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Hi-Def Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Blu-ray Disc)

Blu-ray Disc Format1080p - Analog Full Resolution
DTS HD

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!


Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
2007 (2007) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 2nd, 2007

Film: B
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (DTS-HD 1.5 Mbps "Core" - 1-20): 17
Extras: A


Specs and Features:
92 mins, PG, AVC 1080p standard (2.40:1), BD-50 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, BD+, audio commentary (with director Tim Story), audio commentary (with producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and editors Peter Elliot and William Hoy), 5 deleted/extended scenes (with optional commentary by Tim Story), 2 documentaries (Family Bonds: The Making of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Sentinel Spaceways: Comic Book Origins of the Silver Surfer), 4 featurettes (The Fantasticar: State of the Art, The Power Cosmic, Scoring the Fantastic and Character Design with Spectral Motion), still galleries, BD-Java features (Saving the World One Question at a Time trivia game, Who Dares Defy Galactus? strategy game, personal scene selection), 2 theatrical trailers, enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (28 chapters), languages: DTS-HD Master Lossless 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish and French), subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Cantonese and Korean, Closed Captioned


Life has become exciting for the Fantastic Four superhero team since we last saw them. Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Sue "Invisible Woman" Storm (Jessica Alba), Johnny "Human Torch" Storm (Chris Evans) and Ben "The Thing" Grimm (Michael Chiklis) have become national celebrities after foiling the evil Victor von "Dr." Doom (Julian McMahon) a couple of years ago. Reed and Sue have been trying to get married numerous times, but the ceremony is always foiled due to pending disaster, media intrusion or Reed's own scientific distractions. The latest attempt at nuptials is ruined by the appearance of a mysterious shiny man flying around and wreaking havoc on what appears to be an equally shiny surfboard.

Dubbed the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne and motion captured by Doug Jones), Reed and the Fantastic Four are recruited by the military to capture this potentially dangerous menace and uncover his motivations. As the team learns more about the Surfer, they discover that he has his own complicated agenda in which the Fantastic Four must intercede to save our world and his. Along for the ride is Victor von Doom. Despite his checkered past he is hired by the military to assist Reed in his assignment. But Victor might have ulterior motives and our heroes must make sure that Victor behaves himself.

Much has been made of the PG rating that this film received. The hardcore comic fans were aghast that the film had seemingly turned into a kiddie flick. Yes, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is a more kid-oriented superhero movie than what Hollywood typically offers. The film has a straightforward and uncomplicated story. Its characters are bold and likable and the art direction is bright and colorful. Also look for instances of humor children can appreciate. What's more, I only counted one obvious on-screen death. But despite these traits, Rise of the Silver Surfer is not a kiddie movie; adults will find some enjoyment in the film's spectacle.

But when you get right down to it, Rise of the Silver Surfer is not a particularly interesting film. For viewers with more refined cinematic tastes the film's strengths as family-friendly entertainment might prove to be its weaknesses. While I am not nearly as versed in Fantastic Four lore as I am in other comic book universes, I was always under the impression that the Fantastic Four was more thematically lightweight than Batman or the Punisher (my personal favorite). Make a PG-rated Punisher film and I'll have more than a few choice words for the producers. But I have no problem with a PG-rated Fantastic Four film, and I believe it was a good call by Fox to keep this one more universal in its audience appeal. I can think of no way that attaching a 13 to the end of the film's MPAA rating would somehow make it more enjoyable.

The 2.40:1 1080p AVC video on the Blu-ray edition of Rise of the Silver Surfer is up there with the best transfers on the format. Colors, especially the brilliant yellows and oranges of the Human Torch, are deep and vibrant without oversaturation. Fine image detail is excellent from the brightest daytime scenes to darker indoor environments. There is a small amount of artificial edge enhancement that causes minor haloing in some shots. This is the only blemish preventing this otherwise outstanding transfer from being perfect.

Hardware limitations prevented me from experiencing the DTS-HD Master Lossless audio in its full glory, but the 1.5 Mbps "core" signal is nothing to sneeze at. There are instances of strong directional effects whizzing through the listening environment and bass response is strong and tight. Dialog is mixed well and I always understood the actors even during the loud action-oriented sequences. But from a broader perspective, as competent as the track is technically, it's just not very memorable.

