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 Aviator HD-DVD

(Martin Scorsese, 2004)


Warner (USA)

2.40:1 1080p

170 minutes


Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 French, DD Plus 2.0 Spanish

Subtitles: Optional English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, none

Extras: audio commentary by Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Mann; deleted scene; Making The Aviator; The Role of Howard Hughes in Aviation History; Modern Marvels: Howard Hughes (History Channel documentary); The Affliction of Howard Hughes: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; The Visual Effects of The Aviator; Constructing The Aviator; Costuming and Scoring The Aviator; The Aviator and the Age of Glamour; The Wainwright Family; An Evening With Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda; stills gallery; theatrical trailer; soundtrack promo


Released: November 6th, 2007

HD DVD case

32 chapters


Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for playing Katherine Hepburn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s tackling of the title role, but to me, it seemed like Blanchett was playing the Hepburn that we see in screwball comedies rather than playing Hepburn as a real person.  I had the same problem with the other Kate in this movie, Kate Beckinsale.  Was Ava Gardner really such a tough cookie, or was Beckinsale playing Gardner based on what we remember from her movies?



I suppose mimicry of public performances is unavoidable when portraying other actors, so the cast members who played non-actors are far more believable--and enjoyable.  The Aviator is probably Leo’s high-point in his recent collaboration with Martin Scorsese.  As Howard Hughes was a man of extremes, this role gives Leo a wide range to explore.  (He was straightjacketed by his roles in Gangs of New York and The Departed.)  John C. Reilly is endearing as Hughes’s accountant, and Alec Baldwin is suavely charming as Pan Am CEO Juan Trippe.  Most surprising of all is Alan Alda, who plays a slippery snake of a Senator.





This is a strong video transfer of tricky visual material.  Scorsese shot the movie in color with color schemes reflecting how movies might’ve appeared depending on the era.  Thus, the colors are intentionally “off” during the 1920s and 1930s, with green objects such as peas and grass looking aqua or blue.











Although Howard Hughes devoted much of his life to airplanes, the primary DD Plus 5.1 English track is robust but not memorable.  The audio doesn’t really call attention to itself with flashy effects, and the music score is rather low-key.  Thus, the heavy lifting is done by the dialogue from the center channel even though the subwoofer has quite a kick during some airplane flyovers.  Some of you might bemoan the lack of a lossless track, but bear in mind that The Aviator is primarily a character-driven drama, not an action movie or a musical.


You can also watch the movie with DD Plus 5.1 French and DD Plus 2.0 Spanish tracks.  Optional English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles support the audio.



The cover art attributes the audio commentary solely to Martin Scorsese, but separately-recorded comments by editor Thelma Schoonmaker and producer Michael Mann were edited into the track.  In this case, Mann was supposed to direct The Aviator, but he decided to helm other movies instead.  Scorsese stepped into Mann’s shoes at the request of Leonardo DiCaprio; although Scorsese was a hired gun, his extensive knowledge of film history was an asset to the production.




There is one brief deleted scene involving Howard Hughes and Ava Gardner.


There are several featurettes in this very loaded special edition.  The substantive ones deal with Howard Hughes, covering his contributions to aviation and business as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder.


“An Evening With Leonardo DiCaprio and Alan Alda” is a discussion featuring two actors who played antagonists in the movie.  It’s surprising to see that DiCaprio and Alda have a different sort of rapport than what’s on display in The Aviator.


The remaining featurettes are basically run-of-the-mill superficial examinations of production work like art design, costumes, make-up, visual effects, music, etc.


Finally, you get a stills gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a promo spot for the CD soundtrack.




An insert advertises other Warner HD DVDs.








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