therapists, he is sent to meet with Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) who comes from the same background as Will and might have a better chance to connect with him and help him discover what he can make of his life.

Specifications

  • Lionsgate
  • 1998, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 6 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver
  • Directed by Gus Van Sant
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

Good Will Hunting was released during a great year for films (Titanic, LA Confidential, Boogie Nights, The Sweet Hereafter) but it managed to stand out above many of those others, picking up Oscars for Robin Williams, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck.  Thankfully after all these years the film has held up remarkably well.  While a couple bits could be seen as a bit cheesy to some, the greatness of the rest of the picture makes them feel natural and like part of the film instead of pulling you out of it.  A wonderful film then, and wonderful now, I’m happy to have Good Will Hunting on Blu-ray finally.

Technical

Looking at the transfer for Good Will Hunting, the Blu-ray brings out everything that was on the film.  There’s a very fine layer of grain over the whole image, more than you might see but perhaps indicative of the budget for the film, or shooting with more natural and low light than other films.  Beyond that grain there is a fantastic level of detail present.  A close up of Robin Williams shows all the hairs of his bears, as well as the fine texture of his sweater in the scene.  In a couple of scenes you can see that the image is just slightly out of focus as well, which is a testament to how much detail the Blu-ray is revealing.  A very natural, detailed, film-like image that is far better than I expected.

The soundtrack comes across very nicely as well.  While very dialogue driven, surrounds are utilized well, especially for the wonderful soundtrack that features a collection of touching, heartbreaking songs from Elliott Smith.  When Will makes a phone call in a rainstorm, the surrounds do a good job of putting you inside the phone booth with the sound of rain surrounding you.  Overall Good Will Hunting looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray.

Extras

Extras include the commentary track that was on the DVD version (a fantastic listen, as it always reminds me just how smart Matt Damon and Ben Affleck really are), Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, a music video and the original trailer.  Also included is a DVD with a digital copy for your portable device.


"Scarface" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

In 1980, Fidel Castro released 125,000 refugees to Florida.  Among them were 25,000 criminals, “the dregs of his jails.”  The Immigration Service housed them in several tent cities around Miami and it’s here that we find Tony Montana (Pacino).  He and his friend Manolo (Bauer) are hired to kill a former Communist by a local drug lord and his climb up the ladder of crime begins.  The jobs become more intense and better-paying and soon, Tony is one of the top men in the organization.  His greed begins to control him as he wants more and more and eventually he begins to make deals on his own.  When his boss tries to have him killed, Tony turns the tables, kills him, and takes over the business.  Soon he has an empire and more money than he knows what to do with.

The downward spiral begins as Tony begins to “get high on his own supply” and his grip on reality loosens.  After an assassination attempt on a Bolivian politician fails, he finds himself at war with that country’s biggest drug kingpin.  Tony manages to destroy everything he touches, his friend Manny, his sister, and all his closest associates.  His misdeeds finally catch up with him as he pays the ultimate price for his greed and corruption.


Specifications

  • Universal
  • 1983, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 50 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC-1
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer
  • Directed by Brian de Palma
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Extreme
  • Sex: Nudity
  • Language: Extreme

Commentary

This is without a doubt one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen.  It’s not an action movie by any stretch and I’ve seen more blood and gore in other titles.  No, it’s more the intensity and reality of the emotion behind the bloodshed that makes Scarface what it is.  Everything about it is over the top – the acting, the language, the violence, the eighties style, you name it and it’s done with excess.  Al Pacino is ruthless in his character and I have rarely seen a more aggressive performance by any actor.  I applaud him for so accurately portraying a man whose evil and corruption seem limitless.  Though there are other significant performers here like Michelle Pfeiffer, F. Murry Abraham and Robert Loggia; Pacino steals every scene.  The other actors are merely props for his enormous talent.  If you are a fan of gangster movies, this is a must-see.  If you want to see a perfect example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, look no further.

Technical

Image quality is above average for a film of this vintage although there are flaws.  Color and detail are quite good considering the high grain level.  Dynamic range is also excellent with nice deep blacks and clear, uncrushed highlights.  My only complaints are the rather frequent use of edge enhancement and some crushing of detail in dark scenes.  Often when a character wears a dark suit, you can’t see any features like the lapels or pockets.  Most of the night scenes are crushed as well with people riding in cars looking like floating heads.  The edge enhancement is unnecessary for it only manages to enhance the grain.  Detail in facial closeups is quite good so I don’t understand why there is a need for added sharpness.

