29 December 2009

In Defense of Blu-ray

A Case for Blu-ray
By Kristin Battestella

Overall, I think I’m pretty split on the powers of blu-ray. On one hand, it’s still dang expensive and sensitive, and the BD live interactive features are sometimes more trouble than they’re worth. However, the new video format gives action movies visual depth, packs everything you need on less discs, and makes classic pictures look twenty years younger. Here’s a list of old films revitalized by blu-ray and new pictures providing testimony.

The Wizard of Oz (70th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray]The Wizard of Oz – Well, that’s a horse of a different color, literally! The sound is exceptional, the black and white is defined all over the gray spectrum, the Emerald City is emerald, and the poisoned poppies are red is red. Even if you’ve never cared for this 1939 children’s classic, you can see this Judy Garland staple as if for the first time. You can see the putrid green of the Wicked Witch of the West and find every detail in the makeup of The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. As I kid, I thought the Collector’s VHS was dynamite, but then you could barely see the flying monkeys. On blu-ray however, those monkeys look damn good. With such vivid color and lifelike fantasy, Dorothy’s quest doesn’t seem so juvenile and preposterous at all.

Star Trek (Three-Disc Edition) [Blu-ray] 
Star Trek (2009) – I think I’m the only person in the world who isn’t in love with J.J. Abrams update of this classic series. As a one-off Academy tale, I might enjoy it; but having Old Spock come back in time to tell Young Spock he’s now in an alternative reality? Yes, they’ve safely placed their reboot in this sanctioned new canon, but they miss out on some of the human story at the expensive of being new, young, and hip. How could you not have an old Spock talking to the young Sarek? Okay, I’m done ranting, because the action here shares the spirit of the Original Series while updated the franchise with all the modern visual delights. The spaceships and planets look enchanting, the warp speed is instantaneous, and the bridge of the new Enterprise looks sweet. Are the effects enough to charm audiences? Apparently so.

The Dark Knight (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray]The Dark Knight – As the title suggests, this sequel to Batman Begins is a dark and melancholy picture. Christian Bale gets downright depressing as Bruce Wayne, and Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a sad send off to his lost love Rachel. Thankfully, blu-ray lets us see all the depth and dimension in all the nighttime and dark action sequences. The action is fast, furious, complex visually and mentally; and we can see it all without squinting. We see the black be clad Batman and the swish of his cape. Though Heath Ledger won the Oscar for his demented and psychological portrayal of The Joker, Aaron Eckhart’s fallen white knight Harvey Dent was more charming for me. Of course, his beautifully grotesque and deformed half as Two-Face looks dynamite, too. 

Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

Gone with the Wind – The subtitles don’t match the dialogue and the white text is tough to see against Scarlett’s white prayer gown, but otherwise I can say nothing bad about the 70th anniversary blu-ray release of this perennial classic. After decades of a choppy, flat, jumpy VHS-heavens to Betsy this looks marvelous. The colors are so vivid-every single one in the rainbow. The depth of light and shadow in indoor scenes and outdoor spectaculars is a treat to the human eye. The sound isn’t as voluminous as I might have preferred for such sweeping scores and Civil War destruction, but the most troublesome thing about this set is finding the four hours to watch undeterred. Yes, it’s overlong, full screen, the men are over the top-but one look into Vivien Leigh’s hypnotic eyes and you’re sold. The blu-ray set also caters to the obsessive fan’s delight, including a CD of the score, copies of memos from David O’Selznik, a hardback book, art prints, limited edition numbers, and almost another four hours of extras all in a sweet red velvet box. Whew!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (+ BD-Live) [Blu-ray]Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – This latest adaptation of the famous boy wizard books is not an introductory piece-you have to really know and love all things Potter to appreciate the depth and hinted subplots here. It’s been a few months since I saw Order of the Phoenix and I was a little lost! Dumbledore finally gets his day, but is that where this movie is supposed to be? Or is it with all the budding romances, Malfoy and the Death Eaters, or the mysteries of Tom Riddle and the Half Blood Prince? Returning director David Yates never seems to make up his mind, and once again, the cast is not used to its full potential. I swear Maggie Smith, David Thewlis, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman each only have two scenes. If you have such clout, well by golly show it! I complain yes, but these uneven story quibbles almost don’t matter compared to the dynamite look of the Half Blood Prince. The Quidditch looks real here, the dark clouds, evil swirls, and a half empty Hogwarts look like photographs not digital effects. Us muggles can believe in the magical underside of London when it looks this good. We’re past the cute and youthful awe trickery of magic here-its specialties are an understood given now. Blu-ray makes the world of Harry Potter seem not like fantasy, but reality.

So also, feel free to read our lengthy praise of both The Searchers and the original Planet of the Apes for more A plus blu-ray action. Of course, these are but a few of the treats available on blu-ray. As more affordable releases come out, blu-ray and digital copy will replace good old DVDs, just as VHS is now a thing of the past. Yes, the format is still touchy and delicate, as well as pricey in players and discs. For classics and action or effects laden pictures, however, blu-ray is decidedly spectacular and worth every penny for your favorites.

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