"Seabiscuit" (HD DVD)
In the early 1900s, a businessman, Charles Howard (Bridges), meets a horse trainer, Tom Smith (Cooper), and together they look for a horse to train for the major races around the country.
In the meantime, a young jockey, Red Pollard (Maguire) is having a tough time finding a job.
When Charles and Tom locate a horse, named Seabiscuit, whom the previous owners think is a loser, they buy him for $2,000. Seabiscuit is an angry and aggressive colt, and local jockeys don't want to ride him.
Then Tom sees that Red Pollard has just the right personality to work with Seabiscuit, so a partnership is born.
Together, the team of three people and one small horse set the world of horse racing on fire, at least on the West Coast.
In the East, War Admiral is the champion, and the owners are not willing to deign themselves in order to test their horse of breeding and class against the colt from the West whom they think is beneath them.
Finally, after a lot of bargaining, the race of the century is set, and the world listens.
In today's field of movies that have non-stop CG to make the film work, this one comes up from behind and bites you in the tail. It is a spectacular story, probably because it is true, but also because it is about an underdog who whips the snobs. The acting is not all that noteworthy, except for William H. Macy, who steals the scenes as a fast talking radio host.
Seabiscuit is a beauty to behold on HD DVD. I've seen HD clips of this film at various trade show demonstrations before, and it never failed to impress. This is a grand effort by Universal and a film that truly showcases just how good HD can look. Fine detail is excellent, and long shots can be incredible at times. I've always felt that DVD did a great job with close-ups (barring there is no ringing or edge enhancement), but it always fell flat with longer shots. During the racing sequences of this film you get some gorgeous long shots that deliver breathtaking detail and beauty. I did notice some occasional dropoffs in overall consistency that kept me from giving this a "5", but you'd be hard pressed to find better out there right now.
The audio is presented in 1.5 Mbps Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. Again, this release delivers the goods with impressive dynamic range and soundstage use. The low end catapults you into the scene (especially in the races), and the sense of ambience is excellent.
Extras include Seabisquit's History, Director Gary Ross' dissection of how he moved the script to the screen, Jeff Bridges' personal photographs of the moviemaking, a Making Of documentary, and Commentary by Gary Ross and Steven Soderbergh.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. and Kris Deering -
"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" (HD DVD)
A decade has passed since John Connor helped prevent Judgment Day and saved mankind from mass destruction. Now 25, Connor lives "off the grid" - no home, no credit cards, no cell phone, and no job.
There is no record of his existence. No way he can be traced by Skynet - the highly developed network of machines that once tried to kill him and wage war on humanity. Until, out of the shadows of the future steps the T-X, Skynet's most sophisticated cyborg killing machine yet.
Sent back through time to complete the job left unfinished by her predecessor (the T-1000), this machine is as relentless as her human guise is beautiful. Now, Connor's only hope for survival is the Terminator, his mysterious former assassin. Together, they must triumph over the technologically superior T-X and forestall the looming threat of Judgment Day - or face the apocalypse and the fall of civilization as we know it.
I remember a lot of hoopla over this film when it was announced. The idea of a Terminator film without James Cameron at the helm just sounded like a bad idea. Thankfully Warner delivered a solid movie that did a great job of staying with the tone of the originals. While I wouldn't call this T2 by any stretch, it has plenty of great action, and the story is pretty solid.
T3 is one of the bigger titles released onto HD DVD so far, and the HD presentation is exceptional. There are some moments in here that will definitely be on my short list of great demo sequences for both video and audio. Fine detail is superb, and contrast is excellent. This film has a stylized look to it at times but for the most part the image is very sharp and very clean. Some of the CGI sticks out a bit more though due to the increase in overall image detail. But, the full CGI sequences are GORGEOUS!!
T3 was a powerhouse on DVD for audio, and this one takes it up a bit more. I was disappointed to find that T3 HD lacked a TrueHD soundtrack, but the DD+ track is still quite good. Dynamic range is impeccable, and some of the bass in this movie is system threatening. Surrounds are used EXTENSIVELY, and as I mentioned before, there are some awesome demo scenes in this film to show off your system's capabilities.
