HD DVD Movie Review May 29, 2007

HD DVD movie review for May 29, 2007. This week’s Word from the Street includes reviews of these new releases: Dragonheart, The Frighteners: Director’s Cut, Lost in Translation, Midnight Run, and The River.

Dragonheart (Universal)
Featuring: Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery (voice), David Thewlis, Pete Postlethwaite, and Dina Meyer

Pssst…? Hey, kid? You wanna see a real great movie about dragons and those that slay ‘em, with magic and mystery and damsels in distress? I suggest you go and rent 1981’s Dragonslayer, which is a far superior effort to 1996’s Dragonheart. The basic barometer of a dragon featured film is the dragon itself, and while the CGI Draco (voiced by Sean Connery) is a pretty fair attempt at making the grand worm more of a character, the old-fashioned “go motion” effects of Dragonslayer blow Draco away. The rest of the film is a toss-up of bland heroes, evil villains and jokey humor spread throughout.

The 2.35 ratio widescreen image (1080p) shows the CGI seams of the dragon… CGI has come a looooong way since 1996. The video has a clarity lacking on other video releases of this film, and the sound is nice and clear but offered in a 1.5mbps powerhouse mix (Dolby Digital Plus, English only… French/Spanish offered in DD 2.0 stereo with subtitles in the same). There’s a making-of featurette, an audio commentary with director Rob Cohen as well as some outtakes and a theatrical trailer (all in standard-def). Not a showcase disc, it’s rather boring material that’s previously been done much better.

The Frighteners: Director’s Cut (Universal)
Featuring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Jake Busey, Jeffrey “Dr. Herbert West” Combs, John “Gomez Addams” Astin, Chi McBride and the incomparable Dee Wallace Stone.

Although the film didn’t fare well financially and had mixed critical reviews, this is a film that, despite its occasionally hyper whiz-bang action, actually holds up rather well. You can see where Peter Jackson would hone certain aspects of his filmmaking and effects mastery in that future series of little films called Lord of the Rings. The Director’s Cut restores some deleted scenes, cutting them into the original theatrical version (just a few extra gags and effects scenes that simply add bloat to the already jam-packed film), but the overall story is still whacky and sometimes a bit hard to follow.

The VC-1 encoded transfer is sharp and rich… dark where it should be, the black levels are nice and the overall eerie glow of the ghost stands out nicely (on prior standard-def releases some of the effects shots look downright muddy). The widescreen 2.35 ratio image is a nice compliment to Jackson’s CGI work… and this film is dominated by CGI, in one of the first films to showcase such wall-to-wall digital effects. The audio is in 1.5mbps Dolby Digital Plus and my only caveat is that you should warn the neighbors before playing this one at 11 on the volume scale. It’s ass-kicking audio, plain and simple (but English only). The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.

Along with a special introduction to the film by Peter Jackson, you also get The Making Of The Frighteners, a full-length documentary on the making of the film (featuring interviews with Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey and Chi McBride). I’d recommend this HD DVD release as a cool addition to your horror library… even then, it’s a cut above standard horror fare and really in a league of its own.

Lost in Translation (Universal)
Featuring: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi and Fumihiro Hayashi

Sophia Coppola is not a great actress, that much was apparent in her father’s final Godfather movie. Nevertheless, filmmaking is in her blood if not her genetic code. As a writer and director, Sophia Coppola couldn’t be a different filmmaker from her dear ol’ dad. Where daddy Coppola directs with a heavy hand and operatic, emotional manner, his daughter has a lighter touch that verges on visual poetry. As with her debut directorial effort The Virgin Suicides, Sophia Coppola doesn’t offer a lot of plotting and exposition to establish her characters. Rather, she lets the mood of her imagery (along with carefully selected music and second unit photography) dictate how the characters will come across to the audience. Her films are like extended jazz rifts and she’s particularly good at creating an aura of melancholy and tragic ennui. With Lost In Translation she takes everything that made Virgin Suicides work and gives her actors free reign to improvise and flesh out the script. There’s a certain uncomfortable feeling to the whole thing, as if we’re voyeurs dropping in on changing lives. Bill Murray gives a terrifically dry performance as the actor Bob Harris, and Scarlett Johansson gives an affecting performance as the bored and lost Charlotte. This is a rewatchable film, if only for the performances, but also for the quiet lyricism of Coppola’s sure directorial hand.

The HD DVD transfer is lovely to look at in widescreen 1.85 ratio (1080p). While not overly sharp, there’s plenty of picture clarity here for the hi-def enthusiast to enjoy. The audio is offered in a well-defined dialogue-centric mix with an English Dolby Digital Plus track (1.5mbps) and French/Spanish tracks in DD Plus (640kbps). For extras you get A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola, Lost on Location a behind-the-scenes and some deleted scenes… a rather light offering, but the film itself more than makes up for the purchase.

Midnight Run (Universal)
Featuring: Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, Joe “Guido the Killer Pimp” Pantoliano and some guy named Robert De Niro

Midnight Run is a pretty cute buddy action movie that offers some terrific comedic interplay between DeNiro as the straight man and Grodin as the most irritating middle-class nit he’s ever played. The dynamic between DeNiro’s working-class bounty hunter Jack Walsh and Grodin’s Jonathan Mardukas provides much of the humor but the side characters, in particular Dennis Farina’s gangster Jimmy Serrano are fun as well. Martin Brest directs and the film actually seems to get better with age. It’s never dull, often funny as hell, and a very re-watchable cross-country chase movie. The hi-def specs here are almost superfluous as the movie neither gains nor loses from the 1080p resolution image. It’s a straight on action-comedy and not a showcase offering for your hi-def home theater. Nevertheless, the widescreen 1.85 image is sharp and clear, with no video artifacts or questionable image quality. The audio is isn’t really anything to get excited about, though the DD Plus 2.0 mix (English/French, subtitles in French) offers plenty of clarity in the dialog-heavy action scenes. For features there’s The Making of Midnight Run and that’s that.

The River (Universal)
Featuring: Sissy Spacek, Mel Gibson and Scott Glenn

This mid-80’s offering from director Mark Rydell features an Oscar®-nominated performance from Sissy Spacek as well as strong performances from male leads Gibson and Glenn. The hard-luck story of a rural farm family facing all manner of setbacks and disasters culminates in a showdown between the local power authority and Gibson’s Tom Garvey over land rights and a scheme to flood their property with water from the raging river near their land. This is a rather plain HD DVD offering, a real cut-out bin piece for the format with no features whatsoever. The widescreen 1.85 ratio image (1080p) is nice and sharp enough considering the filmmaking technology of the time. Audio is offered in Dolby Digital Plus (English) and Dolby Digital Stereo (2.0 in French). Subtitles are in French.

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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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