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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt and Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum
1940 (2009) - Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 10th, 2009
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD

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


Pinocchio is the very last of the Walt Disney Platinum collection line-up to appear in proper form on DVD. Back in 1999, after mass requests, Disney cranked out a quickie, high- priced "limited edition" box set (full of laser disc rehashes) to keep fans at bay, but this was pulled from the shelves within a year. The Walt Disney Platinum Collection was born a year later in 2000, and the eventual result is this new Platinum Edition on DVD and Blu-ray.


Pinocchio comes to us in an extremely clean and virtually flawless high-bitrate encode on Blu-ray. I would personally say that it's even just a little too clean for my tastes. While no detail feels lost, there's a certain analog warmth that comes from hand-painted and, in this case, hand-inked animation on film, with all its little imperfections - the uneven application of paint, a slightly wavy ink line, film grain. These things give character to the image, and much of it is simply gone here. Now to be sure, 98% of the population will consider this the marvel of restoration work that it surely really is, but I just can't help noting the slightly artificial feeling that comes with it. There's been a lot of debate online in Disney fan circles as to the color timing here. I've been assured by people in the know that Disney's archival teams are second to none in this respect, and that they've referenced the original cell animation artwork from the studio vaults to best determine the color timing for this release. So if the color differs here from past editions, it's much more likely because those were inaccurate. Video releases of Disney titles in the 90s tended to have a high brightness push, to make them look as colorful as possible, and so many people have gotten used to those presentations, as opposed to the more varied, nuanced and accurate presentation here.

One video-related special feature that deserves note at this point is the special side bars that were painted for this Blu-ray release. Because many of the masses are still allergic to any unused space on their television displays, Disney had one of their best artists paint what amounts to a picture frame for this 1.33:1 aspect ratio image. These framing boxes change with the scenes of the movie. Personally, I found them very attractive, but if you don't agree, they can easily be turned off. It should be noted that the normal popup menu is not accessible when using these sidebars.

On the audio side of things, I don't think anyone would ever make the mistake of calling any audio recorded in 1940 "reference", but luckily the sheer delight of the performances and score manage to shine through here anyway. The DTS-HD Master Audio track stays locked on the front channel almost all the time, with the occasional cue spread out to other channels, so this is absolutely not the title to demo your new sound system with. The original Dolby Digital mono track actually sounds a lot more even to me and, given the inherent limitations of the source material, can be enjoyed without much loss of fidelity if you prefer it. The DTS presentation is simply louder. Make sure you level match (+8db for the Dolby) if you want to do your own comparison.

The new release of Pinocchio has a great heritage to live up to, thanks not only to four generations of filmgoers, but a long line of stellar special editions. Thankfully, as is befitting a true Disney classic, the studio has saved some of their best work for last. Pinocchio takes full advantage of the new capabilities of the Blu-ray format. First up on the disc is a Picture-in-Picture track featuring Leonard Maltin, Eric Goldberg and J.B. Kaufman. While they talk about the film, storyboards, archival footage and photographs pop in and out of the screen to illustrate their discussion. This feature can also be enjoyed as a traditional audio-only commentary, and at the same time as a text-based trivia track. The disc's BD-Live connectivity (if your player supports it) allows you to access online chat, a trivia game and a link-up to the Disney Movie Rewards program. More traditionally, the disc includes a collection of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) presented in storyboard form, along with a recording of a deleted song (Honest John) that didn't make it to the animation stage. Moving on, The Sweat Box quickly covers the development of the story through daily screenings of storyboarded sequences and animation, a technique employed so that as little time and money were wasted as possible when building the movie. There's also an archive of live action footage taken to give animators reference, available with narration or without (there was no sound), and an exhaustive collection of production, advertising and other associated artwork. The really good material is found in the form of No Strings Attached, an almost hour-long documentary (in HD) on the making of Pinocchio. The production is covered from inception, with the film's heavy burden as the follow up to Snow White, to its eventual release and audience reception as a masterpiece. Less fun is Geppettos Then and Now, which is a rather dry look at the history of toy making. Finally, making sure the kids stay engaged, are a selection of BD-Java Pleasure Island Carnival Games. Honestly, I don't see why they don't just include some flash based games that you can download onto an SD Card and play in your PC. They run better, and the remote is hardly a good gaming tool. Any family with a Blu-ray player is likely also to have a Wii or a PS3, so why not make transferable games for those and cut out the middleman?

