Evans Above

Nov 20, 2020

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Gift Guide

I’ve said this a few times in 2020, but for those of us who have been locked down or decided to voluntarily lock ourselves down during the COVID-19 pandemic, home entertainment has played a large part in passing the time and giving us a respite from the constant drumbeat of news. Movies and TV shows can be entertainment comfort food and the back catalog of Universal and its affiliated labels is a smorgasbord of old friends and gems we always meant to get around to watching. In this Universal Gift Guide, I’ll be looking at some of the movies you can treat yourself, friends, and family to this holiday season.

One of the most anticipated back catalog releases from Universal this year was the release of the Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy on 4K UHD, the first time for the franchise in that format. The 4K UHD Combo Packs also come with Blu-ray copies and digital codes. Besides the pre-existing special features, the set also comes with a bonus disc with over an hour of brand-new content such as rare audition footage from Ben Stiller, Kyra Sedgwick, Jon Cryer, Billy Zane, Peter DeLuise and C. Thomas Howell, a tour of the film’s props and memorabilia hosted by co-writer/producer Bob Gale, a sneak peek at the new musical show, and a special episode of the popular YouTube Series “Could You Survive The Movies?” Special features on the individual films’ discs include the usual array of commentary tracks, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes looks at various production aspects, as well as cast and crew interviews. The set was released earlier this year but you may also be able to still get your hands on some limited edition versions at specific retailers. Amazon had a 4K UHD gift set featuring a levitating hoverboard replica, Target had a Blu-ray only version with the hoverboard replica, while Best Buy had a 4K UHD Steelbook set. For fans of the franchise, Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy is a great gift idea.

If someone on your shopping list loves the films released by Universal’s indie and foreign film arm Focus Features, then the Focus Features 10-Movie Spotlight Collection will satisfy their needs. In one fell swoop, their home entertainment library will add Atonement, Brokeback Mountain, Burn After Reading, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Harriet, Lost in Translation, Moonlight Kingdom, On the Basis of Sex, Pride & Prejudice, and The Theory of Everything. It’s like having your own private film festival in a box. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment sent me a copy of the set to review. On the whole, the picture quality of the 1080p AVC-encoded transfers is very good with perhaps Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lost in Translation in need of a source upgrade, while it must be noted that it was an artistic choice to shoot Moonrise Kingdom on Super 16mm film. Again, that’s just pointing out a slight difference with those three films, the detail and colour palettes look very good in all of them. As for sound, the films come with Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks, except for the most recent film, Harriet, which has a Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. They all do a good job of placing you into the environments and the dialogue is clear and scores dynamic. All in all, this is a great collection and a good way to add to your collection.

Another collection I had a chance to look at was the Illumination Presents: 10-Movie Collection which highlights Illumination’s animated projects between 2010 and 2019. The 10 disc set includes Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Despicable Me 3, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Hop, The Lorax, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and Sing. It’s a great set for kids of all ages and modern animated film collectors. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfers are amazing, with detail in the animation and backgrounds and palettes that pop with bold colours. The only one that really has any issues to speak of is Hop and that’s only because the animation has to share the stage with live action elements and there’s some grain that’s more noticeable, but really that’s just a quibble for the sake of quibbling. The discs come with a variety of audio options. The first two Despicable Me films, Hop and The Lorax have DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks, Despicable Me 3 has a DTS-X track, while Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, The Secret Life of Pets 2, and Sing have Dolby Atmos tracks.

Universal also released the Dreamworks 10-Movie Collection, which corrals together ten of the animation wing’s titles: Shrek, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, Home, Trolls, The Boss Baby, and Abominable. The animation looks great in these 1080p AVC-encoded transfers and the colour palletes are a veritable cornucopia of hues. Sharp images and great textures are present in each movie with no sign of compression artifacts or digital noise. On the audio side, there’s a few different tracks. Shrek has a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. How To Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron have a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The Boss Baby, The Croods, Home, and Trolls offer a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track. Finally, the latest entry, Abominable, goes all out with a Dolby Atmos track. Dialogue is clear and the scores are bright and dynamic. Your surrounds will put you in the animated environment, while even your subwoofer gets to add some extra oomph were necessary. It’s a great set to build an instant collection.

Finally, the Universal gift guide wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention a set released earlier, the amazing 4K Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection. I did a full review of it here. If you know a Hitchcock fan get it for them and heck, buy a copy of it for yourself.

