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Writer, director, musician, and multimedia junkie. www.felixemartinez.com © 2008-2009 F.E.M.

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    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.

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    © 2008 Felix E. Martinez