Blood Diamond (HD-DVD) Studio: Warner Home Video Rated: R (strong violence and language) Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: VC-1 Audio:Dolby True HD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1, French 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec) and Spanish 5.1 Subtitles: English; Spanish; French Time: 122 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 2006 HD-DVD Release Date: July 3, 2007 Note: portions of this review were featured in my Blu-Ray review of this title. A couple years ago when I was out hunting for a ring for my soon to be fiancée, I never gave a second thought as to where the diamond I bought came from. I will plead ignorance on the topic of conflict diamonds and the damage this trade is doing to Africa and its people. Now that I’ve seen Blood Diamond I’ve been provided a bit of an education thanks to Hollywood and some of its big stars. A small village in Sierra Leone is overrun by a militant group of rebels, the R.U. F. The villagers are killed on sight or captured to go work in the diamond beds, and this included Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman and devoted father. Vandy is shanghaied into combing the river for diamonds, while his young son is brainwashed into the service of the R.U.F. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a Frank Buck-esque adventurer who trades diamonds for arms thus perpetuating the vicious cycle. While Vandy is panning for diamonds, he stumbles upon a “pink”, a huge, uncut diamond, so he sticks it between his toes so he may smuggle it out at some point. He asks for a bathroom break so he can hide his find, but the boss of the camp finds him and tries to get the diamond. Government forces show up and begin blasting, allowing Vandy to bury the diamond and then promptly get arrested. In jail, the camp boss yells to Vandy in front of the other jail birds about his diamond. Archer, who coincidentally also got arrested, hears this. He befriends Vandy when he’s released and convinces Vandy to partner with him to share the profit of the sale of the diamond in exchange for getting back his family. Vandy is more concerned with getting his family back, and this only complicates matters for Archer in his quest to get the rock. Archer also picks up American reporter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connely), who tags along with the men on their quest. Brown is there for a story about Sierra Leone and the fat cats who are getting rich over the diamond trade. Love blooms between Archer and Brown, but the cost of the quest may be more than what Vandy’s magnificent rock will bring. Blood Diamond is a story filled with luck and coincidence masquerading as plot twists that allows the characters to move from scene to scene. Vandy is spared first from having his hands cut off by the camp boss because he’d be a good worker; the military shows up just as he and this same boss are about to go at it; Archer happens to be in the jail at the same time (ok, I’ll give them one). And it goes on and on to the point that any dramatic tension in the picture was erased since there was no sense of peril left. Running through Freetown as it’s being invaded and bullets are flying everywhere? No problem, here’s a convenient doorway! I also had a tough time figuring out why Maddy Brown was even in the picture except to give the hero a love interest. Brown speaks in big, American speeches and she’s frustrated with the one minute this battle may get on CNN that night. The crusading female reporter is relegated to a plot device, and a pretty one at that. Director Edward Zwick and Screenwriter Charles Leavitt seem to be at odds at what each wanted to accomplish: Zwick displays his desire to do an action picture while Leavitt is really trying to tell us something important and these actors keep getting in the way. Leo seems to really enjoy being serious and intense in this role, but I still think he looks too young for this role (Clive Owen would have really been something here). It mystifies me how he got nominated for this role over his role in The Departed (at least by the Oscar committee). Hounsou turns in a very good performance as a man who thinks about his family over his safety. In the end, I was glad there was a documentary on the disc about the blood diamond trade; I should have just watched that and skipped the feature. 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 picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 2.40:1. Since this is a very recent picture, it exhibits good color fidelity and detail. Colors are natural to their mostly outdoor settings and the African landscapes look beautiful in the wide shots. Flesh tones are accurate and rich. The HD encoding draws out some good detail in the actors faces in up-close shots, and you can see small hairs on their faces and hands. Detail of the longer shots is good, but not quite as clear as the close-ups. Black levels are exceptional and better than most of the recent HD-DVD releases I’ve reviewed lately. Shadows are deep and inky and maintain good delineation. There was some fringing in some shots, but it appeared to be native to the original print and not a problem of the transfer, almost like the picture was over-saturated a bit. There was no dirt or debris in the picture and I did not notice any edge enhancement. The HD-DVD picture is exactly the same as the Blu-Ray version. