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Number 149 - August, 2007

Part I

Staff

 


Now Playing
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Perfect Stranger (Blu-ray) The Contract (HD DVD)
Purple Rain (Blu-ray/HD DVD) Roving Mars (Blu-ray)
The Bourne Identity (HD DVD) Disturbia (Blu-ray/HD DVD)
The Fifth Element (Re-master) (Blu-ray) The Messengers (Blu-ray)
Mallrats (HD DVD) Premonition (Blu-ray)

Number 149 - August, 2007 - Part I

Number 149 - August, 2007 - Part II

Number 149 - August, 2007 - Part III

Movie Reviews Index

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Revolution Studios

2007, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 49 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

 

English/French DD 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

 

Directed by James Foley


Starring: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Perfect Stranger" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

When her friend's affair with married ad exec Harrison Hill ends in the woman's murder, investigative reporter Rowena Price vows to bring the killer to justice. Suspecting Hill of the crime, she goes undercover by posing as two highly alluring women: Katherine, a sexy temp who works within his agency, and Veronica, a seductive temptress he chats with on-line. Engaging in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, both Rowena and Hill begin to realize things may not be what they seem, because some people will go to great lengths to protect their secrets, even if it means risking everything.

Commentary

This movie was barely in theaters for a week. I remember seeing trailers for it, but hardly even heard a murmur about it. Given this I was expecting the worse. Thankfully it wasn't too bad. The story is decent enough, and the acting is actually quite good. The problem is the film isn't as sexy as I think it should have been, given the nature of the subject matter. It starts in the right direction but always backs off when it shouldn't. The ending is also a bit of a stretch to me. While entertaining enough for a rental, I don't see enough replay value for a purchase.

Technical

This transfer definitely benefits from the age of the master. The source is pristine, and the detail is in turn wonderful. Contrast is stark, and depth is excellent through the entire film. I was impressed with the level of detail in the darker scenes, and the overall look of the film really makes you feel like you're watching a superb film print.

The audio is very moody and full of nice atmospheric effects. The soundstage stays open throughout and there are even some nice discrete effects in the rear soundstage. Dialogue is always natural across the mains, and balance is dead on.

Extras

A making-of feature is included.

- Kris Deering -

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Warner Bros.

1984, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 54 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English DD/DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Albert Magnoli


Starring Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day, Olga Karlatos, Clarence Williams III

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Mild

Sex

Yes

Language

Yes

"Purple Rain" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

Rock star Prince plays a headstrong, vulnerable young musician known as "the kid." He struggles with his own psyche and family pressures of an alcoholic father who beats his mother. He sees his father's madness infecting both his music and his own personal life.

Commentary

I've always been a huge fan of this film and most of Prince's catalog of music up until the mid-1990's. When I saw that Warner was releasing this one in HD I was overjoyed to see their inclusion of a lossless soundtrack on both formats. This is one of the better rock and roll films in my opinion and a welcome addition to any music film-lovers library.

Technical

This film was released as a special two-disc special edition from Warner just a few years ago, and I was impressed how clean it looked on that format. The same holds true here. The same master was used, and given its age and budget, this is a very good looking feature. It is softer than most of the high profile HD you see, but detail is better than you would probably expect from a film like this, and there isn't much in terms of noise and print wear. Colors are a bit sketchy, an issue you see a lot from films of the 1980's, but that has always been an issue with this film.

The soundtrack is presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and unfortunately it isn't quite to the bar I was hoping for. I am all about hearing Prince's early hits in 5.1, but the age of the soundtrack and limitations of the recording hold this back from being as good as I had hoped for. Fidelity overall isn't bad, but it doesn't excel over the standard DVD release by much. Maybe my expectations for this one were a bit high.

Extras

All of the extras from the two-disc special edition are included. There are some great featurettes about the film and the locales Prince used for the film. There are also interviews, commentaries and LOTS of music videos.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

2002, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 59 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English/French DD+ 5.1

 

Directed by Doug Liman


Starring Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Bourne Identity" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Found with two bullets in his back, Jason Bourne discovers he has the skills of a very dangerous man and no memory of his violent past. Racing to unlock the secret of his own identity, he discovers the deadly truth: he's an elite government agent, a 30 million dollar weapon the government no longer trusts.

