Historical HD DVD Release Dates

This page lists all available information for new and upcoming releases in the Blu-ray format.
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(
    [October 24, 2006] => Array
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            [reviews] => Array
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                    [0] => Array
                        (
                            [review_id] => 192
                            [review_type_id] => 3
                            [review_slug] => spartacus
                            [review_release_date] => 1161673200
                            [review_hot] => 0
                            [review_title] => Spartacus
                            [picture_created] => 1155677353
                            [picture_name] => spartacus-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg
                            [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment
                            [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/15/120/spartacus-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg
                            [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/192/spartacus.html
                            [review_metadata_prepared] => Array
                                (
                                    [release_year] => 1960
                                    [run_time] => 197
                                    [list_price] => 29.98
                                    [asin] => B000HT3Q0U
                                    [amazon_price] => 19.95
                                    [empire_id] => 1196811
                                    [aspect_ratios] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => 2.20:1
                                        )

                                    [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => "My Scenes" Interactive Bookmark Function
                                        )

                                    [video_resolutions] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => 1080p/VC-1
                                        )

                                    [technical_specifications] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => HD DVD
                                            [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc
                                        )

                                    [audio_formats] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround
                                            [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround
                                        )

                                    [supplements] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => None
                                        )

                                    [subtitles] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => English SDH
                                            [1] => French Subtitles
                                            [2] => Spanish Subtitles
                                        )

                                    [preview_genres] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => Action
                                            [1] => Biography
                                            [2] => Drama
                                            [3] => History
                                            [4] => Romance
                                            [5] => War
                                        )

                                    [preview_actors] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => Kirk Douglas
                                            [1] => Laurence Olivier
                                            [2] => Jean Simmons
                                            [3] => Charles Laughton
                                            [4] => Peter Ustinov
                                        )

                                    [preview_directors] => Array
                                        (
                                            [0] => Stanley Kubrick
                                        )

                                    [preview_plot_synopsis] => The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman empire.
                                    [preview_technology_specifications] => • None
                                    [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • "My Scenes" Interactive Bookmark Function
                                    [preview_forum_id] => 117
                                    [review_bottom_line] => One to Avoid
                                    [review_gear] => default
                                    [review_forum_id] => 521
                                    [review_movie_stars] => 3
                                    [review_movie] => 

I'll just come out and say it, and let the cinema gods strike me down with a lightning bolt: I think the late Stanley Kubrick is overrated. Yes, I like many of his films, but no, I don't think he was a genius. Almost off of His movies crawl by at a snail's pace, his visual sense is cold and unfeeling, and his narratives are often so obtuse that what is meaningless suddenly becomes meaningful only by virtue of the fact that it makes little logical sense (the old, "I don't understand it so it must be high art" trick). So it's interesting to witness 'Spartacus,' a film he largely disowned later in his career as a "work-for-hire" gig, despite its strong reception both critically and commercially. (Adjusted for inflation, it is certainly Kubrick's biggest box office hit, next to '2001: A Space Odyssey.')

Running a good three hours (the film presented in this HD DVD edition is the uncut version that was painstakingly restored for a 1991 theatrical re-release), 'Spartacus' is the kind of movie with a plot so epic and lengthy that it can, ironically, be reduced to just a few words. And that's not meant as a dig, but rather to suggest that -- as with all of Kubrick's films -- what ultimately happens to the film's characters would seem to be of less importance than the journey they take in meeting their fate. 'Spartacus' tells the story of its titular Roman slave (Kirk Douglas), who toils for the Roman Empire while dreaming, the narrator informs us, "of the death of slavery -- which would not come until 2,000 years later." After being trained at the gladiatorial academy (seriously, they had such things back in the days of Anciet Rome), he wins many battles but remains enraged at his station in life. So he inspires a slave uprising, leading his men into great battles against poorly trained Roman legions, and almost stands on the brink of victory. Alas, eventually Spartacus' troops will finally be caught and outnumbered. And it will not end pretty.

'Spartacus' is certainly an epic. It also is somewhat impersonal, as Kubrick's own disdain for the film might suggest. In hindsight, it is as much representative of Douglas' intentions (he executive produced, as well as starred) as it is Kubrick's, who was only brought on after the dismissal of the original director. Without a doubt, Kubrick gives the film the visual grandeur and scope you would expect, but Douglas' nobility and idealism towards the character and the film's themes seems a bit at odds with the generally more pessimistic and intellectual auteur. Their two sensibilities never really gelled for me in 'Spartacus' -- I still admire the film as a big, battle-worthy spectacle, but its dramatics feel a bit forced. To be fair, this uncut version goes a long way towards restoring some of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's original complexity of character, such as restoring the homoeroticism between the bisexual Crassus (Laurence Olivier) and his young slave (Tony Curtis), as well as more honestly portraying the decadence of ancient Rome.

Unfortunately, parts of 'Spartacus' have also aged poorly. Despite its centuries-old setting, the fashions, hairstyles and mannerisms feel right out of a '50s melodrama. The female characters in particular look like fashion models, and the blatant chauvinism on display feels not only representative of the era depicted in the film but also of the filmmakers (again, call me a heretic, but I've always felt that Kubrick, like Alfred Hitchcock, never held his female characters in particularly high regard). And the film's much-discussed, once-shocking approach to male sexuality can hardly rival 'Brokeback Mountain' in terms of compassion or depth. Indeed, much of 'Spartacus' now plays like camp, albeit well-staged and well-shot camp.

I suppose what is most impressive today about 'Spartacus,' over four decades since the film was released, is that it does not conclude with the expected happy ending. Skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film (or don't know anything about the real-life history of the character), but it was hardly common for leading men like Douglas to be crucified onscreen back in the '60s. Absolutely, the final scenes of 'Spartacus' remain powerful and thought-provoking, which is largely due to Douglas' passion and belief in the character and his ideals. Yet I just can't quite warm to 'Spartacus' as a true classic, as much as I admire its once-revolutionary stance on class, politics and sexuality. Still, don't let that stop you from seeing it, if only for its visual grandeur and sheer majesty of scope.

[review_video_stars] => 2.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1118 [review_video] =>

'Spartacus' comes to HD DVD in a 2.20:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1-encoded transfer, but the transition is not a smashing success. I simply expected more from this restoration, and even for a film now forty-odd years old it is hard not to feel as if this shouldn't look considerably better.

It is important to note that 'Spartacus' has been released in two different versions on standard-def DVD, one a movie-only edition via Universal, the other a gargantuan special edition from Criterion. However, while both feature the 196-minute restored cut of the film, they are not minted from the same master. Quite simply, the Criterion version is noticeably superior, with richer colors, better detail and a cleaner print. Unfortunately, this HD DVD version is minted from the same master as the previous Universal release, and it shows.

This is hardly the best catalog release I've seen on HD DVD, but the print is certainly in good shape for a film this old. There are no major defects, such as splice marks, tears, excessive dropouts and the like. However, there is some dirt present (particularly on any effects shot involving mattes and composites) and grain can be heavy. More distracting is a near-constant wavering of contrast and colors; the image just never appears stable. Sharpness is also lacking, with the image appearing flat and largely two-dimensional. Contrast is also a bit on the hot side with whites blooming. The transfer also appears to suffer from what looks like -- shockingly -- analog artifacts, particularly edge enhancement. The image certainly looks artificial at best, and is not the smooth, film-like beauty I expected. However, on the plus side -- and despite the aforementioned wavering -- color saturation is strong and consistent, and fleshtones a nice shade of orange. No, 'Spartacus' does not look absolutely terrible, but it doesn't look particularly great, either.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) fares better than the video. 'Spartacus' did benefit from a nice sound restoration courtesy of Universal, which helps beef up the original elements considerably. Clean, hefty and fairly aggressive, it's a pleasure to hear decades-old films like 'Spartacus' sounding this good.

Most noticeable is the expansive front soundstage. I was surprised by the sense of separation and depth to the stereo presence. Dialogue is firmly centered, with the score and sound effects nicely separated. Surround use is a bit flatter, and mainly reserved for score bleed and few discrete effects. Battle scenes fare better, with the gladiator fight around the film's one hour mark quite impressive for a film of this vintage.

Still, this is not to suggest that 'Spartacus' sounds like a modern film. Dynamic range is still a bit compressed, especially in the high-end. Mid-range, too, often sounds flat, while the .1 LFE, while again quite strong for a film this old, doesn't really deliver any extensive low-bass frequencies. Still, overall I was quite pleased with this remaster.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1119 [review_supplements] =>

'Spartacus' hits HD DVD sans any extras, not even a theatrical trailer. Criterion did release a very deluxe package for the film on standard-def DVD a few years back, so I guess we'll just have to wait until they jump onboard the next-gen bandwagon to see any of those supplements on HD DVD.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Though there is no real HD content per se, 'Spartacus' is one of Universal's first titles to include its "My Scenes" bookmark function. Similar to what Warner has been offering as a standard feature on their HD DVD discs since day one, "My Scenes" allows you to mark your favorite scenes on the disc, and store them for later access, even if you take the disc out of the player. Okay, so it ain't much, but I'll give Universal half a star for effort.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Spartacus' is loved by some, but apparently not its maker, Stanley Kubrick. Largely disowned by the late auteur, I can understand his perspective -- I wasn't captivated by the film myself. Same goes for this HD DVD release -- the transfer is good, but not the sparkling restoration I expected, the sound is solid, and there are no extras on this disc. So, unless you are a diehard 'Spartacus' fan or Kubrick completist, I'd skip this one and wait for the director's other, better works to hit the next-gen formats.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 188 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => interpreter [review_release_date] => 1161673200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Interpreter [picture_created] => 1148961671 [picture_name] => the-interpreter-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/05/29/120/the-interpreter-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/188/interpreter.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 129 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000FZEQSM [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1123282 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => English DTS 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Crime [1] => Drama [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Nicole Kidman [1] => Sean Penn [2] => Catherine Keener [3] => Jesper Christensen [4] => Yvan Attal ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Sydney Pollack ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Political intrigue and deception unfold inside the United Nations, where a US Secret Service agent (Penn) is assigned to investigate an interpreter (Kidman) who overhears an assassination plot. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by director Sydney Pollack
• Alternate Ending
• Deleted Scenes
• 4 Featurettes: "Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room," "Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen," "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters" and "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [preview_forum_id] => 112 [review_editors_notes] => When we first published this review we mistakenly identified it as an VC-1 encoded transfer. It is in fact encoded using AVC MPEG-4, and we have updated the video section of this review accordingly. [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 351 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

Sometimes a bad movie can be made good by its stars -- or a good movie can be made great. 'The Interpreter' falls somewhere in-between -- it's a solid thriller, but one made considerably more gripping, exciting and compulsively watchable because of its two leads. And while today's Hollywood A-list may be paid far too much for what they do, it is hard to deny that had it not been for Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, 'The Interpreter' probably would not have made much of a dent at the box office.

Its stars aside, the 'Interpreter' is a faily routine thriller, albeit one elevated by virtue of the timeliness of its plot. The interpreter of the film's title is American-born, African-raised Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), who while working at the United Nations overhears details of a plot to assassinate the unpopular president of a Saharan state. The catch is that the words she overheard were spoken in an extremely rare African regional dialect, and she's one of the only interpreters in the world who can speak it. After Silvia reports the incident to the FBI, federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) are assigned to the case, though Keller in particular is not so sure he believes Silvia. As he further investigates the interpreter's shady background, Keller suspects she may have duplicitous motives -- is Silvia a part of a larger plot involving political revolution and terrorism, or just an innocent pawn?

What is so engaging about 'The Interpreter' is that the audience is made to feel real doubt about Kidman's Silvia. We just assume going into any movie starring Nicole Kidman that she is going to be the hero, but the film constantly flip-flops our allegiance between Broome and Keller. This dynamic gives the film a genuine dramatic tension often missing in lesser political thrillers, where we can predict the outcome five steps ahead of the characters. Penn and Kidman are a big help, too, of course. They play expertly against each other -- there is a genuine cinematic intelligence going on behind their eyes, and you can tell they are enjoying every minute of their screen time together. Pollack wisely exploits this, and -- with the exception of scenes with Keener -- does little to distract from the biting, adversarial byplay between his two leads. Pollack may be a somewhat sedate filmmaker these days -- 'The Interpreter' is fast-paced if a bit old-fashioned in terms of plot and structure -- but he ain't stupid.

I also love political thrillers about smart, sexy people, because let's face it -- it gives us a chance to experience all the excitement and dangers of an imagined political life, without all those pesky irritants like policy details and fundraising. 'The Interpreter' is always a classy affair: good-looking, slick, superior Hollywood entertainment. Unfortunately, it does run a little long, and as reported at the time of the film's theatrical release, it suffered last-minute reshoots in order to make the ending more satisfying. So even if 'The Interpreter' isn't really a political thriller on the level of such classics of the genre as 'All the President's Men,' 'Marathon Man' or 'The Parallax View,' it is certainly one of the better adult thrillers Hollywood has churned out in recent memory.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1025 [review_video] =>

When I originally sat down to review the video quality of 'The Interpreter,' I expected another 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. There would be little reason to think otherwise -- every Universal HD DVD title so far has been VC-1, and according to the studio's recent statements, so will all those in the foreseeable future. In fact, I watched the whole film and wrote down my initial impressions without even realizing that, in fact, 'The Interpreter' is Universal's first (and so far only) title encoded in AVC MPEG-4. So it is telling that my original review of the transfer quality was not all that positive -- something seemed "off," and I now know what was likely the significant contributing factor. I can't unequivically critique a codec based on one review, but my original thoughts on this transfer still stand -- it is hardly up there with the best I've seen on HD DVD.

The most appropriate word I can use to describe the look of the film is "hot" -- though that's not necessarily a compliment. 'The Interpreter' suffers from what I call tweak-itis, a recent Hollywood trend where a film's visual look is so pumped up, colorized and overblown that it looks like a music video. While perhaps 'The Interpreter' is not the most acute sufferer of this disease, it is still irritating to watch what is more or less a believable, character-driven thriller and be continually distracted by clothes that seem to be dripping red dye and eyeballs that glow blue. It's all pretty artificial looking, and such post-production trickery adds enough unwanted artifacts into the image that it keeps 'The Interpreter' from hitting the high-def bulls-eye.

Colors leap off the screen, but also suffer from some obvious chroma noise. Whites tend to bloom, with even darker interior scenes exhibiting a glow on the high end of the grayscale. The source material is in good shape, though, with no major blemishes or dirt apparent. Blacks, too, are solid. There is grain throughout, however, and a surprising bit of noise mixed in for good measure. Detail holds up rather well in spite of these drawbacks, with some shots quite striking. The opening prologue sequence that sets the film's thriller plot in motion has a very bright, three-dimensional look to it, and there is another close-up shot early on of a UN official's mouth that reveals even the most minute pores on his chin. Yet other scenes are a bit blurry and overbaked by comparison. 'The Interpreter' is one of the more troublesome HD DVD transfers I've seen in a while, and if it is certainly watchable and sometimes even superior, I still give this one mixed marks.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Unlike the video, 'The Interpreter's audio rises to the occasion. Universal offers up Dolby Digital-Plus and DTS 5.1 options, though the Dolby Digital is clearly superior (its robust 1.5mbps bitrate certainly helps matters). I'm not sure why, but I just wasn't expecting a great aural experience from 'The Interpreter' -- I was wrong. The film's sound design is really quite spiffy, with a healthy surround presence and plenty of clever discrete effects.

Consistently, the rear channels are engaged throughout 'The Interpreter.' Right from the opening sequence, which isn't even a big action setpiece, effects are directed across the entire soundfield, in particular James Newton Howard's percussive, suspenseful score. Atmosphere is quite effective, with lots of minor ambient sounds filling up the surrounds even during quieter moments. Dynamics are also superior, with a surprisingly wide tonal range and deep low bass. Perhaps this one won't trigger an earthquake in your house, but the .1 LFE is far stronger than I expected. Even if 'The Interpreter' lacks a ton of sonic fireworks, I was very impressed with how effective this mix is in conveying the film's intended mood of paranoia and dread.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1026 [review_supplements] =>

'The Interpreter' on HD DVD comes packed with the same extras as the standard-def DVD release, which was a nice, solid package. Nothing here is extraordinary, but at least a couple of the more periphery extras add a bit of weight and relevance to the more standard making-of fare.

Director Sydney Pollack offers up a nice solo audio commentary, and I've always enjoyed listening to him. The articulate actor-turned-filmmaker is always smart, if a bit slow-going at times. He's also surprising modest, admitting that he rarely makes a film that he doesn't feel will be "embarrassing" and unreleasable. This from the man who made such classics as 'The Way We Were,' 'Tootsie' and the Oscar-winning 'Out of Africa!' As for 'The Interpreter,' he's pretty good at giving us most of the important details, from the story to the cast to being granted permission to shoot in the U.N. Not a must-listen, but if you're into the film or Pollack, give it a shot.

Actually a bit better at delving into the production are the four making-of featurettes. "From Concept to Cutting Room" is a straightforward affair, though its interesting that both Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn signed on to do the film without a completed screenplay, which was obviously a show of affection for Pollack. But the best of the bunch are "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" and "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters." Pollack and the film's producers speak to the broader goals of the movie, which were in part to highlight the often underappreciated work of the agency, as well as pay tribute to the unsung interpreters that informed the Kidman character. If you are going to watch any of the extras on the disc, make it these two. And sure to bring a bit of warmth to the hearts of videophiles everywhere is "Interpreting Pan & Scan Versus Widescreen," where Pollack explains how a filmmaker goes about choosing an aspect ratio, and why pan & scan is inherently evil.

Rounding out the set are three Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending. Unfortunately, the excised scenes are meager (only a bit between Kidman and Penn in a car adds anything interesting to the film), while the alternate finale is really just a bit of tacked-on narration. These are pretty skippable.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 1027 [review_bonus_content] =>

No bonus goodies this time out.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Interpreter' is a tight, well-plotted thriller bolstered by an A-list cast. Perhaps the film's third act is a bit weak, but it is nice to be able to recommend a smart, adult thriller in this day and age of mindless action blockbusters dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, this HD DVD is a mixed bag. As Univeral's first (and so far only) title with an AVC MPEG-4 transfer, it is not an auspicious debut -- I thought the image was too overdone for my taste and rather noisy, though the soundtrack excels and there are some solid extras. Worth a look, but by no means is this a slam dunk, thumbs up recommendation.

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 190 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => thing1982 [review_release_date] => 1161673200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Thing (1982) [picture_created] => 1156281735 [picture_name] => the-thing-1982-revised-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/22/120/the-thing-1982-revised-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/190/thing1982.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1982 [run_time] => 109 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000HT3Q0A [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683013 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Documentary [2] => Behind-the-Scenes Footage [3] => 3 Still Galleries [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Horror [1] => Sci-Fi [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Kurt Russell [1] => Wilford Brimley [2] => T.K. Carter [3] => David Clennon [4] => Keith David ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Carpenter ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary: Director John Carpenter & Star Kurt Russell
• Documentary: "John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape"
• "Behind the Scenes" and "Work in Progress" Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Outtakes
• Storyboards & Conceptual Art
• Still Galleries
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [preview_forum_id] => 116 [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray Review of 'The Thing.'

[review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 238 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

What has happened to cinematic paranoia? Back in the 1950s, audiences just couldn't et enough of mad scientists, alien invaders and government experiments run amok -- all potent allegories for the national's Red Scare politics and fears of imminent nuclear destruction. But flash-forward to the early 1980s: with the Cold War about to end and Ronald Reagan in the White House, America just wasn't interested in bug-eyed aliens anymore. Witness the chilly reception afforded to John Carpenter's big-budget remake of Howard Hawk's classic slice of 1950s paranoia, 'The Thing.'

Returning to the original Joseph Campbell short story "Who Goes There?", Carpenter ditched most of what made Hawk's classic fun but ultimately cheesy. Working with screenwriter Bill Lancaster, Carpenter conjured a creature that was a shape-shifter, a phantom from outer space that could look like anyone at any time. Who are your friends? Who can you trust? The film is unremittingly grim and oppressive, and the location chilly. A team of arctic researchers accidentally thaw out an odd-looking spaceship and unknowingly offer refuge to the alien visitor after it assimilates the form of an Alaskan husky. Communication breaks down as the men, led by the take-charge, laconic MacReady (Kurt Russell), are unsure of who is human and who is the Thing, and fall prey to the worst of human instincts. You can't blame a Thing for being without remorse and conscience. But can you blame a human?

'The Thing' was ideal material for Carpenter, a filmmaker of great skill but with little patience for pretension and sentimentality. He revels in the breakdown of idealism and communication. The ending, which some called nihilistic, is cynical and calculated. But 'The Thing' works so effectively because it preys on one of our most basic fears -- our body in revolt against itself. It is also one of the most purely visceral and downright disgusting mainstream horror movies ever made. The awe-inspiring effects Carpenter unleashes -- designed by makeup wunderkind Rob Bottin -- pulsate, ooze and slither, so grotesque and imaginative they achieve a surreal blend of the horrific and beautiful. Not since 'ALIEN' had an otherworldly menace been so breathtaking.

'The Thing' had the unfortunate luck of being released just a week after the arrival of another, far more cuddly alien, 'E.T.', and audiences and critics alike stayed away in droves. Carpenter was vilified for wallowing in graphic violence and failing to find the heart and humanity in his characters. But 'The Thing' has become the prototypical example of a film rescued by home video. (It remains one of Universal's top-selling catalog DVDs.) It is a bona fide cult phenomenon and now stands as one of Carpenter's most highly regarded and respected works. Its pioneering special effects and relentless sense of doom and dread still pack a wallop. Just don't watch it after you eat.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 999 [review_video] =>

Though mislabeled on the back of the HD DVD box as 1.85:1, 'The Thing' is properly presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This 1080p/VC-1 transfer is really rather terrific, and though utilizing the same master as the years-old DVD release I think it offers enough of an upgrade that fans will be quite please.

A common giveaway that you're watching a high-def upgrade of a previous DVD is that all the dirt and print defects are in the same places. It is sad that I know 'The Thing' so well that right from the first scene, I immediately recognized the position of speckles from years of watching the flick on DVD. (Sure enough, whipping out my old disc to compare, the source material appears identical.) Regardless, the original master is still in very good shape. Sure, there are some blemishes, occasional dropouts and a bit of heavy dirt and grain on some of the optical matte shots, but it's still a solid effort for a film from 1982.

That said, other aspects of the transfer are also well up to snuff. 'The Thing' has always seemed like a somber film full of overcast, wintery exteriors and grim, moody interiors, enlivened only by a few sporadic flashes of color. This HD DVD may dispel that notion, and I'd even venture to say that of all the catalog titles I've seen thus far on the format, 'The Thing' offers the biggest upgrade in terms of richness and purity of color. Most impressive are the deep blues of the nighttime scenes, and the various putrid greens, yellows and oozy oranges of the Thing. (And don't forget the blood.) Color saturation is significantly improved here over the standard-def DVD, and I simply saw the film in a whole new light. Even better, there's no trade-off -- chroma noise and bleeding are not a problem.

Blacks are also deep throughout, and contrast generally consistent across the entire grayscale. Shadow delineation is above average for an older title, with the film's very dark second half never falling into murkiness or imperceptibility. Lastly, detail and depth are also very good. Perhaps a bit soft by modern standards, 'The Thing' still looks sharp enough. Many scenes in the film boast a sense of three-dimensionality superior to what I've seen before, such as when the crew first travels to the Norwegian compound. The level of depth and increased detail in these sequences was a treat for a longtime fan of the film like me. THough not a revelation, I was still pleased with 'The Thing' on HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Now here's the big disappointment of this disc. Though originally billed as having a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, it turns out there is no such track on 'The Thing.' Though of course we still get a perfectly fine Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix instead (encoded at a healthy 1.5mbps), it still feels like someone dangling a carrot in front of your face for weeks, only to snatch it away at the last minute.

Anyway, the sound design of 'The Thing' really isn't that active. Surround use is typical of the period, i.e., practically non-existent. There is the occasional rear effect -- my favorite is the well-placed musical stinger when Fuchs is alone in his office late at night, and some thing walks in the shadows behind him -- but other that the rare jolt, this is a front-heavy mix. The timbre and tonality of sounds is also dated. ADR'd dialogue is sometimes obvious, and mid-range in particular sounds a bit hollow. Low bass is also a bit tighter than on the DVD release, but the improvement is not exceptional. I also struggled at times with my volume control, as I had to turn up some of the dialogue scenes during the film's third act to compensate for the booming effects. Such quibbles aside, 'The Thing' sound perfectly fine for a soundtrack of its era.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1000 [review_supplements] =>

Though originally announced as being a HD DVD/DVD combo disc, turns out 'The Thing' is really an HD-30 dual-layer disc. No complaints here -- I hate to disc flip, and with a couple of notable exceptions, we get all of the same goodies as the special edition DVD anyway.

My favorite supplement and the real beauty of this collection is the 85-minute "Terror Takes Shape: The Making of 'The Thing,'" which still stands as one of the best documentaries ever produced on a horror film. Featuring recollections from John Carpenter, Rob Bottin, director of photography Dean Cundey, Kurt Russell and most of the major cast, making 'The Thing' was an ordeal not quite as terrifying as the film itself but certainly as demanding. While actual on-set production material is sparse, "Terror Takes Shape" makes the most of its extensive interviews, chronicling the film's lengthy gestation, difficult arctic shoot and eventual box office bust. "Terror Takes Shape" is one of the few full-length DVD docs to benefit from a clear and focused narrative arc. At nearly ninety minutes, it is a commitment, but one that pays off; its story is dramatic, involving and totally compelling.

Carpenter and Russell contribute a wonderfully lively audio commentary; the pair have recorded tracks together for their other collaborations, including 'Escape from New York' and 'Big Trouble in Little China,' and their easy-going style is charming. Jovial, sarcastic and hilarious, the mood here is far removed from the frigid subject matter -- Russell's riffing on all of the blood and guts is worth the price of admission alone.

Rounding out the extras are three rather poor-quality excerpts of unused effects footage ("The Blair Monster," "The Saucer" and "Outtakes"), including a go-motion version of the titular creature (which looks awful), plus a fairly extensive gallery of automated still galleries divided into five sections: "Production Archive" (which is mainly production notes and clearly a leftover from the old laserdisc), "Cast Photographs," "Production Art and Storyboards," "Location Design" and "Post Production." And rare for a Universal release, we get the film's rather worn-looking Theatrical Trailer in 480i 4:3 video.

Now, about what's missing. A cool extra on the previous DVD was the inclusions of cues from the film's famed score by Ennio Morricone, which played over the disc's menu and submenus. Alas, once again, Universal only gives us its cheesy HD DVD menu template, complete with tacky muzak. Now that really is grotesque.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 1001 [review_bonus_content] =>

No exclusive content here, but given the lack of production footage available, that's not a surprise. Plus, with the great commentary and documentary, this disc is hardly malnourished.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Despite bombing at the box office, 'The Thing' has become the true definition of a cult classic. Fans like me have been waiting for this one to make its HD DVD debut ever since the format launched, and overall I'm pleased with the disc. A solid transfer featuring greatly improved color reproduction coupled with tons of top-notch extras (though nothing new over the standard-def DVD) offer real value for money. Perhaps those already owning 'The Thing' may not need to buy it again, but if you love the film like I do, can you really say no?

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 192 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => spartacus [review_release_date] => 1161673200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Spartacus [picture_created] => 1155677353 [picture_name] => spartacus-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/15/120/spartacus-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/192/spartacus.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1960 [run_time] => 197 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000HT3Q0U [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1196811 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.20:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => "My Scenes" Interactive Bookmark Function ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => None ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Biography [2] => Drama [3] => History [4] => Romance [5] => War ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Kirk Douglas [1] => Laurence Olivier [2] => Jean Simmons [3] => Charles Laughton [4] => Peter Ustinov ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Stanley Kubrick ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The slave Spartacus leads a violent revolt against the decadent Roman empire. [preview_technology_specifications] => • None [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • "My Scenes" Interactive Bookmark Function [preview_forum_id] => 117 [review_bottom_line] => One to Avoid [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 521 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

I'll just come out and say it, and let the cinema gods strike me down with a lightning bolt: I think the late Stanley Kubrick is overrated. Yes, I like many of his films, but no, I don't think he was a genius. Almost off of His movies crawl by at a snail's pace, his visual sense is cold and unfeeling, and his narratives are often so obtuse that what is meaningless suddenly becomes meaningful only by virtue of the fact that it makes little logical sense (the old, "I don't understand it so it must be high art" trick). So it's interesting to witness 'Spartacus,' a film he largely disowned later in his career as a "work-for-hire" gig, despite its strong reception both critically and commercially. (Adjusted for inflation, it is certainly Kubrick's biggest box office hit, next to '2001: A Space Odyssey.')

Running a good three hours (the film presented in this HD DVD edition is the uncut version that was painstakingly restored for a 1991 theatrical re-release), 'Spartacus' is the kind of movie with a plot so epic and lengthy that it can, ironically, be reduced to just a few words. And that's not meant as a dig, but rather to suggest that -- as with all of Kubrick's films -- what ultimately happens to the film's characters would seem to be of less importance than the journey they take in meeting their fate. 'Spartacus' tells the story of its titular Roman slave (Kirk Douglas), who toils for the Roman Empire while dreaming, the narrator informs us, "of the death of slavery -- which would not come until 2,000 years later." After being trained at the gladiatorial academy (seriously, they had such things back in the days of Anciet Rome), he wins many battles but remains enraged at his station in life. So he inspires a slave uprising, leading his men into great battles against poorly trained Roman legions, and almost stands on the brink of victory. Alas, eventually Spartacus' troops will finally be caught and outnumbered. And it will not end pretty.

'Spartacus' is certainly an epic. It also is somewhat impersonal, as Kubrick's own disdain for the film might suggest. In hindsight, it is as much representative of Douglas' intentions (he executive produced, as well as starred) as it is Kubrick's, who was only brought on after the dismissal of the original director. Without a doubt, Kubrick gives the film the visual grandeur and scope you would expect, but Douglas' nobility and idealism towards the character and the film's themes seems a bit at odds with the generally more pessimistic and intellectual auteur. Their two sensibilities never really gelled for me in 'Spartacus' -- I still admire the film as a big, battle-worthy spectacle, but its dramatics feel a bit forced. To be fair, this uncut version goes a long way towards restoring some of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's original complexity of character, such as restoring the homoeroticism between the bisexual Crassus (Laurence Olivier) and his young slave (Tony Curtis), as well as more honestly portraying the decadence of ancient Rome.

Unfortunately, parts of 'Spartacus' have also aged poorly. Despite its centuries-old setting, the fashions, hairstyles and mannerisms feel right out of a '50s melodrama. The female characters in particular look like fashion models, and the blatant chauvinism on display feels not only representative of the era depicted in the film but also of the filmmakers (again, call me a heretic, but I've always felt that Kubrick, like Alfred Hitchcock, never held his female characters in particularly high regard). And the film's much-discussed, once-shocking approach to male sexuality can hardly rival 'Brokeback Mountain' in terms of compassion or depth. Indeed, much of 'Spartacus' now plays like camp, albeit well-staged and well-shot camp.

I suppose what is most impressive today about 'Spartacus,' over four decades since the film was released, is that it does not conclude with the expected happy ending. Skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the film (or don't know anything about the real-life history of the character), but it was hardly common for leading men like Douglas to be crucified onscreen back in the '60s. Absolutely, the final scenes of 'Spartacus' remain powerful and thought-provoking, which is largely due to Douglas' passion and belief in the character and his ideals. Yet I just can't quite warm to 'Spartacus' as a true classic, as much as I admire its once-revolutionary stance on class, politics and sexuality. Still, don't let that stop you from seeing it, if only for its visual grandeur and sheer majesty of scope.

[review_video_stars] => 2.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1118 [review_video] =>

'Spartacus' comes to HD DVD in a 2.20:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1-encoded transfer, but the transition is not a smashing success. I simply expected more from this restoration, and even for a film now forty-odd years old it is hard not to feel as if this shouldn't look considerably better.

It is important to note that 'Spartacus' has been released in two different versions on standard-def DVD, one a movie-only edition via Universal, the other a gargantuan special edition from Criterion. However, while both feature the 196-minute restored cut of the film, they are not minted from the same master. Quite simply, the Criterion version is noticeably superior, with richer colors, better detail and a cleaner print. Unfortunately, this HD DVD version is minted from the same master as the previous Universal release, and it shows.

This is hardly the best catalog release I've seen on HD DVD, but the print is certainly in good shape for a film this old. There are no major defects, such as splice marks, tears, excessive dropouts and the like. However, there is some dirt present (particularly on any effects shot involving mattes and composites) and grain can be heavy. More distracting is a near-constant wavering of contrast and colors; the image just never appears stable. Sharpness is also lacking, with the image appearing flat and largely two-dimensional. Contrast is also a bit on the hot side with whites blooming. The transfer also appears to suffer from what looks like -- shockingly -- analog artifacts, particularly edge enhancement. The image certainly looks artificial at best, and is not the smooth, film-like beauty I expected. However, on the plus side -- and despite the aforementioned wavering -- color saturation is strong and consistent, and fleshtones a nice shade of orange. No, 'Spartacus' does not look absolutely terrible, but it doesn't look particularly great, either.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) fares better than the video. 'Spartacus' did benefit from a nice sound restoration courtesy of Universal, which helps beef up the original elements considerably. Clean, hefty and fairly aggressive, it's a pleasure to hear decades-old films like 'Spartacus' sounding this good.

Most noticeable is the expansive front soundstage. I was surprised by the sense of separation and depth to the stereo presence. Dialogue is firmly centered, with the score and sound effects nicely separated. Surround use is a bit flatter, and mainly reserved for score bleed and few discrete effects. Battle scenes fare better, with the gladiator fight around the film's one hour mark quite impressive for a film of this vintage.

Still, this is not to suggest that 'Spartacus' sounds like a modern film. Dynamic range is still a bit compressed, especially in the high-end. Mid-range, too, often sounds flat, while the .1 LFE, while again quite strong for a film this old, doesn't really deliver any extensive low-bass frequencies. Still, overall I was quite pleased with this remaster.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1119 [review_supplements] =>

'Spartacus' hits HD DVD sans any extras, not even a theatrical trailer. Criterion did release a very deluxe package for the film on standard-def DVD a few years back, so I guess we'll just have to wait until they jump onboard the next-gen bandwagon to see any of those supplements on HD DVD.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Though there is no real HD content per se, 'Spartacus' is one of Universal's first titles to include its "My Scenes" bookmark function. Similar to what Warner has been offering as a standard feature on their HD DVD discs since day one, "My Scenes" allows you to mark your favorite scenes on the disc, and store them for later access, even if you take the disc out of the player. Okay, so it ain't much, but I'll give Universal half a star for effort.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Spartacus' is loved by some, but apparently not its maker, Stanley Kubrick. Largely disowned by the late auteur, I can understand his perspective -- I wasn't captivated by the film myself. Same goes for this HD DVD release -- the transfer is good, but not the sparkling restoration I expected, the sound is solid, and there are no extras on this disc. So, unless you are a diehard 'Spartacus' fan or Kubrick completist, I'd skip this one and wait for the director's other, better works to hit the next-gen formats.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 188 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => interpreter [review_release_date] => 1161673200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Interpreter [picture_created] => 1148961671 [picture_name] => the-interpreter-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/05/29/120/the-interpreter-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/188/interpreter.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 129 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000FZEQSM [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1123282 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => English DTS 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Crime [1] => Drama [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Nicole Kidman [1] => Sean Penn [2] => Catherine Keener [3] => Jesper Christensen [4] => Yvan Attal ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Sydney Pollack ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Political intrigue and deception unfold inside the United Nations, where a US Secret Service agent (Penn) is assigned to investigate an interpreter (Kidman) who overhears an assassination plot. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by director Sydney Pollack
• Alternate Ending
• Deleted Scenes
• 4 Featurettes: "Sydney Pollack at Work: From Concept to Cutting Room," "Interpreting Pan & Scan vs. Widescreen," "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters" and "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [preview_forum_id] => 112 [review_editors_notes] => When we first published this review we mistakenly identified it as an VC-1 encoded transfer. It is in fact encoded using AVC MPEG-4, and we have updated the video section of this review accordingly. [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 351 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

Sometimes a bad movie can be made good by its stars -- or a good movie can be made great. 'The Interpreter' falls somewhere in-between -- it's a solid thriller, but one made considerably more gripping, exciting and compulsively watchable because of its two leads. And while today's Hollywood A-list may be paid far too much for what they do, it is hard to deny that had it not been for Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, 'The Interpreter' probably would not have made much of a dent at the box office.

Its stars aside, the 'Interpreter' is a faily routine thriller, albeit one elevated by virtue of the timeliness of its plot. The interpreter of the film's title is American-born, African-raised Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), who while working at the United Nations overhears details of a plot to assassinate the unpopular president of a Saharan state. The catch is that the words she overheard were spoken in an extremely rare African regional dialect, and she's one of the only interpreters in the world who can speak it. After Silvia reports the incident to the FBI, federal agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) and his partner Dot Woods (Catherine Keener) are assigned to the case, though Keller in particular is not so sure he believes Silvia. As he further investigates the interpreter's shady background, Keller suspects she may have duplicitous motives -- is Silvia a part of a larger plot involving political revolution and terrorism, or just an innocent pawn?

What is so engaging about 'The Interpreter' is that the audience is made to feel real doubt about Kidman's Silvia. We just assume going into any movie starring Nicole Kidman that she is going to be the hero, but the film constantly flip-flops our allegiance between Broome and Keller. This dynamic gives the film a genuine dramatic tension often missing in lesser political thrillers, where we can predict the outcome five steps ahead of the characters. Penn and Kidman are a big help, too, of course. They play expertly against each other -- there is a genuine cinematic intelligence going on behind their eyes, and you can tell they are enjoying every minute of their screen time together. Pollack wisely exploits this, and -- with the exception of scenes with Keener -- does little to distract from the biting, adversarial byplay between his two leads. Pollack may be a somewhat sedate filmmaker these days -- 'The Interpreter' is fast-paced if a bit old-fashioned in terms of plot and structure -- but he ain't stupid.

I also love political thrillers about smart, sexy people, because let's face it -- it gives us a chance to experience all the excitement and dangers of an imagined political life, without all those pesky irritants like policy details and fundraising. 'The Interpreter' is always a classy affair: good-looking, slick, superior Hollywood entertainment. Unfortunately, it does run a little long, and as reported at the time of the film's theatrical release, it suffered last-minute reshoots in order to make the ending more satisfying. So even if 'The Interpreter' isn't really a political thriller on the level of such classics of the genre as 'All the President's Men,' 'Marathon Man' or 'The Parallax View,' it is certainly one of the better adult thrillers Hollywood has churned out in recent memory.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1025 [review_video] =>

When I originally sat down to review the video quality of 'The Interpreter,' I expected another 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer. There would be little reason to think otherwise -- every Universal HD DVD title so far has been VC-1, and according to the studio's recent statements, so will all those in the foreseeable future. In fact, I watched the whole film and wrote down my initial impressions without even realizing that, in fact, 'The Interpreter' is Universal's first (and so far only) title encoded in AVC MPEG-4. So it is telling that my original review of the transfer quality was not all that positive -- something seemed "off," and I now know what was likely the significant contributing factor. I can't unequivically critique a codec based on one review, but my original thoughts on this transfer still stand -- it is hardly up there with the best I've seen on HD DVD.

The most appropriate word I can use to describe the look of the film is "hot" -- though that's not necessarily a compliment. 'The Interpreter' suffers from what I call tweak-itis, a recent Hollywood trend where a film's visual look is so pumped up, colorized and overblown that it looks like a music video. While perhaps 'The Interpreter' is not the most acute sufferer of this disease, it is still irritating to watch what is more or less a believable, character-driven thriller and be continually distracted by clothes that seem to be dripping red dye and eyeballs that glow blue. It's all pretty artificial looking, and such post-production trickery adds enough unwanted artifacts into the image that it keeps 'The Interpreter' from hitting the high-def bulls-eye.

Colors leap off the screen, but also suffer from some obvious chroma noise. Whites tend to bloom, with even darker interior scenes exhibiting a glow on the high end of the grayscale. The source material is in good shape, though, with no major blemishes or dirt apparent. Blacks, too, are solid. There is grain throughout, however, and a surprising bit of noise mixed in for good measure. Detail holds up rather well in spite of these drawbacks, with some shots quite striking. The opening prologue sequence that sets the film's thriller plot in motion has a very bright, three-dimensional look to it, and there is another close-up shot early on of a UN official's mouth that reveals even the most minute pores on his chin. Yet other scenes are a bit blurry and overbaked by comparison. 'The Interpreter' is one of the more troublesome HD DVD transfers I've seen in a while, and if it is certainly watchable and sometimes even superior, I still give this one mixed marks.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Unlike the video, 'The Interpreter's audio rises to the occasion. Universal offers up Dolby Digital-Plus and DTS 5.1 options, though the Dolby Digital is clearly superior (its robust 1.5mbps bitrate certainly helps matters). I'm not sure why, but I just wasn't expecting a great aural experience from 'The Interpreter' -- I was wrong. The film's sound design is really quite spiffy, with a healthy surround presence and plenty of clever discrete effects.

Consistently, the rear channels are engaged throughout 'The Interpreter.' Right from the opening sequence, which isn't even a big action setpiece, effects are directed across the entire soundfield, in particular James Newton Howard's percussive, suspenseful score. Atmosphere is quite effective, with lots of minor ambient sounds filling up the surrounds even during quieter moments. Dynamics are also superior, with a surprisingly wide tonal range and deep low bass. Perhaps this one won't trigger an earthquake in your house, but the .1 LFE is far stronger than I expected. Even if 'The Interpreter' lacks a ton of sonic fireworks, I was very impressed with how effective this mix is in conveying the film's intended mood of paranoia and dread.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1026 [review_supplements] =>

'The Interpreter' on HD DVD comes packed with the same extras as the standard-def DVD release, which was a nice, solid package. Nothing here is extraordinary, but at least a couple of the more periphery extras add a bit of weight and relevance to the more standard making-of fare.

Director Sydney Pollack offers up a nice solo audio commentary, and I've always enjoyed listening to him. The articulate actor-turned-filmmaker is always smart, if a bit slow-going at times. He's also surprising modest, admitting that he rarely makes a film that he doesn't feel will be "embarrassing" and unreleasable. This from the man who made such classics as 'The Way We Were,' 'Tootsie' and the Oscar-winning 'Out of Africa!' As for 'The Interpreter,' he's pretty good at giving us most of the important details, from the story to the cast to being granted permission to shoot in the U.N. Not a must-listen, but if you're into the film or Pollack, give it a shot.

Actually a bit better at delving into the production are the four making-of featurettes. "From Concept to Cutting Room" is a straightforward affair, though its interesting that both Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn signed on to do the film without a completed screenplay, which was obviously a show of affection for Pollack. But the best of the bunch are "The Ultimate Movie Set: The United Nations" and "A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters." Pollack and the film's producers speak to the broader goals of the movie, which were in part to highlight the often underappreciated work of the agency, as well as pay tribute to the unsung interpreters that informed the Kidman character. If you are going to watch any of the extras on the disc, make it these two. And sure to bring a bit of warmth to the hearts of videophiles everywhere is "Interpreting Pan & Scan Versus Widescreen," where Pollack explains how a filmmaker goes about choosing an aspect ratio, and why pan & scan is inherently evil.

Rounding out the set are three Deleted Scenes and an Alternate Ending. Unfortunately, the excised scenes are meager (only a bit between Kidman and Penn in a car adds anything interesting to the film), while the alternate finale is really just a bit of tacked-on narration. These are pretty skippable.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 1027 [review_bonus_content] =>

No bonus goodies this time out.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Interpreter' is a tight, well-plotted thriller bolstered by an A-list cast. Perhaps the film's third act is a bit weak, but it is nice to be able to recommend a smart, adult thriller in this day and age of mindless action blockbusters dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, this HD DVD is a mixed bag. As Univeral's first (and so far only) title with an AVC MPEG-4 transfer, it is not an auspicious debut -- I thought the image was too overdone for my taste and rather noisy, though the soundtrack excels and there are some solid extras. Worth a look, but by no means is this a slam dunk, thumbs up recommendation.

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 190 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => thing1982 [review_release_date] => 1161673200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Thing (1982) [picture_created] => 1156281735 [picture_name] => the-thing-1982-revised-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/22/120/the-thing-1982-revised-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/190/thing1982.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1982 [run_time] => 109 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000HT3Q0A [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683013 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Documentary [2] => Behind-the-Scenes Footage [3] => 3 Still Galleries [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Horror [1] => Sci-Fi [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Kurt Russell [1] => Wilford Brimley [2] => T.K. Carter [3] => David Clennon [4] => Keith David ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Carpenter ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary: Director John Carpenter & Star Kurt Russell
• Documentary: "John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape"
• "Behind the Scenes" and "Work in Progress" Behind-the-Scenes Footage
• Outtakes
• Storyboards & Conceptual Art
• Still Galleries
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [preview_forum_id] => 116 [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray Review of 'The Thing.'

[review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 238 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

What has happened to cinematic paranoia? Back in the 1950s, audiences just couldn't et enough of mad scientists, alien invaders and government experiments run amok -- all potent allegories for the national's Red Scare politics and fears of imminent nuclear destruction. But flash-forward to the early 1980s: with the Cold War about to end and Ronald Reagan in the White House, America just wasn't interested in bug-eyed aliens anymore. Witness the chilly reception afforded to John Carpenter's big-budget remake of Howard Hawk's classic slice of 1950s paranoia, 'The Thing.'

Returning to the original Joseph Campbell short story "Who Goes There?", Carpenter ditched most of what made Hawk's classic fun but ultimately cheesy. Working with screenwriter Bill Lancaster, Carpenter conjured a creature that was a shape-shifter, a phantom from outer space that could look like anyone at any time. Who are your friends? Who can you trust? The film is unremittingly grim and oppressive, and the location chilly. A team of arctic researchers accidentally thaw out an odd-looking spaceship and unknowingly offer refuge to the alien visitor after it assimilates the form of an Alaskan husky. Communication breaks down as the men, led by the take-charge, laconic MacReady (Kurt Russell), are unsure of who is human and who is the Thing, and fall prey to the worst of human instincts. You can't blame a Thing for being without remorse and conscience. But can you blame a human?

'The Thing' was ideal material for Carpenter, a filmmaker of great skill but with little patience for pretension and sentimentality. He revels in the breakdown of idealism and communication. The ending, which some called nihilistic, is cynical and calculated. But 'The Thing' works so effectively because it preys on one of our most basic fears -- our body in revolt against itself. It is also one of the most purely visceral and downright disgusting mainstream horror movies ever made. The awe-inspiring effects Carpenter unleashes -- designed by makeup wunderkind Rob Bottin -- pulsate, ooze and slither, so grotesque and imaginative they achieve a surreal blend of the horrific and beautiful. Not since 'ALIEN' had an otherworldly menace been so breathtaking.

'The Thing' had the unfortunate luck of being released just a week after the arrival of another, far more cuddly alien, 'E.T.', and audiences and critics alike stayed away in droves. Carpenter was vilified for wallowing in graphic violence and failing to find the heart and humanity in his characters. But 'The Thing' has become the prototypical example of a film rescued by home video. (It remains one of Universal's top-selling catalog DVDs.) It is a bona fide cult phenomenon and now stands as one of Carpenter's most highly regarded and respected works. Its pioneering special effects and relentless sense of doom and dread still pack a wallop. Just don't watch it after you eat.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 999 [review_video] =>

Though mislabeled on the back of the HD DVD box as 1.85:1, 'The Thing' is properly presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This 1080p/VC-1 transfer is really rather terrific, and though utilizing the same master as the years-old DVD release I think it offers enough of an upgrade that fans will be quite please.

A common giveaway that you're watching a high-def upgrade of a previous DVD is that all the dirt and print defects are in the same places. It is sad that I know 'The Thing' so well that right from the first scene, I immediately recognized the position of speckles from years of watching the flick on DVD. (Sure enough, whipping out my old disc to compare, the source material appears identical.) Regardless, the original master is still in very good shape. Sure, there are some blemishes, occasional dropouts and a bit of heavy dirt and grain on some of the optical matte shots, but it's still a solid effort for a film from 1982.

That said, other aspects of the transfer are also well up to snuff. 'The Thing' has always seemed like a somber film full of overcast, wintery exteriors and grim, moody interiors, enlivened only by a few sporadic flashes of color. This HD DVD may dispel that notion, and I'd even venture to say that of all the catalog titles I've seen thus far on the format, 'The Thing' offers the biggest upgrade in terms of richness and purity of color. Most impressive are the deep blues of the nighttime scenes, and the various putrid greens, yellows and oozy oranges of the Thing. (And don't forget the blood.) Color saturation is significantly improved here over the standard-def DVD, and I simply saw the film in a whole new light. Even better, there's no trade-off -- chroma noise and bleeding are not a problem.

Blacks are also deep throughout, and contrast generally consistent across the entire grayscale. Shadow delineation is above average for an older title, with the film's very dark second half never falling into murkiness or imperceptibility. Lastly, detail and depth are also very good. Perhaps a bit soft by modern standards, 'The Thing' still looks sharp enough. Many scenes in the film boast a sense of three-dimensionality superior to what I've seen before, such as when the crew first travels to the Norwegian compound. The level of depth and increased detail in these sequences was a treat for a longtime fan of the film like me. THough not a revelation, I was still pleased with 'The Thing' on HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Now here's the big disappointment of this disc. Though originally billed as having a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, it turns out there is no such track on 'The Thing.' Though of course we still get a perfectly fine Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix instead (encoded at a healthy 1.5mbps), it still feels like someone dangling a carrot in front of your face for weeks, only to snatch it away at the last minute.

Anyway, the sound design of 'The Thing' really isn't that active. Surround use is typical of the period, i.e., practically non-existent. There is the occasional rear effect -- my favorite is the well-placed musical stinger when Fuchs is alone in his office late at night, and some thing walks in the shadows behind him -- but other that the rare jolt, this is a front-heavy mix. The timbre and tonality of sounds is also dated. ADR'd dialogue is sometimes obvious, and mid-range in particular sounds a bit hollow. Low bass is also a bit tighter than on the DVD release, but the improvement is not exceptional. I also struggled at times with my volume control, as I had to turn up some of the dialogue scenes during the film's third act to compensate for the booming effects. Such quibbles aside, 'The Thing' sound perfectly fine for a soundtrack of its era.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1000 [review_supplements] =>

Though originally announced as being a HD DVD/DVD combo disc, turns out 'The Thing' is really an HD-30 dual-layer disc. No complaints here -- I hate to disc flip, and with a couple of notable exceptions, we get all of the same goodies as the special edition DVD anyway.

My favorite supplement and the real beauty of this collection is the 85-minute "Terror Takes Shape: The Making of 'The Thing,'" which still stands as one of the best documentaries ever produced on a horror film. Featuring recollections from John Carpenter, Rob Bottin, director of photography Dean Cundey, Kurt Russell and most of the major cast, making 'The Thing' was an ordeal not quite as terrifying as the film itself but certainly as demanding. While actual on-set production material is sparse, "Terror Takes Shape" makes the most of its extensive interviews, chronicling the film's lengthy gestation, difficult arctic shoot and eventual box office bust. "Terror Takes Shape" is one of the few full-length DVD docs to benefit from a clear and focused narrative arc. At nearly ninety minutes, it is a commitment, but one that pays off; its story is dramatic, involving and totally compelling.

Carpenter and Russell contribute a wonderfully lively audio commentary; the pair have recorded tracks together for their other collaborations, including 'Escape from New York' and 'Big Trouble in Little China,' and their easy-going style is charming. Jovial, sarcastic and hilarious, the mood here is far removed from the frigid subject matter -- Russell's riffing on all of the blood and guts is worth the price of admission alone.

Rounding out the extras are three rather poor-quality excerpts of unused effects footage ("The Blair Monster," "The Saucer" and "Outtakes"), including a go-motion version of the titular creature (which looks awful), plus a fairly extensive gallery of automated still galleries divided into five sections: "Production Archive" (which is mainly production notes and clearly a leftover from the old laserdisc), "Cast Photographs," "Production Art and Storyboards," "Location Design" and "Post Production." And rare for a Universal release, we get the film's rather worn-looking Theatrical Trailer in 480i 4:3 video.

Now, about what's missing. A cool extra on the previous DVD was the inclusions of cues from the film's famed score by Ennio Morricone, which played over the disc's menu and submenus. Alas, once again, Universal only gives us its cheesy HD DVD menu template, complete with tacky muzak. Now that really is grotesque.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 1001 [review_bonus_content] =>

No exclusive content here, but given the lack of production footage available, that's not a surprise. Plus, with the great commentary and documentary, this disc is hardly malnourished.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Despite bombing at the box office, 'The Thing' has become the true definition of a cult classic. Fans like me have been waiting for this one to make its HD DVD debut ever since the format launched, and overall I'm pleased with the disc. A solid transfer featuring greatly improved color reproduction coupled with tons of top-notch extras (though nothing new over the standard-def DVD) offer real value for money. Perhaps those already owning 'The Thing' may not need to buy it again, but if you love the film like I do, can you really say no?

) ) ) ) [October 17, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 173 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => breakup [review_release_date] => 1161068400 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Break-Up [picture_created] => 1156385964 [picture_name] => the-breakup-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/23/120/the-breakup-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/173/breakup.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 107 [list_price] => 39.98 [asin] => B000HDR81E [amazon_price] => 35.99 [empire_id] => 1206085 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Production Footage [1] => Production Stills ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-30/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc [2] => U-Control Enhanced ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 2 Audio Commentaries [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Deleted, Extended & Alternate Scenes [3] => Outtakes ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Comedy [1] => Drama [2] => Romance ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Vince Vaughn [1] => Jennifer Aniston [2] => Joey Lauren Adams [3] => Cole Hauser [4] => Jon Favreau ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Peyton Reed ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => After Brooke (Aniston) calls it quits with her boyfriend Gary (Vaughn), neither person is willing to move out of the condo they share. Taking the advice of their repsective friends and confidants (and a few total strangers), they both engage in mental warfare designed to force the other person to flee the premises -- until they both realize they might be fighting to keep their relationship alive. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary with Director Peyton Reed
• Audio Commentary with Stars Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston
• 4 Featurettes: "The Making of The Break-Up," "Improv with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau," "In Perfect Harmony: The Tone Rangers" and "Three Brothers: A Tour of Chicago"
• Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes
• Outtakes [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • U-Control [preview_forum_id] => 109 [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 183 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

There are actors, and then there are movie stars. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are movie stars. And that fact is rammed home to us every second of 'The Break-Up,' a surprisingly acidic romantic comedy that, whatever its virtues, probably wouldn't have made twelve dollars at the box office was it not for the high-wattage chemistry between its two stars.

In what the back of the HD DVD box calls a "charming and unpredictable comedy!", Vaughn and Aniston are Gary and Brooke. After a meet-cute over a hotdog at the ballpark, the two hit it off and begin what seems like the perfect twentysomething relationship (okay, nice try guys, it's more like thirtysomething). But soon cracks begin to form in the pair's bond, and a series of "comical wrong turns" lead to an all-out war of the exes. Will Gary and Brooke overcome their relationship obstacles and make it to the altar, or kill each other trying?

I have to admit, 'The Break-Up' was genuinely unpredictable. I won't spoil some of the film's third-act developments, but here we may have the first romantic comedy for the new millennium. The marketing for the film may have promised something different, but we are quite far away here from Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan territory. While we expect the typical crude jokes and low-brow sight gags from a Vaughn comedy (this is the guy from 'Old School' and 'Wedding Crashers,' after all), I was quite taken aback by the viciousness on display. Perhaps Gary and Brooke don't whip out machine guns a la 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith,' or resort to residential destruction on the level of 'The War of the Roses,' but 'The Break-Up' seems hell-bent on decimating all of the most long-cherished conventions and cliches of the romantic comedy.

As one character says of relationships today, couples "don't want to connect, they want results." Gary and Brooke in 'The Break-Up' seem to be a victim of this modern course of thinking. And Vaughn and Aniston are well cast in that regard. Two of the most successful and driven stars, both so high-profile that their off-screen coupling during the making of 'The Break-Up' continues to make headlines, the lines between reality and fiction blur surprisingly effectively here. It is not hard to imagine both Vaughn and Aniston have watched personal relationships crumble under the weight of the same expectations Gary and Brooke place upon each other, so even the most over-the-top situations in 'The Break-Up' ring true.

Cultural commentary aside, is 'The Break-Up' actually funny? I thought so -- but then I'm fairly cynical when it comes to relationships. And I can still remember the sour looks on the faces of many a moviegoer that left the theatrical screening I saw, who were expecting another light and sunny Aniston romance. So if you're looking for a witty if far from charming alternative to renting 'When Harry Met Sally' for the 1,248th time, give 'The Break-Up' a try. But if you also buy a box of tissues with the expectation of a typical teary-eyed conclusion, you may end up crying for all the wrong reasons.

[review_video_stars] => 3 [review_video_picture_id] => 986 [review_video] =>

'The Break-Up' comes to HD DVD in a 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer, but the results didn't really wow me. The film has a bright and pleasing visual design -- particularly the pretty Chicago summer locations -- but this presentation suffers from being a bit overcooked.

The most immediately striking characteristic of the image is how bright it is. Behind only Warner's 'Grand Prix,' I have never seen an HD DVD with such intense whites. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a positive. Contrast looked too blown out to me, with blooming obvious throughout. Colors, though natural in tone, appear slightly oversaturated to compensate, which muddies up detail. Fleshtones have a pasty, unreal quality that makes everyone look a bit like a wax figure. The image is fairly sharp, but still lacking the sense of depth of the best HD DVD transfers -- I was rarely impressed by any sense of true three-dimensionality. Only rock solid blacks and a pristine print earn unqualified raves. As such, this is a good but far from reference-quality transfer.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Faring a bit better than the video is this disc's Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Universal continues to encode most of their HD DVD soundtracks at a very healthy 1.5 mbps, and 'The Break-Up' is no exception.

Largely dialogue driven, the film actually needed healthy dynamic range, or all the shrill shouting matches between characters could easily have devolved into atonal noise. Despite Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston having quite different timbres to their voices (his very deep, hers rather high), dialogue was always clear and distinct. Music and effects also never get in the way, nor do they stand out. Surround use is fairly minimal, reserved primarily for the sparse songs on the soundtrack and the score. However, there are a few moments of impressive rear discrete effects, such as during a bus tour scene with Vaughn, and the opening prologue at the ballpark. Even if there is little in the way of real atmosphere here, technical specs are totally solid.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 987 [review_supplements] =>

'The Break-Up' is another HD DVD/DVD combo package, this time a HD-30/DVD-9 double-sided platter. Thankfully, that means we don't have to flip the disc over just to access all of the bonus features. And there is actually some good stuff on here for once, most notably a couple of star-studded commentaries.

Both Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn pair up for track one, with director Peyton Reed going solo on track two. But don't expect anything in the way of tabloid fodder from the lovebirds. Both are completely professional, forming a mutual admiration society and sticking solely to the making of the film, their off-screen romantic relationship never explored. This is a bit of a shame -- not because I wanted dirt, but because it seems impossible that real-life didn't somehow influence fiction. By the film's halfway point I started to lose interest, especially as Vaughn largely dominates, talking quite extensively about all his buddies that appeared in the movie (including Jon Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley, aka "that kid from 'A Christmas Story'"). Reed's commentary is certainly far more insightful, as he covers all the bases of production, and of course also praises Vaughn and Aniston. Perhaps a group commentary with all three might have been a better choice here? Still, it is strangely exciting to hear stars of Vaughn and Aniston's caliber doing an audio commentary together.

Next up are about 30 minutes of making-of featurettes. Though the blandly-titled "Making of 'The Break-Up'" is your typical EPK-fest that plays like an extended commercial, the remaining three featurettes are at least somewhat unique. "Three Brothers: A Tour of Chicago" allows you to use your remote to access a fairly entertaining guided tour of the film's various Chicago locations. Vaughn provides the intro, and he seems like he might actually make a great tour guide someday -- I expect he might do well in Vegas in about twenty years. "Favreau/Vaughn Improv Sessions" is a split-screen session with the actors (and frequent collaborators) trading spontaneous ad-libs and made-up dialogue. Some pretty funny stuff here. Finally, "The Tone Rangers" features the vastly underrated John Michael Higgins as the film's Richard, aka the "Borderline-Gay A Cappella Singing Brother." You might know Higgins from his stints in Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show' and 'Mighty Wind,' and here he creates another character that is both hilarious and human. Get this guy his own sitcom already!

Rounding out the package is a 15-minute collection of Deleted Scenes, Scene Extensions, Outtakes and an Alternate Ending. They're all lumped together with no real explanation of what we're seeing. Nothing truly noteworthy here, especially the Alternate Ending, which goes on a bit too long and is inferior to what made the film's final cut. Still, worth a watch to see how a film can be improved with judicious editing.

Par for the course for Universal, no theatrical trailers are included. The menus are also again standard-issue for the studio, which is a real shame this time out -- flip the disc over, and the DVD side features very cute "His" and "Hers" navigation. So why Universal continues to give us such lame graphics on what is supposed to be a next-gen format is anyone's guess.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 988 [review_bonus_content] =>

'The Break-Up' is Universal's second title to boast the studio's "U-Control" interactive feature, after 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' A romantic comedy might seem like a somewhat odd choice at first for this type of exclusive content, but the concept actually ends up working quite well with the material.

In case you're unfamiliar with U-Control technology, it allows for a variety of pre-encoded material (video, audio, text overlays, etc.) to be stored on an HD DVD disc. This content can then be accessed by the user either singularly, or together, and all in real-time during playback of the movie. For example, multiple audio streams can be encoded on a disc and "mixed live" by the player for integrated supplemental audio content, or picture-in-picture video streams can be displayed simultaneously, or graphic overlays can be "mapped" to specific objects on the screen. If it sounds futuristic, it is, but also fairly simple. Just think of it as an "on/off" button for the supplements -- turn on U-Control to watch the extras at any time during the film, or turn it off and just stick with the flick. (Note that if you are using one of Toshiba's first-generation HD DVD players, readers have reported that the version 2.0 firmware upgrade is necessary in order to view "U-Control" features.)

Unlike the U-Control extras on 'Tokyo Drift,' which focused almost exclusively on more tech-oriented aspects of the movie, 'The Break-Up' offers just two options: a "Picture-in-Picture" making-of, and an assortment of "Production Photographs." I thought the still material wore out its welcome rather quickly, but the Picture-in-Picture production and interview footage was quite good. There is a wealth of material not included in the standard-def extras, and I preferred watching the "Picture-in-Picture" mode considerably over the disc's two standard audio commentaries and featurettes. Admittedly, I didn't use the U-Control option much -- I'd rather just switch it on, sit back and watch the whole film as one long documentary. In any case, there is enough exclusive content here to make the "U-Control" feature well worth checking out on 'The Break-Up."

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Break-Up' is far from your standard-issue Hollywood romantic comedy. Despite the presence of America's sweetheart Jennifer Aniston, it is far meaner than you might expect. Yet I found the film quite funny, and it is certainly a nice change of pace for the genre. As for this HD DVD release, it is a mixed bag. I wasn't totally thrilled with the transfer, but the soundtrack suits the movie quite well, and there is a wealth of supplemental content, most notably Universal's much-touted "U-Control" feature. Though I can't give this one an unequivocal rave, I can say it is well worth checking out, both as a movie and as an example of the latest in cutting-edge HD DVD technology.

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 173 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => breakup [review_release_date] => 1161068400 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Break-Up [picture_created] => 1156385964 [picture_name] => the-breakup-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/23/120/the-breakup-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/173/breakup.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 107 [list_price] => 39.98 [asin] => B000HDR81E [amazon_price] => 35.99 [empire_id] => 1206085 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Production Footage [1] => Production Stills ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-30/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc [2] => U-Control Enhanced ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 2 Audio Commentaries [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Deleted, Extended & Alternate Scenes [3] => Outtakes ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Comedy [1] => Drama [2] => Romance ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Vince Vaughn [1] => Jennifer Aniston [2] => Joey Lauren Adams [3] => Cole Hauser [4] => Jon Favreau ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Peyton Reed ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => After Brooke (Aniston) calls it quits with her boyfriend Gary (Vaughn), neither person is willing to move out of the condo they share. Taking the advice of their repsective friends and confidants (and a few total strangers), they both engage in mental warfare designed to force the other person to flee the premises -- until they both realize they might be fighting to keep their relationship alive. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary with Director Peyton Reed
• Audio Commentary with Stars Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston
• 4 Featurettes: "The Making of The Break-Up," "Improv with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau," "In Perfect Harmony: The Tone Rangers" and "Three Brothers: A Tour of Chicago"
• Deleted, Extended and Alternate Scenes
• Outtakes [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • U-Control [preview_forum_id] => 109 [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 183 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

There are actors, and then there are movie stars. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are movie stars. And that fact is rammed home to us every second of 'The Break-Up,' a surprisingly acidic romantic comedy that, whatever its virtues, probably wouldn't have made twelve dollars at the box office was it not for the high-wattage chemistry between its two stars.

In what the back of the HD DVD box calls a "charming and unpredictable comedy!", Vaughn and Aniston are Gary and Brooke. After a meet-cute over a hotdog at the ballpark, the two hit it off and begin what seems like the perfect twentysomething relationship (okay, nice try guys, it's more like thirtysomething). But soon cracks begin to form in the pair's bond, and a series of "comical wrong turns" lead to an all-out war of the exes. Will Gary and Brooke overcome their relationship obstacles and make it to the altar, or kill each other trying?

I have to admit, 'The Break-Up' was genuinely unpredictable. I won't spoil some of the film's third-act developments, but here we may have the first romantic comedy for the new millennium. The marketing for the film may have promised something different, but we are quite far away here from Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan territory. While we expect the typical crude jokes and low-brow sight gags from a Vaughn comedy (this is the guy from 'Old School' and 'Wedding Crashers,' after all), I was quite taken aback by the viciousness on display. Perhaps Gary and Brooke don't whip out machine guns a la 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith,' or resort to residential destruction on the level of 'The War of the Roses,' but 'The Break-Up' seems hell-bent on decimating all of the most long-cherished conventions and cliches of the romantic comedy.

As one character says of relationships today, couples "don't want to connect, they want results." Gary and Brooke in 'The Break-Up' seem to be a victim of this modern course of thinking. And Vaughn and Aniston are well cast in that regard. Two of the most successful and driven stars, both so high-profile that their off-screen coupling during the making of 'The Break-Up' continues to make headlines, the lines between reality and fiction blur surprisingly effectively here. It is not hard to imagine both Vaughn and Aniston have watched personal relationships crumble under the weight of the same expectations Gary and Brooke place upon each other, so even the most over-the-top situations in 'The Break-Up' ring true.

Cultural commentary aside, is 'The Break-Up' actually funny? I thought so -- but then I'm fairly cynical when it comes to relationships. And I can still remember the sour looks on the faces of many a moviegoer that left the theatrical screening I saw, who were expecting another light and sunny Aniston romance. So if you're looking for a witty if far from charming alternative to renting 'When Harry Met Sally' for the 1,248th time, give 'The Break-Up' a try. But if you also buy a box of tissues with the expectation of a typical teary-eyed conclusion, you may end up crying for all the wrong reasons.

[review_video_stars] => 3 [review_video_picture_id] => 986 [review_video] =>

'The Break-Up' comes to HD DVD in a 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer, but the results didn't really wow me. The film has a bright and pleasing visual design -- particularly the pretty Chicago summer locations -- but this presentation suffers from being a bit overcooked.

