Word from the Street: Mar. 27, 2007

blu-ray logoThis week’s hi def releases include: The Pursuit of Happyness, Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Children of Men, National Geographic: Relentless Enemies, Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks, and Warriors of Heaven & Earth.

The Pursuit of Happyness (Sony) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, and Brian Howe

Smith (Will, that is) plays a down on his luck salesman who overcomes a myriad of obstacles to become a stock-broker on Wall Street.

It would have made a great made-for-TV, Hallmark Hall Of Fame show. There’s nothing much to shout out about on the technical side. The film’s cinematic style is subdued so as not to interfere with the acting and emotional story arc. The anamorphic transfer is Widescreen 2.40:1 in 1080p resolution. Crisp, clear without harsh edges or contrast, the audio is also top-notch featuring a choice of uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (English) or Dolby Digital 5.1 (English/French audio… Subtitles are in
English, French).

Oprah and the saints be praised, this is a feature-packed disc with a commentary by Italian director Gabriele Muccino, a making of short highlighting the relationship between the Smith boys ( Father And Son: On Screen And Off ), another making of featurette, again highlighting how a foreign director came to make a typical Hollywood rags-to-riches pic: Making Pursuit: An Italian Take On The American Dream (interesting in how it show’s Will Smith’s ability to pick directors and Muccino’s ability to put a wide-eyed foreign spin on a traditional American tale), an interview with the real Chris Gardener ( The Man Behind The Movie: A Conversation With Chris Gardner), the “I Can” Song (audio feature), the weirdest little feature is a six-plus minute item called Inside The Rubik’s ® Cube and shows how the little puzzle box still bends the mind (though is not part of the real life action, Will Smith apparently dug the Cube enough to feature it in the film as a minor plot device).

Happy Feet (Warner) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Savion Glover (motion capture, tap-dance) and Nicole Kidman

Not quite sure how George Miller does it… Many directors simply cannot swing with going from darker to lighter fare and crossing genre lines, but Miller is adept at directing solid post-apocalyptic action (the Mad Max series) then going to highly-entertaining, solid pre-apocalyptic musical-comedy. From Babe, the pig to Mumble (Elijah Wood) the tap-dancing penguin, Miller has a way of portraying perfect the anthropomorphic dreams and fears of his animal characters and getting inside their heads with humor and a serious sense of foreboding.

The visuals on the Blu-ray transfer are superb! This is a one of those discs you throw on to melt your friend’s eyeballs and fry their brains just on the visuals alone, thereby making them instant hi-def adopters. The transfer is 2.40 widescreen at 1080p resolution with no compression artifacts that my eye could see. Blacks are nice n’ black, and man, you can see very bit of down feather on those penguin suits (and dude! those Aurora Australis shots are a-mazing). Audio is a little flat in comparison: the compressed Dolby Digital EX 5.1 (English, Spanish, French) mix is nice and distinctive, but it’s not PCM or TrueHD… not even DTS, which is a little jarring for upscale ears, but shouldn’t be too noticeable to the non-audiophile.

Features are a nice, but rather thin, offering some new stuff and interactive kiddie fare. You get two new, fully animated additional (deleted) sequences in hi-def (presented by George Miller): Mumble Meets A Blue Whale and A Happy Feet Moment. and Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat where Savion Glover gives private tap lessons to the tykes. Last, but not least, you get a pair of music videos including “Hit Me Up” by Gia and Prince’s “The Song of the Heart,” which was written for the film. There’s a segment that’s got nothing to do with the film outside of singing animals… that’s the Warner’s classic cartoon, I Love to Singa. The whole package is dedicated to the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve “Crikey!” Irwin.

March of the Penguins (Warner) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Morgan Freeman and a cast of very well dressed penguins

Luc Jacquet’s yearlong filmmaking odyssey produced this sublime ode to penguin love and marchin’… lots and lots of marchin’. It is a perfect date-movie for the religious-right… and plenty entertaining for the rest of us. I still chuckle at conservative critic, Michael Medved, and his attempts to link the somewhat monogamous nature of the emperor penguins of Antarctica (see Happy Feet for the flip-side of his maniacal pursuit of socio-political messages in otherwise benign family-fare) to his general crusade for family-values.

The video is crisp and gorgeous in VC-1 compression/ 1080p resolution widescreen ( 1.85). Only Happy Feet presents higher resolution birds. The sound in compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is not offered in an uncompressed hi-def format strangely enough, but again, if you’re not an audiophile this isn’t generally a problem, though on very high-end systems where your lows should shake and thunder, you might get mud instead due to compression. The features a making-of featurette: Of Penguins And Men as well as a techie-feature called National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins. Inexplicably, there’s an old Looney Tunes cartoon: 8 Ball Bunny … I mean, huh?? Will someone tell Warner’s to keep the features more in ‘toon with the rest of the subject matter on the disc! Sheesh… anyway, there’s also a standard-def theatrical trailer. And subtitles! Don’t forget those! In English, Spanish, and Penguin (so Dick Cheney can follow along).

