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Number 141 - December, 2006

Part II

Staff

 


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Superman Returns (Blu-ray/HD DVD) The Mummy (HD DVD)
The Wild (Blu-ray) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (HD DVD)
Sky High (Blu-ray) Wolf Creek (HD DVD)
An American Werewolf in London (HD DVD) Dune (HD DVD)
Derailed (HD DVD) The Matador (HD DVD)

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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Warner Bros.

2006, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 34 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

HD DVD:

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Blu-ray:

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Bryan Singer


Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, Kevin Spacey, Eva Marie Saint, Parker Posey, James Marsden

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Superman Returns" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

After eliminating General Zod and the other Kryptonian arch-villains, Ursa and Non, Superman leaves Earth to try to find his former home world of Krypton after astronomers have supposedly found it.

When he finds nothing but remnants, he returns home to Earth - to find out that Lois Lane is engaged to a relative of his boss, and that Lex Luthor is at it again - after swindling an elderly, terminally ill woman.

The psychopathic Luthor, whose plans to destroy California failed because of Superman's heroics, vows vengeance against the Man of Steel and contrives a new sinister plot - using the crystals of Krypton to build a continent that will wipe out most of North America!

Embedded in the continent's structure is Kryptonite - the lethal substance that is Superman's only weakness. Upon learning of Luthor's sinister scheme, Superman must again race against time to stop the psychopathic Luthor before millions - possibly billions - are killed.

Commentary

So many popular franchises from the past are being reborn again aren't they? Superman, Batman, James Bond, how many more are we going to see? Thankfully the quality of the comebacks has been pretty phenomenal. Hollywood seems to realize that audiences can appreciate intelligent action without all of the whiz bang commercial appeal.

Superman Returns is a great way to give new life to the franchise, though I don't think I would rate it above Batman's new direction or even Bond. I didn't care for the obvious age differences from where this film plays in to the older films, but I do like the thought that went into the production design and Spacey's turn as Luthor. Singer did an excellent job with the first two X-Men films, and he seems to be on a great start for this franchise as well.

Technical

I saw this film in theaters and thought it looked quite good. It was shot completely in digital, and you can tell from the somewhat softened look similar to what we saw with the last two Star Wars films. Digital cameras have come a long way, but they still have their caveats. The biggest issue I still see is how they handle darker scenes. In this film that are quite a few of them, and there is obvious noise and what looks like macroblocking. Some scenes are worse than others, but they can be distracting (take a look at the scene when Luthor visits the museum and the lights go out). But effects scenes do tend to blend in better when a film is shot this way, and brighter scenes have amazing clarity, detail, and dimension. Overall I would say this is a really good looking presentation, but it falls just a bit short of reference.

The Blu-ray and HD DVD offerings are a bit different when it comes to audio. The HD DVD has the advantage with a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. To say this sounds good would be putting it lightly. I was EXTREMELY impressed with the detail and depth of the bass in this film. Sure lots of movies have great bass, but I was impressed with the way it was used and the detail in it here. It wasn't just that blurred bottom end that got your attention, instead it had presence and character. The surround soundstage was also impeccable with a true feeling of immersion.

Extras

Extras are presented both in HD and SD. There are LOTS of production features that span the development of the film including design, story and characters. There are also additional scenes in HD.

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney

2006, Color, Rated G, 1 Hr 22 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.855:1

1080P

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Steve Williams


Starring Kiefer Sullivan, James Belushi, Eddie Izzard, Greg Cipes, William Shatner

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

None

Language

None

"The Wild" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Ryan is a young lion who wants to go to the wild, where his dad, Samson, once lived. When he gets himself shipped to Africa, his zoo friends (and Samson) work together to bring him back.

When they get to Africa, however, the animals find themselves in a pile of danger. There they have to fight an evil wildebeest called Kazar. But Kazar's safe compared to the other danger on the island - a volcano that's on the edge of eruption. Can the animals find Ryan and get out of Africa before the volcano erupts in so little time?