The most immediately striking characteristic of the image is how bright it is. Behind only Warner's 'Grand Prix,' I have never seen an HD DVD with such intense whites. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a positive. Contrast looked too blown out to me, with blooming obvious throughout. Colors, though natural in tone, appear slightly oversaturated to compensate, which muddies up detail. Fleshtones have a pasty, unreal quality that makes everyone look a bit like a wax figure. The image is fairly sharp, but still lacking the sense of depth of the best HD DVD transfers -- I was rarely impressed by any sense of true three-dimensionality. Only rock solid blacks and a pristine print earn unqualified raves. As such, this is a good but far from reference-quality transfer.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Faring a bit better than the video is this disc's Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Universal continues to encode most of their HD DVD soundtracks at a very healthy 1.5 mbps, and 'The Break-Up' is no exception.

Largely dialogue driven, the film actually needed healthy dynamic range, or all the shrill shouting matches between characters could easily have devolved into atonal noise. Despite Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston having quite different timbres to their voices (his very deep, hers rather high), dialogue was always clear and distinct. Music and effects also never get in the way, nor do they stand out. Surround use is fairly minimal, reserved primarily for the sparse songs on the soundtrack and the score. However, there are a few moments of impressive rear discrete effects, such as during a bus tour scene with Vaughn, and the opening prologue at the ballpark. Even if there is little in the way of real atmosphere here, technical specs are totally solid.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 987 [review_supplements] =>

'The Break-Up' is another HD DVD/DVD combo package, this time a HD-30/DVD-9 double-sided platter. Thankfully, that means we don't have to flip the disc over just to access all of the bonus features. And there is actually some good stuff on here for once, most notably a couple of star-studded commentaries.

Both Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn pair up for track one, with director Peyton Reed going solo on track two. But don't expect anything in the way of tabloid fodder from the lovebirds. Both are completely professional, forming a mutual admiration society and sticking solely to the making of the film, their off-screen romantic relationship never explored. This is a bit of a shame -- not because I wanted dirt, but because it seems impossible that real-life didn't somehow influence fiction. By the film's halfway point I started to lose interest, especially as Vaughn largely dominates, talking quite extensively about all his buddies that appeared in the movie (including Jon Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley, aka "that kid from 'A Christmas Story'"). Reed's commentary is certainly far more insightful, as he covers all the bases of production, and of course also praises Vaughn and Aniston. Perhaps a group commentary with all three might have been a better choice here? Still, it is strangely exciting to hear stars of Vaughn and Aniston's caliber doing an audio commentary together.

Next up are about 30 minutes of making-of featurettes. Though the blandly-titled "Making of 'The Break-Up'" is your typical EPK-fest that plays like an extended commercial, the remaining three featurettes are at least somewhat unique. "Three Brothers: A Tour of Chicago" allows you to use your remote to access a fairly entertaining guided tour of the film's various Chicago locations. Vaughn provides the intro, and he seems like he might actually make a great tour guide someday -- I expect he might do well in Vegas in about twenty years. "Favreau/Vaughn Improv Sessions" is a split-screen session with the actors (and frequent collaborators) trading spontaneous ad-libs and made-up dialogue. Some pretty funny stuff here. Finally, "The Tone Rangers" features the vastly underrated John Michael Higgins as the film's Richard, aka the "Borderline-Gay A Cappella Singing Brother." You might know Higgins from his stints in Christopher Guest's 'Best in Show' and 'Mighty Wind,' and here he creates another character that is both hilarious and human. Get this guy his own sitcom already!

Rounding out the package is a 15-minute collection of Deleted Scenes, Scene Extensions, Outtakes and an Alternate Ending. They're all lumped together with no real explanation of what we're seeing. Nothing truly noteworthy here, especially the Alternate Ending, which goes on a bit too long and is inferior to what made the film's final cut. Still, worth a watch to see how a film can be improved with judicious editing.

Par for the course for Universal, no theatrical trailers are included. The menus are also again standard-issue for the studio, which is a real shame this time out -- flip the disc over, and the DVD side features very cute "His" and "Hers" navigation. So why Universal continues to give us such lame graphics on what is supposed to be a next-gen format is anyone's guess.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 988 [review_bonus_content] =>

'The Break-Up' is Universal's second title to boast the studio's "U-Control" interactive feature, after 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' A romantic comedy might seem like a somewhat odd choice at first for this type of exclusive content, but the concept actually ends up working quite well with the material.

In case you're unfamiliar with U-Control technology, it allows for a variety of pre-encoded material (video, audio, text overlays, etc.) to be stored on an HD DVD disc. This content can then be accessed by the user either singularly, or together, and all in real-time during playback of the movie. For example, multiple audio streams can be encoded on a disc and "mixed live" by the player for integrated supplemental audio content, or picture-in-picture video streams can be displayed simultaneously, or graphic overlays can be "mapped" to specific objects on the screen. If it sounds futuristic, it is, but also fairly simple. Just think of it as an "on/off" button for the supplements -- turn on U-Control to watch the extras at any time during the film, or turn it off and just stick with the flick. (Note that if you are using one of Toshiba's first-generation HD DVD players, readers have reported that the version 2.0 firmware upgrade is necessary in order to view "U-Control" features.)

Unlike the U-Control extras on 'Tokyo Drift,' which focused almost exclusively on more tech-oriented aspects of the movie, 'The Break-Up' offers just two options: a "Picture-in-Picture" making-of, and an assortment of "Production Photographs." I thought the still material wore out its welcome rather quickly, but the Picture-in-Picture production and interview footage was quite good. There is a wealth of material not included in the standard-def extras, and I preferred watching the "Picture-in-Picture" mode considerably over the disc's two standard audio commentaries and featurettes. Admittedly, I didn't use the U-Control option much -- I'd rather just switch it on, sit back and watch the whole film as one long documentary. In any case, there is enough exclusive content here to make the "U-Control" feature well worth checking out on 'The Break-Up."

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Break-Up' is far from your standard-issue Hollywood romantic comedy. Despite the presence of America's sweetheart Jennifer Aniston, it is far meaner than you might expect. Yet I found the film quite funny, and it is certainly a nice change of pace for the genre. As for this HD DVD release, it is a mixed bag. I wasn't totally thrilled with the transfer, but the soundtrack suits the movie quite well, and there is a wealth of supplemental content, most notably Universal's much-touted "U-Control" feature. Though I can't give this one an unequivocal rave, I can say it is well worth checking out, both as a movie and as an example of the latest in cutting-edge HD DVD technology.

) ) ) ) [October 14, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 801 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => elephantsdream [review_release_date] => 1160809200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Elephants Dream (German Import) [picture_created] => 1175061160 [picture_name] => elephants-dream-german-import-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Imagion [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2007/03/27/120/elephants-dream-german-import-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/801/elephantsdream.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 11 [list_price] => 27.95 [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 0 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Picture-in-Picture Commentary [1] => Audio Commentaries [2] => Documentary [3] => Script-to-Screen [4] => High-Def/Standard-Def Comparison ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 1080p/MPEG-2 (Alternate Encode Version) [2] => 1080p/480i/VC-1 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) [1] => English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => None ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English Subtitles [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles [3] => German Subtitles [4] => Italian Subtitles [5] => Japanese Subtitles ) [preview_editors_notes] => 0 [review_editors_notes] =>

This is a review of the German release of 'Elephants Dream.' Note that this disc has not been released in the United States, however (if you're able to get a copy) this German import carries no region coding and will play in any HD DVD player worldwide.

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 7040 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

'Elephants Dream' is a most unusual HD DVD release. The first HD DVD to be released in Europe, it's taken on a somewhat cult status among HD DVD fanatics worldwide as a result of its format-specific supplements, which offer various split-screen effects demonstrating the differences between standard-def and HD DVD at various resolutions.

Also setting it apart from other HD DVD releases is the fact that it's only 11 minutes long -- and unlike other CG animated films, it was made entirely using "open source" software, meaning free stuff anyone can get via the internet.

The story certainly is slight. Emo and Proog are two rather strange fellows taking a journey deep into the cogs of the giant Machine. It's a dark, twisted and complex world, but a fascinating one made of giant wires and gears and other fanciful mechanics. But a conflict soon arises between the two men -- one that completely up-ends all of their assumptions. Is the Machine real? Or just a figment of Proog's imagination?

Much buzz swirled around 'Elephants Dream' and its open source origins when it first hit the web last year as a free download. But while the film's backstory does somewhat relegate it to the novelty category, 'Elephants Dream' certainly proves that with a little ingenuity and a lot of commitment, you can create some marvelous sights on the cheap.

It took the design team behind the movie a reported six months to complete the project, and it often looks quite snazzy. The backgrounds, object detail and textures are excellent, with some images good enough to frame on the wall as art. The character animation, however, is a bit weaker. Emo and Proog look a bit clunky, and the rather poor voice work doesn't help. The story never really engages, either. To be fair, it's pretty hard to generate much emotion in 11 minutes (9 minutes not counting credits), but the plot borders on the incomprehensible. Even the filmmakers' comments in the included supplements would seem to indicate that they're as much in the dark about its narrative significance as we are.

Is 'Elephants Dream' a satisfying story that stands up to repeated viewings? Of that I'm not so sure, but it does work wonderfully as CG eye candy, and as a testament to the indie spirit.

[review_video_stars] => 5 [review_video_picture_id] => 2113 [review_video] =>

Designed as a showcase for the many wonders of HD DVD, 'Elephants Dream' is the only next-gen release I'm aware of that offers both VC-1 and MPEG-2 encodes of the same feature, and it's very cool to be able to stack the two codecs directly against each other for an apples-to-apples comparison.

The VC-1 version gets top billing, but quite frankly the MPEG-2 is just as good. Both present the film from the same master, in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the image is flawless. Depth and detail are top-notch, right from the opening scene of Emo and Proog navigating through the Machine's inner guts of silver wires and weird architecture. Texture is impeccable -- even the thinnest wire, way in the background is clearly defined and visible. Colors are also magnificent. Though the dominant hue is silver, there are fantastic splashes of deep primaries, including one moment early on, as a phone rings on a table over a bright red carpet, where the saturation and the purity of the colors is simply stunning. In terms of quality of the presentation -- 'Elephants Dream' on HD DVD really is phenomenal. As promised, this is easily five-star demo material.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Elephants Dream' comes with only two audio options, 5.1 surround (640kbps) and 2.0 stereo (448kbps), both in English Dolby Digital. (For non-English speakers, a host of foreign subtitle choices are also offered.)

Overall, the film's sound design is pretty basic and simplistic, but still effective. Strangely, the score is forced into the background, making dialogue and the sparse sound effects almost unnerving in their prominence, but this adds nicely to the '1984' feel of the film's story. Effects are chilly but atmospheric -- eerie wind noises and other mechanical sounds have a nice realism and clarity, aided by ample dynamic range. Low bass is tight but not overpowering. Dialogue is very distinct and well recorded. The soundfield generally creates a pleasing 360-degree effect that's certainly minimalist but still continuous. There isn't enough of a sustained bombast here to really impress, but this soundtrack certainly suits the material.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Although this movie hasn't been released on any format here in U.S., it was previously released on standard-def DVD in Europe with several of the supplements included on this HD DVD. However, since all of these extras seem to have been remastered for this HD DVD presentation, you'll find them listed (along with several brand-new-to-the-HD DVD extras) in the High-Def Exclusives section below.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 2114 [review_bonus_content] =>

As mentioned above, 'Elephants Dream' has taken on a kind of cult status among HD DVD fans in the know, largely due to its surprisingly extensive assortment of extras, which -- added up -- are easily ten times as long as the short itself. It's quite an eclectic, insightful assortment, choosing to examine the short from some unusual angles.

First up are two featurettes. "The Making of 'Elephants Dream'" is exactly what the title suggests, although it's a bit too long at 28 minutes. We start with a visit to the Imagion studios, which may surprise some in that it's actually quite a snazzy place, despite being out in the middle of nowhere. (For some reason, I imagined that the first "open source" animated film would have been made in someone's garage.) The directing/producing team of Bassam Kurdali and Ton Roosendaal and the screenwriting/design team of Andreas Goralczyk, Jan Morgenstern, Mat Ebb and Toni Alatalo delve into all of the technical nitty-gritty, from what software was used to how the production surmounted the various challenges in attempting to make Pixar-level animation on virtually zero budget. We also get a look at the voice recording sessions. Unfortunately, none of this material will really dissuade anyone that 'Elephants Dream' is more of a technical achievement than it is a creative one, as the story always seems less interesting to the filmmakers than their tools.

"HD DVD Making-Of" runs 10 minutes, and is -- as far as I'm aware -- the first-ever documentary on the making of a next-gen release. From the design of the menus, to the encoding and the authoring, interviews with the disc's design team give us a snapshot of what it takes to create an HD DVD title. Unfortunately, the talking-head format doesn't really lend itself to this type of technical discussion, but hardcore early adopters should find it intriguing none the less. In any case, the quality of both of these featurettes is excellent, with each in very crisp 1080p/VC-1 video. (Note that "HD DVD Making-Of" can be viewed two ways: either in full-screen video, or as a picture-in-picture video commentary -- the content is the same.)

Even more technical (and the element of these supplements that has led to so much interest among HD DVD fanatics) is the High-Def to Standard-Def Comparison. Three views are offered of a series of excerpts from the film: a side-by-side split-screen between 1080p and 480p resolutions, plus "Doubling Nearest Pixel" and "Bi cubic Interpolation" scaling method comparisons. It's no wonder that this feature has become A-list demo material for owners of the disc, as the increased resolution of the 1080p encode is immediately obvious. Why this disc isn't running on every HDTV showroom across the U.S. I do not know.

Next up are four audio commentaries -- all with aforementioned members of the film's production team. Even though the short is only 11 minutes, this is a bit of overkill. Much of the same info from the featurettes is covered again, though at least the writers offer a bit more depth on the story, as much of one as there is. Still, only diehard fans are likely to be able to get through all four of these.

Finally, there a couple of pages of HD DVD Credits, plus a note on the disc's promised Online Features, which apparently are planned for 'Elephants Dream' by Imagion sometime in the future.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Elephants Dream' is a quirky, visually arresting short film. Granted, the story doesn't make much of an impact, but with a runtime of only 11 minutes, that's no surprise. The value of this HD DVD import release, then, really depends on how interested you are in great demo material and the attractiveness of the extras. It certainly looks fantastic, and having the opportunity to compare different encodes and different resolutions of the same material may prove too great an opportunity for early adopters to ignore. Given the high quality of this release, it's absolutely a solid deal for the money -- if you care to spend it.

Special thanks to Karl C. for loaning us this disc!

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 801 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => elephantsdream [review_release_date] => 1160809200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Elephants Dream (German Import) [picture_created] => 1175061160 [picture_name] => elephants-dream-german-import-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Imagion [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2007/03/27/120/elephants-dream-german-import-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/801/elephantsdream.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 11 [list_price] => 27.95 [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 0 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Picture-in-Picture Commentary [1] => Audio Commentaries [2] => Documentary [3] => Script-to-Screen [4] => High-Def/Standard-Def Comparison ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 1080p/MPEG-2 (Alternate Encode Version) [2] => 1080p/480i/VC-1 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) [1] => English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => None ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English Subtitles [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles [3] => German Subtitles [4] => Italian Subtitles [5] => Japanese Subtitles ) [preview_editors_notes] => 0 [review_editors_notes] =>

This is a review of the German release of 'Elephants Dream.' Note that this disc has not been released in the United States, however (if you're able to get a copy) this German import carries no region coding and will play in any HD DVD player worldwide.

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 7040 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

'Elephants Dream' is a most unusual HD DVD release. The first HD DVD to be released in Europe, it's taken on a somewhat cult status among HD DVD fanatics worldwide as a result of its format-specific supplements, which offer various split-screen effects demonstrating the differences between standard-def and HD DVD at various resolutions.

Also setting it apart from other HD DVD releases is the fact that it's only 11 minutes long -- and unlike other CG animated films, it was made entirely using "open source" software, meaning free stuff anyone can get via the internet.

The story certainly is slight. Emo and Proog are two rather strange fellows taking a journey deep into the cogs of the giant Machine. It's a dark, twisted and complex world, but a fascinating one made of giant wires and gears and other fanciful mechanics. But a conflict soon arises between the two men -- one that completely up-ends all of their assumptions. Is the Machine real? Or just a figment of Proog's imagination?

Much buzz swirled around 'Elephants Dream' and its open source origins when it first hit the web last year as a free download. But while the film's backstory does somewhat relegate it to the novelty category, 'Elephants Dream' certainly proves that with a little ingenuity and a lot of commitment, you can create some marvelous sights on the cheap.

It took the design team behind the movie a reported six months to complete the project, and it often looks quite snazzy. The backgrounds, object detail and textures are excellent, with some images good enough to frame on the wall as art. The character animation, however, is a bit weaker. Emo and Proog look a bit clunky, and the rather poor voice work doesn't help. The story never really engages, either. To be fair, it's pretty hard to generate much emotion in 11 minutes (9 minutes not counting credits), but the plot borders on the incomprehensible. Even the filmmakers' comments in the included supplements would seem to indicate that they're as much in the dark about its narrative significance as we are.

Is 'Elephants Dream' a satisfying story that stands up to repeated viewings? Of that I'm not so sure, but it does work wonderfully as CG eye candy, and as a testament to the indie spirit.

[review_video_stars] => 5 [review_video_picture_id] => 2113 [review_video] =>

Designed as a showcase for the many wonders of HD DVD, 'Elephants Dream' is the only next-gen release I'm aware of that offers both VC-1 and MPEG-2 encodes of the same feature, and it's very cool to be able to stack the two codecs directly against each other for an apples-to-apples comparison.

The VC-1 version gets top billing, but quite frankly the MPEG-2 is just as good. Both present the film from the same master, in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the image is flawless. Depth and detail are top-notch, right from the opening scene of Emo and Proog navigating through the Machine's inner guts of silver wires and weird architecture. Texture is impeccable -- even the thinnest wire, way in the background is clearly defined and visible. Colors are also magnificent. Though the dominant hue is silver, there are fantastic splashes of deep primaries, including one moment early on, as a phone rings on a table over a bright red carpet, where the saturation and the purity of the colors is simply stunning. In terms of quality of the presentation -- 'Elephants Dream' on HD DVD really is phenomenal. As promised, this is easily five-star demo material.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Elephants Dream' comes with only two audio options, 5.1 surround (640kbps) and 2.0 stereo (448kbps), both in English Dolby Digital. (For non-English speakers, a host of foreign subtitle choices are also offered.)

Overall, the film's sound design is pretty basic and simplistic, but still effective. Strangely, the score is forced into the background, making dialogue and the sparse sound effects almost unnerving in their prominence, but this adds nicely to the '1984' feel of the film's story. Effects are chilly but atmospheric -- eerie wind noises and other mechanical sounds have a nice realism and clarity, aided by ample dynamic range. Low bass is tight but not overpowering. Dialogue is very distinct and well recorded. The soundfield generally creates a pleasing 360-degree effect that's certainly minimalist but still continuous. There isn't enough of a sustained bombast here to really impress, but this soundtrack certainly suits the material.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Although this movie hasn't been released on any format here in U.S., it was previously released on standard-def DVD in Europe with several of the supplements included on this HD DVD. However, since all of these extras seem to have been remastered for this HD DVD presentation, you'll find them listed (along with several brand-new-to-the-HD DVD extras) in the High-Def Exclusives section below.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 2114 [review_bonus_content] =>

As mentioned above, 'Elephants Dream' has taken on a kind of cult status among HD DVD fans in the know, largely due to its surprisingly extensive assortment of extras, which -- added up -- are easily ten times as long as the short itself. It's quite an eclectic, insightful assortment, choosing to examine the short from some unusual angles.

First up are two featurettes. "The Making of 'Elephants Dream'" is exactly what the title suggests, although it's a bit too long at 28 minutes. We start with a visit to the Imagion studios, which may surprise some in that it's actually quite a snazzy place, despite being out in the middle of nowhere. (For some reason, I imagined that the first "open source" animated film would have been made in someone's garage.) The directing/producing team of Bassam Kurdali and Ton Roosendaal and the screenwriting/design team of Andreas Goralczyk, Jan Morgenstern, Mat Ebb and Toni Alatalo delve into all of the technical nitty-gritty, from what software was used to how the production surmounted the various challenges in attempting to make Pixar-level animation on virtually zero budget. We also get a look at the voice recording sessions. Unfortunately, none of this material will really dissuade anyone that 'Elephants Dream' is more of a technical achievement than it is a creative one, as the story always seems less interesting to the filmmakers than their tools.

"HD DVD Making-Of" runs 10 minutes, and is -- as far as I'm aware -- the first-ever documentary on the making of a next-gen release. From the design of the menus, to the encoding and the authoring, interviews with the disc's design team give us a snapshot of what it takes to create an HD DVD title. Unfortunately, the talking-head format doesn't really lend itself to this type of technical discussion, but hardcore early adopters should find it intriguing none the less. In any case, the quality of both of these featurettes is excellent, with each in very crisp 1080p/VC-1 video. (Note that "HD DVD Making-Of" can be viewed two ways: either in full-screen video, or as a picture-in-picture video commentary -- the content is the same.)

Even more technical (and the element of these supplements that has led to so much interest among HD DVD fanatics) is the High-Def to Standard-Def Comparison. Three views are offered of a series of excerpts from the film: a side-by-side split-screen between 1080p and 480p resolutions, plus "Doubling Nearest Pixel" and "Bi cubic Interpolation" scaling method comparisons. It's no wonder that this feature has become A-list demo material for owners of the disc, as the increased resolution of the 1080p encode is immediately obvious. Why this disc isn't running on every HDTV showroom across the U.S. I do not know.

Next up are four audio commentaries -- all with aforementioned members of the film's production team. Even though the short is only 11 minutes, this is a bit of overkill. Much of the same info from the featurettes is covered again, though at least the writers offer a bit more depth on the story, as much of one as there is. Still, only diehard fans are likely to be able to get through all four of these.

Finally, there a couple of pages of HD DVD Credits, plus a note on the disc's promised Online Features, which apparently are planned for 'Elephants Dream' by Imagion sometime in the future.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Elephants Dream' is a quirky, visually arresting short film. Granted, the story doesn't make much of an impact, but with a runtime of only 11 minutes, that's no surprise. The value of this HD DVD import release, then, really depends on how interested you are in great demo material and the attractiveness of the extras. It certainly looks fantastic, and having the opportunity to compare different encodes and different resolutions of the same material may prove too great an opportunity for early adopters to ignore. Given the high quality of this release, it's absolutely a solid deal for the money -- if you care to spend it.

Special thanks to Karl C. for loaning us this disc!

) ) ) ) [October 10, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 161 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => armyofdarkness [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Army of Darkness (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1159000255 [picture_name] => army-of-darkness.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/army-of-darkness.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/161/armyofdarkness.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1993 [run_time] => 81 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000GIXIBY [amazon_price] => 23.95 [empire_id] => 1172415 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480i/MPEG-2 (DVD Side Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Adventure [2] => Comedy [3] => Fantasy [4] => Horror ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Bruce Campbell [1] => Embeth Davidtz [2] => Marcus Gilbert [3] => Ian Abercrombie [4] => Richard Grove ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Sam Raimi ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => In this sequel to the Evil Dead films, a discount-store employee ("Name's Ash. Housewares.") is time-warped to a medieval castle beset by monstrous forces. Initially mistaken for an enemy, he is soon revealed as the prophecised savior who can quest for the Necronomicon, a book which can dispel the evil. Unfortunately, he screws up the magic words while collecting the tome, and releases an army of skeletons, led by his own Deadite counterpart. What follows is a thrilling, yet tongue-in-cheek battle between Ash's 20th Century tactics and the minions of darkness. [preview_technology_specifications] => • TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => On March 30, 2007, Universal announced that it planned to discontinue production of this HD DVD/DVD combo edition of 'Army of Darkness,' and instead re-issue the film as a non-combo HD DVD release. For details on the re-issued HD DVD edition of 'Army of Darkness,' click here. [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 54 [review_movie_stars] => 2 [review_movie] =>

It's no secret that genre fans generally have a strong distate for the mixing of horror and comedy. Films like 'Scream,' 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,' 'Return of the Living Dead,' and the recent rash of PG-13-rated spook-fests have all come under heavy fire from the horror community for watering down the genre for mainstream tastes to the point where hardcore, balls-to-the-wall terror is an endangered species. But oddly, while Sam Raimi's 'Evil Dead' films would seem to represent everything that these fans despise, somehow it remains a beloved franchise.

To be sure, the first 'Evil Dead' in 1981 was no joke. But by the time 1987's 'Evil Dead 2' rolled around, the series was already a total parody of itself, an approach taken to almost absurd extremes with 1992's 'Army of Darkness.' All three films feature the character of Ash (Bruce Campbell), the lone survivor of a demonic attack on a group of friends in an isolated cabin in the woods. As told in 'Evil Dead,' Ash and his buddies mistakenly unearth "The Book of the Dead," which invokes some very ill-tempered, oozy monstrosities hellbent on human destruction. Though 'Evil Dead 2' was essentially a comedic remake of the first film, 'Army of Darkness' spins a new tale, as Ash is plunked down in medieval times, and must continue to do battle with The Book of the Dead if he hopes to save mankind and return back to present day.

In all reality, of course, the plot is beside the point of the 'Evil Dead' films. In this film in particular, Raimi seems less interested in telling a coherent story than he is in staging a series of slapstick setpieces that are no more frightening than a carnival funhouse ride. And he found the perfect collaborator in Campbell, who with the 'Dead' films has proven himself to be one of the most accomplished -- and underrated -- physical comedians in movies today. Campbell flails about as chainsaws whirl, zombies cackle and Raimi stages camera moves so intricate and outlandish that by the time we get a point-of-view shot of an eyeball flying into a victim's mouth, it all seems commonplace.

But truth be told -- and I know this is sacrilege to say -- as accomplished and audacious as Raimi and Campbell have been with the 'Evil Dead' films, there seems to be not one iota of personal feeling invested. It seems Raimi cares little about anything outside of pummeling Ash with all manner of camera tricks. The story in 'Army of Darkness' doesn't really exist as such, the human dimension is nil, and the film's damsel-in-distress (Embeth Daviditz, trying the best she can) is pure window dressing.

In the end, I'm not sure there's ever been a series of film as visually inspired and visceral as 'Evil Dead' that mean so little. Rather than playing effectively as horror films, they seem more like the modern equivalent of a Charlie Chaplin or Three Stooges comedy, only without the humanity. I know this may cause me to lose my honorary membership in the horror movie fanclub, but after trying over and over again to "get it," the 'Evil Dead' films continue to leave me feeling absolutely nothing at all.

(Note that this HD DVD/DVD combo release of 'Army of Darkness' features the 81-minute, theatrical cut version of the film, not the 96-minute expanded version that has long been available on standard-def DVD.)

[review_video_stars] => 2.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 959 [review_video] =>

Presented on a HD-15/DVD-5 double-sided combo disc, the transfer on this next-gen debut of 'Army of Darkness' is a hit or miss affair. Though it is certainly nice to see the film in full 1080p/VC-1 video, the source material is inconsistent, and time has certainly not done the film's pre-CGI special effects any favors.

To be sure, there's no major print damage (such as rips, tears or excessive dropouts), but dirt is noticeable (particularly in shots involving optical effects, which are numerous) and grain is rampant. Darker scenes fare the worst, with the image often looking flat and fuzzy. Colors also suffer from a dated appearance, but the transfer appears to have been pumped up to compensate, with hues oversaturated and smeary at times. At least fleshtones are more or less accurate, although some of the more stylized segments have a reddish tint (especially the film's present-day bookend segments, which are pretty dreadful).

There are some plusses, however. Daylight scenes fare the best, with Ash's arrival at the medieval castle boasting a rather detailed image and a nice sense of depth. The vivid colors also work better here, and don't look quite as artificial. Still, this transfer is all over the place -- the aged source material combined with the film's limited budget, an abundance of darkly-lit scenes, and extensive opticals makes for one of the weakest HD DVD releases I've seen from Universal. Considering the material, I'll give this one a few extra charity points, but 'Army of Darkness' could really use a from-the-ground-up, full-on remastering.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Army of Darkness' gets the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround/1.5mbps treatment on HD DVD, and it is a pretty nice soundtrack. Granted, the film's sound design is what you'd expect from a mid-budgeted genre film from 1992. Surround use is sporadic and fairly obvious, and envelopment inconsistent.

'Army of Darkness' sports a surprising amount of dialogue for a horror film.. Though some ADR is obvious, dialogue is always clear and well-balanced in the mix. Surround use is limited to the score throughout most of the film, except for a random discrete effect here and there, such as a galloping horse or a shotgun blast. The rears only really come alive during the climactic fortress battle (the 'Evil Dead' version of Helm's Deep), which contains some nice split surround activity, although it's nothing compared to a film like 'Terminator 3.' Otherwise, dynamic range is solid, boasting fairly deep low bass and reltively natural and spacious mid-range. Still, despite the Dolby Digital-Plus upgrade, the mix sounds dated, and a quick flip of the disc found little comparable upgrade over the standard-def Dolby Digital track.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 960 [review_supplements] =>

Seeing as 'Army of Darkness' has been released on DVD, oh, 1,237 times now, it is a bit surprising Universal couldn't scrounge up better set of extras for its next-gen debut. While previous DVD editions have included an alternate ending, deleted scenes, audio commentary, storyboards, etc., this combo release gets only a theatrical trailer, and -- even worse -- it's only included on the DVD side of the disc. C'mon, folks! Ash deserves better than this.

By the way, let me take this opportunity to also chastise Universal for their unwavering dedication to producing the worst HD DVD menus ever. Actually, they are not even menus at all -- just the same tired old start-up animation, complete with identi-kit Photoshop template and cheesy muzak. Am I wrong to assume that a next-gen format like HD DVD should be the ultimate home theater experience -- including the menus? Where are the cool graphics? The zippy animation? The kick-ass music? As Ash would say, "Gimme some sugar, baby!"

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Army of Darkness' is arguably the least effective of the three 'Evil Dead' films, and it's certainly the most jokey. But if you're a fan (and you know who you are), you gotta have the whole trilogy no matter what. Unfortunately, this HD DVD release didn't thrill me much. The transfer looked a bit chintzy, and the only extra is a theatrical trailer on the DVD side of the disc. Given the lack of any appreciable upgrade, you'd be better off sticking with your current DVD, at least until Universal remasters this one and adds some real supplements.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 20 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => batmanbegins [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Batman Begins [picture_created] => 1158730730 [picture_name] => batman-begins-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/batman-begins-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/20/batmanbegins.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 134 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000E1MTY0 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683070 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => In-Movie Experience ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround [1] => English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 12 Featurettes [1] => Still Gallery [2] => Confidential Files [3] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Adventure [2] => Crime [3] => Drama [4] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Christian Bale [1] => Michael Caine [2] => Liam Neeson [3] => Katie Holmes [4] => Gary Oldman ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Christopher Nolan ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The story of how Bruce Wayne became what he was destined to be: Batman. [preview_technology_specifications] => • 12 Featurettes: "The Journey Begins," "Shaping Mind and Body," "The Tumbler," "Gotham City Rise," "Saving Gotham City," "Genesis of the Bat," "Cape and Cowl," "Batman Begins Stunts," "Reflections on Writing Batman Begins," "Digital Batman" and "Path to Discovery"
• Confidential Files
• Still gallery
• MTV short film
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => In-Movie Experience [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 7 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

Finally, they've gone and done it. They've made the Batman movie we've all been waiting for. Not that I wasn't a fan of Tim Burton's first two 'Batman' flicks (especially the dark and rather avant garde 'Batman Returns'), but after the dreadful Joel Schumacher era -- remember the day-glo 'Batman Forever' or worse, the nipple-enhanced Batsuit of 'Batman & Robin'? -- I wasn't exactly holding out hope for the future of the franchise. Then, lo and behold, director Christopher ('Memento,' 'Insomnia') Nolan comes along and blows all my expectations out of the water. 'Batman Begins' is a startling return to form for the Bat, and rivals the best comic book movies ever put onscreen, including 'Superman: The Movie,' 'Spider-Man 2' and 'X2: X-Men United.'

The Schumacher stumbles aside, a Batman movie seems almost impossible to screw up. The character has always been a rather atypical comic book hero: he has no real superpowers, dresses up in a black rubber batsuit and is one seriously troubled obsessive-compulsive. In short, the guy's a freak -- so making an interesting movie out of him shouldn't be too hard. The action is a given (who doesn't love watching a grown man fly around in batwings and kick the shit out of criminals?), and with such a rich inner life, the duplicity of Bruce Wayne/Batman is inherently fascinating. And Nolan does make it seem easy. He nails all the elements perfectly. Along with screenwriter David S. Goyer, he has crafted a realistic, believable backstory for the Bat, picked a cool couple of villains (especially the uber-creepy Scarecrow, played to perfection by Cillian Murphy) and enticed an excellent supporting cast to the film, including Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Ken Watanabe. Together, they create what is probably the classiest comic book adaptation yet.

But what really elevates 'Batman Begins' to the level of pop art is the respect with which Nolan treats his story, and the Batman universe. Sure, there is some black humor here -- especially Murphy and Neeson, who relish their bad-guy roles -- but 'Batman Begins' is played straight. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a fully-formed, flesh-and-blood character, not just some cipher in a suit. He fights not only to avenge the death of his parents, but for a truth he believes in, that he must believe in. His interactions with the other characters also have genuine consequences. Unlike, say, the recent James Bond flicks in which everything is fun and games, the fear of death and the finality of death permeate every frame of 'Batman Begins.' Gotham City feels like a living, breathing metropolis, and we care about what happens to the people of this world -- we want to see the good guys win and the bad guys get their just desserts. Like the first couple of 'Superman' flicks and both 'Spider-Man' movies, 'Batman Begins' is a film with real resonance.

And then there is Christian Bale. Though some diehard fans balked when he was chosen as the fourth actor to become cast in the film franchise (but then I guess they balk at everything, don't they?), his performance quickly silenced any critics. Though I am a Michael Keaton fan (sorry, Val and George), Bale may indeed be the best Batman yet. He's the perfect age for a young Bruce Wayne, still filled with childish imprudence and impatience, but with an adult sophistication and intelligence. (Think a young Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, only with better acting chops.) Bale admirably fills out the Batsuit, and I personally look forward to seeing him as the character for many years to come. If nothing else, seeing 'Batman Begins' on HD DVD only whets my appetite even more for the upcoming 'The Dark Knight.' Batman has, indeed, come home.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 404 [review_video] =>

'Batman Begins' is probably the most eagerly-awaited title to hit HD DVD thus far. A true A-list, must-have disc for early adopters, a lot is riding on this one. If 'Batman Begins' doesn't look and sound spectacular, and boast tons of supplemental features, the HD DVD format is going to have its first genuine disappointment on its hands. But I'm happy to report that 'Batman Begins' delivers in spades. It is all that I hoped for, and as it stands now, is likely to be the first disc I pull out when I need great demo material to show off my system.

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, I can find nothing to fault here. I've always thought that the dominant color of the Batman cinematic universe has been black, from the black of the Gotham skies to black rubber of Batman's suit to the black chrome of the Batmobile. Even recalling my 'Batman Begins' experience in the theater, I remember it being a largely colorless, rather dour experience. So this HD DVD presentation was a total surprise for me. Noticeably superior to the standard DVD, the film really is quite colorful. Even if it is appropriately dark and even grimy in spots, colors are always rich, vivid and free from oversaturation. Right from the beginning, such as in the early flashback scenes of Bruce Wayne as a child, oranges, yellows and greens are quite rich and pure, with wonderfully accurate fleshtones. Even the training scenes early on with the Liam Neeson character, which are shot in overcast exteriors, exhibit flashes of striking color, such as the deep blues of the arctic ice or the subtle shadings on a flower. Hues never bleed or smear, and no chroma noise is apparent.

The source material has also been kept in pristine shape. Blacks are rock solid and contrast excellent. The image has great "pop" but even the harshest whites don't bloom or obscure detail, and shadow delineation -- essential to a dark and moody Batman flick -- is superior. Even in the darkly-lit lair of the Scarecrow, for example, I could still make out the texture on the burlap sack cover his head, right down to the lines in the rope holding it together. I was even more surprised by how improved sharpness is versus the standard DVD release, which was a bit spotty -- this HD DVD image is never anything less than razor-sharp. The sense of depth is consistently top-notch throughout, and this is another of those great HD DVD transfers that often exhibits the "window effect" -- looking more like a fine photograph than video.

Lastly, Warner has also done another fine job encoding 'Batman Begins.' Though the film is not as quick-cut as some recent blockbusters, it does have many scenes of fast action, which this transfer handles adroitly. No macroblocking or any type of posterization is present. And though there is some slight film grain present at times, there are no compression problems or resultant noise. Excellent, excellent job, folks. 'Batman Begins' looks fabulous.

[review_audio_stars] => 5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 405 [review_audio] =>

Ensuring that 'Batman Begins' sounds as good as it looks, Warner has created a new Dolby TrueHD track for the film -- say hello to your new reference disc. As impressed as I've been with the past TrueHD tracks on such HD DVD releases as 'Training Day' and 'The Perfect Storm,' this one is simply the best sound mix I've yet heard on any home video format, period. The sound design and overall aural presentation of this film simply never steps wrong, with the excitement level never waning from the first frame of the film to the last.

Though there are plenty of sonic moments in 'Batman Begins' that thrill, three sequences in particular stood out for me as great examples of demo material. The first act "ice pond" fight between Liam Neeson and Christian Bale, the Batmobile chase and the elevated train destruction scene are all up there with the most exciting sequences I've heard on pre-recorded video. The Dolby TrueHD track is simply flawless here. The force of sound emanating from the rear speakers is incredibly robust and intricate, and despite the cacophony of sound, subtle details remain audible, such as the flap of a batwing or the grating of metal train wheels. It is that kind of attention to detail that elevates 'Batman Begins' to that rare experience where it is highly pleasurable to just close your eyes and listen -- even without visuals, 'Batman Begins' wows.

Also making a great case for Dolby TrueHD is the exceptional dynamic range. Low bass here is some of the deepest I've heard -- the last 30 minutes or so of this film is a total gas when cranked up loud. The quality and depth of mid-range and high-end is mightily impressive, as despite all that is going on here -- dialogue, effects and the fine score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer -- nothing seems lost in the din. Balance is pitch perfect, and I never had to adjust my volume control to make out dialogue, which is quite a rarity on action-type soundtracks. Like the video, I can find nothing to complain about with the audio for 'Batman Begins' -- it met my expectations and, in spots, exceeded them.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 406 [review_supplements] =>

'Batman Begins' ports over all the same standard-def extras as the two-disc DVD release of the film, which certainly makes it a great value for money. Of course, it helps that most of the goodies here are actually worth watching -- a welcome surprise in these days of EPK filler and other forgettable extras.

Rather unusual for a major release, there is no audio commentary of any kind on 'Batman Begins.' Nor are there any deleted scenes, or techy-like material, such as storyboard comparisons. Instead, we get what is essentially a two-hour documentary, broken up into a bunch of shorter featurettes. Though the HD DVD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" (see below) is a bit more concise and certainly easier to digest in one sitting, I'm afraid diehard Batman fans are gonna have to watch all of this stuff. (Disappointingly, all of these featurettes are presented in 480i standard-def video, and though shot in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, are letterboxed in a 4:3 frame. It is a shame Warner didn't present these extras in full 1.78:1 widescreen, even if they are only 480i standard-def video. Sigh.)

Though Warner doesn't really order all these featurettes in a truly user-friendly way on the menu, I tried to watch them in some sort of logical order. Note that all are culled from the same spate of cast and crew interviews dating back to the time of the film's production and release, as well as a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage. First up are "Genesis of the Bat" (15 min.) and "Batman: The Journey Begins" (14 min.). These offer a good point of introduction, with director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer handling the lions share of the explaining. "The Journey Begins" also details the casting of the film, including the then-controversial choices of Christian Bale and Katie Holmes. Even if you don't get into all the more technical-oriented featurettes later one, definitely watch these two.

Next we have three featurettes that focus on the nitty-gritty of production. "Path to Discovery" (14 min.) chronicles the challenges of shooting the film's opening scenes and backstory in the cold climate of Iceland. "Saving Gotham City" (13 min.) highlights the film's excellent action scenes, which were staged with as little CGI as possible -- one of the reasons 'Batman Begins' remains, for me, superior to most other blockbusters these days. But my favorite is "Shaping Mind and Body" (13 min.), as Bale is put through the paces, training to play such an iconic character. Many feel Bale is the best Batman yet, and I can see why. He seems to have an innate understanding of the character, and he certainly has the right physicality for the part. The behind-the-scenes fight footage here is also quite cool.

An additional three featurettes examine various production aspects more in-depth. "Gotham City Rises" (13 min.) pays a visit to the production design team, who had the massive task of reimagining the fabled city for a new generation of Batman fans, as well as having to work within real-world locations in some instances, such as Wayne Manor. "Cape and Cowl" (8 min.) practically fetishizes the Batsuit, and I'll admit all that hot black rubber is a turn-on. Finally, "Batman: The Tumbler" (14 min.) pays tribute to the kick-ass Batmobile, which the Nolan originally conceived as "a Lamborghini crossed with a Humvee." Even Holmes gets into it, admitting that for the first time, she realizes "why guys love cars so much." Think she bought one for Tom Cruise?

Oddly, Warner has placed yet another three featurettes in their own section, called "Additional Scenes." But there is no deleted or additional footage here, so whatever -- am I missing something? Instead, these are three short little vignettes, each running about two minutes. "Digital Batman" is an all-too-quick comparison between a CGI Batman created for the film, and the real one -- I wanted to see more of this. "Reflections on Writing" is also a far-too-short, cute little story from Goyer on how word got out that he was writing the new Batman flick. Finally, "Batman Begins Stunts" is simply a montage of behind-the-scenes footage of the Batmobile and the Batsuit in action.

The extras start to wind down with two text-based goodies. The Still Gallery focuses exclusively various advertising a concepts for the film's multi-million dollar marketing push. Separate sections for the U.S., International and pre-release campaigns are included. "Confidential Files" is a rather extensive assortment of animated text pages featuring more stills and concept art for the various "Hardware," "Enemies" and "Allies and Mentors" of 'Batman Begins.' This is actually a very cool, well put-together and informative extra, so don't skip it just because it might seem like a bunch of lame production notes.

Rounding out the package are two promo items. The "Tankman Begins" spoof that was created for the 2005 MTV Movie Awards is entertaining, but like most of these type shorts, runs out of steam quickly. Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer (actually only a 1-minute teaser), presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080i-MPEG-2 video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround. Kudos to Warner for that -- I hope we see more trailers in the future in full HD video.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 2.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 407 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Batman Begins' is the latest Warner HD DVD release to get the "In-Movie Experience" treatment, and it's one of the IME-enhanced titles the studio has been touting for several months now in its ad campaigns. As such, expectations are again high -- I was hoping for the best IME experience yet, one loaded with so much info I wouldn't be able to turn away from the screen.

Unfortunately, this is the one aspect of this disc that I'm a tad disappointed with. First, the positives. This is definitely the best-looking video I've yet seen on one of these features, meaning that the quality of the footage that appears in the little box overlays is no longer blocky and pixelated. It looks smooth and realistic, and I also like the swanky dissolves as new material appears. I was also impressed with the variety of participants -- in addition to director Christopher Nolan, just about all the main cast and crew appears, including various production personnel and stunt folks. I appreciate diversity in these tracks, and this is definitely not just an extended director interview.

However, I was nonplussed by the pacing. There are frequent long gaps of silence in which there is no video or audio -- sometimes as long as two to three minutes or more. That can seem like an eternity, and combined with the solemn demeanor of many of the participants -- Liam Neeson in particular sounds like he's taken one too many Valium -- this is kind of a sluggish commentary. Certainly, there is a lot of great material here, and much is not repetitious with the standard-def extras. Still, it is hardly non-stop, and still doesn't beat my favorite "In-Movie Experience" so far, which remains Universal's 'The Bourne Supremacy.' But I'm still grateful Warner is producing exclusive content for HD DVD, so kudos.

Note that as always, Warner continues to lead when it comes to basic HD DVD interactivity. Like all of the studio's titles, 'Batman Begins' includes pan-and-zoom capability up to 32x magnification, a real-time chapter search timeline, and the ability to bookmark your favorite chapters for later access. I wish all studios would make such basic functionality routine on their HD DVD releases as well.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Batman Begins' is a no-brainer. Even if you are only casually interested in the film, you should definitely check this one out to see the HD DVD format at the top of its game. Terrific transfer, awesome Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and tons of extras -- including some genuine HD bonus content -- make this one the A-list HD DVD release to beat. Now is a very good time to be an early adopter!

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• 3 Featurettes: "Attack of the Squirrels," "Fantastic Mr. Dahl," "Becoming Oompa-Loompa"
• 4 Activities: "Oompa-Loompa Dance," "The Bad Nut," "Wonka's Inventing Machine" and "Search for the Golden Ticket"
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => In-Movie Experience [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 8 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

Though the work of many modern authors have been likened to that of Grimm's fairy tales, very few actually earn the comparison. Then there is Roald Dahl. The late author of such classics as 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'The Witches' and 'Matilda,' it is irrefutable that this guy had one seriously demented imagination. I am sure I'm not the only person who, as a child, suffered more than one nightmare after reading Dahl's novels and short stories. Though ostensibly whimsical adventure tales, Dahl's work always read more like horror stories to me. Especially 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' With its demented Willy Wonka, his terrifying chocolate-coated lair and the gruesome fates meted out to the unsuspecting protagonists, this was no 'Bambi' -- it was the first pre-teen slasher movie.

By now, everyone knows the story. Little Charlie Bucket and his family are as poor as a church mouse. They live in a dilapitated shack on the edge of town, with little to look forward to beyond a loaf of bread for dinner. But a golden ticket is about to come into Charlie's life -- the mysterious Willy Wonka is holding the contest of a lifetime, the prize a guided tour of his fabled chocolate factory. Though there can be only five lucky winners, fate intervenes and Charlie joins four other decidedly less wholesome tots in what seems like a rousing adventure. But will they survive Wonka's most unique tests of courage and character, or perish in bizarre ways? And just what is the prize waiting for Charlie behind Wonka's candy cane-colored walls, anyway?

Since just about everyone has seen the original 1971 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (it is an adolescent rite of passage up there with 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Showgirls'), watching Tim Burton's "reimagining" of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is like a 115-minute comparison test. There are few surprises -- we know what is in store for our little contestants, and it ain't pretty -- so our memories of the original come into constant conflict with Burton's glossier, decidedly more surreal vision of the material. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but one thing that 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' isn't is fresh.

That said, Burton's changes to the material are numerous. Whereas 'Willy Wonka' was a musical (albeit one filled with black humor), it remained essentially lighthearted and fanciful. Burton's version feels less welcoming and far darker. He eliminates all the non-Oompa Loompa musical numbers, and hews far more closely to the book, which had an episodic structure with various flashbacks and narrative cul-de-sacs. The most significant addition he makes is to expand Willy Wonka's backstory. Burton has always been fascinated by the relationship of men with their fathers/mentors, and here Wonka gets a decidedly demented parental figure in the form of his dentist dad, Dr. Wonka (played by Christopher Lee). This shifts the film's primary thematic focus from Charlie to Wonka, which somewhat overstuffs the movie. (It also pays off poorly, as the film's ending is rather anticlimactic.) Ironically, the film achieves its greatest narrative tension out of our fear that Charlie's story is going to be swallowed whole by Burton's obsession with the neurotic Wonka.

Otherwise, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is largely successful in capturing the charm and wonderment of the original film while upgrading its technology for modern audiences. Visually, the film is magnificent. Technical credits across the board are top-notch, with production design impeccable, and the merging of practical and computer-generated effects virtually seamless. Burton's highly fantastical aesthetic sensibilities are, of course, an obvious match with Dahl's (I don't think anyone was surprised when it was announced that Burton would be tackling 'Charlie'), and he recreates some of the story's most well-known setpieces fabulously. The chocolate river, the squirrel attack, the Mike TeeVee laboratory -- these scenes are masterpieces of Hollywood movie magic. Perhaps they lack the chintzy charm of the original, but they are undeniably a sight to behold.

And let's not forget the film's greatest special effect, Johnny Depp. While Gene Wilder's portrayal of Wonka will always remain untouchable -- he was simultaneously charming, witty, scary and acerbic, but without seeming smug -- Depp does an intriguing take on the character that avoids parody. Depp, of course, is a very "quirky" actor -- and never predictable -- so his Wonka is something to see. To me it is not so much an interpretation of Michael Jackson (as some have speculated) as a bizarre channeling of one of those "cheesy used-car salesmen you see on local TV." His Wonka is, quite frankly, a total freak. Unpredictable and borderline unlikable, he takes the movie into territory the original never dared tread -- these kids seem genuinely terrified of Wonka, instead of fascinated. But even if Depp and Burton don't equal the appeal of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' -- almost impossible, given how steeped in our collective consciousness the film is -- their 'Charlie' is certainly a trip worth taking twice.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 771 [review_video] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' never looked that great on standard DVD. It was quite soft, fuzzy and spotty, so this HD DVD didn't have to do much to exceed it. Thankfully, this 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer doesn't even break a sweat trying, with a very attractive presentation that, though not perfect, is sure to tickle the fancy of Wonka fans everywhere.

Though the quality of the source material is the same -- indeed, I would be surprised if both the DVD and the HD DVD were not minted from the same master -- the upgrade to high-def is still noticeable. Most impressive is that colors are less noisy and plugged up. The film's many reds, purples and browns looked muddy and undefined on the standard-def release, but here hues are both more vibrant yet smoother. Though I still think they could have been toned down a tad to keep the transfer sharper and a bit more natural in appearance, the improvement is most appreciated.

Though black levels and contrast are about on par with the previous standard DVD release, detail is superior. There is far more depth to most scenes, especially the heavy CGI exteriors, which in standard def looked quite flat. The film's many expansive sets benefit from a far better apparent depth to the image, which helps to deliver the kind of three-dimensional image expected for such a recent film. However, I still was disappointed with the relatively weak shadow delineation. The fall-off to black is quite steep, and not helping matters are the ever-so-slightly oversaturated colors. Fleshtones also look fake and pasty -- most of the actors look like they are made of plastic, not flesh. I know the film's visual sensibilities are obviously skewed towards the artificial, but I still found it somewhat distracting. Otherwise, compression artifacts and posterization are not really a problem, though there is some noticeable (if not excessive) film grain throughout, which causes some solid areas of color to look rather jumpy.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Let me get my frustration out now -- 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes an isolated music-only track in Dolby TrueHD, yet the main feature is available in Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround only. Ummm, hello? Was there not enough space on the disc? Were the source elements not available to do a Dolby TrueHD mix on the actual soundtrack? Or was it just too expensive? Whatever the reason, the music-only track sounds so rich and pure and involving that it is hard not to be disappointed when switching over the Dolby Digital-Plus track. A total bummer.

That said, this is otherwise a perfectly fine audio presentation. The Dolby Digital-Plus track is encoded at 640kbps, and it serves the film well. All aspects of the mix are strong. Surrounds kick in often, with a full range of discrete effects popping around all four main channels, from various moving machinery to the gurgling chocolate to the pitter-patter of little Oompa Loompa feet. Dialogue is also firmly rooted, and even the weirder moments (some of things Johnny Depp says -- what on earth is he talking about?) remain crisp and defined.

However, I still have the same problem with this mix as I had on the previous DVD (as well as when I first saw the film during its theatrical run) -- the lyrics to the Oompa Loompa songs copme across as just unintelligible mush, and even at a decent volume I found them lost in the mix. I don't know if it is the tonal quality of the highly-processed voice of Oompa Loompa actor Deep Roy, or the fact that composer Danny Elfman's songs kinda suck anyway, but what should have been the aural highlight of the film instead remains its biggest disappointment.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 772 [review_supplements] =>

Warner originally released 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' in two versions on DVD, an anemic single-disc set and a more expansive two-disc edition. This HD DVD release includes all of the extras from the two-disc deluxe package, though this is another one of those cases where all the bulletpoints on the back of the box are somewhat less impressive than the content itself.

Similar to 'Batman Begins,' there is no audio commentary here. (Somewhat of a surprise, as director Tim Burton usually records them for the DVD versions of his flicks.) Instead, there are several making-of featurettes, those most of these are a bit too short for their own good.

My favorite featurette was actually the one that had the least to with the movie. "Fantastic Mr. Dahl" (17:40) was produced by the BBC, and features interviews with Dahl's widow and children about his writings. It is both surprising and fascinating to see how nondescript Dahl's working conditions were, which I guess proves it really is all about pure imagination. This one could have been an hour long, and I hope someday someone does produce a full-length documentary on Dahl -- his is definitely a life worth celebrating.

The rest of the featurettes are all making-of material, culled from a batch of on-set EPK interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The best place to start is "Making The Mix," which is actually divided into five sub-featurettes: "Chocolate Dreams" (6:57), with Burton discussing his vision of the story and sharing his early production sketches; "Different Faces, Different Flavors" (10:39) introduces to the film's talented young cast (most of whom are far more charming than their characters); "Sweet Sounds" (7:17) pays a visit to composer Danny Elfman (too bad I was pretty underwhelmed with the film's eventual score); "Designer Chocolate" (9:35) dissects the film's production design, which is undeniably fabulous and, as revealed here, pulled equally from American as well as European design aesthetics; and finally "Under the Wrapper" (6:58) gives us the skinny on some of the film's most famous effects, including the yummy chocolate river and poor Violet being turned into a giant blueberry.

The final two featurettes include "Attack of the Squirrels" (9:48), which for some reason gets quite a bit of behind-the-scenes time, even though I kinda thought many of the film's other effects were more interesting. Last but not least is "Becoming Oompa-Loompa" (7:16), which explains how Deep Roy was turned into a diminutive army via mechanical duplications and motion-control technology. No explanation is provided for why the Oompa Loompas no longer have green skin and orange hair.

Rounding out the extras are a few interactive games for kids. Learn the "Oompa-Loompa Dance," try to spot "The Bad Nut," create candy with "Wonka's Inventing Machine" or help five children on their "Search for the Golden Ticket." This is very, very simple stuff (the PlayStation 3 has nothing to worry about), but smaller tots might enjoy these.

Last in line is the film's theatrical trailer, presented here in 1080i video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 1.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 774 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' comes with another In-Movie Experience extravaganza, and it is certainly the most outlandish yet. The film's Oompa Loompa is our tour guide, and after a cute little animated introduction (in which Mr. Loompa dubs IME "television chocolate," whatever that means) we're treated to a stream of cutesy pop-up "factoids," plus brief cast and crew interview snippets, behind-the-scenes footage and samples of conceptual artwork and storyboards. It is all very colorful with nice little graphical overlays, and seems particularly geared towards kids.

However, I had the same problem here as I did with the IME feature on the recent 'Batman Begins.' The pace is just too slow, and often what feels like minutes will go by with no text, video or audio on the screen. I imagine kids might get quite bored by this quite fast, especially in our short-attention-span culture. I really love the idea of IME, but they need to be more packed with info if they are going to remain consistently engaging for two hours. I really liked Warner's graphical approach here, but the content just doesn't quite make it.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is a big-budget, effects-laden retelling of Roald Dahl's beloved classic. Does it capture the charm of the original 'Willy Wonka?' For my money, not quite. But I still enjoyed the ride a second time. This HD DVD release offers a very nice upgrade over the previous standard DVD release, with an improved transfer and soundtrack. However, the lack of a Dolby TrueHD track and a better In-Movie Experience feature is a bit of a disappointment. Still, 'Charlie' delivers very fine value for money, and considering that at list price this is a buck cheaper than the two-disc standard-def DVD release, you really can't go wrong picking this one up.

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• Music-only track
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_editors_notes] => Non format-specific portions of this review were originally published in our Blu-ray review of 'Corpse Bride.' [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 19 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

Expectations were high when Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride' hit theaters in the Fall of 2005. Coming almost a decade after 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which in the intervening years had become one of the most beloved cult films of our generation, 'Corpse Bride' had to do nothing less than match the quality and appeal of 'Christmas' or be seen as a disappointment. Unfortunately, though no letdown on the level of a 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'Corpse Bride' really didn't live up to all the anticipation, and after a quick run in theaters and a depressed $53 million domestic gross, it already seems to have been forgotten by most moviegoers.

Like all Tim Burton films, animated or not, 'Corpse Bride' tells the story of an outsider who, through a strange and magical adventure, will come out on the other side transformed. Our tale this time begins as we meet Victor Van Dort, who is engaged to be married but is suffering a very traumatic bout of cold feet. After butchering his lines at his wedding rehearsal, he is sent into the woods by his domineering family to practice his vows. Unfortunately, he performs them so perfectly in a mock ceremony that, when he places his ring on what looks like a twig on the ground, it turns out to be the hand of The Corpse Bride herself. Suddenly, Victor is already married -- even if she isn't quite of this world.

The muted reaction to 'Corpse Bride' is quite the shame, because as one of the apparently three people who has not seen 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' I went in with absolutely no preconceived notions. I found 'Corpse Bride' to be an utterly charming, often delightful film, one that borrows from many different animation and narrative traditions. There is Burton's decidedly dark sensibilities, of course, plus utterly gorgeous traditional stop-motion photography and a surprisingly liberal dose of Disney-like magic, especially in the cast of supporting sidekick characters. There is also excellent voice work by Burton regular Johnny Depp as our intrepid hero Victor, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Corpse Bride, plus a terrific all-star supporting cast that includes Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney and Christopher Lee.

Also a highlight is Danny Elfman's score, which to my ears is one of the best he has composed for a film. Again, I can't say how the songs in 'The Corpse Bride' stack up against 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' but in any case they are certainly superior to his disappointing tunes for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' Numbers like 'Remains of the Day,' 'Moon Dance' and 'The Wedding Song' are truly memorable toe-tappers, and the lyrics are never less than cute and sly.

I suppose it will always be too much to ask of 'Corpse Bride' that it equal 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which is now regarded as a modern classic. But taken on its own terms, it is hard to imagine anyone, regardless of age, not being delighted by the majority of this film. If nothing else, 'The Corpse Bride' is a must-see if only for its incredible stop-motion animation, which is truly a sight to behold. As far as I'm concerned, Tim Burton has done it again.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 768 [review_video] =>

'Corpse Bride' generated some controversy when it hit Blu-ray a few weeks ago, as it was not only the first stop-motion animated film to hit a next-gen high-def format, but it also marked the first time Warner had released a title on Blu-ray with no HD DVD counterpart announced. I for one never had much doubt that the studio would get around to releasing 'Corpse Bride' on HD DVD in due time, but regardless, the Blu-ray certainly looked terrific. But being as format-agnostic as I can, this HD DVD easily matches it. Warner has again utilized the identical master for both versions, as well as presenting each in 1080p/VC-1 video, and the results are a dead heat.

I suppose it goes without saying that 'Corpse Bride' is a dark film -- it does come from the mind of Tim Burton, after all. But dark doesn't mean grimy and depressing, and this 1.85:1 transfer is certainly nothing of the sort. The majority of the film's color palette is awash in deep purples and blues, as well as an array of grays, which this Blu-ray disc handles perfectly. Hues are always smooth, consistent and absolutely free of any noise or bleeding. Even the few more vibrant sequences which are splashed with bright reds, yellows and greens, such as Victor's first descent into the world of the Corpse Bride, boast excellent color stability.

Detail and depth are also master class. A noticeable improvement over the standard-def release, the finest details of the animation are clearly visible, from the fine etchings on picture frames to the flowing, intricate stitching of the Corpse Bride's bridal gown. I was also impressed by how three-dimensional the image appears. I don't recall a single shot ever looking anything less that eye-popping, and the transfer does not suffer from any inconsistencies in sharpness -- which is rather surprising for a stop-motion animated film, which often utilize CGI-assisted blurring and other trickery to help smooth out movement.

Lastly, there has been some controversy on the web recently about 'The Corpse Bride,' after some consumer reviews reported serious compression artifacts on the Blu-ray release, namely posterization on color gradations, dissolves and other optical effects. However, I found no such problems when I first reviewed that disc, just as I've found none again here. However, I did put both the Blu-ray and the HD DVD discs through their paces twice more, both on my new Sony KDS-R70XBR2 LCoS 1080p display (which will soon replace my HP Pavilion as my reference monitor), as well as a Panasonic plasma. I did detect some slight posterization, particularly the film's opening logo, on the plasma, though the Sony looked smooth as could be. I suspect the reported posterization problems are more than likely caused by a monitor's inability to reproduce subtle color gradations. But that's a hardware issue, not software. And on a film with such challenging color reproduction as 'Corpse Bride,' I am not surprised different monitors would produce such different results. Nevertheless, I can't knock either the Blu-ray or the HD DVD release of 'Corpse Bride' for that.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 769 [review_audio] =>

A great transfer gets a great soundtrack, too. I was quite impressed with the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX track on the Blu-ray release, which gets mirrored here on HD DVD in Dolby Digital-Plus. (Note that the soundtracks on both formats are encoded at the exact same bitrate of 640kbps, as the Blu-ray spec doesn't require the use of Dolby Digital-Plus designator except for recordings that utilize more than six channels, such as a 6.1 or 7.1 mix.)

What makes 'Corpse Bride' so effective here is that a very conscious decision was made to use the surrounds for more than tossed-away sound effects or meager score bleed. A full range and variety of sounds are directed to the rears, from full spoken dialogue to individual musical instruments to some percussive low bass "scary stingers." The result is a terrific sense of envelopment, with the full 360-degree soundfield always alive with sound. Technically, the track is just as good, with excellent dynamic range that is wide and spacious, and imaging between channels that sounds just about transparent. Crank up 'The Corpse Bride' and you won't be disappointed.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

'Corpse Bride' on HD DVD is predictably packed with extras, containing all of the same supplements that were included on the Blu-ray and standard-def releases. It's an all-around great package of goodies that's pretty comprehensive and sure to please fans of the film.

As there is no audio commentary track included per se (see more below on that), it is up to the eight making-of featurettes to carry the disc's supplements. As always they can be a mixed bag with some redundant information here and there, and sometimes a narrow focus on the technical, but all told it is a fairly comprehensive package.

"Inside the Two Worlds," "Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds" and "Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light" are, combined, a pretty good overview of the basic development of the film's story by its creative team. Burton and Elfman are of course the stars here, and despite a bit of overlap between these three featurettes, it adequately covers all the basics of the original concept, the characters and the songs.

Next up are "The Animators: The Breath of Life," "Making Puppets Tick" and "'Corpse Bride' Pre-production Galleries." More technical in nature, I found these the most fascinating, but again, I haven't seen 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' DVD, which I've been told treads much of this same ground. But as a newbie, I found this stuff fresh and interesting, and I'm still amazed anyone has the patience to sit there and pose six-inch-tall models frame-by-frame for the years it takes to complete a stop-motion animated picture. Call me officially impressed.

Finally, we get two final featurettes on the voice talent, "Voices from the Underground" and "The Voices Behind the Voice." The latter is particularly fascinating, as it is just a straight split-screen montage of the cast recording their dialogue next to the final filmed scene. It is really cool to see how the actors work off each other, and how amazing some of these performers are at creating such vivid characters with just subtle changes in their vocal stylings and delivery.

Rounding out the extras is a music-only track (sans vocals) in Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround. Though not an audio commentary, it is a great to have what is essentially a soundtrack CD for free, and it is on part in terms of fidelity to the film proper. And last but not least is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in 480p video and widescreen.

Rounding out the weak package of supplements is the film's theatrical trailer.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 770 [review_bonus_content] =>

Disappointingly, there are no exclusive HD extras. Certainly, an "In-Movie Experience" feature would have been most welcome here. However, we get Warner's usual pan-and-zoom feature, custom bookmarks and runtime meter, so I'll give this one a free half-a-star for that.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Despite hearing some negative things about 'Corpse Bride' before this review -- namely, that it does not equal Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' -- I was pleasantly surprised that I felt no such disappointment. 'The Corpse Bride' is a charming, emotional and memorable film that is well worth seeing regardless of age. After debuting on Blu-ray a few weeks back, the film impresses just as equally on HD DVD. A winner across the board with a great transfer, soundtrack and plenty of extras, there is little reason to not pick this one up -- even if you already own the film on standard-def DVD.

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If you grew up in the early 1980s, then 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' was a rite of passage. Like all classic films about growing up, such as 'Rebel Without a Cause,' 'The Graduate,' 'American Graffiti' and 'The Breakfast Club,' it defined an era and remains an indelible artifact of its time. It created now-classic character archetypes -- who can forget Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli, the ultimate stoned-out surfer dude? -- and was pitch-perfect in capturing the way real teenagers talked, the clothes they wore and the kind of music they listened to. And twenty-five years on, it still holds up as a highly entertaining, perceptive comedy, one that new generations of teenagers continue to rediscover on video and cable.

'Fast Times' began life as an article that a young music journalist named Cameron Crowe was contracted to write for Rolling Stone magazine. Infiltrating an average American high school in Ridgemont, Illinois, the material he collected over the course of a year ended up being so strong he turned it into a book instead. That formed the basis for the movie, directed by future 'Clueless' helmer Amy Heckerling. Though events are distilled considerably from the novel, Crowe's screenplay retains its basic characters and relationships, which gives it a leg up on most of its fellow teen films, such as 'American Graffiti' and 'Dazed & Confused.' Rather than a narrative that meanders, 'Fast Times' takes recognizable teen archetypes and gives each a nice little emotional arc. No, nothing that happens in 'Fast Times' is, in hindsight, all that dramatic, but then that's the beauty of high school -- at the time a pimple seems of monumental importance. All 'Fast Times' does is observe the mundane realities of being a teenager with great sensitivity and humor, which is why it remains so universal and resonant.

'Fast Times' also launched the careers of many a major star, including Penn, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold, as well as Crowe and Heckerling. Yet aside from Penn, none of the performances are larger-than-life. No one is out to have their big scene or win an Academy Award. Natural, fresh-faced and appealing, the cast often underplay their scenes, and it's a refreshing change from many of today's up-and-coming actors who often look they are posing for a fashion spread on the WB, all smug smirks and false irony.

Watching 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' again on HD DVD for this review -- it has been several years since I've seen the film -- I was also reminded how shocking it once seemed. Though topics such as promiscuous teenage sex, abortion and positive drug use are commonplace today even on the most innocuous TV show, that's due in large part to movies like 'Fast Times.' Though a bit raunchy at times, this is no 'Porkys.' The sensitivity of Heckerling and Crowe is obvious -- they simply depict the issues that teens of 1982 faced on a daily basis, and if the film is not always upbeat, it is also never exploitative or titillating. I expect 'Fast Times' won't date anytime soon -- or at least as long as teenagers still have to be teenagers. Which will likely be forever.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 364 [review_video] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' is another HD DVD/DVD combo release from Universal, here a HD-15/DVD-9 double-sided disc. However, as there are no extra features at all on the HD side, nor much in the way of extensive soundtrack options, the reduced disc space is not a huge drawback. In fact, 'Fast Times' looks much better than I expected. No, it is not absolutely fantastic, but it's certainly a sharp presentation for a film now twenty-five years old.

The source print is in healthy shape. Grain is readily apparent throughout if unobtrusive, and consistent aside from optical shots (namely the opening credits) which look slightly dirtier. There are also a few minor instances of hair-thin scratches and dropouts, but again it is nothing excessive. More problematic, however, are that colors appear too saturated and artificial. The image looks vibrant -- I certainly don't remember 'Fast Times' looking anything but drab on video prior -- but colors sometimes smear and suffer from chroma noise. Reds in particular are distracting, and any solid areas of color tend to look fuzzy. Fleshtones, too, tend to veer towards the red end of the scale at time, though generally they remain a proper shade of orange.

