Aeon Flux (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: PG13 (violence and sexual content) Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio: English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English DTS 5.1 Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH Time: 92 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 2005 DVD Release Date: August 08, 2006 Movie Review Note: As I move into more HD-DVD reviews, I am cutting back on the length of my comments on the movie itself to deal more with the technical aspects of this new format. This will be done specifically on the catalog titles provided by Paramount. When they begin releasing titles day and date, I will spend more of the review on the merits (or lack thereof) of the title. Since I recently reviewed the SD version of this movie, I am going to bring over that review. The changes will mainly be in the video and audio portions of this review, but the editorial content and the comments on the bonus materials are the same from the original review. In 2011, a virus kills 99% of the world’s population. A scientist, Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas), develops a cure allowing the five million survivors to live in Bregna, the last city on earth. Goodchild begins a dynasty that rules for 400 years, which of course means at some point rebels will emerge to challenge such a regime. These rebels are called Monicans, who are apparently infused with enhanced physical capabilities coupled with the extensive use of biotechnology. The Monicans are fighting for what they see as the oppressive Goodchild regime, as it keeps everything peaceful as long as the citizens remain the same (this will make sense as you watch it). Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron) is given a mission by The Handler (Frances McDormand) to sabotage Goodchild’s central surveillance facility as a means to blind them against the Monicans activities. Before she heads off on the mission, Aeon spends some time with her sister, Una (Amelia Warner), who cautions Aeon on her mission. Aeon returns home from her mission to find her sister has been killed. This of course sends Aeon off on a revenge mission in which she feels, ultimately, Goodchild is responsible. When The Handler sends Aeon on another mission, this time to assassinate Goodchild, she is confronted with memories of a hazy past kept just outside of her mind’s eye. Once she confronts Goodchild, she finds out more about her past and that Goodchild and his work is not actually what it seems. She learns her life and that of all of Bregna’s citizens are part of a 400 year process developed to keep the species alive. As this has been going on, the scientific types have determined the process has a nasty side effect (this side effect is important to the rest of the picture, so I won’t spoil it for you here). Goodchild’s ambitious brother, Oren (Johnny Lee Miller), no longer agrees with his brother’s philosophy so he stages a coup and takes over the government. This action pushes Goodchild and Aeon together on a common mission for the greater good of species all the while uncovering secrets of both of their pasts. “Aeon Flux” does not have too deep a plot, because we don’t want such a thing to get in the way of the action and the stunts. It does, however, have one of the best looking production designs I’ve seen in some time. You are instantly transported into Aeon’s world of artistic architecture and high and stylistic fashion. In much the same way Luc Besson and Gauthier collaborated on “The Fifth Element”, I can see the same type of collaboration between “Aeon Flux”’s director Karyn Kusama and her production designer, Andrew McAlpine. This, coupled with the excellent work of the costumers and set designers gives us a truly unique vision of the future. I have seen only a few of the animated shows, and those I did see were during the original run on MTV. I remember being fairly impressed with the look of the show and the animation, but it never clicked for me. The movie, while it needs about twenty more minutes of plot and characterization, does a good job of bringing you into Aeon’s world and entertaining you for 93 minutes. None of the actor’s stand out, and I still find it to be a very interesting and bold choice for an Academy Award winner to take. Theron makes the role her own and her commitment to it (as well as the physical aspects of the job) continues to show me what a versatile performer she is. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. Thus, the HD-DVD discs are being displayed in 1080i for evaluation purposes. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. In my original review of this disc, I asked that Paramount hurry up and get this title out on HD since it had such vibrant and sharp picture on the SD DVD. Thankfully, they listened and this disc is everything an HD-DVD should be. The 2.35:1 image features one of the best color presentations of almost any picture I’ve seen! Remember all those HD demo reels you would see that show colorful people in colorful surroundings, such as Japanese flower gardens? This is what “Aeon Flux” reminds me of. The picture’s extensive use of color throughout the entire feature literally pops off the screen. There is a scene in the beginning of the picture where Aeon and Una are walking through the outdoor marketplace that really shows this off. Flowers, plants and fruit show incredible detail and range of colors, so much so you want to reach out and grab them. In comparing the HD version to the SD version, the HD version lacks the video noise that now seems obtrusive in the SD version. The costumes and sets are just as well represented with wide ranging colors that go from the drab and cold concrete buildings of Goodkind’s complex (a business park chic, if you will) to the warm, organic settings of the citizens of