You really can’t go wrong buying any of these Universal sets for your film-loving friends and family.

Nov 02, 2020

V for Vendetta 4K UHD Blu-ray review

V for Vendetta seems like a very timely film this US election year and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is releasing it on 4K on November 3rd. Though WBHE sent me a copy of the movie to review, the thoughts and opinions below are my own.

Directed by James McTeigue and starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta takes us to a future Britain, where democracy has morphed into a totalitarian state. The US is in a second civil war and Europe is gripped by a pandemic. It unites a quiet woman named Evey (Portman) with a masked figure known as V (Weaving) who takes control of the airwaves and urges his fellow citizens to rise up. The pair become unlikely allies in the quest to restore freedom.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265-encoded HDR10 transfer is in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is a native 4K release, with the master created from a 4K scan of the original film source. The detail of this video presentation is amazing with excellent skin, textile, and environmental textures. The colour palette is natural looking, and the black levels are deep with details in the frequent shadows. The HDR gives a boost to the fires and explosions. There’s a fine film grain, but no digital noise or compression artifacts to speak of. It’s just simply a beautiful looking transfer. Kudos to the WB wizards.

On the audio end of things, you have the choice of English Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks as well as a veritable UN of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Polish, and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are available for English SDH, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Polish, Swedish, and Thai. The soundscape is amazing, with low frequency moments that add gravitas to the scenes and oomph to the explosions. The surrounds place you firmly in the action with well-placed effects and atmospherics. Dialogue is clear and well-prioritized in the mix, while the score and other musical cures are powerful and dynamic. Those with Atmos setups will appreciate the good use of the height channels.

The package comes with a digital code and the 2008 Blu-ray release. Threen new extras can be found on the 4K disc, while the other special features reside on the Blu-ray. The 4K discs features are James McTeigue & Lana Wachowski in Conversation, where the director and co-writer touch on the inspiration and production, a look at Natalie Portman’s audition, and a behind-the-scenes featurette called V for Vendetta Unmasked. On the Blu-ray disc you’ll find In Movie Experience Director’s Notebook, which is a series of extras that play during the film, a look at the production design, Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, a “making of” featurette, a look at its graphic novel inspiration, Natalie Portman’s rap from SNL, and a music video.

WBHE has been releasing some amazing 4K transfers this year and V for Vendetta can join the list. With a beautiful video presentation, a powerful Atmos soundtrack, and some new extras, fans and newcomers alike will want to add this to their collection.

Nov 01, 2020

Yellowstone Season One and Season Two Blu-ray review

The Paramount Network drama series Yellowstone, which stars Kevin Costner as the patriarch of a cattle ranching family whose massive property is always under assault by corrupt politicians and even more corrupt businesses, has seen its first two seasons released by Paramount Home Entertainment. I had a chance to look at the two collections.

The 1080p AVC-encoded video presentation of Season One and Season Two is in the series’ original 2.0:1 aspect ratio. Yellowstone is a prestige project for the Paramount Network and the importance of the series shows in its presentation. It’s a fantastic looking Blu-ray with a clear, sharp image. Detail is everywhere, from every wrinkle, pore, and whisker of facial textures, to worn and torn textiles, to the scenery of Utah, which is pretending to be Montana here. The colour palette is well saturated, from the many hues of terrain and foliage, the wide open blue skies, and the muted tones of the ranchers’ clothing. Black levels are nice and deep with detail in the shadows. Both seasons just look beautiful.

On the audio side, both seasons come with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack with subtitles available for English SDH. The track is heavily favoured to the front with the surrounds used sparingly to add some atmospheric effects and the occasional point of immersion. With all of the intrigue going on, this is a dialogue heavy show, and that is is presented with clarity and priority.

The two seasons don’t come with digital codes. There are extras spread across all three discs in each season. They range from episode summaries, character examinations, production elements like fight choreography and music, as well as deleted scenes.

If you like a drama with family, business, and political intrigue combine with beautiful video, solid audio, and a nice selection of extras, then you’ll want to add the Yellowstone Season One and Yellowstone Season Two Blu-rays to your collection.

Oct 31, 2020

Star Trek: Picard – Season One Blu-ray review

Paramount Home Entertainment recently released Star Trek: Picard — Season One on Blu-ray. I was given the opportunity to take a look at the home entertainment release of this CBS All Access series.

