Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Into the Wild Blu-ray Wonder
I finally purchased a HD-TV and a PS3. It was about time as I had a pile of Blu-ray films piling up but nothing to watch them with. Now as the equipment was gathered, I can take a look at a few films I've recently watched on Blu-ray.
The Fall (2007)
This was one of the biggest omissions from my list of the Best Fantasy Films of the 2000s. It's good to finally see the film. The Fall worked wonders as a test Blu-ray. The image is crisp, clear and well-lit. Purists will say that it doesn't look like film. Well, every decade has its own look to cinema and this clear Michael Mann-style image will be the one for this one. I found no problems with the image. For instance, in desert scenes the mountain cliffside looks just as magnificent as it does in real life (watching from a distance of course).
The film itself is a little like The Princess Bride in that it's a story-within-a-story told to a sick child. The Fall, however is a bit darker. It takes place in an early 20th century hospital, where a wounded soldier tells a story to an annoying little girl to get her to bring him drugs. His story concerns bandits from different parts of the world planning revenge on a crooked governor. It is an excuse to show off magnificent looking landscapes from all around the world. As it happens, the events which unfold in the real-world hospital start bending the story world accordingly. This mixture of story and reality is nothing new and the same characters popping up in both has been around since at leat The Wizard of Oz. Yet, director Tarsem keeps his strings well in his hands and the fantasy is well likeable. The various locations where this has been shot are simply gorgeous. I just wish there wasn't so much footage of that goddamn crying kid.
House of the Flying Daggers (2004)
Director: Zhang Yimou
I had fond memories of this film, and Zhang's films are really beautiful visually, so it was a good idea to test this out as a blu-ray. But the results weren't as good as the expectations. For starters, the film seems to be just an upscaled DVD, there are grainy scenes and the image isn't that much clearer. It's good that most of it is set in a bright light, so it doesn't matter that much. I expect it would in a more moody film.
The film itself is a pretty straight-forward romace/escape story. It wasn't even as beautifully shot as Zhang's Hero, but then again it is easily explained, because Hero had Christopher Doyle, the greatest living cinematographer, working on it. HOTFD is still not by all means bad. The fight at the bamboo jungle in particular is great. I just wish the film would be shorter. All the fights are pretty similar and the romance kind of blah. The crime from which the main couple are chased is also a bit petty for my western taste, yet maybe the chinese understand it better. After all, it is pretty strongly anchored to a particular era of which I know nothing about.
Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection (1989-2008)
Director: Nick Park
I think stop-motion animation is well suited for high-definition. It is usually rich in detail, so the clearer the image, the more small things one can pick up from them. This of course rings also true to this collection of animation masterwork from Aardman Studios. I've seen every short film on this disc numerous times, yet the clear image helped me to pick up new things here and there. For instace, the newspapers Gromit reads are now clear enough to see the article headlines. I also like how the fingerprints and other unevenness is seen in the character designs. There area few a bit grainy bits, particularly in the moon sequence in A Grand Day Out, but mostly this transfer serves the films very well.
The biggest masterpiece on this disc is, of course The Wrong Trousers. It is still about the closest I've ever seen to perfect filmmaking. It is exciting, funny and even heart-breaking at times. The characterization is wonderfully deep, even though Wallace is the only character that can speak. The story is well constructed: there are no continuity errors or plot-holes and everything is set up nicely during the early minutes of the story.
I'm surprised to find that my second favorite is the latest film, A Matter of Loaf and Bread. It is another hitchcockian mystery film that is as fine-tuned and doesn't have an ounce of fat in its running time. Everything is well-spent. The weakest link must be A Close Shave, as I've always believed that it has too much going on. Four characters is usually the maximum you'd need for a good Wallace & Gromit yarn, yet this one boasts five major ones, and a flock of sheep to boot. It is still by no means a bad one, it's still funny and exciting and Peter Sallis does perhaps his best work as the voice of Wallace. It just that it has a few flaws such as deus ex machinas and other plot holes.
