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HTF HD DVD REVIEW: The Road Warrior



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#1 of 36 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted May 12 2007 - 08:58 AM

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The Road Warrior
Release Date: May 15, 2007
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Standard single-disc HD DVD case
Year: 1981
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h35m
Video (Feature): 1080p HD 16x9 2.40:1
Audio (Feature): Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1, French 2S, Spanish 2S
Video (Special Features): 480p SD
Audio (Special Features): Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish (Feature only)
MSRP: $28.99

The Feature: 4/5
With gas prices the way they are Director George Miller's vision of a post-apocalyptic wasteland where people scavenge - if not kill - for fuel doesn't seem like such a leap. It was first presented in his and Producer Byron Miller's "Mad Max
First appearance or not, Max and his story should be familiar to people everywhere, following the mythological archetype of the lone warrior who must choose others over self and defeat a great evil. To the more casual (and geeky) observer, the character and story feel like "Star Wars" if things were focused on Han Solo instead of Luke Skywalker. But if the power of myth and the compare-and-contrast don't interest you, no worries - "The Road Warrior" is first and foremost Entertaining, a 90-minute chase film with masked maniacs, souped up and defensively decked out motor vehicles and lots and lots of mayhem. Though the bleak, fossil fuel-less future may give some of us pause, the bizarre cast of characters (mostly on the antagonists' side) and incredible action and stunts are an effective distraction from anything resembling real world concerns.

(Note: There is nothing on the disc that explicitly states the film is the original, uncut version of "Mad Max 2." The sole indicator is the "Mad Max 2" title card instead of "The Road Warrior.")


Video Quality: 3/5
The video quality of "The Road Warrior" is at its best during daylight scenes. Detail and texture are excellent, with the coarse, short hairs of Max's dog and the plentiful dust and dirt grains easily identifiable (and countable if one so chooses). Mild to moderate edge halos can be seen, but only in the most high contrast circumstances; grain structure is visible at times but not distracting. Contrast range and black levels appear accurate, though indicators otherwise are few in the full blaze of the desert sunlight. When night falls, however, expect things to get ugly. At its least offensive black levels get muddy, the picture goes soft and unstable, and colors shift toward orange. The most painful moment is when Max is sneaking through the desert with tanks of fuel. Not only can he hardly be seen in the murk, but it appears there was some attempt to remedy the problem by boosting the image, creating a Northern Lights effect in the picture. Given that day scenes are consistently good and night scenes consistently awful, my guess is the problem is in the source material, not the transfer. Consequently it's hard to rate the video quality too low and it's fortunate there are relatively few of these problematic scenes.


Audio Quality: 2.5/5
The center channel gets sole use during the film's 4:3 aspect ratio prologue, and then the full speaker array engages when the film cuts to Max (and the 2.40:1 aspect ratio). But it becomes clear after the dramatic cue that the front speaker triad is getting the most action, despite it being a 5.1 mix. Surround activity is present, but not significant enough to be an influence. The mix is also rather...unmixed. The right and left channels are highly localized and their levels are not complementary to the center channel's, making the dialogue often hard to hear over the score. Though the film has little dialogue, the over-separation of channels makes for a distracting experience even during the high energy action scenes. The sound effects placed in the left and right speakers also don't shift with camera angle changes, causing moments of disorientation. That said, the audio never sounds strained or lacking in fidelity.


Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by Director George Miller and Cinematographer Dean Semler: Miller and Semler provide a balanced mix of production anecdotes and history and technical information. Fans should be pleased.

Introduction by Leonard Maltin (3m36s): Maltin provides a brief history of the Mad Max franchise and the cinematic significance of "The Road Warrior."

Theatrical Trailer (2m28s): 16x9 1.85:1.


Recap and Final Thoughts

The Feature: 4/5
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 2.5/5
Special Features: 3/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

Fans of the film will likely be disappointed with the inconsistent video quality and mediocre audio mix. Nevertheless, when the film looks good, it looks really good. Depending on one's perspective, this is either a consolation or missed opportunity. A spartan set of special features doesn't really improve the situation.



