John Woo’s (Mission: Impossible II, Face/Off) first Anime production, Appleseed: Ex Machina, directed by Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed, Bubblegum Crisis) on DVD and Blu-Ray Disc. Based on the popular science fiction manga from renowned creator Shirow Masamune (Ghost in the Shell), Appleseed: Ex Machina follows partners and lovers, Deunan and Briareos.
The fine folks at Fox Home Video (can you tell they sent me a nice little package this weekend) have a block buster Blu-ray Tuesday this week releasing several of their big Sci-fi titles. Including one of my favorite – cheesy films of all time Independence Day. When I first bought my 60 inch HDTV 4 years ago – before there was any HD content available, but DVD was still new enough to wow people. ID4 was my reference disk, I’d put that on, fire up my Dolby Digital surround sound and my guests would be blown away by the beauty of it. Now imagine it on Blu-ray. The disk features 1080P, commentary by the directors, a separate commentary by special effects supervisors Volker Engel and Doug Smith, Trivia Track, a cheesy Alien Scavenger hunt game, theatrical trailers and D-Box motion support. This is a pretty amazing set, the only thing missing is Picture in Picture. This is a disk all Blu-ray owners need to have. I love the movie and the disk. This package is a solid A.
Final Grade A
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The Sci-Fi Classic Gattaca: Special Edition is coming to DVD and Blu-ray this week. Watch some clippage and go out and pick this up. Confidently conceived and brilliantly executed, Gattaca had a somewhat low profile release in 1997, but audiences and critics hailed the film’s originality. It’s since been recognized as one of the most intelligent science fiction films of the 1990s. Writer-director Andrew Niccol, the talented New Zealander who also wrote the acclaimed Jim Carrey vehicle The Truman Show, depicts a near-future society in which one’s personal and professional destiny is determined by one’s genes.
After spending this weekend fighting with my new Macbook (contrary to what the commercials say, it doesn’t “just work.” But I’ll save my tales of Apple woe until later in the week. I decided to download and watch Warner Home Video’s latest direct to video animated fair Justice League: New Frontier. I downloaded it on my X-Box 360. The download took less than an 1/2 hour so I had instant gratification. When the movie first started, it was weird. The animation was literally just some weird drawings, then the camera pulls back and you see it’s an children’s book author telling a story about the end of the world. But what’s more shocking is, the guy puts a gun in his mouth and blows his brains out. So three minutes into this you know this film isn’t for kids.
But in case you missed the point, a few minutes later Air Force pilot Hal Jordan (voiced by David Boreanaz) is shot down over Russia at the end of the war. He puts a gun to some kid’s face and pulls the trigger. We get to see it in it’s gory detail. I would say this definitely isn’t your father’s Superhero film, but it actually is. The conceit of this piece is that everything takes place in the fifties. At the height of the cold war, McCarthyism, the red scare and more. And our Superheroes are stuck in the middle trying to stick to their convictions when the world around them has turned to chaos and against them. Watching all of this as an outsider, trying to do good in his small way is a Martian – J’onn J’onzz / Martian Manhunter (voiced by Miguel Ferrer).The movie packs a lot of oomph into it’s short 77 minute running time. We really get a sense of the time period and all of it’s turmoil.
Director Dave Bullock and the writers Stan Berkowitz and Darwyn Cooke don’t shy away from talking about some of the racial and political problems of the time period. Mentioning the KKK lynching a black hero, or Superman (Kyle MacLachlan) trying to lecture Diana (Lucy Lawless) about letting enslaved Chinese women murder their former captures after she freed them. The movie pretty relentlessly dark, but there was a great line from Batman (Jeremy Sisto) to the Manhunter “I have a $70,000 sliver of rock that will take care of the one in Metropolis, all I need for you is a Penny and a book of matches.”
The film falls apart at the end when the Heroes finally come together to stop the big bad. It’s some lame living Island thing. It felt a little anti-climatic. But this movie isn’t about big Super Hero battles, it truly is a character piece and manages to juggle it’s large cast really well.
