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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Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

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One of the hottest new shows from last year’s US television season is sadly yet to find a broadcast home on Australian television. The Walking Dead has been universally acclaimed by both critics and viewers, with strong ratings both in the US and the UK. Developed by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist, and co-produced by Gale Ann Hurd of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens fame, the series is based on a popular comic book series of the same name.

So why isn’t The Walking Dead sitting in our TV guides alongside Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods? Probably because it is a post-apocalyptic drama focusing on a small band of survivors following an outbreak of zombies.

Zombies are nothing new to popular culture. Originally appearing in films such as I Walked with a Zombie (1943), zombies were originally intertwined with voodoo and witch doctors. It was George Romero’s landmark black and white feature Night of the Living Dead (1968) that introduced the idea of zombies being the flesh eating undead.

Romero continued his zombie series with four further Living Dead films: Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Land of the Dead (2005); Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film features civilisation falling apart as the world is overrun by zombies but none are direct sequels to each other in terms of characters or storylines. The entire series is gore-tastic and gets two half eaten thumbs up from me.

Romero’s co-writer on the original Living Dead film, John A. Russo, wrote a book, The Return of the Living Dead, which was also made into a film in 1985. This time, the zombies have a taste for human brains, and a further four sequels were spawned, all of variable quality. A scene in Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) depicts a zombie dressed in Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume being electrocuted and hilariously recreating the iconic choreography.

Of course, Jackson’s famous long form music video, directed by John Landis in 1983, has probably been seen by more people worldwide than all zombie movies put together. In the video, the living dead arise from their graves to dance and sing to Jackson’s music. That’s far more frightening to me than any brain eating zombie.

The zombie world is not without controversy. Fans were upset when Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2005) featured running zombies. The argument is that as reanimated corpses, zombie ankles are probably too decomposed and unstable to sustain running. I guess that rules out my Zomba™ latino dance exercise program for the undead.

The excellent post-apocalyptic films 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) also feature zombie-like creatures. A debate still rages over the internet about whether these films can be considered of the zombie cannon. In my opinion, they can’t be included, as the creatures depicted are actually infected living people who can starve to death if they don’t feed.

Zombies have also slowly made their way (walking and moaning) into other motion picture genres. The action horror franchise Resident Evil (2002-2010) features Milla Jovovich fighting hordes of zombies. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992), Andrew Currie’s Fido (2006) and Zombieland (2009) are laugh out loud comedies. Even the romantic comedy isn’t safe. The excellent Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the world’s first “zom-rom-com.”

Reportedly in pre-production, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should hit our screens in 2013. I can’t wait to see literary heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters battle the walking dead.

My favourite zombie movie title has to be the rather subtly named Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (2007). Surprisingly, it focuses on an unorthodox speech therapist helping King George VI overcome his stammer.

But seriously, zombies are now firmly a staple for modern film audiences. Why shouldn’t they be on our small screens too, especially in a dramatic series as acclaimed as The Walking Dead? With the plethora of free-to-air and pay TV channels out there, surely someone should purchase the rights and air it before some of the more technically gifted amongst us obtain it by “other means.”