HD DVD Title: Ray
Screen format: 1080p 1.85:1
Studio: Universal Pictures
First theatrical release: 2004
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple DVD releases on Feb 1 2004, including Widescreen, Fullscreen, 2 disk collectors edition and a special DVS Enhanced for low vision viewers edition
Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Bschon Howard, Larentz Tate, Richard Schiff, and Regina King
Sound Formats: English, French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, DV Dolby Digital 2.0
Length: 2 Hours 33 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Ray is the life story of blind musician Ray Charles Robinson, known to most as Ray Charles when it becomes obvious that ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson has a lock on that name early in Ray’s career. Jamie Foxx stars as (and won an actor in a leading role Oscar) Ray, following his life from the time of his brother's early tragic death (right in front of him) through to his great commercial success. In between, Ray rapidly loses his sight and his mother, becomes addicted to heroin, marries but is wildly unfaithful, and redefines popular music through a series of innovations that make him both rich and politically influential. Ray is inspirational in showcasing the amazing successes that Charles was able to achieve but even more so because of flaws in himself that he was able to overcome and the racial barriers he helped obliterate.
Sound Quality: 4/5
While Foxx may be the star of this movie, the music is both its roadmap and its soul. Charles begins as a perfect mimic, able to capture the essence of his idols in the music business. But once Ray finds his own voice and follows his own muse, he explodes into popular culture and is a cross genre hit. Both intimate performances in his home and studio as well as those on huge stages are captured sonically, where the audience gets to experience those environments exactly as they exist through the use of subtle but effective surrounds. There is no split channel trickery here, the effect is enveloping but not overwhelming. Bass is appropriate for the musical performances as well, again never overwhelming but easily putting down solid bottom from all the right band members. This soundtrack was lovingly crafted with care and it is very very notable. Many of the performances are available in their entirety in the extra features section, tho sadly in standard def.
Visual Quality: 5/5
Not much for me to say on the visual quality other than that it is the best looking HD material I have seen, regardless of HD-DVD, HD Cable, or other. The black levels are simply extraordinary, there is incredible detail and sharpness especially in close ups. Even the lettering in the opening and closing title sequences is more rock solid than any other film I have viewed. There is zero edge enhancement, zero grain, zero distractions. This is a pure, reference quality transfer. It simply is that good.
Extra Features: 4.5/5
The extra features appear to have been ported over intact from the special edition DVD release, which is a great break from what we have seen in these early HD DVD releases from Universal. I am still working on comparing the two disks but it looks like most if not all of the special edition extras appear to have made the transition. What is included are 25 minutes of (wisely) deleted scenes (including more on the road sequences), a feature length commentary track (which I have not yet listened to), multiple complete performances of featured songs from the soundtrack including “Hit the Road Jack” and a whole host of additional featurettes. “Stepping into the Part” explores Foxx’s techniques in taking on the role of Charles. “Ray Remembered” is a bittersweet look back on Charles by friends and family and band mates. Others which I have not had a chance to go through in depth include “A look inside Ray”, “The Film Maker’s Journey”, “An American Story”, and “The Women of Ray”. All are in standard definition. Finally, there is a special audio track encoded in DVS, which uses voice descriptions of onscreen elements to aid blind or sight impaired viewers. Given the 2.5 hour length of the feature, this is a pretty incredible assortment of extras, the only lament you can lay on it is that they are not similarly in high def, guess you cant have everything.
Overall: 4.5/5 (not an average)
Ray is the first WHOLE PACKAGE we have seen on HD-DVD and correspondingly gets a “Highly Recommended”. This is easily the best looking disk I have in my collection, the music is incredibly presented and the extras match those on a two disk DVD special edition. What more could one possibly wish for? Outside of quibbling over the features being in standard def and not having an animated menu other than the universal logo, I’d be hard pressed to find faults. Given Charles range of musical compositions it would probably even be difficult to find many people who can categorically say they don’t like any of his music. Ray was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and took home two, and this disk is a fitting tribute to what the film and its subject accomplished.