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Christmas Blu-Ray Roundup

Published December 29, 2008 in DVD News
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
As the techie year winds up and new Blu Ray owners finish their Christmas wish lists, I wanted to make sure to include all the Blu Ray titles I neglected throughout the year, and the recent holiday releases. Let me offer a slightly more refined ratings scale:

1 star – A bad Blu Ray. Rare, but for whatever reason, you should keep your standard DVD.

2 stars – Usually looks like a good film print, but nothing more.

3 stars – A presentation so clear it looks like a window into the world, rather than a mere filmed account.

4 stars – Outstanding even by Blu Ray standards, more like a portal, as if the glass were removed from the window.

Blu-Ray Christmas

Burn After Reading – 2.5 stars – Starting out with a new studio release, the Coen Brothers set their ridiculous farce in the world of uber serious CIA movies. So the crisp locations may have muted colors but that’s the Jason Bourne/Jack Ryan world they’re doing. There may be some grain in some scenes but it contributes to the sense of a world so full of itself, it is heightened to the point that every pixel of the world is brought into focus.

Dead Space: Downfall – 3 stars – The Dead Space video game isn’t really on my radar and I’m not into anime, but I can appreciate the hi-def presentation of this film. The solid colors represent faithfully. The aesthetic isn’t necessarily bright, but you can see the distinctions in beiges and grays. Backgrounds offer some sharper detail and spaceships cut nice figures in the crisp darkness of deep space.

Dirty Harry Collection – 2.5 stars – A surprisingly mixed bag. Some shots look crisp and newly restored and others are downright out of focus. The original film gets the benefit of Blu Ray the most while the sequels look slapped together. Tragically, Sudden Impact looks crisper and clearer than the far superior Magnum Force, which holds up the worst. It may still be the best way to watch any of the films, but Warner Bros. has done much better jobs restoring their other classics.

Dreamgirls – 3.5 stars – As expected, there are plenty of stunning visuals here. Plenty of colorful, lavish stage numbers and different eras to represent in top quality. Most settings are crisp and clear, maybe a few minor scenes aren’t totally lavish. It’s not quite a portal but it’s definitely a classy, high quality Blu Ray.

Elf – 3 stars – Elf is perfectly clear and has plenty of color. The only thing keeping it from four star portal status is that the cinematography favors the foreground, leaving the background slightly blurry. The north pole fantasyland is crisp with bright colors and New York shines with all its Christmas decorations. That green elf suit pops throughout the film.

Home Alone – 2 stars – Considering this should be the crowned jewel in Fox’s entire catalog, let alone holiday releases, it seems a very basic transfer. It’s a clean print of the film, and maybe they’ve smoothed out some of the grain, but it’s not extra clear and certainly not colorful.

Horton Hears a Who – 3.5 stars – CGI animation on Blu Ray is indeed a winning combination. While I’ve seen slightly more outrageous portal-esque presentations, the texture of Horton and the subtle crinkles on Who faces certainly pump this up to Pixar quality. Smooth, bright colors shine between Whoville and the clover patch. Maybe not every single frame is packed with detail, but they pick their moments.

Into the Wild – 3.5 stars – I imagine Into the Wild was ready to go Blu all along but Paramount had that HD only phase. It holds up with distinct different aesthetics for all of Chris McCandless’s encounters. From the gritty road to grainy farmland to clear city detours and crisp riversides, the Blu Ray captures visions from heightened film to stark reality. There are four star sections but they wouldn’t want the whole movie to be that way.

The Italian Job – 1 star – Surprising since Paramount has done such a great job with their catalog titles, their more recent hits don’t hold up so well. Despite the scenic vistas of Europe and jaunts around Los Angeles, there are enough fuzzy, grainy scenes to make you consider keeping your standard DVD.

Jarhead – 4 stars - Jarhead was one of the few HD-DVDs I reviewed when that format launched. I remember it being an odd choice since the film was intentionally blown out and grainy. Well, here’s proof that Blu Ray was the superior format. They’ve made the blown out desert crisp and clear. Michael Bay was right.

The Jewel of the Nile – 2 stars – I wanted to lump this in with Romancing the Stone but clearly the sequel got short shrift. It simply looks like a pristine film print, respectable enough until you read a little lower. It is the most clear, spotless version of the film you will see, but they didn’t do any favors for the maligned follow-up.

Jingle All the Way – 2.5 stars - Curses, Fox. You release a terrible Christmas comedy right now so I have to review it! It looks pretty good. Scenes are clear, if not stunning. There are some colorful props, the mise en scene if you will, in the Power Rangers-esque world of Turboman, though most settings are rather muted. There’s a little grain but overall for a 12 year old movie and surely not a priority, the Jingle fans should be happy.

Mad Money – 3 stars – Sure, send me one of the most offensive movies of the year on Blu Ray. I’ll still check it out. Like you’d expect from a modern studio release, the Blu Ray is crisp and clear. There’s some gritty detail in the reserve bank, and some color in the suburban settings. The women look lovely and I can see the cracks in the leather booth of their bar, so let that distract you from the reprehensible characters and batsh*t crazy plot.

Madagascar – 4 stars – Something about the lighting scheme just edges the heightened animation into the realm of surreality. They aren’t reality-based animals or people, but presented this way they look like they could exist right in front of you. The penguins in particular show all the different shines of light on their slick feathers. The autumn of New York City is beautiful. The beach at magic hour is spectacular and the meadow is vibrantly green, with so much detail you could count each blade of grass.

Mamma Mia – 3 stars – Brand new release, lavish musical with exotic setting, you know this is going to look good on Blu Ray. The colors are extra bright and there’s plenty of detail in all the settings. The women have halos in the sun, the oceans just sparkle but nothing compares to Amanda Seyfried’s smile.

Monster’s Ball – 3 stars - Ah, nothing says Christmas like dead children, starring the recently departed Heath Ledger. But I love this movie and I was busy when it streeted in November. It is crisp and clear. No lavish or colorful sets but plenty of gritty detail that immerses you in the world of the drama.

Romancing the Stone – 3 stars – See Jewel of the Nile above. The original adventure must have gotten a nice remaster. The jungle adventure looks way more clear than a mere film print. Close ups show all the detail you want and natural elements like rain or sweat make things glisten.

Sahara – 1.5 stars – A tad better than Italian Job but also feels like a lackluster Blu Ray. Considering the desert vistas available, there isn’t a whole lot of crisp detail or color. Some, but it won’t win any new fans to the stunted Dirk Pitt franchise based on visuals alone.

Shrek the Third – 3.5 stars - Sure, put the worst Shrek out on Blu Ray first so we have to get it. At least we get a hint of what the good ones will look like. My comparison is actually to Dreamworks’ Bee Movie. Shrek looks a tad more muted color-wise but that’s for artistic effect with the lighting of different adventure settings. All the detail of fur, fabric or hair is there, sometimes popping in bright light or looking gritty indoors or when it’s overcast. It remains heightened for animated effect rather than total realism.

Top Gun – 3.5 stars - Once again, Paramount went in and made an old movie look brand new. All the chiseled young pilots glisten in the sweaty cockpits and the settings are crisp and gritty. Maybe a few of the aerial shots betray some grain but they’re so fast you won’t be bothered by it. This Blu Ray puts you in the locker room, in the control tower and in the skies.

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Compiled By (Sources)
Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of respective holders

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