Go to Home Page

Go to Index for All Movie Reviews

 

Movie Renter's Guide
 

Number 98 - May, 2003

Staff


Now Playing
Divider

100 Women Clear and Present Danger Special Edition
Cube (Signature Series) Cube 2: Hypercube
The Hunt for Red October Special Edition Invincible
Patriot Games Special Edition

Divider

Paramount

1994, Color, Rated PG

2 Hr 21 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Anne Archer, and James Earl Jones.

Directed by Phillip Noyce

 

DVD Released 5/6/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Clear and Present Danger - Special Edition"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

When his long time mentor Admiral James Greer develops cancer, Jack Ryan has to take his place as CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence.  The US President becomes outraged at the murder of an old friend by drug cartels, and he covertly orders military action against the drug trade, presenting it to congress as funding for normal DEA operations.  Jack finds himself up to his neck in the deception, ultimately deciding to risk everything for the sake of the truth.

Commentary

A tremendous recovery from the mediocre "Patriot Games", "Clear and Present Danger" has that epic quality audiences enjoyed in "The Hunt for Red October".  There is a lot going on, but the story unfolds in a fashion that makes it easy to follow.  There are more than a couple wild action sequences to break up the shenanigans on Capitol Hill.  The assault on the convoy remains a classic action sequence with terrific tension and speed.

Extras

There is a making of featurette entitled "Behind the Danger - New Cast & Crew Interviews".  It has the same basic format as the one on The Hunt For Red October (see below).  Heavy on interviews and light on actual on-set footage, it is still very interesting and worth a casual watch.  As noted in the other two reviews below, Paramount continues to lead the way with extras that are in the 16:9 format.

Technical

This DVD has an excellent soundtrack.  Everything is in perfect proportion, delivering a wholly integrated sound experience.  Deep bass is robust without being overpowering.  The surrounds are exciting but not distracting.  The front soundstage is alive and dynamic.  Dialogue is never wanting for clarity, while James Horner's evocative score is spacious and punchy. As for the DTS track, we found it to be perceptibly the exact same content and not categorically better sounding than the Dolby Digital mix.

Like the previous two Tom Clancy pictures reviewed below, we get a makeover from the first Clear and Present Danger DVD into the 16:9 enhanced format.  Though it is stating the obvious, this new transfer is better, 33% better to be exact.  There simply are 33% more lines of information.  Still, we were preoccupied with just how soft the transfer looked.  Edge enhancement is not too bad, but there is quite a bit of video noise.  Blacks are nice and deep, with the folds of all the men's black business suites nicely rendered.  Colors are lively and consistent, but we just could not get past the softness of the image.

The MPEG PIC flags.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There were no drops to video.

Film (3-3)

There were 51 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 53 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Paramount

1992, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 56 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Patrick Bergin, Sean Bean, Thora Birch, and James Earl Jones.

Directed by Phillip Noyce

 

DVD Released 5/6/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Patriot Games - Special Edition"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

While on vacation in London, now retired CIA Analyst Jack Ryan finds himself a witness to a terrorist attack on a member of the Royal Family.  When he jumps in to thwart the assailants, he becomes a hero in everyone's eyes but the terrorist who's brother he killed in the fire fight.  Jack's entire family is now a target, and he is thrust back into the game in order to save his family from the terrorist's revenge.

Commentary

After the immense success of "The Hunt for Red October", it would seem that a new line of film franchise was open for development:  "Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan" movies.  The producers make some interesting choices in this second film.  Conspicuously missing are minutia of military technology and complex political layer which characterize Clancy's work.  Patriot Games is an attempt to focus on the man, and while overall it is a good thriller, it just doesn't stand up as well to the other movies.  Harrison Ford is a natural for the role, able to impart the characters slight sense of being out of his element in the action environment.  "I'm just an analyst . . . ."

Extras

There is a making of featurette entitled "Patriot Games Up Close - New Cast & Crew Interviews".  It is the same format as the making of featurette on The Hunt for Red October (see below).  Through the interviews, we gain some appreciation for what was trying to be accomplished with the making of Patriot Games and why certain choices were made.  As with all new extras from Paramount, this feature is 16:9 formatted.

Technical

The 5.1 soundtrack is a good effort and exhibits many excellent qualities including a very dynamic character, clear dialogue, and good environmental cues.  It is a little front heavy though, the surrounds at time feeling neglected and then suddenly overused, calling attention to themselves. As for the DTS track, we found it to be perceptibly the exact same content and not categorically better sounding than the Dolby Digital mix.