Commentary

Honestly, this film redefined the secret agent genre, and put severe pressure on the previous head man, James Bond. This is a tightly paced, intelligent action thriller that doesn't rely on beautiful girls and silly gadgets. Instead you have tight scripting, good dialogue and extremely well produced action. Can't wait to see the final film.

Technical

I had this movie on D-Theater in HD and it was one of the better looking Universal releases. This release is almost identical. Universal hasn't been impressing me much with their catalog releases lately, but this is a GREAT transfer. Problem is, you have to compare it to the sequel that is already out there on HD DVD. In comparison, this is a little lighter on contrast and overall depth. It excels at fine detail, but longer shots are a bit softer. I also thought the color palette was a bit more muted this time around. But obviously these are choices made by the director for the look of the film, and the second one was a bit more stylized. If I had to pick one to show off, it would be the sequel, but this is still an impressive picture.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, and I would still rather see Universal start supporting lossless audio on at least their bigger titles. The overall volume of this title is a bit lower than some other action movies I've seen lately, but dynamics are still quite good. The film's soundtrack seems a bit low as well. The surround soundstage is used nicely but isn't as active as most of the other action movies I've seen lately. While the sound design and presentation are good here, it could be upped just a bit.

Extras

This is a feature-loaded HD DVD. Universal has given this title its "U-Control" treatment, with interviews, production footage, character bios, and GPS features included on the fly. There are also all the special features from the special edition DVD that came out a while back. This includes interviews, commentaries, production features, a look at the author, and deleted scenes.

- Kris Deering -

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Gaumont/ Columbia Pictures

1997, Color, Rated PG-13, 2 Hr 5 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

1080p

 

English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 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 (Re-master)" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Two hundred and fifty years in the future, life as we know it is threatened by the arrival of evil. Only the Fifth Element can stop the evil from extinguishing life, as it tries to do every five thousand years. She is helped by ex-soldier and current-cab-driver, Korben Dallas, who is, in turn, helped by Prince/Arsenio clone, Ruby Rhod. Unfortunately, evil is being assisted by Mr. Zorg, a man who seeks to profit from the chaos that evil will bring, and his alien mercenaries.

Commentary

This was one of the first Blu-ray offerings from Sony, and it was met with a very cold reception. The master used for that presentation had some serious issues, and this led to an outpouring of complaints about Blu-ray as a whole. This title was used as the reference of DVD video playback for years, but it looked like Sony dropped the ball for its BD premiere. Since then, Sony has been consistently releasing some gorgeous transfers, and as a response to the outcry, they have gone back and souped up this title, a brave and appreciated move in my opinion. They are also offering a trade-up for anyone who previously bought the title and would like to exchange it (for free) with the new version. Now that is what I call customer service!!

Technical

This time around Sony used AVC for the encode, and the film looks like it may be from a completely different master. The color balance seems a bit different in a few scenes when I compared them. There are still moments where the image doesn't hold up as well as some newer films, but this is probably a limitation of the filming style. The CG in the film, while state of the art for its time, is softer than the live action, and the color looks a bit more pastel than the rest of the film. Of course, these are limitations of the production as well. Fine detail and overall detail in this version are quite a bit better than the original version and reason enough to upgrade. I thought colors looked better and more natural as well. There isn't even a hint of compression artifacts, and depth improved overall. A very nice job by Sony here.

Personally, I didn't think the original PCM presentation on the last release was lacking, but Sony upped the ante on this one and included a new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack at 20-bit resolution compared to the 16-bit resolution PCM track. I didn't notice a whole lot of different between the two in my setup, but then my surround sound processor up-samples all digital signals to 192/24 internally.

This is a very aggressive soundtrack, with AMPLE use of the surround soundstage. I've always loved the open sound design and sense of space you get with this film. I've used it countless times as a demonstration disc for this alone. While I appreciate Sony's inclusion of a higher resolution soundtrack, at the end of the day, I didn't hear much of a difference. I do hope they continue to offer higher resolution soundtracks though.

Extras

Extras are identical to the previous Blu-ray release. They include a trivia track and some trailers.

