New to Blu Ray is our monthly look at the latest Blu Ray releases. This month we look at some new action, comedy, horror and cable TV releases.
Tron Legacy/Tron Classic
I’ll weigh in on the month’s major new release and classic catalog double Blu-ray, in good old fashioned 2D. I favor Tron Classic, but maybe I’m just more of a collector than a new releaser.
The original Tron looks amazing. The colors on the game grid are so bright, and the real world scenes are crisply detailed. Even the dark boardroom of Dillinger holds all the detail in the black and moonlight, and you can see everything gritty and colorful in Flynn’s Arcade.
The CGI scenes fuzz up in parts, especially the faces pasted into the animation, but only to the degree that it looks like multi-generation film elements. What’s really striking is you see all the layers of the animation, from the backgrounds to the foreground elements and the live-action inserted in.
Legacy actually doesn’t look that great. Maybe the 3-D version is better but I’m still on good old fashioned 2D Blu-ray. It looks fine for a standard modern HD release but a surprising amount of flaws.
First of all, it’s so dark that you actually have to turn the color down on your set, otherwise you’ll get haze and fuzz. Even the Imax scenes, which should be clearer and more colorful, have the same artifacts. The glowing oranges and blues look good and you see all the detail in the backgrounds, but it’s basic, not extraordinary. The real world scenes look particularly bad with massive speckling in the boardroom and warehouse scenes.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Like all the Spielberg Dreamworks Blu-ray releases, A.I. has that totally blown out saturated look. I don’t enjoy seeing white light spray out of windows and color so faint it looks like dust, but if that’s the artistic vision, I guess I can’t argue with Spielberg. Because of that aesthetic, the film actually looks better in dark night scenes. There are some nice neon lights in the futuristic cities. It looks very Blade Runner but of course Blade Runner looks way better on Blu-ray.
The visual effects of the robots hold up, with skin digitally erased and mechanical parts painted underneath. Only when the robots change within the shot, like David’s face sagging when he eats spinach or acid pouring over a Flesh Fair victim, does it look like obvious CGI.
Being a new release, Skyline looks alright on Blu-ray. Being a homemade CGI movie it doesn’t look that great. The apartment building they shot the alien invasion movie isn’t that much to look at, with little texture even in all the deco styled interiors. It’s pretty clear and doesn’t haze up too badly in the dark shots.
The broad daylight scenes outside look the best and the CGI holds up as CGI does. It still looks like every other CGI alien monsters, but you see all the usual texture they put into the scales and tentacles. It’s all pretty flat lighting-wise so it’s more like an HD TV show, but probably good enough for the one-time curiosity viewing.
With Scream 4 on the way, the original Scream trilogy comes to Blu-ray, holding up okay in HD but showing its age. The original Scream is a little rough. It’s grainy throughout, but a fine grain so you can still see the HD crispness and details, with bright daylight colors. Part of the shock is that everyone looks so young, you know you’re seeing a retro film. It gets roughest when Sidney’s picking her nose for her first Ghostface call and the infamous garage kill, but it’s not totally hazy and it’s brought up to HD detail.
Scream 2 gets a little better, particularly because so much of it is in daylight on a college campus. The colors pop brightly and the high natural light keeps everything smooth and clear. Rough spots are the dark scenes again, the opening movie theater kill and sorority girls sitting in front of the TV in the dark.
Scream 3 looks the worst, like they didn’t eve bother at this point. Almost every scene is hazy and speckled, unless it’s totally bright outdoors on the studio lot. There is enough of the outdoor set to pass for HD, but they have to go inside at some point and a good deal of the movie takes place at night. So everything from Cotton’s opening teaser to the big payoff looks bad.
The Blu-ray release of Roger Corman’s Syfy Channel Sharktopus looked shockingly good with clarity and color. Dinoshark looks a bit grittier and rougher, but still a solid B-movie Blu-ray. Really, the aesthetics of the hybrid monster films are so different they have to have significantly different transfer looks.