This new release features an updated 16:9 enhanced transfer.  Though it is stating the obvious, this new transfer is better, 33% better to be exact.  There simply are 33% more lines of information.  Beyond that though, there is some edge enhancement which, depending on the particular scene, can be a bit distracting.  There is a fair amount of video noise, but shadows are nicely broken down into shades, and colors are natural and consistent.   On the whole, it feels a little soft and could have used some more real detail.

The MPEG PIC flags.

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There was only 1 drop to video lasting 18 MPEG PICs (36 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 41 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 35 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

To have a better understanding of what the flags above mean, please refer to our "A Beautiful Mind" review.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Paramount

1990, Color, Rated PG

2 Hr 15 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, and Sam Neill.

Directed by John McTiernan

 

DVD Released 5/6/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

N/A

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Hunt for Red October - Special Edition"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

At the height of the cold war, Russia turns out the most powerful ballistic missile submarine:  The Red October.  With a revolutionary new silent drive system, the ship can slip by all manner of sonar detection.  But when contact with the sub is broken, both sides race to discover if the captain of the ship has gone rogue, or is trying to defect.

Commentary

An instant classic in 1990, The Hunt for Red October remains one of the best films of its genre, and the numbers show it the most profitable of all the "Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan" movies.  What makes it so?  A commitment to, and understanding of, what it takes to make a Tom Clancy film: Boiling it down.  In a interview, Baldwin aptly describes Clancy's writing, "He can spend three pages describing a pencil . . . a government issue pencil".  An exaggeration perhaps but the point is valid.  Tom Clancy goes into excruciating detail.  Making a two hour movie therefore requires reducing it down to the people, and what a cast for the job!  Sean Connery was made for the role of Captain Ramius.  Scott Glenn spent time on a real nuclear submarine and, in emulating the captain he spent time with, nails the role of the Dallas' captain.  And Baldwin can thank this movie (and I am sure he does) for launching his career.

Extras

There is a making of featurette entitled "Beneath the Surface - New Cast & Crew Interviews" running just under half an hour.  It is more interesting than these pieces usually are.  Comprised of interview sound bites, often overlaying on-the-set-footage etc, we learn not just about the techniques ILM used to create the underwater shots, but also logistic details such as who had the movie rights and how Baldwin slipped in only after Kevin Costner turned down the role.  As usual, there is a little too much "patting on the back", but the insights gained into the making of the film are worth putting up with it.  Paramount is really leading the way in one respect:  All their latest DVDs that we've looked at have extras which are 16:9 enhanced formatted.  Keep it up!

Technical

Although released just before Dolby Digital became mainstream in theaters, there existed a 6 track magnetic version on a limited number of 70mm release prints (the 35mm general release prints had a Dolby Stereo version).

What we end up with in the 5.1 mix is an almost perfect soundtrack.  It is dynamic and punchy, without being overdone.  The surrounds might feel a little relaxed by comparison to today's blockbusters that often exaggerate surround effects, but I like the old school of discretion.  There is some very nice low frequency content, especially in the underwater sequences and again, the implementation is respectfully judicious, omitting the throbbing 40 Hz boom of current action films.  While dialogue is clear and intelligible most of the time, it's the one item we noted the rare fault on.  In a couple of instances a line of dialogue mid conversation had a noticeably different tonal character, as if the line was inadequately inserted later (poor ADR apparently), and on one or two occasions, some distorting mic preamp clipping was noted.  As for the DTS track, we found it to be perceptibly the exact same content and not categorically better sounding than the Dolby Digital mix.

Originally released on DVD in 1998 during the dawn of the format, that DVD was not 16:9 enhanced.  Now that the world has finally realized why people like us (at Secrets) pushed so hard for 16:9 enhanced formatted DVDs, we get a redo of The Hunt for Red October.  Though it is stating the obvious, this new transfer is better, 33% better to be exact.  There simply are 33% more lines of information.  Beyond that though, other characteristics are consistent with what we consider a decent transfer.  Edge enhancement is under control, the saturated reds of the sub interiors do not bleed, and blacks and grays are nicely rendered, perhaps leaning ever so slightly to washing out the bottom extreme of the scale.

As for the MPEG PIC flags, this is another one of those rare discs our software was not able to extract the flag data from.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Lion's Gate

1998, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 38 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richlings, Wayne Robson, and Maurice Dean Wint.

Directed by Vincenzo Natali

 

DVD Released 4/15/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes/Gore

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Cube (Signature Series)"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

One by one, a random collection of individuals wake up in strange, empty, cube rooms.  At the center of each of the six walls is a door to another cube room and so on.  Some rooms are safe, others are lethally trapped.  The people encounter each other, eventually all congregating in one cube room to try and figure out why they are there, what they are in, and how if at all possible to get out.  With no food or water, a seemingly infinite array of cubes, and a dwindling number of companions (as the trapped rooms claim victims) madness, fear, paranoia set in.

