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    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Countdown To - Halloween

    This is the final installment of my "Countdown To Halloween" series. Here are the previous posts:

    Tobe Hooper Double Feature (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre/Poltergeist)
    The Shining
    The Descent

    Tonite: the Halloween Blu-ray.

    Now then...I'm an unabashed John Carpenter fan/geek. If you don't believe me, look at this video.

    I remember watching Sneak Previews with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in 1980 and seeing them give Carpenter's Halloween a big "thumbs-up." This was a surprise, as I thought most critics looked down their noses at horror films.

    Back then, our neighborhood didn't have cable, so watching film clips on TV shows like Sneak Previews was a big deal. I remember Siskel and Ebert played the scene at the end of the film when The Shape attacks Jamie Lee Curtis in the closet. I was riveted. That looked like some intense shit!

    We finally got the ON-TV pay channel right around this time, and Halloween was broadcast in the fall of 1980, uncut, uncensored, with no commercial interruptions. Remember, in the early '80s, there was really no significant home video market; no Blockbuster Video, no pay-per-view (as we now know it), and cable/pay TV was in its infancy. It was a really unique thing to see a movie like this, in this manner.

    Halloween lived up to everything I had heard/read: it was frightening, it was stylish, it was funny, it was just so friggin' cool. I was perplexed by the long, smooth tracking shots (this was before I saw The Shining), and couldn't figure out how they were accomplished. They were too smooth for hand-held, and the shots tracked through close quarters and inside houses, so a crane was out of the question. After watching the end credits, I wanted to know more about the "Panaglide" (a clone of the Steadicam). This was one of the first instances where I wanted to learn more about the director, John Carpenter (who also composed the memorable score), and his cinematographer, Dean Cundey. But the biggest surprise was that the film wasn't gory. The intensity of the film was generated by pure, delicious suspense.

    Since my introduction to Halloween was via pay-TV, I didn't realize I had missed probably 1/3 of the movie, compositionally. The square-ish 4:3 aspect ratio of television cropped out a significant portion of the film's original widescreen 2.35:1 image, and it was not until the letterboxed Criterion laserdisc was released in the early 1990s that I saw the ingenious framing Carpenter and Cundey employed throughout the feature.

    In 1997, Anchor Bay released a horrific DVD of Halloween (horrific in a bad way). This release was so atrocious, many folks nearly wrote off the then-new video format. The image quality was absolutely dreadful.

    Enter Bill Lustig, who at the time was restoring and producing DVDs for Anchor Bay. In 1999, he stepped in to take the reigns and produce the Limited Edition DVD of Halloween, and it was a revelation. The film transfer and color timing was approved by Dean Cundey, so this was a reference disc for Halloween fans. In some ways, it still is (more on this in a bit). Here's the production diary of the Lustig Halloween DVD from DVDReview.com.

    In 2003, Anchor Bay released Halloween as a DiviMax DVD, which sported a new high-definition transfer of the film. There were improvements in sharpness and clarity, but the color timing was wrong. Big time. Unlike the Cundey-approved version, the DiviMax DVD had bright green leaves throughout the first third of the film (Halloween was shot in the spring of 1978 in Southern California), and the incredibly cool and creepy blue backlights and shadows in the final third of the film were turned pale/white. I found this DVD to be incredibly frustrating to watch. There were clearly benefits from the hi-def transfer, but the colors looked wrong. I gave up on it and stuck with my 1999 DVD for my annual viewings on All Hallows Eve.

    So last year, Anchor Bay (now Starz) released Halloween on Blu-ray, and a part of me cringed because they were using the existing DiviMax transfer for the hi-def disc. I picked it up anyway.

    The good news is that the HD upgrade is substantial. Resolution is greatly improved, and the 5.1 audio sounds incredible in uncompressed PCM. There was an attempt to bring the color balance closer to Dean Cundey's approved transfer, but it still falls short: while the leaves look like fall again, and some of the blue backlights and shadows have returned, a lot of the blue is still MIA. Here are screen shot comparisons of the different versions. Judge for yourself.

    Do I recommend the Halloween Blu-ray? Yes, with reservations. The special features, including the 89-minute documentary "'Halloween': A Cut Above the Rest," are fantastic, and the entire package is a great value. However, this is still not the Halloween I know and love, and hope that one day it will be released as intended by the filmmakers.

    But tonite, I'll be spinning my Halloween Blu-ray disc with a big, Loomis grin on my face: "Hey Lonnie, get your ass away from there!"

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Countdown To Halloween - The Descent

    It's rare for a new horror film to rattle my grown-up senses and give me the heebee jeebies.

    The Descent came out a couple years ago and did well, critically and commercially, but I didn't catch it 'til it came 'round on Blu-ray.

    The story/set-up is simple: a group of adventure-seeking women embark on a caving expedition into an uncharted mine and, well, things start to go sour real quick.

    To critique a horror film for a simple plot is beside the point. Like with jazz, it ain't about the chords or the main melody, but what you do with it. How you twist it and milk it for all its worth. And The Descent approaches a John-Fucking-Coltrane level of inventiveness on a simple theme.

    Director Neil Marshall does an admirable job creating a palpable sense of dread and claustrophobia, even before the really bad stuff starts to happen. If you watch this one on a big HD screen with the surround sound up to reference level, you will be rattled to your core. Guaranteed. If you have a smaller screen, you'll just be scared shitless.

    The Blu-ray does an exquisite job capturing all the detail in the inky blackness of the cave environments, made all the more impressive when one discovers in the special features that the bulk of the film was shot on a soundstage. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 image is a dramatic improvement over the DVD, but of course this is to be expected. The audio choices are PCM 6.1 surround or Dolby Digital Surround EX. If you have a decent system, the sound mix will effectively raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

    Special features include commentaries, a 40+ minute documentary, interview with director Neil Marshall, deleted and extended scenes, etc.

    A choice of two endings is provided on the menu when choosing a version of the film. I prefer the international (original/unrated) cut and would recommend watching The Descent for the first time in this manner. While I won't give away the details why, I will say that it's the version most consistent with the film's overall tone.

    Go ahead and explore The Descent on Blu-ray this spooky season. Enter at your own risk...

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Countdown To Halloween - The Shining

    It's hard to believe that back in the summer of 1980, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was a "failure" on many levels. I still vaguely recall the critics and moviegoers complaining about the film - that it wasn't scary; that the acting was over the top; that it was too long. Stephen King even killed the movie in the press when it was released.

    But to me, the trailer just scared the shit out of my 12 year-old self. I wanted to see it. Bad. That low tracking shot of Nicholson in semi-profile, limping through the snow with an axe, chasing after his little boy, was enough to give me nightmares for a week. That's still one of my favorite images from any movie, ever.

    I never did see The Shining during its theatrical run; my parents wouldn't allow it. Ironically, they did let me see The Amityville Horror the prior year, and Poltergeist a couple years later - two other films dealing with supernatural events tearing at the family unit. Kubrick's film seemed reviled upon its release. No one really championed it, and few wanted to see it.

