Two weeks ago I bemoaned the lack of Blu-ray titles, with only a few good ones to choose from. This week I would like to start by saying that I hate the imbalance from week to week. This week my Blu-ray queue is jam-packed with movies, some good and others, not so much. In fact, the “not so much” crowd seems to be dominating this week’s line-up with a series of comedy favorites and their lackluster special features. There are also some current releases, including the latest Mummy movie and Anna Faris as a Playboy bunny. Not in the same movie, mind you.
So without further ado, and because I’m not a fan of ado, lets get right down to this week’s buffet of Blu-ray releases.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (December 16)
Brendan Fraser returns for another go-round with a member of the undead. This time it is Jet Li as a pissed off, world conquering clay pottery soldier with the power to control all of the Earth’s elements. And of course, the mummy is unleashed by Fraser’s now grown son, played by Luke Ford, upending the retirement that he and his wife, played this time by Maria Bello, were sort of enjoying. It is a big, flashy, CG-heavy thirdquel with a story on par with the two previous Mummy movies and a nostalgic quality for anyone who really loved its predecessors. And with its big scale viz effects, it is one of those movies that you’d think would work well on Blu-ray.
Sensory Experience: Though I was not a fan of this movie when it released into theaters, a second look on Blu-ray has brought me a sense of appreciation for its visual effects. If there is anything that director Rob Cohen has shown us with this franchise, it is a knack for showy cinematography and ultra-scale CGI shots. What he has created here is a film that looks and sounds pretty good in HD, despite its silly premise.
Supporting Materials: As you will know if you’ve been reading the Blu-ray Report from the beginning, I have long been a critic of Universal’s BD releases and their serious lack of special features. But they are getting better. This title features a very solid selection of behind the scenes featurettes, the bulk of which are featured in HD. As you might imagine, the most interesting of the lot are the visual effects focused features, as well as a mini-doc about the history of the Terra Cotta soldiers upon which the film’s villain is based. I was pleasantly surprised at the depth and value of this disc’s extras.
Added Value: This is what it’s all about — BD-exclusive extras. This release features one of my favorite BD features, visual commentary. I mentioned this will the release of WALL-E and stand firm to this day that visual commentary, in which the director walks us through the film and shows us various BTS clips and concept art in a picture-in-picture format, is one of the features that sets this BD release apart from its DVD counterpart. As well, there are two interactive Blu-ray games that cannot be found on the DVD release. They are cutesy and fun, but nothing worth writing home about. Last but not least is a suite of BD-Live features — none of which I was able to review. When are studios going to begin activating these features ahead of the release date? Kids, they’ll never learn.
Final Verdict: While I must admit that I was not a fan of this movie, I do see some value in the BD release for families and adventure lovers. It is not a great movie by any measure, but if you liked the first two films in this series you will probably enjoy this one as well. And most importantly, the BD release has enough added value to make picking this up in HD the right choice.
The House Bunny (December 16)
The House Bunny, starring former Scary Movie hottie Anna Faris, is nothing if not one of the most surprising movies of the year. Not surprising in the way that Slumdog Millionaire is surprising, but surprising in the fact that it wasn’t a complete waste of time. In fact, this riches-to-rags-to-wholesomeness story of an aging Playboy Bunny (Faris) who is booted from the Mansion and forced to find her way in the world with limited real world skills, was actually a hysterical ride. That and Anna Faris walking around half naked for 97 minutes is never a bad thing.
Sensory Experience: I just mentioned the Anna Faris half naked factor, did I not? Consider that, but in high definition. Though if you’re not a shovanist like myself, there isn’t much else from The House Bunny that will have you greasing the wheels of your HDTV. It’s a simple comedy with very little going on visually outside of the story and the random “Anna Faris over a manhole” gag. Thus, its probably about the same on BD and DVD.
