HD DVD: Worth a Look
3 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: August 22nd, 2006
Movie Release Year: 2005
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

Good Night, and Good Luck (Combo Edition)

Review Date August 21st, 2006 by
Overview -

Last month, we finally got to get down and dirty with our first next-gen format comparisons, when Warner released 'Training Day,' 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' and 'Rumor Has It...') on Blu-ray, a mere few weeks after they first debuted on HD DVD. Though our comparisons of those titles were more just about apples to apples (aside from compression codecs and some soundtrack options, the titles were just about identical in terms of content and features), admittedly Blu-ray was coming in at a slight disadvantage. The HD DVD versions of those titles had been released first, so for better or worse, Blu-ray had something to live up to more than just being judged on its own merits.

But now it is HD DVD's turn to do a little measuring up of its own. 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is only now making its debut on the format, almost a month after it has already hit Blu-ray. And at least in this reviewer's opinion, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' looked absolutely terrific on Blu-ray. So, has HD DVD finally met its match? We'll see in a minute... but first, a quick review of 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' the film...

OVERALL
Worth a Look
  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: HD DVD/DVD,HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:93
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.78:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions: English SDH,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features: Audio Commentary
    Theatrical Trailer
    Featurette
    Movie Studio: Warner Home Video
    Release Date: August 22nd, 2006

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

3.5 Stars out of 5

I grew up in the 1970s, and lived with my grandparents for most of my formative years. And I remember I loved to hear their stories of the "olden days" and how it used to be, when men were men, an ice cream cone only cost a dime, and you could still believe everything you heard on the nightly news. Yet as a kid I didn't full get what they meant, because I had yet to develop any cynicism, and still believed without question everything that came out the mouth of anyone over the age of, oh, 18 years old. Which leads me to wonder how the kids of today might react to a movie like 'Good Night, and Good Luck' and its reverential treatment of a bygone era, when journalists actually cared about things like truth and integrity, and weren't just wanna-be actors being paid to spiel the latest studio-funded PR blurbs on "Access Hollywood." I wonder if kids today even realize there is a difference between genuine news and infotainment?

In the early 1950's, the threat of Communism sent a collective shiver of paranoia throughout the United States. And no political figure exploited those fears more than Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. His federal hearings (aka witchhunts) of "known" communists throughout all levels of the government and the entertainment industry destroyed countless lives and careers, largely through intimidation and baseless accusation. It was only until CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and seven other members of his network team decided to take a stand and challenge McCarthy that he would be exposed as the phantom fearmonger history has proven him to be. The personal toll for Murrow would be extraordinary, but by standing firm in his convictions he would come to personify a journalistic ethos that remains as closely associated with truth, justice and the American way as Superman.

George Clooney's 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is a heartfelt work, a low-budget, independently-produced passion project that Clooney nurtured over many years and through much adversity. So I almost feel guilty for saying that I found it to be a film easier to admire than warm to. Though impeccably mounted (its production, location and costume design all the more impressive given its limited budget), it is oddly cold. Suffering many of the maladies that often plague historical pics, it is by design largely driven by plot rather than character. Similar to 'All the Presidents Men,' Clooney deftly holds our attention by sticking to the facts of what happened, what people said and how our American ideals were ultimately shaped by the efforts of Murrow. Yet I was not so much engaged by the emotional drama the characters were experiencing as in awe of what they accomplished. Also slightly dulling the film's effectiveness is the casting of major stars (and friends of Clooney) in supporting parts. Though David Strathairn won a much-deserved (and long overdue) Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Murrow, his presence is one of the few that doesn't distract. ("Look, it's Robert Downey, Jr.! Frank Langella! Patricia Clarkson! That guy from 'Dumb & Dumber!") However beautifully conceived, constructed and performed, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is a somewhat austere film, as much a nostalgia-drenched Hollywood paean to a lost era as a historical docudrama.

