New to Blu-ray – January 2011

Your guide to the latest and greatest in High-Def releases.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

New to Blu Ray is our monthly look at the latest Blu Ray releases. This month we look at the Blu-Ray releases of The Social Network, Resident Evil AfterlifeMachete, Battlestar Galatica and more. 


The Social Network 

David Fincher Blu-rays have held up really well. Movies like Se7en and Fight Club relish the dark scenes that can be honed in perfectly in HD. I didn’t think of The Social Network as one of “those” David Fincher films, but now that it’s on Blu-ray I can see the same visual flair at work. 

All the scenes in dorm rooms and college bars make great use of the dark space. You can still see everything clearly, but you notice the levels of light. There are two different types of boardrooms, both brightly lit but one distinctly mundane and the other grossly ornate. Even the L.A. party scenes have a certain fluorescent tint and the party house is just another dim dorm, so it’s consistent. 

The overall picture is perfectly clear, one of those Blu-rays that looks like it’s being beamed directly from the camera onto your TV screen with no in between steps. I didn’t notice as much gritty detail. It’s more of a smoother look, but a Blu-ray kind of smooth that’s intentional. It’s just all supposed to look slick.



This drama has a solid HD transfer so it certainly looks like the big boys, in fact probably better than a lot of studio movies they just crank out. The picture is clear, maybe not surreal Social Network clear but probably 90% of the way there. 

The light has a sort of blue tint that matches the prison setting. You’ll definitely notice all the little details in background and textures. Those are what make the Blu-ray difference, just seeing a little bit more than on film or DVD.


Jack Goes Boating 

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut has a really clear Blu-ray. There might be a few shots with a little grain but it’s really clear. It’s a drama set in real world New York so you’re mostly seeing a clear picture of regular locations, but you notice the difference. It’s that extra layer peeled away. 

There are some beautiful shots of snow slowly falling in the streets. A lot of scenes around cramped apartments or on Hoffman in the pool are stark, using the clarity to make drama more apparent.



Resident Evil Afterlife

Using those Avatar cameras sure gave Resident Evil 4 some awesome looking footage. I only have the regular Blu-ray, not the 3D one but it looks great. And it looks great in that way Blu-rays are supposed to look great. It’s totally clear and looks real, with no digital errors. It even seems like you can distinguish the different visual effects elements, since they were probably composited to exist on different layers of the 3D experience.

The opening of the movie gives you many different locales to experience this picture quality. You’ve got slick rainy Tokyo streets, frozen icecaps, beaches, burnt out Hollywood and of course the industrial science labs. The main location of the prison is kind of dark and green but it holds up, and has gritty detail effects like slick water or the zombie hordes below. That white room finale is pretty stellar. 

I think it’s fine in 2D. I can imagine the ninja stars are supposed to come out of the screen and the bullet time freeze frame should be all over your living room. Milla Jovovich points guns at the camera, and they stay inside your TV but you get the point. Actually, some shots still create a sort of optical illusion, like a shotgun sticking out. 


Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 Motion Comic 

Animated movies look great on Blu-ray because it’s just a simple image, so the colors are pure and bright and the lines sharp and crisp. A motion comic is even simpler. It’s basically just still drawings. They may blink or slide across the screen but it’s not even trying to simulate natural motion. Just focus on the image. 

The art of the Buffy comic comes through on the Blu-ray. It’s not comprised of especially bright colors, being a dark horrific world, but the modest colors do a good job being clear without showing off. The picture is clear so it must be nice to see those panels blown up on a big screen.



For a movie about a guy stuck in a box, Buried looks all right on Blu-ray. I mean, it’s not a pretty picture and it’s all lit by cell phone or cigarette lighter, but they manage to survive the inherent problems. Even the fire lit scenes can look grainy, so get ready for it when it’s really dark. The reflection of cell phone light creates a really bad fuzz effect, but it’s not really distracting. It seems like that’s how it would look inside a coffin in HD. 

You can definitely notice all the gritty details in the casket with him. The cell phone is all scuffed and smudged, the texture of the wood he carves his notes into, his crusted up watch, the sweat and the stubble. Honestly, it looks better than conventional wisdom says it should. It’s no home theater demo, but you can watch it and know it’s still more clear than a DVD.


The Last Exorcism 

For a “found footage” movie, The Last Exorcism looks good in HD. Most of the movie looks like standard top grade Hollywood production. It’s clear and reproduces the colors realistically so you can see all the detail on the farm. 

It gets rough where you’d expect it to. Interiors or nighttime scenes can haze up, so that is a lot of the money shots. I guess that adds to the realism of it, because the documentary crew wouldn’t have time to light the evil ceremonies.


