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page created: 4/29/08

High-Definition Matters by Barrie Maxwell

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Warner Blu-ray Releases

That’s Entertainment: The Complete Collection (Blu-ray Disc)

That’s Entertainment: The Complete Collection
(Also available on HD-DVD)

The pick of the current crop is actually a release from this past December – That’s Entertainment: The Complete Collection. The content of the three-disc Blu-ray release (also available in HD-DVD) includes everything found on the original standard definition DVD four-disc set, so I direct you to my review of that for the release’s content merits. As to how these films look in high definition, perhaps the easiest way to say it is that it matters little if you already have the standard DVD version – if you love these films and like myself have had all the previous home video incarnations, you’ll be delighted by how well they’ve fared in the transition to high definition and you definitely owe yourself the upgrade.

The native aspect ratio is 1.85:1 with older 1.37:1 clips either pillar-boxed or trimmed to fill the screen as in the original presentation and later 2.35:1 and 2.55:1 widescreen clips letterboxed. We all know about the somewhat variable quality of the many clips to be found in these films, but high definition does them all a favour by increasing the sharpness dramatically. Sure a number of the earlier black and white clips look quite grainy, but the increased sharpness compensates nicely. A good example is the Astaire/Powell tap-dance number from Broadway Melody of 1940. Many of the colour sequences are entrancing, particularly those from musicals that Warners has subsequently restored and accordingly upgraded the clips in the That’s Entertainment compilations. It’s easy to see that films represented here such as The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, It’s Always Fair Weather, and High Society are going to look superb in high definition. All three of the compilations have technically been accorded Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks, but the reality is that most of what we get sounds little more than what it was originally – mono or stereo, with any surround activity rare indeed. Mind you, that matters little. Most of the standards presented here stand on their own merits without the need for the elaborate sound mixes that are sometimes the only thing that masks the mediocracy of so much current fare. Very highly recommended.

Bonnie and Clyde (Blu-ray Disc)

Bonnie and Clyde
(Also available on HD-DVD)

Several months ago, Warners indicated that in the future any catalog titles getting new two-disc DVD special editions would also be released on Blu-ray concurrently. Bonnie and Clyde is the first such release to appear. The packaging is a form of digipak with a good 34-page booklet of background information integrated into it. I won’t say a lot about the film itself as much has already been written about it since 1967, particularly in regard to its recognition as one of those films signifying the break between old Hollywood and the renaissance of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the film as a whole – a triumph of style over substance, but had little time for the title characters played by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Together they seem like a strange combination of feckless idiots and cold-blooded felons.

One never builds up much sympathy for the pair and the stylized blood bath that signals their end is actually welcome. The supporting characters played by Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, and Michael J. Pollard are much more interesting personages and one actually cares what happens to them. The film itself helped usher in the era of overt sex and violence in films and although in regard to the latter it may seem tame by today’s standards, look a little closer – the violence feels real and immediate, only becoming de-personalized in the ending. Warners’ 1.85:1 Blu-ray presentation continues a fine winning streak in regard to its catalog titles. Once again we get an immaculate-looking transfer with excellent dimensionality to the image throughout. The level of detail is very good, allowing one to revel in the many touches of careful period set design that the film sports. Colour fidelity is first rate and some slight grain aids in the very film-like appearance. The Dolby 1.0 audio has been cleaned up well. The disc’s key supplement is an excellent three-part documentary detailed the production background, shooting, and marketing. It draws upon extensive interviews with literally all the principals. Also included are several deleted scenes, wardrobe tests, and a History channel documentary on the real life Bonnie and Clyde. Very highly recommended. Also available on HD-DVD.

