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HTF HD-DVD Review: Blood Diamond


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#1 of 18 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted July 05 2007 - 02:30 PM

Posted Image
Blood Diamond (HD-DVD)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: R (strong violence and language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio:Dolby True HD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital Plus: English 5.1, French 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec) and Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English; Spanish; French
Time: 122 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS DL HD-DVD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2006
HD-DVD Release Date: July 3, 2007

Note: portions of this review were featured in my Blu-Ray review of this title.

A couple years ago when I was out hunting for a ring for my soon to be fiancée, I never gave a second thought as to where the diamond I bought came from. I will plead ignorance on the topic of conflict diamonds and the damage this trade is doing to Africa and its people. Now that I’ve seen Blood Diamond I’ve been provided a bit of an education thanks to Hollywood and some of its big stars.

A small village in Sierra Leone is overrun by a militant group of rebels, the R.U. F. The villagers are killed on sight or captured to go work in the diamond beds, and this included Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a fisherman and devoted father. Vandy is shanghaied into combing the river for diamonds, while his young son is brainwashed into the service of the R.U.F. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a Frank Buck-esque adventurer who trades diamonds for arms thus perpetuating the vicious cycle. While Vandy is panning for diamonds, he stumbles upon a “pink”, a huge, uncut diamond, so he sticks it between his toes so he may smuggle it out at some point. He asks for a bathroom break so he can hide his find, but the boss of the camp finds him and tries to get the diamond. Government forces show up and begin blasting, allowing Vandy to bury the diamond and then promptly get arrested.

In jail, the camp boss yells to Vandy in front of the other jail birds about his diamond. Archer, who coincidentally also got arrested, hears this. He befriends Vandy when he’s released and convinces Vandy to partner with him to share the profit of the sale of the diamond in exchange for getting back his family. Vandy is more concerned with getting his family back, and this only complicates matters for Archer in his quest to get the rock. Archer also picks up American reporter Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connely), who tags along with the men on their quest. Brown is there for a story about Sierra Leone and the fat cats who are getting rich over the diamond trade. Love blooms between Archer and Brown, but the cost of the quest may be more than what Vandy’s magnificent rock will bring.

Blood Diamond is a story filled with luck and coincidence masquerading as plot twists that allows the characters to move from scene to scene. Vandy is spared first from having his hands cut off by the camp boss because he’d be a good worker; the military shows up just as he and this same boss are about to go at it; Archer happens to be in the jail at the same time (ok, I’ll give them one). And it goes on and on to the point that any dramatic tension in the picture was erased since there was no sense of peril left. Running through Freetown as it’s being invaded and bullets are flying everywhere? No problem, here’s a convenient doorway! I also had a tough time figuring out why Maddy Brown was even in the picture except to give the hero a love interest. Brown speaks in big, American speeches and she’s frustrated with the one minute this battle may get on CNN that night. The crusading female reporter is relegated to a plot device, and a pretty one at that.

Director Edward Zwick and Screenwriter Charles Leavitt seem to be at odds at what each wanted to accomplish: Zwick displays his desire to do an action picture while Leavitt is really trying to tell us something important and these actors keep getting in the way. Leo seems to really enjoy being serious and intense in this role, but I still think he looks too young for this role (Clive Owen would have really been something here). It mystifies me how he got nominated for this role over his role in The Departed (at least by the Oscar committee). Hounsou turns in a very good performance as a man who thinks about his family over his safety. In the end, I was glad there was a documentary on the disc about the blood diamond trade; I should have just watched that and skipped the feature.



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 2.40:1. Since this is a very recent picture, it exhibits good color fidelity and detail. Colors are natural to their mostly outdoor settings and the African landscapes look beautiful in the wide shots. Flesh tones are accurate and rich. The HD encoding draws out some good detail in the actors faces in up-close shots, and you can see small hairs on their faces and hands. Detail of the longer shots is good, but not quite as clear as the close-ups. Black levels are exceptional and better than most of the recent HD-DVD releases I’ve reviewed lately. Shadows are deep and inky and maintain good delineation. There was some fringing in some shots, but it appeared to be native to the original print and not a problem of the transfer, almost like the picture was over-saturated a bit. There was no dirt or debris in the picture and I did not notice any edge enhancement. The HD-DVD picture is exactly the same as the Blu-Ray version.


