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Number 138 - September, 2006

Part II

Staff

 


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The Fifth Element (Blu-ray) Full Metal Jacket (HD DVD)
The Searchers (HD DVD) The Bone Collector (HD DVD)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (HD DVD) Silent Hill (Blu-ray)
A Knight's Tale (Blu-ray) S.W.A.T. (Blu-ray)
Unleashed (HD DVD) Tears of the Sun (Blu-ray)

Go to Number 138 - September, 2006 - Part I


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Columbia Pictures

1997, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 06 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

Uncompressed English PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Luc Besson


Starring Bruce Willis, Chris Tucker, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Gary Oldman

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Brief Nudity

Language

Yes

"The Fifth Element" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Korben Dallas (Willis) is a taxi driver in New York City in the year 2214. Somewhere, in outer space, a huge object is streaking towards earth to destroy it. A priest (Holm) has been waiting, having carried a secret from ancient Egypt about the four basic elements, earth, wind, fire, and water. He needs the fifth element, a perfect human being, in order to prevent evil from destroying life. A beautiful woman named Leeloo (Jovovich) is created from small bits of organic material, and she turns out to be the fifth element. Dallas helps her get to the other four elements before evil can prevent her from reaching them in time to save life on earth.

Commentary

This film was a real risk for Luc Besson and represented the most expensive French produced film of its time. Besson was already well known for hits like The Professional, La Femme Nakita, and The Big Blue, but had never broached the sci-fi genre before this. While The Fifth Element is no landmark of cinema greatness, it is an interesting story that is plagued by some offbeat humor. The production design and visuals are gorgeous though, and overall I thought this was a decent popcorn film.

Technical

Long considered one of the best demonstration DVDs out there, The Fifth Element is probably one of Sony's most popular films with A/V buffs. While I wouldn't go so far as saying it is one of the best-looking DVDs out there, it was pretty exceptional for its time. So needless to say, expectations are pretty high on this one, and Sony fell REALLY short of the mark. I don't know what happened here, but this film does not look very good on Blu-ray. The master seems to have a lot of issues, including excessive noise in some spots. Fine detail is okay, but very inconsistent. The image just seems to have a haze masking it the majority of the time that I just don't understand. I compared this transfer directly to the HBO original aspect ratio showing, and the HBO presentation was quite a bit better. Fine detail was a huge improvement and there was far less noise. I really hope that this release was just an oversight (though a costly one for a format launch), and we'll see the quality improve with future releases.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack thankfully doesn't share the same fate. Soundstage separation is exceptional, with plenty of atmosphere and split surround usage. The sound design is what you would expect from a bigger Hollywood production, and the uncompressed soundtrack had a lot more body and detail than the Dolby Digital soundtrack.

Extras

Extras include a feature trivia track.

 - Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros

1956, Color, Rated Unrated, 1 Hr 50 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

English Dolby Digital + 1.0

 

Directed by John Ford


Starring John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Searchers" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

When Ethan Edwards (Wayne) decides to go find the Indians who killed his family, he is joined by his nephew, Martin Pawley. The problem is that Pawley is half-Indian, and there's nothing in the world that Edwards hates more than Indians. The journey to find the Indians and Edward's niece lasts for years, and Edwards motivation starts to come into question. 

Commentary

One of John Wayne's classic westerns, The Searchers is a rare treat on HD DVD. I wasn't expecting to get films of this age this soon in the format. The landscapes and panoramic photography are something to behold, and the story is pretty good, if not a bit dated for my tastes.

Technical

The Searchers was a Vista Vision production and is delivered in 1.78:1. The film was just recently restored from the three strip Technicolor element, and the color had to be completely redone. Since this is a film of the 50's, I wasn't expecting too much, but man did Warner deliver here. This film looks better than a lot of the brand new films do. (Note from Editor: This movie is considered one of the greatest Western masterpieces of all time, and that is why Warner put so much energy into it.) Fine object detail is excellent for the most part, with only some softness here and there. Outside shots capture the gorgeous countryside in breathtaking fashion with no signs of compression at all. Colors are rich and at times slightly oversaturated, but a far cry from bad. This is one of the most impressive HD transfers I've seen on HD DVD so far!