I Am Legend (Blu-ray Disc)

I Am Legend
(Also available on HD-DVD)

I Am Legend, the 2007 film starring Will Smith, is at least the third film version of the novel by Richard Matheson. The Last Man on Earth (1964, with Vincent Price) and The Omega Man (1971, with Charlton Heston) are the two well-known earlier efforts. In this latest version, Smith is Robert Neville, a virologist who is immune to a virus that has decimated the Earth. He is seemingly the only survivor in New York City aside from a number of mutant victims who are unable to function in the daylight. Neville struggles to find an antidote to the virus, but one day he falls prey to the increasing cunning of the mutants and finds himself far from the safety of home as darkness approaches. A number of flashbacks provide the broad strokes of what led up to the situation in which Neville finds himself.

Smith is fully believable as Neville, mixing the determination of adhering to strict procedures both in how he runs his life as well as his lab work with endearing humanity (he maintains a running conversation with his dog as well as conversing with mannequins at the local video where he rents and returns discs as though everything were normal). In fact, anchored by Smith (á la Tom Hanks in Cast Away) the film is quite inventive and engrossing during its first two-thirds, taking the time to create Neville’s “new” world thoroughly and effectively, while gradually building suspense mainly through suggestion rather than overt graphic action. Unfortunately, thereafter it chooses the path of easy horror thrills (how many times do we have to be subjected to shrieking, grasping, skin-flayed mutants/zombies in films as a way to generate cheap frights – it’s predictable and increasingly boring in this sort of film). At least the film’s ending is a welcome blend of sadness and hope. If the film itself is a mixed blessing, the Blu-ray transfer from Warners is reference quality for both image and sound. The 2.40:1 image detail is outstanding in every respect with colour fidelity and depth of black spot on. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio handles the quieter ambient sounds of the film’s first portions equally as well as it fires up for the action scenes of the final act. The effectiveness of the latter is also enhanced by the contrast between the tone of the film’s first portions and the last. The supplements include an alternate version of the film that mainly differs in the ending, which to my mind is less satisfying than the theatrical one. Also included is nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes information presented in the form of a number of mini-documentaries, a featurette on the science of epidemics/pandemics (in HD), and four animated comics (also in HD). Recommended as a demonstration disc. Aside from that, the film itself would merit at most a rental.

No Reservations (Blu-ray Disc)

No Reservations
(Also available on HD-DVD)

This column’s amiable timepasser of a film is No Reservations, a predictable romantic comedy involving two chefs, one of whom is the head chef of a trendy restaurant (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the other an opera-loving sous-chef (Aaron Eckhart) who joins her kitchen staff. Complicating things is the young daughter (Abigail Breslin) of Zeta-Jones’ sister who comes to live with her when the sister is killed in a car crash. With being easily able to stay a step ahead of the plot, one can concentrate on the performers and all are very effective. The chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Eckhart is good, and Breslin demonstrates once again how fine a young actress she is.

The film’s food background is somewhat out of the ordinary for this sort of tale, and thus contributes positively to the film’s modest degree of diversion. Direction is inobtrusive, but interestingly is by Scott Hicks who seems to have been flying under the radar for the past few years. The 2.40:1 Blu-ray image is quite satisfying with image detail being very good though with some inconsistency apparent. The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound doesn’t provide much of a workout though some ambient effects are nicely handled. The supplements are unmemorable (an episode of Emeril Live in which Eckhart and Breslin assist in cooking dishes from the film, and an episode of the Food Network series Unwrapped that provides some behind-the-scenes information on the film). Rental at best recommended. Also available on an HD-DVD and DVD combo disc.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Releases

3:10 to Yuma (Blu-ray Disc)

3:10 to Yuma

The arrival of any new western nowadays is always welcome, but when it’s a really good western, it’s cause for celebration. Such an arrival is 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of the western of the same title from 1957. Remakes are always a source of trepidation for me, especially when the original is a superior effort such as this 1957 western starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. In it, Ford played an outlaw who is finally caught and must be transported to the train for Yuma. Heflin plays a farmer down on his luck who in exchange for money agrees to bring Ford to the train even though faced with seemingly insurmountable odds in the form of Ford’s gang who have sworn to free their leader. The remake stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the Ford and Heflin roles respectively and remains fairly true to the original story.