These include an in-movie commentary that utilizes HD DVD's HDi capabilities. This overlays a video commentary on top of the film while you watch it. All of the extras from the original DVD release are here too including an intro from Arnie, lots of documentaries, and some promo pieces.
- Kris Deering -
"We Were Soldiers" (HD DVD)
The year is 1965, and America is at war with North Vietnam. Commanding the air cavalary is Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Gibson), a born leader committed to his troops.
His target: the la Darin Valley, called "The Valley of Death." As Moore prepares for one of the most violent battles in U.S. history, he delivers a stirring promise to his soldiers and their families: "I will leave no man behind . . . dead or alive. We will all come home together."
This film depicts the first ever engagement between the US and the Vietcong army. It is a tale that I'm sure few ever knew before this film took place. The 7th cavalry were ordered to a mountain and told to engage an enemy that was on its own land, not knowing anything about the layout or the situation.
They had absolutely no intel. They only knew that there were 395 US troops to fight, and 4,000 Vietcong waiting. Now imagine the fortitude and courage one must amass to know this and willingly step on to a battlefield to fight against those odds.
The battle lasted three days, and it raged on through the night and day relentlessly. When it was all over, we had won the small victory, despite a massive amount of casualties, and we brought everyone who stepped foot on that battlefield home.
But, when they got home from doing their duty, there was no one to greet them or cheer them. No one commending them on what they did for their country. They arrived to lonely terminals by themselves and later were spit on by the people they were protecting.
It's a shame that the men and women who defend this country everyday don't seem to get the recognition they so rightfully deserve. I look back at the Vietnam vets and can only feel pure sorrow for the treatment they received in their homecoming. It is easy to see the heroism of those in our homeland such as the NYFD since CNN and every other network broadly cover it. But it is almost impossible to see the heroism of our troops who, even as I write this, fight for our freedom. I truly hope that films such as this, that depict what being a soldier is, make people a bit more aware of what wearing that uniform means and that those soldiers can expect the support and admiration that it seems only our homeland heroes receive.
We Were Soldiers is an odd one on HD DVD. The image is rather underwhelming for the most part. The image almost seems like it lacks contrast overall, giving it a rather dull and flat appearance for most of the film. Detail is good, but not great. Things improve significantly once they are on the ground fighting though, which is the dilemma. I didn't really have any real issues with the film from that point on; colors were great, the image had significantly more depth, and detail was more consistent. Without seeing the master for this film, it would be hard to say how it "should" look, but I hoped it would look a bit better than this.
While We Were Soldiers may not look the best visual experience, it certainly sounds incredible. This is one of the few films ever made that was intended to employ height channels, and there are several flyovers in the film that really drive that home. Surround use is extremely aggressive, and the bottom end is outstanding. Like most modern war films, the sound design is unrelenting. The Dolby Digital Plus encoded track does a superb job with this and keeps things intact.
Extras include a director's commentary, a behind the scenes look, some deleted scenes and the trailer in HD.
- Kris Deering -
"Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" (HD DVD & Blu-Ray)
Set in a 19th century European village, this stop-motion, animated feature follows the story of Victor, a young man who is whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious Corpse Bride, while his real bride, Victoria, waits bereft in the land of the living.
Though life in the Land of the Dead proves to be a lot more colorful than his strict Victorian upbringing, Victor learns that there is nothing in this world, or the next, that can keep him away from his one true love. It's a tale of optimism, romance and a very lively afterlife, told in classic Burton style.
Maybe my expectations were too high on this one. I absolutely loved Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film that had amazing production value and music (can't wait for the 3-D release this month!). While Corpse Bride is amazing from a technical standpoint (the production value is incredible), the film failed to grab me. I also thought the musical numbers of the film were a bit uninspiring. Bottom line, if you think you'll like this because you liked Nightmare, you probably won't. Go into this with a completely different frame of mind.
This is a really short movie, and since it is technically an animated film (stop-motion), it is the first animated film in HD stateside (Elephant's Dream is already release on HD DVD in Europe). The image has INCREDIBLE depth and dimension, with fine detail like you've never seen before. Contrast is also superb, with some of the scenes becoming a showcase for display limitations.