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack was attained by a 5.1 analog connection. I watched the movie with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track engaged, whereas on the Blu-Ray, since my receiver does not have HDMI connections, I watched the picture with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This TrueHD track improves upon the already decent 5.1 track on the Blu-Ray: the soundstage is much more immersive and there is more presence in the soundtrack. The soundtrack has a lot of surround effects that occupy all of the channels. I was much more drawn into the picture with this soundtrack as opposed to the DD track as it sounded more natural to me. There are numerous scenes with gunfire, and the bullets whiz and ping out of the fronts and rears placing you right in the action. Bass effects were much richer and deeper on the TrueHD track and they blended nicely into the rest of the mix especially, again, in the gunfire scenes. Vocal elements are natural sounding, but ADR is occasionally noticed. As with most action scenes, there is music over them. With this picture trying to be a bit more serious, I wish the gun battle scenes would have left off the music to give us more of a documentary feel. 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 encoded with the VC-1 codec otherwise noted. In Movie Experience: This options contains the 23 chapter segments that were on the Blu-Ray disc (since BD can’t do fancy stuff like this yet) which are called “Focus Points”, as well as some interviews that are native to this disc/format. These featurettes and production diaries can be accessed by pressing the enter button when the disc icon appears on screen. Once you hit the icon, the screen morphs into the segment, then it brings you back out. Warner frames the images with backgrounds similar to those seen on the menus. You cannot exit the IME items once you’re in them, and the disc icon stays on screen after you watch the segment. The icon lets you jump from IME segment to IME segment if you so choose. The segments detail the film making challenges and they are obviously pretty short. They cover all the stuff that goes into making the picture: locations, stunts, costuming, music, effects, etc. Commentary by Director Edward Zwick: Zwick gives a pretty good commentary with very few pauses during the feature. He digs a bit deeper than what is presented in the other behind the scenes features, and it is very welcome. Blood on the Stone (50:19): Journalist Sorious Sarura filmed this doc about the real life journey of a diamond from the ground to the store. As I mentioned earlier in the review, this is the piece I wished I would have watched instead of the narrative. Sarura gives us information on the state of the diamond trade today with an eye towards the past conflicts. It doesn’t seem like much has changed in the past few years except less gunfire. Becoming Archer: Profiling Leonardo DiCaprio: Leo discusses the subject matter, Archer’s past, his motivations and his relationship with Maddy. It highlights some of Archer’s big speeches and Zwick comments on Leo’s use of method acting for the role. Journalism on the Front Line: Jennifer Connely on Women Journalists at War (5:15): Connely discusses Maddy and her preparation work of talking to women journalists who have covered the story. A true fluff piece since her part in the movie should convey what it’s like for women journalists at war! Inside the Siege of Freetown (10:33): This is a behind the scenes doc with Zwick describing the challengers in filming this huge scene. Samura comments on the real situation and the importance of maintaining that reality. Stunt work, armory and pyro work is highlighted also. Music Video: Shine On by Nas (2:48) Theatrical Trailer Web Enabled Features: hook your player up to the Internet and you can access the online part of the disc. The content was accessed quickly on my connection. For this title, you can choose “Maps of Conflict”, which brings up a map of Africa and you can choose a country. Once you make a choice, it gives you information about that country as it pertains to the movie. Next up is “Polling”, where the disc asks you about how you responded to the subject matter with five questions such as, “Has the film changed your opinion about diamonds?” and “What rating would you give this HD DVD?” There is a list of other Warner HD-DVD titles on the menu, but you can’t jump to them. It may have been a good idea on Warner’s part to allow you to jump to the trailers for these pictures, presumably if you could access the trailers in HD. This option is the future of what the HD formats are striving for, so I hope to hear Warner and Toshiba’s response to this option in the future. There is an insert in the case that advises you to update your player’s firmware prior to trying the web content; the most current firmware is 2.3. Warner’s also wants to hear your thoughts in a poll that you can access online here. It asks you a series of questions related to the format and your wants for upcoming releases. It then it takes you to the answers (unfortunately it doesn’t tell you how many people voted). The results of the questions is interesting, and please vote for 2001 in HD. I find this option on HD-DVD to be very intriguing and I hope to see more of this content in the future. Conclusions: While a very well put together piece of Hollywood product, I found myself losing focus on the true story due to the star power and the action flick narrative. The HD-DVD blows away the soundtrack and extras of the Blu-Ray counterpart, utilizing the capabilities of the format to a greater extent. The HD-DVD’s web enabled features are meager, but it gives us a hint of things to come in the format.