reviews by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital
recent weeks, there have been a series of new DVD "reissues"
of some of our favorite films on DVD. Most of these new discs could
be considered gratuitous, but we think it's worth taking a closer
look at a couple of them, to see which are REALLY worth your
hard-earned money and which are better left on store shelves...
Limited Editions -
1977-1983 (2006) - Lucasfilm (20th Century Fox)
Film Ratings (IV/V/VI): A/A+/C+
Disc Two Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras - all three): C-/C+/D
[Editor's Note: See
previous review of these films on DVD for our thoughts
on the films and Disc One of this set, which was included in the
previous box set release.]
they're here. The original theatrical versions of the classic Star
Wars films have FINALLY arrived on DVD... and yes, the
quality is a lot less that we could have hoped. I'll give you the
details in a second, but first, if you want to read my thoughts on
the films themselves, be sure to check out
review of the previous DVD box set release. In that review, I
also cover Disc One of THESE 2-disc set releases, which is the exact
same disc that was included in the previous box set. The text that
follows will concern itself exclusively with Disc Two of these new
sets, which contains the classic theatrical versions of the films.
As expected, the films on Disc Two of these sets are presented in
non-anamorphic (letterboxed) widescreen in the original 2.35:1
aspect ratio. The DVDs were mastered from the same 1993,
standard-definition film transfer as the Definitive Edition
laserdisc box set. I will say that these DVDs DO look better than
the laserdiscs. The folks at THX have obviously gone to some trouble
to make the 15-year-old transfers look as good as they possibly can
by 2006 standards, and hats off to them for the effort. But the
reality is, most of the improvement in this presentation over the
previous laserdisc releases can be attributed to the simple
differences you'd expect from a digital presentation (read: DVD)
versus an analog presentation (laserdisc). The quality here is
nowhere near the league of the gorgeous anamorphic-enhanced video of
the special edition versions of these films on DVD (as presented on
Disc One of these sets). But compared to the laserdiscs, the colors
here are more vibrant and accurate, contrast has been enhanced (so
the blacks aren't as gray and the brightest picture areas aren't as
blown out), and detail is somewhat improved. Given the lesser
resolution presented here, however, there are banding issues and all
of the picture flaws you'd expect - particularly noticeable if you
have an anamorphic widescreen display, and choose to magnify the
non-anamorphic image to fill your screen better. The transfer isn't
as horrible as I feared it would be, but it's nowhere near good by
today's standards. The fact that the 1977 Japanese rip-off of Star
in Space, was recently released on DVD with a gorgeous new
anamorphic widescreen transfer makes these non-anamorphic DVDs seem
all the more lackluster by comparison. And yes... a few of the
bootleg DVD versions I've seen hold up fairly well next to this.
The audio is presented in the same Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix
that was announced (and we believe that it's the same mix that was
offered on the laserdiscs, perhaps with some digital
tweaking/sweetening). It's of decent quality - plenty good enough
and it serves the films well. Hey... most of us heard these films in
Mono (or, best case, stereo) the first time around in theaters, so
2.0 Surround here is fine by me. I've never had a beef with the
audio on these new DVDs.
The only extra included on these discs is an Xbox playable demo of
Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game, along with
a promotional trailer for the game. I might actually have to break
down and pick up the game myself one of these days. Everyone keeps
telling me how fun and original it is, so you know...
The bottom line is this: If you have the previous DVD release, you
already own 50% of what you get on these new Limited
Editions. And if you already own the original laserdisc
releases, you're going to have to think long and hard about dropping
$60 for slightly better copies of the original films on DVD. This
release is definitely more for the die-hard super collectors who
just absolutely have to have every single version. If you plan to
watch them on nothing better than a standard 4x3 TV set, then you're
going to be plenty okay with the picture quality. As for you serious
cinephiles, DVD fans and home theater folks, who really care about
A/V quality and worship your anamorphic displays... this DVD release
can ONLY be seen as a major disappointment.
The simple fact is, one of two things is possible here. Either
Lucasfilm already plans to release the classic versions of these
films in better quality at a later date (perhaps in next year's
ultimate Star Wars Saga box
set to commemorate the original film's 30th anniversary)... or this
is the ONLY time the original versions will be available on DVD (and
they're going to "disappear forever"... AGAIN). If the
former is the case, then this feels an awful lot like a blatant
effort to milk a little more money out of an already financially
well-tapped fan base. If, on the other hand, we'll never see these
films on disc looking better than this... then what a shame. If this
IS it, isn't that all the more reason for Lucasfilm to have gotten
it right THIS time? Ah well.
I really, really wish I could recommend these discs to all of you.
If Lucasfilm had JUST done new anamorphic transfers of the original
films, that alone would have made these DVDs an absolute must-have.
As they are, your mileage will vary substantially. If you're one of
the few people on the planet who doesn't already own these films on
DVD... or you just don't care that much about the higher quality a
new transfer would have given you (or that you're getting milked
again for films you've probably already purchased any number of
times)... then go ahead, buy these DVDs with our blessing and enjoy.
For EVERYONE else, however, $60 is just WAY too much for the value
you're NOT getting here. We'd advise you to save your money for
something better... like next year's yet-to-be-announced, ultimate
box set release. 'Cause you know damn well that it's coming, and you
know damn well that it ain't gonna be cheap.
Runner: The Director's Cut
- 1982 (2006) - Blade Runner Partnership/Ladd Company (Warner
Film Rating: A+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/--
You know... I have to tell you, I was surprised to realize that
we've never reviewed Blade Runner
on DVD here at The Bits.
