Quiet on the Western Front
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kids... I'm in Cal-i-forn-i-a, just about finishing up my annual
trip to the West Coast. This has been one for the record books so
far. As Bill wrote on Friday last, the high point was Jahnke, Bill
and my road trip to Meteor Crater in Arizona (a high point within a
high point - on the way back to L.A., standing in the middle of the
Mohave Desert at 2 o'clock in the morning staring up in the sky and
realizing I hate city light pollution for the first time in my life.
It was truly one of the most beautiful sights I've had in my adult
life; it was the perfect night to see the stars lit up so
brilliantly). The first third of this trip was spent in Vegas with
the EMA crowd as part of the Home Theater
Forum/Digital Bits 10 Year Anniversary, where we were met
by some really great studio execs and industry professionals. Even
better than that was; I got to meet and hang with the Home
Theater Forum guys and gals and the TV
Shows on DVD crew - super fine folks all. Everyone was
sweet, fun and down to Earth. We talked about our set-ups, favorite
films and of course our opinion on the so-called Format War.
And boy, did I get to see it for myself.
I knew if I came out here to the EMA that I'd see some of the
spectacle first hand, but I didn't really think I'd SEE it. It all
came in a flash, while sitting at our final planned event - the
Universal sponsored HD-DVD discussion panel, starring Universal
senior VP Ken Graffeo, HD-DVD evangelist Kevin Collins, Robert Zohn
(a very nice man who has a high-end home theater retail company but
really had no reason to be sitting on the panel except that he
prefers HD-DVD even though he's "format neutral") and a
Louie Anderson look-a-like named Michael Greeson who heads up a
think tank dedicated to understanding the consumer mindset during
this battle between seemingly identical formats and pretends to be
some lame "technology Every Joe" but when pushed into a
corner whips out enough real world home theater experience to make
his posturing before that much more apparent and ends up coming off
like SNL's Frozen Caveman
Lawyer ("Now, I know nothing about his DVD thing - all this
technology scares and confuses me, BUT...").
Don't get me wrong... I REALLY don't give a shit where this "war"
takes us or which side wins - it makes no difference to me - so
turning this panel into the cast of a cartoon program isn't meant to
poke fun at HD-DVD or try and make Blu-ray seem cooler. The problem
I had with the panel I watched, is the people on it didn't seem to
really want to be there and, as nice as they were as people, you
could tell they held a little bit of contempt for the audience. Or
maybe they knew Bill Hunt was there, locked on and waiting to fire.
Bill, apparently thanks to a bit of devil's advocacy on my part
before the panel, was wound pretty tight and ready to spring. Sadly,
aside from a few well placed comments and good points made, Bill
wasn't really allowed to talk. But that's okay - that's not the
problem I had.
The HD-DVD camp seems to think that the Home Theater crowd, the
early adopters, are the reason there's a format war. That's really a
load. The Home Theater Forum
are simply a group of enthusiasts who love cinema so much that they
either built theaters into their home or they have a really good
set-up. I talked to several people who were there and, after 12
years in this business, I can tell you the people who were at these
panels are a far cry from the people I knew as "early adopters"
back in the days of laserdisc and the early days of DVD. And that's
a very good thing, by the way. For the studios to dismiss these
people because they don't represent the "mainstream consumer"
is a mistake, because frankly these people ARE the mainstream
consumer. At least, they represent what the mainstream consumer will
evolve into in a few years. Most of the people I met are people who
had no idea what pink noise, luminance or absorption were four or
five years ago, but they could now school me on the benefits of
direct fire versus dipole surround speakers or how four subwoofers
can be properly placed in a room to create the perfect bass sound
experience. The point is, studios should want people to know more
about this stuff, because you can't reap the benefit of hi-def DVD
without proper, or at least qualified, sound and video hardware. The
Home Theater Forum membership
is the overall future of DVD consumerism and the studios shouldn't
simply consider them a niche group. To their benefit, the studios
have been great to the members of HTF
over the years, so don't take this tirade as an attack on the
studios - just a message to them that better care should be taken
when looking at consumers versus enthusiasts.