    I finally saw it on a pay TV channel called ON-TV a year later and, not surprisingly, I fell in love with it. Curiously, I was most drawn to the scene of Nicholson at the bar conversing with “Lloyd,” the bartender. I didn’t know much about acting back then, but I was fascinated with all the little things Nicholson was doing with his face, his eyes, and his hands. I could watch that scene over and over and still see new things going on. I still do.

    I also really dug the various smooth tracking shots, which I later learned was accomplished with the Steadicam, operated by its inventor, Garrett Brown. But the music was what really sent me over the moon. It created a palpable mood and atmosphere. It was also an assault on the senses. I’d never heard music like that before - dissonant and beautiful; ominous and foreboding. Many years later, I tracked down Gordon Stainforth, the assistant editor who was instructed by Kubrick to create the sound montage that would become the soundtrack, along with cues written by composer Wendy Carlos. Here’s my interview with Stainforth.

    The production of The Shining also fascinated me. I heard/read that it took two years to make; that Kubrick had his actors do 20, 30, 50 or more takes; that the entire interior of the hotel was a constructed set which burned down toward the end of production; that Kubrick edited his film after it had been released to theaters; that he wanted all home video releases of his flat (non-widescreen) films - including The Shining - presented in a 4:3 non-letterboxed “square” ratio. Etc., etc. Here’s a great site which answers pretty much any question you ever had about The Shining. If you're a fan, be careful, you'll be there a while!

    Of course, the film is now considered a classic. Kubrick's films all have a way of gaining in reflection. I own the laserdisc, two different DVD releases, and now the Blu-ray, which for the first time presents The Shining in a 1.85:1 ratio in a glorious 1080P VC-1 encode and accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. I can’t really express how beautiful this film looks (and sounds) on Blu-ray. You can see the snow falling behind the blown out windows, lit by the late, great John Alcott; the small details in Nicholson’s jacket during the job interview; the texture of the Overlook Hotel’s walls. Wow.

    Vivian Kubrick’s wonderful behind-the-scenes documentary, “Making ‘The Shining’” has been ported over from the last (good) DVD release from 2001, and there is just a wealth of stuff in the special features. More than one can imagine.

    So is The Shining a horror film? A domestic tragedy? A black comedy? I’ve seen the film dozens of times and depending on my mood and/or state of mind, I find that the answer is…yes.

    The Shining on Blu-ray is must-viewing this Halloween season.

    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Countdown To Halloween - Tobe Hooper Double Feature

    Halloween is only one week away, and as I usually do during my favorite time of the year, I watch lots of horror films to get in the mood for this festive, freaky night.

    Now that many classic and new horror films are on Blu-ray, it's a trick or treat indeed.

    A Tobe Hooper double feature: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist.

    My introduction with TCM was during its re-release, I think, during the summer of 1982 - when Hooper/Spielberg's Poltergeist (more on the film's production controversy in a bit) was hitting theaters. I was about 14 years old, had never seen TCM, had heard quite a bit about it, and was expecting the goriest, most extreme horror film ever made. It was R-rated, and of course my parents would have never taken me to see it, so, they dropped me off - alone - at the cinema (what parent would do that nowadays?). I bought a ticket for some G or PG-rated fare, and instead snuck into the dark auditorium where TCM would assault its viewers.

    Since I knew the ushers would kick my punky, PG-13-ass out of the place if they saw me sitting alone, I found a young couple and sat one seat over next to them - like if we were together. Right. They kinda looked over at me and smiled when they saw me lower my head when the usher made his rounds. Bless 'em for playing along.

    So the movie starts, and I notice the film looks...bad. I mean, I didn't know much about film, technically, back then, but I immediately saw this film looked...different. In a bad way. It was very grainy, and the color and lighting (densities) seemed off. And I soon realized that contrary to its reputation, TCM is relatively gore-free. You see very little blood onscreen, and most of the horrific violence is implied. That being said, I was sufficiently rattled by the end of the film. The great achievement of Hooper and company was that they created a level of hysteria and dark, disturbing humor that mounts and mounts and mounts to nightmarish levels. Something about the combination of strange, terrifying, hysterical, and darkly humorous imagery and the soundtrack comprised of mostly percussive, industrial, and metallic sounds just freaked me out in such a cool way.

    Fast-forward many years later, and I own various versions of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-ray.

    The Blu-ray is a revelation. Finally, finally for the first time, the film looks right. What I didn't know back then was that TCM was filmed in 1974 on low ASA 16mm reversal film stock (25 ASA, I believe), to reduce the grain before the 35mm blow-up for film prints. Unfortunately, the prints that made the theater rounds over the years weren't of high quality.

    Enter Don May, Jr., of Synapse Films, who a few years ago made a new internegative from the original A-B reversal film elements and transferred it to HD. All I can say is...wow!

    While the image and new surround sound mix won't compete with Speed Racer or other HD eye candy made in the past few years, the Blu-ray of TCM delivers in spades. A 1080p VC-1 encode captures the visuals, while DTS 5.1, PCM stereo, and the original mono soundtrack offer multiple audio choices. All the great special features ported over over from the special edition DVD round out the package.

    Here are some of Don May's comments about the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Blu-ray. If you're a fan, you'll be very pleased.

    Now onto Poltergeist...

    One such fan of TCM was Steven Spielberg, who tapped Hooper to direct Poltergeist. Although Spielberg was co-writing and producing this family ghost story, he was contractually barred from directing while the production of E.T. was occurring simultaneously. Nonetheless, Poltergeist certainly feels like a Spielberg film: the familial touches, the humor, the effective acting by children. And Spielberg was certainly comfortable with horror, with Jaws under his belt. There were so many rumors that Spielberg had in fact "ghost"-directed (ah, the puns keep comin'...) Poltergeist that the Directors Guild of America launched an inquiry, and Spielberg himself printed an open letter in the Hollywood Reporter to set the record straight and underscore that Hooper "delivered the goods" and in fact directed the film.

    However, a recent interview with Zelda Rubenstein ("Tangina") at Aint-It-Cool-News has re-ignited the controversy. She reveals in the 2007 interview with "Quint":
    "I can tell you that Steven directed all six days I was there. I only worked six days on the film and Steven was there. Tobe set up the shots and Steven made the adjustments. You’re not going to hear that from Tobe Hooper, you’ll hear it from Zelda, because that was my honest to God experience. I’m not a fan of Tobe Hooper… he allowed some unacceptable chemical agents into his work."

    But the movie still rocks, and holds up to today's horror fare. I love it!

    I've seen Poltergeist on film, video, laserdisc, and DVD, and once again the Blu-ray smokes them all - yep, even the film print I saw back in 1982 had some audio problems I recall clearly. A sparkling 1080p VC-1 encode and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround make the Poltergeist Blu-ray release a winner - especially since Warner seems to be dropping hi-res audio tracks on some recent releases. The special features are slim, and may be explained by the production controversy, but the DigiBook package is elegant and includes a nice 30-page booklet.

