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HTF Review: Sahara (HD-DVD)


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#1 of 18 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted July 24 2006 - 05:52 PM


Sahara (HD-DVD)

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: PG13 (action violence)
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: 123 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/SL HD-DVD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2005
DVD Release Date: July 25, 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.

While it will never be compared to Lawrence of Arabia, except perhaps as its stupid and fairly uncreative child, Sahara is mediocre popcorn cinema. Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is in search of a lost Civil War battleship said to contain a lost cache of gold. He and his buddy, Al Giordino (Steven Zahn), work for Admiral Jim Sandecker (William H. Macy) excavating lost sea treasure. When Dirk gets a tip the “Ship of Death” from the Civil War can be found, he and Al go off on the hunt. Penelope Cruz plays Eva, a World Health Organization worker who is investigating an outbreak of a mysterious plague in Africa. Dirk winds up saving Eva from vicious locals, thus combining their two seemingly unrelated stories. Dirk and Eva’s hunts turn out to have more in common than either one of them initially expected, and the quest turns out to be the adventure of a lifetime.

Sahara is very light on plot, and heavy on explosions and action. The actors deliver their comic book dialogue with some gusto, but no one has to dig too deep for this picture. Story and acting aside, Sahara has some outstanding action and chase sequences that are the perfect stuff for our home theaters.


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.

The VC-1 encoded picture on this HD-DVD is simply outstanding. It has a beautiful, film like quality that is absent on the original, SD DVD release, making the SD DVD look like what it is: a video. It is correctly framed at 2.35:1. The picture is smoother with enhanced fine detail. Costumes and sets that seem smeared in the SD release now have definition; you are able to make out fabric details, not just wrinkles and folds. Many shots look three-dimensional at times. There are beautiful distinctions in colors of the dirty walls in the village at the beginning of the picture when Eva finds her first afflicted patient. This is also evident at the party at the unveiling of sarcophagus of King Batiste: all of the colors in the costumes, the sets and the food are distinct and natural. Details on the actors (particularly their hair) are noticeable. The picture was shot with somewhat de-saturated colors, so the colors and skin tones, while accurate, tend to look faded (the look of the picture is discussed in one of the documentaries). Surprisingly, I noticed some minor edge enhancement in Chapter 7 when you see the local Africans praying against a sunset, followed by Dirk and Al on the camels. Black levels are deep and show good shadow delineation.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection.

The DTS track that was on the Region 3 release has been put on this release, and what a track it is! I had to drop the volume on my receiver by several notches so as not to harm the speakers in the opening Civil War sequence. After that, I switched back to the Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) track. Since the DD+ format is relatively new, I will use this track during initial evaluations on my HD-DVD reviews. Once the feature was over, I went back and spot compared the two tracks. The DD+, while it has exceptional fidelity, clarity and punch, lacked the expansiveness and presence that the DTS track provided. I went back and forth several times on which I liked better, but I came up with a draw: both tracks are excellent, but for different reasons. Technically, the DD+ track is accurate in its reproduction of the soundtrack, but the DTS is more enveloping and warm. Bass levels are excellent in DD+, and they deliver a great punch, but the bass in DTS is richer and more enveloping.

The classic rock songs lack deep bass but they are very clear in the mids and highs. The more recent songs or those of more recent vintage have a more wide-ranging sound palette. ADR was apparent in the DD+ track and I would attribute this to the enhancements of the format. I also noticed a very minor lip sync issue in various parts of the first third of the movie, and I don’t know if it was a result of poor ADR or an error in the disc itself. I will be interested to see if other viewers notice a similar issue.


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.

Commentary by Director Breck Eisner: Eisner gives a very good and detailed commentary where he discusses all aspects of the picture. Well worth the time.

Commentary by Directory Breck Eisner and Actor/ Director Matthew McConaughey: Eisner shifts gears on this one to include more stories that involve Mc Conaughey and the actors.

Across the Sands of Sahara (14:59) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): A discussion of the problems the production experienced on the set in Morocco, as well as why McConaughey optioned this story. The cast, producers, and director discuss their individual roles in the picture.

Visualizing Sahara (20.06) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): A very interesting discussion about how the production team put together the look of the film, including aspect ratio, filters, costuming, storyboarding, pre-visualization, sets and set building, and stunts.

