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Movie Renter's Guide

Part 24 - DVD Edition 3 - July, 1997

By Pat Reynolds

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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The Arrival"The Arrival" Live Entertainment; 60446; $24.95; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Digital 5.1 in French; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; Theatrical Trailer; Production Notes; Letterbox (Side A), Pan & Scan (Side B); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 49 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 41 Chapter Stops.

This Sci-Fi thriller stars Charlie Sheen as Zane Zaminsky, an astronomer who discovers a radio signal of extraterrestrial intelligence. What follows is a string of strange events. When he notifes his boss of his discovery, Zane is abruptly fired, and a colleague turns up dead. Zane investigates, and it leads him to Mexico to find out about a power plant there. Well, the power plant and the people running it are of course not what they appear to be.

So far, every DVD picture I have seen is technically wonderful, and "The Arrival" is no exception. The colors are great, especially the beginning, with a sea of snow surrounding a patch of beautiful flowers. No artifact noise, while rich blacks and other darks are reproduced quite nicely. Fleshtone is accurate. Menu layout is also quite nice. Good background images and a couple of good trailers.

The digital soundtrack is very pleasing. Good envelopment especially on one scene where the aliens deploy this spinning orb thing that shoots out beams of light and sucks everything into it. Good bass response and crisp dialogue, even the funky alien sounding speech patterns. Stage spatiality is very open. An excellent sound mix. You won't be disappointed with it.

I found the movie quite enjoyable, but of course, there are a lot of people out they’re who will come to the conclusion that this movie is junk. But hey, let them write their own review! I am always a sucker for outer space alien encounter movies! It is also nice to see Charlie Sheen in a decent role for once. He needs to focus on his career and stop blowing his cash on all those hookers. This movie is suspenseful and overall well done. Ron Silver (sans beard) plays the villain, and he does a good job in conveying a certain slimeyness and arrogance that may have been lost by other actors. If you're expecting an epic space opera with ray guns and exploding ships, this film ain't got it. If you would like an evening filled with suspense and mystery and intrigue, then depart to your nearest DVD retailer and pick up "The Arrival".

Entertainment: ****
Video Quality: ****
Audio: ****
Photography: ****
Violence: mild
Sex: no
Language: The "F" and "S" words

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Fargo"Fargo" PolyGram Video; 800638693-2; $29.98; Two Channel Dolby Digital in English and French; Subtitles in Spanish, French, English; Letterbox (Side A) and Pan & Scan (Side B); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 38 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 17 Chapter Stops

Joel and Ethan Coen have created a dark-humored and dark-souled film about a kidnapping that goes terribly wrong (from everyone's point of view). A husband (William Macy) hires a criminal (Steve Buscemi) to kidnap his wife so he can collect a ransom demand from her rich father. The kidnapping doesn't work out. Enter a small town sheriff (Frances McDormand) who investigates the crime. What unfolds is a funny but dark thriller that may not be for everyone.

This is a PolyGram Video release, which means it is encased in a durable plastic case from which it is somewhat difficult to extricate the disc. It uses a little pull-down rubber piece that doesn't fully retract, and I feel, may wear out over time. A paper insert, which doubles for the cover as well, includes the various chapter stops. As with the other DVDs I have reviewed, the picture quality is excellent. The blanket of Minnesota snow is desolate as it is beautiful. Color rendition is fabulous, no artifact noise, nice fleshtones, and colors are vibrant against the snow covered backdrops of the film. The video transfer is excellent (I have GOT to find some other adjectives).

The sound is not 5.1 Dolby Digital, but rather, just two channel Dolby Digital. The DVD player converts this to a Dolby Surround Matrix. However, the dialogue is crisp and focused with occasional surround envelopment, mostly with the haunting music score and some outdoor scenes. Overall the soundstage is generally coming from the front and is centered.

As I mentioned before, this film may not be for everyone. I have found Coen Brothers films to be like British humor: either you love it or you hate it. If you have enjoyed previous Coen Brother films, like "Blood Simple" and "Hudsucker Proxy", this film will not disappoint. The movie was nominated for Seven Academy Awards, and it won two, for Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). The portrayal of the Midwest accent seems too intense, but I felt it added an air of humor to the film. The movie is offbeat in it's plotting, but it is still very good, excellent writing and direction coupled with wonderful acting.

