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page added: 4/14/10
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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Armageddon (Blu-ray Disc)

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Armageddon
1998 (2010) - Touchstone (Disney)
Released on Blu-ray on April 27th, 2010
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 17
Extras: F


Right up front I should admit that, even though I've long called for this film to be released on Blu-ray, I'm not really a fan. In fact, I hated Armageddon when I first saw it in theatres and that sentiment carried over to my reviews of the previous DVD releases. That said, having just watched it, I'm surprised to say that I've somehow actually managed to enjoy it this time around.


Maybe it's because, in the years since its release, I've finally become used to director Michael Bay's over-the-top style, and the decidedly cheesy/hyper-kinetic niche his films occupy in the entertainment world. I know what to expect from Bay now, and am rarely surprised. Armageddon is still very far from great in my opinion, with little connection to any kind of reality. But it's also kind of fun in a highly campy way - something I never expected I'd be able to say.

It helps that this new Blu-ray transfer is spectacular. As some of you may already know, the original master was apparently destroyed in a fire, so a new print had to be struck and a new HD digital master created just for this release. That means the transfer is brand spanking new, and the 1080p image really benefits from it. Colors are bold and vibrant. Contrast is terrific too - the shadows are deep and detailed, yet the brightest areas of the picture are never overblown. Meanwhile, the detail and textures are crisp and plentiful, without appearing edgy or digitally over-scrubbed. There's just enough grain visible to leave the image looking nicely film-like. Disney's just done a great job with this image. (Note that the Blu-ray contains the theatrical cut of the film, not the slightly longer version that appeared on DVD from Criterion.) Audio-wise, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 is also very good, though it's not quite up to the same quality of the video. Overall clarity is fine, with clean dialogue and excellent LFE. I have no doubt that this is a very accurate representation of the original theatrical experience. The only issue is that the original 5.1 mix isn't quite up to the standards of Bay's more recent films - say Transformers. The soundfield is just a little more front-biased than more recent action 5.1 mixes, with more directional surround play. What probably needs to happen, is that Bay himself needs to come in and remix the film. I have little doubt that he or his people approved this new master... I just think the audio mix needs to be freshened up a little. All of that said, this mix is plenty good as it is, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Unfortunately, the extras are virtually nonexistent. If you have Disney's very first non-anamorphic DVD release - one of the studio's first DVDs from WAY back in 1997 - be aware that everything on that disc carries over here. You get the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, as well as the Aerosmith music video. All of these are presented full frame in standard-def resolution, sourced from what was obviously an old analog master tape (because they look like crap). Sadly, NONE of the superior extras from the 1999 Criterion DVD release are included here. Now, that might be a rights or ownership issue, or it might just be that Disney plans to release the film again on Blu-ray in a few years with more - I don't know. Either way, the lack of extras for this film on Blu-ray is seriously disappointing.

So given the lack of extras, you're probably asking if this disc still worth your time and money. The answer, I think, is yes. The new transfer is just too good looking in my opinion for fans to pass up on. You have to take into consideration here that Armageddon was never released on DVD with a true anamorphic widescreen transfer - both of the previous DVDs were letterboxed widescreen only. As a result, this film has likely never looked so good before - even seen in most theatres during its original release - as it does here. You'll obviously want to hang on to that Criterion DVD, but you can finally pitch the original DVD in the trash (or sell it for a couple bucks if you can). I wouldn't pay full price for ANY movie-only Blu-ray these days, but if you can find a really good sale price on this one... I don't think you'll too sad to have it on your video shelf.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com



Tombstone (Blu-ray Disc)

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Tombstone
1993 (2010) - Hollywood Pictures (Disney)
Released on Blu-ray on April 27th, 2010
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 15
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: D


As much as I've long disliked Armageddon, I absolutely love Tombstone - it's one of my all-time favorites. I've reviewed both versions of the film on DVD previously, and so I've already said just about everything I could possibly say in this film's favor. In my opinion, Tombstone is one of the great modern Hollywood westerns, and it's just a helluva fun piece of entertainment.


That's why it REALLY pains me to say that my experience with Disney's new Blu-ray has been a bit... frustrating, shall we say? So frustrating in fact, that I've re-written this review three times and have re-watched the film on both Blu-ray and DVD several times (on multiple displays) to really try to puzzle out what's going on with this disc.

The first thing to know here, is that this Blu-ray includes only the theatrical cut of the film - not director George P. Cosmatos' better (and slightly longer) Director's Cut from the more recent Vista Series DVD. I'm guessing the studio calculation was pretty simple. Tombstone has a 20th anniversary coming up in three years (in 2013), so a more elaborate version can be released on Blu-ray then. Now, I'm not a fan of that decision, but okay... it is what it is. If that were my only problem with this disc, I could deal with it. But it's not, so read on.

