"Basic Instinct 2" (Blu-ray)
Catherine Tramell (Stone), the novelist from Basic Instinct, lives in London, England. One afternoon, while having sex with her boyfriend in a car, and driving at the same time, the car veers off the road.
She survives, but her boyfriend dies.
The police investigate, thinking that perhaps her fellow was dead before the car crashed.
Police Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Glass (Morrissey) interviews her, and she plies her usual sexual charm. He tries to remain unimpressed, but soon becomes interested in her romantically in spite of himself.
In the meantime, Police Detective Superintendent Roy Washburn (Thewlis) is trying to prove that she is a liar and a murderer.
Well, he had better hurry, because friends of the parties involved are dying one by one.
Basic Instinct 2 is a rather new film, so I (Kris Deering) was expecting an impressive HD transfer. While the story definitely has its moments, the presentation is just WAY too inconsistent. There are some scenes where the change was so drastic, I almost thought there was something wrong with the projector or player.
Detail is the biggest
issue. At times, the image is razor sharp with excellent fine detail,
only to look washed out the next moment. Black levels and contrast
overall are poor with blacks appearing washed out and the image having a
hazy look overall. Banding is evident throughout a lot of the film, so
compression could definitely be improved upon. While the image
occasionally is excellent, there is just too much going wrong to shine.
Extras include Behind the Scenes and Director's Commentary.
- Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -
"Sleepy Hollow" (HD DVD)
As a man of science, Constable Ichabod Crane (Depp) believes in investigation and the power of deduction, not witchcraft or the supernatural. This didn't always sit well with men of traditional belief at the end of the 18th century.
Tired of hearing Ichabod's alternative answers to everything, the establishment sends him north from New York to New England on a two-day journey to use his skill of investigation to the find answers to three unexplained murders. This journey takes Ichabod to Sleepy Hollow, where the locals already have postulated an answer to these mysterious murders.
Baltus Van Tassel (Gambon), the richest man in town, and the rest of the town leaders are convinced that the murders are works of the headless horseman. Katrina Van Tassel (Ricci), daughter of Baltus, seems to be the only person that Ichabod can talk to rationally about his theories based on reason, not legend.
This movie revives one of America's most popular tales. Stunning visuals and a great cast (particularly Depp and Ricci) bring this story to blood chilling life.
I love the visual style of Tim Burton films. The dark, dreary look is also a showcase of contrast and depth, and this is really no exception. The image has almost a black and white feel to it even though it is not a black and white film. The settings seem bleak and under saturated, giving everything a gloomy feel.
Detail is preserved quite well in this film, but the source print definitely has its share of problems. I noticed a few instances when overall color balance shifts mid-scene, and print scratches and pops are noticeable on occasion. Film grain is evident throughout the entire film, which was the intent of the director. Compression noise is non-existent, and I didn't notice any banding issues.
The 5.1 DD+ soundtrack is quite good. Danny Elfman's score is real treat and fills the entire soundstage setting the mood for the entire film. Surrounds are used extensively for ambience and directional effects. The low end is clean but a bit underused in my opinion. Dialogue sounds clean, and imaging is perfect across the main soundstage.
Extras are the same as the DVD release (Commentary and Behind the Scenes feature) but also include the teaser and theatrical trailer in HD.
- Jared Baldwin and Kris Deering -
"Aeon Flux" (HD DVD)
400 years into the future, humanity has dwindled, and the remaining population lives in one city called Bregna, which is tightly controlled by scientists.
A revolutionary group, the Monicans, led by The Handler (McDormand), sends Aeon Flux (Theron) to the central government building to assassinate The Chairman, Trevor Goodchild (Csokas).
When she infiltrates the main building and has a chance to assassinate Trevor, she hesitates, and he gets away.
The Handler sends Sithandra (Okonedo) to find out why Aeon did not complete her mission.
In the meantime, Trevor tells Aeon that she was once his wife, and that everyone in Bregna is actually a clone of themselves that have been repeated over and over to keep the last vestiges of humans alive, since they can no longer reproduce naturally.
When Trevor's brother Oren (Miller) realizes that Trevor has linked up with a Monican, he and his colleagues decide to kill Trevor and take over the research facility.
One of the humans has a child by normal means, and Trevor and Aeon feel it is now time for the ruling party to be done away with, so Oren, as the new Chairman, along with the government officials, try to kill them before they can turn Bregna back over to the human population.
The film, based on a TV show on MTV, did poorly at the box office. There is no telling why this happened because the story is actually rather entertaining. Perhaps movie goers are just getting bored with action heroes going from the television to the big screen.