Supporting Material: For anyone who is interested in The Girls Next Door, the Playboy Bunny centric reality show, there is one feature on this disc that shows the three ladies on the set of The House Bunny. There is also a rather annoying featurette dedicated to all of the random celebrities that popped up at the Mansion as they were shooting this flick. Who really cares, right? Beyond that there is a “Making of” feature that is pretty standard and a few deleted scenes that lack any sort of special or memorable quality. Overall there are a lot of BTS features, but if you’re looking for quality over quantity you’re not in luck.
Added Value: I often wonder how Sony, the company that played so hard to make Blu-ray the format of choice, can allow their Home Entertainment division to release BD discs with such a shit selection of BD-exclusive features. For The House Bunny, they pulled out their biggest gun, a lackluster selection of BD-Live downloads. No commentary, visual or otherwise. Though, if you’d like to see the film in Thai, this disc has got you covered.
Final Verdict: Reviewing The House Bunny on Blu-ray was one of the most disappointing experiences I’ve had in a long while. I really liked this movie in a stupid, guilty pleasure sort of way. But a sad list of special features and BD-Exclusive that just don’t exist make this an easy title for the “Do Not Buy” pile. Though, I would suggest a rental, as the movie itself finds more than a few ways to be entertaining.
Along with the two releases featured above, I did receive another stack of Blu-ray releases of some older favorites making their first jump to Blu-ray. And while I would love to give you full write-ups of every single one, I thought we’d just give them the rapid fire treatment, focusing on the new features that their BD releases add to the complete experience.
Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition – Anyone remember when the “Holy Schnike Edition” first hit shelves as a DVD release? Think of this as the same thing, only in high definition. And if you think I’m infering that there is nothing special about the Blu-ray update, you might be right. There are no additional BD features to speak of, just the previously released features in HD. Though, if you love Tommy Boy like I do and you don’t already have it, you might as well pick it up in HD, right? Right?
Old School: Unrated and Out of Control – Yet another release that is just an update from DVD to BD. No new special features. Just the same old, same old in High Definition. If you are one of the few people who doesn’t already own this title or you’re hell bent on updating every DVD in your collection to Blu-ray, this is one for you. Otherwise I’d like to make a non-recommendation, complete with a sigh.
Into the Wild – This one is worth another sigh. Though I would like to point out that Into the Wild is a beautiful film, completely worth of an HD treatment. As a director, Sean Penn was a little to narcisistic with his self-aware camera work, but he did manage to capture some amazing landscapes. The problem we run into here is a criminal lack of special features. The only feature presented in HD is the theatrical trailer — the damn theatrical trailer. Are you with me folks? How absurd.
Coach Carter, Hot Rod and The Heartbreak Kid – I know that the purpose of my column is promote my love for the Blu-ray format, but this is getting absurd. I am lumping these three releases in together as a pile of “No!” No additional special features, no visual commentary and not even any BD-Live. Once again, we get theatrical trailers in HD. Insert Blu-ray lover sad face here.
And finally, we wrap this week’s column with the Blu-ray releases that I was not able to review:
Traitor – Don Cheadle stars as a government operative embedded deep in the heart of a terrorist organization. It is Bourne meets the war on terror, but without all of the flashy spy stuff. This is a movie that I enjoyed, a gritty and intense thriller. On Blu-ray
Planet Terror and Death Proof – Once again the opportunity to release a massive, glorious Grindhouse edition has been wasted on a split release. Who cares about the special features, the fact that this isn’t one big gaudy, expensive, special feature-filled gift set makes me want to puke.
8 Mile – Does anyone actually have the desire to watch Eminem’s movie in HD? It wasn’t a bad flick by any means. Just don’t tell me that you need to see all the gritty details and the lack of special features.
The Man Who Fell to Earth, Chungking Express, Bottle Rocket and The Third Man (Criterion) – The Criterion Collection has begun releasing their Blu-ray entries, and it saddens me that I wasn’t able to review these in advance for you. Rest assured that I will be picking these up and possibly writing about them in the future. I’m very interested, as I imagine many of you are too, to find out how Criterion’s Blu-ray releases look.
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.