Otherwise, the rest of the transfer is surprisingly good. Blacks are solid throughout and contrast relatively smooth across the entire grayscale. Shadow delineation is a bit weak, but nothing out of the ordinary for a film of this vintage. Depth is better than I anticipated -- the image can look surprisingly three-dimensional, especially brightly-lit scenes, which often boast noticeable fine detail even in far-away background shots. Compression artifacts are also not a problem, as I noticed no real posterization or pixelation. Aside from the wonky colors, I was generally impressed with 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' on HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' gets a new Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at a healthy 1.5mbps) on HD DVD, but it really doesn't offer much improvement. Quite frankly, 'Fast Times' was a low-budget teen comedy with sound design almost completely lacking in any sort of envelopment. And there is only so much you can do with elements twenty-five years old, so don't expect this soundtrack to rock your world.

The mix is almost entirely front heavy. Even stereo effects are minimal, with only the film's many '80s-era rock and pop songs benefiting from any kind of noticeable separation. In fact, aside from the music I counted probably half a dozen discrete effects total in the surrounds -- usually a bit of bleed such as the sound of a car engine, or some minor crowd noise in the mall scenes. And that's it. Don't expect much in the way of dynamic range, either, with a somewhat flat sound and anemic low bass.

Dialogue is nicely reproduced throughout the film, however, and far superior to all those old crappy videotapes and cable airings I used to watch as a kid. Sometimes ADR is fairly obvious, but the tonal quality of the soundtrack is consistent and always clear.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 366 [review_supplements] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' finally got the special edition treatment on DVD back in 1999, much to the delight of the film's longtime fans. And if not as extensive as some of Universal's other collector's editions, it was still a nice package of extras that reunited many of the film's key cast and crew. (Note that all of the extras are included only on the standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo disc -- even the audio commentary -- which is quite annoying. Please, stop with these combos already!)

First up is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe. It's a very entertaining listen. As you 'Fast Times' scholars know, Crowe was originally hired to write an article on the state of the American high schooler, circa 1980, for Rolling Stone magazine. That became the book 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' then the movie. Crowe touches upon that experience often, and proved instrumental to helping Heckerling in casting, directing and editing the film. Even if you are a not a huge fan of the film this track is well worth a listen, as Crowe's journey is fascinating in and of itself. (Note an oddity about the commentary: on the HD DVD side, the track is edited at the end to fade out after the credits. However, on the DVD side, Heckerling and Crowe talk for a good seven or eight additional minutes. So if you really want to hear the full commentary, listen to it on the DVD side of the disc.)

Crowe and Heckerling return again in the 30-minute, awkwardly-titled documentary "Reliving Our 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High.'" They are joined by quite an impressive cast list, including Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stolz, Brian Backer and Richard Romanus. It is always a bit of a shock to see old friends you grew up with today, and all have fairly fond memories of working on the film. My only caveats are the almost complete lack of any behind-the-scenes production footage or audition material, as well as the absence of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates. Who knows why they declined to participate, but it's a shame nonetheless as the doc is a bit lacking without them.

Rounding out the extras is "The Hangouts Of Ridgemont High," an interactive video map of the fictional Ridgemont. Unfortunately, it offers no new behind-the-scenes material, just short little clips of scenes featuring the film's most-remembered locations. Also included are some production notes and the film's theatrical trailer.

Though this is a pretty good package of extras, I do still have one major gripe. None of the deleted scenes that routinely pop up in the television edits of the film are included, an omission I wanted to be rectified with this HD DVD. I've read an interview with director Amy Heckerling where she made it clear she never liked the scenes, but since they are so commonplace on TV it seems odd not to include them anyway. As Spicoli would say, how totally bogus.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 365 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing extra here, though given the slimness of the standard-def extras, this isn't much of a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' is one of the most beloved teen comedies of the 1980s, and it continues to make new fans today. This is a nice HD DVD release, if nothing truly special -- the transfer offers a solid upgrade over the standard-def DVD, though the soundtrack and extras are hardly new. Still, worth considering for a purchase, especially if you don't already own the film on disc.

) ) [5] => Array ( [review_id] => 21 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => polarexpress [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Polar Express [picture_created] => 1158731067 [picture_name] => the-polar-express-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/the-polar-express-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/21/polarexpress.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2004 [run_time] => 100 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000I2JKCO [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683107 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 5-Part Documentary [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Music Video [3] => Interactive Game [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Animation [2] => Family [3] => Fantasy [4] => Musical ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Peter Scolari [1] => Nona Gaye [2] => Eddie Deezen [3] => Leslie Harter Zemeckis [4] => Tom Hanks ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Robert Zemeckis ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus's home. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Additional scene: "Smokey and Steamer"
• 5-Part Documentary: "Ticket to Ride"
• 4 Featurettes: "You Look Familiar: The Many 'Polar Faces' of Tom Hanks," "True Inspirations: An Author's Adventure - Profiling Chris Van Allsburg," "Behind the scenes of 'Believe'" and "Meet the Snow"
• Music video
• Interactive game: "'Polar Express' Challenge"
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Polar Express.' [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 20 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

I have to admit that at first I was scared to see 'The Polar Express.' Between its images of a seemingly mummified Tom Hanks and all these little computer-generated tykes with their pasty faces and zombie eyes, the trailer quite honestly made it look less like a heartwarming family film and more like some sort of North Pole of the Damned.

But lo and behold, when the family finally dragged me out to see the flick a couple of years ago, somehow I survived the experience without suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Though I can't say I found the film as "wondrous" and "dazzling" as its marketing promised, after a while the film's motion control capture CGI began to blur into abstraction and I was ultimately able to immerse myself in the story. Still, 'The Polar Express' remains a film that's constantly in danger of its visual style overwhelming its subject matter, and the latter only barely ekes out a victory by film's end.

The story itself should be familiar to many, as it is based on the popular illustrated children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Looking back, I suppose the book always had the makings of a classic Christmas movie stamped all over it -- simple, universal, full of exciting action-adventure setpieces, and what kid doesn't love Santa Claus? The story concerns itself with "Hero Boy" (Tom Hanks, performing one of six different roles), a little Scrooge-in-the-making who has no use for Santa Claus and pre-sold holiday cheer. But then, on the night before Christmas, a mysterious locomotive pulls up in front of Hero Boy's house. Driven by the mysterious Conductor (Hanks again), the train whisks Hero Boy and a dozen other young travelers away on the journey of a lifetime. Overcoming all manner of thrills and spills on their way to the North Pole, ultimately our little Doubting Thomas will come face-to-face with Saint Nick, and will at last learn the true meaning of Christmas.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the film's target audience, but I'm also not immune to the powers of such fare. Unfortunately, 'The Polar Express' failed to cast a spell on me personally. Although the story itself may be enduring, taken in the context of a million other Christmas movies, it's a bit of a shopworn cliche. In fact, arguably the only thing truly "new" about the film is its technology, and like all effects-driven movies the shelf life of this stuff is short.

Even worse, ultimately the film fails to deliver where so many other modern flicks of its sort excel. Without giving away of the film's secrets, the moral of the story more or less boils down to the idea that Christmas rocks because you get presents. Forgive me, but I expected something a bit deeper. What about the value of selflessness? Sharing? Caring? Giving without receiving? Quite frankly, the morose, self-involved little brats riding 'The Polar Express' deserved to spend their Christmas Day working in a soup kitchen, not walking away with a new iPod.

All cynicism aside, 'The Polar Express' is certainly still a fun ride. Though nothing in a home theater environment will rival seeing the film in IMAX 3-D, it's hard to imagine kids not enjoying the spectacle of this film. The train-as-rollercoaster-scene, the slide ride at the North Pole present factory and the big finale are all thrilling sequences, and overall the film's visuals are a sight to behold. Though I found 'The Polar Express' emotionally hollow, I can't say I didn't enjoy taking in the sheer majesty of its technical achievement.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 934 [review_video] =>

The advertising campaign for 'The Polar Express' focused heavily on the film's pioneering animation, much to the exclusion of everything else. Created entirely in the computer realm, the actors where photographed using motion-control technology, which produced the most photo-realistic humans ever seen in an all-CGI feature. I personally find the technique quite unsettling, as everyone looks ghost-like and zombie-fied, with hollowed eyes and weird, ethereal movements. But apparently many others love this stuff.

However, technically, 'The Polar Express' is a beautiful-looking film. It certainly was magnificent when I saw it in IMAX 3-D a couple of years ago. Though the previous standard-def DVD was a very solid effort, it is pretty hard to match the IMAX experience. But now we have this HD DVD release, which definitely takes us one step closer. If nothing else, this is likely the best this film will ever look outside of a gargantuan, 50-foot-plus IMAX screen.

Presented in 1080p/VC-1 video and the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, 'The Polar Express' is visually captivating for its entire 100-minute runtime. As a direct-to-digital transfer, of course the source material is absolutely flawless. Physical imperfections such as dropouts, blemishes, dirt and grain just don't exist in this world. And since every last pixel of the picture was created entirely in a computer, the image has that impossibly stable and consistent look that only animated features can have.

That said, the transfer has a somewhat misty sheen to it that is entirely intentional. This may not be absolutely razor-sharp like some other animated features, but it faithfully replicates both of the theatrical showings of the film I saw. And make no mistake, it is a very sharp, detailed picture. Depth is often exquisite, with even the most minute image details apparent, from texture on snowflakes in wide shots to the finely-crafted buildings and landscapes of the North Pole. Texture, too, is often extraordinary for a CGI-animated film. The various clothing, such as the felt and fur of Santa's suit, are amazingly life-like and realistic.

If I have any hesitation in giving this one top marks, it is because I tend to prefer colors that are not too pumped up. 'The Polar Express' teeters on the brink of being oversaturated. However, I saw no chroma noise or bleeding even on the toughest hues, such as the rich reds of Santa's outfit. The majority of the film also boasts incredibly rich "fleshtones," as oranges bath the characters in an almost heavenly glow. I also admired the rich blue-purples of the nighttime scenes, and the the film's third act at the North Pole is flush with a wide palette of gorgeous primary colors.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 946 [review_audio] =>

Alas, Warner has produced no new Dolby TrueHD mix for 'The Polar Express.' It is the only real disappointment on an otherwise strong disc, as this film's soundtrack is a complete artificial construction from the ground-up and is a real stunner. Like the image, here is a movie that never sounds a false note, and some of the more exciting setpieces deliver the kind of enveloping, 360-degree sonic experience tailor-made to show off a home theater.

That said, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 640kbps) that we do get is quite good. Though not a monumental upgrade over the standard Dolby Digital track on the previous DVD, the soundfield is a bit more open and spacious. The rear channels are particularly impressive with subtle and discrete sounds. I was often amazed at how life-like and immersive the various train sounds felt, whether the humming metal or the puff-puff-puff of its steam engine. A couple of sequences really stand out, noticeably the train-as-rollercoaster crash, and the kids sliding through the chutes of the toy factory. Imaging here is fabulous, and I felt surrounded by a near wall-of-sound almost constantly. Really fun stuff.

Technical aspects of the mix are also excellent. Dynamic range and low-bass extension impress, with the chugging of the train a particular highlight. Alan Silvestri's score is also very nicely balanced throughout the film, and especially fills out the front speakers to great effect. The film's somewhat eerie dialogue (sorry, the voices of the characters are just as creepy as their faces) is always front and center in the mix, and I never once had to do any volume adjustment to compensate.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 935 [review_supplements] =>

Is this a trend? All of Warner's big A-list HD DVD releases streeting this week (including 'Batman Begins' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory') lack audio commentary tracks. 'The Polar Express' doesn't break that streak, and the entire supplement package rests on the shoulders of a series of short featurettes that are largely technical in nature.

The heart of the making-of material focuses exclusively on the film's motion-control capture technology. "You Look Familiar" shows Tom Hanks wearing a funny suit with little pinpoints on it, so his movements could be inputted into a computer. Hanks also had to act with himself, as he played most of the roles in the movie. I know some people find the actor annoying, but this featurette certainly showcases his considerable talents. This couldn't have been easy.

"A Genuine Ticket to Ride" is really a five-part breakdown of the production of the film's effects. Hosted by uber-geek Eddie Deezen (a long-time Robert Zemeckis regular, though he's perhaps best known for having been in 'Grease'), it is informative if sometimes dry, and personally, a little of this stuff goes a long way for me. I would have liked to heard more about the film's themes and story, but whatever. The five categories covered are: Performance Capture," "Virtual Camera," "Hair and Wardrobe," "Creating the North Pole" and "Music."

"True Inspirations," then, is refreshing, a 14-minute visit with author Chris Van Allsburg. As well as 'The Polar Express,' he also created the worlds for 'Jumanji' and 'Zathura,' and he seems to be a man of heart and character. After all the technical mumbo-jumbo, it is refreshing to watch something about 'The Polar Express' that is actually about real human beings. Somewhat ironic, no?

Rounding out the extras are some odds and ends. "Josh Groban at the Greek" is an encore performance by the famous singer of the film's closing song. A bit too syrupy for me. "Meet the Snow Angels" is nice featurette that collects various cast and crew reflections on their favorite holiday experiences. Sweet and good natured. Finally, there is also a half-unfinished deleted song, "Smokey and the Steamer." A mix of animated footage, storyboards and animatics, the late Michael Jeter sang both of the song's vocal parts, and it is a pretty good tune, though nothing that wasn't wisely cut.

Last but not least, we have an interactive game for the kiddies, "'The Polar Express' Challenge," and the film's theatrical trailer presented in 1080i video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 936 [review_bonus_content] =>

Despite the wealth of bonus material already produced for 'The Polar Express' and the kid-friendly nature of the movie, Warner has surprisingly elected to not produce an In-Movie Experience feature or any other HD exclusive content for 'The Polar Express.' So much for holiday cheer. (However, Warner has included their usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.)

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Polar Express' tries with every last fiber of its being to be a new perennial holiday classic. I found the film to be a bit too emotionally distant and flat to truly succeed at that lofty goal, but whatever the case, it's visually spectacular. This HD DVD is a fairly solid release from Warner, with a great transfer and all of the same supplements as the two-disc DVD version. Though I would have liked a Dolby TrueHD track and some exclusive HD content, I can't argue that this one doesn't offer great value for money.

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• Deleted Scenes
• Music Video: "Bad Girl" by Tyrese [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 139 [review_movie_stars] => 1.5 [review_movie] =>

'Waist Deep' is the kind of movie I dread reviewing. Being a Midwestern white boy from the suburbs whose first (and so far only) rap album owned is the Beastie Boys' "License to Ill," the world of the "urban street drama" is about as far away from my experience as is possible. So when I see movies like 'Waist Deep' and find them humorous and campy, I'm sure I hold about as much credibility as Dr. Josef Mengele writing a one-star review of 'Schindler's List.'

But however hollow my guffaws might ring, I did nothing but chuckle and cringe throughout 'Waist Deep.' Here's a s movie that strains for significance but only ends up reveling in cliches. Worse, it seems to wallow in the kind of cheap, exploitative violence its story and characters spend the whole movie arguing against. I suppose if it wasn't so stylishly derivative and admittedly entertaining, I might have had more time to be offended.

Tyrese Gibson stars as O2, an ex-con only one strike away from spending life back in prison. But fresh out of the slammer, he's determined to go straight and give his young son, Junior (H. Hunter Hall) the better life he never had. But after the explosive opener when Junior kidnapped in a bloody carjacking, O2 is drawn back to violence and on the lam. With few options, O2 enlists the aid of beautiful hustler named Coco (Meagan Good), who was peripherally involved in the carjacking, to track down Big Meat (rapper The Game), a vicious local thug who likes to chop off the body parts off his enemies with a machete. Meat demands that O2 come up with $100,000 within 48 hours if he wants his son back in one piece. So O2 and Coco take to the streets and stage a series of bank robberies to pay for Junior's freedom.

'Waist Deep' might not have been as problematic if it didn't aspire to be more than just a stylish, exploitative B-movie. Instead, director Vondie Curtis Hall strives for resonance and social commentary, adding a variety of questionable touches to what on paper is standard crime flick fodder. Was Hall being anything but ironic by staging O2 and Coco's crime spree on the same days leading up to a local "Save Our Streets" anti-violence rally? Are we really supposed to align our sympathies with the whining O2 and Coco, two damaged people who go on and on about ending the bloodshed by turning themselves into a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde? (Conveniently, of course, no innocent people are killed during their gun-toting crime spree -- see, they're just misunderstood!) And then there is the movie's moronic conclusion, which is too hilarious to spoil -- you just gotta see it to believe that the filmmakers actually expected us to buy it.

Add to all this Curtis Hall's cribbed visual style -- there isn't an MTV cliche he doesn't miss -- which leaves 'Waist Deep' looking like a dozen other, better urban dramas. Which is a bit of a surprise, because even though Curtis Hall directed the legendary Mariah Carey boondoggle 'Glitter,' he has gone on to helm some very fine episodic television, including 'Sleeper Cell,' 'The Shield' and 'E/R.' Given his recent track record, I hoped for and expected a little more originality and substance out of this one.

What keeps 'Waist Deep' from completely falling into the dumpster are Gibson and Good. Even if Denzel Washington and Halle Berry have nothing to worry about, the pair manage to create a genuine chemistry onscreen and invest their character's cliched backstories with a believable pathos. Still, there is only so much they can do with such poorly conceived material. Perhaps I would have respected 'Waist Deep' a bit more if it had surrounded them with a more credible plot and less hollow politicking. Here is a movie supposedly all about personal choices, yet it implies that its two main characters have only one. There is a potentially thought-provoking and honest story in here somewhere trying to get out, but instead we end up with another one of those irritating violence-filled exploitation movies that preach anti-violence. 'Waist Deep,' indeed -- in hypocrisy.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 964 [review_video] =>

Universal has produced another HD DVD/DVD combo release for 'Waist Deep,' this one a HD-15/DVD-9 double-sided disc. This 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks nice, with a clean, stylized picture that suits the film well.

I found the film's visual style cliched, so I guess this transfer's slightly overpumped colors and contrasted image are appropriate. Colors are smooth and free of chroma noise, but sometimes the heavy use of filters leaves the transfer artificial in appearance. Fleshtones often look a bit too orange (especially daylight scenes), but I guess the MTV generation likes this kind of stuff nowadays? Whites can sometimes blow out a bit, but again it appears intentional. The image as a result is somewhat soft, but overall detail is still very good. The transfer boasts considerable depth throughout, with even darker interiors appearing at least somewhat three dimensional. And as expected with a new release, the print is in pristine shape with no blemishes or other anomalies to report.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Waist Deep' gets the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround/1.5mbps treatment, and despite the high bitrate it is not an overwhelming sonic assault. A mid-budgeted affair, the film's sound design has moments of flash and panache, though it sometimes misses prime opportunities for a truly involving experience.

The most prominent element of the soundtrack is the hip-hop song score. The tunes come across most forcefully in the mix, and are often pumped up in volume over the dialogue and effects (and all but obliterate the proper score by Kon Artis and Terence Blanchard. Surround bleed is rather nice on the songs, though effects are surprisingly lacking. We get some gunfire and the occasional speeding car directed to the rears, but otherwise the soundtrack lacks atmosphere. At least dynamics are solid, with nice low-bass extension on the songs, and natural-sound dialogue. Again, no great shakes here (this is no 'Fast and the Furious'), but perfectly listenable nonetheless.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 532 [review_supplements] =>

'Waist Deep' is another of Universal's HD DVD/DVD combos, which I'm not too big a fan of. I hate having to flip the disc over to access the bonus features, and I don't really understand what a high-def consumer would want with a standard-def version of the film anyway.

As for this disc's extras, they are pretty slim. Two featurettes only run a combined 12 minutes total, and are hardly in-depth. "Analysis of a Scene" dissects the opening kidnap sequence, from staging a considerable number of set-ups in a single day to wrangling hundreds of extras. "Drive-By Filmmaking," meanwhile, is not about filming at McDonalds but a look at the various cars featured in the film. Why they chose this aspect of the film to highlight above all others (how about the story, or the cast?) is rather curious.

The only other major extra of note is 13 minutes of Deleted Scenes and a few random outtakes. There actually is a considerable subplot here that was snipped out involving two detectives, which I kinda liked. But perhaps, like most of the film, it was too cliched to include.

Rounding out the package is a music video for the song "Bad Girl" by Black Buddafly. No theatrical trailers or other previews are included.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nuthin' here. Unless you count Universal's crap HD DVD plain-jane menus as a bonus feature.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 533 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Waist Deep' is a fairly straightforward "urban" street drama, one that doesn't have much new to say beyond cliches. As for this HD DVD/DVD combo, what it does it does well, though that's minimal. The nice transfer and vibey soundtrack deliver, though the supplements are pretty wimpy. If you're a fan of the genre 'Waist Deep' is worth checking out, though a better bet for urban newbies might be such recent HD DVD releases like 'Four Brothers.'

) ) [7] => Array ( [review_id] => 100 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => willywonkaandthechocolatefactory [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [picture_created] => 1158730344 [picture_name] => willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/100/willywonkaandthechocolatefactory.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1971 [run_time] => 98 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000IXZ7M0 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1217056 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround [2] => Span ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Featurette [2] => Sing-Along [3] => Still Gallery [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Comedy [2] => Family [3] => Musical ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Roy Kinnear [1] => Jack Albert [2] => Peter Ostrum [3] => Gene Wilder ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Mel Stuart ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => A poor boy wins the oppurtunity to tour the most eccentric and wonderful candy factory of all. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio commentary with all five "Wonka Kids"
• Featurette: "Pure Imagination"
• Sing-along
• Still gallery
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 4.5 [review_movie] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' is the scariest children's movie ever made. One can only imagine the horrified faces of parents in 1971 who took their children to see what they though would be just another G-rated tale of wonder and instead go the first slasher flick for the preteen set. Watch as five unsuspecting contest winners get picked off one by one, all set to the beat of toe-tapping tunes like "Pure Imagination." That 'Wonka's candy-colored wonderland ultimately resembles not so much a magical world of whimsy but a makeshift purgatory only adds to the demented fun. Never has a family entertainment been this subversive and sublime.

Based on the much-beloved 1964 novel "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl, the retitled 'Willy Wonka' was a box office bust upon first release but quickly became a perennial favorite via endless television airings. Dahl's dark satire has been cited as a major influence on everyone form Tim Burton (who remade the film himself in 2005 as 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory') to shock rocker Marilyn Manson, and Gene Wilder's living embodiment of Wonka has become iconic. A sort of dark doppelganger to Santa Claus, he relishes in his grim task of deciding who's been naughty and who's been nice. But with the help of his demented band of Oompa-Loompas, Wonka's hidden agenda will be made clear by journey's end. Each of the handpicked five has a lesson to learn, but not all children, when put to the test, will rise to the challenge.

Far more than even Burton's big-budget update, the original 'Willy Wonka' distills the essence of a Grimm's fairy to the purest form ever seen onscreen. The film is a visual and aural delight, its fantastic visuals masking a deeper, darker sensibility. Harper Goff's imaginative designs for Wonka's factory are colorful, surreal masterpieces of ingenuity and invention (remember the candy-flavored wallpaper, or Wonka's office, where everything is cut in half?), and we breathlessly await the wonders to come around every corner. Rarely has a film's production design created a suspense of its own, just be simply being. Also memorable are the songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, which are infused with a truly glorious child-like wonder, from the signature "Candy Man" and "Pure Imagination" to the creepy, nursery rhyme-like dirges of the Oompa-Loompas.

But what galvanizes the film is Wilder, who delivers one of his finest performances as the mischievous and seemingly sadistic Wonka. Bittersweet, not saccharine, he smartly avoids playing Wonka as typical Disneyesque father figure (a problem Burton's remake forgot) but instead as an all-knowing, ultimately benevolent guardian angel. Wilder understands, like Dahl, that although we may want life to always be as sweet as an Everlasting Gobstopper, eventually the pure innocence of youth must give way to the darker realities of adulthood. And that the gift of a golden ticket can be dangerous in the hands of the greedy, the lazy, the selfish and the impatient.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 947 [review_video] =>

Warner Home Video originally released 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' on DVD back in 1997 with rather mediocre video, then followed that up with the announcement in 2001 of a 30th Anniversary Edition -- in full frame only. The news quickly drew ire from DVD enthusiasts on the Internet, who wanted a deluxe 'Wonka' in widescreen. The backlash became so fierce that a virtual petition amassed thousands of signatures in a mere few days. Warner soon relented, and Mr. Wonka himself would have been proud.

This new HD DVD version appears to have been minted from that same 2001 master (even the bits of dust and dirt match exactly), so the source material is technically dated. Despite that, and though perhaps not a frame-for-frame restoration on the level of Warner's top-tier titles like 'Citizen Kane,' 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Singin' in the Rain,' this 1080p/VC-1 transfer of 'Willy Wonka' still looks good enough to lick. Colors are as sweet as cotton candy, and certainly improved over the standard-def release. Even the lushest reds, purples and greens free from bleeding and chroma noise. Detail is also raised up a notch, with Harper Goff's immense sets revealing finer details even in long shots, while even the smallest hairs on the purple pelt of Willy Wonka's coat are readily apparent.

However, there is some inconsistency in softness throughout the transfer, with some shots appearing a bit less detailed than others. Dirt and print defects are still present, especially any sequence involving an optical effect (the all-white walls during the Mike TeeVee segment are hit particularly hard). Blacks and contrast also waver just a little, again during effects sequences, with isolated moments washed out or flat. But these are minor quibbles for a film now enjoying its 35th anniversary, and Willy Wonka looks just dandy in high def.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Warner presents 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' in Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 (encoded at 640kbps), but quite frankly the boost matters little. Even the 2001 remaster, as nice as it was, could do little for a film this front heavy.

The majority of 'Willy Wonka' is directed to the front three channels. Dialogue is nicely reproduced for a film of this vintage, and gone is all the crackling and shrill high-end that marred the first DVD and the old videotape releases. The film's music score, too, is richer, with far more spacious mid-range and some nice stereo effects present on vocals and specific instruments. Low bass is still pretty anemic, however. Surround use is also lacking, and save for the vary rare discrete effect there is little sonic atmosphere to enjoy. There is certainly no mistaking this for a modern mix, but 'Willy Wonka' is perfectly listenable nonetheless.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 948 [review_supplements] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' has always appealed to adults as much as, if not more than, children, a fact which Warner finally understood when it re-released the film in a 30th Anniversary Edition DVD back in 2001. That release boasted a nice assortment of tasty treats, which were largely free of the inane fluff that usually mars family titles on disc. And all have survived the journey to HD DVD.

Reunited for a group audio commentary are all five of the film's golden ticket winners: Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard), Paris Themmen (Mike TeeVee) and Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop). Their reunion is a real treat, as much a chance to marvel at the passage of time as to revel in the amusing anecdotes shared by all. All five also join in for the 30-minute documentary "Pure Imagination," along with director Mel Stuart, producer Donald P. Wolper and Gene Wilder. Recounted is the story of how the film was largely dismissed upon its original theatrical release, but has since become a part of the cultural vernacular. A smattering of never-before-seen footage also includes a few surprises, including the late Anthony Newley unveiling the song "Pure Imagination" to Wolper, and a rare peek at the construction of the Goff's now-classic factory sets. Plus it's totally wild to see the Wonka kids all grown up. This one is a must for nostalgia-holics.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Hardly scrumpdillyicious is the lack of any exclusive HD content. The somewhat inferior 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at least got an In-Movie Experience feature, so why not 'Willy Wonka?' At least Warner gives us the usual custom bookmark, interactive timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' is a classic that needs no introduction. Warner has put together a tasty HD DVD, with a luscious transfer, a perfectly respectable soundtrack and the same extras as the standard DVD release. No, nothing here pushes the boundaries of the format or offers much that is new, but 'Willy Wonka' is never less than a tasty treat.

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 161 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => armyofdarkness [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Army of Darkness (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1159000255 [picture_name] => army-of-darkness.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/army-of-darkness.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/161/armyofdarkness.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1993 [run_time] => 81 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000GIXIBY [amazon_price] => 23.95 [empire_id] => 1172415 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480i/MPEG-2 (DVD Side Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Adventure [2] => Comedy [3] => Fantasy [4] => Horror ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Bruce Campbell [1] => Embeth Davidtz [2] => Marcus Gilbert [3] => Ian Abercrombie [4] => Richard Grove ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Sam Raimi ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => In this sequel to the Evil Dead films, a discount-store employee ("Name's Ash. Housewares.") is time-warped to a medieval castle beset by monstrous forces. Initially mistaken for an enemy, he is soon revealed as the prophecised savior who can quest for the Necronomicon, a book which can dispel the evil. Unfortunately, he screws up the magic words while collecting the tome, and releases an army of skeletons, led by his own Deadite counterpart. What follows is a thrilling, yet tongue-in-cheek battle between Ash's 20th Century tactics and the minions of darkness. [preview_technology_specifications] => • TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => On March 30, 2007, Universal announced that it planned to discontinue production of this HD DVD/DVD combo edition of 'Army of Darkness,' and instead re-issue the film as a non-combo HD DVD release. For details on the re-issued HD DVD edition of 'Army of Darkness,' click here. [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 54 [review_movie_stars] => 2 [review_movie] =>

It's no secret that genre fans generally have a strong distate for the mixing of horror and comedy. Films like 'Scream,' 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,' 'Return of the Living Dead,' and the recent rash of PG-13-rated spook-fests have all come under heavy fire from the horror community for watering down the genre for mainstream tastes to the point where hardcore, balls-to-the-wall terror is an endangered species. But oddly, while Sam Raimi's 'Evil Dead' films would seem to represent everything that these fans despise, somehow it remains a beloved franchise.

To be sure, the first 'Evil Dead' in 1981 was no joke. But by the time 1987's 'Evil Dead 2' rolled around, the series was already a total parody of itself, an approach taken to almost absurd extremes with 1992's 'Army of Darkness.' All three films feature the character of Ash (Bruce Campbell), the lone survivor of a demonic attack on a group of friends in an isolated cabin in the woods. As told in 'Evil Dead,' Ash and his buddies mistakenly unearth "The Book of the Dead," which invokes some very ill-tempered, oozy monstrosities hellbent on human destruction. Though 'Evil Dead 2' was essentially a comedic remake of the first film, 'Army of Darkness' spins a new tale, as Ash is plunked down in medieval times, and must continue to do battle with The Book of the Dead if he hopes to save mankind and return back to present day.

In all reality, of course, the plot is beside the point of the 'Evil Dead' films. In this film in particular, Raimi seems less interested in telling a coherent story than he is in staging a series of slapstick setpieces that are no more frightening than a carnival funhouse ride. And he found the perfect collaborator in Campbell, who with the 'Dead' films has proven himself to be one of the most accomplished -- and underrated -- physical comedians in movies today. Campbell flails about as chainsaws whirl, zombies cackle and Raimi stages camera moves so intricate and outlandish that by the time we get a point-of-view shot of an eyeball flying into a victim's mouth, it all seems commonplace.

But truth be told -- and I know this is sacrilege to say -- as accomplished and audacious as Raimi and Campbell have been with the 'Evil Dead' films, there seems to be not one iota of personal feeling invested. It seems Raimi cares little about anything outside of pummeling Ash with all manner of camera tricks. The story in 'Army of Darkness' doesn't really exist as such, the human dimension is nil, and the film's damsel-in-distress (Embeth Daviditz, trying the best she can) is pure window dressing.

In the end, I'm not sure there's ever been a series of film as visually inspired and visceral as 'Evil Dead' that mean so little. Rather than playing effectively as horror films, they seem more like the modern equivalent of a Charlie Chaplin or Three Stooges comedy, only without the humanity. I know this may cause me to lose my honorary membership in the horror movie fanclub, but after trying over and over again to "get it," the 'Evil Dead' films continue to leave me feeling absolutely nothing at all.

(Note that this HD DVD/DVD combo release of 'Army of Darkness' features the 81-minute, theatrical cut version of the film, not the 96-minute expanded version that has long been available on standard-def DVD.)

[review_video_stars] => 2.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 959 [review_video] =>

Presented on a HD-15/DVD-5 double-sided combo disc, the transfer on this next-gen debut of 'Army of Darkness' is a hit or miss affair. Though it is certainly nice to see the film in full 1080p/VC-1 video, the source material is inconsistent, and time has certainly not done the film's pre-CGI special effects any favors.

To be sure, there's no major print damage (such as rips, tears or excessive dropouts), but dirt is noticeable (particularly in shots involving optical effects, which are numerous) and grain is rampant. Darker scenes fare the worst, with the image often looking flat and fuzzy. Colors also suffer from a dated appearance, but the transfer appears to have been pumped up to compensate, with hues oversaturated and smeary at times. At least fleshtones are more or less accurate, although some of the more stylized segments have a reddish tint (especially the film's present-day bookend segments, which are pretty dreadful).

There are some plusses, however. Daylight scenes fare the best, with Ash's arrival at the medieval castle boasting a rather detailed image and a nice sense of depth. The vivid colors also work better here, and don't look quite as artificial. Still, this transfer is all over the place -- the aged source material combined with the film's limited budget, an abundance of darkly-lit scenes, and extensive opticals makes for one of the weakest HD DVD releases I've seen from Universal. Considering the material, I'll give this one a few extra charity points, but 'Army of Darkness' could really use a from-the-ground-up, full-on remastering.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Army of Darkness' gets the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround/1.5mbps treatment on HD DVD, and it is a pretty nice soundtrack. Granted, the film's sound design is what you'd expect from a mid-budgeted genre film from 1992. Surround use is sporadic and fairly obvious, and envelopment inconsistent.

'Army of Darkness' sports a surprising amount of dialogue for a horror film.. Though some ADR is obvious, dialogue is always clear and well-balanced in the mix. Surround use is limited to the score throughout most of the film, except for a random discrete effect here and there, such as a galloping horse or a shotgun blast. The rears only really come alive during the climactic fortress battle (the 'Evil Dead' version of Helm's Deep), which contains some nice split surround activity, although it's nothing compared to a film like 'Terminator 3.' Otherwise, dynamic range is solid, boasting fairly deep low bass and reltively natural and spacious mid-range. Still, despite the Dolby Digital-Plus upgrade, the mix sounds dated, and a quick flip of the disc found little comparable upgrade over the standard-def Dolby Digital track.

[review_supplements_stars] => 0.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 960 [review_supplements] =>

Seeing as 'Army of Darkness' has been released on DVD, oh, 1,237 times now, it is a bit surprising Universal couldn't scrounge up better set of extras for its next-gen debut. While previous DVD editions have included an alternate ending, deleted scenes, audio commentary, storyboards, etc., this combo release gets only a theatrical trailer, and -- even worse -- it's only included on the DVD side of the disc. C'mon, folks! Ash deserves better than this.

By the way, let me take this opportunity to also chastise Universal for their unwavering dedication to producing the worst HD DVD menus ever. Actually, they are not even menus at all -- just the same tired old start-up animation, complete with identi-kit Photoshop template and cheesy muzak. Am I wrong to assume that a next-gen format like HD DVD should be the ultimate home theater experience -- including the menus? Where are the cool graphics? The zippy animation? The kick-ass music? As Ash would say, "Gimme some sugar, baby!"

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Army of Darkness' is arguably the least effective of the three 'Evil Dead' films, and it's certainly the most jokey. But if you're a fan (and you know who you are), you gotta have the whole trilogy no matter what. Unfortunately, this HD DVD release didn't thrill me much. The transfer looked a bit chintzy, and the only extra is a theatrical trailer on the DVD side of the disc. Given the lack of any appreciable upgrade, you'd be better off sticking with your current DVD, at least until Universal remasters this one and adds some real supplements.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 20 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => batmanbegins [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Batman Begins [picture_created] => 1158730730 [picture_name] => batman-begins-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/batman-begins-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/20/batmanbegins.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 134 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000E1MTY0 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683070 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => In-Movie Experience ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround [1] => English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 12 Featurettes [1] => Still Gallery [2] => Confidential Files [3] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Adventure [2] => Crime [3] => Drama [4] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Christian Bale [1] => Michael Caine [2] => Liam Neeson [3] => Katie Holmes [4] => Gary Oldman ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Christopher Nolan ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The story of how Bruce Wayne became what he was destined to be: Batman. [preview_technology_specifications] => • 12 Featurettes: "The Journey Begins," "Shaping Mind and Body," "The Tumbler," "Gotham City Rise," "Saving Gotham City," "Genesis of the Bat," "Cape and Cowl," "Batman Begins Stunts," "Reflections on Writing Batman Begins," "Digital Batman" and "Path to Discovery"
• Confidential Files
• Still gallery
• MTV short film
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => In-Movie Experience [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 7 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

Finally, they've gone and done it. They've made the Batman movie we've all been waiting for. Not that I wasn't a fan of Tim Burton's first two 'Batman' flicks (especially the dark and rather avant garde 'Batman Returns'), but after the dreadful Joel Schumacher era -- remember the day-glo 'Batman Forever' or worse, the nipple-enhanced Batsuit of 'Batman & Robin'? -- I wasn't exactly holding out hope for the future of the franchise. Then, lo and behold, director Christopher ('Memento,' 'Insomnia') Nolan comes along and blows all my expectations out of the water. 'Batman Begins' is a startling return to form for the Bat, and rivals the best comic book movies ever put onscreen, including 'Superman: The Movie,' 'Spider-Man 2' and 'X2: X-Men United.'

The Schumacher stumbles aside, a Batman movie seems almost impossible to screw up. The character has always been a rather atypical comic book hero: he has no real superpowers, dresses up in a black rubber batsuit and is one seriously troubled obsessive-compulsive. In short, the guy's a freak -- so making an interesting movie out of him shouldn't be too hard. The action is a given (who doesn't love watching a grown man fly around in batwings and kick the shit out of criminals?), and with such a rich inner life, the duplicity of Bruce Wayne/Batman is inherently fascinating. And Nolan does make it seem easy. He nails all the elements perfectly. Along with screenwriter David S. Goyer, he has crafted a realistic, believable backstory for the Bat, picked a cool couple of villains (especially the uber-creepy Scarecrow, played to perfection by Cillian Murphy) and enticed an excellent supporting cast to the film, including Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman and Ken Watanabe. Together, they create what is probably the classiest comic book adaptation yet.

But what really elevates 'Batman Begins' to the level of pop art is the respect with which Nolan treats his story, and the Batman universe. Sure, there is some black humor here -- especially Murphy and Neeson, who relish their bad-guy roles -- but 'Batman Begins' is played straight. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a fully-formed, flesh-and-blood character, not just some cipher in a suit. He fights not only to avenge the death of his parents, but for a truth he believes in, that he must believe in. His interactions with the other characters also have genuine consequences. Unlike, say, the recent James Bond flicks in which everything is fun and games, the fear of death and the finality of death permeate every frame of 'Batman Begins.' Gotham City feels like a living, breathing metropolis, and we care about what happens to the people of this world -- we want to see the good guys win and the bad guys get their just desserts. Like the first couple of 'Superman' flicks and both 'Spider-Man' movies, 'Batman Begins' is a film with real resonance.

And then there is Christian Bale. Though some diehard fans balked when he was chosen as the fourth actor to become cast in the film franchise (but then I guess they balk at everything, don't they?), his performance quickly silenced any critics. Though I am a Michael Keaton fan (sorry, Val and George), Bale may indeed be the best Batman yet. He's the perfect age for a young Bruce Wayne, still filled with childish imprudence and impatience, but with an adult sophistication and intelligence. (Think a young Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, only with better acting chops.) Bale admirably fills out the Batsuit, and I personally look forward to seeing him as the character for many years to come. If nothing else, seeing 'Batman Begins' on HD DVD only whets my appetite even more for the upcoming 'The Dark Knight.' Batman has, indeed, come home.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 404 [review_video] =>

'Batman Begins' is probably the most eagerly-awaited title to hit HD DVD thus far. A true A-list, must-have disc for early adopters, a lot is riding on this one. If 'Batman Begins' doesn't look and sound spectacular, and boast tons of supplemental features, the HD DVD format is going to have its first genuine disappointment on its hands. But I'm happy to report that 'Batman Begins' delivers in spades. It is all that I hoped for, and as it stands now, is likely to be the first disc I pull out when I need great demo material to show off my system.

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, I can find nothing to fault here. I've always thought that the dominant color of the Batman cinematic universe has been black, from the black of the Gotham skies to black rubber of Batman's suit to the black chrome of the Batmobile. Even recalling my 'Batman Begins' experience in the theater, I remember it being a largely colorless, rather dour experience. So this HD DVD presentation was a total surprise for me. Noticeably superior to the standard DVD, the film really is quite colorful. Even if it is appropriately dark and even grimy in spots, colors are always rich, vivid and free from oversaturation. Right from the beginning, such as in the early flashback scenes of Bruce Wayne as a child, oranges, yellows and greens are quite rich and pure, with wonderfully accurate fleshtones. Even the training scenes early on with the Liam Neeson character, which are shot in overcast exteriors, exhibit flashes of striking color, such as the deep blues of the arctic ice or the subtle shadings on a flower. Hues never bleed or smear, and no chroma noise is apparent.

The source material has also been kept in pristine shape. Blacks are rock solid and contrast excellent. The image has great "pop" but even the harshest whites don't bloom or obscure detail, and shadow delineation -- essential to a dark and moody Batman flick -- is superior. Even in the darkly-lit lair of the Scarecrow, for example, I could still make out the texture on the burlap sack cover his head, right down to the lines in the rope holding it together. I was even more surprised by how improved sharpness is versus the standard DVD release, which was a bit spotty -- this HD DVD image is never anything less than razor-sharp. The sense of depth is consistently top-notch throughout, and this is another of those great HD DVD transfers that often exhibits the "window effect" -- looking more like a fine photograph than video.

Lastly, Warner has also done another fine job encoding 'Batman Begins.' Though the film is not as quick-cut as some recent blockbusters, it does have many scenes of fast action, which this transfer handles adroitly. No macroblocking or any type of posterization is present. And though there is some slight film grain present at times, there are no compression problems or resultant noise. Excellent, excellent job, folks. 'Batman Begins' looks fabulous.

[review_audio_stars] => 5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 405 [review_audio] =>

Ensuring that 'Batman Begins' sounds as good as it looks, Warner has created a new Dolby TrueHD track for the film -- say hello to your new reference disc. As impressed as I've been with the past TrueHD tracks on such HD DVD releases as 'Training Day' and 'The Perfect Storm,' this one is simply the best sound mix I've yet heard on any home video format, period. The sound design and overall aural presentation of this film simply never steps wrong, with the excitement level never waning from the first frame of the film to the last.

Though there are plenty of sonic moments in 'Batman Begins' that thrill, three sequences in particular stood out for me as great examples of demo material. The first act "ice pond" fight between Liam Neeson and Christian Bale, the Batmobile chase and the elevated train destruction scene are all up there with the most exciting sequences I've heard on pre-recorded video. The Dolby TrueHD track is simply flawless here. The force of sound emanating from the rear speakers is incredibly robust and intricate, and despite the cacophony of sound, subtle details remain audible, such as the flap of a batwing or the grating of metal train wheels. It is that kind of attention to detail that elevates 'Batman Begins' to that rare experience where it is highly pleasurable to just close your eyes and listen -- even without visuals, 'Batman Begins' wows.

Also making a great case for Dolby TrueHD is the exceptional dynamic range. Low bass here is some of the deepest I've heard -- the last 30 minutes or so of this film is a total gas when cranked up loud. The quality and depth of mid-range and high-end is mightily impressive, as despite all that is going on here -- dialogue, effects and the fine score by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer -- nothing seems lost in the din. Balance is pitch perfect, and I never had to adjust my volume control to make out dialogue, which is quite a rarity on action-type soundtracks. Like the video, I can find nothing to complain about with the audio for 'Batman Begins' -- it met my expectations and, in spots, exceeded them.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 406 [review_supplements] =>

'Batman Begins' ports over all the same standard-def extras as the two-disc DVD release of the film, which certainly makes it a great value for money. Of course, it helps that most of the goodies here are actually worth watching -- a welcome surprise in these days of EPK filler and other forgettable extras.

Rather unusual for a major release, there is no audio commentary of any kind on 'Batman Begins.' Nor are there any deleted scenes, or techy-like material, such as storyboard comparisons. Instead, we get what is essentially a two-hour documentary, broken up into a bunch of shorter featurettes. Though the HD DVD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" (see below) is a bit more concise and certainly easier to digest in one sitting, I'm afraid diehard Batman fans are gonna have to watch all of this stuff. (Disappointingly, all of these featurettes are presented in 480i standard-def video, and though shot in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, are letterboxed in a 4:3 frame. It is a shame Warner didn't present these extras in full 1.78:1 widescreen, even if they are only 480i standard-def video. Sigh.)

Though Warner doesn't really order all these featurettes in a truly user-friendly way on the menu, I tried to watch them in some sort of logical order. Note that all are culled from the same spate of cast and crew interviews dating back to the time of the film's production and release, as well as a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage. First up are "Genesis of the Bat" (15 min.) and "Batman: The Journey Begins" (14 min.). These offer a good point of introduction, with director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter David S. Goyer handling the lions share of the explaining. "The Journey Begins" also details the casting of the film, including the then-controversial choices of Christian Bale and Katie Holmes. Even if you don't get into all the more technical-oriented featurettes later one, definitely watch these two.

Next we have three featurettes that focus on the nitty-gritty of production. "Path to Discovery" (14 min.) chronicles the challenges of shooting the film's opening scenes and backstory in the cold climate of Iceland. "Saving Gotham City" (13 min.) highlights the film's excellent action scenes, which were staged with as little CGI as possible -- one of the reasons 'Batman Begins' remains, for me, superior to most other blockbusters these days. But my favorite is "Shaping Mind and Body" (13 min.), as Bale is put through the paces, training to play such an iconic character. Many feel Bale is the best Batman yet, and I can see why. He seems to have an innate understanding of the character, and he certainly has the right physicality for the part. The behind-the-scenes fight footage here is also quite cool.

An additional three featurettes examine various production aspects more in-depth. "Gotham City Rises" (13 min.) pays a visit to the production design team, who had the massive task of reimagining the fabled city for a new generation of Batman fans, as well as having to work within real-world locations in some instances, such as Wayne Manor. "Cape and Cowl" (8 min.) practically fetishizes the Batsuit, and I'll admit all that hot black rubber is a turn-on. Finally, "Batman: The Tumbler" (14 min.) pays tribute to the kick-ass Batmobile, which the Nolan originally conceived as "a Lamborghini crossed with a Humvee." Even Holmes gets into it, admitting that for the first time, she realizes "why guys love cars so much." Think she bought one for Tom Cruise?

Oddly, Warner has placed yet another three featurettes in their own section, called "Additional Scenes." But there is no deleted or additional footage here, so whatever -- am I missing something? Instead, these are three short little vignettes, each running about two minutes. "Digital Batman" is an all-too-quick comparison between a CGI Batman created for the film, and the real one -- I wanted to see more of this. "Reflections on Writing" is also a far-too-short, cute little story from Goyer on how word got out that he was writing the new Batman flick. Finally, "Batman Begins Stunts" is simply a montage of behind-the-scenes footage of the Batmobile and the Batsuit in action.

The extras start to wind down with two text-based goodies. The Still Gallery focuses exclusively various advertising a concepts for the film's multi-million dollar marketing push. Separate sections for the U.S., International and pre-release campaigns are included. "Confidential Files" is a rather extensive assortment of animated text pages featuring more stills and concept art for the various "Hardware," "Enemies" and "Allies and Mentors" of 'Batman Begins.' This is actually a very cool, well put-together and informative extra, so don't skip it just because it might seem like a bunch of lame production notes.

Rounding out the package are two promo items. The "Tankman Begins" spoof that was created for the 2005 MTV Movie Awards is entertaining, but like most of these type shorts, runs out of steam quickly. Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer (actually only a 1-minute teaser), presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080i-MPEG-2 video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround. Kudos to Warner for that -- I hope we see more trailers in the future in full HD video.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 2.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 407 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Batman Begins' is the latest Warner HD DVD release to get the "In-Movie Experience" treatment, and it's one of the IME-enhanced titles the studio has been touting for several months now in its ad campaigns. As such, expectations are again high -- I was hoping for the best IME experience yet, one loaded with so much info I wouldn't be able to turn away from the screen.

Unfortunately, this is the one aspect of this disc that I'm a tad disappointed with. First, the positives. This is definitely the best-looking video I've yet seen on one of these features, meaning that the quality of the footage that appears in the little box overlays is no longer blocky and pixelated. It looks smooth and realistic, and I also like the swanky dissolves as new material appears. I was also impressed with the variety of participants -- in addition to director Christopher Nolan, just about all the main cast and crew appears, including various production personnel and stunt folks. I appreciate diversity in these tracks, and this is definitely not just an extended director interview.

However, I was nonplussed by the pacing. There are frequent long gaps of silence in which there is no video or audio -- sometimes as long as two to three minutes or more. That can seem like an eternity, and combined with the solemn demeanor of many of the participants -- Liam Neeson in particular sounds like he's taken one too many Valium -- this is kind of a sluggish commentary. Certainly, there is a lot of great material here, and much is not repetitious with the standard-def extras. Still, it is hardly non-stop, and still doesn't beat my favorite "In-Movie Experience" so far, which remains Universal's 'The Bourne Supremacy.' But I'm still grateful Warner is producing exclusive content for HD DVD, so kudos.

Note that as always, Warner continues to lead when it comes to basic HD DVD interactivity. Like all of the studio's titles, 'Batman Begins' includes pan-and-zoom capability up to 32x magnification, a real-time chapter search timeline, and the ability to bookmark your favorite chapters for later access. I wish all studios would make such basic functionality routine on their HD DVD releases as well.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Batman Begins' is a no-brainer. Even if you are only casually interested in the film, you should definitely check this one out to see the HD DVD format at the top of its game. Terrific transfer, awesome Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and tons of extras -- including some genuine HD bonus content -- make this one the A-list HD DVD release to beat. Now is a very good time to be an early adopter!

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• 3 Featurettes: "Attack of the Squirrels," "Fantastic Mr. Dahl," "Becoming Oompa-Loompa"
• 4 Activities: "Oompa-Loompa Dance," "The Bad Nut," "Wonka's Inventing Machine" and "Search for the Golden Ticket"
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => In-Movie Experience [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 8 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

Though the work of many modern authors have been likened to that of Grimm's fairy tales, very few actually earn the comparison. Then there is Roald Dahl. The late author of such classics as 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'The Witches' and 'Matilda,' it is irrefutable that this guy had one seriously demented imagination. I am sure I'm not the only person who, as a child, suffered more than one nightmare after reading Dahl's novels and short stories. Though ostensibly whimsical adventure tales, Dahl's work always read more like horror stories to me. Especially 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' With its demented Willy Wonka, his terrifying chocolate-coated lair and the gruesome fates meted out to the unsuspecting protagonists, this was no 'Bambi' -- it was the first pre-teen slasher movie.

By now, everyone knows the story. Little Charlie Bucket and his family are as poor as a church mouse. They live in a dilapitated shack on the edge of town, with little to look forward to beyond a loaf of bread for dinner. But a golden ticket is about to come into Charlie's life -- the mysterious Willy Wonka is holding the contest of a lifetime, the prize a guided tour of his fabled chocolate factory. Though there can be only five lucky winners, fate intervenes and Charlie joins four other decidedly less wholesome tots in what seems like a rousing adventure. But will they survive Wonka's most unique tests of courage and character, or perish in bizarre ways? And just what is the prize waiting for Charlie behind Wonka's candy cane-colored walls, anyway?

Since just about everyone has seen the original 1971 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' (it is an adolescent rite of passage up there with 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Showgirls'), watching Tim Burton's "reimagining" of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is like a 115-minute comparison test. There are few surprises -- we know what is in store for our little contestants, and it ain't pretty -- so our memories of the original come into constant conflict with Burton's glossier, decidedly more surreal vision of the material. That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but one thing that 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' isn't is fresh.

That said, Burton's changes to the material are numerous. Whereas 'Willy Wonka' was a musical (albeit one filled with black humor), it remained essentially lighthearted and fanciful. Burton's version feels less welcoming and far darker. He eliminates all the non-Oompa Loompa musical numbers, and hews far more closely to the book, which had an episodic structure with various flashbacks and narrative cul-de-sacs. The most significant addition he makes is to expand Willy Wonka's backstory. Burton has always been fascinated by the relationship of men with their fathers/mentors, and here Wonka gets a decidedly demented parental figure in the form of his dentist dad, Dr. Wonka (played by Christopher Lee). This shifts the film's primary thematic focus from Charlie to Wonka, which somewhat overstuffs the movie. (It also pays off poorly, as the film's ending is rather anticlimactic.) Ironically, the film achieves its greatest narrative tension out of our fear that Charlie's story is going to be swallowed whole by Burton's obsession with the neurotic Wonka.

Otherwise, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is largely successful in capturing the charm and wonderment of the original film while upgrading its technology for modern audiences. Visually, the film is magnificent. Technical credits across the board are top-notch, with production design impeccable, and the merging of practical and computer-generated effects virtually seamless. Burton's highly fantastical aesthetic sensibilities are, of course, an obvious match with Dahl's (I don't think anyone was surprised when it was announced that Burton would be tackling 'Charlie'), and he recreates some of the story's most well-known setpieces fabulously. The chocolate river, the squirrel attack, the Mike TeeVee laboratory -- these scenes are masterpieces of Hollywood movie magic. Perhaps they lack the chintzy charm of the original, but they are undeniably a sight to behold.

And let's not forget the film's greatest special effect, Johnny Depp. While Gene Wilder's portrayal of Wonka will always remain untouchable -- he was simultaneously charming, witty, scary and acerbic, but without seeming smug -- Depp does an intriguing take on the character that avoids parody. Depp, of course, is a very "quirky" actor -- and never predictable -- so his Wonka is something to see. To me it is not so much an interpretation of Michael Jackson (as some have speculated) as a bizarre channeling of one of those "cheesy used-car salesmen you see on local TV." His Wonka is, quite frankly, a total freak. Unpredictable and borderline unlikable, he takes the movie into territory the original never dared tread -- these kids seem genuinely terrified of Wonka, instead of fascinated. But even if Depp and Burton don't equal the appeal of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' -- almost impossible, given how steeped in our collective consciousness the film is -- their 'Charlie' is certainly a trip worth taking twice.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 771 [review_video] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' never looked that great on standard DVD. It was quite soft, fuzzy and spotty, so this HD DVD didn't have to do much to exceed it. Thankfully, this 1.85:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer doesn't even break a sweat trying, with a very attractive presentation that, though not perfect, is sure to tickle the fancy of Wonka fans everywhere.

Though the quality of the source material is the same -- indeed, I would be surprised if both the DVD and the HD DVD were not minted from the same master -- the upgrade to high-def is still noticeable. Most impressive is that colors are less noisy and plugged up. The film's many reds, purples and browns looked muddy and undefined on the standard-def release, but here hues are both more vibrant yet smoother. Though I still think they could have been toned down a tad to keep the transfer sharper and a bit more natural in appearance, the improvement is most appreciated.

Though black levels and contrast are about on par with the previous standard DVD release, detail is superior. There is far more depth to most scenes, especially the heavy CGI exteriors, which in standard def looked quite flat. The film's many expansive sets benefit from a far better apparent depth to the image, which helps to deliver the kind of three-dimensional image expected for such a recent film. However, I still was disappointed with the relatively weak shadow delineation. The fall-off to black is quite steep, and not helping matters are the ever-so-slightly oversaturated colors. Fleshtones also look fake and pasty -- most of the actors look like they are made of plastic, not flesh. I know the film's visual sensibilities are obviously skewed towards the artificial, but I still found it somewhat distracting. Otherwise, compression artifacts and posterization are not really a problem, though there is some noticeable (if not excessive) film grain throughout, which causes some solid areas of color to look rather jumpy.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Let me get my frustration out now -- 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes an isolated music-only track in Dolby TrueHD, yet the main feature is available in Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround only. Ummm, hello? Was there not enough space on the disc? Were the source elements not available to do a Dolby TrueHD mix on the actual soundtrack? Or was it just too expensive? Whatever the reason, the music-only track sounds so rich and pure and involving that it is hard not to be disappointed when switching over the Dolby Digital-Plus track. A total bummer.

That said, this is otherwise a perfectly fine audio presentation. The Dolby Digital-Plus track is encoded at 640kbps, and it serves the film well. All aspects of the mix are strong. Surrounds kick in often, with a full range of discrete effects popping around all four main channels, from various moving machinery to the gurgling chocolate to the pitter-patter of little Oompa Loompa feet. Dialogue is also firmly rooted, and even the weirder moments (some of things Johnny Depp says -- what on earth is he talking about?) remain crisp and defined.

However, I still have the same problem with this mix as I had on the previous DVD (as well as when I first saw the film during its theatrical run) -- the lyrics to the Oompa Loompa songs copme across as just unintelligible mush, and even at a decent volume I found them lost in the mix. I don't know if it is the tonal quality of the highly-processed voice of Oompa Loompa actor Deep Roy, or the fact that composer Danny Elfman's songs kinda suck anyway, but what should have been the aural highlight of the film instead remains its biggest disappointment.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 772 [review_supplements] =>

Warner originally released 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' in two versions on DVD, an anemic single-disc set and a more expansive two-disc edition. This HD DVD release includes all of the extras from the two-disc deluxe package, though this is another one of those cases where all the bulletpoints on the back of the box are somewhat less impressive than the content itself.

Similar to 'Batman Begins,' there is no audio commentary here. (Somewhat of a surprise, as director Tim Burton usually records them for the DVD versions of his flicks.) Instead, there are several making-of featurettes, those most of these are a bit too short for their own good.

My favorite featurette was actually the one that had the least to with the movie. "Fantastic Mr. Dahl" (17:40) was produced by the BBC, and features interviews with Dahl's widow and children about his writings. It is both surprising and fascinating to see how nondescript Dahl's working conditions were, which I guess proves it really is all about pure imagination. This one could have been an hour long, and I hope someday someone does produce a full-length documentary on Dahl -- his is definitely a life worth celebrating.

The rest of the featurettes are all making-of material, culled from a batch of on-set EPK interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The best place to start is "Making The Mix," which is actually divided into five sub-featurettes: "Chocolate Dreams" (6:57), with Burton discussing his vision of the story and sharing his early production sketches; "Different Faces, Different Flavors" (10:39) introduces to the film's talented young cast (most of whom are far more charming than their characters); "Sweet Sounds" (7:17) pays a visit to composer Danny Elfman (too bad I was pretty underwhelmed with the film's eventual score); "Designer Chocolate" (9:35) dissects the film's production design, which is undeniably fabulous and, as revealed here, pulled equally from American as well as European design aesthetics; and finally "Under the Wrapper" (6:58) gives us the skinny on some of the film's most famous effects, including the yummy chocolate river and poor Violet being turned into a giant blueberry.

The final two featurettes include "Attack of the Squirrels" (9:48), which for some reason gets quite a bit of behind-the-scenes time, even though I kinda thought many of the film's other effects were more interesting. Last but not least is "Becoming Oompa-Loompa" (7:16), which explains how Deep Roy was turned into a diminutive army via mechanical duplications and motion-control technology. No explanation is provided for why the Oompa Loompas no longer have green skin and orange hair.

Rounding out the extras are a few interactive games for kids. Learn the "Oompa-Loompa Dance," try to spot "The Bad Nut," create candy with "Wonka's Inventing Machine" or help five children on their "Search for the Golden Ticket." This is very, very simple stuff (the PlayStation 3 has nothing to worry about), but smaller tots might enjoy these.

Last in line is the film's theatrical trailer, presented here in 1080i video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 1.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 774 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' comes with another In-Movie Experience extravaganza, and it is certainly the most outlandish yet. The film's Oompa Loompa is our tour guide, and after a cute little animated introduction (in which Mr. Loompa dubs IME "television chocolate," whatever that means) we're treated to a stream of cutesy pop-up "factoids," plus brief cast and crew interview snippets, behind-the-scenes footage and samples of conceptual artwork and storyboards. It is all very colorful with nice little graphical overlays, and seems particularly geared towards kids.

However, I had the same problem here as I did with the IME feature on the recent 'Batman Begins.' The pace is just too slow, and often what feels like minutes will go by with no text, video or audio on the screen. I imagine kids might get quite bored by this quite fast, especially in our short-attention-span culture. I really love the idea of IME, but they need to be more packed with info if they are going to remain consistently engaging for two hours. I really liked Warner's graphical approach here, but the content just doesn't quite make it.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is a big-budget, effects-laden retelling of Roald Dahl's beloved classic. Does it capture the charm of the original 'Willy Wonka?' For my money, not quite. But I still enjoyed the ride a second time. This HD DVD release offers a very nice upgrade over the previous standard DVD release, with an improved transfer and soundtrack. However, the lack of a Dolby TrueHD track and a better In-Movie Experience feature is a bit of a disappointment. Still, 'Charlie' delivers very fine value for money, and considering that at list price this is a buck cheaper than the two-disc standard-def DVD release, you really can't go wrong picking this one up.

) ) [3] => Array ( [review_id] => 103 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => corpsebride [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Corpse Bride [picture_created] => 1160380207 [picture_name] => the-corpse-bride-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/10/09/120/the-corpse-bride-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/103/corpsebride.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 77 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000I2JKEM [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1217057 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX [1] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX [3] => Music-Only Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 8 Featurettes [1] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Animated [1] => Comedy [2] => Family [3] => Musical [4] => Romance ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Johnny Depp [1] => Helena Bonham Carter [2] => Emily Watson [3] => Albert Finney [4] => Christopher Lee ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Tim Burton [1] => Mike Johnson ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => When a shy groom practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from the grave assuming he has married her. [preview_technology_specifications] => • 8 Featurettes
• Music-only track
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_editors_notes] => Non format-specific portions of this review were originally published in our Blu-ray review of 'Corpse Bride.' [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 19 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

Expectations were high when Tim Burton's 'Corpse Bride' hit theaters in the Fall of 2005. Coming almost a decade after 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which in the intervening years had become one of the most beloved cult films of our generation, 'Corpse Bride' had to do nothing less than match the quality and appeal of 'Christmas' or be seen as a disappointment. Unfortunately, though no letdown on the level of a 'James and the Giant Peach,' 'Corpse Bride' really didn't live up to all the anticipation, and after a quick run in theaters and a depressed $53 million domestic gross, it already seems to have been forgotten by most moviegoers.

Like all Tim Burton films, animated or not, 'Corpse Bride' tells the story of an outsider who, through a strange and magical adventure, will come out on the other side transformed. Our tale this time begins as we meet Victor Van Dort, who is engaged to be married but is suffering a very traumatic bout of cold feet. After butchering his lines at his wedding rehearsal, he is sent into the woods by his domineering family to practice his vows. Unfortunately, he performs them so perfectly in a mock ceremony that, when he places his ring on what looks like a twig on the ground, it turns out to be the hand of The Corpse Bride herself. Suddenly, Victor is already married -- even if she isn't quite of this world.

The muted reaction to 'Corpse Bride' is quite the shame, because as one of the apparently three people who has not seen 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' I went in with absolutely no preconceived notions. I found 'Corpse Bride' to be an utterly charming, often delightful film, one that borrows from many different animation and narrative traditions. There is Burton's decidedly dark sensibilities, of course, plus utterly gorgeous traditional stop-motion photography and a surprisingly liberal dose of Disney-like magic, especially in the cast of supporting sidekick characters. There is also excellent voice work by Burton regular Johnny Depp as our intrepid hero Victor, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Corpse Bride, plus a terrific all-star supporting cast that includes Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney and Christopher Lee.

Also a highlight is Danny Elfman's score, which to my ears is one of the best he has composed for a film. Again, I can't say how the songs in 'The Corpse Bride' stack up against 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' but in any case they are certainly superior to his disappointing tunes for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' Numbers like 'Remains of the Day,' 'Moon Dance' and 'The Wedding Song' are truly memorable toe-tappers, and the lyrics are never less than cute and sly.

I suppose it will always be too much to ask of 'Corpse Bride' that it equal 'The Nightmare Before Christmas,' which is now regarded as a modern classic. But taken on its own terms, it is hard to imagine anyone, regardless of age, not being delighted by the majority of this film. If nothing else, 'The Corpse Bride' is a must-see if only for its incredible stop-motion animation, which is truly a sight to behold. As far as I'm concerned, Tim Burton has done it again.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 768 [review_video] =>

'Corpse Bride' generated some controversy when it hit Blu-ray a few weeks ago, as it was not only the first stop-motion animated film to hit a next-gen high-def format, but it also marked the first time Warner had released a title on Blu-ray with no HD DVD counterpart announced. I for one never had much doubt that the studio would get around to releasing 'Corpse Bride' on HD DVD in due time, but regardless, the Blu-ray certainly looked terrific. But being as format-agnostic as I can, this HD DVD easily matches it. Warner has again utilized the identical master for both versions, as well as presenting each in 1080p/VC-1 video, and the results are a dead heat.

I suppose it goes without saying that 'Corpse Bride' is a dark film -- it does come from the mind of Tim Burton, after all. But dark doesn't mean grimy and depressing, and this 1.85:1 transfer is certainly nothing of the sort. The majority of the film's color palette is awash in deep purples and blues, as well as an array of grays, which this Blu-ray disc handles perfectly. Hues are always smooth, consistent and absolutely free of any noise or bleeding. Even the few more vibrant sequences which are splashed with bright reds, yellows and greens, such as Victor's first descent into the world of the Corpse Bride, boast excellent color stability.

Detail and depth are also master class. A noticeable improvement over the standard-def release, the finest details of the animation are clearly visible, from the fine etchings on picture frames to the flowing, intricate stitching of the Corpse Bride's bridal gown. I was also impressed by how three-dimensional the image appears. I don't recall a single shot ever looking anything less that eye-popping, and the transfer does not suffer from any inconsistencies in sharpness -- which is rather surprising for a stop-motion animated film, which often utilize CGI-assisted blurring and other trickery to help smooth out movement.

Lastly, there has been some controversy on the web recently about 'The Corpse Bride,' after some consumer reviews reported serious compression artifacts on the Blu-ray release, namely posterization on color gradations, dissolves and other optical effects. However, I found no such problems when I first reviewed that disc, just as I've found none again here. However, I did put both the Blu-ray and the HD DVD discs through their paces twice more, both on my new Sony KDS-R70XBR2 LCoS 1080p display (which will soon replace my HP Pavilion as my reference monitor), as well as a Panasonic plasma. I did detect some slight posterization, particularly the film's opening logo, on the plasma, though the Sony looked smooth as could be. I suspect the reported posterization problems are more than likely caused by a monitor's inability to reproduce subtle color gradations. But that's a hardware issue, not software. And on a film with such challenging color reproduction as 'Corpse Bride,' I am not surprised different monitors would produce such different results. Nevertheless, I can't knock either the Blu-ray or the HD DVD release of 'Corpse Bride' for that.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 769 [review_audio] =>

A great transfer gets a great soundtrack, too. I was quite impressed with the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX track on the Blu-ray release, which gets mirrored here on HD DVD in Dolby Digital-Plus. (Note that the soundtracks on both formats are encoded at the exact same bitrate of 640kbps, as the Blu-ray spec doesn't require the use of Dolby Digital-Plus designator except for recordings that utilize more than six channels, such as a 6.1 or 7.1 mix.)

What makes 'Corpse Bride' so effective here is that a very conscious decision was made to use the surrounds for more than tossed-away sound effects or meager score bleed. A full range and variety of sounds are directed to the rears, from full spoken dialogue to individual musical instruments to some percussive low bass "scary stingers." The result is a terrific sense of envelopment, with the full 360-degree soundfield always alive with sound. Technically, the track is just as good, with excellent dynamic range that is wide and spacious, and imaging between channels that sounds just about transparent. Crank up 'The Corpse Bride' and you won't be disappointed.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

'Corpse Bride' on HD DVD is predictably packed with extras, containing all of the same supplements that were included on the Blu-ray and standard-def releases. It's an all-around great package of goodies that's pretty comprehensive and sure to please fans of the film.

As there is no audio commentary track included per se (see more below on that), it is up to the eight making-of featurettes to carry the disc's supplements. As always they can be a mixed bag with some redundant information here and there, and sometimes a narrow focus on the technical, but all told it is a fairly comprehensive package.

