H D - S E N S E I

A view on Hi-def DVDs by Gary W. Tooze


Introduction: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 5600 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:

Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player (firmware upgraded)

Sony BDP-S300 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player (firmware upgraded)
Sony DVP NS5ODH SD-DVD player (region-free and HDMI)

Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

Gary W. Tooze








21 [Blu-ray DVD]


(Robert Luketic, 2008)

Sony Pictures
Review by Gary W. Tooze

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1




35.2 Gig

Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
DUBs: French: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Portuguese: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1

English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, none

50GB Blu-ray Disc


• Commentary by director Robert Luketic, and Producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca

• Featurette: 21: Advantage Player
• Featurette: Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal (24:24)

• Featurette: Money Plays - A Tour of the Good Life

• Blu-ray exclusive '21 Virtual Blackjack Game'

Disc: 25GB (single-layered) Blu-ray Disc

Released: July 22nd, 2008
Standard Blu-ray case
16 chapters

Product Description:

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a shy, brilliant M.I.T. student who's needing to pay school tuition finds the answers in the cards. He is recruited to join a group of the school's most gifted students that heads to Vegas every weekend armed with fake identities and the know-how to turn the odds at blackjack in their favor. With unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) leading the way, they've cracked the code. By counting cards and employing an intricate system of signals, the team can beat the casinos big time. Seduced by the money, the Vegas lifestyle, and by his smart and sexy teammate, Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), Ben begins to push the limits. Though counting cards isn't illegal, the stakes are high, and the challenge becomes not only keeping the numbers straight, but staying one step ahead of the casinos' menacing enforcer: Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne).





The Film:

Director Robert Luketic has helmed his first major motion picture and the result is a "winner, winner, chicken dinner", to quote a popular line in his film, "21". It's a goofy phrase among gamblers that has been around for quite some time. The tale is based on a true story about a group of undergraduate MIT students with extraordinary mathematical abilities that go to Vegas to bust the bank by counting cards in teams, under the guidance of an MIT professor.

"21" opens with all the flash one could hope for of a big budget movie about Las Vegas. It is bigger than life, with the cards taking on a size of mythic proportions along with the close ups of these cards yielding a down to the pixel view of them. In fact, the whole film is beautifully shot. Along with its snappy pacing, it helps the audience know the rush that can come from gambling.

Excerpt from David Kemplar's review at Big Picture, Big Sound located HERE

Video: NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc. This Blu-ray image is very competent but never fully achieved the sublime levels that one might hope for from such a modern film. Now, it does look very good at times - exceedingly sharp and colors are bright and fairly true - overall the film is somewhat dark but it is all supported very well by the 1080P, MPEG-4 AVC encode. I see a shade of greenish/blue haze at times but it may have been intentional. This must be superior to the SD edition but I'm unsure how much and I doubt anyone would be disappointed in the appearance - I'm just saying it doesn't seem to approach the highest levels the Blu-ray format can achieve.  

Screen Captures













Audio: One of the more disappointing aspects of the film is how it tends to mimic a MTV video with constant barrages of fast-cut sound-clips but the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 supports this very well with lots of deep bass and electronic riffs. There of a lot of music in the soundtrack that I am not familiar with and it doesn't seem to give the rear speakers much work. Like the image - overall it is adept, but never intensely remarkable. There are optional English (and multiple other language) subtitles supporting the clear and consistent dialogue. There are also three 5.1 foreign language DUBs available.


Extras: Supplemental material is duplicated on the 2-disc SD available HERE  and includes a run-in-the-mill commentary with Robert Luketic, and Producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca. Its some glad-handing  with some viable input from Luketic. It would depend on your enjoyment of the film whether you think this would be worth listening to. Personally, I lean towards 'not really'. There are three featurettes; 21: Advantage Player where members of the cast describe some of the ins-and-outs about playing and card-counting strategy. Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal runs about 25 minutes and has some 'behind the scenes' and production clips. The last - Money Plays - A Tour of the Good Life - shows some of the glory and misery behind being a high-roller in the Vegas lifestyle. I enjoyed the material from the featurettes on the background of the M.I.T. group but the other stuff was rather old-hat. There is one Blu-ray exclusive - a '21 Virtual Blackjack Game' that I didn't indulge in.       


BOTTOM LINE: I liked this film, but the cheesy Hollywood-ness of the direction kind of held me back from 'loving' it. This could have been a lot better in my opinion - as it is such a cool story to make into a feature film. The fast-edit gimmicks, although suitable to a Las Vegas aura, seemed overdone although I liked Spacey and Sturgess who seemed acceptable in their characterizations. I won't go so far as to say that the Blu-ray underwhelms but perhaps partly due to the film's weaknesses and the lack of 'Wow' factor of the transfer makes me suggest that a purchase may be better suited to the single-disc SD edition available HERE or if you are keen on the featurettes the 2-disc HERE although the Blu-ray is only about $4 more.  

Gary Tooze
July 16th, 2008



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