Cast and Crew Wrap Film (9:45) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): a fun clip of numerous members of the production running down stats from the size of the productions. There is also a ton of behind the scenes video clips edited together to give you an idea of what it was like to be on set.

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Breck Eisner and Matthew McConaughey (4:39) (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+): there are four deleted scenes lasting about a minute each:
Kitty Mannock’s Crash: This scene shows the crash of the plane that Dirk and Al eventually commandeer for their own use.
Finding Kitty Mannock’s Plane: A little more exposition on the pilot of the plane.
The Long Kiss: Dirk kisses Eva. Al jokes.
Oceanographers Dying in the Desert: a different take on they boys dragging the truck bed. This scene finally shows some impact on them as they cross the hot desert.

Theatrical Trailer (VC-1, 1.85:1, DD+): This is interesting: Paramount presents the theatrical trailer in 1.85:1 while the picture was shot at 2.35:1. The picture, while not as clear and dirt free as the feature itself, is still nice. The trailer exhibits a richer saturation level than the picture itself. Those of you who are students of marketing should have fun with this one. This is also the longest I have ever commented on a theatrical trailer!

The following special features are from a Best Buy exclusive disc that came out with the original SD release, from what I understand:

Behind the Scenes of the Camel Chase Sequence (5:00) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+)

Animatics of the opening scene (4:16) and the train sequence (4:38) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): Storyboards of those scenes with a temporary soundtrack.

Storyboard Comparisons: Gun Fight at the Well (2:06), Finding the Iron Clad (1:49), Dirk Rescues Eva on the Beach (1:53) (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+): Comparisons between the storyboards and the finished scenes.


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. However, if you press the menu button during the feature, it brings up the menu items over the picture. Same difference, I guess.
- 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 not a great movie, Sahara is one heck of an HD-DVD. The disc features an outstanding audio and video onslaught that will show off your system. Both audio tracks have merits that should generate a debate on which is better, but neither will leave you disappointed. We are also provided with a great set of extras that add to the package.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 18 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted July 25 2006 - 03:02 AM

It is strange that EE crops up on these HD transfers; I can't recollect the last time I noticed edge enhancement on a DVD from Paramount. There's also some obvious halo ringing on Al's grey suit as he puts it on, which is one place I never would have expected to see it. But it's not present throughout, and it doesn't show up in a lot of places that one might expect. Very peculiar.

#3 of 18 OFFLINE   Michael Osadciw

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Posted July 25 2006 - 05:20 AM

Thanks for the review, Pat!

As for EE, yes, it still comes up in HD - Warner's Unforgiven comes to mind! Brutal!

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#4 of 18 OFFLINE   Jon_W

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Posted July 25 2006 - 08:58 AM

"The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is defaulting to DTS on my receiver, just like the Warner discs. This seems to be an encoding issue with these early discs and it is supposed to be corrected in upcoming releases."

What type of connection are you using from your A1 to your receiver? If you are using the spdif coxial or optical connection you will only ever get DTS sound out of your A1 because the player does not have the ability to take the DD+ stream and down rez it to DD. Toshiba did this on purpose because they thought it would be better to take the DD+ track convert it to PCM and then output DTS over spdif. If you want to DD+ you must use either the analog inputs on your receiver or HDMI 1.1.
"You Ain't Been Doin' Nothin' If You Ain't Been Called A Red" - Eliot Kenin, 1983

#5 of 18 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted July 25 2006 - 03:54 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon_W
"The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is defaulting to DTS on my receiver, just like the Warner discs. This seems to be an encoding issue with these early discs and it is supposed to be corrected in upcoming releases."

What type of connection are you using from your A1 to your receiver? If you are using the spdif coxial or optical connection you will only ever get DTS sound out of your A1 because the player does not have the ability to take the DD+ stream and down rez it to DD. Toshiba did this on purpose because they thought it would be better to take the DD+ track convert it to PCM and then output DTS over spdif. If you want to DD+ you must use either the analog inputs on your receiver or HDMI 1.1.

With this format still being very new to me, I made a rookie mistake! I did have the audio out from the A1 via optical. I have since hooked up the 5.1 analog connectors between the A1 and my Denon to get the correct DD+. Now, in going back and listening to "Sahara"'s DD+ track correctly, as it were, I stand by what I said in the review. I will be removing the line from the review about the DTS default. Thanks for pointing this out to me, Jon.

