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New to Blu Ray – June 2009

Our monthly look at the slate of Blu Ray releases for the month.

New to Blu Ray - June 2009

New to Blu Ray is our monthly look at the latest Blu Ray releases. This month we look at new films like Gran Torino, cable shows like Lost and classic TV like Star Trek. 

New film releases

 

The Wrestler 

The Blu Ray of The Wrestler keeps all of the grain in the saturated film stock. Don’t worry, that’s how it’s supposed to look. The main detail you’ll see is the blue, green and yellow grain specks, but did you really want to see the staple gun scene in clear HD?

The brightness of the colors ensures you know this is a Blu Ray. All the multi-colored spandex costumes and prop glow, the blood in that staple fight, the tacky pastels of trailer parks and small town thrift establishments.

Perhaps this is a good example of how an art film can look in HD. It doesn’t have to compete with the Transformers and the restored Bond movies. It can just have an aesthetic vision and present that in the highest definition possible.

 

Gran Torino 

Clint Eastwood was at his most grizzled in Gran Torino and on Blu Ray he’s even more grizzled than you can imagine. The pure clarity presents Eastwood’s scowling face with no barriers.

The family drama has a realistic look so it looks like any old neighborhood you’ll pass by, but realistically so, not like some distant movie version of it. There are no lavish colors, just clear detail in burnt out yards, run down basements and old trucks. The car of the title is nice and shiny though. 

The lighting seems natural, like the flat interiors of a suburban home. Nighttime scenes have a little more effect, like flashing on a beaten Eastwood, but that too is a certain reality of the moment. Of course it’s a brand new movie so it reproduces exactly as it was intended.

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 

The Oscar nominated epic has a lot to look at on Blu Ray. It’s a brand new film, produced in high quality, so the Blu Ray is just an extension. At three hours, there are tons of scenes that will look good, so just assume everything you imagine looks awesome.

Of course all the detail on the boat is clear, and when they go through weather like snow it coats it with a new texture. Old time New Orleans and New York City is like a portal into the past. The more modern things get, the more they resemble familiar environments but with vivid clarity that’s beyond what you see on a movie screen. 

The visual effects suffer a tad in this clarity. Sometimes it’s so clear that it looks like Brad Pitt’s head isn’t actually on the little person’s body. When it’s just makeup, you see all the detail, but when they youngify him, something’s off. Perhaps CGI just isn’t good enough for super Blu Ray hi-def quality. Although, even the prosthetic baby looks weird so maybe this movie just isn’t as amazing as people thought. 


Sci-Fi and Fantasy films  

 

Ghostbusters 

When I saw the Blu Ray projected in a movie theater, I went easy on it because I didn’t think it was meant for a screen that size (108” maybe but not that big). It didn’t look bad, it just didn’t look like a Blu Ray. I was right. Shrink it down to 56” in my case and you get an actual Ghosbusters Blu Ray. 

The sharpness of the Blu Ray actually reveals some imperfections in the film stock, but that’s the sort of thing we like in HD. You’ll see a little bit of grain and fuzz, almost like the digital transfer is trying to compensate for a lack of information. Scenes like the library, Dana’s apartment and the Ghostbusters HQ take it hard, but exteriors of New York, the top of the Gozer tower and the Slimer hotel are clear.

Whether fuzzy or clear, it’s sharp. That’s the amazing thing about Blu Ray, even hazy shots remain sharp somehow. I saw good detail in the earthquake scene and yes, you can still see Ron Jeremy in the crowd shot.

The lighting effects are more noticeable on my TV. It’s not super extra vibrant like some extra restoration. It’s just hints of extra brightness behind characters, especially when ghosts start coming. The streams and ghosts still look better than CGI and while the colors are obviously more noticeable than the rest of the scenes, they look real, like there were actual ghosts and nuclear beams on the set.

Ghostbusters may not look as unreal as Blu Rays like the Sean Connery 007 films but it looks like the best Ghostbusters you’ve ever seen.

 

Predator 2 

Well, considering the landmark classic Predator only got a mediocre Blu Ray, one would expect a similar look to the sequel. Surprisingly, Predator 2 looks awesome. Maybe the environment is better suited to hide flaws, but it shouldn’t make a diffence. 

