Word from the Street: Hi Def Movie Releases Feb. 20, 2007

Blu-ray releases three new movies in high definition, while HD DVD releases only one. However, the HD DVD bitrate of Babel surpasses that of the concurrent Blu-ray release. Here is a review of high definition movie releases from Feb. 20, 2007.

Babel [Blu-ray Disc]
(Paramount) Featuring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko “Oscar-bait” Kikuchi

Other than some of the Tokyo sequences, Babel is not a movie of such visual splendor as to be a showcase disc for the hi-def format. The gritty, muted look gives the feeling of being shot in pro-DV format, but it’s all film stock shot in different formats and variations of grain so that the interwoven stories achieve a distinct look without overshadowing each other. This film ought to win a few awards, unless the Academy has become Crash-proof.

The Blu-ray Region 1 disc offers Widescreen – 16×9 format, with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, English/French audio tracks (note the low bitrate vs. HD DVD’s release of the same film). Subtitles are offered in Spanish and English. No extra features save for the theatrical trailer… so, expect a double-dip on this one (the 2-disc Special Collector’s Edition should be coming out soon, and seems to have been pushed back a bit).

The Prestige [Blu-ray Disc]
(Buena Vista) Featuring: Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett “Luscious” Johansson

Overall The Prestige is a pretty fine film given a very fine hi-def transfer that achieves full clarity and vivid color saturation during interior scenes, with a nice overall contrast throughout. The dark color palette is used to give dramatic weight to scenes of emotional turmoil (as if the fantastic actors in this film couldn’t do their own heavy lifting), but for the most part the details are strong and tack-sharp… pretty breathtaking stuff. Audio is offered in English with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround that is a high-quality mix of dialogue, music and ambient tone.

Special features include The Director’s Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight Of Hand Of Christopher Nolan. This 20-minute featurette is broken down to six-parts: Conjuring The Past; The Visual Maze; Metaphors Of Deception; Advocate For The Audience; Tesla: The Man Who Invented The Twentieth Century; The Art Of The Prestige; and Costumes And Set. There are also some text production notes, and a few photo galleries that offer navigation for viewing the poster art. Last, but not least there’s a “movie showcase” feature that’s offered on many Disney Blu-ray releases, allowing you to show off some of the more impressive scenes for hi-def viewing and inspiring awe in your friends.

Vertical Limit [Blu-ray Disc]
(Sony) Featuring: Chris O’Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, and (the always lovely) Izabella Scorupco

The film is nicely shot, though many of the f/x elements are pretty apparent. Disc offers a nice transfer from a pristine print. Colors are richly saturated and the finest details can be discerned. Enhanced widescreen is offered with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and PCM 5.1 for those in an uncompressed mood. Subtitles can be had in your choice of English (SDH), Korean, Mandarin, Thai, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Special Features? Not much… There’s a featurette called Search and Rescue Tales, highlighting the production and treacherous stunts involved in making a film about icy climbing disasters. Audio commentaries by the filmmakers are somewhat dull, and of course there’s one of those lame featurettes intended for HBO that offers a glimpse into more making-of moments (a little over 20 minutes are spent showing behind-the-scenes action and talking heads uttering exclamatory blurbs and sound bites). Why by it? Because it’s there!


Babel [HD DVD]
(Paramount) Featuring: Brad “Serious Actor” Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko Kikuchi

Concurrent with the Blu-ray release, the HD DVD formatted Babel offers Widescreen – 16×9 format, with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, English/French audio tracks. Subtitles are offered in Spanish and English. The big difference between this and the Blu-ray disc is the level of bitrate quality in the audio with HD DVD the winner here: the 1.5mbps trounces the 640kbps(!) on the Blu-ray offering. Whether or not you can discern the audio quality on bitrate is anyone but a true audiophile’s guess. As on the Blu-ray disc, this HD DVD release has a lack of features: No extra features save for the theatrical trailer… so, expect a possible double dip from Paramount at some later date, though I’ve heard no word of a 2-disc edition for the HD DVD release.

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