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page added: 9/17/08



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

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (Blu-ray Disc)


Kill Bill: Volume 1
2003 (2008) - Miramax (Buena Vista)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 9th, 2008

Uncompressed LPCM

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


Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!


Kill Bill: Volume 2 (Blu-ray Disc)


Kill Bill: Volume 2
2004 (2008) - Miramax (Buena Vista)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 9th, 2008

Uncompressed LPCM

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


Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

[Editor's Note: Both titles can be purchased as a discounted Blu-ray Disc 2-pack here at Amazon.com, or individually via the links above.]

Here's a pair of films you'll either really love or really hate... as is the case with much of director Quentin Tarantino's body of work. Kill Bill is a story of revenge told in two parts, and while many film fans will find its stylized violence and pop culture references fascinating and entertaining, it's also a toss-up whether the story needed to be broken up into two films at all. In Kill Bill: Volume 1, we learn that the Bride (Uma Thruman) was shot and left for dead on her wedding day by a gang of vaguely-named baddies, on the orders of the mysterious "Bill". She survives being shot in the head and losing her baby, struggles to recover, makes a revenge list and then proceeds to work her way down that list, leaving a trail of bodies and blood in her wake. Things come to a head in Kill Bill: Volume 2, in which the Bride, having dispatched most of the villains on her original list, finally gets around to "Bill" himself. Along the way, she slices a new trail of carnage, and we learn more about her transformation into the baddest badass babe with a sword you've ever seen. Filled as they are with nods to such Asian kung-fu and swordplay classics as the Shaw Brothers films, the Zatoichi series, Lady Snowblood and more - not to mention earlier American exploitation films - you can best think of Kill Bill as the ultimate, 2-part Grindhouse flick... before QT and Robert Rodriguez actually saw fit to make even MORE blatant Grindhouse flicks.

Both of these films have been released before on DVD, in versions that really lacked much of anything in the way of extras. There's been word that QT plans a more elaborate release of these films with extensive extras (including a possible "long version" of both parts combined), as well as rumors of possible sequels, though none of this has yet emerged. (When and if they do, look for them from The Weinstein Company.) In the meantime, Buena Vista has just released both films in high-definition on Blu-ray Disc, and while nothing new is added in the way of extras, the video and audio quality are striking.

Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 look absolutely breathtaking in 1080p high-definition on Blu-ray. Color and clarity is stunning, with bold, vibrant hues and abundant, refined detail. There's no edge-enhancement, and there's little or no DNR visible. You'll see light grain, as appropriate, and excellent contrast. The high-resolution audio is also fantastic, though it's only available here in uncompressed PCM 5.1 - there's no Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA (although standard Dolby Digital mixes are available). Still, uncompressed audio is uncompressed audio, and these mixes sound terrific. Both discs feature a huge, wide soundstage, with smooth panning, abundant bass and wonderful dynamic range. These films sport lively and eclectic soundtracks rife with music, and the staging is smooth and well blended with the dialogue and effects.

In terms of extras, everything that was available on the original DVD releases has been included here. On Volume 1, that means you get The Making of Kill Bill: Volume 1 featurette, a pair of musical performances by the "5, 6, 7, 8's" and trailers for this and other Tarantino films. Volume 2 adds The Making of Kill Bill: Volume 2 featurette, the "Damoe" deleted scene and the "Chingon" musical performance. All of it is in standard-definition. Nothing new or exclusive to the Blu-rays has been added.

There were a lot of complaints when these titles were first announced by Buena Vista, for being basically just simple ports of the existing DVDs, but I'll tell you... I was VERY surprised at the high presentation quality here. Sure, the extras aren't much to speak of, but these are easily two of the best looking live-actions films I've seen on Blu-ray yet. Someone went to a lot of trouble to really hit the audio and video quality here out of the park, and they've definitely succeeded. For that reason, if you're a fan of these films and you have a Blu-ray player, these discs ARE well worth considering. Keep in mind, the studio is offering $10 rebates off EACH of these titles if you do upgrade from the DVDs (the details of the mail-in offer are available on an insert inside the Blu-ray cases), so be sure to take advantage of the offer while you can.




Night Watch: Unrated (Blu-ray Disc)


Night Watch: Unrated (Nochnoy dozor)
2004 (2008) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 9th, 2008

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 17.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: B-


Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!



Day Watch: Unrated (Blu-ray Disc)


Day Watch: Unrated (Dnevnoy dozor)
2006 (2008) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 9th, 2008

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: C


Buy this Blu-ray now at Amazon!