- Kris Deering -

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Universal

1995, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English DD+ 5.1

French DD+ 2.0

 

Directed by Kevin Smith


Starring Shannon Doherty, Claire Forlani, Jason Lee, Jeremy London, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Yes

Language

Strong

"Mallrats" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

Brodie Bruce, a Sega and comic book obsessed college student, and his best friend, TS Quint, are both dumped by their girlfriends on the same day, and to deal with their loss, they both go to the local mall.

Along the way, they meet up with some friends, including William, a guy who stares at Magic Eye pictures, desperately trying to see the hidden image; Gwen, one of TS's ex-girlfriends; and Jay & Silent Bob, of Clerks fame. Eventually, they decide to try and win back their significant others, and take care of their respective nemesises (TS's girlfriend's father, and a store clerk who hates the two for not having any shopping agenda).

Commentary

I would consider myself a pretty big Kevin Smith fan. This is one of the funnier films he's done, but it is also one of the campier offerings. The film has great one liners, plenty of funny characters, and an entertaining storyline. While I wouldn't put it up there with some of his better films (Chasing Amy/Dogma), fans of his films who haven't seen this should check it out.

Technical

This is one of those releases that barely improves on the DVD. The only real difference I saw was a slight change in fine detail and lack of compression artifacts. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of edge enhancement, which may be inherent in the master. This is yet another Universal title I've seen lately with this issue, and it's starting to scare me a bit. Colors look a bit muted, which is probably a limitation of the age and condition of the print used. While it is a slight improvement on the DVD release, it is a far cry from the better HD presentations out there.

The audio is presented in DD+ and is about the same as the previous DVD release. Sound design is simple, and the soundstage is a bit front-heavy. Dialogue can sound a bit sharp at times, almost as if it weren't balanced into the soundstage as well as it could be. The music in the film adds a little bit of dynamics, but not much.

Extras

This was a loaded special edition on DVD, and most of the features are still here. Unfortunately Universal didn't take advantage of the HDi components of HD DVD on this one and include the video commentary that was offered with the DVD release. You can still listen to the commentary, but you don't get to watch Kevin and Jason like you did with the DVD.

- Kris Deering -

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First Look

2006, Color, Rated R, 1 Hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English DD+ 5.1

English DTS 5.1

 

Directed by Bruce Beresford


Starring John Cusack, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Anderson, Alice Krige

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"The Contract" (HD DVD)

Synopsis

While on a hiking trip to reconnect with his son after the death of his wife, Ray Keene stumbles into a nightmare scenario of paid assassins and ex-military guns-for-hire. Frank Cardin is attempting to fulfill a contract to assassinate a high profile businessman when things go awry and he ends up in the custody of the U.S. Marshalls. After an ill-fated attempt by his compatriots to free him, Frank finds himself in the custody of ex-lawman Ray and his son. As the trio tries to make their way back to civilization, they are relentlessly pursued by Frank's friends who are intent on freeing their leader in order to collect on the contract. But one pursuer may be more foe than friend.

Commentary

Despite the rating and star leads, this really could be a movie you see on USA network and made for TV. The premise has been done before and the story overall can be a bit slow at times. The plot revolves around a father and son who were out camping at the wrong place at the wrong time and run into a contract killer who didn't quite escape on his way to the Feds. Now they are being hunted by the killer's companions through the wilderness. Problem is, the hunt is a bit slow and the dialogue isn't the best. Freeman and Cusack make the most of the parts, but can't save the ship overall.

Technical

The transfer is quite good for a direct to video release. Contrast is excellent and most of the forest is lush with detail and depth. Some of the effects work softens up the image at times, and longer shots are inconsistent in quality. Far better than I was expecting, given the budget and retail model, but not quite reference material.

The soundtrack is delivered in DD+ 5.1 and also has a DTS option. Dynamics are good overall, but you can tell the sound design was constrained by the budget a bit. Some of the action sounds a bit canned if you know what I mean. The soundstage is nice and open though, and the ambience and details of the woods and environment are very realistic throughout the front and rear soundstage.

Extras

Extras include some production features and a documentary on the film. There is also a photo gallery, some trailers, and a PiP look at the film during the movie.

