New To Blu-Ray – October

A new wave of Blu-ray films have hit the shelves and we're here to tell you about the best of the best.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

The Crow

Lionsgate is on a roll with their output of Miramax titles on Blu-ray. The Crow is another smooth transfer that brings out the visual detail of the film while maintaining the original look. The Crow still looks like a product of the ‘90s. There’s a smoothed over gloss, yet you still see tons of detail in the gritty city streets and costumes. Plus, Lionsgate had the balls to include Alex Proyas’ commentary, which was left off the Miramax DVD, although it’s not the scathing controversial commentary I imagined.

It always affected me deeply to see Brandon Lee crawl out of a grave, one year after his real death. Then a year later on video, and about 10 years on DVD. Now the HD transfer gives me a little distance from it. Sure, there’s all the detail of the dirt and raindrops, but I can tell it’s a port from an earlier format so it’s faithful, but not so fresh. You can see some of the artifacts of the CGI shots. I guess that’s another reminder of the time passing.

You’ll see some film grain, and some major set pieces like the loft fight are a little grainier than you might like, but the picture holds together. Shadows (and there are many) remain pure black and low light still shows the action. Then the character moments are set against crisp, stark slum diners and hovel apartments. I mean, you see dust mites floating in the black air while Draven suits up. Those gothic low angles still set a unique tone after all these years.

 

Green Lantern: Extended Cut

The deep space CGI scenes look fabulous. The animation shows extraordinary detail and the colors of green energy and alien beings are vibrant. The earth scenes look like a regular movie, but still a clear, detailed HD studio movie picture. Although some of the top gun stuff has enough CGI enhancement to stand out from the talking scenes too.

It seems like all nine minutes of the extended cut happen before Ryan Reynolds is even on screen. It’s Hal Jordan, Caroline and Hector as kids and for some reason I felt like I’d already seen that. It turns out I had because there are flashbacks to those scenes when Hal freaks out in the cockpit. So now we get to see the full nine minute version, and they still leave in the flashbacks to those same scenes.

 

Batman: Year One

The latest DC animated movie is another solid work of HD animation. The lines are sharp and there are some bright colors. Even in dark Gotham City, they use some purples and blues. The animation is a little jerkier in this style but it works. The Catwoman short is maybe a tad jerkier still, but also holds up with the HD colors and animation.


Pulp Fiction

Now this is an important Blu-ray. You kids today may not be aware how this movie blew everyone’s mind, but in 1994 Pulp Fiction revolutionized what movies could do. This phenomenal Blu-ray transfer makes sure it’ll still be blowing minds in film history classes to come.

The picture is totally crisp and slick. It’s so clear it could have been shot today, and as proof, you can see little dust particles in the big Ezekiel scene. That’s right, you can see the air! You can see all the texture of the back of Ving Rhames head. The suits are sharp, even the gimp’s. Uma Thurman’s feet look soft and ready for a massage, like Tarantino intended. Even if there are no air particles, the clarity of scenes like the dance contest and the diner standoff are unreal.

 

Jackie Brown

That other Tarantino movie looks pretty good too. It’s a perfectly clear transfer, although the entire picture has a certain haze that looks even more ‘70s. Obviously it’s intentional, giving the picture a certain tint that looks like another era. You don’t see quite as much detail as in Pulp Fiction, and some grain shows up in a few scene. Still, consistent throughout the film and a smooth HD picture. You wouldn’t have a problem with it unless you’re comparing it to something else, which is what I do.

 

O Brother Where Art Thou

This is a perfect transfer of the Coen Brothers riff on The Odyssey. The picture is 100% clear and you don’t even see any film grain. The picture manages to preserve a sepia tint to the old timey photography, but in an epic widescreen frame. The forests, rivers and roadsides of the south are packed with detail to see under that light.

 

The Count of Monte Cristo

This old school shwashbuckler gets a respectable Blu-ray treatment. It’s not one of their massive hits but it’s a solid catalog title so they don’t just flush it down the toilet. The picture is clear, no technical problems there. It’s not 100% HD clear as there’s a certain soft focus. You see some detail in the period costumes and exotic locations, but all with a softer touch.