The audio is presented in its original mono form. Fidelity is lacking overall, with dynamic range being VERY limited. Voice work sounds natural though, and for the most part, atmosphere in the front soundstage is pretty good. The music of the film is a bit uninspiring, but it isn't a big part of the overall sound design of the film.

Extras

Extras include Commentaries, Behind the Scenes, and some documentaries on the film itself.

- Kris Deering -

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Paramount Pictures

2004, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 46 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

English Dolby Digital + 5.1

French Dolby Digital + 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital + 5.1

English DTS-HD 5.1

 

Directed by Kerry Conran


Starring Jude Law, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Giovanni Ribisi

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

No

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

In 1939 New York City, German scientists are disappearing one by one, and Chronicle News Reporter Polly Perkins (Paltrow) wants to know why. Then, when huge mechanical monsters invade, Polly decides that getting the story is more important than her own safety.

Polly receives a message to meet with Dr. Walter Jennings (Trevor Baxter) at Radio City Music Hall. He tells her he is the last scientist on a list to be murdered, and that he was a member of "Unit 11", an old WWI German project. He says that Dr. Totenkopf is behind the murders.

She tries to link up with an old flame and flying ace Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Law), who is still angry about ending up in a Japanese prison because of something she did way back when.

But, when the monsters attack his base and kidnap his mechanic Dex Dearborn, he finally agrees to help, so they set out to find the source of the flying monsters and to rescue Dex.

During the search, they land on a flying air strip, commanded by Franky Cook (Jolie), dark leather uniform and eye patch to boot.

Joe and Polly discover that the mad scientist Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier in old film footage) has been using the monsters to raid power supplies all over the world so that he can use the accumulated energy for his own clandestine scheme.

Commentary

The movie uses heavy video processing to give a comic book look to the scenes and attempts to make it into a combination Film Noir and war movie.

One of the old Superman cartoons of that same era has a similar plot of mechanical monsters invading the USA, which I think mirrored the world's paranoia of Hitler's attempts to master Europe.

Technical

Sky Captain is presented in full 1080p using Microsoft's VC-1 compression codec. This seems to be the norm for all of the studios now. The visual style of Sky Captain precludes it from being outstanding demo material, but this transfer is extremely faithful to the intent of the director and what I saw in theaters. Fine object detail is obscured most of the time due to the stylization of the film. Characters have that haze so typically associated with classic cinema, and color tends to be muted. Some of the CGI work and backgrounds have a lot of detail though. I saw some light banding at times here and there, but it is hard to tell if it is a transfer issue or inherent in the source due to the heavy CG stylization.

The soundtrack is presented in both Dolby Digital + and DTS-HD (supposedly, it is unclear if this is a typo from Paramount or not). The DD+ soundtrack is excellent with extensive use of the surrounds and an extremely active low end. Dialogue sounds natural throughout, with no sign of strain, and imaging is excellent across the main channels. I switched over to the DTS track at some points during the movie, but the presence wasn't quite as good as the Dolby track. Surrounds were a bit weaker, and articulation in the low end was lacking in comparison to the DD+ track.

 Extras

These include The Making of (Brave New World), The Art of the World Tomorrow, Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes, and Outtakes. All of the theatrical trailers are also featured in full HD.

 - Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Columbia Pictures

2001, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 12 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Brian Helgeland


Starring Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

No

"A Knight's Tale" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

In 14th century France, William Thatcher (Ledger) would like to enter jousting matches after the death of the knight he serves, but they are restricted to Nobility. So, with the help of his friends, including one Jeffery Chaucer (Bettany), they draw up forged documents and enter matches all over Europe.

Count Adhemar (Sewell) vies not only for the same championships, but for the affections of Jocelyn (Sossamon) who prefers William, much to the Count's irritation.

Commentary

Although set in the time of Arthur, the music is modern rock. At first, I was put off by this, but soon came around and found it to be quite enjoyable.

