Media

Movie Renter's Guide Number 153 - December, 2007 - Part III

ARTICLE INDEX

"Stardust" (HD DVD)

StardustSynopsis

In hopes of wooing a beautiful girl, Tristan promises to bring her a falling star. But he's in for the adventure of his life when he discovers the star is actually a celestial beauty named Yvaine. When an old witch Lamia attempts to steal Yvaine's youth, Tristan must protect her at all costs, in this magical family adventure that will make you fall in love over and over again.

Specifications

    • Paramount Pictures
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 7 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English/French/Spanish DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Matthew Vaughn
    • Starring Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

It is rare that we actually get truly original fantasy films these days. Writer Neil Gaiman delivers a pretty solid one here that reminded me just the slightest bit of The Princess Bride with a dash of Time Bandits. But this one stands pretty well on its own. The production is quite good for the most part with only some of the CG effects coming off a little weak. I loved the cast and the departures for some characters (DeNiro is quite funny). If you didn't have the chance to see this in theaters, it is definitely worth a look on HD DVD.

Technical

This is a bit of a mixed bag transfer. I loved the color reproduction and the bold tones, and the image has a nice film like quality to it. Contrast can be lacking at times though, and blacks are clearly elevated. Depth of image varies a bit, with some moments having a gorgeous three dimensional quality and others coming up a bit flat. Detail is the same way. If the transfer were just a bit more consistent in quality, this could have been quite the presentation.

The audio presentation is good, but not great. It just never seemed to deliver the goods as much as most of the other films I've been seeing lately. Presence was a bit on the weaker side, and the surround soundstage was slightly lacking. Dialogue sounds natural though, with no obvious signs of strain. Imaging in the main soundstage is good, and there are moments with decent dynamics, but with the fantasy theme going on, I was hoping for a bit more inventiveness with the sound design.


Extras

Extras include a production featurette delivered in HD, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, and the trailer in HD.



"The Heartbreak Kid"  (HD DVD)

The Heartbreak KidSynopsis

When the single and indecisive Eddie meets the sexy and beautiful Lila, the guy who could never pull the trigger jumps the gun. While honeymooning in Mexico, Eddie discovers he's made a really big mistake. He soon meets Miranda, his real soul mate. But when the love of your life isn't your wife, things can get quickly out of control. Now it will take some desperate measures to turn his honeymoon from hell into the perfect romantic getaway.

Specifications

    • Dreamworks
      2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French/Spanish DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Peter & Bobby Farrelly
    • Starring Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan, Malin Akerman, Jerry Stiller
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Comedic
  • Sex: Strong
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

I didn't have very high hopes going into this one. I am not a big Ben Stiller fan, and the previous Farrelly Brother's films haven't always struck a big chord with me. Thankfully, this one is fun. There is still some trademark over the top humor, but most of the great laughs aren't forced. Being a newlywed myself, I enjoyed the themes and situations in this one. Worth a look for sure.

Technical

The image quality here is quite good, with great color rendition and depth of image. Most of the film takes place outdoors and the image benefits from the gorgeous scenery of Cabo and the Bay area. Fine object detail is also quite good, adding a lot to the dimensional quality of the image. I didn't see any compression issues at all, and the print seems to be in excellent shape. Contrast is quite good, but I thought the image was a bit dark at times for some reason. Overall though, this is a very nice HD transfer.

I'm glad to see Paramount/Dreamworks at least attempting to up their lossless audio soundtrack count. I just wish they would do it with more films that would probably take advantage of it more. This one isn't really one of them. Nothing sounds bad here, but this isn't a film with interesting sound design. Dialogue is clean and articulate though, and the imaging across the main channels is fine. Surrounds are utilized, but you don't get much from them. Some of the music selections liven things up a bit, but only a little.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel, production features, and the trailer. Only the trailer is HD.



"The Bourne Ultimatum"  (HD DVD Hybrid)

The Bourne UltimatumSynopsis

Matt Damon returns as highly trained assassin Jason Bourne, who is on the hunt for the agents who stole his memory and true identity. With a new generation of skilled CIA operatives tracking his every move, Bourne is in a non-stop race around the globe as he finally learns the truth behind his mysterious past.