 

Life is Beautiful

La Vita e Bella remains the greatest holocaust comedy every made. The Blu-ray is a stunning transfer of the acclaimed hit. The picture is clear and you don’t even really see grain. It still looks like a movie, like there’s a slight gloss that comes from shooting on film, but the clarity is unreal.

The first half of the film shines in the whimsical magic Roberto Benigni creates. The Italian countryside and city are vibrant with color. The green horse and the pink ball gowns look beautiful. You even see hints of fop sweat revealed in the more elaborate slapstick scenes. The second half of the film in the concentration camp is stark and gritty. Without the happy color, you see the detail of the inhuman conditions. It only enhances the palette for Benigni to find tragic humor against it.

 

Cinema Paradiso

This much older Italian film classic has a slightly harder time coming up to Blu-ray. It’s a fine representation of the film, sure, but you’ll see a lot of very big, noticeable grain. A lot of the shots just can’t even hold together from the original source. The picture seems to clear up a lot when the kid becomes a teenager. Maybe those scenes were filmed with stronger materials.

Still, you will notice all the gritty detail in the old projection booth. There are plenty of scenes in old Italy that look clear and colorful. You can also tell the burn makeup for poor old projectionist does not hold up under high definition scrutiny. It’s rough, but so is life and that’s what you learn when you grow up and see your old movies in new formats.

 

The Cider House Rules

This is a good transfer of another Oscar movie to Blu-ray. The landscapes look really pretty in crisp sharpness. You do see some hints of film grain, and actually there is some digital noise in a few dark scenes: the orphanage bunks at night, the drive-in theater, etc. Most of the picture remains clear and detailed though.

The colors of the forests and fields are stunning. You see lots of gritty detail in the orphanage’s cracked walls and the cider house bunks. Faces are rugged with dramatic detail. The Blu-ray definitely brings out details and colors, and the scenery of the film offers a lot to enhance.

 

The Conversation

It’s pretty amazing to watch this 1972 technological thriller in light of today’s technology. I mean, it blew my mind when I saw it in the ‘90s, so it’s even more distant now. Gotta love those reel to reel tapes though.

The Blu-ray shows the film’s age and doesn’t compensate for it. It’s grainy for sure, but beyond being an authentic representation of ‘70s film, you see a lot of digital noise too. That’s those white specs within the film grains. Those weren’t there on the big screen. You can minimize that by turning down the brightness, but you still see fuzzy grain that looks less like real film than just a poor transfer.


The Tree of Life

When I saw The Tree of Life earlier this year, I said it was like a screen saver, but a really deep screen saver. Now that screen saver is presented in high definition on Blu-ray, so you can analyze all the extra details of those scenes.

The picture is totally clear, whether in the greenish childhood flashbacks, the sleek modern day or the history of creation. That’s the most screen saver-y part and the colors and shapes are stunning. But the abstract narrative is also like a screen saver only it’s real people acting it out. Jessica Chastain could not look any prettier, at least not until the next iteration of image quality comes along.

I think the chapter titles are giving too much away. “Grief,” “Innocence…” Hello, this is supposed to be an ambiguous art movie. You can’t tell us what each sequence means!

 

Fast Five

From a purely visual technical perspective, Fast Five maintains the high standard set by the previous Fast/Furious movies on Blu-ray. You’ve got a crisp picture, gritty enough to show the detail in the gravel streets and the stubble and sweat on our rugged heroes. It’s still a glossy Hollywood production so you’ve got vibrant, glamorous colors and a sheen to the slick cars and explosions.

Set in Brazil, Fast Five offers some exotic foreign settings for this high quality image. The cityscapes of Rio look gorgeous. One unfortunate consequence of the more epic story is that there’s less footage of the simple car parties on the street. You get two brief scenes hinting at the shiny rides and bikini clad groupies, but most of Fast Five is about the heist, so it’s more like a typical studio action movie.

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

There are many problems with the Transformers franchise but how it looks on Blu-ray is not one of them. Michael Bay’s strengths are exemplified in the HD format. The picture is clear, with a grit when he chooses to saturate the picture for dramatic intensity. You see all the detail in the carefully choreographed destruction and our robot heroes. You even see the peach fuzz on Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

The affect of the 3D photography doesn’t really add anything on the 2D Blu-ray as you might notice with some 3D films. However that’s more because the Bay look is already so established from previous Transformers that the robots are already as colorful as possible, the picture already as sharp as possible.