One of the original’s particular strengths was the outlaw leader, a thoughtful and philosophical character well portrayed by Ford. Crowe is equally good in the remake. The Heflin character is better delineated in the remake and again well played by Bale. The ending of the original was somewhat perfunctory after the suspenseful build-up and the remake improves on it substantially even if it errs a little on the side of over-the-top and unrealistic action typical of current-day action films. Overall the 2007 version is a very entertaining and in many respects old-fashioned western that just has you smiling with contentment once it’s all over. Director James Mangold is apparently a fan of the original and it shows in his exciting remake. Lionsgate‘s 2.40:1 Blue-ray presentation looks very good. Image detail is excellent throughout with many scenes demonstrating a very three-dimensional effect. Colour fidelity is particularly good with skin tones and the browns and greens of the west well captured. The only jarring note is the presence of some obvious edge effects at times. The PCM 7.1 audio is outstanding, with particularly aggressive use of the surrounds, both for quieter ambient effects and for the engaging action sequences. Those who like chugging locomotives and authoritative pistol shots in their westerns will find themselves well rewarded. Lionsgate have provided a wealth of supplementary material on the disc and all in HD. There are seven featurettes covering such aspects as the making of the film, the various guns used, the music, historical background (western myths and reality), and a conversation with the original story author, Elmore Leonard. There is also a very informative audio commentary by James Mangold, seven deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and an interactive pop-up feature that provides some in-depth information on selected scenes of the film. Highly recommended.

Coming Soon - Best Bets for May

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (BD from Fox on May 13th) – Newman/Redford western starrer than never grows old. BD features 2.35:1 transfer and the various extras on the standard DVD SE (two audio commentaries, documentary, featurette).

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (BD from Disney on May 13th) – Superbly realized film version of the timeless C.S. Lewis adventure classic. BD features 2.35:1 transfer, PCM5.1 audio, two audio commentaries, seven featurettes, interactive game, bloopers.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (BD from Fox on May 13th) – Engrossing high seas adventure starring Russell Crowe really captures the feel of the Patrick O’Brian novels. BD features 2.40:1 transfer, DTS HD Master Lossless 5.1 audio, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer.

V for Vendetta (BD from Warner Bros. on May 20th) – Thoroughly original futuristic drama with Natalie Portman and John Hurt. BD features 2.35:1 transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, four featurettes, digital short film, and theatrical trailer.

Coming Soon - All the Rest

What follows is the complete listing of all recent and forthcoming feature films (and some TV series) in high definition. The left-hand column of the table lists the BD releases while the right-hand column lists the HD ones. Films highlighted in yellow are new announcements since the last update. Films highlighted in green are classic titles (released theatrically prior to 1970). Films highlighted in red are westerns.

The High-Definition Release Schedule
(as of April 29th)

February 5 (BD) February 5 (HD)
Across the Universe (Sony)
Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (WB)
The Brave One (WB)
Breaker Morant (Image)
Crimson Tide (Disney)
Jane Austen Book Club, The (Sony)
Me, Myself & Irene (Fox)
Wall Street (Fox)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal)

February 12 (BD) February 12 (HD)
Amateurs, The (First Look)
Becoming Jane (Disney)
Gone Baby Gone (Disney)
No Reservations (WB)
We Own the Night (Sony)

Amateurs, The (First Look)

February 19 (BD) February 19 (HD)
In the Valley of Elah (WB)
Michael Clayton (WB)
Run Lola Run (Sony)

American Gangster (Universal)
Galaxina (BCI)
Invasion, The (WB)

February 26 (BD) February 26 (HD)
30 Days of Night (Sony)
Initial D (Tai Seng)
Justice League: The New Frontier (WB)
To Kill a King (Starz)

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (WB)
Beowulf (2007) (Paramount)
Brave One, The (WB)
Rain in the Mountains (Vanguard Cinema)

March 4 (BD) March 4 (HD)
Ice Age (Fox)
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (Fox)
Rookie, The (2002) (Disney)

