Go to Home Page

Go to Index for All Movie Reviews

 

Movie Renter's Guide
 

Number 139 - October, 2006

Part II

Staff

 


Now Playing
Divider

The Polar Express (HD DVD) Backdraft (HD DVD)
Troy (HD DVD) Red Dragon (HD DVD)
Lara Croft Tomb Raider (HD DVD/Blu-ray) Four Brothers (Blu-ray)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (HD DVD) Lethal Weapon (HD DVD/Blu-ray)
The Fast and the Furious (HD DVD) Spy Game (HD DVD)

Number 139 - October, 2006 - Part I

Number 139 - October, 2006 - Part II

Number 139 - October, 2006 - Part III

Number 139 - October, 2006 - Part IV


Divider

Warner Bros.

2004, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis


Starring: Voice Talent of Tom Hanks

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

No

"The Polar Express" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Santa Claus does not exist. Or does he? For one doubting boy, an astonishing event occurs. Late on Christmas Eve, he lies in bed hoping to hear the sound of reindeer bells from Santa's sleigh. Then, to his surprise, a steam engine's roar and whistle can be heard outside his window. The conductor invites him on board to take an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with many other pajama-clad children. There, he receives an extraordinary gift only for those who still believe in Santa can experience.

Commentary

I know that Polar Express is based on a best selling children's book, but I thought it was stretching it as a film. It just seems like they were doing a lot of gimmicks to make it feature length. The animation is motion-capture and reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Here and there, it looks great, but at other times it actually looks a bit creepy. You can tell that some of the sequences from this film were done especially for the IMAX 3D experience, which is a bit distracting when they are not in 3D. Overall, I think kids may enjoy this but at the end of the day, I wasn't that taken with it.

Technical

While I may not have liked the film a whole lot, there is a lot of great stuff to say about the video. The first thing is WOW!!! Without a doubt this is one of the most impressive pieces of HD I've seen yet. Just goes to show that animation can really just look incredible when done right. Detail is AMAZING, and the image has a contrast to it that makes everything look very three dimensional. You would be very hard pressed to find something out there that looks much better than this.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and is also a showstopper. Dynamic range is far reaching, and this is a soundtrack that will test the might of your subwoofers. Surrounds are aggressive and really put you in the moment. I imagine this was quite a treat in an IMAX theater with the 3D experience as the audio really puts you there.

Extras

Extras are the same as the previous DVD release and include some songs, production features, and a look at the book-to-movie transition. There is also a PC game and the trailer.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Warner Brothers

2004, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 42 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen


Starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Peter O'Toole

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Graphic

Sex

Nudity

Language

No

"Troy" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Based on Homer's The Iliad, this is the story of how Paris (Bloom), a Prince of Troy, steals Helen (Kruger), wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, and takes her home to Troy.

Menelaus and King Agamemnon (Cox), his brother, decide to go to war against Troy, with Achilles (Pitt) heading the army of 1000 ships.

The Greek army attacks Troy, but fails to breach the walls of the city.

After fighting Prince Hector (Bana), and gaining entrance to the city using the famed Trojan Horse, Achilles faces Paris in his final battle.

In order to understand what happens between Paris and Achilles, you need to know that Achilles' mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx as a baby, which would immunize his body against being mortally wounded. The only part of him that did not get dipped in the river was the heel of his foot, where she held him. So, when you see how Achilles reacts when shot in the foot, you will know why (the origin of the term "Achilles' heel", or weakness).

Commentary

Troy wasn't the blockbuster Warner was hoping for, but it still makes for an entertaining and epic ride. The casting was excellent (okay except for Orlando Bloom), with standout performances from Pitt and Bana. The film's action sequences are quite well done and have an old film style epic quality to them. While I wouldn't rank this one up there with titles like Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut, it is still an entertaining ride.

Technical

Troy is almost a testament to what can be achieved in high definition video with the new VC-1 codec from Microsoft. This film is nearly three hours in length and has a lossless TrueHD soundtrack and interactive content. It is exciting to see just how far this format has gone in such a short amount of time.