Anyway, after all of this Bill asked me to finally post the opinion
I have on the two formats; the opinion I've been prattling on about
behind the scenes. Well, here it goes: Blu-ray is going to win.
Using science, market trend and consumer insight, it's very easy to
make that leap. But you have to look at the whole thing. HD-DVD is,
right at this moment, the more interactively robust format. When you
see 300 on HD-DVD, you will be
tempted to choose right there because the coolest thing that HD-DVD
does that Blu-ray doesn't right now is picture-in-picture viewing.
Watching 300 with a video feed
of the original bluescreen video is quite frankly a badass
experience. But starting later this year and moving into next year,
many new Blu-ray players will be able to do the same thing - but
will do so with a hi-def feed. Something HD-DVD can't and won't do.
[Editor's note: Standard definition PiP
capability is mandatory in the new BD spec, which all BD players
after 11/07 must comply with, however high-def PiP capability is
optional - this capability, and how widespread it becomes, will
depend on the individual player manufacturers] All around,
next year, Blu-ray will be better, stronger and faster than HD-DVD
is; but HD-DVD got into the market with more features first, so
you'll see a lot of ads and reports and web stories luring you in.
Don't be fooled. Please.
More than anything I'm a consumer advocate. I have no stake in
either format. Contrary to what's been said, The
Bits isn't in anyone's pocket. We have simply looked at
things the way they are, the way that they've moved in the past, and
I'm saying that jumping into the fray at this point for you is a
waste. Trust me: stay away from hi-def DVD for about a year. Both
formats will be ready to impress you come Summer of 2008. Then
you'll have piles of discs available to choose from, fully
interactive experiences on both sides and audio/video to die for.
I've been fully immersed in the glory of BOTH formats over the last
week and I can tell you, it'll be worth the wait. Eventually.
That's all I have for now. I'm about to hop into a car and head
down to Comic-Con. Anyone who's there should come to our panel on
Thursday at 11 AM. We only have an hour, but if you're a fan of, oh,
I dunno... Blade Runner, Twin
Peaks, Bryan Singer and Hellboy,
you'll want to be there to hear from our panel of DVD producers.
Then, when it's all over, come on up and say hey to me and Bill.
To make this column even more worthwhile, here are three reviews
for some discs I've watched in Bill's theater while "on
vacation" - see what happens when Bill has me captive? He makes
2007 (2007) - Paramount
Everyone who reads this site or even Googles my name, knows I'm
one of the biggest David Fincher fans on the planet. I always
have been, and it looks like I always will be. Fincher's newest
film Zødiac is just
a solid piece of work.
Slow and methodic, the film, when it ends, comes off in the
perfect way to tell the story of a crime with no solution, yet
it doesn't come up with any "out of left field"
theoretics. It shows the facts, as they happened with the people
that found them and then brings everything to a solid conclusion
with an ending statement fortifying the reality that there are
no answers, but we saw all there is to see. It ends up being the
greatest episode of Law & Order
follows the long journey the investigation of the eponymous central
California serial killer took. From seeing the murders take place to
following the separate investigations taken within the neighboring
towns the murders took place in by police and newspapermen, to the
personal investigation undertaken by newspaper cartoonist Robert
Graysmith (played with an overeager charm by Jake Gyllenhaal) whose
involvement lasted from the moment the first Zødiac letter
arrived at the San Francisco Chronicle
and whose must-own book (by true crime buffs at least) serves as the
basis for this film. Fincher uses his strong but understated digital
filmmaking techniques to pull some incredible stuff off, including a
camera following a taxi as it drives through San Francisco and a
trick to show how much time has gone by in the investigation which
is as novel as it is brilliant. When the film is all done, I felt
like I saw everything there is to see and ended up really enjoying
the entire ride Fincher took me on.