"Inside the Two Worlds," "Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds" and "Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light" are, combined, a pretty good overview of the basic development of the film's story by its creative team. Burton and Elfman are of course the stars here, and despite a bit of overlap between these three featurettes, it adequately covers all the basics of the original concept, the characters and the songs.

Next up are "The Animators: The Breath of Life," "Making Puppets Tick" and "'Corpse Bride' Pre-production Galleries." More technical in nature, I found these the most fascinating, but again, I haven't seen 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' DVD, which I've been told treads much of this same ground. But as a newbie, I found this stuff fresh and interesting, and I'm still amazed anyone has the patience to sit there and pose six-inch-tall models frame-by-frame for the years it takes to complete a stop-motion animated picture. Call me officially impressed.

Finally, we get two final featurettes on the voice talent, "Voices from the Underground" and "The Voices Behind the Voice." The latter is particularly fascinating, as it is just a straight split-screen montage of the cast recording their dialogue next to the final filmed scene. It is really cool to see how the actors work off each other, and how amazing some of these performers are at creating such vivid characters with just subtle changes in their vocal stylings and delivery.

Rounding out the extras is a music-only track (sans vocals) in Dolby Digital-Plus EX Surround. Though not an audio commentary, it is a great to have what is essentially a soundtrack CD for free, and it is on part in terms of fidelity to the film proper. And last but not least is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in 480p video and widescreen.

Rounding out the weak package of supplements is the film's theatrical trailer.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 770 [review_bonus_content] =>

Disappointingly, there are no exclusive HD extras. Certainly, an "In-Movie Experience" feature would have been most welcome here. However, we get Warner's usual pan-and-zoom feature, custom bookmarks and runtime meter, so I'll give this one a free half-a-star for that.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Despite hearing some negative things about 'Corpse Bride' before this review -- namely, that it does not equal Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' -- I was pleasantly surprised that I felt no such disappointment. 'The Corpse Bride' is a charming, emotional and memorable film that is well worth seeing regardless of age. After debuting on Blu-ray a few weeks back, the film impresses just as equally on HD DVD. A winner across the board with a great transfer, soundtrack and plenty of extras, there is little reason to not pick this one up -- even if you already own the film on standard-def DVD.

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If you grew up in the early 1980s, then 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' was a rite of passage. Like all classic films about growing up, such as 'Rebel Without a Cause,' 'The Graduate,' 'American Graffiti' and 'The Breakfast Club,' it defined an era and remains an indelible artifact of its time. It created now-classic character archetypes -- who can forget Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli, the ultimate stoned-out surfer dude? -- and was pitch-perfect in capturing the way real teenagers talked, the clothes they wore and the kind of music they listened to. And twenty-five years on, it still holds up as a highly entertaining, perceptive comedy, one that new generations of teenagers continue to rediscover on video and cable.

'Fast Times' began life as an article that a young music journalist named Cameron Crowe was contracted to write for Rolling Stone magazine. Infiltrating an average American high school in Ridgemont, Illinois, the material he collected over the course of a year ended up being so strong he turned it into a book instead. That formed the basis for the movie, directed by future 'Clueless' helmer Amy Heckerling. Though events are distilled considerably from the novel, Crowe's screenplay retains its basic characters and relationships, which gives it a leg up on most of its fellow teen films, such as 'American Graffiti' and 'Dazed & Confused.' Rather than a narrative that meanders, 'Fast Times' takes recognizable teen archetypes and gives each a nice little emotional arc. No, nothing that happens in 'Fast Times' is, in hindsight, all that dramatic, but then that's the beauty of high school -- at the time a pimple seems of monumental importance. All 'Fast Times' does is observe the mundane realities of being a teenager with great sensitivity and humor, which is why it remains so universal and resonant.

'Fast Times' also launched the careers of many a major star, including Penn, Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards, Phoebe Cates and Judge Reinhold, as well as Crowe and Heckerling. Yet aside from Penn, none of the performances are larger-than-life. No one is out to have their big scene or win an Academy Award. Natural, fresh-faced and appealing, the cast often underplay their scenes, and it's a refreshing change from many of today's up-and-coming actors who often look they are posing for a fashion spread on the WB, all smug smirks and false irony.

Watching 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' again on HD DVD for this review -- it has been several years since I've seen the film -- I was also reminded how shocking it once seemed. Though topics such as promiscuous teenage sex, abortion and positive drug use are commonplace today even on the most innocuous TV show, that's due in large part to movies like 'Fast Times.' Though a bit raunchy at times, this is no 'Porkys.' The sensitivity of Heckerling and Crowe is obvious -- they simply depict the issues that teens of 1982 faced on a daily basis, and if the film is not always upbeat, it is also never exploitative or titillating. I expect 'Fast Times' won't date anytime soon -- or at least as long as teenagers still have to be teenagers. Which will likely be forever.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 364 [review_video] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' is another HD DVD/DVD combo release from Universal, here a HD-15/DVD-9 double-sided disc. However, as there are no extra features at all on the HD side, nor much in the way of extensive soundtrack options, the reduced disc space is not a huge drawback. In fact, 'Fast Times' looks much better than I expected. No, it is not absolutely fantastic, but it's certainly a sharp presentation for a film now twenty-five years old.

The source print is in healthy shape. Grain is readily apparent throughout if unobtrusive, and consistent aside from optical shots (namely the opening credits) which look slightly dirtier. There are also a few minor instances of hair-thin scratches and dropouts, but again it is nothing excessive. More problematic, however, are that colors appear too saturated and artificial. The image looks vibrant -- I certainly don't remember 'Fast Times' looking anything but drab on video prior -- but colors sometimes smear and suffer from chroma noise. Reds in particular are distracting, and any solid areas of color tend to look fuzzy. Fleshtones, too, tend to veer towards the red end of the scale at time, though generally they remain a proper shade of orange.

Otherwise, the rest of the transfer is surprisingly good. Blacks are solid throughout and contrast relatively smooth across the entire grayscale. Shadow delineation is a bit weak, but nothing out of the ordinary for a film of this vintage. Depth is better than I anticipated -- the image can look surprisingly three-dimensional, especially brightly-lit scenes, which often boast noticeable fine detail even in far-away background shots. Compression artifacts are also not a problem, as I noticed no real posterization or pixelation. Aside from the wonky colors, I was generally impressed with 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' on HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' gets a new Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at a healthy 1.5mbps) on HD DVD, but it really doesn't offer much improvement. Quite frankly, 'Fast Times' was a low-budget teen comedy with sound design almost completely lacking in any sort of envelopment. And there is only so much you can do with elements twenty-five years old, so don't expect this soundtrack to rock your world.

The mix is almost entirely front heavy. Even stereo effects are minimal, with only the film's many '80s-era rock and pop songs benefiting from any kind of noticeable separation. In fact, aside from the music I counted probably half a dozen discrete effects total in the surrounds -- usually a bit of bleed such as the sound of a car engine, or some minor crowd noise in the mall scenes. And that's it. Don't expect much in the way of dynamic range, either, with a somewhat flat sound and anemic low bass.

Dialogue is nicely reproduced throughout the film, however, and far superior to all those old crappy videotapes and cable airings I used to watch as a kid. Sometimes ADR is fairly obvious, but the tonal quality of the soundtrack is consistent and always clear.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 366 [review_supplements] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' finally got the special edition treatment on DVD back in 1999, much to the delight of the film's longtime fans. And if not as extensive as some of Universal's other collector's editions, it was still a nice package of extras that reunited many of the film's key cast and crew. (Note that all of the extras are included only on the standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo disc -- even the audio commentary -- which is quite annoying. Please, stop with these combos already!)

First up is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe. It's a very entertaining listen. As you 'Fast Times' scholars know, Crowe was originally hired to write an article on the state of the American high schooler, circa 1980, for Rolling Stone magazine. That became the book 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High,' then the movie. Crowe touches upon that experience often, and proved instrumental to helping Heckerling in casting, directing and editing the film. Even if you are a not a huge fan of the film this track is well worth a listen, as Crowe's journey is fascinating in and of itself. (Note an oddity about the commentary: on the HD DVD side, the track is edited at the end to fade out after the credits. However, on the DVD side, Heckerling and Crowe talk for a good seven or eight additional minutes. So if you really want to hear the full commentary, listen to it on the DVD side of the disc.)

Crowe and Heckerling return again in the 30-minute, awkwardly-titled documentary "Reliving Our 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High.'" They are joined by quite an impressive cast list, including Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stolz, Brian Backer and Richard Romanus. It is always a bit of a shock to see old friends you grew up with today, and all have fairly fond memories of working on the film. My only caveats are the almost complete lack of any behind-the-scenes production footage or audition material, as well as the absence of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates. Who knows why they declined to participate, but it's a shame nonetheless as the doc is a bit lacking without them.

Rounding out the extras is "The Hangouts Of Ridgemont High," an interactive video map of the fictional Ridgemont. Unfortunately, it offers no new behind-the-scenes material, just short little clips of scenes featuring the film's most-remembered locations. Also included are some production notes and the film's theatrical trailer.

Though this is a pretty good package of extras, I do still have one major gripe. None of the deleted scenes that routinely pop up in the television edits of the film are included, an omission I wanted to be rectified with this HD DVD. I've read an interview with director Amy Heckerling where she made it clear she never liked the scenes, but since they are so commonplace on TV it seems odd not to include them anyway. As Spicoli would say, how totally bogus.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 365 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing extra here, though given the slimness of the standard-def extras, this isn't much of a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' is one of the most beloved teen comedies of the 1980s, and it continues to make new fans today. This is a nice HD DVD release, if nothing truly special -- the transfer offers a solid upgrade over the standard-def DVD, though the soundtrack and extras are hardly new. Still, worth considering for a purchase, especially if you don't already own the film on disc.

) ) ) [reviews_slices] => Array ( [1] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 21 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => polarexpress [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Polar Express [picture_created] => 1158731067 [picture_name] => the-polar-express-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/the-polar-express-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/21/polarexpress.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2004 [run_time] => 100 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000I2JKCO [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 683107 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 5-Part Documentary [1] => 4 Featurettes [2] => Music Video [3] => Interactive Game [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Animation [2] => Family [3] => Fantasy [4] => Musical ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Peter Scolari [1] => Nona Gaye [2] => Eddie Deezen [3] => Leslie Harter Zemeckis [4] => Tom Hanks ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Robert Zemeckis ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => On Christmas Eve, a doubting boy boards a magical train that's headed to the North Pole and Santa Claus's home. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Additional scene: "Smokey and Steamer"
• 5-Part Documentary: "Ticket to Ride"
• 4 Featurettes: "You Look Familiar: The Many 'Polar Faces' of Tom Hanks," "True Inspirations: An Author's Adventure - Profiling Chris Van Allsburg," "Behind the scenes of 'Believe'" and "Meet the Snow"
• Music video
• Interactive game: "'Polar Express' Challenge"
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Polar Express.' [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 20 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

I have to admit that at first I was scared to see 'The Polar Express.' Between its images of a seemingly mummified Tom Hanks and all these little computer-generated tykes with their pasty faces and zombie eyes, the trailer quite honestly made it look less like a heartwarming family film and more like some sort of North Pole of the Damned.

But lo and behold, when the family finally dragged me out to see the flick a couple of years ago, somehow I survived the experience without suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Though I can't say I found the film as "wondrous" and "dazzling" as its marketing promised, after a while the film's motion control capture CGI began to blur into abstraction and I was ultimately able to immerse myself in the story. Still, 'The Polar Express' remains a film that's constantly in danger of its visual style overwhelming its subject matter, and the latter only barely ekes out a victory by film's end.

The story itself should be familiar to many, as it is based on the popular illustrated children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Looking back, I suppose the book always had the makings of a classic Christmas movie stamped all over it -- simple, universal, full of exciting action-adventure setpieces, and what kid doesn't love Santa Claus? The story concerns itself with "Hero Boy" (Tom Hanks, performing one of six different roles), a little Scrooge-in-the-making who has no use for Santa Claus and pre-sold holiday cheer. But then, on the night before Christmas, a mysterious locomotive pulls up in front of Hero Boy's house. Driven by the mysterious Conductor (Hanks again), the train whisks Hero Boy and a dozen other young travelers away on the journey of a lifetime. Overcoming all manner of thrills and spills on their way to the North Pole, ultimately our little Doubting Thomas will come face-to-face with Saint Nick, and will at last learn the true meaning of Christmas.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the film's target audience, but I'm also not immune to the powers of such fare. Unfortunately, 'The Polar Express' failed to cast a spell on me personally. Although the story itself may be enduring, taken in the context of a million other Christmas movies, it's a bit of a shopworn cliche. In fact, arguably the only thing truly "new" about the film is its technology, and like all effects-driven movies the shelf life of this stuff is short.

Even worse, ultimately the film fails to deliver where so many other modern flicks of its sort excel. Without giving away of the film's secrets, the moral of the story more or less boils down to the idea that Christmas rocks because you get presents. Forgive me, but I expected something a bit deeper. What about the value of selflessness? Sharing? Caring? Giving without receiving? Quite frankly, the morose, self-involved little brats riding 'The Polar Express' deserved to spend their Christmas Day working in a soup kitchen, not walking away with a new iPod.

All cynicism aside, 'The Polar Express' is certainly still a fun ride. Though nothing in a home theater environment will rival seeing the film in IMAX 3-D, it's hard to imagine kids not enjoying the spectacle of this film. The train-as-rollercoaster-scene, the slide ride at the North Pole present factory and the big finale are all thrilling sequences, and overall the film's visuals are a sight to behold. Though I found 'The Polar Express' emotionally hollow, I can't say I didn't enjoy taking in the sheer majesty of its technical achievement.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 934 [review_video] =>

The advertising campaign for 'The Polar Express' focused heavily on the film's pioneering animation, much to the exclusion of everything else. Created entirely in the computer realm, the actors where photographed using motion-control technology, which produced the most photo-realistic humans ever seen in an all-CGI feature. I personally find the technique quite unsettling, as everyone looks ghost-like and zombie-fied, with hollowed eyes and weird, ethereal movements. But apparently many others love this stuff.

However, technically, 'The Polar Express' is a beautiful-looking film. It certainly was magnificent when I saw it in IMAX 3-D a couple of years ago. Though the previous standard-def DVD was a very solid effort, it is pretty hard to match the IMAX experience. But now we have this HD DVD release, which definitely takes us one step closer. If nothing else, this is likely the best this film will ever look outside of a gargantuan, 50-foot-plus IMAX screen.

Presented in 1080p/VC-1 video and the film's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, 'The Polar Express' is visually captivating for its entire 100-minute runtime. As a direct-to-digital transfer, of course the source material is absolutely flawless. Physical imperfections such as dropouts, blemishes, dirt and grain just don't exist in this world. And since every last pixel of the picture was created entirely in a computer, the image has that impossibly stable and consistent look that only animated features can have.

That said, the transfer has a somewhat misty sheen to it that is entirely intentional. This may not be absolutely razor-sharp like some other animated features, but it faithfully replicates both of the theatrical showings of the film I saw. And make no mistake, it is a very sharp, detailed picture. Depth is often exquisite, with even the most minute image details apparent, from texture on snowflakes in wide shots to the finely-crafted buildings and landscapes of the North Pole. Texture, too, is often extraordinary for a CGI-animated film. The various clothing, such as the felt and fur of Santa's suit, are amazingly life-like and realistic.

If I have any hesitation in giving this one top marks, it is because I tend to prefer colors that are not too pumped up. 'The Polar Express' teeters on the brink of being oversaturated. However, I saw no chroma noise or bleeding even on the toughest hues, such as the rich reds of Santa's outfit. The majority of the film also boasts incredibly rich "fleshtones," as oranges bath the characters in an almost heavenly glow. I also admired the rich blue-purples of the nighttime scenes, and the the film's third act at the North Pole is flush with a wide palette of gorgeous primary colors.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 946 [review_audio] =>

Alas, Warner has produced no new Dolby TrueHD mix for 'The Polar Express.' It is the only real disappointment on an otherwise strong disc, as this film's soundtrack is a complete artificial construction from the ground-up and is a real stunner. Like the image, here is a movie that never sounds a false note, and some of the more exciting setpieces deliver the kind of enveloping, 360-degree sonic experience tailor-made to show off a home theater.

That said, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 640kbps) that we do get is quite good. Though not a monumental upgrade over the standard Dolby Digital track on the previous DVD, the soundfield is a bit more open and spacious. The rear channels are particularly impressive with subtle and discrete sounds. I was often amazed at how life-like and immersive the various train sounds felt, whether the humming metal or the puff-puff-puff of its steam engine. A couple of sequences really stand out, noticeably the train-as-rollercoaster crash, and the kids sliding through the chutes of the toy factory. Imaging here is fabulous, and I felt surrounded by a near wall-of-sound almost constantly. Really fun stuff.

Technical aspects of the mix are also excellent. Dynamic range and low-bass extension impress, with the chugging of the train a particular highlight. Alan Silvestri's score is also very nicely balanced throughout the film, and especially fills out the front speakers to great effect. The film's somewhat eerie dialogue (sorry, the voices of the characters are just as creepy as their faces) is always front and center in the mix, and I never once had to do any volume adjustment to compensate.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 935 [review_supplements] =>

Is this a trend? All of Warner's big A-list HD DVD releases streeting this week (including 'Batman Begins' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory') lack audio commentary tracks. 'The Polar Express' doesn't break that streak, and the entire supplement package rests on the shoulders of a series of short featurettes that are largely technical in nature.

The heart of the making-of material focuses exclusively on the film's motion-control capture technology. "You Look Familiar" shows Tom Hanks wearing a funny suit with little pinpoints on it, so his movements could be inputted into a computer. Hanks also had to act with himself, as he played most of the roles in the movie. I know some people find the actor annoying, but this featurette certainly showcases his considerable talents. This couldn't have been easy.

"A Genuine Ticket to Ride" is really a five-part breakdown of the production of the film's effects. Hosted by uber-geek Eddie Deezen (a long-time Robert Zemeckis regular, though he's perhaps best known for having been in 'Grease'), it is informative if sometimes dry, and personally, a little of this stuff goes a long way for me. I would have liked to heard more about the film's themes and story, but whatever. The five categories covered are: Performance Capture," "Virtual Camera," "Hair and Wardrobe," "Creating the North Pole" and "Music."

"True Inspirations," then, is refreshing, a 14-minute visit with author Chris Van Allsburg. As well as 'The Polar Express,' he also created the worlds for 'Jumanji' and 'Zathura,' and he seems to be a man of heart and character. After all the technical mumbo-jumbo, it is refreshing to watch something about 'The Polar Express' that is actually about real human beings. Somewhat ironic, no?

Rounding out the extras are some odds and ends. "Josh Groban at the Greek" is an encore performance by the famous singer of the film's closing song. A bit too syrupy for me. "Meet the Snow Angels" is nice featurette that collects various cast and crew reflections on their favorite holiday experiences. Sweet and good natured. Finally, there is also a half-unfinished deleted song, "Smokey and the Steamer." A mix of animated footage, storyboards and animatics, the late Michael Jeter sang both of the song's vocal parts, and it is a pretty good tune, though nothing that wasn't wisely cut.

Last but not least, we have an interactive game for the kiddies, "'The Polar Express' Challenge," and the film's theatrical trailer presented in 1080i video and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 936 [review_bonus_content] =>

Despite the wealth of bonus material already produced for 'The Polar Express' and the kid-friendly nature of the movie, Warner has surprisingly elected to not produce an In-Movie Experience feature or any other HD exclusive content for 'The Polar Express.' So much for holiday cheer. (However, Warner has included their usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.)

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Polar Express' tries with every last fiber of its being to be a new perennial holiday classic. I found the film to be a bit too emotionally distant and flat to truly succeed at that lofty goal, but whatever the case, it's visually spectacular. This HD DVD is a fairly solid release from Warner, with a great transfer and all of the same supplements as the two-disc DVD version. Though I would have liked a Dolby TrueHD track and some exclusive HD content, I can't argue that this one doesn't offer great value for money.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 163 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => waistdeep [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Waist Deep [picture_created] => 1159002273 [picture_name] => waist-deep.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/waist-deep.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/163/waistdeep.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 97 [list_price] => 39.99 [asin] => B000HDZKM8 [amazon_price] => 35.99 [empire_id] => 1192064 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 2 Featurettes [1] => Deleted Scenes [2] => Music Video ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Crime [2] => Drama [3] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Tyrese Gibson [1] => Shawn Parr [2] => Henry Hunter Hall [3] => Johnny C. Pruitt [4] => Meagan Good ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Vondie Curtis-Hall ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => An ex-convict (Tyrese) gets tangled up with a gang after his car is hijacked with his son inside [preview_technology_specifications] => • 2 Featurettes: "Analysis of a Scene" and "Drive-By Filmmaking"
• Deleted Scenes
• Music Video: "Bad Girl" by Tyrese [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 139 [review_movie_stars] => 1.5 [review_movie] =>

'Waist Deep' is the kind of movie I dread reviewing. Being a Midwestern white boy from the suburbs whose first (and so far only) rap album owned is the Beastie Boys' "License to Ill," the world of the "urban street drama" is about as far away from my experience as is possible. So when I see movies like 'Waist Deep' and find them humorous and campy, I'm sure I hold about as much credibility as Dr. Josef Mengele writing a one-star review of 'Schindler's List.'

But however hollow my guffaws might ring, I did nothing but chuckle and cringe throughout 'Waist Deep.' Here's a s movie that strains for significance but only ends up reveling in cliches. Worse, it seems to wallow in the kind of cheap, exploitative violence its story and characters spend the whole movie arguing against. I suppose if it wasn't so stylishly derivative and admittedly entertaining, I might have had more time to be offended.

Tyrese Gibson stars as O2, an ex-con only one strike away from spending life back in prison. But fresh out of the slammer, he's determined to go straight and give his young son, Junior (H. Hunter Hall) the better life he never had. But after the explosive opener when Junior kidnapped in a bloody carjacking, O2 is drawn back to violence and on the lam. With few options, O2 enlists the aid of beautiful hustler named Coco (Meagan Good), who was peripherally involved in the carjacking, to track down Big Meat (rapper The Game), a vicious local thug who likes to chop off the body parts off his enemies with a machete. Meat demands that O2 come up with $100,000 within 48 hours if he wants his son back in one piece. So O2 and Coco take to the streets and stage a series of bank robberies to pay for Junior's freedom.

'Waist Deep' might not have been as problematic if it didn't aspire to be more than just a stylish, exploitative B-movie. Instead, director Vondie Curtis Hall strives for resonance and social commentary, adding a variety of questionable touches to what on paper is standard crime flick fodder. Was Hall being anything but ironic by staging O2 and Coco's crime spree on the same days leading up to a local "Save Our Streets" anti-violence rally? Are we really supposed to align our sympathies with the whining O2 and Coco, two damaged people who go on and on about ending the bloodshed by turning themselves into a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde? (Conveniently, of course, no innocent people are killed during their gun-toting crime spree -- see, they're just misunderstood!) And then there is the movie's moronic conclusion, which is too hilarious to spoil -- you just gotta see it to believe that the filmmakers actually expected us to buy it.

Add to all this Curtis Hall's cribbed visual style -- there isn't an MTV cliche he doesn't miss -- which leaves 'Waist Deep' looking like a dozen other, better urban dramas. Which is a bit of a surprise, because even though Curtis Hall directed the legendary Mariah Carey boondoggle 'Glitter,' he has gone on to helm some very fine episodic television, including 'Sleeper Cell,' 'The Shield' and 'E/R.' Given his recent track record, I hoped for and expected a little more originality and substance out of this one.

What keeps 'Waist Deep' from completely falling into the dumpster are Gibson and Good. Even if Denzel Washington and Halle Berry have nothing to worry about, the pair manage to create a genuine chemistry onscreen and invest their character's cliched backstories with a believable pathos. Still, there is only so much they can do with such poorly conceived material. Perhaps I would have respected 'Waist Deep' a bit more if it had surrounded them with a more credible plot and less hollow politicking. Here is a movie supposedly all about personal choices, yet it implies that its two main characters have only one. There is a potentially thought-provoking and honest story in here somewhere trying to get out, but instead we end up with another one of those irritating violence-filled exploitation movies that preach anti-violence. 'Waist Deep,' indeed -- in hypocrisy.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 964 [review_video] =>

Universal has produced another HD DVD/DVD combo release for 'Waist Deep,' this one a HD-15/DVD-9 double-sided disc. This 2.35:1 widescreen, 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks nice, with a clean, stylized picture that suits the film well.

I found the film's visual style cliched, so I guess this transfer's slightly overpumped colors and contrasted image are appropriate. Colors are smooth and free of chroma noise, but sometimes the heavy use of filters leaves the transfer artificial in appearance. Fleshtones often look a bit too orange (especially daylight scenes), but I guess the MTV generation likes this kind of stuff nowadays? Whites can sometimes blow out a bit, but again it appears intentional. The image as a result is somewhat soft, but overall detail is still very good. The transfer boasts considerable depth throughout, with even darker interiors appearing at least somewhat three dimensional. And as expected with a new release, the print is in pristine shape with no blemishes or other anomalies to report.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'Waist Deep' gets the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround/1.5mbps treatment, and despite the high bitrate it is not an overwhelming sonic assault. A mid-budgeted affair, the film's sound design has moments of flash and panache, though it sometimes misses prime opportunities for a truly involving experience.

The most prominent element of the soundtrack is the hip-hop song score. The tunes come across most forcefully in the mix, and are often pumped up in volume over the dialogue and effects (and all but obliterate the proper score by Kon Artis and Terence Blanchard. Surround bleed is rather nice on the songs, though effects are surprisingly lacking. We get some gunfire and the occasional speeding car directed to the rears, but otherwise the soundtrack lacks atmosphere. At least dynamics are solid, with nice low-bass extension on the songs, and natural-sound dialogue. Again, no great shakes here (this is no 'Fast and the Furious'), but perfectly listenable nonetheless.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 532 [review_supplements] =>

'Waist Deep' is another of Universal's HD DVD/DVD combos, which I'm not too big a fan of. I hate having to flip the disc over to access the bonus features, and I don't really understand what a high-def consumer would want with a standard-def version of the film anyway.

As for this disc's extras, they are pretty slim. Two featurettes only run a combined 12 minutes total, and are hardly in-depth. "Analysis of a Scene" dissects the opening kidnap sequence, from staging a considerable number of set-ups in a single day to wrangling hundreds of extras. "Drive-By Filmmaking," meanwhile, is not about filming at McDonalds but a look at the various cars featured in the film. Why they chose this aspect of the film to highlight above all others (how about the story, or the cast?) is rather curious.

The only other major extra of note is 13 minutes of Deleted Scenes and a few random outtakes. There actually is a considerable subplot here that was snipped out involving two detectives, which I kinda liked. But perhaps, like most of the film, it was too cliched to include.

Rounding out the package is a music video for the song "Bad Girl" by Black Buddafly. No theatrical trailers or other previews are included.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nuthin' here. Unless you count Universal's crap HD DVD plain-jane menus as a bonus feature.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 533 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Waist Deep' is a fairly straightforward "urban" street drama, one that doesn't have much new to say beyond cliches. As for this HD DVD/DVD combo, what it does it does well, though that's minimal. The nice transfer and vibey soundtrack deliver, though the supplements are pretty wimpy. If you're a fan of the genre 'Waist Deep' is worth checking out, though a better bet for urban newbies might be such recent HD DVD releases like 'Four Brothers.'

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 100 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => willywonkaandthechocolatefactory [review_release_date] => 1160463600 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [picture_created] => 1158730344 [picture_name] => willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/19/120/willy-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/100/willywonkaandthechocolatefactory.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1971 [run_time] => 98 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000IXZ7M0 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1217056 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround [2] => Span ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Featurette [2] => Sing-Along [3] => Still Gallery [4] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Comedy [2] => Family [3] => Musical ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Roy Kinnear [1] => Jack Albert [2] => Peter Ostrum [3] => Gene Wilder ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Mel Stuart ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => A poor boy wins the oppurtunity to tour the most eccentric and wonderful candy factory of all. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio commentary with all five "Wonka Kids"
• Featurette: "Pure Imagination"
• Sing-along
• Still gallery
• Theatrical trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => None [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 4.5 [review_movie] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' is the scariest children's movie ever made. One can only imagine the horrified faces of parents in 1971 who took their children to see what they though would be just another G-rated tale of wonder and instead go the first slasher flick for the preteen set. Watch as five unsuspecting contest winners get picked off one by one, all set to the beat of toe-tapping tunes like "Pure Imagination." That 'Wonka's candy-colored wonderland ultimately resembles not so much a magical world of whimsy but a makeshift purgatory only adds to the demented fun. Never has a family entertainment been this subversive and sublime.

Based on the much-beloved 1964 novel "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl, the retitled 'Willy Wonka' was a box office bust upon first release but quickly became a perennial favorite via endless television airings. Dahl's dark satire has been cited as a major influence on everyone form Tim Burton (who remade the film himself in 2005 as 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory') to shock rocker Marilyn Manson, and Gene Wilder's living embodiment of Wonka has become iconic. A sort of dark doppelganger to Santa Claus, he relishes in his grim task of deciding who's been naughty and who's been nice. But with the help of his demented band of Oompa-Loompas, Wonka's hidden agenda will be made clear by journey's end. Each of the handpicked five has a lesson to learn, but not all children, when put to the test, will rise to the challenge.

Far more than even Burton's big-budget update, the original 'Willy Wonka' distills the essence of a Grimm's fairy to the purest form ever seen onscreen. The film is a visual and aural delight, its fantastic visuals masking a deeper, darker sensibility. Harper Goff's imaginative designs for Wonka's factory are colorful, surreal masterpieces of ingenuity and invention (remember the candy-flavored wallpaper, or Wonka's office, where everything is cut in half?), and we breathlessly await the wonders to come around every corner. Rarely has a film's production design created a suspense of its own, just be simply being. Also memorable are the songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, which are infused with a truly glorious child-like wonder, from the signature "Candy Man" and "Pure Imagination" to the creepy, nursery rhyme-like dirges of the Oompa-Loompas.

But what galvanizes the film is Wilder, who delivers one of his finest performances as the mischievous and seemingly sadistic Wonka. Bittersweet, not saccharine, he smartly avoids playing Wonka as typical Disneyesque father figure (a problem Burton's remake forgot) but instead as an all-knowing, ultimately benevolent guardian angel. Wilder understands, like Dahl, that although we may want life to always be as sweet as an Everlasting Gobstopper, eventually the pure innocence of youth must give way to the darker realities of adulthood. And that the gift of a golden ticket can be dangerous in the hands of the greedy, the lazy, the selfish and the impatient.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 947 [review_video] =>

Warner Home Video originally released 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' on DVD back in 1997 with rather mediocre video, then followed that up with the announcement in 2001 of a 30th Anniversary Edition -- in full frame only. The news quickly drew ire from DVD enthusiasts on the Internet, who wanted a deluxe 'Wonka' in widescreen. The backlash became so fierce that a virtual petition amassed thousands of signatures in a mere few days. Warner soon relented, and Mr. Wonka himself would have been proud.

This new HD DVD version appears to have been minted from that same 2001 master (even the bits of dust and dirt match exactly), so the source material is technically dated. Despite that, and though perhaps not a frame-for-frame restoration on the level of Warner's top-tier titles like 'Citizen Kane,' 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Singin' in the Rain,' this 1080p/VC-1 transfer of 'Willy Wonka' still looks good enough to lick. Colors are as sweet as cotton candy, and certainly improved over the standard-def release. Even the lushest reds, purples and greens free from bleeding and chroma noise. Detail is also raised up a notch, with Harper Goff's immense sets revealing finer details even in long shots, while even the smallest hairs on the purple pelt of Willy Wonka's coat are readily apparent.

However, there is some inconsistency in softness throughout the transfer, with some shots appearing a bit less detailed than others. Dirt and print defects are still present, especially any sequence involving an optical effect (the all-white walls during the Mike TeeVee segment are hit particularly hard). Blacks and contrast also waver just a little, again during effects sequences, with isolated moments washed out or flat. But these are minor quibbles for a film now enjoying its 35th anniversary, and Willy Wonka looks just dandy in high def.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Warner presents 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' in Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 (encoded at 640kbps), but quite frankly the boost matters little. Even the 2001 remaster, as nice as it was, could do little for a film this front heavy.

The majority of 'Willy Wonka' is directed to the front three channels. Dialogue is nicely reproduced for a film of this vintage, and gone is all the crackling and shrill high-end that marred the first DVD and the old videotape releases. The film's music score, too, is richer, with far more spacious mid-range and some nice stereo effects present on vocals and specific instruments. Low bass is still pretty anemic, however. Surround use is also lacking, and save for the vary rare discrete effect there is little sonic atmosphere to enjoy. There is certainly no mistaking this for a modern mix, but 'Willy Wonka' is perfectly listenable nonetheless.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 948 [review_supplements] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' has always appealed to adults as much as, if not more than, children, a fact which Warner finally understood when it re-released the film in a 30th Anniversary Edition DVD back in 2001. That release boasted a nice assortment of tasty treats, which were largely free of the inane fluff that usually mars family titles on disc. And all have survived the journey to HD DVD.

Reunited for a group audio commentary are all five of the film's golden ticket winners: Peter Ostrum (Charlie Bucket), Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt), Denise Nickerson (Violet Beauregard), Paris Themmen (Mike TeeVee) and Michael Bollner (Augustus Gloop). Their reunion is a real treat, as much a chance to marvel at the passage of time as to revel in the amusing anecdotes shared by all. All five also join in for the 30-minute documentary "Pure Imagination," along with director Mel Stuart, producer Donald P. Wolper and Gene Wilder. Recounted is the story of how the film was largely dismissed upon its original theatrical release, but has since become a part of the cultural vernacular. A smattering of never-before-seen footage also includes a few surprises, including the late Anthony Newley unveiling the song "Pure Imagination" to Wolper, and a rare peek at the construction of the Goff's now-classic factory sets. Plus it's totally wild to see the Wonka kids all grown up. This one is a must for nostalgia-holics.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Hardly scrumpdillyicious is the lack of any exclusive HD content. The somewhat inferior 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at least got an In-Movie Experience feature, so why not 'Willy Wonka?' At least Warner gives us the usual custom bookmark, interactive timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' is a classic that needs no introduction. Warner has put together a tasty HD DVD, with a luscious transfer, a perfectly respectable soundtrack and the same extras as the standard DVD release. No, nothing here pushes the boundaries of the format or offers much that is new, but 'Willy Wonka' is never less than a tasty treat.

) ) ) ) ) [October 3, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 775 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => neworleansconcert [review_release_date] => 1159858800 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul [picture_created] => 1174614396 [picture_name] => new-orleans-hd.gif [manufacturer_name] => Concert Hot Spot [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2007/03/22/120/new-orleans-hd.gif [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/775/neworleansconcert.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 94 [list_price] => 34.95 [asin] => B000I0QLUK [amazon_price] => 23.95 [empire_id] => 1206373 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080i/MPEG-2 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer/DVD-9 Dual-Layer Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => English PCM 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Bonus Tracks [1] => Interviews ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => None ) [review_editors_notes] => Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul.' [review_bottom_line] => Give it a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 6028 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

I don't mean to sound like a musical Grinch, but benefit concerts tend to be a mixed bag. Not that I don't appreciate and support such charitable sentiments, but purely in terms of a captivating, cohesive performance, they often fall short. The talent rosters are all over the place, often bringing together a disparate clutch of acts so wide in appeal that there is little continuity from one performance to the next. We may want to tune in to support the cause, but do we actually want to tune in to watch the show?

Unfortunately, 'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul' suffers from this syndrome. Quite frankly, I recognized few of the acts on the guest list, and there seemed little rhyme or reason behind their selection. The lack of any truly A-list talent is also a problem -- this is no Live Aid-style, global spectacular, but instead more of an assemblage of local artists barely known outside of the city. And while that's certainly interesting in its own right, it does limit the audience for a home entertainment release of its sort.

To be fair, 'New Orleans Concert' does have its share of moments. Standouts include a couple of great duets -- including Allen Toussaint and Jon Cleary's "Tiptina," and Irma Thomas and Toussaint again on "It's Raining," which opens the show. I also liked Joss Stone's "Dirty Man," and a nice version of "Amazing Grace" from Aaron Neville. On the opposite side of the coin, many tracks here are quite forgettable, and Keith Richards' "I'm Ready" is simply godawful. And though no fault of the organizers, I have to admit to being excited to see The Dixie Chicks, until I realized it was actually The Dixie Cups, a group I'd never knew existed. Bummer.

Needlesstosay, we can all be in agreement on the importance of the cause. Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of New Orleans and its surrounding areas, and despite the government initially throwing a bunch of money at the problem, a few weeks after the devastation it was back to business as usual. The 'New Orleans Concert' was quickly organized and raised an admirable amount of dollars for those most in need. Unfortunately, that alone can't elevate this benefit show to the level of the must-see, unless you happen to be a really huge fan of a few of these artists.

The track list: 01. "It's Raining" - Irma Thomas & Allen Toussaint / 02. "Dirty Man" - Joss Stone / 03. "Amazing Grace" - Aaron Neville / 04. "Tipitina" - Allen Toussaint & Jon Cleary / 05. "Chapel Of Love" - The Dixie Cups / 06. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" - Lloyd Price / 07. "Southern Nights" - Allen Toussaint / 08. "What Is Success" - Bonnie Raitt / 09. "Rip It Up" - Ivan Neville & Earl Palmer / 10. "Barefootin'" - Walter Washington with Poppa Funk's Boys / 11. "Land of 1000 Dances" - Walter Washington with Poppa Funk's Boys / 12. "I'm Ready" - Keith Richards / 13. "Come On" - Snooks Eaglin & George Porter Jr. / 14. "I Hear You Knockin'" - Snooks Eaglin / 15. "Ohh Wee Baby" - Art Neville with Steve Jordan / 16. "Trick Bag" - Aaron Neville / 17. "Yellow Moon" - Neville Brothers Band / 18. "Fire On The Bayou" - Neville Brothers Band / 19. "Hey Pocky Way" - Ensemble

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 0 [review_video] =>

'New Orleans Concert' comes to us courtesy of indie distributor Concert Hot Spot, the same company behind the previously reviewed 'A View from Space with Heavenly Music.' Like 'A View from Space,' this one is also available on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, giving early adopters their choice of format.

Both releases share an identical 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i/MPEG-2 encode. And while the concert was shot-live-on-HD, unfortunately it's a bit softer than most, lacking the pop of the best next-gen music titles out there. As is often the case with less choreographed benefit concerts like these, the show's lighting is fairly straight-forward (with little variation in intensity or cool visual effects), which further flattens out the image. At least the performers are always brightly lit, so poor detail is never really a problem. Colors are also fairly vivid, although noise can be a frequent problem in dark areas. Happily, there are no major compression problems (such as macroblocking).

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

This HD DVD includes a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Unfortunately, Concert Hot Spot did not supply any bitrate info, though I can only surmise it's identical to the Blu-ray (640kbps), as a direct compare of the soundtracks reveals no detectable difference.

Simply put, this is not the best recording of a live event I've ever heard. There is a slightly distant quality to the mix, as if the technicians had placed the microphones just a hair too far away from the instruments. The muted crowd noise also cuts both ways -- never distracting from the music, but also putting a damper on the apparent energy level. Tech specs are solid, if unspectacular. Bass is good if not up there with the best next-gen audio I've heard, such as 'Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time' or 'John Legend Live at the House of Blues.' Same goes for frequency response, which feels a tad flat. Surround use is typical for a live recording, reserved primarily for crowd noise and only minor bleed and separation of instruments.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Concert Hot Spot has also provided identical extras for both the HD DVD and Blu-ray.

The main attraction is probably the four cut musical performances -- "Hey Little Girl" by Henry Butler, "Feet Can't Fail Me Now" by the Dirty Dozen Band, "Bah Duey Duey" by Big Sam's Funky Nation," and "Sew, Sew, Sew" by Monk Bordreaux and the Mardi Gras Indians. To be honest, I've never heard of a single one of these artists, though a couple of the numbers, particularly Butler's, would have fit perfectly well into the main set.

Also included are two interviews, with New Orleans' musical veteran Earl Palmer and blues session player Jon Cleary. Both total a little less than ten minutes. Palmer, in particular, projects a rich sense of the city's history -- his short chat is definitely worth watching.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul' is fairly typical of charity concerts in that it's a mix-and-match of artists of generally negligible connection. As such, I enjoyed some performances, while others I did not. The quality of this HD DVD is also good but not exceptional, with a somewhat soft, static transfer and only decent audio. Still, if you like the roster of talent, this one's certainly worth a watch. Either way, this title serves as a reminder that there are those in New Orleans and its surrounding areas who are still struggling following the devasting wrath of Hurricane Katrina, and that every penny helps. Why not consider making a donation to a Katrina-related charity today?


) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 160 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => patmethenygroup_wayup [review_release_date] => 1159858800 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live [picture_created] => 1158998808 [picture_name] => pat-methany.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Eagle Rock Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/pat-methany.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/160/patmethenygroup_wayup.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 91 [list_price] => 24.98 [asin] => B000I5XDWY [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1210991 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 Widescreen ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Biographies ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English LPCM Uncompressed Stereo 2.0 [1] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => English DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Interview ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English Subtitles [1] => Spanish Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Italian Subtitles [4] => Dutch Subtitles [5] => Portugese Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Music ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Pat Metheny Group ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Filmed in late 2005, "The Way Up Live" features the full concert version of the Pat Metheny Group's most recent album "The Way Up", which earned the band their 10th Grammy Award and Metheny personally his 17th. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Featurette - Interview with Pat Metheny
• Band Biographies
• Discography [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live.' [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 54481 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

Made famous in the late '70s, Pat Metheny has built a reputation for being a constant innovator in his subgenre of jazz fusion. With the inception of The Pat Metheny Group, he established an appetite for perfection that's never been quenched. Several members have come and gone, but two things have remained constant -- Pat Metheny on the guitar and Lyle Mays on the keys. The two have been recording together since Metheny's second album, "Watercolors," and their improvisation is a display of both mastery and experience.

Over the course of thirteen albums, The Pat Metheny Group has gained a following of loyal fans. However, the release of "The Way Up" in 2005 split those fans into two camps -- people intrigued by the extremes to which Metheny was exploring progressive jazz, and people who were annoyed. Some longtime fans felt betrayed by the band's apparent stylistic departure and message boards were packed with messages, illustrating the mixed reactions. Interestingly enough, as it stands on its own, "The Way Up" is more akin to a classical masterpiece composed with jazz stylings than anything else. It's this defiance of expectations that drew outrage from fans, but that's also exactly what sets Pat Metheny apart from other musicians who only deliver what's expected.

The 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a high-def release of a concert recorded in Seoul, Korea during the band's latest tour. Metheny and Mays are joined by Steve Rodby on bass, Cuong Vu on trumpet, Antonio Sanchez on percussion, and Gregoire Maret on harmonica and other assorted instruments. Rounding out the artists is guest performer Nando Lauria who sings, plays guitar, and tackles other instruments as well.

The symphonic performance is tough to categorize sincee there aren't any songs per se. Like the studio album, the concert is actually a continuous instrumental movement, divided only by name ("Opening," "Part One," "Part Two," and "Part Three"). That being said, the music is so engaging and dynamic that it held my attention throughout. Not everyone will be pleased -- some music fans will find the lack of melodic structure a turn off, and it does take a bit of patience to enjoy the performance in the way Metheny intends. Jazz junkies will also have a hit-or-miss relationship with 'The Way Up: Live' because it stretches conventional jazz to the near-breaking point. Improvisation is merely the fuel behind something more organic and evolutionary -- although I'm not sure I enjoyed where this evolution took me. Metheny fans, particuarly those who loved the original album, will be right at home as the band continues along down the pathway they've been traveling since the mid-eighties.

Metheny makes his way through a variety of guitars throughout the performance and really seems to sink deep into the music. The musicians are all engaging, with the only major downside (for those already enjoying the music) coming from the fact that the concert isn't visually striking. Band members are usually flooded by one tone of light that occasionally shifts color and there isn't much to keep an audience interested if they're not completely sold on the band's sound.

All in all, 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a great concert disc for fans of Metheny, jazz fusion, or progressive instrumental music. For the uninitiated, it's an intriguing performance that will at least give you something to think about. To be fair though, this sort of concert isn't for general music fans, so tread carefully if you're not sure of what to expect.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 2407 [review_video] =>

Presented in 1080p with a VC-1 codec, 'Pat Metheny: The Way Up: Live' is technically sound, but unimpressive for the most part. To its credit, black levels are nice, colors are vibrant, and fine object detail is well rendered. Stubble and hair are crisp, edges are sharp, and facial details like pores and freckles are easily seen. The source itself is devoid of noise and even the darkest corners avoid troublesome crush issues. Contrast levels are very dramatic and I was impressed with the overall three-dimensional illusion of the image.

My biggest issue with this transfer is that there isn't a lot going on to put the picture to a real test. The musicians are static for the most part, lighting is single toned, and the stark colors don't leave a lot of room for proper shadow delineation. There aren't any moments that have an impact, and the visuals amount to little more than a technically solid bore. For those of you unsure of which version to chose, there is no discernable difference between the picture quality of the HD DVD and Blu-ray editions of this release.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 2408 [review_audio] =>

This release features three audio tracks -- a well rounded Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix, a less than stellar compressed DTS-HD mix, and an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo mix -- and these selections provide a lot of great sound. However, no single audio option provides the best of all worlds. As usual, I can't wrap my head around why concert discs like this one avoid uncompressed 5.1 surround tracks that have the soundfield ambiance of a Dolby mix and the pitch-perfect clarity of a Master Audio track. As it stands, the concert atmosphere is best reproduced by the Dolby 5.1 mix and the song quality is best preserved in the front-heavy stereo mix. I found myself flipping back and forth in an attempt to fake it, but only grew frustrated and distracted.

A mix of the two would've made me contemplate a perfect audio rating. The acoustics and soundfield immersion on the Dolby surround mix is wonderful -- crowd noise and echoes loft from the rear speakers across the channels as the music dominates the stage ahead. On the flip side, the guitar and piano notes are gloriously stable on the uncompressed track -- treble tones are crisp, bass tones have more presence, and the mix boasts an astounding dynamic range that brings the music to life. The instrumentation is expertly prioritized on both of these tracks, and Metheny's guitars don't dominate the day (as one might expect from a man whose name is central to the band's identity).

Pick your poison -- concert fans will enjoy the liveliness of the Dolby surround mix and music enthusiasts will adore the clarity of the uncompressed stereo track. If you want both, you'll have to settle on one or the other. For the most part, avoid the DTS-HD mix altogether because the HD label is a bit of a misnomer. The sound seemed slightly muddled and was more what I'd expect from a standard DVD sound package.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

The lone featurette on this high-def release is also available on the standard DVD, but here it's presented in a lovely 1080p. It features a twenty-two minute interview with Pat Metheny -- in person an introspective, thoughtful, and engaging man who really seems to understands his craft and his music. I would highly recommend this featurette to anyone, even those who didn't enjoy the band's fusion performance. Metheny discusses the history of the band, old and new friendships, the changing times, and the evolution of his music. It really seemed as if he was enjoying the chance to chat with fans and makes it clear that he feels ecstatic to play jazz for a living.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

The only exclusive content is a collection of bios for the members of The Pat Metheny Group. I was surprised to find a wealth of information compared to the blurbs most bios spew out on concert discs. For those who enjoyed the performance, this is a great place to learn about the performers. However, long time Metheny fans will find little here that feels fresh and, to be honest, anyone could find the same information with a few searches online.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 2409 [review_final_thoughts] =>

The Pat Metheny Group isn't for everyone -- they provide a challenging blend of progressive and fusion jazz that is more concerned with defying convention than creating exquisite melodies. 'Pat Metheny: The Way Up: Live' doesn't drift far from the audio CD, so Metheny fans should base their judgment of purchasing this disc on their love or hate of that single album. Those new to Metheny should give him a try, but know that it takes a very specific taste to enjoy this sort of music. The video is technically solid but simplistic, the one excellent supplement isn't enough to keep you around, and the concert itself is a tough slog if you don't enjoy it right away. However, the audio quality is top notch -- I just wish the disc had an uncompressed surround mix instead of forcing me to chose between the live atmosphere and the music itself.

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 775 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => neworleansconcert [review_release_date] => 1159858800 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul [picture_created] => 1174614396 [picture_name] => new-orleans-hd.gif [manufacturer_name] => Concert Hot Spot [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2007/03/22/120/new-orleans-hd.gif [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/775/neworleansconcert.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 94 [list_price] => 34.95 [asin] => B000I0QLUK [amazon_price] => 23.95 [empire_id] => 1206373 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080i/MPEG-2 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer/DVD-9 Dual-Layer Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => English PCM 2.0 Stereo ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Bonus Tracks [1] => Interviews ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => None ) [review_editors_notes] => Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul.' [review_bottom_line] => Give it a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 6028 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

I don't mean to sound like a musical Grinch, but benefit concerts tend to be a mixed bag. Not that I don't appreciate and support such charitable sentiments, but purely in terms of a captivating, cohesive performance, they often fall short. The talent rosters are all over the place, often bringing together a disparate clutch of acts so wide in appeal that there is little continuity from one performance to the next. We may want to tune in to support the cause, but do we actually want to tune in to watch the show?

Unfortunately, 'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul' suffers from this syndrome. Quite frankly, I recognized few of the acts on the guest list, and there seemed little rhyme or reason behind their selection. The lack of any truly A-list talent is also a problem -- this is no Live Aid-style, global spectacular, but instead more of an assemblage of local artists barely known outside of the city. And while that's certainly interesting in its own right, it does limit the audience for a home entertainment release of its sort.

To be fair, 'New Orleans Concert' does have its share of moments. Standouts include a couple of great duets -- including Allen Toussaint and Jon Cleary's "Tiptina," and Irma Thomas and Toussaint again on "It's Raining," which opens the show. I also liked Joss Stone's "Dirty Man," and a nice version of "Amazing Grace" from Aaron Neville. On the opposite side of the coin, many tracks here are quite forgettable, and Keith Richards' "I'm Ready" is simply godawful. And though no fault of the organizers, I have to admit to being excited to see The Dixie Chicks, until I realized it was actually The Dixie Cups, a group I'd never knew existed. Bummer.

Needlesstosay, we can all be in agreement on the importance of the cause. Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of New Orleans and its surrounding areas, and despite the government initially throwing a bunch of money at the problem, a few weeks after the devastation it was back to business as usual. The 'New Orleans Concert' was quickly organized and raised an admirable amount of dollars for those most in need. Unfortunately, that alone can't elevate this benefit show to the level of the must-see, unless you happen to be a really huge fan of a few of these artists.

The track list: 01. "It's Raining" - Irma Thomas & Allen Toussaint / 02. "Dirty Man" - Joss Stone / 03. "Amazing Grace" - Aaron Neville / 04. "Tipitina" - Allen Toussaint & Jon Cleary / 05. "Chapel Of Love" - The Dixie Cups / 06. "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" - Lloyd Price / 07. "Southern Nights" - Allen Toussaint / 08. "What Is Success" - Bonnie Raitt / 09. "Rip It Up" - Ivan Neville & Earl Palmer / 10. "Barefootin'" - Walter Washington with Poppa Funk's Boys / 11. "Land of 1000 Dances" - Walter Washington with Poppa Funk's Boys / 12. "I'm Ready" - Keith Richards / 13. "Come On" - Snooks Eaglin & George Porter Jr. / 14. "I Hear You Knockin'" - Snooks Eaglin / 15. "Ohh Wee Baby" - Art Neville with Steve Jordan / 16. "Trick Bag" - Aaron Neville / 17. "Yellow Moon" - Neville Brothers Band / 18. "Fire On The Bayou" - Neville Brothers Band / 19. "Hey Pocky Way" - Ensemble

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 0 [review_video] =>

'New Orleans Concert' comes to us courtesy of indie distributor Concert Hot Spot, the same company behind the previously reviewed 'A View from Space with Heavenly Music.' Like 'A View from Space,' this one is also available on both HD DVD and Blu-ray, giving early adopters their choice of format.

Both releases share an identical 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i/MPEG-2 encode. And while the concert was shot-live-on-HD, unfortunately it's a bit softer than most, lacking the pop of the best next-gen music titles out there. As is often the case with less choreographed benefit concerts like these, the show's lighting is fairly straight-forward (with little variation in intensity or cool visual effects), which further flattens out the image. At least the performers are always brightly lit, so poor detail is never really a problem. Colors are also fairly vivid, although noise can be a frequent problem in dark areas. Happily, there are no major compression problems (such as macroblocking).

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

This HD DVD includes a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Unfortunately, Concert Hot Spot did not supply any bitrate info, though I can only surmise it's identical to the Blu-ray (640kbps), as a direct compare of the soundtracks reveals no detectable difference.

Simply put, this is not the best recording of a live event I've ever heard. There is a slightly distant quality to the mix, as if the technicians had placed the microphones just a hair too far away from the instruments. The muted crowd noise also cuts both ways -- never distracting from the music, but also putting a damper on the apparent energy level. Tech specs are solid, if unspectacular. Bass is good if not up there with the best next-gen audio I've heard, such as 'Nine Inch Nails: Beside You in Time' or 'John Legend Live at the House of Blues.' Same goes for frequency response, which feels a tad flat. Surround use is typical for a live recording, reserved primarily for crowd noise and only minor bleed and separation of instruments.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Concert Hot Spot has also provided identical extras for both the HD DVD and Blu-ray.

The main attraction is probably the four cut musical performances -- "Hey Little Girl" by Henry Butler, "Feet Can't Fail Me Now" by the Dirty Dozen Band, "Bah Duey Duey" by Big Sam's Funky Nation," and "Sew, Sew, Sew" by Monk Bordreaux and the Mardi Gras Indians. To be honest, I've never heard of a single one of these artists, though a couple of the numbers, particularly Butler's, would have fit perfectly well into the main set.

Also included are two interviews, with New Orleans' musical veteran Earl Palmer and blues session player Jon Cleary. Both total a little less than ten minutes. Palmer, in particular, projects a rich sense of the city's history -- his short chat is definitely worth watching.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'New Orleans Concert: The Music of America's Soul' is fairly typical of charity concerts in that it's a mix-and-match of artists of generally negligible connection. As such, I enjoyed some performances, while others I did not. The quality of this HD DVD is also good but not exceptional, with a somewhat soft, static transfer and only decent audio. Still, if you like the roster of talent, this one's certainly worth a watch. Either way, this title serves as a reminder that there are those in New Orleans and its surrounding areas who are still struggling following the devasting wrath of Hurricane Katrina, and that every penny helps. Why not consider making a donation to a Katrina-related charity today?


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• Band Biographies
• Discography [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live.' [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 54481 [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

Made famous in the late '70s, Pat Metheny has built a reputation for being a constant innovator in his subgenre of jazz fusion. With the inception of The Pat Metheny Group, he established an appetite for perfection that's never been quenched. Several members have come and gone, but two things have remained constant -- Pat Metheny on the guitar and Lyle Mays on the keys. The two have been recording together since Metheny's second album, "Watercolors," and their improvisation is a display of both mastery and experience.

Over the course of thirteen albums, The Pat Metheny Group has gained a following of loyal fans. However, the release of "The Way Up" in 2005 split those fans into two camps -- people intrigued by the extremes to which Metheny was exploring progressive jazz, and people who were annoyed. Some longtime fans felt betrayed by the band's apparent stylistic departure and message boards were packed with messages, illustrating the mixed reactions. Interestingly enough, as it stands on its own, "The Way Up" is more akin to a classical masterpiece composed with jazz stylings than anything else. It's this defiance of expectations that drew outrage from fans, but that's also exactly what sets Pat Metheny apart from other musicians who only deliver what's expected.

The 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a high-def release of a concert recorded in Seoul, Korea during the band's latest tour. Metheny and Mays are joined by Steve Rodby on bass, Cuong Vu on trumpet, Antonio Sanchez on percussion, and Gregoire Maret on harmonica and other assorted instruments. Rounding out the artists is guest performer Nando Lauria who sings, plays guitar, and tackles other instruments as well.

The symphonic performance is tough to categorize sincee there aren't any songs per se. Like the studio album, the concert is actually a continuous instrumental movement, divided only by name ("Opening," "Part One," "Part Two," and "Part Three"). That being said, the music is so engaging and dynamic that it held my attention throughout. Not everyone will be pleased -- some music fans will find the lack of melodic structure a turn off, and it does take a bit of patience to enjoy the performance in the way Metheny intends. Jazz junkies will also have a hit-or-miss relationship with 'The Way Up: Live' because it stretches conventional jazz to the near-breaking point. Improvisation is merely the fuel behind something more organic and evolutionary -- although I'm not sure I enjoyed where this evolution took me. Metheny fans, particuarly those who loved the original album, will be right at home as the band continues along down the pathway they've been traveling since the mid-eighties.

Metheny makes his way through a variety of guitars throughout the performance and really seems to sink deep into the music. The musicians are all engaging, with the only major downside (for those already enjoying the music) coming from the fact that the concert isn't visually striking. Band members are usually flooded by one tone of light that occasionally shifts color and there isn't much to keep an audience interested if they're not completely sold on the band's sound.

All in all, 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a great concert disc for fans of Metheny, jazz fusion, or progressive instrumental music. For the uninitiated, it's an intriguing performance that will at least give you something to think about. To be fair though, this sort of concert isn't for general music fans, so tread carefully if you're not sure of what to expect.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 2407 [review_video] =>

Presented in 1080p with a VC-1 codec, 'Pat Metheny: The Way Up: Live' is technically sound, but unimpressive for the most part. To its credit, black levels are nice, colors are vibrant, and fine object detail is well rendered. Stubble and hair are crisp, edges are sharp, and facial details like pores and freckles are easily seen. The source itself is devoid of noise and even the darkest corners avoid troublesome crush issues. Contrast levels are very dramatic and I was impressed with the overall three-dimensional illusion of the image.

My biggest issue with this transfer is that there isn't a lot going on to put the picture to a real test. The musicians are static for the most part, lighting is single toned, and the stark colors don't leave a lot of room for proper shadow delineation. There aren't any moments that have an impact, and the visuals amount to little more than a technically solid bore. For those of you unsure of which version to chose, there is no discernable difference between the picture quality of the HD DVD and Blu-ray editions of this release.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 2408 [review_audio] =>

This release features three audio tracks -- a well rounded Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix, a less than stellar compressed DTS-HD mix, and an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo mix -- and these selections provide a lot of great sound. However, no single audio option provides the best of all worlds. As usual, I can't wrap my head around why concert discs like this one avoid uncompressed 5.1 surround tracks that have the soundfield ambiance of a Dolby mix and the pitch-perfect clarity of a Master Audio track. As it stands, the concert atmosphere is best reproduced by the Dolby 5.1 mix and the song quality is best preserved in the front-heavy stereo mix. I found myself flipping back and forth in an attempt to fake it, but only grew frustrated and distracted.

A mix of the two would've made me contemplate a perfect audio rating. The acoustics and soundfield immersion on the Dolby surround mix is wonderful -- crowd noise and echoes loft from the rear speakers across the channels as the music dominates the stage ahead. On the flip side, the guitar and piano notes are gloriously stable on the uncompressed track -- treble tones are crisp, bass tones have more presence, and the mix boasts an astounding dynamic range that brings the music to life. The instrumentation is expertly prioritized on both of these tracks, and Metheny's guitars don't dominate the day (as one might expect from a man whose name is central to the band's identity).

Pick your poison -- concert fans will enjoy the liveliness of the Dolby surround mix and music enthusiasts will adore the clarity of the uncompressed stereo track. If you want both, you'll have to settle on one or the other. For the most part, avoid the DTS-HD mix altogether because the HD label is a bit of a misnomer. The sound seemed slightly muddled and was more what I'd expect from a standard DVD sound package.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

The lone featurette on this high-def release is also available on the standard DVD, but here it's presented in a lovely 1080p. It features a twenty-two minute interview with Pat Metheny -- in person an introspective, thoughtful, and engaging man who really seems to understands his craft and his music. I would highly recommend this featurette to anyone, even those who didn't enjoy the band's fusion performance. Metheny discusses the history of the band, old and new friendships, the changing times, and the evolution of his music. It really seemed as if he was enjoying the chance to chat with fans and makes it clear that he feels ecstatic to play jazz for a living.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

The only exclusive content is a collection of bios for the members of The Pat Metheny Group. I was surprised to find a wealth of information compared to the blurbs most bios spew out on concert discs. For those who enjoyed the performance, this is a great place to learn about the performers. However, long time Metheny fans will find little here that feels fresh and, to be honest, anyone could find the same information with a few searches online.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 2409 [review_final_thoughts] =>

The Pat Metheny Group isn't for everyone -- they provide a challenging blend of progressive and fusion jazz that is more concerned with defying convention than creating exquisite melodies. 'Pat Metheny: The Way Up: Live' doesn't drift far from the audio CD, so Metheny fans should base their judgment of purchasing this disc on their love or hate of that single album. Those new to Metheny should give him a try, but know that it takes a very specific taste to enjoy this sort of music. The video is technically solid but simplistic, the one excellent supplement isn't enough to keep you around, and the concert itself is a tough slog if you don't enjoy it right away. However, the audio quality is top notch -- I just wish the disc had an uncompressed surround mix instead of forcing me to chose between the live atmosphere and the music itself.

) ) ) ) [September 26, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 155 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => 2fast2furious [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => 2 Fast 2 Furious [picture_created] => 1154036392 [picture_name] => 2-fast-2-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/07/27/120/2-fast-2-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/155/2fast2furious.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2003 [run_time] => 108 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GW8OAK [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1181167 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 6 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes [3] => Fact Track ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Crime [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Paul Walker [1] => Tyrese Gibson [2] => Eva Mendes [3] => Cole Hauser [4] => Ludacris ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Singleton ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Set in Miami, Officer O'Conner, stripped of his badge, is recruited to infiltrate the Miami street racing circuit in an effort to redeem himself. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director John Singleton
• 6 Featurettes: "Inside '2 Fast 2 Furious,'" "Making Music with Ludacris," "The Fast and the Furious Video Game Sneak Peek," "Driving School with the Cast," "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" and "Supercharged Stunts"
• "Did You Know That?" Animated Anecdotes
• Deleted Scenes [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 22 [review_movie_stars] => 2 [review_movie] =>

If not exciting, than it is at least intriguing to see what a major director is going to do when handed formulaic, substandard material. If the news that John Singleton was going to tackle '2 Fast 2 Furious,' the 2003 sequel to 2001's sleeper smash 'The Fast and the Furious,' was not an announcement on the level of, say, Stanley Kubrick doing 'Jaws 5,' it still was a bit of a head-scratcher. Singleton had made his name doing more serious, socially conscious fare, such as 'Boyz 'N the Hood,' 'Higher Learning' and 'Rosewood,' and he is, after all, the youngest filmmaker ever to be honored with an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for 'Hood.' Even his big-budget 2001 remake of 'Shaft' felt subversive, as if he wasn't so much slumming as integrating his gritty, indie aesthetic with a more commercial, iconic property.

Singleton doing '2 Fast 2 Furious,' however, just felt like a sell-out. Quite frankly, at the time the gig came his way, he certainly needed a hit. ('Shaft' was not a blockbuster, and his follow-up, 'Baby Boy,' was seen by next to no one.) Rather than take an obvious cheesy, derivative franchise and turn it on its ear, Singleton instead reveled in its cliches and conventions, seeming to treat the film more as technical exercise than anything overtly personal. Not that there is anything wrong with a director having a little fun, but '2 Fast 2 Furious' feels so identi-kit that it could have been directed by anyone.

The plot is essentially a remake of the original 'Furious.' Paul Walker is back as Brian O'Conner, who, after the events of the first film, has been booted from the police force. But when the feds get wind of a street-racing plot by criminal mastermind Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) to smuggle hot cars, they call Brian back into action. Hooking up with his bitter ex-con pal Roman Pearce (Tyrese) and undercover agent/Victoria's Secret model Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), this mismatched trio will have to put aside their differences -- and crash a lot of cars -- to take Verone down.

'2 Fast 2 Furious' so straddles the line of camp that the joke almost seems intentional. Singleton directs the film like a comic book, with the words "Pow!" and "Crash!" practically superimposed over the screen. The plot is incidental, the action so outlandish and unrealistic it is impossible to suspend disbelief, and even the film's body count is treated like a joke, as both good and bad guys are run over and flattened like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Even the performances are larger-than-life riffs on a single characteristic. Walker (clearly fulfilling a contractual obligation) is the frat guy gone good. Mendes sashays around like the window dressing she is, but with a self-aware wink. And Hauser milks every silly bad-guy line like he's auditioning for the villain role in a James Bond movie. Only Tyrese seems to be taking his jaded ex-con seriously, but even he seems to collapse under the weight of this post-modern house of cards and goes jokey by the time of the film's overblown car-crash finale.

Undoubtedly, '2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fun ride. Like the other 'Furious' flicks, it's good car porn, with enough stunts and action to make it as well-oiled a machine as any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. And this is certainly a fantastic-looking movie, with so many beautiful people and glamorous locales that it's hard to be bored. It is just tough not to feel a tad disappointed with Singleton at the helm. A bit more personal investment in the material and more well-constructed script may have elevated '2 Fast 2 Furious' beyond the level of a very, very guilty pleasure. It's a junkyard movie from a filmmaker who has done better, and undoubtedly will again. I just hope the paycheck was worth it.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 918 [review_video] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' maintains the visual tradition upheld by the other two flicks in the franchise. The cinematic equivalent of day-glo vomit, you're not likely to see colors as unreal as this in any other movie. Yet I think '2 Fast 2 Furious' just may be the best transfer of the bunch -- more detailed and natural than 'The Fast and the Furious,' but benefiting from more detailed and brightly-lit daylight sequences than 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.'

'2 Fast 2 Furious' again gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer presented in 1080p/VC-1 video. It does look rather fabulous. The incredibly vivid colors are again the most dominant feature of the presentation. I don't think I've ever seen hues this unreal, yet they are reproduced more solidly than the first 'Furious' flick. Teetering on the edge of being overpumped, bleeding and chroma noise are miraculously kept in check. The film looks like a rainbow but it's the most natural of the three 'Furious' flicks on HD DVD.

All other aspects of the transfer are excellent. The source material is very clean, with not even the slight veil of film grain that permeated 'The Fast and the Furious.' Blacks are rock solid and contrast just about perfect. There is nary a shot in the film that does not look wonderfully detailed and three-dimensional. If nothing else, nighttime scenes can look a tad bit softer, but they still trump just about any other HD DVD release out there. I was also impressed by the "picture window" effect of the image -- this is another of those transfers that sometimes looks so real it doesn't feel like video. Topping it all off is a lack of any compression artifacts or posterization. Even the heavy filter effects used in some scenes don't result in any anomalies -- color gradations always look smooth and natural, and even the most fast-action scenes are free from macroblocking. Great stuff.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' is another aural assault, the kind of soundtrack you crank up to impress your friends with how cool your home theater setup is. Like the characters in the movie and their cars, it is all about peacocking, which makes it again surprising that Universal did not pony up for a new Dolby TrueHD track for any of the 'Furious' flicks. Granted, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) included here is pretty killer, but I still wanted more.

Perhaps it is because I watched '2 Fast 2 Furious' last out of the trilogy, but I've started to become immune to all the sonic overkill. Certainly, the sound design of '2 Fast' is on par with both 'The Fast and the Furious' and Tokyo Drift.' There is nary a dull moment when the surrounds are not somehow engaged. The racing scenes are, predictably, way over the top. Motors rev, metal clanks and characters scream at each other -- all blaring from all five channels. Imaging is excellent, with movement of sounds around the 360-degree soundfield transparent. Even minor aural details are clear and distinct.