Commentary

This is a brilliant bit of low budget film making.  Though gratuitously gory in a couple of places, the pacing is such that your attention is genuinely held for the hour and a half, despite the entire piece taking place in a 14x14 foot space (cleverly used over and over of course).

Like the physical cube setting, the story is multidimensional.  We have the immediacy of the cube and its hazards while undertones of sociology are easy to pick up on.  As the movie unfolds, we learn, as the characters do, more and more about the cube, what it is and how it works, all the while the characters learn about each other as the strengths and weaknesses of each become more apparent and a complete picture is formed.

Extras

The feature length commentary track is enjoyable if you are really interested in the film.  Natali is very candid, discussing the challenges of the film in terms of budget and scope.  There is a short, unremarkable interview with Nicole de Boer.  The Deleted Scenes, as usual, prove to have deserved their cut.  Under Art & Design, there are Unshot Sequences,  Production Design, and Storyboards, all of which present an array of static art.

Technical

Once again, we have an example of a low budget, obscure movie exhibiting the best DVD video quality we have seen in a very, very long time.  Edge enhancement is almost non-existent, leaving us with a genuinely sharp and detailed image.  Despite the extreme color saturation of the various cube walls, the chroma channel remains focused and does not bleed.  Shadow detail is exquisite, and video noise is pleasantly at a minimum. What noise there is, could pass as film grain.

Originally released on DVD with a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, this new signature edition gives us a 5.1 remix, somewhat reminiscent of the original.  In fact, it seems to be an encoding of the four original master stems.  What we get is a spacious soundstage with deliciously omnipresent rumbles as the cubes shift, and punchy foley.  Dialogue is very clear.  On the whole, it is not an aggressive mix, but it is entirely satisfying.

As for the MPEG PIC Flags...

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There was only 3 drops to video lasting 1 MPEG PIC each (2 video fields)

Film (3-3)

There were 23 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 27 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

Like the overall video quality, this flags on this low budget film embarrass many blockbuster titles.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Lion's Gate

2002, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 34 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Kari Matchett, Geraint Wyn Davis, Grace Lynn King, Matthew Ferguson, Neil Crone, Barbara Gordon, Lindsey Connell, Greer Kent, and Bruce Gray.

Directed by Andrzej Sekula

 

DVD Released 4/15/2003

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

Nudity

Language

Yes

"Cube 2: Hypercube"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

A random collection of individuals wake up in strange, empty, cube rooms.  At the center of each of the six walls is a door to another cube room and so on.  There is a discontinuity from room to room as some seem to repeat back on themselves and others shift gravity to another axis.  The people encounter each other, eventually all congregating in one cube room to try and figure out why they are there, what they are in, and how if at all possible to get out.  With no food or water, a seemingly infinite array of cubes, random life threatening hazards, time displacement, and a dwindling number of companions, madness, fear, and paranoia set in.

Commentary

If it looks like I partially cut-and-pasted the synopsis from "Cube", it's because I did.  The movies are that similar.  Cube 2:Hypercube obviously is an attempt to capitalize on the success of Cube, though Cube 2 went straight to video rather than having first seen a run at theaters.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  In some ways it is better than Cube, but in others it falls short.  On the one hand, the whole cube thing is more surreal, less analytical.  In short, it's a trip.  On the other hand, although the complement of characters is almost the same as Cube, they don't seem as real and end up feeling like cardboard cutouts.  If you really enjoyed Cube, you will probably get something out of this one, but if Cube struck you as something nice to rent and see once, then Hypercube is probably best passed up.

Extras

I could not sit through the feature length Audio Commentary.  It is mostly banal minutia of each shot and does not entertain.  The Making of Cube 2: Hypercube is also quite dry as it is dominated by the creative talents talking about artistic choices and technical details of various shots.  The Director's Perspective interview is redundant if you've seen the film, as he basically just talks about the plot.  The Deleted Scenes remind me that I have yet to see a deleted scene from any movie that should have been in the film.  There are some Storyboard Sequences, a Slide Show of stills (which moves at its own pace) and a set of trailers.

Technical

Duly impressed with the video quality of Cube, Cube 2: Hypercube manages that same level of clarity and detail, omitting almost every sign of video noise, but edge enhancement at times is noticeable and is the only thing that prevents this transfer from getting our highest score.  That blemish notwithstanding, this DVD could be used as a good example of what a DVD image should look like.  Period. "Big" studios would do well to pay attention here (Lawrence of Arabia is actually my staple example of what a DVD image should not look like).

