L  e  n  s  V  i  e  w  s

A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

 

Introduction: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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Vicky Cristina Barcelona [Blu-ray vs. DVD comparison]

 

(Woody Allen, 2008)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Mediapro & Gravier

Blu-ray: Weinstein Home Entertainment

 

DVD stats (where they differ from the Blu-ray) and Gary's comparison comments are in light green.

 

Disc:

Region: FREE / Region 1

Runtime: 1:36:44.465 / 1:36:24

Chapters: 18

Disc Size: 22,251,337,934 bytes / 4,544,423,936 bytes

Bitrate: 29.84 Mbps / 5.52 Mbps

Case: Locking Blu-ray case / Standard DVD Keep case

Release date: January 27th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 480P

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 3.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 16-bit /

DVD: Dolby Digital 3.0

 

Subtitles:

English SDH & Spanish (feature film). Burned-in English on Spanish dialogue

 

Extras:

• None

 

 

The Film:

Woody Allen gets his first showing on Blu-ray*, not with Annie Hall or Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters, not even with his musical, Everyone Says I Love You, but with his most recent film, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. A curious title to say the least, for it is not, as you might guess, a woman's name. Rather it is two names and a city - inaccurately written on a single line, as you can see from the title card.

 

*ed. note: actually Cassandra's Dream is on region-free Blu-ray in Scandinavia. That was his first.

 

 


As Woody's narrator (Christopher Evan Welch) makes clear from the start, Vicky and Christina are best friends on summer holiday in Spain. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) studies Catalan culture and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) has recently finished directing her first film, a 12-minute piece that she now hates. Vicky is organized in all things, including her love life. She is happily engaged to be married to Doug (Chris Messina), a predictable, nice enough fellow with all the judgments about gender roles that often accompany a successful yuppie. Doug's polar opposite is Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), infamously married and divorced from Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz). Cristina is what you might call an "incurable romantic" – she is attracted to whatever is at the edge of risk-taking about love. She is stimulated by the unusual but, ultimately, is not satisfied by it – not for long, anyhow.

Juan Antonio first approaches Vicky and Cristina at a restaurant and, without blinking, invites them to join him for a weekend in Oviedo to enjoy the sights and the wine and, hopefully, make love. Cristina comments on his directness and apparent lack of guile. Cristina sees this as the very essence of manipulation. Cristina finds Juan Antonio handsome and fascinating. Vicky insists that, even if she were inclined to have an affair on the eve of her marriage, it wouldn't be with the likes of Juan Antonio, a legendary wife-beater. Ha!

Soon after Cristina and Juan Antonio hook up, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) is carried into the picture following a suicide attempt. What follows is an examination of passionate love and the search for its holy grail – the missing ingredient that could make it work.

As my regular readers have heard from me before, I have this thing about voiceovers: that few actors these days seem able to read in English. It is, apparently, a very different skill from acting. But how hard can it be? Surely there must be someone out there besides Morgan Freeman who can do this! Woody used to do his own narration and up to Radio Days, he had just the right touch. Then he began to wobble while still maintaining a kind of percussive attack. Christopher Evan Welch has a repetitive address to the text, without a hint of regional accent. He is articulate, but uninteresting, even tiring.

Rebecca Hall is relatively new to films. I vaguely remember her from The Prestige, but I came to appreciate her work here once her character's crisis was clearly manifest. I hope to see more of her in the future. The other principals are familiar to all of us: While I can't say that this movie reveals Ms. Johansson at her best (she is a bit detached in other roles as well), Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem add the necessary spice to this charming pastiche.

 


 

Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below captures were ripped directly from the respective disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Comparatively, I didn't find the stellar jump from standard-def to high-def (despite the, over 5X, bitrate) - actually as they are both single-layered - both are a bit subs-standard in my opinion. Blu-ray has more detail than the DVD, a shade warmer (red skin tones) and overall a bit darker (yellow on the DVD). The improvement will depend on your systems ability to discern. Unless you are 'projecting' - I don't feel it is as dramatic as most would like. The 'babes' of the film look more 'babe-ish' on Blu-ray - colors are tighter, contrast vastly improved.

 

This Weinstein Blu-ray delivers a modest, but agreeable image, drenched in warm, golden hues, that seemed to give way to more natural tones as the movie progressed. In all respects the picture quality is pristine, though a bit soft, as expected. Noise is minimal, if at all present. Blacks are consistent with a natural contrast. Bit rates are in the 30s and upper 20s.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

Blu-ray TOP vs. SD DVD BOTTOM

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/8
 

Even though the Blu-ray cover states "English Dolby Stereo," my PS3 indicates Linear PCM - 3 channels – 3.1 Mbps (constant). Looks like uncompressed audio to me, even if entirely devoid of surround channel information - not that it's missed all that much in this movie. The dialogue is crisp, focused and clear, which is a good thing, considering how much of the drama is invested in its language – both English and Spanish (the latter was not subtitled, by the way – though it is often translated by one person or another.) The voiceover maintains the same acoustic space throughout the movie in contrast to the actors, whose voices are always appropriately affected by whatever venue they pass through. This differentiation is done so smoothly as to belie its artful technique. The music, whether performed on screen or as part of the soundtrack mix, is always a little muted. A good example occurs at the beginning of chapter 7 where the guitar sounds decidedly thin, even considering that it's outdoors and therefore less full bodied. From the point of view of the audience, who are only a few feet away, the guitar would be much fuller. However, I assume that to observe this reality would have competed with the overall sound design of the film. Decisions like this abound. I approve.

Ditto - excepting the DVD is Dolby and compressed. Not much significance to this film though.

 

 


I did find that the catchy title tune ("Barcelona" sung by Giulia y los Tellarini HERE) was a little overused in the opening scenes. I certainly like the number – it struck me as the perfect mix of a pop Spanish beat filtered through the familiar Woody Allen traditional jazz lens: a Spanish version of Anne Dudley’s music for the 1990 Jeeves & Wooster TV series.

 

Operations: 7
With no extra features or audio options, there are only chapters and subtitles to choose from. It's all so embarrassingly simple and just as uninteresting.

 

Extras: 0
The very definition of "Bare Bones"

No extras on either.

 

 

Bottom line: 7
There is a hesitancy about Woody Allen's actors that strikes me as not quite ready for prime time – as if they're still in rehearsal. It's part of his charm, really. Once the story get under way, we tumble to the style, the dramatic tensions, the characters, the music and the lovely photography, always flattering to his actors. The Blu-ray image glows seductively and the audio is clean and natural.

 

I liked the film - but didn't love it. I'm a big Woody Allen fan and feel slighted that both discs are single-layered and bare bones. The Blu-ray gave the better presentation but neither format gave stellar visuals. It's $6 difference - which sounds about right but for what they are offering digitally-speaking both are priced high in my opinion.

Leonard Norwitz
January 3rd, 2009

Gary updated January 18th

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 





 

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