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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Big Trouble in Little China



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#1 of 54 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted August 05 2009 - 02:19 PM

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Big Trouble in Little China (Blu-ray)

Directed by John Carpenter

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 1986
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1   1080p   AVC codec     
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish; 3.0 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Cantonese, others
Region: A
MSRP: $ 29.99

Release Date: August 4, 2009
Review Date: August 5, 2009
 
 
The Film
3/5
 
John Carpenter’s tongue-in-cheek action-adventure film Big Trouble in Little China may be too sly for its own good. With the many clones which were churned out after the worldwide success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was clever of Carpenter to do an anti-Indy movie, action-filled but with a somewhat inept, rather hapless leading man. The problem is that the film is often playing with conflicting styles. Some of the actors are playing it straight while others seem hip to the director’s intentions and are slyly winking at the audience. Additionally, some of the special effects are amazing while others are so cheesy you’d swear the movie was being made by Ed Wood. The uneasy mixture of satirical seriousness falls flat almost as often as it lands amusingly. In short, Big Trouble in Little China is never as good as it thinks it is or as good as it could and should have been.
 
Hearty truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his pal Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) watch as Chi’s fiancé (Suzee Pai) and another beauty Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) are abducted at the San Francisco airport by the Lords of Death, one of the notorious street gangs terrorizing Chinatown. Gracie escapes and together with Jack, Wang, Gracie’s reporter friend Margo Litzenberger (Kate Burton), Eddie Lee (Donald Li), and elderly father figure Egg Shen (Victor Wong), the group invades the Wing Kong Exchange, the underground headquarters of the gang which is masterminded by ancient demon lord David Lo Pan (James Hong). Lo Pan must marry a green-eyed girl to be able to restore himself to his mortal state, and our heroes must find him before the wedding can take place.
 
The screenplay by Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, and W.D. Richter contains lots of confrontations between warring Chinese gangs (with plenty of kung fu action) as well as a series of death-defying sequences as Jack and company face off against Lo Pan’s own powers and the chamber of horrors where he resides. But the perils are never that dangerous, and no one ever seems to be in much danger. Yes, it’s unusual that the top billed star is something of a klutz and a dunce (leaving the safety on when trying to fire his automatic weapon, firing upward and dislodging a piece of plaster which knocks him out, kissing the leading lady and leaving her bright red lipstick smeared across his mouth and teeth) while having his sidekick Wang the real hero of the day with his superlative martial arts background and utter fearlessness. But that dialogue! Kate Burton’s first few speeches sound like Exposition 101 from screenwriting class they’re so awkwardly written (and delivered by the actress who was making her screen debut). And Carpenter’s direction does the poor creature-work no favors showing the rubbery phoniness in all its inglorious majesty.
 
As one of Carpenter’s male muses, Kurt Russell appears to be having a fine time, but this is perhaps the weakest of his many collaborations with the director. Sly, winking comic bravado is not his forte, and the actor seems self-conscious throughout the film. Kim Cattrall is likewise not very good as the show’s nominal leading lady; she’s much better now playing a sophisticate than she was when this was made. Dennis Dun plays it straight and is the most satisfying of the leading players while James Hong’s one-dimensional evil lord Lo Pan is fun if predictably portrayed.
 
 
Video Quality
4.5/5
 
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a beautiful looking 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color is especially rich and deep in this encode with flesh tones wonderfully realistic. Sharpness is usually superior except for a few shots in the early going which seem abruptly soft amid all the rich detail surrounding them. Black levels are also admirably deep with shadow detail to be envied in lesser transfers. The film has been divided into 44 chapters.
 
 
Audio Quality
3.5/5
 
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is surround in name only. Though the stereo separation is wonderfully achieved and there are lots of terrific effects distributed across the front channels (as well as Carpenter’s thumping music score), the rears have been neglected almost completely leading to a very imbalanced surround track.
 
Special Features
3/5
 
The audio commentary brings together friends John Carpenter and Kurt Russell in a fun-filled, laugh-filled reminiscence about making the movie. Russell is in stitches through much of the track laughing uproariously as the two talk about what their intentions were for the film and agreeing the tone for the movie was likely ahead of its time.
 
