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page added: 8/31/07



The Home Theater Forum Hi-Def Reviews
presented by The Digital Bits

The reviews below were written by regular contributors to The Home Theater Forum. At the end of each review, you'll find a link to an official thread at The HTF where you can discuss the discs with fellow enthusiasts. Note that the review format will vary, and is different than our regular format here at The Bits. The opinions expressed are those of the individual reviewer, and do not necessarily represent those of The Digital Bits. We simply present these reviews for your reading pleasure, and we hope you enjoy them!


Heroes: Season 1 (HD-DVD)

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Heroes: Season 1
HD DVD Title: Heroes Season 1
Rated: N/A
Screen format: 1080P 1.78:1 VC-1 Encoded
Studio: NBC Universal
First theatrical release: 2006/2007
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Day & Date with Anamorphic Widescreen DVD
Written & created by: Tim Kring (24 Episodes). Directors: Allan Arkush (5 episodes, 2006-2007), Greg Beeman (4 episodes, 2006-2007), Paul A. Edwards (3 episodes, 2006-2007), John Badham (2 episodes, 2006-2007), Paul Shapiro (2 episodes, 2006-2007)

Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Masi Oka, James Kyson Lee, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Jack Coleman, Adrian Pasdar, Milo Ventimiglia, Ali Larter, Noah Gray-Cabey, Greg Grunberg, Zachary Quinto, Santiago Cabrera, Tawny Cypress, Leonard Roberts
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 23 fill length TV episodes plus the unaired pilot over 7 HD DVD disks
Subtitles: English & French

Review by Sam Posten


Plot: 5/5

In Heroes, veteran TV Writer/Producer Tim Kring has crafted a TV fanboy/girl’s dream series, compromising a sweeping ensemble cast of newly discovered superheroes. Without giving away too much of the story, suffice it to say that while each begins to learn about their extraordinary new talents, they also begin to unravel the mysterious forces that tie them together and the inconceivable future that they must band together to prevent. I don’t even want to give a listing of the major characters and their powers, as doing so would ruin some of the charm as viewers witness the characters discoveries, but I will say that for me the breakout stars here were Hayden Panatierre and Masi Oka. While Panatierre’s high school cheerleader balances her two lives with delicacy, Masi Oka’s bored Japanese businessman breathes life into the geek fantasy of becoming a hero with such relish that it’s impossible to not root for the guy, and the hints to his amazing future capabilities that are uncovered in episode five are sure to draw viewers in even more tightly.

Despite the comic book pedigree, Heroes is one of the most creative and smart dramas to emerge in the last few years, along with shows such as Lost and 24. Chances are if you were addicted to either of those shows you’ve already had more exposure to Heroes than I have so far. Like Lost, Heroes excels at feeding its viewers with just enough answers each hour to keep the show moving, while introducing new twists and questions to keep everyone guessing. It is no mistake that the first episode is titled ‘Genesis’ as this very much just the kick off to what is hopefully a very long running series, and both the religious overtones and resonating importance of the genesis of this story is hard to miss.

Heroes also features more movie like cinematography and killer stunts, CGI and effects than most prime time TV dramas. That’s not to say that Heroes is all sizzle, the talented cast and complex story lines ensure that these window dressings serve to enhance the show, and aren’t the only reason for tuning in. In the end, Heroes captures what is best about Comic Book Superheroes, by giving extraordinary powers to average people and putting them into situations both incredible and mundane, we can really examine the best and worst of what makes us human, and in holding a mirror up to us all, help us to focus on who we are individually.

Sound Quality: 3/5

While the visual qualities of Heroes are easy to laud, the sound side of things is a bit more subtle and almost a disappointment. While asking for a truly enveloping surround mix for a 24 hour long dramatic series is probably asking a bit much, it’s hard not to note the very front focused sound stage. Over the last week I’ve checked out a few of the initial reviews from people getting this title and I’ve seen a few scores north of 4 and I simply don’t agree that a title that has been this well cared for on the video and extras side can slide by saying “what do you want, it’s TV!”

So, what do we have? Well, despite being front loaded and a bit short on the bass end, this set DOES capture the audio content that is present with clarity and punch. In particular the popular songs that are used plus the works of Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin. For more information on those, be sure to check the Heroes Wiki at: http://heroeswiki.com/Soundtrack

As noted the musical score is sharp and ranges the full gamut of emotions that a typical TV drama would need, and not shockingly a lot of it is used a bit repetitively. Dialogue is crisp and well imaged across the fronts, and there are very occasional effects that bleed into the rears. Overall, it’s quality stuff but the fact that it’s so front heavy is noticeable immediately and throughout the season, at least through the three quarters that I’ve gotten through so far.