Specifications

    • Universal
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 56 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Paul Greengrass
    • Starring Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn, Joan Allen
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This is one of the best films I saw this past year and one of the best trilogies of recent times. The action in this one is terrific, and the pace never slows. This is one of those rides that grips you from the start and never ever lets go. A solid thriller and a must own in my opinion.

Technical

One of the best video presentations from Universal yet, and fitting considering how big of a title this is. Everything about this image is gorgeous. Detail, depth, contrast, color. Even long shots have tons of detail and dimension, a trait I find lacking in a lot of presentations. If I had to complain about something it would be the constant sense of motion due to the camera shaking. While effective in some action sequences, I don't appreciate it nearly as much in the normal course of the movie. Aside from that, a flawless presentation from Universal!

Universal delivers a full lossless 5.1 mix on this one. Encoded in Dolby TrueHD, the soundtrack is quite a fun ride. Dynamics are rich, and I loved the use of the surround environment. The score plays in nicely as well. Dialogue is balanced perfectly with the rest of the track, and the soundstage imaging is excellent. A phenomenal soundtrack.

Extras

Universal didn't pull any punches with the extras. Their "U-Control" system is in full effect here and lets you watch a video commentary or check out more information about the characters and locales. The only cheesy part is the blatant advertising for the new VW SUV. You also get deleted scenes, production features, and a commentary.



"Mr. & Mrs. Smith"  (Blu-ray)

Mr. & Mrs. SmithSynopsis

After five (or six) years of vanilla-wedded bliss, ordinary suburbanites John and Jane Smith are stuck in a rut the size of the Grand Canyon until the truth comes out! Unbeknownst to each other, they are both coolly lethal, highly paid assassins working for rival organizations. And when they discover they're each other's next target, their secret lives collide in a spicy, explosive mix of wicked comedy, pent-up passion, non-stop action, and high-tech weaponry that gives an all-new meaning to "Till death do us part!"

Specifications

    • 20th Century Fox
      2005, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    • 1080p
    • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    • Spanish/French DD 5.1
    • Directed by Doug Liman
    • Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, Vince Vaughn
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: Themes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

This one was delayed awhile back by Fox but finally returns to the slate. The super couple obviously had a fun time with this one, and it shows on screen. This film does a great job of balancing the comedy and action and provides a lot of fun. I was a bit worried by the trailers, but there is just nothing at all to complain about with this film.

Technical

Fox has been delivering some exceptional transfers lately, and this is definitely one of them. Detail is rich, and contrast is outstanding. I've always liked the look of this film with its rich color palette and over the top contrasty look, and this Blu-ray presentation captures all of it perfectly. I didn't see any noise at all in the print, and compression is definitely not an issue. A great job by Fox on this one.

Like the video transfer, the audio leaves nothing to be desired. The sound design is rich with ambience, directional cues, and all out action madness. Bass is handled perfectly with effective tactile presence and solid bass response during gun play. Dialogue is also clean and integrated nicely into the chaos. The surrounds are subtle at times, but they create a realistic soundstage with nice pans and directional effects.

Extras

Extras include three feature commentaries, deleted scenes, a Fox Movie Channel feature, and the trailer in HD.



"Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1"  (HD DVD Hybrid)

Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1Synopsis

Here again are the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise, representing the United Federation of Planets on a five-year mission in outer space to explore new worlds, seek new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before. The Enterprise is commanded by handsome and brash Captain James T. Kirk. His First Officer and best friend is Mr. Spock from the planet Vulcan, and Kirk's Medical Officer is Dr. McCoy. With its crew of approximately 430, the Enterprise battles aliens, megalomaniacal computers, time paradoxes, psychotic murderers, and even Genghis Khan!

Specifications

    • Paramount
      2007, Color
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English DD+ 5.1/2.0/1.0
    • Spanish/French DD+ 1.0
    • Directed by Various
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Yes
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

It takes a long time to go through a TV program set like this, so forgive my delay on the review. I'm not a particularly big fan of this TV series, but I've always been a fan of the films. Watching this show was a bit humorous just because of the older production and funny tidbits that go along with it. But I understand why a show like this would have been so popular in its time (and continues to be today). The concepts are fresh and the episodes are still genuinely entertaining. I think the only problem here lies in the high price tag for the HD presentation.