I haven’t watched the DVD, but it looks like a packed affair. The animated adventure is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format. The picture quality is excellent. Its 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is clear with good surround effects. The DVD includes the revealing “Super Heroes United”, “The Legion of Doom” and “Comic Book Commentary” documentaries, two in-depth audio commentaries with filmmakers and comic book writer Darwyn Cooke, three bonus “Justice League Unlimited” episodes (The Dark Heart, Task Force X & To Another Shore), trailers and an exclusive sneak peek of the upcoming “Batman – Gotham Knight”.
Final Grade A
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In a move that surprises no one, Microsoft has officially put an end to it’s HD-DVD add-on drive. I actually bought one of these last summer from Gamestop as an impulse buy and immediately regretted my decision but couldn’t take it back because Gamestop draconian return policy. Word of advice – NEVER shop there. So I kept it and it grew on me. I never officially jumped on either bandwagon, preferring to rent from Netflix to starting a new collection. My only regret is I paid $120 for the Harry Potter set on HD instead of Blu. It was my only real HD purchase so I don’t feel too upset over it’s demise. I hope the inevitable Blu-ray add-on (replacement) is smaller, includes a smaller power cable (the one for the HD-DVD is ridiculously large) and includes HDMI with up-conversion. Last week I finally broke down and purchased the 120 gig hard drive and a pleasant surprise side benefit is it cut down the noise on my 360 by almost 90 percent! It’s still loud, but it no longer sounds like a jet airplane. Anyway, here’s the statement.
"As a result of recent decisions made by Toshiba, Hollywood studios, and retailers, Microsoft plans to withdraw from HD DVD. Xbox will no longer manufacture new HD DVD players for the Xbox 360, but we will continue to provide standard product and warranty support for all Xbox 360 HD DVD Players in the market. As we stated earlier, we do not believe this decision will have any material impact on the Xbox 360 platform or our position in the marketplace. HD DVD is one of the several ways we offer a high definition experience to consumers and we will continue to give consumers the choice to enjoy digital distribution of high definition movies and TV shows directly to their living room, along with playback of the DVD movies they already own."
My favorite movie from last year Juno is coming to DVD and Blu-Ray on March 19. The cool thing is, it’ll include Fox’s cool new Digital Copy thing – that will let you copy the movie to your iPod. Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) and featuring an all-star ensemble cast, the Juno DVD is loaded with special features including commentary by Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, 11 deleted scenes, a gag reel, screen tests and more. Additionally, Juno releases as a two-disc DVD and is also available day-and-date in high-def format on Blu-ray Disc, featuring more hilarious extras and Fox’s new Digital Copy, allowing viewers to quickly and easily transfer a digital version of the film to a Mac® or Windows-based PC computer and then to select portable video devices including an iPod® and/or iPhone™.
Toshiba officially threw in the towel today. It’s, there’s nothing left but the crying. I did my rant this weekend about the pending death of HD-DVD. I think the format war has ended too soon, but hey, what can you do? Several people emailed me and said that my post was some anti-Sony screed and that I have buyer’s remorse. Actually, I don’t. I have both formats and never committed to either so it isn’t like I have hundreds of HD-DVD or Blu-Ray movies lying around the house. I have exactly 15 HD movies, but I’ll benefit from having a single format because it means all the studios will eventually be able to send me Blu-Ray disks. Not a bad deal for me, I get everything basically free. Except I did buy the Harry Potter set on HD-DVD. Doh! Anyway, I digress, I still believe that – at least in the short term consumers will lose on this because the Blu-Ray group will not come down in price anytime soon. I’m hoping they prove me wrong and start slashing prices now that the war is over and they still have to convince people that the HD format is worthwhile. I like the format, but don’t see HD as much of a leap from a good DVD.
