New to Blu-Ray – February 2011

New releases including Piranha, Saw 3D and the classic, Battleship Potemkin.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

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. This month a huge stack of Blu-rays awaited me after Sundance!

 

Paranormal Activity 2 

Well, you know these movies are not only shot on home video cameras but they’re made to look like they are. So any time the picture speckles up or gets hazy, you can say it’s supposed to. That usually only happens in the blue nightvision shots, and the shots of the doorway and bedroom look fine. It’s outside, by the pool that get rough. 

The handheld camera footage looks great. It’s just like consumer home video equipment can generate HD pictures now. You get some white specks sometimes but it’s generally a clear voyeuristic look into this family’s life until they cut to the super grainy nightvision.

 

I Spit On Your Grave (2010/1978) 

The new version of I Spit On Your Grave is a perfectly crisp, clear Blu-ray. If you want to see all the detail of this sort of thing, it’s there. It never looks pretty, even the woods and cabin have a brown, dead look. The clarity makes some of the makeup effects look a bit fake. I mean, it’s still an achievement in low budget violence, but you can distinguish where the victim ends and the prosthetic begins. A near flawless transfer though, only the faintest of haze in the dusky darkness when the attack begins. 

The original I Spit on Your Grave preserves the rough homemade look of the controversial exploitation film. It looks like film with those unnatural ‘70s skin tones, but it’s pretty amazing how bright the forest greens and the golden bodies are. Of course the film gets ugly and the dirt and penis blood are in your face. The picture grains up a little but the clarity they restored this underground roughie to is amazing.

 

Piranha 

I only have a 2D set to watch Piranha 3D but it still looks great on Blu-ray. The spring break Lake Victoria setting is totally clear and full of bright pastel colors. The only footage that looks at all rough is the piranha-vision underwater. The green tint causes it to haze up in parts. The boobies look phenomenal, whether underwater or glistening in the sun. 

The CGI looks terrible, further emphasized when in contrast with the pristine HD of the real world footage. It’s one thing when the CGI fish stand out from the scene, but it makes it worse when they’ve been rendered to stand out in 3D. So the big fun of the movie is soiled a little when all the deaths look cheesy, but that’s the movie and the Blu-ray represents it faithfully.

 

Saw 3D 

Shooting in 3D does not guarantee you a good Blu-ray. I know the Saw movies are all about dingy warehouses but a lot of the Blu-rays keep it clear. Saw 3, even in a 2D version, has a lot of digital haze. Not even the grain you would get on film, just the white speckles when the picture is weak. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dark or light scene.  

There are some sequences that still look good. The opening trap in broad daylight is bright and clear. The oddly glowing flashbacks are a smooth picture. Some of the key traps shine all the gritty detail of the crazy setups, but it doesn’t seem like any effort was made to keep the movie consistent all the way through.

 

Monsters  

Most of this Mexican alien movie looks all right. Since it’s a foreign land to us it looks more exotic and most of it is clear. It looks like standard HD camera, so the well lit parts show everything. At night or in a dark room, it’s all grainy and hazy. There are some beautiful jungles and mountains during the good parts.

 

Chain Letter 

If this were a popular movie, or even one that got a real theatrical release, it might disappoint people that the Blu-ray doesn’t look good. But it’s just a torture porn knockoff so die hard gore hounds should be satisfied that you can see the money shots, and all the talking parts are hazy with digital errors.

 

 

Almost Famous 

This is a great looking Blu-ray that captures the look of the film with pure clarity and the detail of the era. What’s really cool is preserving the faces of this cast at the time the film was made. We’ve grown up with all of them in the last 10 years, and this is a clear portrayal of the performances and the icons. You can see the light reflecting off strands of hair. 

You’ll see spots of film damage peppered about but the picture never wavers. There are gritty details to see in the close-ups of vinyl and record players, and beautiful natural colors that look like the ‘70s without dropping lots of pop culture icons.

 

Secretariat 

This is a beautiful looking film to put in HD. All of the race tracks and horse farms are full of bright earth colors, greens and reddish browns. The sky is full of detail as the shaded clouds are captured. Since horses wake up early, it looks like most of the film was shot at magic hour. It’s all a heightened old timey photographic quality but it works for the nostalgia of any racing fans.

 

All the President’s Men 

The classic of journalism and historical record is a faithful Blu-ray. It looks like the ‘70s era document, which is to say grainy, but in an authentic way. It’s perfectly clean so you don’t see any age or damage. Whether in the newspaper office or the streets of D.C., it’s soft and the grain is clearly what the filmmakers intended us to see.

 

Network 

This Blu-ray’s grainy as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore! They totally set me up for that. Actually, it’s not quite as grainy as All the President’s Men. You can notie it, but the grains are smaller, leaving more clarity and detail in the scene. The TV studio, control room and executive offices all show detail in the ‘70s décor and fashion. It gets rougher when they go to a bar but it’s another clean, faithful Blu-ray release of a ‘70s classic.

 

Middle Men 

A brand new release, Middle Men is perfectly clear in its picture. The filmmaking itself pushes the saturated gritty style in a lot of the scenes, so you’ll see the grain that’s intended. The decades-spanning film also covers a lot of different looks so you’ll get bright clear open air and yellowing dingy backrooms.

