Another busy week of Blu-ray releases, everything from fan favorites to more padding for your Blu-ray collection, should you choose to go that route…
Serenity (December 30)
Would it be a crime against geekdom if I admitted to only having seen bits and pieces of Joss Whedon’s Serenity? Of course it is. So to remedy such a said situation, I took to reviewing Serenity on Blu-ray this week and came away pleasantly surprised. Joss Whedon knows how to bring the camp, Nathan Fillion knows how to bring, well, all the things that Nathan Fillion brings, and Universal seems to have production of Blu-ray content on lockdown. There isn’t much more to it than that.
Sensory Experience: Serenity is an undeniable fun film, full of campy space humor and some borderline cheesy special effects, but in its BD release it has never looked better. The only downer is that this is quite possibly one of the most unevenly mixed movies of all-time. There are times when the score comes blasting in, loud and proud, and others when the dialog becomes so faint that you have to adjust your system. Even on a great home theater system it sounds uneven.
Supplemental Material: As if it were a gift being given directly to fans, the Serenity Blu-ray is absolutely loaded with special features. There are two commentary tracks, one with Joss Whedon and another where Whedon is joined by Nathan Fillion and a few other cast members. There are also deleted scenes with Whedon commentary, outtakes, extended scenes, a Joss Whedon introduction and several in-depth featurettes. And those are just the standard special features, we’ve not even gotten into the BD-Exclusive ones yet.
Added Value: As I mentioned above, this disc is impressively fat with extras. On the BD-Exclusive side we see Picture-in-Picture commentary, interviews and rehearsals (all of which bring a general amount of hilarity) and a digital tour of Serenity with detailed schematics of the ship along with behind the scenes footage. There is also a very cool feature called “Mr. Universe’s Compendium” in the BD-Live features which allows you to explore more information about the Serenity universe. The attention to detail in these features is to be commended, as very few recent BD releases (even on brand new movies) have gone this far to immerse its audience.
Final Verdict: For any lover of Firefly or Serenity, sci-fi or space flicks, or fans of good Blu-ray releases in general, Serenity is a must buy. It is easily the best Blu-ray release of the new year so far and one of the most impressive releases I’ve seen in a long while. Hell, even if you aren’t a fan you should definitely check it out. You never know what you might discover.
Dexter: Season One (January 6)
As you all know by now, I have been a big fan of Dexter for a while. So when it comes to reviewing season one on Blu-ray, I had an easy time. Nothing wrong with re-exploring one of my favorite seasons of one of the best shows on TV, in HD no less. What I found was that season one still packs a mighty punch, dark and disturbing, yet fun as ever.
Sensory Experience: Dexter is a good looking show, surprisingly bright and lively for such a dark concept. As well, Daniel Licht’s season one score is haunting and whimsical, a perfect match for the Dolby Digital HD format. All-in-all, Dexter is an above average visual presentation on Blu-ray, but not so much as to warrant a purchase without some extra special special features.
Supplemental Materials: This is where things get a little odd about the Dexter season one Blu-ray — there are no traditional special features. A few episodes have commentary tracks with Exec. Producer Clyde Phillips, but other than that the three discs of this set don’t house any actual behind the scenes features. It is quite odd. But then again, Paramount Home Video has been doing a lot of odd things with their Blu-ray releases lately.
Added Value: The jacket of the release spreads pomises of a wide array of BD-Live special features, including a podcast from Michael C. Hall, a featurette called “The Academy of Blood” (which sounds awesome) and the first two episodes of Showtime’s new show The United States of Tara. All of this sounds really, really fun. Unfortunately I had no fun, as no BD-Live special features are ever loaded in advance of the release date. All I got was a bloody cool menu and some empty slots where these features will be when they do finally come online. My best guess is that these will be impressive, at some point.
Final Verdict: If you aren’t yet on the Dexter bandwagon, then you probably already know what needs to be done — go out and get season one. Blu-ray would be my preferred recommendation, as the show does look solid in HD. If you already have season one though, I see no need for a re-buy.