Entertainment: ****
Video Quality: ****
Audio: ***
Photography: ****
Violence: yes, not a lot but it is graphic
Sex: yes, bouncing up and down on motel beds
Language: the "F" and "S" words

JFK"JFK" Warner Bros.; 12614; $24.98; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English; Subtitles in Spanish, French, English; Letterbox (Side A) and (Side B); Region ID 1; 3 Hours 26 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 44 Chapter Stops (Side A); 44 Chapter Stops (Side B).

This Oliver Stone masterpiece, starring Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, is the Director's Cut with seventeen additional minutes of footage. The film explores the mystery of who assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Jim Garrsion is the District Attorney of New Orleans in November of 1963, when he is stunned to learn of President Kennedy's murder. He procedes to investigate the involvement of Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused killer, played wonderfully by Gary Oldman. His investigation is temporarily halted with the shooting death of Oswald by Jack Ruby on television. But with his own personal interest in the case, Garrison investigates further, and discovers a huge cast of figures lurking in the shadows. These include Joe Pesci's David Ferrie and Tommy Lee Jones' Clay Shaw. Both give superb performances, and Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. When this film originally was released, it was ridiculed by many as a distortion of truth and stating theory as fact. The film, of course, has taken dramatic license as do all films, but the viewer has to be the judge.

The picture quality is (yawn) exceptional. Even the added footage is smoothly integrated. Fleshtones are nice and accurate. Color fidelity is rich and vibrant. Oliver Stone has done an excellent job of editing numerous types of film, everything from 16mm to 35mm to video, also color and black & white footage. A masterpiece of filmmaking all the way around. One drawback about this video transfer is that it states on the package that it is; "Enhanced for 16:9 televisions.." this meaning that it is suppose to be anamorphic. Well it is not!

The sound is quite good, but it states on the package that it is in Dolby Digital, well guess what? It's not in Dolby Digital 5.1. Very disappointing. It is in two channel Dolby Digital. (The DVD outputs the standard Dolby Surround Matrix. Keep in mind that Dolby Digital does not have to use 5.1 channels. It can use 1 for mono, two for stereo, etc.) Good envelopment when necessary, like rainy scenes and such. Nice use of sound to add drama to a scene. For instance, adding a "whoosh" sound to the surrounds as a character is hit with the butt of a revolver. Other sounds include the pop noise of camera flashbulbs and the like. I feel they add more to the scene.

This film, in my opinion, is Oliver Stone's best work. The film is intriguing, informative, and does what few films do anymore, that is make the viewer think. It poses questions that need to be answered and the film also poses possible answers, to the dislike of various critics, which is understandable. So watch this movie with an open mind and allow yourself to be intrigued, fascinated, appalled, and suspicious, because this film will bring all those thoughts and emotions out into the open. Enjoy the various conspiracy theories that the movie conveys, because you never know, one of them may be true.

Entertainment: *****
Video Quality: ****
Audio: ***
Photography: *****
Violence: Some, Zapruder film footage
Sex: no
Language: moderate profanity throughout

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The Right Stuff"The Right Stuff" Warner Brothers; 20027; $24.98; Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby Surround in French; Subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; Theatrical Trailer; Production Notes; Anamorphic/Letterbox (Side A), and (Side B); Region ID 1; 3 Hours 13 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 22 Chapter Stops on Side A; 20 Chapter Stops on Side B

This epic film from 1983, which won 4 Academy Awards, chronicles the early days of the space program and the seven Mercury astronauts who pioneered manned space flight in America. If you are a history buff or a space nut or of course are old enough to remember, then these seven names should be all old hat: Shepard, Grissom, Shirra, Glenn, Carpenter, Cooper and Slayton. Of course also included in the great telling of this story is Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier in an experimental aircraft he named after his wife, Glinnis. The film has a great ensemble cast which includes Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, and Lance Henriksen. The film is a great accomplishment for Phillip Kaufman, the director. The film uses period aircraft and costumes which add to the reality of it all. The story evokes numerous emotions extremely well: sadness, tension, humor and patriotism. That's right, I said patriotism. After watching this movie, I felt really good to be an American. Sounds corny I know, but few movies do that nowadays. A fantastic movie that is exciting and entertaining.

