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Number 141 - December, 2006

Part I

Staff

 


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Speed (Blu-ray) Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (HD DVD)
Behind Enemy Lines (Blu-ray) HDScape Exotic Saltwater Aquarium (HD DVD)
Superman: The Movie (Blu-ray/HD DVD) The Transporter (Blu-ray)
Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut (Blu-ray/HD DVD) You, Me and Dupree (HD DVD)
Kiss of the Dragon (Blu-ray) Enemy of the State (Blu-ray)

Number 141 - December, 2006 - Part I

Number 141 - December, 2006 - Part II

Number 140 - December, 2006 - Part III

Movie Reviews Index

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Twentieth Century Fox

1994, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by Jan De Bont


Starring: Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Speed" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

LAPD cops Jack Traven and Harry Temple rescue a group of executives trapped in a sabotaged elevator, thus foiling mad bomber Howard Payne's ransom demands.

In retaliation, Payne sets a new challenge for Traven: a bomb on a city bus that will arm itself when the bus reaches 50 mph, and which will explode if the bus drops below that speed or if any of the passengers try to escape.

Commentary

I think its safe to say that everyone and their mother has seen this film by now. It definitely put Reeves and Bullock on the map, and in my opinion it is one of De Bont's better films. Speed is a roller coaster ride that combines gripping tension, thrilling action, and great characters together. I've seen this film plenty of times now, and I still enjoy it. I can't say that about too many summer popcorn films.

Technical

I really didn't know what to expect on this one for video. I own the D-Theater release of this film, and I thought that was a pretty good looking tape. This release is encoded in AVC and seems to be a bit of improvement over the D-Theater presentation. The opening is still a bit on the grainier side, but once you get past that, this is a solid looking disc.

Fine object detail is preserved really well, and depth of image is excellent. Colors looked slightly muted, but I don't think that is an issue with the disc, but rather more of a production style. I did see some some slight edge enhancement in some scenes, but overall this is a very good looking presentation from Fox.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, which is DTS' newest codec and is lossless to boot. Problem is, no Blu-ray player currently on the market (or announced) supports its decoding. My player (Panasonic DMP-BD10) has a firmware update planned for early next year that is supposed to enable this, but for now it just outputs a standard 5.1 DTS stream.

But, even without the full benefit of DTS-HD MA, this disc sounds great. Like most big budget summer movies, Speed has dynamic range to spare and plenty of low end prowess. The surround soundstage is excellent, and you will really get that "being there" feeling throughout most of the film. Dialogue sounds very natural, even during the more intense action scenes, and imaging overall is solid. Like the other Fox titles I've reviewed so far, this one seems to be recorded a bit hot, so set your volume accordingly.

Extras

Extras include two commentaries, some production features, a trivia track and the trailer in HD.

- Kris Deering -

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Twentieth Century Fox

2001, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 46 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by John Moore


Starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, David Keith

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

None

Language

Mild

"Behind Enemy Lines" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Fighter navigator Chris Burnett (Wilson) wants out: he was looking for something more than the boring recon missions he's been flying. He finds himself flying the lone Christmas day mission over war-torn Bosnia. But when he talks pilot Stackhouse into flying slightly off-course to check out an interesting target, the two get shot down. Burnett is soon alone, trying to outrun a pursuing army, while commanding officer Reigert (Hackman) finds his rescue operation hamstrung by politics, forcing Burnett to run far out of his way.

Commentary

This is another film I've owned on DVD and D-Theater before. Behind Enemy Lines is a fun and intense military thriller, but somehow I always thought that Wilson was the wrong person for the part. He is great in a lot of films, but being in the Navy myself, I thought he was unconvincing as a Naval aviator. He just had a way of making the circumstances too light, and it detracted from the film for me, but only a bit. Otherwise I did enjoy this one and recommended it as passive fun.

