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












Unleashed HD-DVD

(Louis Leterrier, 2005)


Universal (USA)

2.35:1 1080p

102 minutes

Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 2.0 Spanish

Subtitles: Optional English SDH, Spanish, French

Extras: none

Released: June 26th, 2007

HD-DVD case

20 chapters


Universal and Warner are issuing recent theatrical releases as HD-DVD/SD-DVD combos (discs that can be played in both HD-DVD and SD-DVD players).  The studios probably think that HD-DVD/SD-DVD combos can be used to ease people into the HD-DVD format, though I have yet to hear of any SD-DVD-only consumers buying HD-DVD discs for the day that they buy HD-DVD players--not when HD-DVD players can be had for less than $250.  It’s assumed that consumers already have SD-DVD versions of catalog titles, so catalog titles are mostly HD-DVD-only discs.


Regardless of how you feel about HD-DVD/SD-DVD combos, Universal experimented with combo versions of two catalog titles: Army of Darkness and Unleashed.  The studio has now done an about face, ceasing production of the combo versions and pressing only the HD-DVD sides for the two movies.


The HD-DVD camp would get a really strong boost if Universal, Warner, Paramount, and The Weinstein Company sold HD-DVD/SD-DVD combos and stopped selling SD-DVD-only discs.  However, with an expensive format war, the vast majority of consumers will continue to buy SD-DVDs and ignore HD-DVD/Blu-Ray until the dust is settled.


Unleashed is basically Frankenstein Meets Jet Li.  Jet Li plays a feral monster created by Bob Hoskins.  Jet Li escapes his master’s clutches and is befriended by an old blind man.  The blind man and his step-daughter’s kindness heal Jet Li, who eventually decides to step out of the darkness and into the light.  Despite its generally brutal tone, the movie has surprisingly tender moments shared by Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, and Kerry Condon.  Believe it or not, the scenes showing Jet Li’s re-habilitation, not the action sequences, make Unleashed worth a viewing.



The movie has a gritty feel courtesy of its blue/gray tint and seedy, rainy locations, but the film print is in near-perfect condition.  Thus, the 2.35:1 1080p video transfer is quite good--comparable to most recent theatrical releases, in fact.  The high level of detail is never lost despite the abundance of rapid movement, and you don’t see “ghosting” the way that you do with SD-DVDs of jackhammer action movies.



As to be expected with a brawling movie, the DD Plus 5.1 English track is a raucous demo of punches, kicks, thuds, and cracks.  The front mains and the rears are very active, though imaging can be a bit dispersed and sloppy.  The subwoofer is very active, of course.  On the other hand, the sound mix also has very tender moments since Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon are musicians.  The movie has several passages with gentle jazz and classical music that are rather soothing and pleasant.


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



The Unleashed HD-DVD/SD-DVD combo’s extras were all on the SD-DVD side.  That leaves the HD-DVD-only release with...nothing (not even “My Scenes” since this was such an early effort).



An insert advertises other Universal HD-DVDs.


The movie looks and sounds great, but this is not the Unrated Version available only on SD-DVD.  Alas, it may be a while before we see an HD-DVD version with seamless branching options and extras.  Purchasing this product is squarely up to your personal discretion, though since the “unrated” footage probably features additional fighting, I don’t think you’re losing much given how strong the non-fighting scenes are.








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