H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng

 

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NOTE:  At the writing of this review the HD Edition is actually less expensive than the SD release located HERE

Harsh Times HD-DVD

(David Ayer, 2006)

Genius Products (USA)
Review by Yunda Eddie Feng

Genius Products (USA)
2.35:1 1080p
116 minutes
Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD TrueHD 5.1 English, DD Plus 2.0
stereo Spanish
Subtitles: Optional English SDH
Extras: audio commentary by director/writer David Ayer; deleted
scenes; The Making of Harsh Times; trailers and TV spots
Released: 12 June 2007
HD-DVD case
20 chapters

It’s difficult to imagine the little boy in Empire of the Sun, the gun-kata expert in Equilibrium, the Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, or twin magicians in The Prestige as a psychotic Spanish-speaking Angelino homey. After all, Christian Bale is Welsh. Yet, he does a convincing job of playing one in David Ayer’s Harsh Times. Bale is capable of volcanic fury without appearing over-the-top, so his descents into post-traumatic-stress attacks are unnervingly real.

Bale plays an ex-soldier who suffers from intense nightmares. He attempts to land jobs with the LAPD and Homeland Security, but his messy personal life prevent him from attaining easy professional advancement. Enraged, he goes on booze and drugs binges while getting into bar and gun fights.

Freddy Rodriguez plays Bale’s best friend, and while Rodriguez’s “ghetto” style is a bit too self-conscious, he does a decent job of playing off of Bale. The actors’ camaraderie helps sell a story with a decent premise that doesn’t really crescendo. The script establishes its characters well, but there is no real build-up until late in the movie, when Bale’s character finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant. However, by then, the movie is nearly over, so while the viewer has witnessed the characters’ journey, he has not necessarily shared in their journey.

Video:
The movie was shot with a mix of 35mm and 16mm film, so it looks grittier and rawer than just about anything else that has been released on HD-DVD so far. Yet, this disc is a fine example of how good even 16mm can look at 1080p. You get excellent detail even with the inherently grainy nature of 16mm film stock.

 

Audio:
This isn’t a “hip-hop” movie, but there are a lot of hip-hop songs and Hispanic rap/rock songs that will turn your home theatre into a boom fest. The rear channels are frequently no-shows since this isn’t the kind of movie where creative sonics are needed, but there is plenty of foreground audio action. The HD-DVD has Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and DD TrueHD (lossless) 5.1 English tracks. There’s also a DD Plus 2.0 stereo Spanish dub, though a lot of the movie is in Spanish anyway.

Optional English SDH subtitles support the audio.

Extras:
The HD-DVD has a Top Menu as well as a “soft menu” that can be accessed while the movie is playing.

Director/writer David Ayer contributed a dry but informative audio commentary. You can watch a couple of deleted scenes, but they don’t really add anything to the overall experience.


The HD-DVD has “The Making of Harsh Times”, which is not on the SD-DVD. This featurette has a couple of behind-the-scenes clips and interviews with members of the cast and crew, but it provides mostly superficial coverage of the movie’s production.

Finally, you get several trailers and TV spots.

NOTE:  At the writing of this review the HD Edition is actually less expensive than the SD release located HERE

 

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