Technical

Having seen this on D-Theater already, I wasn't expecting too many surprises. This Blu-ray release is encoded with AVC rather than D-Theater's MPEG-2, but I didn't see much of a difference. The image quality wavers a bit throughout, mainly from print wear, but is consistently good for the most part. At times I thought the image looked a tad soft and slightly noisy, but this could easily be part of the intended look. Contrast is excellent though and allows the film to have a nice depth through most of the movie.

Behind Enemy Lines has always sounded good before, so I wasn't expecting it not to here. Don't worry, Fox doesn't disappoint. The audio is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA sound and the core DTS 5.1 track sounded excellent. There are a few scenes in this film that have been used for demo sequences for awhile now and for good reason. Dynamic range is superb, and the low end will definitely give your subs a great workout. Surrounds are used aggressively to add to the excitement, with some nice discrete effects.

Extras

Extras include two feature commentaries and the trailer in HD.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1978, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hr 31 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Richard Donner


Starring: Christopher Reeve, Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Margot Kidder

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Superman: The Movie" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Unable to convince the ruling council of Krypton that their world will destroy itself soon, scientist Jor-El (Brando) takes drastic measures to preserve the Kryptonian race: He sends his infant son Kal-El to Earth. There, gaining great powers under Earth's yellow sun, he will become a champion of truth and justice.

Raised by the Kents, an elderly farm couple, Clark Kent learns that his abilities must be used for good. The adult Clark travels to Metropolis, where he becomes a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet . . . and a caped wonder whose amazing feats stun the city: Superman!

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor, the world's greatest criminal mind, is plotting the the most outlandish real estate swindle of all time.

Commentary

With the new Superman film hitting DVD and HD DVD soon, it is only right to release the original! Superman The Movie is one of the better super hero films I've seen and stays away from the lame over produced schlock that plagued most comic films back in the day. I guess that is what you should expect though with this kind of production value, as well as having a screenplay by Mario Puzo. This is the newer cut that was released in 2000 when Donner edited footage back in, and the film still holds up quite well.

Technical

I was pretty impressed with how this film looked on HD DVD. Sure there is some inherent softness to it (hasn't there always been?), but the depth and detail are better than I expected for a film from the late seventies. Colors are also pretty good looking, aside from the effects work. The print used for the master seems to be in great shape, and the only real distraction was the aging effects work used. Fans of the film will probably be quite pleased with the quality of this release.

The audio is good, but not great. Dialogue sounds somewhat compressed, and imaging varies a bit. The soundtrack is on the tinny side and lacks the dynamic range of its follow-ups. The new 5.1 mix does do a good job with envelopment, but you can tell this is an older film.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, some production featurettes, a music-only track and the trailers.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1978, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 58 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Richard Donner


Starring: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Terrence Stamp, Ned Beatty

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

None

Language

Mild

"Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

In Richard Donner's original vision of Superman II, the Man of Steel faces his greatest challenge yet! Three villainous outcasts, Non, Ursa, and their leader, General Zod, are freed from the Phantom Zone only to wreak havoc, devastation, and chaos unto Earth.

While this occurs, Clark Kent and Superman, now revealed to Lois as one and the same, begins a forbidden romance with her that ends with the extinguishing of his powers as Earth's greatest savior for the woman he loves, all despite his father, Jor-El's warnings.

Meanwhile, Superman's arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, has escaped from prison with the help of Miss Teschmacher. After discovering the Fortress of Solitude, and learning of the three deviant villains, Luthor rushes to aid them in their attempt at world domination and revenge on Superman.

Commentary

It's been awhile since I've seen this film, but the changes made were pretty easy to spot. Whether or not they improved the film is really subjective, but I didn't think they detracted at all. This sequel has always been my favorite of the original two for some reason. I saw it in theaters with my father and it captivated me at my young age quite a bit. While I don't think it is quite as captivating now, I still find the story impressive and the production better than most early super hero films.