 

Horrible Bosses

With a mainstream studio comedy, you don’t expect too much from the Blu-ray. It should be a standard clear picture with some bright likeable colors. Horrible Bosses has mostly sterile environments: a blue corporate office, a beige dentist’s and a plain factory. Those are all okay but there are a surprising amount of hazy scenes filled with digital noise.

The scenes in the bar where the guys plot their revenge doesn’t hold up on Blu-ray. The low light makes the picture spray with white specs. Then there are a lot of scenes at night when they stalk their bosses’ houses, and they haze up too.


Ben Hur

This biblical epic looks 100% stunning on Blu-ray. The picture is totally clear and sharp, illuminating all the details of the lavish production. Costumes show off the texture of fabric and vibrant colors. Armor shows the shine and weathering of battle. Horses look majestic with their shiny and handsome hides. The light pouring on all the epic frames can rightly be described as godly.

The extra widescreen frame looks beautiful on Blu-ray too. I believe this is the first Blu-ray I’ve seen that goes beyond 2.35:1 (still waiting for Lawrence of Arabia.) I’m sure making the frame a tad smaller does a bit to improve the sharpness but more important is that the larger black bars aren’t distracting. I mean on a 50” set, the portion that Ben Hur takes up is still a whole lot of picture.

This is one of those Hollywood epics full of visual feasts to admire on Blu-ray. Long marching armies where you can now see the guy in the back. Golden palaces full of production design detail and crowds. The Technicolor palette holds true and seeing those color in HD is a thrill.

 

The Guns of Navarone

This is a beautiful HD transfer of the classic war film. Since it’s an old ‘60s widescreen epic, the Blu-ray maintains the look of the original film but enhanced. You’ll see some film grain, because that’s authentic, but the picture it makes is crisper than anything you’d seen in a theater. Sometimes it even makes the film grains sparkle.

The color scheme looks noticeably like a ‘60s epic, with the deep, rich skin tones and somehow just the air looked different on that film stock. There’s glorious detail in any closeup, and wide shots too. Notice the wrinkles and dirt in Anthony Quinn’s jacket!

 

The Lion King

You all should be about the right age to have grown up with this film like me. Disney’s biggest animated movie, also it’s manliest, is a landmark. And one benefit of the 3D theatrical re-release is that they’ve focused all their attention on the picture, so a strong Blu-ray is a solid side effect.

The colors on this Blu-ray are unreal. You didn’t think there were that many shades of lavender, blue, yellow, etc. I saw this movie in Imax and it didn’t look this bright. Since this movie was a hybrid traditional and computer animation, I feel like you can really see the hand drawn details. Look at Mufasa’s introduction in the opening or Simba and Nala reuniting. It stands out from the main animation.

On the bonus feature side, an interesting extra is the bloopers and outtakes. That used to be a Pixar thing, but this sounds like they actually created new HD animation for audio tracks. It sounds like James Earl Jones working on his roar and Matthew Broderick flubbing the lines. They created a few visual bloopers that may have been a wrap party gag if not created just for the Blu-ray. Also, The Muppets trailer looks pretty awesome in HD too. Muppets in stark real life detail, in a perfectly clear modern day picture. This is gonna be good.


Airplane

Of three Paramount comedy titles released as Best Buy exclusives, Airplane is the only one that really looks good. It has a few inconsistencies, some grain in some shots or some white digital noise in others, but the majority of the film looks clear and brought up to HD detail.

The main locations – the cabin and cockpit, the airport and air traffic control – are clear and sharp. It brings out some detail that enhances the comedy, like the shiny sweat on the panicking woman, or just some set detail that illuminates how they did that. The flashbacks to other movie parodies go to more extremes, with the Africa scene a stellar Blu-ray and the Saturday Night Fever bit getting a little rough.

 

The Naked Gun

I guess Best Buy Exclusive means they don’t have to put out Blu-rays in top quality for the discerning viewers. This is full of digital noise and visible film grain inconsistent from scene to scene. If the whole film looked a certain way that would be one thing. It’s just each scene you never know if you’ll get grainy old film, soft focus or hazy technical errors.