- Kris Deering -

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Walt Disney

2006, Color, Rated G, 40 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English/French/Spanish DD 5.1

 

Directed by George Butler


Starring George Butler

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

No

Sex

No

Language

No

"Roving Mars" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Action. Drama. Anticipation. Exultation. Experience it all as you join the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity for an awe-inspiring journey to the surface of the mysterious red planet. Through the eyes of these two intrepid, death-defying rovers, and with NASA scientists and engineers at your side, you'll see Mars in a way no one ever has before. You'll feel what it is like to stand on the startling surface of the planet that's intrigued mankind for eons. And you'll uncover its ultimate mystery: Is there life on Mars? Roving Mars it's the ride of a lifetime.

Commentary

I don't know if this was an Imax movie or not, but it comes off a lot like one. Or something you'd find at Epcot during your trip to Walt Disney World. Essentially this is a look at the two rovers they made for the journey to Mars and the testing and obstacles they had to overcome. Most of the movie is CGI representations of what they had to face, but there are some images actually captured from the rovers. Overall it is an interesting documentary, but not quite as riveting as some of the other Imax features or even the recent Planet Earth series.

Technical

You would think that forty minutes of video would be a breeze for HD with the space and bitrate availability of the Blu-ray format, but all evidence to the contrary here. This documentary is a cornucopia of different types of footage. SD cameras, handheld cameras, HD cameras, still footage, and CGI combine to make the documentary, and all of it is vastly different in quality.

There is plenty of banding, plenty of macroblocking, and scaling artifacts can be atrocious at times. Ringing plagues most of the upscaled footage with harsh lines around just about every object. Most of the HD footage looks good, but it appears that they boosted the signal level a little, as the image comes off harder than you'd expect from native HD cameras. The CGI is full of banding but can be pretty cool at times. Overall, this isn't nearly as inspiring in the video department as most HD documentaries, but it isn't horrible either.

The audio presentation has its moments. Dynamic range is extremely impressive during the wind testing as well as some of the animations for the launch and landing of the rovers. Dialogue is balanced nicely within the rest of the soundstage, and ambience isn't too bad.

Extras

Extras include an early Disney documentary about space and the universe from the 50's, and some interviews and retrospective outlook from the filmmakers and NASA scientists.

- Kris Deering -

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Dreamworks Pictures

2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 44 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English/French/Spanish DD/DD+ 5.1 EX

English DTS-ES 6.1

 

Directed by D.J. Caruso


Starring Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Ann Moss

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

Themes

Language

Yes

"Disturbia" (Blu-ray/HD DVD)

Synopsis

After his father's accidental death, Kale remains withdrawn and troubled. When he lashes out at a well-intentioned but insensitive teacher, he finds himself under a court-ordered house arrest. His mother continues to cope, working extra shifts to support herself and her son, as she tries in vain to understand the changes in his personality.

The walls of his house begin to close in on Kale as he takes chances to extend the boundaries both physical and emotional - of his confinement. His interests turn outside the windows of his suburban home toward those of his neighbors, including a mutual attraction to the new girl next door. Together, they begin to suspect that another neighbor is a serial killer. Are their suspicions merely the product of Kale's cabin fever and vivid imagination? Or have they unwittingly stumbled across a crime that could cost them their lives?
 

Commentary

I didn't pay this one much mind during its theatrical run, but it did make a nice haul at the box office. Generally PG-13 thrillers with a young cast like this don't impress me much and center on the MTV crowd with their predictable plots and product placement.

This is a breath of fresh air though and a solid thriller, especially given the circumstances. The young cast gives good performances, and the director does a good job of holding suspense and keeping you guessing. I would definitely recommend checking this one out if you're a fan of the genre.

Technical

A solid presentation from Paramount here. The Blu-ray seems to be a tad sharper at times, but it was hard to judge due to the time it took to go back and forth. Both have great detail though, and the color rendition is very nice. Blacks are deep, and shadow detail is never an issue. I didn't see any banding or compression issues at all, and generally this is as solid as they come.

The soundtracks are slightly different, but I didn't think there was a big enough difference to warrant buying one version over the other. The soundtrack is encoded as an EX soundtrack, and there are a few nice discrete rear effects. There is even a discrete 6.1 DTS-ES soundtrack on both formats. Dynamics are delivered very nicely, with good extension into the lower end. The surround soundstage is very natural and never gimmicky, with just the right amount of nuance to keep the experience immersive.

Extras

Paramount continues to offer supplements in HD, including deleted scenes, outtakes, and a making-of feature. You also get the trailer, a music video, photo gallery, and feature commentary.