The events of Picard take place about twenty years after the events of the final Star Trek: The Next Generation film Nemesis. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is now a retired admiral, having left Star Fleet about a decade ago. He carries with him the grief for his late friend Data (Brent Spiner) and the betrayal he felt when Star Fleet abandoned a Picard-led rescue mission to save the people of Romulus. When an interview he gave on the anniversary of that incident catches the attention of a young synthetic named Dahj (Isa Briones), Picard is pulled into a rogue mission to help save a group even as he faces down his own mortality.

The 1080p AVC-encoded digital transfer is presented in the series’ original 2.30:1 aspect ratio. The ten episodes are spread over three Blu-ray discs. The video presentation is clear and sharp, with excellent details on skin textures, textiles, and environmental elements. The colours are vivid, with ships’ instruments and displays especially popping. The black levels are nice and deep and there’s detail in even the darkest scenes with little sign of crushing. Compression artifacts and digital noise are negligible. It’s just a really nice video presentation.

On the audio side, there’s an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Subtitles for English SDH are available. The track sounds great. Action elements are moved nicely through the soundscape, while the surrounds also provide a great amount of ambient information that puts you into the story. Low frequency elements add some weight to the action and the score is bright and dynamic. Dialogue is clear, centred and well-prioritized in the mix.

The set doesn’t come with a digital code, but there’s a nice amount of extras spread across the three discs. There are story logs that take you behind the scenes of each episode, there’s a video commentary feature with key members of the production that place them alongside the action, a short entitled Star Trek Short Treks: Children of Mars, a look at how the series got off the ground, deleted scenes, a featurette on the ex-Borg, a look at the props, sets, and new crew, and a season one gag reel.

Though people who haven’t kept up with the Star Trek franchise may need to do some research to get up to warp speed on all the back stories and references, fans of the Star Trek franchise will want to immediately beam Star Trek: Picard — Season One into their home entertainment collections.

Oct 26, 2020

The Flintstones: The Complete Series Blu-ray review

The Flintstones was the first animated sitcom to air on a network in prime-time. Premiering in 1960, it followed the lives of Fred and Wilma Flintstone – a modern stone age family – and their neighbours Barney and Betty Rubble. Full of laughs, the occasional song and dance, and yes, even a few emotional moments, it’s a legendary production. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released The Flintstones: The Complete series on Blu-ray. Though WBHE provided us with a copy to review, the thoughts and opinions below are mine.

The 1080p AVC-encoded episodes (6 seasons, 166 episodes) are presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Back when I was watching these during my school lunch breaks on an old standard definition TV, the copies the station had were worn and muddy looking. This transfer has cleaned all of that up. The colours are bright with a lot of pop. The line art has crisp detail and given that this is hand-drawn animation, you can see the brush strokes on the cels. The black levels are deep with no sign of crushing. There’s some fine grain from the original film source, but apart from a small few video bumps along the journey, this is the most fantastic presentation of The Flintstones that you have ever seen. There are some episodes that differ in quality, but that may have been due to the quality of the source material available for each episode.

On the audio side, the series’ episodes are presented with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono tracks. Though nobody was expecting a Marvel-level immersive track, it would have been nice to have a lossless audio track, but that may have been a lot to ask given the number of episodes on each disc. The wonderful video presentation is the draw here, so pining for a lossless track is just to have something to beef about. Subtitles for the episodes are available in English SDH. There is a production issue with episode 17 – it has no music or sound effects – WBHE is aware and will offer a disc replacement program.

On the extras side, the set also comes with two animated Flintstones films: 1966’s The Man Called Flintstone and The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown! from 2015. The Man Called Flintstone is a feature-length production (89 minutes) while the direct-to-video The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown! is a mere 51 minutes long. Sadly, they’re both presented in standard definition (even though the WWE flick was available in HD) and The Man Called Flintstone is a disappointing transfer considering it had a theatrical release. There is a collection of other extras on the animation, the stone age inventions, the songs and show music, and the pop culture influence, but the extras aren’t a selling point here. Again, you’re buying this set for how well the 166 episodes of this iconic series are presented.

With a great video presentation and a sufficient audio presentation The Flintstones: The Complete Series is a must have for fans of the series, collectors, and animation historians. Again, you’re not buying this for the extras, but for how yabba dabba do fantastic the episodes look.