In any case, Pinocchio is an artifact of a time gone by - a time when children weren't talked down to by movies like they are today. Walt Disney used animation because it was the best tool to tell the stories he wanted to tell, whereas today even his studio is guilty of using their films mostly to sell toys. I wish we hadn't lost the ability to challenge children through film, which is why a lot of my favorite films growing up (like Goonies or D.A.R.Y.L.) are still enjoyable as an adult. Pinocchio takes its source material seriously and, at the same time, is an undisputed champion in showing the depth of what can be done with traditional, hand-drawn animation. I'm pleased to say that the studio done Walt proud with the film on Blu-ray, and has given new definition to the term "reference quality" when dealing with the gems of their catalog on disc. I hope other studios rise to the challenge with their own classic titles, because everyone wins when a film this special is preserved for generations to come.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com


Let the Right One In (Blu-ray Disc)

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Let the Right One In
2008 (2009) - EFTI/SVT/Filmpool Nord/Magnet (Magnolia)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 10th, 2009
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD

Film Rating: B+
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: C-


Let the Right One In is a surprising Swedish horror film, centered around a 12-year old boy named Oskar. Oskar lives alone in an apartment building with his single mother. He's shy, with few friends, and is a regular target of bullies in his class. One day, a 12-year old girl named Eli and her guardian move into the apartment next door. She's shy too, also with no friends, and she's a bit odd.


Both are obviously lonely, and so they forge a gradual friendship. But soon... as a series of murders happens in the community around them... Oskar begins to realize that Eli is a vampire.

This is all handled with a real maturity of storytelling and sensibility. The film isn't particularly gratuitous, nor is it ever really scary - not in the traditional sense at least. Few of the usual Hollywood genre clichés are in evidence. In fact, you never once see fangs. Rather, this film focuses on the two kids and how they relate to one another. What's particularly interesting is how the girl is portrayed. Imagine becoming vampire at age 12, and you're stuck at that age forever. In a Hollywood film, you'd see a wise, ancient intellect in a child's body. But here, Eli is emotionally and intellectually frozen at that age, so even though she's probably hundreds of years old, she sees and deals with things as a child. She kills (and her guardian kills for her) because she must, but she's not portrayed as evil. She's just a little girl who happens to be a vampire, trying to understand the world and her place in it. Oskar accepts her for what she is, and their story is absolutely fascinating to watch play out on screen. There are a couple of scenes that are less effective than the whole, and so actually pull you out of the story, specifically a subplot about a woman Eli infects during an attack who starts becoming a vampire herself. It's just a bit too obvious and occasionally even silly. But there are other moments so unexpectedly creepy and genuine, they'll leave you smiling.

The high-definition transfer on Blu-ray seems underwhelming at first, but once you start watching you begin to realize that it's a very satisfying and film-like presentation. Color is muted by design, with excellent contrast and good fine detail. There's also very light film grain visible. I saw this film first during its theatrical run, and I can attest to the fact that this is an excellent representation of that experience. Audio-wise, again the mix seems somewhat underwhelming upon first listen, as this is a very dialogue-heavy film. However, the front soundstage is big and wide, with the surround channels filling in atmosphere and delivering the film's sparse score. Dialogue is clear and clean, and bass is excellent throughout. DTS-HD MA audio is present in both the original Swedish and an English dub (the Swedish is definitely preferred), with subtitles available in English, English narrative, English SDH and Spanish.

The extras on the disc, unfortunately, are limited. Included are 4 deleted scenes, presented in 16x9 SD and totaling about 5 minutes in all. None are particularly revealing, however the final scene is rather sweet. I'm not quite sure why it was cut. There's also an 8-minute EPK-style featurette, presented in 4x3 letterbox SD, which offers some director's comments and a look behind-the-scenes at the filming. Notable here is a closer look at how the pool scene was shot. Finally, you get galleries of about 20 behind-the-scenes photographs, some quite good, and 5 poster artwork images. It's not much, but then this is a decidedly sparse film, so perhaps that's not surprising.

Let the Right One In is refreshing and well worth your time, especially if you're interested in a unique take on the genre. It's equal parts charming and chilly, a deft and delicate brand of horror the likes of which Hollywood is utterly incapable of nurturing. I should note that it's based on a book, which I haven't read. (If any of you have, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.) It's a great little film, worth checking out on Blu-ray even if only as a rental.

Bill Hunt, Editor
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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