Bregna. We are constantly presented with contrasting and conflicting cool and warm hues to further emphasize the disparity of the government and the citizens. Flesh tones are, as expected, well represented and they show nice differences between the actors. Foreground detail is very sharp and well defined, but where background detail tended to smudge and blur in the SD version, it comes alive in the HD version. You can see this in most of the outdoor scenes: as you look closely at the foliage and trees, you can now see all the detail that was missing from the SD version. Edge enhancement that was unfortunately very noticeable on the SD release is now gone. I did not notice any film dirt or video compression artifacts. Black levels are deep but still retain detail in the darker scenes. I am not going out on a limb to say this video is of reference quality and this is, so far, the best way to show off your hi-def display. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection I watched the disc with the 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) track engaged. I was expecting a big and noisy audio spectacle, but I was instead presented with a very subtle soundtrack. While there are moments of explosive noise, overall, it is a very relaxed mix that emphasizes the characters actions without blasting you out of your seat. The surrounds get a very good workout for ambient and musical effects and it keeps you planted in the middle of the sound field. I loved the homage to the animated version at the beginning of the picture where the fly is buzzing about and is captured in Aeon’s eyelashes. I had forgotten about this sequence from the opening of the animated show and I found myself looking around the room to find that pesky fly. LFE effects are very natural sounding without being boomy. The front channels provide an excellent soundstage on their own and panning effects blend seamlessly from one to another. The DD+ track only further emphasizes what was a very good soundtrack to begin with. In comparing the DD track to the DD+ track, the DD+ track is a bit louder and it has more presence. Sounds are more natural and warm. The new DTS track is somewhat of an improvement over the standard DD track (bass is tighter and the sound stage is more encompassing in DTS), but it doesn’t compare to the DD+ track. Bonus Material: With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. The bonus material is the same as what’s on the SD-DVD. The only exception is the trailer is in HD. Feature Length Commentary with Producer Gale Anne Hurd and Charlize Theron: Hurd and Theron give us some insight into the production of the picture, including the specific sets and locations. Theron goes into her injury that delayed production. These two do not go into anything too detailed about the technical aspects of the film, which with this being such an effects and action oriented picture, I would have liked more of this. You do, however, get a ton of info about the weather conditions of the shoot. The commentary could have been a knockout if the director had been involved. She is, however, interviewed extensively in the following documentaries. Feature Length Commentary with Co-Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi: The screenwriters go into depth about the politics of writing a high profile picture for a major studio, and its not always a good thing. They also comment on specifics of the scripts and the over-riding themes. Of the two commentaries, this one is better. Creating A World: Aeon Flux (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) (20:46):The production team talks about how “Aeon Flux” was translated from an animated show to a movie. Peter Cheung is also interviewed and there several examples of similar shots between the animated show and the movie. The Locations of Aeon Flux (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) (14:42): The production team explains how they chose Berlin as the shooting location. They show us a lot of behind the scenes shots in and around Berlin. The Stunts of Aeon Flux (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) (9:00): Some great behind the scenes shots of Theron stretching and rolling around on mats while wearing spandex. Oh, yeah, and they talk about the stunt work. The Costume Design Workshop of Aeon Flux (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) (13:30): The costume designers explain how they wanted to use more elegant costumes as opposed to the flat out sexuality of the animated show. The costuming was one of my favorite aspects of this picture and this is a great doc. The Craft of the Set Photographer on Aeon Flux (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+) (2:35): This is an odd choice for a doc, but we are shown what a set photographer does: he sits next to the film camera and snaps still shots of the action. Theatrical Trailer (VC-1, 16x9, DD+): As usual, the trailer has been reformatted to 1.85:1, but it is in HD. Other notes on this HD-DVD edition: - The A and B buttons that can be utilized on some HD-DVD titles do not appear to have any function on this title. - I use the on-screen display function extensively when doing reviews for time markers and audio and video formatting. This disc would disable several remote functions until I turned off the on-screen display. I have not noticed this issue on the HD discs from Warner’s or Universal. Conclusions: While “Aeon Flux” has its share of weaknesses plot-wise, it is an exceptional HD-DVD presentation. I would not hesitate to throw in this disc to show off my system, much the same way I traditionally used “The Fifth Element”. As far as I’m concerned, this is the new reference disc in my system. The production team shows an artistic eye in all aspects of the production and this comes through on the screen. Highly Recommended for video and audio presentation!