The video presentation is quite good here, but lacks that dazzling look that you may expect from HD. Instead you have a title that looks like a great film. It is a bit soft at times, but detail is there when you need it.

The audio is presented in full lossless Dolby TrueHD sound and is what one would expect from a blockbuster summer movie. The score sounds tremendous and really fills up the front soundstage nicely. Action sequences have plenty going on, and imaging stays faithful to what you're seeing on screen. Dynamic range is good but not as pronounced as some of the more aggressive films out there in the low end. I compared the TrueHD soundtrack to the DD+ soundtrack and noticed some small differences in spatial presence and timbre but not much more than that.

Extras

Extras include an in-movie commentary that utilizes HD DVD's HDi capabilities. This overlays a video commentary on top of the film while you watch it. All of the extras from the original DVD release are also included.

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

Divider

Paramount

2001, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-Ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Simon West


Starring Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Sensuality

Language

Mild

"Lara Croft Tomb Raider" (HD DVD/Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A member of a rich British aristocratic family, Lara Croft (Jolie) is a "tomb raider" who enjoys collecting ancient artifacts from ruins of temples, cities, etc. worldwide, and doesn't mind going through death-defying dangers to get them. She is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, weapons training, and foreign languages - and does them all in tight outfits.

Well, the planets of the solar system are going into planetary alignment (which occurs every 5,000 years), and a secret society called the Illuminati is seeking an ancient talisman that gives its possessor the ability to control time. However, they need a certain clock/key to help them in their search, and they have to find the talisman in one week or wait until the next planetary alignment to find it again.

Lara discovers the key hidden in a wall of her mansion. The Illuminati steal it, and Lara gets an old letter from her deceased father telling her about the society's agenda (her father was also the one who hid the key). Now, she must retrieve the key and find and destroy the talisman before the Illuminati can get their hands on it.

Commentary

Tomb Raider is big budget take on the popular video game franchise of the same name. Lara Croft is a bit of a busty Indiana Jones and lots of video game lovers were pleased to hear that Jolie would be dawning the tight suits and go exploring. Personally I found this as entertaining as most video game adaptations, which isn't a good thing. Most of the film comes off as campy with your typical one liners and the director using any situation possible to exploit Jolie's enhanced assets. While it is a popcorn flick, there are too many other movies of the same formulae that I would rather watch.

Technical

Paramount has released this one on both formats (HD DVD and Blu-ray) with one obvious difference, compression codecs. The HD DVD release takes advantage of the new VC-1 codec from Microsoft, and the Blu-ray release uses the older MPEG-2 format. Neither release is very good in terms of picture quality. The image has a washed out appearance and lacks the fine detail and punch of a reference HD transfer. The differences between the HD DVD and Blu-ray releases are pretty subtle. I saw a bit more noise in the Blu-ray version, but not enough to notice without really digging deep. If I had to recommend one over the other, it would be the HD DVD version, but not by a very large margin.

The soundtracks appears to be pretty much identical. I didn't notice any difference in the action sequences at all switching between the two. Surround usage is aggressive here, and the explosions have plenty of umph. Dialogue sounds clean for the most part, but I felt that imaging and balance could have been a bit better.

Extras

Both releases are identical for supplements. The only HD supplements are the trailers, the rest is a rehash of the DVD release.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Warner Bros.

2005, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 55 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080P

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX

Music-Only track: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

 

Directed by Tim Burton


Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Noah Taylor, Christopher Lee

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Charlie Bucket (Depp) comes from a poor family and spends most of his time dreaming about the chocolate that he loves but usually can't afford. Things change when Willy Wonka, head of the very popular Wonka Chocolate empire, announces a contest in which five gold tickets have been hidden in chocolate bars and sent throughout the country. The kids who find the tickets will be taken on a tour of Wonka's chocolate factory and get a special glimpse of the wonders within. Charlie miraculously finds a ticket, along with four other children much naughtier than him. The tour of the factory will hold more than a few surprises for this bunch.