Commentary

When I first saw the trailers for this film, I couldn't get over the fact that this looked like a blatant rip-off of Madagascar. You have the animals in New York's Zoo looking to escape to the wild, and you have the Lion and the Giraffe. But the film detours away from that as soon as they leave the city. Sure there are some similarities, but they aren't too bad. I enjoyed Madagascar as a film a bit more than this one, but the animation level of this film is FAR better. The story isn't too bad, but it is only just above passable. The real delight is the rich detail of the animation.

Technical

This really is a gorgeous presentation from Disney. The animation is at a level that is comparable to Ice Age 2, but the scenery is far richer in detail and color.

This is one of those titles that looks so good it can be a bit too distracting. You get caught up in the detail and dimension of the animation (which may not be a bad thing with this story). Colors are outstanding and completely devoid of noise. Depth and detail are first rate, and overall this is a disc you could use to show off HD at its finest. The only thing keeping me from giving it a perfect 5 is the subtle but obvious banding that seems to be in every skyline through the first part of the film and some minor posterization at times.

Disney has included a full resolution (24/48) uncompressed PCM soundtrack with this one, and it rocks. The overall level seems a tad high, but dynamic range doesn't suffer. The soundstage is rich in detail, and the action carries into the rear soundstage quite well. There were some moments that I thought the low end seemed a bit lacking, but this is a kid's movie, so they may have toned it down a bit at times.

Extras

Extras include some deleted scenes, behind the scenes features, and a music video.

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney

2005, Color, Rated PG, 1 Hr 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080P

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English Dolby Digital 5.1

French Dolby Digital 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Directed by Mike Mitchell


Starring: Kelly Preston, Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Kurt Russell

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"Sky High" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

It all begins at a secret school in the clouds like none on earth: Sky High, the first and only high school for kids with super-human powers going through crime-fighting puberty. At Sky High, the student body throw flames with their footballs, study Villainy with their Chemistry and are divided into Heroes and Sidekicks instead of jocks and geeks. It's an out-of-this-world yet completely recognizable place where cool gadgetry, rampant bravery, and awe-inspiring magical skills mix it up with parental battles, peer pressure and dating trouble - with explosively fun results.

This year's class features some of the best, brightest, and most powerfully gifted super-teens ever assembled.

And then there's Will Stronghold. When you're the son of the world's most legendary super heroes, The Commander and Jetstream, people expect you to live up to the family name. The problem is that Will is starting with no superpowers of his own, and, worst of all, instead of joining the ranks of the Hero class, he finds himself relegated to being a Sidekick.

Now he must somehow survive his freshman year while dealing with an overbearing gym coach, a bully with super speed, and a dangerous rebel with a grudge (and the ability to shoot fire from his hands) - not to mention the usual angst, parental expectations, and girl problems that accompany teenage life.

Commentary

This is the second time I've watched this film, and it didn't get any better this time around. I guess it is just geared at a lot younger crowd. The premise is good enough, but the execution comes off too silly at times for me. Call it an over budget after school special if you will. If you liked Spy Kids or the recent Zoom, then you will probably enjoy this one, but I personally didn't.

Technical

This movie looked quite good on DVD, and it looks even better on Blu-ray. The weakest aspect of the image is unfortunately the special effects, of which there is a lot of. They don't blend in with the live action nearly as well as bigger production films. With the crisp HD image, it actually seems to get worse. Colors are fabulous though, and detail in the live action scenes is excellent.

The audio is good, but the sound design is a bit over the top at times. Disney has included an uncompressed PCM soundtrack (gotta love high resolution soundtracks!!), and it is quite the step up in detail and soundstage from the also included Dolby Digital track. The surround soundstage is used aggressively, but dynamic range overall could have been a bit better. Again, this could have more to do with production costs rather than a limitation of the presentation.

Extras

Extras include an alternate opening and some production features.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1981, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 38 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by John Landis


Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"An American Werewolf in London" (HD DVD Hybrid)

Synopsis

Two American students are on a walking tour of England and are attacked by a werewolf. One is killed, the other is mauled. The werewolf is killed but reverts to its human form, and the townspeople are able to deny its existence.

The surviving student begins to have nightmares of hunting and starts undergoing some transformations. He then finds that his friend and other recent victims appear to him, demanding that he find a way to die to release them from their curse of being trapped between worlds because of their unnatural death.

