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page added: 11/4/09



Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Barrie Maxwell and Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Angels and Demons: Theatrical and Extended Edition

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Angels and Demons: Theatrical and Extended Edition
2009 (2009) - Columbia (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 24th, 2009
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: B+
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: B


Those who enjoyed Dan Brown's first Robert Langdon novel, "Angels and Demons", despite its limitations should be very pleased with Columbia's filmization of it as directed by Ron Howard. Released this past summer, the film captures the main themes of the story well and does a superior job of recreating the Rome and Vatican settings through a virtually seamless blend of location shooting, Hollywood-created sets, and CGI.


With much the same production team that brought us The Da Vinci Code film in place, the Angels and Demons film is the better film mainly because the source material is superior.

The story focuses on a threat against the Vatican after the death of a popular pope and during the enclave at which the new pope will be elected. A cylinder of antimatter stolen from a particle accelerator in Switzerland has been hidden somewhere in the Vatican, and set to explode. Taking credit is the Illuminati, an ancient secret society and nemesis of the Vatican that has kidnapped and threatened to kill the four most likely candidates to become the new pope. Langdon, an expert in ancient symbology, is asked by the deceased pope's advisor, the Camerlengo, to help solve the clues to the locations of the kidnap victims and ultimately the location of the antimatter before it explodes.

Tom Hanks who played Langdon in The Da Vinci Code is back and he looks much more comfortable in the role. He anchors the film strongly this time and shows a fair degree of engagement throughout despite the need for a lot of simple running around and looking grim. He gets good support from such players as Stellan Skarsgard as the head of Vatican security and Armin Mueller-Stahl as the head of the papal enclave. Ewan McGregor is second-billed in the role of the Camerlengo, but there's little nuance to his work though admittedly the character is rather two-dimensionally written. The action sequences are nicely orchestrated by Ron Howard, with events clearly defined even given the shadowy and night-time settings. The film's anti-matter set-piece near the end is very well executed - impressively powerful yet not unrealistic-looking in its impact.

One of the film's most impressive aspects is Hans Zimmer's score - a relentless, driving experience that really captures the urgency of Langdon's search for clues and readily pulls one right into the frame. It won't ever be a stand-alone theme in its own right, but it's a well-realized and integral part of the film's action while one watches and one can't ask for much more than that.

As has become a habit with Sony lately, we have an excellent 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray transfer. There are many dark and night-time scenes in the film, but virtually all are well handled - maintaining deep blacks while offering top notch shadow detail. Also impressive are the many colourful scenes of Rome or in the Vatican. Colour fidelity is excellent (note the many stunning reds of the cardinals' robes) and brightness is very good. Textures are very well rendered whether it's costumes or stone and tile work on walls, floors, or streets. Facial detail is also noticeably good. A minor sheen of grain is present throughout the film and seems appropriate although I did not see the film theatrically to be able to compare.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is an equally impressive experience. Dialogue is clean and precise, and well balanced with the music score. The latter is particularly well served by the lossless audio, with treble and bass components equally clearly conveyed. There is impressively immersive surround activity whether the situation calls for subtlety or aggressiveness. On the audio side, the only quibble is Sony's persistence in spreading subtitled material over both the image and the bars beneath, thus compromising the viewing pleasure of those with constant height setups.

Sony has used three discs for its presentation. Disc One contains both the 139-minute theatrical cut of the film and the 7-minute longer extended cut plus such inconsequential film interrupting features as CineChat (message friends around the world while you watch together) and MovieIQ (real-time in-movie info about cast, crew, and production). Disc Two contains the bulk of the supplements including seven featurettes (ranging from 5 to 18 minutes in length) detailing various aspects of the production, and The Path of Illumination which allows one to accompany Robert Langdon on his journey through Rome with information on the various locations and symbols encountered. Disc Three contains a digital copy of the film and a trial version of Hans Zimmer Music Studio Powered by Sequel 2.

After the relative disappointment that was The Da Vinci Code, I was much more content with my investment of time in Angels and Demons. It's far from the best thriller made, but it has superior production values and is diverting provided you don't think too much about it. The Sony Blu-ray presentation is a worthy effort as has become standard for the company of late. Recommended.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com



UP

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UP
2009 (2009) - Pixar (Walt Disney)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 10th, 2009
Also available in a DVD-only version

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 19.5
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A-


Honestly, I'm starting to think that Pixar is incapable of making a bad movie. Sure, some of their titles - like Cars or Monsters, Inc. - have been less perfect, but the worse the original concept sounds (A robot picking up garbage that doesn't talk for an hour?) the better the end product seems to be. Such is the case with UP, one of the biggest movies of 2009, animated or otherwise.


The films opens on a young boy named Carl, who finds his one true love (Ellie) as a child through their shared admiration of the legendary Charles Muntz, world adventurer extraordinaire. Carl and Ellie just know that, one day, they're going to be just like Muntz. In the meantime, the pair grow up, get married and have a grand life together… though that one big dream adventure is always just out of their financial reach. Before Carl knows it, he's 80 years old and all alone in the house he shared with Ellie, surrounded by construction vehicles. It seems he's also the only property owner who wouldn't sell out to a ruthless developer. But when an unfortunate incident occurs, Carl is left with only one option and he goes for broke, literally flying away in the hope of making the dream he shared with Ellie come true.

Being a computer generated movie presented in a digital format, UP delivers a nigh-flawless image on Blu-ray, capturing all of the nuances of the best digital theatrical presentations. Rich colors pop, and the light diffusion filters the filmmakers used don't interfere with fidelity in the slightest. Individual dog hairs, feathers and even the fuzz on Carl's tennis ball-topped cane are exactly where they should be. You're going to see this disc playing on a heck of a lot of store displays this Christmas, as its a perfect spokesman for how good Blu-ray can be. The disc is no slouch in the audio department either. Its DTS-HD Master Audio track captures the squeak and shuffle of every balloon perfectly. One of the benefits of an animated film is the genre's ability to craft a sonic environment completely from scratch. This is one of the best ambient tracks in recent memory when it comes to keeping you constantly immersed in the film with sound alone.

Though it's a little less packed than its predecessor, WALL-E, the Blu-ray version of UP still brings a pleasing collection of extras to the table. Its Cine-Explore video commentary, coupled with the Adventure Is Out There, is a cornucopia of information on the how's and why's of the film's creation. This isn't just a one-off EPK-style feature, but rather a careful record of how a giant spider web of ideas eventually solidified into a coherent film. It's carefully illustrated with stills and film clips galore. The theatrical short, Partly Cloudy, is joined by a new cartoon, Dug's Special Mission - a hilarious Looney Tunes-esque look at how Dug came into UP's story. The documentaries on Disc Two total an additional hour of bonus material, focusing on the design and animation of individual characters, from concept to final execution. You even learn about the creation and dressing Carl's house and Muntz's dirigible, as well as the film's score and Kevin's unique vocalizations. Next up, Married Life and The Many Endings of Muntz contain abandoned concepts for the film's prologue and ending. Finally, the BD-based extras conclude with a collection of trailers and other promotional material, a flash-style game and Pixar's usual audio and video calibration tools. The package is rounded out with a separate DVD copy of the film and a Disney File digital copy version for your portable device. Overall, this is a stellar package of extras that's well worth exploring. There's very little crossover content between features, so every piece you click on is a new learning experience.

When I saw the first preview image of UP a few years back, I had the same reaction that the marketing department at Disney probably had: "A movie about an old guy in a flying house? Yeah that's going to sell some toys." Yet Carl's story is instantly relatable across every age group, from the heart-wrenching and beautiful prologue all the way to the end. There's enough action and fun for the kids, and a Thanksgiving feast's worth of character development and nuance for adults. Pixar has once again proven that if you make a good movie, audiences will come. I can't recommend this soon-to-be family classic more. With the current price wars going on at retailers, you can score UP on Blu-ray for as little as $10 in combination with Monsters, Inc.. If you miss this one… you must be off flying a house!

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com
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