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Blu-Rays for 2009

Published January 22, 2009 in DVD News
By Ryan Parsons | Image property of Lionsgate
Bangkok Dangerous Poster Bangkok Dangerous
So, you just got a Blu Ray player for Christmas, or you’ve had one and you’re still looking for new titles. Either way, I’ve still got a stack I’m burning through, so consider these evaluations in the new year. Visual quality is rated from 1 to 4.

2009 Blu-Ray Reviews

Bangkok Dangerous – 2.5 stars. Not quite as awesome as I would expect a brand new movie to look, but there is some artistic effect at odds with the visuals. I think some of the grainy stuff was on purpose, to capture his mood or something. Plenty of scenes look clear and colorful and it’s a perfectly fine reproduction of the film, just nothing extraordinary.

Being There – 3 stars. The only reason Being There is not a four star portal into the past is that they honored the original film quality. It is ridiculously clear and vivid, but you can still tell it’s a film from the ‘70s just by the color pallet and the type of film they used back then. It’s not grainy though. They brought ‘70s auteur film into high definition.

Days of Thunder – 1 star. I was really disappointed to see such a poor copy of this Paramount catalog classic. They’ve brought all of their old titles into such great clarity and lavish color. This is all grainy and shaky, even dirty. They didn’t even take the best print to dump onto Blu Ray. There’s still some color and sharpness within that. The Sweet and Low scene shows about a day’s growth on Nicole Kidman’s leg, but it’s fair and fine. It’s almost like they got each reel from a different print, but the best is still only a 2, and of course there’s worse to even out the score.

Disaster Movie – 3.5 stars. One thing about these spoof movies, they really make them look like the real ones they’re spoofing. Therefore the Blu Rays look like their counterparts too. It’s especially funny to me that these guys do it all on soundstages with costumes and practical effects. They can get away with it because they only need to look goofy, but it makes the point. On Blu Ray, you can really tell the subtle differences in technique and that adds to the humor.

Election – 2.5 stars. They couldn’t quite make Election look like a new hi-def movie. It must have been just on the cusp, and as an indie, no high priced restorative properties. Most of the shots just look like clear, grainy film, although a few of them are able to bring up extra clarity or detail. But mainly it’s just the film as it was in theaters. The

Express – 3.5 stars. I did not care for the movie, but it looks pretty great in Blu Ray. The historical scenes look vividly real in modern film HD. The colors aren’t outrageous, but they’re just real, from the grass on the football fields to all the team uniforms. With different parts of the country visited in the ‘60s, and a few childhood eras as well, there are some good sights in The Express.

Ghost – 3 stars. Now this is more like the Paramount I’ve come to count on for Blu Rays. There’s detail to see in the grooves of the wet clay, the goosebumps on the lovebirds’ skin, the gritty city streets, subway and loft. Some of the early CGI work shows its cheesy age but that’s part of the charm. Now in hi-def, you can see the composite elements stand out from the actual scene. There’s still a little bit of grain, because it is an 18-year-old film, but plenty of new touches to admire.

Groundhog Day – 3 stars. Wow, the town of Punxatawney looks cool and clear in high definition. You can see where they stepped up the quality because it was shot on film in the early ‘90s, never intended for this format. So you can see where they smoothed out and cleared up the grain. The scenes they had a harder time with still show a little bit of particles interacting, but even still sharper than normal film. Lighting effects are distinct from blue winter overcast to indoor hotel lamps to glowing ice reflections and firelight.

Henry Poole is Here – 4 stars. Well, this movie isn’t much to look at, just a backyard in suburbia, but Anchor Bay makes each banal vista look stunning. They manage to make the oldest, grittiest horror movies look awesome, so this modern film is probably just showing off. Here, detail goes down to leftovers of pizza and pastries, the couch he sleeps on, the gritty rot of stucco. Of course the centerpiece is the image on the wall, and that remains subtle for interpretation.

King Kong – 4 stars. This is the Blu Ray I’ve been waiting for. The DVD was already a demo for how great normal DVDs would look upconverted. Now Blu Ray blows it away. It is a portal into the world of ‘30s New York that Peter Jackson and WETA lovingly crafted in the computer. Every piece of detail is vivid, and the lavish colors and light of depression-era vaudeville. Some of the epic shots look so good they’re surreal, because the filmmakers crafted reality that looks clearer and sharper than actual reality. Yet it doesn’t look fake. It just looks like a dream. Those close-ups of Kong, man, you see every wrinkle, every twig stuck in the fur. Same goes for dinosaur scales. I can’t imagine Jurassic Park will hold up like this, with effects they did in 1993. In daylight, every nuance is clear. At night, it just glows with more highlights. You know I’m talking about ice sliding. Now, if this is how Jackson does hi-def, is there anything else in his catalog that might look all right too?