Also, I have found out that while the A and B buttons are not utilized, you can get the menu items up by hitting menu while the feature is playing.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#6 of 18 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted July 26 2006 - 03:26 AM

One thing that Paramount's menus do that I find convenient is that if you hit Menu while the movie is playing, an additional tab comes up for "Commentaries" so you can switch to them on the fly (rather than hunting through the many audio tracks). Nice touch.

I find myself wondering at times whether the commentator has anything to say about a particular scene, and with so many audio tracks on HD DVD I would use this feature quite a bit.

#7 of 18 OFFLINE   AndreGB

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Posted July 31 2006 - 03:21 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by PatWahlquist
ADR was apparent in the DD+ track and I would attribute this to the enhancements of the format.
Sorry for my stupidity. Posted Image What does ADR mean?

#8 of 18 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted July 31 2006 - 04:30 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndreGB
Sorry for my stupidity. Posted Image What does ADR mean?

Additional Dialogue Recording. Posted Image

#9 of 18 OFFLINE   RobertDW

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Posted July 31 2006 - 04:38 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon_W
"The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is defaulting to DTS on my receiver, just like the Warner discs. This seems to be an encoding issue with these early discs and it is supposed to be corrected in upcoming releases."

What type of connection are you using from your A1 to your receiver? If you are using the spdif coxial or optical connection you will only ever get DTS sound out of your A1 because the player does not have the ability to take the DD+ stream and down rez it to DD. Toshiba did this on purpose because they thought it would be better to take the DD+ track convert it to PCM and then output DTS over spdif. If you want to DD+ you must use either the analog inputs on your receiver or HDMI 1.1.

If you're getting audio via optical or coax then the Toshiba player mixes the DD+ tracks and outputs them as DTS. The only way to get the full DD+ is to output via analog or hdmi.

#10 of 18 OFFLINE   Jon_W

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Posted August 01 2006 - 04:13 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertDW
If you're getting audio via optical or coax then the Toshiba player mixes the DD+ tracks and outputs them as DTS. The only way to get the full DD+ is to output via analog or hdmi.


I think we cleared the issue up. Pat went back to his review to clear up the confusion and it is confusing. Only after anticipating these new audio advances for years do I understand the finer points. Now we all just need to go to Best Buy and ask them the difference between DD and DD+, lol
"You Ain't Been Doin' Nothin' If You Ain't Been Called A Red" - Eliot Kenin, 1983

#11 of 18 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted August 01 2006 - 07:55 AM

I'm annoyed that we're migrating to a HD format and we're going back to analog connections! I am still correcting myself on the HD audio formats when explaining them to those not in the know. It's difficult to explain "Ok, so there's Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby True HD. And each can work with different wiring options, one of which doesn't even exist yet! Oh, and then there's DTS..."
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#12 of 18 OFFLINE   VincentK

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Posted August 01 2006 - 08:11 AM

actually, it's Automated Dialogue Replacement

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim Glover
Additional Dialogue Recording. Posted Image


#13 of 18 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted August 01 2006 - 09:28 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by VincentK
actually, it's Automated Dialogue Replacement
I'm not 100% sure but I believe both are accepted. Sorta like how DVD is Digital Video Disc and Digital Versatile Disc

#14 of 18 OFFLINE   DavidJ

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Posted August 01 2006 - 09:36 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisR
I'm not 100% sure but I believe both are accepted. Sorta like how DVD is Digital Video Disc and Digital Versatile Disc
Automated Dialog Replacement is the preferred term, but Automatic Dialog Replacement is also generally accepted despite the fact that "automatic" is an incorrect description.

#15 of 18 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted August 01 2006 - 12:20 PM

Either way, looks like I was wrong lol. Posted Image

#16 of 18 OFFLINE   AndreGB

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Posted August 01 2006 - 02:44 PM

Thanks a lot. But what does it mean (do)? Posted Image

#17 of 18 OFFLINE   DavidJ

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Posted August 01 2006 - 03:26 PM

It is sometimes referred to as looping. The reason behind this is that when dialog needed to be changed, fixed, replaced, etc. after the film was shot an actor would come into a studio to record the dialog while watching a projected loop of the performance. The actor would deliver his lines while watching this looped film, trying to match the sync. Nowadays, the film is not physically looped and the process is assisted by computer systems--hence the "automated."

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   AndreGB

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Posted August 02 2006 - 12:26 PM

Thank you very much, DaveJ.


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