Technical

It has been a LONG time since I've seen any of the early Star Trek episodes. I remember watching them as a kid and even then they were reruns. Paramount has gone back and touched up the originals adding new special effects and backdrops in several episodes. The results are quite good, and the additions aren't too glaring. The restorations are excellent though. Detail is far better than it could have been, and so is dimension. It brings out some production issues (like how bad props and make-up were at times!) but makes for compelling video. I could only imagine how lucky we would be if all of the studios took this kind of initiative with their catalog releases.

The 5.1 audio mixes have also been spruced up a bit. But I must say, they don't fare as well as the video. The sound production at the time was definitely limited, and it isn't like TV shows of the time were known for aggressive sound design. Nevertheless, some of the work is quite good, and the balance of audio is generally fine. Dialogue doesn't sound quite as good as newer productions, but timbre is generally pleasant, and the voice work is balanced well.

Extras

LOTS of extras on this release. There are production features, introspective looks at the new remastering efforts, commentary, PR fluff, interviews, trailers, interactive tours, and more. Most can be navigated through on-screen menus during playback similar to "IME" and "U-Control".



"The Simpsons Movie"  (Blu-ray)

The Simpsons MovieSynopsis

Homer accidentally causes an environmental catastrophe which could doom Springfield forever. Homer now must save the city and rescue his family. Springfield's usual characters and new favorites all turn up in the first ever movie length version of the hit TV show, 18 years in the making.

Specifications

    • 20th Century Fox
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 27 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • 1080p
    • English DTS-HD MA 5.1
    • Spanish/French DD 5.1
    • Directed by David Silverman
    • Starring Homer, Bart, Marge, Maggie, Lisa, and more!
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Themes
  • Language: No

Commentary

While I wouldn't call myself the biggest fan of this show (I just don't watch TV, nothing against the actual show), I did end up really enjoying this one. The comedy timing was great, and there are some really funny lines throughout. My wife and I even caught ourselves singing the "Spider Pig" song quite a bit afterwards for a chuckle. The production value is quite the step up from the TV show, but the scripting seems to be in line with what I have seen from the TV program, just longer. Overall though, I had a lot of fun with it.

Technical

What isn't to like here? I was impressed with the level of dimension they could achieve with this kind of animation. Everything is refined compared to the TV show, and the level of detail at times is impressive. Colors take center stage, and saturation is gorgeous. The depth of image is also excellent, with exceptional contrast. The only gripe I have is the slightest bit of banding that I saw creep in at times in some backgrounds. Hardly intrusive, but enough that I wouldn't call this a perfect transfer.

Like the video, the audio presentation is quite the step up from the TV show. You can tell they amped up the sound design and took advantage of the multi-channel package. Surrounds can be quite fun at times, and even quieter passages make use of them for ambience. Dynamic range is impressive, but not quite to the level of the bigger action films. Dialogue sounds perfect and is balanced nicely with the rest of the track.

Extras

Extras include two commentaries, deleted scenes, trailers, and promos.



"Ocean's Thirteen"  (Blu-ray/HD DVD Hybrid)

Ocean's ThirteenSynopsis

Danny Ocean again runs the game, so no rough stuff. No one gets hurt. Except for double-crossing Vegas kingpin Willy Bank. Ocean's crew will hit him where it hurts: in his wallet. On opening night of Bank's posh new casino tower The Bank, every turn of a card and roll of the dice will come up a winner for bettors. And they'll hit him in his pride, making sure the tower doesn't receive a coveted Five Diamond Award. That's just the start of the flimflams. The boys are out to break The Bank. Place your bets!

Specifications

    • Warner Bros.
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 hr 2 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • 1080p
    • English/French/Spanish DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Steven Soderbergh
    • Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Themes
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

I was a bit worried about how well this formula would hold up a third time around. Heck, I was worried the second time around. Luckily, they pretty much nailed it again and provide just as much of a good time. The casting just gets better and better, and the capers are just as much fun. If you liked the first two, this one is a worthy addition.

