Film / TV

New To Blu-Ray – July

Some late July titles and holdovers from June this month.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

New to Blu Ray is our monthly look at the latest Blu Ray releases. This month we look at the Blu-Ray releases of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Battle: Los Angeles and more. 

 

Lord of the Rings: Extended Cuts

I reviewed the original Blu-ray release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, theatrical cuts. Now I can review the new scenes appearing for the first time on Blu-ray. Often considered the slightest of the extended cuts, The Fellowship of the Ring remains the best looking overall so its extensions benefit the most. More time in the shire shows off the lush colors of the Hobbiton created in New Zealand. The Midgewater Marshes feature crisp HD moonlight.

The Two Towers does look like it’s been polished since the last release. Some of the darker scenes still fuzz up for a rougher picture. Let’s call it grittier. Some of the new scenes present that effect, but many of them feature the best of crisp, clear HD. The Boromir flashback and the series of new scenes near the end are perfectly bright and shiny, and feature lots of hordes of crowds, either armies getting pepped up or attacking monsters. Either way the effects look great on Blu-ray, as do the Ents as they continue to make up their mind.

Return of the King still has a few white specs, particularly in palace interiors, but it too looks mostly solid. The new scenes are some of its best looking. Saruman’s restored scene combines magnificent outdoor light with some visual effects glory. Extra scenes at Gondor show off the lush palace court. And more Gollum looks mighty articulate, even in dark cave scenes.

 

Harry Potter Ultimate Editions 5 and 6

I’ve not been impressed with the Harry Potter Blu-rays so far, and the Ultimate Editions seemed to be the same transfers as the initial releases. Maybe they got enough complaints that they started taking more care with the franchise, because Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince look like proper Blu-rays.

I’d never seen Phoenix on Blu-ray before but it looks fantastic. It’s shiny when it needs to be, gritty when it needs to be, and always clear. The first Blu-ray release of Half-Blood Prince looked so bad that I preferred the DVD that came in the triple pack. Not anymore. Even the dark, CGi heavy opening scenes look clear. There are still a few points where the film gets grittier, but never rough. So Potter fans, there’s a reason enough to upgrade, besides completing your eight part documentary Creating the World of Harry Potter or your set of character cards.


13 Assassins

13 Assassins is a beautiful samurai epic and the Blu-ray does it justice. The picture looks crisp and real, so it seems like you’re looking at a real Japanese countryside. You can still appreciate the lushness, but it won’t pop out like some artificially tinted effects. The battle explodes brilliantly in this setting.

A few points in the film don’t hold up quite as well. It’s not so much dark scenes, but whenever the environment gets cloudy, the film shows its flaws. Fog or rain bring out the grain, and the darkened courts of Hanbei haze up a little. The picture keeps it as even as it can, emphasizing the more glorious scenes with the best of the transfer.

 

Hobo with a Shotgun

This grindhouse movie was totally composed in the heightened, saturated look of ‘70s films. The Blu-ray makes the colors even more extreme, but unfortunately the transfer can’t hold up. The whole film is covered with a white haze, stronger in some scenes than others but always there. Even turning down the color settings on my TV doesn’t hide it.

It’s a real shame, especially since they’ve had trailers in front of other Blu-rays that looked fine. Still saturated, but not electronically distorted. The menu screen with clips and the fake Grindhouse scratches looks perfect, but then menu screens are always the bait and switch.

 

The Warrior’s Way

This film was really made for Blu-ray. The green screen backgrounds look like oil paintings shining in gold, red, blue or whatever color director Sngmoo Lee chose. It’s the 300 version of the old west, with extreme sunlight, sweat and dirt.

The “real” scenes get a little rougher. Any time they’re in an actual room, or have significant practical structures on the set, the picture starts to show digital grains or even get slightly hazy. The transfer holds it together evenly enough but they couldn’t quite get the whole movie to match. Half the movie is as described above though so it’s gorgeous.

 

Tekken

Unfortunately, the straight to video Tekken movie does not look great on Blu-ray. The whole movie is plagued by a hazy white screen that is really prominent if you’re using a “vivid” setting on a Panasonic, or any corresponding bright TV. There’s not much to look at anyway, with cheap cluttered streets passing for post-apocalyptic and bland cages for fighting. The ladies get some nice glamour shots if you want to see some firm tummies in HD, but this is not the Tekken movie we hoped for when Charles Stone was set to direct.