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

I watched the movie with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track engaged, whereas on the Blu-Ray, since my receiver does not have HDMI connections, I watched the picture with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This TrueHD track improves upon the already decent 5.1 track on the Blu-Ray: the soundstage is much more immersive and there is more presence in the soundtrack. The soundtrack has a lot of surround effects that occupy all of the channels. I was much more drawn into the picture with this soundtrack as opposed to the DD track as it sounded more natural to me. There are numerous scenes with gunfire, and the bullets whiz and ping out of the fronts and rears placing you right in the action. Bass effects were much richer and deeper on the TrueHD track and they blended nicely into the rest of the mix especially, again, in the gunfire scenes. Vocal elements are natural sounding, but ADR is occasionally noticed. As with most action scenes, there is music over them. With this picture trying to be a bit more serious, I wish the gun battle scenes would have left off the music to give us more of a documentary feel.


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 encoded with the VC-1 codec otherwise noted.

In Movie Experience: This options contains the 23 chapter segments that were on the Blu-Ray disc (since BD can’t do fancy stuff like this yet) which are called “Focus Points”, as well as some interviews that are native to this disc/format. These featurettes and production diaries can be accessed by pressing the enter button when the disc icon appears on screen. Once you hit the icon, the screen morphs into the segment, then it brings you back out. Warner frames the images with backgrounds similar to those seen on the menus. You cannot exit the IME items once you’re in them, and the disc icon stays on screen after you watch the segment. The icon lets you jump from IME segment to IME segment if you so choose. The segments detail the film making challenges and they are obviously pretty short. They cover all the stuff that goes into making the picture: locations, stunts, costuming, music, effects, etc.

Commentary by Director Edward Zwick: Zwick gives a pretty good commentary with very few pauses during the feature. He digs a bit deeper than what is presented in the other behind the scenes features, and it is very welcome.

Blood on the Stone (50:19): Journalist Sorious Sarura filmed this doc about the real life journey of a diamond from the ground to the store. As I mentioned earlier in the review, this is the piece I wished I would have watched instead of the narrative. Sarura gives us information on the state of the diamond trade today with an eye towards the past conflicts. It doesn’t seem like much has changed in the past few years except less gunfire.

Becoming Archer: Profiling Leonardo DiCaprio: Leo discusses the subject matter, Archer’s past, his motivations and his relationship with Maddy. It highlights some of Archer’s big speeches and Zwick comments on Leo’s use of method acting for the role.

Journalism on the Front Line: Jennifer Connely on Women Journalists at War (5:15): Connely discusses Maddy and her preparation work of talking to women journalists who have covered the story. A true fluff piece since her part in the movie should convey what it’s like for women journalists at war!

Inside the Siege of Freetown (10:33): This is a behind the scenes doc with Zwick describing the challengers in filming this huge scene. Samura comments on the real situation and the importance of maintaining that reality. Stunt work, armory and pyro work is highlighted also.

Music Video: Shine On by Nas (2:48)

Theatrical Trailer

Web Enabled Features: hook your player up to the Internet and you can access the online part of the disc. The content was accessed quickly on my connection. For this title, you can choose “Maps of Conflict”, which brings up a map of Africa and you can choose a country. Once you make a choice, it gives you information about that country as it pertains to the movie. Next up is “Polling”, where the disc asks you about how you responded to the subject matter with five questions such as, “Has the film changed your opinion about diamonds?” and “What rating would you give this HD DVD?” There is a list of other Warner HD-DVD titles on the menu, but you can’t jump to them. It may have been a good idea on Warner’s part to allow you to jump to the trailers for these pictures, presumably if you could access the trailers in HD. This option is the future of what the HD formats are striving for, so I hope to hear Warner and Toshiba’s response to this option in the future. There is an insert in the case that advises you to update your player’s firmware prior to trying the web content; the most current firmware is 2.3.

Warner’s also wants to hear your thoughts in a poll that you can access online here. It asks you a series of questions related to the format and your wants for upcoming releases. It then it takes you to the answers (unfortunately it doesn’t tell you how many people voted). The results of the questions is interesting, and please vote for 2001 in HD.