Technical

I know there have been a lot of complaints with this installment, but personally I didn't think it was too bad. I saw it in theaters and knew ahead of time that the filmmakers wanted a specific kind of look. Colors are blown out quite a bit here, which does two things. One, it hurts detail. Two, it creates a lot of noise in the oversaturated areas. Blocking is evident, which is a distraction. Flesh tones are all over the place, with some characters bordering on orange and yellow. There is a nice quality to the depth of the image, and detail can be stunning on occasion. Consistency is an issue though, regardless of whether it was intentional or not. I wouldn't rate this one as eye candy, but it's faithful to what the filmmakers wanted.

I was pretty disappointed that Warner didn't include a lossless mix on this release. They've been pretty good about giving the higher profile day-and-date titles a TrueHD soundtrack, but this one comes out in vanilla style. That isn't to say it is a complete waste, far from it, but it would be nice to see some consistency in the quality of presentation from some of the studios. This is a fun mix though. I love the style of music in the score, and it lends to the theme of the film nicely. Dialogue is balanced well, and imaging is solid. There's some nice extension during some of the key moments of the film that will give the chairs a nice shake, but don't expect a ton of dynamics.

Extras

Extras a feature commentary, deleted scenes, production features, casino and Vegas themed features and trailers.



"Bad Santa"  (Blu-ray)

Bad SantaSynopsis
You'd better watch out - Santa Claus Willie T. Stokes is coming to town, and he doesn't care if you've been naughty or nice. Willie's favorite holiday tradition is to fill his sacks with loot lifted from shopping malls across the country. But this year his plot gets derailed by a wise-cracking store detective, a sexy bartender, and a kid who's convinced Willie is the real Santa Claus.

Specifications

    • Dimension Films
      2003, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 38 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • 1080p
    • English PCM 5.1
    • English DD 5.1
    • Directed by Terry Zwigoff
    • Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, John Ritter, Bernie Mac
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Strong

Commentary

Just in time for the holiday's comes this very dark comedy. I had fun with this when it first came out but I don't know how much the "Unrated" aspect really helps out. The film was funny enough, though a bit over the top at times. I don't know if it will become part of my standard holiday viewing fare, but I know I'll be popping it in every once in awhile.

Technical

There are two separate encodes on this disc for each version of the film. I wasn't expecting much from the video, but they pulled it off reasonably well. Detail can be quite good at times, but the natural film look with no obvious stylizing doesn't do the image too many favors. Colors can be a bit light at times, but more in line with what we see from real life. Detail does suffer a bit here and there, especially in darker scenes, but overall I wasn't too disappointed.

The uncompressed PCM mix is pretty dry as well. This is a comedy, so I wasn't expecting much to begin with. Dialogue sounds good and balance is solid, so I don't have too much to complain about. There isn't much in terms of dynamics, but I wouldn't expect much given the genre. The soundtrack adds some nice dimension at times, but again nothing too thrilling. A run of the mill soundtrack for this type of film.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, production features, and outtakes.



"The Aviator"  (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

The AviatorSynopsis
This film chronicles the early years of legendary movie director and aviator Howard Hughes' career, from the late 1920's to the mid-1940's.

Specifications

    • Warner Bros.
      2004, Color, Rated PG-13
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • 1080p
    • English/French DD+ 5.1
    • Spanish DD 2.0
    • Directed by Martin Scorsese
    • Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda, Jude Law
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: Themes
  • Language: Yes

Commentary

The Aviator is a thrilling, yet flawed look at the maddening world of Howard Hughes. My Dad used to talk about Hughes a lot when I was growing up. He was especially impressed with the "Spruce Goose" which I've seen in person quite a few times. I was hoping that The Aviator would account for more of the life of Hughes and give me a better understanding of how he started and where he ended up. Unfortunately even after three hours I didn't get that.

