Blu-ray collectors generally dread the so-called “double dip,” when a studio reissues a title previously released on the format in hopes of convincing fans to buy yet another copy. To justify this, the new disc had better offer either compelling new content or a significant improvement in quality over the older edition. This week, Sony launches a whole new product line of high-def reissues that have left many Blu-ray shoppers confused and skeptical. Will you bite?
To 4k or Not to 4k
Let’s try to clear the air about what Sony’s “Mastered in 4k” line really is. These discs are not a new video format. Nor do they play back movies in 4k resolution at all. They are standard Blu-rays, encoded at standard 1080p resolution, that will play back in any existing Blu-ray player on any existing HDTV. The only thing “4k” about them is that the studio scanned the film at 4k resolution before downsampling the video to 1080p. At least in theory, this should yield a better-looking image than scanning directly at 1080p or 2k.
Here’s the thing, though: This isn’t a new technological breakthrough. Most of the major studios have been doing this for at least a few years. In fact, most (possibly all?) of the titles in Sony’s initial “Mastered in 4k” wave were already mastered in 4k for their previous Blu-ray editions.
So, what’s so special about these new discs? Reportedly, the studio has dumped all the bonus features and re-encoded the movies at higher bit rates. That’s right, these are basically “Superbit” Blu-rays. That may raise the hackles of a lot of home theater fans, who will remember that Superbit DVDs were pretty much a scam back in the day. Sure, they may have looked marginally better than the non-Superbit DVDs for the same titles, but that was largely because the non-Superbit discs were subpar even by DVD standards, and the Superbit reissues brought them up to the same level as discs that other studios released as a matter of course with no special fanfare. And for that, we were expected to pay inflated prices to rebuy stripped-down copies of titles we already owned. If the studio had bothered to release the movie in the best quality it could the first time around, there would have been no need for the Superbit program at all.
Does the same hold true for the “Mastered in 4k” Blu-rays? That remains to be seen. Allegedly, the discs also contain special metadata that will improve the color quality and upconversion to 4k if and only if they are played back on specially-equipped Sony Blu-ray players connected to compatible Sony 4k displays. I remain dubious of that claim. Something tells me that the special upconversion will be akin to the “Reality Creation” mode in Sony TVs, which jacks up the contrast and adds lots of artificial sharpening to the picture. Personally, I have no intention of replacing all the gear in my home theater to find out.
With all that said, at least one of the new “Mastered in 4k” discs is genuinely compelling. The original Blu-ray release of ‘Ghostbusters‘ was a total dog of a video transfer, with blown-out contrasts and crushed detail. For the new copy, it has been confirmed that Sony re-scanned the movie from the original film elements with proper colors and contrast. This disc should be a huge improvement. Of course, that has more to do with Sony simply correcting its past screw-up than anything specific to the “Mastered in 4k” program.
As far as I’m aware, none of the other titles in this wave were similarly re-scanned. I would expect only minimal improvements over the older Blu-rays for these movies. The other titles are: ‘Angels & Demons‘, ‘Battle: Los Angeles‘, ‘Glory‘, ‘The Other Guys‘, ‘Spider-Man‘, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man‘, ‘Taxi Driver‘, and the recent remakes of ‘The Karate Kid‘ and ‘Total Recall‘.
The Wachowski siblings’ epic, ambitious ‘Cloud Atlas‘ was a huge box office dud last year. Although flawed in a lot of respects, I think it caught a raw deal. I liked the film more than I expected, and made a case for it during the theatrical release. I actually look forward to revisiting it on Blu-ray.
Whatever small amount of publicity that the indie ‘A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III‘ received last year all centered around star Charlie Sheen, whose offscreen antics and meltdown were somewhat mirrored and parodied in the film. Having no interest in Sheen whatsoever, my curiosity was mildly piqued by director Roman Coppola (son of Francis, and screenwriter of a couple of Wes Anderson’s movies), whose charming comedy ‘CQ‘ I enjoyed immensely. Sadly, the trailers looked terrible and reviews were almost universally scathing. My interest has waned.
I guess I jumped the gun a couple weeks ago when I wrote up a blurb for ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D‘. The disc actually streets this Tuesday. Rather than let that work go to waste, here’s what I wrote the first time: Didn’t the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ franchise already get rebooted with a couple of new movies a few years ago? I’m not exactly clear on whether the new ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D’ is meant to be a sequel to those or another reboot. Does it really matter, though? This thing exists only to justify its title. If you want chainsaws to massacre people in 3D, here’s a movie that will give that to you, no more and no less.
The Criterion Collection heads to the Old West this week with high-def editions of the original 1957 ‘3:10 to Yuma‘ and ‘Jubal‘, both starring Glenn Ford and directed by Delmer Daves.
Twilight Time has limited editions of Jonathan Demme’s AIDS awareness courtroom drama (for which Tom Hanks won his first Oscar) ‘Philadelphia‘, plus the 1945 Gene Tierney melodrama ‘Leave Her to Heaven‘.
In cult offerings, Shout! Factory brings us ‘Crimewave‘, the second feature directed by Sam Raimi, with script by his buddies the Coen brothers. Over at Best Buy, the retailer has an exclusive on the cheesetastic pilot episode for the original 1978 ‘Battlestar Galactica‘.
With plenty of time to catch up before the new season starts next month, Paramount delivers the seventh season of ‘Dexter‘ either on its own or in a box set with all of the show’s other seasons to date.
4k or no 4k, I will gladly pick up the remastered copy of ‘Ghostbusters’. The two Criterions and ‘Cloud Atlas’ will also go on my wish list. Which titles interest you this week?