Commentary

Tim Burton's remake of the classic film (Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1971) sounded like a splendid idea when I first heard about it on-line. Having seen it now, I think I'll stick with the original personally. While I like the visual style of Burton's vision, I like the darkness and subtlety of the original film. While I find Depp to be an amazing actor, I like the dark feel of Wilder's work in Willy Wonka. This is a fun ride with some amazing production design, but I still think the original formula worked better.

Technical

I've seen plenty of clips from this film on HD DVD demo discs, and everyone of them was impressive. Now having the HD DVD, I find myself slightly let down. Contrast is lacking with blacks never achieving the fullness I would expect them too. You can see that they are raised in comparison to most releases. I also thought colors were slightly veiled, though I don't have the master to compare to. While they are vivid, I couldn't help but notice a slight softness to them. While not a bad presentation by any stretch, I just felt like this one could have been a bit better.

Here is a quirky one for you. Why in the world would Warner decide to offer an isolated score as a lossless 5.1 soundtrack but not the main soundtrack? I don't know the answer, but I hope it isn't a trend we will continue to see. The only film I could imagine this would make sense for was The Phantom of the Opera, and even then I would still want the main soundtrack to be lossless as well. The DD+ soundtrack is still good though with plenty of presence, especially in the quirky musical numbers (man those Oompa-Loompas are weird!).

Extras

As with most of the bigger films, Warner has released this title includes their "In-Movie Experience" which includes production footage, commentary and a fact track with an Oompa-Loompa. You also get all of the extras from the original DVD.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Universal

2001, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 47 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Rob Cohen


Starring Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Some

"The Fast and the Furious" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Undercover Agent Brian O'Conner (Walker) is preparing for an undercover assignment with all of the perks and glory of NASCAR, but without the rules. His job is to uncover who is behind a number of high-speed trucking heists by penetrating the underground world of street racing

O'Conner's big mouth and cocky attitude manage to get him close to Dominic Toretto (Diesel), the known top guy in the street racing circles. Through this friendship, O'Conner is quickly introduced to other top guys in the sport and, more importantly, to those who would be capable of pulling off these perfectly executed crimes with the skill necessary to loot a moving 18-wheeler.

Of course, O'Conner gets too close and makes the critical mistake of falling in love at the wrong time with the wrong person, namely Dominic's sister Mia (Brewster). The word is out, and scared truckers are now more than willing to take law matters into their own hands to defend themselves and their cargo. The inevitable decision of loyalty versus betrayal will determine the outcome of this high stakes sprint.

Commentary

This movie is filled from start to finish with fast cars and . . . well, not a whole lot else. Although full of young and talented actors, the storyline doesn't leave much room to develop any of them. If you're into cars and decent action, you should check this movie out.

Technical

This is another HD release that I owned already on the short lived D-Theater format. The transfer and presentation are about the same. The image has amazing clarity and color reproduction at times, making it a nice showcase for your system. I always felt black levels were a bit lacking though, as is overall contrast at times. The two sequels that follow are more impressive in my opinion. However, this is still a great looking disc that I imagine will continue to be used for showing off.

The audio side of the house is the real delight here. The hip-hop soundtrack and dynamics of the racing really make this one an aggressive ride. The bottom end is really impressive at times, especially with some of the muscle cars. Surrounds are used extensively, and the entire soundstage is very enveloping.

Extras

Fast and the Furious features and "In-Movie Experience" with a picture in picture commentary and behind the scenes look at the film. It also has all of the supplements from the original DVD release, including production features, interactive car stuff, and music videos.

 - Kris Deering and Jared Baldwin -

Divider

Universal

1991, Color, Rated R

2 Hr 18 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Starring Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca De Mornay, Donald Sutherland, Robert De Niro

 

Directed by Ron Howard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Backdraft" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Kurt Russell and William Baldwin star as two feuding firefighter brothers who must set aside their personal differences in order to survive the burning, churning infernos set by a maniacal arsonist.

Commentary

Personally, this is one of my favorite films by director Ron Howard, and he's done a lot of films that I really like. The production value here is first rate, and the cinematography is awesome. Combine that with one of the best ensemble casts out there and you've got one heck of a great film.

