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: 11/13/06



High-Definition Classics and Beyond by Barrie Maxwell

Back to Page One

Short Takes on Current Titles Now Available in HD


Unforgiven (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Unforgiven
1992 (2006) - Warner Bros.
Released on HD-DVD on May 16th, 2006
(also available on Blu-ray Disc)

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Film: A+
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: A


Specs and Features:
131 mins, R, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), HD-30 DL, Elite Red HD packaging, all DVD special features included in standard definition, audio: DD Plus 5.1 (English) and 2.0 (French and Spanish), Closed Captioned


The release of this dark (figuratively and literally) western by Clint Eastwood in 1992 and its subsequent winning of numerous awards seemed to mark the zenith of Eastwood's career, but after a brief pause, he has gone on to even greater heights in the new century with Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Flags of Our Fathers. Meanwhile, he has resisted any urge to return to the western, allowing Unforgiven to stand as his summary of everything he feels about the genre. Its story of an aging ex-gunfighter driven by first circumstance and then inevitability to his old ways is a film of endless satisfaction on all levels. Every previous home video release of this film (from laserdisc to DVD to DVD SE) has given us an improved view of it and this HD version is no exception. It's still not perfection because the odd edge effect is evident and skin tones don't always seem quite right, but the detail in the face of the difficult night and gray weather scenes is impressive and the film's cinematography is very well showcased by the sharpness and depth of the image. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound track is also very impressive offering subtle surround effects and more aggressive sounds associated with the weather and gunshots with equal aplomb. The DVD SE's supplement package is included in standard definition on the HD disc. It's a fine assemblage of commentary and documentaries that covers pretty well all the bases. Aside from The Searchers, Unforgiven is the only western so far available in HD and a package that's hard to beat.


Apollo 13 (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Apollo 13
1995 (2006) - Universal
Released on HD-DVD on April 25th, 2006

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Film: A
Video (1-20): 16
Audio (1-20): 16
Extras: B


Specs and Features:
140 mins, PG, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), HD-30 DL, Elite Red HD packaging, most DVD features included in standard definition, audio: DD Plus 5.1 (English, French and Spanish), English SDH


I know Bill Hunt's already done an extensive review of Apollo 13 previously on The Bits, available here, but I just wanted to express my admiration for this terrific film too. It's very difficult to filmize a real event that one has lived through and still manage to capture it in such a way that the drama and suspense seem as equally real as the actual occurrence once did. Apollo 13 is one film that succeeds admirably in that regard. The tension of the crew's final minutes of re-entry through the atmosphere, for example, is nail-biting stuff no matter how many times you see it. I might rate the video and audio a point higher than Bill did (the ratings above are Bill's so as not to confuse things), but that's quibbling - this is a very solid presentation in all respects, with special nods to the image detail throughout and the combined audio and video experience of the Apollo 13 lift-off in particular.


U-571 (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


U-571
2000 (2006) - Universal
Released on HD-DVD on May 23rd, 2006

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital PlusDTS

Film: B+
Video (1-20): 16
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A


Specs and Features:
117 mins, PG-13, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), HD-30 DL, Elite Red HD packaging, all DVD features included in standard definition, audio: DD Plus 5.1 (English, French and Spanish), DTS 5.1 (English), English SDH


I'm a sucker for submarine films, and although this is not one of the very best ones, it's still diverting entertainment. Of course the history is wrong as it was the British who captured the first Enigma machine from a German U-boat and the plot is rather contrived, but the filmmakers do manage to convey the era well and reflect the youthful age of military personnel of the time. With action sequences that are suspensefully staged and characters (despite most being the usual stereotypes) who are well acted, the almost two-hour running time passes quickly. It helps that the HD image transfer is excellent with both interior submarine scenes and exterior sea scenes (frequently in gloom or cloud) offering excellent detail and colour replication. Edge effects were a minor quibble with the DVD version, but are virtually non-existent in HD. The sound is offered in Dolby Digital Plus or DTS 5.1 and is demo quality in all respects. The special features are appreciable and informative. A winner!


The Polar Express (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


The Polar Express
2004 (2006) - Warner Bros.
Released on HD-DVD on September 26th, 2006

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Film: A
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: B-


Specs and Features:
100 mins, G, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), HD-30 DL, Elite Red HD packaging, all DVD features included in standard definition, audio: DD Plus 5.1 (English), Closed Captioned


Were you a fan of the book but hesitated to see the movie because of uncertainty about the performance-based animation that forms its basis. Or were you a Tom Hanks fan who hesitated because you wondered if embodying six of the story's characters, including the little boy who's the central figure, the Train conductor, and Santa Claus himself, might just be a bit too much? Well, hesitate no longer. This is a magical entertainment that fully captures the original story, celebrates the joyfulness of Christmas, and really conveys the ambivalent state of mind of youngsters on the cusp of no longer believing in Santa Claus. What could be better than a steam-powered train that serves hot chocolate and takes you on a thrilling rollercoaster ride to a magical land that looks exactly like one's best imaginings of Santa's North Pole home? And what could be better than viewing it in the friendly confines of one's own home on Christmas Eve in HD? Virtually nothing, given the disc that Warners has made available. The image is spotless and incredibly vibrant with nicely saturated colour, excellent image detail, and no evidence of edge effects whatsoever. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track is a fine match for the video in degree of excellence. It shines best whenever the train is the focus of things, delivering satisfyingly deep base, but handles more subtle sounds with good clarity and presence too. The DVD SE's supplements have been included on the HD DVD and there is a wealth of items, but too few have real heft. Like the supplements on some of the Harry Potter films, they're aimed at a younger audience in many respects. Add this one to the list of perennial holiday standards.