Visual Quality: 4.5

As a TV show you would be hard pressed to find a finer video package than Heroes. Heroes was conceived from the start as being an HD ‘killer app’, and the season was broadcast in SD and simulcast in 1080i HD. From what I’m told this 1080P VC-1 encoded version blows away even that HD broadcast.

To start with, Heroes is exceptionally sharp and detailed. Individual fibers and small set contents details are overflowing in just about every scene. Facial details are also quite clear which is something that is often lacking in movie content. I never noted any instances of over sharpening or other digital artifacts, but noise WAS present in several scenes, particularly in scenes featuring Niki, tho I am at a loss as to explain why.

The color palette is also quite wide, with some scenes taking on color dramatic casts but for the most part the series mimicked the vibrant hues associated with comic superheroes, and nowhere is this more evident than in the paintings created by Isaac. These are panels that would be welcome in any modern or classic comic book and they are brought through in tremendous detail in this transfer, and the real life scenes that match up with the panels are just as colorful and detailed.

Overall Heroes looks better than any TV show deserves to look, via broadcast or on disk, and it is clear that a lot of love and hard work went into ensuring that these disks capture every bit of detail that was in those broadcasts, and more.

Extra Features: 5+/5

Heroes Season One’s collection of extras is simply off the hook and I hardly knew where to begin going through all of them. Fortunately Universal includes a handy reference chart that tells you how to get going with both the U-control Features and the online interactive content. I’m saving most of those features to dig through once I have finally completed watching the whole season (so as not to ruin any of the many spoilers that they undoubtedly contain), but it looks like we should bookmark a few extra hours to go through all of them. The guide notes that these include character connection links, picture in picture behind the scenes details and commentaries, and high-res presentations of Isaac’s comic panels on the U-Control side as well as Web enabled content like a ‘Genetic Abilities Test’. More on all of these hopefully next week.

Even without counting those features tho, Heroes would be in the neighborhood of a five star score. Extras include the full 71 minute unaired pilot episode (with commentary) which, to be fair, is very similar to episode 1. There are however 50 (!) deleted scenes which are selectable by episode, a full ‘Making of’ featurette, a featurette on the stunts, a featurette on the musical score, an interactive ‘Mind Reader’ game, and a profile of artist Tim Sale who did the comic panels.

Finally, there are both standard audio commentaries for a few of the episodes but also video commentaries as noted in the U-Control segment. Slick! While not every episode has a commentary, it would probably be a bit much to go through 24+ hours of the cast and crew yammering on. Still, like the HD-DVD of 300, having these run along side of the actual episodes is a treat that simply couldn’t be done on DVD and has yet to be done on Blu-Ray either.

Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average)

Heroes is one of this fall’s most anticipated releases and it comes through satisfying on every level except for those who expected it to have a fully enveloping surround mix. While that isn’t the case, it isn’t at all surprising and every other facet is rock solid or better. I’ll be spending a lot of additional time with the extras here myself over the next few weeks and for sure I will be at the front of the line when next season rolls around! Highly recommended!

Discuss this review here at The Home Theater Forum.




TMNT (HD-DVD)

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TMNT
Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: PG (Animated action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio:Dolby True HD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1, French 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec) and Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English; Spanish; French
Time: 87 minutes
Disc Format: HD-DVD/ DVD combo disc
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
HD-DVD Release Date: August 7, 2007

Review by Pat Wahlquist


I remember many years ago, not too long after I got heavily into comic books, and I was just learning who Frank Miller and Dave Sim were, a comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) came out. It completely missed my radar as I was too concerned with the various titles with X or Spider in them to really care. After about a month, the Comic Buyers Guide began posting how TMNT was now the hottest thing around and first printings of the first issue were going for $50-$100. Never being too shy to jump on a bandwagon, young creators began churning out the rip-offs: Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos come to mind. Eventually, First Comics struck a deal with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the creators of TMNT, to reprint the issues in collected, color editions, so I finally got to read them. After the hype that surrounded them, I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Many years later, I began reading Miller’s Daredevil issues and his Ronin series, and Dave Sim’s Cerebus and my appreciation of the parody came into focus.