But, that isn't to say there aren't limitations. Banding is occasionally seen here and there, and I found a couple of sequences that exhibited some rather awful looking noise in some areas of the image. I am not sure what could have caused this, as it doesn't look so much like compression noise, but it was pretty easy to spot for me.
The 5.1 Dolby EX mix is identical on both formats with the HD DVD format getting the DD+ mix. The musical numbers do sound quite good in this film, and the voice work is excellent. Surrounds are used extensively to add ambience and atmosphere.
Unlike most of the earlier Blu-ray releases, all of the extras are the same for both formats here. This includes some features about the production and the trailer.
- Kris Deering -
"The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (HD DVD Hybrid)
After totaling his car in an illegal street race, Shaun Boswell is sent to live with his father in Tokyo, Japan, to avoid juvy or even jail.
While in school, he befriends Twinkie, a "military brat." Twinkie introduces him to the world of racing in Japan. Though forbidden to drive, he decides to race against D.K., the "Drift King", who has ties to the Yakuza, and loses, totaling the car because of his lack of knowledge of drifting; racing that involves dangerous hair pin turns.
To repay his debt, he enters the underground world of drift street racing. As he becomes better and better, he must finally prove his worth in that world by once again racing D.K.
I will state straight out that I had absolutely no interest in seeing this film when it was released theatrically. 2Fast 2Furious had enough cornball stuff in it to kind of turn me off to the series, and since this one was a complete departure from the first two, I just figured it would be mind numbingly bad.
However, while I definitely wouldn't put this up for any awards, it is actually a pretty entertaining ride. The story is just plausible enough to get through, and the racing and cars make up for its shortcomings. This film is all about style and pacing, and it succeeds in that department. The racing sequences are good, and the atmosphere of the movie kept me entertained the whole time. This is totally mindless popcorn fun, but it is fun nonetheless.
Tokyo Drift is officially the first hybrid HD DVD to use dual layers on both sides. To date, all of the hybrids have been single layer HD DVD on one side (HD-15) and dual layer DVD on the other (DVD-9). This disc is dual layer HD DVD on one side (HD-30) and DVD-9 on the other. What this means in the big scheme is you don't have to worry about compromises due to space with the HD presentation. And from what I can see, there is none.
The video presentation is superb, but not the best I have seen. Color rendition is incredible, with vivid tones and no noise at all. Some of the underground garage scenes are gorgeous to watch, with all the neon and bright paint jobs. Contrast is excellent, with some images taking on incredible depth. Fine object detail is consistently good, though not the best I've seen on the format to date.
The audio presentation is awesome. Like the films before it, Tokyo Drift really puts you in the moment, with excellent use of the entire soundstage. The music of the film drives it home even more, with lots of low end punch. I couldn't find anything to complain about here at all.
Not only is Tokyo Drift a first in the Hybrid category, it is also the most advanced title out there in terms of interactivity. This is the first HD DVD to use "U Control", a really cool interactivity feature that allows you to do tons of cool stuff during the film. When you activate this function you get a U Control menu on the bottom right of the screen. It will give you different choices, depending on what is available at the moment. When selected, these options present overlays during the film that include behind the scenes footage, storyboards, GPS trackers through Tokyo, Car damage estimates, commentaries, and more. All of this is done on the fly and can be enabled or disabled at any time!
Some of the other extras include behind the scenes looks at the production, meeting some real racers, customizing cars to overlay into a scene, and more. By far the most impressive extras I've seen on HD DVD to date.
- Kris Deering -
"2Fast 2Furious" (HD DVD)
Now an ex-cop on the run, Brian O'Connor (Walker) hooks into outlaw street racing. When the Feds strong-arm him back, O'Connor's no rules, win-or-die skills are unleashed against an international drug lord.
With his velocity-addicted buddy (Tyrese) riding shotgun, and a drop-dead gorgeous undercover agent (Eva Mendes) dialing up the heat, 2Fast 2Furious accelerates the action into a desperate race for survival, justice, and mind blowing jaw-dropping speed!
This movie just starts out on the wrong foot with me. I am all about cool racing stuff, but as soon as the one car jumps over the other in the race, it lost me.