But apparently I'm full of it, 'cause the only extra on this disc
is a moody commercial letting everyone know that a DVD and high-def
special edition is in the works for release in 2008 with additional
footage and special edition material that, if it's what I think it
is, may be legendary in the annals of true-life crime reporting. So
apparently there IS more to see and I for one can't wait until this
In terms of video and sound quality, both are as good as you can
get without a hi-def disc. The video is presented in anamorphic
widescreen and provides a very enjoyable picture. There are times
some of Fincher's digital work is a bit more apparent than others -
a problem that I can see being "fixed" once the hi-def
version comes out next year - but in the end, I was quite pleased.
The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds great, with nice play
in all the speakers giving a moody sound design that will have you
looking over your shoulder here and there throughout.
It's kinda lame that we have to wait for the bigger better edition,
but at least Paramount is being up front about it. That makes this
edition a great candidate for a rental or a purchase for those, like
me, can't get enough of Fincher.
Monster Squad: 20th Anniversary Edition
1987 (2007) - Lionsgate
I was working at a movie theater when this film came out back
in 1987. As a fan of all things monsters, I thought it was cute,
fun and inspired. But I haven't given the film much thought
since being bombarded by it as I walked up and down the aisles
four or five shows a day for a couple of weeks. Still, when Bill
handed it to me the other day and said, "You like monsters,
you want to review this?" I was all like, "Cooooooool."
Well, I popped it in and guess what? It's actually as good as I
remember it being 20 years ago. It's aged a bit, thanks mostly
to the music (ugh... the end credit rap is awful) and its use of
the cliche 80's montage; but the early Stan Winston monster
designs, the fun dialogue courtesy of Shane Black and the
tongue-in-cheek direction by Fred Dekker all holds up quite
story is simple; all of the copyright-free designed Universal
Monsters gather with a plan to use an ancient amulet to shift the
balance of Good and Evil to their side. Dracula, Frankenstein,
Mummy, Wolfman and Gill Man (a.k.a. Creature from the Public Domain)
only have one chance every hundred years to act. The last time Van
Helsing screwed up their party - now it's up to a group of genre
kids (the cool nerd with leadership qualities, the funny sidekick,
the badass with a heart of gold, the fat kid and the little kid and
his faithful dog - oh, and the precocious little sister) who love
monster movies and, in their heart of hearts, believe in them.
Well... when they find out monsters are real, they join forces with
the creepy neighbor (who's really a sweet old man) and get ready for
battle. Monster Squad is very
much a film made possible by the success of The
Goonies, but it has a charm all its own. Fred Dekker has
gone on record saying his inspiration was merging the Abbott
and Costello Meet Frankenstein mode with the Little
Rascals, and by golly that's exactly what this is. It's
fast, fun and sure to be enjoyed by kids of all ages.
The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic and looks pretty darn
good. It retains its cinematic look with a good color palette, solid
blacks and no digital compression. It's no where near a hi-def
presentation, but serves the film nicely. Sound is presented in both
Dolby Digital 5.1 & the original stereo. The 5.1 is nicely
expanded, but there is little to no play with the surrounds - most
is front and center, but it's obviously fuller than the 2.0 track,
which also sounds good if that's the way you want to go.
In terms of extras, this special edition from Lionsgate really goes
balls out. And I'm a bit on the fence as to whether the special
edition works or not. The big piece here is a five-part documentary
called Monster Squad Forever!,
which goes on and on and on and ends up being very boring, sadly.
There's a lot of information presented here, with tons of behind the
scenes pictures and new interviews with surviving cast and crew, but
it peters out several times and lost me. The best news is Phoebe
(the little sister played by Ashley Bank) grew up to be a fox and a
half. Who would've guessed?