    Tomorrow night...Kubrick's The Shining...

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Distributing Apples & Oranges Digitally

    Our Apples & Oranges album, "Contrast" is now available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby and other fine digital retailers in the world of ether.

    There's that rare feeling when everything clicks; when obstacles and challenges fall by the wayside and things just go smoothly...

    My tenure with Apples & Oranges goes back a ways. I performed, wrote, and produced in an unabashed pop-rock genre, released an album in the '90s, and had material in the can for the sophomore release. Then life intervened, and the stuff stayed in the can.

    By this time, the music industry had imploded (one can still argue that it's still collapsing into itself, a black hole that is expanding at an exponential rate), and we simply did not want to do the old CD master-replicate-self-distribute route. We hated inventory - tracking it, shipping it, dealing with it. So we waited for technology to catch up.

    Then we started hearing about CD Baby, an online music store where many independent artists (approximately 240,000) sell their wares. CD Baby sure seemed to make things easy: warehousing product, letting the artist choose the price point, and keeping only a small percentage in return (plus a one-time set-up fee). But we were stuck with still having to replicate CDs when the world was moving towards digital files and digital audio players.

    Then we saw that CD Baby began to offer digital distribution, and we finally jumped in. They encoded the album into iTunes Plus format (a higher-res encoding of the music, free of digital rights management), and distributed the product to their partner companies. All for a 9% cut and a $55 set-up and barcode creation fee. Can't beat that. Here's all you need to know about digital distribution. Truly a turn-key, affordable, professional, and artist-friendly system that was a breeze. The employees were also sweethearts to deal with. Big thumbs up from us!

    So now the album is out in the world, and we're quite proud of the final product. The original 24-bit 48kHz files sound pretty darned good at iTunes Plus quality (256 kbps AAC, no DRM), and it's just a big juicy mouthful of pop-rock confection.


    P.S. - as we were finalizing the album for digital distribution, CD Baby owner/founder Derek Sivers announced he was was selling the company to Disc Makers after a 7-year partnership between the two firms. This ideally brings together the replication and distribution worlds for independent artists. Which continues to beg the question: what in the world are the major labels good for...?

    Friday, October 3, 2008

    Digital Distribution and Blu-ray Done Right

    My apologies for taking the month of September off, but I have a good excuse. I swear...

    The last six weeks or so saw me jumping head-first into the wonderful world of digital distribution for my album with Apples & Oranges, Contrast, and thanks to the good folks at CD Baby, the process was shockingly simple, efficient, and affordable.

    And the best part: no friggin' inventory.

    The album will be up at iTunes and other sites soon. More info in a future post; it really is a cool story.

    In the meantime, here's a music video for A&O's "Talking Trash," created with a box of promotional stills, album artwork, and news clippings. The lyrics might provoke a smile, as they allude to an age of false prophets and demagogues. Is this the past, present, or future? Uh, yeah.

    The digital distribution/download experience also validated for me the fact that while it's a proven avenue for music delivery, the same cannot be said for feature film HD content in the home. The bandwidth and infrastructure is simply not there. The Blu-ray format will be with us for some time, and thank goodness.

    Because as a film buff, I've been in heaven for the past few weeks.

    You may recall I raked Disney over the coals for their atrocity on Blu-ray called Gangs Of New York, but they have redeemed themselves (for the time being) with the absolutely stellar Blu-ray release of Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2. The Blus are quantum leaps over the respective DVDs, but this, of course, was expected. What wasn't expected was a transparent film-like presentation in the home, devoid of the DNR and edge-enhancement plaguing recent "high-def" releases. Grain and high-frequency detail were intact and the uncompressed audio was superb, making the Kill Bill opus a rockin' good time. Yes, I know there's the long-awaited Whole Bloody Affair version, but I love the story presented as two acts. And the audiovisual quality of the Blus really make the pair highly recommended buys.

    Then we have the much-maligned Speed Racer, which I found to be a blast in the theater and an absolutely stunning work of art. Yes, art. The film will continue to polarize viewers, but like the similar, hyperkinetic visual orgy that is Moulin Rouge, a cult following appears to be growing.

    I've seen some pretty amazing things on Blu-ray over the past year, but nothing - I mean nothing - touches the audiovisual bliss of Speed Racer in HD. Sure, the Blu-ray's visual quality smokes the film print I saw in the theater, which wasn't much of a revelation since the color timing was never optimized for analog film. Yes, it is true, that Warner Bros. skimped on the audio, but I was pleasantly surprised that it still delivered the goods. Definitely recommended.

    But just because an image is not HD-originated and "pristine" doesn't mean it's not a miracle of home entertainment.

    Case in point: the restored Godfather Collection. Talk about a challenge for home video. These films, as photographed by the legendary Gordon Willis, are probably the biggest test of home entertainment technology. Willis "skated on the emulsion" (as Francis Coppola says in one of the documentaries in the set), capturing images at the very edge of exposure so that no lab could brighten things up or adjust the work he did in camera. If this is dangerous stuff for theatrical prints, it's a downright nightmare for standard definition home video, which has a very narrow dynamic range and limited resolution.

    And it gets worse: the first two films were also in such bad shape, photochemically, that they were in danger of being lost forever. Enter Robert A. Harris, who brought these classics back from the dead. But a lot can happen on the way to Blu-ray. Fortunately in this case, all the natural grain, delicate densities, and color timing have made their way to the final Blu-ray product intact. The experience of viewing these films at home on Blu-ray is hard to describe. The bigger your screen, the richer the experience. One can now fully explore the images Willis captured on film over 35 years ago. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing. Exceedingly recommended.

    What a treasure.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Scarface - 25th Anniversary Screening In Miami

    I don't think I've had so much fun at the movies...

    I'm still recovering from the 25th Anniversary screening of the De Palma/Pacino classic at Miami's Gusman Center last Friday night. We got there for the "happy hour" part of the evening just after 6pm, had a few glasses of wine/cocktails, and made our way into the absolutely gorgeous Olympia Theater of Gusman Center...
    ...the decor was simply astonishing. Up above on the ceiling, there were moving cloud shapes. It felt like we had stepped into a Disney Imagineering attraction. We were half-expecting a Tony Montana auto-animatronic figure to pop out and exclaim, "Say hello to my little friend!" and blast us at any moment.

    Well, there was that peacock perched on the sidewall facade...
    So by 8pm, 800 of Tony's closest friends made their way into the theater and settled into their seats. After a rather overlong "pre-intro" by the Friends of Gusman (who put together this fundraising event) and Mayor Manny Diaz, actor Steven Bauer (aka Rocky Echevarria, aka "Manny Ribera") introduced the film...
    Steven set the tone by enthusiastically asking if there were any Scarface "virgins" out there who had never seen the film (you could count them on one hand). So he then granted us permission to yell back at the screen all the lines we knew, because he would be doing the same and wanted to make sure he wasn't the only "asshole" (in Manny Ribera's accent) doing so. He then proceeded to quote lines from the movie, and the crowd went wild, yelling the lines along with him, hootin' and hollerin' all the way. 'Twas quite surreal and a perfect example of collective cinema consciousness.