The rest of the movie isn't too bad, but I hate it when you have to stretch that far to keep something entertaining. The cast is better than I expected though, and if you can manage to blur out a few cheesy scenes, you may actually find this one entertaining.
This was one of the best looking D-Theater tapes I'd seen, so I was pretty anxious to see it on HD DVD. The presentation appears to be identical, which is a good thing. The image has amazing detail and depth and looks like a perfect film presentation. Colors are stable and saturation is gorgeous. Like the other two films, there is plenty of eye candy throughout the story. Fine detail is excellent, and I didn't notice any ringing or compression issues at all.
Just like the rest of the series, this film relies on lots of loud racing and bottom hitting music to amp up the experience. Dynamic range is impressive, and the low end has some authority to it. Surrounds are used aggressively during the races, but sparingly throughout most of the film. Dialogue is free of strain and inconsistencies.
Extras are the same as the DVD release and include some production features, music features, and a Director's Commentary.
- Kris Deering -
"Land of the Dead" (HD DVD Hybrid)
Land of the Dead finds humanity's last remnants battling to survive the unspeakable truth: the ravenous zombie hordes besieging their fortified city are evolving.
I may be the worse person to review a film like this. I will admit straight out that I don't care for zombie films in general. I did enjoy the re-make of Dawn of the Dead and the UK thriller 28 Days Later, but those are definitely exceptions to the rule.
Land of the Dead comes off as too cheesy for me and more like a late night USA movie than a feature film. The concept is simple enough, the zombies are starting to think more and are tired of getting chopped up by the living when they raid towns for supplies. So the film actually lends a bit of a sympathetic feel for the ravagers of humanity. Not my cup of tea.
Despite only having an HD-15 to work with, Land of the Dead looks quite good on HD DVD. The low light conditions bring out a bit more grain than normal, but for the most part this is a really clean looking film. Gory details are aplenty, and red has never looked more . . . unsettling. Depth of image is quite good, and there is no mistaking that you are watching a full HD presentation, a observation that isn't always the case with some other films I've watched lately.
I wasn't as impressed with the audio as I thought I would be. The recent remake of Dawn of the Dead had an impressive audio quality to it that I think this film is lacking. Horror is all about subtle suspense and building the moment, and I don't think you get that here. Range overall is good, but nothing to write home about. Basically the sound design just doesn't do a whole lot for me here, so the presentation is pretty average.
No HD extras on this one but you do get the whole film in SD on the DVD side. The extras from the previous DVD release are all included on that side as well.
- Kris Deering -
"Batman Begins" (HD DVD)
Oh no, not another Batman movie, right? Well, this is the best Batman movie ever produced, in my opinion.
It is not quite the comic book story we are used to. Instead, it is a dark tale, with Bruce Wayne being in a prison somewhere in Asia.
Henri Ducard (Neeson) decides to help Bruce escape, as he needs him for his mission to rid the world of evil.
When Ducard begins Wayne's training, Wayne finds that Ducard's plans do not fit exactly with his own, and he leaves, under . . . shall we say . . . protest.
Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City, where, having lost his parents to a robber who got a little carried away, he takes on the role of the Caped Crusader, a.k.a. Batman. And, we find out why Wayne uses the disguise of a bat as his alter ego.
Bruce and his butler (also his right hand man in the Bat Cave) Alfred (Caine) work together to bring the violence and corruption infested city of Gotham back from the pits.
If you have seen the other Batman films, this one will really surprise you, as it did me. I never imagined I might be so entertained with this story about the comic book hero so many of us grew up with.
There are a lot of major stars in this movie, so I think the producers planned it to be the salient episode in the Batman film series that it was.
There was no doubt that Warner was going to pull out all the stops on this one. If your expectations are high for presentation, don't fret, because this is a reference HD presentation. The video is just incredible. Fine detail in areas is so good it is almost distracting. Film grain is preserved beautifully in the mountain sequences, and even the wind and fog don't cause any breakup that I noticed. Contrast is superb, with black details that will really show if your display is up to the task or not. I couldn't find anything at all to complain about with this one.