Being that this is an older film, I always scrutinize the video transfer, since for newer films, you expect them to look very good. I must say that this movie looks awesome! Very nice color, lots of darks and blacks that are as deep and rich as pitch. Fleshtones are right on the money and virtually no artifact noise. The oranges and reds of fireballs and rocket trails are brilliant and full. An excellent transfer in my opinion. Also this disc has the best supplemental material of all the discs I have been able to review. It has the standard Production Notes, Cast, Scene Thumbnails, and trailer, but it also has information on the real astronauts whom the various actors portray. Also included is a timeline, which lists all the significant events in the space program. Since the film uses a lot of actual pilot and flight slang, some viewers may not know these terms, so a dictionary of terms is included. A very nice touch.

The film has been re-mastered in Dolby Digital, and I must say it is an excellent rendition. For older films that are retooled for Dolby Digital, I am usually disappointed, but this one is wonderful. It makes good use of the .1 channel, and bass response is excellent. The surround channels are independent and enveloping, quite aggressive in the aircraft flight scenes and the musical score. The frontal stage is much more spatial and dynamic. On the whole, in my opinion, an enriching improvement over the matrix surround mix.

A great movie for the entire family, it teaches as well as entertains, and there are great performances by the entire cast, especially Dennis Quaid and Fred Ward. So if your looking for an exciting, fun and educational movie, then this movie has the right stuff.

Entertainment: *****
Video Quality: ***** (Anamorphic)
Audio: ****
Photography: *****
Violence: No not really, just a few plane crashes and rockets blow up.
Sex: no
Language: brief profanity

The Usual Suspects"The Usual Suspects" Polygram Video; 800630227-2; $29.98; Dolby Surround in English, Dolby Surround in French; Subtitles in Spanish; Letterbox (Side A); Pan & Scan (Side B); Region ID 1; 1 Hour 46 Minutes; Double Sided, Single Layer; 19 Chapter Stops.

This stylish 1996 film follows five criminals, as told in retrospect by Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) about a 91 million dollar heist that brought them together to pull off. Kevin Spacey received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and deservedly so. The film is brilliant in its writing and direction. A mystery that keeps the viewer interested and curious. The other four criminals are played by Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, and Kevin Pollack, who has some of the funniest lines in the film. The 91 million dollar heist turns into a bloodbath and has everyone asking, "Who is Keyser Soze?"

This is one of the first Polygram Video DVDs that I have been able to review, and it leaves a lot to be desired. Let me start off with the picture quality, which is one of the few things that I like about the disc. It is a wonderful picture. No artifact noise, rich color and darks, excellent fleshtones. It is not anamorphic! Well at least they didn't say it was on the storage case, which is durable plastic. The disc is accessed by pulling down on a black rubber strip on the bottom. It doesn't slide all the way out, so you have to bend it down and slide the disc out. Not a bad idea, but I suspect that through frequent use the rubber will become worn and either tear or rip as one bends it down to remove the disc. Polygram has done what others should be doing, and that is including a trailer of said advertised film, not just the front image of the box! Four trailers are included of such films as "Four Weddings and A Funeral", and "Dead Man Walking". Another little vidbit is a promo of Polygram's various DVD titles. This is also very nice and it is in Dolby Digital 5.1. The other thumbnails are conveniently arranged with various scenes for one to jump to. The paper insert to tell what chapters are what is a little difficult to remove from the casing. You might be better off using the thumbnail interface on the screen.

Now as mentioned above the Polygram promo video is in Dolby Digital 5.1, and that's great right!? Well, the movie itself is not in Dolby Digital, just your standard matrixed surround! Don't get me wrong. The matrixed surround soundtrack is very nice, it is enveloping at times and has good bass extension. But the spatiality and definition are lacking. This was a surprise, since I expect my DVD titles to be in Dolby Digital. For whatever reason, someone at Polygram decided that it was not necessary. Then why make the promo video in Dolby Digital? (Although the promo does sound great.) The film also has a running commentary of Director Bryan Singer and Writer Chris MaQuarrie. This is cool and I am glad to see it on the DVD, since it is also on the laserdisc version.

Well hopefully in the future Polygram Video will release other titles that are not as lacking as this one. Future titles should be in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with a printed listing of chapter stops that is a little easier to get to, and slightly better storage case design. The movie is a good time, and if you want a mystery with a great ending and stuccato dialogue that just doesn't stop, then watch "The Usual Suspects", because there is nothing usual about this enjoyable movie.

Entertainment: *****
Video Quality: ****
Audio: ***
Photography: ****
Violence: yes, extreme
Sex: no
Language: The "F" and "S" words


Copyright 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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