Technical

A Knight's Tale is one of the better Blu-ray transfers I've seen. Sony seems to be fixing the issues they were having in the authoring with some of these new releases, which is a great sign of things to come.

Immediately I was impressed with fine detail and depth. Colors look excellent, but there are moments throughout the film that the source print seems to wander in consistency when it comes to how clean color reproduction is. Depth is the same way. Contrast is good, but not great. Indoor shots that are darker tend to be a bit noisier than I would like, and blacks are slightly elevated at times. This is a solid HD transfer that is just short of demo material.

This soundtrack has always sounded good, and this release takes it a notch higher. The uncompressed 5.1 mix is aggressive, and the music of this film sounds amazing at times. Surrounds are used aggressively, and the low end has its moments to shine. Definitely no issues in this department.

Extras

None.

 - Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Universal

2003, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p & 480P (Hybrid)

English Dolby Digital + 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital + 2.0

 

Directed by Louis Leterrier


Starring Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Graphic

Sex

Yes

Language

Harsh

"Unleashed" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Unleashed began life as Danny The Dog, which was the theatrical release title in Europe. The film is a collaboration from Luc Besson (The Professional, La Femme Nakita, The Fifth Element) similar to Kiss of the Dragon. Jet Li plays Danny, a man raised by a gangster in England as a dog of sorts. His collar keeps him docile, but when the master takes it off, Danny is unleashed on his enemies.

Commentary

Luc Besson is always coming up with interesting ideas for action. This is no exception. The film has excellent performances from Hoskins and Freeman and actually has a lot of heart for an action film. Rather than relying on pure action and adrenaline, you gain a respect and care for the main characters, something lacking in most action films these days.

Technical

Unleashed is a hybrid release with the HD DVD on one side and the standard DVD on the other. The HD image is quite good. There is some slight banding at times, and the stylization of the film makes it hard to judge what is intended and what is not. Contrast is a bit inconsistent because of this, with blacks appearing slightly washed out at times. Depth and dimension are quite good though, with fine detail preserved throughout most, if not all of the film. I am really enjoying the consistency of HD DVD in this regard. Even the average releases look REALLY good.

The audio presentation for this film is outstanding. The film has a very aggressive sound design complimented by a wonderful soundtrack from Massive Attack. Both the sound effects and music have LOTS of dynamic range, with really aggressive bass. The soundstage is very open, creating an ambience that few soundtracks in this format have matched. The front soundstage has excellent depth and width, with sounds appearing to come from nowhere, which lends to the atmosphere of the film.

Extras

No HD extras on this one, but there is a Making of clip as well as some music videos from the soundtrack.

 - Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1987, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 56 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

English Dolby Digital + 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Stanley Kubrick


Starring Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Ermey

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Full Metal Jacket" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

This is Stanley Kubrick's brilliant saga about the Vietnam War and the dehumanizing process that turns people into trained killers

Commentary

As with any other Kubrick work, you will either love it or hate it. But you will not come out unaffected, and you will not have a pleasant feel-good grin on your face either. To me, Kubrick had mastered building intense emotional involvement in his viewers.

The movie has two almost separate stories. Though they logically follow one another, the pace and setting are in different directions. Set in the Vietnam War era, the first half takes you through boot camp with some memorable characters, notably, the drill sergeant played by R. Lee Ermey, and Private Pyle played by Vincent D'Onofrio. Their performances alone justify the movie. The second half is set in Vietnam. You instantly feel relived from the oppressive presence of the drill sergeant, who of course is back on Parris Island training center. The sniper scene is an excellent example of Kubrick's genius. He manages to transport the fear and anxiety with brilliance.

Technical

Full Metal Jacket has always been an issue when it comes to video. I never had the chance to see the Laserdisc release, but I've owned both DVD releases, and neither was very impressive. This is the first time I think the film has been shown in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio though, because the DVDs were 1.33:1 or open matte. This film is very noisy and that makes it hard to judge overall. There are times where it appears the compression breaks up because of all the noise on screen. Color is inconsistent, with flesh tones appearing a bit too saturated on occasion. The first part of the film looks good, but colors appear faded, and the image looks slightly filtered. While this does look better than both of the DVDs I've seen, it is one of the weakest HD DVDs to date.