Audio is mostly good, especially the music and ambient effects.  I was disappointed in the quality of the dialog however.  Most of the characters talk with thick Cuban accents and this combined with a very flat-sounding mix makes them difficult to understand.  It seems like far too much compression was used in the center channel and intelligibility suffers for it.  The surround channels are used to great effect with plenty of panned action like whizzing bullets and crashing objects.  The surround environment is superior to most movies from this era.  The music is vintage eighties with lots of drums and synthesizers over a studio orchestra.  It certainly captures the flavor of the film well.

Extras

I received the limited edition version which comes in a metal box.  Besides the feature, a copy of the 1932 Scarface is included along with a stack of collectable art cards.  There are over two hours of documentaries, deleted scenes and other behind-the-scenes material.  Also included is PiP commentary which you can toggle on and off while you watch the film.  A provided code gives you access to a digital copy for your portable device or computer.


"The Vampire Diaries Season 2" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

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Synopsis

Season 2 of The Vampire Diaries picks right up after Katherine’s return at the end of Season 1 and the town of Mystic Falls is once again plunged into supernatural intrigue.  The love triangle of Elena (Dobrev), Stefan (Wesley) and Damon (Somerhalder) have their hands full protecting not only each other but all their friends and loved ones.  The main plot concerns Katherine’s desire to secure the Moonstone in order to lift the curse that dooms vampires to the darkness and werewolves to turn at the full moon.  Things become much more complicated as we are introduced to the originals; the first generation of vampires whose powers are extreme to say the least.  And it turns out Elena is special too, a Doppelganger who is part of the curse-lifting ritual.  By season’s end, Klaus, the leader of the originals has everything he needs to break the curse and change the world forever.  Will he succeed?  Find out in Season 3!


Specifications

  • Warner Brothers
  • 2010-11, Color, Not Rated, 15 Hr 27 min (22 Episodes)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley, Ian Somerhalder
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

OK I admit it, I enjoy teen vampire stories.  I like the Twilight movies and Vampire Diaries is even better in my opinion.  Yes, it’s a soap opera and yes, it’s predictable; but the action and witty writing make it fun to watch.  Ian Somerhalder is a superb actor and I enjoy his performance immensely.  He brings evil cynicism to a whole new level.  Paul Wesley does the brooding, dark, trying-to-be-good vampire thing pretty well and Nina Dobrev, in a dual role as Katherine the evil vampire and Nina, the do-no-wrong heroine, does an excellent job.  The story can get a bit confusing as the writers throw in several major red herrings.  It helps to watch all the episodes in short succession rather that spreading things out.  It’s a bit violent for the youngest kids to watch but mid-teens on up should have a good time with this one.

Technical

Video is a bit disappointing.  The color palette is very warm and flat in all but the brightest scenes.  Dark material shows a lot of crushed detail even though it’s not as black as it could be.  Overall detail is very good and is the only thing that saves the picture from being poor.  I am glad this show is available on Blu-ray because the broadcast, even in HD, looks pretty bad.  I know vampires, werewolves and witches are a dark subject but a little color once in a while would be nice.

The audio presentation is quite good.  Dialog and ambient effects are very clear and used appropriately.  This is one of the few TV shows that makes good use of the LFE channel with plenty of musical and sound effect moments that will rattle your furniture.  Dynamic range is very wide, almost comparable to a movie.  If you have a killer sound system, The Vampire Diaries will utilize it fully.  Even the surrounds get some use during the action scenes, and they are aplenty.

Extras

Bonus features include five brief documentaries on werewolf lore and some behind-the-scenes material.  There is also a gag reel and 20 minutes of deleted scenes.


"Blood Simple" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

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Synopsis

Blood Simple opens with Ray and Abby driving along a rainy Texas highway one night, discussing her relationship with her husband Marty.  As the talking continues, they wind up together in a motel while a private investigator hired by Marty takes pictures of them together.  Upon returning to town Ray confronts Marty, who is also his boss, but Marty is seemingly in no mood to talk to him other than to warn him that Abby will turn on him as well.

As the rage over the affair build inside of Marty, he goes back to the investigator, this time with something more sinister in mind.  His rage, and their decisions, leads them down dark paths they are not really prepared for.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1985, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Dan Hedaya, Frances McDormand, John Getz
  • Directed By Joel Coen
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

The film debut of the Coen Brothers, Blood Simple is a movie that takes its time and slowly builds the suspense.  Everything about the movie is very deliberate, from the pacing to the images to every line of dialogue but it certainly pays off in the end.  While it took a bit to really get going, once the plot of the movie starts to unravel and the actions of the characters start to influence each other, you get sucked in to the film.