Fox pulled out all the stops with the extra features on the Blu-ray edition of Rise of the Silver Surfer and gave fans hours of entertaining and informative supplements with very little waste. Two audio commentaries are included, the first with director Tim Story and the second with producer Avi Arad, writer Don Payne and editors Peter Elliot and William Hoy. Story's commentary is far better than the second group track as the director provides plenty of interesting insights into the thematic aspects of the film as well as the production challenges. The second commentary is dry and mostly superfluous in light of the other commentary and the bevy of documentaries and featurettes.

Speaking of which there are six documentaries and featurettes that total about two hours when put together. Family Bonds: The Making of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the flagship documentary, running 46 minutes and broken into "pre-production" and "production" segments. The doc is made up entirely of non-narrated behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with actors and key technical crew members. It's as entertaining as it is a nice backstage glimpse into the making of the film. Sentinel Spaceways: Comic Book Origins of the Silver Surfer documentary runs 39 minutes and is dedicated to the history of the Silver Surfer character. The creation of the character, his various art styles and his place in pop culture are discussed. The doc features a lot of input by comic book legend Stan Lee, co-creator of the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. The Power Cosmic featurette is a 15-minute investigation into how the character of the Silver Surfer was realized in the film with the use of motion capture and computer wizardry. The Character Design with Spectral Motion featurette is 11 minutes with a very funny Michael Chiklis as the audience witnesses his transformation into The Thing character. The Fantasticar: State of the Art featurette runs 10 minutes and shows the audience how the Fantasticar was created from concept to finished product. Finally, Scoring the Fantastic featurette is essentially four minutes with the film's composer John Ottman.

Five deleted/extended scenes are included with optional commentary by director Tim Story. They're okay, but nothing that I'm sad to see excised from the final cut. A series of still galleries featuring dozens of images broken into segments called "Concept Art," "Behind-the-Scenes" and "Characters" can be found. I'm not big on still galleries but the offering on this disc is certain to please fans. Two theatrical trailers, personalized scene selection and D-Box enhancement round out the non-interactive features.

Fox also included a pair of BD-Java interactive games that, like the one included on the studio's Blu-ray version of The Day After Tomorrow, are surprisingly engaging and well worth your time. Saving the World One Question at a Time is a trivia game that runs over the movie as the viewer watches. The game includes darn near 200 hundred questions about Fantastic Four history that will challenge all but the hardest core fans. If you answer questions incorrectly Galactus (the Silver Surfer's evil boss) moves closer to Earth and if he reaches our planet we're all doomed! If you want to learn more about the super team's lore definitely give the trivia game a try. The real gem of the BD-Java features is the Who Dares Defy Galactus? strategy game. Also notable about this game is that it can be played by one or two players; one player is the Silver Surfer and the other is Galactus. The game is played in a series of rounds, each round a separate solar system populated by a dozen or more planets. Each planet is specifically connected to another and each planet has a point value associated with it. The players take turns occupying planets and racking up points, once all planets have been occupied the player with the most points wins the round, and the player that wins the most rounds either saves Earth (Surfer) or destroys it (Galactus). It's actually a fun and addictive diversion and when I checked it out for this review I found myself playing it far longer than I anticipated. It seems that the days of pointless, inane interactive DVD features/games are coming to an end, at least at Fox. Good stuff!

Don't dismiss Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer as a kid's movie just because of its PG rating. Kids and adults both should be entertained by its colorful characters and style. It's not the most interesting film ever made, but it serves its family-oriented purpose very well and I don't believe the Fantastic Four mythos is injured by the lighter tone of this film. The Blu-ray version of Rise of the Silver Surfer contains near-perfect video and engaging, if somewhat unmemorable surround sound. The heaping helping of extra features Fox included are almost all worthwhile and the BD-Java games, especially the strategy game, are definitely worth checking out. This Blu-ray is definitely recommended.