Commentary

Leave it to a comedy director to make a cult classic horror film. Landis is better known for films like Animal House, but does a great job of balancing the horror and comedy elements of this film. By today's standards it is a bit campy, but this film was revered back in its day. Rick Baker also delivers some make-up effects that were way beyond their time and still hold up well to this day. Overall I've always enjoyed this film, but its age is starting to show. Plus I've always been on the fence about the comedy aspect.

Technical

I don't really know what I was expecting from the film from a video standpoint. It has never really looked "good" on any format, but this is the best I've seen it yet. I think a lot of people will complain about the somewhat intrusive film grain that is constantly there. Sure it is a bit distracting, but I've never seen this film without it. Detail wavers a bit, but this is all in the film source. Colors look very natural, and I only saw subtle compression artifacts in some of the backgrounds. Don't expect a polished HD presentation with this one.

While this soundtrack is in 5.1, it is very front heavy. Fidelity overall is lacking, and I thought a lot of the dialogue was on the low side in terms of volume. Most of the sound effects sound tinny and there is no lack of shrill sounds throughout. Dynamic range is somewhat weak, even for its time.

Extras

All of the extras are on the SD side of this hybrid disc and include a commentary, a making of documentary, interviews and more.

- Kris Deering -

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The Weinstein Company

2005, Color, Unrated, 1 Hr 42 mins.

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Mikael Hafstrom


Starring Clive Owen, Jennifer Aniston, Vincent Cassel, XZibit, RZA

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Derailed" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Charles is worn down by his home life where he and his wife struggle to cope with the demands their daughter's illness and his job. When he meets Lucinda on the train to work in Chicago, there is an immediate spark between them. Soon they are doing lunch; dinner and drinks follow. This leads to an adulterous rendezvous in an hotel. But no sooner have they torn each others' clothes off than their room is invaded by a thief who beats Charles and rapes Lucinda. Because of the illicit nature of their relationship, Charles is reluctant to go to the Police and soon finds himself powerless to resist the every demand of the thief.

Commentary

Derailed is one of those films that you'll think you have figured out early on, but you don't. It is a solid thriller with great performances all the way around. The story has enough twists and turns to keep it quite interesting as it progresses. I have not seen the theatrical cut so I am not sure what has been added here, but I didn't see anything that didn't fit with the mood of the film. Overall this is definitely worth checking out, but a purchase may be a bit much.

Technical

This is the first title I've reviewed from The Weinstein Company on HD DVD. I've seen this film previously on standard DVD, and this release is a nice step up from that presentation. Some people may be a bit put off by the excessive film grain present throughout the movie, but it is obviously intended by the director. Funny thing is, the lighter this film gets, the more film grain. Normally it is the opposite. Detail is quite nice through most of the film, and depth is also decent. I didn't see much in terms of compression noise, and overall I would say this is a very nice looking transfer.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and does its job nicely. Dynamic range is decent for this genre of film, and I really enjoyed the ambience of the track. Imaging across the main channels is solid, and dialogue didn't have a hint of strain.

Extras

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

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1999, Color, Rated PG-13

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

 

Starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, Arnold Vosloo

 

Directed by Stephen Sommers

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Mild

Language

Yes

"The Mummy" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

As punishment for killing Pharaoh Seti and sleeping with his mistress, Egyptian priest Imhotep was mummified alive and cursed. But in 1923 he is inadvertently resurrected by treasure hunters and must be stopped before he can wreak his final vengeance on the world.

Commentary

This was one of the big summer movies of 1999 and went on to spawn a sequel and a spin-off. I've always enjoyed this one and I've owned it on DVD and D-Theater before this. It reminds me a bit of the Indiana Jones films, but a bit more campy. If you like adventure based popcorn films with big budgets, this one is a winner.

Technical

Having already seen this on D-Theater, I pretty much knew what to expect. The same master is used, but this time around, VC1 was used for encoding. The result is about the same. The image can look extremely good at times, but some of the stock footage thrown in from time to time really stinks. Print wear is noticed on occasion but isn't overly distracting. Fine detail is excellent at times, and depth of image can be quite good as well. Overall this is a great presentation, but I wouldn't call it reference. 