Technical

Blood Simple looks pretty good for a film that was shot on a budget back in the mid-1980s.  Some scenes come alive with wonderful textures and detail on the faces of characters, while some appear to be a bit soft in comparison.  Overall it is possibly as good as the film is going to look, and it was a very decent transfer overall.  The audio is just a lossless stereo soundtrack, but it does a surprisingly good job of creating ambience and a very coherent front soundstage.  For a slowly paced drama there isn’t a lot of heavy action, but it sets the mood well and sucks you in.

Extras

A theatrical trailer and a sarcastic commentary track from a fake film preservation group.


 "Nightmare Before Christmas 3D" (3D Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Adrian Wittenberg

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Synopsis

Jack Skellington the Pumpkin King leads the ghastly citizens of Halloween town and creates the most frightful annual Halloween celebration imaginable.  Jack has become bored with the routine though and is seeking some greener pastures.  He happens upon a portal to Christmas town which is a remarkably different place from Halloween town and decides that the Christmas cheer found within is what is missing from not only his life but also the citizens of Halloween town.  In a plot to kidnap Santa Claus and bring Christmas to Halloween Town, Jack puts Santa in jeopardy and comes close to destroying Christmas for everyone.

Specifications

  • Disney
  • 2011, 3D Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD
  • Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey
  • Directed By Henry Selick
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Animated
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Most people get turned on to this film either because of Danny Elfman and his unique and wonderful style of music or because of the film's dark mood and Tim Burton's characteristic visual style.  This most recent release of the film is done in 3D and while the effects are very much on the subtle side they are effective at giving the characters just the right amount of depth to make them and their world a little bit more believable.  It would be a gross exaggeration to say that anything in this film comes alive in your living room and the most 3d effects you will find are a bit of separation between items in the foreground and background.  This film is one of those films that you will either love or hate and if you are more of an artistic type of person you will probably tend to love it more than hate it. 

Technical

The video quality on this film is good but not spectacular.  I found most of the colors to be slightly subdued and neutral.  Most scenes are dark throughout the whole film with deep rich blacks and various shades of grays.  The contrast in most scenes was good but it could stand to be a bit stronger to give the film slightly more definition.  3D effects are subtle and there are a few occurrences of ghosting such as with the scene that pans around the angel in the graveyard of Halloween Town.  This film's audio presentation is all about Danny Elfman's music and the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is enough to justify purchasing of this release for any fans of the film.  Dialogue is very clear and the singing sounds excellent.  There is a wide variety of sound effects that accompany the film but the musical score definitely takes center stage.

Extras

There is a good collection of special features with this release although none of them include any 3D effects.  Fans will appreciate the background that the features provide.  Special features include Audio Commentary by Tim Burton, Henry Selick, and Danny Elfman, Tim Burton's original Poem narrated by Christopher Lee, Behind the scenes and the Making of The Nightmare Before Christmas, The worlds of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Deleted Scenes, Frankenweenie, Vincent, Posters and Trailers, and "What's This?" Jack's Haunted Mansion Holiday Tour.

A theatrical trailer and a sarcastic commentary track from a fake film preservation group.The Office:Season Seven(Blu-ray)


"The Office: Season Seven" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-september-2011-the-office-season-seven

Synopsis

This set includes 26 episodes of one of televisions funniest comedy series. By the seasons end, Michael Scott prepares to leave the show and a host of cameo stars “audition” for the office manager spot. If you are a fan of this show, you will want to pick up this set to complete your catalog…and be part of Carell’s fare well.

Specifications

  • Universal Studios
  • 2010, Color, Unrated
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Codec: MPEG 4/BD 50- 4 disc set
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

So how do we get rid of a main character in a long running show? We sideline him more and more until he is almost invisible by the time the season ends. The character that was for six seasons the driving force of nearly every single episode is now rarely featured. There are very few episodes that allow him to take center stage and this hurts the show, badly. However, the season as a whole is still a humorous joy to behold. Included is “Threat Level Midnight: The Movie”, which is crazy, if not the “jumping the shark” episode. Though starting to float farther and farther away from its prime, The Office: 7 is still relatively good as a whole and a “must have” for all the loyal fans, especially since it is Michael's swan song. He will be missed. Can the show go on without him? My Magic 8-Ball says, "Doubtful"!

