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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Jeff Kleist of The Digital Bits

Amelia

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Amelia
2009 (2010) - 20th Century Fox
Released on Blu-ray Disc on February 2nd, 2010
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 15
Extras: B
-

Everyone knows the story of the pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart. Her life and mysterious disappearance have been fodder for everything from books to an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Now Fox brings her story to the big screen as a straightforward biopic on the rise and fall of one of the 20th Century's most famous fighters for woman's equality. It's the story of both the woman, and the times she lived in.


Amelia was one of the movies I really looked forward to last fall. I'm a big fan of WWII-era aviation, and the raw mechanical nature of it - flying machines that featured no computers, little sound-proofing and elegant and innovative designs. On top of this, Earhart was a maverick and pioneer in aviation as well as equality, and so I thought this was the movie for me. Unfortunately, it ended up a rather paint-by-numbers affair - one that fails to capture both the romance of the era and Earhart's own live-wire personality.

It's easy to tell that the digital colorist working on Amelia had a lot of fun - by the time the title character reaches adulthood in this film, every scene looks like it came off a World War II recruiting poster. The film (and Blu-ray video image) is awash in reds, oranges and blues, mixed with a slightly dreamy softness that really puts you right into the cockpit with Earhart. Don't think for a second that this softness gets in the way of fine detail, as every crack of the leather jackets and bit texture on furniture and airplane skins is fully intact. Combined with excellent contrast and solid blacks, the result is an exceptionally good Blu-ray image. The audio, while lossless, is much less interesting. You get about what you'd expect: Clear dialog, plenty of airplane engine noise and a serviceable score. The mix is in no way exceptional, but it gets the job done.

Targeted for a quick release to capitalize on Oscar season buzz, Fox's Amelia Blu-ray fares a little better than most rushed releases in the extras department. There a solid EPK featurette, Making Amelia, featuring plenty of good material on location scouting, Hilary Swank's transformation as the title character and some of the nuances of the real woman that didn't make it into the film. Next up, The Plane Behind the Legend details the search for a real plane to use in making the movie, rather than simply using CGI. This folds nicely into Re-Constructing the Planes of Amelia, which documents the construction of the mockups used for interior and cockpit filming. Also included is The Power of Amelia Earhart (on Earhart's legend and cultural impact), 7 different Movietone newsreels and about 15 minutes of deleted scenes.

With its great cast, beautiful production design and all those cool planes, how could this film possibly go wrong? I don't know, but sadly it did. Amelia is worth watching for history and aviation buffs, and for fans of this type of romantic/dramatic storytelling, but don't let your expectations get too high. Unless you just really loved this film in the theatres, at best it's a good rental.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com



Surrogates

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Surrogates
2009 (2010) - Touchstone (Walt Disney)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on January 26th, 2010
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD MA

Film Rating: B-
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras: C+


In the not too distant future, the growing disconnect many feel with the world reaches a breaking point with the invention of Surrogates, life-like robots that interface with the human mind and take our place in the active world. Stoked by the paranoia about real world dangers brought on by the 24-hour news networks, and the general uncertainty of life, the world's population quickly embraces this new form of risk free-living.


Within 5 years of their invention, 90% of the human race rarely leaves their own houses, living virtually through their Surrogates instead. But when the son of the creator of Surrogacy is murdered in a seemingly impossible fashion, Detective Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner are assigned to investigate the first homicide case in years, and they quickly discover that this particular "rabbit hole" goes much deeper than anyone expected.

As a film, Surrogates presents a very specific visual look, with muted colors the order of the day. This is accurately reproduced on Blu-ray. So too is something people might question: Digital noise reduction has been deliberately used to carefully scrub away fine skin detail on all of the Surrogate bodies to give them an artificial, plastic look. But when their operators tumble out of their VR chairs, all the texture, stubble and drooly grit of someone who spends 18 hours a day wired to a machine is visible on screen. This is an extremely processed and stylized presentation by design, and that look is accurately presented on disc. On the audio front, it's a rare thing when a Hollywood film knows when to be quiet, but Surrogates strikes a great sonic contrast between the "real" world and the bubbles of "safety" people have built around themselves. But when it's time to kick ass, Surrogates delivers. Especially thrilling is a helicopter crash sequence and the chase that follows it, featuring everything audiophiles crave from DTS-HD lossless, including a literally spinning soundfield.

While Surrogates did well in theatres overseas, its domestic take wasn't the greatest. As such, the bonus package here isn't much to write home about. Director Jonathan Mostow delivers a good commentary that goes into some of the reasons behind the film's aesthetic choices, and it's worth a listen. The featurette A More Perfect You describes the science and philosophy behind the movie's themes, while Breaking the Frame compares the film to the original graphic novel on which it's based. Also included are a few deleted scenes and Breaking Benjamin's I Will Not Bow music video.

Surrogates is an interesting, if flawed film. A lot of great hard Sci-Fi themes are explored here, but its short running time makes the story feel rather incomplete. (I can't shake the feeling that there's a lot more than just 6 minutes' worth of deleted scenes floating around somewhere.) Still, I personally liked it. Willis turns in one of his more nuanced performances in a while, and the supporting cast is fun to watch (though I'm now more convinced than ever that James Cromwell really DOES have a secret lab in his basement, IS the creator of warp drive and is ALSO the three-time Father of Robotics). It may be far from exceptional, but Surrogates is solid and doesn't fail to mildly entertain.

Jeff Kleist
jeffkleist@thedigitalbits.com
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