However, especially compared to the first 'Furious,' the quieter passages of '2 Fast 2 Furious' are a little dull. Rob Cohen, who helmed the original, smothered even simple dialogue scenes in R&B/industrial music, so '2 Fast 2 Furious' seems a bit subdued by comparison. (There are actually scenes where we can hear people talk to each other!) Atmosphere doesn't really exist, per se -- sounds are either loud, louder or loudest. The meager score is also muted in the mix, such as the nightclub scene midway through the film, where director John Singleton uses slow motion, some percussive effects and score to generate tension leading up to a grotesque torture scene, yet it all feels a bit flat in the mix. '2 Fast 2 Furious' only really comes alive aurally during the racing scenes -- but then, does anyone watching this movie really care about anything else?

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 919 [review_supplements] =>

Like its comrades in the 'Furious' franchise, '2 Fast 2 Furious' gets another feature-laden HD DVD release. Unfortunately, all of the extras are just ported over from the previous standard-def DVD release, so most of this stuff feels dated.

The best extra by far is the screen-specific Audio Commentary with Director John Singleton. I'll admit that I was pretty cynical about Singleton taking on the sequel, but on this track he is quite passionate and lively -- going into considerable detail about the film's high-octane action scenes and his stylistic approach to a rather formulaic concept. Unfortunately, Singleton appears to lose interest near the end, with far too frequent gaps of silence. However, this is the only supplement on the disc where you'll find any truly in-depth information about the making of the movie. And if you watch it combined with the Animated Anecdotes -- aka a pop-up trivia track with various (if pithy) fun facts -- it makes for a nice compendium of behind-the-scenes and production info.

The remaining extras are a bunch of featurettes and minor vignettes which don't add up to much. It also doesn't help that all of the video-based extras here are culled from the same on-set interview material, leaving it pretty fluffy.

"Inside '2 Fast 2 Furious'" should have been a solid making-of documentary, but running a mere 9 minutes, it barely scratches the surface. Universal has also tacked on six short (1- to 2-minute) "Spotlight" vignettes, each an interview with a cast member (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Devon Aoki) or a making-of segment on one of the film's tricked-out cars (The Evo III, The Spyder and The S2000). A bit more informative on the technical side of things are the five-minute "Supercharged Stunts" and the three-part "Actors Driving School." Nothing we haven't seen on any of the other 'Furious' discs, here we learn that car crashes are dangerous and require stunt people to shoot. Kids, don't try this at home.

Next up is a three-minute collection of Deleted Scenes and additional Outtakes. Singleton and Editor Bruce Cannon also offer an introduction and explanation of each segment. Everything here is an expanded version of an existing scene or a character bit, but then that's the least interesting part of '2 Fast 2 Furious.' The quality of the scenes is also rough as all come from AVID dubs, complete with timecode and raw production sound.

Rounding out the package are two featurettes culled from the DVD release of 'The Fast and the Furious,' both also featured in the HD DVD release of that film. "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" runs 19 minutes and is hosted by Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis. She is joined by stunt coordinator Craig Lieberman, who shows us how a "hot car" is pimped out. Kurtis is, like, really smart, and says she "loves hot guys with hot cars." Truth be told, though, this is actually kind of interesting stuff, despite the tasteless pandering to the T&A crowd. Last and least is the uninspired "Turbo-Charged Prelude to '2 Fast, 2 Furious.'" Shot exclusively for the "Tricked Out Edition" of the 'Furious' DVD, this "electrifying" short is supposed to bridge the original flick with the sequel. However, what is essentially a montage of Walker driving in a car feels more like a long outtake than a narrative short film. Pretty forgettable.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 920 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Which is a shame, as 'Tokyo Drift' came with a wealth of exclusive HD content, and it would have been nice to have seen enhanced next-gen features on the entire 'Furious' trilogy.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fairly predictable sequel, but it delivers on the bottom line -- you want great car chases, you got great car chases. It is also another fine HD DVD effort from Universal. An often stunning transfer, aggressive Dolby Digital-Plus surround track and plenty of extras make this one a nice upgrade over the standard-def DVD release. Though lacking a Dolby TrueHD track and any genuine HD bonus content, it will still give your HD DVD home theater a real workout.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 150 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => dazedandconfused [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Dazed and Confused (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158981172 [picture_name] => dazed-and-confused.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/dazed-and-confused.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/150/dazedandconfused.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1993 [run_time] => 103 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 34.98 [asin] => B000GFLEHM [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167610 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Deleted Scenes [1] => Public Service Announcements ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Comedy [1] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Michelle Burke [1] => Sasha Jenson [2] => Wiley Wiggins [3] => Rory Cochrane [4] => Jason London ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Richard Linklater ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The adventures of incoming high school and junior high students on the last day of school, in May of 1976. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Deleted Scenes
• Production Notes
• "The Blunt Truth" Vintage Public Service Announcements [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 156 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

There's an old joke that goes, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there." I suppose the joke should also apply to the '70s, at least for those of us who will actually admit to having lived through it. Platform shoes, love beads, feathered hair, knee socks, fuzzy black-lite posters, 8-track tapes, blue eye shadow, tube tops -- no wonder most of us survived the decade only through a pot-induced haze. All the better to forget that we once actually bought Shaun Cassidy records -- and liked them.

'Dazed and Confused' is a film that remembers those times with unerring precision. It has become the teen film to define the '70s. As 'Rebel Without a Cause' is to the '50s, 'American Grafitti' is to the '60s and 'The Breakfast Club' is to the '80s, 'Dazed and Confused' is a film that, if you were alive at all during the era, you simply cannot watch without your hand stuck permanently to your forehead, the shock of recognition threatening to knock you straight to the floor.

Fair to say that the "story" of 'Dazed and Confused' matters little. In fact, there really isn't one. Taking a cue from 'American Grafitti,' 'Dazed and Confused' is just another plotless examination of bored youth. Nothing terribly exciting happens. We meet a cross-section of high school students on the last day before summer break. Some are seniors, about to embark with great uncertainty on the next stage of their lives. Others are next year's freshman, subjected to a string of indignities and punishments inflicted upon them as the baton (or, rather, the paddle) is passed to the incoming class. Along the way their will be keg parties, beer bongs, hook-ups, break-ups, fights and new friendships formed. And plenty of pot smoking.

Admittedly, there is little dramatic momentum to 'Dazed and Confused.' But what a wonderful evocation of such a defining period in American culture. The film was obviously a labor of love for director Richard Linklater, who only two years before defined Generation X with the 1991 cult classic 'Slacker.' Linklater is interested little in grand, sweeping statements or overheated melodrama. The real treasures of 'Dazed and Confused' are in the details. The clothes, the props, the locations, the songs -- it is all pitch perfect.

And then there are the performances. The cast list of 'Dazed and Confused' reads like a who's who of "It" actors of the '90s and '00s. Standouts include Parker Posey as the high school bitch, Matthew McConaghay's scarily authentic perpetual high-school senior, Milla Jovovich as a stoned-out beatnik, Ben Affleck's crazed turn as a "disciplinarian of freshman," and even a blink-or-you'll-miss here turn by Renee Zelleweger. Their excitement and passion is infectious, and if nothing else, 'Dazed and Confused' is a testament to their young talent. If you made it through the 70's, you have to see 'Dazed and Confused.'

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 0 [review_video] =>

'Dazed and Confused' makes it high-def debut on HD DVD, and Universal has produced a solid 1.85:1 transfer encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video. This is a good-looking disc, and the source material appears to have been preserved rather well for a now fifteen-year-old film. There are a few minor blemishes noticeable, such as dirt specks, but it is rarely distracting. A thin veneer of grain permeates throughout, but it only adds to the appropriate sense of nostalgia, and the transfer appears very warm and film-like. Colors are also nicely saturated, with only some of the darker scenes looking slightly muddy and ill-defined. Detail, overall, is pleasing. The transfer has nice blacks and contrast, though again it does appear a tad dark in nighttime scenes, so shadow delineation is not the best I've seen. Certainly, this is not the most three-dimensional HD DVD release I've seen, but it does offer a fairly solid upgrade over the standard DVD. All in all, a fine effort.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

There really is not much going on sonically in 'Dazed and Confused.' Universal presents the film in a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track, but it really doesn't offer any noticeable benefit. Here is a mix that is primarily front-heavy, so the best this soundtrack can do is simply get the job done. (Note that there is also a DTS 5.1 surround track included, but it is only on standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo.)

However, for a fairly low-budget film, 'Dazed and Confused' sounds perfectly fine. Frequency response is solid across the spectrum, with pleasing midrange and no obvious issues with high-end, such as distortion. Low end, however, is decidedly average -- the only real .1 LFE frequencies emitted from the subwoofer are for the film's many '70s-era songs, which all sound just groovy. Surround use, though, is considerably beefed up versus the original, bare-bones Universal DVD release from 1998. There is now at least some rear presence (on the songs, primarily), and some occasional discrete effects. No, this is hardly an aggressive and enveloping mix, but it does suit the film just fine.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Long story short: director Richard Linklater had originally intended to include a wealth of extras on Universal's recent "Flashback Edition" DVD re-issue of 'Dazed and Confused,' but after a reported falling out with the studio over release dates, he opted instead to take his goodies over to Criterion. Hence, the only extras we get on this HD DVD/DVD combo disc are the same as the lame Universal release, which quite frankly suck.

All that is of interest is 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which are all mostly short character snippets and more freshman hazing. The quality is also poor, with all of the scenes presented in grainy full frame and 480i video.

The only other "extras" are "The Blunt Truth," a lame compilation of '70s Public Service Announcement snippets about the evils of marijuana, and "VD is for Everybody," which is another dull PSA. The only snippet I did enjoy was that old anti-pollution commercial featuring the crying indian, which totally scared me when I was a kid.

(Note that 'Dazed & Confused' is another HD DVD/DVD combo disc where all of the extras on the DVD side, so in order to watch these, you'll need to flip over your disc.)

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Hardly a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Dazed and Confused' may lack a coherent story, but it makes up for it with great period detail, fine performances and oodles of nostalgia. This HD DVD release is perfectly fine -- nice transfer and solid soundtrack, though the extras are pithy. Hopefully someday soon Criterion will jump into the next-gen game and release their version on HD DVD, but until then, this will have to do for 'Dazed and Confused' fans. Worth considering if you can pick it up cheap.

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 152 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => endofdays [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => End of Days [picture_created] => 1158982596 [picture_name] => end-of-days.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/end-of-days.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/152/endofdays.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1999 [run_time] => 123 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GFLEIQ [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 683017 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD [1] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 3 Featurettes [2] => Music Video [3] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Drama [2] => Horror [3] => Mystery [4] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => CCH Pounder [1] => Kevin Pollak [2] => Robin Tunney [3] => Gabriel Byrne [4] => Arnold Schwarzenegger ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Peter Hyams ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => At the end of the century, Satan visits New York in search of a bride. It's up to an ex-cop who now runs an elite security outfit to stop him. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director Peter Hyams
• 3 Featurettes: "Spotlight on Location," "The Special Effects" and "The Book of Revelation"
• Music Video: "End of Days" by Everlast
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'End Of Days. [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

I love Satan. There, I said it. Okay, maybe I only meant as a movie character. But really, is he not the ultimate cinematic badass? Nameless and faceless, he can be anyone. Elemental and eternal, you can't maim or kill him. And no matter how bad the movie, his name above the title ensures at least a great opening weekend at the box office. Really, could Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt withstand a film as crappy as 'End of Days,' and still survive with their reputation untarnished?

The plot plays like an unholy cross between 'The Exorcist' and every bad cop movie ever made, only funnier. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as alcoholic ex-detective Jericho Cane (seriously). Now working as a security guard in New York City, he accidentally stumbles upon a new millennium plot by Satan (Gabriel Byrne) to resurrect himself by impregnating an innocent young woman, Christine York (Robin Tunney). Since 'End of Days' is a "millennium movie," i.e., made to exploit all of our then-trendy Y2K fears, of course Ol' Beelzebub can only do the nasty with Christine during the last hour of 1999. (Hope he set his watch to Eastern Standard Time.) Meanwhile, various signs of the apocalypse emerge, such as usual mysterious explosions, a crazed psychotic trying to shoot people, etc., and Jericho discovers that the Catholic Church has long known of the Devil's little 'Da Vinci Code'-like scheme. Can Arnie convince the world of its impending doom, save Christine, untie the bureaucracy of the Church and defeat Satan in a knock-down, kick-ass battle in the middle of Times Square?

If the plot of 'End of Days' sounds ridiculous on paper, it plays even more ludicrous onscreen. Any movie about the Devil can either be totally terrifying ('The Exorcist,' 'The Omen') or totally camp (any of the 'Exorcist' or 'Omen' sequels). Unfortunately, 'End of Days' is largely the latter. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the film goes wrong. Is it the casting of Schwarzenegger, who just never seems believable as an alcoholic ex-cop? Is it Byrne as the Devil, who hams it up like Freddy Krueger but lacks the oily menace to truly make the character terrifying? Is it the over-the-top, CGI-fueled action sequences, which feel more akin to a 'Terminator' or 'Predator' flick than what is essentially a horror film? Or is it an overload of unintentional, laugh-out-loud moments, like the Devil urinating explosive pee, or Schwarzenegger getting the shit beat out of him by an old lady?

In terms of pure entertainment value, 'End of Day's is a perfectly serviceable Hollywood product. Peter ('Star Chamber,' 'Outland,' 'The Relic') Hyams directs with an impersonal efficiency, and the film is indeed slick. It's dark and moody, with the requisite baroque, end-of-the-world score and lots of menacing shots of inanimate objects, which apparently always signals that something terrible is about to happen in movies like this, even though nothing usually does. I also like the fact that the film at least tries to take itself seriously, and never interjects self-referential humor into the proceedings to lighten things up. Alas, we still end up laughing at the film anyway, but at least 'End of Days' tries to take its own hokum seriously. Sadly, though, and as much fun as I had watching 'End of Days,' Satan needs to find himself a better agent.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 841 [review_video] =>

'End of Days' is a very, very dark film. Director Peter Hyams has long acted as his own director of photography, and he does double duty again here. Suffice to say the guy seems to have an aversion to any scene with even a glimmer of sunlight -- what would normally look like a brightly-lit exterior here seems menacing. Hence this transfer gives the HD DVD format a real challenge -- brighten it up too much in the name of improving detail and the film's intended mood is destroyed, but keep it too dark and good luck trying to see anything without a flashlight.

All in all, this 1080p/VC-1 transfer handles it rather well. Indeed, it is a dark image. And as is common with material shot with high-contrast film stock in low light conditions, there is a thin veil of film grain apparent throughout, though it is not excessive. Black levels are predictably spot-on, and contrast as mentioned is intentionally harsh. Hyams also chose to shoot actors lit only in the mid-tones, so it is often foreground and background objects that appear brightest in a shot -- quite an unusual style. That leaves the transfer looking soft and flat, yet with a sense of depth and dimension, all at the same time. Hardly a look that will win over everyone, but provided you have your monitor calibrated properly and watch the film in appropriate light conditions, you should be able to detect fine detail even in the darkest scenes.

Otherwise, colors appear a bit too pumped up for my taste. Reds and oranges are especially vivid, to the point where detail and sharpness appear obscured. However, the improved color definition of high-def is immediately apparent when compared to the standard DVD release -- just the city skylights in the film's many fly-over establishing shots boast incredibly rich, striking hues. I also didn't have issues with compression artifacts like those that marred the DVD; however, there were a few select shots, such as the blue skies in the opening action sequence where Arnie saves a man hanging from a building, that displayed what appeared to be slight noise.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 842 [review_audio] =>

'End of Days' is one of the latest HD DVD releases to get a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and still so far one of the few. It also reminds us that an encoding format, no matter how terrific, is still limited by its source material. 'End of Days' was never the all-engrossing, sonic maelstrom I hoped for on standard DVD, and listening to this new Dolby TrueHD track, it can only do so much with relatively dull sound design.

However, I should say that, put into perspective, 'End of Days' is a good mix. The action bits certainly pack oomph, especially anything with an explosion in it. Still, it is disappointing that a horror/action film like this would be so front-heavy in the dialogue and scare scenes. Most of the effects and the score are directed to the fronts, and there is painfully little ambiance in the rears. Where's the moody musical stingers? The eerie atmospheric sound effects, such as wind and rain? The zippy pans between all five channels? It's all largely lacking, which is surprising given the film's budget.

Thus, the improvements on the Dolby TrueHD track are largely limited to enhanced dynamic range. Indeed, the sense of depth and presence to the mix is noticeably superior. The .1 LFE really displays added oomph -- such scenes as the opening rescue, Arnie's subway battle with the Devil, and the climactic duel all benefit from added force and impact. However, while the quality of the discrete sound effects in all channels is an improvement, the rears don't really pop out like the best Dolby TrueHD tracks currently out there. Again, it is not that 'End of Days' doesn't sound good, but by far this is the least exciting upgrade I've yet heard for the new audio format.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 843 [review_supplements] =>

Universal ports over all the same extras included on the old standard DVD release, and it's a dated package. Granted, 'End of Days' is no masterpiece, but it is still hard to get excited about six year-old, reheated supplements.

The only true highlight is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Peter Hyams. This one really surprised me. Hyams is funny, personable and not at all pretentious about the film. No, he doesn't actually mock it, but it is refreshing to hear a director speak with such quiet wit and candor. Hyams offers a nice series of antecedents on working with Arnie, the film's obvious cinematic influences, and the various effects sequences, which now seem too CGI-phony. Still, this is the rare commentary that made me admire the filmmaker more, even if his film kinda sucks.

Next up are two featurettes. "Spotlight on Location" is your usual EPK piece that features on-set interviews with all the principals, including Hyams, Schwarzenegger, Robin Tunney and Gabriel Byrne. Just what you'd expect, everyone warns how "scary" the film is going to be, and that it might even become a "new classic of the genre," which of course is hilarious. "The Effects" is just that -- nine short vignettes on various action scenes. Each is comprised of a few bits of behind-the-scenes footage, but since some of this stuff is now rather dated, it doesn't offer much insight into modern techniques.

There is also something called "Book of Revelations" on the disc, but my darn Toshiba HD DVD player couldn't access it. Even with the latest firmware upgrade, I kept getting the same damn error code over and over. However, checking the standard def DVD, it is just a series of text info on the history of Book of Revelations, which I find absolutely ridiculous anyway. Still, these kinds of features should work on all players, shouldn't they?

Rounding out the package are a couple of promotional music videos by Rob Zombie and Everlast, and unusual for a Universal title, the film's theatrical trailer.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing exclusive here. But then, as everyone connected with this film has probably already removed it from their resumes, I guess that isn't a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'End of Days' doesn't really work as a horror film, or an action film, or even as an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. But I still enjoyed it on the level of camp, and it never fails to entertain. This HD DVD also does as good of a job as is likely possible in presenting a very dark transfer and lackluster sound design (bravo to Universal for including a Dolby TrueHD track), and the supplements are only fair. Still, if you are a fan of the film, this is likely the best presentation 'End of Days' is ever going to receive on home video.

) ) [3] => Array ( [review_id] => 153 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => fearandloathinginlasvegas [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [picture_created] => 1157684632 [picture_name] => fear-loathing-in-las-vegas-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/07/120/fear-loathing-in-las-vegas-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/153/fearandloathinginlasvegas.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1998 [run_time] => 128 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GFLEJA [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167617 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround [1] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Featurette [1] => Deleted Scenes [2] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Comedy [2] => Crime [3] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Johnny Depp [1] => Benicio Del Toro [2] => Tobey Maguire [3] => Ellen Barkin [4] => Gary Busey ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Terry Gilliam ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The big-screen version of Hunter S. Thompson's seminal psychedelic classic about his road trip across Western America as he and his large Samoan lawyer searched desperately for the "American dream"... they were helped in large part by the huge amount of drugs and alcohol kept in their convertible, The Red Shark. [preview_technology_specifications] => • None [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

"Drug movies" straddle a very fine line. They have to represent the insanity, the madness, and -- yes -- the fun of drug-induced states accurately, or risk becoming just another laughable, didactic public service announcement. Conversely, if they glamorize drug addiction, or fail to realistically portray the severe physical and mental consequences that come with the lifestyle, they can be a dangerous incitement to reckless behavior.

Then there are movies like 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' which seems to take no position at all, instead simply depicting a few days in the life of two very, very fucked-up individuals, and letting us decide what to make of it.

"He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man," is the quote that opens 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' And Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Oscar Z. Acosta (Benicio Del Toro) would seem to be two very pained beasts. It's 1971, and the pair are on their way to Las Vegas to cover the events of the "Mint 400", a local off-road motorcycle race in the desert. But Duke and Acosta's road trek soon degenerates into a manic, feverish drug-fueled odyssey of bad trips and frightening hallucinations. Perhaps escalating from pot to cocaine to LSD to even worse is not the brightest idea in the world?

'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is, of course, based on the famous book by the late Hunter S. Thompson -- a literary work long thought unfilmable. But as adapted to the screen and directed by Terry ('Brazil,' '12 Monkeys') Gilliam, it is a visual tour de force that has few rivals in mainstream moviemaking. Like the cinema of David Lynch, Gilliam's work is a love-it or hate-it proposition -- there seems to be little middle ground. I can only imagine arch-conservatives and anti-drug activists clutching their chests through most of the scenes in 'Fear and Loathing,' as much as Cheech & Chong fans will cheer every moment, as the film grows more and more outlandish.

Oddly enough, I had no extreme reaction to 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' That Gilliam doesn't really take a moral position on the proceedings did not offend me. Instead, it left me feeling detached from the proceedings. In fact, as visually mesmerizing as this film is, its lack of viewpoint provides little room for satire or cultural commentary. I guess expected a 'Traffic,' 'Easy Rider' or even a 'Sid & Nancy' -- a film that defines a time and place so specifically it matters little how we view the issue of drugs. Those films have become crucial to our understanding of drug culture, the drug war and how they have shaped our politics. They are indispensable.

Alas, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' for all of Thompson's incendiary politics, ends up feeling like nothing more than a lark movie. And the performances don't help much -- both Depp and Del Toro play their roles far too affably (especially Depp, who I found hammy), and I'm not a fan of big star cameos in movies (Hey, look! It's Cameron Diaz! Tobey Maguire! Christina Ricci!) Everyone seems to be having such a good time that it polishes off all of the rough edges to the material. Surprisingly, as much as I wanted to be shocked and outraged and turned on by what was happening, somehow it all seemed... innocuous. I don't know enough about Thompson to say with genuine certainty, but I'm guessing that Gilliam's finished work wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 866 [review_video] =>

At first glance, 'Fear and the Loathing in Las Vegas' may seem a strange choice to hit HD DVD so soon after the format's launch -- it's not a new release, it wasn't a box office blockbuster, nor is it a spectacle-laden action extravaganza. However, it has become Criterion's best-selling DVD release ever, and it also did quite well on video for Universal. And visually, it is quite an outlandish film -- almost orgiastic in its stylistic excesses. All of which makes it a fine candidate for the high-def treatment.

In fact, presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' turns out to be great HD DVD demo material. This is a very impressive presentation. The source material is in terrific shape, with no blemishes, dirt or scratches. Surprising is the lack of film grain visible -- 'Fear and Loathing' was shot in the Super35 process, which can sometimes exacerbate grain, but this transfer is wonderfully clean and smooth. But by far the most distinguishing feature is color reproduction. Hues are incredibly vibrant and literally pop off the screen. Reds, greens and blues are especially rich, with fleshtones an almost impossibly-real shade of orange.

Detail is also excellent, with even the film's many dark interiors and night scenes boasting above-average shadow delineation and depth. Also improved over the standard-def releases is sharpness -- the previous DVDs, though quite good, sometimes looked a bit soft due to the intense color saturation, and also exhibited a slight bit of edge enhancement. That's not a problem here, as even the most over-the-top sequences always look razor-sharp.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Another surprise is the inclusion of a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Like the video, you might not immediately peg 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' as obvious HD DVD demo material, but again you'd be wrong. The film's sound design is quite elaborate, and makes a great case for why lossless audio tracks should not be reserved solely for action films and big-budget Hollywood spectacles.

Though dialogue drives 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (particularly Johnny Depp's incessant narration), it is also filled with many sublime aural flourishes and far from a front-heavy mix. Surround use can be quite active, with various discrete sound effects deployed to the rears to heighten the fever-dream-like quality. The score is also quite frenetic at times, filling up the full 360-degree soundfield nicely. I was also impressed with how forceful the .1 LFE could be -- the "Adrenochrome" sequence in particular delivers the kind of deep, rumbling bass usually associated with action films. Panning between channels is also far more prominent that I expected. Just check out Benecio Del Toro's "bathtub freakout" moment, which boasts some pretty wacky imaging across all five speakers. Is 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' in Dolby TrueHD a huge upgrade over the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks on the previous standard-def DVDs? No. But are differences present and noticeable? Definitely.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 867 [review_supplements] =>

No match for the far more elaborate Criterion Collection DVD edition (which was filled with commentaries, tons of documentary material, storyboards and plenty more), Universal's version of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' includes little in the way of meaningful supplements.

The only major extra of note is a collection of three deleted scenes that were included on both the old Universal DVD as well as the Criterion edition. None are particularly revelatory, though "The DA from GA" (while far too long) does have its moments as it tells a story about satan worshippers cutting the head off a girl in McDonalds... maybe you just have to watch it for yourself.

Even stranger to me is the "Spotlight on Location." This 10-minute EPK is so incongruous, attempting to distill the essence of Hunter S. Thompson for the masses as if he were the latest 'X-Men' flick. Even the filmmakers and cast look somewhat uncomfortable during the press junket interviews, though Gilliam's chat is memorable if only because he's wearing the ugliest shirt ever to grace the planet.

Rounding out the supplements is the film's theatrical trailer. Though presented in 1080i video, it's windowboxed and the quality is mediocre at best.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' continues to be a divisive film. Just as with the work of Hunter S. Thompson and the films of Terry Gilliam, I suspect you'll either love it or you'll hate it. As for this HD DVD, it is a perfectly fine effort -- a nice transfer and the surprising inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD track almost make up for the pithy extras, which are no match for the far more deluxe Criterion DVD edition. Bottom line, unless you're willing to wait for something more elaborate in the future, this is worth picking up if you're a fan of the film, or merely curious.

) ) [4] => Array ( [review_id] => 157 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => grandprix [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Grand Prix [picture_created] => 1157009262 [picture_name] => grand-prix-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/31/120/grand-prix-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/157/grandprix.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1966 [run_time] => 176 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000I2J2WM [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1209670 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.20:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 5 Featurettes [1] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama [1] => Sport ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Brian Bedford [1] => Toshirô Mifune [2] => Yves Montand [3] => Eva Marie Saint [4] => James Garner ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Frankenheimer ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate, Scott Stoddard. While Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins to drive for the Japanese Yamura team, and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard's estranged wife. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Documentary: "Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix"
• 4 Featurettes: "Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties," "The Style and Sound of Speed," "Brands Hatch: Behind the Checkered Flag" and "Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions"
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

One of the joys of being a film reviewer (er, HD DVD reviewer) is rediscovering lost gems, or seeing films for the first time that you've never heard of but everyone else has. Latter case in point is 'Grand Prix,' which I had absolutely no familiarity with but, after a little bit of web research, I discovered is actually considered one of the best, if not the best, film ever made about professional auto racing. Better than 'Days of Thunder.' Better than 'Stroker Ace.' Yes, even better than 'The Cannonball Run.' If the fans at IMDB thought so highly of this movie, then it had to be one to see, right?

Fortunately, 'Grand Prix' is indeed a stellar cinematic achievement. It is that rare film that works on every level it was intended -- as a drama, an action movie and an examination of the sport of auto racing. That it also has a great cast, top-notch direction, plenty of melodrama and fabulous car crashes only sweetens the deal.

Directed by John Frankenheimer, 'Grand Prix' stars James Garner as Pete Aron, an American driver searching for redemption after his ego puts teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) into the hospital, and Aron loses his corporate sponsorship. Also a part of the racing circuit is Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), the venerated elder of the sport, and Antonio Sabato is his talented but hot-headed teammate Nino Barlini. Across nine different races, and both on and off the track, these four drivers will compete with each other for the checkered flag. Ultimately, they will discover that winning and losing are relative, and sometimes the price you pay for the pole position can be far too high.

Narrative aside, 'Grand Prix' is a landmark technical achievement. The winner of three effects Oscars, the film pioneered a number of new techniques that continue influence modern cinema. Working with legendary editor and title designer Saul Bass, as well as a team of sound designers way ahead of their time, the filmmakers created a unique visual and aural language to tell their story. Utilizing split screen, incredible aerial camerawork, meticulous sound design and Maurice Jarre's percussive score, each racing sequence has its own tone and style. Finely interweaved into the narrative, the races both exist on their own as amazing pieces of high-octane effects filmmaking -- all done live without a net, and with no help from CGI -- as well as further the narrative. It's a tough tightwire act to straddle, and there are few action films today that haven't learned a trick or two from how 'Grand Prix' so seamlessly integrated its action with its drama.

Had 'Grand Prix' only been an action movie, however strong, it wouldn't have held up all these years. What Frankenheimer also achieved, and just as important, is a sense of dramatic authenticity. He populates his film with realistic and believable characters and, impressively, doesn't turn any of the racers into heroes or villains. He also avoids the "disaster movie" type of melodrama that turned such classics as 'Airport' and 'Poseidon Adventure' into camp, however much I lose those type of movies. What Frankenheimer did with 'Grand Prix' was to simply, plainly and with great impact, make us understand these people, their sport and while they would risk their lives to win. Rare for a movie like this, 'Grand Prix' not only surprised and entertained me, but left me with a new appreciation for a sport I never thought in a million years I could care about.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 823 [review_video] =>

Warner has proven itself to be one of the best studios when it comes to remastering vintage titles older on disc, and they've done it again with 'Grand Prix.' Here is a film that is now four decades old and still it looks pretty darn fantastic. Minted from the film's original 65mm Super Panavision 70 negative and painstakingly restored, this 2.20:1 and 1080p/VC-1 transfer is one of the best I've seen on the format, regardless of age.

On its own, this restoration would be mighty impressive just for its cleanliness. Despite a runtime of 176 minutes, this transfer is blemish-free, with no speckles, dropouts or blemish. But considering that the film also makes extensive use of split screens -- which in the pre-CGI age required the use of antiquated matting techniques that result in heavier dirt and grain -- the smoothness of this image is astounding. Even colors, which often waver with old effects films like these, are rock solid. Hues are also vibrant and pure, with no chroma noise or bleeding. Even film grain, which you would rightly expect on a film forty years-old, is almost non-existent. The depth and dimensionality here is pretty gorgeous.

The only caveat I will add is that the image is quite bright -- maybe too much so? Though blacks are rock solid and contrast and consistent, I found I sometimes had to cover my eyes during the daylight scenes. The whites here are so intense and the luminosity of the transfer was so strong it really took me aback. I certainly can't say for sure what was the intended look of the filmmakers, but I can say that this is the first time I actually thought about wearing sunglasses while watching an HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Along with the image, Warner has also remastered the original audio elements of 'Grand Prix' to create a new 5.1 surround mix. Audio options here include a Dolby Digital-Plus track encoded at 640kbps, plus French and Spanish dubs in 1.0 mono (alas, purists may be disappointed that no English mono option is provided).

Overall, this is a fine remaster. The audio stems have been nicely cleaned up, with no noticeable anomalies present such as dropouts or distortion present. Dynamic range has been fattened up fairly well, with the mix boasting healthy enough mid-range and high-end to almost make us forget we're watching a forty-year-old movie. However, low end is almost non-existent. There are just no .1 LFE frequencies pumped out of the subwoofer to any discernible degree, so even the most dynamic of the racing sequences sound flat and uninvolving.

Surround use, too, is meager at best. While stereo separation of the front two channels is sharp, and dialogue well-placed in the center channel, I never sensed any sort of atmosphere or envelopment. A very proficient and technically superior remaster, just a not very aggressive one.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 824 [review_supplements] =>

Warner Home Video only recently released 'Grand Prix' as a two-disc, standard-def DVD special edition. But this HD DVD goes one better, not only providing the full 176-minute feature film on a single disc (it was spread across two platters on the DVD), but all of the supplements, too. Gotta love these next-gen formats!

As John Frankenheimer is no longer with us, nor are most of the film's key creative team, apparently Warner opted not to produce any audio commentary tracks for the film. Instead, four new featurettes detail the making of the film and the world of racing. Each is culled from both new interviews with surviving cast members James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Antonio Sabato and others, as well as vintage on-set material featuring Frankenheimer and editor/effects supervisor Saul Bass.

"Pushing the Limit: The Making of 'Grand Prix'" runs only a few seconds shy of 30 minutes and is the main documentary on the disc. It certainly appears that 'Grand Prix' was quite a shoot. Frankenheimer is legendary for his on-set "intensity" (i.e., he's a tyrant) and his temper is well in evidence here. I was surprised at the frankness of the archival production footage, whether it is Frankenheimer reaming a reporter for being "rude" to his cast, or the remembrances of Garner and Saint, who admit that tensions on the set often flared. (Of course, Garner was no angel either, as he is seen in one clip throwing a fit when a local shopkeeper holds up the production over money). If you only watch one of the extras on this disc, make it this one.

"The Style and Sound of Speed" clocks in at 11 minutes and is a nice tribute to Saul Bass and his pioneering work on 'Grand Prix.' I'm not really a fan of the CGI era, and quite frankly the accomplishments of Bass and his team here blow all of that wimpy computer-assisted stuff right out of the water. From his inventive use of split screens, to the highly imaginative editing that makes every car crash in the film seem absolutely real, to the amazing sound design, Bass truly pushed the boundaries of the form and evolved the language of film one step further. Awesome stuff.

The last two featurettes are more historical in nature. "Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties" runs 17 minutes and examines the history of auto racing up through the Formula One era depicted in the film, while "Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag" runs 11 minutes and takes us on a tour of the famous racetracks utilized in the film. A number of racing experts are interviewed, and I was actually quite fascinated by a sport I never before cared a whit about. Not that I thought auto racing was easy, but after watching this one, there is no way in hell I'm ever going to get inside a racecar, even one going 12 mph.

Rounding out the extras are two promo items. In addition to the film's Theatrical Trailer, Warner has also tacked on the wonderfully vintage featurette "Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions." This 10-minute extended commercial is almost breathless in reminding us of the excitement of the sport and of the movie, and even includes a shameless shot of a woman's cleavage intercut with stock cars to really sell the moment. Priceless.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 825 [review_bonus_content] =>

No bonus content, but then there is enough standard-def goodies that it is hard to complain. However, Warner does offer their usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Grand Prix' is, for me, a real find. I'd never heard of this movie before, but know I think it is quite arguably the best film ever made about the sport of auto racing. It is also an engaging drama and an Oscar-winning technical achievement to boot, so I give a very enthusiastic thumbs up. As for this HD DVD, it is also excellent, with a stellar remastered transfer and soundtrack and a nice batch of retrospective featurettes. If you are a fan of the film or at all interested in racing, definitely give this one a spin.

) ) [5] => Array ( [review_id] => 159 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => landofthedead [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Land of the Dead (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158998023 [picture_name] => land-of-the-dead.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/land-of-the-dead.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/159/landofthedead.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 97 [release_date_notes] => Rescheduled from September 19, 2006 [list_price] => 34.99 [asin] => B000GFLEGI [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167613 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 5 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes [3] => Storyboards [4] => Music Video ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Horror [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Robert Joy [1] => Asia Argento [2] => Dennis Hopper [3] => John Leguizamo [4] => Simon Baker ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => George A. Romero ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The living dead have taken over the world, and the last humans live in a walled city to protect themselves as they come to grips with the situation. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director George Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald and Editor Michael Doherty
• 8 Featurettes: "Undead Again: The Making of 'Land of the Dead,'" "A Day with the Living Dead," "When Shaun Met George," "Bringing the Dead to Life," "Scenes of Carnage," "Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene," "Bringing the Zombies to Life" and "Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call" [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'Land of the Dead.'

[review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 21 [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

Am I the only one that thinks zombies are kinda... cuddly? I know I'm supposed to be terrified by them, but a bunch of pale, oozy, maggot-infested undead monsters only makes me immediately think of Michael Jackson's "Thriller.". I always expect them to suddenly start dancing and doing the Vincent Price shuffle, and any shock value they may have once had has now, for me, been lost to campy excess.

I know this is not George Romero's fault. The godfather of the zombie movie, he virtually created the subgenre with 1967's landmark 'Night of the Living Dead.' That black-and-white opus did more than terrify millions, garner critical kudos and gross millions -- it fully politicized the horror film, and helped to usher in a seminal period for the genre. The 1970s has never been equaled in terms of delivering raw, unapologetic and thought-provoking terror films, and if the rest of Romero's career never quite equaled the singular achievement of 'Night,' well, the guy still has one hell of a cinematic epitaph to revel in.

Of course, Romero would go on to direct two more 'Dead' films, 1978's widely acclaimed 'Dawn of the Dead,' and the less well-received 'Day of the Dead' in 1985. (Interestingly, all three have been remade -- a sure sign the guy created something supremely influential.) Yet it was still somewhat surprising that twenty years later, Romero would again forge back into zombie-land for 2005's 'Land of the Dead.' Coming after such 'Dead'-inspired hits as '28 Days Later,' the 2003 remake of 'Dawn of the Dead' and the hilarious parody 'Shaun of the Dead' (2004), was there still any blood left to squeeze from an undead turnip? And could lightning strike yet again for Romero, who has never been one to shy away from imparting grand social messages along with his gore -- not exactly what the iPod generation seems to want from its horror?

Turns out 'Land of the Dead' does feel like too little, too late. A box office bomb when released last summer (though Universal pitting it against 'War of the Worlds' probably wasn't the best example of counterprogramming), few in the mainstream seemed to care about Romero anymore, despite his high esteem in the horror community. The film's heady mix of social satire, barely concealed swipes at the Bush administration and copious amounts of gratuitous gore went by largely unnoticed, and not helping much was that Romero's filmmaking aesthetic, like fellow "genre bum" John Carpenter, remains firmly stuck in the '70s. 'Land of the Dead' is slow-paced, kinda chintzy and a bit too self-important for its own good. These kind of throwback B-movies were great fun a couple of decades ago -- 'Dawn of the Dead' and 'Escape from New York' in particular -- but there is a fine line between nostalgic pastiche and creative mummification.

The story of 'Land of the Dead' kicks off a number of years after 'Day.' The world is now overrun by zombies, and the survivors have split into a class system of the haves and have-nots. While blue collar everymen like Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) toil in the streets, doing the dirty work of keeping civilians safe from the zombies, rich and arrogant entrepreneurs like Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) live like kings up in big modern high rises. Of course, it wouldn't be a Romero flick if the all hell didn't break loose. The zombies always find a way in (or is that out?), and the two classes will soon come crashing together. With very bloody results.

'Land of the Dead' hit DVD in an Unrated Director's Cut late last year, and watching that version again on this HD DVD, I'm left with the same impression of the film. It's gory and over-the-top, and smart and subversive -- everything we want in a Romero flick. Yet like 'Day of the Dead,' it doesn't add up to enough. Quite frankly, once you've seen one decapitated head, or a bunch of gooey intestines ripped out of a latex body, you've kinda seen them all. Romero's zombie imagery was certainy shocking in 'Night' and 'Dawn,' but in the years since it has become neutered. The mere concept of zombies is no longer incendiary or terrifying, so it is only the characters and the politics that are left to drive 'Land.' Unfortunately -- and I know this is heretical to Romero fans -- but I think both '28 Days Later' and the 'Dawn of the Dead' remake were far more pointed in their satire, but less heavy-handed about it. They also had more interesting characters. Nor is the action in 'Land' anything special. Ironically, the teacher has now been outclassed by his students.

I suppose zombie fans will still like 'Land of the Dead.' It certainly delivers on the bottom line. There is some sick and disgusting stuff here -- one moment involving a heart being pulled through the mouth of a victim is particularly cringe-inducing -- but since 'Land of the Dead' aspires to be more than just a gross-out show, is that really enough? I still admire Romero for sticking to his guns and attempting to bring cultural commentary back into horror, but nothing in 'Land' shocked me, disturbed me or really made me think. It all just kind of nauseated me. Bummer.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 887 [review_video] =>

'Land of the Dead' didn't look all that great on standard DVD. Overly soft, it lacked the pop of the best transfers, so I was looking forward to this HD DVD presentation in hopes of improvement. Overall I was quite satisfied. If 'Land of the Dead' is not the greatest of HD DVD transfers I've seen, it still offers a solid improvement over the standard-def release.

In a first for George Romero, 'Land of the Dead' was shot and is presented here in 2.40:1 widescreen. Too bad Romero didn't go widescreen earlier, as he has a fine eye for expansive compositions, and this is probably the best-looking of his four zombie flicks. The source material is in excellent, as you would expect for a new release -- no blemishes, dirt or other defects here. There is a thin veneer of grain throughout, but it looks quite pleasing and film-like. Blacks are rich and pure, and color reproduction quite vibrant. The film takes place primarily at night, and the blue-gray and orange palette comes through rather nicely. Hues are consistently vivid throughout, with no bleeding (har har) or chroma noise apparent.

Best of all, however, is that unlike many transfers of horror films, this one is not overly dark. Contrast is near-perfect across the entire spectrum. Despite being bathed in shadows, the fall-off to black is not too steep, so fine details are visible even in the darkest long shots. Crucial in a horror film like this is the ability to see both foreground and backgrounds, as what fun is it to watch a zombie sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim if you can't see all the icky ooze and puss? Again, this is not the most incredible transfer I've ever seen in terms of depth, but it is clearly superior to the rather flat standard-def release. Also commendable is that compression artifacts are not a problem, and despite pixelation and posterization on the previous DVD I saw no comparable issues here.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Like the video, 'Land of the Dead' boasts a solid audio presentation that delivers the goods even if it won't blow you away. Universal offers up a new Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at a very healthy 1.5mbps) that is generally enveloping, if a bit formulaic after a while.

For me, 'Land of the Dead' is not really horror but more of an action movie. The most prominent aspect of the film's sound design is the aggressive surround use during any scene involving a gun, an explosion or a moving vehicle. Trucks and tanks rumble around, many gunshots are fired and plenty of things blow up real good, all accompanied by a healthy amount of discrete effects and deep low bass. Atmospheric effects are present, largely during the outdoor, mass zombie-attack scenes, but otherwise surrounds are reserved for bombast. Occasionally the soundtrack betrayed it's mid-budget origins, with high-end sounding a bit tinny and the effects canned. Dialogue reproduction, however, is natural and sounds well-balanced in the mix. The only real disappointment is the lack of presence to the score by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. What little there is of it is all but lost, which adds to the realism of the film but doesn't help to enliven the soundtrack much.

Note that the standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo disc features a DTS track, but it has not been ported over as an option on the HD DVD side.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 888 [review_supplements] =>

'Land of the Dead' is another HD DVD/DVD combo disc where most of the extras on the DVD side. Of which I'm not a particular fan of, as I get easily annoyed with disc-flipping (I thought these next-gen formats were supposed to rid us of this scourge?) In any case, all of the same extras as the standard-def release are here, though unfortunately the list of bulletpoints on the back of the box is far more impressive than the actual contents.

The only extra to feature on the HD DVD side of the platter is the screen-specific audio commentary with George Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty. I was taken aback at how weak a track it is. All seem so subdued as to be on the verge of narcolepsy, and what information that is imparted is dull and boring. I always hate commentaries where the participants simply regurgitate what is happening on the screen, or tell me which effects were CGI and which weren't. Given the rich history of the 'Dead' films, this commentary is surprisingly bloodless.

The remaining extras are on the DVD side of the combo, but the total running time of the many featurettes is quite short. "Undead Again: The Making of 'Land of the Dead'" is your typical EPK with onset cast and crew interviews, but doesn't do much damage at only 12 minutes. Better are three video diary-esque vignettes made by specific cast and crew: "A Day with the Living Dead" (7 minutes) takes us on a tour of the set courtesy of John Leguizamo; "Bringing the 'Dead' to Life" (10 minutes) dissects the film's many gruesome sights with makeup guru Greg Nicotero; and best of all is "When Shaun Met George" (8 minutes), by longtime 'Dead' fan and 'Shaun of the Dead' filmmaker Simon Pegg, who is vastly entertaining. Get this guy more work already, Hollywood!

More tasty tidbits include a trio of technical-oriented features. "Zombie Effects" features a set of before-and-after shots of the film's digital effects work, which is a far cry from the simplistic gore of the original 'Night of the Living Dead.' There is also an eight-minute set of storyboard comparisons dubbed "Bringing the Storyboards to Life," while "Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call" is a CGI test of zombies dancing, but even at one minute it's quite tiresome.

Rounding out the extras are "The Remaining Bits," a collection billed as "not your average deleted scenes!" Unfortunately, at less than three minutes, it seems all the good stuff was already reinstated into this Unrated Director's Cut. Lastly, "Scenes of Carnage" is a spliced-together music video of gory clips, but I already have forgotten it.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 889 [review_bonus_content] =>

No exclusives this time. Alas.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Land of the Dead' falls somewhere in the middle of George Romero's zombie quadrilogy. Not the classic that is 'Night of the Living Dead,' nor as memorable in its satire as 'Dawn of the Dead,' but at least it is better than the dour, dismal 'Day of the Dead.' This HD DVD is pretty much a straight port of the standard-def DVD release, but with a better transfer and improved soundtrack that make for a solid upgrade. Even if you're a 'Dead' you don't really need to rush out and buy this one, but at least it is cool to finally have a zombie flick in high-def.

) ) [6] => Array ( [review_id] => 831 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => onelastthing [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => One Last Thing... [picture_created] => 1206431741 [picture_name] => one-last-thing-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Magnolia Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2008/03/25/120/one-last-thing-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/831/onelastthing.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 93 [list_price] => 29.98 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1241569 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78;1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (1.5mpbs) [1] => English DTS 5.1 Surround (1.5mbps) ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => TV Special ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Sunny Mabrey [1] => Cynthia Nixon [2] => Michael Angarano ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => One Last Thing... is a funny and moving story starring Emmy Award Winner Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Michael Angarano (Sky High, Seabiscuit, Almost Famous). Dylan (Angarano) and his mother, Karen (Nixon), are invited onto national television by an organization that grants last wishes to the terminally ill. Dylan surprises everyone by making a shocking request: to spend a steamy weekend with supermodel Nikki Sinclair (Sunny Mabrey). After a disappointing meet-and-greet arranged by Nikki's agent (Gina Gershon), Dylan and his buddies set off for the Big Apple with hopes of fulfilling his one last wish... [preview_technology_specifications] => TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => TBA [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our Blu-ray review of 'One Last Thing.'

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 50207 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

There is an ironclad law of Hollywood moviemaking that says you can't kill off your lead character. Imagine if Luke Skywalker was accidentally crushed by R2-D2 twenty minutes before the climax of 'Star Wars,' and failed to blow up the Death Star -- it probably wouldn't have been a blockbuster, would it? Sure, you can wipe out a supporting character -- or even the top-billed love interest in a romantic weepie (think 'Titanic'). But to actually kill off your movie's hero -- the one audiences have come to identify with and root for? It's a rarity to say the least.

Dylan Jamieson (Michael Angarano from 'Will & Grace') is not your typical movie hero. A high school sophomore with terminal cancer, even the most optimistic doctors give him no chance for recovery. So with the support of his mother Carol (Cynthia Nixon), Dylan is granted a wish from the from the Wish Givers Foundation. Much to the horror of the charity, his wish is to to go to New York and spend one evening with supermodel Nikki Sinclaire (Sunny Mabrey). Nikki, we soon learn, is damaged goods; she's stuck in an abusive relationship, and is bordering on a nervous breakdown. When Nikki and Dylan first meet amid a press barrage, it's an awkwardly choreographed exchange. Dylan, however, remains undeterred in his quest. With his two pals Ricky (Matthew Bush) and Slap (Gideon Glick) in tow -- and much to the dismay of his mother -- he makes the trip to New York to be with Nikki, determined to have this One Last Thing.

We know where 'One Last Thing...' is going from the first frame, but we just can't quite believe it will get there. This is the kind of movie that rarely makes it to the big screen, because quite frankly it is not commercial. We so like Dylan from the beginning, and yet his situation is so crushing that we keep secretly hoping the film will cop out and find some way to save him. As much as critics and moviegoers like to complain about cliched plots and predictable feel-good endings, box office trends continue to support the notion that in American cinema at least, we don't want reality -- we want fantasy.

But 'One Last Thing...' doesn't cop out. Dylan will take what ultimately becomes an existential journey before he suffers his cruel fate. There are no cheap melodramatic tricks along the way -- he doesn't find God, he doesn't discover the meaning of life, and the peace he eventually does achieve offers no seismic revelations for those around him. Though Nikki will figuratively be "saved" by granting Dylan his final wish, we are left with the distinct impression she hasn't been wholly transformed by the experience, either. The revelations Michael does experience along the way are presented as quiet, measured moments -- almost as throwaways. 'One Last Thing...' is almost disconcerting in its matter-of-factness, in the way it accepts death in such plain terms that there is no Hollywood-sized grandiosity to shield us from its utter finality.

The moments that achieve the most resonance in 'One Last Thing...' are the most ordinary. Director Alex Steyermark and screenwriter Barry Stringfellow never pump up or force a scene. The relationship between Dylan and his mother feels completely believable. Angarano and Nixon are particularly well matched, and I appreciated how even during what Carol knows will be the last few days with her son, she doesn't say all the right things, or feel all the right emotions. These are flawed, real people -- not martyrs. Nikki (well played by Mabrey, in what could have been a thankless role) is also not the caricature we expect. She opens herself to Dylan not just because she's supposed to, but because she realizes if she doesn't, her fate may be even more sealed than Dylan's.

Ultimately, few will probably want to watch 'One Last Thing...' But it is the kind of intelligent, passionate, minor-key movie that everyone complains doesn't get made. Hopefully, this HD DVD release will help change that. 'One Last Thing...' is a lost little gem well worth discovering.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 1910 [review_video] =>

'One Last Thing...' was shot with HD cameras in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is presented on HD DVD in 1080i/VC-1 video (versus the MPEG-2 encode on the Blu-ray version). Given the film's thrifty budget, I didn't have high expectations for the image, but 'One Last Thing...' boasts a rather good-looking image that's aided by slick photography and strong production values that transcend the movie's "indie" tag.

The most noticeable aspect of the transfer is its strong colors. Aside from a bit of dourness evident in some of the early scenes before Dylan leaves for New York, saturation is vibrant and clean. Many of the big city exteriors, as well as a couple of nightclub scenes, are quite flush with color. Fleshtones are also generally accurate, although again, some of the early scenes seem a bit too tinted towards green or sickly yellow.

In regards to this being a VC-1 encode versus the MPEG-2 on the Blu-ray, I did find this version a bit smoother. There are still pockets of obvious noise in the shadows, but it is a smidge less irritating on the HD DVD, although the trade-off is that VC-1 tends to provide a slightly softer look. Such disprepancies are so incredibly minor in this case, however, that the results are a wash for me. This is a sharp, quite detailed presentation that exceeded my expectations.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

In a move that has had some crying foul, Magnolia has tended to favor its HD DVD releases over the Blu-ray, offering VC-1 encodes versus MPEG-2 while also bumping up the audio to Dolby TrueHD. Such an upgrade would have hardly matters on a film like 'One Last Thing...' however, because there just isn't that much to work with here.

The Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround tracks (both 1.5mbps) are perfectly solid. Occasionally some of the canned effects and dubbed-in dialogue sound inorganic to the rest of the mix, while dynamic range is also healthy but hardly expansive. Low bass never really rocks, and the film does sound "small." However, I liked the minor ambiance during some of the city scenes, and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. There is little that impresses (regardless of high-res audio or not), but this is at least a soundtrack that gets the job done.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1911 [review_supplements] =>

Extras are rather sparse. There are only two supplements included -- both decent, but unexceptional.

  • Audio Commentary - Director Alex Steyermark goes solo on this track, and comes off as the ultimate nice guy, with a pleasing voice. His insights are intelligent and well thought-out, but the track is slow and perhaps too technical. I'm always surprised by commentaries for "smaller films" like this that focus on setting up shots and the like, when really, most of us don't care. For me, the most fascinating aspect was how difficult it was to sell 'One Last Thing...' to the major studios, which ultimately resulted in the HDNet cable network picking up the film. I wish Steyermark had focused more on this angle and the film's challenging subject matter, instead of clapboards and f-stops.
  • TV Special (HD, 18 minutes) - The only other included supplement is an episode of the HDNet series "Higher Definition," focusing on 'One Last Thing...' Shot simply and directly, it's a one-on-one chat with Steyermark and host Robert Wilonsky, who quite frankly sounds like he probably didn't see the film. There are also a few interview pieces with Cynthia Nixon, Michael Angarano and Sunny Mabrey. Though Steyermark doesn't offer much that isn't covered in his audio commentary, it is nice to hear from the rest of the cast.
[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'One Last Thing...' is a poignant and well-crafted little sleeper -- I was really captivated by the film even if its pleasures are ultimately small. Still, I would recommend the movie to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path. This HD DVD is a nice effort from Magnolia -- the transfer was better than I expected for a low-budget indie shot on HD, and there are couple of decent extras. If you're looking for something a little different, at least give this one a rental.

) ) [7] => Array ( [review_id] => 108 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => terminator3 [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines [picture_created] => 1157009262 [picture_name] => terminator-3-rise-of-the-machines-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/31/120/terminator-3-rise-of-the-machines-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/108/terminator3.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2003 [run_time] => 109 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000E1MTYU [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1209652 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.40:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => In-Movie Experience [1] => Audio Commentary ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 2 Audio Commentaries [1] => 5 Featurettes [2] => 2 Gag Reels [3] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

Before he was the governor of California, he was just Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time Mr. Olympia turned world-famous action superstar. And his greatest role arguably came as 'The Terminator,' in James Cameron's tech-noir of the same name. Playing a cyborg intent on starting/preventing mass nuclear annihilation, The Terminator was the perfect fit for Schwarzenegger's decidedly unique persona: big, intimidating and monosyllabic. Yet the Terminator was also a character of limited potential; that Cameron was able to pull off 1991's 'Terminator 2' as successfully as he did is a rarity in sequel-dom, a follow-up that successfully expanded the original's universe, characters and themes and managed to cap off the series on a high note.

So it was with a bit of dread that I greeted the news of 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,' which was brought to the screen in 2003, almost twenty years after the original film. Though Cameron wisely dropped out, Schwarzenegger and company appeared intent on tarnishing what was once a shiny endoskeleton with a pretty transparent attempt to wring yet more profits out of a washed-up old franchise.

Unfortunately, watching 'Rise of the Machines' didn't change my mind. Even checking it out again for this new HD DVD release, I still feel it is rather uninspired, pastiche sequel-making. It recycles scenes, situations and themes from its predecessors, and doesn't really introduce any new themes. And except for Schwarzenegger, all of the other major roles have been recast, which gives it the feel of a Universal theme-park ride.

That 'T3' has almost become camp is clear from the opening scenes. In true Terminator fashion, we meet the two cyborgs who will again wage war over the future of mankind. Kristanna Loken is the T-X, another new-model endoskeleton-thing who can shoot lasers out of her hand and artificially pump up her breasts courtesy of liquid metal. And Arnold is back as the same old T-Whatever, a rusty relic of armageddon complete with wrinkles and a few extra ounces of flab. When Schwarzenegger makes his big entrance at an all-male strip club -- a reworking of the classic barroom scene that opens T2 -- it comes off as half-funny, half-sad. Has a once-great sci-fi icon really de-morphed into his own in-joke?

I think what I longed for the most in 'Terminator 3' is a clear theme. This might be the most expensive Hollywood movie to ever end on such a downer. The original film's simple, linear narrative and clearly defined rules of time travel (however much they required a suspension of disbelief) are now long gone, replaced by so many narrative U-turns that it is hard to care anymore about the whole "the only fate is that which we make for ourselves" thing and all the other metaphysical mumbo jumbo. I remember being uplifted in the first two by the idea that -- no matter how seemingly insignificant and small -- even one person can affect the course of history. All of that is washed away in 'Terminator 3' in one big atomic explosion. We learn that everything Sarah Connor did -- and by extension, all of humankind -- is futile. Judgment Day was always inevitable, which rewires 'Terminator 2' into an emotional cul-de-sac. Why make a third movie that has no thematic point, other than to set up another sequel? The idealism of the first two films has been replaced by irony, cynicism and excess.

Yet as sorta-depressing as 'T3' can be on the level of its recycled narrative, it is so overinflated and desperate to please that it just may be the most expensive B-movie ever made. Which makes it somewhat enjoyable in its own clunky way. Director Jonathan Mostow, taking over for Cameron, goes full-tilt in staging his over-the-top action set pieces. The fabulous truck chase through the streets of San Francisco, which closes the first act, is as slick, exciting and well-executed an action spectacle as you are likely to see. And the climatic dueling terminators bathroom brawl is a real corker, even if it is a bit disturbing watching Arnie kick the shit out of a girl (albeit one made of molten metal).

That none of this mass destruction really serves any purpose in the narrative is, at this point, inconsequential. It is all chase and payoff -- 'Terminator 3' has no reason to exist other than because they wanted to make another sequel, so it is our sheer familiarity with the Cameron-directed epics that fuels any enjoyment we get out 'Rise of the Machines. It only thrills us, makes us laugh or packs emotional resonance -- let alone makes any sense -- because we are still so in love with the first two movies that we'll take anything we're given. 'T3' is its own artificial, collective memory bank of a movie.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 779 [review_video] =>

In an odd twist that only happens in Hollywood, the complete 'Terminator' series has made its way to the next-gen formats via three different studios and two different formats. It's too bad the first two flicks are only available on Blu-ray, and now 'Terminator 3' solely on HD DVD. I'm sure someday soon Warner will issue 'Terminator 3' on Blu-ray, and perhaps Lionsgate will throw HD DVD fans a bone and unleash 'Terminator 2.' But as for Sony/MGM giving us the first 'Terminator' on HD DVD, it would seem doubtful. Nevertheless, for the dual format early adapters out there, you can click the following linked titles to read our reviews of the Blu-ray releases of 'The Terminator' and 'Terminator 2.'

As for this release on HD DVD, 'T3' gets the usual 1080p/VC-1 treatment, and it is a very good transfer. The film already looked quite spiffy on standard-def when it was first released on disc in 2003, and judging by a quick comparison between the two, it doesn't look like Warner has struck a new master for this one. But that's not a bad thing. The print is in great shape, with no visible blemishes, speckles or other anomalies to report. Blacks are perfect, and contrast natural and consistent. Color reproduction is quite nice, with a rich palette of hues that appear stable and free of noise. However, due to some uses of filtering (such as during the truck chase, which is supposed to take place at dawn but was clearly shot during the day) fleshtones sometimes render a bit on the red side, though this appears intentional. As far as detail, daylight scenes are usually excellent, with that impressive sense of three-dimensionality that I've come to love about high-def.

Tht said I wasn't entirely sold on this transfer in every respect. I found that some of the darker scenes suffered a tad in the shadow delineation department, and colors can look ever-so-slightly pumped up. For example, the scene where Catherine Brewster (Claire Danes) first meets John Connor (Nick Stahl) in the veterinarian office was somewhat dark, with the sharp contrast and processed colors obscuring detail ever-so-slightly. Certainly, this is a pretty minor quibble -- the transfer does exhibit great depth throughout -- but it keeps 'T3' from being the absolute best I've seen on HD DVD. Also note that 'T3' was shot using the Super35 process, which allows for greater flexibility in aspect ratio when it comes to transferring a film to home video, but the trade-off is that the photographic processes required tend to make grain a bit more apparent. As such, there is thin, slight veneer of visible film grain throughout 'T3,' particularly in the darker scenes. Again, this is entirely appropriate to the intended style of the film, but it's there if you look for it.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Let's face it: the main reason anyone goes to see a film like 'Terminator 3' is to see tons of shit get blown up real good, and we want it all in roof-raising, get-your-rocks-off surround sound. So it's unfortunate that for 'Terminator 3's maiden HD DVD voyage, Warner didn't sport for a full-blown Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. As is, though, the 640kbps, Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround included here is pretty dang good in its own right.

Technically, the sound design of 'T3' is tremendous, as you would expect. Surrounds are consistently engaged and often create a complete 360-degree soundfield, especially during the action sequences. Imaging across all channels is near-transparent, and excellent use is made of discrete effects, including dialogue. Marco Beltrami's score is the only disappointment -- it is not integrated strongly enough into the mix and lacks the industrial sturm and drang of Brad Fiedel's compositions in the first two. Dynamic range is also excellent, with a very spacious midrange, clean highs and very, very powerful low bass. The .1 LFE really gets a workout on all of this mass destruction, so this one will move the furniture around if you crank it up. Which of course you must do -- or the Terminator will come to your house himself.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 780 [review_supplements] =>

After countless DVD editions of the first two 'Terminator' flicks, Warner Home Video shocked the world by releasing only one -- one! -- two-disc special edition of 'T3' back in 2003. Really, isn't that sacrilege? Imagine the possibilities: 'Terminator 3: The Gubernatorial Edition?' The 'Tricked-Out Election Edition?' Or how about, 'T3 1/2: California Total Recall?' Until then, and despite the copious amount of bulletpoints on the back of the box, all of the extras remain a rather fluffy lot, with too little meat but a heaping helping of cheese.

First up are no less than three audio commentaries: a solo track with director Jonathan Mostow, a second track with Mostow and cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Claire Danes, Nick Stahl and Kristanna Loken, and a third (which did not appear on the standard-def DVD release) with Mostow again, joined by screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Don Burgess and production designer Jeff Mann. Mostow introduces both "group" tracks, which are an amalgam of the actors and crew, all recorded in different cities and edited together. I actually quite like these patchwork commentaries, because they are usually stuffed with information and don't suffer from long gaps of silence. In any case, the cast track is the highlight, as all are much more honest and forthright than they are on the dull video extras. It is positively surreal to hear Governor Schwarzenegger talk like the billionaire action star he once was, although his initial, endless ramblings about his naked body are positively creepy. Danes and Stahl also have a sense of humor about tackling such a huge project and what they, at the time, thought it might do to their careers. And Loken may have had the toughest job of all, making a leather-clad female terminator believable. She handles it all with aplomb and is very engaging throughout. So much so that, by the time we get to the other two tracks, they can't help but seem dull by comparison. There is a considerable amount of repetition them, though Mostow certainly delves into all of the nuts and bolts production details that are completely lacking in the cast commentary. Of course, just how many commentaries you can take for one movie is up to you, but kudos to Warner for resurrecting the extra commentary that I guess would have been lost forever if it hadn't been for HD DVD.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of the video-based extras are too slick and fluffy, and powered by a relentless techno underscore that quicly grows tiresome. After a dull "Introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger" that contains no surprises, we get an "HBO First Look" special that runs 24 minutes. It is your typical breathless pre-release extended commercial. We don't learn anything we didn't already know after watching the flick, and typical of most on-set interviews, Mostow, Schwarzenegger, Stahl and Danes can't reveal too much about the plot, so are forced to spout the typical, "It's gonna be great!" comments.

Next up are a variety of little vignettes. The 3-minute "Sgt. Candy Scene" is an oddity -- a deleted comedy movie-within-a-movie scene that, frankly, made no sense to me. "Storyboards" is a 4-minute montage of the film's climatic Terminator vs. Terminator duel. The entire sequence is shown as a side-by-side comparison between the storyboards and the final finished film, with soundtrack. "Dressed to Kill" runs only 2 minutes and offers a breezy look at how to costume a Terminator, and what to wear if you are being chased by one. Finally, "Toys in Action" pays a visit with artist Todd McFarlane and takes a look at all the various Terminator-inspired toys that have come out in recent years. Running 8 minutes, this feels more like a commercial than a true featurette.

Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer in widescreen and 480p video, plus two shameless promos for the 'T3' videogame, including a teaser and "making of" extended commercial.

Note that in an unusual occurrence for HD DVD, Warner has dropped the best making-of feature from the previous standard-def release, the 32-minute "T3 Visual Effects Lab." It broke down five key sequences in the film, and was by far the most insightful bit of supplementary material on the standard DVD release. However, all of this material appears to have been integrated into the HD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" noted below, so I can't say there is much to get up in arms about.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 2.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 781 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' is the latest Warner HD DVD release to receive the "In-Movie Experience," and it is one of the best examples of the feature I've seen yet. What's really cool this time is that director Jonathan Mostow (as well as producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna) recorded a new introduction and full-length interview for the HD DVD, and right at the beginning, Mostow promises we'll get "material never-before-seen by the general public." And that turns out to be mostly true -- there is a good amount of making-of footage here I didn't see on the standard-def extras. Doubly cool is the fact that, three years on, we're finally getting some real perspective on the film and its place in the 'Terminator' pantheon, which the original standard-def DVD sorely lacked.

However, note that unlike, say, Universal's 'Bourne Supremacy,' Mostow is really the star of the show here, so this almost functions as a new solo commentary with little video bits edited in. But quite frankly, unless you are a diehard 'Terminator 3' fan (in which case all the standard-def extras are already familiar to you anyway), I would say just skip all the old stuff and start here. The 'T3' IME feature is essentially a brand-new, 109-minute documentary that gives you a pretty solid overview of the production of the film. Nicely done, Warner -- please don't stop producing these little gems.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Surprise, surprise, I can't say I enjoyed 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' as much as the first two 'Terminator' flicks. However, it is big, loud and full of action, and I was never less than entertained. As an HD DVD release, this is another winner from Warner. A very good transfer, a great soundtrack and a fancy new In-Movie Experience feature make for an all-around worthwhile purchase. Though I would have liked a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack -- really, what movie deserves one more than 'T3?' -- this is still an HD DVD upgrade that makes sense.

) ) [8] => Array ( [review_id] => 149 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => adventuresofrobinhood1938 [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) [picture_created] => 1157009262 [picture_name] => the-adventures-of-robin-hood-1938-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/31/120/the-adventures-of-robin-hood-1938-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/149/adventuresofrobinhood1938.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1938 [run_time] => 102 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000I0RR76 [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1209656 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.37:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 1080p/480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [3] => Music-Only Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Documenaries [2] => Bloopers and Outtakes [3] => Vintage Newsreel [4] => Animated Shorts [5] => Still Galleries [6] => Radio Show Excerpts [7] => Trailer Gallery ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Classic [2] => Drama [3] => Fantasy ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Claude Rains [1] => Basil Rathbone [2] => Olivia de Havilland [3] => Errol Flynn ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Michael Curtiz ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => This lavish, fast-paced version of the Robin Hood legend won three Academy Awards (Best Film Editing, Interior Decoration and Original Score). Doing many stunts himself, Errol Flynn is at his athletic, romantic best in a role originally intended for James Cagney. Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), as well as consummate screen villains Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains round out the all-star cast. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
• Leonard Maltin hosts "Warner Night at the Movies 1938 featuring Vintage Newsreel"
• 2 Documentaries: "Welcome to Sherwood" and "Glorious Technicolor
• 2 Classic Cartoons: "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy"
• 2 Vintage Short Subjects: "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca"
• Outtakes and Bloopers
• "Robin Hood Through the Ages" Vintage Film Excerpts
• "A Journey to Sherwood Forest" Vintage Cast Home Movies
• "Splitting the Arrow" Still Galleries
• Music-only Audio Track
• Radio Show Excerpt: "The Robin Hood Radio Show"
• Audio-Only: "Erich Wolfgang Korngold Piano Sessions"
• Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.' [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 3506 [review_movie_stars] => 4.5 [review_movie] =>

Sad as it may be, the fact remains that younger generations rarely want anything to do with classic films. For some reason, audiences find it hard to relate to characters and stories without modern dress, manners and technology. Of course, I can't say I'm above such juvenile snobbery myself. Growing up, I had little interest in films that pre-dated the late 1960s -- why would I want to watch a movie about a bunch of old dead people, with their silly morals and antiquated sensibilities? It has only been as an adult, after having been forced to sit through semester after semester of cinema history courses in film school, that I developed an true appreciation for the classics.