I love this little flick as much as the next guy, but after a
while, enough is enough. Better are the twin commentaries. One is
Dekker with three grown up kids (Bank, the leader, Andre Gower, and
the badass, Ryan Lambert) where a lot of the same ground from the
doc is covered, but it's much more spontaneous and fun. It's a lot
like listening to some old friends talk about a landmark trip they
took in their youth which, all obviousness aside, is exactly what
this was. The other commentary is with Dekker and his Director of
Photography, Bradford May. This one is a bit stuffier, not as fun,
but very informative with a lot of focus on the behind-the-scenes
politicing between producer Peter Hyams and Dekker. Other extras
include the trailer, some TV spots, a selection of deleted scenes
(nothing much really, trims actually), a storyboard sequence, stills
and a vintage interview with Frankenstein (Tom Noonan in
character). It's a lot of stuff, but mostly it all comes off as
over-inflated and tiring. But the movie is still good enough that it
in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society (Limited
2007 (2007) - Manga (Bandai)
I have no idea if this is a good thing or not; but I have no
idea what the hell is going on in this movie. I couldn't tell
you a damn thing actually. But MAN, do I love the Ghost
in the Shell series. Mainly because it doesn't cater
to me. It doesn't give a shit if I get it or not, it just keeps
plowing ahead and my only hope is, maybe I'll catch up.
Ultimately, I have to watch the show two or three times and
then, maybe... I'll have a better idea of what's going on.
What I think this one is about about is this: It takes place a
few years after the conclusion of the last Stand
Alone Complex series. The Major has left the group
and, after Batou turned the job down, Togusa is now in charge.
The investigation of a series of mysterious suicides leads to an
intricate child abduction conspiracy that has, at its center,
something to do with the state's elderly care network and
somehow, someway the Major is involved. Maybe.
interesting that the Stand Alone Complex
series has been said to be unconnected to the movie series, yet in a
way, this movie serves as a sort of prequel to the movie or at least
a way of setting up the ideas from the film as being part of the
series. Maybe in the future we'll see the Stand
Alone Complex "remake" the film and take it in
a new direction; judging by the really cool stuff in the series and
this film, I'd say that would be quite cool. The only complaint
everyone seems to have about the original film is that anti-climatic
feeling so many of us had after its completion. That could very
easily be rectified by revisiting it with a larger canvas like the
one this series runs on.
Solid State Society looks
great on DVD. The anamorphic widescreen video holds solid black,
bright colors and no distortion. Audio is available with Dolby
Digital 5.1 and DTS, in both Japanese and English, and both sound
nice and robust.
This review is of the special three-disc edition. Disc One is the
film and it has a very neat faked hi-def interactive feature: the
film's storyboards available as a subtitle track sort of like a
picture-in-picture. They give you an idea of what will be available
to you in the future with hi-def's interactivity. It's pretty cool.
Also on Disc One is a short called Uchikomatic
Days which is in the vein of the Tachikoma
Days series on the Stand Alone
Complex episode discs.
Disc Two holds the World Work File,
a neat feature that sums up the episode (proving to me that more
people that I were confused by the story) with interviews from the
crew about why the choices that were made were made. It's a great
supplement and worth watching once you're done with the film. The
next feature is a piece called Making of
Tachikoma Robot and focuses on Tomotaka Takahasi from
world acclaimed Robo Garage, who was commissioned to create a small
promotional version of the Tachikomo robot. It's a nice look at the
real world thought process that went into creating a scaled down
working version of an anime designed robot. Next up is Anime
+ Car Design: Designing the Future Car which is a
featurette about the announcement that Nissan and Production I.G.
were joining forces to put Nissan concept cars in the anime.
Finally, there is a behind-the-scenes interview with cast and crew
from the English dub, an interview with the head of Production I.G.;
Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, separate trailers for the English and Japanese
versions and promos for other Bandai and Manga Video projects.
Disc Three of the set is nothing more than the film's soundtrack,
but it's cool to have.
If you're a fan of the Ghost
series, you'll love this film. Do check it out.
Alright, I'm on my way to San Diego. If you spot Bill, me, Jahnke
or Sarah, please do come on up and say hey.
I'll check in again very soon, but until then, keep spinning those
Irvine, CA - 7/25/07
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