    At that point we knew this would be a special nite. But it got better...

    Alongside Steven introducing the film was actor/comedian Angel "Chi Chi" Salazar, who provided a hyperkinetic counterpoint to Steven's laid-back demeanor...
    So the lights dim, the film starts, and the crowd goes fucking wild. It was like Rocky Horror on crack.

    Here are just a few audio examples of what this beautiful chaos was like:

    Que Jamon?
    Say Goodnight To The Bad Guy!
    Say Hello To My Little Friend!

    To finish off this great cinematic meal, Steven and Angel returned to the stage after the credits and did a 15 min. Q&A. Here's an edited version (still 12 1/2 min); unfortunately, Angel was often unintelligible (and I had to loose some of his schtick). I was, however, able to retain his classic response to the question: "how many times have you seen the movie?" and without skipping a beat, he says, "every time I want to get laid." Also, later on Angel jokes that Steven slept with "Marta." If you know the movie, you get the joke. Anyway, forgive the audio quality. Pics and audio taken with an iPhone, the Swiss Army Knife of multimedia - can't complain...

    Here's the Q&A.

    So there you are. It was awesome, and there absolutely has to be a 30th Anniversary screening. We have to find a way to drag Pacino, Pfeiffer, and De Palma down to Miami for that one - the Cuban community can now guarantee their safety ;)

    In the meantime, we'll always have the 25th in our memories...

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    A Blu-Fay Day...

    As I sit here and wait for Tropical Storm/Hurricane Fay to pass me by, I decided to take a look at my "buy" list of upcoming Blu-ray releases. These are just the ones I want to get. I'm gonna go broke:

    Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (I'm tired of waiting for The Whole Bloody Affair version) - 9/9
    Speed Racer (WB skimped on the audio; I guess after its remarkable failure at the box office, the studio seems to want to bury it for good; nonetheless, I loved the film - it's a hoot and it should still look and sound pretty darn amazing on Blu-ray) - 9/16
    Risky Business - 9/16
    The Godfather Collection - 9/23
    L.A. Confidential - 9/23
    Iron Man - 9/30
    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original, of course) - 9/30
    Ghostbusters - October (TBA)
    Sleeping Beauty - 10/7
    Young Frankenstein - 10/7
    The Ultimate Matrix - 10/14
    Poltergeist - 10/14
    Assorted James Bond On Blu-ray - 10/21
    The Polar Express (2D and 3D special edition) - 10/28
    Shawshank Redemption - 11/4 (may be delayed to 2009)
    JFK - 11/11
    Band of Brothers - 11/11
    Wall-E - 11/18
    Casablanca - 12/2
    Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - 12/9
    Taxi Driver - 2/3/09

    I had Amityville Horror and Carrie on my list, but MGM has dropped all the extras that were on the last DVDs while still pricing them at $40 a pop. No thanks. A big slap on the hand (and the forehead) for those folks. Rental time for those titles...

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Recession Blues? Not For Blu!

    Here's an interesting article that covers home entertainment consumer spending and Blu-ray sales through mid-year. A couple of eyebrow-raising tidbits:
    • Overall home entertainment spending is flat through mid-year, compared to 2007 - actually good news, considering the challenging economic environment.
    • Blu-ray sales are up 300% over last year.
    And the second half of 2008 should be a boon for Blu-ray fans. Warner has already announced their plans for lowering Blu-ray pricing starting in the fall, and I'd bet that we will once again see a plethora of online and brick-n-mortar sales as the year comes to a close. Add to that a number of hot titles coming down the pike, and we should have some wallet-busting Blu-days ahead!

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Will The Real "Grain-Raper" Please Stand Up?

    Awright, I'm gonna try and give this "grain-rape" stuff a reprieve, but there's been an interesting development I can't resist highlighting: an individual connected with the post house that "grain-raped" the Patton and The Longest Day Blu-ray releases has spoken up over at HighDefForum.com. Check out the posts by "1080PsF."

    The attitude displayed just boggles the mind.

    About the rush job:
    "It was a lot of work for a bunch of people here at where we did it. I even pulled a 39 hour shift to get it out the door. We did the scan and all of the work to make the master that was sent out to make the BD's. We also did "The longest day" at the same time but I never did even get a chance to see either movie all way through after we finished them."
    About the elements (emphasis mine):
    "It was from the 65mm film and it was a 4K scan and no it didn't have all of the film grain. I can't say everything we did to it, but we scan each frame one at a time and those frames are recorded on a SAN and then we have someone QC the reel of film off of the SAN to note all of the dirt and problem items. We repair all of the items that were listed, after that someone does another QC pass to make sure all of the items listed were fixed. Then it was recorded on an HDCAM SR (4:4:4) from the SAN, that tape is also QC'ed and then it is sent to Panasonic to make the Blu-ray disks. I don't work on the computer side or the film side I'm only a tape guy. Some people like this transfer and some don’t. Grain isn't something magic it's a limitation of the film. I have never liked film and never will, I can’t wait until it is never used again, but that’s just me. When I look at the world I don’t see grain, I see a nice clear view."
    Wow. Just wow. Personally, I don't see dissolves or slo-mo in real life either, "but that's just me."

    Comments? Thoughts?

    Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    Grain Is Good; Grain Is God

    There are some folks in the entertainment industry that believe the general public rejects the presence of film grain on hi-def (i.e. Blu-ray) releases. I've posted recently about some of the home video atrocities committed in the name of this religion.

    Maybe I'm feeling optimistic today, but I recall a time in the not-too-distant past when DVDs of major films were released pan and scanned or not enhanced for 16:9 displays. I think this goes some way in proving that Joe and Jane Public do indeed care about letterboxing. And I think they will care about seeing grain, too - if we educate them.

    So, I propose a new religion. I'm picturing a bumper sticker. No, better yet: a label on Blu-ray cases - as part of the cover artwork or a sticker; makes no difference to me - that's similar to the little blurb we saw on audio CDs during the 1980s (paraphrase mine):

    "This motion picture was created using the photochemical film system. We have attempted to preserve, as closely as possible, the look of the original elements. Because of its high resolution, this Blu-ray Disc can reveal grain and other analog attributes of the source."
    All kneel and repeat after me: "Grain is good; grain Is God."

    Or - for the agnostic, how about a T-shirt:

    Monday, July 7, 2008

    Blu-ray Pioneer and the Future of DVD Hardware

    A couple of news bits (or is it bytes?) about the good folks at Pioneer:

    According to Techradar, it seems like they've come up with a monster storage solution - a 400GB Blu-ray disc.

    Yowza - that's serious storage on a disc!

    According to the company, "Since the optical specifications of the objective lens…are the same as those for the existing BD discs, it is possible to maintain compatibility between the new 16-layer optical disc and the BD discs."

