Classic Films in High Def

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 28th June 2011.

The future of home entertainment is looking blu. With the steady uptake of HD screens, blu-ray is fast becoming the new standard. And just as DVDs took a few years to become popular way back in the late nineties, blu-ray disc sales have now reached a point where prices have started to come down. Titles that were initially priced at $35 – $50 a year or two ago are now on sale at the $15 mark. That’s great value for those wanting to replace their DVD collection, but not so good for early adopters.

Of course, just because a film is available in high definition does not mean that it is any good. Those extra pixels will not make Lindsay Lohan’s “acting” in I Know Who Killed Me any more convincing. And from a technical perspective, not all films will receive the same quality of remastering for a high definition release. With smaller distributors also starting to release budget titles in blu-ray, you probably get what you pay for.

Keeping in mind that this week’s latest release at full price will be in next month’s bargain bin, I suggest that your hard earned dollars go towards some of the landmark blu-ray box sets that are on the horizon. With hours of extras, nice packaging and, obviously, a classic film or seven remastered in beautiful high definition, they represent good value and will be a welcome addition to any discerning film buff’s collection.

Tomorrow will see the release of The Lord of the Rings extended edition box set. Featuring 6 blu-ray discs and 9 DVDs, you get the extended versions of all three films plus a whopping 26 hours of extras. Although it could be argued that you’d probably be able to walk to Mount Doom and back yourself in the 683 minute running time of the extended trilogy, this may well be the most comprehensive box set ever released. In fact, if a short hike to the Cracks of Doom floats your boat, the box set even comes complete with a replica ring. Priced at around $120 (that’s $8 a disc), this is great value and I recommend that you get your hairy feet down to the shops this week and buy yourself this “precious” box set.

All geeks should have September 14 marked in their smart phone calendars. This is the day where we all get to reach into our pockets and buy Star Wars for the umpteenth time. That’s right, George Lucas has finally relented to fan requests and made Episodes I – VI available on blu-ray for the first time. I’m sure it won’t do his bank balance any harm either. For about $140, you’ll get all six films and over 30 hours of documentaries and extras on 9 discs. If, like me, you’re Jar Jar intolerant and prefer to pretend the prequel trilogy doesn’t exist, both trilogies will be available separately too.

For the more astute film buff, I’d certainly recommend the Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection which features seven iconic films plus extensive documentaries over 8 discs. This set, currently discounted to around $70 at one of the larger DVD retailers, includes Lolita and Barry Lyndon for the first time ever in high definition. Worth the price of the set alone is the bonus feature length documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.

The Al Pacino classic Scarface will also get a high definition makeover in September. For around $60, you’ll get a Tony Montana signature money clip, a dollar bill featuring Tony’s face, a replica of his green card and three art cards, all housed in a wooden cigar box. Did I mention you also get the movie on blu-ray? A modern classic, I’ll be saying hello to my new little friend in September.

Lastly, if you love the small of napalm in the morning, you’ll also love the new remastered triple disc Apocalypse Now box set. Complete with transfers supervised by Francis Ford Coppola himself, this new edition will be laden with extras including the brilliant documentary about the making of this classic, Hearts of Darkness, also in high definition for the first time.

So why waste your money on Yogi Bear and The Last Airbender on blu-ray when you can sink your teeth into some classics finally available in high definition? And although I’d always argue that content is more important than packaging, the fancy boxes and goodies inside are pretty cool too.

Why does The Hobbit have to look like real life?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 19th April 2011.

Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the 2005 King Kong remake has announced that his adaption of The Hobbit, due in cinemas in 2012, will be filmed at 48 frames per second. This is double the industry standard of 24 frames per second. Jackson claims that the increased frame rate will give the film “enhanced clarity and smoothness”, however, similar to 3D movies and digital projection, expensive upgrades to cinemas will be required.

Since the 1920s, with the invention of talking pictures, movies have been filmed and projected at 24 frames per second. It is believed that this standard was set because it was the lowest frame rate to produce acceptable sound quality at the time. Due to the sheer cost of film, along with the associated expenses to develop and print it, the industry chose this minimum rate and this has remained standard for the past ninety years.

Technology has advanced over this time. We now have movies in colour, Dolby Digital sound, huge Vmax screens, CGI, stadium seating, cup holders and frozen Coke, but the frame rate hasn’t changed. There are image quality issues with the current standard such as blurring during fast action scenes or quick camera movements. There is also the tendency for viewers to get eye strain when watching 3D movies at 24 frames per second.

The main benefits for the rate upgrade, according to Jackson, will be the resolution of the blurring and eye strain issues, plus “a much more lifelike and comfortable viewing experience.” Of course, most film projectors currently operating in cinemas cannot just be made to run at double their current speed so will need to be replaced. Digital projectors may only need a software upgrade.

There is some debate online about whether this new frame rate should be permanent. Film purists argue that 24 frames per second give movies their ethereal, dream-like quality, and there is no need for cinema to look the same as real life.

I agree with this notion. Despite the fact that I leave most 3D movies feeling like I have spent two hours having someone poking me in the eyeballs with a blunt stick, I don’t believe it is necessary to upgrade the frame rate for all future movies. I view cinema as an art form. Art, by nature, does not have to look real. Is music recorded on vinyl less worthy than on a digital CD? Many would argue that vinyl sounds best. Should we replace all paintings with photographs because they aren’t real enough?

There are many methods used by film makers to alter the images that you see on the screen. Filters, film stock, lenses, depth of field, lighting and special effects are all widely utilised to make movies not look like real life.

It all boils down to a matter of choice. Do you prefer vinyl or CD, VHS or beta, blu-ray or HD DVD, Jacob or Edward? The proof will be in the pudding and personally I can’t wait to see Smaug the Dragon, Elrond the Sage and Bard the Bowman in stunning lifelike 48 frames per second in The Hobbit Part 1 when it hits our screens next year. I’m just not insisting that all future films be upgraded…yet. If I want all of my entertainment to be look like real life, I’ll just look out the window.

Published in: on May 9, 2011 at 13:46  Leave a Comment  
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