High Definition Movie Releases May 1, 2007

This week’s Blu-ray movie review includes Dreamgirls, Happily N’Ever After. HD DVD movie review includes Dreamgirls, Alpha Dog, The Hitcher.

Dreamgirls (DreamWorks) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyoncé Knowles

Adapted from the successful and long-running 1981 Broadway musical, this is basically a roman à clef about the African-American experience within the music industry (primarily the quasi-history of The Supremes) circa the 1960’s and 1970’s and set to a dynamic score. Much as the Broadway musical did, this film covers a broad range of popular musical styles ranging from bluesy R&B and Doo-Wop to later styles of the Motown sound, funk and culminating in the disco and dance driven eras. It’s a feast for the ears, just as the film is, in many ways, a feast for the eyes, truly evoking the glorious, and sometimes acrimonious, past.

The Blu-ray release offers the same two-disc Showstopper Edition that the HD DVD and standard DVD release offer, so many of the extra features are the same across the board with video/audio quality only similar to the HD DVD release. The video is transferred in an MPEG-2 codec with resolution at 1080p. The aspect ratio is 1.85 widescreen and overall the image looks sharp, very colorful and vibrant and the details (especially of the sets, costumes and makeup) are, for the most part, extraordinary looking in hi-def. Audio is nothing to write home about for a hi-def release: English/Spanish/French languages in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround (at 640kbps!! For a musical?!? You’ve got to be kidding.). Subtitles offered in the same languages. The non-hi-def features are spread out to the second disc and give you 12 extended musical sequences, a music video (“Listen”) by Beyonce Knowles and a Dreamgirls soundtrack promo.

Happily N’Ever After (Lionsgate Entertainment) (Blu-ray)
Featuring: (voice talent) Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, George Carlin, Sigourney Weaver, Andy Dick and Wallace Shawn

A pretty pitiful fairy tale, by way of the Brothers Grimm. The CGI is lackluster when compared to the Shrek series, the storyline and jokes far worse and lame than Hoodwinked, and if computer animation is supposed to herald a new age in imagery and the realm of what’s possible, it still remains a waste of time when there’s no characters to care about and no story to get lost in. Not really worth the time, but the smallest of tykes may enjoy it, it certainly panders to their tastes. Adults, be wary and find a good book to read instead… maybe even the original tales of the Brothers Grimm, which certainly don’t need an all-too-hip updating.

Video quality is impressive in hi-def, and it’s hard to complain when just simply looking at the darned thing: Resolution is at 1080p, and the aspect ratio is 1.85 widescreen. The level of detail and super-saturated color (without messy bleeds) is wonderful… but wasted on a lazy piece of filmmaking. Audio blast out loud n’ proud in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (English only)… the clarity is simply awesome. Subtitles include English and Spanish. The disc is feature-laden with audio commentary by director Paul J. Bolger, an alternate ending ( Happily N’Ever After?), and some deleted scenes (Lost in Fairy Tale Land). Featurettes include Journey of the Characters in the Enchanted Forest, Creating the Happily Story: Bringing N’Ever After to Life, From Storyboard to Fairy Tale: A Comparison and some games “from the Department of Fairy Tale Security.” Pop this into the hi-def and let your children’s brains melt into little lumps of mush.


Dreamgirls (DreamWorks) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, and Beyoncé Knowles

Adapted from the successful and long-running 1981 Broadway musical, this is basically a roman à clef about the African-American experience within the music industry (primarily the quasi-history of The Supremes) circa the 1960’s and 1970’s and set to a dynamic score. Much as the Broadway musical did, this film covers a broad range of popular musical styles ranging from bluesy R&B and Doo-Wop to later styles of the Motown sound, funk and culminating in the disco and dance driven eras. It’s a feast for the ears, just as the film is, in many ways, a feast for the eyes, truly evoking the glorious, and sometimes acrimonious, past.

The HD DVD release offers the same two-disc Showstopper Edition that the Blu-ray and standard DVD release offer, so many of the extra features are the same across the board with video/audio quality only similar to the Blu-ray release. The video is transferred in a VC-1 codec with resolution at 1080p. The aspect ratio is 1.85 widescreen and overall the image looks sharp, very colorful and vibrant and the details (especially of the sets, costumes and makeup) are, for the most part, extraordinary looking in hi-def. Audio on the HD DVD release simply blows the quality of the Blu-ray disc away: English/Spanish/French languages in Digital-Plus 5.1 surround (at 1.5mpbs sample rate as opposed to the Blu-ray disc’s shocking 640kbps rate). Subtitles offered in the same languages.

Alpha Dog (Universal) (HD DVD/DVD combo)
Featuring: Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, Matthew Barry, Emile Hirsch, and Sharon Stone

Directed by Nick Cassavetes, this film tracks the true-life tale of one Jesse James Hollywood. With an unlikely (but true) moniker Jesse James Hollywood became a minor-league legend in Los Angeles’s drug underworld when, at the age of 20, he became one of the youngest people to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list due to his complicity in the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz, the half-brother of another drug dealer who was in debt to JJH. The film renames him Johnny Truelove (played by Emile Hirsch ) but for the most part, the story stays essentially the same with the film adding elements from the real-life police files (given freely by the Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney’s office)… it’s a grim, gritty tale and the cast does a great job with a so-so script (whose dialog primarily consists of F-bombs and little else).

The video transfer is very crisp and detailed with great dark tones throughout. Resolution is at 1080p and the transfer comes at us in 2.35 widescreen format. Audio sounds great in Dolby Digital TrueHD (very nice mix) (also offered in Dolby Digital Plus and DD 5.1 (English and French on both lower-end mixes; Subtitles are also in English/French). The features are very lite: There’s a short featurette called: A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog and an interactive Witness Timeline. That’s about it… mostly it’s a good double-feature with Larry Clarks’ superior and very disturbing Bully.

The Hitcher (remake, 2007) (Universal) (HD DVD)
Featuring: Sean Bean, Sophia Bush, Zachary Knighton, and Neal McDonough

Michael Bay’s production company, Platinum Dunes, unleashes more crap that’s a waste of time to sit and view. You’re much better off renting the original, which features a downright nasty (and giddily fun) screenplay by Eric Red. The remake, reimagining or whatever it is, is essentially the same story with some major (unnecessary) and minor (again, unnecessary) changes including the controversial gorehound ending (which, in the original film, played far better: a tension filled, and truly terrifying moment in horror film history). I can’t really think of a single reason to remake the original film except greed… and a young audience willing to view anything on a Friday night and who must be considered stupid by the filmmakers.

The video transfer is up to hi-def par but nothing special… detail is sharp with a screen resolution of 1080 progressive in 2.40 ratio widescreen. Audio is a fair quality mix in Dolby Digital Plus (English/French) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English/French) surround mixes. Subtitles are in Spanish and French. Features include over 20 minutes of deleted scenes and “End Of The Road,” an alternate ending to the film. Other features including behind-the-scenes items such as Road Kill – The Ultimate Car Crash a look at the stunts in the film and Fuel Your Fear: The Making of The Hitcher. Go fetch the original standard-def release… eventually it will make it’s way to hi-def, but avoid this remake.

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