This is probably the newest title in the first wave of Paramount HD DVDs, though I don't know if I would say it is the best looking of the lot (I may reserve that for Four Brothers at this point). But, this is some serious eye candy. Contrast is incredible, and detail is outstanding. Aeon Flux is extremely stylized, and the color pallet is manipulated to give an ultra punchy look during most of the film. There were a few instances that the movie looked a bit inconsistent in terms of overall detail and depth, but they were few and far between. Overall, this is a great piece of HD.
The soundtrack is presented in both DD+ and DTS. Like most modern action films, the soundtrack is on the louder side with plenty of active sound design. You'll get lots of action and panning effects across the rear soundstage, and the low end has presence to spare.
These include Creating a World, Location, The Craft of the Set Photographer, Costume Design Workshop, and other things. The HD DVD version also adds the trailer in HD.
- Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -
"Apollo 13" (HD DVD)
The true story of Apollo 13, launched April 11, 1970, is dramatized, based on a book by Jim Lovell, one of the crewmembers. Although the US Space Program had landed men on the moon only a short time before that, the public was not interested in the Apollo 13 flight, but when an accident occurred during execution of the mission, suddenly everyone was glued to their TVs.
Jim Lovell (Hanks), Fred Haise (Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Bacon) were stranded 200,000 miles from earth on their flight to the moon when an oxygen tank caused a short circuit. They had to abandon the LM (Lunar Module) and huddle together in freezing conditions with little oxygen and battery power, but too much carbon dioxide. Mission Control in Houston devised a clever method of reducing the CO2, and they return home not knowing if the ceramic shield would protect them from the blazing temperatures caused by friction when their spacecraft entered the earth's atmosphere.
I feel that this movie dwells a bit too much on the technical knobs and switches routines, and not enough on the men themselves. On the other hand, flying to the moon was an extraordinary technical accomplishment. I worked for NASA in the mid-1970s and had a proposal for an experiment to be conducted in space, so I know how precise these people are. There are so many parts involved, the odds catch up inevitably, and something goes wrong. This film illustrates how one can never plan for absolutely every contingency.
Apollo 13 is almost a decade old, but man does it look REALLY good on HD DVD. Small object detail is incredible at times, especially in longer shots. The difference between this release and my previous DTS DVD is night and day. Colors are brighter, with no noise, detail is phenomenal, and there is a complete lack of ringing and compression noise. This results in a cleaner image overall. There is some film grain and nicks, but nothing too distracting.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital + 5.1 and is about the same as the DTS DVD I had before. Some of the higher frequencies sound a bit more defined, but the difference is fleeting. Surrounds seem to be a bit more aggressive, and the low end has a tad more definition, but again I doubt many would notice the differences at all.
These include two feature commentaries, two featurettes, and an astronaut's tale of the incident.
- Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -
"ATL" (HD DVD Hybrid)
ATL stands for Atlanta, which is where the story takes place. It follows Rashad and his friends, a group of freestyle roller-skaters, and their life in "hood" of sorts. Rashad is the man of the house after his parents die and is responsible for his younger brother, who is being influenced by the money and respect the local drug dealers get. He's also found himself caught up with a girl who is a bit more than she appears. Essentially this is a life tale of friends and family in a small burb of Atlanta.
I thought this film was going to be a lot different than it ended up. I was almost expecting a Boyz-N-The-Hood feel except with an Atlanta backdrop, but it was a lot lighter than that. Sure it had its moments, but overall this is a film about being young and finding your identity in a rough environment. The cast is quite good, as is the production. I loved the pacing, style, and themes, and was never bored.
ATL is one of Warner's combo discs. One side has a standard dual-layered DVD, and the other is a single layered HD DVD. The film is presented in 1080p, and the transfer is outstanding. Fine object detail is excellent, and the overall image just retains a sense of depth that DVD has just never even come close to. Colors can be a bit on the softer side, which is about the only thing I could find from keeping this from being about perfect on the video side.
Word of warning, this film has some of the most intense bass I've heard on a soundtrack. All of it comes from the hip-hop soundtrack, but man did it put my subs to the test. The bottom end at times was so intense that my chest was hurting, which is rare. The rest of the soundtrack sounded great too, but this is a film that centers itself on its music and dialogue, so there isn't a lot going on but the bass.
These include a featurette on the production, the theatrical trailer and a music video.
- Kris Deering -
"Sahara" (HD DVD)
In the latter part of the Civil War, an ironclad ship, laden with gold from the Confederate Army, disappears.