Like most big budget summer films, The Mummy gets an impressive soundtrack with dynamic range to spare. Bass is very aggressive and the full surround soundfield is utilized aggressively. Dialogue sounds a bit uneven at times, but otherwise this is a great soundtrack.

Extras

Extras appear to be the same as the collector's edition DVD and include some commentaries, a feature documentary, and some production featurettes.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

2006, Color, PG-13, 2 Hr 37 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Dolby Digital Plus5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Directed by Mike Newell


Starring 
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Innuendo

Language

No

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

**UK RELEASE**

Harry's fourth summer and the following year at Hogwarts are marked by the Quidditch World Cup and the Tri-Wizard Tournament, in which student representatives from three different wizarding schools compete in a series of increasingly challenging contests.

However, Voldemort's Death Eaters are gaining strength and even creating the Dark Mark, giving evidence that the Dark Lord is ready to rise again. In the unsuspecting lives of the young wizard and witches at Hogwarts, the competitors are selected by the Goblet of Fire, which this year makes a very surprising announcement: Hogwarts will have two representatives in the tournament, including Harry Potter!

Will Harry be able to rise to the challenge for the Tri Wizard Tournament while keeping up with school, or will the challenges along with Voldemort's rebirth be too much for the young hero?

Commentary

Since it doesn't seem like Warner plans on releasing this stateside anytime soon, I figured I would just order it from the UK. I've read all of the Potter books, and this one is based on my favorite of the bunch. Though I would say I still like the book better, they did a great job on this translation to the screen. This is my second favorite film adaptation, behind Prisoner of Azkaban. Some of the Tri-Wizard tournament scenes are incredible, especially the dragon fight. This scene is almost a benchmark for special effects and how they can really make a magical world come alive.

Technical

I have a feeling that this disc was made for the US market originally. It opens with an FBI warning, which I wouldn't think would apply to the UK market. The transfer is quite good, but has some issues, the biggest of which is black levels. There is A LOT of digital noise in blacks. The opening sequence sets the bar for some of the worse artifacts I've seen in black to date. I imagine if I set my projector's brightness lower, it might clip the artifacts, but I don't tend to do that. Aside from that issue though, everything else is pretty good. Depth and detail are superb throughout most of the film, with only a couple of scenes coming up a bit soft.

The special effects blend in with the live action extremely well, which is usually a problem with these new HD transfers. Film grain is faithfully reproduced and gives the transfer a very natural look, as opposed to some releases that just look synthetically clean. If the black issues were fixed, this could easily be called a reference transfer. Hopefully, we won't see the same thing with the eventual US release.

Despite the long runtime and decent set of extras, Warner has included a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack with this release. The result is awesome. Dynamic range is extremely impressive, and so is the use of the soundstage. There are quite a few moments in this film that one could show off their full system's potential (I like the dragon match personally). I just wish Warner would be more consistent in offering TrueHD!!

Extras

Since this is a big title for Warner, they are giving it the gold treatment. The film features their "in-movie experience" including interviews, commentary, and more. You also get a bunch of production features, some extra footage, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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The Weinstein Company

2004, Color, Unrated

1 hr 44 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: John Jarratt, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Kestie Morassi

 

Directed by Greg McLean

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Strong

Sex

Innuendo

Language

Yes

"Wolf Creek" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Kristy, Ben, and Liz are three pals in their twenties who set out to hike through the scenic Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback. The trouble begins when they get back only to find that their car won't start. The trio think they have a way out when they run into a local bushman named Mick Taylor. Wait until you get a load of what Mick has in store for them. Their troubles have just begun.

Commentary

This was an independent film made in Australia that did pretty well in some of the film festivals. It was shot with portable HD cameras, and the production design is quite good.

As a horror film, it isn't anything too new. While it does have its shocks, I didn't find it all that unnerving. But it is a lot better than the cookie cutter stuff we've been seeing from mainstream Hollywood lately.

Technical

Since this film was shot in HD, it looks INCREDIBLE. The image is amazingly clean, and the camera held up well even in darker scenes. Fine detail is pristine throughout most of the film, and depth is fantastic.