The Day After Tomorrow (Blu-ray Disc)

Blu-ray Disc Format1080p - Analog Full Resolution
DTS HD

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

The Day After Tomorrow
2004 (2007) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 2nd, 2007

Film: D
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (DTS-HD 1.5 Mbps "Core" - 1-20): 18
Extras: B


Specs and Features:
124 mins, PG-13, AVC 1080p standard (2.35:1), BD-50 DL, Elite Blue HD packaging, BD+, audio commentary (with director/co-writer Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon), audio commentary (with co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, director of photography Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner and production designer Barry Chusid), 10 deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Roland Emmerich and Mark Gordon), BD-Java features (global warming trivia track, Cold Zone interactive game, content search index, personalized scene selection), enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems, 2 theatrical trailers, animated film-themed root menu with audio/"in-film" menu overlay, scene access (32 chapters), languages: DTS-HD Master Lossless 5.1 (English) & Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish and French), subtitles: English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean, Closed Captioned


Global warming is a catastrophe almost certain to happen. Despite the best efforts of conservationalists, politicians and the everyday heroes of our society, the world as a whole still does not take this threat seriously enough. Future generations are sure to foot the bill for the carelessness of our lifestyle and that of our parents and grandparents. The Day After Tomorrow is the filmic equivalent of global warming. If we allow films this bad to continue being made, we will create a future so bleak that coming generations will never forgive our foolishness.

In The Day After Tomorrow increased global temperatures rapidly melt the polar ice caps. This flood of newly-melted fresh water alters the salinization ratios and current flow of the oceans, which create a sudden and catastrophic climate shift. In this film this climate shift happens literally overnight. A massive cold front engulfs most of the planet's northern hemisphere and ushers in a new ice age. Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) tried to warn our government, but of course, the villainous Dick Cheney look-alike and the dim-witted George W. Bush stand-in blow him off and ignore his advice to evacuate the northern half of the United States. When all hell breaks loose and L.A. is decimated by tornados and Manhattan is drowned in a massive typhoon the film becomes a survival story told through the eyes of a lot of minor characters. There are so many stories trying to be told in the film that the audience is never allowed to emotionally connect with any of the characters. But the main story driving this film is that of Jack Hall and his journey to rescue his son and his classmates who are stranded in the New York public library and are in danger of freezing to death. Jack's son is played by Jake Gyllenhaal doing his best Tobey Maguire impression. There are many other characters and subplots, but they're so forgettable and unimportant in the larger scheme of the story that they're not worth mentioning. As the story wears on and the characters fail to become interesting all that remains is a movie full of cardboard cutouts basically trying to stay warm.

My biggest problem with The Day After Tomorrow is that the story does not know what it's trying to say, and even if it did it would still be laughable. Is it a grim warning about what our future holds? Then don't insult the audience's intelligence with ridiculous logic gaps and complete contempt for the laws of science. Is it no more than lite summer popcorn fare that should not be taken too seriously? Then give us likable characters and don't be so pretentious. And then there's the bold faced silliness: The pilot emerging from his helicopter - crash landed by the extreme freezing temperatures - stepping out of the craft and literally freezing in his steps. Think Medusa in Clash of the Titans. Don't forget the scene where our young heroes are chased by temperature. You got that? They're chased by temperature... as if the sub-zero weather has become a sentient being and is actually chasing people around. My dear readers, these are scenes that belong in a Zucker brothers parody of the film, not in the actual film itself.

Here's the biggest mystery of all: Why does the mere utterance of the name Michael Bay elicit waves of deafening groans and four-letter-words, while Roland Emmerich is allowed operate with relative impunity? Sure, Emmerich was given a series of critical wet willies for 1998's atrocious Godzilla, but what about such cinematic kicks-to-the-groin like The Patriot and The Day After Tomorrow? Emmerich did direct Independence Day, and that movie is very entertaining and all... but that was 11 years ago. What have you done for me lately?

While The Day After Tomorrow's story and some of its creative direction are at best ill advised and at worst profoundly absurd, I cannot deny the visceral thrill that portions of the film provided. Tornados ravaging L.A., Manhattan being engulfed by a brutal, almost biblical flash flood, an abandoned freight ship listing down the flooded streets of New York, bottomed out by a submerged city bus... these are some really exciting and very well executed visual effects. But when the effects are the best part a movie, the film in question is destined to be forgotten. The quality of visual effects technology is ever evolving and in a decade The Day After Tomorrow's effects will be outdated. Think about some of the most revered spectacle films in the lexicon of cinema: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Close Encounters of the Third Kind - people have adored these movies for decades because of the stories and characters, not because of the effects, which are extremely antiquated in the 21st century.