Babylon A.D. (January 6)
Alright, I will say it: Vin Diesel is still sort of a badass. And with Babylon A.D. it is clear that he is trying to hold onto that title for as long as possible. As a ruthless mercenary in a futuristic dystopian world, Diesel engages in action sequences left and right as Mathieu Kossivitz’s adaptation of “Babylon Babies” unfolds and subsequently implodes before our eyes. Its not a great movie, perhaps not even a very good movie, but there is something to be said about the ridiculous shoot ‘em up scenes that unfold throughout its newly restored 110 minute runtime. Once it gets into gear, Babylon A.D. moves quickly from drab and Diesel-dialog-filled to ultra violent and hyper-stylized, making for an interesting and often fun ride on Blu-ray.
Sensory Experience: Vin Diesel, guns and a hyper-stylized dystopian landscape. That usually lends to some pretty awesome visuals. With action scenes akin to xXx and a unique color pallet akin to Mathieu Kossivitz’s previous work on Gothika, Babylon A.D. is a worthwhile experience in HD. What it lacks in the story department it makes up for in the several large action sequences it delivers. As well, it has a distinctive soundtrack and a wealth of cool, surround sound friendly special effects (read: lots of gunfire). And that makes it fun, here and there.
Supplemental Materials: Containing a surprising amount of special features, Babylon A.D. is actually one of the more impressive releases of the week. There are several cool featurettes, including a little more backstory on the book “Babylon Babies,” upon which the film is based. We also get Genesis of Aurora, a digital graphic novel that serves as prequel to the film’s events which is pretty neat. The only thing I was looking for and did not find was a director’s commentary track from Kossovitz, who had openly criticized Fox before the film’s release for forcing him to cut the film down to 90 minutes. It would have been great, as someone who never saw the theatrical cut, to be guided through this “Raw and Uncut” with the director pointing out what is new and why it was originally cut. Then again, that might be asking a little much.
Added Value: Lack of commentary from its estranged director aside, Babylon A.D.’s Blu-ray release does feature Fox’s “BonusView” technology, which is a distant cousin to Universal’s U-Control feature, of which I am a big fan. The BonusView runs along with the movie, allowing us to bring up an interactive “Scene Evolution” feature for several scenes in the film. It is all pretty simple, substanceless B-roll footage in which Kossivitz continually tells Vin Diesel to “look annoyed” (something that doesn’t appear to be tough for the action star) and shots of camera placements and pre-scene preparation. On the whole, it is pretty dismissible.
Final Verdict: Even though it has a relatively solid amount of special features, a sign that Fox is working a little harder on their Blu-ray releases, Babylon A.D. is a rental at best. In fact, if you have a Blu-ray player you might want to add it to your Netflix queue or pick it up at Blockbuster just to check it out. It’s worth one look, but probably not a second.
The Wackness (January 6)
One of my favorite movies of the year, The Wackness takes us into the weed dealing world of Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), a recent high school grad who spends the summer of ’94 learning life’s lessons on the streets of New York. It was in infinitely charming film, full of lively performances from both Peck and Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays Luke’s smoked-out shrink. And while I was glad to see it finally hit DVD and Blu-ray, I was greatly disappointed with the quality of the home video release. Allow me to explain…
Sensory Experience: The Wackness has a style all its own, combining a very retro (at least for someone like me who believes mid-90s to be retro) aesthetic with a unique visual tone that brings 1994 NYC to life. It plays out alright in HD, but I can say with confidence that this isn’t really one of those films that needs to be seen in HD. It does, however, have a kickin’ soundtrack that sounds great in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.
Supplemental Materials: Like its DVD release, the BD version of The Wackness is somewhat bare in the special features department. There is a very entertaining commentary track with director Jonathan Levine and star Josh Peck which is certainly worth listening to, as well as two featurettes. The first featurette takes us with Jonathan Levine as he makes his way through the press tour leading up to the release of the film. If Levine wasn’t such an interesting guy, this would have been really boring. The same can be said with the second featurette, entitled “Time in a Bottle.” There are some interesting elements to the behind the scenes features, but they all seem relatively short lived and generally obligatory.
