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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: L.A. Confidential (Highly Recommended)

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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted October 01 2008 - 06:18 PM

L.A. Confidential

Release Date: Available now (original release date September 23, 2008)
Studio: Warner Home Video
Packaging/Materials: Single-disc Blu-Ray case
Year: 1997
Rating: R
Running Time: 2h18m
MSRP: $28.99

Video1080p high definition 16x9 2.40:1May be in standard definition
AudioDolby TrueHD: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English 5.1, French 5.1 (both Parisian and dubbed in Quebec), Spanish (both Castillian 5.1 and Latin 2.0), German 5.1, Italian 5.1Audio standards may vary
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish (movie and select bonus material)

Portions of this review include material from Ken McAlinden's review of the two-disc, special edition DVD and are in italics. The entirety of his review can be read here.

The Feature: 5/5
It's the 1950s and Sergeant Bud White (Russell Crowe) has anger management issues. Which means the Los Angeles Police Department sees no reason to do anything about it. As long as his fury lays out wife beaters and other scum, both police captain and precinct colleagues are willing to look the other way or at least stay out of Bud's.

Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the exception. His ethical standards and professional ambitions are so strong he's willing to be a pariah among his peers to get where he wants to be.

And Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) - he couldn't care less about either of them. All that matters to him is his spotless wardrobe, his face in the papers, and the feather in his cap - being technical advisor for a popular police show on TV.

With so much hubris, vice and vanity in play it's a wonder any kind of justice gets served. But as each man grabs hold of threads trailing from a dense web of crime and corruption, they begin to find their purpose again. Heck, they might even catch the bad guys in the process.

Winner of the 1997 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay from a novel by James Ellroy, "L.A. Confidential" may not feel new, drawing heavily on film noir tropes and 1950s Hollywood nostalgia, but its tale could not be more expertly told and executed. With three major character lines and their various offshoots criss-crossing over each other, the film's plot convolutions make one hell of a maze on paper; put to film it's a manageable and entertaining labyrinth. The thrilling story also never supplants character development, the most significant being Bud White's as the layers of his brutish exterior are gradually stripped away by both love and self-respect. Supporting players Kim Basinger (who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), David Strathairn and James Cromwell also turn in excellent performances critical to the integrity of the plot. Intricately entertaining and finely crafted, "L.A. Confidential" is highly recommended viewing.

Video Quality: 4.5/5
Accurately framed at 2.40:1, the VC-1-encoded image is mostly free of physical blemishes and devoid of edge enhancement. Black levels are consistently deep and inky, though contrast can seem just a touch flat once in awhile. Grain structure is nicely preserved with no signs of compression noise or artifacts. Detail is excellent, most notable in the texture of varying fabrics and skin. While earth tones and shades of black and white tend to dominate, scenes with strong colors like the neon signs of Hollywood have an excellent depth and boldness.

Audio Quality: 4/5
The Dolby TrueHD audio mix starts out a bit front-heavy but doesn't take long to become more enveloping. In particular the prisoner beating in the beginning of the film sounds less dynamic and immersive than subsequent high energy scenes. Overall the surround mix is not one of constant activity, soundtrack support and directional effects tending to punctuate rather than provide atmosphere for scenes (the finale being the ultimate example of this), but it's effective and appropriate for the material. The lossless presentation is nicely detailed in the highs and has good punch and depth in the lows. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible, but a couple of moments of poorly done ADR might prove a distraction for some.

The 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track in comparison sounds less expansive and flatter in its dynamic range, making the lossless track preferable.

Special Features: 5/5

A full complement of extras sets this release apart from the previous single disc special edition from 1998. In addition to the newly produced material, all of the features from the previous release have been carried over except for a series of text-based features on the cast, crew, production, and history of L.A.

