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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
Reviews by Bill Hunt & Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Caprica

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Caprica
2008/2010 (2009) - Sci-Fi Channel (Universal)
Released on DVD on April 21st, 2009

Enhanced for 16x9 displays

Film Rating: B-
Video/Audio/Extras: B/B/D+


Set on the planet of the same name, some 58 years before the Fall of the Twelve Colonies (as depicted in the original Battlestar Galactica miniseries), Caprica introduces the members of two families, the Graystones and the Adams (better known as the Adamas), who are destined to play a critical... and ultimately tragic... role in human history.


Eric Stoltz (he's been great in a million TV shows and movies) plays Daniel Graystone, a leading computer scientist and industrialist (think Bill Gates meets Robert Oppenheimer), who is working on a project for the Caprican military to develop an army of mechanical soldiers. His wife, Amanda (Deadwood's Paula Malcomson), is a doctor and cybernetics expert and their daughter, Zoe, is a computer genius in her own right. Unknown to her parents, Zoe has created a software duplicate of her consciousness in a virtual cyberspace frequented by Caprica's young and disfranchised. Zoe and some of her friends are also secretly involved in a religious movement that rejects the Caprican norm of polytheism in favor of belief in "one true God." Unfortunately, Daniel only learns of his daughter's hidden activities after she's killed in a terrorist bombing.

Also introduced here is one Joseph Adams (Jericho standout Esai Morales), a lawyer and first-generation immigrant from the planet Tauron, who's been struggling to integrate his family into Caprican society. His brother is an enforcer for a Tauron mafia boss on Caprica, so Joseph occasionally betrays his moral compass to provide them with questionable legal services. It turns out that Joseph's wife and daughter are also killed in the terrorist bombing, and it's not long after that he and Daniel, united by their grief, strike up an unlikely friendship. When Daniel discovers Zoe's virtual duplicate, he realizes that if he were to download this "software" into one of his company's cybernetic bodies, he could essentially resurrect his daughter. Naturally, he extends this Frankenstein-like offer to Joseph for his lost loved ones as well. Little does either of them realise that the long-term result of their naive, Faustian bargain will be nothing short of the near total destruction of the human race.

I have mixed feelings after my first viewing of this 93-minute pilot for SyFy's planned Battlestar Galactica prequel series. On the one hand, the three lead performers are consistently excellent and the story ideas at play are intriguing - particularly the idea of a troubled Caprica serving as an uncomfortable melting pot for a "Twelve Colonies" that has yet to set aside its cultural differences and unite against a common foe. On the other hand, this initial story covers much ground that The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell (not to mention any number of other cyber punk-inspired tales) have already tread. The pilot's early scenes, featuring Zoe's teenaged skirmishes with her parents and the misguided plans she hatches with her friends, threaten almost to dip into 90210 or Gossip Girl territory. Toss in moments of rave-party anarchy (even nudity), a la the Zion-esque hedonism of The Matrix Revolutions, and you've got a strange mix indeed. That said, Battlestar fans will simply be unable to view this series separate from the knowledge of what is to come. The impending Cylon revolt, the eventual Fall of the Colonies, the deaths of millions - all of these events linger in the back of your mind as you watch. This is especially true whenever Joseph's pre-teen son William appears onscreen (here played by young Sina Najafi). You can't help but see shades of Edward James Olmos in his eyes. This colors your perceptions of everything that happens and keeps you at least somewhat invested. As the saying goes, "All this has happened before, and it will happen again." Yeah... and NONE of it is going to turn out well for these characters.

The quality of this DVD from Universal isn't going to blow you away, but it's solid enough. The anamorphic video presentation is clear with fair detail, but occasionally suffers from a little too much digital compression (visible in Caprica City skyline shots, wide exteriors of the Graystone compound, etc). The fact that the disc wastes space on a "bonus" episode of Ghost Hunters (in a crass cross-promotional ploy for SyFy) might have something to do with it. Colors are muted but accurate and contrast is decent. Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is about on part with the visuals. Caprica is more dialogue-driven than Galactica, so there are only a couple moments where the surround and LFE channels really kick in. Thankfully, the dialogue and music are generally clear and well presented.

The bonus material is uninspiring. Included on the disc are about 7 minutes worth of deleted scenes and 4 short "video blogs" (though very little of these amount to more than fluff). The best of the bonus material is easily the audio commentary track with producers Ron Moore (who also wrote) and David Eick, along with director Jeffrey Reiner. They offer some interesting insights into Caprica's place in Galactica history and their mutual connections, along with select hints at the direction this new series might eventually take.