While the jungles of Predator looked grainy, just like the particles of film were amplified, the futuristic city streets (it was set in 1997!) are totally clear for all the violence and carnage. Maybe you don’t see every granule of pavement or debris, but you see a lot and it’s all sharp and bright. 

Heat waves create an interesting, odd look, like the digital HD doesn’t know what to do with wavy film stock, but that’s a minor effect. Mostly you’re marveling at how good a maligned knock-off sequel looks. Predator vision looks like a monitor because it probably was, but the invisible effect is clear and shows no signs of age.


Dramas

 

Do the Right Thing 

Luckily the 20th anniversary of Spike Lee’s seminal film coincided with the advent of this new technology. Considering the age and budget of the film, it looks mighty fine in high definition. It doesn’t look like a restoration, but it maintains the aesthetic of the film in perfect clarity. 

The tint of the film stock and the lighting creates a reddish look to the overheated neighborhood block. The colors of the low income brownstowns painted show up brightly, with medium detail in the brick and paint. Before they were stars Samuel L. Jackson and Martin Lawrence look surreal. 

The sweat creates a shine to everyone’s faces and the beads show up in detail, even at night. A few scenes look hazy but you’ll forgive it. Sometimes it’s supposed to be because of the heat. The detail and clarity are good but the color is what stands out the most.

 

The Siege 

Always one of my favorite Denzel Washington thrillers, I’m happy to see this movie make it to Blu Ray. Even before 9/11, I thought it was a profound look at terrorism fears and good suspense, with a knockout performance by Tony Shalhoub. 

The Blu Ray is a fine edition of the film. It’s clear, not a lot of grain, looks realistic. We’re not talking supernatural colors because it’s a realistic film. It’s not obnoxiously gritty though, it just looks like a normal movie in HD clarity. The authentic New York locations shine, and the interior talking scenes don’t call attention to anything. 

There are certainly plenty of opportunities for extra detail, with the rubble of explosions, internment camps and military corridors. You see a little more than you would on a DVD or film. That reminds you it’s a Blu Ray but it’s really just a solid transfer, not a demo disc but better than the average catalog title.

 

Miracle 

Arguably the best of the Disney true life sports movies, Miracle looks great on Blu Ray. Interestingly, they’ve done something to make the film resemble that ‘70s stock and color palette, yet it is still HD detail. So you see a little grain, some plaid tinted scenery.

Of course the ice provides lots of minor details to see. So does Kurt Russell’s hair and those ‘70s fashions. There are bright colors on the ice with those uniforms popping out of the white rink. You might not see all the gritty detail in the locker room, but Miracle creates an appropriate look for the story and pushes it to the Blu Ray extreme. 

 

Falling Down 

This 15-year-old movie looks really good. It’s clear, it’s colorful, it’s detailed. It’s not quite unreal, because you’d imagine it looked like this when it first came out, but getting it back to that level is not nothing.

Wavy heat obscures some of the detail so that’s intentional. You definitely see sweat beads and gritty LA slum crust or torn up streets. Honestly, most of LA still looks like this. Noteworthy colors include in the fast food shootout with its bright kid-friendly pallet, the desert foliage of LA’s better areas, and actually the Mexican restaurant where the cops eat.

Most of the movie is set in indistinct metropolitan business areas, so it’s not a scenic film. You get the clarity to see the actors and an accurate reproduction of the setting, or the mise en scene if you’re pretentious.  


Action Films

 

Bond Wave 3 

The Bond collection continues to trickle out film by film. This wave only has two titles, License to Kill and The Man with the Golden Gun, but I’ll keep taking them. These are two interesting examples of the unreal restoration job done to this franchise. 

License to Kill is just modern enough that it can look familiar, but too old to look this clear on its own. So the Blu Ray is like taking a new look through a portal in time, then using that portal to see the present. The clarity puts young Timothy Dalton into

You see details like the scratches in the lighter, fabric patterns of those ‘80s outfits and the elaborate religious compound front for the drug den. The South American setting (meaning southern America and the continent below) provides lush settings full of greens and reds that shine, bright blue skies and water. That’ll make it a lot easier to sit through License to Kill. 