Technical

Picture quality is very good, with all scenes being well lit and detailed. Sometimes the whites can be a bit blown out, especially if someone is in front of a window. Occasionally a color will “pop”, but the office environment does not display a lot of eye candy. Sound is clear, but obviously, dialog driven with little use for the surrounds and sub.

Extras

Lots of extras, including commentaries, outtakes, bloopers, and over 100 minutes of deleted scenes. A collectable poster is also included in the package that parodies Georges Seurat's famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande-Jatte." Did I mention “Threat Level Midnight: The Movie”?


"A Fistful of Dollars" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-september-2011-fistful

Synopsis

Clint Eastwood plays a lone drifter who wanders into a small border town called San Miguel.  He soon learns that the town has "Two Masters" because there are two separate crime families that run the town.  One family, the Rojos, are liquor smugglers while the other family, the Baxters, smuggle guns.  Eastwood, the "Man with No Name", sees weaknesses in the situation and winds up devising numerous scenarios to foil and confuse each gang while bringing them into conflict against each other.  He is out for a fistful of dollars.  This "Spaghetti Western" was actually a multi-national effort involving production companies from Italy, Spain and Germany. It remains an enduring classic from the heyday of feature-length westerns.

Specifications

  • MGM Home Entertainment
  • 1964, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 39 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Marianne Koch, John Wels, W. Lukschy, S. Rupp and Joe Edger
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is the film where Clint Eastwood really burst on to the scene as a blockbuster-type leading man.  After viewing this movie, I can clearly see why something like that would have happened.  In "Fistful", Eastwood showcases the even-handed tough guy persona that has been the sustaining image for him as an actor and later as a director and producer.  He brings a special brand of youthful exuberance to the lead role as well.

The story is set in the Mexican border town called San Miguel.  In the film, this mythical town is a desolate and bleak place.  The landscapes are sparse and the buildings remarkably barren and in disrepair.  That vibe sets the tone for much of the movie.  The classic and beloved musical score by Ennio Morricone is the perfect companion to all the on-screen action.  The closing scene that has Eastwood taking on Ramon Rojo in a duel is one of the best crafted western shoot-outs ever captured on film.  Bravo!

Technical

This movie was originally shot in Technicolor at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and that is how it is presented on this Blu-Ray.  The image quality is generally quite nice in most scenes.  Some of the daytime scenes are a little blown-out and the film stock has some signs of wear.  Due to the slower ASA/DIN films of the day, night scenes do not look very convincing at all.

The audio shows its age a little as well: There is not much bass to speak of while the music and special effects tend toward the hard and bright side of things.  I wound up turning on THX Re-EQ to take the edge off a little bit. The geometric perspective of the sound was reasonably natural for this disc.  (See my review of "For a Few Dollars More" for the rest of the story on this.)

Extras

This disc contains a substantial collection high quality extras:  The Christopher Frayling Archives - "A Fistful of Dollars"; Commentary by Film Historian Christopher Frayling; A New Kind of Hero; A Few Weeks in Spain: Clint Eastwood on the Experience of Making the Film; Tre Voci - "A Fistful of Dollars"; Not Ready for Primetime -  Renowned Filmmaker Monte Hellman discusses the Television Broadcast of "A Fistful of Dollars";  The Network Prologue with Actor Harry Dean Stanton; Location Comparisons - Then to Now; 10 Radio Spots; Double Bill Trailer and the Theatrical Trailer.


"For a Few Dollars More" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Clements

movie-september-2011-few-dollars-more

Synopsis

This is the second of three "Man With No Name" Westerns that were directed by Sergio Leone, star Clint Eastwood and with music by Ennio Morricone.  In this installment, Eastwood plays Manco, a bounty hunter who is determined to track down and kill "El Indio" and collect the reward placed on his head.  Manco soon crosses paths with Colonel Mortimer (Van Cleef) who is also a bounty hunter pursuing the reward on El Indio.  Because the outlaw El Indio has a large group of criminals at his side, Manco and Colonel Mortimer decide to join forces so they might take out the entire band in hopes gaining a much larger reward.  In the end, we find that two of the main characters' lives are deeply intertwined and this connection motivates one man in his exhaustive quest for revenge.