Dinoshark shows a bit more grain and looks a bit dimmer, even in the beach settings. Puerto Vallarta, where Corman is shooting all his monster hybrid movies, looks rockier and slummy-er here. Underwater doesn’t hold up at all, but above the surface you see some gory detail if not as brightly and clearly as would be possible on Blu-ray.
Of course the Pixar movie looks great on Blu-ray. It’s perfectly clear, no flaws in the transfer. The colors are bright with the stylized skies, exotic jungle landscapes and glowing volcanic magma. The CGI animation remains shiny from the slick uniforms to Violet’s hair.
You do notice how much improvement Pixar has made to their animation in the years since this film, and 2004 was a decade of improvement over the original Toy Story. A lot of the texture looks simple compared to Up or Wall-E. Even Mr. Incredible’s stubble is primitive compared to Karl’s from Up, although you see some good wrinkles and neck folds in closeup.
You’ll notice the detail in Bob Parr’s corporate work shirt, the walls in Edna Mode’s wardrobe shop and the sticky balls fired at Mr. Incredible, but a lot of the shapes are smoother than they’d be today. It’s a charming way to revisit Pixar history in high definition.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1
The latest, very dark episode of Harry Potter, looks good in HD. Especially given the darkness, it doesn’t haze up or speckle as even some of the livelier in the series did in earlier Blu-rays. You’ll see a little bit of minute grain, from those pesky old film elements, but definitely crisp and clear HD.
The visual effects hold up like the multiple Harrys and broom flying. You see all the gritty detail on the Weasley farm and in the forest. The elaborate sets and the real world locations are packed with distinct textures and the forest locations really create a natural look that’s cool to see in a fantasy film.
I’ve been reviewing all the classic Disney animation releases so I should give a shout out to their new releases too. Speaking of The Incredibles, Tangled really shows the massive evolution of computer animation in general. The Blu-ray looks beautiful with lavish colors packed with detail, even if you’re not into princess adventures.
The kingdom and the forest reveal how the artists filled in every shape with creative texture. The trees ripple with bark, the towers ship with brick and most impressively, you can see dust particles in the air. The lighting glows around the characters and actually sparkles off the water. If you’ve got kids, you can teach them the importance of HD detail as they watch Tangled over and over as kids do.
Now this classic family film is a bright treat to revisit on Blu-ray. The colors on the farm just pop out with lavish greens and golden light cracking through even inside the barn. The animals look adorable and you can see all the detail in their fur or snouts, and the talking effect totally holds up.
You’ll see the grain because it’s a 15-year-old film but it definitely looks like it’s been bumped up to HD. The color alone is proof of that, but the detail seems greater than would ever be apparent on film. You can just tell that it was originally a film, but I didn’t find it a negative distraction admiring the movie.
The dramatic retelling of the Jack Abramoff story looks perfect on Blu-ray. They just gave this a flawless transfer. It’s perfectly clear and crisp with bright colors and detail. That’s just the ideal Blu-ray, for a talking drama. So the energy of Abramoff’s scheme is enhanced by HD visuals.
The streets of D.C., the lavish mansions and Indian casinos show off clearly. It never gets grainy, it never even gets hazy or speckled. They just did a great job maintaining the quality of the movie and eliminating any errors that could happen in an HD transfer.
HBO’s New Orleans show comes to Blu-ray with a solid HD collection. The picture is crisp, if a little grainy, but it’s always clear. It even holds up when it gets dark, with only minor hazing and you can see the Blu-ray compensate to keep the picture as smooth as possible.
Katrina-ravaged New Orleans has a lot of detail, and there’s also a lot of color in the wardrobe of musicians. There are some beautiful shots like smoke whisping through the night, and good old fashioned close-ups of actors’ faces showing all the drama they’re conveying.
Mad Men: Season Four
We now how great Mad Men looks on Blu-ray. The detail in the period costumes alone made it a prime show for HD, and personally my cable provider doesn’t have AMC in HD so Blu-ray is when I really get to see it. Season Four has improved even over previous Blu-rays.
