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HTF HD-DVD Review: Coming to America


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#1 of 5 PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted June 02 2007 - 06:14 AM


Coming to America (HD-DVD)

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; French Dolby Digital 2.0; Spanish Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
Time: 116 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date:1988
HD-DVD Release Date: June 5, 2007

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) lives in the lap of luxury and wants for nothing: rose petals are thrown on the ground before him and he even has royal wipers. On the occasion of his twenty-first birthday, his parents tell him it is time to marry his pre-arranged bride. Akeem does not like the idea of marrying someone he doesn’t love let alone even know, so he tells his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) he is going to America to “sew his royal oats”. His true mission is to find a woman, “…that will interest my intellect and my loins.” Akeem takes his loyal friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), with him and they land in a run down apartment in Queens to live like real Americans. Akeem and Semmi get a job at McDowell’s, a thinly veiled McDonalds rip off burger joint, where Akeem meets Lisa (Shari Headly) and he quickly becomes smitten. Akeem does not want Lisa to know he is a prince as he wants her to love him for him. However, Akeem cannot hide his secret forever and he must take a stand if he wants his life on his terms.

A comedic take on Cinderella, Coming to America shows us Eddie Murphy in the prime of his movie career, at least in terms of box office draw. Having watched Trading Places right before this, I was struck at what a difference five years had made in Murphy’s career. This picture shows us a much more refined and confident Murphy, not only as an actor but as a comedian. He no longer resorts to the quick ad-lib or trademark laugh to make the audience laugh, but he relies on his abilities as a comedic actor.

And I think he fails. In Coming to America, Murphy lacks all of the edge and hunger that was seen in Trading Places. Here, he clearly has subscribed to his own image and I think that Murphy the person was far more accustomed to the life of Prince Akeem than pre- Dukes -Billy Ray. In one of the special feature videos, I noticed a lack of praise (or even support) for Murphy that was present on the Trading Places docs. Director John Landis and Producer George Folsey, Jr. seem to breeze over Murphy’s work by saying “a lot had changed for Eddie. He was a huge star now.” With that seems to have come all of the trappings of stardom, and I tend to think it was that way on the set. Landis notes Murphy brought the story to him in a very basic form and then it was taken to the writers who finished it up. Murphy himself comments on how he wanted to do something more in this picture, but in the end, I wish he wouldn’t have even tried. His ego is present in this picture, and it would appear on the set as well.

But don’t get me completely wrong, Coming to America still has some funny stuff. This was Murphy’s first attempt at playing multiple parts in various make-ups (courtesy of Rick Baker) and it works in this picture. In seeing it in his later films, it seems a bit worn out, but it is still fresh here, and, most importantly, funny. Murphy’s turn as an old Jewish guy is dead on, and Hall is no slouch with his turn as a Sharpton-esque preacher. Landis finally got to spend some money in production and it shows: the dance number (choreographed by Paula Abdul) at the first engagement is spectacular, and you can see the money in the palace sets. While it may lack the teeth of Murphy’s earlier work, Coming to America still provides an entertaining couple of hours.

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 correctly framed at 1.85:1, and it is encoded in VC-1 at 1080p. As I said on the Trading Places review, this new HD transfer is also stunning. Detail is exceptional showing great delineation in the small background objects, especially in the intricate craftsmanship of the ornate costumes and jewelry. Contrast is great with deep blacks, but the shadows crush in on each other occasionally. This picture has one of the widest arrays of colors I have seen, and the HD encoding brings each of them out. Colors are vibrant and rich with excellent flesh tones. I wound up going back to the first part of the movie in the palace just so I could take in the detail, color and clarity of the picture. Edge enhancement is minimal. I did not notice any compression artifacts or video noise, and there were only a couple minor instances of film dirt. Paramount should be commended for putting such hard work into this transfer, and we should be very excited that an almost twenty year old picture can look this good!


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

I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track engaged. This is a very active soundtrack with well utilized surround channels. Effects are almost continuously heard throughout the feature. There are numerous music cues throughout and they are reproduced clearly and accurately. I noticed some of the music starting in the fronts then doing a smooth pan out towards the rears to put us in the soundstage. Voices are natural and free of any boominess and ADR is rarely noticed. LFE’s rarely engage, surprisingly, given the amount of music in the soundtrack. My one minor complaint on the soundtrack is that it just sounds a bit dated, but it’s really not that big of a deal.


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.

Prince-ipal Photography: The Coming Together of America (24:35): This is the doc I mention earlier in regards to the implication about Murphy. Outside of that, Landis, Folsey and the rest still show a lot of enthusiasm for the picture today.

Fit for Akeem: The Costumes of Coming to America (18:03): Costume designer Deborah Nadoolman and Landis talk about the work that went into the elaborate costumes and how they impacted the set design overall. This is a very good video on one of the most enjoyable aspects of the picture.

Character Building: The Many Faces of Rick Baker (12:54): Baker goes into detail about how he and Landis came up with the make-up ideas and how these prosthetics helped to mold Murphy and Hall’s performances. Lots of good vintage footage here as the make-up was being applied.

Composing America: The Musical Talent of Nile Rodgers (11:08): Legendary music producer Rodgers talks about his ego and the work he put in on the score.

A Vintage Sit-Down with Eddie and Arsenio (5:36): this is a filmed segment from 1988 featuring a bubbly Hall and a bored Murphy. The interviewer asks questions and Hall tries to answer for himself, and his best friend, Eddie Murphy. Murphy seems to get annoyed with him towards the end making for an interesting piece.

Photo Gallery

Theatrical Trailer (in HD)

Conclusions:
While it lacks the grittiness of a rising star, Coming to America still delivers some laughs via Murphy and Hall’s multiple roles. The new HD-DVD produces a great new transfer that will test the limits of colors in your displays. It also has a fine set of extras to round it out.
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 5 Tim Glover

Tim Glover

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Posted June 02 2007 - 08:49 AM

Good to hear!

#3 of 5 ppltd

ppltd

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Posted June 02 2007 - 01:13 PM

Thanks for the review, Pat. I am very much looking foward to getting this release.
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#4 of 5 Ed St. Clair

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Posted June 05 2007 - 11:03 AM

Thanks.
My disc is "in the mail"!
Movies are: "The Greatest Artform".
HD should be for EVERYONE!

#5 of 5 Ron Reda

Ron Reda

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Posted June 06 2007 - 04:40 PM

I know this is the HD DVD thread, but since there's no standard def DVD review, I have to say that the DVD looks pretty damn good too! Granted, it's been years since I've puled out my old non-anamoprhic title, but I don't remember the colors popping the way they do now. Excellent job, Paramount! Posted Image

P. S. The extras are quite good too...lots of older material I've never seen before.
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