Specifications

  • MGM Home Entertainment
  • 1965, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 12 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Mara Krup, Luigi Pistilli, Klaus Kinski, Josef Egger and Panos Papadopoulos
  • Directed by Sergio Leone
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: No

Commentary

Even though Eastwood as Manco gets top billing in this film, the real protagonist of the story is Van Cleef's character, Colonel Douglas Mortimer.  He is a slick-dressed retired military man with a very unique arsenal of weapons.  Manco, on the other hand, is unkempt sporting his trademerk pancho and half-burned cigar. They wind up making a good team with complementary skills and personality.  They have a nice on-screen chemistry to boot. 

Col. Mortimer, Manco and El Indio are the most accomplished gunmen in the movie and it is this trait that propels much of the plot elements.  All told, this is an action-packed Western thriller of the highest order.

Technical

Unlike its predecessor, A Fistful of Dollars, this movie's sets are representative of a more lucrative populace. The buildings are newer with better interiors and furnishings. Also, the night scenes are much more convincing than in the previous movie. The picture over all has much better detail with improved color saturation.

The audio is muted at the frquency extremes again, but the special effects are just a bit better than on Fistful with a little better impact and harmonic structure.  I did not like the way voices were panned into the rear channels as the camera's perspective changed.  Please keep the dialog in the center channel!

Extras

This disc contains a substantial collection high quality extras:  The Christopher Frayling Archives - "For A Few Dollars More"; Commentary by Film Historian Christopher Frayling; A New Standard - Frayling on "For A Few Dollars More"; Back for More - Clint Eastwood Remembers "For A Few Dollars More"; Tre Voci: "For A Few Dollars More"; "For A Few Dollars More": The Original American Release Version; Location Comparisons; 12 Radio Spots and 2 Trailers.


"United 93" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Stephen Hornbrook

movie-september-2011-united93

Synopsis

A real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot.  The movie starts the morning of 9-11 and follows the terrorists, the passengers and crew, and flight control throughout the events of the day. 

Specifications

  • Universal
  • 2006, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 51 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: J. J. Johnson, Gary Commock, Polly Adams
  • Directed by Paul Greengrass
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Graphic
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

United 93 is an intense movie to watch.  The events that unfolded on that day are unforgettable and watching this movie forces you to think about what people went through and where you were that day.  Greengrass does an excellent job of capturing the tension of that day, taking a more subtle approach than with Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.  United 93 is a must watch movie for everyone and this Blu-ray is the way to see it.

Technical

Picture quality is mostly excellent and only drops in quality here and there.  Some shots had gray blacks and a tad too much grain, but overall probably a good representation of the director’s intent.

The DTS-HD track was a nice improvement over the compressed audio on the DVD.  LFE was tighter with more detail than I remember.  This isn't really the kind of movie you pop in all the time as demo material, so it more than gets the job done for this piece.

Extras

Audio Commentary with Paul Greengrass, United 93: The Families And The Film, Chasing Planes - Witnesses To 9/11, Memorial Pages, Twin Towers Documentary trailer, Flight 93 National Memorial


"Thor" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

movie-september-2011-thor

Synopsis

The story follows the headstrong Thunder God (Hemsworth) as he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Hopkins) after inadvertently starting a war with a planet of ticked-off Frost Giants. As his traitorous brother Loki (Hiddleston) schemes in the wings, Thor must redeem himself and save the universe, with the aid of a beautiful scientist (Portman). It’s “hammer time”. 

Specifications

  • Paramount Pictures
  • 2011, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 55 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: VC1
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master
  • Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins
  • Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

The film is directed by Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh, who directs the epic material well. Perhaps better than any other Marvel film, this one focuses on the hero's journey. This comic book character is more than a one dimensional player, but a truly heroic figure that you can relate with. There is father-son drama, court intrigue and an impressive confrontation between two brothers who have been at odds throughout the course of the story. Mixed in are touches of humor and a bit of romance to round out all of the CGI visuals delights. Hoorah for the noble hero! A fine recipe for movie night. 

Technical

The colors and contrasts are quite good with this flick. My only complaint is that some of the CGI is a bit blurry in some scenes and the intense coldness of Jötunheim leaves skintones and eyes with a bluish tinge. The sound is very powerful at times. Almost too powerful. Watch your volume settings and make sure your sub is set a few notches below your normal listening levels…really, I mean it. Great use of surrounds and the music is broad and expansive. Way to go, sound mixers!

Extras

Commentaries, trailers, deleted scenes, Road to the Avengers and several featurettes.