It was during one of those film classes that I was first introduced to the 1938 swashbuckler 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.' Getting past Errol Flynn's pageboy haircut and green tights, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Seventy-odd years on, it holds up rather splendidly as high adventure, a soaring love story and good, old-fashioned popcorn entertainment. So what if the sets look phony, the costumes goofy, and the dialogue like something out of an 'Airplane!' movie? Today's big-budget, effects-laden snooze-fests would kill to earn even a tenth of the laughs, thrills and swoons this little baby manages, seemingly without even breaking a sweat.

Flynn was the perfect leading man. Though he was quoted later as having been "bored" by the role, after achieving stardom with earlier, similar efforts like 'Captain Blood' (1935) and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (1936), you wouldn't know it from his performance. No one could charge into a room, swish a sword and charm the ladies like he could -- they didn't coin the phrase "in like Flynn" for nothing. So iconic is Flynn's portrayal that it is always his portrayal of 'Robin Hood' that is parodied in satires, like Mel Brooks' 'Men in Tights.'

The supporting cast is also wonderful. Olivia de Havilland is a gorgeous, sly and feisty Maid Marian. Flynn was reportedly a bit of a troublemaker on set, reserving most of his goodwill only for Havilland. Whatever the case, their chemistry is palpable on screen -- sweet, winning and rather sexy. Basil Rathbone, the world's most famous Sherlock Holmes, is wisely cast against type as the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne. His performance is consummate in its wickedness and subtle wit, with Rathbone easily holding his own again Flynn (no small feat). Also look for a terrific ensemble of famous character actors, including Melville Cooper as the hilarious, sniveling High Sheriff of Nottingham; Warner Bros. stable standby Claude Rains as somewhat fey Prince John, and Alan Hale, Sr. (a dead-ringer for his son, future 'Gilligan's Island' skipper Alan Hale, Jr.) as Little John.

It's interesting that 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' continues to be considered as the definitive telling of the classic tale, because based on the behind-the-scenes dramas that plagued its production, it should have been a disaster. William Keighley was the original director, hired mainly because he had worked with Flynn the year prior on 'The Prince and the Pauper.' Despite the studio's high hopes, his early dailies were underwhelming, and he was promptly replaced by another director, Michael Curtiz. Veteran of such hits as 'The Perfect Specimen,' 'The Charge of he Light Brigade' and 'Captain Blood' (the latter two again with Flynn), Curtiz's influence helped give the film its now famous light-hearted spirit and dazzling derring-do. Though 'Casablanca' (1942) certainly remains Curtiz's crowning cinematic achievement, followed by perhaps 'Mildred Pierce' (1948), 'Robin Hood' certainly ranks up there in a career filled with staggering achievements.

Ultimately, even those familiar with the Robin Hood character but unfamiliar with this particular version, will find something to love here. The film leaves nothing of the legend out -- the splitting of the arrow, the fight with Little John and the Sherwood Forest feast, not to mention the swordplay, the romance, and the plundering... it's all here in spades. 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' may not have modern special effects, airbrushed models instead of actors and fast-cut editing, but even seventy years on, it remains cinema's reigning swashbuckler.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1725 [review_video] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is one of the latest Warner catalog classics to undergo the studio's newly-patented "Ultra Resolution" restoration process. This technological wonder is able to clean-up and re-align vintage Technicolor negatives, returning them not only to their former glory, but far surpassing any previous presentation in terms of clarity, color purity and sharpness. The results of Warner's advancements have earned praise far and wide, and I'm certainly a huge fan. I continue to be amazed at how fantastic the recent Warner Ultra Resolution titles like 'Singin' in the Rain,' Gone with the Wind' and 'The Searchers' look, and now 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' can be safely added to that list. (Note: 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' was shot at the Academy flat ratio of 1.37:1. It is presented here in a windowboxed 4:3 aspect ratio, and 1080p/VC-1 video. So don't worry about those black bars on the sides -- it's supposed to look that way.)

From the first frame, it is almost impossible to believe that 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is a film over seventy years old. Colors are simply brilliant. They are so rich, in fact, they almost look painted on. Granted, it's hardly a realistic look, but this is glorious Technicolor, which is the equivalent of cinematic cotton candy. Scene after scene is a joy to behold, particularly the "great feast" sequence in Sherwood Forest. The reds are remarkably brilliant, greens lush as a jungle, the purples royal, and yellows dazzling.

This HD DVD version also offers a nice upgrade over the standard-def version, which was released a couple of years ago. The image is a bit sharper -- the DVD sometimes looked softer and more blurry from shot to shot, but consistency on the HD DVD is superior. The level of depth and detail is also amazing for a film from 1936 -- indeed, it rivals many new releases for clarity and cleanliness. You'll still be able to spot some grain, but it is hardly excessive. After a minute or two, I didn't even notice it. Some might also find the image a bit "hot" -- it does have a high contrast look. Whites seem to teeter on the edge of being blown out, but never quite fall off the cliff. Though such a high-key look can give the appearance of being too edgy, I did not see any actual edge enhancement or other post-processing issues.

The only reason I'm not giving 'Robin Hood' a full five-star video is because it may be just a smidgen less perfect, and not quite as sharp, as the absolute top tier of Warner's Ultra-Resolution titles, such as 'Gone With the Wind,' and the title I still hold up as the absolute reference-standard, 'Singin' in the Rain.' But that's a minor quibble. 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' looks fantastic.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Due to the age of the audio elements, and the lack of the original "stems" needed to create a full 5.1 surround remix, 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is presented in Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono. Aside from the increased bitrate (640kbps), there is little real advantage here over the standard-def DVD version. And there just isn't much you can say about a mono mix.

Overall, fidelity is fine. The most apparent improvement is the high end -- gone is that shrill, ear-piercing flatness one usually associates with old mono mixes. Mid-range and low bass could still have used a bit of a boost, however. This is most noticeable on the brass-filled music score, which sounds rather flat. Dialogue holds up very well, though, if somewhat pinched. But like the image, any deficiencies in the audio are hardly excessive, and after a few minutes, you won't even notice.

[review_supplements_stars] => 5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' on HD DVD replicates all of the bonus features found on the two-disc standard-def edition, and it is quite a package. This set is so brimming with supplements that it is a real wonder that so much material can fit on a single disc. But it does -- and I don't know where to begin!

Let's start with the 'Warner Night at the Movies" option. This allows you to watch the film in the context of a movie theater program, as it would have been exhibited at the time of its original release. Introduced by the ubiquitous Leonard Maltin, this option precedes the film with a Vintage Newsreel; a musical short subject from Freddie Rich and His Orchestra; the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Katnip Kollege" (in full 1080p video) and a theatrical trailer for 'Angels with Dirty Faces.' It's a very fun way to kick off the movie, and a terrific addition from Warner.

Next is the audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. His name should be familiar to any fan of classic cinema, as he's contributed to numerous DVD supplements and documentaries. Admittedly, his track here can be a little dry. He's so well prepared he seems to be reading off of already-written material. But you can't argue with the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He sticks to the movie at hand, and covers just about every aspect of the production, from conception to casting to shooting to release. Perhaps this is not for casual viewers, but diehard fans of the movie shouldn't miss it.

Two full-length documentaries are also included. "Glorious Technicolor" runs 60 minutes and is hosted by Angela Lansbury. It's a fascinating, very well-produced history of the Technicolor process, from its glory days in the '30s and '40s to its slow and painful demise -- by the end of the '60s, it was all but dead. Too sad. (Another nice bonus from Warner: the doc has its own chapter search function. Very handy.) More specific to the movie at hand is "Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.'" Running 55 minutes, this documentary was produced in 2003 to celebrate the film's sixty-fifth anniversary, and it is an elegant and reverential affair. Though the vast majority of the film's principal players are deceased, Warner amassed an impressive army of historians, writers, and film buffs to honor 'Robin Hood,' including Rudy Behlmer, Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne, Paula Sigman and Bob Thomas, plus John Mauceri (an expert on the film's composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold), and the only surviving crew member to participate, art director Gene Allen. Both of the above docs are presented in 4:3 windowboxed video and 480i video.

A huge archive of historical material begins with a clutch of rare and never-before-seen footage. Behlmer returns to narrate an 8-minute series of Outtakes, plus "Breakdowns of 1938," a 14-minute studio blooper reel. Both are without sound. "A Journey to Sherwood Forest" clocks in at 13 minutes and is an assemblage of on-set footage and home movies made during the film's production. Finally, "Robin Hood Through the Ages" runs 7-minutes and offers a brief history of Robin Hood's earlier screen adaptations, most notably the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks silent version.

There are also three very impressive audio-only supplements. "The Robin Hood Radio Show" from 1938 is just that, and is quite a bit of nostalgia. Though I'd never heard this actual program before, I grew up without a television until I was about 8 years-old (guess I'm making up for lost time being an HD reviewer!), so listening to this radio show was like being a kid all over again. Also included are a few outtakes of Erich Wolfgang Korngold piano sessions, and best of all, a complete music-only track of the composer's Oscar-winning score. As was the case with the feature, the audio here is presented in Dolby Digital mono as well.

No, we're not done yet. Presented in full 1080p video is the "Splitting the Arrow" animated still gallery. I counted over a hundred stills, ranging from historical art and costume designs, to scene concepts and cast & crew photos. This one is very easy to navigate with your remote's basic control functions.

Next up are four different short films and cartoons. All are presented in 1080p video, too (sweet!). Sit back and enjoy the Looney Tunes classics "Rabbit Hood" with Bugs Bunny, and "Robin Hood Daffy" with Daffy Duck. Then, there are two vintage short subjects, "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca." Alas, my lack of classic film knowledge is showing -- I didn't recognize any of the performers in these shorts.

The fun finally comes to an end with an Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery, featuring spots for 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' plus the aforementioned 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Captain Blood.'

Whew -- what a package!

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

No content exclusives, but with so many standard-def extras, can't really complain. Warner does, however, provide their HD DVD-standard custom bookmark and timeline features, plus the ability to pan-and-zoom the image up to 16x magnification, which is actually a pretty cool trick for a film like 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' -- it certainly shows off Warner's Ultra Resolution process in the best possible light.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is a lively, rousing adventure. Sure, it's from 1938, with plenty of silly costumes and hairstyles, but who cares when it's so much fun? This HD DVD is magnificent. Warner continues to impress with its Ultra-Resolution remasters, and there are so many extras here it could take you days to get through them all. If you are at all a fan of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, this disc is an absolute must-own.

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• Audio Commentary by Cast Members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper, and Colin Maitland; Producer Kenneth Hyman; Novelist E.M. Nathanson; Film Historian David Schlow; and Veteran Military Advisor Capt. Dale Dye
• 2 Featurettes: "The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines" and "Operation Dirty Dozen"
• Vintage Recruitment Documentary: "Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills"
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 53 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

"The Dirty Dozen' is not the film I anticipated. Having gone into this review blind, I expected another rah-rah action movie, the usual kind made after World War II but before Vietnam, when the heroes still wore white, rode in on horses and the battle lines between good and evil were clearly drawn. 'The Dirty Dozen' obliterated my preconceptions, mixing up the cliches and conventions of the "war movie" with great ambiguity, unsettling violence and a group of anti-heroes as likable as they are morally repulsive. Yet I still ended the film feeling utterly entertained. Talk about being blind-sided.

The story is not as simple as it appears. It is 1944, and the Allied Armies stand ready for a major invasion of Germany from bases in England. As a prelude to D-Day, US Army Intelligence orders a top secret mission where convicted criminals will be offered a pardon in return for parachuting into the Reich on a suicide mission. The task of, "Train them! Excite them! Arm them! Then turn them on the Nazis!" falls to major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), who must whip this band of amoral criminals and killers into shape, knowing full well whatever redemption they may see will be no match for the insanity of a mass assassination mission against the Germans.

It's funny to me that it is usually conservatives who are criticized for being misguided and stubborn in their heartfelt beliefs, when liberals can be just as narrow-minded and stubborn. I say this from the safety of being a registered independent, of course. Perhaps that is why I enjoy being left uncomfortable by movies like 'The Dirty Dozen.' I suspect both sides of the political fence likely find something in here to be offended by. I could only enjoy the incongruity of it all.

There are no easy lines in the sand to draw here. The dirty dozen of the title is more than just a bunch of rakish misfits who stole a candy bar -- they are as morally ambiguous a bunch as you're going to find in a mainstream movie. All twelve have committed crimes, some truly horrible, yet they are charming, affable, witty and endearing. We begin to root for them, slowly forgetting their backstories. Granted, 'The Dirty Dozen' is not a character study, but it is insidious in how it gets us to flip-flop our allegiances so easily. Right from the first scene, as Reisman coldly witnesses a hanging, I thought I hated the guy. But by movies end, I was cheering him on as he picks up a machine gun to mow down some Nazis.

This is not to say that the 'The Dirty Dozen' is an 'Apocalypse Now.' Though it has a far-from-subtle anti-war message pulsing through its veins, it is essentially an action film, and one that makes no bones about exploiting typical pro-war movie conventions. The violence is attractive in its staging, and because we spend so much time with the dirty dozen before they go off to battle, we are clearly on their side, whatever moral reservations we may have. And what a grand cast -- in addition to the irrepressible Marvin, the rest of the roll call reads like a who's-who of A-list male actors of the period, including Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, John Cassavettes, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Jaeckel. Who doesn't want to see this bunch kick some ass, especially those nasty Nazis?

Maybe that is why 'The Dirty Dozen' feels so gleefully subversive. It is hard to not have internal conflict watching a scene like the one where the dirty dozen torches a roomful of half-innocent Germans as they scream for their lives, knowing where our sympathies have laid for the past two hours. What remains so compelling -- and challenging -- about 'The Dirty Dozen is that it understands this but doesn't take a heavy-handed stance either way. Even the film's ending is far from expected. Unromanticized, even cynical, right down to the last shot 'The Dirty Dozen' resists classification. I'm honestly not sure how I ultimately feel about it, but for once a Hollywood war film made me revel in its ambiguities, rather than lament the lack of them.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 868 [review_video] =>

Warner presents 'The Dirty Dozen' in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. However, there has been some controversy about just what the proper aspect ratio of the film is supposed to be. Photographed in 35mm for projection at 1.85 aspect ratio, the film was blown up to 70mm for some theatrical showings, including a Roadshow version that was formatted to 2.20:1. This HD DVD is an "open matte" version of the 35mm print, so no image area is lost (rather, we get more picture information on the top and bottom of the frame) compared the original intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

That aside, my overall impression of this 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is that it is a mixed bag, which is largely due to the original source material. Like other films of its era, any moment featuring optical work -- such as credits, dissolves or other visual effects -- suffers from noticeable film grain, dirt and wavering color saturation. The film makes such extensive use of dissolves that after a while, the noticeable degradation preceding such effects becomes comical. I almost starting a drinking game by myself while doing this review. The shot gets soft, cue dissolve, have a drink. And by the end of the film's 179 minutes, I'm thoroughly toasted. Woo-hoo!

Otherwise, 'The Dirty Dozen' looks fairly good. While blacks are solid, contrast appears a bit overdone with whites suffering from slight blooming. Colors also vary. Fleshtones are an accurate shade of orange, but saturation wobbles and wavers. Detail is generally good, though again the film's extensive opticals play havoc with sharpness. Outdoor sequences fare the worst, and aside from the odd shot that looks terrific, overall the film is generally two-dimensional in appearance. A definite step up from the standard DVD, but picture quality-wise this one can't really compare to recent Warner catalog remasters such as 'The Searchers,' 'Blazing Saddles' and 'Grand Prix.'

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

The most prominent aspect of this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track is undoubtedly Frank De Vol's well-known score. Largely percussive, it steamrolls over the rest of the mix, which by comparison is drab and lacking in distinction.

Dynamic range is rather flat, with mid-range middling and high-end sometimes hard and unappealing. Dialogue is clear enough and firmly rooted in the center channel, but stereo effects sound muffled in the mix. The score dominates, with the .1 LFE delivering some decent bass, especially on drum sounds and gunfire. Surrounds are utilized primarily for score bleed and a bit of echo, and tonal quality can hardly compare to a modern mix. Discrete rear effects are rare, and tend to stand out rather than feeling seamless in the mix.

I'm being a bit harsh here, as 'The Dirty Dozen' sounds perfectly fine for a film now forty years old. However, having been spoiled with such recent remasters of titles like 'Grand Prix,' this one does sound a bit lackluster.

[review_supplements_stars] => 4.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 871 [review_supplements] =>

Warner has again pulled out all the stops for one of their vintage catalog titles, giving 'The Dirty Dozen' the full-on special edition treatment. All of the extras from the two-disc standard DVD of the film have been crammed in here, and thankfully most of the material is more than mere filler.

Unfortunately, that description does not apply to the woeful 1985 made-for-TV sequel 'The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission,' which is contained on the disc in its entirety. Though Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Jaeckel all return, this is one of those misguided follow-ups that never should have been made. Though it does have its cheesy charms -- Borgnine certainly overacts fabulously -- this is 97 minutes of your time you will never get back. The only saving grace is that Warner did not also include the two even worse follow-up telefilms, 'The Deadly Mission' and 'The Fatal Mission,' both of which also starred Borgnine. (Seriously, I'm not making this up!)

Luckily, the rest of the extras are well worth watching. An audio commentary assembles new interviews with surviving cast members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, plus producer Kenneth Hyman, author E.M. Nathanson, film historian David J. Skal, and veteran and frequent movie military advisor Captain Dale Dye. As you would expect with such a diverse lot, the conversation veers all over the place. But I enjoyed it, especially the various cast members' production anecdotes (and their fond memories of Marvin and Jaeckel) plus Nathanson's insight on the changes made to the novel in its transition to the screen. Dye and his harping on the military inaccuracies in the film (who cares?) did far less for me, but then I've always found him a bit of an egotistical and grating presence, especially as he is popping up more and more frequently on DVDs these days.

Up next are two documentaries, both quite strong. "Armed and Deadly: The Making of 'The Dirty Dozen'" runs a compact 30 minutes and is like a digest version of the commentary. Many of the same participants appear, and this is far from a fluff piece. The entire process of making the movie is covered in tight fashion, along with heartfelt recollections from the cast on Marvin and director Robert Aldrich. Just as compelling is the 47-minute "The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines." Loosely based on a real-life incident, 'The Dirty Dozen' lifted from the true story of Jake McNiece, who led a dozen members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on a similarly-doomed mission. Not all of them were convicts as in the film, but it is a fascinating tale nonetheless. And so is McNiece, who eventually went AWOL and is interviewed at length about his adventures. "The Filthy Thirteen" is a unique doc well worth making the extra time for.

Rounding out the set are some promotional items. Both the vintage 9-minute featurette "Operation 'Dirty Dozen'" and a 30-minute Military Training Film hosted by Lee Marvin are rather hilarious. Painting the cast of the film as he-men of the century, this is the kind of unironic propaganda that usually gets laughed at in schools across American today. Just as charmingly retro is the film's Theatrical Trailer, presented here in 480p widescreen.

Last but not least, there is also a three-minute introduction to the film by Ernest Borgnine, who manages to get quite a bit of detail in such a short amount of time.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 870 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Only Warner's usual timeline, custom bookmark and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Dirty Dozen' is still considered a landmark war film, one that was hard-hitting in its day but now plays even better as oddly endearing, almost goofy entertainment. Warner has produced an HD DVD package that, overall, delivers the goods. Though the transfer suffers from shopworn source material and audio can only do so much with forty-year-old elements, the extras are packed to the gills with goodies. Despite a few faults, it's hard not to argue value for money when you get so much for only $28.99.

) ) [10] => Array ( [review_id] => 154 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => fastandthefurious [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Fast and the Furious [picture_created] => 1159765120 [picture_name] => the-fast-and-the-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/10/01/120/the-fast-and-the-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/154/fastandthefurious.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2001 [run_time] => 107 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GW8OAA [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1181166 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Picture-in-Picture Instant Access ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 4 Featurettes [1] => Montage [2] => Public Service Announcement [3] => Deleted and Extended Scenes [4] => Enhanced Viewing Mode [5] => 3 Music Videos [6] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Crime [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Paul Walker [1] => Vin Diesel [2] => Michelle Rodriguez [3] => Jordana Brewster [4] => Rick Yune ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Rob Cohen ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => An undercover cop infiltrates an underworld subculture of Los Angeles street racers looking to bust a hijacking ring, and soon begins to question his loyalties when his new street racing friends become the prime suspects. [preview_technology_specifications] => • 5 Featurettes: "Making of 'The Fast and the Furious,'" "Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence," "Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects," "Editing for the MPAA" and "Trickin' Out a Hot Import Car"
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Short Film: "Turbo-charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious"
• Paul Walker Public Service Announcement
• Visual Effects Montage
• 3 Music Videos: "Furious" by Ja Rule, "Pov City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah and "Click Click Boom" by Saliva
• Enhanced Viewing Option
• Theatrical Trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • Picture-in-Picture Instant Access [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

What is it about watching car crashes on screen that endlessly fascinates moviegoers? They are the automechanical equivalent of slasher movies, and you'd think that there would only be so many ways to destroy a car. Yet we continue to flock to these movies, our appetite to see all makes and models of automobile crashed, smashed and blown to bits apparently insatiable.

Perhaps the best piece of car porn ever put on screen, the original 'Fast and the Furious' remains the best of the now three-picture franchise. The story is a fairly formulaic crime thriller, but who needs plot when you have lots of good-looking people driving fast cars and blowing things up? Paul Walker stars as undercover cop Brian O'Conner. He's assigned to infiltrate the underworld subculture of Los Angeles "street racing," where impossibly good-looking teenagers (who all apparently have unlimited financial resources) jack up hot cars and challenge each other to death-defying, late-night competitions. O'Conner befriends the king of the circuit, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), but will soon question that loyalty when Toretto and his posse become the prime suspects in a car hijacking ring. Eventually, O'Conner will have to put his newfound street racing skills to the test if he's going to bust the thugs, get the girl, and beat Toretto at his own game.

'The Fast and the Furious' is not a movie that appeals to the intellect. But what it does, it does fabulously. Action ubermeister Rob ('xXx,' 'Stealth') Cohen directs with the gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor. The lighting, the music, the editing and the action are all pumped to the max, so the film is pure audiovisual eye candy. Take the scene where a group of feds bust in on the lair of Johnny Tran (Rick Yune). Cohen stages the scene like a music video, with a blaring neo-industrial song on the soundtrack, lots of slo-mo, and not a single word of dialogue. No, this is not art on the level of European mise-en-scene, but I still have to hand it to Cohen. He revels in telling his stories as pure cinema (even if it is of the MTV variety), and so -- unlike most of his contemporaries -- he at least has a consistent stylistic aesthetic to critique.

Then there is the action. Though I found the early street racing scenes the least interesting and most far-fetched, 'The Fast and the Furious' really kicks into gear in the second half. There is one extended sequence involving a careening semi-truck that remains one of the most exciting action sequences I've seen. I also liked the climactic daytime street race between Diesel and Walker, which is truly white-knuckle viewing. There is something to be said for pure entertainment movies like 'The Fast and the Furious,' which elevate a threadbare plot and cliched characters through sheer force of their style, and turn out to be far better than they have any need to be. As far as car porn films go, this one is up there on my top five list with 'Bullitt,' 'The Road Warrior' and 'Speed,' regardless of how stupid it may be.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 484 [review_video] =>

'The Fast and the Furious' has long been considered by many to be one of the reference discs on standard-def DVD. So expectations are high for the film's HD DVD debut, and despite my reservations about some of the filmmaker's stylistic choices, this disc yet again delivers a top-notch visual presentation.

Universal delivers a rather stunning 1080p/VC-1-encoded transfer, presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. I don't know if this is the same five-year-old master used for the previous DVD, but it seems to matter little. The source material is pristine, with no blemishes, dirt or other anomalies present. Film grain is present if you look hard enough, though the source material appears to have been heavily processed during post-production (either that or the anti-film grain fairy was feeling particularly kind towards 'The Fast and the Furious').

Most other aspects of the visual presentation are quite good. Blacks and contrast are excellent, giving the transfer a great sense of depth and pop, but without overtweaked whites and annoying edge enhancements. Color reproduction is about as vivid as is imaginable -- I'd call it overbearing -- with very strong hues that look like they are about to explode. They are certainly even more bold than the standard DVD, especially the richer greens, purples and deep blues. Detail can at times be spectacular, with such subtleties as reflections on metallic surfaces and stubble on faces clearly visible. Indeed, during some sequences this was one of the most three-dimensional transfers I've ever seen in high-def.

However, some of the aesthetic choices made by director Rob Cohen and director of photography Ericson Core are not really to my taste. Most of the daylight scenes have obvious filter effects on them, such as those fake-looking color gradations in skies. Fleshtones are very orange to me throughout, as if they were overtweaked post-production. I wonder how much better detail might have been had the transfer been less processed -- as it stands, the transfer has an unreal gloss that, while striking, teeters on the brink of appearing soft. It's definitely in keeping with the MTV-aesthetic of the film, but such a processed sheen hardly looks natural. However, on a technical level, even such artificiality is handled well by this transfer, with no obvious posterization present. I was also impressed with how well encoded this disc is, with even the most fast-cut, high-motion scenes revealing no obvious pixelation or macroblocking.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 485 [review_audio] =>

As visually stunning a disc as 'The Fast and the Furious' can be, it also packs a sonic wallop. Universal unfortunately did not create a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix for the disc (a real headscratcher), but as far as Dolby Digital-Plus tracks go, it is hard to imagine one sounding better than this.

Crank this up loud and you'll be treated to a truly enveloping, fully 360-degree aural experience. I hate gushing about these things, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to every second of 'The Fast and the Furious' on HD DVD. That the surrounds are fully engaged throughout is hardly a surprise, especially if you've heard the standard DVD. Discrete sound effects are some of the most realistic I've ever heard in a home theater environment, and pans between channels are seamless. Just check out the first street racing scene, where director Rob Cohen treats us to a first-person journey into and trough a car's engine and back out again. It is a ridiculous conceit, but sonically thrilling. The rears pulse with sound, and subtle shadings are also clearly discernible. Very cool stuff.

However, like all of the Dolby Digital-Plus tracks I've heard thus far, improvements are not as significant on the less bombastic aspects of the soundtrack. Dynamic range is a bit more impressive on the mid- and high-range, with a wider sense of depth and presence, but it is not a night and day difference. Atmosphere and ambiance also do not see gains as considerable as sound effects in action scenes. However, .1 LFE is clearly superior on the HD DVD. The near-constant rumblings of engines, etc., as well as the pop/rock songs on the soundtrack all benefit from heftier, punchier low bass. Explosions and other bombastic car crash effects also deliver s stronger vibrations, which can be truly exciting. All in all, I can't imagine anyone not being impressed with the 'The Fast and the Furious' sound-wise, though that may make it more of a shame that Universal didn't spring for a Dolby TrueHD track.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 486 [review_supplements] =>

The history of 'The Fast and the Furious' on DVD is a bit confusing. Universal has released two versions on disc -- a feature-loaded single-disc set in 2001, then the follow-up "Tricked Out Edition." However, what was unusual is that the latter didn't just replicate the former and add a couple of new features. Instead, many of the extras on the first edition were repurposed for the "Tricked Out" disc, such as taking featurette material and reediting it into a "branching" video commentary. Thus, both versions were the same, yet not equal. Now, for the film's HD DVD debut, Universal has combined the two together, so I guess we can call this the... Sorta-Tricked Out Edition?

After a short pre-feature PSA from Paul Walker warning of the dangers of street racing (don't try this at home, kids!), the first extra is "The Making Of The Fast and the Furious." This 18-minute featurette is Universal's typical "Spotlight On Location" EPK. Snappy and sleek, we get 2001-era interviews with director Rob Cohen, stunt coordinators Mic Rodgers and Mike Justus, and cast including Walker, Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster, plus the usual quick-cut behind-the-scenes production footage. Aside from a few laugh-out loud lines ("This is a cast of great depth!" proclaims Cohen), this is totally forgettable fluff.

Next up are four shorter featurettes. "Visual Effects Montage" is just that, a 4-minute reel mixing blue screen plates, storyboards, composites and CGI renderings, all to the tune of a grating techno beat. A bit more interactive are two multi-angle peeks at the film's stunts. "The Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence" offers a view of the final stunt car flip (running just 20 seconds) from no less than eight different angles. "Movie Magic" offers various effects "plates" of three scenes, including the final composite. But best of all is the 5-minute featurette "Editing For The Motion Picture Association." Since the studio mandate was a PG-13 rating, some judicious editing was required to make the film kinetic and exciting while still not too graphic. Director Rob Cohen and editor Peter Honess take us through an editing session during the process, and this may be the first featurette of its kind I've seen on a DVD. I admired Cohen's straight-forward approach to something that is often considered a dirty little secret in the industry, and it is amazing how obtaining an MPAA rating can come down to a mere few frames -- or choosing between a line with the word "Fuck" in it and a shot of a guy covered in blood. Interesting stuff.

Eight Deleted Scenes comes next, and include an introduction and optional commentary by Cohen. Since the film now runs an appropriate 107 minutes (not too short, but not long enough to wear out its welcome) these scenes are fairly interesting if not essential. Some run just a few seconds, and brief original edits of the "Ferrari" and "Race Wars" sequences are also included. All the scenes are presented in 480i video and look fairly decent.

Rounding out the first part of the supplements are some promo material. We get the film's theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 widescreen and 480p video, plus no less than three music videos, for "Furious by Ja Rule, "Click Click Boom" by Saliva, and an "Edited for Language" version of "POV City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah. All are presented in pillarboxed, 480i video.

Now we come to some of the extras that were included on the "Tricked Out" DVD edition of 'The Fast and the Furious.' There was a screen-specific audio commentary on the original DVD release that you can listen to here as a standard audio-only track, or as the basis for "Enhanced Viewing Mode." Toggle this on, and while Cohen is commenting on the movie, a little icon will appear at various times that, if selected, will take you to a small segment of video footage. Throughout, Cohen is full of energy, as if he's trying to cram as much information as possible into 107 minutes. While the director may take the subject matter a bit too seriously (he actually compares 'The Fast and the Furious' to a "modern John Ford western"), he's is also refreshingly honest about the film's arguable failures, such as the lame undercover subplot. If it weren't for Cohen's attempts to be hip by throwing in cringe-inducing bits of street lingo (sorry, those over the age of 40 should not be allowed to say things like "dope ass"), I'd say I came away as a bit of fan.

Rounding out the package are two more featurettes. "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" runs 19 minutes and is hosted by Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis. She is joined by stunt coordinator Craig Lieberman, who shows us how a "hot car" is pimped out. Kurtis is, like, really smart, and says she "loves hot guys with hot cars." Truth be told, though, this is actually kind of interesting stuff, despite the tasteless pandering to the T&A crowd. Last and least is the uninspired "Turbo-Charged Prelude to '2 Fast, 2 Furious.'" Shot exclusively for the "Tricked Out Edition" DVD, this "electrifying" short is supposed to bridge the original flick with the sequel. However, what is essentially a montage of Walker driving in a car feels more like a long outtake than a narrative short film. Pretty forgettable.

Note that missing from the HD DVD release are all the text-based extras on both previous DVD editions of 'The Fast and the Furious,' including the original "Racer X" magazine article that inspired the film, plus all of the DVD-ROM-based extras. Aside from the article, though, none of it is much of a loss.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 2.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 487 [review_bonus_content] =>

Given the wealth of supplemental content already created for 'The Fast and the Furious' it's not surprising that Universal has created a new "Instant Access" video commentary, exclusive to the HD DVD release. However, this is perhaps my least favorite such track so far, due to the meager amount of new content and some technical problems that mar the track.

I hate to sound ungrateful, but all this "Instant Access" track really consists of is a new video interview with director Rob Cohen. There is little in the way of additional behind-the-scenes footage and other material, making it a bit like listening to an audio commentary while watching the director's head in a box. I think the studios currently supporting this type of exclusive HD content may need to consider producing more than just a director interview. How about the cast? The crew? Or more perspective on the film's impact and audience? Otherwise, the video commentary gimmick gets tired quickly.

Also a big negative is that the sound editing is the worst I've heard yet on one of these features. The volume level of the film's soundtrack is usually heard faintly in the background, but here it is far too loud. It frequently conflicts with the soft-spoken Cohen, at times rendering his commentary inaudible -- for example, mid-way through Cohen is discussing the use of dance music in the film, and he's completely obliterated by the techno beat of the song. Pretty frustrating.

Technical issues aside, this is still far preferable to the "Enhanced Viewing" option. I hate having to click on little icons to take me to branching video content. However, this is just not a great example of the "Instant Access" experience and what the HD DVD format is capable of delivering.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Sure, the plot is beside the point, but with eye candy like this, who cares? Universal has produced a stunner of an HD DVD release for 'The Fast and the Furious.' High-quality video, a top-notch soundtrack and plenty of extras make this a clear winner for the format. If only there was a Dolby TrueHD track and better exclusive HD content, this would have been four stars across the board. As is, 'The Fast and the Furious' is great demo material, and a disc you have to watch at least once to see what your HD DVD home theater rig is truly capable of.

) ) [11] => Array ( [review_id] => 156 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => fastandthefurioustokyodrift [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift [picture_created] => 1158986707 [picture_name] => fast-tokyo.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/fast-tokyo.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/156/fastandthefurioustokyodrift.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 104 [list_price] => 39.98 [asin] => B000HA4WTS [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1186980 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Production Footage [1] => Conceptual Art [2] => Vehicle Customization [3] => GPS Mapping ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-30/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc [2] => U-Control Enhanced ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 6 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes [3] => Music Video ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => In order to avoid a jail sentence, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) heads to Tokyo to live with his military father. In a low-rent section of the city, Sean gets caught up in the underground world of drift racing. [preview_technology_specifications] => • TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • TBA [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

How do you review a movie that seeks to be nothing more than serviceable? Such is the problem with 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' The third in the series of car porn excellence that are the 'Fast and the Furious' films, it neither aims high nor aims low. Rather, it just aims to please. As with any genre, there are the high water marks and the bottom feeders, but 'Tokyo Drift' just sort of hovers somewhere in the middle. Which makes it almost impossible to hate, or to love, and certainly to critique. All you can say is whether or not it gets the job done.

The surprise is that 'Tokyo Drift' actually delivers. It is the thrill ride the adverts promised -- a pastiche of the best parts of the first two 'Furious' flicks, splashed with a bit of Japanese "ethnic flavor" and, of course, lots and lots of vehicular collateral damage. It is also made without any apparent personal passion on behalf of its makers, nor an overriding aesthetic style that would signal the arrival of a major new auteur. Asian director Justin ('Crossover,' 'Better Luck Tomorrow') Lin, making his first big-budget Hollywood franchise picture, surprisingly brings little authenticity to 'Tokyo Drift' (which it certainly could have used to differentiate it from its predecessors). Still, it's a fun, professional, polished and slick entertainment. As a fan of car porn, I wasn't disappointed.

With the Paul Walker character of the first two 'Furious' flicks now long gone (apparently, 'Into the Blue' beckoned), 'Tokyo Drift' introduces us to a new hero, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). He's a misfit southern hick who, after a "three strikes and yer out!" infraction with the law, is displaced to Tokyo to live with his father. But cocky Sean will be given a quick dose of character-building chrome sniffing, when he butts head with the local Drift King (Brian Tee) and his racing buddies Han (Sung Kang) and Twinkie (Bow Wow). (Sadly, the character of Hostess Cup Cake, to have been played by Chad Michael Murray, was dropped for budgetary reasons.) Thrust into the world of "drift racing," which involves skidding your car around deserted city streets like Mario Kart on acid, Sean wrecks the Drift King's car and worse, accidentally kills a friend. Before you can say, "Scared Straight!", Sean turns his back on the lifestyle, but not before setting out to win one big final race to pay back the Drift King -- and more importantly, make the transition from childish hoodlum to a responsible, MADD-approved licensed driver.

Okay, I kid just a little bit. But 'Tokyo Drift' is one of those funny movies that tries to impart a moral lesson while exploiting the audiences' desire for the very thing it is supposedly warning them against. Speeding is bad, kids -- especially on deserted Japanese streets at midnight when your driving a stolen car at 225 mph -- and a life lived recklessly, and without ambition, will quickly lead you down a dark path. As Sean learns the hard way, breaking the law has consequences. Of course, he also looks great doing it, as does everyone and everything in this movie. The 'Fast and the Furious' movies have always created an alternate universe so appealing you can't help but be sucked in by all the fabulous blankness. It's a world that is almost surreal, filled with gorgeous people and hot cars and where, apparently, everyone pools together their lunch money to combat soaring gas prices. There are consequences and moral laws here, but the style and sense of fun is so overcranked that all the teen-pop moralizing goes down as easy as an episode of 'Knight Rider.' If nothing else, 'The 'Fast and the Furious' flicks are the most entertaining PSAs in history.

Not that any of this is really a criticism. 'Tokyo Drift' is a film that by design is not to be taken seriously, and knows perfectly well it is formulaic. As even Lin admits in this disc's supplements, all of the "interstitial" drama is recycled and familiar, entirely on purpose. 'Tokyo Drift' is made for teenage boys, and is just the latest in a long line of cinematic rites of passage. Is it the fault of teens in 2006 that they get 'Tokyo Drift' instead of 'Rebel Without a Cause?' (Hey, when I was fourteen, I thought 'Roller Boogie' and 'Breakin' were the greatest movies ever, because that's what I got stuck with.) So much for film criticism -- 'Tokyo Drift' is the kind of movie that is impervious to such brickabrats. The trick to enjoying something like this? Just dive in, don't think, and enjoy the ride.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 829 [review_video] =>

'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' makes its high-def debut on HD DVD, and predictably it looks fantastic. Like both of the previous 'Furious' flicks, 'Tokyo Drift' is incredibly bright and intensely colorful -- just the kind of stuff that screams demo material. And Universal has not let us down, with an excellent 1080p/VC-1 transfer that should earn its place in showrooms across America for years to come.

If I could use only one word to describe the visual look of 'Tokyo Drift,' it would be "day-glo." Color reproduction is excellent, with hues vivid yet free from burn-out or oversaturation. Cleanliness of the source material is superb, with not a single blemish noticeable. Blacks are spot-on and contrast terrific. I was quite impressed with how well this transfer handles all the shiny chrome and metallic surfaces -- the image is always very sharp but not overly-edgy, and artifacts such as jaggies and halos are not an issue. Depth and detail to the picture is almost uniformly stunning, with that "you are there," picture perfect quality that high-def is all about. 'Tokyo Drift' is definitely up there with the best transfers I've seen on HD, period.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

It is tough with bombastic flicks like 'Tokyo Drift' to not use silly superlatives. "Crashes right into your living room!" and "Rev up that receiver, baby, for the ride of your life!" both spring to mind, but neither are really adequate to describe the thrill of listening this soundtrack at full blast. Okay, maybe that is a bit overdoing it. But 'Tokyo Drift' was the first time I cranked up an HD DVD and actually got a complaint from the neighbors.

First, the bad news. For some reason, Universal has not included a Dolby TrueHD track on the disc, even though this is the format's first double-sided, dual-layer HD-30/DVD-9 HD DVD/DVD combo disc. I suppose with all the high-def extras included (see below), the studio just couldn't fit it in? Whatever the case, we do get a Dolby Digital-Plus track (encoded at a very healthy 1.5mbps) that certainly delivers the goods. Would a Dolby TrueHD track have been superior? Highly likely. But just accepting what's here, I find it hard to complain.

The overall force and volume of this soundtrack, if played at a decent level, can be fierce. Predictably, it is all about the cars and the crashes. The heft and depth to the dynamic range across the entire frequency spectrum during these scenes is reference-quality for a Dolby Digital-Plus track. Fine sonic details and shadings to individual effects are readily discernible, which is not often the case with these big action mixes, where subtleties often get lost in the din. Dialogue, too was a surprise. It is rooted firmly in the center channel and always prominent in the mix -- much to my shock, I was not reaching for my volume knob, trying to manually adjust levels to compensate.

Surround use is also excellent. Discrete sounds are deployed to the rear channels almost constantly, from the roar of the tires and the crowd noise, to standout uses of dialogue and score. Pans are excellent with imaging as transparent as you're likely to hear on a Dolby Digital-Plus track. There are even a few very cool 360-degree "wipes" as the cars do their drifting routines. Totally cool stuff, and again, if you pump this one up loud, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more fun soundtrack out there on HD DVD.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 830 [review_supplements] =>

As stated above, 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is the HD DVD format's first HD-30/DVD-9 double-sided, dual-layer combo disc. And as such, it is loaded with all the same extras as the standard-def release, as well as the most unique HD bonus content yet seen on either next-gen format. I'll have more on those later, but even just counting the "standard" goodies, it is a very fine package on its own.

First up is an audio commentary with director Justin Lin. Thankfully, Lin is far from pretentious. Though almost overflowing with enthusiasm for his cast and fellow filmmakers, perhaps to a fault, he imparts plenty of production details and is honest about his film's modest ambitions. Even he admits taht the story is largely a threadbare in which to hang a bunch of cool car racing sequences, and Lin also discusses some of his more interesting aesthetic decisions, from choosing to shoot all of the "drifting" sequences without the benefit of CGI, to casting a non-Asian in the role of Lucas Black's girlfriend. No, this track will not suddenly convince you that 'Tokyo Drift' is a great movie, but it certainly made me a fan of Lin. I look forward to what he does next, and only hope he gets offered some better material.

Up next are no less than six featurettes, which combined run about an hour. "Drifting School" is probably the most fun, with lots of humorous footage of the cast wiping out, and proving that the kind of driving seen in the 'Furious' flicks would be impossible for mere ordinary humans to perform without the aid of stunt drivers, rapid editing and special effects. "Trick Out to Drift" and "The Big Breakdown" are more formulaic, spotlighting the various cars used in the film, as well as dissecting the film's centerpiece car crash scene, here dubbed "Han's Last Ride." Unfortunately, "Cast Cam" is a disappointing. Though it includes plenty of cast-shot behind-the-scenes footage, we rarely have any idea who is holding the camera, and nothing they photograph is all that interesting.

The remaining two featurettes focus on the real-life sport of drift racing and Japanese culture. "The Real Drift King" interviews Keiichi Tsuchiay, perhaps the world's greatest living drift racer. In fact, Tsuchiay, who also served as stunt driver on the film, is so good he couldn't make some of the stunts look amateur enough to match the character's level of inexperience. "The Japanese Way" is the last featurette, and focuses on shooting a big-budget street racing pic in a country that is not all that hospitable to issuing little things like permits. So many funny incidents ensued, like they filmmakers attempting to outfox the authorities during unauthorized late-night shoots. "The Japanese Way" is probably the most entertaining vignette on the disc.

Next up are nearly a dozen deleted scenes and/or scene extensions. Lin drops in for some commentary, and I actually like a few of these. Characters get a bit more fleshed out -- as you would expect, no big action scenes that were cut -- and I enjoyed the expanded interaction between The Drift King and his minions, which I think would have enhanced the film. As for the quality of the scenes themselves, they are presented in fairly good standard-def video.

Lastly, we get a promotional music video for "Conteo" by Don Omar, though I forgot the song completely within seconds of it finishing. And par for the course for Universal these days, there is no theatrical trailer included, on either side of the disc.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Now, here is where 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' sets itself apart from all next-gen releases that have come before (and that includes you, too, Blu-ray). In a bid for high-def supremacy, Universal is seeking to expand the boundaries of the "In-Movie Experience" we're already familiar with. Though technically "interactive," IME is really just a pre-edited video commentary with two modes -- on or off -- and the few titles so far that have included the feature (such as 'The Bourne Supremacy,' 'Constantine' and 'Terminator 3') don't really let you "customize" the experience in any appreciable way. But 'Tokyo Drift' attempts to change all that, bringing true on-the-fly, user-controlled supplements to a pre-recorded video format.

Which makes my job as a reviewer now next to impossible. I'm not sure exactly how to "review" an experience that, for the first time on an optical disc format, does not exist in the linear sense. Unlike an audio commentary, or a featurette, or a bunch of deleted scenes, there is not necessarily a "start" and "stop" time to these extras. No beginning, middle and end. It is almost like a new paradigm shift in how we consume supplemental material, or, to make a bad analogy, like customizing a hot rod to your own tastes, then driving it around the track of your choosing. Weird, I know. But once you get the hang of it, rather tantalizing.

Let me try to explain the technobabble side of things. For 'Tokyo Drift,' Universal has utilized the HD DVD's format's enhanced (and until now largely untapped) iHD authoring environment. It allows for a variety of pre-encoded material (video, audio, text overlays, etc.) to be stored and accessed separately or together, as well as in real-time and on-the-fly, by users during playback. Multiple audio streams can be encoded on a disc and "mixed live" by the player for integrated supplemental audio content, picture-in-picture video streams can be displayed simultaneously, and even graphic overlays can be "mapped" to specific objects on the screen. If it sounds futuristic, it is, and 'Tokyo Drift' is only the beginning of the possibilities. (Note that some readers have reported that the 2.0 firmware upgrade is necessary in order to view the iHD-powered "U-Control" features.)

As far as the real-world experience goes, Universal has dubbed the user interface on 'Tokyo Drift' "U-Control." There are on-screen instructions to guide you, but anytime throughout the movie, you can just switch on the features you want to watch via the remote. For example, if you are watching the film and decide that during a certain scene you want to see the director's commentary as a picture-in-picture video stream, just make sure you are in U-Control mode and activate the feature -- then turn it off when you're finished. Same with the multitude of other U-Control goodies on 'Tokyo Drift.' In addition to a full-length video chat with director Justin Lin, other U-Control material includes making-of documentary footage on the film's car racing scenes, storyboards and other conceptual art, the ability to "customize" a vehicle and actually have it "drive" it in a scene from the movie (you gotta check this one out to really get an appreciation for it), and perhaps most unique of all, the "GPS mapping" function, which will give you various stats on the cars in the film. And this information is also dynamic -- for example, you can track a car's "damage estimates" as the film progresses, and it is all generated on the fly by the player.

If this sounds a bit confusing, in some ways it can be. However, I will say first that U-Control is indeed very easy to use. But at the same time, the concept is admittedly intimidating. For me, it requires a huge shift in how I perceive supplemental content. I'm used to sitting back and having extras fed to me, whether as a full-length documentary or in easily-digestible bits. With U-Control, it is all in your hands, and requires a great deal more decision-making on behalf of the user. Perhaps for the videogame generation, this is nothing new. But for an old fogey like me, who actually remembers what a Laserdisc is and still plays Pac-Man, it is like learning to ride a bike for the first time.

Certainly, I'm fascinated to see what the reaction will be to 'Tokyo Drift.' It allows for more customization than ever before to the user experience, but also feels like the opening of the door. As the HD DVD format also supports internet connectivity, it is not hard to imagine how all of this could be developed on future releases. Additional content could be made accessible via the web, or extras merged with e-commerce, or a host of other applications. But will all of this ultimately be too much for those who just want to watch the movie and maybe a few extras? I suspect that the younger generation -- especially gamers -- will warm to it easy. Older, more linear-minded users may have more trouble with it. In any case, I'm excited to see what's next...

UPDATE (9/29/06): For more on the HD Exclusive supplements included on this disc, check out our feature article, U-Control Up Close: A Field Report.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is really a film that is immune to reviews. You either like your car porn, or you don't. Though not as fresh or as much fun as the original 'Furious,' I did prefer 'Tokyo Drift' over the more serious '2 Fast 2 Furious,' and it is certainly a fun if empty-headed thrill. As an HD DVD, 'Tokyo Drift' this is a landmark release. Not only do we get the usual top-notch transfer, first-rate Dolby Digital-Plus track and plenty of standard-def extras, but Universal has really pushed the boundaries of HD content. The new "U-Control" interface takes the "In-Movie Experience" one step further, and if this is a sign of things to come, HD DVD fans are in for a wild ride indeed. This one is worth a rent just to see what the next-gen format is capable of.

) ) [12] => Array ( [review_id] => 158 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => lakehouse [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Lake House (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158180543 [picture_name] => the-lake-house-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/13/120/the-lake-house-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/158/lakehouse.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 96 [list_price] => 39.99 [asin] => B000HLDFKE [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1214758 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.40:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i (Standard DVD side only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Additional Scenes and Outtakes [1] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama [1] => Fantasy [2] => Romance ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Ebon Moss-Bachrach [1] => Christopher Plummer [2] => Shohreh Aghdashloo [3] => Keanu Reeves [4] => Sandra Bullock ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Alejandro Agresti ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => A lonely doctor (Bullock) who once occupied an unusual lakeside home begins exchanging love letters with its newest resident, a frustrated architect (Reeves). They must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary romance before it's too late. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Additional Scenes and Outtakes
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] =>

(8/16/07) Warner has announced plans to discontinue the sale of this HD DVD/DVD Combo disc as of October 2, 2007. Instead, the studio is re-issuing the film in a new HD DVD release that drops the DVD flipside. For more information about the re-issued disc, click here.

Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Lake House.'

[review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

It has been said that the best movies are the ones that provoke more questions than they provide answers to. Then there is a movie like 'The Lake House,' which introduces so many theoretical what-ifs and narrative cul-de-sacs that, however lofty and admirable its ambitions may be, you're left with a cinematic house of cards that is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally satisfying. And for a film that is essentially a sentimental, gooey romance at its core, that's deadly indeed.

Call it the curse of the magical mailbox. As 'The Lake House' begins, doctor Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) has just moved in to a beautiful glass house, hoping to start a new life after a failed relationship. Soon, she begins corresponding with architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) in the form of letters left in her mailbox. It seems Alex grew up in the house and lived there for many years, and though they have never seen each other, they discover they are spiritual soulmates. A love affair blossoms, but unfortunately, there is one little hitch -- they are living in two different time dimensions, Kate in 2006, and Alex in 2004.

A remake of the 2000 Korean film 'Siworae' ('Il Mare'), 'The Lake House' certainly has a very intriguing premise. I liked the general idea of the movie. The best romances have always been based on the idea that there is no greater love than that which is denied. The drama comes from the insurmountable odds the lovers most overcome if they are to live happily ever after, regardless of how over-the-top. Think 'Titanic,' 'The English Patient,' 'Brokeback Mountain' or 'Love Story' -- all tales that are grand, epic in scale and probably overblown, but combined sold more boxes of Kleenex than the common cold.

'The Lake House' has a lot going for it. As Bullock and Reeves proved in 'Speed,' they have a great chemistry. These are two people we want to see together, so even as the plot of 'The Lake House' grows more and more convoluted and ludicrous, we are always on their side. Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti ("Valentin," "A Less Bad World") also directs with a whimsical hand, gently adding small stylistic touches including animation and a unique musical score. Agresti ultimately focuses less on the sci-fi and more on the romance, so much so that we eventually realize the film is a fable, an allegory, and that we shouldn't be paying too much attention to the minor details.

Which is a good thing, because quite frankly much of the narrative of 'The Lake House' don't add up, let alone make any sense. There are plotholes in this movie wide enough that you could drive the runaway bus from 'Speed' through them. I also never understood why Alex, since he is two years "behind" Kate, couldn't just look her up in the phone book. Sure, she might think he was mad, but at least he could contact her in the flesh, and woo her like a normal person. Of course, the film tries not to call much attention to such logic, because if you thought about it too much, the film's ending becomes quite obvious. (Haven't you guessed it already?)

Ultimately, 'The Lake House' falls into the genre of unfulfilled desire quite neatly. It is just too bad it could not better integrate its sci-fi elements and fix its plot holes. I'm all for the suspension of disbelief, but the whole time travel/mailbox angle starts to feel like a cheat because it is so shoddily constructed. It's a gimmick, so whatever genuine pathos Bullock and Reeves are able to achieve by film's end, it just isn't enough to erase the feeling that we've been shamelessly manipulated. I'm a sucker for mush, but not this big of one.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 521 [review_video] =>

'The Lake House' is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, and is the latest in Warner's growing line of HD DVD/DVD combo discs (this one is a HD-15/DVD-9). Surprisingly, for a new release this one doesn't look that great. No, it is not "bad," but there were never any "wow" moments where I really remembered I was watching an HD DVD, and not standard def.

The lasting impression of this transfer is that it is rather soft. The source material is in good shape -- whistle-clean with no blemishes or other defects -- but it rarely looks three-dimensional. The sense of depth and detail can vary from sequence to sequence, with some shots looking quite good and others bland. Oddly, this variance doesn't really seem to be an aesthetic choice as it seems to happen arbitrarily. Close-ups fare better than long and medium shots, which often appear ill-defined. Otherwise, color reproduction is good, with fairly vivid hues and no instances of smearing or chroma noise. Blacks are also solid, and contrast consistent across the entire spectrum. And I noticed no issues with compression artifacts and the like.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Similar to the video, the audio on 'The Lake House' is standard at best. Granted, the film's dramatic bent doesn't really lend itself to some sort of over-the-top soundtrack, but even in terms of atmosphere and ambiance there is little that stands out about this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track.

'The Lake House' is a pretty sparse film in terms of music and sound effects. Primarily dialogue-driven and front-heavy, only the musical score gives the track any sense of envelopment. The rear channels boast a bit of presence during these sequences, aside from the occasional discrete effect. Frequency response is fine, with natural-sounding midrange and clean highs, but .1 LFE is just about non-existent. I was also surprised that dialogue sometimes seemed flat, and I had trouble understanding some lines that were spoken loudly, with even a couple of instances of bad dubbing. Otherwise, a decent soundtrack.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 522 [review_supplements] =>

Surprisingly slim for a new release, 'The Lake House' has next to no supplements. The HD DVD also mirrors both the standard DVD and the Blu-ray releases, so no matter what format you pick up, you're not going to get much.

The main supplement are five Additional Scenes and Outtakes, but they run for barely four minutes. Nothing here is at all memorable, and none of the outtakes are funny. Pretty throwaway.

Rounding out this elaborate package is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in widescreen and 480p video.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Given the lack of standard-def extras, it is no surprise there's nothing exclusive, either. Only Warner's usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Lake House' is a well-meaning film that, unfortunately, is a bit too convoluted for its own good. Whatever chemistry Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock generate is blunted by the obtuse narrative. This HD DVD is also a bit lacking. The transfer and soundtrack just aren't up there with the best of 'em, and the supplements are all but zip. Unless you're a diehard fan of this one, I'd say leave it as a Netflix rental at best.

) ) [13] => Array ( [review_id] => 448 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => warwithin [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The War Within [picture_created] => 1206475505 [picture_name] => the-war-within-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Magnolia Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2008/03/25/120/the-war-within-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/448/warwithin.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 93 [list_price] => 29.98 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1241572 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/TBA ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Firdous Bamji [1] => Ayad Akhtar ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Joseph Castelo ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => This searing, controversial, and thought-provoking drama examines the motives and emotions behind terrorism. Co-writer Ayad Akhtar stars as Hassan, a Pakistani man who's falsely accused of terrorist associations, then imprisoned and tortured before finally leaving jail as a genuinely militant extremist. He goes to stay with his old friend Sayeed in New York (Firdous Bamji in a scene-stealing performance), where he explores the city, flirts with Sayeed's sister (Nandana Sen), and works with a group planning to bomb Grand Central. The impressive cast of unknowns and solid direction from Joseph Castelo make this tense, thoughtful drama an intriguing look at a subculture that, for obvious reasons, is more often demonized than dramatized. [preview_technology_specifications] => TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => TBA [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our Blu-ray review of 'The War Within.'

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 51178 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

'The War Within' is the rare Western film that dares to tackle the highly controversial subject of terrorism, not from an American perspective, but from that of a terrorist. And one, no less, who is living out his final days as he prepares to commit a suicide bombing. Yet there is no fire and brimstone, no burning buildings, no pumped-up Hollywood melodrama of the kind that (however noble and well-intentioned) usually seeks only to placate our anti-Muslim preconceptions and passions post-9/11, not challenge them. Instead, 'The War Within' defies easily categorization. Closest to a character study, it is a quiet, meditative experience that achieves its power solely through the empathy it generates for a character our culture has always told us we are supposed to despise.

Ayad Akhtar stars as Hassan, a Pakistani engineering student in Paris who was imprisoned and interrogated by Western intelligence services for suspected terrorist activities. Formerly only an intellectual supporter of jihad, Hassan undergoes a radical transformation and embarks upon a terrorist mission, covertly entering the United States to join a cell based in New York City. After meticulous planning for an event of maximum devastation, all the members of the cell are arrested except for Hassan and one other, Sayeed (Firdous Bamji). With nowhere else to turn, he must rely on the hospitality of his new friend, who is living the American dream with his family in New Jersey. What unfolds is a tersely observed, objective examination of the state of mind of a suicide bomber while he tries to decide whether or not to carry out his deadly mission.

There are many who will dismiss 'The War Within' sight unseen, simply on "principle." The idea of generating "sympathy" for our perceived enemy is anathema. But I sincerely believe that the stronger the reaction we have to a film, or even the simple fact of its existence, the more it means it is tapping into some deep-seated part of ourselves we don't want to see reflected back at us. "We envision them as mindless robots," writer-director Joseph Castelo said of the suicide bombers portrayed in his film. "But if we don't understand what's inside their heads, how are we ever going to deal with them?" What makes 'The War Within' so powerful and uncompromising is that it sticks to this idea, and doesn't let its characters -- or us as viewers -- off the hook. We are forced to see Hassan, Sayeed and members of cells like the ones fictionalized in 'The War Within' as real, three-dimensional people, however much we may abhor their politics.

As Hassan, Akhtar has to hold 'The War Within' together solely on his own. I was not familiar with the actor (who also co-wrote the screenplay), but his performance at first seems so internal as to be non-existent. However what Akhtar is able to achieve, ultimately brilliantly, is to convey the preoccupation and detachment that is so characteristic of the devout. Hassan can only process experiences through the filter of belief. To enjoy a walk through Central Park on a beautiful day, or the school play of his best friend's daughter, or a mere cup of coffee, proves impossible -- even the simplest action ahas implications from a higher power. Hassan is "present" in our world, but he is not "there." There is no connection to everyday human experience. Perhaps that is one of the profound ironies of 'The War Within' -- in his willingness to die for the divine, Hassan fails to see the beauty in all of his god's creation.

Castelo is a native New Yorker, and felt compelled after the events of 9/11 and the near-hysteria that followed, to make 'The War Within.' Which may be why, ultimately, it is such a ray of hope. This is not a film made with a clear agenda, or by a big Hollywood studio that needs to appease mainstream, homogenized audiences. Ideas have not been watered down to make them more palatable. And challenging, conflicting emotions are not blunted to avoid offending special interests. Such artistic courage continues all the way through to the film's climax. 'The War Within' ends on a note that is not cynical nor nihilistic, but also not saccharine or sentimental. I will not spoil the choice Hassan ultimately makes, other than to say that perhaps it is not his destination that matters, but his journey. Because just the fact that he was able to challenge his own deeply-held convictions, if for only a moment, and embrace the ideas of compassion and tolerance, offers the promise that our future may one day be free from terrorism.

Video

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1859 [review_video] =>

Magnolia Home Entertainment presents 'The War Within' in a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p/VC-1 transfer (a re-encode versus the Blu-ray, which is MPEG-2). The film was shot on HD video, however, and quite frankly it looks it -- codec matters little here.

'The War Within' is an interesting example of the differences between film- and video-based material. Film tends to have trouble resolving detail in low light conditions, but excels on the brighter end of the scale. Video is the reverse -- it is far more adept at handling dark scenes, but can crumble under bright lights, when tend to blow out easily. 'The War Within' is indicative of this, as it handles shadow details well, but has a very video-esque appearance in well-lit scenes.

Of course, the "source" is in great shape, as there is no grain or print issues to be concerned with. Colors are rather muted, however. Aside from a vivid red here or there, and decent enough blues and greens in bright exteriors, the film's palette never leaps off the screen. Hues are stable, however, and do not appear particularly noisy or oversaturated. Too bad fleshtones are all over the place, seeming too red in some scenes and too green in others. The image also never once popped for me, with bland contrast that again helps shadow detail, but looks soft and "smeary." This has a lot to do with the natural light used for most of the film -- 'The War Within' never lets style get in the way of story, which does lend an appropriate, documentary-like feel to the proceedings.

Still, I always knew I was watching video throughout, and it did have a distancing effect for me. I have seen some HD video that has blown me away with how close it approximates film, but that isn't the case here. To be fair though, I'm still giving this one a solid video rating, because it appears to accurately reproduce the filmmaker's intentions and the original source material.

Audio

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Two soundtrack options are offered: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (at 48kHz/16-bit, and versus the DTS-HD High-Resolution track on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (at 640kbps). Both are in English. Unfortunately, high-res audio notwithstanding, the film's sound design is so sparse it really doesn't make much difference.

I could probably count the number of discrete effects heard during 'The War Within' on one hand. The surrounds are just about inactive, with only very minor ambiance, usually mixed with the film's almost atonal, droning "score." Effects are also thin in general -- 'The War Within' is a very quiet film. It suits the intended tone and mood quite well, so I can't discount the filmmaker's intentions. Tech specs are also up to snuff, with no major source issues, such as distortion or dropouts, etc. Bass is also perfectly fine, all things considered. However, while the actors are always clear and intelligible, the film's limited budget is obvious. Much of the dialogue sounds ADR'd or overdubbed. It also sits inorganically on top of the rest of the mix, like it was all pieced together with ProTools on a laptop -- clearly, this one was done on the cheap.

Supplements

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1861 [review_supplements] =>

There is but a single extra here, but it is noteworthy...

  • Audio Commentary - The sole supplement is this chat with writer/director Joseph Castelo and writer/actor Ayad Akhtar. I was looking forward to it after viewing the film, and it is a fascinating listen. 'The War Within' was obviously a labor of love for both, and this track should go a long way toward reversing opinions of those who may already have their guns out blazing against the very idea of creating a film around the central character of a suicide bomber. In fact, the best parts of the track are by far when the pair veer off of the screen-specific production aspects of the commentary, and to sociopolitical discussions of terrorism, our current cynical (and some might argue government-manufactured) culture of fear, and how living in New York post-9/11 led Castelo to conceive of the original idea for the movie. If ever there was a commentary essential to our complete understanding of a film, this is it.
[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The War Within' is a thought-provoking, courageous film -- one that deserves to be seen. This HD DVD release is not cutting-edge by any means, and hardly demo material as the video and audio simply serve this shot-on-HD film well. Extras are also slim, although the included audio commentary is enlightening. As 'The War Within' is not the kind of film most will want to watch twice it probably will not warrant a purchase, but it is absolutely a must-rent.

) ) ) [reviews_hot] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 155 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => 2fast2furious [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => 2 Fast 2 Furious [picture_created] => 1154036392 [picture_name] => 2-fast-2-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/07/27/120/2-fast-2-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/155/2fast2furious.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2003 [run_time] => 108 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GW8OAK [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1181167 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 6 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes [3] => Fact Track ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Crime [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Paul Walker [1] => Tyrese Gibson [2] => Eva Mendes [3] => Cole Hauser [4] => Ludacris ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Singleton ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => Set in Miami, Officer O'Conner, stripped of his badge, is recruited to infiltrate the Miami street racing circuit in an effort to redeem himself. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director John Singleton
• 6 Featurettes: "Inside '2 Fast 2 Furious,'" "Making Music with Ludacris," "The Fast and the Furious Video Game Sneak Peek," "Driving School with the Cast," "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" and "Supercharged Stunts"
• "Did You Know That?" Animated Anecdotes
• Deleted Scenes [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 22 [review_movie_stars] => 2 [review_movie] =>

If not exciting, than it is at least intriguing to see what a major director is going to do when handed formulaic, substandard material. If the news that John Singleton was going to tackle '2 Fast 2 Furious,' the 2003 sequel to 2001's sleeper smash 'The Fast and the Furious,' was not an announcement on the level of, say, Stanley Kubrick doing 'Jaws 5,' it still was a bit of a head-scratcher. Singleton had made his name doing more serious, socially conscious fare, such as 'Boyz 'N the Hood,' 'Higher Learning' and 'Rosewood,' and he is, after all, the youngest filmmaker ever to be honored with an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for 'Hood.' Even his big-budget 2001 remake of 'Shaft' felt subversive, as if he wasn't so much slumming as integrating his gritty, indie aesthetic with a more commercial, iconic property.

Singleton doing '2 Fast 2 Furious,' however, just felt like a sell-out. Quite frankly, at the time the gig came his way, he certainly needed a hit. ('Shaft' was not a blockbuster, and his follow-up, 'Baby Boy,' was seen by next to no one.) Rather than take an obvious cheesy, derivative franchise and turn it on its ear, Singleton instead reveled in its cliches and conventions, seeming to treat the film more as technical exercise than anything overtly personal. Not that there is anything wrong with a director having a little fun, but '2 Fast 2 Furious' feels so identi-kit that it could have been directed by anyone.

The plot is essentially a remake of the original 'Furious.' Paul Walker is back as Brian O'Conner, who, after the events of the first film, has been booted from the police force. But when the feds get wind of a street-racing plot by criminal mastermind Carter Verone (Cole Hauser) to smuggle hot cars, they call Brian back into action. Hooking up with his bitter ex-con pal Roman Pearce (Tyrese) and undercover agent/Victoria's Secret model Monica Fuentes (Eva Mendes), this mismatched trio will have to put aside their differences -- and crash a lot of cars -- to take Verone down.

'2 Fast 2 Furious' so straddles the line of camp that the joke almost seems intentional. Singleton directs the film like a comic book, with the words "Pow!" and "Crash!" practically superimposed over the screen. The plot is incidental, the action so outlandish and unrealistic it is impossible to suspend disbelief, and even the film's body count is treated like a joke, as both good and bad guys are run over and flattened like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Even the performances are larger-than-life riffs on a single characteristic. Walker (clearly fulfilling a contractual obligation) is the frat guy gone good. Mendes sashays around like the window dressing she is, but with a self-aware wink. And Hauser milks every silly bad-guy line like he's auditioning for the villain role in a James Bond movie. Only Tyrese seems to be taking his jaded ex-con seriously, but even he seems to collapse under the weight of this post-modern house of cards and goes jokey by the time of the film's overblown car-crash finale.

Undoubtedly, '2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fun ride. Like the other 'Furious' flicks, it's good car porn, with enough stunts and action to make it as well-oiled a machine as any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. And this is certainly a fantastic-looking movie, with so many beautiful people and glamorous locales that it's hard to be bored. It is just tough not to feel a tad disappointed with Singleton at the helm. A bit more personal investment in the material and more well-constructed script may have elevated '2 Fast 2 Furious' beyond the level of a very, very guilty pleasure. It's a junkyard movie from a filmmaker who has done better, and undoubtedly will again. I just hope the paycheck was worth it.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 918 [review_video] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' maintains the visual tradition upheld by the other two flicks in the franchise. The cinematic equivalent of day-glo vomit, you're not likely to see colors as unreal as this in any other movie. Yet I think '2 Fast 2 Furious' just may be the best transfer of the bunch -- more detailed and natural than 'The Fast and the Furious,' but benefiting from more detailed and brightly-lit daylight sequences than 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.'

'2 Fast 2 Furious' again gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer presented in 1080p/VC-1 video. It does look rather fabulous. The incredibly vivid colors are again the most dominant feature of the presentation. I don't think I've ever seen hues this unreal, yet they are reproduced more solidly than the first 'Furious' flick. Teetering on the edge of being overpumped, bleeding and chroma noise are miraculously kept in check. The film looks like a rainbow but it's the most natural of the three 'Furious' flicks on HD DVD.

