Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.


The Digital Bits logo
page created: 8/13/07



High-Definition Classics and Beyond by Barrie Maxwell

Back to Page One

Summer 2007 Reviews (continued)


The Holiday (Blu-ray Disc)


The Holiday
2006 (2007) - Sony/Universal (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 13th, 2007

Film: B
Video (1-20): 15
Audio (1-20): 16
Extras: C+


Blu-ray Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionUncompressed PCMDolby Digital

Specs and Features (Blu-ray):
136 mins; PG13; MPEG-4 1080p standard (1.85:1); BD-50 double layer disc, Elite Blue BD packaging; audio commentary by director Nancy Meyers and three crew members; Foreign Exchange: The Making of The Holiday featurette; Audio: Uncompressed PCM 5.1 in English and Dolby Digital 5.1 English and French; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish


Although set at Christmas time, The Holiday conveys little holiday feel so it hardly seems likely to become a seasonal standard. Taken as a simple romantic comedy, however, it is somewhat more successful. Two women in the same emotional space but half a world apart geographically (Iris, in England, and in love with a man who is going to marry someone else, and Amanda, in L.A., with a partner who's just been unfaithful) contact each other on-line and agree to exchange houses. In doing so, new romances begin for both. The two women are played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz respectively and their new romantic interests by Jude Law and Jack Black. The four stars, but particularly Winslet and Diaz, all give winning performances and although the plot is predictable and overly long, the film is lushly mounted and directed (Nancy Meyers - Something's Gotta Give) with obvious enjoyment and considerable attention to an interesting narrative structure. The result is an amiable time-passer. Character actor watchers should look for some fine work by Eli Wallach as a veteran Hollywood screenwriter. The visual presentation is pristine-looking and characterized by fine image detail and solid blacks. Colours never pop off the screen, although that's more a function of the way the film was shot. Overall, a solid though not exciting visual experience. The uncompressed PCM sound does a very nice job with the material. Surround effects are generally subtle but noticeable. The film is obviously dialogue-driven and that comes across clearly and precisely. The disc's supplements are not inspiring. Nancy Meyers' audio commentary (with other crew members, but none of the cast) has plenty of technical information, but needs a more anecdotal approach to liven it up. The making-of documentary is the usual puff piece although Kate Winslet offered some insightful comments. Worth a rental.


Planet Earth (Blu-ray Disc)


Planet Earth
2006 (2007) - BBC (Warner)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 13th, 2007
(also available on HD-DVD)

Blu-ray Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital

Program: A+
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 13
Extras: E (none)


Specs and Features:
550 mins. approx.; PG13; VC1 1080p standard (1.78:1); 4 BD-25 single layer discs, Elite Blue BD packaging encased in a heavy cardboard slipcase; Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in English; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish


Planet Earth is everything you've heard and much more. The BBC's eleven episode television series, drawing on over five years of round-the-world photography commissioned from many of the world's top nature photographers, documents the natural world of our planet with stunning detail and footage of rare natural events never before captured on camera. Some of the camera work actually staggers the imagination with thoughts of " how did they manage to film that?" arising in every episode. The episodes each focus on a different aspect - From Pole to Pole, Mountains, Fresh Water, Caves, Deserts, Ice Worlds, Great Plains, Jungles, Shallow Seas, Seasonal Forests, and Ocean Deep. I personally enjoyed the From Pole to Pole, Mountains, Caves, Deserts, Shallow Seas, and Seasonal Forests episodes most, but there is a wealth of information and marvelous photography in all, so that everyone's special interests are well served. The series is given a low-key narration by David Attenborough that provides gravitas but never intrudes on the power of the images on screen. The material is completely addictive, so don't be surprised to find yourself watching multiple episodes at a sitting or even (gulp!) the entire nine hours worth at once. The BD visual presentation is superb across the four discs that make up the set - definitely demonstration-level material. Visual pop is the norm with image detail as good as it gets and colour fidelity truly excellent. Whether showing vast vistas, or the detail of some small insect life; whether in bright sunlight or the darkness of deep caves - the BD presentation handles all with aplomb. Less impressive is the sonic experience. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is at best adequate in absolute terms although it's above average in relative terms for documentary filming. The surround component is mainly low-key for the most part with emphasis across the front. David Attenborough's narration is clear and precise except for a few passages that tend to get overpowered by the music. The latter by the way does not perhaps provide quite the majestic themes one might like, but it is effective. Unfortunately there is no bonus material included. The DVD set contained some behind-the-scenes footage for each episode and an impressive three-part documentary Planet Earth: The Future, but none of that material has made it to the BD version (nor I gather the HD one) for some inexplicable reason. Why high definition enthusiasts don't rate an extra disc like the DVD package is unacceptable. Despite this omission, however, the basic content of the set is such that it is still highly recommended.