Eastman and Laird had successfully parodied the industry, made a few bucks and Hollywood came sniffing around. Cartoons, live action movies, and every other consumer good you can think of soon bore the images of the four turtles, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo, and remained very successful for many years. With all good fads, the turtles run petered out (both in comics and other media) until now, where we are presented with an updated CG version. In this version, we seem to have continued where previous movie continuity left off: the turtle’s main enemy, The Shredder, has been destroyed and each turtle has gone off to pursue new lives. The turtle’s reporter friend April (Sarah Michelle Gellar) finds Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) training in South America, while Raphael (Nolan North) chases crooks as a vigilante, and Michelangelo (Mikey Kelly) and Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) make ends meet in other boring side jobs. Wealthy businessman Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) is using The Shredder’s clan, The Foot, to track some monsters that are attacking the city and he has resurrected some stone soldiers to aid in their capture. Winters is doing this so he can apparently achieve immortality (or not) and rule the world. The opening throws a lot at you and makes some left turns that left me scratching my head as I was trying to put it all together, so the kiddies may be left doing the same thing. While this is going on, there is family drama between Raph and Leo, and their aged master, Splinter (Mako) must convince his sons how the value of family and team work will help to stop the end of the world.

In this dizzying update of the franchise, writer/ director Kevin Munroe seems to really want to design video games. Almost every shot in the movie pans out, pushes in, or highlights the action in sweeping moves. This style reminded me very much of most any video game you see these days where our hero performs death defying moves to save the day while the camera follows him. While I may not “get” this form of storytelling for the Gen X-box crowd, my friends kids ate it up. In the end, those of us who are TMNT traditionalists still have our trusty comics to read while our kids can watch this one. Some of the scenes are amazing in their composition and execution and it shows how far CG is coming.

Video:

Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

The picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 2.40:1. The CG picture is excellent, but there were minor instances of banding. Detail on the turtles is exceptional stretching the limits of the animators rendering software. ILM used similar techniques in Episode III on Yoda to achieve a more realistic look to the “skin”, and the same goes for the turtles. The human characters look good at best, maintaining more of a Legend of Zelda look as opposed to realistic rendering. There is a very specific color palate to the picture, so what is here is purposely muted to maintain consistency. Depth of field was very evident in the video presentation, achieving that near 3-D look at times. Black levels are good, with deep shadows and good delineation. The rooftop fight scene between Raphael and Leonardo is amazing, especially the water reactions as the turtles jump and land and the reflections of the neon only enhance the experience. Upon close inspection of the picture, it appears to be a little soft, especially in the background items, but I believe this was the intent of the animators to give it a film-like appearance.

Audio:

The Dolby True HD soundtrack was attained by a 5.1 analog connection.

I watched the movie with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track engaged. This TrueHD track has a very immersive soundstage with the surrounds being utilized constantly. There is richness to the soundtrack that envelops the listener and places them in the middle of the action. Highs and mids are well represented and accurate. Bass effects were full and deep, blending nicely into the rest of the mix. Vocal elements are natural sounding and smooth. Since there is so much action in this flick, I was concerned there may be some stumbles in the panning effects, but there were none. You can trace the on screen action with the visuals, again, adding to the overall enjoyment of the movie. This is an incredible surround experience.

Bonus Material:

With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2, 480p unless otherwise noted.

Commentary by writer/director Kevin Munroe: Munroe spends most of his time talking about the CG process involved in making the movie.

Munroe goes on to narrate all of the following bonus materials: Mikey’s birthday party full sequence (3:16)

Raphael’s Rough House Fight Test (1:41): early CG test footage the producers showed to the studios to sell the project and see how the characters would work.

Monsters Come Alive (2:50): a storyboard sequence with live CGI comparison where Casey and Raphael battle the Stone General.

Donny’s Digital Data Files (1:57): Producer Paul Wang and Munroe talk about the technological challenges of the project, specifically the detail in the characters skin.

Roof Top Workout (5:35): A cut scene while the storyboards play.

Still Wanna Fight? Temp/Scratch Test (3:11):The expanded Casey and April apartment scene lends a little more weight to their relationship.

Alternate Opening (3:03): Splinter tells the story of where the turtles have been since the last movie in this color storyboard to finished CGI sequence.

Alternate Ending Temp/Scratch Test (1:17): Some extra story material that took away from the turtles, but included some Casey and April expansion.

Additional Scene: Splinter Gets Cake: (2:09) Mikey sneaks cake to Splinter in this grey scale pre-viz.

Interviews with Voice Talent Patrick Stewart, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Laurence Fishburne and Filmakers (5:04): The voice actors and Munroe explain the plot and characters. It’s kind of funny to hear these actors try and put some legitimacy to TMNT.

Trailer: TMNT Internet Reel (3:52)

Conclusions:

TMNT returns to the screen in an updated version sure to thrill the kids for the video game-like visuals and attitudes of the four turtle brothers. The HT enthusiast parents of these young viewers will enjoy the incredible HD video and audio presentation. Unfortunately we are left with a ho-hum set of extras.

Discuss this review here at The Home Theater Forum.


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