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Movie Renter's Guide

Part 23 - DVD Edition 2 - July, 1997

By Pat Reynolds

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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Desperado"Desperado" Columbia Tri-Star; 11659; $31.98; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Surround in French and Spanish; Subtitles in Spanish and Korean; Production Notes; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side A); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 43 Minutes; Single Sided, Single Layer; 37 Chapter Stops.

If you like action you're gonna love this movie. Antonio Banderas plays a guitarist searching for the men who are responsible for the murder of his girlfriend. The film also stars Salma Hayek who plays the love interest, and Steve Buscemi is great as the guitar player's buddy. Cheech Marin also stars as the bartender of a seedy bar. Quentin Tarantino makes a cameo as a lowlife criminal, and the film is a tapestry of blood and violence, executed with viceral precision by Robert Rodriguez, who pulled triple duty as writer, director, and editor of the film.

The film itself is a nice transfer. No artifact noise and as seen in other DVD films, the color is very rich and vibrant. Good detail: you can count the stubble on Cheech Marin's face if you want to (375 ? 10% error). Also, good fleshtone, although Steve Buscemi's skin seemed a little washed out. Of course, Steve could just be pale! Dark scenes are deep and black, and the blood splattering from various gunshot wounds of the victims is a nice shade of red! The interactive menu is quite disapointing. No thumbnail image chapter stops, no trailer or production notes, just text filled thumbnails for chapter stops. That is as weak as Quentin Tarantino's acting!

The Dolby Digital (AC-3) soundtrack is excellent. Very enveloping and spatial. When the shooting starts, boy do you know! Aggressive surround effects, perhaps one of the best Dolby Digital soundtracks I have heard. The sound editor on this film deserves many accolades for his duties! Booming gunshots, rear effect richocets and debris, rumbling explosions! Great stuff for you sound buffs! To hear this wonderful digital soundtrack you must switch to English audio track 2. What putz at Columbia decided this! When the film is first fired up, it defaults to the matrix surround soundtrack. You have to manually change to the digital track yourself! This will hopefully be changed in future releases. Nothing on the storage case or interactive menus notifies the owner of this little procedure! Hello!!!! Columbia please tell the consumer this vital information!

If action is what you crave one evening then watch "Desperado". Except for Quentin Tarantino's cheesy cameo, you will be blown away, so to speak, at the fun and excitement this movie has to offer. Don't mean to upset you Tarantino fans out there, I love Tarantino as a writer (Brilliant!) and director (Excellent!), but his acting ability leaves a lot to be desired. Enjoy the artful bloodletting that Mr. Rodriguez has crafted, because it's well worth it.

Entertainment: ****
Video Quality: ***** (Anamorphic)
Audio: *****
Photography: *****
Violence: Yes, you had better believe it!
Sex: yes some
Language: The "F" and "S" words

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Goodfellas"Goodfellas" Warner Brothers; 12039; $24.95; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Surround in French; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; Production Notes; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side A and B); Region ID 1; 2 Hours 26 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 19 Chapter Stops on side A and 15 Chapter Stops on side B.

 This 1990 film by Martin Scorcese is one of his best. It follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) over a twenty five year period of his life in the Mafia. The performances are superb all around, especially Joe Pesci's visceral portrayal of Tommy DeVito which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. If you haven't seen it, then go right now and either rent or buy the DVD and watch it! OK, if you need a more convincing argument, read on.

Now I know all you audio/videophiles out there want to know the good stuff, so here it is. The DVD (2 sides) comes in the standard "non-jewel box". It has Robert DeNiro flanked on his left and right by Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, on the cover, with "Goodfellas" in white down below the three. Enough of that longwinded mumbo jumbo.

The picture is superb! Rich, vibrant colors, even the reds look great (as they usually do with DVD, compared to laserdisc, and - Ohhhhhh Nooooooooo - VHS tape)! Skin tone is excellent, you can see the pores in the faces on close-ups! The overall picture is as sharp as a butchers meat cleaver (should I write a book on clever similes or what?) Just a hair of video noise in smokey and dark scenes. The wonderful gangster silk suits that all the characters wear look ever so slick on DVD, with the texture of the shirts and jackets as plain as the rain in Spain. Deep blacks, every strand of the Vaseline hairdos on the gangsters is shining in all it's rich glory! A truly exceptional picture. Other goodies as well. Again, read on.

