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page added: 6/23/09

Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Matt Rowe & Bill Hunt of The Digital Bits

Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Woodstock: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
1970 (2009) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 9th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 16
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: A-

Just a few segments into the historical Michael Wadleigh-directed bit of celluloid known as Woodstock, there's an interview with a resident store-owner. Within his statement he respectfully says, "...this was too big. It was too big for the world. Nobody has ever seen a thing like this." His observation was truthful. Nobody had seen anything like it.

I was only 12 years old when the original Woodstock took place, but I was definitely tuned into it. Music had already captured me deeply, and this assembly of some of the most important bands of the time didn't escape my attention. I day-dreamed of attending the event, and even plotted how I might be able to pull it off. Of course, in the end, I had to settle with involvement from a distance. Soon enough after the actual event, the film version made a midnight appearance at my local theatre (its ONLY appearance, since it was not allowed to compete in a single screen theatre against something more "monetarily agreeable" with management) and I was right there in line with my father, who graciously indulged me.

Woodstock was an unparalleled cultural phenomenon for the time. What started as a 3-day music festival turned film soon became much more than either. But it wasn't an easy film to make, even though it was crafted by an extraordinary team of filmmakers that included director Michael Wadleigh, associate producer Dale Bell and even a young Martin Scorsese as an editor and assistant director. The challenges included the acquisition of the massive stocks of film needed to record such a lengthy event, as well as the sheer difficulty of simply capturing all the action. Innovative (but cumbersome) cameras were employed to allow the filmmakers to shoot at almost any angle on a dime - a trick that a standard, stationary tripod would have prevented.

This new Blu-ray Disc release presents a special experience Woodstock, featuring a director's cut of the film that's a full 41 minutes longer than the version seen in theatres. On display here is the entire production of this festival, from the building of the stage to the cleaning of the garbage left behind. In between those events, we're treated to a dizzying display of multi-framed live music performances... and a glimpse back at a truly magical period of history. This event became more than a concert festival or film, serving as a generational challenge of standards that were long set in stone, but were just beginning to crack.

Disc One of Warner's new Blu-ray edition is a joy to behold. The Director's Cut features such great acts as The Who, Canned Heat, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, Joe Cocker, Santana, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix (including his version of The Star Spangled Banner that my grandfather called a blasphemy and refused to let me play), a stunning Ten Years After set (that included I'm Going Home) and more.

The new 1080p high-definition transfer is a celebration of the filmed documentary art form. This is a loving restoration that both preserves and enhances the grainy look and feel of the original theatrical experience. As the film was shot on 16mm, this release certainly doesn't deliver the sharp and pristine beauty found on new release Blu-rays, but you wouldn't want that here. Sometimes, the legend of a film is more important than a crystal clear transfer... and this is that kind of film. The sound is presented in Dolby TrueHD lossless format. While it's sharp and (at points) amazingly transcendental, you'll again have to remember that this is a 40-year old film with a limited budget (as is well documented by Wadleigh and Bell in the segmented mini-features found on the second BD). But those fans who love and remember this film will rejoice in the respectful restorations found here, which pay due heed to Wadleigh's brilliant vision of Woodstock Nation (yes, I borrowed that term from Abbie Hoffman... sorry).

Disc Two of this set presents a wealth of bonus material, including additional footage that failed to make the cut (not surprising given that well over seven hours and 365,000 feet of film were shot). Much of this deleted footage can be found in Woodstock: Untold Stories, which provides the BD-Java ability to choose from a list of 18 previously unseen performances, creating a playlist that you can watch as favorites. Included are performances by bands not seen in the original film, such as Johnny Winter and Mountain, as well as additional unseen performances by bands and artists that were included.

Also included is the Woodstock: From Festival to Feature documentary, which is essentially a collage of short featurettes (that are irritatingly separated by an end-credit screen). But stick with it, as the whole provides an interesting look at the film's production, featuring Wadleigh and Bell, as well as other important personas of the festival, including Chip Monck (who oversaw the lighting and production management) and Michael Lang (the very visible executive producer of the Festival). You'll hear fascinating stories of the filming and negative "hijacking", hear about the battles between Warner and the film crew over the length of the film (the original cut was 6 hours plus - I wanna see that cut!) and learn about the innovative use of the Éclair camera system. The Blu-ray also includes the short Museum at Bethel Woods: The Story of the Sixties & Woodstock film, as well the usual BD-Live options.

