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page added: 2/24/10



Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt and Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits
2012: Two-Disc Special Edition

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2012: Two-Disc Special Edition
2009 (2010) - Centropolis/Columbia (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on March 2rd, 2010
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD Master Audio

Film Rating: C-
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A


So here's the Cliff's Notes: Scientists discover that normal subatomic particles from the Sun are suddenly heating up the core of the Earth. That means the crust of the planet - on which we all live - is going to start breaking up. The continents will drift and erupt with volcanoes, giant tidal waves will wash over everything, and pretty much everyone on Earth will die, unless they're rich enough to pay for the only last-ditch survival plan available.


Of course, washed-up author Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) isn't rich, but he also doesn't want his family to die, so he's determined to save them. Somehow. (Good luck with that, Jackson!) Oh yeah, there's one last bit: The Mayans also predicted all this was going to happen like 4,000 years ago.

All right... 2012 is easily the most preposterous film I've ever seen. And I've seen a LOT of films in my day. But this one is so over-the-top it loops back around and orbits itself. I mean, you'd have to have an I.Q. of -20 to believe that even HALF of this stuff is remotely possible. (Other than the whole "Yellowstone is a dormant supervolacno" thing, which is actually true.) So the right approach SHOULD have been to play it all up as a spoof of 1970s disaster films, and just really have fun with the premise. Instead, director Roland Emmerich and his team take it all almost COMPLETELY seriously. I'm not kidding - it's like they're they're the only guys on the planet who didn't get the joke. You know who DID get the joke? Garrison Dean of io9, who posted a terrific custom trailer for 2012, prior to the film's release, complete with 70s-esque exploitation music. (Watch it here - CAN YOU HANDLE ALL THIS DESTRUCTION?!) Now, THAT'S the movie I wanted to see! Instead, Emmerich and his crew give us the same old rusty, dusty formula, rife with more disaster CG than has ever been compiled for a single film. 2012 is fun for 30... maybe 40 minutes. Then it starts to get tedious and eventually crashes into a wall of silliness at about 300 mph. The funny thing is that the Blu-ray includes an alternate ending to the film that would have been the PERFECT silly way to finish things off. But it apparently wasn't used - and I can't even believe I'm saying this - NOT because the filmmakers thought it was too implausible, but just because they thought it was too long.

*Sound of jaw hitting floor*

In any case, in a fortunate bit of studio slight-of-hand, Sony's Blu-ray delivers this disaster in glossy-good, picture-perfect video and audio quality, so you can forget (at least for a little while) what a missed opportunity the film is. The 1080p image is pretty stunning, offering damn near superb color, contrast and detail. You'll miss not a single digital death as countless tiny CG victims fall, boil, burn, squish and/or are washed to their deaths. And you'll hear all their cute little screams too, rendered in lovely sonic fidelity via DTS-HD Master Audio. MMmmmmm.... so satisfying!

What's almost as satisfying, is that the extras here are AWESOME. I don't mean awesome in a, "Wow, they're so thorough and fascinating!" way. I mean awesome as in, "OMG, I can't believe the filmmakers are talking on camera about this thing with a straight face!" kind of way. Seriously, I was chuckling to myself almost the whole time I was going though this set. First of all, the audio commentary is a hoot. Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser discuss the film in almost complete seriousness. Remember that DVD commentary for The Cell, where Tarsem Singh essentially revealed why the film sucked so bad but didn't seem to get it? Same thing happens here. At one point near the end, Kloser says something like "Working on this film has been the most amazing journey of my life..." and I was almost in tears laughing. The disc also includes the aforementioned alternate ending, and Sony's movieIQ feature. And then there's a Picture-in-Picture viewing option, where Emmerich and the production team discuss their work, show you production art, etc. You don't get even 10-15 minutes into it before some VFX supervisor says (with a completely straight face): "I think this is Roland's best film, because I just really believe in the story." I'm serious. I can't MAKE this stuff up!

Then there's Disc Two, which starts off with a BD-Java Interactive Mayan Calendar that you can play with. Let me say that again: Someone actually went to the trouble to create an Interactive Mayan Calendar for the 2012 Blu-ray. There's a short featurette on how the actual Mayan Calendar worked, you can have it tell you all about your personality based on the date you were born, and there's even a Mayan horoscope option. GENIUS. Oh, but that's not all. There's like 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film's production here - close to 90 minutes of material in all - including one called Roland Emmerich: Master of the Modern Epic and another called Science Behind the Destruction. In the former, you hear the word "visionary" a lot, and in the latter, there's actually lots of science! (If by "science" you mean: That subject you studied hard as a kid by skipping class and reading a lot of comic books.) Finally, you get a handful of deleted scenes, an Adam Lambert music video and a piece on the making of the music video. And there's a third disc with a Digital Copy version as well. All of it completely serious... and therefore more awesome than awesome.

Yes, I know. IT BOGGLES THE MIND.