Included are chapter search, two trailers, and language changes for audio and subtitles. Nothing truly exceptional about the menu interface; it has little thumbnail images of various scenes from the film that one may wish to jump to. The way the thumbnails are laid out is fine, but the fact that only six choices out of nineteen chapters on side one are all that is available, is very disappointing. Side two only has three choices! Gee whilikers Batman, who designed the layout of this disc! It also has cast biographies of the stars and a nice touch of Production Notes. This provides little tidbits about the production (Duh!!!) of the film, its creation, locations, and the like.

The sound is great for this type of movie. Since it is basically a drama (as opposed to a space blaster with big effects), the surrounds are not used every minute of every frame of film. But once in a while, they envelop the listener with a great soundtrack, booming gunfire, and some ambient sound. The dialogue is sharp, clear, and focused. Overall a good mix of sound.

So, if you want a good compliment to "The Godfather", or you just like good gangster movies with lots of good food, money, nice clothes, beautiful girls, tough guys, and bloody violence, then "Goodfellas" is a must see! A wonderful piece of filmmaking with great performances by the ensemble cast and one my personal favorites! Enjoy!

Entertainment: ****
Video Quality: ***** (Anamorphic)
Audio: ***
Photography: ****
Violence: Yes, Joe Pesci goes off with a knife
Sex: yes, a couple of quick scenes
Language: the "F" and "S" words

Jerry Maguire"Jerry Maguire" Columbia Tri-Star; 82539; $31.98; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Surround in French and Spanish; Subtitles in Spanish; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side A) Region ID 1; 2 Hours 19 Minutes; Single Sided, Single Layer; 63 Chapter Stops.

The big hit from 1996 has arrived on DVD. This wonderful romantic comedy follows Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise), a very successful sports agent who loses his job after finding his scruples. Jerry goes from hot dog sports agent with tens of clients to a bottom of the ladder nobody and one client. We experience his trials and tribulations not only in his professional activities, but also in his love life as he struggles to regain his success. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays Rod Tidwell, Jerry's only remaining client. Gooding won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and deservedly so. His performance is a scene stealer! Especially the now famous "Show me the money......!!!!!!" scene! Excellent performances all the way around, and Tom Cruise gives an especially notable performance, perhaps the best of his career. This film was nominated for five Academy Awards , including Best Picture.

The picture quality on this disc is great! Even though Columbia must have used maximum compression to squeeze the 139 minute movie onto one side of the disc. Fleshtones are very nice, excellent overall, especially the red and white uniforms of the Arizona Cardinal football team. Home theater buffs will not be disappointed! All the colors are deep and rich, the dark suits' black is really black. (Don't laugh. Reproducing black as black rather than muddy gray, is a production art.) The grass is nice and . . . well green, and you can even be bedazzled by the nice smooth complexions of the various actor's skin! Tom Cruise does have a mole, but it isn't distracting (I don't have a skin fetish, really). What joy to be able to see these things in a home video! I wish I could say as much about the sound.

The Dolby Digital track is OK, with good separation across the front, and spatialy quite pleasing. But there is very little in the surrounds, except in crowd scenes and enveloping music and various sounds for dramatic effect, such as a camera flashbulb popping in slow motion. An echoing, enveloping sound is created; nice touch but I would prefer some more ambient sounds throughout the movie. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and natural. One thing I must mention about the Dolby Digital track: like one of the other DVDs reviewed above, it is on English audio track two! I see a pattern developing here, and it's gotta stop! When the disc is first played it is defaulted to the matrix soundtrack and you have to switch to the digital track. Nothing is printed on the interior or exterior of the storage case to inform the viewer. Nothing appears on the interactive menu of the disc to state this fact either, unless you just happen to choose the audio portion by mistake or curiosity.

Speaking of the menu, Columbia Tri-Star DVDs, in my opinion, have the worst interactive menus. No thumbnail images, and it is all just the various chapter stops. Other DVDs have production notes, cast bios, a trailer of the film, and sometimes more, depending on the disc. Come on Columbia, you could at least put a trailer of the film on the various titles you release!

Well enough rant and raves! Jerry Maguire is a fine film, so check it out when you get a chance. You will be throughly entertained. Of course, Jonathan Lipnicki is adorable as little Ray.

Entertainment: *****
Video Quality: ***** (Anamorphic)
Audio: ***
Photography: ****
Violence: yes, football sequences
Sex: yes, but only graphic in one scene and it is fairly quick
Language: the "F" and "S" words

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Lethal Weapon"Lethal Weapon" Warner Brothers; 11709; $24.95; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Surround in French; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; Theatrical Trailer; Production Notes; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side B), Pan & Scan (Side A); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 50 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 23 Chapter Stops.