The "oral history," large group audio commentary is cobbled together from several interviews with most of the film's key creative participants and one critic/scholar. Commentators include critic/historian Andrew Sarris, novelist James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, costume designer Ruth Myers, David Strathairn, Kim Basinger, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and Danny DeVito. Commentators are identified by on-screen player-generated subtitles. The comedic highlight of the commentary comes early just before the four minute mark when Russell Crowe relays a typical answering machine message he would get from James Ellroy when he was preparing for the role of Bud White. Hanson does not participate in the commentary, but he is so well represented across the documentary featurettes that his absence is tolerable. Includes optional Chinese subtitles.

Carried over from the first release of the film is a music-only audio track that occupies a separate Dolby Digital 5.1 track. It highlights the large number of pre-rock pop and jazz songs in the film as well as Jerry Goldsmith's sparse but effective score.

A collection of trailers, promos, and TV spots are carried over from the previous DVD release. All are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio with aspect ratios and running times as indicated below:

* Showest Trailer (4:3 - 37s)
* "Nite Owl Action" TV Spot (4:3 - 1m07s)
* "Hollywood" TV Spot (4:3 - 37s)
* Theatrical Trailer (16:9 - 2m21s)
* Soundtrack Promo (including interview segments with Hanson) (4:3 - 1m01s)

All of the following video material is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless indicated otherwise below.

Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential (29m28s) kicks off a series of newly produced documentary featurettes from Gary Leva. As with his work on the recent 2-Disc Special Editions of Stanley Kubrick films, Leva does a nice job of creating featurettes that stand well on their own and also complement the other features on the disc with only a reasonable amount of overlap. Topics covered in this overview retrospective featurette include how Hanson was drawn to the material, difficulties selling the film to Warner Brothers, characters and casting, creating the look of the period, finding locations, cinematography, costumes, and the reception of the film. On-camera interview participants include Curtis Hanson, James Ellroy, Russell Crowe, Producer Arnon Milchan, Producer Michael Nathanson, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn, Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall, Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, and Costume Designer Ruth Myers.

Sunlight and Shadow: The Visual Style of L.A. Confidential (21m02s) covers both technical and thematic decisions that informed Dante Spinotti’s cinematography and how it integrates with aspects of the production design including costumes, sets and locations. On camera interview participants include Hanson, Spinotti, Ellroy, Myers, Basinger, Oppewall, Crowe, Pearce, Strathairn, and Spacey.

A True Ensemble: The Cast of LA Confidential (24m33s) is a look at the characters and actors playing them. This topic was covered extensively in "Whatever You Desire: Making L.A. Confidential," but this featurette has much more in-depth comments from the actors themselves. On-camera interview participants include Hanson, Crowe, Pearce, Spacey, Basinger, Strathairn, DeVito, Cromwell, Ellroy, Editor Peter Honess, Helgeland, Milchan, and Nathanson.

L.A. Confidential: From Book to Screen (21m06s) is the last of the newly produced featurettes. It looks specifically at how the novel was translated to film including screenplay adaptation difficulties, how Helgeland and Hanson came together after approaching the project independently, Helgeland as a fan of Ellroy, how they worked together, structural considerations, jettisoned subplots and backstories, the invention of Rollo Tomasi, and the re-invention of the shootout at the Victory Motel. The heart of it is an interview with Hanson and Helgeland sitting together, but other on-camera interview participants include Ellroy, Nathanson, Pierce, Crowe, Milchan, and Spacey.

Off the Record (18m48s) was created for the previous DVD release, and offers a surprisingly efficient overview of the production over its nineteen minutes. It is presented in 4:3 full frame video. Topics discussed include the tradition of Warner Brothers crime films, the appeal of Ellroy's book to Hanson, David Wolper's attempts to adapt it as a miniseries, the deal to make the movie, teaming with Helgeland, the adaptation process, Hanson's slideshow pitch to Milchan, casting of relative unknowns including clips from readings/screen tests, Spinotti's lighting style, Oppewall's designs and location choices, Ruth Myers' costumes, the use of period music, Goldsmith's score, reactions to screenings, and the movie's themes. On-camera interview participants include Hanson, Ellroy, David L. Wolper, Helgeland (sitting with Hanson), Basinger, Milchan, Pearce (on-set), Crowe (on-set), Spacey, and DeVito.