National Geographic: Relentless Enemies (Warner) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Predators, Prey, Pretty Cinematography

A beautifully photographed look at the predator/prey relationship that’s developed in the Okavango River Delta between lions that have evolved specialized hunting methods, and the buffalo they rely upon for sustenance. In this age-old contest for survival, guess who wins. The Blu-ray disc is a fair transfer for what should have been a showcase disc for hi-def systems. You get a good-looking 1080p image in 1.78 widescreen ratio and an audio mix lacks depth but offers nice, warm-sounding narration and ambient tones in Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles in English only. For a feature you get a Cheetah Chase. Ooooooh!

Incubus: Alive at Red Rocks (Sony Music) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Jose Pasillas, Ben Kenney, Brandon Boyd, Chris Kilmore, Mike Einziger and a bunch of ticket-buying fans

Recorded live, July 26, 2004 at Red Rocks, Colorado this disc captures the Calabasas, California-based band during the tour promoting their “A Crow Left of the Murder….” album.

The Blu-ray track listing offers a nice blend of their funkier stuff along with their more Malibu-tinged sound.
1. Megalomania; 2. Nice To Know You; 3. Idiot Box; 4. Just A Phase; 5. Pricelessk; 6. Beware! Criminal; 7. Wish You Were Here; 8. Here In My Room; 9. Drive; 10. Vitamin; 11. Pistola; 12. Stellar; 13. Made For T.V. Movie; 14. Talk Shows On Mute; 15. Sick Sad Little World; 16. A Certain Shade of Green; 17. Pantomime; 18. The Warmth; 19. Pardon Me. The Blu-ray release includes lyrics, a hi-def photo gallery and a navigation feature that enables you to focus in on certain band members during the performance. The disc offers additional audio tracks from the band and bonus CD playable features.


Warriors of Heaven & Earth
(Sony Pictures) [Blu-ray]
Featuring: Jiang Wen, Nakai Kiich

In the tradition of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Warriors of Heaven & Earth weaves a thread of battle, comradeship and honor. More on this film here.

HD DVD

Street date release: March 27, 2007

Children of Men (Universal) [combo HD DVD/DVD]
Featuring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

This film offers some incredible sequences (some stuff, like the impossible visual shot of a moving car being attacked, with the camera tracking inside and outside of the vehicle, is breathtaking while being violently repellant) and an excellent acting ensemble. Michael Caine is a standout in a short role as a politically-radical neo-hippy who just loves his buddy green, while Clive Owen gives a solid performance as Theo Faron, a bureaucrat who marshals his own dormant activist persona to transport a woman who holds the hope of humanity within her. The transfer belies no noticeable defects from what I saw in the film’s theatrical release. You get a 1080p resolution, 1.85 widescreen image that’s as gritty and downright dirty looking as any recent news footage from the frontlines of the Iraq quagmire.

The audio is in that new Dolby AC-3 compression format (E-AC-3) called Dolby Digital Plus (English/French) and also offers a more standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix (English/Spanish/French with Spanish/French subtitles) that gives lots of ample room to the varied mix of shouts, yells, automatic gunfire and explosions, but gives nice ambient detail to the quieter moments (most notably during the exposition sequence between Owen and Caine). On the whole it’s an adequate hi-def disc… but where the money is well spent is in the slew of features that cover just about everything you want to know about the making of this highly complex and daring film.

Alfonso Cuaron’s documentary called The Possibility of Hope describes how the revolutionary themes in Children Of Men relate to our current geopolitical situation including how Cuaron was visual and thematically influenced by other dystopian films and documentaries (particularly The Battle of Algeirs). Under Attack gives a look at how the filmmakers created the film’s most dangerous scenes (including that crazy car sequence and the film’s siege-like ending). There’s comments on the film by Slovenian postmodern sociologist, philosopher, and cultural critic Slavoj …i… ek, as well as making-of featurettes such as Theo & Julian with actors Clive Owen and Julianne Moore a segment on the films retro-Futuristic Design from concept to creation, as well a VFX segment on the creation of the digital baby (how ironic) and some nice hi-def player features: Picture in Picture interviews with Alfonso Cuaron and the cast and crew as well as a toggle-feature: Info & Commercials: Go deeper into the advertising used in the film’s depiction of 2027 Britain and see the full commercials, billboards and ads of the future while you watch the movie. All-in-all this is an excellent HD DVD release.