"The Magnificent Seven" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-september-2011-magnificent-seven

Synopsis

Based on Okira Kurosawa's classic novel Seven Samurai, this film sets the stage and story in Mexico instead of Japan. A small village is being terrorized by a gang of bandits, whose leader, Calvera (Wallach), takes pleasure in coming to the village with his thugs to take whatever they want whenever they want it, mostly food. It has been going on for a long time, and when Calvera murders one of the villagers, they pool some money together and hire a gunman, Chris Adams (Brynner), to rid the village of the gang once and for all. Of course, Chris knows he cannot do this alone, so he locates some friends and a couple of strangers, six to be exact, making them a posse of seven.

The seven - whose star power made them magnificent even without the story - help the villagers learn how to protect themselves and show Calvera who gives orders and who takes orders. Vin Tanner (McQueen) states it succinctly to Calvera, "We deal in lead, friend."

The lead flies, and the bandits dies (it should read "die", but that didn't rhyme).

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1960, Color, Not Rated, 2 Hr 8 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 31 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz
  • Directed by John Sturges
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

It's definitely one of the top 10 westerns ever made, with a film score theme that everyone is familiar with (cortesy of Elmer Bernstein), probably because it was used in a cigarette commercial for years, showing a cowboy lighting up his smoke, until the cowboy died of lung cancer. 

Technical

The bit rate on this transfer is 31 Mbps. One would think this would result in a spectacular image. Unfortunately, it is grainy. Very surprising. Perhaps they did not use the camera negative for the mastering. Nevertheless, it is certainly better than the standard definition versions we have been watching on TV for 50 years. The audio was obviously originally in mono, and there is only so much you can do to convert mono to any sort of surround experience.

Extras

There are only a few extras, including Guns for Hire - The Making of The Magnificent Seven, Lost Images, Trailers, and a Still Gallery.


"Return of the Magnificent Seven" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by John Johnson

movie-september-2011-return-of-the-magnificent-seven

Synopsis

A sequel to The Magnificent Seven, The Return of . . . has Chris rounding up one of the original seven, Vin (played by Robert Fuller because the original Vin, Steve McQueen wasn't available), along with five new characters to go and rescue Chico (now played by Julian Mateos instead of Horst Buchholz), who had stayed in the original village that the seven had organized to fight Calvera's bandits, and who has now been kidnapped along with most of the men in the village.

Specifications

  • MGM
  • 1966, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 35 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 27 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Yul Brynner, Warren Oates, Robert Fuller, Claude Akins, Julian Mateos
  • Directed by Burt Kennedy
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Sometimes a sequel is better than the first story. This one isn't. The only thing it has going for it is the theme song.

Technical

Although the bit rate on this transfer is 27 Mbps, which is lower than The Magnificent Seven (31 Mbps), the image quality is better. The audio is still based on the original mono, and so be it.

Extras

None


"Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-september-2011-star-wars-complete-saga

Synopsis

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a battle raged between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.  As our film opens, the spaceship of Princess Leia has been taken over by the Empire and Darth Vader.  Before they are captures, Leia dispatches a pair of droids, R2D2 and C3PO, to the surface of Tatooine in an effort to get a message to Obi Wan Kenobi.  When Ben and his nephew Luke Skywalker purchase the droids, they have no idea of the cargo that R2D2 carries inside of his memory.  This opens one of the classic modern films that helped to launch a franchise of unparalleled success.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1977, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 5 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 33 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
  • Directed by George Lucas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Of course everyone reading this has seen Star Wars at this point, likely more times than they can count.  The film that helped to launch the idea of the summer blockbuster has finally come home to Blu-ray.  Yes, it’s not the original theatrical cut, and it’s not even the Special Edition cut, but it is still Star Wars.  Watched through the eyes of a grizzled film snob, some parts of the beginning of the film can seem a bit cheesy, and Luke is a bit whiny, but any complaints quickly vanish as I once again turn into the person that has loved Star Wars since I was a kid.  No description that I can give to the film will change your opinion about it, but regardless I love it.

Technical

Star Wars has never looked better.  From the opening scenes there is so much more detail and clarity in scenes that it’s amazing.  The only scenes that had any issues that I could see are the first few scenes with C3PO and R2D2 on Tatooine, but that looks to be film damage to me and not the fault of the transfer.  If there is a downside to this transfer it’s that the props used in the film (helmets, blasters, even the CGI) cannot look as convincing as you can see it in detail.  Of course you can’t fault a transfer for being too revealing, so I will just say that Star Wars on Blu-ray is a revelation for home viewing.