While the video presentation is superb, the audio presentation may just take it up a notch higher. Warner thankfully included a TrueHD lossless 5.1 mix for Batman Begins and it is by far the best sounding HD DVD I have yet. Finally a disc that delivers some spectacular demo material! Bass is phenomenal, and dynamic range is superb. Surrounds are used aggressively throughout the entire film to engage the viewer, and there is some very nice discreet use on occasion. A reference disc through and through.
All of the extras from the original Batman Begins DVD set are included. You'll find behind the scenes looks, lots of production features, and the trailer. This title also takes advantage of Warner's HDi and provides an in movie experience with overlayed commentaries, storyboards, and production footage during the movie.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. and Kris Deering -
Well, we all know the story about Robin of Locksley.
It was the 12th century in England. The Normans and the Saxons didn't get along very well.
King Richard the Lion Heart, a Norman, is off fighting in the Crusades. His brother Prince John (Rains) is in charge, and he taxes the Saxon farmers almost to death. Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone) is co-conspirator in the grab all.
Sir Guy is in love with Maid Marian (deHavilland), who is a Ward of the King, but she wants nothing to do with him, sensing his evil nature.
Meanwhile, Robin of Locksley (Flynn), a Saxon, gives up his easy life as a property owner and moves into Sherwood Forest, gathering a group of men, who like himself, want to get rid of Prince John and his gangsters.
Robin meets Marian when Sir Guy is on a trip in the forest, and they fall in love.
Marian realizes that the Saxons are right in their quest for relief from Prince John's taxes, so she helps him. King Richard returns from the Crusades, Prince John and Sir Guy are ousted, and all live happily ever after.
Well not quite. Apparently, there was a real person on which the legend is based, but he was a lout and a drunk, and kept much of what he stole, rather than giving it to the poor.
Of course, that is the same for most legends. We remember them as we would have liked them to be, not as they really were.
In the mid-1930s, when pre-production was underway for Robin Hood, James Cagney was slated to fill the title role. He opted out soon after, fortunately for moviegoers, because in my opinion, it would have been a comedy instead of a great action story. I simply cannot imagine Cagney in those green tights without laughing. He was a small fellow too, only weighing 130 pounds. I remember another film, The Oklahoma Kid (1939), a Western, in which Cagney played a cowboy hero Jim Kincaid (a.k.a., the Oklahoma Kid), and Humphrey Bogart played the bad guy, Whip McCord. Cagney and Bogart were big stars, but again, it was comedic to see them as old west characters.
Anyway, Errol Flynn, fresh off his huge success as the star of Captain Blood (1935), was then signed. Olivia deHavilland, Flynn's co-star in Blood, would be Maid Marian.
William Keighley started out as the director, because Robin was being shot in three-strip Technicolor, which was a very complicated process (three strips of black & white film in one camera, light split into green and magenta, with green going to one strip of film, the magenta light going to two strips of film, one each sensitive to red or blue light). However, the studio soon realized that the story needed a good action director, so Keighley was replaced with Michael Curtiz, a veteran of such movies as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), in which he had also directed Flynn.
Rathbone perfected his fencing skills after co-starring in Captain Blood, and combine this with Flynn's athletic prowess, the swordplay in The Adventures of Robin Hood set the standards for all future movies of this genre. The result was a masterpiece that won three Academy Awards® (Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Music), and is one of my favorite movies of all time. Robin Hood is Five Star Entertainment, bar none.
I was not disappointed with the HD DVD release, as the detail is spectacular, notwithstanding the appearance that they had to piece it together from sections of film located in different places (some sequences are very grainy). Frankly, I am surprised they were able to get the necessary materials together at all, as early movies were discarded after their theater runs. This was before movies would be getting shown on TV, and before anyone knew that eventually, the catalog of movies would be priceless. It is a real tragedy that most early films have been lost forever.
The 1.33:1 framing is perfect for this story, as many scenes take place in Prince John's castle, showing rooms with enormous height. This could not be done with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio unless the camera were sitting very far away.
The audio is about what I would expect for 1938, and the production team did a marvelous job of restoring clarity of the dialogue and removing noise. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's film score is marvelous, and in fact, is available on modern recordings.
These include a very large number of items, such as The Story of Technicolor, Deleted Scenes, trailers from several Flynn films, and many, many other things.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -