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page added: 12/2/09

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


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1995 (2009) - Regency (Warner Bros.)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on November 10th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

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

Heat is perhaps the ultimate guy flick. Directed by Michael Mann, the film tells the story of two not-so-very-different men. One, an LAPD homicide detective named Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), is so consumed by his work that he's failing his third marriage. Hanna prowls the streets of L.A. like a wolf, stalking those who would do wrong, while his personal life falls into ruin.

The other, a professional criminal named McCauley (Robert De Niro), is simply doing what he knows best - armed robbery. He also lives a lonely existence, making no personal connections that he couldn't walk out on at a moment's notice. McCauley and his crew are after one last score - a bank heist that could land them more than $12 million. As these two hardened pros go about their business, they gradually become aware of one another - predator and prey - and each begins to gain a certain respect for the other. But both also know that they're on a collision course: In the end, only one will be left standing.

As if the Pacino vs. De Niro match-up weren't cool enough here, Mann has surrounded these two with an absolute dream cast of fine supporting players, including Val Kilmer, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Ted Levine, Hank Azaria, Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman. Each character seems well-rounded and fully-dimensional. The plot itself is based on years of research by Mann into actual criminals and police work, making it both plausible and believable. And when the action heats up, it's first rate and entirely justified by the story.

Warner's Blu-ray version delivers Heat with a new HD transfer supervised by Mann himself, and the film thankfully looks better than I've ever seen it on disc before. Contrast is excellent, and while the color palate is cool and muted by design, it's quite appropriate to the film. Image detail is nice on the whole, and though the film does occasionally look a little soft, this is an artifact of the anamorphic camera process used, rather than any transfer or compression issues. Thankfully, grain reduction is minimal and the overall transfer, while not reference quality, more than delivers the goods. On the audio side, the Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD delivers as well, with clear dialogue and satisfying staging. The surround play is lively in action scenes and otherwise highly atmospheric, though it's always smooth and natural sounding. This mix doesn't quite have the oomph of more recent surround tracks for action films, but again it's entirely appropriate to THIS particular film, and fans should be plenty happy with it.

I should note here that there was quite a bit of buzz when this title was first announced, as Warner's press release indicated that the disc would present a new cut of Heat prepared by Mann himself - one with as much as 2 minutes of footage excised from the theatrical running time. You'll be pleased to know that this was inaccurate. The film's Blu-ray running time is essentially the same. Two tiny edits have been made, removing a couple quick lines of dialogue, to smooth the editing flow. The first cut happens around an hour in (1:05 to be specific) and removes a tiny portion of Justine's speech (the words "You sift through the detritus..." are gone). The second cut happens about 13 minutes later (at about 1:18), with the removal of a mumbled word by Hank Azaria and Hanna's odd "Ferocious, aren't I?" line. Both bits of dialogue felt awkward in the original cut to begin with (Who uses the word 'detritus' in daily conversation?), and frankly, the scenes are better without them. The second cut especially is welcome, as now you simply see the reaction on Azaria's face, which is far more effective in conveying his emotions. And those are the only changes. Let's put it this way: I'm generally a stickler about keeping alternate versions of my favorite films, but I don't miss the cut lines here in the slightest. I sincerely doubt most people will even notice the difference.

Extras-wise, fans will be happy to know that the Blu-ray carries over everything from the previous 2-disc DVD special edition, including Mann's excellent audio commentary, all the deleted scenes, the 3 featurettes (The Making of Heat, Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation and Return to the Scene of the Crime) and the trailers. If you plan to upgrade to the Blu-ray, you can safely sell your DVD and be done with it.

Heat is just a great film, and one that I can't recommend more highly. While this disc isn't the most comprehensive special edition you'd hope for, the extras are plenty good enough, and the film certainly looks and sounds great. If you're a fan and you can get a good price, don't hesitate to upgrade from DVD. And if you've never seen Heat before, the film is definitely best experienced in high-definition, so Blu-ray's the only real way to go.

