Lord of the Rings Trilogy-Extended Editions, NewLine, Blu-Ray, 2011
It is February, and in Erie Pennsylvania, it means we are about to start second winter. How does one survive second winter? One does so by watching the movies that made second breakfast a long-running meme. About every three years, we settle in to watch the entire extended version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray. At the Chase Castle, this is highly anticipated as a way to enjoy 6 consecutive nights of movie viewing on our 120-inch Screen Innovations Black Diamond screen. The projector is an Optoma UHZ-65, and together, they provide an escape from the depths of winter.
To the movies: LOTR as a trilogy hits all three hot spots for movie lovers. The plot and acting are some of the best in movie history. I can’t think of one cast member who isn’t perfect for the role, from Frodo to Gandalf to Aragorn and the hundreds of other characters. Additionally, the extended Blu-Ray discs reveal incredible detail through the Optoma/Screen Innovations combination and the sound quality through my Axiom 5.2 system is 5-star quality. Even though we have done this every three-year viewing 5 times, the movies still thrill us with suspense while delivering multiple heartwarming moments. When our heroes (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) are facing an unbeatable force towards the end of the Two Towers, only to be saved by Gandalf coming through on his promise that he will arrive in the east at first light on the 5th day, it’s impossible not to cheer.
As a total audio nut, I revel in the sound quality of all three discs. When the Ring Wraith Dragons are flying, the bass through the dual EP800 subwoofers pulses and ripples through one’s chest. It is scenes like this that remind us why we obsess over getting the best system we can afford. I could post dozens of other scenes, but the idea is to get you to watch the movie, not put you asleep. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is about good, after years of struggle, finally defeating evil. It will leave you on the edge of your seat, fill you with dread, and bring elation when you think all hope is lost. If you need a distraction to get you another week closer to spring, try the Trilogy.
Whether you’re new to streaming video or you cut the cord ages ago, you’ve no doubt heard about Disney Plus. Launched in November of 2019, Disney Plus has quickly become a major player mainly thanks to content that can’t be found elsewhere online.
I initially resisted signing up because a lot of its content is movies, many of which I already own on Blu-ray. I’m definitely a fan of Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar so if one of those studios comes out with something good, I buy it. But when I learned about The Mandalorian, I was pulled into an internal debate. I could wait for the series to come out on Blu-ray and continue my tradition of owning everything Star Wars. Yes, I even bought all the seasons of the animated Clone Wars. Or, I could sign up for a month and binge-watch the series.
When season 2 dropped in October of 2020, I figured a disc set would be forthcoming – incorrect! Five months have gone by and still no discs. Since I am now a streaming-only household, I decided to take the plunge and sign up. And boy did I find a lot more than expected!
Disney plays up the service’s huge movie catalog in its marketing and that’s certainly a big draw. Not only are all the Star Wars and Marvel films in there but Pixar, Disney animated, and even the movie of the week films we watched as kids. At the current count, Disney lists over 500 movies and 7000 TV show episodes with more coming every week.
But delve a little deeper and you’ll find tons of great National Geographic content. That’s right, the gold rectangle has put nearly all its content on Disney Plus and there are some real gems. A series called Drained explores mysteries hidden underwater like the Titanic or why no escaped from Alcatraz. British car shows like Super Megabuild and Car SOS are a lot of fun. And all their seasons are available. There is enough nature and documentary content to easily rival Discovery Plus and Netflix.
Of course, there’s more in the pipeline. I look forward to checking out the Marvel series Wandavision. And I’ve seen trailers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming out in March.
So far, the content I’ve watched is all high quality. Many shows and movies are available in Ultra HD with either HDR10 or Dolby Vision and some with Dolby Atmos sound. Disney has implemented a group watch feature that lets people host watch parties and comment as the participants watch something together.
The app is extremely well-designed and works much like Netflix which is my personal reference. You can easily create a watchlist and Disney Plus can tie into the Up Next feature of an Apple TV. Current pricing is $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year but that will be going up on March 26 to $7.99 and $79.99. Considering how much I’ve used it in just the first few weeks, I think it’s money well-spent.
If you’re looking to expand your online content choices, definitely check it out.
Lupin III: The First, Shout Factory, Blu-Ray, 2021.
Lupin III (sometimes referred to as Lupin the 3rd) is a long-running and beloved Japanese manga and anime franchise. The manga comic was created by Kazuhiko Katō, who worked under the pen-name “Monkey Punch” in 1967 and was soon followed by the first TV animated series in 1971. There have since been six animated series produced for TV and six feature-length animated movies along with a host of animated specials and cross-over events. This is the seventh movie and the first one fully computer-animated.
The main character, Lupin III, is a highly proficient master thief and is supposed to be the grandson of Arsène Lupin, the gentleman thief of French author Maurice Leblanc’s series of novels. Co-incidentally there is a new Lupin live-action series currently on Netflix that, while very different in story, gets its inspiration from Leblanc’s novels as well. The story, which takes place a decade after WW2, revolves around the diary of a famed French archeologist, killed by the Nazis during the Second World War and how Lupin and his companions team up with the archeologist’s grandaughter to unlock the diary and decode its secrets about an ancient advanced civilization with a powerful energy source. All the while they are being chased by Nazi remnants who want the diary and its secrets to establish a new Third Reich.
I am an anime fan and have watched a number of the Lupin series over the years and I have to say that the 3D animators did a superb job at translating these long-established characters from 2D to 3D. The mannerisms, timing, and personality of each of the main players are just really well done. The movie is heavy on over-the-top action pieces and comedy but the story is interesting and focused enough to keep older kids, teens, and adults fully engaged. The movie assumes that you have some knowledge of the Lupin world but a viewer can still come into this movie cold and enjoy it too.