Photo Pitch (8m25s) is another carryover from the previous DVD, presented in 4:3 video. After a brief introduction, Hanson takes viewers through the photo pitch he assembled to demonstrate the look and feel of the movie to producers and collaborators.

The L.A. of L.A. Confidential presents an interactive map of the locations used in the film. Selecting any one of them pulls up a short clip from the film highlighting the location with narration from Curtis Hanson offering information about the location in both the film and the real Los Angeles. While largely a carryover feature from the previous release, it has been enhanced with spiffy new graphics.

The L.A. Confidential TV Series Pilot (46m27s) is one of the more intriguing extras in this collection. It is presented in 4:3 full-frame video. The pilot, which was filmed in 1999 but never picked up by a network, features Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Vincennes, Josh Hopkins as Bud White, David Conrad as Ed Exley, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Sid Hudgens, Melissa George as Lynn Bracken, Tom Nowicki as Dudley Smith, and Eric Roberts as Pierce Patchett. While an intriguing idea for a series, the pieces are not quite in place with this pilot episode. In particular, the Sid Hudgens character is over-used as an omniscient narrator. The writing is not nearly up to the level of the feature film that preceded it, let alone Ellroy's source novel. Period shows are expensive, so it is understandable why it did not get picked up by a network. If anything, Sutherland's subsequent TV success as Jack Bauer on 24 demonstrates that he might have been better cast in the Bud White role despite being a bit small for the part.

Finally, the exhaustive extras are topped off by a bonus CD with six vintage tracks used on the film's soundtrack. They are:

1. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive - Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers
2. Look for the Silver Lining - Chet Baker
3. Hit the Road to Dreamland - Betty Hutton
4. Wheel of Fortune - Kay Starr
5. But Not for Me - Jackie Gleason
6. Powder Your Face with Sunshine (Smile Smile Smile) - Dean Martin


The Feature: 5/5
Video Quality: 4.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

An excellent, modern take on the film noir gets excellent audio and video treatment and a hefty special features package. Highly recommended.

#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Travis Brashear

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Posted October 02 2008 - 12:12 AM

Strange, between your review and Robert Harris' thoughts, this release is getting mighty high marks here at HTF; however, over at DVDTalk, it is getting trounced as an abomination. Much of the criticism seems to highlight the allegedly blurry mess that is the opening studio logos, but I've seen many a home video release with shitty looking logos but perfectly decent video quality for the movie proper, so I'm not sure how much credence to give these naysayers. I won't have a chance to check my own copy out until this weekend, at the earliest. The screenshots at DVDBeaver certainly look fine to my eyes...
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#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted October 02 2008 - 12:52 AM

It's mostly one poster. And I'm always suspicious when a big complaint is that a film doesn't look as good as other films (in this instance, Gattaca and Goodfellas) on Blu-ray. I thought it looked great. The "pop" that guy is looking for shouldn't be there. M.
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#4 of 6 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted October 02 2008 - 02:17 AM

The opening Warner Brothers logo looks aged, but it has that same quality on the 1998 DVD.

#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Jeff Cooper

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Posted October 02 2008 - 02:40 AM

Wow. Those DVDTalk clearly doesn't get it. The whole first 4 minutes of the film has an aged blurry look. It's supposed to look that way! It's designed to look like a 1950's newsreel. The excellent video quality doesn't kick in until the scene with Bud White in his car watching the domestic abuse in the house.
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#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Loregnum


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Posted October 02 2008 - 05:05 AM

you mean some people don't grasp filmmaker intent and just assume the way something looks is automatically a screw-up by the studio because every scene in every movie should look the exact same to each other? Nah, couldn't be...NOBODY ever does that and then posts about it online.Posted Image

What you say is exactly why I put very little value in what many say online about transfers unless I know they understand filmmaker intent and things along those lines...the whole Godfather debate is a clear example of what I'm talking about.

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