Yet I would not hesitate for a second to recommend the film, as it is well worth seeing, perhaps even essential viewing. Regardless of your political affiliation, Murrow's accomplishments and impact on American cultural is irrefutable, and his story remains fascinating, illuminating and prescient. It is hard to imagine a historical period in our nation's history that is more relevant today than the McCarthy era. In this day and age when "reality TV" is indistinguishable from truth, profit-driven conglomerates own major news networks and our government uses fear, not facts, to push us into war, 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is more than a reminder of one of the darkest moments in American history, but a chilling prediction of where we could be headed once again. Maybe 'Good Night, and Good Luck' is indeed the type of film you feel you should see rather than want to see, but you still should see it nonetheless.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD/DVD,HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:93
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    Theatrical Trailer
    Featurette
    Movie Studio: Warner Home Video
    Release Date: August 22nd, 2006

Video Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

As I wrote in my original Blu-ray review of 'Good Night, and Good Luck' I was quite excited to see this one in high-def, as it was the the first entirely black and white film to make its debut on a high-def format. I wasn't disappointed. Just about every aspect of that 1080p transfer was incredibly impressive, and I went as far as to write that it was the best presentation I had yet seen on Blu-ray. Which still stands. So, does the HD DVD match it?

Oops -- a little suspense-building first. Regarding this comparison, I hooked up both my Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player and Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player to my HP Pavilion reference HDTV via its two HDMI inputs. Note, however, that the first-generation Toshiba HD DVD decks are not capable of outputting native 1080p signals (unlike the Samsung), so it was up to the HP's internal processing to upconvert the Toshiba's 1080i signal to 1080p. Also, given the Samsung's much-publicized problems with its HDMI output (due to a reported faulty noise reduction chip that results in a degraded signal via the deck's HDMI out -- Samsung is planning to correct the problem on future shipments as well as issue a firmware upgrade sometime this Fall), I also compared both the Toshiba and the Samsung via component out to ensure the most fair comparison possible between the two discs.

To assess picture quality, I did comparisons of three complete scenes on both discs, one after the other, simply by switching between my set's two inputs. I also compared a dozen individual still images, by pausing each deck on identical still frames and switching back and forth. Unlike my earlier Blu-ray versus HD DVD comparisons, I found any differences to be negligible at worst, or absolutely zero at best. What I found most immediately striking about the image is how three-dimensional it appears. The level of depth and detail is simply terrific. Blacks are so pure, deep and clean, and contrast smooth and consistent across the entire grayscale, that it is like looking at a picture-perfect photographic print, not a film image. Aside from some of the archival footage used in the film (though even that looks outstanding), the source print is also extraordinarily clean and free of even a single blemish -- it doesn't get much more slick than this.

But even more surprising is that there is no apparent film grain visible, or it is so slight you have to press your nose up to the screen to glimpse it. Now, I know film grain is purposeful and I certainly don't believe that a transfer needs to have all its grain removed by modern digital processes to be "perfect." But I just expected that 'Good Night, and Good Luck' would be shot with that intentionally grainy look to make it feel more "real" or "cinema verite"-like, and boy, was I was wrong. This is without a doubt the smoothest black and white image I've ever seen on home video.

Now, what about the nitty gritty comparison? Quite simply, the only real difference I could detect between the Blu-ray and this HD DVD is a very slight difference in brightness. However, it is important to stress that different hardware needs to be calibrated independently even when hooked up to the same display device, and though our reference system has been professionally setup and adjusted, that doesn't mean there is no room for hardware-related discrepancies. For example, just playing around with the Samsung's black level enhancement features could measurably affect the cast of the image. So allowing for any slight margin of error, I simply did not see any appreciable difference in quality between the Blu-ray and the HD DVD -- black levels, contrast and the level of detail are all comparable. About the only distinction I could make is that leaving my monitor and player settings alone, the Blu-ray exhibited slightly brighter whites than on the HD DVD. However, this slight change in contrast did not appear to noticeably affect black levels or shadow delineation, and it is neither a positive or a negative -- whites simply looked a slight increment brighter on the Blu-ray, and it is almost imperceptible to the naked eye anyway (trust me, I was often staring at paused images and comparing, often for minutes at a time). So I can only say that this match certainly ends in a tie game.