I find this option on HD-DVD to be very intriguing and I hope to see more of this content in the future.


Conclusions:
While a very well put together piece of Hollywood product, I found myself losing focus on the true story due to the star power and the action flick narrative. The HD-DVD blows away the soundtrack and extras of the Blu-Ray counterpart, utilizing the capabilities of the format to a greater extent. The HD-DVD’s web enabled features are meager, but it gives us a hint of things to come in the format.
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All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#2 of 18 ONLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted July 05 2007 - 11:15 PM

In other words: a must-have, this HD DVD.
Understood, Pat. Posted Image And thanks for a very good review!


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#3 of 18 OFFLINE   Paul Arnette

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Posted July 06 2007 - 01:24 AM

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take exception with your statement that the HD DVD soundtrack blows away the BD soundtrack when you admit your system is incapable of playing the uncompressed PCM soundtrack found on the Blu-ray Disc. You're comparing apples and oranges, as, of course, a lossless soundtrack is going to sound better than a lossy one. If you don't have the equipment to make a fair comparison, you're better off not making one at all. BTW, I watched Blood Diamond on BD Tuesday night with the uncompressed PCM soundtrack and it was truly phenomenal.
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#4 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert George

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Posted July 06 2007 - 01:48 AM

Double check the encoding of the supplements. I haven't picked up the HD DVD version yet myself, but I have been told by a friend that has it that the supps on the HD DVD are actually encoded in VC-1 as opposed to the MPEG-2 on the Blu-ray. I'll likely get out and pick this up later today.

#5 of 18 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted July 06 2007 - 03:02 AM

pat, have you seen the sd version? i imagine these hd editions just kill the sd version due to the embarrassingly bad picture quality of the sd release? or anyone else that can compare.
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#6 of 18 OFFLINE   ppltd

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Posted July 06 2007 - 03:22 AM

Pat, thanks for the review. I watched this film on the 4th and was quite pleased with both the PQ and AQ of the film, less with the story itself. The new Web based features were a bit limited, but does show some intriguing possibilities with future releases.
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#7 of 18 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist

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Posted July 06 2007 - 04:30 AM

Paul, I was aware of what I was saying in comparing the SD and HD tracks. My intent with it was to explain how much more the TrueHD track added to the viewing experience. The HD track brings you more into the world of the movie, whereas I was thinking about the soundtrack when I watched the BD. However, you make a good point and I will consider it for future reviews.

Robert, the extras are in VC-1. Thanks for the catch. I missed that when I was transferring over the original BD review.

I have not seen the SD version, so I can't compare the PQ on it. However, as we've been discussing (Posted Image), the TrueHD track blows away the SD track.

I really had a hard time deciding if I was going to stamp a "recommended" on this disc. AV wise, it's a champ, but story-wise, not so much. To me, all of these things, including the supplements, must be exceptional.

Pat
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All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.

#8 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert George

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Posted July 07 2007 - 03:43 AM

So, of course, there has to be controversy, right? Posted Image

I picked up the HD DVD yesterday because, well, just because. I have seen the movie twice already. I rented the SD DVD when it came out, and I bought the Blu-ray last month. I figure that allows me to make the following comments.

There was this big brouhaha on AVS about the time the Blu-ray was released. There are a few rough patches in the transfer directly related to the nature and condition of the film element. The compression encode also has a few rough spots pretty much mirroring the the bad spots in the film. When this was noted in one early review, well, all hell broke loose on AVS. Suddenly Warner was the Antichrist and VC-1 and HD DVD were the tools of Satan. Of course, the problem was VC-1 and HD DVD because Warner "obviously" "ruined" the transfer of one of their recent Academy Award nominated films so that it could fit on a 30 gig HD DVD (that was sarcasm for those slow on the uptake).

Because of production issues, the HD DVD is a month later than the Blu-ray. All there was to fight over was the Blu-ray, even though once that disc was actually released and in the hands of more people, it was later pretty much decided all the disc was not nearly as bad as one would have thought listening to all the people that HADN'T SEEN the disc whining about how bad it was, or wasn't in this case.

Now, not to change gears too quickly here, I want those reading to recall some of the hardware reviews the Toshiba HD-XA2 has gotten since it came out about six months ago. For those that haven't seen the reviews, for the most part, the XA2 is generally considered about the best next generation disc player produced so far by those reviewers that have been evaluating several of the players of both formats. Do you see where I'm going here...