Now, 140 years later, Dirk Pitt (McConaughey), who searches for sunken ships as a member of NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Administration), is in Africa on his latest mission to recover lost treasures for an African country.
He rescues Dr. Eva Rojas (Cruz), who is being attacked by a gang of murderers that are working for the president of the country, General Zateb Kazim (James). General Kazim does not want her to discover the true nature of a disease that seems to be killing local tribe members.
In the process of the rescue, Pitt finds a piece of gold from the lost ironclad ship, and so, Pitt, his sidekick Al Giordino (Zahn), and Eva, set off in search of the ship.
During the search, the trio discovers why the locals have been dying, and now they must stop the general before he destroys the entire continent.
I have been a Dirk Pitt fan for many years (books written by author Clive Cussler), and McConaughey does not fit the character at all. Pitt is dangerous, and McConaughey plays him as a not too serious fun loving adventurer.
If you must watch Sahara, watch the 1943 film by the same title, starring Humphrey Bogart. It is much more entertaining.
Sahara is definitely one of the best titles I've seen yet from Paramount for picture quality. Though slightly inconsistent, the image has some exquisite detail and depth, especially in some of the longer shots in the desert. Quite a few times I was pretty awe struck with how much detail was on screen. Colors at times seem a bit washed out, but this was probably because of the bright light of the locales. I did notice some occasional banding in the image, mainly in darker scenes, that was slightly distracting. Overall though, this is a pretty solid HD presentation.
Sahara is your typical summer action film and the sound design fits it. While I wouldn't call this an aggressive mix by any means, it has its moments of excitement. The film opens with a civil war battle on a river that has nice dynamic range and envelopment. The lower end of this track is solid but a bit underused overall. Surrounds perk up occasionally and add a nice touch of ambience.
These include Across the Sands, Visualizing Sahara, Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes, and the trailer in HD.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. and Kris Deering -
"The Rundown" (HD DVD)
Beck (The Rock) works as a debt collector for a loan shark named Walker (William Lucking). Walker tells Beck that he will give him enough money to start his own business if he goes to the Amazon jungle in Brazil to find his son Travis (Scott) and bring him home.
When Beck gets to a small town in Brazil near the Amazon River where Travis was last seen, he finds that a local businessman named Hatcher (Walken) controls the entire region and wants $10,000 from Beck to let him take Travis back.
It gets more complicated when Travis decides he does not want to go back home to papa, but instead wants to search for a treasure called the Gatto, which is worth enough money to help the locals rid themselves of the greedy Hatcher.
So, off go Beck and Travis, aided by Mariana (Dawson), a local girl, hoping to find the Gatto treasure on their way to escaping from Hatcher and get out of the Amazon.
The film was produced by Vince McMahon and the WWA, which is a professional wrestling association. So, you can imagine the quality. Namely, it is bad, bad, bad. Maybe even terrible.
The Rock is the heir apparent to Schwarzenegger's role as action film hero, and he does as good a job as Schwarzenegger ever did ;-> (John E. Johnson, Jr.)
(Kris Deering) I have to disagree with JJ here, I loved this film and thought it was A LOT of fun with great action and design. Just my 2 cents!
I happen to own the D-Theater release of this film as well, so I had a nice comparison to do similar to my review of U-571. This release is about the same as the D-Theater release though I did see some slight improvement in overall sharpness and compression. Color rendition in this film is outstanding, and depth of image overall is excellent. This is an amazing looking HD presentation.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital + 5.1 and is quite aggressive. Surrounds are used aggressively for action and ambience, and the low end is powerful. Punches, slams, and gun shots are pronounced with authority on the low end, driving the point home. Dialogue is very clean and detailed, despite all the action sound design. While I wouldn't call this a big step up from my D-Theater release, I liked it a lot more than my DVD copy.
All of the extras from the DVD release are included here, such as the Deleted Scenes, Behind-the-Scenes features, and Commentaries. Unfortunately, no new HD supplements are included.
- Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -
The US has a team of Stealth pilots, Lt. Ben Gannon (Lucas), Lt. Henry Purcel (Fox), and Lt. Kara Wade (Biel), who are considered the top three pilots that can be utilized for special operations requiring incredible skill.
Captain George Cummings (Shepard) introduces them to a new Stealth fighter that is unmanned. It is run by computers and is designed to go into situations too dangerous for human pilots.
Well, right off the bat, Ben, Henry, and Kara think there is no mission too dangerous for them, and don't like the idea of a computer-driven jet fighter taking any precedence over them, at all.
