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







The River HD-DVD (Mark Rydell, 1984)

Universal (USA)
Review by Yunda Eddie Feng

Universal (USA)
1.85:1 1080p
124 minutes
Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 2.0 stereo French
Subtitles: Optional English SDH, French
Extras: My Scenes
Released: 29 May 2007
HD-DVD case
18 chapters

From what I’ve read, The River was one of several “farm movies” that appeared in theaters during the span of a year. The movie lauds rural American values and the desire to stay close to one’s roots. Unfortunately, the story’s basic premise forces viewers to pledge sympathies with characters that behave irrationally and even irresponsibly. Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek play farmers who refuse to leave their farm even though a nearby river threatens to over-run their land. A wealthy landowner offers to buy several farms in the area, thereby helping these farmers climb out of debt. The farmers’ stubbornness is not really admirable in any way given the inevitability of the river’s triumph. Gibson, Spacek, and Scott Glenn deliver very good performances, but they can’t save the movie from being yet another example of mis-guided Hollywood pandering disguised as “guilt”.

On HD-DVD, The River looks better than 90% of the SD-DVDs that I’ve ever seen. However, 1080 lines of resolution draw attention to defects that might otherwise be obscured in a 480-lines video transfer. There are lots of specks, scratches, drop-outs, and dust on the source film print, especially during the opening credits. Still, for the most part, the transfer does a commendable job of presenting ace cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond’s handsome camerawork.

The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 English track is basically a glorified mono mix. Most of the audio emanates from the center channel, and everything sounds a tad muffled (even gunshots and heavy machinery). The other channels make appearances during inclement weather, though even in those sequences, the subwoofer is a reluctant participant.

You can also watch the movie with a DD Plus 2.0 stereo French dub. Optional English SDH and French subtitles support the audio.

The only extra is the “My Scenes” feature that allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes.

An insert advertises other Universal HD-DVDs.


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