Nov 27, 2020
Action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop marked Eddie Murphy’s first solo lead role, after the SNL star appeared in 48 Hrs. with Nick Nolte and Trading Places with fellow SNL alum Dan Aykroyd. He played Axel Foley, a streetwise Detroit detective who finds himself out of his jurisdiction and out of his element as he works to solve a case with some uptight detectives from Beverly Hills (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold).
The 2160p HEVC / H.265-encoded native 4K transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10 is in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, just slightly off from the theatrical release’s 1.85:1 ratio. Sourced from a 4K scan of the original source, it has a natural film grain. The image is quite sharp with only occasional softness and contains an impressive amount of detail. Facial features, textiles and environmental surfaces all look great here. The high dynamic range pleasingly presents the colour palette from bright California skies to lush foliage. Black levels are deep and evening scenes look quite good.
On the audio side, your ears have the choice of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, German and French Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks and a score-only Dolby Digital 5.1 track if you really want to listen to the instrumental piece “Axel F” over and over again. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, and German. This is the same audio mix that’s been kicking about for a few years. The track is very front heavy, but the surrounds are woken from their slumber once in a while. Your subwoofer might as well make plans with friends, because low-frequencies aren’t really called upon. Dialogue is clear and crisp, which is essential given the importance of Murphy’s improvised scenes as he fast-talks his way into places he shouldn’t be in.
The combo set comes with the 4K disc, a Blu-ray copy, and a digital code. Special features on the 4K disc include an audio commentary, some behind-the-scenes pieces, a mixtape feature that lets you skip to the songs in the soundtrack and a trailer. The Blu-ray disc includes those elements plus some additional featurettes and the isolated score track.
While the audio presentation is nothing to write home about, the Beverly Hills Cop 4K is the best this film has ever looked. For fans of action-comedies, Eddie Murphy, or pop culture milestones, this set is highly recommended.
Paramount released a 4K version of Top Gun in May of 2020, but with the holidays fast approaching, they’ve now released a limited edition SteelBook version for those who like collecting that format. I had a chance to review the SteelBook. Note that the video and audio presentation is the same as the May release.
If you aren’t aware of Top Gun, it’s the 1986 film that pretty much launched Tom Cruise into the stratospheric position he once held in Hollywood. He played Maverick, a Navy pilot aboard a carrier who often flaunted the rules along with his friend and Radar Intercept Officer “Goose” (Anthony Edwards). His captain begrudgingly accepts that he’s a damn good pilot and sends the pair to the Navy’s elite Naval Fighter Weapons School. Will he make it through the program? Will his reckless ways get him into trouble? You’ll have to watch to find out.
The 2160p HEVC / H.265-encoded native 4K digital transfer is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with both Dolby Vision and HDR10. The transfer is faithful to its source negative. There’s a fine film grain throughout and though clarity and sharpness in textures such as faces, clothing and surfaces are generally excellent, there are some scenes that display a little softness. Again, this is just occasional and most of the scenes are full of the excellent detail 4K is known for. The colour palette, which is full of warm hues, blue skies, and steely cockpit interiors is greatly enhanced by the HDR presentation. There are no compression artifacts or digital noise to speak of. It’s a great video presentation.
On the audio side, your ears have as many choices as Maverick’s F-14 Tomcat cockpit has switches. There are English Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtracks as well as German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, and a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, and Thai. The Atmos soundscape is given quite a workout with this film, with the roar of fighter jets traversing the surround and height speakers. It’s not just the loud roar of engines, but the general use of the surround elements to place you in the scene even in quieter moments. That amazing opening carrier scene with Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone has never sounded better. Dialogue is clear and centred.
The SteelBook packaging looks great with hand-drawn images of several of the characters on the case. The set comes with the 4K disc, a Blu-ray disc and a digital code. The 4K disc contains two new 4K extras (On Your Six: Thirty Years of Top Gun and The Legacy of Top Gun) while the rest of the extras are on the Blu-ray disc and include a making-of featurette, storyboards, music videos and an audio commentary.
With an excellent video presentation, a mind-blowing soundtrack, good extras and nice collectible SteelBook packaging, the Top Gun 4K SteelBook is perfect for adding to your collection or gifting to a friend who feels the need for speed.
Nov 20, 2020
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 10, 2020
SpongeBob Squarepants, the beloved cartoon character debuted on TV back in 1999. In 2017, he made the leap to Broadway and this live stage version garnered a dozen Tony nominations. The good citizens of Bikini Bottom are facing an impending disaster as an active volcano threatens to erupt. How will they survive? What will they do? And will the evil Plankton and Karen try to profit off the situation? The stage show was directed by Tina Landau and written by Kyle Jarrow with music and lyrics by several artists. Paramount has now released a filmed version — The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage! — on DVD and I had an opportunity to check it out.
The filmed version of the stage production was helmed by Glenn Weiss, who has overseen some of the largest live broadcasts like the Oscars and Grammys. He knows his stuff and captures the energy of the show and its elements of audience participation. Many of the original stage performers reprise their roles, including the energetic Ethan Slater as our titular hero.
The show is presented on a standard definition DVD with a 16:9 widescreen video presentation with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Extras include a sing-along version with onscreen lyrics and a photo gallery. The show sounds great and the bright and colourful imagery should keep even the youngest viewers interested.
Light and frothy, goofy and fun, families should have a good time watching The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!
Nov 02, 2020
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
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
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 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
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
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.