HD DVD: Worth a Look
3 Stars out of 5
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Release Date: March 22nd, 2007
Movie Release Year: 2006
Release Country: Germany
COLLAPSE INFO -

Renaissance (2006) (German Import)

Review Date August 7th, 2007 by
  • Editors Note

    This is a review of the German HD DVD release of 'Renaissance.' At press time, this movie not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States, however this import disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player. (For more info on importing HD DVD discs, visit our forums area.)

OVERALL
Worth a Look
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  • Editors Note

    This is a review of the German HD DVD release of 'Renaissance.' At press time, this movie not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States, however this import disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player. (For more info on importing HD DVD discs, visit our forums area.)

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: HD DVD
    HD DVD Single Layer 15GB
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:Germany
    Aspect Ratio(s):2.35:1
    English Descriptive Audio: German DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    English DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    Subtitles/Captions: German Subtitles
    Special Features: None
    Movie Studio: Ascot Elite
    Release Date: March 22nd, 2007

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

2.5 Stars out of 5

If you missed 'Renaissance' during its brief U.S. theatrical run in September 2006, you can hardly be blamed. While it was a moderate hit in its native France, the film was released on only 13 screens stateside, and disappeared from theaters within a month of its release. But what 'Renaissance' may lack in name recognition, it certainly makes up for in ambition. Six years in the making, the film combines the performances of real-life actors with CG animation through through the use of motion capture technology. The result is a stark vision of a futuristic Paris that sets the stage for a sprawling sci-fi opus aimed squarely at the consequences of modern materialism.

It is Paris in the year 2054 when a young scientist named Ilona (Romola Garai) is kidnapped in the middle of the night. To help find their missing employee, the powerful corporation known as Avalon seeks the assistance of a police task force. A tenacious inspector named Barthelemy Karas (Daniel Craig) leads the search, but he finds out more than he bargained for as he begins to unravel the questionable dealings of Avalon itself. While the company is conducting genetic experiments in an attempt to defeat death, as Karas discovers their methods and motivations may not be as pure as they seem.

Right up front, I'll tell you that 'Renaissance' is gorgeous. The noir-seeped black and white animation is a wonder to watch, even if it makes the story itself secondary to the experience. Often compared to the rotoscoped animation of 'A Scanner Darkly,' I actually thought the motion-captured CG of this film yields far different results. While rotoscoped animation tends to give a wavy edge to every line, motion captured CG is crisp and stable. The contrast between the harsh lines and the smooth animation makes for a film that arguably shares more in common with Frank Miller's 'Sin City' than anything else. 'Renaissance' captures the darkness of noir and the play between light and shadow to great effect.

Unfortunately, impressive visuals will only get you so far, and the story of 'Renaissance' often drowns under the weight and complexity of its plot. For all of the momentum built up over the course of the first act of the film, Karas's investigation doesn't lead to anything other than his predictable discovery of the "evil dealings" of Avalon. Instead of offering new ideas, 'Renaissance' presents its audience with the same future dystopian world that's been fleshed out in countless other sci-fi flicks.

Almost every interesting question posed by the film leads to a disappointingly obvious answer -- there's no moment of awe, no realization of truth, and no shocking twist to this futuristic world. Plot points are revealed in a manner that suggest the writers think they're dropping bombs on the audience -- but I personally saw most of these "bombs" coming from a mile away. By the end, the film fizzles with an anti-climactic "showdown" of ideals that left me feeling empty and unsatisfied.

In short, despite high aspirations and the sheer beauty of its animation, 'Renaissance' never really delivers where it counts. It's great to look at, but once I grew accustomed to the unique visual style, there really wasn't much left to keep my attention. As such, I'm sorry to report that 'Renaissance' is the cinematic equivalent of a beautiful looking Ferrari without anything under the hood.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    HD DVD
    HD DVD Single Layer 15GB
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:Germany
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    German DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    English DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    Subtitles/Captions:
    German Subtitles
    Special Features:
    None
    Movie Studio: Ascot Elite
    Release Date: March 22nd, 2007

Video Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

Presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec, this HD DVD German import of 'Renaissance' boasts an extremely proficient technical transfer that elevates the inherent beauty of its animation. Edges are consistently crisp, and there aren't any instances of macroblocking or artifacting. This digital-direct transfer is so pristine that I started to watch for pixelization along thin lines, but I was happy to find nothing of the sort. There aren't any banding issues, crush problems, or jagged edges, and freeze-framing the film at any point produces a shot that looks straight out of a black and white comic book. Most impressive is that all of this is accomplished on a 15GB single layer HD DVD.

