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

 

HD-DVD STORE         HIGH DEFINITION DVD STORE

 

ALL OUR NEW FORMAT DVD REVIEWS

 

 

 

 

 

The Jack Ryan Collection HD-DVD

(The Hunt for Red October, John McTiernan, 1990)

(Patriot Games, Phillip Noyce, 1992)

(Clear and Present Danger, Phillip Noyce, 1994)

(The Sum of All Fears, Phil Alden Robinson, 2002)

 

 

Paramount (USA)

2.35:1 1080p

135/116/141/123 minutes

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 French, DD Plus 5.1 Spanish

Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Extras: none

Released: 23 October 2007

four HD DVD cases in a slip box

13/22/23/17 chapters

 

*WARNING*

The box set that was scheduled for October 23rd, 2007 bills the HD DVDs as “Special Collector’s Editions” with the same extras found on the Special Collector’s Edition SD DVDs. However, the discs are actually bare-bones, so Paramount has issued a recall and has pushed back the release date to sometime in the future. Still, some of the mis-labled boxes have already reached the hands of consumers, and some retailers may sell their inventories anyway. Once again, it’s up to you if you want to buy the box set, but be aware that the discs don’t have the advertised extras.

At this point, we’re not sure if Paramount will release discs with extras or simply re-print the packaging. We will keep you updated...

 

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Paramount originally announced The Jack Ryan Collection for release on HD DVD and Blu-ray.  Following its decision to go HD-DVD-only, the studio canceled the Blu-ray edition and postponed the HD DVD edition.  All along, it looked like the HD DVDs would carry the same extras as the SD DVD special editions.  The “Special Collector’s Edition” banner appears four times on the front, the back, and the spine of the box.  The banner also appears on each individual cover art and each individual HD DVD.  Each individual cover art lists extras.

 

Guess what?  NONE of the discs have any extras.  The movies begin playing automatically as with the Top Gun HD DVD.  You don’t get a main/hard menu.  There’s only a pop-up/soft menu that lets you pause the movie, change the audio/subtitle settings, and jump to or bookmark scenes.

 

This is a disaster.  I’m not complaining about the lack of extras.  A media company is free to do as it pleases with its movies.  However, the packaging MIS-REPRESENTS the discs’ contents.  I don’t know why the extras were omitted, but the real issue is a possible case of false advertising.

 

It is up to you if you want to buy this box set.  Some people don’t care about extras, so they’ll enjoy these HD DVDs just fine.  However, be aware that you’re not getting what the packaging promises.

 

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The Movies:

The Hunt for Red October

 

The Hunt for Red October is a superb thriller because it never forgets that a personal game being played by one man may have large-scale ramifications.  The Soviets are willing to risk war in order to avoid losing face.  The Americans are willing to risk war in order to avoid losing first-strike capabilities.  Everyone is doing his best to appear “helpful” to the other side in order to paste a diplomatic face on a volatile situation.  The feints and phantom gestures orchestrated by military commanders on both sides of the Iron Curtain are mesmerizing.  Yes, it’s true that the world is a better place now than it was when two nuclear superpowers gripped each other in an embrace of death.  Still, in all honesty, I kind of miss the bad ol’ days--they were simpler than today’s bad days.

 

Patriot Games

 

Patriot Games was a considerable step back for the Jack Ryan series after the engrossing The Hunt for Red October.  For starters, Harrison Ford brought nothing dynamic to the lead role.  With the exception of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Ford plays every character as a “confused middle-aged man”.  I’m not asking Ford to display a great emotional range in every movie, but a little variation would make him more palatable to me than he is now.  Also, how many times do we have to look at him doing his “huff-and-puff” run?  Patriot Games begins with Ford huffing-and-puffing in slow motion as he runs towards his family across a town square.  He huffs-and-puffs in slo-mo yet again in Clear and Present Danger. He did everybody a favor by not huffing-and-puffing in The Sum of All Fears.

 

Clear and Present Danger

 

Clear and Present Danger was competently and professionally made.  However, it features the kinds of clichés, routine explosions, and not-so-intriguing conspiracies that make discerning viewers yawn.  We’re supposed to accept the Jack Ryan character as a hero just because he has a nice wife and two cute kids.  We’re supposed to believe that the President and his advisors are the bad guys because they are fighting a secret war against drugs.  I realize that movies use shortcuts to avoid lengthy expository dialogue, but the script for Clear and Present Danger insults viewers’ intelligence.  The truth of the matter is that if real life situations were that simple, we wouldn´t be facing the kinds of problems that plague us.

 

The Sum of All Fears

 

Many reviews of 2002’s The Sum of All Fears mention 9/11 and “the new post-Cold War era”.  However, comparing the fictional events in The Sum of All Fears to the real-life incidents following the September 11, 2001 attacks on America is like comparing apples to oranges.  Yes, it’s true that apples and oranges are both fruits, and it’s true that detonating a nuclear device on American soil and slamming airplanes into American edifices are both attacks on America.  However, the qualitative and quantitative outcomes of global nuclear war and non-geopolitical terrorist attacks differ greatly.  Therefore, while I can understand that a lot of people developed instant, vicarious links between 9/11 and war-themed movies like The Sum of All Fears, I have to say that those people are…wrong.

The kind of story that The Sum of All Fears relates is, in a sense, much more catastrophic and “old school” than the kinds of attacks orchestrated by Al-Qaeda.  Tom Clancy’s novels focus on traditional geopolitical philosophies, even if the villains aren’t all from the same country.  Also, while Al-Qaeda may be capable of inflicting horrible pain and death, it does not have the ability to destroy civilization as we know it.  In order for truly catastrophic events to occur, the world’s great powers--from a conventional point of view--would have to participate in the destruction.  The Cold War may be over, but China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and who knows what other countries still have nuclear weapons.  Right now, Russia and the U.S. may be “friendly”, but being friendly doesn’t preclude the triggering of hundreds of thousands of nuclear missiles.  The chemical and biological weapons of Third World countries worry us because they can be transported anywhere in the world with relative ease, but the religious fundamentalist remains very much what he has always been in the grand scheme of things--a pesky pest.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

Video:

All four movies are presented in 2.35:1 1080p.  The quality varies widely, with the oldest (Red October) looking the worst and the newest (All Fears) looking the best.  The live-action shots of actors in sets or outdoors are fairly good--deep blacks, robust hues, etc.  However, the special effects sequences and second-unit footage are as murky as ever.  Sure, things are sharper than what you get with DVD and VHS, but dirty water is still dirty water.  There is some edge enhancement, and grain can be a problem at times.  Also, the video transfers look a tad soft.

 

Audio:

The audio is the best feature about this box set. All of the movies carry Dolby TrueHD 5.1 encodes. Dialogue is clean and intelligible at all times. The music score for Red October leans towards the front, but the other discs spread music around the room, too. Explosions are thunderous and tight, and in the case of Red October, the rear speakers and the subwoofer create claustrophobic environments. All Fears has the best audio (in part because it expertly handles classical music cues), and Red October ranks second. The routine, rote Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger tie for a distant third.

You can also watch the movies with DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 French, and DD Plus 5.1 Spanish tracks. Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles support the audio.

 

Extras:

There is, as indicated at the beginning of this review, nothing.  You can bookmark your favorite scenes, but for audio commentaries, featurettes, and trailers, you’ll have to hang on to your SD DVDs.

 

--Miscellaneous--

An insert in one of the cases advertises other Paramount HD DVDs.

Review by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

 

 

 

 

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