New to Blu-ray – December 2011

We take a look at the films heading to Blu-ray including Rise of the Apes, the final season of Smallville and more!

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

New to Blu-ray

New to Blu-ray is our monthly look at the titles hitting Blu-ray for the month. Check out all of the cool releases for December 2011 below!


Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This is a solid Blu-ray of a new release movie. The picture is clear. It’s got a slightly heightened color scheme so it doesn’t look like real life, but there are some beautiful sequences in the park and the rampage through the city. You can really see all the distinctions between the different types of apes.

However, the Blu-ray really emphasizes how bad the CGI really is. Every ape looks like a cartoon, and they don’t even look like they’re in the scene when they’re pasted into the San Francisco rampage. The performances are great. You can make realistic ape movements with a human actor. You just can’t make the final rendering look like a real animal.


The Rocketeer

There’s a really beautiful transfer here of a movie with no grain, a totally clear picture that looks better than most new releases. You’ll see the bright colors in the shiny 1920s aircraft and all the texture and detail in the metal, paint and oil. I think the optical composites hold up well. I always liked the layers of that effect, and the second layer doesn’t suffer in the transfer.

Along the way there are some rough patches though. Many of the nighttime scenes are spattered with digital noise. Even interiors (the good old diner date) are rough. When it’s daytime, you see the spectacular picture described above. However, the climax of the film is at night, though it’s not as bad as some of the earlier night scenes.

It’s all a solid transfer of a catalog favorite title. The fact that any scenes at all look like Blu-ray quality shows a loving attention given to the transfer. Perhaps they couldn’t go the extra mile to make the rougher scenes shine, but it’s a nice title to revisit, with some flaws but plenty of gems too.


Another Earth – You know I’ve been touting this indie movie since Sundance. It won the awards and got released by Fox Searchlight along with Brit Marling’s other movie, Sound of My Voice. Now it’s really made the big time on Blu-ray.

The picture holds up surprisingly well for a raw, gritty indie movie. The picture is clear and crisp. It’s not glamorous because the story and performance is stark. There is a blue tint to outdoor scenes thanks to that second Earth reflecting down on us. You see all the gritty details of normal life where the characters deal with sci-fi themes.

There are a few scenes that look grainy, and you can tell it’s digital grain rather than old school film grain. That still only give it an authentic indie film. It never flares up grossly.

The greatest special effect of the movie is Marling’s captivating presence, and her raw emotion is palpable with every HD detail of her face and expression highlighted.


Cowboys & Aliens – One of the most anticipated movies of the summer became quickly forgotten. If you neglected it then, or if you’re already ready for a fresh second viewing, the Blu-ray is easily a superior way to experience the film. Even by standards of new releases, this pictures is perfect.

You see every gritty detail of every wet or crusted dirt and grime. The western landscapes are epic and lush, even the dry mountains. The picture remains as clear and vibrant even in the dark scenes at night or within caves or overturned boats. That’s usually the problem area for HD transfers but Cowboys & Aliens gets it all right, visually at least.


Smallville: The Final Season and Complete Series DVD – The final season of Smallville comes to Blu-ray with a solid HD transfer. The picture is consistently clear with a lot of bright colors and shiny superhero costumes. It has what I can only describe as a CW Gloss, that look that rounds off all the light sources, creating a glow and keeping the picture glossy rather than gritty. It holds up on Blu-ray and there’s minimal noise, if any in a given episode.

Perhaps more noteworthy, the entire series of Smallville is available in a complete DVD set with brand new extras encompassing the whole 10-year run. Season one gets a full 25 minutes while the others get 7 to 10 but they do go year by year. “10 Years of Comic-Con” has more footage from recent panels but if you were one of the cosplay fans asking a question, you may have made this featurette.

The recent Aquaman and old 1961 Superboy pilots would be collector’s items on their own, independent of a DVD bonus feature. Will the David E. Kelley Wonder Woman be a bonus feature on some future DVD?



This gritty MMA film has a very rough Blu-ray transfer. You’re going to see a lot of digital noise in the first half of the film, and turning down the brightness won’t hide it all. The whole Pittsburgh section of the film looks like that with only a few clear spots.

It gets better when they go to Atlantic City. The casino beach light clears up a lot of the night footage, and things brighten up in the ring matches. I didn’t notice a whole lot of detail to observe. The documentary handheld style just tries to capture the action without lingering on anything.


The Hangover: Part II

I was the only defender of The Hangover: Part II theatrically. Maybe I’ll get some allies when they give the sequel a chance on Blu-ray. I think when Hangover V comes out, people will revisit this to study the nuanced twists between the structures of all six movies (there will be a Hangover 0 in between.)

In the meantime, anyone who gives Part II a fair shot on Blu-ray will be treated to another stunning movie. I mean, Todd Phillips can shoot. The widescreen portrait of Thailand is beautiful enough. The picture remains perfectly clear so you can see it like reality, or really a cinematically enhanced reality.

The movie captures all the grit of the squalor in which the Wolf Pack finds themselves, and explores in the back alleys and marketplaces. There are also beautiful sequences in the monk’s temple and along the water. Actually, even the run down slums look beautiful with a golden light reflecting off them.


