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HTF HD-DVD Review: March of the Penguins


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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted April 05 2007 - 01:48 PM


March of the Penguins (HD-DVD)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: G
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English; Spanish; English SDH
Time: 80 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2006
HD-DVD Release Date: March 27, 2007


Prior to March of the Penguins, I really had little interest in the migratory and mating habits of the empire penguin. Having just watched the picture, I found I could watch another several hours of the critters and their lives. This entertaining documentary traces the 70 mile migration of the empire penguin across the frozen wasteland of Antarctica to find a suitable place to breed. The females lay the egg and then they head back the original 70 miles to get food and return once the young have been hatched to feed them. Meanwhile, the dad penguins remain behind to care for the egg and care for it through and past hatching. Once the mothers return, they assimilate back into the family unit and the dads go back for food. But the brutality of the Antarctic weather reminds the penguins how fragile they and their new offspring are.

Not only is March of the Penguins and fascinating look into the lives of the penguins, it’s also a bit of an achievement in documentary film making: the crew had to endure a year of on location filming in up to -60 degree temps, with wind chills below -100. The accompanying documentary does a great job of drawing a parallel to the trials of the penguins to that of the crew. Through it all, the film makes succeed in giving us a touching, exciting and loving portrait of the empire penguins.


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 1.78:1. The original negative was shot on 16mm film stock, so this transfer tends to show much of the original grain. This does not help some of the darker scenes that tend to make the grain jump out. In some of the panning scenes, video noise becomes apparent but not overbearing. The colors of the surroundings are rich and nicely saturated (specifically the sunset scenes). The close up scenes on the penguins show great detail and depth, but the longer shots are simply average. Edge enhancement was noticed, but it seems to be an issue with the original negative, not the transfer. I saw some ringing and halos around the longer shots of the penguins that would fluctuate in intensity from scene to scene. I did not have the SD-DVD to compare this HD-DVD to, but I can’t imagine the HD is adding anything significant to the presentation.

The pictures are virtually identical on both the HD-DVD and the Blu-Ray.


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

I watched the movie with the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track engaged, which is the only English option. Most of the action occurring in the front three channels: Morgan Freeman’s narration stays in the center channel while the penguins stay in the left and right. I noticed only a couple instances where the surrounds engaged but only to provide atmospheric effects. The imaging was quite tight when this occurred and it provided a pleasing soundstage, enough to give me a shiver when the winds began to blow across the Antarctica landscape. LFE’s are natural and smooth and the blend in well with the other channels. The soundtrack was clear and natural with no abnormal noise or distortion. As with the video, this is not a soundtrack that really seems to need or benefit from the DD+ soundtrack. There seems to be little difference between the Blu-Ray’s DD and the HD-DVD’s DD+ track except the DD+ has a little more presence.


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.


Of Penguins and Men (53:41): This extensive documentary is nearly as long as the feature and almost as enjoyable. Here, the film makers, Luc Jacquet and Jerome Maison, document the making of the picture and show as tough as it is for the penguins to survive, it is far more difficult for a human, especially one trying to film a picture. This doc is a great companion piece to the feature and it strips away the narrative for a more technical presentation.

National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins (23:30): While I was watching the feature I had a great time watching the “penguincam”, where the film makers strapped a camera to Rodney the Penguin and let him swim about. Rodney provided some exceptional footage of the penguins in the chilling waters, and this doc shows us a bunch more of that footage. It also gives you some further information on the penguin’s species and the landscape of Antarctica.

Classic Looney Tunes Cartoon: 8 Ball Bunny (7:06): Warner’s sees a chance to cross promote its Looney Tunes catalog here with a Bugs short. The short is encoded in VC-1 at 1080p and it looks spectacular.

Theatrical Trailer


Conclusions:
While the feature itself is highly enjoyable, heartbreaking and inspirational, the accompanying documentary about the making of the picture is just as good providing a more complete picture of the subjects. The HD-DVD itself does not really benefit from the upgraded format due to the source material, but it is still a nice presentation.
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 2 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

Tim Glover

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Posted April 05 2007 - 04:26 PM

Nice review Pat. Ordered this the other day from the big recent Warner Home Video sale. Posted Image