New to Blu Ray is our monthly look at the latest Blu Ray releases. This month we look at some new action, comedy, horror and cable TV releases.
Wait for it. It takes Fight Club a little while to look its best. It always looks good but the best stuff starts about halfway through the film. It’s like they could only transfer the film on one setting so they chose the one that works for the bulk of the film, but they couldn’t just do the beginning on high and then tweak it later.
You see crisp detail in sweat on the brown. There’s some grain and speckle in the early scenes but it’s a tight picture with sharp lines and crisp images. You see the wrinkles in Edward Norton’s shirts and the subliminal Brads pop in clearly. The grainiest scenes are the support groups but even in those you see the shiny gymnasium floor.
Some details you might like to notice are the penguin fur in the cave fantasy, Helena Bonham Carter’s pale makeup caked on her face, the refrigerator before it explodes, the grimy back alley, the splicer Tyler uses to cut porno into film reels, Tyler’s condemned house and Brad Pitt’s chiseled abs.
Solid scenes include the New York streets, the Laundromat, the totaled cars Norton’s persona investigates, baggage claim at the airport, the bar where Fight Club begins, the projection booth, the scenes of Fight Club homework and all the night lit Mayhem that the Project gets up to.
They really saved the best transfer for the Fight Club itself. That underground basement has pure shadows and shows everything in minimal light. Sometimes scenes will go from grainy to smooth from one cut to the next, but even the grainy scenes show they did it in HD. Maybe the brighter lit scenes have trouble holding up with the dark aesthetic of the bulk of the film, but it looks good.
This film looks grainy on Blu Ray but it’s like an authentic ‘70s way. You still see all the clarity and earthy colors, there’s just film in there. You’ll tour the country vistas tinted through a ‘70s lens, but clearer, crisper than ever before. It can be so bright and shiny, or muddy with dirt and forest, so you see both extremes.
The detail is not so gritty. Maybe they’re riding too fast to see it all, but even at their stops there seems to be one level removed from minute detail. You do get to focus on the shiny chrome of the handlebars and see a little extra detail there. Likewise, a sojourn with a marching band shows all the shiny brass of their instruments and the colors of their uniform.
The scenery is still sharp, so you’ve got clarity and color that preserves the film’s aesthetic. That’s a real fete for Blu Ray, almost like HD home movies.
Rocky: The Undisputed Collection
I’m not really sure why they bothered to put the Rocky series on Blu Ray if they couldn’t make it look at least decent. The first four films are super grainy and full of white speckles. It’s not as bad out in the daylight but the gyms, boxing rings and skating rinks that are vital to the series look terrible.
The outdoor training montages are good but the main fights, ugh. To be fair, the DVD is fuzzy too. Maybe the original materials of these films can’t hold up, but you’d think by the time they did a sequel, or certainly by the glossy ‘80s they’d be using film that can transfer well.
Rocky V finally starts to look like HD. There’s still some fuzz, some grain but some shots are sharp and clear. If the last four looked like this it would be worth it but don’t get a whole set just so two out of six look good. Rocky Balboa is the Sony Blu Ray so that looks fantastic, but it’s the only one.
Heat looks great, perfect. It’s sharp and solid. There’s a little grain, but it’s where it’s intended to be. It’s not always as gritty as you might expect, but the picture quality never wavers. The action explodes in debris for gritty details. The hockey masks in the first shootout shine with glare. Of course the big central shootout is crisp and gritty.
The focus may shift, but that’s intentional. A corner of the frame is soft while another portion is sharp. The night landscape of L.A. with all the police light colors must be Michael Mann’s wet dream of how he wanted the city to look.
The big diner scene is clear, but it’s true. It’s all reverse shots. They didn’t have to be there at the same time. A few whisps of Pacino’s hair are clear but that’s one shot where you really notice the soft edges, but that keeps the stars cool and handsome.
Leon: The Professional
Sony did Blu Ray right here. This is golden lit French action, even in the sleezy apartment hallways. The whole movie is gold, either the American cut The Professional or the extended French cut Leon.
Some shots regain up but most are so bright and clear you won’t care. The colorful New York streets, the skylines of rooftop sniping and the gritty interiors’ chipped paint and wood shine. When the action comes, all the detailed debris flies.