My Best Friend’s Girl – 2 stars. It seems they’ve decided to give this movie some grit, perhaps to match the hardcore nature of Tank’s routine. It makes the colors ultra saturated so it’s a heightened world. It makes a lot of scenes look less than Blu Ray worthy. A few get even harsher so it works to that degree. A few scenes mask the grain completely still, like running in the park, the always flattering strip club lighting and for some reason the bar Tank’s dad takes him too. I’ll go with the harshness motif for the hardcore Tanking scenes and setup and payoff surrounding that, but I can’t call it a good looking Blu Ray.

The Notebook – 3.5 stars. Oh, The Notebook. The romance that even guys can admit they love looks stunning. The period colors and details are epic and the clarity is surreal. James Garner and Gena Rowlands might not appreciate how clear it is, but it’s wonderful to see the detail in their faces when the really hardcore scenes come. Spanning different regions and eras, rich and poor (i.e. ornate vs. gritty), the Blu Ray really showcases the high production value lavished on this modest character story. The only thing is, if Warner Brothers keeps packaging these enormous boxes, I’m going to run out of shelf space!

The Pink Panther – 4 stars. Sony used their proprietary HD format to make their remake of the Peter Sellers franchise look so stunning, it’ll be the only one you want to watch. All the scenes of comic chaos in France look like they’re happening right in front of you. Yet the clarity doesn’t hurt any of the actors. The men look like we know them without any gory detail. Beyonce glows in a way that ruins your eyes for all other women. The animated titles are crisp and shiny but the majority of the live-action movie is just a collection of lavish, clear and colorful scenes.

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway – 3.5 stars. If you could shoot your kids’ high school plays in hi-def, it would look like this. Shooting a stage production keeps most of the frame dark, but since it’s Blu Ray you can see everything. The spot lit highlights areas but it’s still a big, dark stage and the sets and actors stand out. It’s a sparse play so you notice what’s there. Of course, these cameras get in close up, closer than even a front row seat. You get to see the detail in costumes and hairdos that aren’t usually apparent in the nosebleeds.

Superhero Movie – 3.5 stars. Even more than Disaster Movie, Superhero looks like Spider-Man and X-Men. Except for a few visual effects, it’s still a soundstage show but the flat lighting just brings the handcrafted old school low tech approach into focus. I couldn’t say this makes any of it funny, but it looks like at least the production team had some vision.

Surfer, Dude – 3 stars. For a film shot kind of like a surf documentary with grainy footage, Surfer, Dude still makes a great looking Blu Ray. Even the grainy footage is shockingly clear. Perhaps women finally have a reason to get into HD viewing, with a whole feature centered around Matthew McConaughey being topless. There’s lots of detail on the beach and in the lavish mansion, and the colors are manipulated effectively. If I could have seen a Blu Ray originally I might have made it through the film just to see the visuals.

Swing Vote – 3.5 stars. The rural setting of this all American tale has a golden glow throughout the film. When the lavish parties and outrageous campaign ads enter into the picture, there are a few more colors popping. The details are sharp and crisp in the light. It’s a bit more saturated than reality, though not on the surreal level. There’s not much visual spectacle per se, but for a political allegory with lots of talking, there’s plenty to look at.

The Truman Show – 3 stars. While still showing signs of age (can you believe it’s already 10 years?), there’s amazing detail to see. Since every aspect of this movie is a set artificially constructed for Truman’s world, you can see all the detail that went into each item. It also depends what kind of camera is shooting things. Obviously, lipstick cameras are lower quality, and they couldn’t restore it past a certain point.

Vicki Cristina Barcelona – 3.5 stars. Wow, between the exotic location of Barcelona ranging from historical grit to ornate modern luxury, the careful lighting of the cinematographer and the sheer beauty of the performers, Vicky Cristina Barcelona looks magnificent. There might be a little bit of soft focus, but still plenty of detail to look at.

Without a Paddle: Nature’s Calling – 2.5 stars. Well, this straight to video sequel wasn’t shot to highlight visual quality. It looks like an HDTV broadcast, which is to say it fills the screen clearly and the colors hold up, but they’re not like Pushing Daisies bright or anything. There isn’t any gritty detail to showcase but then you didn’t really want to see forest poop in HD anyway.

Zodiac – 4 stars. Yeah, this is a portal into ‘60s and ‘70s San Francisco. The colors of every crafted set dressing or vehicle shine with a clarity that makes you feel like you’re looking into the past, rather than at it. With many scenes set at night, the dark holds up in every shade of detail in Blu Ray.

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Ryan Parsons
Sources: Image property of Lionsgate

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