Added Value: Much to my dismay, I found nothing exclusive to the Blu-ray release, save for the promise of some BD-Live features. And as you might expect, the BD-Live features were not activated in advance, making them impossible to review. I wonder if studios will ever wise up and change that… Probably not.
Final Verdict: If you have not seen The Wackness, you absolutely should. Though, the only reason to pick up the Blu-ray is if you are looking to make a complete transformation of your collection. Otherwise, save yourself the $10 and just buy the DVD.
Along with the releases reviewed in full above, there were also a few other Blu-ray releases that I reviewed, but didn’t warrant a full write-up. I call these collection padding, as they very rarely offer us anything new since their last DVD release. Lets run those down and get them out of the way.
The Truman Show – Admittedly, I have always been a fan of Jim Carrey’s performance in this film. It is one of his best. Though, this release isn’t really one of the best we’ve seen from Paramount, who seems to want to throw everything and anything from their back-catalog at us in HD. With no additional special features, The Truman Show on Blu-ray is relegated to being nothing but filling for your DVD shelf — another Blu-ray purchased for the sake of having a large collection.
Days of Thunder – Unlike The Truman Show, Days of Thunder isn’t a complete waste of time on Blu-ray. It might not have a bunch of cool new special features, but the film has never looked better than it does in HD. As well, the film’s sound is immersive in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround. Like Top Gun was last year when it hit HD formats, this one is a solid buy for anyone who loves to show off their favorites on their HDTV.
Event Horizon – I had almost forgotten how much I liked Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon, complete with some wicked visuals and a rather unique ending. This is one of those movies that still scares the ever loving shit out of me every time I watch it. And its Blu-ray release isn’t bad. In fact, it is one of the better of this week’s collection padding releases, complete with several “Making Of” documentaries and a few cool deleted scenes with director commentary. If you have never picked this up on DVD and you are a fan of good sci-fi horror, you might want to give it a chance on Blu-ray.
Ghost – Patrick Swayze before the cancer. Demi Moore before Ashton Kutcher. Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award winning performance. Ghost is regarded by many as a classic. The BD version of Ghost however, is anything but. Limited special features. Lack of BD-exclusive extras. All that, and its not really a movie made for HD, is it? On this one, I will let you decide for yourself.
Friday Night Lights – They do love their football down in Texas, and this movie seemed to champion that message more than any other. Probably the first time I realized that Peter Berg was a damn fine director, Friday Night Lights is another personal favorite of mine. And thankfully Universal done solid work to get it ready for a Blu-ray release. There are plenty of special features with the promise of a few BD-Live extras to come, setting this one above most of the other older releases to hit Blu-ray. I don’t see any reason why a fan of this film shouldn’t own it on Blu-ray.
And finally, the Blu-ray releases that I was not able to review for you this week. There are a few that I would have loved to get my hands on (Pineapple Express) and others that I was glad didn’t show up at my door (Disaster Movie):
Bangkok Dangerous – Nicolas Cage’s mullet in HD. Hmm, I think I will pass on that this week.
Disaster Movie – Pass on any format, at any price. For obvious reasons.
Pineapple Express – The one Blu-ray release this week that I was truly sad about not being able to review, Pineapple was one of the funniest and most underrated comedies of the year. And while I can’t say much about the BD release, I will say that the DVD had a solid amount of quality special features. Leads me to believe that the HD version is much of the same.
Righteous Kill – Here we see yet another film that just doesn’t live up to expectations. De Niro and Pacino, together as partners fighting crime. This was supposed to be badass, but instead it was a giant reminder that De Niro and Pacino may not have it anymore. I saw no reason to recommend it when it hit theaters, and I see no reason to recommend it to you now.
The Blu-ray Report 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.