The bigger issue, in my mind, is that the Blu-ray image is much darker overall than the previous Vista Series DVD transfer, and the color timing is different too - sometimes more muted, sometimes more vibrant. It really varies from scene to scene. To be fair, one of the problems with the previous DVD (in addition to excessive edge enhancement) was that it was often too bright, so that while the darker areas looked fine, the brightest areas of the picture were often blown out. An example of this is the scene near the beginning of the film where Wyatt's train arrives - the sky was blown out on the DVD. Well, that scene is now darker on the Blu-ray, so that you can actually see cloud detail. My guess is this was a deliberate effort to correct the problem on the DVD transfer. The problem is that the correction has been taken too far - the film is now so much darker overall, that in many scenes there's just very little detail left in the darker areas of the picture. This is particularly true of shadows in brightly-lit scenes, or whenever the characters enter the dark saloon environments. But the effect is uneven: In some shots on the Blu-ray - for example the scene where Wyatt meets Doc Holiday on the streets of Tombstone and then the stagecoach arrives - the darkest areas of the picture (Wyatt's coat and clothes for example) have little detail, yet the sky is still blown out. I mentioned that the color timing is also different here. There's a shot later in the film (after the gunfight) of a church silhouetted against the evening sky. On the Blu-ray, it's at about 1:20:39. The image is very, very dark here - the sky is almost black (until the scene lit by a flash of lightning) - and yet the sunset at the bottom of the frame is rendered in deep yellows, reds and oranges. Now compare that to the same shot on the DVD, at about 1:22:23. It's much, MUCH brighter on DVD - the sky actually looks blue, as though it's much earlier in the evening - and the sunset looks very pale yellow. So which transfer is "correct" in terms of black levels and color timing? The answer is, I don't know. I'm tempted to say the Blu-ray, but you'd think that the DVD would be the more accurate of the two, given that Cosmatos was directly involved in the Vista Series release and likely approved its transfer personally. I can't say that the Blu-ray transfer isn't better than the DVD in overall resolution and detail (especially in the brighter scenes), because there ARE major improvements in some areas. But there are big differences between these two transfers that have nothing to do with the simple upgrade to high-def. There are other problems too aside from the contrast issues, including a film element of rather uneven quality. Some scenes look great, with lovely detail and just the right amount of grain, while others are overly soft and/or have excessive grain. The image also occasionally looks as if there's been a bit too much DNR used, while a couple shots also have what appears to be a little bit of edge-enhancement haloing. If I had to take a guess, I would guess this is an HD transfer that's at least a couple of years old, probably done for a previous HD cable or satellite release, because it's just not up to the quality level of, say, the new Armageddon Blu-ray presentation. This just doesn't look like a new, state-of-the-art transfer. And as I've said, the image is just so different looking from the DVD that it's puzzling. Granted, I'm comparing the theatrical cut in HD with the director's cut in SD. But still, the differences should be in the cut and resolution, not in the black levels and color timing.

The BD's lossless audio mix, at least, is very satisfying. Clarity of dialogue is excellent, with a big wide front soundstage, and wonderfully smooth and immersive surround mixing. There's good bass throughout, and the score sounds terrific as well. I only wish the image were as pleasing.

Okay, so... here's the other thing. Given that this is the theatrical cut and not the better Vista Series Director's Cut, you'd expect that none of the extras from that DVD would be included. But you'd only be partly correct. The director's commentary track is missing, as are the interactive timeline, the DVD-ROM Faro game, the actual historical account of the gunfight (from the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper) and the collectible map. Now, I can see omitting the map and the Faro game, but the commentary, timeline and newspaper account are very much missed. What you do get here includes the 3-part The Making of Tombstone documentary (27 minutes) from the Vista Series disc, along with the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, 7 TV spots and the director's original storyboards for the "O.K. Coral" sequence. But here's what makes that all the more irritating: Save for the storyboards, most of the original extras were shot and produced in the 4x3 aspect ratio. But someone in authoring screwed up and hit the wrong button, so they've now been stretched to fit the 16x9 frame. The TV spots are all still 4x3 as they should be, but everything else (all three parts of the documentary and the trailers) is stretched. Ugh.

I SO wanted to rave about Tombstone on Blu-ray, I can't even tell you. But it's not to be. If I'm wrong about the transfer - if this turns out to be a brand new HD master personally approved by the film's D.P. (William Fraker), or by Cosmatos before he died - I'll eat my words. But as it is, I'm puzzled by the transfer quality, disappointed by the loss of the Director's Cut and the other Vista Series extras, and there's just NO WAY the aspect ratio on the featurettes should have been screwed up like they are. Sadly, I just can't recommend this disc.

[Editor's Note - 5/10/10 - I have confirmed this weekend that the Blu-ray color timing is "cooler" - and the overall presentation darker - than the current broadcast/cable HD master of the film.]

[Editor's Update: One of the reasons I love this job is that I constantly get to learn new things about my favorite films. Still... I'm more than a bit shocked that I didn't already know this: It was Kurt Russell that actually directed Tombstone. Cosmatos was hired to run the set (as the official "credited" director), but according to Russell's own daily notes and shot lists, and it was Russell who directed the actors. Hollywood Elsewhere has a great report on this from a few years back, as well as a PDF of the original True West magazine interview in which Russell reveals the truth. F--KING HELL! How did I miss this?! I'm sitting here catching up and all kinds of dominos are falling into place. This would certainly explain why the transfers are so inconsistent on the different releases - neither Cosmatos or Russell would likely have been involved in approving the transfer and color timing of this new edition. Let me tell you something right now... if Disney isn't already planning an elaborate 20th Anniversary special edition of this film on DVD and Blu-ray, with Russell's direct involvement and his own cut of the film, I will make it my personal mission in life to see that it happens. Absolutely freakin' fascinating...]

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com
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