Look... nobody goes into a film like 2012 expecting Hamlet. And yet, I was really looking forward to it. I love a good disaster film as much as anyone. Sure, they're stupid, but they can be a lot of fun. And this looked to be perhaps the stupidest ever, so it ought to be just that much more fun, right? Plus, John Cusack! How the hell do you go wrong? Well, Roland Emmerich managed to find a way. Hey... if you loved 2012, more power to you. Everybody has their guilty pleasures, and I'm certainly not going to knock anyone else for theirs. As for me, 2012 was a gigantic pooch screw: A film that could (and should) have been a blast, but wasn't. This is the cinematic equivalent of a guy standing two feet from the side of a large red barn with elephant gun in hand - with the end of the barrel ACTUALLY TOUCHING WOOD - and somehow missing. That said, 2012 is well worth a rental at the very least, if only for the carnage, the spectacle and just so you can say that you've officially seen the silliest movie ever made. And trust me, the Blu-ray extras are so unexpectedly inspired - quite possibly unintentionally, but inspired no less - that this set is worth owning just because.

Bill Hunt, Editor
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


The Shining (Blu-ray Disc)

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The Shining
1980 (2007) - Warner Bros.
Released on Blu-ray on October 23rd, 2007
Also available on DVD

PCM 5.1Dolby Digital 5.1

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


It may have been disowned by the man who wrote the original novel, but there is absolutely no denying that Stanley Kubrick's vision of The Shining has been terrifying audiences since its original release in May of 1980. Although Kubrick had previously made controversial films, this was his first, and sadly last, foray into the world of horror.


Psychologically unsettling and oftentimes ghastly, it never wavers in its attempt to suck you in slowly and attack you without warning. Its intense atmosphere, disturbing visuals and deliberate pace keep you riding on the edge of your seat.

Shot mostly in the sound stages of Elstree Studios in England, it was a very long and extremely arduous production, with principal photography taking over a year to complete. This was due mostly to Kubrick's meticulous perfectionism, shooting as many as 140 takes for some scenes. It also proved to be hell for actor Shelley Duvall, who was relentlessly hounded by Kubrick during the shoot. In retrospect, the actor realized that this was his technique to get the best performance possible out of her for the character, but it wasn't an experience she wished to repeat.

Co-authors of the original screenplay, Kubrick and his writing partner Diane Johnson adapted the Stephen King shocker into a much more streamlined version of the story. Most critics panned the film for how slow it was and how it deviated from the novel. I suppose I can understand how people who love the novel would be disappointed in it not being directly translated into another medium. The problem is that ideas that work on paper don't always work in three dimensions. What Kubrick did was take the main narrative thread of the story and do his own version of it. A film adaptation can never be exactly what was in the reader's imagination when they originally read the novel, no matter how the film turns out. Even with its detractors, however, nothing stopped The Shining from becoming a success. The film not only returned its budget, but made a considerable profit for Warner Bros.

As with other recent transfers of Kubrick's material, this one is beautiful. Shot in 1.37:1 and scaled to 1.85:1 for release, the picture is just as crisp and vibrant as it must have been during its theatrical run. The color palette is fresh and solid throughout. Blacks are deep, reds are rich and whites are as pure as the snow seen in the movie. Grain is very minimal for the better part of the film, with only the much brighter scenes giving it away. There are some minute artifacts left over from the original negative, but nothing that's entirely noticeable without close inspection. The transfer is so crystal clear that during the aerial footage that opens the movie (at the 02:45 mark), you can see the whirring helicopter blades in the top half of the frame.

Thankfully, the studio has also included a number of audio options to keep the aural astute viewer happy. It comes with two English tracks; a PCM 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Both do their jobs admirably, but it's the PCM track that seems to be the richer of the two. Dialogue is clear and the score is haunting and often declamatory. This is a very quiet soundtrack for the most part, but jumps when the heavier portions of the story kick in. There are also three subtitle tracks: English SDH, French and Spanish.

The extras included are pretty wealthy for this release, all carried over from the previous Warner DVD special edition. They start off with audio commentary by Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown and Kubrick biographer John Baxter. Brown sticks mostly to the technical details, while Baxter covers the story, actors, background of the film and of course, Stanley. It's an interesting commentary, with some excellent tidbits of knowledge about the film. Next up is a set of documentaries and featurettes: View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining, The Visions of Stanley Kubrick, The Making of The Shining (with an optional commentary by Stanley's daughter, Vivian, who directed the piece) and Wendy Carlos, Composer. They are all incredibly insightful and interesting, but the one thing that bums me out about the extra material is the lack of deleted footage. Most fans of the film know that during the first three days of the movie's original theatrical run, there was a scene at the end of the film that was recalled by the studio. That scene has never been seen again and this would've been an enormous opportunity to include that scene in the supplements (if it still exists). Rounding out the extras is the movie's original theatrical trailer.

The Shining was the most mainstream film of Stanley Kubrick's career. It angered fans of the novel, but still managed to disturb audiences across the globe. Not surprisingly, the film holds just as much power today is it did in 1980. The treatment that Warner Bros. has given it in high definition is just phenomenal, making the Blu-ray definitely worth a look.

Tim Salmons
timsalmons@thedigitalbits.com
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