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New To Blu-Ray – August

A lot of classic catalog titles this month, some with better results than others.

Conan the Barbarian/Conan the Destroyer

The Lionsgate reboot gives an excuse for the two Universal films to be released on Blu-ray.  Both films look solid, exemplifying the actual sets and locations of practical epic fantasy with a clear, colorful picture showing all the detail. Both transfers have the same pros and cons.

Obviously you will see grain in some scenes, because these are films, as in actually shot on film. That’s okay and never gets too distracting. Some of the shots have a rough time holding up and you’ll see digital specs. It always looks like an issue of lighting though, not carelessness. The desert adventures and palace magic look crisp and clear for the money shots.

 

Stake Land

This indie vampire action movie looks perfect on Blu-ray. It’s not just a clear picture, it’s got a polish and gloss that most studio films don’t have on Blu-ray. The world of Stake Land seems more real than real life. Day or night doesn’t matter, and the picture never hazes up.

Within this picture you can see all the apocalyptic detail of ghost towns, on the road and forests. The gory detail of the vampires is everything you’d hope it would be, but I find the starkness of the road more impressive. I’m an apocalypse junkie so that’s gold.

 

Little Big Soldier

The latest Jackie Chan movie from Hong Kong looks stunning on Blu-ray. The whole movie is set outdoors on one big battlefield. They just move from valley to valley, but the sunlit mountains and paths are perfectly clear. The whole film is consistent unlike many of the American released Asian films. You can see all the detail in the historical costumes and the battle scarred characters.

 

Hostage

Hostage is one of the lesser known and regarded Bruce Willis movies but I like it. As a catalog release from Lionsgate’s distribution of the old Miramax titles, it’s a solid Blu-ray. Considering it’s set mostly at night, the picture holds up. In bright daylight you see some digital grain holding the picture together, but it’s like pinpoint delicacy. It’s more or less noticeable depending on the scene but it’s part of the look of the film.

 

Spy Kids Trilogy

Even though they’re kids movies, Robert Rodriguez fans still like them. This trilogy actually lets you see his technology evolve. Spy Kids was the last movie he shot on film. Spy Kids 2 was his second digital movie (though released before Once Upon a Time in Mexico) then Spy Kids 3 was his first green screen movie. And you’ve got to love Thumb Thumbs!

Spy Kids 1 looks so good you almost wish he’d go back to film. You see all the detail and the colors but with a smoothness to the picture and a flawless transfer. Spy Kids 2 may have a little more gloss and glow but also a hint of haze. So turn down your brightness, but then lose all the exotic color. Spy Kids 3 looks better than 2, more polished in the outside world. In the game world is a totally sleek, shiny, animated extravaganza, even on a 2D Blu-ray. The detail in the colorful CGI is extraordinary, like Speed Racer good.

 

Top Gun: 25th Anniversary

This re-issue of Top Gun seems like the same actual disc from the previous Blu-ray. The transfer looks the same, but at least it comes with a digital copy!


The Big Lebowski

The classic surrealist comedy looks nice on Blu-ray. The picture is clean and smooth, and you see the bright colors and details of the bowling alley and Maude’s art gallery. The picture is a little fuzzy. It’s not totally crisp and sharp, but as remastering older movies go, I’d rather it hold together like this than get all hazy and speckled.

 

Swingers

I expected Swingers to look rough, coming from the heart of the ‘90s indie film movement. You can tell it’s raw but it actually holds up nicely. A little grain, but a clear and colorful with Las Vegas and L.A. nightlife. The whole picture remains consistent, even in dark bars. I wish I could compare it to the real thing but I don’t know how to find these places in L.A. I’m happy with the way the movie looks though.

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

The ‘80s classic is a pretty grainy Blu-ray. It makes the picture waver sometimes but you also see a lot of detail and bright colors. The print is a little dirty and scratched in some parts too. It’s watchable in HD and it reminds you of the age of the film, but we’ve seen films from that era and earlier (including Conan also from Universal) look clear.