All other aspects of the transfer are excellent. The source material is very clean, with not even the slight veil of film grain that permeated 'The Fast and the Furious.' Blacks are rock solid and contrast just about perfect. There is nary a shot in the film that does not look wonderfully detailed and three-dimensional. If nothing else, nighttime scenes can look a tad bit softer, but they still trump just about any other HD DVD release out there. I was also impressed by the "picture window" effect of the image -- this is another of those transfers that sometimes looks so real it doesn't feel like video. Topping it all off is a lack of any compression artifacts or posterization. Even the heavy filter effects used in some scenes don't result in any anomalies -- color gradations always look smooth and natural, and even the most fast-action scenes are free from macroblocking. Great stuff.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' is another aural assault, the kind of soundtrack you crank up to impress your friends with how cool your home theater setup is. Like the characters in the movie and their cars, it is all about peacocking, which makes it again surprising that Universal did not pony up for a new Dolby TrueHD track for any of the 'Furious' flicks. Granted, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mbps) included here is pretty killer, but I still wanted more.

Perhaps it is because I watched '2 Fast 2 Furious' last out of the trilogy, but I've started to become immune to all the sonic overkill. Certainly, the sound design of '2 Fast' is on par with both 'The Fast and the Furious' and Tokyo Drift.' There is nary a dull moment when the surrounds are not somehow engaged. The racing scenes are, predictably, way over the top. Motors rev, metal clanks and characters scream at each other -- all blaring from all five channels. Imaging is excellent, with movement of sounds around the 360-degree soundfield transparent. Even minor aural details are clear and distinct.

However, especially compared to the first 'Furious,' the quieter passages of '2 Fast 2 Furious' are a little dull. Rob Cohen, who helmed the original, smothered even simple dialogue scenes in R&B/industrial music, so '2 Fast 2 Furious' seems a bit subdued by comparison. (There are actually scenes where we can hear people talk to each other!) Atmosphere doesn't really exist, per se -- sounds are either loud, louder or loudest. The meager score is also muted in the mix, such as the nightclub scene midway through the film, where director John Singleton uses slow motion, some percussive effects and score to generate tension leading up to a grotesque torture scene, yet it all feels a bit flat in the mix. '2 Fast 2 Furious' only really comes alive aurally during the racing scenes -- but then, does anyone watching this movie really care about anything else?

[review_supplements_stars] => 2.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 919 [review_supplements] =>

Like its comrades in the 'Furious' franchise, '2 Fast 2 Furious' gets another feature-laden HD DVD release. Unfortunately, all of the extras are just ported over from the previous standard-def DVD release, so most of this stuff feels dated.

The best extra by far is the screen-specific Audio Commentary with Director John Singleton. I'll admit that I was pretty cynical about Singleton taking on the sequel, but on this track he is quite passionate and lively -- going into considerable detail about the film's high-octane action scenes and his stylistic approach to a rather formulaic concept. Unfortunately, Singleton appears to lose interest near the end, with far too frequent gaps of silence. However, this is the only supplement on the disc where you'll find any truly in-depth information about the making of the movie. And if you watch it combined with the Animated Anecdotes -- aka a pop-up trivia track with various (if pithy) fun facts -- it makes for a nice compendium of behind-the-scenes and production info.

The remaining extras are a bunch of featurettes and minor vignettes which don't add up to much. It also doesn't help that all of the video-based extras here are culled from the same on-set interview material, leaving it pretty fluffy.

"Inside '2 Fast 2 Furious'" should have been a solid making-of documentary, but running a mere 9 minutes, it barely scratches the surface. Universal has also tacked on six short (1- to 2-minute) "Spotlight" vignettes, each an interview with a cast member (Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Devon Aoki) or a making-of segment on one of the film's tricked-out cars (The Evo III, The Spyder and The S2000). A bit more informative on the technical side of things are the five-minute "Supercharged Stunts" and the three-part "Actors Driving School." Nothing we haven't seen on any of the other 'Furious' discs, here we learn that car crashes are dangerous and require stunt people to shoot. Kids, don't try this at home.

Next up is a three-minute collection of Deleted Scenes and additional Outtakes. Singleton and Editor Bruce Cannon also offer an introduction and explanation of each segment. Everything here is an expanded version of an existing scene or a character bit, but then that's the least interesting part of '2 Fast 2 Furious.' The quality of the scenes is also rough as all come from AVID dubs, complete with timecode and raw production sound.

Rounding out the package are two featurettes culled from the DVD release of 'The Fast and the Furious,' both also featured in the HD DVD release of that film. "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" runs 19 minutes and is hosted by Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis. She is joined by stunt coordinator Craig Lieberman, who shows us how a "hot car" is pimped out. Kurtis is, like, really smart, and says she "loves hot guys with hot cars." Truth be told, though, this is actually kind of interesting stuff, despite the tasteless pandering to the T&A crowd. Last and least is the uninspired "Turbo-Charged Prelude to '2 Fast, 2 Furious.'" Shot exclusively for the "Tricked Out Edition" of the 'Furious' DVD, this "electrifying" short is supposed to bridge the original flick with the sequel. However, what is essentially a montage of Walker driving in a car feels more like a long outtake than a narrative short film. Pretty forgettable.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 920 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Which is a shame, as 'Tokyo Drift' came with a wealth of exclusive HD content, and it would have been nice to have seen enhanced next-gen features on the entire 'Furious' trilogy.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'2 Fast 2 Furious' is a fairly predictable sequel, but it delivers on the bottom line -- you want great car chases, you got great car chases. It is also another fine HD DVD effort from Universal. An often stunning transfer, aggressive Dolby Digital-Plus surround track and plenty of extras make this one a nice upgrade over the standard-def DVD release. Though lacking a Dolby TrueHD track and any genuine HD bonus content, it will still give your HD DVD home theater a real workout.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 150 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => dazedandconfused [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Dazed and Confused (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158981172 [picture_name] => dazed-and-confused.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/dazed-and-confused.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/150/dazedandconfused.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1993 [run_time] => 103 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 34.98 [asin] => B000GFLEHM [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167610 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Deleted Scenes [1] => Public Service Announcements ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Comedy [1] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Michelle Burke [1] => Sasha Jenson [2] => Wiley Wiggins [3] => Rory Cochrane [4] => Jason London ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Richard Linklater ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The adventures of incoming high school and junior high students on the last day of school, in May of 1976. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Deleted Scenes
• Production Notes
• "The Blunt Truth" Vintage Public Service Announcements [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 156 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

There's an old joke that goes, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there." I suppose the joke should also apply to the '70s, at least for those of us who will actually admit to having lived through it. Platform shoes, love beads, feathered hair, knee socks, fuzzy black-lite posters, 8-track tapes, blue eye shadow, tube tops -- no wonder most of us survived the decade only through a pot-induced haze. All the better to forget that we once actually bought Shaun Cassidy records -- and liked them.

'Dazed and Confused' is a film that remembers those times with unerring precision. It has become the teen film to define the '70s. As 'Rebel Without a Cause' is to the '50s, 'American Grafitti' is to the '60s and 'The Breakfast Club' is to the '80s, 'Dazed and Confused' is a film that, if you were alive at all during the era, you simply cannot watch without your hand stuck permanently to your forehead, the shock of recognition threatening to knock you straight to the floor.

Fair to say that the "story" of 'Dazed and Confused' matters little. In fact, there really isn't one. Taking a cue from 'American Grafitti,' 'Dazed and Confused' is just another plotless examination of bored youth. Nothing terribly exciting happens. We meet a cross-section of high school students on the last day before summer break. Some are seniors, about to embark with great uncertainty on the next stage of their lives. Others are next year's freshman, subjected to a string of indignities and punishments inflicted upon them as the baton (or, rather, the paddle) is passed to the incoming class. Along the way their will be keg parties, beer bongs, hook-ups, break-ups, fights and new friendships formed. And plenty of pot smoking.

Admittedly, there is little dramatic momentum to 'Dazed and Confused.' But what a wonderful evocation of such a defining period in American culture. The film was obviously a labor of love for director Richard Linklater, who only two years before defined Generation X with the 1991 cult classic 'Slacker.' Linklater is interested little in grand, sweeping statements or overheated melodrama. The real treasures of 'Dazed and Confused' are in the details. The clothes, the props, the locations, the songs -- it is all pitch perfect.

And then there are the performances. The cast list of 'Dazed and Confused' reads like a who's who of "It" actors of the '90s and '00s. Standouts include Parker Posey as the high school bitch, Matthew McConaghay's scarily authentic perpetual high-school senior, Milla Jovovich as a stoned-out beatnik, Ben Affleck's crazed turn as a "disciplinarian of freshman," and even a blink-or-you'll-miss here turn by Renee Zelleweger. Their excitement and passion is infectious, and if nothing else, 'Dazed and Confused' is a testament to their young talent. If you made it through the 70's, you have to see 'Dazed and Confused.'

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 0 [review_video] =>

'Dazed and Confused' makes it high-def debut on HD DVD, and Universal has produced a solid 1.85:1 transfer encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video. This is a good-looking disc, and the source material appears to have been preserved rather well for a now fifteen-year-old film. There are a few minor blemishes noticeable, such as dirt specks, but it is rarely distracting. A thin veneer of grain permeates throughout, but it only adds to the appropriate sense of nostalgia, and the transfer appears very warm and film-like. Colors are also nicely saturated, with only some of the darker scenes looking slightly muddy and ill-defined. Detail, overall, is pleasing. The transfer has nice blacks and contrast, though again it does appear a tad dark in nighttime scenes, so shadow delineation is not the best I've seen. Certainly, this is not the most three-dimensional HD DVD release I've seen, but it does offer a fairly solid upgrade over the standard DVD. All in all, a fine effort.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

There really is not much going on sonically in 'Dazed and Confused.' Universal presents the film in a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track, but it really doesn't offer any noticeable benefit. Here is a mix that is primarily front-heavy, so the best this soundtrack can do is simply get the job done. (Note that there is also a DTS 5.1 surround track included, but it is only on standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo.)

However, for a fairly low-budget film, 'Dazed and Confused' sounds perfectly fine. Frequency response is solid across the spectrum, with pleasing midrange and no obvious issues with high-end, such as distortion. Low end, however, is decidedly average -- the only real .1 LFE frequencies emitted from the subwoofer are for the film's many '70s-era songs, which all sound just groovy. Surround use, though, is considerably beefed up versus the original, bare-bones Universal DVD release from 1998. There is now at least some rear presence (on the songs, primarily), and some occasional discrete effects. No, this is hardly an aggressive and enveloping mix, but it does suit the film just fine.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

Long story short: director Richard Linklater had originally intended to include a wealth of extras on Universal's recent "Flashback Edition" DVD re-issue of 'Dazed and Confused,' but after a reported falling out with the studio over release dates, he opted instead to take his goodies over to Criterion. Hence, the only extras we get on this HD DVD/DVD combo disc are the same as the lame Universal release, which quite frankly suck.

All that is of interest is 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which are all mostly short character snippets and more freshman hazing. The quality is also poor, with all of the scenes presented in grainy full frame and 480i video.

The only other "extras" are "The Blunt Truth," a lame compilation of '70s Public Service Announcement snippets about the evils of marijuana, and "VD is for Everybody," which is another dull PSA. The only snippet I did enjoy was that old anti-pollution commercial featuring the crying indian, which totally scared me when I was a kid.

(Note that 'Dazed & Confused' is another HD DVD/DVD combo disc where all of the extras on the DVD side, so in order to watch these, you'll need to flip over your disc.)

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Hardly a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Dazed and Confused' may lack a coherent story, but it makes up for it with great period detail, fine performances and oodles of nostalgia. This HD DVD release is perfectly fine -- nice transfer and solid soundtrack, though the extras are pithy. Hopefully someday soon Criterion will jump into the next-gen game and release their version on HD DVD, but until then, this will have to do for 'Dazed and Confused' fans. Worth considering if you can pick it up cheap.

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 152 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => endofdays [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => End of Days [picture_created] => 1158982596 [picture_name] => end-of-days.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/end-of-days.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/152/endofdays.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1999 [run_time] => 123 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GFLEIQ [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 683017 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD [1] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 3 Featurettes [2] => Music Video [3] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Drama [2] => Horror [3] => Mystery [4] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => CCH Pounder [1] => Kevin Pollak [2] => Robin Tunney [3] => Gabriel Byrne [4] => Arnold Schwarzenegger ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Peter Hyams ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => At the end of the century, Satan visits New York in search of a bride. It's up to an ex-cop who now runs an elite security outfit to stop him. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director Peter Hyams
• 3 Featurettes: "Spotlight on Location," "The Special Effects" and "The Book of Revelation"
• Music Video: "End of Days" by Everlast
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'End Of Days. [review_bottom_line] => For Fans Only [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

I love Satan. There, I said it. Okay, maybe I only meant as a movie character. But really, is he not the ultimate cinematic badass? Nameless and faceless, he can be anyone. Elemental and eternal, you can't maim or kill him. And no matter how bad the movie, his name above the title ensures at least a great opening weekend at the box office. Really, could Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt withstand a film as crappy as 'End of Days,' and still survive with their reputation untarnished?

The plot plays like an unholy cross between 'The Exorcist' and every bad cop movie ever made, only funnier. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as alcoholic ex-detective Jericho Cane (seriously). Now working as a security guard in New York City, he accidentally stumbles upon a new millennium plot by Satan (Gabriel Byrne) to resurrect himself by impregnating an innocent young woman, Christine York (Robin Tunney). Since 'End of Days' is a "millennium movie," i.e., made to exploit all of our then-trendy Y2K fears, of course Ol' Beelzebub can only do the nasty with Christine during the last hour of 1999. (Hope he set his watch to Eastern Standard Time.) Meanwhile, various signs of the apocalypse emerge, such as usual mysterious explosions, a crazed psychotic trying to shoot people, etc., and Jericho discovers that the Catholic Church has long known of the Devil's little 'Da Vinci Code'-like scheme. Can Arnie convince the world of its impending doom, save Christine, untie the bureaucracy of the Church and defeat Satan in a knock-down, kick-ass battle in the middle of Times Square?

If the plot of 'End of Days' sounds ridiculous on paper, it plays even more ludicrous onscreen. Any movie about the Devil can either be totally terrifying ('The Exorcist,' 'The Omen') or totally camp (any of the 'Exorcist' or 'Omen' sequels). Unfortunately, 'End of Days' is largely the latter. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the film goes wrong. Is it the casting of Schwarzenegger, who just never seems believable as an alcoholic ex-cop? Is it Byrne as the Devil, who hams it up like Freddy Krueger but lacks the oily menace to truly make the character terrifying? Is it the over-the-top, CGI-fueled action sequences, which feel more akin to a 'Terminator' or 'Predator' flick than what is essentially a horror film? Or is it an overload of unintentional, laugh-out-loud moments, like the Devil urinating explosive pee, or Schwarzenegger getting the shit beat out of him by an old lady?

In terms of pure entertainment value, 'End of Day's is a perfectly serviceable Hollywood product. Peter ('Star Chamber,' 'Outland,' 'The Relic') Hyams directs with an impersonal efficiency, and the film is indeed slick. It's dark and moody, with the requisite baroque, end-of-the-world score and lots of menacing shots of inanimate objects, which apparently always signals that something terrible is about to happen in movies like this, even though nothing usually does. I also like the fact that the film at least tries to take itself seriously, and never interjects self-referential humor into the proceedings to lighten things up. Alas, we still end up laughing at the film anyway, but at least 'End of Days' tries to take its own hokum seriously. Sadly, though, and as much fun as I had watching 'End of Days,' Satan needs to find himself a better agent.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 841 [review_video] =>

'End of Days' is a very, very dark film. Director Peter Hyams has long acted as his own director of photography, and he does double duty again here. Suffice to say the guy seems to have an aversion to any scene with even a glimmer of sunlight -- what would normally look like a brightly-lit exterior here seems menacing. Hence this transfer gives the HD DVD format a real challenge -- brighten it up too much in the name of improving detail and the film's intended mood is destroyed, but keep it too dark and good luck trying to see anything without a flashlight.

All in all, this 1080p/VC-1 transfer handles it rather well. Indeed, it is a dark image. And as is common with material shot with high-contrast film stock in low light conditions, there is a thin veil of film grain apparent throughout, though it is not excessive. Black levels are predictably spot-on, and contrast as mentioned is intentionally harsh. Hyams also chose to shoot actors lit only in the mid-tones, so it is often foreground and background objects that appear brightest in a shot -- quite an unusual style. That leaves the transfer looking soft and flat, yet with a sense of depth and dimension, all at the same time. Hardly a look that will win over everyone, but provided you have your monitor calibrated properly and watch the film in appropriate light conditions, you should be able to detect fine detail even in the darkest scenes.

Otherwise, colors appear a bit too pumped up for my taste. Reds and oranges are especially vivid, to the point where detail and sharpness appear obscured. However, the improved color definition of high-def is immediately apparent when compared to the standard DVD release -- just the city skylights in the film's many fly-over establishing shots boast incredibly rich, striking hues. I also didn't have issues with compression artifacts like those that marred the DVD; however, there were a few select shots, such as the blue skies in the opening action sequence where Arnie saves a man hanging from a building, that displayed what appeared to be slight noise.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 842 [review_audio] =>

'End of Days' is one of the latest HD DVD releases to get a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and still so far one of the few. It also reminds us that an encoding format, no matter how terrific, is still limited by its source material. 'End of Days' was never the all-engrossing, sonic maelstrom I hoped for on standard DVD, and listening to this new Dolby TrueHD track, it can only do so much with relatively dull sound design.

However, I should say that, put into perspective, 'End of Days' is a good mix. The action bits certainly pack oomph, especially anything with an explosion in it. Still, it is disappointing that a horror/action film like this would be so front-heavy in the dialogue and scare scenes. Most of the effects and the score are directed to the fronts, and there is painfully little ambiance in the rears. Where's the moody musical stingers? The eerie atmospheric sound effects, such as wind and rain? The zippy pans between all five channels? It's all largely lacking, which is surprising given the film's budget.

Thus, the improvements on the Dolby TrueHD track are largely limited to enhanced dynamic range. Indeed, the sense of depth and presence to the mix is noticeably superior. The .1 LFE really displays added oomph -- such scenes as the opening rescue, Arnie's subway battle with the Devil, and the climactic duel all benefit from added force and impact. However, while the quality of the discrete sound effects in all channels is an improvement, the rears don't really pop out like the best Dolby TrueHD tracks currently out there. Again, it is not that 'End of Days' doesn't sound good, but by far this is the least exciting upgrade I've yet heard for the new audio format.

[review_supplements_stars] => 2 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 843 [review_supplements] =>

Universal ports over all the same extras included on the old standard DVD release, and it's a dated package. Granted, 'End of Days' is no masterpiece, but it is still hard to get excited about six year-old, reheated supplements.

The only true highlight is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Peter Hyams. This one really surprised me. Hyams is funny, personable and not at all pretentious about the film. No, he doesn't actually mock it, but it is refreshing to hear a director speak with such quiet wit and candor. Hyams offers a nice series of antecedents on working with Arnie, the film's obvious cinematic influences, and the various effects sequences, which now seem too CGI-phony. Still, this is the rare commentary that made me admire the filmmaker more, even if his film kinda sucks.

Next up are two featurettes. "Spotlight on Location" is your usual EPK piece that features on-set interviews with all the principals, including Hyams, Schwarzenegger, Robin Tunney and Gabriel Byrne. Just what you'd expect, everyone warns how "scary" the film is going to be, and that it might even become a "new classic of the genre," which of course is hilarious. "The Effects" is just that -- nine short vignettes on various action scenes. Each is comprised of a few bits of behind-the-scenes footage, but since some of this stuff is now rather dated, it doesn't offer much insight into modern techniques.

There is also something called "Book of Revelations" on the disc, but my darn Toshiba HD DVD player couldn't access it. Even with the latest firmware upgrade, I kept getting the same damn error code over and over. However, checking the standard def DVD, it is just a series of text info on the history of Book of Revelations, which I find absolutely ridiculous anyway. Still, these kinds of features should work on all players, shouldn't they?

Rounding out the package are a couple of promotional music videos by Rob Zombie and Everlast, and unusual for a Universal title, the film's theatrical trailer.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nothing exclusive here. But then, as everyone connected with this film has probably already removed it from their resumes, I guess that isn't a surprise.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'End of Days' doesn't really work as a horror film, or an action film, or even as an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. But I still enjoyed it on the level of camp, and it never fails to entertain. This HD DVD also does as good of a job as is likely possible in presenting a very dark transfer and lackluster sound design (bravo to Universal for including a Dolby TrueHD track), and the supplements are only fair. Still, if you are a fan of the film, this is likely the best presentation 'End of Days' is ever going to receive on home video.

) ) [3] => Array ( [review_id] => 153 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => fearandloathinginlasvegas [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [picture_created] => 1157684632 [picture_name] => fear-loathing-in-las-vegas-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/07/120/fear-loathing-in-las-vegas-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/153/fearandloathinginlasvegas.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1998 [run_time] => 128 [release_date_notes] => postponed from Sept 19 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GFLEJA [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167617 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround [1] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround [3] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Featurette [1] => Deleted Scenes [2] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Comedy [2] => Crime [3] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Johnny Depp [1] => Benicio Del Toro [2] => Tobey Maguire [3] => Ellen Barkin [4] => Gary Busey ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Terry Gilliam ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The big-screen version of Hunter S. Thompson's seminal psychedelic classic about his road trip across Western America as he and his large Samoan lawyer searched desperately for the "American dream"... they were helped in large part by the huge amount of drugs and alcohol kept in their convertible, The Red Shark. [preview_technology_specifications] => • None [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

"Drug movies" straddle a very fine line. They have to represent the insanity, the madness, and -- yes -- the fun of drug-induced states accurately, or risk becoming just another laughable, didactic public service announcement. Conversely, if they glamorize drug addiction, or fail to realistically portray the severe physical and mental consequences that come with the lifestyle, they can be a dangerous incitement to reckless behavior.

Then there are movies like 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' which seems to take no position at all, instead simply depicting a few days in the life of two very, very fucked-up individuals, and letting us decide what to make of it.

"He who makes a beast of himself, gets rid of the pain of being a man," is the quote that opens 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' And Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Oscar Z. Acosta (Benicio Del Toro) would seem to be two very pained beasts. It's 1971, and the pair are on their way to Las Vegas to cover the events of the "Mint 400", a local off-road motorcycle race in the desert. But Duke and Acosta's road trek soon degenerates into a manic, feverish drug-fueled odyssey of bad trips and frightening hallucinations. Perhaps escalating from pot to cocaine to LSD to even worse is not the brightest idea in the world?

'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' is, of course, based on the famous book by the late Hunter S. Thompson -- a literary work long thought unfilmable. But as adapted to the screen and directed by Terry ('Brazil,' '12 Monkeys') Gilliam, it is a visual tour de force that has few rivals in mainstream moviemaking. Like the cinema of David Lynch, Gilliam's work is a love-it or hate-it proposition -- there seems to be little middle ground. I can only imagine arch-conservatives and anti-drug activists clutching their chests through most of the scenes in 'Fear and Loathing,' as much as Cheech & Chong fans will cheer every moment, as the film grows more and more outlandish.

Oddly enough, I had no extreme reaction to 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' That Gilliam doesn't really take a moral position on the proceedings did not offend me. Instead, it left me feeling detached from the proceedings. In fact, as visually mesmerizing as this film is, its lack of viewpoint provides little room for satire or cultural commentary. I guess expected a 'Traffic,' 'Easy Rider' or even a 'Sid & Nancy' -- a film that defines a time and place so specifically it matters little how we view the issue of drugs. Those films have become crucial to our understanding of drug culture, the drug war and how they have shaped our politics. They are indispensable.

Alas, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,' for all of Thompson's incendiary politics, ends up feeling like nothing more than a lark movie. And the performances don't help much -- both Depp and Del Toro play their roles far too affably (especially Depp, who I found hammy), and I'm not a fan of big star cameos in movies (Hey, look! It's Cameron Diaz! Tobey Maguire! Christina Ricci!) Everyone seems to be having such a good time that it polishes off all of the rough edges to the material. Surprisingly, as much as I wanted to be shocked and outraged and turned on by what was happening, somehow it all seemed... innocuous. I don't know enough about Thompson to say with genuine certainty, but I'm guessing that Gilliam's finished work wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 866 [review_video] =>

At first glance, 'Fear and the Loathing in Las Vegas' may seem a strange choice to hit HD DVD so soon after the format's launch -- it's not a new release, it wasn't a box office blockbuster, nor is it a spectacle-laden action extravaganza. However, it has become Criterion's best-selling DVD release ever, and it also did quite well on video for Universal. And visually, it is quite an outlandish film -- almost orgiastic in its stylistic excesses. All of which makes it a fine candidate for the high-def treatment.

In fact, presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' turns out to be great HD DVD demo material. This is a very impressive presentation. The source material is in terrific shape, with no blemishes, dirt or scratches. Surprising is the lack of film grain visible -- 'Fear and Loathing' was shot in the Super35 process, which can sometimes exacerbate grain, but this transfer is wonderfully clean and smooth. But by far the most distinguishing feature is color reproduction. Hues are incredibly vibrant and literally pop off the screen. Reds, greens and blues are especially rich, with fleshtones an almost impossibly-real shade of orange.

Detail is also excellent, with even the film's many dark interiors and night scenes boasting above-average shadow delineation and depth. Also improved over the standard-def releases is sharpness -- the previous DVDs, though quite good, sometimes looked a bit soft due to the intense color saturation, and also exhibited a slight bit of edge enhancement. That's not a problem here, as even the most over-the-top sequences always look razor-sharp.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Another surprise is the inclusion of a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Like the video, you might not immediately peg 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' as obvious HD DVD demo material, but again you'd be wrong. The film's sound design is quite elaborate, and makes a great case for why lossless audio tracks should not be reserved solely for action films and big-budget Hollywood spectacles.

Though dialogue drives 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (particularly Johnny Depp's incessant narration), it is also filled with many sublime aural flourishes and far from a front-heavy mix. Surround use can be quite active, with various discrete sound effects deployed to the rears to heighten the fever-dream-like quality. The score is also quite frenetic at times, filling up the full 360-degree soundfield nicely. I was also impressed with how forceful the .1 LFE could be -- the "Adrenochrome" sequence in particular delivers the kind of deep, rumbling bass usually associated with action films. Panning between channels is also far more prominent that I expected. Just check out Benecio Del Toro's "bathtub freakout" moment, which boasts some pretty wacky imaging across all five speakers. Is 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' in Dolby TrueHD a huge upgrade over the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks on the previous standard-def DVDs? No. But are differences present and noticeable? Definitely.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 867 [review_supplements] =>

No match for the far more elaborate Criterion Collection DVD edition (which was filled with commentaries, tons of documentary material, storyboards and plenty more), Universal's version of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' includes little in the way of meaningful supplements.

The only major extra of note is a collection of three deleted scenes that were included on both the old Universal DVD as well as the Criterion edition. None are particularly revelatory, though "The DA from GA" (while far too long) does have its moments as it tells a story about satan worshippers cutting the head off a girl in McDonalds... maybe you just have to watch it for yourself.

Even stranger to me is the "Spotlight on Location." This 10-minute EPK is so incongruous, attempting to distill the essence of Hunter S. Thompson for the masses as if he were the latest 'X-Men' flick. Even the filmmakers and cast look somewhat uncomfortable during the press junket interviews, though Gilliam's chat is memorable if only because he's wearing the ugliest shirt ever to grace the planet.

Rounding out the supplements is the film's theatrical trailer. Though presented in 1080i video, it's windowboxed and the quality is mediocre at best.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' continues to be a divisive film. Just as with the work of Hunter S. Thompson and the films of Terry Gilliam, I suspect you'll either love it or you'll hate it. As for this HD DVD, it is a perfectly fine effort -- a nice transfer and the surprising inclusion of a Dolby TrueHD track almost make up for the pithy extras, which are no match for the far more deluxe Criterion DVD edition. Bottom line, unless you're willing to wait for something more elaborate in the future, this is worth picking up if you're a fan of the film, or merely curious.

) ) [4] => Array ( [review_id] => 157 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => grandprix [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Grand Prix [picture_created] => 1157009262 [picture_name] => grand-prix-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/31/120/grand-prix-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/157/grandprix.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1966 [run_time] => 176 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000I2J2WM [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1209670 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.20:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 5 Featurettes [1] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama [1] => Sport ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Brian Bedford [1] => Toshirô Mifune [2] => Yves Montand [3] => Eva Marie Saint [4] => James Garner ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => John Frankenheimer ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => American Grand Prix driver Pete Aron is fired by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash at Monaco that injures his British teammate, Scott Stoddard. While Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins to drive for the Japanese Yamura team, and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard's estranged wife. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Documentary: "Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix"
• 4 Featurettes: "Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties," "The Style and Sound of Speed," "Brands Hatch: Behind the Checkered Flag" and "Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions"
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

One of the joys of being a film reviewer (er, HD DVD reviewer) is rediscovering lost gems, or seeing films for the first time that you've never heard of but everyone else has. Latter case in point is 'Grand Prix,' which I had absolutely no familiarity with but, after a little bit of web research, I discovered is actually considered one of the best, if not the best, film ever made about professional auto racing. Better than 'Days of Thunder.' Better than 'Stroker Ace.' Yes, even better than 'The Cannonball Run.' If the fans at IMDB thought so highly of this movie, then it had to be one to see, right?

Fortunately, 'Grand Prix' is indeed a stellar cinematic achievement. It is that rare film that works on every level it was intended -- as a drama, an action movie and an examination of the sport of auto racing. That it also has a great cast, top-notch direction, plenty of melodrama and fabulous car crashes only sweetens the deal.

Directed by John Frankenheimer, 'Grand Prix' stars James Garner as Pete Aron, an American driver searching for redemption after his ego puts teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) into the hospital, and Aron loses his corporate sponsorship. Also a part of the racing circuit is Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), the venerated elder of the sport, and Antonio Sabato is his talented but hot-headed teammate Nino Barlini. Across nine different races, and both on and off the track, these four drivers will compete with each other for the checkered flag. Ultimately, they will discover that winning and losing are relative, and sometimes the price you pay for the pole position can be far too high.

Narrative aside, 'Grand Prix' is a landmark technical achievement. The winner of three effects Oscars, the film pioneered a number of new techniques that continue influence modern cinema. Working with legendary editor and title designer Saul Bass, as well as a team of sound designers way ahead of their time, the filmmakers created a unique visual and aural language to tell their story. Utilizing split screen, incredible aerial camerawork, meticulous sound design and Maurice Jarre's percussive score, each racing sequence has its own tone and style. Finely interweaved into the narrative, the races both exist on their own as amazing pieces of high-octane effects filmmaking -- all done live without a net, and with no help from CGI -- as well as further the narrative. It's a tough tightwire act to straddle, and there are few action films today that haven't learned a trick or two from how 'Grand Prix' so seamlessly integrated its action with its drama.

Had 'Grand Prix' only been an action movie, however strong, it wouldn't have held up all these years. What Frankenheimer also achieved, and just as important, is a sense of dramatic authenticity. He populates his film with realistic and believable characters and, impressively, doesn't turn any of the racers into heroes or villains. He also avoids the "disaster movie" type of melodrama that turned such classics as 'Airport' and 'Poseidon Adventure' into camp, however much I lose those type of movies. What Frankenheimer did with 'Grand Prix' was to simply, plainly and with great impact, make us understand these people, their sport and while they would risk their lives to win. Rare for a movie like this, 'Grand Prix' not only surprised and entertained me, but left me with a new appreciation for a sport I never thought in a million years I could care about.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 823 [review_video] =>

Warner has proven itself to be one of the best studios when it comes to remastering vintage titles older on disc, and they've done it again with 'Grand Prix.' Here is a film that is now four decades old and still it looks pretty darn fantastic. Minted from the film's original 65mm Super Panavision 70 negative and painstakingly restored, this 2.20:1 and 1080p/VC-1 transfer is one of the best I've seen on the format, regardless of age.

On its own, this restoration would be mighty impressive just for its cleanliness. Despite a runtime of 176 minutes, this transfer is blemish-free, with no speckles, dropouts or blemish. But considering that the film also makes extensive use of split screens -- which in the pre-CGI age required the use of antiquated matting techniques that result in heavier dirt and grain -- the smoothness of this image is astounding. Even colors, which often waver with old effects films like these, are rock solid. Hues are also vibrant and pure, with no chroma noise or bleeding. Even film grain, which you would rightly expect on a film forty years-old, is almost non-existent. The depth and dimensionality here is pretty gorgeous.

The only caveat I will add is that the image is quite bright -- maybe too much so? Though blacks are rock solid and contrast and consistent, I found I sometimes had to cover my eyes during the daylight scenes. The whites here are so intense and the luminosity of the transfer was so strong it really took me aback. I certainly can't say for sure what was the intended look of the filmmakers, but I can say that this is the first time I actually thought about wearing sunglasses while watching an HD DVD.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Along with the image, Warner has also remastered the original audio elements of 'Grand Prix' to create a new 5.1 surround mix. Audio options here include a Dolby Digital-Plus track encoded at 640kbps, plus French and Spanish dubs in 1.0 mono (alas, purists may be disappointed that no English mono option is provided).

Overall, this is a fine remaster. The audio stems have been nicely cleaned up, with no noticeable anomalies present such as dropouts or distortion present. Dynamic range has been fattened up fairly well, with the mix boasting healthy enough mid-range and high-end to almost make us forget we're watching a forty-year-old movie. However, low end is almost non-existent. There are just no .1 LFE frequencies pumped out of the subwoofer to any discernible degree, so even the most dynamic of the racing sequences sound flat and uninvolving.

Surround use, too, is meager at best. While stereo separation of the front two channels is sharp, and dialogue well-placed in the center channel, I never sensed any sort of atmosphere or envelopment. A very proficient and technically superior remaster, just a not very aggressive one.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 824 [review_supplements] =>

Warner Home Video only recently released 'Grand Prix' as a two-disc, standard-def DVD special edition. But this HD DVD goes one better, not only providing the full 176-minute feature film on a single disc (it was spread across two platters on the DVD), but all of the supplements, too. Gotta love these next-gen formats!

As John Frankenheimer is no longer with us, nor are most of the film's key creative team, apparently Warner opted not to produce any audio commentary tracks for the film. Instead, four new featurettes detail the making of the film and the world of racing. Each is culled from both new interviews with surviving cast members James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Antonio Sabato and others, as well as vintage on-set material featuring Frankenheimer and editor/effects supervisor Saul Bass.

"Pushing the Limit: The Making of 'Grand Prix'" runs only a few seconds shy of 30 minutes and is the main documentary on the disc. It certainly appears that 'Grand Prix' was quite a shoot. Frankenheimer is legendary for his on-set "intensity" (i.e., he's a tyrant) and his temper is well in evidence here. I was surprised at the frankness of the archival production footage, whether it is Frankenheimer reaming a reporter for being "rude" to his cast, or the remembrances of Garner and Saint, who admit that tensions on the set often flared. (Of course, Garner was no angel either, as he is seen in one clip throwing a fit when a local shopkeeper holds up the production over money). If you only watch one of the extras on this disc, make it this one.

"The Style and Sound of Speed" clocks in at 11 minutes and is a nice tribute to Saul Bass and his pioneering work on 'Grand Prix.' I'm not really a fan of the CGI era, and quite frankly the accomplishments of Bass and his team here blow all of that wimpy computer-assisted stuff right out of the water. From his inventive use of split screens, to the highly imaginative editing that makes every car crash in the film seem absolutely real, to the amazing sound design, Bass truly pushed the boundaries of the form and evolved the language of film one step further. Awesome stuff.

The last two featurettes are more historical in nature. "Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties" runs 17 minutes and examines the history of auto racing up through the Formula One era depicted in the film, while "Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag" runs 11 minutes and takes us on a tour of the famous racetracks utilized in the film. A number of racing experts are interviewed, and I was actually quite fascinated by a sport I never before cared a whit about. Not that I thought auto racing was easy, but after watching this one, there is no way in hell I'm ever going to get inside a racecar, even one going 12 mph.

Rounding out the extras are two promo items. In addition to the film's Theatrical Trailer, Warner has also tacked on the wonderfully vintage featurette "Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions." This 10-minute extended commercial is almost breathless in reminding us of the excitement of the sport and of the movie, and even includes a shameless shot of a woman's cleavage intercut with stock cars to really sell the moment. Priceless.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 825 [review_bonus_content] =>

No bonus content, but then there is enough standard-def goodies that it is hard to complain. However, Warner does offer their usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Grand Prix' is, for me, a real find. I'd never heard of this movie before, but know I think it is quite arguably the best film ever made about the sport of auto racing. It is also an engaging drama and an Oscar-winning technical achievement to boot, so I give a very enthusiastic thumbs up. As for this HD DVD, it is also excellent, with a stellar remastered transfer and soundtrack and a nice batch of retrospective featurettes. If you are a fan of the film or at all interested in racing, definitely give this one a spin.

) ) ) [reviews_slices] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 159 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => landofthedead [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Land of the Dead (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158998023 [picture_name] => land-of-the-dead.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/23/120/land-of-the-dead.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/159/landofthedead.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 97 [release_date_notes] => Rescheduled from September 19, 2006 [list_price] => 34.99 [asin] => B000GFLEGI [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1167613 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => 5 Featurettes [2] => Deleted Scenes [3] => Storyboards [4] => Music Video ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Horror [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Robert Joy [1] => Asia Argento [2] => Dennis Hopper [3] => John Leguizamo [4] => Simon Baker ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => George A. Romero ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => The living dead have taken over the world, and the last humans live in a walled city to protect themselves as they come to grips with the situation. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Director George Romero, Producer Peter Grunwald and Editor Michael Doherty
• 8 Featurettes: "Undead Again: The Making of 'Land of the Dead,'" "A Day with the Living Dead," "When Shaun Met George," "Bringing the Dead to Life," "Scenes of Carnage," "Zombie Effects: From Green Screen to Finished Scene," "Bringing the Zombies to Life" and "Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call" [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'Land of the Dead.'

[review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 21 [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

Am I the only one that thinks zombies are kinda... cuddly? I know I'm supposed to be terrified by them, but a bunch of pale, oozy, maggot-infested undead monsters only makes me immediately think of Michael Jackson's "Thriller.". I always expect them to suddenly start dancing and doing the Vincent Price shuffle, and any shock value they may have once had has now, for me, been lost to campy excess.

I know this is not George Romero's fault. The godfather of the zombie movie, he virtually created the subgenre with 1967's landmark 'Night of the Living Dead.' That black-and-white opus did more than terrify millions, garner critical kudos and gross millions -- it fully politicized the horror film, and helped to usher in a seminal period for the genre. The 1970s has never been equaled in terms of delivering raw, unapologetic and thought-provoking terror films, and if the rest of Romero's career never quite equaled the singular achievement of 'Night,' well, the guy still has one hell of a cinematic epitaph to revel in.

Of course, Romero would go on to direct two more 'Dead' films, 1978's widely acclaimed 'Dawn of the Dead,' and the less well-received 'Day of the Dead' in 1985. (Interestingly, all three have been remade -- a sure sign the guy created something supremely influential.) Yet it was still somewhat surprising that twenty years later, Romero would again forge back into zombie-land for 2005's 'Land of the Dead.' Coming after such 'Dead'-inspired hits as '28 Days Later,' the 2003 remake of 'Dawn of the Dead' and the hilarious parody 'Shaun of the Dead' (2004), was there still any blood left to squeeze from an undead turnip? And could lightning strike yet again for Romero, who has never been one to shy away from imparting grand social messages along with his gore -- not exactly what the iPod generation seems to want from its horror?

Turns out 'Land of the Dead' does feel like too little, too late. A box office bomb when released last summer (though Universal pitting it against 'War of the Worlds' probably wasn't the best example of counterprogramming), few in the mainstream seemed to care about Romero anymore, despite his high esteem in the horror community. The film's heady mix of social satire, barely concealed swipes at the Bush administration and copious amounts of gratuitous gore went by largely unnoticed, and not helping much was that Romero's filmmaking aesthetic, like fellow "genre bum" John Carpenter, remains firmly stuck in the '70s. 'Land of the Dead' is slow-paced, kinda chintzy and a bit too self-important for its own good. These kind of throwback B-movies were great fun a couple of decades ago -- 'Dawn of the Dead' and 'Escape from New York' in particular -- but there is a fine line between nostalgic pastiche and creative mummification.

The story of 'Land of the Dead' kicks off a number of years after 'Day.' The world is now overrun by zombies, and the survivors have split into a class system of the haves and have-nots. While blue collar everymen like Riley (Simon Baker) and Cholo (John Leguizamo) toil in the streets, doing the dirty work of keeping civilians safe from the zombies, rich and arrogant entrepreneurs like Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) live like kings up in big modern high rises. Of course, it wouldn't be a Romero flick if the all hell didn't break loose. The zombies always find a way in (or is that out?), and the two classes will soon come crashing together. With very bloody results.

'Land of the Dead' hit DVD in an Unrated Director's Cut late last year, and watching that version again on this HD DVD, I'm left with the same impression of the film. It's gory and over-the-top, and smart and subversive -- everything we want in a Romero flick. Yet like 'Day of the Dead,' it doesn't add up to enough. Quite frankly, once you've seen one decapitated head, or a bunch of gooey intestines ripped out of a latex body, you've kinda seen them all. Romero's zombie imagery was certainy shocking in 'Night' and 'Dawn,' but in the years since it has become neutered. The mere concept of zombies is no longer incendiary or terrifying, so it is only the characters and the politics that are left to drive 'Land.' Unfortunately -- and I know this is heretical to Romero fans -- but I think both '28 Days Later' and the 'Dawn of the Dead' remake were far more pointed in their satire, but less heavy-handed about it. They also had more interesting characters. Nor is the action in 'Land' anything special. Ironically, the teacher has now been outclassed by his students.

I suppose zombie fans will still like 'Land of the Dead.' It certainly delivers on the bottom line. There is some sick and disgusting stuff here -- one moment involving a heart being pulled through the mouth of a victim is particularly cringe-inducing -- but since 'Land of the Dead' aspires to be more than just a gross-out show, is that really enough? I still admire Romero for sticking to his guns and attempting to bring cultural commentary back into horror, but nothing in 'Land' shocked me, disturbed me or really made me think. It all just kind of nauseated me. Bummer.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 887 [review_video] =>

'Land of the Dead' didn't look all that great on standard DVD. Overly soft, it lacked the pop of the best transfers, so I was looking forward to this HD DVD presentation in hopes of improvement. Overall I was quite satisfied. If 'Land of the Dead' is not the greatest of HD DVD transfers I've seen, it still offers a solid improvement over the standard-def release.

In a first for George Romero, 'Land of the Dead' was shot and is presented here in 2.40:1 widescreen. Too bad Romero didn't go widescreen earlier, as he has a fine eye for expansive compositions, and this is probably the best-looking of his four zombie flicks. The source material is in excellent, as you would expect for a new release -- no blemishes, dirt or other defects here. There is a thin veneer of grain throughout, but it looks quite pleasing and film-like. Blacks are rich and pure, and color reproduction quite vibrant. The film takes place primarily at night, and the blue-gray and orange palette comes through rather nicely. Hues are consistently vivid throughout, with no bleeding (har har) or chroma noise apparent.

Best of all, however, is that unlike many transfers of horror films, this one is not overly dark. Contrast is near-perfect across the entire spectrum. Despite being bathed in shadows, the fall-off to black is not too steep, so fine details are visible even in the darkest long shots. Crucial in a horror film like this is the ability to see both foreground and backgrounds, as what fun is it to watch a zombie sneaking up on an unsuspecting victim if you can't see all the icky ooze and puss? Again, this is not the most incredible transfer I've ever seen in terms of depth, but it is clearly superior to the rather flat standard-def release. Also commendable is that compression artifacts are not a problem, and despite pixelation and posterization on the previous DVD I saw no comparable issues here.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Like the video, 'Land of the Dead' boasts a solid audio presentation that delivers the goods even if it won't blow you away. Universal offers up a new Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at a very healthy 1.5mbps) that is generally enveloping, if a bit formulaic after a while.

For me, 'Land of the Dead' is not really horror but more of an action movie. The most prominent aspect of the film's sound design is the aggressive surround use during any scene involving a gun, an explosion or a moving vehicle. Trucks and tanks rumble around, many gunshots are fired and plenty of things blow up real good, all accompanied by a healthy amount of discrete effects and deep low bass. Atmospheric effects are present, largely during the outdoor, mass zombie-attack scenes, but otherwise surrounds are reserved for bombast. Occasionally the soundtrack betrayed it's mid-budget origins, with high-end sounding a bit tinny and the effects canned. Dialogue reproduction, however, is natural and sounds well-balanced in the mix. The only real disappointment is the lack of presence to the score by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. What little there is of it is all but lost, which adds to the realism of the film but doesn't help to enliven the soundtrack much.

Note that the standard DVD side of this HD DVD/DVD combo disc features a DTS track, but it has not been ported over as an option on the HD DVD side.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 888 [review_supplements] =>

'Land of the Dead' is another HD DVD/DVD combo disc where most of the extras on the DVD side. Of which I'm not a particular fan of, as I get easily annoyed with disc-flipping (I thought these next-gen formats were supposed to rid us of this scourge?) In any case, all of the same extras as the standard-def release are here, though unfortunately the list of bulletpoints on the back of the box is far more impressive than the actual contents.

The only extra to feature on the HD DVD side of the platter is the screen-specific audio commentary with George Romero, producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty. I was taken aback at how weak a track it is. All seem so subdued as to be on the verge of narcolepsy, and what information that is imparted is dull and boring. I always hate commentaries where the participants simply regurgitate what is happening on the screen, or tell me which effects were CGI and which weren't. Given the rich history of the 'Dead' films, this commentary is surprisingly bloodless.

The remaining extras are on the DVD side of the combo, but the total running time of the many featurettes is quite short. "Undead Again: The Making of 'Land of the Dead'" is your typical EPK with onset cast and crew interviews, but doesn't do much damage at only 12 minutes. Better are three video diary-esque vignettes made by specific cast and crew: "A Day with the Living Dead" (7 minutes) takes us on a tour of the set courtesy of John Leguizamo; "Bringing the 'Dead' to Life" (10 minutes) dissects the film's many gruesome sights with makeup guru Greg Nicotero; and best of all is "When Shaun Met George" (8 minutes), by longtime 'Dead' fan and 'Shaun of the Dead' filmmaker Simon Pegg, who is vastly entertaining. Get this guy more work already, Hollywood!

More tasty tidbits include a trio of technical-oriented features. "Zombie Effects" features a set of before-and-after shots of the film's digital effects work, which is a far cry from the simplistic gore of the original 'Night of the Living Dead.' There is also an eight-minute set of storyboard comparisons dubbed "Bringing the Storyboards to Life," while "Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call" is a CGI test of zombies dancing, but even at one minute it's quite tiresome.

Rounding out the extras are "The Remaining Bits," a collection billed as "not your average deleted scenes!" Unfortunately, at less than three minutes, it seems all the good stuff was already reinstated into this Unrated Director's Cut. Lastly, "Scenes of Carnage" is a spliced-together music video of gory clips, but I already have forgotten it.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 889 [review_bonus_content] =>

No exclusives this time. Alas.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'Land of the Dead' falls somewhere in the middle of George Romero's zombie quadrilogy. Not the classic that is 'Night of the Living Dead,' nor as memorable in its satire as 'Dawn of the Dead,' but at least it is better than the dour, dismal 'Day of the Dead.' This HD DVD is pretty much a straight port of the standard-def DVD release, but with a better transfer and improved soundtrack that make for a solid upgrade. Even if you're a 'Dead' you don't really need to rush out and buy this one, but at least it is cool to finally have a zombie flick in high-def.

) ) [1] => Array ( [review_id] => 831 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => onelastthing [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => One Last Thing... [picture_created] => 1206431741 [picture_name] => one-last-thing-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Magnolia Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2008/03/25/120/one-last-thing-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/831/onelastthing.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 93 [list_price] => 29.98 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1241569 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78;1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround (1.5mpbs) [1] => English DTS 5.1 Surround (1.5mbps) ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => TV Special ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Sunny Mabrey [1] => Cynthia Nixon [2] => Michael Angarano ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => One Last Thing... is a funny and moving story starring Emmy Award Winner Cynthia Nixon (Sex and the City) and Michael Angarano (Sky High, Seabiscuit, Almost Famous). Dylan (Angarano) and his mother, Karen (Nixon), are invited onto national television by an organization that grants last wishes to the terminally ill. Dylan surprises everyone by making a shocking request: to spend a steamy weekend with supermodel Nikki Sinclair (Sunny Mabrey). After a disappointing meet-and-greet arranged by Nikki's agent (Gina Gershon), Dylan and his buddies set off for the Big Apple with hopes of fulfilling his one last wish... [preview_technology_specifications] => TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => TBA [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our Blu-ray review of 'One Last Thing.'

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 50207 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

There is an ironclad law of Hollywood moviemaking that says you can't kill off your lead character. Imagine if Luke Skywalker was accidentally crushed by R2-D2 twenty minutes before the climax of 'Star Wars,' and failed to blow up the Death Star -- it probably wouldn't have been a blockbuster, would it? Sure, you can wipe out a supporting character -- or even the top-billed love interest in a romantic weepie (think 'Titanic'). But to actually kill off your movie's hero -- the one audiences have come to identify with and root for? It's a rarity to say the least.

Dylan Jamieson (Michael Angarano from 'Will & Grace') is not your typical movie hero. A high school sophomore with terminal cancer, even the most optimistic doctors give him no chance for recovery. So with the support of his mother Carol (Cynthia Nixon), Dylan is granted a wish from the from the Wish Givers Foundation. Much to the horror of the charity, his wish is to to go to New York and spend one evening with supermodel Nikki Sinclaire (Sunny Mabrey). Nikki, we soon learn, is damaged goods; she's stuck in an abusive relationship, and is bordering on a nervous breakdown. When Nikki and Dylan first meet amid a press barrage, it's an awkwardly choreographed exchange. Dylan, however, remains undeterred in his quest. With his two pals Ricky (Matthew Bush) and Slap (Gideon Glick) in tow -- and much to the dismay of his mother -- he makes the trip to New York to be with Nikki, determined to have this One Last Thing.

We know where 'One Last Thing...' is going from the first frame, but we just can't quite believe it will get there. This is the kind of movie that rarely makes it to the big screen, because quite frankly it is not commercial. We so like Dylan from the beginning, and yet his situation is so crushing that we keep secretly hoping the film will cop out and find some way to save him. As much as critics and moviegoers like to complain about cliched plots and predictable feel-good endings, box office trends continue to support the notion that in American cinema at least, we don't want reality -- we want fantasy.

But 'One Last Thing...' doesn't cop out. Dylan will take what ultimately becomes an existential journey before he suffers his cruel fate. There are no cheap melodramatic tricks along the way -- he doesn't find God, he doesn't discover the meaning of life, and the peace he eventually does achieve offers no seismic revelations for those around him. Though Nikki will figuratively be "saved" by granting Dylan his final wish, we are left with the distinct impression she hasn't been wholly transformed by the experience, either. The revelations Michael does experience along the way are presented as quiet, measured moments -- almost as throwaways. 'One Last Thing...' is almost disconcerting in its matter-of-factness, in the way it accepts death in such plain terms that there is no Hollywood-sized grandiosity to shield us from its utter finality.

The moments that achieve the most resonance in 'One Last Thing...' are the most ordinary. Director Alex Steyermark and screenwriter Barry Stringfellow never pump up or force a scene. The relationship between Dylan and his mother feels completely believable. Angarano and Nixon are particularly well matched, and I appreciated how even during what Carol knows will be the last few days with her son, she doesn't say all the right things, or feel all the right emotions. These are flawed, real people -- not martyrs. Nikki (well played by Mabrey, in what could have been a thankless role) is also not the caricature we expect. She opens herself to Dylan not just because she's supposed to, but because she realizes if she doesn't, her fate may be even more sealed than Dylan's.

Ultimately, few will probably want to watch 'One Last Thing...' But it is the kind of intelligent, passionate, minor-key movie that everyone complains doesn't get made. Hopefully, this HD DVD release will help change that. 'One Last Thing...' is a lost little gem well worth discovering.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 1910 [review_video] =>

'One Last Thing...' was shot with HD cameras in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is presented on HD DVD in 1080i/VC-1 video (versus the MPEG-2 encode on the Blu-ray version). Given the film's thrifty budget, I didn't have high expectations for the image, but 'One Last Thing...' boasts a rather good-looking image that's aided by slick photography and strong production values that transcend the movie's "indie" tag.

The most noticeable aspect of the transfer is its strong colors. Aside from a bit of dourness evident in some of the early scenes before Dylan leaves for New York, saturation is vibrant and clean. Many of the big city exteriors, as well as a couple of nightclub scenes, are quite flush with color. Fleshtones are also generally accurate, although again, some of the early scenes seem a bit too tinted towards green or sickly yellow.

In regards to this being a VC-1 encode versus the MPEG-2 on the Blu-ray, I did find this version a bit smoother. There are still pockets of obvious noise in the shadows, but it is a smidge less irritating on the HD DVD, although the trade-off is that VC-1 tends to provide a slightly softer look. Such disprepancies are so incredibly minor in this case, however, that the results are a wash for me. This is a sharp, quite detailed presentation that exceeded my expectations.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

In a move that has had some crying foul, Magnolia has tended to favor its HD DVD releases over the Blu-ray, offering VC-1 encodes versus MPEG-2 while also bumping up the audio to Dolby TrueHD. Such an upgrade would have hardly matters on a film like 'One Last Thing...' however, because there just isn't that much to work with here.

The Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround tracks (both 1.5mbps) are perfectly solid. Occasionally some of the canned effects and dubbed-in dialogue sound inorganic to the rest of the mix, while dynamic range is also healthy but hardly expansive. Low bass never really rocks, and the film does sound "small." However, I liked the minor ambiance during some of the city scenes, and dialogue is always clear and intelligible. There is little that impresses (regardless of high-res audio or not), but this is at least a soundtrack that gets the job done.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1911 [review_supplements] =>

Extras are rather sparse. There are only two supplements included -- both decent, but unexceptional.

  • Audio Commentary - Director Alex Steyermark goes solo on this track, and comes off as the ultimate nice guy, with a pleasing voice. His insights are intelligent and well thought-out, but the track is slow and perhaps too technical. I'm always surprised by commentaries for "smaller films" like this that focus on setting up shots and the like, when really, most of us don't care. For me, the most fascinating aspect was how difficult it was to sell 'One Last Thing...' to the major studios, which ultimately resulted in the HDNet cable network picking up the film. I wish Steyermark had focused more on this angle and the film's challenging subject matter, instead of clapboards and f-stops.
  • TV Special (HD, 18 minutes) - The only other included supplement is an episode of the HDNet series "Higher Definition," focusing on 'One Last Thing...' Shot simply and directly, it's a one-on-one chat with Steyermark and host Robert Wilonsky, who quite frankly sounds like he probably didn't see the film. There are also a few interview pieces with Cynthia Nixon, Michael Angarano and Sunny Mabrey. Though Steyermark doesn't offer much that isn't covered in his audio commentary, it is nice to hear from the rest of the cast.
[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'One Last Thing...' is a poignant and well-crafted little sleeper -- I was really captivated by the film even if its pleasures are ultimately small. Still, I would recommend the movie to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path. This HD DVD is a nice effort from Magnolia -- the transfer was better than I expected for a low-budget indie shot on HD, and there are couple of decent extras. If you're looking for something a little different, at least give this one a rental.

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Before he was the governor of California, he was just Arnold Schwarzenegger, one-time Mr. Olympia turned world-famous action superstar. And his greatest role arguably came as 'The Terminator,' in James Cameron's tech-noir of the same name. Playing a cyborg intent on starting/preventing mass nuclear annihilation, The Terminator was the perfect fit for Schwarzenegger's decidedly unique persona: big, intimidating and monosyllabic. Yet the Terminator was also a character of limited potential; that Cameron was able to pull off 1991's 'Terminator 2' as successfully as he did is a rarity in sequel-dom, a follow-up that successfully expanded the original's universe, characters and themes and managed to cap off the series on a high note.

So it was with a bit of dread that I greeted the news of 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,' which was brought to the screen in 2003, almost twenty years after the original film. Though Cameron wisely dropped out, Schwarzenegger and company appeared intent on tarnishing what was once a shiny endoskeleton with a pretty transparent attempt to wring yet more profits out of a washed-up old franchise.

Unfortunately, watching 'Rise of the Machines' didn't change my mind. Even checking it out again for this new HD DVD release, I still feel it is rather uninspired, pastiche sequel-making. It recycles scenes, situations and themes from its predecessors, and doesn't really introduce any new themes. And except for Schwarzenegger, all of the other major roles have been recast, which gives it the feel of a Universal theme-park ride.

That 'T3' has almost become camp is clear from the opening scenes. In true Terminator fashion, we meet the two cyborgs who will again wage war over the future of mankind. Kristanna Loken is the T-X, another new-model endoskeleton-thing who can shoot lasers out of her hand and artificially pump up her breasts courtesy of liquid metal. And Arnold is back as the same old T-Whatever, a rusty relic of armageddon complete with wrinkles and a few extra ounces of flab. When Schwarzenegger makes his big entrance at an all-male strip club -- a reworking of the classic barroom scene that opens T2 -- it comes off as half-funny, half-sad. Has a once-great sci-fi icon really de-morphed into his own in-joke?

I think what I longed for the most in 'Terminator 3' is a clear theme. This might be the most expensive Hollywood movie to ever end on such a downer. The original film's simple, linear narrative and clearly defined rules of time travel (however much they required a suspension of disbelief) are now long gone, replaced by so many narrative U-turns that it is hard to care anymore about the whole "the only fate is that which we make for ourselves" thing and all the other metaphysical mumbo jumbo. I remember being uplifted in the first two by the idea that -- no matter how seemingly insignificant and small -- even one person can affect the course of history. All of that is washed away in 'Terminator 3' in one big atomic explosion. We learn that everything Sarah Connor did -- and by extension, all of humankind -- is futile. Judgment Day was always inevitable, which rewires 'Terminator 2' into an emotional cul-de-sac. Why make a third movie that has no thematic point, other than to set up another sequel? The idealism of the first two films has been replaced by irony, cynicism and excess.

Yet as sorta-depressing as 'T3' can be on the level of its recycled narrative, it is so overinflated and desperate to please that it just may be the most expensive B-movie ever made. Which makes it somewhat enjoyable in its own clunky way. Director Jonathan Mostow, taking over for Cameron, goes full-tilt in staging his over-the-top action set pieces. The fabulous truck chase through the streets of San Francisco, which closes the first act, is as slick, exciting and well-executed an action spectacle as you are likely to see. And the climatic dueling terminators bathroom brawl is a real corker, even if it is a bit disturbing watching Arnie kick the shit out of a girl (albeit one made of molten metal).

That none of this mass destruction really serves any purpose in the narrative is, at this point, inconsequential. It is all chase and payoff -- 'Terminator 3' has no reason to exist other than because they wanted to make another sequel, so it is our sheer familiarity with the Cameron-directed epics that fuels any enjoyment we get out 'Rise of the Machines. It only thrills us, makes us laugh or packs emotional resonance -- let alone makes any sense -- because we are still so in love with the first two movies that we'll take anything we're given. 'T3' is its own artificial, collective memory bank of a movie.

[review_video_stars] => 4 [review_video_picture_id] => 779 [review_video] =>

In an odd twist that only happens in Hollywood, the complete 'Terminator' series has made its way to the next-gen formats via three different studios and two different formats. It's too bad the first two flicks are only available on Blu-ray, and now 'Terminator 3' solely on HD DVD. I'm sure someday soon Warner will issue 'Terminator 3' on Blu-ray, and perhaps Lionsgate will throw HD DVD fans a bone and unleash 'Terminator 2.' But as for Sony/MGM giving us the first 'Terminator' on HD DVD, it would seem doubtful. Nevertheless, for the dual format early adapters out there, you can click the following linked titles to read our reviews of the Blu-ray releases of 'The Terminator' and 'Terminator 2.'

As for this release on HD DVD, 'T3' gets the usual 1080p/VC-1 treatment, and it is a very good transfer. The film already looked quite spiffy on standard-def when it was first released on disc in 2003, and judging by a quick comparison between the two, it doesn't look like Warner has struck a new master for this one. But that's not a bad thing. The print is in great shape, with no visible blemishes, speckles or other anomalies to report. Blacks are perfect, and contrast natural and consistent. Color reproduction is quite nice, with a rich palette of hues that appear stable and free of noise. However, due to some uses of filtering (such as during the truck chase, which is supposed to take place at dawn but was clearly shot during the day) fleshtones sometimes render a bit on the red side, though this appears intentional. As far as detail, daylight scenes are usually excellent, with that impressive sense of three-dimensionality that I've come to love about high-def.

Tht said I wasn't entirely sold on this transfer in every respect. I found that some of the darker scenes suffered a tad in the shadow delineation department, and colors can look ever-so-slightly pumped up. For example, the scene where Catherine Brewster (Claire Danes) first meets John Connor (Nick Stahl) in the veterinarian office was somewhat dark, with the sharp contrast and processed colors obscuring detail ever-so-slightly. Certainly, this is a pretty minor quibble -- the transfer does exhibit great depth throughout -- but it keeps 'T3' from being the absolute best I've seen on HD DVD. Also note that 'T3' was shot using the Super35 process, which allows for greater flexibility in aspect ratio when it comes to transferring a film to home video, but the trade-off is that the photographic processes required tend to make grain a bit more apparent. As such, there is thin, slight veneer of visible film grain throughout 'T3,' particularly in the darker scenes. Again, this is entirely appropriate to the intended style of the film, but it's there if you look for it.

[review_audio_stars] => 4 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Let's face it: the main reason anyone goes to see a film like 'Terminator 3' is to see tons of shit get blown up real good, and we want it all in roof-raising, get-your-rocks-off surround sound. So it's unfortunate that for 'Terminator 3's maiden HD DVD voyage, Warner didn't sport for a full-blown Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. As is, though, the 640kbps, Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround included here is pretty dang good in its own right.

Technically, the sound design of 'T3' is tremendous, as you would expect. Surrounds are consistently engaged and often create a complete 360-degree soundfield, especially during the action sequences. Imaging across all channels is near-transparent, and excellent use is made of discrete effects, including dialogue. Marco Beltrami's score is the only disappointment -- it is not integrated strongly enough into the mix and lacks the industrial sturm and drang of Brad Fiedel's compositions in the first two. Dynamic range is also excellent, with a very spacious midrange, clean highs and very, very powerful low bass. The .1 LFE really gets a workout on all of this mass destruction, so this one will move the furniture around if you crank it up. Which of course you must do -- or the Terminator will come to your house himself.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 780 [review_supplements] =>

After countless DVD editions of the first two 'Terminator' flicks, Warner Home Video shocked the world by releasing only one -- one! -- two-disc special edition of 'T3' back in 2003. Really, isn't that sacrilege? Imagine the possibilities: 'Terminator 3: The Gubernatorial Edition?' The 'Tricked-Out Election Edition?' Or how about, 'T3 1/2: California Total Recall?' Until then, and despite the copious amount of bulletpoints on the back of the box, all of the extras remain a rather fluffy lot, with too little meat but a heaping helping of cheese.

First up are no less than three audio commentaries: a solo track with director Jonathan Mostow, a second track with Mostow and cast Arnold Schwarzenegger, Claire Danes, Nick Stahl and Kristanna Loken, and a third (which did not appear on the standard-def DVD release) with Mostow again, joined by screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, director of photography Don Burgess and production designer Jeff Mann. Mostow introduces both "group" tracks, which are an amalgam of the actors and crew, all recorded in different cities and edited together. I actually quite like these patchwork commentaries, because they are usually stuffed with information and don't suffer from long gaps of silence. In any case, the cast track is the highlight, as all are much more honest and forthright than they are on the dull video extras. It is positively surreal to hear Governor Schwarzenegger talk like the billionaire action star he once was, although his initial, endless ramblings about his naked body are positively creepy. Danes and Stahl also have a sense of humor about tackling such a huge project and what they, at the time, thought it might do to their careers. And Loken may have had the toughest job of all, making a leather-clad female terminator believable. She handles it all with aplomb and is very engaging throughout. So much so that, by the time we get to the other two tracks, they can't help but seem dull by comparison. There is a considerable amount of repetition them, though Mostow certainly delves into all of the nuts and bolts production details that are completely lacking in the cast commentary. Of course, just how many commentaries you can take for one movie is up to you, but kudos to Warner for resurrecting the extra commentary that I guess would have been lost forever if it hadn't been for HD DVD.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, most of the video-based extras are too slick and fluffy, and powered by a relentless techno underscore that quicly grows tiresome. After a dull "Introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger" that contains no surprises, we get an "HBO First Look" special that runs 24 minutes. It is your typical breathless pre-release extended commercial. We don't learn anything we didn't already know after watching the flick, and typical of most on-set interviews, Mostow, Schwarzenegger, Stahl and Danes can't reveal too much about the plot, so are forced to spout the typical, "It's gonna be great!" comments.

Next up are a variety of little vignettes. The 3-minute "Sgt. Candy Scene" is an oddity -- a deleted comedy movie-within-a-movie scene that, frankly, made no sense to me. "Storyboards" is a 4-minute montage of the film's climatic Terminator vs. Terminator duel. The entire sequence is shown as a side-by-side comparison between the storyboards and the final finished film, with soundtrack. "Dressed to Kill" runs only 2 minutes and offers a breezy look at how to costume a Terminator, and what to wear if you are being chased by one. Finally, "Toys in Action" pays a visit with artist Todd McFarlane and takes a look at all the various Terminator-inspired toys that have come out in recent years. Running 8 minutes, this feels more like a commercial than a true featurette.

Rounding out the extras is the film's theatrical trailer in widescreen and 480p video, plus two shameless promos for the 'T3' videogame, including a teaser and "making of" extended commercial.

Note that in an unusual occurrence for HD DVD, Warner has dropped the best making-of feature from the previous standard-def release, the 32-minute "T3 Visual Effects Lab." It broke down five key sequences in the film, and was by far the most insightful bit of supplementary material on the standard DVD release. However, all of this material appears to have been integrated into the HD-exclusive "In-Movie Experience" noted below, so I can't say there is much to get up in arms about.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 2.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 781 [review_bonus_content] =>

'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' is the latest Warner HD DVD release to receive the "In-Movie Experience," and it is one of the best examples of the feature I've seen yet. What's really cool this time is that director Jonathan Mostow (as well as producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna) recorded a new introduction and full-length interview for the HD DVD, and right at the beginning, Mostow promises we'll get "material never-before-seen by the general public." And that turns out to be mostly true -- there is a good amount of making-of footage here I didn't see on the standard-def extras. Doubly cool is the fact that, three years on, we're finally getting some real perspective on the film and its place in the 'Terminator' pantheon, which the original standard-def DVD sorely lacked.

However, note that unlike, say, Universal's 'Bourne Supremacy,' Mostow is really the star of the show here, so this almost functions as a new solo commentary with little video bits edited in. But quite frankly, unless you are a diehard 'Terminator 3' fan (in which case all the standard-def extras are already familiar to you anyway), I would say just skip all the old stuff and start here. The 'T3' IME feature is essentially a brand-new, 109-minute documentary that gives you a pretty solid overview of the production of the film. Nicely done, Warner -- please don't stop producing these little gems.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

Surprise, surprise, I can't say I enjoyed 'Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines' as much as the first two 'Terminator' flicks. However, it is big, loud and full of action, and I was never less than entertained. As an HD DVD release, this is another winner from Warner. A very good transfer, a great soundtrack and a fancy new In-Movie Experience feature make for an all-around worthwhile purchase. Though I would have liked a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack -- really, what movie deserves one more than 'T3?' -- this is still an HD DVD upgrade that makes sense.