Freedom Writers (Blu-ray Disc)

Freedom Writers (HD-DVD)


Freedom Writers
2006 (2007) - Paramount
Released on HD-DVD & Blu-ray Disc on May 22nd, 2007

Film: B+
Video (1-20): 18 (both HD and BD)
Audio (1-20): 16 (HD), 15 (BD)
Extras: B (same content for both HD and BD)


Blu-ray Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital

Specs and Features (Blu-ray):
122 mins; PG13; MPEG-4 1080p standard (1.85:1); BD-50 double layer disc, Elite Blue BD packaging; audio commentary by director Richard LaGravenese and actor Hilary Swank; 3 featurettes (Freedom Writers Family, Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story and Making a Dream); deleted scenes; theatrical trailer; Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Specs and Features (HD-DVD):
122 mins; PG13; MPEG-4 1080p standard (1.85:1); HD-30 double layer disc, Elite Red HD packaging; audio commentary by director Richard LaGravenese and actor Hilary Swank; 3 featurettes (Freedom Writers Family, Freedom Writers: The Story Behind the Story and Making a Dream); deleted scenes; theatrical trailer; Audio: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 in English, French and Spanish; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish


For a film that seems like one we've seen a number of times before (teacher deals with tough class and makes good), Freedom Writers is quite beguiling. That's chiefly because Hilary Swank gives an enthusiastic and appealing performance as the real-life teacher Erin Gruwell who inspires the "unteachable" teens in her Long Beach high school classroom to embrace tolerance through telling their own stories and hearing those of others. With Swank as the film's anchor, the best way to approach the film is to let its inspirational story flow over you rather than dwelling on the ease with which Swank's character seems to triumph. I'm sure the reality was much more difficult than portrayed here, but since the end result is what matters in this case, that's a minor quibble. Worth admiring too are several superb characterizations by those playing the students. Most of the other actors are saddled with stereotypical characters in the teaching establishment while poor old Grey's Anatomy heart-throb Patrick Dempsey is wasted in an underwritten role as Swank's husband. The HD and BD visual presentations look identical. Image detail and skin tones are extremely good and everything looks very natural although there's little visual pop at any time. The HD sound benefits from a DD Plus 5.1 presentation that gives it somewhat more presence than the straight DD 5.1 track on the BD, in terms of background effects and bass aspects of the music numbers. Dialogue, however, seems equally good on both HD and BD. The supplements seem to comprise a nice package, but beyond the audio commentary with director Richard LaGravenese and Hilary Swank which proves to be quite an interesting effort, the rest (various making-of supplements and some deleted scenes) is mainly puffery. Freedom Writers is certainly worth your time as a rental and a slight nod goes to the HD version due to the modestly superior audio.


Trading Places (Blu-ray Disc)

Trading Places (HD-DVD)


Trading Places
1983 (2007) - Paramount
Released on HD-DVD & Blu-ray Disc on June 5th, 2007

Film: A
Video (1-20): 17 (both HD and BD)
Audio (1-20): 12 (both HD and BD)
Extras: B- (same content for both HD and BD)


Blu-ray Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital

Specs and Features (Blu-ray):
116 mins; R; MPEG-4 1080p standard (1.85:1); BD-50 double layer disc, Elite Blue BD packaging; 3 featurettes (Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places, Dressing the Part and The Trade in Trading Places); deleted scene; industry promotional teaser; press conference interviews; trivia pop-ups; Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 1.0 in French and Spanish; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Specs and Features (HD-DVD):
116 mins; R; VC-1 1080p standard (1.85:1); HD-30 double layer disc, Elite Red HD packaging; 3 featurettes (Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places, Dressing the Part and The Trade in Trading Places); deleted scene; industry promotional teaser; press conference interviews; trivia pop-ups; Audio: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 1.0 in French and Spanish; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish


A film often overlooked when considering the best comedies of the 1980s is John Landis's Trading Places, a gem of a production that gave wonderful starring opportunities to Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Lee Curtis and very welcome supporting roles to two very familiar players from the Golden Age, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. The latter two play a couple of super-rich brothers trading in commodities who decide upon a small wager over whether environment really makes the man. In this case they engineer career switches between a snobbish young stock trader (Ackroyd) and a street hustler/con artist (Murphy). When the subjects of the switch discover what's really going on, their revenge is sweet. It's clear from the supplements on the disc that the film's various participants really enjoyed making Trading Places and that enthusiasm is well-translated to the screen. Particularly welcome is the opportunity to see Eddie Murphy in his prime when he was really funny as opposed to the lame excuses for comedy that he's become associated with more recently. He, Dan Ackroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis, all abetted by Denholm Elliott, work very well together as the collective worm that turns. The humour is continuous throughout the film and varies effectively from verbal to sight to slapstick. This is an adult comedy with a modest degree of nudity and language that is appropriately used in context (one of the extras provides an interesting insight into Don Ameche's view of some of his character's language), and will keep you smiling or laughing out loud throughout. Paramount has done a stellar job on remastering the title for high definition. There's no discernible difference between the HD and BD offerings. Compared to the earlier DVD offering, the image now looks very clean, crisp and clear. Image detail is exemplary and colours look accurate though not vibrant. There's no visual pop here, but I can't imagine anyone being unhappy with the high quality exhibited by this catalogue title. The BD has a 5.1 track while the HD offers a 5.1 Plus effort but there's no discernible difference. Neither provides an audio experience that is particularly memorable. That's not to say there's a problem with the audio. Being dialogue-driven, the film fares just fine in terms of clarity, but there's little surround effect and fidelity overall seems weak. The supplements are highlighted by a making-of documentary that has most of the main players and director John Landis participating. While it's the usual blend of clips and congratulations, there's a little more forthrightness than usual, making it an entertaining watch. One of the other featurettes is also useful in that it helps to explain the stock market trading sequence at the film's end. Recommended.


Premonition (Blu-ray Disc)


Premonition
2007 (2007) - TriStar/MGM (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on July 17th, 2007

Film: B+
Video (1-20): 14
Audio (1-20): 15
Extras: B


Blu-ray Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionUncompressed PCMDolby Digital

Specs and Features (Blu-ray):
96 mins; PG 13; MPEG-4 1080p standard (2.40:1); BD-50 double layer disc, Elite Blue BD packaging; audio commentary with director Mennan Yapo and Sandra Bullock; 2 featurettes; documentary on real premonitions; deleted scenes; gag reel; theatrical trailer; Audio: PCM 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and French; Subtitles in English, French and Spanish;


Among recent films, Memento comes first to mind when viewing Premonition, except that this time rather than time running backwards, it's shuffled randomly like a deck of cards. Premonition covers one week in the life of suburban housewife Linda Hanson (Sandra Bullock), a week during which her husband is apparently killed in a car accident, or is he? The day after, Hanson awakes from sleep to find him having breakfast in their home. Except we soon learn that it may not be the day after at all but one several days before. The film progresses in this fashion, gradually revealing the whole story to us, but it's never clear if the disjointed narrative is actually a premonition of Bullock's or a manifestation of post-event mental trauma. No matter how you view it, there are some gaps in logic that go unexplained, but nevertheless, the situation is thought-provoking and will leave you mulling over the possibilities long after the film is over. Bullock provides a persuasive performance and really anchors the film throughout. It's one of her best opportunities among her recent films (Miss Congeniality 2, Loverboy, The Lake House) and she makes the most of it. Julian McMahon is also fine as her husband, but Kate Nelligan is wasted as her mother. Sony's BD presentation offers a clean and nicely detailed image, but I was seldom blown away by it. It conveyed the sense of being little different than an excellent DVD image. The PCM sound does its job in offering a fine audio experience in terms of clarity and accuracy, but the track itself has little that really stands out - base effects are minimal and surround effects are subtle at best. The disc's extras are a good mix. The audio commentary by Bullock and director Mennan Yapo is generally interesting although there are a number of silent stretches. Also of value is a documentary on real people who claim to have had actual premonitions. The making-of documentary is a modest cut above the standard self-congratulatory efforts. Less interesting are some deleted scenes and a gag reel. Fans of Premonition should be satisfied with the disc overall, but for those who haven't seen the film before, I suggest a rental.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


Barrie Maxwell - Main Page
E-mail the Bits!


Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2002 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com