 

 

Ong Bag 3 

Well, you know there isn’t a whole lot of Tony Jaa fighting in this one, but if you’re a completist this Blu-ray looks great. It’s totally clear so you can see all the detail in the palace arena and the strain of Jaa’s beaten body. It’s a clear, golden arena for Jaa to unleash his fury, or blue in his final fantasy sequence. 

There are some dark scenes that haze up. Those scenes are boring anyway so you’re not missing anything. The fight scenes keep it real and you can see all the detail of the enemy armies’ costumes, the temple they turn into dust and the texture of the elephants stomping around the scenes.

 

Thelma & Louise 

We may have this movie to thank for Buffy, Alias, Nikita and Kill Bill. There’s a bit of a gritty quality to the transfer but it’s all clear with all the detail of the open road and the dumpy roadside motels. There’s just grain dancing around some of the crisp shots.  

The film is not as orange as I remember it. It’s more of a cool blue, even in the dusty desert roads. Perhaps that was always there but it seems like the Blu-ray was able to capture the ‘90s capsule better than previous editions of the film.

 

48 Hours 

The buddy cop classic holds up pretty well on Blu-ray. It’s got a certain natural tone that keeps it looking like ‘80s film rather than a super restored hyper real Blu-ray. It’s like the smog in the air is between the lens and the picture, so Blu-ray is so clear that it even captures air pollution.  

It’s mostly clear, some grain sometimes (jail and the police station especially), but lots of detail. You see all the detailed in the grizzled cops and criminals, the streets of San Francisco and the beat up cars and busses in the action scenes.

 

Red Hill 

Despite a transfer by Sony, the inventors of Blu-Ray, this Aussie thriller can’t look good. Pretty much the whole thing has digital specks throughout. There are some nice landscapes and the sharpness is crisper than DVD, but you can never see it clearly. There’s always that haze or even some digital noise filling in what may be the missing parts of the picture.

There’s one scene on a stormy night that looks pretty good, maybe because there’s enough going on in the scene to distract you from the flaws. If Sony can’t even keep it together, the source material must have been really rough.

 

 

Chaplin 

Dude, if you think Downey’s awesome now, you’ve got to see him do Charlie Chaplin. You’ll also see a who’s who of stars in supporting parts. The movie itself actually looks really good on Blu-ary. Some scenes are perfectly clear and crisp so it looks like you’re in the silent film era sets, and seeing the Chaplin schtick in lifelike color. 

Sometimes it gets a little bit grainy but then it just looks like classic Hollywood film. I saw some minor specks in cocktail or dinner party scenes, and a lot in the middle when he returns to England. I’ll take it though. The good parts are so clear, it’s surreal to see young Downey in action, and then very convincing makeup making him an old Chaplin.

 

Battleship Potemkin 

Pay attention, film buffs, this one’s important. This Russian silent film established a lot of the techniques of cinema. You’ll definitely recognize the staircase sequence from The Untouchables. The 100-year-old film looks pretty good in HD. It’s obviously scratched up, but it’s more like the detail of the celluloid than damage.  

You can see all the detail on the ship, the uniforms, the grizzled actors. Most interestingly, you get a little hint that the film ran at a different speed back then. They made it flow the best they could but the HD detail brings out the slight jerk in old film speeds.

 

Alice in Wonderland 

The Disney animated version looks so good it gives the live-action Tim Burton one a run for its money. Even before it gets into the crazy artwork, the real world portrait of Alice is such a bright blue dress and yellow hair it’s like a color Nirvana.  

When she gets into Wonderland, each encounter is another color potpourri. The river of tears goes from blue to black to purple. The screen of purple water and clouds shows off all the detail Blu-ray can offer. The different flowers of the forest and the flying insects, the tea party sparkles, the hearts formations are all HD masterpieces from this animated classic.

 

 

Ice Road Truckers: Season Four 

This documentary TV show looks fantastic. The icy, snowy locations are full of powdery, shiny detail. The footage is perfectly clear HD so it’s like you’re looking through the screen at the ice. Of course there’s some banal footage inside the truck cab or grainy night vision but most of the show emphasizes the epic clear documentary footage of the ice roads.

 

Weeds: Season Six 

This is the season of Weeds where they’re on the road in the Winnebago, so there are lots of different areas to see in HD. The show pretty much holds up clearly so you can see all the detail and brightly lit colors of Nancy Botwin’s travels. 

This is also the season with the awesome sex scene between Mary Louise Parker and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in the bar. Episode 8, first one on disc two. If it’s possible for that scene to get any hotter, HD shines a spotlight on the smooth, soft skin. The red belt mark really stands out on her ass but just that skin is perfect, mashing against Gosselaar or the bar.

 

Nurse Jackie: Season two 

Nurse Jackie stays pretty much in the hospital, or around the city. It stays pretty clear most of the time. There’s a certain glow to the show that softens the fluorescent light of the hospital and gives the home scenes a sort of heavenly look. Really what it does it holds the picture together in HD so it doesn’t get hazy.  

Yet the show is stark enough to show the faces of the expert actors taking their characters through hell. There might be some color in Zoe’s flamboyant scrubs or some detail in the gory patients. Showtime must do a good job to keep their TV shows at the top range of the TV on Blu-ray spectrum.