Blu-ray Disc REVIEW
Release Date: AVAILABLE NOW
Film Rating: /
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Faith Lane)
Screenplay by: Shane Black
Directed by: Shane Black
SeX. MurdEr. MyStery. Welcome to the party..
Well, it’s that time of change in the air. Both HD-DVD and Blu-ray product introductions have come and gone, early adopters have geared up with their support of one format or another, and most are ready to blast harsh comments at the other camp. My guess is that through this madness they are hoping to bring new supporters by scaring them away from the ‘other format.’ Think of it as a duty to protect their investment…after all, who wants their HD player to become an obsolete paperweight?
Warner Brothers is one of the two studios who are refusing to be exclusive to HD-DVD or Blu-ray. By offering their high definition titles on both formats they are letting the market decide what format they want to buy their titles on. On each of the format’s introductions, Blu-ray has taken heat on image quality while praise was sung for HD-DVD. Bad source elements and a questionable output was part of BDs stumble, but with some care it has been proven that the format is equal to HD-DVD.
Warner’s first four Blu-ray titles were encoded in the much-maligned MPEG-2 video compression codec. Blamed for being inefficient compared to the touted superiority of Microsoft’s VC-1, Warner Bros. proved that video compressed with MPEG-2 can look stellar.
As of the beginning of September, Warner’s use of MPEG-2 was pretty much history. The second “wave” of titles (except one) and all upcoming titles use VC-1. It’s a smart move to save space if adding additional features or better audio as long as the integrity of the image is maintained. So why have I gone back to review Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a now month old title from Warner Bros. with outdated MPEG-2? Basically to tell BD owners (and their HD-DVD rivals) that this is an excellent disc and there is nothing to fear about MPEG-2. It delivers a great image.
Here follows Herb Kane’s synopsis of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as found in his HD-DVD review here. I must confess my impressions of this title on Blu-ray are the same as Herb’s descriptions of the HD-DVD.
HTF DVD Reviewer Herb Kane writes: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the directorial debut of Lethal Weapon screenwriter Shane Black. He stylizes the film by employing a voice-over narrator which pokes fun at many film noir clichés (not surprising, after apparently spending much of his spare time reading Raymond Chandler novels). Although the tone is never more than semi-serious, we build a relationship with the characters as we come to enjoy their quirkiness. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang takes us on a different and somewhat off beat journey offering several laughs along the way. In typical noir fashion, the film is voice-over narrated by Robert Downey Jr.'s, Harry Lockhart character. Clearly his style makes it apparent he's talking to a movie audience in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Occasionally, Hollywood uses offbeat narration, but this is flippant, in a welcoming and refreshing kind of way.
Harry is a two-bit thief who breaks into a casting call in an attempt to escape the police. Upon his arrival in Hollywood, he is teamed with a P.I. named "Gay Perry" (played by Val Kilmer), who takes him under his wing to show him the ins and outs of trade. He is reunited with his high school sweetheart, Harmony (played by Michelle Monaghan) who he still has a crush on. However, he gets more than he bargains for when he discovers two bodies in less than 24 hours.
Robert Downey brings the right mix of cynicism and confidence. Val Kilmer adds a flair of arrogance to his part as the enigmatic Gay Perry. Michelle Monaghan assumes the femme fatale role. The plot moves along at a rapid pace and periods of time go by without Harry's voice offering comments or observations. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn't necessarily an original piece of noir however the end result, a parody of the movement, is an entertaining one.
VIDEO QUALITY 8/10
I’ve decided to rank the video quality of these discs on a 1-10 scale. A Blu-Ray score of 5 will mean that it is similar to the best-looking DVD I can think of and the remaining 5-10 will be based on the extended resolution of Blu-Ray disc. I think this is the best way to rank these titles for now so I hope this will help you to determine what a reference HD disc is. As more BDs become available and authoring improves (as was in the early DVD days) the earliest titles I’ve ranked as “10” may not appear as “reference quality” anymore. Please note that I’m currently viewing this on a 1280x720 projector and I’m not even able to see half of the 1920x1080 information on this disc. In the simplest terms, instead of seeing 6x the resolution of DVD I’m only seeing 2.6x the improvement. Our display devices have a long way to go before we can see all of the picture information contained on these discs. This disc was reviewed on the Samsung BD-P1000 on a 35-foot Monster M1000HDMI to a calibrated PT-AE700 (6500K/5400K-B&W). The screen is a D110" (8-foot wide) Da-Lite Cinema Contour (w.Pro-Trim finish) and Da-Mat fabric.
I was very impressed with the transfer of this film. There is virtually no film grain and no edge enhancement noticeable on this disc. If I were to nitpick about just one little thing I’d have to say there *could have* been very few instances when I noticed compression artefacts. I’m not that used to seeing these artefacts on HD discs and I’m not sure how different they are from DVD, so I’m going to use that comment with caution.