    One question: how long does it take to burn and finalize the thing? A month? Methinks this is for industrial use only. Don't hold your data while you wait to pick up this "behemoth" at your local electronics store.

    Also, Digitimes reports that Pioneer has "landed OEM orders for Blu-ray Disc (BD) Combo drives from Hewlett-Packard (HP) with shipments to begin in July 2008, according to industry sources in Taiwan."

    With these combo drives priced around $110-120, it now seems very likely that the cross dissolve from DVD-R to BD-R is finally under way.

    Thank goodness. Now to start thinking about all those HD home movies I gotta burn...

    I also heard from another source (not Pioneer - actually it was a retailer), that the plan is to discontinue DVD set-top players as quickly as possible (actually, he said by Christmas 2009, but that seems pretty aggressive) so that Blu-ray hardware is what's left on the shelves.

    Mind you, DVDs will not go away, but the Blu-ray format will be what DVDs will be played on - at least until folks catch the drift that they now have a Blu-ray player and they say, "hey, wouldn't it be neat to see a hi-def disc on this widescreen TV we already have?"

    Hey, if the price is right, more power to the Blu!

    Wednesday, July 2, 2008

    A Restored Godfather On Blu-ray

    On June 30, the news hit: The Godfather Collection - The Coppola Restoration - on Blu-ray, September 23, 2008.

    Before we get to the Blu-ray set's specs, allow me to draw your attention to this fascinating article on the restoration of these classic films.

    From the May 2008 issue of American Cinematographer, an excerpt:

    Paramount delivered the film’s surviving elements — original camera negative, YCM separation masters, intermediate separation masters and thousands of feet of miscellaneous elements — to Pro-Tek Preservation Services in Burbank, where an inspection confirmed that radical surgery was required. Held together with tape, the original negative was filthy and riddled with scratches, rips and tears, some of which broke into the image area; in some sections, parts of the image had actually been torn away. An entire reel (1B) had at some point been removed and replaced with a dupe. Scenes were even missing from the final separation masters because they had been made before the cut was final...

    ...(cinematographer Gordon Willis) had this to say: “I think a remarkable job was done repairing all the damage done to the negative — very difficult work. The Godfather is a very good-looking picture now."

    A happy ending, perhaps, but this rather depressing article reveals how close we came to losing these films for good.

    From Peter Bart's June 23 blog entry in Variety, an excerpt:
    Here’s the darkest Godfather secret: The negative was literally turning into dust until Steven Spielberg, upon closing his DreamWorks deal at Paramount, made a personal call to Brad Grey pleading with him to salvage it. Grey was himself shocked to learn that one of the studio’s major assets was falling apart and he authorized payment of over $1 million for the restoration.
    Okay, then. Here's the official press release.

    Here's the relevant info. Cue Pavlov; start salivating:

    THE GODFATHER: The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray Collection
    The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray four-disc set is presented in 1080p high definition with English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Mono (except The Godfather: Part III) and English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles. The following special features are presented in high definition as noted:

    Disc 1:
    -- The Godfather feature film
    -- Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
    Disc 2:
    -- The Godfather, Part II feature film
    -- Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
    Disc 3:
    -- The Godfather, Part III feature film
    -- Commentary by director Francis Ford Coppola
    Disc 4:
    -- Godfather World (HD)
    -- The Masterpiece That Almost Wasn't (HD)
    -- ... when the shooting stopped (HD)
    -- Emulsional Rescue-Revealing The Godfather (HD)
    -- The Godfather on the Red Carpet (HD)
    -- Four Short Films on The Godfather
    o The Godfather vs. The Godfather, Part II (HD)
    o Cannoli (HD)
    o Riffing on the Riffing (HD)
    o Clemenza (HD)
    -- The Family Tree
    -- Crime Organization Chart
    -- Connie and Carlo's Wedding Album
    Disc 4 (cont'd):
    2001 DVD Archive:
    -- Behind the Scenes
    o The Godfather Family: A Look Inside
    o On Location
    o Francis Coppola's Notebook
    o The Music of the Godfather
    o Coppola & Puzo on Screenwriting
    o Gordon Willis on Cinematography
    o Storyboards from The Godfather, Part II
    o Storyboards from The Godfather, Part III
    o The Godfather Behind the Scenes 1971
    -- The Filmmakers
    o Francis Ford Coppola
    o Mario Puzo
    o Gordon Willis
    o Dean Tavoularis
    o Nino Rota
    o Carmine Coppola
    -- Additional Scenes
    -- Acclaim & Response
    -- Trailers (HD)
    -- Photo Gallery
    -- Rogues' Gallery

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    Have A Sip Of Homogenized Blu-ray

    Just came across this.

    To paraphrase Pink Floyd - it's nearly a laugh, but really a cry.

    Panasonic Hollywood Labs is, I believe, the shop responsible for the recent controversial Blu-ray releases of Patton and The Longest Day - two titles that use pretty severe digital noise reduction (DNR) to remove grain (and unfortunately much of the high-frequency detail).

    Here's an excerpt from the article. The emphases are mine:
    Takeshi Kuraku, Manager, Audio Video Marketing Team, Overseas Sales & Marketing Group, is quick to point out that the technologies used to improve video comes from the PHL’s work with proprietary encoding and authoring software in tandem with movie studios who have spent serious time analyzing how their films will translate to disc. When viewed on the huge projection screen next door to where we’re seated, every imperfection (film grain for example) of a BD transfer from film stands out like a sore thumb. “Studios want the film grain to look realistic,” Kuraku says. “It must be properly accounted for, appear natural and not look as if it was added in.”
    Now, I have no reason to believe that PHL is comprised of anything but skilled, professional people using state-of-the-art equipment, capable of producing fine work. Nonetheless, Mr. Kuraku's comment brings focus to my view that the decision to remove grain from HD releases in order to satiate the grain-hating masses is made from a position of weakness, fueled by fear and insecurity.

    But this should be no surprise to all those viewers who have rolled their eyes at the special feature disclaimers about "the opinions of the filmmakers" not being endorsed by the studio.

    Maybe they should add yet another disclaimer that states:
    "The look of this Blu-ray may bear no relation to the original creative decisions of the filmmakers, in order to provide you - The All-Knowing Viewer - with the most homogenized version possible. We thank you for your patronage."

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Chicago In A Ray Of Blu

    I re-watched Chicago on Blu-ray over the weekend and was both delighted and saddened.

    After all the negative buzz about some studios filtering out grain from recent Blu-ray releases, I was delighted that Chicago appears to retain every bit of high-frequency information from the film. On my 92-inch screen, I felt like I was peering into the emulsion. It was rich; it was alive with detail.

    The DVD from 2003 was barely watchable, I thought, with loads of compression nasties, high-frequency smearing, the works. In fact, I haven't seen the DVD in years, until I popped it in to do an A-B comparison with the Blu-ray.