The user may choose to listen to the music score on an isolated DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.
 
All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.
 
There are eight deleted scenes which must be viewed individually. There is no “Play All” button for them.
 
The extended ending available for viewing involves two additional moments cut from the theatrical release. It runs 3 minutes.
 
A vintage featurette serves as the EPK for the film, a 7 ½-minute compilation of interviews with the director, the stars, special effects coordinator Richard Edlund, and the costume designer.
 
John Carpenter and his band contribute a music video for the movie’s title song that runs for 3 ½ minutes.
 
Special effects coordinator Richard Edlund is interviewed about his work on the movie. The viewer is given the option of having visual stills projected into a small window while he’s talking or having them displayed full screen. His interview lasts 13 ¼ minutes.
 
There are three theatrical trailers which can be selected for viewing. The two U.S. trailers run 2 ¾ minutes and 1 minute respectively. The Spanish trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes.
 
There are six TV spots which can be viewed individually or in one 4 ¾-minute bunch.
 
A gallery of stills from the film and behind-the-scenes may be selected for viewing either automatically or the viewer may step through them more quickly.
 
 
In Conclusion
3/5 (not an average)
 
Big Trouble in Little China was perhaps a little bit too ambitious for its time, a satiric, seriocomic adventure film that is entertaining in spite of its imperfections. The Blu-ray video presentation is close to reference quality which fans of the film will no doubt be thrilled to see.
 
 
Matt Hough
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#2 of 54 OFFLINE   Ray_R

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Posted August 05 2009 - 04:35 PM

No comments on the release retains film grain? That's the big clincher for me.


#3 of 54 ONLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted August 05 2009 - 11:21 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray_R View Post

No comments on the release retains film grain? That's the big clincher for me.
 
I saw no evidence of excessive DNR being used in the image.


#4 of 54 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted August 06 2009 - 01:46 AM

Looking forward to this Blu-ray.  The Thing, Big Trouble In
Little China
and Escape from New York are my favorite John
Carpenter films.  I have always loved the style and humor of
Big Trouble which I expect still holds up rather well today. I
will know soon enough when I receive my copy.

 

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Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#5 of 54 OFFLINE   Paul Arnette

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Posted August 06 2009 - 01:58 AM

I watched this Tuesday night, and the picture quality on this disc is stellar.  The encode looks like film.  The audio is wanting a bit, but, man, this is a fantastic release for the price in my opinion.  I doubt anyone would be dissatisfied.

Universal Blu-ray Discs I will not be buying while they're offered only as Blu-ray + DVD 'flipper' discs:

The Jackal
, Out of Africa, and Traffic.

#6 of 54 OFFLINE   ChadMcCallum

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Posted August 06 2009 - 03:48 AM

I never bought the dvd since the two disc version went out of print before I could buy it and I didn't want to settle for the single disc version so this is a definite buy for me. This is such a fun and cheesy movie its hard not to enjoy it. A friend of mine described this movie quite well I think. He said "its like someone found the script under their 12 year old son's bed and said "Let's make this into a movie!""

The End?


#7 of 54 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 07 2009 - 08:51 AM

Look, I stopped reading at: "The Film 3/5". We need someone of the right age and experience to properly review this film. Big Trouble is easily a 6/5.

Is this the same complement of features from the 2-disc DVD release? Any more or less?



#8 of 54 ONLINE   Worth

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Posted August 07 2009 - 09:05 AM


Quote:
Big Trouble is easily a 6/5. ../../img/vbsmilies/htf/biggrin.gif
I agree, though I recognize it's not for all tastes. Looking forward to picking this one up. Now if only we could get "Buckaroo Banzai" on blu.


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#9 of 54 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted August 07 2009 - 10:21 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveF ">

Is this the same complement of features from the 2-disc DVD release? Any more or less?
 
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#10 of 54 OFFLINE   Bob_L

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Posted August 08 2009 - 04:44 AM

Sometimes reviewers just miss the point. This is one of those times.