This actually looks the best of the three even though it may be the least sought after title. It’s perfectly crisp and clear. You see all the detail in the hostage setting, which is a situation that’s really all about the detail. You see the wear and tear of a working police office, especially when Sam takes it over.
There’s detail in gunshot debris and sweat as the tension mounts. The furrowed brows of angry men standing around screaming are what The Negotiator is all about. What’s amazing is that Sam can scream without spitting. I expected to see all the little spittles projecting out of his mouth but he keeps it all in when he explodes.
The clarity really works for the taut suspense of this hostage drama. It keeps the office looking interesting for the bulk of a two hour plus film.
Kevin Smith Collection
Jay and Silent Bob has already been out on Blu Ray so the new arrivals are Clerks and Chasing Amy. Clerks does not look as bad as you’d expect. It’s grainy, but clearer than the old VHS tape where I first saw it. It’s the same as the DVD really but you get cool menus, and the Miramax logo is stunning.
Chasing Amy looks really good. It has a smooth polish finish to the guerilla indie, but it still looks gritty. It’s not the gloss of Hollywood, just professional indie filmmaking. That faded ‘90s flannel and baggie pants don’t lose any of their authenticity with HD.
The bright colors around the comic book convention shine. The dive lofts the characters live in and the bars they hang out hold true. Even the exteriors look like the New York I see when I visit.
The shots are raw and stark. Close ups hold up well. Screw the critics of Smith’s visual aesthetics. Striping all the artifice away can really work for the drama.
The menus are in German. Cute. HD video holds up well when it’s on but about half the scenes are a white haze of speckles like the worst transfer of a TV show. Particularly bad scenes are indoors with the focus group, the Ron Paul interview, the swinger hours and the stands of the UFC fight.
Scenes that look good are the middle eastern locations and interviews, the brightly lit star parent auditions, the bondage stunt, the self defense class, the army barracks and the lit stage of the UFC fight. The talk show of course is a video copy transferred to the movie.
The enhanced commentary is what we wanted for Borat. They talk about the behind the scenes workings of this schtick and anecdotes like celebrity participation. They claim the dominatrix was not staged, and the way they set her up explains why it turned out that way. It adds about 27 minutes to the film as they pause it. You can also see the Latoya Jackson scene that I saw in the screening cut one week before Michael’s passing.
When a modern new release doesn’t hold up on Blu Ray I really wonder if they’re even trying. I mean, Bruno was basically shot on video, but Funny People was a normal looking movie in theaters. I could forgive that the comedy clubs are so dark that they just can’t look great, but even the general locations haze up with speckles.
George Simmons’ mansion, the brightly lit supermarket, the suburban neighborhoods all look overexposed with too much light. Some of the corporate party and oceanside vistas clear and pretty but at best this is standard Blu Ray quality, and it’s not all best. Actually, the fake movies look the best, so they did something right with the films within the film.
Was there any doubt this would look amazing. It’s the most perfect space movie ever. It’s totally crisp, clear and bright. You see some grain when J.J. Abrams blows out the bright ship decks but you’re supposed to. Oh, you do see some speckle in the dark on Nero’s ship. I guess nothing’s perfect, but the good stuff’s so good.
Epic space combat shines with colored lasers and the textures of crumbling ships. The view of planets from space is so pure. Earthbound scenes are tight too. You see both the scuffs and the glare of the shiny red care. You see the grains of dirt with futuristic backdrops subtly set against the very real detail we can relate to.
That shot of the Enterprise under construction that fans complained about so much looks awesome. So deal with it. They constructed the Enterprise on earth because it looks awesome on Blu Ray. The space jump is awesome too. You still see all the detail at the high speed of falling.
Vulcan crumbles with its detailed statues crushing extras. The newfangled transport swivels hold up distinctly. The ice planet is what we can hope Hoth looks like when Empire Strikes Back finally comes to Blu Ray. The pastel colors make the engine room look prettier than it has any right to.
Most importantly, the bright bridge shines on Spock’s bowl cut and the gritty faces of characters reacting to really important stuff.
Of course Pixar looks amazing on Blu Ray. Up is bright and shiny. Even the sky is perfect and sky always looks grainy. That is, when they use film to shoot sky.