Insidious

It’s always nice when a movie produced by a fledgling studio gets picked up for home video by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The creators of Blu-ray do a fantastic transfer and exemplify James Wan’s subtle visions.

The picture is always smooth and clear, so the mood in the air of the house is palpable. Even at night with all the lights out, the picture holds up so you see the fragments not buried in shadow. Once the film goes into The Further, the crispness adds to the slightly off surreal imagery in the other world.

 

Bloodrayne: The Third Reich

Uwe Boll’s latest masterpiece looks great on Blu-ray. Croatia as WWII era Germany is crisp and epic. The transfer is strong and keeps the film looking professional. It never gets hazy or speckled, only a little grittier in some of the decrepit locations.

It’s not a very bright film, but it manages to look realistic. Instead of bright hyper HD colors, the picture looks like real slums, bunkers, train yards, etc. To top it all off, it’s not even one of the more outrageous Boll movies, so it you wouldn’t even notice it seems different from other films in your Blu-ray collection.

 

Season of the Witch

 This is not a good movie and I am by no means suggesting anyone ever watch it, but it happens to look great on Blu-ray. The medieval setting is full of crisp images and detail. Battle scenes glow golden with the sunlight, and even traveling shots through the meadows hold a cool blue. Long haired Nicolas Cage looks gloriously gritty. Too bad he didn’t have anything to do.

If you are fascinated by bad movies, you will be quite interested in the alternate ending. Basically the same thing happens only it’s the girl with a little witchy makeup. Then watch the theatrical ending and it seems they just painted a CGI devil monster over all of her action and dubbed her voice. I’d love to see the studio note that suggested that as a last ditch effort to save the movie.


Source Code

This is a great looking transfer of this sci-fi movie. The picture is totally clear, but not crisp and smooth like some. It’s super saturated so you see a bit of grain making the colors pop as extreme as they do. They’ve really pumped up the color and gritty detail.

On the train, the picture is bright and colorful. You still see the detail in Jake Gyllenhaal’s rugged heroics, and the Chicago landscape is vivid. In the source code pod, the gritty detail is industrial, chipped and worn. There’s one slow motion explosion shot on the train that smooths out, and makes that one shot look beautiful. The otherwise gritty look totally works for the film.

 

Sucker Punch

I’m a little surprised with the way this movie looks on Blu-ray. It’s a lot grittier than I expected. That makes sense for the mental institution scenes. It’s dank and grimy and old, and it’s supposed to be the “real world.” But the fantasy scenes have the grit too. I thought with the wild CGI visuals those would be smooth and shiny. It doesn’t make them look realistic. They’re still fantasy visions and they hold up great, but I guess Zack Snyder gave it that film touch.

I really hope people discover this movie, or give it another chance, at home. Whether you think the film’s “statement” works or not should be irrelevant. Just go on the visual, visceral experience. That’s just as valid a reason to experience movies, although I actually think the film works as intended too. That’s just me.

 

Battle: Los Angeles

They were going for Black Hawk Down with aliens, and they achieved a realistic war look that is stark on Blu-ray. The daytime battles are clear and you can see all the gritty detail in the war torn streets of L.A. filled with rubble. Some of the visual effects look a little more fake and animated, and some of the smokier battles have a few hazy shots, but overall it’s consistent and clear.

 

Brazil

I love watching Terry Gilliam movies on Blu-ray because his sets are so cluttered, they’re full of little details we can see even better in HD. His bureaucratic and industrial future doesn’t disappoint. The transfer can be hazy and rough but the details are always clear. Even though it’s not a proper remaster that really makes the image look smooth, it looks like a Blu-ray and reveals some of the original artistry.

 

The Island

This is the only other Michael Bay movie Paramount could release to tie in with Transformers (hey Columbia, where’s Bad Boys II?) The original Blu-ray advocate sure makes his movies look great. The entire film sweats under Michael Bay’s orange sun.

The transfer preserves a bit of a film look, the way Bay likes it. You’ll see some grain but it’s hyper tight grain to assure you that you’re still in HD. All the details pop and the hero shots look rugged and glorious. I was actually on the set of the clone compound and I can assure you the Blu-ray is highlighting all the details constructed into that set.