The new jet's computers learn from the team, and then some. It suddenly decides to go on missions of its own, and blow up terrorist camps in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the attacks will kill lots of unarmed farmers who live near the camps, so the team is faced with shooting down the most formidable weapon man has ever devised.
This is another one of those movies that is CG-driven, rather than spending time on the plot and characters. It is a shame Hollywood has come to this. Although it worked at first because we had not seen such graphics before, these days you can find the same kind of CG in TV commercials. So, it's time to get back to basics: telling a good story.
I really had high hopes for Stealth. This is a fairly new film and the DVD looked REALLY good. If there was a title that I figured would have been some real eye candy on BD, it would be this one. Unfortunately it isn't. The image is extremely inconsistent and just too soft for my taste. There are definitely moments when fine object detail is good, but it doesn't stack up to the better high definition content out there right now. Contrast is good, but not great, and most of the image seems a bit too noisy. This one fell far short of what I expected from it.
The PCM soundtrack is aggressive, but not as dynamic as I would expect. The opening sequence is a great example. Plenty of surround use, plenty of explosions, but just no low end or soundstage. It sounds overly compressed (which seems odd for an uncompressed soundtrack!). Dialogue sounds clean though, and the movie does have its moments of impressive sound design, but I just don't think this disc delivers it the way it should.
Intro to Blu-Ray with the director.
- Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -
"House of Flying Daggers" (Blu-ray)
I'm in the middle of a particular translation of The Art of War,
and the long introduction goes into ancient Chinese history as it
relates to warfare and the overthrow of corrupt kings, which kind of
fits the theme of this movie.
I'm not going to get into the plot anymore, as I hate it when somebody tells me too much about a good movie. Not that the plot is really this movie's strong point. It's alright and fine as a means to hold interest, but what really makes the film indispensable is its cinematography, music, sound effects, and wonderful, completely astounding choreography. This is a film that accommodates the senses, not the intellect, but does so quite smartly.
Regardless of your stance on recreational drug use (I'm very much against it, BTW), House of Flying Daggers is, at the minimum, a must see, and a strongly recommended purchase for those who've watched either Hero or Crouching Tiger more than a few times.
This is a movie that just can't catch a break. House of Flying Daggers has some of the most beautiful cinematography of the last decade, but I've NEVER seen a good DVD presentation. When it was announced as a launch title for Blu-Ray, I was very excited. Unfortunately the Blu-Ray presentation isn't much better than the DVD counterpart. Colors still have that muted look, almost like too much filtering was applied. The image has a strange softness to it that I just can't even begin to explain. There are definitely some moments when this transfer shines, but they are few and far between. I really hope that one day this film gets a great master and a release that lives up to the beauty of the photography.
The uncompressed 5.1 PCM soundtrack is incredible and even a step up from the already fantastic DVD soundtracks I've heard. This movie has sensational sound design, with some of the best directional sourcing I've heard to date. The soundtrack's dynamic range is amazing and easily one of the best out there, making it perfect for demo material.
These include a Featurette on the visual effects and some storyboard comparisons.
- Kris Deering -
Leonard (Pearce) suffered a memory loss disorder when his wife was murdered and the murderer hit him on the head. Being an insurance investigator, he knows how to search for clues, but he has to keep writing his discoveries down, or he will forget what he has just learned 10 minutes ago. In fact, he keeps having to be introduced to his friend Teddy (Pantolino), along with a recent acquaintance, Natalie (Moss), both of whom are trying to help him find the killer, and maybe do them both a favor or two along the way.
While Christopher Nolan may be known more for directing Batman Begins, Memento definitely brought him on the scene. The film is a test of attention with twists and turns that can be a struggle to follow. But that is what makes it such a great film. The performances are outstanding, especially from Guy Pearce, and the story is one of the best mysteries I've seen in years. I was overjoyed to see this title released this early for a high definition format.
Memento is a surprisingly good looking movie considering its low-budget roots. The Blu-ray disc looks good overall but is a bit inconsistent on how good it looks. Compression is a bit of an issue. I noticed some slight banding and a bit of noise. Fine object detail isn't as impressive as most of the HD titles I've reviewed recently, but the transfer is still a good step up from the DVD counterpart. Contrast is excellent in the black and white sequences but there seems to be even more compression noise during these sequences.
Like all Blu-ray titles so far, Memento is presented with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack. Ambience is superb, and imaging is outstanding throughout the entire film. This is more of a dramatic movie with no real showcase of dynamic range, but I do love the atmosphere this soundtrack creates.
These include the Director's Commentary and a feature from IFC's Anatomy of a Scene.
- Kris Deering -