The Expendables: Director’s Cut

Actually with this, the content is more notable than the HD presentation. The picture looks as good as the original Expendables release with gritty action detail and lavish exotic locations. While it can be hard to tell what’s new in a director’s cut, especially over a year after viewing the original, I think there were some things noticeable in Stallone’s new vision.

The film runs longer, but more than any new scenes, I noticed what was missing. He took out a lot of the playful banter and actually made the scenes flow better. Now the film has a sort of western style buildup instead of trying to give everybody a line so they feel like they’re involved. A new title sequence adds a little gravitas too.


Final Destination 5

I’m still calling this Fivenal Destination. Fivenal Destination looks great on Blu-ray. It’s a perfectly clear new release transfer, and the 3D footage holds up on 2D. Fivenal Destination is bright and vibrant for the bloody, gory kill shots.

Fivenal Destination is the type of movie where seeing all the detail really enhances the experience. The deaths are so much about every little thing conspiring against them, you really want to notice the rust on the creaky old gym equipment, the texture of skin penetrated by acupuncture needles and a pretty girl’s peach fuzz as her eye’s in a speculum.

Note that one of the bonus features listed on the back of the box is a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film before Don’t look until you watch the movie all the way through.


Apollo 18

Someone on the back of the Blu-ray box recommended this so I thought I’d check it out. Of course I don’t expect the Blu-ray to look too great. That would break the reality of the “found footage” from the abandoned 1970s mission. Still, sticking with that motif I appreciate how the Blu-ray looks.

The historical footage is nice and grainy as it should be. When they get into space, the video can be shaky and fuzzy, like old tracking problems. But I was impressed that the regular shots inside the shuttle and on the moon are clear. They have maybe a soft polish for the video effect, but they’re not totally degraded. There’s even one camera that seems to give you an HD picture with a little grain and detail, but it’s still consistent with the cameras they’re intercutting.

The Simpsons: The Complete 14th Season

I love having the old standard definition seasons of The Simpsons on Blu-ray simply for the new HD animation they create for the menus. The widescreen image features visual gags on a random repeat, tied thematically to the episodes in the season. The setting for each of the three new menus is a spooky mansion, with vibrant maroon and purple background and flickering golden fire light.

The standard def episodes look pretty good too. The lines are sharp and the colors are solid (especially yellows and magentas), if not plasma bursting bright. You see the most low res softness in the title sequence, which is probably the oldest, most reused reel of footage that’s been degraded several generations.


Kung Fu Panda 2

The Kung Fu Panda movies are standouts in the Dreamworks animation ouvre because they don’t look overtly CGI. They’re more natural and animalistic, so the Blu-ray stands out too. It’s a stunning bright picture of fighting animals. The exotic Asian settings offer a lush, colorful glow and light. It’s like the whole world is lit by purple lanterns. I think the 3D has a lot to do with the quality too because the layers seem to be distinctly composed, even in the 2D version.

Of course you can also see all the detail dialed into the scene. They put enough knots and splinters in the wood to look like a real 36th Chamber training ground. Of course there’s fur, and the stone temples and glinting weapons. It looks like the ultimate fantasy of a Shaw Brothers world composed in bright HD CG animation.

Also a trailer for some new How to Train Your Dragon shorts look fantastic too. They definitely look like the real movie, not some straight to video knock offs. They’re introducing some new dragons that have glorious colors and scales, but of course all the classic locations and dragons from the theatrical film remain rich and detailed.


Velvet Goldmine

Another one from the Miramax vaults, Velvet Goldmine has that distinct Blu-ray look of a film that still looks like film, only with a bit more detail than you’d see on a movi screen. It never loses that look of celluloid tint, but you’re analyzing the grit and texture of the backgrounds and costumes.

Due to its age, there are some flare ups of digital noise. They’re not horrible. White specks flitter into the shot noticeably when there are pictures that can’t quite hold up in HD. However, it never becomes a pure white haze obscuring the picture. It’s a flaw, but an authentic one in a rough transfer, but one you can appreciate all the more when you see a clear portrait of an ‘80s glam rock club.



I get some weird Blu-rays with all the mailing lists I’m on. Sometimes I like to give the random ones a chance. No, this is not a Tyler Perry joint. It’s a Passolini film of the Gleek play starring Maria Callas.

It’s a gorgeous transfer by eOne. The film itself has a few spots and scratches, as old Italian films may wear over time, but man, the print is pretty damn pristine. Those blemishes are more like authentic remnants (don’t want to use the synonym artifacts in this context) of a discovery from the film vaults.

The setting and tint is a bit beige, so I can’t tout the colors. But beige is a color and I’ve never seen such beautiful beige on Blu-ray before. The costumes add a bit of color but still in a washed out ‘60s Italian way. The detail certainly is apparent, and peering at ‘60s Italy with this much clarity is a triumph of HD, and a less mainstream releasing label.


Tora! Tora! Tora!

This WWII classic has a beautiful Blu-ray transfer from 20th Century Fox. The picture is sharp, showing lots of detail in the settings. Of course the battleship and the planes have wonderful texture, but even the political boardrooms enhance the texture of their upholstery.

The film has that Technicolor look, even though it’s Deluxe. You know what I mean though, that orangey skin tone and color scheme that’s of the ‘60s (This 1970 film would be one of the last to sport that look.) So that is preserved and you see some grain, so you’ve got an authentic classic film look heightened to HD sharpness.