Now here's another pair of highly stylized action films, effectively a part one and part two. Like the Kill Bill films, you're probably either going to love them or hate them. Night Watch and Day Watch are directed by Timur Bekmambetov and are based on a series of books by novelist Sergei Lukyanenko. Night Watch became the highest grossing film to date in Russia upon its release there. I first saw Night Watch theatrically back in March of 2006, during its North American art house run, and quite enjoyed it. I don't want to spoil too much about the plot, because you really need to just see it for yourself. I will say that Night Watch is the first part of a trilogy about a thousand-year old cold war between Good and Evil, that's being waged just beneath the surface of our own present-day reality. Visually and stylistically it's pretty cool - sort of a grungier, budget-rate version of The Matrix, with a dash of Blood the Last Vampire horror and a bit of Star Wars father/son mythology tossed in. Day Watch is the bookend film that completes the story. A third film, set to be called either Dusk Watch or Twilight Watch (Sumerechniy Dozor) is apparently due to be released next year. It's rumored to be a prequel set (at least in part) in the past, when the war first began, and also to have been filmed in English (as it's financed by Fox).

Fox's new Blu-ray editions offer generally very good 1080p video quality. Night Watch was shot 35 spherical at 1.66:1 and was presented in the 1.85:1 Flat format theatrically, so that's how it's presented here on Blu-ray. Day Watch, on the other hand, was shot Super 35 and was presented theatrically at 2.35:1 Scope, so the Blu-ray is 2.35 as well. Contrast is excellent on both. Color is a little muted by design (but it's accurate at all times) and there's good image detail. You will notice grain in both, but particularly in Day Watch (owing to the difference in cinematographic processes used in each film's production), but that was also apparent theatrically. The grain does occasionally become a little distracting in Day Watch, however, so you'll note the video quality score is just a hair lower. On the audio front, both discs offer excellent DTS-HD MA surround mixes (in the original Russian) that are big, lively and highly atmospheric, resulting in excellent immersion and creation of space. The surrounds are very active and the bass is thunderous. They're very pleasing mixes that support the images well. English dubbed audio is also available in standard DTS format, but trust me... the films are better in their original language.

There are a couple things I want to note here about the films before we move onto the extras: First, there are apparently some differences between the original Russian theatrical versions of these films and the International/American releases (check out Wikipedia or IMDB for a complete list). What's presented here are the American versions in unrated form - the same as the previous DVD releases. The other thing I wanted to mention, is that the English subtitles are unfortunately just the standard subs electronically generated by the player. When these films were shown theatrically, they featured animated subtitles that were highly stylish and sophisticated. Text would drift in and out, would evaporate or swirl across the screen, would be different colors, etc. All of this really contributed to the mood of the scene. This WAS recreated for the DVD release, but it HASN'T been for the new Blu-ray release, and that's very disappointing. I understand WHY it wasn't done: Neither of these films made a ton of money, and reproducing the animated subs on home video in high-definition would likely have required multiple (and expensive) new HD masters for each language. So while I'm disappointed, I guess I can accept this. What I hope is that Fox decides to revisit these titles in a few years, and can then justify the greater expense of presenting the subs as they were originally intended. Still, if you want the subs as they should be, that alone is probably going to be a deal-breaker in terms of your decision to upgrade to Blu-ray.

In terms of extras, Night Watch on Blu-ray offers everything that was on the previous DVD release, including the original audio commentary with Bekmambetov, the subtitled commentary by Lukyanenko, the Night Watch Trilogy featurette and an extended ending. The Blu-ray also adds exclusive new material, including 2 new featurettes (The Making of Night Watch and Characters, Story and Subtitles), 7 deleted scenes with optional commentary, a comic book still gallery, a poster gallery, the trailer and D-Box enhancement. The Day Watch Blu-ray also has everything that was on the previous DVD release, including a commentary with Bekmambetov, The Making of Day Watch featurette, TV spots, 6 Russian trailers and the film's U.S. trailer. The only new extra on the Blu-ray version is D-Box enhancement.

Night Watch and Day Watch certainly aren't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but for me, I think it's absolutely fascinating to see a Russian take on what has been previously a Western-dominated genre: the big-budget special effects epic. So much of what's going on in these films is informed by Russian history and cultural sensibilities, that I'm actually interested in reading the original novels to try to and appreciate it all better. In any case, even if you just watch these for the style and action - the flash and thunder, so to speak - I don't think you'll be disappointed. These films are well worth a look, and the Blu-rays are easily the best and most enjoyable way to do so.

Bill Hunt, Editor
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com



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