So, back to the new HD DVD edition of Blood Diamond....

I get the new disc home and fire up the system. I had heard the SD supplements were encoded in VC-1 instead of MPEG-2 and that made a visible difference in the quality of the standard definition material. I checked out some of the documentary footage and sure enough, the supplemental material on the HD DVD does indeed look cleaner and sharper with none of the various artifacts we have become used to with low bitrate MPEG-2. I was equally surprised when I decided to check out the opening shots in the movie itself, the worst parts for compression problems on the Blu-ray disc.

Lo and behold, the excessive blocking I saw on the Blu-ray was nearly gone. I had to back up and look twice again just to see any blocking at all. While very close overall, the HD DVD played on the XA2 looks slightly smoother and cleaner while maintaining the same level of sharpness and detail as the Blu-ray disc played on the PS3.

I know these both these are the same transfer and same VC-1 encode, so I can only assume that all VC-1 decoders and players are not created equal.

#9 of 18 OFFLINE   Jeff Adkins

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Posted July 07 2007 - 04:41 AM

I rented the BD about 2 weeks ago and I didn't think the transfer was that great myself. It looked heavily-filtered and soft.


In fairness Robert, Blood Diamond now holds the record for the lowest video bitrate of any BD released to date. You'd have to expect controversey when a new A-title comes out, looks filtered and in encoded at a bitrate that is 30% less than normal (13.9 mbps). Even by comparison to most of Warner's VC-1 titles, the bitrate is very low. For example, The Searchers (considered to be one of the top tier VC-1 encodes) is almost double (24.6 mbps). I'm sure people will make jokes about "who watches the bitrate instead of the movie", etc. But to me, it's very obvious that some filtering was done here to keep the bitrate low. It just lacks the amount of detail you'd expect from a new title like this.

#10 of 18 OFFLINE   Robert George

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Posted July 07 2007 - 06:42 AM

Not in every scene and not in every shot. When I see inconsistency within not just the same movie, but within a given sequence, I first consider the original photography. No transfer is going to be better than the film elements it is taken from. I readily acknowledge there are shots in this film that don't have that razor sharpness or ultra-smoothness of some of the more appealing HD transfers out there, but automatically blaming that on the transfer or compression ignores the science involved here. Comparing the video bit rate of this disc to others means nothing. A compressionist is given a bit budget and his job is to encode to that. If he is unable to get satisfactory results with the bit allocation he is given, he will bring that to the attention of the disc producer and a decision will be made how that will be handled. Just because there are other VC-1 encodes out there with higher average bit rates does not mean they NEEDED higher bit rates, only that they had the space to use. less hand tuning means not only a higher bit rate, but less encoding time which saves money. You don't spend money where you don't have to. The Microsoft people that developed VC-1 have been saying since before the HD DVD format was even released that there was efficiency that was not being taken advantage of. That is even more true now with the improvements in the compression tools for VC-1 in just the last year. We know Warner and we know Warner is very serious about how their movies are presented. There is no way I am going to believe Warner would knowingly and willingly compromise something like the quality of one of their "A" films on the format they have thrown their corporate image behind just for the sake of adding a few more extras or additional audio. They just don't do that. While I agree that there are a FEW spots in the encode of Blood Diamond could have likely been improved a bit (and have been told as much), overall, I feel the HD transfer and encode is a relatively accurate representation of the film element based on what I know of it.

#11 of 18 ONLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted July 07 2007 - 10:19 AM

Back when the price for Blood Diamond for the BRD and HD DVD were announced, I couldn't make up my mind which format to buy so I preordered both of them. I never did cancel either order because I wanted to have at least one example to do some "A" versus "B" comparisons between the two competing formats. After viewing both discs this week, I couldn't see much difference in either of them to tell you the truth. My eyes might not be as sharp as Obi's, but I think the transfers were fine and true to the original film elements. The players I used were the XA2 and BD-P1000 on my HP-MD6580 display. Crawdaddy

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#12 of 18 OFFLINE   ClaytonMG

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Posted July 10 2007 - 02:41 PM