Technical

I actually expected this to look better than the first film on HD DVD, but ultimately it didn't. I think the abundance of effects work is what ultimately makes this one not as appealing visually. The opening credits are riddled with some of the worst macro-blocking I've seen, causing the blacks to do some pretty distracting things. Most of the normal outdoor shots look quite good though, especially in the city. Detail is about the same as the first film, which is better than expected. Depth is good, but not consistently great. While not a bad looking presentation, it is showing its age.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus mix is more dynamic than the first film and has a nice spatial presence. The dialogue doesn't sound as boxed in as the first film too, despite being shot not long afterwards. The main soundstage is pretty wide, but imaging with the onscreen image is consistently good.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, a look behind the new cut and an introduction from the director.

- Kris Deering -

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Twentieth Century Fox

2001, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 38 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD MA 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Chris Nahon


Starring Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Situations

Language

Strong

"Kiss of the Dragon" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Liu Jian, a police officer from China, comes to Paris to help the vice squad apprehend a Chinese drug lord and his unknown French connection. The French connection is Richard, the head of the vice squad, who intends to kill the drug lord, then frame Jian. Jian ducks a bullet and escapes with a tape of what really happened. By chance, Jian turns to Jessica - a US farm girl who is one of Richard's hookers - for help. She has her own problems, including the fact that Richard has her daughter locked in an orphanage to keep Jessica on the streets and silent about his activities.

Commentary

This was the first film that put Luc Besson and Jet Li together on a project. They later did Unleashed, which is probably the other favorite film of mine with Jet Li in it. This film does at times go a bit theatric with the martial arts aspect, but most of the time the story stays in check and keeps the thrills up.

Technical

The presentation looks almost exactly the same as the D-Theater release. The beginning starts off really well, with excellent depth and detail, and then it just tapers off.

Some of the scenes in this film look just awful. The image will vary from flat and out of focus, to slightly noisy and dark. Consistency just isn't a high point. Of all of the Fox Blu-ray titles I've seen so far, this is probably the weakest.

Thankfully the soundtrack holds up much better. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is full of punch and has a great sense of ambience. Like the other Fox releases, it is a bit hot overall, but this doesn't seem to compromise the range and clarity of the soundtrack. The bottom end is impressive at times, and the overall soundstage is engaging through most of the film.

Extras

Extras include a commentary and the trailer in HD.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2000, Color, Rated PG

1 Hr 45 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring Jim Carrey, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Molly Shannon

 

Directed by Ron Howard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Comedic

Sex

No

Language

No

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Based on the book by the famous Dr. Seuss. Inside a snowflake exists the magical land of Whoville. In Whoville, live the Whos, an almost mutated sort of munchkinlike people. All the Whos love Christmas, yet just outside of their beloved Whoville lives the Grinch. The Grinch is a nasty creature that hates Christmas, and plots to steal it away from the Whos, which he equally abhors. Yet a small child, Cindy Lou Who, decides to try befriend the Grinch.

Commentary

Ron Howard did a delightful job with this film, and due to that success, a horrible re-imagining followed with The Cat in the Hat. I'm sure everyone knows this story already, and the original animated feature was a favorite of mine as a child. Carrey is over the top as the Grinch, which works most of the time. The production design is the real standout though. I'm glad Universal got this one out for the holidays.

Technical

It has been a long time since I saw this in theaters or on DVD, so my memory may not serve me well on what the intended look of this film was. The HD DVD isn't that impressive though. Immediately I thought contrast was severely lacking, and the image had a softness that seems out of place for a film as new as this.

The image seems flat for most of the film. Blacks are never deep and almost look washed out. There was also some noticeable banding and compression in black, which is rare for an HD DVD title (see the beginning of chapter 5 for a great example). The production design is very colorful, but the clarity and pop of those colors seem veiled. All in all, I found this one to be quite disappointing.

The audio was better than the video, but still had some issues. Dialogue had some obvious strain at times, which always sticks out like a sore thumb to me. The soundstage was front heavy for the most part, but that went along with the story on screen. Dynamic range was good, but nothing outstanding.