This terrific 40th Anniversary set comes packaged within a sturdy (and uniquely numbered) case, clothed in the typical jacket material often worn in the late '60s and early '70s, complete with fringes. Attached is a circular patch with the recognizable Woodstock logo. Other goodies found in the box include a lucite display encasing a lenticular "moving" film image, reproductions of notes found at the festival, a cool 60-page reprint of the original Life magazine commemorative issue from 1969, a fact-sheet and - perhaps best of all - a reproduction of the original festival ticket (for all three days, totaling $24 dollars - something you sure don't see these days).

Whether you're an authentic "reformed" hippie from the 1960s or just a hippie at heart, this Blu-ray box set is an absolute delight. Anyone who loves great music should be able to appreciate this newly revitalized cut of Woodstock, and the quality of its presentation on Blu-ray. Just remember - hallucinogenic drugs are optional and are not included (nor required)!

Matt Rowe, Editor
[email protected]

Revolutionary Road (Blu-ray Disc)

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Revolutionary Road
2008 (2009) - Paramount
Released on Blu-ray Disc on June 2nd, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: C+
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: C+

Okay... I'll admit this right up front: I know I should probably really like this film. I mean, it was nominated for multiple Oscars, and there's clearly a LOT of talent on display here, not the least of which is director Sam Mendes, whose Road to Perdition is a real favorite of mine. Many people really love Revolutionary Road. I, however, am not one of them.

The story is that of Frank and April (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, naturally of Titanic fame), a young couple full of life in the 1950s, who fall in love but then gradually grow apart. Their story is told in two parallel lines: The present day, in which the pair can't stand one another, unfolds alternately with flashbacks to their early relationship, in which they're clearly full of hope, love and big dreams. We watch as that love is gradually compromised away, to the point that they're living in a state of quiet desperation that inevitably can't end well for them.

Part of the problem for me here, is that I watched this film the same weekend as I watched Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. That film is stunningly real and gritty, with actors depicting characters who feel like REAL people. Revolutionary Road, on the other hand, feels like it was written for the theatre... and not in a good way. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, as talented as they are and as good as they are together, seem like Ac-tors Ac-ting TM, if that makes sense. I just didn't believe the film, nor did I connect with it. I kept wanting to scream "JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER, DUMMIES!" at the screen. And is it just me, or is the whole "quiet desperation in suburbia" thing so overdone these days that it's almost a cliché? Yeah, I know, that's probably not fair. There's definitely plenty of good here: Michael Shannon absolutely steals the show any time he appears on screen. And there are a couple moments in this film that really deliver, including the very last shot. But what can I say? This movie is only 118 minutes long, but it felt like 318 for me. I was (ahem) quietly desperate for it to end.

The video quality on Paramount's new Blu-ray Disc release is exceptional. Colors are subdued by design, but are accurate at all times. Contrast is good, with deep, detailed blacks. Detail is wonderful, rendering lovely and subtle textures. The image is rich looking and natural. Audio is available in a solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that features lovely ambience and exceptional clarity, though given that this is a highly dialogue-centric film, don't expect it to dazzle you with sonic trickery. From start to finish, the A/V presentation here is consistently excellent.

As far as bonus material, you get a number of nice items, starting with an interesting audio commentary with Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe. The pair also chimes in (optionally) on a number of deleted scenes, which are included here in full HD. A pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes (also in HD) should satisfy those who want to know more about the production effort, including Lives of Quiet Desperation: The Making of Revolutionary Road (30 mins - just what it seems) and Richard Yates: The Wages of Truth (26 mins - on the original novelist). The film's HD theatrical trailer rounds out the package.

Though it's not my cup of tea, plenty of folks really connected with Revolutionary Road. If you count yourself among their ranks, and you happen to be Blu-ray ready, you simply can't go wrong with this disc from Paramount. The A/V quality is typically first rate, and there's a nice batch of bonus material that, while it isn't particularly deep or weighty, is likely to please. Just maybe, someday, I'll give this film another shot. Maybe I just MISSED the point. In the meantime, though, I'll be a lot more excited when Road to Perdition hits Blu-ray. But that's just me.

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]

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