The Man with the Golden Gun is just old school time machine restoration. This was the ‘70s. Film from that era cannot look this good, but for Bond it does. It’s not quite Dr. No level of ridiculous detail but it’s still good. 

You’ll see faded paint and scratches in the belly dancer’s run down dressing room, crusty boatyards, the martial arts temple. This isn’t one of the more lavish Bonds until you get to Scaramanga’s island, so the colors don’t pop as much. There’s some tacky ‘70s décor but the quality and clarity is there. 


TV shows

 

Lost: Seasons 1 and 2 

Blu Ray collectors can now complete their Lost set as they went back to bring out the first two seasons to join three and four. These episodes provide lots of detail to see under Blu Ray scrutiny. At their best, you get a clear view of Hawaii locales in more detail than you’d even see if you were there (I can vouch for that. I’ve been there.) 

The epic post-crash pilot opener explodes in clear detail. The wreckage of the plane holds up. The main settings of the beach and the jungle are clear and deep with color and detail. Sweat, dirt and stubble provide lots of extra HD effects. The beach in daylight almost seems too bright, and shows a grain effect because of that, though it doesn’t impede any detail in the ocean waves or campsite scenery. At night, the lighting by fire is perfect. Flashbacks offer opportunities to see different settings around Hawaii in the same HD detail.

Once they get into the hatch in season two, you see details in close-up on the computer keys, the crusty back corridors, all the manufactured habitat courtesy of the Dharma Initiative. Colors pop in the simple primary décor. Some of the scenes in either season get digitally grainy, particularly dark nighttime shots. It’s still TV, but the scenes that work look like the best film in HD.


Cable shows

 

Weeds: The Complete Fourth Season 

Weeds is not new to Blu Ray but this is the first season I’ve watched in that format. And it should be interesting to viewers since it was a drastic change in scenery. Whatever you liked or disliked about the suburban Blu Rays, season four is a different setting either way. 

There’s plenty of color to see in the temporary shelter with all the multi-colored donation blankets and the ‘60s deco family home. There’s also gritty detail to see in back alleys, crusty windshields and prison visitation windows, perhaps the appropriate counterpoint to the collision of family life and drug dealing. 

Compared to other TV on Blu Ray I’ve seen, Weeds maintains more clarity and sharpness than most. There is occasional digital grain because it is still shot on TV equipment, but it’s minor. Lighting remains glowing, giving a heightened look to everything.
 

Dexter: The Complete Second Season 

Season two looks just like season one. That is, as a TV show, it’s not the highest of hi-def quality. Some shots are a little sharper than they are on TV, but others go really grainy in their effort to tighten up. Nighttime shots fair worst and landscapes don’t do too well either. Close-ups glorify the actors’ faces and the scenery in which they are up close.

Color-wise, the whites of the crime lab and splatter walls shine brightest. Miami colors pop out too with their loud patterns. Blood seems mostly realistic, meaning deep and dark.


Classic TV shows

 

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season One 

Considering these were originally meant to be seen on 12” black and white TVs, they really did an awesome job restoring and remastering them for Blu Ray. They totally hold up on giant 56” HDTVs looking better than most modern TV shows and comparable to some movies. 

At some 40 years old, the detail falls just short of a Dark Knight Imax quality, which is amazing. You see all the detail in the constructed sets of the enterprise and planets the crew visits, usually bubbly Styrofoam rocks. The greatest detail is seeing the beads of sweat on each actor in intense situations. That certainly never showed up in as clear quality in syndication. Any prosthetic makeup shows every wrinkle of latex, and Captain Pike is just horrific. 

Of course the bright, trippy ‘60s colors are fantastic. They are pure and simple, bright reds and yellows. Of course those green ladies are even hotter in hi-def green. Both the original visual effects and the redux hold up well, but differently. Obviously the new ones have the polish of CGI, but the old ones show the levels of old optical composite processes. That’s a nice effect to see in an age where everyone does it the easy way.

 


Comedy

 

Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy 

Seth MacFarlane’s collection of shorts looks pretty much like Family Guy does on HDTV. It’s still in 4:3 but the colors are really bright and solid and the lines are sharp. That either means that they could put this on TV in rotation, or they could put Family Guy on Blu Ray and look pretty great.