The 5.1 soundtrack is decent here, but not outstanding. Too bad, I always thought this was a film that should just sound better than it does. Atmosphere is good for the most part, but overall, dynamic range just seems lacking. Dialogue is somewhat inconsistent, with a slight amount of strain at times. 

Extras

The theatrical trailer is included.

 - Arvind Kohli and Kris Deering -

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Universal Pictures

1999, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 58 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

English Dolby Digital + 5.1

French Dolby Digital + 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital + 5.1

English DTS 5.1

 

Directed by Phillip Noyce


Starring 
Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman, Ed O'Neil

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Graphic

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Bone Collector" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

In New York City, a maniac is kidnapping and murdering people after picking them up in a taxi cab. Lincoln Rhyme (Washington) works on the case from his bed, as he is a quadriplegic, having been injured on the Police Force a few years before. Because he is bedridden, he enlists the help of a street cop, Officer Amelia Donaghy (Jolie), who had shown unusual forensic talent at the scene of the first dead body found in this case. The murderer leaves unusual clues, including fresh bones and other gruesome items.

Commentary

I was not expecting this movie to be quite the thriller that it turned out to be. Frankly, I was scared out of my wits. However, the ending was disappointingly predictable. But that part only takes a few minutes. The first 100 minutes will give you nightmares for days to come.

Technical

The Bone Collector looks quite good on HD DVD. Detail and depth are excellent, and contrast is solid throughout. The only time I felt a bit let down was darker scenes. These scenes seemed a bit washed out and noisy. Longer shots were slightly inconsistent as well. Detail in longer shots wasn't quite up to par with some of the better HD DVD releases so far. Fine film grain is preserved, and I didn't see any compression-related artifacts.

The Bone Collector was the first DVD to have a DTS-ES soundtrack (matrix only) and has a tremendously active sound design. Atmosphere is outstanding, and dynamic range is incredible. Dialogue intelligibility is a bit on the inconsistent side, but overall this is a great soundtrack for showing the might of your home theater system.

Extras

A Commentary, On Location feature, and theatrical trailer are included. None of the features are in HD.

 - Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Tristar Pictures

2006, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 5 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

Uncompressed English PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Christophe Gans


Starring Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Graphic

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Silent Hill" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Silent Hill is a recreation of the popular video game franchise with a few new elements. The film follows Rose and her daughter Sharon as they travel to the infamous ghost town of Silent Hill. Rose wants to find out more about her adopted daughter's issues. She has been talking in her sleep and mentioning the town over and over again. But when they finally arrive, they are separated, and Rose is thrown into a nightmare where she must face demons and more to rescue her daughter.

Commentary

This film reminded me slightly of The Cell. Both take place in bizarre and twisted landscapes of the mind and are gorgeously imagined. I am not very familiar with the game, so I have no reference to go by there. The movie did have some very creepy elements but never crossed the line of truly shocking, which I think it wanted to achieve. Director Christopher Gans has done a great job with the material though. While I don't like this film nearly as much as his previous work, Brotherhood of the Wolf, I was never bored. I just wanted to see something a bit more horrific.

Technical

Silent Hill has some gorgeously scary landscapes that would have benefited greatly from the extra resolution and capabilities of high definition, but unfortunately this is a disappointing effort by Sony. My biggest complaint is black levels, which are obviously raised, making contrast weak at best. Since a lot of this film is shot in darker environments, the effect is lost. Banding is also an issue at times, which seems to be a trait of the earlier BD releases. Detail can be quite good, and this transfer looks much better than the standard DVD release, but it is still a clear step down from the better HD releases out there.

While the picture isn't anything stellar, the sound is amazing. The uncompressed 5.1 soundtrack is extremely engaging and does wonders for the atmosphere of the film. The sound designer of this film did an incredible job in the nightmare landscapes of this film with aggressive use of the bottom end and the surround environment. Some of the shrills of the inhabitants of Silent Hill really sent shivers up my spine. A solid reference soundtrack!

Extras

Nada.

