Blu-ray Highlights for 6/29/10

Since most Blu-rays are released on Tuesdays, this seems like a good opportunity to look over the week’s new high-def titles. Is there anything worth buying? Which discs should be avoided? This week offers up an eclectic mix of Criterion titles, a recent Oscar nominee, a raunchy cult comedy, and an “Ultimate Edition” that isn’t nearly as “ultimate” as it ought to be. Let’s take a look.

Here’s the release list:

Of these, perhaps the biggest new day & date release is ‘Percy Jackson‘. The movie is based on a popular kids’ book of which I know nothing about other than the basic plot summary. The film was marketed like a shameless ‘Harry Potter’ knockoff, and was even directed by Chris Columbus to seal the deal. That didn’t work out so well this time. It was poorly received by critics and fizzled at the box office. Aaron reviewed the Blu-ray, so feel free to follow that link for more extensive coverage there. Big-budget family movies like this usually sell well on video, even if they didn’t attract many crowds to the theaters. I expect that it’ll do OK on Blu-ray.

In a lot of ways, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine‘ is this year’s ‘Snakes on a Plane‘. The comedy was made and marketed with the deliberate intent of turning it into a new cult classic. That’s a tricky proposition that almost never works out, and certainly didn’t this time. Although it arrived in theaters with a lot of positive buzz, the movie totally tanked at the box office. Reviews were mixed, as you’d expect given the subject matter. Like most people, I didn’t bother to see it. This seems like a good one to catch up with on Blu-ray. Perhaps a rental is in order?

The White Ribbon‘ is the recent Oscar nominated foreign-language film directed by Michael Haneke. I haven’t seen this one either, but from what I understand it’s about a small town in Germany in the years before World War I, where all the kids are basically evil and will eventually grow up to become Nazis. It’s in black & white and sounds depressing as hell. I’ve heard good things, but Haneke is hit or miss for me. His pretensions sometimes get the better of him. Of what I’ve seen, I kind of felt like that was going to be the case here as well. But I’ll reserve judgment until I can properly watch the whole movie.

The Criterion Collection has two new releases out this week. I’ve heard excellent things about ‘Everlasting Moments‘. (You can follow the link for Aaron’s review of that one too.) And I’m a little ashamed to admit as a film snob that I’ve never seen Visconti’s ‘The Leopard‘. I definitely plan to pick up both of these two titles.

That brings us to the week’s most controversial Blu-ray release, the new “Ultimate Hunter Edition” of the Schwarzenegger testosterone classic ‘Predator‘. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some ‘Predator’. (The movie stars two future governors!) The movie was already released on Blu-ray back in 2008 with a serviceable transfer that more-or-less accurately reflected the picture’s gritty and grainy production style. For some inexplicable reason, the studio dropped all of the bonus features from the earlier DVD edition at that time.

So, now Fox has chosen to re-release the movie with all of those supplements as a promotional tie-in to the new sequel, ‘Predators’. In the process, they’ve decided to “remaster” the film. Which in this case means that they’ve taken the old transfer, boosted the brightness and colors, and scrubbed it to the bone with heavy amounts of Digital Noise Reduction filtering. I’m not reviewing the disc for this site, but I have seen it, and had a chance to compare it to the old Blu-ray. The following are some of my impressions:

I’ve always felt that the opening of the movie – Schwarzenegger’s helicopter flying in, landing, the team getting into the jeeps and driving to the base – looked like crap on the original Blu-ray. It’s extremely soft and dingy, and seems to have a DVD upconvert level of detail. Things get better once the credits are over and the dialogue starts. The footage there looks like genuine high definition.

The movie is very grainy by nature, and the grain levels fluctuate wildly throughout the film due to the production circumstances. Other than the opening, I’ve always thought that the rest of the disc looked fine. It ain’t pretty, but it looks like what ‘Predator’ is supposed to look like.

The new remaster, though? Ugh.

First off, I wouldn’t say that the opening looks any better or worse than the old disc. It’s grain-free and has a “processed” appearance, but the brightening and sharpening help to make it look more consistent with the rest of the movie. I’d call this part a wash. But then we get to the dialogue. The faces of all the actors very much have a plastic appearance to them. They just look WEIRD. When the action moves to the jungle, the processing gives all the foliage a strange texture that looks like motion interpolation has been turned on or something.

I can see some people watching this, especially those watching on smaller screens, and thinking the brighter and cleaner picture looks great. I have to admit that it strikes me as ironic that, 8 to 10 years ago when we didn’t know any better, we all would have praised this kind of digital tinkering as being a good thing on DVD. Our standards have come a long way since then.

So, yeah, it’s bad. I can’t imagine watching the movie the whole way through on the new copy. Not on my projection screen, anyway. It looks too strange and unnatural, and not at all film-like. The old disc looks a little dingier in comparison, but it looks NORMAL, like a real movie. There’s nothing in it that jumps out and makes me say, “What’s with that shot? Why does that actor look like he’s made of wax?”

The new disc is a huge black mark for the studio, in my opinion. Most fans of ‘Predator’ would be better served to seek out a copy of the old Blu-ray. Those who really want the bonus features can also pick up the old DVD and a 2-disc Blu-ray case to make their own “Ultimate Editions.”


  1. Zaserov

    The bits about Predator have me wondering: is there a go-to example for the horrors of DNR? I’m not really educated enough about it to pick it out myself, so I’m curious if there’s a movie that could give me a mental definition of it.

    I should note I have ulterior motives in this – from the post, what really got me was “It looks too strange and unnatural, and not at all film-like.” I’m thinking the grain thing may be like when people insist that vinyl is superior to CDs because it distorts the sound in the way that they’re used to hearing it (which is valid, but not objective). Then again, wax-like people sound bad as well, so I need more information.

  2. Josh Zyber

    To be perfectly honest, this disc is the new go-to example for the horrors of DNR.

    I don’t generally put a lot of stock in screen captures. They are frequently misleading. However, in this case, the damage to the film is so severe that the screen captures out there are a pretty accurate representation of how the disc also looks during playback.

    Take a look at this review at DVDTalk, which is a spot-on assessment of the disc:

    Click on those images in the Video section to blow them up to full size. Take a close look especially at the first one (Carl Weathers) and the last two in that section. You see how fuzzy the image looks, like the picture has been smothered in Vaseline? You see how there’s no texture at all in the actors’ skin? They look like they’re made out of rubber!

    All the fine detail in the picture has been blurred away. In motion, they also smear really badly.

    The mark of a good high-def transfer is the clarity of fine details — things like skin pores and individual hairs on an actor’s head. There’s no clarity of detail at all in this disc. It’s a disgrace.

  3. slearl

    Nerds need to calm down. This movie doesn’t look as bad as everyone claims. It’s a huge step up in quality versus my DVD copy. I actually prefer this Blu-ray version over what I saw with the older Blu-ray version.