The first one of the batch, A Grand Day Out is a little different from the others, and is clearly a story of two halves - one made by Nick Park about alone, and the other in collaboration with Aardman Studios. The story, and especially the climax are of a lot smaller scale than others, yet it has a certain simplistic charm the others cover by true virtuoso craftmanship.
Pixar Short Films Collection (1984-2007)
The other little animation studio that could, also boasts with its own short film collection. Yet unlike Aardman, Pixar hasn't always strived for pure quality. One can see from the early films that the point in them was just to test different computer programs for lighting, surfaces and so on. Particularly the first one, The Adventures of André and Wally B, is pretty horrible. One can't blame George Lucas for selling the studio based on that short. The first really good one is 1980's Knick-Knack. Too bad the film on the disc is the 2003 Special Edition, which has cencored some balloony babe bosoms. That's a real shame, as cartoon boobies would've brought a real new layer into the story and strengthened the main character's motivation of breaking out from his snow-globe. Some films are clearly extra material for the DVD releases and don't hold out so well on their own (Jack-Jack Attack). Still, there are plenty of corcers on the disc (For the Birds, Boundin', One-Man Band...) to make it worth you while. After all, it only lasts less than an hour.
The picture quality depends from film to film. The early ones wouldn't look too good on any format any more, but the later ones, which have proper textures, look great. I think I might continue my Pixar collection on Blu-ray.
Director: Joe Dante
January 13th has traditionally been in Finland the Day of Nuutti, in which and evil man-goat comes to homes taking Christmas away with it. Suitable viewing for that day was Joe Dante's mischievous fantasy film, in which nasty little monsters wreck a small American town's Christmas. It's been a favorite of mine since childhood so getting it as one of my first blu-rays was a no-brainer. There can never be enough live-action Looney Tunes-resembling films.
It was good to test out Gremlins on blu-ray, as it is a little more darkly lit film. Most of the previous films in this article were shot in bright daylight, which usually looks great on blu-ray anyway. The key to a good movie experience is how much mood can the technology create. Gremlins works sufficiently good. The Chinese bazaar, Billy's dimly-lit room and the school's labratory still work in creating tension. Yet the picture isn't that much clearer than in a DVD. It had probably just been upscaled. Yet I traded my cardboard-cased vanilla DVD for this and don't regret it for a second.
Amadeus - Director's Cut (1986)
Director: Milos Forman
This music epic is as historically inaccurate as they get. As anyone probably knows, it's about Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) confessing about how he orchestrated his rival Mozart's fall from grace and subsequent death. In real life Salieri may not have created masterpieces that last through the ages, but he was still very popular and rich. It is the same as saying that Justin Bieber orchestrated the death of Michael Jackson. But the point of the movie is not to depict historical events, but to tell a story about envy and where that can lead. In that aspect Forman succeeds very well. The film is never pandering or too openly moralizing. Salieri is almost symphatetic as the villain as Mozart (Tom Hulce) is depicted as a lewd womaniser and shrugging the notion of hard work until in the end. The classical music pieces fit the film's mood like a hand in glove. The three hour running time of the Director's Cut is about the 20 minutes too long, which were later added to the film. But this Director's Cut is by no means a travesty like some other later cuts.
Amadeus is a film which would also suit testing out Blu-ray equipment mighty fine. It has a lot of well-light scenes at luxurious palaces, which have a lot of details, scenes from operas, which have luscious bright colours, and candle-lit moody parts that take place in the dark. Unfortunately the picture quality is merely adequate. Some things, like the texture on clothes, comes out very good, but background details don't seem too clear and the dark scenes are a little grainy. I wouldn't upgrade a DVD, but otherwise this works fine.
I like to do these Blu-ray digests as they remind me of the Weeklies I used to do when this blog started. As it's very important to know how a Blu-ray looks before making the purchase, I figure I could do a bit more of these, too. They shouldn't take too long to write, anyway.