Into the Wild (Paramount)
No Reservations (WB)
Things We Lost in the Fire (DreamWorks)

March 11 (BD) March 11 (HD)
August Rush (WB)
Dan in Real Life (Disney)
Dogma (Sony)
Gattaca (Sony)
Hitman (Fox)
I, Robot (Fox)
Independence Day (Fox)
No Country for Old Men (Disney)
Sleuth (2007) (Sony)

Fletch (Universal)
In the Valley of Elah (WB)
Michael Clayton (WB)

March 18 (BD) March 18 (HD)
Enchanted (Disney)
I Am Legend (WB)

Atonement (Universal)
Justice League: The New Frontier (WB)

March 25 (BD) March 25 (HD)
Bonnie & Clyde (WB)
Steep (Sony)

April 1 (BD) April 1 (HD)
10.5 Apocalypse: The Complete Miniseries (Echo Bridge)
Alvin and the Chipmunks (Fox)
Artie Lange's Beer League (Echo Bridge)
Blackbeard (2006) (Echo Bridge)
Category 7: The End of the World (Echo Bridge)
Coyote Ugly (Disney)
Curse of King Tut's Tomb, The (Echo Bridge)
Hidalgo (Disney)
Last Sentinel, The (Echo Bridge)
Unbreakable (Disney)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Sony)
Water Horse, The: Legend of the Deep (Sony)

August Rush (WB)

April 8 (BD) April 8 (HD)
6th Day, The (Sony)
Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The (Sony)

I Am Legend (WB)

April 15 (BD) April 15 (HD)
Alien Vs. Predator/Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem Double Feature (Fox)
Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem (Fox)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Image)
Commando (Fox)
Devil (Image)
Juno (Fox)
Passage to India, A (Sony)
Predator (Fox)

Bonnie & Clyde (WB)

April 22 (BD) April 22 (HD)
One Missed Call (WB)
Orphanage, The (New Line)
Sublime: Uncut Version (WB)

April 29 (BD) April 29 (HD)
27 Dresses (Fox)
First Knight (Sony)
Golden Compass, The (New Line)
Ocean's Eleven (WB)
Ocean's Twelve (WB)

May 6 (BD) May 6 (HD)
Air I Breathe, The (Image)
Devil's Own, The (Sony)
First Sunday (Sony)
P.S. I Love You (WB)
Saawariya (Sony)
Shall We Dance (Disney)
Twister (WB)

May 13 (BD) May 13 (HD)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Fox)
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (Disney)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Fox)
Mrs. Doubtfire (Fox)
Untracable (Sony)
Youth without Youth (Sony)

One Missed Call (WB)
Sublime: Uncut Version (WB)

May 20 (BD) May 20 (HD)
Anger Management (Sony)
Company (Image)
National Treasure (Disney)
National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Disney)
Short Circuit (Image)
V for Vendetta (WB)

Ocean's Eleven (WB)
Ocean's Twelve (WB)

May 27 (BD) May 27 (HD)
Dragon Tiger Gate (Tai Seng)
Rambo (Lionsgate)
Rambo: First Blood Part II (Lionsgate)
Rambo III (Lionsgate)
Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set (Lionsgate)

P.S. I Love You (WB)
Twister (WB)

June 3 (BD) June 3 (HD)
The Battle of Britain (MGM)
Bridge Too Far, A (MGM)
Dirty Harry: Special Edition (WB)
Dirty Harry Ultimate Collection (Dirty Harry/Magnum Force/The Enforcer/Sudden Impact/The Dead Pool) (WB)
Eye, The (Lionsgate)
Longest Day, The (Fox)
Meet the Spartans (Fox)
Patton (Fox)
Recruit, The (Disney)
Sand Pebbles, The (Fox)
Semi Pro (New Line)
Signs (Disney)
Weeds: Season 3 (Lionsgate)