 

Dazed and Confused

This ‘90s era ‘70s period piece looks a little more HD on Blu-ray than Fast Times, wth which it’s paired. You still see some grain but it’s mostly smoothed over. You’ll see detail in the backgrounds and all the colors are totally vivid. It’s not a striking Blu-ray but it holds up as an authentic representation of the film as it first screened in theaters. You can watch it on a plasma screen without headaches.

 

Animal House

Now this is how you put a classic on Blu-ray. The picture is crisp and clear. You see a bit of the digital particles at work but it’s cool because you’ve watched this on TV edited broadcasts and VHS for so long you’re appreciating every grit of detail. The trashed Delta house is mighty gritty. I mean, when you see all this detail, you might not want to party there for sanitary reasons, but it’s only a movie.

 

The Blues Brothers

This must have come out of the Animal House batch rather than the Fast Times/Dazed batch. The Blues Brothers has a crisp, clear hi-def picture. You see a hint of the film grain and some of the digital grain at work, but it creates a stark picture of the roads the boys travel.

You see the gritty detail in the city, rain soaked streets, dive bars and wrecked cop cars. You see bright colors in gospel churches, street dancing and Nazi parades. The musical numbers dance around a stunning HD frame.

 

Four Weddings and A Funeral

You may only remember Hugh Grant, but don’t forget how naughty this British rom-com was. The Blu-ray has a somewhat rougher look a la Swingers, but not as grainy. Some of the scenes have a softer smooth picture, others are crisp and clear. It’s never hazy, although occasionally you notice a hair on the lens they weren’t able to remove back then. It’s a Blu-ray though, far more HD than an upconverted DVD, just a little more overcast than the top of the line transfers. Maybe it’s a British thing.

 

Honeymoon in Vegas

You’d hope if MGM was reissuing Blu-rays of it’s B catalog they’d at least do them well for the niche of fans. The picture ranges from fuzzy grain to rough digital flaws. There’s a hint of an HD picture trying to come through underneath. The Bally’s swimming pool and Hawaiian travels are bright and crisp, but the lighting is still uneven in the clearer shots. And that’s at best. A good portion of the film looks like it’s transferred from VHS.

 

Overboard

You all remember watching this over and over on VHS as kids, right? It wasn’t just me. So to see Kurt Russell’s other boat movie (still waiting for Captain Ron on Blu-ray) in HD, it looks about like I remember an old VHS looking. The picture is totally hazy with a white mist throughout, like you have to adjust your tracking. At least it’s consistent. It doesn’t go in and out, it’s just always blown out. Oh well, so much for catalog classics.

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: 25th Anniversary Edition

Another 25 year anniversary edition, Ferris Bueller also looks like the same Blu-ray previously released. This reissue does not add the digital copy, and the transfer still looks the same, rough in the same parts but great in the good parts.


Eastbound and Down: Season Two

Season two of the Kenny Powers saga looks great on Blu-ray. As TV on Blu-ray goes, the picture is extraordinary. It never gets hazy or speckled as many TV shows do, and only occasionally shows some digital grain. Even that is minute and contributes to an HD picture though.

The Mexican setting provides some awesome colors and detail. The baseball field is pure green, and the streets where Powers prowls are full of reds and yellows. Ana de la Reguera looks stunning in HD, and the deleted scenes have lots of nudity! Why did they cut those out for HBO?

 

Super

James Gunn’s down and dirty superhero comedy looks fantastic on Blu-ray. The real world setting are full of gritty detail. These are seedy diners, back alleys and criminal hideouts. The colors of the superhero costumes pop out and the gore effects are disturbingly crisp. The transfer holds up keeping this indie film looking like a blockbuster.

 

Paul

As a new release big studio comedy, Paul looks perfect on Blu-ray. The road trip shows all the settings in crisp, clear detail at night or broad daylight. You actually see the distinct lighting of different hours of the day. The alien looks completely real and you see a lot more of the detail they put into him, but he blends seamlessly into the scene. The transfer holds up throughout the film, so it’s totally consistent and solid, as you’d expect from any Blu-ray, let alone a new release.

 

Arthur

The remake of Arthur has an unusually bright Blu-ray. There is more color in this movie than exists in the New York in which it was filmed, let alone how it looked in movie theaters.