The soundtrack has also been brought up to a new level with the classic John Williams score blasting from the opening scroll, to the effects of spaceships and fights throughout; there is nothing I could find wrong with it.  It is as good as the image is, and that’s saying something.

Extras

The disc features two separate commentary tracks, and the box set includes too many special features to count, spread across three Blu-ray discs.


"Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Heinonen

movie-september-2011-star-wars-complete-saga

Synopsis

Sixteen years after the release of Return of the Jedi, George Lucas took us back to the beginning of the saga.  The planet Naboo is under a trade blockade when two Jedi knights, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, are sent to intervene.  After surviving an attempt on their lives, they go to warn and protext Queen Amidala of Naboo.  Eventually winding up on Tatooine, they discover a young boy, Anakin Skywalker, who Qui-Gon senses has a strong connection with the force and needs to be protected and nurtured.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1999, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 16 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 30 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson
  • Directed by George Lucas
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

You can safely say that when The Phantom Menace was first released, there was no film I had ever been more excited to see.  As Star Wars was a large part of my childhood, my friends and I were among the crazy ones who camped out to get tickets and make sure to see it at Midnight when it was released.  Having not seen it again in the past 12 years, I can safely say it has not aged well at all.  Full of bad acting, cheesy dialogue, horrible supporting characters, and seeming aimed straight for a 5 year old, Episode I is really a disaster.  Mystical things like the Force, which everyone just accepted as a life energy that was all around, is given a technical explanation that adds nothing but takes away from the mystery of the world.

Perhaps nothing sums up Episode I better than the pod race scene in the middle of the film.    From the fact that it’s just jammed into the middle of the film to have an action sequence that really isn’t totally necessary, to the fart joke with Jar-Jar at the start of it, the horrible acting from everyone involved during it, and the horrible announcer that calls the race while it’s going on, the whole sequence is so horrible now that I can look back upon it without 16 years of build-up coloring my perceptions.  I only hope when my son starts to watch Star Wars and understand it better, he won’t fall in love with Jar-Jar, and will love the original trilogy instead.

I only wish that, since Lucas is so dedicated to going back and altering the flims as he sees fit, that he had made Jar-Jar talk in an undecipherable language and used subtitles for him instead.  That would have been a vast improvement.

Technical

Episode I was the only one of the original trilogy that was shot on 35mm film instead of digitally, but it looks very bad considering the age and budget of the film.  Lots of the CG is more apparent now that it was before and is a bit distracting.  A very liberal amount of DNR was been applied so faces are washed free of texture, and many shots in the film look like the transfer is very, very old and lack much detail at all.  During the pod race sequence mentioned above they’ll often switch over to shots of fans in the stands, which appear very noisy and lacking in detail.

However, the soundtrack does not disappoint you at all.  People have used the pod race sequence for a demo piece for years now, and this doesn’t change that at all.  Given a lossless audio track, the pod race completely surrounds you and puts you inside of a pod.  Dialogue is rendered very well in the rest of the film, and the film does a fantastic job of bringing you into the environment.

Extras

The disc itself features a pair of commentary tracks, but the complete box set contains a raft of extras about the film.


"Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-september-2011-star-wars-complete-saga

Synopsis

Following the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebels flee to the remote world of Hoth to re-group and plan their next offensive against the Empire.  Obsessed with finding Luke, Darth Vader employs thousands of probe droids to find the secret base.  He quickly succeeds and the Rebels are forced to evacuate.  Luke heads to Dagobah to train with Jedi master Yoda while Princess Leia and Han Solo, after evading the Imperial fleet, escape to Bespin in hopes of repairing their disabled ship.  While on Dagobah, Luke has a vision of Han and Leia’s capture by Vader and quickly runs to their aid.  Unfortunately, it turns out to be a trap.  Solo is frozen in carbonite and turned over to bounty hunter Boba Fett while Luke and Leia barely escape with their lives.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1980, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 7 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 31 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
  • Directed by Irvin Kershner
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

I remember going to see this movie for my 14th birthday.  It’s always been my favorite of the six episodes because so much is packed into only two hours.  The action is pretty much non-stop and some major plot threads are introduced that weren’t even hinted at in Episode IV.  The amazing chemistry between the three principal actors continues here as they create one of the most famous trios in cinema history.  While there are many film connoisseur reasons not to name this the best movie of all time, it’s number one in my book.  I never tire of watching it and this Blu-ray release was a religious experience for me.  I’m not sure I was quite this excited when I saw it for the first time!  I’m sure I don’t have to convince even casual Star Wars fans to buy this Blu-ray.  It’s a must-own for any sci-fi buff.