The Pixar artists have added grit to the wood of the house. Even the texture of the old man’s shin, with progressive stubble throughout the movie, is noticeable. Fireplace grit, scuffs on the door and electric boxes, picture frames all show the detailed craftsmanship. Later in the film, the dinosaur bones in Muntz’s collection and the age of the climactic blimp show the same artistry.
Portraying landscapes from above, Pixar paints their colorful masterpieces. The colors are just piercing, epic. From tropical settings to dark cave rocks, it all looks great. Then you see it all under a new light in the blue night. The multi-color balloon cluster, even blue on blue, is distinct. The dog fur shines.
It all somehow looks real. The humans are weird looking cartoons but you still sense you could touch them. You don’t need 3-D. Try reaching into your set on Blu Ray. Through fog, you still see the rocky texture, and the fog itself is sharp.
Blu Ray sharpens up all the cheesy sets and costumes. It’s still very grainy and speckly. You can see the detail under it but it’s far from perfect. Like Fight Club, it may be a case of picking your battles and they held the HD transfer strong where it counts.
The sets and environments look glorious. Empty, open sets leave a lot of room to see detail in the fake concrete, bricks and marble. The ice cave is great. Greens and pinks pop, tubes shine with glare.
The overgrown D.C. still looks faint. Maybe there were too many generations of visual effects to keep it top quality. Actual shots of the cities and nature look good. I guess Blu Ray is about what looks good and what doesn’t.
They kept Near Dark clear and smooth, even in the dark night scenes. It’s a little smoothed over and soft, but it’s not grainy. The speckle issue is interesting here, because it’s only one line in the top ¼ of the frame, not the whole frame. Weird.
You don’t get all the grit of the grungy vampire hideouts and dirty, unbathed vampires, but it’s a solid film look. The seedy sides of town, dive bars and all have that layer of a movie, but it’s a clear movie. The film’s colors are good with fire, night fog, neon signage and of course blood.
Roland Emmerich’s remake looks really old. Maybe it’s not the best made film to begin with, but overcast New York is a tad fuzzy and muted for the whole film. It’s not grainy. Nothing stands out though. The real detail of the creature is obscured by the rain, and the several generations of elements.
The big, loud eye candy is dim. It kind of looks like the Blu Ray equivalent of stock footage. It’s okay. It’s hi-def, but it’s old. Maybe the rain was the biggest mistake but I’ve seen good rain on Blu Ray. There’s no rain inside Madison Square Garden but there’s no light either, so it doesn’t help.
I really wanted to give this movie a break. It is what it is and I had fun with it at the time, but the Blu Ray didn’t bring it any new glory. At least it’s clear and not speckly.
Even old Pixar is still awesome. It’s bright and shiny, full of the detailed texture of different monsters. Bile’s tummy wrinkles, Waternoose’s bumpy crab legs, Randall’s reptilian scales and the abominable snowman’s fluff are all distinct.
Fur was a really big deal when they first did Sully and you finally see all the individual hairs they were talking about. Mike Wazowski’s spots are subtle but the wrinkles at his joints really sell it.
They live in a bright, beautiful city. The factory is smooth and shiny. You see the details of scuffs at their work station and locker room. The world is full of pastel colors. Even all the foods at the sushi restaurant show off the HD color palette. The ice cave, the door vault… it’s all full of great stuff for Blu Ray.
Wow, this is a movie quality TV show. It looks like Gladiator. You see all the detail in battle armor and costumes, chinked up chains on the warriors and fabric threads on the talkers. The gritty battlefield, the stone courts, thatch marketplaces all look epic. Shots are jam packed with extras and detail, and lit with a golden tint.
There may be some video digital grain in really light scenes, but movies have that too with their film grain. Maybe some interiors like thatch hovels fuzz up a little bit, but that so much of this show looks like a movie, and an HD movie at that, is quite something. You get to enjoy the detail of intense close-ups, and all the boobies HBO allows.
Scrubs finally went to HD in its eighth season, so now it finally comes to Blu Ray. It’s a solid HD show. The sterile hospital lighting keeps the shots really consistent. You see grain of the digital variety, but it’s sharp and clear consistently. There’s no haze of speckles, even in darker bedrooms and such.
The Bahamas two-parter provides an HD change of scenery. The pastel tropical colors present a truly lush paradise. There’s less grain, maybe because there’s more light. Maybe it’s the indoor light that does it. Either way, Scrubs holds up on Blu Ray and looks better than the TV broadcast.