- Kris Deering -

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Screen Gems

2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 30 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

1080p

 

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

English/French DD 5.1

 

Directed by The Pang Brothers


Starring Kristen Stewart, Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller, John Corbett

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Mild

"The Messengers" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Desperate for a fresh start after a tough two years in Chicago, the Solomon family retreats to a desolate sunflower farm in North Dakota. But the calm of farm life is shattered when 16-year-old Jess and her 3-year-old brother Ben begin to see nightmarish apparitions throughout their new home - visions that nobody else can see. As the visions grow darker, they become fear-inspiring experiences, and Jess' parents start to question their daughter's sanity. Now, Jess must find a way to save her family and win a battle with forces from far beyond the grave.

Commentary

I've seen a lot of films by the Pang Brothers, especially from their foreign film catalog. I've always had mixed feelings for their horror films; some have been good, but some have been too formulaic. This one treads lightly on the line but has enough frantic fright and pop up terror to keep you on your toes. VERY moody.

My wife jumped quite a few times and was clawing my arm. I guess that is the mark of doing a film like this right. Not a bad start to their American film career, but there is room for improvement. 

Technical

Man, it is tough not giving this one a perfect score for video. Most of the time this transfer is breathtaking, with gorgeous detail and color; and I mean GORGEOUS.

The problem is when the effects come into play. The image softens up enough that it almost spoils the effect because you know it is coming. The image is so crisp and detailed, and then all of a sudden there is a layer of haze and presto, CG effects. Oh well, you can bask in gorgeous HD beauty through 95% of the film.

The 5.1 soundtrack is seriously dynamic. And the Pangs have gone to every length to make you jump or have the hairs on your neck stand straight up. The soundstage is very alive, with creepy little nuances happening all the time. There were some really cool sound effects, including walking that is supposed to be in the upstairs in the house that I swear was coming from the room above my theater. Very creepy. Bass is tight and adds just the right dimension to the mood. Did I mention you will jump a lot through this movie? Make sure you watch in the dark and in a quiet room.

Extras

Extras include seven behind the scenes features on making the film. You also get a feature commentary.

- Kris Deering -

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Tri-Star/MGM

2007, Color, Rated PG-13, 1 Hr 36 min

 

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

1080p

 

English/French DD 5.1

English Uncompressed PCM 5.1

 

Directed by Mennan Yapo


Starring Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Nia Long, Peter Stormare

 

 

0

5

Entertainment

*

Video

*

Audio

*

Extras

Violence

Yes

Sex

No

Language

Yes

"Premonition" (Blu-ray)

Synopsis

Linda Hanson has a beautiful house, a loving husband, and two adorable daughters. Her life is perfect, until the day she receives the devastating news that her husband Jim has died in a car accident. When she wakes up the next morning to find him alive and well, she assumes it was all a dream, but is shaken by how vivid it felt.

She soon realizes it wasn't a dream, and her world is turned upside down as the surreal circumstances lead her to discover that her perfect life may not have been all that it appeared. Desperate to save her family, Linda begins a furious race against time and fate to try and preserve everything that she and Jim have built together.

Commentary

For some reason I didn't have a lot of interest in seeing this one after I saw the trailers. Luckily, this film turned out to be pretty good, with enough twists and eeriness to keep me locked in the whole film. This is almost a twisted rendition of a few different Twilight Zone stories I saw a long way back. A wife and mother keeps waking up throughout the week to find that things are different and know of events coming up. You get to see how she handles them and what she does to prevent the worst. A very solid thriller that is definitely worth your time.

Technical

Sony is really on the ball with consistently good transfers lately. Really nothing at all to pick on here. Detail is exceptional, and depth and contrast are excellent. This transfer is very dimensional, with a perfect balance of fine detail and color. I didn't see any compression artifacts at all, and noise is minimal. A very solid transfer.

The uncompressed PCM soundtrack is also a treat and very moody. The rear soundstage adds to the ambience nicely, and the main soundstage is very wide and dynamic. For a thriller, this isn't an extremely dynamic soundtrack, but there are enough moments when range extends down nicely and you get some impressive bass.

Extras

Extras include deleted scenes and an alternate ending, a feature commentary, behind the scenes looks at the making of the film, and a gag reel.

- Kris Deering -

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