The visuals were absolutely stunning on my Pioneer KURO plasma display. Colors were nicely saturated and images were as sharp as can be. The DTS Master Audio 5.1 sound mix was aggressive and immersive. Up-mixed to 5.2.4 channels the bubble of sound created was outstanding, with excellent bass punch during the major action/conflict scenes. There is both the original Japanese soundtrack with subtitles and an English dubbed soundtrack for those who prefer not following subtitles. A superb animated experience for those who want something a little different from the usual Hollywood animated fare.
Moonstruck, MGM/The Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, 2021.
I’ve owned both the laserdisc and the DVD of this wonderful Norman Jewison comedy/romance movie-with an Italian spin and it’s an absolute jewel of a film. I’ve honestly never been a Cher fan and even I thought that her performance in this movie was perfection. Coming from an old-school Italian family who immigrated and settled in Toronto, I find the mannerisms, stereotypical behaviors, and general goofiness of the Italian/American experience to be instantly relatable. That combined with the story of the oddball twists and turns that life takes you on to discover that passionate, simple, one-true-love makes it a personal favorite.
It also helps that many of the movie’s scenes were shot in Toronto (standing in for New York) and that my mother was cast as an “extra” in the film where she appears, for just a few seconds, in Loretta’s uncle and aunt’s grocery store. Mom still keeps talking about meeting Cher and how cool she was!
This Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release was created from a 4K digital scan and restoration of a 35mm original camera negative. The results were instantly visible and this is by far the best this movie has ever looked to my eyes in a home setting. There was a good amount of film grain in the image so that it didn’t look overly processed or scrubbed of detail. There is still a little bit of noise visible in some of the darker night shots but given the film’s age, it’s not unexpected or objectionable. The color rendition on the other hand is just sumptuous. Skin tones look natural and nicely saturated while the colors of Cher’s dress and the entire sequence at the NY Metropolitan Opera just pop on the screen with rich tones. The remastered 5.1 DTS Master Audio soundtrack is clean and dynamic for the time that the original was recorded. Not overly immersive but plenty good to make you feel like you are surrounded in the streets of New York or in a packed Met opera house.
There are several extras included consisting of cast interviews, a making-of featurette, audio commentary by director Norman Jewison and Cher, and more. If you are a fan of this movie this is the edition to get!
Tremors, Universal Studios/Arrow Pictures, 4K UHD Blu-Ray, (1990) 2020.
When Tremors came out in 1990, it was limp at the box office. A tribute to 1950s monster movies, it was scary and funny, and Universal Pictures didn’t know how to promote it. Then, VHS tapes hit the scene, and Tremors became one of the top rentals, and it tripled its production cost solely from that.
Since then, the movie has delighted audiences, as word of its virtues was spread by happy renters. Pairing Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward was a masterstroke. Tremors has a very smart script, a great ensemble cast, and the effects, all mechanical (no CGI) stand up well today. Shooting the movie in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California was another smart idea. The location has been the visual home of hundreds of motion pictures going back to Gunga Din in the 30s. Some of the Lone Ranger TV show was shot there, so was Bad Day at Blackrock, a bunch of Sci-fi shows like Iron Man and more. The odd rock formations make the place unique, and the location becomes a character and part of the plot of Temors.
Arrow Video has done a 4K scan of the movie from its native 35mm negative, and it looks just great. The Blu-Ray edition that was released years ago, looked awful at the time of release and looks worse now in comparison. The movie offers a DTS/MA 5.1 track, alongside a 4.0 and 2.0 soundtrack. The movie has never looked or sounded better. There’s a boatload of extras, some that were made years ago for earlier home video releases, and some new material Universal and Arrow put together for this special release. There’s extras and commentary on the 4K disc, and the package includes a Blu-Ray disc with even more.
Even if you’re not a horror movie buff, I think it will appeal to you. It’s funny, moves along at a brisk pace, and is full of surprises. That’s more than you can say for a lot of the new movies in circulation today.
Love Story, Paramount Presents, Blu-ray, DTS-MA 5.1, Rated PG, Color, 1970 (2021)
Starring Ali McGraw, Ryan O’Neal, Ray Milland, and John Marley. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the 50th-anniversary edition of one of the most romantic movies of all time, which was nominated for 7 Academy Awards (including Best Picture) makes its Blu-Ray debut from a 4K master. As number 15 in the “Paramount Presents” series of re-releases, the film based on the best-selling book from 1970 (which put me in eighth grade, which is why I have never seen the actual movie until now) that was designed to provide audiences a simple story about love and loss and give them a good cry.
Interestingly, the book was written after the fact in order to promote the upcoming film release. The story was basic; rich boy meets poor girl in college, they fall in love, rich father disapproves, they marry, she gets sick, and…well, I need to leave something for the imagination. My impression after viewing it for the first time was a bit underwhelming. It’s a laid-back kind of story that held little surprise for me. Then again, I am a curmudgeon.
O’Neal and McGraw had a walk-of-fame ceremony in Hollywood the other day to commemorate the films enduring success. They both look great after 50 years, too. I found the transfer to BD to be nondescript. The colors are muted, some scenes are a bit soft and the soundtrack with the famous musical score was a bit too flat sounding. After living in the Boston area for the last 33 years, I enjoyed the scenery around Harvard Square and seeing some old landmarks (many of which are no longer there). The appeal of the film was its plain telling of a love story with characters that the audience could relate to. No Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Still, I only would recommend this movie to fans of the book or when they saw it those many years ago in a theater and have a thing for nostalgia. Today’s audience will be bored because Jerry Bruckheimer did not direct it. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry!” …what does that even mean?