The theatrical aspect ratio of the film is 2.40:1 and seems correctly framed on this disc. Many scenes in the film are at night. Black levels are very deep and shadow detail is superior-looking to some other titles I’ve viewed recently. It’s just awesome to see. Plus, our main characters never look under-contrasted in these dark scenes. The perfect amount of light is cast upon the characters so we can see them well – that shows great effort during the production of this film because it stands out on this hi-def release.
The colours in this film are a bit odd. I can’t claim that it looks natural all of the time because it’s clear they have been altered in many scenes. Some pop out more than others, mainly green, and it occasionally has a green cast in other colours. At other times, skin tones look natural but can also look slightly warmer than necessary. …but then that’s the artistic decision of the filmmakers so who am I to question it? In the end, the image is a bit variable in consistency which seems to be the intended approach for viewing.
DOLBY DIGITAL AUDIO EXPERIENCE: 6.5/10
For the sake of consistency with the video, I’m going to rate uncompressed PCM (and eventually the lossless audio compression formats when available), as well as lossy codecs from Dolby Digital and DTS on a scale from 1-10. This rating is based on “satisfaction” – the highest score delivering the greatest amount of satisfaction and the lowest delivering the least. When defining satisfaction, I mean both the resolution of the audio as well as the sound design for the film. I’m listening for the best experience possible. Audio is reviewed using the Samsung BD-P1000’s decoding & DACs, a Marantz SR5400 for preamp/pass-through, 2 Anthem MCA-30 amps each on Transparent PowerLink Super. All speakers are set to LARGE: Dunlavy SC-IV (front), Dunlavy SC-I (center), Focus Audio FC-50 (surrounds), Mirage BPS-400 subwoofer (LFE), 4 Paradigm PW-2200 subwoofers on 2 Mirage LFX-3 crossovers (one sub for each main channel for audio <50Hz), Transparent MusicWave Plus BiWire speaker cable (all channels), Transparent MusicLink Plus and AudioQuest Diamondback interconnects (all channels)
The 640kbps Dolby Digital encoding on this BD delivers the same bitrate as the Dolby Digital Plus encoding on HD-DVD – so technically the differences will be negligible. The original soundtrack is heavy in the front channels with a bit of surround ambience. Robert Downey Jr.’s voiceover narration is too forward for my liking; it’s heavy and booms at my reference level. The loudness of it makes it sound too confined to the center speaker, but correctly sounds ‘over the soundtrack.’ The rest of the dialogue in the film is a bit better but not the best at sounding completely integrated. Much of it sounds like ADR to me without being spatially processed.
Basic effects and a bit of music are spread out in the rest of the channels. The sound effects take a bit of a back seat to the music except for a few key moments. Fidelity and dynamic range appear good. It all sounds real, I can’t remember hearing any distortion in the soundtrack, and the soundtrack can have its loud moments although the overall level is a bit compressed sounding. The LFE channel has just a few moments of use. The rest of the bass is in the three front channels.
TACTILE FUN!! /
TRANSDUCER ON/OFF?: OFF
Tactile ratings are based on the information in the dedicated LFE channel only. Bass from any other channel has not been rerouted to the LFE. For “shaking” purposes, I’m interested only in the bass the LFE provides to enhance the bass in all other channels. It also gives me a good indication of how much of that “.1 LFE” channel is used on each film. A Clark Synthesis TST-429 is used on an AudioSource AMP5.3, an AudioQuest Diamondback interconnect and Crankin’ Cable 12-awg speaker wire.
I can’t say I remember the LFE standing out on this soundtrack. While using the LFE channel to deliver a bit more bass in home theatres that need it, using it for tactile effects wasn’t very effective for this film. I could have left it off and never missed a beat.
SPECIAL FEATURES /
The special features on this Blu-ray disc are the same as what is on the HD-DVD and the SD-DVD. For this part of the review HTF DVD Reviewer Herb Kane writes:
Not much here in terms of special features, all of which were ported over from the SD release and presented in SD on the standard side. They include:
IN THE END...
At this time we must make the decision of what format to buy. It is an obvious choice to make the move to high definition from standard def when one is ready. It’ll be interesting to know if those who are pondering the purchase of a hi-def machine will actually buy this title in SD while they wait. Having Kiss Kiss Bang Bang available on all three formats really splits the market up and may make a decision harder. But as the next few months pass by and we approach the new year, more hardware will be available and more titles in both camps will be pushed out. It’ll be interesting to see what the sales numbers between titles will be like at that point. If you are a Blu-ray owner right now, there is nothing that should be stopping you from picking up this great looking highly entertaining film on Blu-ray disc. Enjoy!
September 20, 2006.