The crazy thing is there is a high definition picture under all that. If it clears up a little, or even if you look closely under a hazy scene, you’ll see details in the backgrounds. You’ll see a sharp picture, it’s just filled with white dots and dancing specs.

 

Plains, Trains and Automobiles

This comedy classic has a rather soft Blu-ray. The picture is somewhat fuzzy, a combination of some film grain, but unfortunately quite a bit of digital noise too. It does the job, as in it’s better than a VHS, but doesn’t seem like it got extraordinary attention. I did still notice some new details, like the handprints on the wall in the famous motel scene. So the Blu-ray is still illuminating things like that.

 

Footloose

Say what you want about remakes, but whenever they bastardize a classic, at least it makes them put out the original on Blu-ray. And in time for the Footloose remake, the original actually gets a great transfer on Blu-ray.

The picture is pretty much smoothed over for total clarity. There are a few scenes where it grains up, like the country bar and the factory, but most of the time you’re looking at a clear portal into the’ 80s. You see all the detail and texture of those dancing shoes, and the pants or legwarmers cuffing those ankles.


Jurassic Park Trilogy

I’m very happy to report that of the movie in the trilogy that looks the best on Blu-ray is The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Lost World is my favorite Jurassic Park. It is a hardcore action movie with none of the whimsical Mr. DNA crap. The picture is totally clear bringing out all the colors of the island, and the details in the dinosaurs.

Jurassic Park III looks okay but for some reason a lot grainier. It’s consistent throughout the movie so I guess that’s just the look of the film. It’s a sharp, detailed colorful picture, with some grain.

The original Jurassic Park looks the roughest. I know it’s the oldest, but there’s also the thing where studios restore the original and dump the sequels, but not here. Unless they are outside in broad daylight, you’re going to see hazy digital noise. It does have that look where the picture is so clear and grainless that it looks like real air, but the white specs give it away. Even at night in the rain, which is a key sequence in the film, suffers from those specs.

In all three films, I still think the CGI dinosaurs look like CGI. It’s great art but it’s only a picture, not an affect that makes me suspend disbelief. I still say the first reveal of the brontos in JP1 looks like obvious composite work. Even by part three you can tell they were done in post. The animatronics looks great with textural slimy detail. And to this day, CGI has never gotten any more convincing.

 

Cape Fear

To go along with the new HD transfer, the Blu-ray box for Cape Fear is now advertised as “from the director of The Departed.” Really? You can’t sell Scorsese on Taxi Driver or Raging Bull anymore? Not even Goodfellas? Frankly, I always called him “the director of Cape Fear” myself.

This new HD transfer looks good. There are many totally crisp and clear scenes that look like they were filmed today. You see total detail in DeNiro’s tatted abs, Ileana Douglas’ bitten off face, the dirt from riding under a car all the way to Cape Fear. A few moments still look grainy like actual film, but even they hold up as an authentic HD transfer.

 

Basket Case

Well, this weird little movie has a weird little Blu-ray for it. The most odd thing is that the movie is actually in 4:3. So the Blu-ray actually has black bars on the sides, not top and bottom. I’ve seen that for TV shows but never a movie before.

Not surprising, the film itself looks very rough. 16mm film leads to a soft grainy picture anyway, and there’s a lot of white digital noise on the Blu-ray. But damned if you don’t see all the detail in monster puppet. So that must be a triumph for gritty old horror movies in HD.

 

Dead Alive

Unfortunately, the Lionsgate Blu-ray of Peter Jackson’s classic gore fest is very mixed. I imagine they did their best. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. From the opening shots of faint, rough film stock, it seems like the original materials were weathered, or just low budget to begin with. This was back in Jackson’s DIY phase.

So at best it looks like you’re watching an old film, solidly reproduced but nothing special. Often the picture is really rough, full of white digital noise just struggling to hold the picture together at all. But then, oddly, you’ll see some clear images. You’ll notice all the crusty detail of the lawnmower blades and the chunky gore. You’ll even see the makeup sitting atop the actresses’ faces. So there are some highlights, but probably more noticeable flaws than the standard DVD of Dead Alive.