This disc was encoded in AVC, and if this is a sign of things to come from the Weinstein camp, I am extremely excited to see more. By far one of the best looking HD DVDs I've seen yet. You will notice some grain in the later part of the movie when they are out in the dark, but I don't think any camera out there would have done this scene without some grain. One of the drawbacks of shooting in near pitch black.

The soundtrack is good, but you can tell they were a bit limited in production budget. I like that they never try to do too much and let the situation dictate the mood. Dialogue sounds clean though, which is rare with independent films. You do get some nice dynamic range out of this one at times, but it lacks the polish of bigger budget thrillers.

Extras

Extras include a feature commentary, a promo feature on the mind of a killer, a documentary on the making of the film, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1984, Color, Rated PG-13

2 hr 17 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

French Dolby Digital Plus 2.0

 

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Jose Ferrer, Max Von Sydow, Linda Hunt, Sting

 

Directed by David Lynch

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Some

Language

Mild

"Dune" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

In the far future, a duke and his family are sent by the Emperor to a sand world from which comes a spice that is essential for interstellar travel. The move is designed to destroy the duke and his family, but his son escapes and seeks revenge as he uses the world's ecology as one of his weapons.

Commentary

This is the only film I've ever seen in my life that they handed out a sheet when you went into the theater so that you knew what the words meant. It is literally that bad in some regards. Dune is based on a series of books from Frank Herbert that span A LOT of universe. To film them all would be an epic undertaking. David Lynch directed this cut, but it was trimmed down a lot from the intended presentation. Later this film was re-released in a longer cut under a different director. This release is the original theatrical cut and I still enjoy it. At times it feels like it doesn't explain enough, and sometimes it explains too much. The production value is still impressive even if the dated special effects aren't.

Technical

I honestly didn't think this would look very good. I've never been very impressed with the presentations this film has been afforded. Overall, this one is pretty good though. There are times when the special effects hurt the overall consistency of the image a lot, but most of the footage that doesn't involve an effects shot has held up quite well.

Detail is quite good most of the time and the print is in decent shape. Depth of image can be impressive at times, but I don't know if I would use this one to show off the format.

The soundtrack is definitely on the dated side. Dynamic range is pretty lacking, and the surrounds are used a bit too sparingly. Sound design was pretty good for its time though. Some of the ADR was off a bit, which can be distracting.

Extras

Extras include some deleted scenes, production features, and a photo gallery.

- Kris Deering -

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The Weinstein Company

2006, Color, Rated R

1 hr 37 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080P

 

English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

 

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Hope Davis, Philip Baker Hall

 

Directed by Richard Shepard

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"The Matador" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

A chance encounter between a traveling salesman and a lonely hitman triggers a strangely profound relationship which provokes each to act in ways neither would have imagined possible. Fate steps in to form a friendship between two men from irreconcilable worlds that will alter the lives of both forever.

Commentary

This is a film I really wanted to see in theaters, but I never got the opportunity. I was really excited to see that it would be a launch title for The Weinstein Company on HD DVD. The film is a nice balance of comedy and intrigue with Brosnan giving one his best performances in my opinion. The film tries to be a bit cooler than it needs to, but overall I thought it was pretty fun.

Technical

This is a bit of a weird one for video. At times the image is breathtaking with phenomenal depth and detail that will just have you awe struck. But there are issues. For one, blacks have been encoded poorly, resulting in a lot of digital noise, even in the letterbox bars. This is a rare issue that I've only seen a few times before on DVD. Posterization is also a bit noticeable with some of the extreme colors that they use to filter the image. Of course this is a stylizing choice, but at times it seem to hinder detail. Overall, I think this is a great looking disc, but a bit more effort would have made it a reference transfer.

The audio track is surprisingly dynamic. Some of the moments in this film will probably make you jump. The score and the atmosphere come together to create an engaging soundfield that really does a fine job of filling the room. Dialogue is nicely balanced and always clean.

Extras

Extras included some deleted scenes, two feature commentaries, some production features, and the trailer.

- Kris Deering -

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