Cedar Rapids

Wow, Fox Home Video gave this Sundance comedy a super glossy Blu-ray. Most of the scenes are so crisp and clear, it’s like the 300 of middle America insurance conventions. That’s right, even when the dudes are naked in the locker room. In this clarity, you can see all the detail a generic hotel has to offer, which can be quite a bit when you see the ceiling crags and chipped rails and gates.

The picture can haze up a little when the gang goes to a bar to get crazy. The coke party is a little bit grittier than the rest of the movie, which is appropriate. It’s a really beautiful transfer though and does great justice to this light comedy.

 

Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season

This is my first Entourage Blu-ray and the show looks great in this format. Of course we’ve watched the show in HD on HBO, but cable/satellite is different than a solid hard copy. The picture holds up better than many TV on Blu-rays. It’s got that miniscule grain to give it a gritty look, but the picture holds consistently.

The Hollywood locations are shown very bright and shiny. You’ll notice some details, but mostly the beautiful honeys are glamorized and the lavish mansions look pristine. A few shots may haze up. That’s TV. It can’t always be perfect, but the color and light make it worth having Entourage on Blu-ray.

 

Rango

The weirdest, craziest animated movie of the year is a glorious Blu-ray. The picture is of course perfect, and the very aesthetic of the film makes it a prime example of the HD format. The dirt of the pseudo-west and the scaly reptile characters give the artists plenty of detail that’s all distinctly visible on Blu-ray.

Because the animal characters are designed to look realistic, except for the humanoid talking part, the Blu-ray looks like everything is real. Even the wild caves and makeshift barroom saloons look like the real deal, with scratched shot glasses and knotty wood to seal the deal.

 

Hall Pass

This is a glossy transfer of a studio comedy. The picture is clear and crisp, the colors are bright and the lighting flatters all the actors. It’s a pretty movie. All the hotties the boys try to hook up with look great, but you also see the penises and poop in HD clarity. It remains consistent like the solid studio output it is.


Das Boot

Confirming what I predicted in my LA Film Fest review, the Blu-ray restoration of the director’s cut looks stunning. It maintains the film grain, but the detail pops out. It’s a little crisper on a home set than the cinema.

Unfortunately, the theatrical cut doesn’t get as nice a transfer. The film grain is far more pronounced and fuzzy. Some of the stronger cinematography reproduces in HD detail, but it’s more like a bonus feature than a real Blu-ray. All the more reason to dig into the director’s cut.

 

Hair

The ‘60s hippie musical looks great on Blu-ray. It’s not psychedelic because the film sticks to stark images. The colors are realistic, although the general fashions of the culture can’t help but pop a little. You see lots of detail in the streets of ‘70s New York (when it was filmed).

You never know when an old sequence will haze up. It’s not just a light issue, because plenty of nighttime scenes are stark and clear. sWhen it’s good though, it’s solid. Especially climactic scenes of hippie rallies fill the screen with living, breathing images.

 

Miral

Julian Schanbel’s biographical film about Palestine is marked by a number of different visual styles, and the Blu-ray reproduces them all faithfully. Some film is highly saturated so it pushes the color to the extreme. Sometimes it is gritty, sometimes smooth, and the transfer keeps it looking that way.

You get a beautiful selection of different looks, used for different artistic purposes, in this film. You know it’s all intentional too because you either see natural grain, or a high tech polish, but never a rough hazy flaw.

 

Ocean Wonderland 3D/Sharks 3D

It’s home theater demo time. Universal has put out two Imax 3D documentaries by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s production company. I only have a good old fashioned 2D Blu-ray but that alone is stunning. Underwater, the picture is totally smooth and clear, with the light and color of coral and sea creatures shining through the frame.

The Imax format clearly helps create a crisp clear source image. You could really just leave these running as a screen saver. I’ve actually been scuba diving and I can attest that the ocean doesn’t look this good through scuba goggles.

 

The Lincoln Lawyer

Ah, McConaughey on Blu-ray. The transfer is as smooth as McConaughey’s swagger. This is a polished, shiny picture that makes everything and everyone in it glamorous. You see the details in swank court rooms and deco deposition rooms. It gets a little gritty when Mickey Hailer (McConaughey) gets frantic, but it’s only the cool grit. Nobody looks bad on this Blu-ray.