Technical

I wish I had my D-Theater copy to compare this HD DVD release to, but unfortunately it was out to a friend. This is by far the best I've seen this film look to date. I was surprised just how crisp the image was at times, with a real 3D appearance in some sequences. Occasionally, I thought the image was a bit grainy (mainly dimly lit scenes), but the majority of the film looks crisp with wonderful fine detail. Given the age of the film, I'd say this looks amazing in HD.

The DD+ soundtrack is excellent with plenty of low end power in the fire fighting scenes. The soundtrack does have a bit of a dated quality, but it is never distracting. Surrounds provide a rich dimensionality that really puts you into the moment in the more intense sequences of the film. Dialogue sounds clean and natural with no obvious signs of strain.

Extras

All of the extras from the special edition DVD are included. You'll find deleted scenes, production features (which were very good by the way), and some real life talk back from firefighters.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Universal Pictures

2002, Color, Rated R, 2 Hr 5 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Brett Ratner


Starring 
Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Red Dragon" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

After capturing Dr. Hannibal Lector (Hopkins), FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) retires, only to be called back to active duty to hunt down the elusive killer, The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes).

Commentary

Red Dragon is actually a remake of a film that in my opinion didn't really need to be redone. That film was Manhunter, which was directed by one of my favorites, Michael Mann. Red Dragon is based on the book of the same name that introduced the character of Hannibal Lector. This recreation is quite good though with a superb cast. I didn't feel that it captured the intensity of Silence of the Lambs, but it is chilling in its own right. Fiennes does an amazing job as The Tooth Fairy, and I am always a fan of Hoffman. If you do end up liking this film, I highly suggest checking out Manhunter, which had a superb cast as well.

Technical

Red Dragon is an extremely impressive release on HD DVD. The image is clean and has contrast to spare. Blacks are very deep but retain an exceptional amount of shadow detail. The image is razor sharp with excellent depth, and there is no compression noise at all to get in the way of fine detail. This is a standout presentation from Universal and one of the better looking HD titles so far in my opinion.

I didn't find the audio to be as impressive as the video, but I think that has more to do with the sound design than the format. Dialogue and score sound wonderfully natural, but the soundstage didn't grab me as much as most thrillers do. The back of the room opens up at times, but not enough to really pull me into the situation. The low end is used well for ambience, but not as much for pizzazz.

Extras

Extras are the same as the DVD release, and include a commentary and a lot of production features. There are also some very interesting interview pieces with the cast of the film.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Paramount Pictures

2005, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 48 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English DTS 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by John Singleton


Starring Tyrese, Mark Wahlberg, Andre Benjamin, Terrence Howard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Four Brothers" (HD DVD/Blu-ray)

Synopsis

After their adoptive mother is gunned down during a grocery store holdup, four estranged brothers reunite to seek revenge and take matters into their own hands. Defying police orders, the four begin turning their old Detroit neighborhood upside down searching for the mastermind behind the brutal killing. Along the way, they discover they are bound by ties thicker than blood.

Commentary

Didn't quite know what to expect with this film. John Singleton has always been a bit of a hit or miss director with me. Thankfully, this one works. It is hard edged and the acting is solid. At its core it is a revenge film that challenges each brother's level of what they'll do for their mother, but it also has a heart.

Technical

This is in my opinion the most impressive HD DVD release, to date, in terms of picture quality for Paramount. The same is true for the Blu-ray release, though I found the HD DVD presentation to be a tad bit better. The HD DVD seems a bit cleaner in terms of artifacts. Both presentations are good, but the HD DVD one has a bit more refinement to it, especially in terms of fine detail.

The DD soundtrack is identical to the HD DVD release, and just a bit better than its DVD counterpart. This is a bit of an action film, so you do get the occasional gunfight to liven things up. The film's music is also pretty hard hitting at times. Ambience is preserved wonderfully in the surround channels.