Extras

Since this is a hybrid disc, you get the SD feature on the flip side. A feature commentary with the director is included, and there are some games and other Christmas themed supplements.

- Kris Deering -

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DVD International

2006, Color, Not Rated, 1 Hr 30 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Directed by N/A


Starring 
N/A

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

No

"HDScape Exotic Saltwater Aquarium" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

The HDScape Exotic Saltwater Aquarium HD DVD was shot in stunning High Definition video, creating the ultimate HD Aquarium experience.

It transforms your TV into a virtual fish tank swimming with exotic fish and creatures of the deep all captured in gorgeous HD quality.

HDScape Exotic Saltwater Aquarium contains five unique, exotic aquariums, with three audio tracks.

Commentary

TV fish tanks have been a niche for quite some years now, and personally this is the first time I've ever viewed one at home. Rather than doing some lame computer generated fish tank, the producers shot various fish tanks with HD cameras. There are five tanks to chose from, and the viewer can choose to look at them from afar, at the fish up close, or as an edited montage of both. The viewer can also select different audio tracks to play in the background. The result is far more satisfying than most of the cheesy computer based fish tanks I've seen.

Technical

This HD DVD is encoded with AVC and offers the full 1080p resolution of HD DVD. Two things work against it though. For one, salt water isn't the clearest thing in the world to shoot. Add the tank glass in and you have a bigger veil. This hindered fine detail a bit compared to a lot of other nature photography in HD that I've seen. Contrast seemed to be lacking as well, which hurt depth a bit. All of the fish were interesting though, and their colors looked quite good for the most part.

The audio presentation is a mix of different types of music. You can choose from a variety of upbeat synth based soundtracks, or a classical presentation. None of them are particularly satisfying in my opinion. There is also a stereo "bubble" track, that is too loud and quite annoying. Personally I think the bubble track needed to be tamed WAY down and allow for a more soothing experience.

Extras

This is a hybrid release, so the flip side has then same features but in SD.

- Kris Deering -

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Twentieth Century Fox

2002, Color, Rated PG-13

1 hr 32 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English DTS HD MA 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Jason Statham, Shu Qi, Francois Berleand, Matt Schulze

 

Directed by Cory Yuen

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Suggested

Language

Mild

"The Transporter" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Ex-Special Forces operator Frank Martin lives what seems to be a quiet life along the French Mediterranean, hiring himself out as a mercenary "transporter" who moves goods - human or otherwise - from one place to another, no questions asked.

Frank's newest transport seems no different from the countless ones he's done in the past. He has been hired by an American known only as "Wall Street" (see Rule Two) to make a delivery, but when Frank stops along route, he notices his "package" is moving. Violating his own personal rules, Frank looks inside the bag, finding its contents to be a beautiful, gagged woman.

Commentary

Despite having been in several good films before this, this film put Statham on the map. The Transporter is a bit of a guilty pleasure. It is silly in some regards, but doesn't take itself too seriously, making it a bit more enjoyable than it should be.

Luc Besson (The Professional, La Femme Nakita) wrote the story, and it has a lot of his flavor. The action is fun and so are the chase sequences. Too bad I didn't like the sequel!!

Technical

This transfer looks just about identical to its D-Theater counterpart. That is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is, it is generally a very nice looking image. The transfer has a very film like look to it, and it doesn't look overly sharp. Detail is there when it needs to be, and contrast is impressive. The bad thing is, there is edge enhancement. It is quite noticeable in some scenes (check out some of the backgrounds), and this is probably the first title I've seen on either of the new high definition formats to have it. Thankfully it isn't too intrusive.