Batman Begins (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Batman Begins
2005 (2006) - Warner Bros.
Released on HD-DVD on October 10th, 2006

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital TrueHDDolby Digital Plus

Film: A-
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A


Specs and Features:
140 mins, PG-13, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), HD-30 DL, Elite Red HD packaging, IME (In-Movie Experience) commentary, all DVD SE features presented in standard definition, audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), DD Plus 5.1 (English, French and Spanish), Closed Captioned


Batman sure has been kicked around over the years. He received decent treatment in a couple of 1940s Columbia serials although neither are high water marks for that format. He was then subjected to the indignity of the campy 1960s television series. His return to the big screen in the generally appealing Batman (although I never warmed to Michael Keaton) seemed to presage better things, but subsequent sequels sullied the franchise. Then we got a rebirth last year with Batman Begins. Although not perfect because of a second half that threatens to verge into sort of over-editing and overblown action sequences that characterize so many current action movies, the film succeeds overall due to fine casting decisions (the most important of which are Christian Bale as Batman, Liam Neeson as a mysterious teacher, and Gary Oldman as young detective Gordon), direction by Christopher Nolan that elicits a fair degree of emotional response to the material as well as developing considerable suspense, and a first half that presents an inspired turn on the nature of Batman's origins. The HD presentation is excellent. Whether in a depressing Chinese prison, atop a windswept and snowy Asian mountain, on a glittering ice-covered lake, in the crisp brightness of a sumptuous mansion, or in the gloom of a decaying Gotham city, the image impresses with an incredibly detailed, three-dimensional, and film-like character. Blacks are deep and colours are completely natural. With no evidence of compression effects, this is a superbly authored disc. Equally impressive is the sound experience, offered in both Dolby Plus 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film offers the full sonic experience of an action film with effective use of the surrounds and impressive LFE, yet subtle surround and background effects are also well handled when the situation warrants. The music score (by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) is a dynamic presence throughout. The disc includes all the features from the previous two-disc DVD version presented here in standard definition. Also included is an IME (In-Movie Experience) - an HD-DVD exclusive that is essentially a combined audio/video commentary that can be engaged optionally to accompany the movie. It's not continuous but is a generally effective supplement. It features director Christopher Nolan, writer David Goyer, and other crew and cast members. The supplement package may not be quite a home run, but with the quality of the film transfer, Batman Begins is one of the best HD-DVD offerings available.


Mission: Impossible III (HD-DVD)

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Mission: Impossible III
2006 (2006) - Paramount
Released on HD-DVD on October 30th, 2006
(also available on Blu-ray Disc)

HD-DVD Format1080p - Analog Full ResolutionDolby Digital Plus

Film: B
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A


Specs and Features:
125 mins, PG-13, VC1 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), 2 HD-30 DL discs, Elite Red HD packaging, "enhanced" commentary, all DVD special features included (some in standard definition, some in high-definition), audio: DD Plus 5.1 (English, French and Spanish), English SDH


The first Mission: Impossible movie started off the franchise on a promising note. It was fairly well-acted and possessed of a fairly complex plot that actually allowed one to think a bit. Then came the sequel which, directed by John Woo, sacrificed intelligence for the sort of ridiculous action sequences that are somehow believed necessary to maintain attention nowadays. Now we have the third installment which was viewed in some quarters as a box office disappointment despite its $400M worldwide gross. The film itself is an improvement on the previous one as more time is devoted to developing the Ethan Hunt character played by Tom Cruise. To be sure, plenty of action is retained in diverse locations such as Berlin, the Vatican, and Shanghai. The best of these sequences is the Vatican one which really captures the spirit of the old TV series. The Shanghai scenes look nice, but the premise of one of the major set-pieces there (our hero jumps off a building, swings on a cable like a pendulum from one skyscraper to another, and falls on a sloped roof where he manages to shoot two guards as he slides to the edge) really stretches things. Still, the overall effect of the movie is diverting and makes for a decent popcorn experience. Enhancing that is a really fine HD-DVD presentation utilizing two discs. The image is another superb effort rivaling that for Batman Begins among current film releases on HD-DVD. This film is full of colour and texture not to mention some difficult night-time scenes, but all are rendered sharply and with fine detail. Blacks are very deep and stable while skin tones are accurate. There are no edge effects evident. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track is also reference quality with very active and effective use of the surrounds not to mention a thorough workout for one's subwoofer. The latter is particularly noticeable during the attack on the bridge sequence (somewhat reminiscent of True Lies, which sure would be welcome in HD too). The supplements are very extensive though a little repetitive - comprising an enhanced audio commentary by Tom Cruise and director J.J. Abrams that also expands into a video format like Warners' In Movie Experience and over two hours worth of making-of type information. The latter are basically the same as present on the Standard DVD, but most are presented in HD on the HD-DVD disc. A reasonably entertaining movie with a great disc presentation. Note that Mission: Impossible III in HD-DVD is available separately or as part of a box set known as the Mission: Impossible - Ultimate Missions Collection and also containing HD-DVD versions of Mission: Impossible and Mission Impossible II. Both titles are also available in Blu-ray Disc format as well.

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