It’s another crazy week of Blu-ray releases, with one of the most significant boxed sets of the year hitting at the same time as three new Criterion discs, a couple of quality horror films and a bunch of anime. There are a lot of good deals to be had on these titles this week, so if you strike while the iron’s hot, you just might be able to save a few bucks on these discs!
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“The Quest Is Over: All three extended versions in dazzling 1080p and DTS HD-MA 5.1 Audio. Deluxe set includes over 26 Hours of spellbinding behind-the- moviemaking material, including the Rare Costa Botes documentaries, on 15 discs.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition: With the help of a courageous fellowship of friends and allies, Frodo embarks on a perilous mission to destroy the legendary One Ring.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extended Edition: In the middle chapter of this historic movie trilogy, the Fellowship is broken but its quest to destroy the One Ring continues.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Extended Edition: The final battle for Middle-earth begins. Frodo and Sam, led by Gollum, continue their dangerous mission toward the fires of Mount Doom in order to destroy the One Ring.
Here it is, the big day… come yet again! It was a few months past a year ago that we were all snapping up the Lord of the Rings Blu-ray boxed set that included the theatrical cuts of the trilogy. You might recall that there was a lot of dissatisfaction with that release, specifically in regards to the very soft transfer of The Fellowship of the Ring. Much was made about the fact that the production team went back and supervised new transfers for the extended versions of the three films and that those updated, more detailed presentations would be the ones that would appear on the Blu-ray discs. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when review copies of the massive, 15-disc boxed set began showing up in the hands of the press and wouldn’t you know it, but controversy regarding the transfer of Fellowship erupted once again.
This time around, there’s no debating the quality of the high-def presentation. All who watched the discs were in agreement – they’re simply stunning. Fantastic work. The concern was that the updated colour grading on Fellowship had been mistakenly pushed too far at some point in the mastering of the disc. That director Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie hadn’t intended the disc to look as it does. Well, Bill Hunt at the Digital Bits got the definitive answer, straight from the horses mouth, yesterday:
- “Warner Bros Home Entertainment Group confirms that The Lord of the Rings The Motion Picture Trilogy Extended Edition Blu-ray accurately represents the intended look of each of the three features.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring™ was remastered from the original digital production files in order to reproduce the full color imagery of the feature.”
Also of note, Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News independently confirms through direct communication with the filmmakers that indeed, Fellowship looks exactly as intended in this new Blu-ray set. So go ahead, disregard the controversy and grab yourself a copy of, what will no-doubt be one of the most comprehensive Blu-ray sets to be released this year. 15-discs, remastered extended editions of all 3 films, all the special features from the Extended Edition DVDs, the 3 Costa Botes documentaries and digital copies of the films all in one big box. And if you buy now through Amazon.com, you get it all for for 42% off the suggested retail price. Sold.
Three new releases from Criterion take the number two slot this week. Cheating? Yeah, a little bit, but there’s a good reason for it – outside of the new Lord of the Rings boxed set, these are the discs I’m most excited about this week but I haven’t seen a single one of them yet (damn you Canada Post and your mail strike, keeping me from receiving screeners!!!) , so in my mind, they’re all equal!
I can tell you, however, that Black Moon and Zazie dans le metro, both Louis Malle films, have been receiving rave reviews from critics, with transfers that best any previous presentation of the films on home video. Black Moon is apparently stunning. Robert Siodmak‘s silent People on Sunday is surprisingly presented in 1080i – a step-down from Criterion’s usual full-progressive transfers. I’m sure there’s good reason for this and I look forward to looking into it when I get my hands on the disc.