This film is one of my all time favorites, and that sentiment is
shared by the majority of our staffers here. On the other hand,
Warner's original DVD release was pretty awful. It was one of
the studio's very first DVD releases way back in March of 1997,
so you know... the technology has evolved quite a bit since
then. Anyway, I'm pleased to correct our oversight now.
easy to understate the effect that Ridley Scott's Blade
Runner has had on the films that followed it,
particularly in the realm of science fiction. Based on an eclectic
and complex novel by Philip K. Dick (Do
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Blade
Runner is as much a hard-boiled film noir as it is a
sci-fi film. And yet on that score, the film's high-concept premise
ranks it easily alongside such landmarks of the cinematic sci-fi
genre as Stanley Kubrick's 2001.
All you need to do is watch almost ANY of the classic works of
Japanese anime (Akira, Ghost
in the Shell, Patlabor)
and you'll see THIS film's influence in almost every frame.
Set in a dirty, run-down Los Angeles of the (then) near future,
Blade Runner follows the
efforts of a somewhat reluctant police detective named Deckard
(played by a young Harrison Ford, who was just coming into his own
as an actor, fresh off the experience of making The
Empire Strikes Back and Raiders
of the Lost Ark). Deckard's job is to "retire"
(read: kill) rogue, human-like androids called Replicants. These
Replicants are made to do Humanity's dirty work, acting as soldiers,
laborers and sex servants, and they're given human-like emotions and
memories to make them seem more realistic. But those emotions
eventually become troublesome as, over time, the Replicants begin to
build real consciousness and identities of their own. For this
reason, they're given limited, four-year life spans before they
automatically deactivate. But when they become aware of their own "mortality,"
some Replicants become desperate, choosing to run and hide in the
shadows of regular human society, in the vain hope of saving
themselves... or at least understanding the meaning of their brief
existence. When they do, it's Deckard's job to find and destroy them
before they can (potentially) take out their anger on the humans
In addition to Ford's steady on-screen presence, Blade
Runner features great, seminal performances by the likes
of Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah,
not to mention a host of fantastic character actors. The film's
production design was overseen by legendary futurist Syd Mead,
giving it a highly unique visual style never-before-seen on the big
screen. The film also includes a sparse but evocative score by
composer Vangelis (who would later become more commercially known
for his work on Chariots of Fire).
But it's the efforts of director Ridley Scott for which this film is
perhaps best known.
If The Duelists was the film
that first garnered Ridley Scott critical notice, and it was Alien
that brought him to the attention of a much wider audience... Blade
Runner is the film that solidified his acclaim among
hard-core cinephiles and earned him a loyal legion of fans. Ridley's
near manic attention to detail and his use of rich, stylish and
atmospheric staging and camera setups were on full, unrestrained
display here - a fact that caused him significant problems with his
producers and the studio at the time. Surprisingly, when the film
was released into theaters, it was a critical and commercial bomb -
many people just didn't know what to make of it. Over the years,
however, critical opinion has shifted drastically. Blade
Runner is, today, considered one of the best films (if
not THE best) in Scott's decidedly impressive body of work. It
showcases Ridley at his most... well, Ridley. Even upon its original
theatrical release, Blade Runner
quickly and definitively set its director apart from other
filmmakers as a singular, visionary talent.
I've very pleased to tell you that Warner's "limited" DVD
release is like a tall glass of water after a long hike through the
desert. The video quality on this newly remastered edition (which
actually says DIGITALLY REMASTERED on the back of the packaging) is
leaps and bounds better than their original DVD (which was, not
surprisingly, the very first title I EVER purchased on this format).
The original disc was riddled with compression artifacting. The
overall image was softer, despite the use of obvious edge
enhancement and other filters applied to help the look of the
presentation. The colors were more muted, detail was lacking,
contrast was wanting with blacks that looked gray and muddy. Despite
an anamorphic widescreen transfer, the image was slightly (well...
maybe not so slightly) window-boxed as well. Thankfully, the moment
you begin playing this NEW release, you'll notice the difference in
quality. The lettering for the opening titles is solid and crisp
without appearing edgy. Gone are the registration problems that
resulted in a slight side-to-side shifting in the original DVD image
(noticeable during said credits). The color saturation is much
improved, as is overall clarity and image detail. The picture is
smoother, richer and more dimensional looking now, and it's much
cleaner as well. The contrast improvement makes a big difference
here too, with deep, true blacks and whites that aren't overblown.
You'll still see light to moderate film grain and the occasional
print artifact, but this presentation is way better than the
original DVD release. They're not even close.
The audio has also been somewhat improved. Like this new release,
the original DVD offered a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, but
that's where the similarity ends. The original mix has a harsh, even
sharp-sounding quality about it. The new 2.0 Surround track is much
smoother and more natural, creating a more enveloping soundfield.
There's greater LFE support as well, which enhances the audio
experience significantly. A full 5.1 track this certainly isn't, but
like the picture, the audio experience has definitely improved with
this new release.
There are no extras on this disc whatsoever, but the menus have at
least been upgraded slightly - they're static and film-themed now,
rather than just the simple, generic interface that Warner's
original DVD release offered.
Admittedly, this new DVD could be seen as something of a
double-dip, given that Warner is currently planning to release a
MUCH more elaborate, multi-disc version of Blade
Runner on DVD in 2007. But you've at least got to give
the studio credit for letting you know that in advance. Given how
long fans like myself have waited for this film to look better on
disc, the fact that Warner actually DID a new transfer to make it
look better, and the fact that it's only going to set you back $20
($15 or less on sale at many retailers), this remastered DVD is hard
to beat. FYI, Warner has revealed that they're going to release this
film on the new high-definition HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats next
year too... so you'll just have to pardon me while I wipe the drool
off my chin in anticipation. In the meantime, this DVD is
recommended for fans of the film.