Happy Feet (Warner) [HD DVD]
Featuring: Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Savion Glover (motion capture, tap-dance), Hugo Weaving and Nicole Kidman

Not quite sure how George Miller does it… Many directors simply cannot swing with going from darker to lighter fare and crossing genre lines, but Miller is adept at directing solid post-apocalyptic action (the Mad Max series) then going to highly-entertaining, solid pre-apocalyptic musical-comedy. From Babe, the pig to Mumble (Elijah Wood) the tap-dancing penguin, Miller has a way of portraying perfect the anthropomorphic dreams and fears of his animal characters and getting inside their heads with humor and a serious sense of foreboding.

The visuals on the HD DVD transfer are superb! This is a one of those discs you throw on to melt your friend’s eyeballs and fry their brains just on the visuals alone, thereby making them instant hi-def adopters. The transfer is 2.40 widescreen at 1080p resolution with no compression artifacts that my eye could see. Blacks are nice n’ black, and man, you can see very bit of down feather on those penguin suits (and dude! those Aurora Australis shots are a-mazing). The big difference in formats is that the HD DVD release has audio that’s on par with the video. The nicely mixed TrueHD surround offers sonic clarity not found on the EX mix of the Blu-ray release. The low-end bass doesn’t suffer nearly as much.

HD DVD Features are identical to the Blu-ray offering, with some new stuff and interactive kiddie fare. You get two new, fully animated additional (deleted) sequences in hi-def (presented by George Miller): Mumble Meets A Blue Whale and A Happy Feet Moment. and Dance Like a Penguin: Stomp to the Beat where Savion Glover gives private tap lessons to the tykes. Last, but not least, you get a pair of music videos including “Hit Me Up” by Gia and Prince’s “The Song of the Heart,” which was written for the film. There’s a segment that’s got nothing to do with the film outside of singing animals… that’s the Warner’s classic cartoon, I Love to Singa. The whole package is dedicated to the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve “Crikey!” Irwin. This IS the kind of feel-good film I can get behind… and watch again and again.

March of the Penguins (Warner) [HD DVD]
Featuring: Morgan “Voice of God…” Freeman and a cast of very well dressed penguins

Luc Jacquet’s yearlong filmmaking odyssey produced this sublime ode to penguin love and marchin’… lots and lots of marchin’. It is a perfect date-movie for the religious-right… and plenty entertaining for the rest of us. I still chuckle at conservative critic, Michael Medved, and his attempts to link the somewhat monogamous nature of the emperor penguins of Antarctica (see Happy Feet for the flip-side of his maniacal pursuit of socio-political messages in otherwise benign family-fare) to his general crusade for family-values.

Identical to the Blu-ray release, the HD DVD disc offers video that is crisp and gorgeous in VC-1 compression/1080p resolution widescreen ( 1.85). Only Happy Feet presents higher resolution birds. The sound in compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is not hi-def strangely enough, but again, if you’re not an audiophile this isn’t generally a problem, though on very high-end systems where your lows should shake and thunder, you might get mud instead due to compression. The features a making-of featurette: Of Penguins And Men as well as a techie-feature called National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins. Inexplicably, there’s an old Looney Tunes cartoon: 8 Ball Bunny … I mean, huh?? Will someone tell Warner’s to keep the features more in ‘toon with the rest of the subject matter on the disc! Sheesh… anyway, there’s also a standard-def theatrical trailer
And subtitles! Don’t forget those! In English, Spanish, and Penguin (so Dick Cheney can follow along).

National Geographic: Relentless Enemies (Warner) [HD DVD]
Featuring: Predators, Prey, Pretty Cinematography

No penguins this time. Instead, we have a beautifully photographed look at the predator/prey relationship that’s developed in the Okavango River Delta between lions that have evolved specialized hunting methods, and the buffalo they rely upon for sustenance. In this age-old contest for survival, guess who wins. The HD DVD specs are identical to the Blu-ray disc: just a decent transfer for what should have been a showcase disc for hi-def systems. You get a good-looking 1080p image in 1.78 widescreen ratio and an audio mix lacks depth but offers nice, warm-sounding narration and ambient tones in Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles in English only. For a feature you get a Cheetah Chase. Slow it down for an interesting effect on the world’s fastest land animal!

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Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson

Christian Hokenson enjoys knife throwing, growing exotic mosses, and that warm spot where the sun shines through the corrugated box. Christian also writes for Gadget Review. You can also find Christian on Google+, and Twitter.

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