After testing out both discs (since I noticed scenes with compression when first viewing the Blu-Ray), I have to say both are identical. I have no problem with VC-1 at all, I think it looks fantastic a lot of the time (have you seen Deja Vu?!). But here's the thing, even with VC-1, when you get the bit rate down around 10 and below, it will cause problems. I have seen movies who's end credits don't dip down that low. Wether it was because it had to fit onto a 30gb HD-DVD I don't know, but I do know that there's around 20gb's free on the Blu-Ray which does make one think it's the exact same port from the HD-DVD... or Blu-Ray, however you want to look at it. This film was made for a 30gb disc, so I guess it'd be HD-DVD. And to say that the TrueHD track blows away the standard track on the Blu-Ray is extremely unfair and is somewhat biased to say. Now if you compared the TrueHD track to the DD+ track on the disc, that'd be fine. Since the DD+ track is the standard track ported over from the Blu-Ray. But to not compare the TrueHD track to the PCM track is wrong.

#13 of 18 OFFLINE   Southpaw

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Posted July 11 2007 - 10:29 AM

Not to take away from the technical aspect discussion of the disc, but I must say that the overall entertainment value of this disc is incredible. The IME is one of the best Warner has done and I plan to complement them on that fact at the HME next week. I thoroughly enjoyed the diamond documentary as well. As both an HD DVD and Blu-Ray player owner, I am sure glad I waited until this version was released to both purchase the disc and view the film. I loved it.

#14 of 18 OFFLINE   Jeff Adkins

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Posted July 11 2007 - 03:08 PM

Deja Vu: 25.0 mbps Blood Diamond: 13.9 mbps I have no problem with VC-1 either. Nor HD-DVD. I think both are capable of producing exceptional quality. But I do believe a sufficient bitrate is necessary to produce the optimal image quality. But that's just my two cents. I don't claim to be an expert. I just judge things based on what I see with my own eyes. I know some of you think I sit there and watch the movie with the bitrate meter turned on. In truth, the only time I ever even pay attention to it is when something looks exceptionally good or worse than average.

#15 of 18 OFFLINE   ClaytonMG

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Posted July 17 2007 - 07:54 AM

I don't normally check the bitrate meter unless I notice compression blocks (as I did with Blood Diamond) or if the picture looks exceptional (like Deja Vu). Deja Vu spikes to 50mbps in some spots, I noticed that Blood Diamond rarely gets up that high and it does make me wonder if a higher bit rate encode of this would actually make it look better. I don't know, I don't have the master obviously, so I can only judge it by what WB has presented us with and I honestly don't think this is the best it could've been. Simple question, how many people saw compression artifacts in the theater? I'd be surprised if anyone says "I SAW A LOT!!!" to that question, but it's something to think about. These codecs are supposed to be as true to the original source master as possible, however when you have a colorful movie and you're lowering the bit rate to just a smidgen above DVD's max bit rate, you have to think this was compressed to a degree that made the film suffer. It's like what you said about Superman Returns and Happy Feet (both of which I got on HD-DVD for the Dolby TrueHD and both of which freeze up on me, funny how that works). If WB was as concerned about quality, they wouldn't have just thrown the uncompressed audio tracks out for these films on Blu-Ray. But I am thankful that they're including them more and more on Blu-Ray and look forward to the day when they fill up a 50gb disc.

#16 of 18 OFFLINE   Ben_Williams

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Posted July 19 2007 - 11:07 AM

Warner gave us a nice demo of Blood Diamond at EMA... I like the concept of the online extras they are working on and I'm curious to see how that evolves over time... As far as the transfers are concerned, I'm not sure how anyone can think that the exact same VC-1 transfer looks better on HD DVD. If that's the case, it would have to come down to equipment and not the format in general.

#17 of 18 OFFLINE   Jeff Adkins

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Posted July 19 2007 - 12:04 PM

Are these extras something that can't be put on the disc? I'm curious as to what these online extras actually do.

#18 of 18 OFFLINE   Ben_Williams

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Posted July 19 2007 - 12:14 PM

They go into detail about war-torn regions of Africa. The cited advantage of having these extras online is that the information on each country can be updated with new news and information. There is also a polling feature on the disc so that you can take part in community polls regarding your opinions on the subject matter of the film.




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