 - Kris Deering -

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Columbia Pictures

2003, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 57 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

Uncompressed English PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Clark Johnson


Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"S.W.A.T." (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

The L.A. S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) team is profiled in this story of how a specially trained group of policemen are brought in when certain situations arise, requiring their assistance.

Sgt. Dan Harrelson (Jackson) is called in to beef up the S.W.A.T. team by selecting highly talented police officers and train them.

Jim Street (Farrell) was on the team originally, but had been kicked off. Dan wants him back because of his skills as a marksman.

Michael Boxer (Van Holt) ), Chris Sanchez (Rodriguez), and Deacon Kaye (Cool J), round out the team, and Harrelson begins their training.

In the meantime, a major international French criminal in the drug trade, Alex Montel (Martinez), is picked up on a routine moving violation, and then is discovered to be wanted by several countries around the world.

S.W.A.T.'s assignment is to transport Montel to a Federal Penitentiary, and since he has offered 100 million dollars to anyone who helps him escape, the team not only has to deal with Montel's gang members, but the gangs of L.A. who want to cash in on the offer.

Commentary

I thought this might just be a schlock movie, but it is actually quite entertaining, and I was surprised to learn that one of the main goals of S.W.A.T  is to prevent anyone from getting killed.

Technical

The image really teeters on the edge of being really impressive. Detail is too wavering though, with the image appearing to have a slight haze to it. Almost the same effect you get when you apply noise reduction to a digital photo. Close-ups look good though, and this is a general improvement over the DVD. I didn't see much in terms of MPEG noise around small objects, which is my chief complaint with DVD. Banding is noticeable at times, but not too distracting. This presentation could definitely be improved on, but it is one of the better BD releases to this point.

The 5.1 soundtrack is a treat. The film has a big action feel to it, and the soundtrack compliments this perfectly. Surrounds are used extensively, and the low end can be exciting at times. Dialogue sounds clean and natural, and imaging is solid. 

Extras

Deleted Scenes.

 - Kris Deering and John E. Johnson, Jr. -

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Revolution Studios

2003, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 1 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

Uncompressed English PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Antoine Fuqua


Starring Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Tom Skerritt

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Tears of the Sun" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

After a West African president's family is assassinated and civil unrest is rampant, a top-secret team is deployed to the far reaches of the jungle to rescue a U.S. doctor (Bellucci) who is acting as a missionary. She insists the U.S. forces rescue all of her charges. As a result, the group falls under rebel attacks when it is revealed that the son of the deposed West African president is among those being saved

Commentary

This is probably the best Bruce Willis film I have seen in a long time, at least as the starring role. Tears of the Sun is a very intense action film from the director of Training Day. But instead of being an all out war film, the movie relies on tension and suspense. The end may be the only exception since it is an intense battle.

The director made the film far more personal than most action films I have seen. You really kind of get attached to the characters and their positions. The photography is also superb, with the lush jungles of Africa being pure eye candy. This is one of the better war movies I've seen in some time and is easily on par with films like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers.

Technical

Without a doubt, this is the best Blu-ray presentation I've seen to date. Given the track record of the format so far with MPEG-2, I almost wonder whether Sony used another compression format for this film. I know MPEG-2 can look great (just look at some of the amazing D-Theater titles out there), but that hasn't been the case for the most part with BD so far. This transfer shines though. Fine object detail is exceptional, with everything looking crisp in the frame. A huge step up from DVD. Colors are gorgeous, and the jungle backdrop gives you plenty to gawk at. Depth of image is also exceptional and really gives this film an amazing look that is reserved for the best HD material. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this is what we will continue to see from Sony's film subsidiaries.

The 5.1 uncompressed soundtrack is excellent. I loved this film on DVD, and this release takes it up a big notch in terms of dynamic range. Everything sounded great here, dialogue, atmosphere, action, the whole package. Surrounds are used wonderfully to convey the jungle atmosphere. Action sequences are delivered with plenty of force, both in envelopment and low end.

Extras

Extras include a Director's Commentary, Deleted Scenes, and a factoid track.

 - Kris Deering -

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Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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