    The "light bulb wall" finale completely falls apart, visually, on standard def disc. Mosquito noise? We're talking a swarm. On Blu-ray, it takes one's breath away. Every light bulb is rock solid. Another favorite sequence is Rene Zellweger's solo. She's in a stunning white dress, floating in black with mirrors appearing at all sides. A wonderful sheen of living, breathing film grain dances over her figure.

    This is an example of a film finely represented on HD, IMHO.

    The audio quality and sound mix were exquisite, but that's for another post, along with my raves about the direction, music, performances, choreography, etc.

    You see, my delight turned to sadness after re-reading film historian and preservationist Robert A. Harris' 2007 review of the Chicago Blu-ray. His parting request for Miramax to release Gangs of New York has been answered, but the promise of what could have been seems to have died along with all those cheatin' guys in Chicago...

    I'd like to think the Chicago Blu-ray wasn't released by Miramax; rather, it beat the rap and escaped grain execution with the help of Billy Flynn.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    Outsourcing DNR, or: Dustbusting Or Bust.

    As a follow-up to my June 13 post about the overuse of DNR to remove grain (and unfortunately much more) from Blu-ray releases, I'd like to direct you to film historian and preservationist Robert Harris' fantastic update at his digs at The Digital Bits.

    Almost concurrently, Dan Ramer from DVDfile.com posted his first installment of coverage from the Home Media Expo, which included a paragraph about DNR. Apparently, Ramer approached Fox Senior Vice President of Corporate & Marketing Communications Steve Feldstein about the use of DNR on Patton. Feldstein's reaction was one of surprise and denial, and in fact he immediately text-messaged his technical folks who relayed to him that the Blu-ray master was taken from "highly-revealing low-grain 70mm source elements" and that "no grain removal was applied."


    What's interesting here is that Patton and The Longest Day - both Fox titles - have similar, waxy, no-grain appearances, while The Sand Pebbles (also a Fox release) looks absolutely wonderful, with grain and fine detail intact.

    What could be going on here?

    I came across this interesting bit of info about the restoration efforts for The Sand Pebbles, and was drawn to this passage:

    "After Bernstein's initial color-correction and image-restoration steps, the digital files were sent to a contract facility in India for dustbusting."

    Maybe Patton and The Longest Day went to China instead?

    Methinks this story is far from over. Stay tuned...

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Speed Racer: Music Composed By Michael Giacchino

    Michael Giacchino is our greatest modern film composer since Danny Elfman.

    Giacchino first caught my ear and heart with his jazzy score to The Incredibles, and while he's done lots of great work since then (including the scores to Ratatouille and Mission Impossible III), I'm just over the moon about his score for the unjustly maligned Speed Racer.

    I really dug his score when I saw the film two months ago. But now that I've heard it on CD sans the groundbreaking, hallucinatory visuals competing for attention, I'm truly impressed.

    Giacchino's jazzy roots are still evident in Speed Racer, but he's done a marvelous thing: he's paid tribute to the original Speed Racer composer, Nobuyoshi Koshibe, and expanded the orchestrations and arrangements to include some really original ideas. Tracks like "Thunderhead," "Casa Cristo" and especially "Grand Ol' Prix" include shifting meters, exotic modes, and dissonant passages. Very cool stuff indeed.

    But don't just take my word for it. Swing by Amazon or iTunes and sample some of his stuff.

    I can't wait to hear what he does next.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Botched Blu-ray: Gangs of New York

    Depressing and maddening news indeed.

    You'd think that with the Pirates of the Caribbean Blu-ray recall a little over six months ago, Disney would have put some quality control measures in place for a film by - oh, I don't know, one of our greatest living directors...

    Which begs the question: does Scorsese or his DP, Michael Ballhaus, even care how Gangs of New York looks on home video? How can this happen again? They may approve of the initial film-to-video transfer, but very bad things can happen in the final mastering stage. Yes, I have to believe that what made it on Blu is unapproved. But I would like to think that, as a filmmaker, I'd want to see a test disc of the final master. I expect this in the recording industry. I would never allow my work to be replicated until I signed off on the final master. Is home video any different?

    I'm just baffled. A royal screw up. Unbelievable.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    There Will Be Blu-ray

    I saw P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" earlier this year in one of those "state-of-the-art" cineplexes. It was a travesty. The print looked like upconverted DVD, had significant gate weave, and the blacks had all the consistency of chocolate milk.

    The film itself was glorious. Much has been said about the award-winning performances, the direction, the music, etc. There are rumors that Anderson is setting his sights on doing a horror film as his next project. I submit that this is his horror film.

    It is not a film for the squeamish: while it does have a few moments of violence (and ultimately lives up to its title), the real brutality is conveyed through the script's dialogue and dramatic sequences. It's a study of the corruption of the human spirit, fueled by greed and an obsession with competition - winning at all costs. The first 14 minutes unfold without dialogue. Pure cinema.

    So, when the HD-DVD of TWBB was canceled, I prayed to the Home Theater Gods that the Blu-ray was not far behind. And on June 3, it arrived.

    The Blu-ray is everything the film print I saw should have been: sharp as a tack and sporting a rock solid image. The contrast during the opening sequence is still a bit milky, but the balance of the film looks wonderful. The audio now sounds like a true 5.1 mix and not like the Dolby Pro Logic-sounding mush that the theatrical experience provided. Extras are sparse, but the real bonus is seeing this impressive work in a way that truly honors the achievements of all involved in its creation. Watching this on a 92-inch screen was truly breathtaking.

    "There Will Be Blood" on Blu-ray is highly recommended.

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Status of King Crimson Catalog In 5.1 Surround, Part 2

    As a follow-up to my May 4 update, it looks like Steven Wilson is hard at work on Discipline, with Robert Fripp giving his blessing (based on this recent entry in Fripp's online diary). I. For One. Cannot. Wait.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Amazon Sale: Buy 2 Blu-rays, Get 1 Free

    Amazon's "Buy 2, Get 1 Free" sale is still going on and might be a great way to expand your collection. Titles include The Fifth Element, Black Hawk Down, The Patriot, the Spiderman Trilogy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and about 90+ more titles.

    Blu-ray "Grain-Rape" or: How I Learned To Start Worrying and Hate DNR

    And now a looooong post to hopefully make up for a month of radio silence...

    I've been incommunicado for the past few weeks working on a video project that at one point required me to clean up an actor's blemishes using Apple's dandy compositing tool, Shake. My first attempt was passable; actually, the stills from each frame looked fine. However, when played as a sequence, the filter that was so good at removing the blemishes was also effectively erasing all the high-frequency information above the threshold setting. Now in English: the filter was making all the fine details in the video disappear.

    Around the same time of my experiments, dialogue had been brewing in the home theater forums about the use of DNR (digital noise reduction) on HD masters that were making their way onto Blu-ray, and how EV-IL DNR was. It seems that there are in fact consumers out there in Home Video Land that think film grain is BAD and UGLY and should not be seen, so studios are using DNR to scrub out the offending grain in hi-def masters. The result: Blu-ray releases that should be sharp as a tack - with requisite grain - are instead revealing images that are grain-free with decreased resolution. At best, the results of DNR can provide a soft, air-brushed look to the image, that can sometimes pass for DVD (lower) quality. At worst, actors can look like Madame Tussaude's wax figure creations.

