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

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2009 (2009) - DreamWorks (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 20th, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: C+
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 19.5
Extras: A-

In the wake of their defeat at the hands of the Autobots, the evil Decepticons are not about to abandon their nefarious plans. With the help of others of their kind scattered across deep space, the Decepticons attempt to resurrect their fallen leader, Megatron, and find the secret source of Energon power hidden by the ancient ones on Earth. Little does anyone suspect, however, that when they do find it, the result could mean the destruction of Earth entirely.

You know... based on the critical reviews and a lot of online comments from the fan community, I expected this Transformers sequel to be a pretty terrible experience. So I frankly wasn't much looking forward to watching it. But an old friend of ours, Charlie de Lauzirika, produced much of the special edition content for this Blu-ray (and DVD release), so I took the plunge anyway. And I'm glad I did. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen isn't going to win any awards (outside of technical ones at any rate), but for two hours I'll report to you that I was mildly entertained. I'm not sure what others were hoping for, but I got exactly what I expected from a Michael Bay sequel about a war between giant transforming robots based on a 1970s toy line: Lots of explosions and eye candy, a paper thin plot and all the requisite tugs on strings of nostalgia, roller coaster adrenaline, aw-shucks romance and hoo-rah patriotism. Am I likely to watch it a second time? No. But if you're looking for a little summer movie fun on disc, there are far worse ways to spend a couple of hours. Ahem... Land of the Lost anyone?

The video and audio quality of the Blu-ray version is every bit as good as that of the original Transformers BD. Video clarity is superb, with stunning color reproduction and deep contrast, all while delivering plenty of crisp and refined detailing. The DTS-HD MA audio mix offers a big, wide soundstage, with enveloping surround play, smooth panning, lovely clarity and resolution, and absolutely thunderous bass reinforcement. It's worth noting that there's a retailer-exclusive version of this film at Wal-Mart which features the IMAX cut (about a minute longer), and that some readers have reported a problem with overcompression of the center channel on that version's DTS-HD lossless audio. (We're told the studio is looking into this.) Thankfully, the problem doesn't seem to affect the regular Blu-ray version. This is a reference-quality BD experience.

Surprisingly, the extras are where this 2-disc set really shines. You get the usual commentary with Bay and the writers (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), deleted scenes, production image galleries, etc. There's also a couple of interactive BD-Java options you might find mildly amusing, including one (NEST) that features a detailed look at each Transformer character and another (The AllSpark Experiment) that allows you to customize and bring to life your own Transformer... sort of. But the best extras by far are the feature-length documentary, The Human Factor: Exacting Revenge of the Fallen, the 13-minute A Day with Bay: Tokyo featurette and 24-minute Giant Effing Movie featurette, which together give you not only a stunningly comprehensive look behind-the-scenes at the production, but also one of the most honest and all-access looks at Michael Bay - both the man and the filmmaker - we've seen to date. These three features alone are worth the price of the disc in my book, and that probably isn't surprising, as they were produced in part by Lauzirika (to give credit where it's due, the Effing Movie piece was also produced - I believe - by Herzog & Company.) As icing on the cake, the disc also includes this funky interactive feature that lets you manipulate a CG image of Optimus Prime standing on your Blu-ray packaging on your computer screen using your webcam. It's called The Optimus Prime Experience. If you have a webcam, just go here and follow the instructions. Is it a little cheesy? Sure. But it's also more than a little cool.

Like I said, I don't know that I'm ever likely to get the urge to watch this film again, but I definitely enjoyed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for what it was intended by the director to be: A big, loud roller coaster ride. Your own mileage may vary. In any case, this Blu-ray's production values are first rate and the extras are probably far better than the film deserves. If you liked the film, I say find a good sale price (like Amazon's) and don't hesitate.

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

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The National Parks: America's Best Idea
2009 (2009) - Florentine Films/PBS (Paramount)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 6th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 16.5
Extras: B-

Okay... I know what some of you are probably thinking: A 12-hour, 6-part PBS documentary series on America's national parks? Even for Ken Burns, that seem a stretch. After all, this is hardly as interesting as World War II, or the Civil War, or jazz, or baseball. I mean, I love nature too, but this is seriously dry material... right? Well, yes... sort of. And no.

You see, once you take the leap, you begin to appreciate just what Burns and company saw in the subject matter. The idea of setting aside the best, most beautiful portions of the country - not to exploit economically or for just the rich and well-to-do to enjoy, but for EVERYONE to enjoy for ALL time - that is a uniquely American idea. It's an idea that's intimately wrapped up in our national identity, and what the Founding Fathers intended for our Democracy to be. The idea is also the kernel for telling scores of fascinating personal stories - stories of Americans from all walks of life, who sacrificed much to ensure that the natural beauty of our country was preserved.

As presented on this 6-disc Blu-ray set from PBS and Paramount, the video quality is generally excellent, though one should remember when viewing that the series was created using a variety of historical image sources, including old photos and vintage film footage. The bulk of it was also shot on Super 16 film, which shows its character in terms of occasional grain, color fidelity and contrast issues. The audio is Dolby True HD lossless, though the documentary nature of the subject only requires so much sonic wiz-bang. Most of it is narration with music and sparing nature sound effects, along with on-camera interview audio and wild sound. Suffice it to say that the presentation is every bit as good as intended, and more than good enough to please most documentary film fans.

In terms of bonus material, the set includes outtake footage, a series of additional short films (presented under the titles Contemporary Stories from America's National Parks and The National Parks: This Is America), a piece on the series' music and a making-of featurette. It's not a lot, but again it's more than enough for this particularly release.

Though it's far from Ken Burns' best film, The National Parks is a fascinating and gradually-engrossing look at a uniquely American notion and bit of history. The Blu-ray version is nice, but viewing it really makes me long to have Burns' better works on disc in HD. Here's hoping that his recent The War, not to mention his all-time classic The Civil War, arrive on Blu-ray sooner rather than later.

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]
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