 This Richard Donner film, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, is the first in a series of three films with the two characters, now famous. Mel Gibson portrays Martin Riggs, a cop who is on the edge. Martin is distraught over the death of his wife and this makes him a liability to himself and those around him. Enter Danny Glover, who plays Roger Murtaugh, a veteran officer on the verge of retirement. Both are paired together to their dismay. They start with a routine murder investigation, which turns into a tempest of bullets, blood, and death (is it lunchtime yet?)

The image quality on this disc is wonderful, much better than my older Pan & Scan laserdisc. The colors are vibrant and rich. Mel Gibson's red shirt doesn't bleed (pun intended) into any other images, and the fleshtones are quite nice and accurate. The blacks are black! I was very pleased with the picture overall.

The sound has been remasterd into the 5.1 digital domain. This makes a difference from the matrixed mix in the original movie. The spatiality of the soundstage is greatly improved. I was somewhat disappointed in the surround aspect, as it is almost non-existent in the quiet scenes, but boy do those rear speakers kick on in the action sequences. I thought Mel Gibson was shooting at me with his 9mm automatic as he did his famous roll and shoot scene. The gun boomed, and it was quite enveloping with every shot! But very little directional sound impacts the rear channel (probably because this is a 5.1 remix, rather than a 5.1 original). The soundstage is improved, however, in the front half of the room. The front speakers have more of a left, center, and right feel with various music and sound effects, as opposed to the usual center oriented matrixed soundstage.

Entertainment wise this is a fun, fun, movie! Great action, funny dialogue, and wonderful chemistry between Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. For those of you in the mood for action, action and more action . . . oh, check it out.

Entertainment: *****
Video Quality: *****(Anamorphic)
Audio: ***
Photography: ****
Violence: Mel Gibson likes hand-to-hand combat
Sex: no
Language: the "F" and "S" words

Mars Attacks"Mars Attacks!" Warner Brothers; 14480; $24.95; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 5.1 in French, Dolby Surround in Spanish; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; Production Notes; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side B); Pan & Scan (Side A); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 46 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 38 Chapter Stops.

 This is a 1996 film by Tim Burton, which parodies and satarizes the various alien invasion movies of the 1950s and 1960s. The film follows its numerous characters through private and public problems, against the backdrop of an invading army of Martians. You might think this sounds like it is trying to be a serious film, no way! The film is all in fun. Just look at the movie jacket!

That fun carries over on the the disc itself, which is double sided, with the widescreen version on side one and the pan and scan (P&S) version on side two. The menu layout is quite enjoyable. This must be the first DVD to simultaneously play the soundtrack of the film when you bring up the menu. That in itself was cool. The menu is laid out with various flying saucers as buttons. Each saucer has a category underneath it, which includes production notes, cast, jump to a scene, film flash (a waste), soundtracks (English, French, Spanish, Martian), subtitles, and two theatrical trailer choices. The film has thirty eight chapter stops if you include the end credits. The jump-to-scene option is very nice; it displays seven thumbnail images, and when one of the images is selected, you are then given a choice of six scenes. Chapters 1-37 are indexed in this fashion, the end credits having its own choice at the bottom of the screen. When one chooses an option on the menu, a small crosshair appears over the image, and when the selection is made, a graphic of a flaming skeleton shows up. I particularly enjoyed this feature!

The picture does not disappoint the viewer (moi!) It is incredibly rich in color, with everything from the pulsing green brains of the Martians to deep color of Natalie Portman's lovely hair. Exceptional detail in the images. Virtually no video noise. Fleshtones are right on the mark, whether it is Martian (like I know what a Martian's skin color is) or Human.

The sound is great (do I sound like a broken record?) Very aggressive surrounds and a wide front stage. Voices are crisp and clear even over ray gun blasts, gunfire, and various explosions. This disc is sure to please those home theater nuts who like to "ooh" and "aaahhh" their friends with various sound bites on their home theater system.

The film overall is rather enjoyable, not brain bursting funny, but it has its moments. The special effects are terrific, and add a lot to the enjoyment factor. Some actors are wasted (as in "talent not used to its maximum", not as in "alcohol level 0.3%") in my opinion. For example, Christina Applegate, of "Married With Children" fame, has one line! Of course she is no Katherine Hepburn or Glenn Close, but, come on, give her a bit more. She basically just plays the same character she played on TV, great to look at, but not much else. The other performances are wonderful. Jack Nicholson has double duty as the President and a sleazy business man (we are talking about two distinct characters, aren't we?) As the aliens wreak havoc on the earth and cast, a solution to defeat the Martians is found, and it's a funny one too.

Entertainment: ***
Video Quality: **** (Anamorphic)
Audio: *****
Photography: ****
Violence: Lots of people being zapped
Sex: no
Language: Some minor profanity


Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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