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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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - HD DVD and Combo SD (flip side)

(David Yates, 2007)

 

Warner (USA)

2.40:1 1080p

139 minutes

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

 

Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish

 

Extras: In-Movie Experience PIP video stream; Focus Points featurettes; additional scenes; Trailing Tonks; The Magic of Editing; Internet connectivity features

 

Released: December 11th, 2007

HD DVD case

32 chapters

 

The Harry Potter movies are adaptations of dense books filled with innumerable details.  There are always concerns that the movies might be too long for children to tolerate in one viewing or too long for more than three showings per screen at night--both reasons that can kill the bottom line for Warner Bros.  Yet, despite all the worries, I’ve enjoyed the ones that clocked higher than 150 minutes (movies 1, 2, and 4) far more than the shorter ones (movies 3 and 5).  The shorter ones rush through plot points, so even though I’ve read all the books, I don’t feel like I have a chance to connect with any of the characters or their journeys.  On the other hand, the longer ones give the actors room to breath, so their performances in 1, 2, and 4 are richer and more memorable than what they do in 3 and 5.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Number 5) does have some nice character moments because the characters are in late adolescence now, going through teenage dramas that are complex and involved.  My favorite scene is almost a throwaway.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione sit in front of a fireplace talking about Harry’s relationship with Cho.  As Hermione explains the emotional turmoil experienced by women, she nags Ron as usual.  Suddenly, all three start to laugh.  This is the moment in the movie series when Ron realizes that he doesn’t mind Hermione’s nagging, when Hermione realizes that she doesn’t mind Ron’s “faults”, and when Harry can share in his two best friends’ joy.

 

 

 

Evanna Lynch is a wonderful addition to the cast as Luna Lovegood, a spacey but wise, gentle soul with great inner strength.  Lynch has such great chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe that she manages to upstage the two actresses playing Harry’s love interests (Ginny and Cho).  However, with the script busy playing connect-the-dots, the other peripheral characters get little airtime.

 

As much as I prefer character moments to spectacle, I have to admit that the final third of this movie is a stunning tour de force of special effects, even when compared to the previous entries and the Matrix or LOTR trilogies.  The aggression and violence is palpable and powerful.  The forging of children into adult warriors is stirring.  The loss is real.

 

Video:

For a long time, I’ve felt that Good Night, and Good Luck. offered the best video out of all my HD DVDs.  However, this 2.40:1 1080p VC-1 transfer bests that disc’s despite the mix of live-action and computer-generated footage.  Although the movie still has that shot-on-film feel, it doesn’t have excessive grain or noise.  Detail is outstanding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

--SD DVD side--

The video is a handsome 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen downgrade of the HD DVD side’s video transfer.

 

Audio:

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and DD+ 5.1 English tracks are phenomenal, with the edge going to the Dolby TrueHD mix as it was encoded at a much higher bitrate than the DD+ mix.  As Warner’s cash cow, Harry Potter benefits from top-of-the-line sound mixing--powerful bass, wide separation and spread for music cues, fanciful effects that swirl all around the viewer, etc.  Despite the busy nature of the sound design, dialogue is always intelligible when appropriate.

 

 

 

You can also watch the movie with DD+ 5.1 French and DD+ 5.1 Spanish dubs.  Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles support the audio.

 

--SD DVD side--

The SD DVD side has DD 5.1 English, DD 5.1 French, and DD 5.1 Spanish tracks.  Optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles support the audio.

 

Extras:

The HD DVD has an In-Movie Experience (IME) PIP video stream.  This is the big advantage that the HD DVD has over the Blu-ray and SD DVD versions.  You get what’s essentially a video commentary stream of the actors and crew members talking about their experiences.  At various points, you can also press the Enter button to see additional featurettes about the production.  These featurettes are also collected as “Focus Points” in the Extras section of the disc.

 

There are ten minutes of deleted scenes.  “Trailing Tonks” follows actress Natalia Tena around the production offices and sets.  In “The Magic of Editing”, you can fiddle with a couple of clips and sound cues from one brief sequence.

 

If your HD DVD player is connected to the Internet, then you can share your favorite scenes, watch the movie at the same time with other people, and buy tchotchkes for your mobile phone.

 

 

--SD DVD side--

The SD DVD side has no extras other than a bunch of previews for other Warner movies and videogames.

 

--Miscellaneous--

An insert booklet provides information about the disc’s Internet connectivity features.

 

HD DVD Version vs. Blu-ray Version

 

Warner’s HD DVD and Blu-ray editions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are NOT identical even though the studio usually employs the same video and audio encodes for most of its dual-format releases.  Harry Potter 5 showcases the strengths AND weaknesses of both formats.

 

1) The HD DVD has an “In-Movie Experience” video stream that also allows branching to additional “Focus Points” featurettes, but the Blu-ray only has the “Focus Points” featurettes without the other video clips.  Clearly, Warner did not want to risk disappointing Blu-ray consumers who have hardware incapable of generating a second video stream.

 

2) The “Trailing Tonks” featurette is in standard definition on the HD DVD, but it is in high definition on the Blu-ray.

 

3) The HD DVD does not have the “The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter” documentary, but the Blu-ray does.  This documentary is NOT on the SD DVD side of the HD DVD because the SD DVD side is identical to Disc 1 of the two-disc SD DVD set.  (The documentary is on Disc 2 of the two-disc SD DVD set.)

 

4) The HD DVD has Internet connectivity features, but the Blu-ray does not.

 

5) The Blu-ray has numerous audio and subtitle options, but the HD DVD only has English, French, and Spanish.

 

The differences between HD DVD and Blu-ray boil down to two issues.  From a software standpoint, HD DVD is superior to Blu-ray, but from a capacity standpoint, Blu-ray is superior.  I know that the HD DVD camp has talked about a triple-layer 51-gig disc, but until that becomes a reality that can be purchased by consumers, that configuration is as much of a pipe dream as the Blu-ray camp’s claims about improved security via BD Java.

 

We’ve seen these problems elsewhere.  The 300 HD DVD relegates the joint audio commentary to the SD DVD side, which means that those of you with the non-combo disc lose the audio commentary.  Meanwhile, the 300 Blu-ray has the audio commentary but does not have the IME video commentary offered by the HD DVD.  The Blood Diamond HD DVD has an IME track; the Blu-ray forces you to watch featurettes independent of the movie.  The Terminator 3 HD DVD has an IME track; the forthcoming Blu-ray uses the brute force of its extra storage space to create a fake IME track (the picture-in-picture frame is simply hard coded in addition to the movie without the PIP).  Blu-ray doesn’t even have the theatrical cut of Troy because of the IME problem.  The A Clockwork Orange HD DVD release is a two-disc affair while the Blu-ray is a one-disc affair.  As Warner pushes both formats to their limits, one can see how wasteful and idiotic it was for the two camps to refuse to create a single product that combines the best of both worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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