The soundtrack is excellent and lends to the action on screen. This has always been a pretty engaging soundtrack, and I'm excited to hear it in full lossless sound at some point when players arrive that can decode the new DTS HD Master Audio format. For now, the full bit rate DTS track will have to do. It is presented a bit hot, but nothing seems to suffer from it. Dynamic range is excellent, and the subs will definitely get a good workout. Imaging across the main soundstage is impressive at times, and dialogue always sounds clean and natural. Can't ask for much more.

Extras

Extras include a commentary and the trailer in high definition.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2006, Color, Rated PG-13

1 hr 50 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon, Michael Douglas

 

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Comedic

Sex

Innuendo

Language

Some

"You, Me and Dupree" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

For newlyweds Carl and Molly Peterson, life can't get any sweeter as they begin anew to settle down into married life. With a nice house and established careers in tow, nothing seems to get in their way. However, Carl is about find out just how much friendship means when Randy Dupree, his best friend, has been displaced from his home and fired from his job because of attending their wedding. Taking his friend in, what Carl and Molly are about to experience is that the fine line between a few days and whatever else is after, can be a lot more than they bargained for. Especially when their friend overstays his welcome in far too many ways than he should.

Commentary

I think the marketing on this film was all wrong. When I saw the trailers for this film, I wasn't even slightly interested. It came off as a completely different film than the one I just watched. Thankfully the real movie was a lot better. Rather than just being a goofy comedy, this one has a lot of heart. Wilson does a better job than I'm used to, and I like the push and pull of the marriage element. Douglas is great as the wicked father-in-law, and reminded me a bit of a tamer De Niro from Meet the Parents. This is a really fun film and has a touch of sappiness to it. Great for a date night.

Technical

Even though this is a hybrid, Universal opted for a HD-30 for the HD side, so no compromises on space were made, and it shows. This film looks consistently great, with a nice HD sparkle to it. Fine detail is dead-on, and depth is what you would expect from a great HD transfer. Colors are boldly saturated, and I only noticed a small amount of noise in some of the finer details. Compression was not an issue.

The soundtrack is good and stays in line with the genre of film. Some of the film's soundtrack livens things up on occasion (loved the bass line from the closing song!)  Dialogue always sounds natural, with no sign of strain, and imaging is consistently good in the entire soundstage.

Extras

This release gets the U-Control touch with an interactive picture-in-picture production feature that includes interviews and behind the scenes footage. There are also production photographs that can be accessed during the film. On the SD DVD side, there are outtakes, deleted scenes, and commentaries.

- Kris Deering -

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Touchstone

1998, Color, Rated R

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

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Starring: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Gabriel Byrne

 

Directed by Tony Scott

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Enemy of the State" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

A successful lawyer finds himself the target of a treacherous NSA official and his goons after receiving evidence of a politically motivated murder. The only man that can help him is a former government operative turned surveillance expert.

Commentary

Tony Scott delivers another thrill ride with this one. You can definitely see Bruckheimer's touches too. The action and pacing of the film are excellent, and it's got style to spare. Total popcorn film, but still smart enough to keep you pinned. I enjoyed this one in theaters, and I was happy to see Touchstone release it on BD. I just wish they would have elected for the recent director's cut, or maybe a seamless branching version with both cuts.

Technical

Even though there was no announcement made about it, this is a BD-50. Touchstone delivers a very solid presentation too. The only complaint I had was the condition of the negative used for the master. Nicks and wear are definitely noticed throughout the film, and I can even spot when the gate shutter was a bit excessive. This gave the image a shaky look when it shouldn't be. Detail is quite good, but the film varies in how fine of detail you get. Dimension is what I expected. An extremely film-like look.

With Scott and Bruckheimer behind the wheel, you just know that the presentation is going to be intense. For this release, you get a full 48/24 uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack, and it delivers in spades. The surround soundstage is aggressive, and dynamic range is impeccable. Imaging across the main soundstage is dead-on, and I really couldn't find a single thing about this one that I didn't love. I just wish all films sounded this good.

Extras

Extras include some deleted scenes, a production feature and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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