It’s striking when Grand Central Station is a potpourri of visual aesthetics. The rich boy’s game rooms you can kind of imagine, but it’s clear the aesthetic is EVERYTHING looks bright and colorful. Blu-ray is surely the format for that, so if you’re into the colorful fantasy of wealth, Arthur is that film in HD.


Torchwood: The Complete BBC Series

Yes! After Miracle Day came on Starz and got me hooked on Torchwood, BBC put out the complete original series on Blu-ray! You can definitely tell the difference between the BBC sensibility and American Starz. It’s just subtle things about the way things are framed and the gloss of the picture, but it’s totally HD.

Actually, later episodes in the second season get a little rougher. You’ll see some video distortion, but it’s not as bad as white specks or a screen of haze. Children of Earth brings everything back into pure focus. The picture clears up and looks the most HD, though still that BBC style I was talking about.

 

Twilight Zone: Season Five

The Blu-ray releases of the classic sci-fi series continue to look extraordinary in HD. Same as the previous seasons, the black and white is crisp and clear, bringing out incredible detail in the old footage. Every episode is a different set, so you have dozens of masterfully designed stages to examine anew in HD clarity.

The airplane cabin of the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” comes to life, even without color, thanks to the restored clarity of these Blu-rays. The episodic guest stars are a who’s who of A-list stars so you see the likes of William Shatner and Mickey Rooney in terror sweating bravura performances.

 

Outcasts

Last year’s new BBC show holds up pretty well on Blu-ray. It was shot for HD so it’s solid. Some of the interiors in the colony grain up a little with less light, but you still see the detail. It never gets hazy or speckled, only exposes some of the digital material a little.

The exteriors as the outcasts are exploring Capathia are stunning. Perfectly clear, bright colors under the natural sunlight and detail in the sand, rock and forests.


Top Gear 16

The BBC auto show makes an exemplary Blu-ray. There are lots of shiny, elegant vehicles to see in HD. The latest series has a solid transfer with a clear picture and no rough spots.

The in studio segments and driving sequences look equally stellar. Of course the outdoors has more scenery but the picture doesn’t falter in the wraparounds. The cameras inside the cars don’t look HD, they’re probably mini standard cameras, but the picture holds up consistently with the HD.

 

Exporting Raymond

This documentary is a great Blu-ray. All of the new footage following Phil Rosenthal around Russia is shot in HD so you’re seeing an intimate travel guide in an exotic location. The colors and detail pop, and the Russian beauties look lovely.

Footage of later seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond appear in HD and are very nice compared to most TV on Blu-ray. A little digital grain, but it makes an HD picture. By contrast, clips from earlier seasons are clearly SD and look like documentary archival footage. That’s cool though, it makes the new stuff stand out!


Rounders

This poker classic looks surprisingly great on Blu-ray. Surprising because it wasn’t a huge hit and it’s part of a catalog one studio (Lionsgate) is releasing from another (Miramax.) But the transfer is flawless and consistent. It holds up in dark poker rooms and bright, flat halls of study. You see detail, color, and just kind of live in the space where the tense confrontations are held.

 

Good Will Hunting

The real crown in the Miramax indie drama catalog is the real Blu-ray revelation. When they really want to, they can bring out all the detail in a 14-year-old film. And it’s not standout locations, just a school, an office, the streets and bars.

Since the picture is so crisp, the characters cut sharp figures even when they’re just sitting. You see the detail in Robin Williams’ sweaters and beards. You see a little bit of grain dancing around but that’s technology holding the picture clear. They’re giving us a stark look at ‘90s Boston where everyone’s emotive face is pouring their soul out in close up.

 

The Cutting Edge

Yeah, you remember the figure skating movie. You must, because they kept making straight to video sequels. Not Ice Castles, the other one. The original Cutting Edge is one of those catalog releases that never really got remastered for HD. It’s all fuzzy with grain and hazy with a white speckled screen over the picture.

Just in case anyone was a die hard Cutting Edge fan hoping for the Blu-ray release, sorry to break it to you. It’s weird though because surely movies like this are playing on HD movie channels and they look passable on broadcast. What goes so wrong when they put them on Blu-ray?