Instead the film focuses more on high times of Hughes' life. It starts around the production of Hell's Angels, Hughes' multi-million dollar film and ends after the first flight of the Hercules. The film chronicles his relationship with Katherine Hepburn, who is played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett. It sheds light on his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and its effect on his driven personality to stay at the forefront of aviation technology.

Technical

This film has always had a controversial style to it. The first hour of the film has an unusual coloring scheme where all shades of green are rendered as blue to emulate the early two color strip process (the same process used in Hughes' movie, Hell's Angels, which was the first movie to use color). Later the color scheme changes to emulate the Technicolor process (three-strip color that has red, green, and blue) and the colors are greatly oversaturated with extremely lush greens and reds.

Aside from this things look quite good. Detail is preserved nicely, and dimension is excellent. Some of the darker scenes flatten up a bit, but nothing too distracting. I didn't notice anything in terms of compression issues, but there is some obvious noise from the color distortion. Whites are bit clipped at times as well, resulting in a small loss of detail.

Warner delivers a plain Jane 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on this one. At just under 3 hours I was surprised that they didn't go the same route they did with Troy and include a lossless TrueHD soundtrack. Aside from that though, this is still a pretty good mix.

At times I thought the surround soundstage was lacking a bit. While there are some interesting panning sequences, the bulk of the soundstage stays rooted in the front, which hurts a few scenes (the filming of Hell's Angels is a good example). Dialogue is also on the brighter side, reminding me more of the older Hollywood films. Whether this is intentional or not I don't know, but it was distracting at times.

Extras

Lots of extras on this release. A feature commentary, deleted scenes and a plethora of historical features on Hughes including episodes of Modern Marvels. You also get a handful of production features, interviews, a still gallery, and the trailer.

Editor's Note: I saw Hell's Angels a few years ago on TV, and it is astonishing. For its time (1930), it was the most expensive movie ever made and has incredible dog fight scenes in the air (nominated for an Academy Award for Cinematography). This is the first use of color (red and blue but no green) in a full length motion picture. It was also before Hollywood censured bad language, so you can actually hear the pilots of the bi-planes cursing at each other from across the skies. Lastly, it was Jean Harlow's debut. See this one if you have the opportunity.



"Balls of Fury"  (HD DVD Hybrid)

Balls of FurySynopsis
When former professional table tennis phenomenon Randy Daytona is recruited by FBI Agent Rodriguez for a mission in the unsanctioned, underground and utterly unhinged world of extreme table tennis, he's determined to bounce back to his former glory and smoke out his father's killer, the arch-fiend Feng. But with danger coming at him from every angle, will Randy be able to keep his eye on the ball?

Specifications

    • Rogue Pictures
      2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 hour 31 min
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    • 1080p
    • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
    • English/French DD+ 5.1
    • Directed by Robert Ben Garant
    • Starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Robert Patrick
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: Strong
  • Sex: Yes
  • Language: Strong

Commentary

A ping-pong spoof on Bruce Lee's famous Enter the Dragon, Balls of Fury is a silly comedy with not much going for it. I had low expectations going in and while it didn't turn out nearly as bad as I was expecting, it didn't win me over. Most of the performances are bland, and the comedy is only mildly amusing most of the time. While it does have a few good laughs, they don't make up for the rest of the production.

Technical

While I didn't care for the movie at all, I was quite impressed with the picture quality. Fine detail is exceptional at times, and the image has a very dimensional quality throughout. Colors can be quite vivid, and some of the outdoor sequences were demo worthy. The only time the image started coming up a bit short was some of the darker moments in the film, which looks a tad washed out and on the flat side. Overall though, Universal has done a great job with this video presentation.

The 5.1 soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and overall is quite a letdown. The soundtrack has almost no presence at all to it. Dynamics are pretty much non-existent. Even the film's soundtrack selections lack any real punch or presence. There were quite a few times when I thought there could be some real dynamics and soundstage, only to come up short and one dimensional. The dialogue is a bit louder than the rest of the mix, making things only worse. I'm glad to see Universal delivering more and more lossless mixes, but this one was disappointing in the sound design.

Extras

Extras include deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and a production feature all in HD. There is also a spoof feature with the main character. This disc is also web-enabled for more content.