- “Based on Mordecai Richler‘s prize-winning comic novel, BARNEY’S VERSION is the warm, wise, and witty story of Barney Panofsky, (Paul Giamatti), a seemingly ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life. Barney’s candid confessional spans four decades and two continents, and includes three wives (Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, and Rachelle Lefevre), one outrageous father (Dustin Hoffman), and a charmingly dissolute best friend (Scott Speedman). BARNEY’S VERSION takes us through the many highs — and a few too many lows — of a long and colorful life with an unlikely hero at its center —the unforgettable Barney Panofsky.“
After all the hoopla here in Montreal surrounding the filming and release of Barney’s Version, an adaptation of late local hero Mordecai Richler’s 1997 novel of the same name, I can’t but feel a little let down by the film. It’s mostly fine work and, without question, a stand-out Canadian film but on the international stage, it falls flat. To be fair, it’s a complex story, well juggled by screenwriter Michael Konyves, of a complex, well rendered character, played by Giamatti. But between his often reprehensible actions and Giamatti’s often overheated performance, it’s tough to feel like spending time with Barney Panofsky. In fact, many of the performances feel artificial or forced (as is often the case in Canadian films, I find), with Hoffman’s portrayal of ex-cop dad, ‘Izzy’ Panofsky the standout exception and the real life of the film.
It can’t have been easy translating a famous novel, written in the first person and cut into episodes, one for each of the main character’s three wives, into a cohesive whole and I give director Richard J. Lewis props for assembling a film that works well enough and feels organic from beginning to end. I just didn’t engage with it as much as most critics seem to have.
The Blu-ray disc presentation of Barney’s Version looks fantastic. Detail is plentiful and colour is spot on and the whole thing maintains a very film-like appearance throughout. The film is dialogue heavy, of course, and the 5.1 DTS-HD track keeps it crisp and clean. Musical cues are given plenty of headroom to breathe and ambient sound, while limited, is effective.
There’s a surprising amount of bonus goodies on the disc starting with a pretty decent writer and director commentary track, that brings producer Robert Lantos along for the ride. There’s also a lot of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, over half an hours worth, that seem to be exclusive to the eOne disc release from Canada (I don’t see them listed on Sony‘s US version.) Add to that an hour-long conversation between Giamatti and Annette Insdorf (truncated to 35-minutes on the US disc), red carpet interviews and a few minutes with the late author discussing and reading from the book and you’ve got one hell of a nice Blu-ray package!
ALSO AVAILABLE: US EDITION
4. SUCKER PUNCH
- “Born from the creative vision of filmmaker Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300), this epic action fantasy launches from the vivid imagination of a young girl whose dream world provides the ultimate escape from her darker reality. Locked away against her will, Babydoll (Emily Browning) has not lost her will to survive. Determined to fight for her freedom, she urges four fellow captives – outspoken Rocket (Jena Malone), street-smart Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), fiercely loyal Amber (Jamie Chung) and reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) – to band together and try to escape their terrible fate at the hands of their captors Blue (Oscar Isaac), Madam Gorki (Carla Gugino) and the High Roller (Jon Hamm). “
There’s a lot of hate going around for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. And rightly so, I guess. It’s certainly got a lot of problems. And they’re core problems, at that. The mishandling of story and theme is almost unforgivable, not to mention the fact that he mistakenly presents fetishisized female characters when his intent was clearly to show young, empowered women. That said, Snyder really knows how to fashion a scene and bleed every ounce of production design from every frame of film. This is a great looking, incredibly imaginative film. And the scenes where the girls are lost in his various fantasy lands are stunning and, if taken out of the context of the rape and subjugation of the girls that the action sequences are meant to represent, a whole lot of fun. Honestly, some of the best sci-fi/fantasy, robot riding, sword swinging, gun-toting, steam-powered-Nazi-zombie killing action scenes I’ve ever seen. I’m anxious to see what Snyder cooks up for his Superman film (coming up in December 2012) when he’s directing someone else’s (hopefully) much more coherent script. Sucker Punch is an ambitious project, to be sure, but in the end, one that simply proves that Snyder should stick to doing what he does best – adapting comics and genre films.