Equipment: Toshiba 42" CRT RPTV fed a 1080i signal over component from a Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player. Audio evaluation is based on an Onkyo TX-SR575x 5.1 AVR running JBL S26 mains and surrounds, JBL S-Center, and BFD-equalized SVS 20-39 PCi subwoofer. Audio connection from the HD-A1 is via the multichannel analog outputs.

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#2 of 36 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted May 12 2007 - 01:28 PM

THE ROAD WARRIOR has more optical transitions that just about any other movie I can think of. Nearly every scene change is an optical as opposed to a straight cut, and they are BAD opticals. Grainy, contrasty, full of dirt, and often lingering for long shots (i.e., the entire shots leading into the optical transition, and the entire shot that begins the new scene on the other side of the transition). I'm guessing that a lot of the inconsistencies you note in the image quality probably has to do with those awful early-1980s opticals that are so heavily used in this film. Call me a blasphemer, but I'd love to see all of the optical transitions redone on modern duping stock, or better yet reproduced in the digital domain off of the original camera negatives.

Vincent

#3 of 36 OFFLINE   Jim_K

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Posted May 13 2007 - 12:57 AM

Quote:
The most painful moment is when Max is sneaking through the desert with tanks of fuel. Not only can he hardly be seen in the murk, but it appears there was some attempt to remedy the problem by boosting the image, creating a Northern Lights effect in the picture.

This was the only scene I had a problem with with the PQ. The other "night" scenes (there's not the many) looked fine to me. Daylight and Twilight scenes were pretty much excellent.

I'm still amazed that Warner gave us the uncut Mad Max 2 version. Posted Image An HD exclusive (though probably temporary) over the SD crowd.

It's a nice surprise but for the sake of their own benefit it's weird that they didn't indicate it on the packaging.



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#4 of 36 OFFLINE   MattFini

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Posted May 13 2007 - 09:22 AM

I am very seriously considering upgrading to HD DVD for this release alone.

I've waited to a full-fledged SE of this one for years, to no avail. Now I hear that HD DVD gets the uncut film with the "Mad Max 2" title card!?!? Unreal.

Now where's "Beyond Thunderdome"? Or am I the only person who likes that one?
Universal, please release Streets of Fire on Blu-ray.

#5 of 36 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted May 13 2007 - 11:23 AM

Mine's on the way....haven't seen this film in a LONG time. Since loving the Payback-Straight Up HD DVD, I'm kind of in a bad ass Mel movie mode. Posted Image Posted Image

Glad to read the image here is good.

#6 of 36 OFFLINE   MattFini

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Posted May 15 2007 - 03:20 PM

Well Circuit City was offering the Xbox 360 HD attachment with King Kong and two free HD-DVDs of my choice. Unfortunately The Road Warrior was not on their shelves (so Payback and Superman Returns sufficed), but I will be prowling for this this coming weekend.

This is one of my favorite movies and I didn't even know about this release until reading about it here!
Universal, please release Streets of Fire on Blu-ray.

#7 of 36 OFFLINE   MikeGale

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Posted May 17 2007 - 01:05 PM

Other than the different title, are there any scenes or shots in the "uncut" version that differ from the "Road Warrior" version released theatrically in the U.S.?

#8 of 36 OFFLINE   ppltd

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Posted May 17 2007 - 01:28 PM

This is probably the best we will ever get with this movie. It was filmed on a shoestring, and always had a very variable PQ. Having said that, this is a absolute must have for me. Now to get Mad Max and Beyond Thunderdome into the release schedule.Posted Image
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#9 of 36 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted May 17 2007 - 02:13 PM

That night scene when Max is carrying gas through the desert has always been way too dark. I would think it would be obvious to anyone that it's not a transfer issue. They just didn't use enough light at the location when they filmed it. It's a "defect" from the original shoot, and should be preserved as it has been on this release.