In the end, while I'm not blown away, Caprica is just different enough to be intriguing. I'm prepared to give the series a chance. I'll be honest though - if not for its connections to Galactica, I'm not sure I'd give the show a second thought. Still, the performances are good, there's potentially interesting character and cultural ground for the writers to explore, and the pilot episode is at least a cut above the usual TV science fiction fare. Note that the pilot is only available on DVD for now - it won't air on SyFy until next year, when the series itself debuts. Will it be a hit with Battlestar fans? Will it attract a new fanbase of its own? I don't know. We'll see...

Bill Hunt, Editor
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Things We Lost in the Fire (Blu-ray Disc)

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Things We Lost in the Fire
2007 (2009) - DreamWorks (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 24th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 14
Extras: D


Everyone has an anchor in their life - someone without whom everyday life would be a burden, a person who fills in the gap and sticks their fingers in the dike when the seas get rough.


In Susanne Bier's Things We Lost in the Fire, Halle Berry plays Audrey Burke, whose husband Brian (David Duchovny) is just that sort of person for her. Brian serves the same function for his life-long friend Jerry (Benicio del Toro) as well, who is trying to kick a heroin habit. When Brian is suddenly shot and killed, Audrey and Jerry turn toward each other for support. But can they keep keep their newfound relationship from splintering out of control?

As released on Blu-ray by DreamWorks, Things We Lost in the Fire offers a really impressive transfer for a lower budget film. Sheathed in a color palette of what I like to call "art film brown," the film sports exceptional detail and a light sprinkling of film grain over the top, though occasionally subtle nuances are sometimes lost in a bit of black crush. It might be easier to see a lot of that detail if the camera would stop moving around or taking odd angles. While watching this, I had to stop to check and see if some fool had let Roger Christiansen (Battlefield Earth) direct a film again. Still, the video presentation is surprisingly nice for this type of film. The Dolby TrueHD mix is clear and competent, but this film is about exposition and not action, so the mix delivers occasional bouts of ambient environmental noise to the surrounds. It's a bit uninspiring, but I doubt the mix will ever sound better than it does on this Blu-ray Disc.

As is so often the case with art films, until one proves itself a hit in the theatres, the studios are usually reluctant to go crazy with supplements on DVD and Blu-ray. This title is no exception. A dull 20-minute conversation with director Susanne Bier is included that strictly covers the production, while ignoring the backstory of what was apparently a very personal film for the screenwriter. A handful of throwaway deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer complete the sparse package.

Things We Lost In the Fire is one of those films that will connect very deeply with those who have experienced similar life events, while others will see it as standard art house fare. For me, I fall more into the latter category. What really saves things however are the excellent performances by Del Toro and the surprisingly different Duchovny. Sometimes I felt like this film was ready to collapse under its own weight, but it pulls through in the end and manages to deliver a fairly satisfying ending. I doubt many people will want to have this movie as part of their permanent BD collection, but it would certainly make a good rainy day rental for those willing to give it a go.


Coach Carter (Blu-ray Disc)

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Coach Carter
2005 (2009) - MTV Films (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 10th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 16.5
Audio (1-20): 16.5
Extras: B


Based on the true story of a high school basketball coach who benched his entire team for poor academic performance, Coach Carter is your pretty standard feel-good picture with an urban hook. So, as you'd expect, it runs through the usual Stand and Deliver formula of the hardass teacher who inspires his students to excellence in the classroom. That said, it's one of the less stale entries in the genre, thanks to the inherent awesomeness of star Samuel L. Jackson.


Visually, the film is nothing special. The Blu-ray represents the original photography well - colors are muted as a stylistic choice, while detail and blacks are good - though there's nothing here that's going to scream upgrade to the average user. Audio fidelity on the disc's TrueHD track is good, but most of the dynamics come from the sound of bouncing basketballs and not brilliant sound design.

In terms of extras, all of the original DVD bonus material is present on the Blu-ray, with the theatrical trailer getting an upgrade to HD. Also present are two new featurettes exclusive to the Blu-ray edition.

Coach Carter, despite being the umpteenth entry in the "inspired young urban achievers" genre, is definitely not one of the worst. Though to be fair, basketball fans will probably get more out of the film than I did. If you like the film and you don't already own the DVD, the Blu-ray is a no-brainer choice. On the other hand, those thinking to upgrade from DVD might want to wait for a good sale.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com


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