Extras

Extras are the same as the HD DVD release and include a commentary, deleted scenes, some production features, and the trailer in HD.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Warner Bros.

1987, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 50 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Blu-Ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by Richard Donner


Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Harsh

Sex

Mild

Language

Lots

"Lethal Weapon" (HD DVD/Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Martin Riggs (Gobson) is an L.A. cop with suicidal tendencies and Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is the unlucky police officer with whom Riggs is assigned. Together they uncover a huge drug-smuggling operation, and as their success rate grows, so does their friendship.

Commentary

Lethal Weapon was an unexpected hit for Warner that turned in to a big franchise for them (four films were made total). It is easy to see why. The story is superb, and the action is great. The chemistry between Gibson and Glover is perfect, making these guys very likeable characters despite any of their flaws. This first entry into the series is my personal favorite as it doesn't have the Hollywood formula applied to it as the follow-ups do. I was really happy to see this one in high definition and can't wait to put the rest of the series on the shelf next to it.

Technical

I've seen this movie countless times before. I saw it in theaters, saw it on VHS, and saw it a few times on DVD (I won't even mention all the times I saw it on cable too, ugh). I wasn't expecting much at all from this release, but I was actually surprised how good it looked most of the time. This master has been obviously filtered, as there are some aliasing artifacts here and there, but overall I found the picture to be in far better condition than I expected. The image is clean, and detail is quite solid, considering the age and budget of the film. Contrast is a bit lacking at times, and colors could be a bit bolder, but overall I was quite pleased. I didn't detect any differences at all between the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions, so either should deliver a great presentation.

Man, this soundtrack is showing its age. I did love the music of this film, and once again it was the highlight of the presentation. Kamen's guitar riffs and jazzy style have become almost a trademark for this film series. Action sequences are a bit lacking in the dynamic range department, and Foley work is a bit distracting at times. But I don't remember any other presentation (including the DTS DVD) sounding any better.

Extras

Extras are pretty lean here and include some extra scenes and the trailer.

 - Kris Deering -

Divider

Universal

2001, Color, Rated R

2 hr 7 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack

 

Directed by Tony Scott

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

suggestive

Language

yes

"Spy Game" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

For CIA agent Nathan Muir (Redford), the last day on the job will involve reliving the past 20 years of international operations and assignments. When Muir's protégé and longtime friend Tom Bishop (Pitt) is captured in China while trying to rescue a common ally, a special U.S. task force calls in Muir to collect every fact possible regarding Bishop's mission.

With trade talks with China coming up in only days, U.S. officials want to make Bishop's capture a non-issue, even at his expense. Already one step ahead, Muir plays the game of cat and mouse to utter perfection, revealing only what he must and leaving plenty of bullets left in his own gun, ones that he uses to call in a few favors to try to ensure the safety of his top student.

Commentary

I will admit straight up, I am a HUGE Tony Scott fan. Few of his films have ever disappointed me. Spy Game is definitely not one of them. The action, pacing, and story are all top notch. Production design is typical Scott style and highly stylized, lending to the intensity of the film. Both Pitt and Redford are great in the roles and almost a sort of passing of the guard one might say. If you haven't seen this one yet, there is definitely no better chance.

Technical

I have this film on D-Theater and the presentation is about the same. Tony Scott's films are always eye candy, and this is no exception. There are lots of cut scenes, and fast action and contrast is incredible. I did feel like the overall image could be a bit soft at times, but it wasn't overly distracting and probably had to do with the quality of the source print. Colors are stylized quite a bit but retain a boldness that really makes the image pop at times. Next to Man on Fire, this is one of the best looking Tony Scott films in my opinion.

The 5.1 DD+ soundtrack is superb and really aggressive. No lack of surround soundstage use at all here. Dynamics are awesome with some outstanding use of the bottom end. You will never get bored at all with this soundtrack.

Extras

Extras are the same as the DVD release and include commentaries, deleted scenes, alternate takes and some production features.

 - Jared Baldwin and Kris Deering -

Divider

 

© Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Go to Table of Contents for this Issue.

Go to Home Page.

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use