) ) ) [1] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 149 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => adventuresofrobinhood1938 [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) [picture_created] => 1157009262 [picture_name] => the-adventures-of-robin-hood-1938-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/08/31/120/the-adventures-of-robin-hood-1938-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/149/adventuresofrobinhood1938.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1938 [run_time] => 102 [list_price] => 28.99 [asin] => B000I0RR76 [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1209656 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.37:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 1080p/480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono [3] => Music-Only Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Audio Commentary [1] => Documenaries [2] => Bloopers and Outtakes [3] => Vintage Newsreel [4] => Animated Shorts [5] => Still Galleries [6] => Radio Show Excerpts [7] => Trailer Gallery ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Adventure [1] => Classic [2] => Drama [3] => Fantasy ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Claude Rains [1] => Basil Rathbone [2] => Olivia de Havilland [3] => Errol Flynn ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Michael Curtiz ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => This lavish, fast-paced version of the Robin Hood legend won three Academy Awards (Best Film Editing, Interior Decoration and Original Score). Doing many stunts himself, Errol Flynn is at his athletic, romantic best in a role originally intended for James Cagney. Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian), as well as consummate screen villains Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains round out the all-star cast. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Rudy Behlmer
• Leonard Maltin hosts "Warner Night at the Movies 1938 featuring Vintage Newsreel"
• 2 Documentaries: "Welcome to Sherwood" and "Glorious Technicolor
• 2 Classic Cartoons: "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy"
• 2 Vintage Short Subjects: "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca"
• Outtakes and Bloopers
• "Robin Hood Through the Ages" Vintage Film Excerpts
• "A Journey to Sherwood Forest" Vintage Cast Home Movies
• "Splitting the Arrow" Still Galleries
• Music-only Audio Track
• Radio Show Excerpt: "The Robin Hood Radio Show"
• Audio-Only: "Erich Wolfgang Korngold Piano Sessions"
• Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] => Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.' [review_bottom_line] => Highly Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 3506 [review_movie_stars] => 4.5 [review_movie] =>

Sad as it may be, the fact remains that younger generations rarely want anything to do with classic films. For some reason, audiences find it hard to relate to characters and stories without modern dress, manners and technology. Of course, I can't say I'm above such juvenile snobbery myself. Growing up, I had little interest in films that pre-dated the late 1960s -- why would I want to watch a movie about a bunch of old dead people, with their silly morals and antiquated sensibilities? It has only been as an adult, after having been forced to sit through semester after semester of cinema history courses in film school, that I developed an true appreciation for the classics.

It was during one of those film classes that I was first introduced to the 1938 swashbuckler 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.' Getting past Errol Flynn's pageboy haircut and green tights, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Seventy-odd years on, it holds up rather splendidly as high adventure, a soaring love story and good, old-fashioned popcorn entertainment. So what if the sets look phony, the costumes goofy, and the dialogue like something out of an 'Airplane!' movie? Today's big-budget, effects-laden snooze-fests would kill to earn even a tenth of the laughs, thrills and swoons this little baby manages, seemingly without even breaking a sweat.

Flynn was the perfect leading man. Though he was quoted later as having been "bored" by the role, after achieving stardom with earlier, similar efforts like 'Captain Blood' (1935) and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (1936), you wouldn't know it from his performance. No one could charge into a room, swish a sword and charm the ladies like he could -- they didn't coin the phrase "in like Flynn" for nothing. So iconic is Flynn's portrayal that it is always his portrayal of 'Robin Hood' that is parodied in satires, like Mel Brooks' 'Men in Tights.'

The supporting cast is also wonderful. Olivia de Havilland is a gorgeous, sly and feisty Maid Marian. Flynn was reportedly a bit of a troublemaker on set, reserving most of his goodwill only for Havilland. Whatever the case, their chemistry is palpable on screen -- sweet, winning and rather sexy. Basil Rathbone, the world's most famous Sherlock Holmes, is wisely cast against type as the villainous Sir Guy of Gisbourne. His performance is consummate in its wickedness and subtle wit, with Rathbone easily holding his own again Flynn (no small feat). Also look for a terrific ensemble of famous character actors, including Melville Cooper as the hilarious, sniveling High Sheriff of Nottingham; Warner Bros. stable standby Claude Rains as somewhat fey Prince John, and Alan Hale, Sr. (a dead-ringer for his son, future 'Gilligan's Island' skipper Alan Hale, Jr.) as Little John.

It's interesting that 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' continues to be considered as the definitive telling of the classic tale, because based on the behind-the-scenes dramas that plagued its production, it should have been a disaster. William Keighley was the original director, hired mainly because he had worked with Flynn the year prior on 'The Prince and the Pauper.' Despite the studio's high hopes, his early dailies were underwhelming, and he was promptly replaced by another director, Michael Curtiz. Veteran of such hits as 'The Perfect Specimen,' 'The Charge of he Light Brigade' and 'Captain Blood' (the latter two again with Flynn), Curtiz's influence helped give the film its now famous light-hearted spirit and dazzling derring-do. Though 'Casablanca' (1942) certainly remains Curtiz's crowning cinematic achievement, followed by perhaps 'Mildred Pierce' (1948), 'Robin Hood' certainly ranks up there in a career filled with staggering achievements.

Ultimately, even those familiar with the Robin Hood character but unfamiliar with this particular version, will find something to love here. The film leaves nothing of the legend out -- the splitting of the arrow, the fight with Little John and the Sherwood Forest feast, not to mention the swordplay, the romance, and the plundering... it's all here in spades. 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' may not have modern special effects, airbrushed models instead of actors and fast-cut editing, but even seventy years on, it remains cinema's reigning swashbuckler.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1725 [review_video] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is one of the latest Warner catalog classics to undergo the studio's newly-patented "Ultra Resolution" restoration process. This technological wonder is able to clean-up and re-align vintage Technicolor negatives, returning them not only to their former glory, but far surpassing any previous presentation in terms of clarity, color purity and sharpness. The results of Warner's advancements have earned praise far and wide, and I'm certainly a huge fan. I continue to be amazed at how fantastic the recent Warner Ultra Resolution titles like 'Singin' in the Rain,' Gone with the Wind' and 'The Searchers' look, and now 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' can be safely added to that list. (Note: 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' was shot at the Academy flat ratio of 1.37:1. It is presented here in a windowboxed 4:3 aspect ratio, and 1080p/VC-1 video. So don't worry about those black bars on the sides -- it's supposed to look that way.)

From the first frame, it is almost impossible to believe that 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is a film over seventy years old. Colors are simply brilliant. They are so rich, in fact, they almost look painted on. Granted, it's hardly a realistic look, but this is glorious Technicolor, which is the equivalent of cinematic cotton candy. Scene after scene is a joy to behold, particularly the "great feast" sequence in Sherwood Forest. The reds are remarkably brilliant, greens lush as a jungle, the purples royal, and yellows dazzling.

This HD DVD version also offers a nice upgrade over the standard-def version, which was released a couple of years ago. The image is a bit sharper -- the DVD sometimes looked softer and more blurry from shot to shot, but consistency on the HD DVD is superior. The level of depth and detail is also amazing for a film from 1936 -- indeed, it rivals many new releases for clarity and cleanliness. You'll still be able to spot some grain, but it is hardly excessive. After a minute or two, I didn't even notice it. Some might also find the image a bit "hot" -- it does have a high contrast look. Whites seem to teeter on the edge of being blown out, but never quite fall off the cliff. Though such a high-key look can give the appearance of being too edgy, I did not see any actual edge enhancement or other post-processing issues.

The only reason I'm not giving 'Robin Hood' a full five-star video is because it may be just a smidgen less perfect, and not quite as sharp, as the absolute top tier of Warner's Ultra-Resolution titles, such as 'Gone With the Wind,' and the title I still hold up as the absolute reference-standard, 'Singin' in the Rain.' But that's a minor quibble. 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' looks fantastic.

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Due to the age of the audio elements, and the lack of the original "stems" needed to create a full 5.1 surround remix, 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is presented in Dolby Digital-Plus 1.0 Mono. Aside from the increased bitrate (640kbps), there is little real advantage here over the standard-def DVD version. And there just isn't much you can say about a mono mix.

Overall, fidelity is fine. The most apparent improvement is the high end -- gone is that shrill, ear-piercing flatness one usually associates with old mono mixes. Mid-range and low bass could still have used a bit of a boost, however. This is most noticeable on the brass-filled music score, which sounds rather flat. Dialogue holds up very well, though, if somewhat pinched. But like the image, any deficiencies in the audio are hardly excessive, and after a few minutes, you won't even notice.

[review_supplements_stars] => 5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 0 [review_supplements] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' on HD DVD replicates all of the bonus features found on the two-disc standard-def edition, and it is quite a package. This set is so brimming with supplements that it is a real wonder that so much material can fit on a single disc. But it does -- and I don't know where to begin!

Let's start with the 'Warner Night at the Movies" option. This allows you to watch the film in the context of a movie theater program, as it would have been exhibited at the time of its original release. Introduced by the ubiquitous Leonard Maltin, this option precedes the film with a Vintage Newsreel; a musical short subject from Freddie Rich and His Orchestra; the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Katnip Kollege" (in full 1080p video) and a theatrical trailer for 'Angels with Dirty Faces.' It's a very fun way to kick off the movie, and a terrific addition from Warner.

Next is the audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer. His name should be familiar to any fan of classic cinema, as he's contributed to numerous DVD supplements and documentaries. Admittedly, his track here can be a little dry. He's so well prepared he seems to be reading off of already-written material. But you can't argue with the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He sticks to the movie at hand, and covers just about every aspect of the production, from conception to casting to shooting to release. Perhaps this is not for casual viewers, but diehard fans of the movie shouldn't miss it.

Two full-length documentaries are also included. "Glorious Technicolor" runs 60 minutes and is hosted by Angela Lansbury. It's a fascinating, very well-produced history of the Technicolor process, from its glory days in the '30s and '40s to its slow and painful demise -- by the end of the '60s, it was all but dead. Too sad. (Another nice bonus from Warner: the doc has its own chapter search function. Very handy.) More specific to the movie at hand is "Welcome to Sherwood: The Story of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood.'" Running 55 minutes, this documentary was produced in 2003 to celebrate the film's sixty-fifth anniversary, and it is an elegant and reverential affair. Though the vast majority of the film's principal players are deceased, Warner amassed an impressive army of historians, writers, and film buffs to honor 'Robin Hood,' including Rudy Behlmer, Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne, Paula Sigman and Bob Thomas, plus John Mauceri (an expert on the film's composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold), and the only surviving crew member to participate, art director Gene Allen. Both of the above docs are presented in 4:3 windowboxed video and 480i video.

A huge archive of historical material begins with a clutch of rare and never-before-seen footage. Behlmer returns to narrate an 8-minute series of Outtakes, plus "Breakdowns of 1938," a 14-minute studio blooper reel. Both are without sound. "A Journey to Sherwood Forest" clocks in at 13 minutes and is an assemblage of on-set footage and home movies made during the film's production. Finally, "Robin Hood Through the Ages" runs 7-minutes and offers a brief history of Robin Hood's earlier screen adaptations, most notably the 1922 Douglas Fairbanks silent version.

There are also three very impressive audio-only supplements. "The Robin Hood Radio Show" from 1938 is just that, and is quite a bit of nostalgia. Though I'd never heard this actual program before, I grew up without a television until I was about 8 years-old (guess I'm making up for lost time being an HD reviewer!), so listening to this radio show was like being a kid all over again. Also included are a few outtakes of Erich Wolfgang Korngold piano sessions, and best of all, a complete music-only track of the composer's Oscar-winning score. As was the case with the feature, the audio here is presented in Dolby Digital mono as well.

No, we're not done yet. Presented in full 1080p video is the "Splitting the Arrow" animated still gallery. I counted over a hundred stills, ranging from historical art and costume designs, to scene concepts and cast & crew photos. This one is very easy to navigate with your remote's basic control functions.

Next up are four different short films and cartoons. All are presented in 1080p video, too (sweet!). Sit back and enjoy the Looney Tunes classics "Rabbit Hood" with Bugs Bunny, and "Robin Hood Daffy" with Daffy Duck. Then, there are two vintage short subjects, "Cavalcade of Archery" and "The Cruise of the Zaca." Alas, my lack of classic film knowledge is showing -- I didn't recognize any of the performers in these shorts.

The fun finally comes to an end with an Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery, featuring spots for 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' plus the aforementioned 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and 'Captain Blood.'

Whew -- what a package!

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

No content exclusives, but with so many standard-def extras, can't really complain. Warner does, however, provide their HD DVD-standard custom bookmark and timeline features, plus the ability to pan-and-zoom the image up to 16x magnification, which is actually a pretty cool trick for a film like 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' -- it certainly shows off Warner's Ultra Resolution process in the best possible light.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Adventures of Robin Hood' is a lively, rousing adventure. Sure, it's from 1938, with plenty of silly costumes and hairstyles, but who cares when it's so much fun? This HD DVD is magnificent. Warner continues to impress with its Ultra-Resolution remasters, and there are so many extras here it could take you days to get through them all. If you are at all a fan of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, this disc is an absolute must-own.

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• Audio Commentary by Cast Members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper, and Colin Maitland; Producer Kenneth Hyman; Novelist E.M. Nathanson; Film Historian David Schlow; and Veteran Military Advisor Capt. Dale Dye
• 2 Featurettes: "The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines" and "Operation Dirty Dozen"
• Vintage Recruitment Documentary: "Marine Corps Combat Leadership Skills"
• Theatrical trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 53 [review_movie_stars] => 3.5 [review_movie] =>

"The Dirty Dozen' is not the film I anticipated. Having gone into this review blind, I expected another rah-rah action movie, the usual kind made after World War II but before Vietnam, when the heroes still wore white, rode in on horses and the battle lines between good and evil were clearly drawn. 'The Dirty Dozen' obliterated my preconceptions, mixing up the cliches and conventions of the "war movie" with great ambiguity, unsettling violence and a group of anti-heroes as likable as they are morally repulsive. Yet I still ended the film feeling utterly entertained. Talk about being blind-sided.

The story is not as simple as it appears. It is 1944, and the Allied Armies stand ready for a major invasion of Germany from bases in England. As a prelude to D-Day, US Army Intelligence orders a top secret mission where convicted criminals will be offered a pardon in return for parachuting into the Reich on a suicide mission. The task of, "Train them! Excite them! Arm them! Then turn them on the Nazis!" falls to major John Reisman (Lee Marvin), who must whip this band of amoral criminals and killers into shape, knowing full well whatever redemption they may see will be no match for the insanity of a mass assassination mission against the Germans.

It's funny to me that it is usually conservatives who are criticized for being misguided and stubborn in their heartfelt beliefs, when liberals can be just as narrow-minded and stubborn. I say this from the safety of being a registered independent, of course. Perhaps that is why I enjoy being left uncomfortable by movies like 'The Dirty Dozen.' I suspect both sides of the political fence likely find something in here to be offended by. I could only enjoy the incongruity of it all.

There are no easy lines in the sand to draw here. The dirty dozen of the title is more than just a bunch of rakish misfits who stole a candy bar -- they are as morally ambiguous a bunch as you're going to find in a mainstream movie. All twelve have committed crimes, some truly horrible, yet they are charming, affable, witty and endearing. We begin to root for them, slowly forgetting their backstories. Granted, 'The Dirty Dozen' is not a character study, but it is insidious in how it gets us to flip-flop our allegiances so easily. Right from the first scene, as Reisman coldly witnesses a hanging, I thought I hated the guy. But by movies end, I was cheering him on as he picks up a machine gun to mow down some Nazis.

This is not to say that the 'The Dirty Dozen' is an 'Apocalypse Now.' Though it has a far-from-subtle anti-war message pulsing through its veins, it is essentially an action film, and one that makes no bones about exploiting typical pro-war movie conventions. The violence is attractive in its staging, and because we spend so much time with the dirty dozen before they go off to battle, we are clearly on their side, whatever moral reservations we may have. And what a grand cast -- in addition to the irrepressible Marvin, the rest of the roll call reads like a who's-who of A-list male actors of the period, including Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, John Cassavettes, Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Jaeckel. Who doesn't want to see this bunch kick some ass, especially those nasty Nazis?

Maybe that is why 'The Dirty Dozen' feels so gleefully subversive. It is hard to not have internal conflict watching a scene like the one where the dirty dozen torches a roomful of half-innocent Germans as they scream for their lives, knowing where our sympathies have laid for the past two hours. What remains so compelling -- and challenging -- about 'The Dirty Dozen is that it understands this but doesn't take a heavy-handed stance either way. Even the film's ending is far from expected. Unromanticized, even cynical, right down to the last shot 'The Dirty Dozen' resists classification. I'm honestly not sure how I ultimately feel about it, but for once a Hollywood war film made me revel in its ambiguities, rather than lament the lack of them.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 868 [review_video] =>

Warner presents 'The Dirty Dozen' in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. However, there has been some controversy about just what the proper aspect ratio of the film is supposed to be. Photographed in 35mm for projection at 1.85 aspect ratio, the film was blown up to 70mm for some theatrical showings, including a Roadshow version that was formatted to 2.20:1. This HD DVD is an "open matte" version of the 35mm print, so no image area is lost (rather, we get more picture information on the top and bottom of the frame) compared the original intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

That aside, my overall impression of this 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is that it is a mixed bag, which is largely due to the original source material. Like other films of its era, any moment featuring optical work -- such as credits, dissolves or other visual effects -- suffers from noticeable film grain, dirt and wavering color saturation. The film makes such extensive use of dissolves that after a while, the noticeable degradation preceding such effects becomes comical. I almost starting a drinking game by myself while doing this review. The shot gets soft, cue dissolve, have a drink. And by the end of the film's 179 minutes, I'm thoroughly toasted. Woo-hoo!

Otherwise, 'The Dirty Dozen' looks fairly good. While blacks are solid, contrast appears a bit overdone with whites suffering from slight blooming. Colors also vary. Fleshtones are an accurate shade of orange, but saturation wobbles and wavers. Detail is generally good, though again the film's extensive opticals play havoc with sharpness. Outdoor sequences fare the worst, and aside from the odd shot that looks terrific, overall the film is generally two-dimensional in appearance. A definite step up from the standard DVD, but picture quality-wise this one can't really compare to recent Warner catalog remasters such as 'The Searchers,' 'Blazing Saddles' and 'Grand Prix.'

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

The most prominent aspect of this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track is undoubtedly Frank De Vol's well-known score. Largely percussive, it steamrolls over the rest of the mix, which by comparison is drab and lacking in distinction.

Dynamic range is rather flat, with mid-range middling and high-end sometimes hard and unappealing. Dialogue is clear enough and firmly rooted in the center channel, but stereo effects sound muffled in the mix. The score dominates, with the .1 LFE delivering some decent bass, especially on drum sounds and gunfire. Surrounds are utilized primarily for score bleed and a bit of echo, and tonal quality can hardly compare to a modern mix. Discrete rear effects are rare, and tend to stand out rather than feeling seamless in the mix.

I'm being a bit harsh here, as 'The Dirty Dozen' sounds perfectly fine for a film now forty years old. However, having been spoiled with such recent remasters of titles like 'Grand Prix,' this one does sound a bit lackluster.

[review_supplements_stars] => 4.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 871 [review_supplements] =>

Warner has again pulled out all the stops for one of their vintage catalog titles, giving 'The Dirty Dozen' the full-on special edition treatment. All of the extras from the two-disc standard DVD of the film have been crammed in here, and thankfully most of the material is more than mere filler.

Unfortunately, that description does not apply to the woeful 1985 made-for-TV sequel 'The Dirty Dozen: The Next Mission,' which is contained on the disc in its entirety. Though Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Jaeckel all return, this is one of those misguided follow-ups that never should have been made. Though it does have its cheesy charms -- Borgnine certainly overacts fabulously -- this is 97 minutes of your time you will never get back. The only saving grace is that Warner did not also include the two even worse follow-up telefilms, 'The Deadly Mission' and 'The Fatal Mission,' both of which also starred Borgnine. (Seriously, I'm not making this up!)

Luckily, the rest of the extras are well worth watching. An audio commentary assembles new interviews with surviving cast members Jim Brown, Trini Lopez, Stuart Cooper and Colin Maitland, plus producer Kenneth Hyman, author E.M. Nathanson, film historian David J. Skal, and veteran and frequent movie military advisor Captain Dale Dye. As you would expect with such a diverse lot, the conversation veers all over the place. But I enjoyed it, especially the various cast members' production anecdotes (and their fond memories of Marvin and Jaeckel) plus Nathanson's insight on the changes made to the novel in its transition to the screen. Dye and his harping on the military inaccuracies in the film (who cares?) did far less for me, but then I've always found him a bit of an egotistical and grating presence, especially as he is popping up more and more frequently on DVDs these days.

Up next are two documentaries, both quite strong. "Armed and Deadly: The Making of 'The Dirty Dozen'" runs a compact 30 minutes and is like a digest version of the commentary. Many of the same participants appear, and this is far from a fluff piece. The entire process of making the movie is covered in tight fashion, along with heartfelt recollections from the cast on Marvin and director Robert Aldrich. Just as compelling is the 47-minute "The Filthy Thirteen: Real Stories from Behind the Lines." Loosely based on a real-life incident, 'The Dirty Dozen' lifted from the true story of Jake McNiece, who led a dozen members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on a similarly-doomed mission. Not all of them were convicts as in the film, but it is a fascinating tale nonetheless. And so is McNiece, who eventually went AWOL and is interviewed at length about his adventures. "The Filthy Thirteen" is a unique doc well worth making the extra time for.

Rounding out the set are some promotional items. Both the vintage 9-minute featurette "Operation 'Dirty Dozen'" and a 30-minute Military Training Film hosted by Lee Marvin are rather hilarious. Painting the cast of the film as he-men of the century, this is the kind of unironic propaganda that usually gets laughed at in schools across American today. Just as charmingly retro is the film's Theatrical Trailer, presented here in 480p widescreen.

Last but not least, there is also a three-minute introduction to the film by Ernest Borgnine, who manages to get quite a bit of detail in such a short amount of time.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 870 [review_bonus_content] =>

Nope, nothing extra here. Only Warner's usual timeline, custom bookmark and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Dirty Dozen' is still considered a landmark war film, one that was hard-hitting in its day but now plays even better as oddly endearing, almost goofy entertainment. Warner has produced an HD DVD package that, overall, delivers the goods. Though the transfer suffers from shopworn source material and audio can only do so much with forty-year-old elements, the extras are packed to the gills with goodies. Despite a few faults, it's hard not to argue value for money when you get so much for only $28.99.

) ) [2] => Array ( [review_id] => 154 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => fastandthefurious [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Fast and the Furious [picture_created] => 1159765120 [picture_name] => the-fast-and-the-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/10/01/120/the-fast-and-the-furious-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/154/fastandthefurious.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2001 [run_time] => 107 [list_price] => 29.98 [asin] => B000GW8OAA [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1181166 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.85:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => Picture-in-Picture Instant Access ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 4 Featurettes [1] => Montage [2] => Public Service Announcement [3] => Deleted and Extended Scenes [4] => Enhanced Viewing Mode [5] => 3 Music Videos [6] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => French Subtitles [2] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Action [1] => Crime [2] => Thriller ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Paul Walker [1] => Vin Diesel [2] => Michelle Rodriguez [3] => Jordana Brewster [4] => Rick Yune ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Rob Cohen ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => An undercover cop infiltrates an underworld subculture of Los Angeles street racers looking to bust a hijacking ring, and soon begins to question his loyalties when his new street racing friends become the prime suspects. [preview_technology_specifications] => • 5 Featurettes: "Making of 'The Fast and the Furious,'" "Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence," "Movie Magic Interactive Special Effects," "Editing for the MPAA" and "Trickin' Out a Hot Import Car"
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Short Film: "Turbo-charged Prelude for 2 Fast 2 Furious"
• Paul Walker Public Service Announcement
• Visual Effects Montage
• 3 Music Videos: "Furious" by Ja Rule, "Pov City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah and "Click Click Boom" by Saliva
• Enhanced Viewing Option
• Theatrical Trailer
[preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • Picture-in-Picture Instant Access [review_bottom_line] => Recommended [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 3 [review_movie] =>

What is it about watching car crashes on screen that endlessly fascinates moviegoers? They are the automechanical equivalent of slasher movies, and you'd think that there would only be so many ways to destroy a car. Yet we continue to flock to these movies, our appetite to see all makes and models of automobile crashed, smashed and blown to bits apparently insatiable.

Perhaps the best piece of car porn ever put on screen, the original 'Fast and the Furious' remains the best of the now three-picture franchise. The story is a fairly formulaic crime thriller, but who needs plot when you have lots of good-looking people driving fast cars and blowing things up? Paul Walker stars as undercover cop Brian O'Conner. He's assigned to infiltrate the underworld subculture of Los Angeles "street racing," where impossibly good-looking teenagers (who all apparently have unlimited financial resources) jack up hot cars and challenge each other to death-defying, late-night competitions. O'Conner befriends the king of the circuit, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), but will soon question that loyalty when Toretto and his posse become the prime suspects in a car hijacking ring. Eventually, O'Conner will have to put his newfound street racing skills to the test if he's going to bust the thugs, get the girl, and beat Toretto at his own game.

'The Fast and the Furious' is not a movie that appeals to the intellect. But what it does, it does fabulously. Action ubermeister Rob ('xXx,' 'Stealth') Cohen directs with the gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor. The lighting, the music, the editing and the action are all pumped to the max, so the film is pure audiovisual eye candy. Take the scene where a group of feds bust in on the lair of Johnny Tran (Rick Yune). Cohen stages the scene like a music video, with a blaring neo-industrial song on the soundtrack, lots of slo-mo, and not a single word of dialogue. No, this is not art on the level of European mise-en-scene, but I still have to hand it to Cohen. He revels in telling his stories as pure cinema (even if it is of the MTV variety), and so -- unlike most of his contemporaries -- he at least has a consistent stylistic aesthetic to critique.

Then there is the action. Though I found the early street racing scenes the least interesting and most far-fetched, 'The Fast and the Furious' really kicks into gear in the second half. There is one extended sequence involving a careening semi-truck that remains one of the most exciting action sequences I've seen. I also liked the climactic daytime street race between Diesel and Walker, which is truly white-knuckle viewing. There is something to be said for pure entertainment movies like 'The Fast and the Furious,' which elevate a threadbare plot and cliched characters through sheer force of their style, and turn out to be far better than they have any need to be. As far as car porn films go, this one is up there on my top five list with 'Bullitt,' 'The Road Warrior' and 'Speed,' regardless of how stupid it may be.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 484 [review_video] =>

'The Fast and the Furious' has long been considered by many to be one of the reference discs on standard-def DVD. So expectations are high for the film's HD DVD debut, and despite my reservations about some of the filmmaker's stylistic choices, this disc yet again delivers a top-notch visual presentation.

Universal delivers a rather stunning 1080p/VC-1-encoded transfer, presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. I don't know if this is the same five-year-old master used for the previous DVD, but it seems to matter little. The source material is pristine, with no blemishes, dirt or other anomalies present. Film grain is present if you look hard enough, though the source material appears to have been heavily processed during post-production (either that or the anti-film grain fairy was feeling particularly kind towards 'The Fast and the Furious').

Most other aspects of the visual presentation are quite good. Blacks and contrast are excellent, giving the transfer a great sense of depth and pop, but without overtweaked whites and annoying edge enhancements. Color reproduction is about as vivid as is imaginable -- I'd call it overbearing -- with very strong hues that look like they are about to explode. They are certainly even more bold than the standard DVD, especially the richer greens, purples and deep blues. Detail can at times be spectacular, with such subtleties as reflections on metallic surfaces and stubble on faces clearly visible. Indeed, during some sequences this was one of the most three-dimensional transfers I've ever seen in high-def.

However, some of the aesthetic choices made by director Rob Cohen and director of photography Ericson Core are not really to my taste. Most of the daylight scenes have obvious filter effects on them, such as those fake-looking color gradations in skies. Fleshtones are very orange to me throughout, as if they were overtweaked post-production. I wonder how much better detail might have been had the transfer been less processed -- as it stands, the transfer has an unreal gloss that, while striking, teeters on the brink of appearing soft. It's definitely in keeping with the MTV-aesthetic of the film, but such a processed sheen hardly looks natural. However, on a technical level, even such artificiality is handled well by this transfer, with no obvious posterization present. I was also impressed with how well encoded this disc is, with even the most fast-cut, high-motion scenes revealing no obvious pixelation or macroblocking.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 485 [review_audio] =>

As visually stunning a disc as 'The Fast and the Furious' can be, it also packs a sonic wallop. Universal unfortunately did not create a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix for the disc (a real headscratcher), but as far as Dolby Digital-Plus tracks go, it is hard to imagine one sounding better than this.

Crank this up loud and you'll be treated to a truly enveloping, fully 360-degree aural experience. I hate gushing about these things, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to every second of 'The Fast and the Furious' on HD DVD. That the surrounds are fully engaged throughout is hardly a surprise, especially if you've heard the standard DVD. Discrete sound effects are some of the most realistic I've ever heard in a home theater environment, and pans between channels are seamless. Just check out the first street racing scene, where director Rob Cohen treats us to a first-person journey into and trough a car's engine and back out again. It is a ridiculous conceit, but sonically thrilling. The rears pulse with sound, and subtle shadings are also clearly discernible. Very cool stuff.

However, like all of the Dolby Digital-Plus tracks I've heard thus far, improvements are not as significant on the less bombastic aspects of the soundtrack. Dynamic range is a bit more impressive on the mid- and high-range, with a wider sense of depth and presence, but it is not a night and day difference. Atmosphere and ambiance also do not see gains as considerable as sound effects in action scenes. However, .1 LFE is clearly superior on the HD DVD. The near-constant rumblings of engines, etc., as well as the pop/rock songs on the soundtrack all benefit from heftier, punchier low bass. Explosions and other bombastic car crash effects also deliver s stronger vibrations, which can be truly exciting. All in all, I can't imagine anyone not being impressed with the 'The Fast and the Furious' sound-wise, though that may make it more of a shame that Universal didn't spring for a Dolby TrueHD track.

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The history of 'The Fast and the Furious' on DVD is a bit confusing. Universal has released two versions on disc -- a feature-loaded single-disc set in 2001, then the follow-up "Tricked Out Edition." However, what was unusual is that the latter didn't just replicate the former and add a couple of new features. Instead, many of the extras on the first edition were repurposed for the "Tricked Out" disc, such as taking featurette material and reediting it into a "branching" video commentary. Thus, both versions were the same, yet not equal. Now, for the film's HD DVD debut, Universal has combined the two together, so I guess we can call this the... Sorta-Tricked Out Edition?

After a short pre-feature PSA from Paul Walker warning of the dangers of street racing (don't try this at home, kids!), the first extra is "The Making Of The Fast and the Furious." This 18-minute featurette is Universal's typical "Spotlight On Location" EPK. Snappy and sleek, we get 2001-era interviews with director Rob Cohen, stunt coordinators Mic Rodgers and Mike Justus, and cast including Walker, Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster, plus the usual quick-cut behind-the-scenes production footage. Aside from a few laugh-out loud lines ("This is a cast of great depth!" proclaims Cohen), this is totally forgettable fluff.

Next up are four shorter featurettes. "Visual Effects Montage" is just that, a 4-minute reel mixing blue screen plates, storyboards, composites and CGI renderings, all to the tune of a grating techno beat. A bit more interactive are two multi-angle peeks at the film's stunts. "The Multiple Camera Angle Stunt Sequence" offers a view of the final stunt car flip (running just 20 seconds) from no less than eight different angles. "Movie Magic" offers various effects "plates" of three scenes, including the final composite. But best of all is the 5-minute featurette "Editing For The Motion Picture Association." Since the studio mandate was a PG-13 rating, some judicious editing was required to make the film kinetic and exciting while still not too graphic. Director Rob Cohen and editor Peter Honess take us through an editing session during the process, and this may be the first featurette of its kind I've seen on a DVD. I admired Cohen's straight-forward approach to something that is often considered a dirty little secret in the industry, and it is amazing how obtaining an MPAA rating can come down to a mere few frames -- or choosing between a line with the word "Fuck" in it and a shot of a guy covered in blood. Interesting stuff.

Eight Deleted Scenes comes next, and include an introduction and optional commentary by Cohen. Since the film now runs an appropriate 107 minutes (not too short, but not long enough to wear out its welcome) these scenes are fairly interesting if not essential. Some run just a few seconds, and brief original edits of the "Ferrari" and "Race Wars" sequences are also included. All the scenes are presented in 480i video and look fairly decent.

Rounding out the first part of the supplements are some promo material. We get the film's theatrical trailer in 2.35:1 widescreen and 480p video, plus no less than three music videos, for "Furious by Ja Rule, "Click Click Boom" by Saliva, and an "Edited for Language" version of "POV City Anthem" by Caddillac Tah. All are presented in pillarboxed, 480i video.

Now we come to some of the extras that were included on the "Tricked Out" DVD edition of 'The Fast and the Furious.' There was a screen-specific audio commentary on the original DVD release that you can listen to here as a standard audio-only track, or as the basis for "Enhanced Viewing Mode." Toggle this on, and while Cohen is commenting on the movie, a little icon will appear at various times that, if selected, will take you to a small segment of video footage. Throughout, Cohen is full of energy, as if he's trying to cram as much information as possible into 107 minutes. While the director may take the subject matter a bit too seriously (he actually compares 'The Fast and the Furious' to a "modern John Ford western"), he's is also refreshingly honest about the film's arguable failures, such as the lame undercover subplot. If it weren't for Cohen's attempts to be hip by throwing in cringe-inducing bits of street lingo (sorry, those over the age of 40 should not be allowed to say things like "dope ass"), I'd say I came away as a bit of fan.

Rounding out the package are two more featurettes. "Tricking Out a Hot Import Car" runs 19 minutes and is hosted by Playboy Playmate Dalene Kurtis. She is joined by stunt coordinator Craig Lieberman, who shows us how a "hot car" is pimped out. Kurtis is, like, really smart, and says she "loves hot guys with hot cars." Truth be told, though, this is actually kind of interesting stuff, despite the tasteless pandering to the T&A crowd. Last and least is the uninspired "Turbo-Charged Prelude to '2 Fast, 2 Furious.'" Shot exclusively for the "Tricked Out Edition" DVD, this "electrifying" short is supposed to bridge the original flick with the sequel. However, what is essentially a montage of Walker driving in a car feels more like a long outtake than a narrative short film. Pretty forgettable.

Note that missing from the HD DVD release are all the text-based extras on both previous DVD editions of 'The Fast and the Furious,' including the original "Racer X" magazine article that inspired the film, plus all of the DVD-ROM-based extras. Aside from the article, though, none of it is much of a loss.

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Given the wealth of supplemental content already created for 'The Fast and the Furious' it's not surprising that Universal has created a new "Instant Access" video commentary, exclusive to the HD DVD release. However, this is perhaps my least favorite such track so far, due to the meager amount of new content and some technical problems that mar the track.

I hate to sound ungrateful, but all this "Instant Access" track really consists of is a new video interview with director Rob Cohen. There is little in the way of additional behind-the-scenes footage and other material, making it a bit like listening to an audio commentary while watching the director's head in a box. I think the studios currently supporting this type of exclusive HD content may need to consider producing more than just a director interview. How about the cast? The crew? Or more perspective on the film's impact and audience? Otherwise, the video commentary gimmick gets tired quickly.

Also a big negative is that the sound editing is the worst I've heard yet on one of these features. The volume level of the film's soundtrack is usually heard faintly in the background, but here it is far too loud. It frequently conflicts with the soft-spoken Cohen, at times rendering his commentary inaudible -- for example, mid-way through Cohen is discussing the use of dance music in the film, and he's completely obliterated by the techno beat of the song. Pretty frustrating.

Technical issues aside, this is still far preferable to the "Enhanced Viewing" option. I hate having to click on little icons to take me to branching video content. However, this is just not a great example of the "Instant Access" experience and what the HD DVD format is capable of delivering.

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Sure, the plot is beside the point, but with eye candy like this, who cares? Universal has produced a stunner of an HD DVD release for 'The Fast and the Furious.' High-quality video, a top-notch soundtrack and plenty of extras make this a clear winner for the format. If only there was a Dolby TrueHD track and better exclusive HD content, this would have been four stars across the board. As is, 'The Fast and the Furious' is great demo material, and a disc you have to watch at least once to see what your HD DVD home theater rig is truly capable of.

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How do you review a movie that seeks to be nothing more than serviceable? Such is the problem with 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.' The third in the series of car porn excellence that are the 'Fast and the Furious' films, it neither aims high nor aims low. Rather, it just aims to please. As with any genre, there are the high water marks and the bottom feeders, but 'Tokyo Drift' just sort of hovers somewhere in the middle. Which makes it almost impossible to hate, or to love, and certainly to critique. All you can say is whether or not it gets the job done.

The surprise is that 'Tokyo Drift' actually delivers. It is the thrill ride the adverts promised -- a pastiche of the best parts of the first two 'Furious' flicks, splashed with a bit of Japanese "ethnic flavor" and, of course, lots and lots of vehicular collateral damage. It is also made without any apparent personal passion on behalf of its makers, nor an overriding aesthetic style that would signal the arrival of a major new auteur. Asian director Justin ('Crossover,' 'Better Luck Tomorrow') Lin, making his first big-budget Hollywood franchise picture, surprisingly brings little authenticity to 'Tokyo Drift' (which it certainly could have used to differentiate it from its predecessors). Still, it's a fun, professional, polished and slick entertainment. As a fan of car porn, I wasn't disappointed.

With the Paul Walker character of the first two 'Furious' flicks now long gone (apparently, 'Into the Blue' beckoned), 'Tokyo Drift' introduces us to a new hero, Sean Boswell (Lucas Black). He's a misfit southern hick who, after a "three strikes and yer out!" infraction with the law, is displaced to Tokyo to live with his father. But cocky Sean will be given a quick dose of character-building chrome sniffing, when he butts head with the local Drift King (Brian Tee) and his racing buddies Han (Sung Kang) and Twinkie (Bow Wow). (Sadly, the character of Hostess Cup Cake, to have been played by Chad Michael Murray, was dropped for budgetary reasons.) Thrust into the world of "drift racing," which involves skidding your car around deserted city streets like Mario Kart on acid, Sean wrecks the Drift King's car and worse, accidentally kills a friend. Before you can say, "Scared Straight!", Sean turns his back on the lifestyle, but not before setting out to win one big final race to pay back the Drift King -- and more importantly, make the transition from childish hoodlum to a responsible, MADD-approved licensed driver.

Okay, I kid just a little bit. But 'Tokyo Drift' is one of those funny movies that tries to impart a moral lesson while exploiting the audiences' desire for the very thing it is supposedly warning them against. Speeding is bad, kids -- especially on deserted Japanese streets at midnight when your driving a stolen car at 225 mph -- and a life lived recklessly, and without ambition, will quickly lead you down a dark path. As Sean learns the hard way, breaking the law has consequences. Of course, he also looks great doing it, as does everyone and everything in this movie. The 'Fast and the Furious' movies have always created an alternate universe so appealing you can't help but be sucked in by all the fabulous blankness. It's a world that is almost surreal, filled with gorgeous people and hot cars and where, apparently, everyone pools together their lunch money to combat soaring gas prices. There are consequences and moral laws here, but the style and sense of fun is so overcranked that all the teen-pop moralizing goes down as easy as an episode of 'Knight Rider.' If nothing else, 'The 'Fast and the Furious' flicks are the most entertaining PSAs in history.

Not that any of this is really a criticism. 'Tokyo Drift' is a film that by design is not to be taken seriously, and knows perfectly well it is formulaic. As even Lin admits in this disc's supplements, all of the "interstitial" drama is recycled and familiar, entirely on purpose. 'Tokyo Drift' is made for teenage boys, and is just the latest in a long line of cinematic rites of passage. Is it the fault of teens in 2006 that they get 'Tokyo Drift' instead of 'Rebel Without a Cause?' (Hey, when I was fourteen, I thought 'Roller Boogie' and 'Breakin' were the greatest movies ever, because that's what I got stuck with.) So much for film criticism -- 'Tokyo Drift' is the kind of movie that is impervious to such brickabrats. The trick to enjoying something like this? Just dive in, don't think, and enjoy the ride.

[review_video_stars] => 4.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 829 [review_video] =>

'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' makes its high-def debut on HD DVD, and predictably it looks fantastic. Like both of the previous 'Furious' flicks, 'Tokyo Drift' is incredibly bright and intensely colorful -- just the kind of stuff that screams demo material. And Universal has not let us down, with an excellent 1080p/VC-1 transfer that should earn its place in showrooms across America for years to come.

If I could use only one word to describe the visual look of 'Tokyo Drift,' it would be "day-glo." Color reproduction is excellent, with hues vivid yet free from burn-out or oversaturation. Cleanliness of the source material is superb, with not a single blemish noticeable. Blacks are spot-on and contrast terrific. I was quite impressed with how well this transfer handles all the shiny chrome and metallic surfaces -- the image is always very sharp but not overly-edgy, and artifacts such as jaggies and halos are not an issue. Depth and detail to the picture is almost uniformly stunning, with that "you are there," picture perfect quality that high-def is all about. 'Tokyo Drift' is definitely up there with the best transfers I've seen on HD, period.

[review_audio_stars] => 4.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

It is tough with bombastic flicks like 'Tokyo Drift' to not use silly superlatives. "Crashes right into your living room!" and "Rev up that receiver, baby, for the ride of your life!" both spring to mind, but neither are really adequate to describe the thrill of listening this soundtrack at full blast. Okay, maybe that is a bit overdoing it. But 'Tokyo Drift' was the first time I cranked up an HD DVD and actually got a complaint from the neighbors.

First, the bad news. For some reason, Universal has not included a Dolby TrueHD track on the disc, even though this is the format's first double-sided, dual-layer HD-30/DVD-9 HD DVD/DVD combo disc. I suppose with all the high-def extras included (see below), the studio just couldn't fit it in? Whatever the case, we do get a Dolby Digital-Plus track (encoded at a very healthy 1.5mbps) that certainly delivers the goods. Would a Dolby TrueHD track have been superior? Highly likely. But just accepting what's here, I find it hard to complain.

The overall force and volume of this soundtrack, if played at a decent level, can be fierce. Predictably, it is all about the cars and the crashes. The heft and depth to the dynamic range across the entire frequency spectrum during these scenes is reference-quality for a Dolby Digital-Plus track. Fine sonic details and shadings to individual effects are readily discernible, which is not often the case with these big action mixes, where subtleties often get lost in the din. Dialogue, too was a surprise. It is rooted firmly in the center channel and always prominent in the mix -- much to my shock, I was not reaching for my volume knob, trying to manually adjust levels to compensate.

Surround use is also excellent. Discrete sounds are deployed to the rear channels almost constantly, from the roar of the tires and the crowd noise, to standout uses of dialogue and score. Pans are excellent with imaging as transparent as you're likely to hear on a Dolby Digital-Plus track. There are even a few very cool 360-degree "wipes" as the cars do their drifting routines. Totally cool stuff, and again, if you pump this one up loud, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more fun soundtrack out there on HD DVD.

[review_supplements_stars] => 3 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 830 [review_supplements] =>

As stated above, 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is the HD DVD format's first HD-30/DVD-9 double-sided, dual-layer combo disc. And as such, it is loaded with all the same extras as the standard-def release, as well as the most unique HD bonus content yet seen on either next-gen format. I'll have more on those later, but even just counting the "standard" goodies, it is a very fine package on its own.

First up is an audio commentary with director Justin Lin. Thankfully, Lin is far from pretentious. Though almost overflowing with enthusiasm for his cast and fellow filmmakers, perhaps to a fault, he imparts plenty of production details and is honest about his film's modest ambitions. Even he admits taht the story is largely a threadbare in which to hang a bunch of cool car racing sequences, and Lin also discusses some of his more interesting aesthetic decisions, from choosing to shoot all of the "drifting" sequences without the benefit of CGI, to casting a non-Asian in the role of Lucas Black's girlfriend. No, this track will not suddenly convince you that 'Tokyo Drift' is a great movie, but it certainly made me a fan of Lin. I look forward to what he does next, and only hope he gets offered some better material.

Up next are no less than six featurettes, which combined run about an hour. "Drifting School" is probably the most fun, with lots of humorous footage of the cast wiping out, and proving that the kind of driving seen in the 'Furious' flicks would be impossible for mere ordinary humans to perform without the aid of stunt drivers, rapid editing and special effects. "Trick Out to Drift" and "The Big Breakdown" are more formulaic, spotlighting the various cars used in the film, as well as dissecting the film's centerpiece car crash scene, here dubbed "Han's Last Ride." Unfortunately, "Cast Cam" is a disappointing. Though it includes plenty of cast-shot behind-the-scenes footage, we rarely have any idea who is holding the camera, and nothing they photograph is all that interesting.

The remaining two featurettes focus on the real-life sport of drift racing and Japanese culture. "The Real Drift King" interviews Keiichi Tsuchiay, perhaps the world's greatest living drift racer. In fact, Tsuchiay, who also served as stunt driver on the film, is so good he couldn't make some of the stunts look amateur enough to match the character's level of inexperience. "The Japanese Way" is the last featurette, and focuses on shooting a big-budget street racing pic in a country that is not all that hospitable to issuing little things like permits. So many funny incidents ensued, like they filmmakers attempting to outfox the authorities during unauthorized late-night shoots. "The Japanese Way" is probably the most entertaining vignette on the disc.

Next up are nearly a dozen deleted scenes and/or scene extensions. Lin drops in for some commentary, and I actually like a few of these. Characters get a bit more fleshed out -- as you would expect, no big action scenes that were cut -- and I enjoyed the expanded interaction between The Drift King and his minions, which I think would have enhanced the film. As for the quality of the scenes themselves, they are presented in fairly good standard-def video.

Lastly, we get a promotional music video for "Conteo" by Don Omar, though I forgot the song completely within seconds of it finishing. And par for the course for Universal these days, there is no theatrical trailer included, on either side of the disc.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 3 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Now, here is where 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' sets itself apart from all next-gen releases that have come before (and that includes you, too, Blu-ray). In a bid for high-def supremacy, Universal is seeking to expand the boundaries of the "In-Movie Experience" we're already familiar with. Though technically "interactive," IME is really just a pre-edited video commentary with two modes -- on or off -- and the few titles so far that have included the feature (such as 'The Bourne Supremacy,' 'Constantine' and 'Terminator 3') don't really let you "customize" the experience in any appreciable way. But 'Tokyo Drift' attempts to change all that, bringing true on-the-fly, user-controlled supplements to a pre-recorded video format.

Which makes my job as a reviewer now next to impossible. I'm not sure exactly how to "review" an experience that, for the first time on an optical disc format, does not exist in the linear sense. Unlike an audio commentary, or a featurette, or a bunch of deleted scenes, there is not necessarily a "start" and "stop" time to these extras. No beginning, middle and end. It is almost like a new paradigm shift in how we consume supplemental material, or, to make a bad analogy, like customizing a hot rod to your own tastes, then driving it around the track of your choosing. Weird, I know. But once you get the hang of it, rather tantalizing.

Let me try to explain the technobabble side of things. For 'Tokyo Drift,' Universal has utilized the HD DVD's format's enhanced (and until now largely untapped) iHD authoring environment. It allows for a variety of pre-encoded material (video, audio, text overlays, etc.) to be stored and accessed separately or together, as well as in real-time and on-the-fly, by users during playback. Multiple audio streams can be encoded on a disc and "mixed live" by the player for integrated supplemental audio content, picture-in-picture video streams can be displayed simultaneously, and even graphic overlays can be "mapped" to specific objects on the screen. If it sounds futuristic, it is, and 'Tokyo Drift' is only the beginning of the possibilities. (Note that some readers have reported that the 2.0 firmware upgrade is necessary in order to view the iHD-powered "U-Control" features.)

As far as the real-world experience goes, Universal has dubbed the user interface on 'Tokyo Drift' "U-Control." There are on-screen instructions to guide you, but anytime throughout the movie, you can just switch on the features you want to watch via the remote. For example, if you are watching the film and decide that during a certain scene you want to see the director's commentary as a picture-in-picture video stream, just make sure you are in U-Control mode and activate the feature -- then turn it off when you're finished. Same with the multitude of other U-Control goodies on 'Tokyo Drift.' In addition to a full-length video chat with director Justin Lin, other U-Control material includes making-of documentary footage on the film's car racing scenes, storyboards and other conceptual art, the ability to "customize" a vehicle and actually have it "drive" it in a scene from the movie (you gotta check this one out to really get an appreciation for it), and perhaps most unique of all, the "GPS mapping" function, which will give you various stats on the cars in the film. And this information is also dynamic -- for example, you can track a car's "damage estimates" as the film progresses, and it is all generated on the fly by the player.

If this sounds a bit confusing, in some ways it can be. However, I will say first that U-Control is indeed very easy to use. But at the same time, the concept is admittedly intimidating. For me, it requires a huge shift in how I perceive supplemental content. I'm used to sitting back and having extras fed to me, whether as a full-length documentary or in easily-digestible bits. With U-Control, it is all in your hands, and requires a great deal more decision-making on behalf of the user. Perhaps for the videogame generation, this is nothing new. But for an old fogey like me, who actually remembers what a Laserdisc is and still plays Pac-Man, it is like learning to ride a bike for the first time.

Certainly, I'm fascinated to see what the reaction will be to 'Tokyo Drift.' It allows for more customization than ever before to the user experience, but also feels like the opening of the door. As the HD DVD format also supports internet connectivity, it is not hard to imagine how all of this could be developed on future releases. Additional content could be made accessible via the web, or extras merged with e-commerce, or a host of other applications. But will all of this ultimately be too much for those who just want to watch the movie and maybe a few extras? I suspect that the younger generation -- especially gamers -- will warm to it easy. Older, more linear-minded users may have more trouble with it. In any case, I'm excited to see what's next...

UPDATE (9/29/06): For more on the HD Exclusive supplements included on this disc, check out our feature article, U-Control Up Close: A Field Report.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 4 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift' is really a film that is immune to reviews. You either like your car porn, or you don't. Though not as fresh or as much fun as the original 'Furious,' I did prefer 'Tokyo Drift' over the more serious '2 Fast 2 Furious,' and it is certainly a fun if empty-headed thrill. As an HD DVD, 'Tokyo Drift' this is a landmark release. Not only do we get the usual top-notch transfer, first-rate Dolby Digital-Plus track and plenty of standard-def extras, but Universal has really pushed the boundaries of HD content. The new "U-Control" interface takes the "In-Movie Experience" one step further, and if this is a sign of things to come, HD DVD fans are in for a wild ride indeed. This one is worth a rent just to see what the next-gen format is capable of.

) ) [4] => Array ( [review_id] => 158 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => lakehouse [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The Lake House (Combo Edition) [picture_created] => 1158180543 [picture_name] => the-lake-house-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Warner Home Video [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/13/120/the-lake-house-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/158/lakehouse.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2006 [run_time] => 96 [list_price] => 39.99 [asin] => B000HLDFKE [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 1214758 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.40:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i (Standard DVD side only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD/DVD [1] => HD-15/DVD-9 Double-Sided Combo Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French-Quebec Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => Additional Scenes and Outtakes [1] => Theatrical Trailer ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => English SDH [1] => English Subtitles [2] => French Subtitles [3] => Spanish Subtitles ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama [1] => Fantasy [2] => Romance ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Ebon Moss-Bachrach [1] => Christopher Plummer [2] => Shohreh Aghdashloo [3] => Keanu Reeves [4] => Sandra Bullock ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Alejandro Agresti ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => A lonely doctor (Bullock) who once occupied an unusual lakeside home begins exchanging love letters with its newest resident, a frustrated architect (Reeves). They must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary romance before it's too late. [preview_technology_specifications] => • Additional Scenes and Outtakes
• Theatrical Trailer [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => • None [review_editors_notes] =>

(8/16/07) Warner has announced plans to discontinue the sale of this HD DVD/DVD Combo disc as of October 2, 2007. Instead, the studio is re-issuing the film in a new HD DVD release that drops the DVD flipside. For more information about the re-issued disc, click here.

Non format-specific portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Lake House.'

[review_bottom_line] => Give It a Rent [review_gear] => default [review_movie_stars] => 2.5 [review_movie] =>

It has been said that the best movies are the ones that provoke more questions than they provide answers to. Then there is a movie like 'The Lake House,' which introduces so many theoretical what-ifs and narrative cul-de-sacs that, however lofty and admirable its ambitions may be, you're left with a cinematic house of cards that is more intellectually stimulating than emotionally satisfying. And for a film that is essentially a sentimental, gooey romance at its core, that's deadly indeed.

Call it the curse of the magical mailbox. As 'The Lake House' begins, doctor Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) has just moved in to a beautiful glass house, hoping to start a new life after a failed relationship. Soon, she begins corresponding with architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) in the form of letters left in her mailbox. It seems Alex grew up in the house and lived there for many years, and though they have never seen each other, they discover they are spiritual soulmates. A love affair blossoms, but unfortunately, there is one little hitch -- they are living in two different time dimensions, Kate in 2006, and Alex in 2004.

A remake of the 2000 Korean film 'Siworae' ('Il Mare'), 'The Lake House' certainly has a very intriguing premise. I liked the general idea of the movie. The best romances have always been based on the idea that there is no greater love than that which is denied. The drama comes from the insurmountable odds the lovers most overcome if they are to live happily ever after, regardless of how over-the-top. Think 'Titanic,' 'The English Patient,' 'Brokeback Mountain' or 'Love Story' -- all tales that are grand, epic in scale and probably overblown, but combined sold more boxes of Kleenex than the common cold.

'The Lake House' has a lot going for it. As Bullock and Reeves proved in 'Speed,' they have a great chemistry. These are two people we want to see together, so even as the plot of 'The Lake House' grows more and more convoluted and ludicrous, we are always on their side. Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti ("Valentin," "A Less Bad World") also directs with a whimsical hand, gently adding small stylistic touches including animation and a unique musical score. Agresti ultimately focuses less on the sci-fi and more on the romance, so much so that we eventually realize the film is a fable, an allegory, and that we shouldn't be paying too much attention to the minor details.

Which is a good thing, because quite frankly much of the narrative of 'The Lake House' don't add up, let alone make any sense. There are plotholes in this movie wide enough that you could drive the runaway bus from 'Speed' through them. I also never understood why Alex, since he is two years "behind" Kate, couldn't just look her up in the phone book. Sure, she might think he was mad, but at least he could contact her in the flesh, and woo her like a normal person. Of course, the film tries not to call much attention to such logic, because if you thought about it too much, the film's ending becomes quite obvious. (Haven't you guessed it already?)

Ultimately, 'The Lake House' falls into the genre of unfulfilled desire quite neatly. It is just too bad it could not better integrate its sci-fi elements and fix its plot holes. I'm all for the suspension of disbelief, but the whole time travel/mailbox angle starts to feel like a cheat because it is so shoddily constructed. It's a gimmick, so whatever genuine pathos Bullock and Reeves are able to achieve by film's end, it just isn't enough to erase the feeling that we've been shamelessly manipulated. I'm a sucker for mush, but not this big of one.

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 521 [review_video] =>

'The Lake House' is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, and is the latest in Warner's growing line of HD DVD/DVD combo discs (this one is a HD-15/DVD-9). Surprisingly, for a new release this one doesn't look that great. No, it is not "bad," but there were never any "wow" moments where I really remembered I was watching an HD DVD, and not standard def.

The lasting impression of this transfer is that it is rather soft. The source material is in good shape -- whistle-clean with no blemishes or other defects -- but it rarely looks three-dimensional. The sense of depth and detail can vary from sequence to sequence, with some shots looking quite good and others bland. Oddly, this variance doesn't really seem to be an aesthetic choice as it seems to happen arbitrarily. Close-ups fare better than long and medium shots, which often appear ill-defined. Otherwise, color reproduction is good, with fairly vivid hues and no instances of smearing or chroma noise. Blacks are also solid, and contrast consistent across the entire spectrum. And I noticed no issues with compression artifacts and the like.

[review_audio_stars] => 3.5 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Similar to the video, the audio on 'The Lake House' is standard at best. Granted, the film's dramatic bent doesn't really lend itself to some sort of over-the-top soundtrack, but even in terms of atmosphere and ambiance there is little that stands out about this Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track.

'The Lake House' is a pretty sparse film in terms of music and sound effects. Primarily dialogue-driven and front-heavy, only the musical score gives the track any sense of envelopment. The rear channels boast a bit of presence during these sequences, aside from the occasional discrete effect. Frequency response is fine, with natural-sounding midrange and clean highs, but .1 LFE is just about non-existent. I was also surprised that dialogue sometimes seemed flat, and I had trouble understanding some lines that were spoken loudly, with even a couple of instances of bad dubbing. Otherwise, a decent soundtrack.

[review_supplements_stars] => 1 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 522 [review_supplements] =>

Surprisingly slim for a new release, 'The Lake House' has next to no supplements. The HD DVD also mirrors both the standard DVD and the Blu-ray releases, so no matter what format you pick up, you're not going to get much.

The main supplement are five Additional Scenes and Outtakes, but they run for barely four minutes. Nothing here is at all memorable, and none of the outtakes are funny. Pretty throwaway.

Rounding out this elaborate package is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in widescreen and 480p video.

[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0.5 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

Given the lack of standard-def extras, it is no surprise there's nothing exclusive, either. Only Warner's usual interactive custom bookmark, timeline and pan-and-zoom functions.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 2.5 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The Lake House' is a well-meaning film that, unfortunately, is a bit too convoluted for its own good. Whatever chemistry Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock generate is blunted by the obtuse narrative. This HD DVD is also a bit lacking. The transfer and soundtrack just aren't up there with the best of 'em, and the supplements are all but zip. Unless you're a diehard fan of this one, I'd say leave it as a Netflix rental at best.

) ) [5] => Array ( [review_id] => 448 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => warwithin [review_release_date] => 1159254000 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => The War Within [picture_created] => 1206475505 [picture_name] => the-war-within-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Magnolia Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2008/03/25/120/the-war-within-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/448/warwithin.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 2005 [run_time] => 93 [list_price] => 29.98 [amazon_price] => 19.95 [empire_id] => 1241572 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 1.78:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/TBA ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [subtitles] => Array ( [0] => TBA ) [preview_genres] => Array ( [0] => Drama ) [preview_actors] => Array ( [0] => Firdous Bamji [1] => Ayad Akhtar ) [preview_directors] => Array ( [0] => Joseph Castelo ) [preview_plot_synopsis] => This searing, controversial, and thought-provoking drama examines the motives and emotions behind terrorism. Co-writer Ayad Akhtar stars as Hassan, a Pakistani man who's falsely accused of terrorist associations, then imprisoned and tortured before finally leaving jail as a genuinely militant extremist. He goes to stay with his old friend Sayeed in New York (Firdous Bamji in a scene-stealing performance), where he explores the city, flirts with Sayeed's sister (Nandana Sen), and works with a group planning to bomb Grand Central. The impressive cast of unknowns and solid direction from Joseph Castelo make this tense, thoughtful drama an intriguing look at a subculture that, for obvious reasons, is more often demonized than dramatized. [preview_technology_specifications] => TBA [preview_exclusive_hd_content] => TBA [review_editors_notes] =>

Non-format-specific portions of this review were first published in our Blu-ray review of 'The War Within.'

[review_bottom_line] => Worth a Look [review_gear] => default [review_forum_id] => 51178 [review_movie_stars] => 4 [review_movie] =>

'The War Within' is the rare Western film that dares to tackle the highly controversial subject of terrorism, not from an American perspective, but from that of a terrorist. And one, no less, who is living out his final days as he prepares to commit a suicide bombing. Yet there is no fire and brimstone, no burning buildings, no pumped-up Hollywood melodrama of the kind that (however noble and well-intentioned) usually seeks only to placate our anti-Muslim preconceptions and passions post-9/11, not challenge them. Instead, 'The War Within' defies easily categorization. Closest to a character study, it is a quiet, meditative experience that achieves its power solely through the empathy it generates for a character our culture has always told us we are supposed to despise.

Ayad Akhtar stars as Hassan, a Pakistani engineering student in Paris who was imprisoned and interrogated by Western intelligence services for suspected terrorist activities. Formerly only an intellectual supporter of jihad, Hassan undergoes a radical transformation and embarks upon a terrorist mission, covertly entering the United States to join a cell based in New York City. After meticulous planning for an event of maximum devastation, all the members of the cell are arrested except for Hassan and one other, Sayeed (Firdous Bamji). With nowhere else to turn, he must rely on the hospitality of his new friend, who is living the American dream with his family in New Jersey. What unfolds is a tersely observed, objective examination of the state of mind of a suicide bomber while he tries to decide whether or not to carry out his deadly mission.

There are many who will dismiss 'The War Within' sight unseen, simply on "principle." The idea of generating "sympathy" for our perceived enemy is anathema. But I sincerely believe that the stronger the reaction we have to a film, or even the simple fact of its existence, the more it means it is tapping into some deep-seated part of ourselves we don't want to see reflected back at us. "We envision them as mindless robots," writer-director Joseph Castelo said of the suicide bombers portrayed in his film. "But if we don't understand what's inside their heads, how are we ever going to deal with them?" What makes 'The War Within' so powerful and uncompromising is that it sticks to this idea, and doesn't let its characters -- or us as viewers -- off the hook. We are forced to see Hassan, Sayeed and members of cells like the ones fictionalized in 'The War Within' as real, three-dimensional people, however much we may abhor their politics.

As Hassan, Akhtar has to hold 'The War Within' together solely on his own. I was not familiar with the actor (who also co-wrote the screenplay), but his performance at first seems so internal as to be non-existent. However what Akhtar is able to achieve, ultimately brilliantly, is to convey the preoccupation and detachment that is so characteristic of the devout. Hassan can only process experiences through the filter of belief. To enjoy a walk through Central Park on a beautiful day, or the school play of his best friend's daughter, or a mere cup of coffee, proves impossible -- even the simplest action ahas implications from a higher power. Hassan is "present" in our world, but he is not "there." There is no connection to everyday human experience. Perhaps that is one of the profound ironies of 'The War Within' -- in his willingness to die for the divine, Hassan fails to see the beauty in all of his god's creation.

Castelo is a native New Yorker, and felt compelled after the events of 9/11 and the near-hysteria that followed, to make 'The War Within.' Which may be why, ultimately, it is such a ray of hope. This is not a film made with a clear agenda, or by a big Hollywood studio that needs to appease mainstream, homogenized audiences. Ideas have not been watered down to make them more palatable. And challenging, conflicting emotions are not blunted to avoid offending special interests. Such artistic courage continues all the way through to the film's climax. 'The War Within' ends on a note that is not cynical nor nihilistic, but also not saccharine or sentimental. I will not spoil the choice Hassan ultimately makes, other than to say that perhaps it is not his destination that matters, but his journey. Because just the fact that he was able to challenge his own deeply-held convictions, if for only a moment, and embrace the ideas of compassion and tolerance, offers the promise that our future may one day be free from terrorism.

Video

[review_video_stars] => 3.5 [review_video_picture_id] => 1859 [review_video] =>

Magnolia Home Entertainment presents 'The War Within' in a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p/VC-1 transfer (a re-encode versus the Blu-ray, which is MPEG-2). The film was shot on HD video, however, and quite frankly it looks it -- codec matters little here.

'The War Within' is an interesting example of the differences between film- and video-based material. Film tends to have trouble resolving detail in low light conditions, but excels on the brighter end of the scale. Video is the reverse -- it is far more adept at handling dark scenes, but can crumble under bright lights, when tend to blow out easily. 'The War Within' is indicative of this, as it handles shadow details well, but has a very video-esque appearance in well-lit scenes.

Of course, the "source" is in great shape, as there is no grain or print issues to be concerned with. Colors are rather muted, however. Aside from a vivid red here or there, and decent enough blues and greens in bright exteriors, the film's palette never leaps off the screen. Hues are stable, however, and do not appear particularly noisy or oversaturated. Too bad fleshtones are all over the place, seeming too red in some scenes and too green in others. The image also never once popped for me, with bland contrast that again helps shadow detail, but looks soft and "smeary." This has a lot to do with the natural light used for most of the film -- 'The War Within' never lets style get in the way of story, which does lend an appropriate, documentary-like feel to the proceedings.

Still, I always knew I was watching video throughout, and it did have a distancing effect for me. I have seen some HD video that has blown me away with how close it approximates film, but that isn't the case here. To be fair though, I'm still giving this one a solid video rating, because it appears to accurately reproduce the filmmaker's intentions and the original source material.

Audio

[review_audio_stars] => 3 [review_audio_picture_id] => 0 [review_audio] =>

Two soundtrack options are offered: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround (at 48kHz/16-bit, and versus the DTS-HD High-Resolution track on the Blu-ray) and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (at 640kbps). Both are in English. Unfortunately, high-res audio notwithstanding, the film's sound design is so sparse it really doesn't make much difference.

I could probably count the number of discrete effects heard during 'The War Within' on one hand. The surrounds are just about inactive, with only very minor ambiance, usually mixed with the film's almost atonal, droning "score." Effects are also thin in general -- 'The War Within' is a very quiet film. It suits the intended tone and mood quite well, so I can't discount the filmmaker's intentions. Tech specs are also up to snuff, with no major source issues, such as distortion or dropouts, etc. Bass is also perfectly fine, all things considered. However, while the actors are always clear and intelligible, the film's limited budget is obvious. Much of the dialogue sounds ADR'd or overdubbed. It also sits inorganically on top of the rest of the mix, like it was all pieced together with ProTools on a laptop -- clearly, this one was done on the cheap.

Supplements

[review_supplements_stars] => 1.5 [review_supplements_picture_id] => 1861 [review_supplements] =>

There is but a single extra here, but it is noteworthy...

  • Audio Commentary - The sole supplement is this chat with writer/director Joseph Castelo and writer/actor Ayad Akhtar. I was looking forward to it after viewing the film, and it is a fascinating listen. 'The War Within' was obviously a labor of love for both, and this track should go a long way toward reversing opinions of those who may already have their guns out blazing against the very idea of creating a film around the central character of a suicide bomber. In fact, the best parts of the track are by far when the pair veer off of the screen-specific production aspects of the commentary, and to sociopolitical discussions of terrorism, our current cynical (and some might argue government-manufactured) culture of fear, and how living in New York post-9/11 led Castelo to conceive of the original idea for the movie. If ever there was a commentary essential to our complete understanding of a film, this is it.
[review_bonus_content_stars] => 0 [review_bonus_content_picture_id] => 0 [review_bonus_content] =>

There are no high-def exclusives.

[review_final_thoughts_stars] => 3 [review_final_thoughts_picture_id] => 0 [review_final_thoughts] =>

'The War Within' is a thought-provoking, courageous film -- one that deserves to be seen. This HD DVD release is not cutting-edge by any means, and hardly demo material as the video and audio simply serve this shot-on-HD film well. Extras are also slim, although the included audio commentary is enlightening. As 'The War Within' is not the kind of film most will want to watch twice it probably will not warrant a purchase, but it is absolutely a must-rent.

) ) ) ) ) [September 19, 2006] => Array ( [reviews] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [review_id] => 148 [review_type_id] => 3 [review_slug] => backdraft [review_release_date] => 1158649200 [review_hot] => 0 [review_title] => Backdraft [picture_created] => 1158915493 [picture_name] => backdraft-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [manufacturer_name] => Universal Studios Home Entertainment [picture_source_120] => https://cdn.highdefdigest.com/uploads/2006/09/22/120/backdraft-hd-dvd-box-art.jpeg [review_url] => https://hddvd.highdefdigest.com/148/backdraft.html [review_metadata_prepared] => Array ( [release_year] => 1991 [run_time] => 135 [list_price] => 34.99 [asin] => B000G8P1TG/ [amazon_price] => 0.00 [empire_id] => 683019 [aspect_ratios] => Array ( [0] => 2.35:1 ) [exclusive_hd_contents] => Array ( [0] => None ) [video_resolutions] => Array ( [0] => 1080p/VC-1 [1] => 480p/i/MPEG-2 (Supplements Only) ) [technical_specifications] => Array ( [0] => HD DVD [1] => HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc ) [audio_formats] => Array ( [0] => English Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround [1] => French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround [2] => Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround ) [supplements] => Array ( [0] => 5 Featurettes [1] => Deleted Scenes ) [subtitles] => Array (