    Robert Harris is a film historian and preservationist who specializes in restoring the large-format widescreen films of the 1950s. He has restored and reconstructed a number of classic films including Lawrence of Arabia (in 1989), Spartacus (1991), My Fair Lady (1994), and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1996) and Rear Window (1998). Thank you, Wikipedia. What Wiki doesn't say, is how passionate and connected he is with the online community via a variety of home theater forums and websites like Home Theater Forum and The Digital Bits. He's always willing to educate and engage in dialogue - even if you are a "newbie."

    Here are some of his thoughts re: DNR, as it relates to the most recently affected release on Blu-ray (as of this writing), Patton:

    Harris' original review.
    All about film and grain.
    The amount of high frequency detail lost.
    The future of large format releases.

    As usual, I learned quite a few things from Mr. Harris, but I couldn't reconcile how he recommended the disc in his original review, and then spent the next few posts essentially bashing it. Well, I just got around to watching Patton on Blu-ray, and here are the thoughts I posted in Mr. Harris' thread:

    "I do not like the "grain-raping" as Mr. Harris might say. It is indeed visible, but nothing like the smeary grain gang-rape of the Eyes Wide Shut Blu-ray, which I find unwatchable, or other oft-mentioned DNR victims (Tremors, et al).

    That being said, the Patton Blu-ray still makes my 2001 THX DVD look like a bad VHS dub.

    Where General Patton once walked into frame as a smudge of a figure in the opening wide shot in the 2001 DVD, you can now see eyes, nose, and mouth. Even the medals are defined in the wide shot. I was not expecting such a significant increase in detail. I can't speak about the 2006 DVD, but the screen caps and the word is that the 2001 trumps it in detail. And IMHO the Blu-ray smokes the 2001 DVD. And then bitch slaps it. I'm very happy to have the Blu-ray.

    I can only imagine what has been scrubbed out. I wish it was still there. There was no need to "grain-rape." That sounds like and should be a crime.

    I will add my voice to the chorus denouncing the use of DNR in the manner it was used here, but now I understand the paradox Mr. Harris has revealed in his thread: how the Patton Blu-ray can be both flawed and highly/hearty recommended at the same time."

    So, now I pose the question to you, fellow readers: do you like seeing grain, or do you want it gone along with all the fine details...? Feel free to post your thoughts. It's not a trick question and I won't flame you, I promise ;)

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    Sony Music Blu-ray Contest/Survey

    I just came across this contest/survey. The questions are clearly focused on music on Blu-ray, with a few inquiries into hi-res audio, music in surround, and SACD/DVD-Audio. Upon completion of the survey, participants can enter a drawing to win 12 Blu-ray titles.

    2 Blu-ray Movies For $30 At Amazon

    Looks like Amazon is following Best Buy's lead with their own "2 For $30" sale. Check it out.

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    The Godfather and Indiana Jones on Blu-ray in 2008?

    A few days ago, Spanish website 1080b reported that both The Godfather: The Francis Ford Coppola Restoration and The Indiana Jones Quadrilogy would hit the Blu-ray format on October 29, and posted samples of artwork. However, The Digital Bits put a call into Paramount and revealed that the artwork was fake. Nonetheless, the studio did not have information on the release of these titles on Blu-ray. As Bill Hunt at The Bits states, Paramount issued "a non-denial denial."

    1080b then updated their site and included the following explanation in English:
    "..we were told that Paramount was already working on The Godfather and Indy series. Yes. We were astonished too, so we published the information because we thought it was reliable and it made sense, even no official announcement had been made, and no official press document had been released to the media. About the artwork: Some claim it’s fake. Well, of course it is. It was just a decoration for the news, never intended to pass for the real thing."

    I'll tell ya - without a full denial from Paramount, I'm not willing to write off that 10/29 date just yet...

    Monday, May 12, 2008

    2 Blu-ray Movies For $30 At Best Buy

    Not sure how long this sale will last, so check it out. In store pick-up option seems to also work.

    Sunday, May 4, 2008

    Status of King Crimson Catalog In 5.1 Surround, Part 1

    Not exactly fresh news, but earlier this year it was announced that Porcupine Tree's manager, Andy Leff, is now managing King Crimson and that perhaps we may see the KC catalog in 5.1 surround, mixed by Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson.

    I've known Andy for a few years now, since he set up my interview with SW when Deadwing was released on DVD-Audio, so I dropped him a note to check the status of KC in surround. Alas, they're still trying to see if it's possible, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    If there's a band I want to hear in hi-res surround, it's King Crimson. And if there's someone I want to see mixing KC in surround, it's Steven Wilson.

    Paramount Is Back In; Blu-ray Wins Or Woes?

    The news of the week was that Paramount returned to Blu. While I'm really looking forward to There Will Be Blood and Cloverfield in Blu, I'm hopeful that an announcement of an HD re-release of Zodiac on the format is around the corner. I'm also crossing fingers that the Indiana Jones films will find their way to Blu before year-end to coincide with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on standard def home video.

    And the Blu news keeps coming, but frankly, some of the pundits are all over the place.  HDTVUK reports Bernstein Research analyst Michael Nathanson saying, "quarter of U.S. homes to have Blu-ray players by 2011," and yet almost in the same breath questions consumers' willingness to upgrade their catalog software titles. I recall this argument back in 1997 when most everyone was sure that DVD would never eat into the VHS market share.  After all, DVD was the successor to laserdisc and at that time considered a niche format. Who would want Caddyshack on DVD with versions already existing on VHS and laserdisc? Hookay...

    In the same week, HDTVUK asks, "Is Blu-ray in trouble or is it still just very early days?" and references an ABI research report that states, "the Blu-ray player market is not all that encouraging" and relies on the PS3, which is a "cause for concern." While I agree with that hardware observation and can now only recommend the Panasonic BD-30 and upcoming BD-50 standalone players because of their build, firmware, software compatibility, and customer support, I would have added "currently" to that statement. Rather than a cause for concern, it is a huge opportunity for growth given the recent Blu-ray software sales upswing. Now that the HD disc format war is over, hardware manufacturers are hard at work and profile 2.0 players will be on store shelves well before the 2008 holiday season. Methinks this will be a Blu, rather than white, Christmas.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    Netflix Raising Rates For Blu-ray Customers?

    Disappointing news. And rather shortsighted. Bad call, Netflix. Bad call.

    Feel free to call Netflix and lodge a complaint if you're so inclined. Their toll-free phone number is 888-638-3549. The rep I just spoke with was quite nice and logged the complaint. I do know that when Netflix began the practice of sticking obnoxious labels around disc hubs a while back, enough people complained and I haven't seen a Blu-ray/DVD with a sticker since. So there's hope.

