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HTF Blu-Ray Review: Beowulf Director's Cut

Blu-ray Reviews

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#1 of 3 OFFLINE   PatWahlquist


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Posted July 31 2008 - 11:07 AM

Beowulf Director’s Cut (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Rated: Unrated
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG4-AVC
Audio: Dolby TrueHD English 5.1; French, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH+
Time: 114 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
Blu-Ray Release Date: July 29, 2008

Note: Portions of this review were originally featured in my HD-DVD review of the same title. The HD-DVD came as two discs, but the BD is a single disc.

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 Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray 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. On the HD-DVD, close inspection of the image showed a slight flutter to some of the edges of the smaller background items and I wasn’t sure if it was a problem with the transfer itself or how the Toshiba XA2 was dealing with the MPEG4 transfer. Seeing the BD now, I can confirm this was an issue with the HD-DVD and the Toshiba as it appears to have not carried over to the Blu-Ray. 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 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.

I watched the picture with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track engaged. Paramount corrects the problem of the HD-DVD, which did not have a lossless track, by giving us this exceptional TrueHD track.. 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. The TrueHD only improved on its lossy predecessor by giving more punch to the bass, better detail in the highs and mids, and a more convincing soundstage.

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

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!

Heroes Journey: The Making of Beowulf (23:57). this piece is an overview of the production, where the following parts go into far more detail. You are given a choice here to have pop-up text blocks talking about what is on screen, called the Interactive Version. Somehow I missed this aspect on the HD-DVD!

The Journey Continues (21:13): broken up into ten parts you can watch together or separately. We see the 25’x25’ cube that captures the shooting stage and details the sensors put on the actors. It goes into further detail about how they realized props, how they scanned the actor’s faces, the texturing process, stunt captures, etc. There are parts on the storyboards and how they translate into pre-visualization and just how cold the cube could be.

Beasts of Burden: Designing the Creatures of Beowulf (6:56): the crew and cast explain how CG was the best way to realize Grendel, a creature of deformations and pain. This part shows off how much Crispin Glover brought to the character of Grendel. They also go on to explain how Angelina Jolie was the only living actor who could bring out the sultriness of Grendel’s mother.

The Origins of Beowulf (5:13): Avary, Gaiman, Zemeckis and others discuss the story of Beowulf, the translation to the screen and it’s legacy into such stories as King Arthur and Star Wars. They explain and justify their changes to the story to maintain dramatic unity and hypothesize to the identity of Grendel’s father.

Creating the Ultimate Beowulf (1:58): Zemeckis, Production Designer Doug Chiang Ray Winstone discuss how motion capture allows the character to drive the actor without being constrained to the exact physical aspects of each.

The Art of Beowulf (5:24): Zemeckis, Gaiman and Chiang talk about the production design and the lighting of the scenes.

A Conversation with Robert Zemeckis (10:19): Zemeckis sat down with USC students to answer questions after the first showing of the 3D Beowulf. He discusses why he wanted to do this story, his thoughts on motion capture, length of production, how this process frees him as a director, how this technology may change storytelling, and more.

Deleted Scenes (13:13): eleven pre-viz representations of cut scenes with voices and other temporary soundtrack items.

Theatrical Trailer

Missing from the BD release are the web enabled features, when you put in the HD-DVD it would do a quick check of your online connectivity, then you could go into the menu for this content. It was pretty basic stuff such as bio’s of the actors and Zemeckis. A second choice told you small snippets about the production, motion capture technology, story writing, etc. Since BD-java is enabled I’m curious why this wasn’t brought over.

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 3 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool



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Posted July 31 2008 - 11:16 AM

Good hear that this seems to be a reference quality BD. Thanks for the fine review, Pat. Looking forward to picking this up (probably tomorrow) on a blind buy... _Man_

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#3 of 3 OFFLINE   Ron-P



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Posted July 31 2008 - 07:16 PM

I still have yet to see this, maybe I'll add to my blind-buy list.
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