The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack follows the level of video quality.  Although the environment is 100% synthetic, the omnipresent sounds, delicate foley, and dialogue are all perfect.

As for the MPEG PIC flags...

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There was on long drops to video lasting 7338 MPEG PICs (3669 video fields) coincident with the closing credits

Film (3-3)

There were 21 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (6 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 28 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 MPEG PICs (4 video fields)

 

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Lion's Gate

2001, Color, Rated R

1 Hr 38 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring Chad Donella, Jennifer Morrison, Erinn Bartlett, and Steve Monroe.

Directed by Michael Davis

 

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

No

Sex

Humor/Nudity

Language

Mild

"100 Women"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

As if getting dumped by his girlfriend was not enough, Sam gets kicked out of art school, and life's outlook appears pretty bleak.  Then he meets Hope, a girl who shows him how to smile again.  When a few weeks later Sam catches up with Hope, she seems depressed and just won't smile or laugh at anything. Being a delivery boy for the coffee shop across the street from Hope's building (populated exclusively by women), Sam has a lot of opportunity to ask the neighbors what is wrong with Hope.  There he meets Annie and falls in love but does not want to abandon Hope to her misery.

Commentary

First I need to point out that this picture is laden with sexual humor, but somehow manages not to be offensive.  There is one, count it, one instance of the F word, demonstrating that the writers are genuinely intelligent, not resorting (as Hollywood so often does) to the weak minded monosyllabic Tarantino dialogue formula.  Kudos to Michael David for not going down the road most traveled.  Anyway...

That said, this is a brilliant bit of low budget film making.  It is funny, it is dramatic, it is romantic, it is charming, and it moves from one to the other with ease.  The characters don't quite develop as much as they could have, but they do evolve, lending to the good pace of the film.

Extras

There are no extras at all.

Technical

This is decidedly a decent transfer.  There is some edge enhancement and minor video noise, but on the whole it has decent detail and good shadow delineation.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack follows the level of video quality:  Good but not stellar.  The frequent backdrop of pop music is spacious and punchy, dialogue is clear and intelligible, but the surrounds feel a tad neglected.

As for the MPEG PIC flags, I was surprised that such an old MPEG encoder was used. The progressive frame flag toggles on and off during the film. This is a trait of the C-Cube encoder. At this point most MPEG decoders are aware of this and can deal with it, making it a non-issue, other than the fact that MPEG encoders have matured, and a newer MPEG encoder can encode at lower rates with higher quality. So, I believe this disc could have been better visually at the same bit rate if a newer MPEG encoder had been used. On a good note, there were no drops to video on any chapter breaks.

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Miramax

2001, Color, Rated PG-13

1 Hr 31 Min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 16x9 enh

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Stereo

Spanish Dolby Stereo

 

Starring Billy Zane.

Directed by Jefery Levy

 

DVD Release 4/15/2003

 

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

MPEG Flags

*

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

No

"Invincible"

Synopsis

Plot Overview

The shadowmen are outcasts from the universe, banded to live on earth where for centuries they wreak havoc to amuse themselves.  Then one of them finds a way to destroy the earth and free himself.  Os, a shadowman turned good, is charged with training four warriors, each representing one of the four elements of the universe to stop the cataclysm from happening.

Commentary

We've got a little bit of "The Matrix" and a little bit of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" here.  That's the good news.  The bad news is we have a lot of "Mortal Kombat".  While at first it looks like it might shape up to be a decent film, half way through it completely lost my attention.  It feels like a string of martial arts music videos spliced together with seemingly unending monologues of exposition to explain the story which we never really see.  Zane's performance is entertaining and the effects are pretty decent, but that's not enough for me to really recommend this on any level.

Extras

There are no extras at all.

Technical

This is pretty good example of the various components we look at when evaluating video quality.  There is a good amount of detail, the image being less soft than seems to be the norm.  Shadow detail and color are excellent, but noticeable edge enhancement ruins it.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack is unremarkable. The surrounds are used to full advantage, once or twice overused actually, but the whole thing lacked punch.

In terms of encoding, this is one of the worst we have seen:

Error Type

Comments

Chapter Break

The chapter breaks did not trigger drops to video.

Video (2-2)

There were 280 drops to video, most lasting any where from 3 to 199 MPEG PICs, some lasting as much as 1717.

Film (3-3)

There were 17 changes to 3-3 pulldown. They lasted for 2 to 3 MPEG PICs (6 to 9 video fields)

Film (2-2 / 30p)

There were 315 changes to 2-2 pulldown. They lasted for 2 to 3 MPEG PICs (4 to 6 video fields)

- Brian Florian -

Divider

Copyright 2003 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this
Issue.

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use