Welcome to the new Monday edition of The Blu-ray Patrol, the weekly rundown of what is hot and what is not in the world of high definition home entertainment. Here I will exercise the demons of my addiction to Blu-ray by providing in-depth reviews of the week’s upcoming releases. And in order to provide the most fair and balanced coverage, I have chosen to break things down into a few simple categories, upon which each title will be judged. Here’s a little key:
- Sensory Experience: How does the title play in HD? I will take a look at the video and sound quality to determine whether or not each release really shines on the higher quality medium.
- Supporting Materials: We take a look at what is under the hood — what sort of special features come standard? I also analyze whether said features add to the experience or feel obligatory in nature.
- Added Value: This is where the rubber meets the road with Blu-ray — are we getting that extra $10-15 worth with additional special features and good BD-Live content?
- The Final Verdict: I will weigh in with my recommendation. Buy it, rent it, buy it and burn it in your back yard — Blu-ray distributors beware, because I am on the war path.
Of course, while this column will be a new mainstay on Monday, I will also have special editions of The Blu-ray Patrol from time to time, including the recent special editions for Kung Fu Panda and the Six James Bond movies. But lets get back to this week, a week that features all sorts of creatures — everything from crazy Japanese Cowboys to Fairies to big red, cat-loving demons. We begin with the latter…
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (November 11)
Buy from Amazon
While I can’t say that I was the biggest fan of Hellboy II when it made its theatrical run, I will admit that it did pack some cool creatures and more of the snarky brilliance of Ron Perlman in the title role. The story left so much to be desired – so much, in fact, that it was quite clear that Guillermo Del Toro’s main motivation behind the sequel was the opportunity to make the Troll Market sequence, one of the most impressive creature-filled sequences ever committed to celluloid. So in that regard, Hellboy II is one of those movies that was meant for Blu-ray, with its slick visuals, its epic scale action and a soundtrack that pounds away at you. While it may not have been the best movie of summer, it certainly has some merit. And on Blu-ray, it even takes things a bit further with some sweet special features.
Sensory Experience: Much like the first Hellboy movie, the second round has all sorts of interesting and jaw-dropping visuals. And in addition to the amazing creatures that have sprung from the minds of Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola, we also get a few wicked fight sequences featuring Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) and Hellboy (Ron Perlman). These are the scenes that are most striking in HD – the scenes that appear to be made for a resolution that stretches beyond 480 lines of resolution. And just as they were impressive on the big screen, they are equally impressive on Blu-ray. As well, Hellboy II’s sound mix is also impressive. And though it can be expected from any solid action movie, that doesn’t diminish the fact that this is one of those HD-friendly experiences.
Supporting Materials: Holy smokes, my friends –- plenty of extras here. The back cover doesn’t lie, there are in fact ‘hours and hours’ of extras, including a two-hour in-depth look at the creation of Hellboy II. And if there is anything about Guillermo del Toro’s movies that is interesting, it is the director himself. Just watching the way he crafts his scenes, creates his creatures and has a load of fun doing it is enough to make any fan smile. Along with the behind the scenes featurettes, we also get some deleted scenes (which also include all important director commentary), a big awesome tour of the Troll Market sequence, and two different commentary tracks – on with del Toro and another with members of the cast. In a world where so few DVDs are coming with quality commentary tracks, this one doubles your pleasure. And all of these are just the features that you can also find on the special edition DVD release as well, we haven’t even scratched the surface of what the Blu-ray release has to offer…
Added Value: One particular Blu-ray feature about which I have been very critical in the past is Universal’s U-Control. They’ve used it with some titles as a band aid to cover the bullet-hole of slim special feature offerings. But with Hellboy II, the U-Control feature spreads its wings a bit with a Concept Art Gallery, a Director’s Notebook and a series of Set Visits. The most impressive of these is the Director’s Notebook, in which Guillermo Del Toro shows us pages from his personal notebook where many of the film’s awesome creatures were born. As fans will remember, Del Toro put some of these pages online prior to the release of the film this past summer, but what we see on the DVD is much more in-depth and truly breathtaking. If there was any one feature in this package that showed of the brilliance of Guillermo Del Toro, this is certainly it. It is a feature cool enough to be worth the price of admission alone.
The Final Verdict: I preach and I preach about the fact that some movies are just made to be viewed in HD, and this is one of them. Despite the fact that I wasn’t so hot on the film itself, I love the BD presentation of this title. For fans of Hellboy, fans of good comic movies and fans of big summer blockbusters in general, this is one title that should be in your collection.
Tinker Bell (October 28)
Buy from Amazon
Sure, I’m a man – but that won’t stop me from watching, and enjoying for that matter, a movie like Disney’s Tinker Bell. The origin story of one of Disney’s most iconic characters, Tinker Bell shows us where that little fairy came from, and why she’s so special. And from a technical standpoint, the movie delivers sharp animation very reminiscent of Pixar. In fact, if you hang out until the end of the credits, you will notice that it was rendered with Pixar technology. The amazing animation gives it a very stunning visual element, but I kept feeling as if something was missing – and ultimately what it is missing is that memorable quality of music found in so many great Disney animated films. But if that is what it is missing, that could be the only thing, because otherwise Tinker Bell is another winner – from story to animation to magical appeal – for the folks at Disney.
Sensory Experience: As I mentioned above, Tinker Bell is a very well animated film, which benefits greatly from the resolution bump of HD. As well, while the musical accompaniment was pretty average by Disney’s standards, the score of the film is distributed beautifully throughout the 5.1 speaker spectrum. In short, this movie looks and sounds great on a good home theater system.