You might argue the merits of the film itself but the Sucker Punch Blu-ray is beyond reproach. This thing is very nearly perfect. It looks amazing in high-def, with blacks so inky you’ll get lost in them, blazing colours and tons and tons of detail. And just when you think things can’t get any better, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track will sneak up and “sucker punch” you in the gut! This is reference quality audio here, with wall-shattering lows and screaming highs, dead-clear dialogue and more surround activity than your speakers have seen in ages.
I have only three words to say to you regarding the special features on the Sucker Punch Blu-ray – Maximum Movie Mode! That’s right, Snyder is back for another walk-on commentary and, much like his Watchmen walk-through, this one is almost worth the price of the disc itself. There’s a ridiculous wealth of information here, with pop-up interviews, still galleries, storyboards and more. The MMM is only on the Extended cut of the film. The disc package also includes a Blu-ray with the Theatrical Cut of the film, which features a collection of animated shorts (motion comics detailing the background of each of the films fantasy sequences) and a 3-minute look at the creation of the soundtrack of the film. The Blu-ray combo pack is rounded out with a DVD and Digital Copy of the film and BD-Live functionality.
5. WAKE WOOD
- “Still grieving the death of their only child Alice at the jaws of a crazed dog, vet Patrick and pharmacist Louise relocate to the remote town of Wake Wood where a local pagan ritual gives them three more precious days with her… but what will they do when it’s time for their new daughter to go back.“
Again with my expectations.
Wake Wood is one of the first productions of the new Hammer films and, as such, I entered into my viewing of it expecting a certain type of experience. I have to admit, I was immediately thrown by the low-budget look of the film – shot on video, with a lot of shaky looking, muddy-dark night footage. One thing is too be certain, this isn’t the Hammer of old. Once I acclimated to the look of the picture, I found the tone of the film to hew closely to the studio I’ve known and loved for years.
Wake Wood isn’t a particularly inventive or scary film. But it hits a lot of the right notes. It comes across like a latter day, smaller scale Wicker Man, with Timothy Spall filling in for Christopher Lee as the father-figure of the titular, closed-off, pagan-magic-filled community. Spall does his best but never rises to the levels of overpowering creepiness that Lee is capable of. The suspense is, for the most part, nicely handled throughout but the filmmakers tend toward accenting spookier moments with unnecessary music and effect cues that keep the film from feeling as polished and modern as it could. All in all though, a good early effort from the reborn Hammer studios. I look forward to their next fright night.
The Wake Wood Blu-ray disc, available today in Canada from eOne and next week in the US from Dark Sky Films, can only ever look as good as its source material. And in this case, the source isn’t very pretty. The HD cam-shot film looks digital from beginning to end, often appearing flat, dark or washed out. The filmmakers make the most of it though, using it to effect in quite a few scenes. But the Blu-ray, while the best presentation possible, simply can’t hold a candle to bigger budget offerings. The DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite effective in adding suspense through ambient noise, while keeping dialogue clean and clear up the middle. I did, however, find the balance a bit off at times, which doesn’t seem to be the case with the Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
Extras include 14-minutes of deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.
- “Agoraphobic mystery novelist Lauren Cochran decides to leave the city in an attempt to cure her recent writer’s block. She rents an old Victorian house in the quiet countryside, unaware of its shocking history. As those around her suffer increasingly violent deaths, Lauren begins to unravel the truth: the house was once an infamous brothel now haunted by the victims of a bloody massacre. Will her terrifying phobia allow her to escape from “The Nesting“? Long unavailable on home video, “The Nesting” has been newly transferred in High Definition from the original camera negative and is presented here in a never-before-seen Director’s Cut.”
All right, I admit it. More cheating. I’ve added a number six this week just to let you know that there’s a new Blue Underground release. I haven’t seen it yet (nor had I even heard of the film before seeing the listing for this Blu-ray disc!) but just the fact that BU is releasing it is enough to sit up and take notice. I should be getting my hands on a copy this week, at which time I’ll let you know what I think of it. I’m not usually a fan of the ‘blind buy’ but I make exception for a few boutique labels – Criterion, Severin and Blue Underground among them.
ALSO AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY THIS WEEK
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