[Note: Bill Hunt over at thedigitalbits.com has confirmed a disc replacement for the missing music/sounf effects on one episode of disc one. See his article for details.]

Oct 20, 2020

Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale Blu-ray review

Just in time for the holidays, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has released Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale on Blu-ray. Though WBHE sent me a copy of the disc to review, the views and opinions below are my own.

Originally released as a direct-to-video feature in 2007, Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale is the last film that Joseph Barbera worked on before his death in December of 2006. In this 79 minute tale, our mouse hero Jerry dreams of performing and dancing in The Nutcracker Suite. Suddenly, his dream comes true and he’s off to a world of snowflakes, candy, and toys. He even gets to dance with the ballerina until his dream world is interrupted by Tom and his fellow alley cats. Kidnapping the ballerina and generally causing mayhem, it’s up to Jerry, Tuffy, and friends to save the day.

The style of the story is a bit disjointed, with typical Tom and Jerry Three Stooges style violence (hammers to heads, explosions, etc.) transitioning into more artistic segments that almost recall Fantasia. The Nutcracker music is used faithfully and both the missus and I found ourselves humming it throughout the day.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video presentation is crystal clear and the line drawings have strong lines. The colour palette is quite good, with primaries that pop in some scenes and muted backgrounds in others. Black levels are deep. Compression artifacts and digital noise are negligible. It’s a good looking presentation.

On the audio side, the disc comes with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack as well as French and Spanish tracks. Subtitle are available for English SDH as well as French. The music is the real star here. Dynamic and bright, it’ll leave you humming the score and dancing with your kids through the family room. The dialogue has one quirk that bugged me a bit. The mix and presentation of it seems a bit flat with everything at the same level. It almost seems a bit removed from what you’re watching. It’s hard to express, but it almost feels like this was a foreign cartoon brought over to North America and quickly dubbed into English. It’s actually not a big dialogue movie, relying heavily on musical sequences, but there was just something off with some of the dialogue for me.

As for extras, it comes with a digital code and two additional extras: Tom and Jerry: The Night Before Christmas and Tom and Jerry: Santa’s Little Helpers.

With great music and good visuals, families with young children will probably enjoy watching Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale on a cold winter’s day before Xmas.

Oct 11, 2020

The Doorman Blu-ray review

Ruby Rose and Jean Reno star in The Doorman, a direct-to-video Blu-ray release from Lionsgate. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, it tells the story of Ali (Rose), an ex-Marine who now works as a doorman at the hotel. When a team of mercenaries led by Victor (Reno) arrive to steal precious artwork hidden in the hotel’s walls, Ali taps into her training to take them on as a one soldier army. This is standard Die Hard-esque fare, pitting one against many, but Rose is up to the job and it will help you while away the time during the crazy year known as 2020. In Canada, the flick is only available on DVD, so Blu-ray aficionados may want to shop at an importer.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally, the film is crystal clear, except for a few moments of softness in some outdoor scenes. Otherwise, there’s a tremendous amount of detail in skin textures, textiles, and environmental elements. The colour palette is good, with nice pops of colour in some of the clothing. The black levels are deep and shadows have detail, with no sign of crushing in the darker scenes.

On the audio side we get a lossless English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Subtitles are available for English SDH, Spanish and French. Low frequency hits amplify the action and gunfire. It’s a front-focused soundtrack, but the surrounds do a capable job of adding ambient elements. Dialogue is clear and centred.

The Blu-ray comes with a digital code, but other than that, the only other extra is a short featurette featuring quotes from cast and crew.

The Doorman may not be the pinnacle of action flicks, but fans of the genre will have fun with it.

Oct 10, 2020

Cats & Dogs 3: Paw Unite! Blu-ray review

The Cats & Dogs movie franchise, which started back in 2001, is now a trilogy with the release of Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite!, which sees the cats and dogs of F.A.R.T. (Furry Animals Rivalry Termination) pitted against the birds, snakes, and turtles of P.O.O.P. (Pets Out of the Ordinary Pedigree) in a battle for human affection. Starring the voice talents of Max Greenfield, Melissa Rauch, and George Lopez, the humour is aimed at four-year-olds who like the idea of open mic night at the daycare. Besides the animal storyline, which features some truly “special” effects when the animals use their paws, the movie also follows their human owners, and looks at overbearing parents and money issues. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment sent me a copy to review, but the thoughts and opinions below are my own.