Bill Hunt, Editor
[email protected]

Escaflowne: The Movie

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Escaflowne: The Movie
2000 (2009) - Bandai Home Entertainment
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 10th, 2009
Also available on DVD

Dolby TrueHD

Film Rating: C+
Video (1-20): 16.5
Audio (1-20): 17.5
Extras: C

During the anime boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, Escaflowne was a fan favorite television show, and was one of the first titles to be launched when Bandai entered the U.S. market. While the show did have a short run on Fox's Saturday morning in a heavily edited and altered form, it failed to make it out of the enthusiast market until 2000, when the Escaflowne movie hit DVD in the U.S. and did quite well. Now, three years after the Japanese release, Escaflowne finally spreads its wings over the Pacific and lands on our shores in high-definition.

Hitomi Kanzaki is so depressed and dissatisfied with life that she's on the verge of suicide, but when she's plucked to Gaea, a world that exists out of phase with our own, she discovers she's the key to saving the world, and unlocking the Dragon Armor Escaflowne.

Mirroring the Japanese release, Escaflowne is sourced from an older transfer, probably done soon after the theatrical run in 2000. While detail is fine and the colors beautiful, the disc lacks the kind of solidity older cell based animation can achieve in high-definition, like Jin-Roh, Honneamise or Akira. The images always feels like it's one notch out of focus. This ‘analog’ feel isn't necessarily a bad thing given the source material. Healthy grain helps the feel of the theatrical experience, and the backgrounds are breathtakingly illustrated. I found black levels to be a bit of a disappointment, but at no time did this take away from my overall enjoyment. Overall this is a solid Blu-ray experience, but one that just misses the mark.

Happily, I have no such reservations about the Dolby TrueHD track. Yoko Kanno's score is crisp and clear, with the Gregorian-style chorus resonating beautifully into your surrounds. In my opinion, she's one of the best unsung composers working in motion pictures, with classics like Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus under her belt, and she absolutely gets her due on this Blu-ray Disc. The only place where the audio falls down a bit is the dialog. The Japanese track's fidelity is a little disappointing, while the English track is recorded a little too low in the mix, but in the end these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise a solid effort on Bandai's part.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of extras missing from the previous (and beautifully boxed) DVD Ultimate Edition, including the isolated score, the storyboard and production art gallery, and the Japanese and Korean premiere event footage. What does remain is an introduction and Q&A from the Anime Expo U.S. premiere of the film (just days after the Japanese opening), the production staff interviews and some trailers. None of these this was particularly spectacular ten years ago, and they still aren't. Anime directors rarely seem comfortable talking about their work, and Escaflowne is certainly no exception. Newcomers to the film will get the best information out of the staff interviews, which cover the creative challenges of restructuring of the story into a two-hour format. For fans that own the DVD, the missing enthusiast extras hurt a bit. Personally, I really miss the beautiful cover art from the early editions, though it was understandably replaced by something that appeals more to the Western masses. I'd love to see Bandai look into doing reversible covers inserts so that both customer bases can be satisfied.

Usually, when something is "re-imagined", it's done decades years later by those looking to cash in on the name of the original more than anything else. In rare instances, a property like Doctor Who is modernized and brought forward in a way that appeals to a whole new generation. And in the rarest instances, the original creative staff is given a crack at it. Made just a few years after the television series, Escaflowne follows the pattern of its predecessor Macross: Do You Remember, Love? (which shared many of the same creators) in standing on its own, as its own entity. The approach seems to ask: "What if the people inside the show made a movie about the events of the TV series?" It's a take that's rarely attempted, and while I prefer the TV series version of the story, the film stands out as a unique creative artifact. With its outstandingly rendered score and wonderful background artwork, Escaflowne: The Movie makes for an overall satisfying Blu-ray experience.

Jeff Kleist
[email protected]
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