    Listen up, Netflix...

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Improving BD-Live Tools - Is It All That?

    This article over at Myblurayplanet.com discusses the efforts of Sonic Solutions and Sony to "reduce costs" and "make BD-Live more available."

    Is this Fantasyland? Blu-ray authoring is still mighty expensive and out of the reach of most content producers. Here's what Neil Wilkes of Opus Productions had to say about authoring on the Blu format (the context being the possibility of Blu-ray being the next surround music format):

    "Authoring is brutally expensive, requiring either Sony's Blu Print or Sonic Scenarist. Both these are $50,000 plus mandatory extras - Blu Print has a $7k to $10k 'service agreement' that is also mandatory. No other application can deliver replicable content. It's BD-R and BD-RE straight down the line. Costs per title are serious. You are looking at over $30,000 per title - before replication costs & authoring costs - just for the mandated licenses alone."

    One of the reasons DVD took off around Y2K is because authoring became affordable and available to the masses. Forget VHS - everyone wanted their wedding on DVD. Now hi-def is upon us. It's cost effective and within everyone's reach to originate and view content in HD, but not cost effective to distribute it. Once that changes, the paradigm shift from standard def to hi-def will be complete.

    I'm waiting...

    Saturday, April 19, 2008

    "DVD" Sales Jump, Thanks To Blu-ray; Natural Born Killers Turns Blu

    The Hollywood Reporter erroneously proclaims, "Good news for studios: DVD sales jump." In fact, the article reveals that "The nascent Blu-ray Disc saved the day for the sellthrough business, per Nielsen VideoScan sales data, with DVD unit sales in the first quarter down 1.2% from the first quarter of 2007 but Blu-ray Disc sales up a whopping 351%. "

    And yes, I am aware that Warner recently announced "Natural Born Killers" on Blu-ray; I'm just pissed they still don't have the rights to the Director's Cut.

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    High-Def Disc Sales "Ready To Explode"; Starship Troopers Arrives On Blu-ray

    This nearly slipped under my radar: Home Media Magazine reported some comments that Warner Home Video President Ron Sanders made at the 16th annual PEVE home entertainment conference in Paris. Sanders waxed about the state of high-def growth in Europe. Some juicy bits:

    “We are going from 39 million homes with HDTVs in Europe last year to 139 million by 2012,” he said. “That is an enormous opportunity if we can convert those home into buyers of high-def DVDs.”

    “Software sales are ready to explode,” he said, warning that, “This also creates a challenge for the industry because the replication capacity has to catch up with the demand if we are going to fulfill this opportunity.”

    The big take-away is that the transition to high-def is going to fuel software sales globally, to the point that demand may overwhelm supply in the short-term. With HD downloads far from being a practical reality, methinks Blu-ray has a nice future in the years to come.

    Blu-ray.com is also reporting that "Starship Troopers" will land on the Blu-ray format on July 29. Can't wait to see this guilty pleasure in 1080p. Kudos to Sony for porting over the supplements from the special edition DVD set.

    J&R Blu-ray Sale This Weekend

    J&R has a Blu-ray sale running this weekend. Looks like the same Anchor Bay titles that are in the DeepDiscount DVD sale I posted about on Wednesday; however, J&R has them slightly cheaper and they've also included some non-Anchor Bay music/concert titles as well. Mind you, DeepDiscount has free shipping, so that might still be the better deal.

    Still worth checking out for the music titles and in case a particular Anchor Bay title is out of stock over at DeepDiscount:

    J&R Anchor Bay Blu-ray Sale
    J&R Music Blu-ray Sale

    Thursday, April 17, 2008

    Universal's Blu-ray Plans For 2008

    Universal finally announced its Blu-ray plans for 2008. This is very welcome news, but it underscores how far behind the ball they are. Which reminds me: where are you, Paramount...?

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    Anchor Bay Blu-ray Discs 59% Off

    DeepDiscountDVD has a number of Anchor Bay Blu-ray disc titles at 59% off. Horror fans may very well be tempted to pick up the following classics on sparkling high-def for $12 and change: Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.

    HDTV Etc. Online Is Live; Porcupine Tree's Newest DVD-Audio

    Been hard at work for the past few weeks. Hopefully the lengthy update will make up for the radio silence...

    HDTV Etc. Online is now live. I'm working on a pretty fabulous interview with Charles de Lauzirika, the gent behind the outstanding Blade Runner Blu-ray set and many other decadent DVD special editions. Software reviews will also be forthcoming.

    Just received Porcupine Tree's new CD + DVD-Audio re-release of their album from 2000, "Lightbulb Sun." Simply amazing. Rock fans and surround music aficionados should pick up this title asap, along with last year's DVD-Audio release of PT's newest album, "Fear Of A Blank Planet."

    Also received Telarc's forthcoming SACD, "Bolero & Others." Sonically, a top-notch affair; however, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (under the baton of Erich Kunzel) tears thru the piece at near breakneck speed - under 13 minutes if memory serves. I prefer a slower performance of "Bolero," approaching Ravel's documented preference of about 17 minutes (ironically discussed in Telarc's liner notes). But if you like your Bolero fast and breezy, check it out.

    Linn Records recently sent me a couple of new classical releases that are real winners. First, we have "Mozart Symphonies 38-41." The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, is truly up to the task; the performances are sublime. The other release - "Bach's Matthew Passion," performed by the Dunedin Consort - is also a winner; nonetheless, the Mozart disc has the edge, sonically: the surround mix is a bit more enveloping, and the clarity is striking.

    When HDTV Etc. Magazine slipped into hiatus during the transition to an online format, a few software titles fell through the cracks. I will try to backtrack and cover them during the coming weeks.

    Friday, March 28, 2008

    50% Off HD-DVDs At Circuit City

    Looks like they're having a liquidation starting Sunday 3/30. Might be a good way to pick up a few cheap titles to keep the player running in your home a bit longer...or...maybe not! Thanks to Patrick Sun at HomeTheaterForum (a great place to hang) for uncovering this.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Return To Sender

    Looks like Best Buy has begun returning all HD-DVD product, so if you have some BB gift certificates and/or want to drop by a store to pick up some titles in that format, it appears that it's now or never.

    While it was not entirely a surprise that the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format war was going to end soon, I am rather shocked at how quick and final the coda is. Corporate heads are rolling, product is being returned, retailers are offering refunds. Wow. And it's not even the end of the first quarter.

    The good news is that Blu-ray seems to be taking off now that there's no war. And thank goodness, because I'm more excited about home theater than ever before. It's now possible to completely eclipse the quality of your local cinema with a decent home theater system. While this was previously (and sadly) possible with DVD, now it's just no contest. There. Is. No. Reason. To. Spend. $10. A. Ticket. And. Put. Up. With. Chain. Theater. "Quality." Ever. Again.

    There's nothing like a proper theatrical presentation, but I've just given up on the theater chains. Good thing that's not my problem.

    Happy Blu Viewing!

    © 2008 Felix E. Martinez