While there is a slight hint of lighter gray tones used for subtle shading and lighting effects, the the color palette here is mainly limited to two extremes (a harsh black and a sharp white). Impressively, however, the tones are so well rendered that the picture seems to open up on the screen and extend into the distance, giving the image a surprisingly convincing level of depth.

My only issue with this transfer is that the image is so vibrant and polarized that it occasionally produces an annoying optical effect. Everybody has experienced this phenomenon with their eyes -- if you stare at a two-tone black and white image for a few seconds and then look at a blank piece of paper, you can still see the image. Now imagine this effect every time 'Renaissance' slows down and sits still for a moment. It sometimes gets to the point where previous frames of the film are still visible overtop of current images because a viewer's eye can't adjust quickly enough. A minor gripe to be sure -- and arguably not a technical flaw -- but one that still distracted me from the film.

Audio Review

4.5 Stars out of 5

Since this HD DVD was released in Germany, the default track on 'Renaissance' is a dubbed German DTS-HD 5.1 lossless Master Audio surround mix. For our purposes though, I'll focus on the English track (mislabeled as an English DTS 5.1 mix, athough it's actually a DTS-HD 5.1 lossless Master Audio mix, as well).

(I should also note that at the present time, no existing HD DVD player is capable of outputing the original DTS-MA bitstream, leaving us currently capable of only listening the the core 1.5mbps DTS track on this disc.)

The movie starts playing in German automatically, but to switch to English-language audio, simply press the "Menu" button on your remote, choose "Sprachen Ton," and then click on "Englisch DTS 5.1." To turn off the German subtitles that automatically pop up, simply revisit "Sprachen Ton" and click on "Aus" to turn them off.

The soundfield in 'Renaissance' takes full advantage of every channel and crafts a believable cluttered futuristic world. The lossless track goes a long way to helping each sound feel fuller, providing effects and voices with more definition and higher fidelity. Vehicles whiz from speaker to speaker, crowds populate the soundscape from every direction, and tiny spatial details made it feel as if I was sitting in a theater rather than a 5.1 surround environment. Low tones are hearty and high tones are slick with clear voices and well prioritized effects. The track's dynamics are nice and ambiance is present to some extent in nearly every scene.

Sadly, everything can't be perfect. While dialogue is always clear, the soundtrack is inconsistent -- sometimes it's layered at too low a volume within the soundfield while other times it's too overpowering compared to the rest of the mix. On that same note, sound effects tend to be randomly pushed higher or lower in prioritization without much consideration for consistency. A prime example of this is gunshots from scene to scene. They tend to occur at different volumes even when they originate at the same position and distance from the viewer in similar "camera" angles.

All in all, the sound package on this import is impressive enough to easily please fans. The idea of disc navigation may seem daunting on a foreign language disc, but I thought it was a cinch to figure out where everything was located.

Special Features

0 Stars out of 5

There are no supplemental features on this German import disc, although it's worth mentioning that the French HD DVD import of 'Renaissance' includes audio commentaries, making-of featurettes, and more. (You'll need to understand French to enjoy these, however, as no other language options are provided for the supplemental features on that disc.)

Final Thoughts

While it's indisputable that 'Renaissance' is a visual tour-de-force, I had a hard time investing myself in its overly-complicated and ultimately-dry storyline. As an HD DVD release, this German import has a great transfer and an above average lossless audio track that should make it a no-brainer for fans of the film, even if there are no supplemental features to speak of. The menus are in German, but they're quite simple to navigate and I wasn't intimidated by them in the least. It'll cost you a bit of extra money to order this import -- Amazon DE is selling it for €24.95 (approximately $33.40 US) -- but if you just can't wait for 'Renaissance' to be released stateside, this HD DVD is certainly a suitable import.

Our thanks to Karl for loaning us this disc for review!

List Price $33.40
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  • 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
    HD DVD Single Layer 15GB
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:101
    Release Country:Germany
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    2.35:1
    Audio Formats:
    German DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    English DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio
    Subtitles/Captions:
    German Subtitles
    Special Features:
    None
    Movie Studio: Ascot Elite
    Release Date: March 22nd, 2007

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