June 10 (BD) June 10 (HD)
Be Kind, Rewind (WB)
Broken Trail (Sony)
Bucket List, The (WB)
Jumper (Fox)
Missing, The (Sony)
Natural Born Killers (WB)
Other Poleyn Girl, The (Sony)
Otis: Uncut (Raw Feed/WB)
Professionals, The (Sony)
Signal, The (Magnolia)
Witless Protection (Lionsgate)

June 17 (BD) June 17 (HD)
Fool's Gold (WB)
Men in Black (Sony)
So I Married an Axe Murderer (WB)

June 24 (BD) June 24 (HD)
10,000 B.C. (WB)
Step into Liquid (Lionsgate)

Disco Pig (Vanguard)

July 1 (BD) July 1 (HD)
Batman: The Movie (Fox)
Gangs of New York (Disney)
In the Line of Fire (Sony)
Point Break (Fox)
Vantage Point (Sony)
Wild China (BBC)

July 8 (BD) July 8 (HD)
Batman Begins (WB)
Batman: Gotham Knight (WB)
Sleep Walking (Anchor Bay)

July 15 (BD) July 15 (HD)
Bank Job, The (Lionsgate)

July 22 (BD) July 22 (HD)
Mummy, The (Universal)
Mummy Returns, The (Universal)
Perfect Storm, The (WB)
Scorpion King, The (Universal)

July 29 (BD) July 29 (HD)
Dark City: Director's Cut (New Line)
Robin Hood: Season One (BBC)
Stargate: Continuum (MGM)
Starship Troopers (Sony)
Starship Troopers: Marauder (Sony)

August 12 (BD) August 12 (HD)
Secret, The (Image)

August 19 (BD) August 19 (HD)
Life Before Her Eyes, The (Magnolia)

August 26 (BD) August 26 (HD)
Heroes: Season One (Universal)
Heroes: Season Two (Universal)
How the West Was Won (WB)

September 9 (BD) September 9 (HD)
Gray's Anatomy: The Complete Fourth Season (Disney)

October 7 (BD) October 7 (HD)
Sleeping Beauty (Disney)

October 28 (BD) October 28 (HD)
Tinkerbell (Disney)

November 4 (BD) November 4 (HD)
Shawshank Redemption, The (WB)

December 4 (BD) December 4 (HD)
Lost: The Complete Fourth Season - The Expanded Experience (Disney)

2008 - TBA (BD) N/A
40-Year-Old Virgin, The (Universal)
Adventures of Robin Hood, The (WB)
American Gangster (Universal)
Animatrix, The (WB)
Band of Brothers (HBO)
Bridge on the River Kwai, The (Sony)
Day Watch (Fox)
End of Days (Universal)
Fargo (MGM)
French Connection, The (Fox)
Get Smart (WB)
Good Will Hunting (Disney)
Guns of Navarone, The (Sony)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal)
Incredible Hulk, The (Universal)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount)
Iron Man (Paramount)
Knocked Up (Universal)
Land of the Dead (Universal)
Lawrence of Arabia (Sony)
Mamma Mia (Universal)
Matrix Collection, The (WB)
Miami Vice (Universal)
Mummy, The: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal)
Night Watch (Fox)
Quo Vadis (WB)
Nixon: Election Year Edition (Disney)
Planet of the Apes Collection (Fox)
Speed Racer (WB)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (WB)
Super Troopers (Fox)
U-571 (Universal)
Walk the Line (Fox)
Wall-E (Disney)
Wanted (Universal)
X-Files: Fight the Future, The (Fox)
X-Files: I Want to Believe, The (Fox)
X-Men Trilogy (Fox)
Young Frankenstein (Fox)

2009 - TBA (BD) N/A
Alien (Fox)
Aliens (Fox)
Alien 3 (Fox)
Alien: Resurrection (Fox)
Back to the Future Trilogy (Universal)
Ben-Hur (WB)
Finding Nemo (Disney)
Gone with the Wind (WB)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (WB)
Kill Bill 1 & 2 (Disney)
North By Northwest (WB)
Raintree County (WB)
Star Trek (Paramount)
Wizard of Oz, The (WB)

Barrie Maxwell
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