Once again we’re playing catchup with The Blu-ray Report, but unlike previous week’s I am happy to go back and take a look at 8 new Blu-ray releases — some from this week and some from last week — that are currently all rocking my world to some extent. We’ve got last year’s Best Picture winner right alongside a few other films that made impressions upon yours truly. And thankfully, it would appear as if their Blu-ray releases followed suit with their theatrical releases. That, and we’ve got a bunch of Vin Diesel movies. I wonder if he has something new hitting theaters this month.
So without further ado, since we are not fans of ado, lets get into this week’s picks on Blu-ray. Also, don’t forget to support your favorite local film website by clicking on those title links and picking up some of these damn things from Amazon.
Creme of the Crop:
Unlike my DVD-loving friend Brian Gibson, I was both quick and more than willing to jump on the ‘ole Slumdog bandwagon quite early — even before it was hip to do so. I finally found myself in a position this year where not only was I supporting the little movie that could (as I did with Juno and Little Miss Sunshine in previous years), but this time it actually won Best Picture on Oscar night. Was it fate? Was it the fact that the third time’s a charm? Or was it written?
All jokes aside, I think we can all agree that Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a damn fine film. A beautifully crafted story, a main character so endearing that it’s painful and a visual style that works perfectly with the film’s energetic soundtrack. To say that you should see this movie would be an understatement — you should have seen it a few times by now. And if you haven’t seen it and you have the option, I would urge you to check it out on Blu-ray. Not because I’m a format whore, or because it is packed with loads of awesome HD special features or anything, but because it is a beautiful film. And it looks spectacular in HD. Period. Trust me, I’m an expert.
Beyond the film itself, we’ve got a solid amount of special features. As my long time readers will note, I’m a big supporter of releases that add significant value to the Blu-ray release. The only added feature to this Blu-ray release is an Indian short film called Manjha. And while it’s an interesting little addition, I can’t exactly use that as a reason to endorse BD over standard DVD. I can, however, remind you that this film is film is more than worth seeing on Blu-ray based on its beautiful visuals and pumping soundtrack alone. As well, there are enough special features to keep you interested, so you won’t feel like you’ve wasted $30. My final verdict: make it happen on Blu-ray people, don’t get left in the dark.
Got family? Love dogs? Have something for a really super-sad, super-forced ending in which you feel as if tears are being beaten out of you by the tricks of storytelling? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be interested in Marley & Me, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. It follows the story of one couples journey into the world of making a family and raising the world’s worst dog. Then of course, the dog becomes part of the family and eventually… Nevermind, I think we all know what happens by now. The point is that this is actually a movie that works — it pulls at the heart strings at the right moments, has a good pace for a family film and doesn’t get in it’s own way.
As for the Blu-ray release, this is a simple economics game. I’ve noticed that most retailers (including Best Buy and Amazon) are selling the 2-Disc ‘Bad Dog Edition’ DVD and the 3-Disc ‘Bad Dog Edition’ Blu-ray for roughly the same price, with a $2-3 difference in most cases. The fun part is that the 3-disc Blu-ray edition comes with the movie on DVD. That’s one of the 3 discs. Therefore it would behoove you to pick up the Blu-ray edition in two instances: if you have a BD player or if you ever see yourself buying one.
Beyond that, the Blu-ray release does sport a bunch of special features — mostly of the deleted scene variety. There are also several featurettes that take you behind the scenes of the film, where you can spend quality time with Jen Aniston, Owen Wilson and the countless dogs who played Marley. It’s all very fun. Bottom line here people is that if you fit into the ‘family’ or ‘dog lover’ category, you should check this Blu-ray release out. Also, it works for big, manly dudes like me who are hell bent on showing our lady friends our softer side.
Quantum of Solace (Released 3/24)
Another selection this week that made it onto my list of the best films of 2008. And just like Slumdog Millionaire, Quantum of Solace won me over with a very intense visual style and a fast-paced story… and a main character with a very endearing tale. He just wants to beat the piss out of everyone who had anything to do with the death of his lady friend. I think we can all connect with that on some level.
Beyond the obvious brilliance that was this film, the Blu-ray does take a shot at adding to the experience. There are several special features that I found to be interesting on this disc, including but not limited to a feature solely dedicated to hottie Olga Kurylenko and her fear of the film’s big boat chase scene. Of course, this is a featurette that we posted online before the film came out last year, so it wasn’t new in any way. In fact, I noticed the same problem with some of the other special features — I’ve seen a lot of these before. That’s not to say that all of you follow this stuff with the super-anality that I do, but it is bothersome to see a DVD/BD release that recycles its behind the scenes footage so liberally. And when you take that factor and combine it with the fact that the special features on the Blu-ray and the 2-disc DVD release are a direct match, we’ve got ourselves a recipe for disappointment.