The 2.35:1 1080p AVC picture is a very nice offering from the fine people at Fox. Brighter scenes exhibit a wonderful level of detail that cinefiles have come to expect from the new HD disc formats. Grain is apparent, but not distracting. Compression artifacting is non-existent even in the most challenging conditions such as scenic outdoor shots with heavy snowfall. However, the picture has an overall dark characteristic that tends to mute details in low-light scenes. Colors also come across as oversaturated; this is most prevalent in skin tones which appear too red. If you have a high-def set-up you should be duly impressed by the video offered on this Blu-ray.

While hardware restrictions truncated the DTS-HD Master Lossless audio to the 1.5 Mbps "core" signal, the hobbled track still rocked my house down to the foundation. The action-driven moments of this film lit up my home theater and delivered an enveloping experience that provided front row seats to calamity and chaos. There is an abundance of bass, but it is never out-of-control. This soundtrack does a great job of balancing the LFE channel so that it's gut-pounding, but never overwrought; my subwoofer got a great workout but never bottomed out. The split surround effects are also above average. There are plenty of directional sound effects that remind you that there are actually two distinct audio channels behind you. The only criticism I can level at the mix is that dialog is not mixed well; often it's mixed too low and can be drowned out by louder environmental effects. If Sony ever releases a firmware upgrade for the PlayStation 3 that unlocks full resolution DTS-HD MA audio output via HDMI, this will be the first Blu-ray I revisit.

While Fox spooned out a respectable quantity of supplements for the Blu-ray edition of The Day After Tomorrow, most of it proves to be empty calories. First off, almost all of the video-based supplements from the 2-disc DVD edition are gone from the Blu-ray pressing. All that remain from these are the 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Roland Emmerich and Mark Gordon. Like most deleted scenes, they were better deleted and don't offer much to move the story forward. Two feature commentary tracks are carried over from the DVD edition. The first features director/co-writer Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon. It's not an informative track and features long bouts of silence. The second commentary with co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, director of photography Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner and production designer Barry Chusid is more technical in nature, which is code for "boring." I love the technical aspects of filmmaking, but not when they're being talked about in a commentary. This information should have been presented in a documentary. There are a couple of other minor features included such as personalized scene selection and a content search tool that brings up a list of topics the user can select and zoom right to the scene in the movie in which it is referenced. I'm not completely sold on the value of these features. There are also two theatrical trailers for the film included here. And for you folks who like to have your buttocks massaged while watching a movie, the disc is compatible with D-Box. Go to www.d-box.com to see what I mean.

For the first time in my 10+ years of watching DVDs, the typically cheesy interactive game is actually the best feature on the disc. On this disc the feature is actually two-fold. The first part is a global warming trivia track featuring boxes that pop up from time to time offering honest-to-goodness informative and interesting insights about the environment, nature and the global warming phenomenon. Viewers hooked on the Discovery Channel will love this feature. The second part of the feature is a BD-Java trivia game called Cold Zone. During the course of watching the film the viewer will need to answer 50 multiple-choice questions relating to the trivia track and other info from the film. Answering questions incorrectly alters the temperature gauge at the left of the screen. The object is to keep the temperature between 55 and 85 degrees. If so inclined the viewer can learn a lot by checking out this track; it is way more interesting than any of the other supplements. Even if you normally ignore the interactive games on discs, be sure to check out this one. I kid about global warming a little above, but in all seriousness it really is a huge problem looming in the future of each and every citizen of this planet. The trivia feature is a real eye opener and a great way to learn a little about this pending danger.

Am I too damning toward The Day After Tomorrow? I don't think so, but check it out for yourself and count the number of times you laugh during unintentionally funny moments. The film is a mess of ridiculous logic, bad dialog, too many subplots and uninteresting characters. Sure, the effects are smashing, but they can't carry the film all on their own. The Blu-ray edition of The Day After Tomorrow features very nice (if slightly flawed) HD video and absolutely pulse-pounding audio. The "making-of" features are meager and don't offer much insight, but Fox went above and beyond with the outstanding BD-Java global warming trivia game. This Blu-ray is easily recommended for fans of the film, but the curious are well advised to rent first considering the premium prices Fox charges for its Blu-ray titles.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com
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