The whole point of HD is to get as close as possible to the look of brand new film elements, as they would have been seen at an excellent first-run theater when originally released. Warner is usually pretty good about this.

#10 of 36 OFFLINE   ScottJH

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Posted May 17 2007 - 02:34 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeGale
Other than the different title, are there any scenes or shots in the "uncut" version that differ from the "Road Warrior" version released theatrically in the U.S.?

This website shows the cuts

#11 of 36 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted May 17 2007 - 11:17 PM

Quote:
Fans of the film will likely be disappointed with the inconsistent video quality and mediocre audio mix.

This fan wasn't. I popped it in last night just intending to check the transfer, and 95 minutes later I had a silly grin on my face and was clapping as the end credits scrolled up. Yeah, that one scene looked awful with lots of noise(grain), but the rest of the film looked appropriate to it's budget, time period, etc...and in general looked pretty damn good. In fact, I would periodically think to myself how refreshing it was that Warner didn't try to make the film look contemporary by jacking up the contrast and boosting the colors (ala the recent James Bond abominations that everyone seems to love). It looked natural (thanks Warner!).
This is one of those movies that it seemed like I'd seen so many times during the 80's, that I never bothered owning it on any media before. I guess enough time has finally gone by 'cause it felt fresh again, and I just had a blast with it. After years of over-pumped, digitally color corrected, shaky cam'd, strobe light edited, cgi'd action movies, seeing this was like going back to grandmas house for a home cooked meal.
And it was fun to see early, non three stooges Mel again. I would LOVE to see Warner kick out an HD DVD of Weirs Year Of Living Dangerously- a beautifully shot, wonderfully atmospheric film (like most of Weirs stuff) with another early Mel performance. Won't happen, I know (sigh) but a guy can dream...

anyways, well worth the $18 from Amazon.

#12 of 36 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted May 18 2007 - 02:29 AM

Warner overdid the grain reduction, as far as I am concerned. This is supposed to be a very grainy movie, and except for the dark scenes the grain is pretty much gone. Compare it to the trailer to see what I'm talking about. As a result, a lot of the fine detail is gone too.

#13 of 36 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted May 18 2007 - 03:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Zimmer
Warner overdid the grain reduction, as far as I am concerned. This is supposed to be a very grainy movie, and except for the dark scenes the grain is pretty much gone. Compare it to the trailer to see what I'm talking about. As a result, a lot of the fine detail is gone too.

You can't use the trailer as a judge of how grainy the movie is supposed to be. Trailers are duped down several generations from the original negative and thus will have a lot of grain build up due to the duping. In THE ROAD WARRIOR's case, you're talking about early 1980s duping stocks, to boot, which were notoriously bad in terms of generational loss. The HD-DVD would have been mastered from a fine-grained IP, one generation from the camera negative, so it will be a lot finer grained than the trailer for that reason alone.

Vincent

#14 of 36 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted May 18 2007 - 03:58 AM

Quote:
That night scene when Max is carrying gas through the desert has always been way too dark. I would think it would be obvious to anyone that it's not a transfer issue. They just didn't use enough light at the location when they filmed it. It's a "defect" from the original shoot, and should be preserved as it has been on this release.
I agree that if it exists in the source material, then it should be preserved. But I couldn't make such a definitive statement about the reasons for the problem because 1) I never saw the film in theaters and 2) can't see for myself the materials used in the transfer. Consequently, I offered my best guess for the reason, which was source material rather than transfer.
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#15 of 36 OFFLINE   Mark Zimmer

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Posted May 18 2007 - 08:54 AM

While the trailer's not going to be same thing as the feature film stock, it's still crappy low-budget 1980s film stock. It's going to have a lot of grain--unless you erase it all.