And unfortunately there is no redemption here for the Quantum of Solace Blu-ray, other than the fact that the film looks and sounds awesome in HD and 5.1 DTS surround. Otherwise it’s just another bland, boring Blu-ray release for a film that is anything but. If you’re a collector like myself, Blu-ray is the obvious choice. But if you’re strapped for cash, the DVD will save you a few.
Bolt (Released 3/24)
From one release that seems to get it all wrong (Quantum) to a Blu-ray distributor who’s been doing it right from the beginning — Disney. Sure, they’re no Pixar and this is no Wall-E, but I rather enjoyed this little movie known as Bolt. It features John Travolta voicing a dog actor with serious delusions about his world. He thinks that he’s got special powers, but when we pull back the animated curtain, it’s all fake. Of course this doesn’t stop him from having a wild and wacky adventure fit perfectly for kids and adults alike — does it?
But on to the task at hand — lets talk about this Blu-ray release. First of all, both the DVD and BD releases include a little short called “Super Rhino” which is the coolest thing you’ll see until the release of the next Pixar short on DVD. That little hamster has mad skills yo, and in this instance he gets to show them off all on his own. There are also several features dedicated to reminding us that Miley Cyrus and John Travolta sang a duet on this film’s soundtrack. Which is fine, but we don’t need to see a featurette about the recording, then have to watch the music video. On the flipside of that annoyance is a featurette called ‘A Filmmaker’s Journey’ that is a very interesting look at the world of animated filmmaking from the perspective of directors Byron Howard and Chris Williams. Personally, that is something that intrigues the hell out of me, so it was nice to see it addressed on this release.
Getting down to the real question at hand, I am reminded of the other dog movie I mentioned above — once again we find ourselves with a Blu-ray release that also includes the film on standard DVD. It makes the decision a simple one — buy it on Blu-ray, you shant be disappointed.
The Rest of the Pack
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter (Relased 3/24)
By the time Tales of the Black Frieghter finally arrived on Blu-ray, I must admit that I was all out of things to say about Watchmen. We’ve been covering this film property for years now and at this point I’m losing my ability to have interest. For those of you who’ve been waiting 20+ years to see it all come to fruition, I understand that you will never feel this way, but I’m spent. So when I finally sat down to watch Tales of the Black Freighter, I was really just not feeling it. Beyond that, there is something to be said about the separation of this story from the core story of Watchmen — they work so perfectly in tandem in the literary work, but seeing them apart causes each story to lose something. And while this animated film is delivered with some very sharp animation and keeps the spirit of the original mini-story, the effect is softened by the fact that it is not running concurrent with the Watchmen storyline. I have a feeling that this could be remedied should they release that ‘super special director’s cut’ where they are all spliced together appropriately.
Beyond that, this is a very solid — albeit almost unnecessary — Blu-ray release. It feels thin, as if Warner Bros. saw a marketable opportunity to skim some extra cash off the Watchmen pot in and around the film’s theatrical release. The two major features on this release — Black Freighter and Under the Hood — could have been tied to the eventual Watchmen DVD release later this year and worked perfectly. But on their own, they feel like a real waste. I hate to say it, because they were produced with an attention to detail and pitch that fits perfectly with their literary companions, but they just didn’t need their own release. And that’s my final answer. I say save your money and wait for the super special director’s cut edition, should that ever hit the streets.
The Sony Blu-ray Live sticker on the front of this release claims that not only will you get a Digital Copy of the film with the purchase of this Blu-ray, you will also get access to ‘Exclusive Content and Earn Rewards’ via the BD-Live network. That’s all well and good, but what they should really be advertising is that no other Blu-ray release this year will deliver a movie this perplexing, this melodramatic and this drab. That, to me, is a reward. You also get the reward of the absolutely gorgeous Rosario Dawson in high definition. And that’s about it — beyond that this Blu-ray release, and for that matter this movie, have very little to offer. If you are really interested and/or a die hard Will Smith fan, I’d recommend a rental of the DVD. Beyond that, forget about this film’s existence and move on with your life.
In case you missed it, this fancy new Fast and Furious movie is hitting theaters on Friday, April 3rd. It stars Vin Diesel. And with their combined powers of logic and marketability statistics, every distributor who’s ever released a Vin Diesel movie is bringing the Diesel power to Blu-ray. This means we get to unrated director’s cuts of both The Chronicles of Riddick and Pitch Black. What’s most exciting is that both of these releases actually come with some new, Blu-ray exclusive features. Thanks to the wonders of the Universal U-Control feature, they both now sport interactive in-movie features. With Riddick, we get “The Anatomy of a Fight,” a closer look at some of the film’s fight scenes. With Pitch Black we get this fancy and surprisingly non-dirty “Pitch Black Raw”feature, which is essentially interactive picture-in-picture commentary, complete with interviews, behind the scenes footage, etc. For both of these releases, as well as the Fast and Furious trilogy which hit Blu-ray shelves last week, I have a simple recommendation: like the movies and don’t own them yet? Go out and pick them up. Otherwise I wouldn’t have you go out of your way to add these to your colleciton.