It’s funny and ironic that I finally get around to starting the High Definition section on the site with the idea of trying to be as balanced as possible. Only to have the wheels fall off the HD-DVD band wagon. It started last month with Warner Brothers dropping the format, after that it was nothing but bad news for Toshiba’s format. And this week’s triple does of bad news – Netflix, Walmart, and Best Buy all dropping the format put a nail in the coffin. It was always a forgone conclusion that Toshiba would lose the war, if for no other reason than the PS3 including the Blu-ray drive into it’s system. Granted sales of the PS3 has been disappointing (for good reason, the system kind of sucks) comparatively speaking – in terms of game consoles, it had a big enough install base that it was almost double those who had HD-DVD players. For HD-DVD to succeed they really should have worked out a deal with MS to put the HD-DVD drive in the 360. If that happened, we would be talking about a totally different outcome now. I have both formats, but I was hoping HD-DVD would win, I still think it’s a better format and at least the freaking thing has a standard and you can upgrade it. The Blu-ray group is still trying to figure out it’s standards and half the players don’t have Ethernet ports so you can’t do firmware upgrades. But wait, it’s “funny” that the PS3 is “future” proof. Instead we’re now stuck with one format – Sony and for all practical purposes one player option – PS3. Sure there are other players, but considering you can’t upgrade most of them and there’s only a $50 difference between the cheapest Blu-ray player and the cheapest PS3, who would be dumb enough to get the stand alone player?
Already I’ve noticed that prices of Blu-ray DVDs have gotten ridiculously out of hand, you can no longer walk into a Best Buy, Target, Borders, etc. and expect to see a new release Blu-ray flick for $19.99, no these retailers have the gall to try and charge full retail prices. I was in Borders today and they had the Spiderman Blu-ray set for $99!! Really? Superbad was over $30.00 (when I say over $30, I mean like $35 – $39). Really? Resident Evil: Extinction over $30. Really??? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix over $30. Really??? The only place you can still get Blu-ray for a reasonable price is Amazon and other online retailers. Not to mention the damn machines are still over $350! So yes, consumers, the color of Greed is Blu and we lose out again. Rumor has it the official announcement is coming later this week.
Across The Universe
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (TCFHE) today confirmed the arrival of six fan favorite “must have” Blu-ray Disc catalog titles available in the first quarter of 2008. Highlights include the long-awaited BD debuts of ICE AGE (March 4), featuring everyone’s favorite sub-zero heroes in a daring quest to return a human baby to its tribe; the sci-fi action thriller INDEPENDENCE DAY (March 11) starring Academy Award®-nominated actor Will Smith and featuring a Blu-ray exclusive trivia track and BD-Java Alien Scavenger Hunt game that challenges players to correctly identify items in select scenes to unlock additional bonus features; and the high-tech action adventure I, ROBOT (March 11) also starring Will Smith and featuring a BD industry first – direct access to in-movie features through one of the four colored buttons on the BD remote that allows viewers to quickly access the enormous amount of bonus materials on the disc including commentaries, production diaries, extended and deleted scenes, trivia and more.
Additional BD titles to debut include the psychological thriller MAN ON FIRE starring Academy Award®-winning actors Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken available January 8; Academy Award®-winning director Oliver Stone’s behind-the-scenes look at corporate greed and corruption, WALL STREET, starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas, in his Academy Award®-winning Best Actor performance; and the hilarious Farrelly brother’s comedy about nice guys with multiple personality disorders, ME, MYSELF & IRENE, starring Jim Carrey and Academy Award®-winning actress Renee Zellweger, both available February 5. Each of Fox’s BD titles will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.98/49.98 CANADA.
The folks at Fox Home Video are one of the first studios to come out with a Blu-Ray disk that supports the new 1.1 (or picture in picture) spec. One of the things that distinguished HD-DVD was it’s copious use of picture in picture for extra features. For instance on the 300 HD-DVD you could watch the entire movie in it’s original unedited green screen form and compare the original shots with the finished product. Very cool insight into how that film was made. Fox Home Video’s “Sunshine,” doesn’t do anything nearly as nifty as that. But it’s nice to know that they’ll have that capability in the future. For now the Sunshine Blu-Ray Disk has some basic pop-up featurettes that go in-depth into how certain scenes were made. The picture window is quite large and beautiful. The navigation menus on this disk are also really nice. They are transparent and float in and out of the picture with minimal fuss. It’s probably pointless to tell you that the movie looks amazing. It’s sharp, clear, and clean with no artifacts. The blacks are “blue black.”