Black Rain (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: R Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio: English 5.1 EX Dolby Digital Plus, English 6.1 DTS, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Subtitles: English; Spanish; French; English SDH Time: 125 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date:1989 HD-DVD Release Date: January 23, 2006 In Black Rain, Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) is a rebel detective sergeant who is under investigation for stealing money from a crime scene, but he maintains his innocence while trying to deflect some of the heat through spells of anger and defiance. Conklin and his plot device of a partner, Charlie (Andy Garcia), have the unfortunate coincidence to be in a restaurant when a member of the Yakuza holds up some other Yakuza and kills them. Conklin and Charlie chase the killer, Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), through a meat packing plant and they wind up apprehending him. However, Sato plays his nationality card which allows Japan to get him first on charges for which they want him. Since Conklin is on thin ice with the NYPD, and he wants the collar so bad, his captain dispatches him and Charlie to escort Sato to Japan. Once there, they meet what they believe to be the Japanese cops and they turn Sato over to them. However, it turns out it was a Yakuza trick to get Sato back as they weren’t cops at all and Sato escapes. The mission now becomes personal for Conklin as he and Charlie are allowed to stay in Japan and help out the locals to apprehend Sato. But Conklin’s troublesome ways quickly surface as he tries to buck the Japanese system just like the NYPD’s. As events turn tragic in his quest to catch Sato, Conklin must play both sides against the middle to do the right thing in a strained quest to catch the bad guy. Michael Douglas plays Nick Conklin, all full of machismo and bravado, as a cop who pushes the rules to the limit in order to satisfy his interpretation of right and wrong. The problem is Douglas tries his best to channel Mel Gibson’s infinitely more likeable and admirable Martin Riggs and winds up coming very short. At least Douglas was able to arrange with Gibson to borrow his hair from Lethal Weapon to make the comparison complete. The whole genre of the rule bending cop who almost lives outside the law himself has been done enough times that by the time Black Rain came around, it really proved to be insignificant (and it still is). While the basic story itself could have been interesting (throwing a gaijin cop into Japan), it is hindered by the fact that I just couldn’t accept Douglas in this role since he almost seemed to have his tongue planted firmly in his cheek at all times. By the time Charlie’s role in the plot is played out, it’s set up to propel Conklin through the rest of the picture. However, Conklin’s attitude and higher sense of moral justice is firmly established early on in the picture and you wonder if the producers simply wanted a way to shoe horn in the up-and-coming Garcia. Story issues aside, director Ridley Scott and director of photography Jan DeBont (who later went on to direct Twister and Speed) shot a visually rich and lush picture that keeps the eye occupied when the intellect is not. Scott still seemed to be thinking Blade Runner in terms of his shot compositions and his choice of shooting locales. Osaka becomes a player in the picture as Conklin and his Japanese cop counterparts chase the bad guys through factories and crowded and colorful rain slicked city streets. The interiors are also shot with lots of carefully placed lights and shadows to further emphasize the claustrophobic nature of the locales. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units. The VC-1 video is encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 2.35:1. As I said above, the visuals of this picture take on a life of their own in the story, and thankfully, the transfer only enhances this aspect of the feature. This HD-DVD produces a beautifully rich and colorful image full of sharp details. All of the scenes in and around Osaka, its clubs and insides come to life. I was very impressed with the clarity of all of the neon signage throughout the picture, even upon closer inspection of the image. The scene when the transport flight first arrives in Osaka produces a stunning, near three-dimensional image, free of noise or artifacts. The print itself seems to be free of dirt and debris as well. I did not notice any edge enhancement either. Black levels were very deep, but a bit too much, sacrificing some detail in the darker scenes. This is an excellent video presentation. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection I watched the feature with 5.1 EX Dolby Digital Plus track engaged. It provided a very subdued soundtrack with the fronts waking up during the action scenes. Surrounds were minimally utilized even during the action scenes. When all of the channels engaged, they produced an adequate surround filed. Voices maintained their clarity, but I noticed numerous places of ADR. Bass effects were well balanced with the rest of the channels. 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. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2 encoding unless otherwise noted. The extras are brought over from the SD-DVD special edition that came out last year. Commentary by director Ridley Scott: Scott goes into good detail on the making of the picture from a more technical aspect and he refers to his other features quite a bit. Much of what is discussed in the other documentaries is also in here. Scott tends to wander at times, but he is rarely quiet. Black Rain The Script, The Cast (20:15): Basic behind the scenes info with new interviews with the cast and film makers describing the production. Black Rain Making the Film: Part 1 (28:30) and Part 2 (9:42): A good discussion by Scott and the cast about the issues of shooting in Japan and in general, and Garcia spends some time talking about his character’s story. Black Rain Post Production (12:26): Mostly a discussion about the music with frequent Scott collaborator Hans Zimmer. Theatrical Trailer (VC-1, DD+): Although it is in HD, it does not look near as good as the feature as it shows instances of dirt and diminished, hazy picture quality. Conclusions: A mediocre story is improved by an outstanding looking picture and a great set of extras. Paramount has done a great job on the HD transfer making this picture look pristine and new. The disc also benefits from the participation of the entire cast and crew as they contribute to the bonus material.