#16 of 36 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott

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Posted May 18 2007 - 09:55 AM

Mark, you could be right- I actually have seen this in the theater (original release back in '82), but there is no way I would ever be able to make a judgement as to the look of the disc based on that. While the optical transitions sometimes looked very soft (but not that grainy?!), I noticed scads of fine detail in other areas of the film, without any sense of smearing that I usually get when the transfer has been 'filtered'. From the short hairs of the dog to the surface texture of the road in worms eye view shots, I was regularly dazzled.

If this has been filtered, then at least it didn't negatively impact the experience -for me at least, though it sounds like it did for you.

#17 of 36 OFFLINE   Vincent_P

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Posted May 18 2007 - 11:06 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Zimmer
While the trailer's not going to be same thing as the feature film stock, it's still crappy low-budget 1980s film stock. It's going to have a lot of grain--unless you erase it all.

There's no such thing as "crappy low budget film stock"*. Kodak/Fuji/and in the past Agfa all made/make lines of 35mm negative stocks and if you shot in 35mm, you choose one of those stocks and buy it, but I assure you they do not offer a discount crappy version. THE ROAD WARRIOR, having been shot in 35mm anamorphic, shouldn't look significantly more grainy than any other film shot in 35mm anamorphic of that vintage, save for the opticals or perhaps scenes where they might have pushed the negative due to there not being enough light (i.e., possibly that night scene folks are talking about), or if the negative itself was improperly exposed.

Vincent

* The closest would be if you shot a 35mm movie using short-ends, and I sincerely doubt THE ROAD WARRIOR was filmed using short-ends.

#18 of 36 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted May 18 2007 - 11:12 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vincent_P
There's no such thing as "crappy low budget film stock". Kodak/Fuji/and in the past Agfa all made lines of 35mm negative stocks and if you shot in 35mm, you choose one of those stocks and buy it, but I assure you they do not offer a discount crappy version. THE ROAD WARRIOR, having been shot in 35mm anamorphic, should look significantly more grainy than any other film shot in 35mm anamorphic of that vintage, save for the opticals or perhaps scenes where they might have pushed the negative due to there not being enough light (i.e., possibly that night scene folks are talking about).

Vincent

Another factor that might effect this would be the quality of the lab used. Honestly I don't know how good the labs in Australia were at the time or even if they did produce good results how consistent they were from film to film. I know they have excellent labs now.

Also you can buy what are known as short ends which are the end of a roll of unexposed film that is cut off because the rest of the roll has to be sent to the lab. Often times these short ends are sold and many low budget films buy them at a huge discount. Sometimes they are even out of date and that can have an effect on the quality of the final image. Of course with a film of the budget of The Road Warrior I doubt they were buying short ends.

Doug

* just saw the note at the end of your post about short ends! LOL
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#19 of 36 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted May 19 2007 - 07:09 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vincent_P
...having been shot in 35mm anamorphic, shouldn't look significantly more grainy than any other film shot in 35mm anamorphic of that vintage, save for the opticals or perhaps scenes where they might have pushed the negative due to there not being enough light (i.e., possibly that night scene folks are talking about)...

Yes, exactly. The very brief night scene is obviously pushed because there was not enough light used on location. You can tell because of the wavering grayish areas in large portions of the screen where there is only supposed to be black, and all of the grain. Again, this is obviously not a transfer issue.

That being said, I did notice a few brief daytime scenes that had a bit of an overly "smeary" look to them, mostly around the optical transitions. It looks to me like some grain reduction might have been used around the opticals, but it's hard to tell.

I still think this is a great release, though.

#20 of 36 OFFLINE   Jeff Adkins

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Posted May 19 2007 - 11:56 AM

It seems as though most of these grain-reduced, slightly-softened discs always seem to be VC-1. Every disc I own that has this look is VC-1. While I can't say for sure that the codec is the problem, I have to wonder why none of my AVC or MPEG 2 discs are like this. I would suspect that the post-house that handles Warner's titles is doing some sort of filtering prior to encode.

I bought this yesterday and watched it last night. I immediately noticed the lack of grain compared to the DVD release.


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