They seem to have eliminated a lot of the grain. Now the HD detail has a smoother, clearer picture. You may see hints of grain sometimes but that still only makes it look like a high quality movie, way above your normal TV show. The season four Blu-ray even has a cool black and white menu that looks really sharp.
Born to Raise Hell
The latest straight to video Steven Seagal movie looks strikingly good on Blu-ray. The clear shots of Romania are crisp and gritty. Since the film was probably shot directly on HD cameras, it looks like they just captured the setting, rather than transferring it from film.
There are some rough spots. Certainly the darker it gets the more digital snow shows up, but more than half the film looks clear. You see the gritty detail in the eastern European slums, the hard-edged police precinct and in Seagal’s wise, weathered scowl. It’s fun to see Seagal still throwing down and if he’s going to go straight to video, at least it can be Blu-ray now.
Ip Man 2
The sequel to Donnie Yen’s epic biopic about Bruce Lee’s teacher has a stronger transfer than its predecessor. You can really tell when they flash back to Ip Man 1 in the opening titles and that footage is hazy. Maybe it’s the reproduction and degradation of a generation of footage, but I remember those hazy scenes.
Ip Man 2 still shows a little grain and a few shots that haze, but it’s pretty consistent. The contrast is high so the gritty details of the poverty stricken streets are stark, and the lights make the fight scenes shine gold, whether in a Kung Fu school or the boxing ring.
The 1995 version of the video game, still possible the best video game movie ever and Paul W.S. Anderson’s best, holds up pretty well on Blu-ray. The transfer is consistent and smooth. The picture even holds up in the many darkly lit scenes. You see a little grain from time to time but only to highlight that it was indeed shot on good old fashioned film.
There’s plenty of detail to see in the wild sets and locations. It looks like a lot of the fantastical temples and battlegrounds were enhanced with matte paintings, which stand out but it’s a lost art. The practical detail of Goro is nice and the colorful costumes hold up.
South Park: The Complete 14th Season
The HD production of later South Park seasons continues to look phenomenal on Blu-ray. The HD TV broadcasts are already beautiful, but now it’s full 1080p. Their computerized primary colors are ridiculously bright, and shades and textures surprise you with the detail they can achieve. Water, the starry night sky, the Tron world in the Facebook episode, the backgrounds of the Intervention show, Mitch Connor’s Vietnam flashback, the NASCAR track, the comic book panels and Cthulhu monster go beyond even the construction paper texture.
Extras including mini-commentary show the exhaustion Trey Parker and Mat Stone feel being forced into the booth after just finishing a season, plus prepping The Book of Mormon. Yet they still share artistic motivations and social issues like gender dynamics, political debates and a bleep in the controversial 201st episode that could either be another censorship or just their joke. Deleted scenes give you more from the Facebook and Snooki episodes, and a hilarious bit of childish Mad Libs.
I Love You Phillip Morris
The unusual Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor love story has a saturated look on Blu-ray. This means you see some grain, in that finely heightened grain that looks a bit like film, but definitely HD. It pushes the color up to 11. Even in prison, the colors are bright pastel, especially in the yellow jumpsuits. Then especially when they come out into the life of lavish luxury.
You still see a lot of gritty detail under the coat of grain. Of course the prison has some rough grit, but every setting is consistent. What’s most noticeable is the subtle intensity of Carrey’s performance in the dramatic moments. He’s a master with his face so all that is on display on Blu-ray.
If you didn’t see Jack Black’s version of the literary classic in theaters (and you probably didn’t), one thing it has going for it is that it looks great on Blu-ray. The kingdom of Lilliput is a Hollywood kingdom of the British royal court variety. The colors are lavish and the details are perfectly clear.
The special effects really hold up in HD too. When Gulliver is huge, he blends right into the tiny scenes. When he’s tiny, he matches the gigantic overgrown sets. You may not want to see Black’s butt crack on Blu-ray, but if that’s what the filmmakers intended, their artistic integrity remains intact.