Dear Mr. Gacy 

Anchor Bay released this serial killer movie that I hadn’t heard of before, but maybe some of our horror folks would appreciate. It’s a solid Blu-ray transfer. Much of the movie is a little soft, maybe a bit of grain shows through. However, it remains consistent whether it is in Gacy’s jail cell or in the kid’s bedroom, so perhaps they struck a good balance with the film’s look.




Robert Rodriguez gave Machete a ‘70s look, both in a tint that resembles old film stock, and a sort of Grindhouse effect to the footage. The scratches and dirt are only in the beginning, but the bulk of the film is still designed to look old. It’s a solid picture that duplicates that look in HD well. 

You see all the gritty detail in the barrios where Machete hangs out and takes down the bad guys. Most of all, you see all the detail in Danny Trejo’s face. Full glory, in HD. The picture gets a slight haze in rougher patches, but only to the degree it looks like a film (it’s not a film, it’s digital, that’s all intentional.) It keeps the colors bright and saturated for a weird modern Grindhouse look.


The Mariachi Trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado and Once Upon a Time In Mexico) 

El Mariachi holds up pretty well considering what it is. It still looks like a home movie but it’s a home movie that you can watch on a 54” HDTV. The grain is pretty big and the colors aren’t bright, but it always looked like that. The HD transfer doesn’t degrade the original film any. 

On the same disc, Desperado looks like a Blu-ray restoration. You can tell it was shot on film, but you also see all the details of gritty Mexican crime havens and the colors pop. You can totally see the wires yanking guys back from the gunfire. You’d think Rodriguez would just go in and wipe those out digitally, but it’s really clear to see all the sweat and blood. 

Getting its own disc, Once Upon a Time looks pretty good. It’s clear and smooth so they don’t have any digital artifacts or film grain. It’s a bright colorful movie with a golden glow, and you feel like you can see the sweat of hot Mexico.



This is the kind of movie you want to see how it holds up on Blu-ray some 20 years later. They gave the firefighting drama  a solid Blu-ray, where it still looks like a movie but you see it more clearly, a lot more detail around the firehouse and during the blazes. The fire looks great as it bursts through the screen with a bright orange. 

There are still some rough patches that just seem lazy. Shots of the firefighters walking up stairs or down a hall tend to get really hazy. It seems like they knew they were transferring a movie with a lot of smoky corridors, so they could come up with a way to tweak that. But the money shots and the story parts look good.


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole 

Zack Snyder’s 300 of Owls looks great in HD, and it’s nice to be able to see it in 2D without those glasses on. You can see all the detail they put into the owls, their armor and the settings they fly around. The colors of the skies in all hours and all weather conditions are beautiful. 

It’s Pixar good, only one thing that differs from Pixar is they kind of made real looking owls. Even the rats and bugs Pixar did were cartoony, so Guardians has the crisp HD clarity of Pixar animation with a grittier sort of detail.



Once Upon a Time in America 

Warner Brothers has the power to make their classic films look ridiculously new. See Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz. Sometimes though they just preserve the look of a film projected on a screen. Only that’s not “just” anything. Preserving an aesthetic look over decades and technology formats is also an achievement. 

Sergio Leone’s final movie looks like you’re watching the film projected in your home. I had a chance to see a retrospective showing of the film earlier this year, and I can vouch for it. That’s exactly what it looked like at the Egyptian in Hollywood. The Blu-ray keeps this clear so the picture never looks old. It just looks classical. 

What this means is you might not see new gritty detail restored to the streets of Depression era New York, but you see the images that were designed to look cinematic. The colors of the light reproduce faithfully, so we’re still seeing the vision Leone crafted, which is a bit more fanciful and artistic.



Now this is a video movie that looks like video. Obviously this was shot on real consumer cameras, not Hollywood high tech “found footage” simulators. Modern consumer equipment does go pretty far. The image can hold up clearly on a big screen, let alone a home screen, but it still looks like video. You see the squares and the pixels and the color bleed. 

Then of course a lot of Catfish is shot at night or surreptitiously so it’s downhill from there. The close-ups of video monitors have all the lines you see through the viewfinder. So I suppose this is a reasonable reproduction of the film but why not just get the standard DVD on this one?


Battlestar Galactica Season Four and Razor 

You probably already have these in your BSG Complete Series Cylon head, but they’re the latest releases as singles or sets. I still see the same problems I always did. There’s a lot of haze and white speckles, whether it’s the CGI space battles or the dark corridors of the ship. Even in season four when they’re on planets, it’s so washed out and saturated it only leads to more haze and digital specks.