Technical

The video quality is at a whole new level for catalog titles, especially ones that are 30 years old.  Even the icy wastelands of Hoth are vibrant with subtle shades of color and amazing depth.  Flesh tones are perfectly natural.  There is no evidence of digital scrubbing or edge enhancement.  Contrast is every bit as good as the best modern movie and detail is simply stunning.  I’m glad such care was taken in this transfer.  I never saw even the slightest speck of dirt or even the smallest artifact.  Honestly, I can’t imagine it looking better.

The sound is the real star in this Blu-ray.  Amazing is barely adequate to describe it.  I have never heard a better remix on any previous catalog title.  The use of surrounds is excellent, and the LFE channel simply rocks with every explosion or spaceship flyby.  The music sounds incredible too as John Williams’ iconic score takes you through the film from start to finish.  Like the image, this restoration raises the bar.

Extras

Special features are quite extensive and come on three Blu-ray discs.  They cover the entire set and include many hours of documentaries, interviews, deleted scenes and more.  Some of the material is new so fans will have plenty to sink their teeth into.  I’d also like to comment on the packaging which is quite elegant.  The nine discs come in a bound book with each disc on its own page with some really nice artwork.  The discs are held securely but not difficult to remove.  The package designer deserves some real praise for his or her work.


"Star Wars: Episode VI - The Return of the Jedi" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-september-2011-star-wars-complete-saga

Synopsis

With the Rebel fleet safely hidden, the Empire begins constructing a new Death Star.  Overseeing its completion is non-other than Emperor Palpatine.  Meanwhile, Luke and his friends mount a daring rescue of Han Solo from the clutches of gangster, Jabba the Hut.  After escaping from Tattoine, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training.  The Rebels gain enough information to plan an attack against the new Death Star.  Han and Luke and Leia sneak onto the Endor moon in order to disable the energy shield protecting the battle station.  After befriending the local Ewok population, Luke leaves to face Darth Vader alone.  The Emperor has set a trap for the Rebels and when they show up, the entire Imperial fleet is waiting for them.  Just in time, Solo and his soldiers deactivate the energy shield, the Rebels destroy the Death Star and Luke escapes just in time.  Finally, the evil Empire is defeated and the freedom of the Old Republic is restored.

Specifications

  • 20th Century Fox
  • 1983, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 7 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Codec: AVC @ 31 Mbps
  • 1080p
  • English 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
  • Directed by Richard Marquand
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

This is probably the weakest film of the second trilogy but still a classic in every sense.  Yes, the Ewoks are hokey.  Are Storm Troopers really that prone to arrow and club attacks?  C’mon!  The battle scenes are fantastic though and any fan of sci-fi action will enjoy this movie over and over again.  The revelations that Luke has to deal with are very powerful and I always find Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher’s portrayals very moving as they struggle with their true identities.  The entire plot is tied up nicely with no real loose ends.  Again, it’s a must-own for any sci-fi fan.

Technical

Image quality lags a bit behind Episode V.  I found many of the darker scenes like nighttime on Endor or the Emperor’s throne room to be flat and murky looking.  Contrast is decent but overall, things are a bit soft.  Detail improves later in the movie though and the last half hour looks quite good.  It’s still a revelation compared to the decidedly average DVDs we’ve watched for years.  I really enjoyed the natural and saturated color palette.  And to watch the special effects without line twitter or judder artifacts is a real treat.

Once again, the sound track hits a home run.  I’ve never heard such a dynamic and rich presentation from a catalog title before.  You really can’t tell the age of this movie, it sounds that good.  The space battles just jump out of the screen with tons of LFE and surround effects.  At one point, the sub was cranking so low, my projection screen visibly flapped in the breeze.  The music is lush and beautiful, as you’d expect from any John Williams film score.  Like the others, it’s mixed at a fairly high volume level which I enjoyed.  Any of these discs will make for a great home theater demo.

Extras

Special features are quite extensive and come on three Blu-ray discs.  They cover the entire set and include many hours of documentaries, interviews, deleted scenes and more.  Some of the material is new so fans will have plenty to sink their teeth into.  I’d also like to comment on the packaging which is quite elegant.  The nine discs come in a bound book with each disc on its own page with some really nice artwork.  The discs are held securely but not difficult to remove.  The package designer deserves some real praise for his or her work.