Supporting Materials: The one disc BD release features a few behind the scenes featurettes that really illuminate the fact that a lot of thought and hard work went into bringing Tinker Bell’s origin story to life. As well, there are a ton of kid-friendly interactive features, such as a guided tour of Pixie Hollow, that work really well in conjunction with the film. As with many Disney DVD releases, they go to a lot of trouble
Added Value: As I am finding with many of the Blu-ray titles that I have been reviewing, so many of them really put any meat in the additional HD-exclusive features. So many titles hang their hat on BD-live interactive content and that usually isn’t enough. But in the case of Disney and Tinker Bell, the BD-live content is more than enough. In fact, there are all kinds of fun little interactive extras that can be found with an internet connection. Once again, they are all very kid-friendly, so unless you have a young child or you act like one (as is the case with me), you might not find it all very interesting. Then again, for the target demographic that Disney is shooting for on this one, it is a perfect match. Enough even, to possibly give the parents some extra alone time on a Saturday afternoon. I’m just sayin’.
The Final Verdict: While some of my masculinity will be lost when I say that I enjoyed watch Tinker Bell, I am not afraid to admit it. The movie was fun, well animated and it captured a bit of that old Disney magic. It is a straight-to-DVD release that succeeds in setting itself apart from the stereotypical direct-to-DVD animated movies that we are used to. For Disney collectors with the proper equipment and folks with little ones, this is a title that I would certainly recommend.
Chuck: Season 1 (November 11)
Buy from Amazon
In my weekly reviews I have made no bones about the fact that I love me some Chuck on Monday nights – always have since the first episode aired. Perhaps it is my background working for the company upon which the Nerd Herd is based, or perhaps it has something to do with the clever writing and the surprisingly solid cast. But whatever it is, Chuck: Season 1 was one of those DVDs that I knew I would have to have in my collection. The only problem that I found was that the regular DVD release was a month ago, with the Blu-ray release coming up this week – it was quite odd. And for anyone who has already purchased the DVD, it might be tough to swallow the price of another copy just to see Chuck in HD. But that is why you have me, dear readers, to give you the insight as to whether or not Chuck: Season 1 is worth the re-buy.
Sensory Experience: Ask anyone who has an HDTV at home and an HD source, they will tell you that there is nothing like watching primetime shows in high definition. The same can be said with a show like Chuck, it looks great in HD. But for someone who isn’t – as I am – an HD crack fiend, it really doesn’t make that big of a difference. Therefore the whole ‘sensory experience’ aspect of a release like this is a wash. If you are used to watching it in HD and you buy in on DVD, you will notice a different. But if you don’t know the difference and/or don’t care, you aren’t going to be missing much. Lets face it, Chuck isn’t Transformers – you don’t need to have it in HD to really get the full effect.
Supporting Materials: There are all sorts of neat special features here, including some web-based featurettes, a hilarious gag reel and a few full-length behind the scenes features, but it all feels sort of run of the mill. In fact, I would have expected more sheerly on the basis of physical space – it took 3 full Blu-ray discs for 13 half-hour episodes and four featurettes? Are you kidding me? Not bad, but not exactly good either.
Added Value: Here is where we really run into problems – that are essentially no added features for the Blu-ray release. They waited an entire month after the DVD release to give us the Blu-ray and we get nothing for our patience. That’s grounds for a little bit of fanboy angst. And if I wasn’t so smitten with the show itself, I would be really angry.
The Final Verdict: If you missed Chuck the first time around when it hit DVD shelves, it isn’t a bad pickup — in fact, it is one of the most fun television shows around. But I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, bring myself to recommending a re-buy.
Sukiyaki Western Django (November 11)
Buy from Amazon
For me to say that Sukiyaki Western Django is an ‘odd’ movie would be to suggest that I don’t understand what sort of film Takashi Miike was trying to make. I do understand what sort of film he was trying to make – one that delivered a very unique experience. Perhaps ‘unique’ is the best word – because that is what this movie is really all about. Unique visuals, a unique perspective on the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and fresh and vibrant film unlike anything we’ve seen in a while. And even though I needed to turn on subtitles to understand what the heck was going on, it was a very unique and sometimes fun experience. For all that I have heard about Takashi Miike, I was impressed with the explosive action and almost poetic nature of the story. That said, I’m not sure that everyone would share that sentiment, because in the end this movie is, to say the least, odd.
Sensory Experience: As someone who runs with a ‘see no horror, feel no pain’ outlook on life, I have steered clear of Takashi Miike’s work in the past. But in Sukiyaki Western Django, I have been baptized into the world of Team Miike. And what I have found is that he has a very unique and bold visual style. And the 1080p video transfer really brings out some of the stark color in this film. Beyond that, there isn’t anything notable about the visual and audible presentation. As I said above, even with crisp 5.1 surround sound, I still needed subtitles to understand what the actors were saying.
Supporting Materials: This one is pretty bare-bones – one long ‘Making of…’ featurette that is subtitled and a few deleted scenes that don’t provide any relevant addition to the film. The good news is that the behind the scenes feature is in HD.
Added Value: There is some BD-Live content coming for this title, but it was unavailable when I sat down to review it. Once again, it would be nice for BD-Live content to go live a week in advance – some studios just don’t seem to get that. Aside from that and the extra disc for Digital Copy, there is almost nothing in the way of BD-exclusive features, making this a tough title to recommend.
The Final Verdict: While this is a movie that I would recommend as a rental – either on DVD or Blu-ray, it doesn’t matter – this is a Blu-ray title that turned out to be very disappointing. It contained no added special features – and for that matter, almost no special features at all. What is the point of putting a movie on Blu-ray with bare-bones special features? I just don’t get it…
The Blu-ray Patrol is the weekly column in which FSR’s HD-addicted Executive Editor Neil Miller rants and raves about the upcoming week’s Blu-ray releases. To buy or not to buy, that is always the question. Check back ever Monday to find the answers.