The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While the first movie in the franchise was a theatrical release with voice talents like Jeff Goldblum and Alec Baldwin, this direct-to-video installment at times looks like it was financed by change found in the couch. Though the video presentation is crystal clear and full of good detail in fur, skin textures, and environments, there are jarring shots in some scenes that look like they were shot on an early camcorder, exhibiting a flatness that stands out in comparison. The colour palette appears a bit muted, which is a bit unusual for a movie aimed at keep the attention of young ones.

On the audio end, there’s an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Subtitles are available for English SDH. The soundtrack is mostly front-focused, with the surround speakers occasionally asked to provide some ambient effects, while your subwoofer gets to rest for most of the movie. Dialogue is clear and centred.

On the extras side, the combo pack also comes with a DVD version and a digital code. There’s a small “making of” featurette, “interviews” with the animal cast, and a gag reel.

I’m sure that some very young children will find Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite! the sort of distraction that they can watch over and over again, especially if they’re connoisseurs of repeated poop and fart jokes. If you’re looking for the sort of family movie that everyone of all ages will find entertaining, this probably isn’t it.

Oct 04, 2020

300 4K UHD review

Zack Snyder’s 300, based on the Frank Miller comic series of the same name, is a unique looking epic action film that was screaming for a 4K release. Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has answered fans’ wishes with a combo set that takes us back to the battle between 300 Spartans and a massive Persian army. WBHE provided us with a review copy of 300, but the views below are my own.

The 2160p HEVC / H.265-encoded HDR10 is presented in the theatrical release’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It’s an upscaled 4K release as the digital effects were mastered in 2K but it looks great. The detail is fantastic with good looking skin, hair, and textile textures. It’s a very stylized film, with a graphic novel look and the colour palette and added grain reflect this. The HDR10 colour grading adds further oomph to the movie’s stylish look. Black levels are deep and don’t crush and there’s no evidence of digital artifacts. This is the sort of movie you could watch with the sound down just to take in the visuals without distraction.

On the audio side, your ears get a choice between English Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks as wells as English Descriptive Audio, French (Canadian), French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Thai in Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are present for English SDH, French, Spanish, German SDH, Italian SDH, Dutch, Mandarin, Korean, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Thai. Those with an Atmos setup will love the great use of the height channels while the rest of the surround speakers are given such a good workout they’ll probably hit the showers afterwards. Your subwoofer will add some solid low frequency oomph to the proceedings. The score is clear and dynamic, and dialogue is clear, centred, well-prioritized. Just an excellent presentation.

On the extras side, the set also comes with a Blu-ray copy and a digital code. Except for an audio commentary by director Zack Snyder, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, and cinematographer Larry Fong, all the other extras are on the Blu-ray disc, which is identical to the 2007 Blu-ray release. They include The 300: Fact or Fiction?, Who Were the Spartans?: The Warriors of 300, Preparing for Battle: Test Footage, Frank Miller Tapes, The Making of 300, Making 300 in Images, production webisodes, and deleted scenes.

A visually stunning presentation with amazing audio makes 300 in 4K an easy add to your home entertainment library.

Sep 28, 2020

The Silencing Blu-ray review

Richard Pront’s The Silencing stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as a former hunter running a wildlife sanctuary after the disappearance of his daughter years ago. When he lends his tracking skills to help the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) find a vicious killer, he finds he might be getting closer to solving the mystery surrounding his daughter’s fate. This direct-to-video thriller has just been released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate and I had the opportunity to give the disc a spin.

The 1080p AVC-encoded digital transfer is in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. There’s a lot of detail in skin textures, textiles, and environment. The black levels are very good with no loss of detail in shadows and darker scenes. The colour palette is somewhat muted, but the forest greens are quite lush. Though digital noise and compression artifacts are absent, there are some moments where some aliasing is present.

On the audio end, there’s an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, with subtitles available in English SDH and Spanish. The surround channels do give some ambient placement. Dialogue is clear and centred.

On the extras side, The Silencing Blu-ray also comes with a digital code. There’s a couple of special features: a “making of” featurette and a look at the weapon used by the killer.

The Silencing manages to pack a pretty good thriller with solid performances by Coster-Waldau and Wallis into a tight 94 minute running time. Good video and a workmanlike audio presentation get the job done. If this sort of thriller is in your wheelhouse, The Silencing would make a good addition to your home library.

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