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HTF HD-DVD Review: Beowulf Director's Cut.

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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist


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Posted February 22 2008 - 10:30 AM

Beowulf Director’s Cut (HD-DVD)

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: Unrated
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG4-AVC
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus English, French, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
Time: 114 minutes
Disc Format: 2 SS/DL HD-DVD’s
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
HD-DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008

King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is quite proud of his kingdom and lovely wife. He and his fellow 6th century Danes party each night to celebrate their victories and successes. Across the planes, however, the demon Grendel lies writhing in his lair, in auditory pain from the mirth-making miles away. He heads to the meade hall and proceeds to tear apart the revelers leaving the king and his queen in fear for their lives and the lives of their subjects. Hrothgar puts out a request to find a hero who will come and slay Grendel. Beowulf (Ray Winstone), all full of machismo and testosterone, quickly accepts, stripping down to nothing in order to confront the fiend itself. When Grendel does arrive, Beowulf nimbly leaps about the room battling while his crew is quickly dispatched. The results of this battle anger Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie), who picks up where her son left off. She sets out to make Beowulf her ally continuing a long history that begins with the sins of the fathers.

Trying to adapt a 1500 year old (the oldest surviving poem in the English language) 3000 line Danish poem into a modern day flick that we’d want to see seems to be an ambitious quest, but director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary kinda make it work. Gaiman and Avary beef up the story by adding in more mommy and daddy issues, while Zemeckis uses the latest digital “performance capture” technology to translate his flesh and bone actors into CG ones. The result is a hell of a technical marvel that uses this dazzle to distract us from a thin plot. In watching the picture I was often stunned to see how well the likenesses of the actors were captured, especially Hopkins and Jolie. With each passing year we are seeing such improvements in digital technology it makes me very anxious to see what will come of it in the future. Since the picture was released in 3D as well, many of the shots were created to capitalize on this feature.

The plot, although enhanced, is fairly thin and we don’t really get much more than an average story. Sure there’s lots of derring-do, heroism and angst, but none of it really seems to hold much weight. The relationships between Hrothgar and his young queen, Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn), and later between her and Beowulf, suggests simmering passion at first but peters out into a marriage as cold as the surrounding environment. The “actors” do the best they can with what they’ve got, and it’s a blast to watch the “in the volume” screen on to see them performing the roles while it is being captured, but there’s just not enough characterization to keep us interested. Beowulf is basically a Leonidas understudy, willing to scream his name to let you know just how tough he is. Instead, we get a heck of an action picture that hangs its crown on the CG environment and the little bits of heroic idealism. The demon Grendel is here all too briefly and comes off as a poor, deformed creature with an earache, leaving me longing for more Gollum-esque complexities and less “Hulk smash!”

Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Toshiba HD-XA2 HD-DVD player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

Beowulf is encoded in the MPEG4-AVC codec at 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The CG picture is brilliantly represented in this slick hi-def transfer. The image is flawless with not a hint of grain, noise or dirt. However, close inspection of the image showed a slight flutter to some of the edges of the smaller background items and I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the transfer itself or problems between the current firmware for the XA-2 and MPEG4 encode. Sitting at a reasonable distance away, this flutter was not noticed. The color palate is muted slightly and due to the film being CG, I hesitate to call any of the colors “accurate” since they’re not tangible. Regardless, they are bold when they need to be (such as the blue fire announcing Grendel and the gold on the dragon’s scales). Black levels are excellent showing good depth and detail. Edge enhancement was not noticed. Movies such as this only reinforce how great HD presentations can be and I would even be interested in seeing the picture again just for the 3D enhancement.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the Toshiba XA2 to the Denon 3808CI.

I watched the picture with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track engaged. Paramount still irritates me by refusing to give us a lossless track, but the DD+ track is certainly no slouch. The soundtrack has a full range of exciting and dynamic sounds while maintaining good balance between all the channels. Surrounds come up frequently to immerse you in the soundstage. Panning effects are convincing and frequent. LFE’s are perfectly blended into the mid’s but go deep when they need to. The sound is crisp and clear and free of any noise or hiss.

Bonus Material:
All of the bonus material is presented in high definition unless otherwise noted.

Disc One contains the main feature with a couple of options:

Beowulf in the volume: with this enabled, a small picture pops up over the main feature to show the actors and the production when they were doing the motion captures. This is a very fun way to watch the film on repeated viewings to see how well the motion capture and CG effects render the likenesses of the actors. There is a very unfortunate piece of this feature missing whenever Angelina Jolie’s character is on screen. Obviously a mistake!Conclusions:
While the story left me wanting more, the eye-candy we get from the video presentation helped me to forget such a nuisance. The bonus features, while somewhat slight, still give us some good background into the tech behind the (computer) screen.

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 6 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted February 22 2008 - 04:17 PM

Thanks for the review! Would you say those of us who love Pixar cartoony CG but are freaked out by the "Uncanny Valley" as seen in creepy CG like the Polar Express will find the animation favorable or not so much?

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#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Jason Seaver

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Posted February 23 2008 - 12:22 AM

I was very impressed by it in theaters, and i had really not liked the look of The Polar Express. It's still not quite "real", but I don't know if that should necessarily be the goal of an animated movie.
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#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Neil Joseph

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Posted February 23 2008 - 05:08 AM

This was more real looking than Polar Express maybe more along the lines of Final Fantasy. Looked and sounded great (Transfer wise).
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#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted February 23 2008 - 11:56 AM

K, sounds like maybe a rental at least for me then! If I can find it BOGOd or better will pick it up. Thanks!

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#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Mark Booth

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Posted February 24 2008 - 04:12 AM

FYI for those near a Fry's Electronics... Fry's has Beowulf HD DVD advertised for $24.99 available Tuesday. It might be for just one day so go get 'em! Posted Image