One last thing, though. I will say that while I was quite impressed by the lack of compression artifacts on both the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions, the former is especially impressive because this is a HD DVD/DVD combo release, meaning Warner only had a single-layer, 15Gb disc to work with (versus a dual-layer HD-30, which is pretty much standard with big studio HD DVD releases) And this is some tough source material to get right -- David Strathairn often wears pattern suits with thin, stark stripes, yet I noticed no stairstepping or "jaggies." Most impressive. I don't know if the lack of color information helps give the VC-1 compression codec a boost or what, but I just can not find any real fault with this transfer. Like its Blu-ray counterpart, this is a true four-star presentation.

Audio Review

3 Stars out of 5

While I loved the transfers on both the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions of 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' I found the included Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track on the Blu-ray merely average at best, and I'm sorry to report that the Dolby Digital-Plus option on this HD DVD is identical.

Certainly, from a technical standpoint 'Good Night, and Good Luck' sounds perfectly fine. The film is driven almost entirely by dialogue, which is reproduced with great clarity and intelligibility.Even the archival footage has been nicely cleaned up, with very warm midrange and an impressive lack of shrillness to even the highest frequencies. Low bass is a bit less pronounced, but given the almost complete lack of a musical score and only a sparse use of sound effects, your just not going to get a lot of rumbling out of your subwoofer with this kind of soundtrack. Admittedly, it is unfair of me to expect a bunch of sounds whizzing around my head in a movie of this type, but in terms of envelopment and atmosphere there just isn't much going on in 'Good Night, and Good Luck'

Special Features

1.5 Stars out of 5

Even on standard DVD there weren't many extras on 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' Perhaps George Clooney thought his film should just speak for itself? In any case, Warner has ported over all of the same supplements as the previous DVD for both the HD DVD and the Blu-ray, but just don't expect a fully-loaded special edition. However, I will give the studio much kudos this time, because for once Warner has included all of the supplemental material on both the HD DVD and DVD sides of the disc, so at last we don't have to turn the platter over to access all the goodies.

First up and the disc's highlight is the screen-specific audio commentary with Clooney and producer Grant Heslov. What's funny and surprising about this track is that it seems like it was recorded before the film even hit theaters, and began to win considerable critical and awards recognition. Clooney frequent succumbs to self-depreciating humor, lamenting that "five people are going to see this movie," which in hindsight is hard to fathom. ('Good Night, and Good Luck' practically had "Oscar!" stamped on its forehead before it even went before the cameras.) Aside from Clooney's self-doubt, he and Heslov do a pretty good job of giving us the skinny on the project's development and production, although as is typical with these type of passion projects, Clooney spends a bit too much time thanking his cast and fellow filmmakers rather than getting down to the nitty gritty we really want to hear.

The only other major extra is the 15-minute "Companion Piece" featurette, which is subtitled "Learn More About the Inspiration Behind 'Good Night, and Good Luck.'" Though the EPK interviews with Clooney and the cast are totally formulaic, the segment is elevated by the inclusion of new interviews with many of the surviving family and friends of the real-life news team behind Murrow's triumph. Their stories, however brief, are poignant and fascinating. I just wish there was more of such remembrances -- this should really be a full-blown doc, not just a short snapshot. (By the way, as I complained in my Blu-ray review of 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' Warner did not format the featurette's 4:3 aspect ratio properly for 16:9 monitors, meaning that the image was stretched out and everyone looked too fat. For the HD DVD, however, they got it right, and the 4:3 featurette is now nicely pillarboxed within the 16:9 frame. Thanks, Warner!)

Rounding out the package is the film's theatrical trailer presented in full 1080p video.

Final Thoughts

'Good Night, and Good Luck' is an impeccably conceived and produced film, though I did find it a bit cold despite how easy it is to admire. But there is no doubt in my mind that both the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases deliver superb picture quality. Sure, neither soundtrack is that inspiring and the extras are rather undernourished. But at least in the case of this HD DVD versus Blu-ray comparison, no matter which format you choose, you'll come up a winner.

  • Editors Note

    Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD/DVD,HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1,480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only)
    Length:93
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.78:1
    Audio Formats:
    English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English SDH,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Audio Commentary
    Theatrical Trailer
    Featurette
    Movie Studio: Warner Home Video
    Release Date: August 22nd, 2006