#11 of 54 OFFLINE   Josh Dial

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Posted August 09 2009 - 06:08 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob_L 

Sometimes reviewers just miss the point. This is one of those times.
Agreed.  I'm not normally one to make a negative post in an HTF review thread, as I know the reviewers are doing us all a favor, but for Big Trouble in Little China to receive the same film score as the Hannah Montana movie is, well, well I won't say what it is.


#12 of 54 OFFLINE   Ray_R

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Posted August 09 2009 - 11:01 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Josh Dial 




Agreed.  I'm not normally one to make a negative post in an HTF review thread, as I know the reviewers are doing us all a favor, but for Big Trouble in Little China to receive the same film score as the Hannah Montana movie is, well, well I won't say what it is.
The Hannah Montana Movie should've received a big fat ZERO. I'm certainly not purchasing that but I damn well will be purchasing Big Trouble in Little China as soon as I can.
Of course I'd rate BTiLC far higher compared to ANY Disney pre-teen dreck.
I'd give BTiLC a 4.25/5 just for the sheer cheesiness fun factor.


#13 of 54 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted August 10 2009 - 04:34 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Ray_R View Post




The Hannah Montana Movie should've received a big fat ZERO.
 

Is that score based on a screening of the movie or are you just assuming?




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#14 of 54 OFFLINE   MattFini

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Posted August 10 2009 - 04:49 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson View Post





Is that score based on a screening of the movie or are you just assuming?



I'm curious about that myself.  Seems like there's a solid amount of venom here.

Universal, please release Streets of Fire on Blu-ray.

#15 of 54 OFFLINE   Jesse Blacklow

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Posted August 10 2009 - 06:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MattFini 




I'm curious about that myself.  Seems like there's a solid amount of venom here.
Nor should Josh be cheering this kind of thing on.  As I said in the Last Starfighter thread:

Disagreeing with the technical aspects of a film is one thing, but each person interprets the content differently.  Unlike the picture or sound, the quality of a movie to a person is entirely subjective.  The constant near-personal attacks from Ray in several threads over this is in IMO way out of line.


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#16 of 54 OFFLINE   RickER

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Posted August 10 2009 - 06:47 AM

 So Matt doesnt love the  movie? If you know the film, and love it, the specs look pretty good. If you dont know the movie, then Matt's review should make you think rental first.
Personally, i think the movie has gotten better with time. Feel the same way about a lot of 80s movies too. I watched the Blu-ray last night, loved it, loved the movie, the picture, and the audio.

Now, as far as Miss Montana...i am proud to say i have not heard one note of her music.  :)

And thanks for the review Matt. I am sure you get it, and i am OK if you dont LOVE the movie.


#17 of 54 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 10 2009 - 08:21 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickER 

So Matt doesnt love the  movie? If you know the film, and love it, the specs look pretty good. If you dont know the movie, then Matt's review should make you think rental first.
So I didn't mean to kick up so much dust with my snarky comment early. :) I celebrate diversity and I'm willing to accept that there are movie reviewers who aren't mid 30's, didn't grow up on Big Hair bands, have no love for denim mini-skirts, and subsequently didn't have the proper upbringing to fully appreciate Jack "Tell 'em the check's in the mail" Burton.

I'm not upset with Matt. He has my full sympathy and I hope he can otherwise have a rich and fulfilling life, despite his 80s deprivation.

And good to know BTiLC has all the extras and more. I hope to catch the BR version of it at some point. I'd enjoy re-watching it, but my wife doesn't really care for it (the things we tolerate for love). /img/vbsmilies/htf/biggrin.gif


#18 of 54 OFFLINE   George_W_K

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Posted August 10 2009 - 10:31 AM

I have to remember to check the other areas of this forum more often, I didn't know this was released!  I ablsolutely LOVE this film and I don't own it on any medium yet either.  Glad I held out for the best version available.  Lots of good quotes from this one.  I should own this in an hour!

5/5 from me.

#19 of 54 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted August 12 2009 - 09:19 AM

For a different take on the film, look no further than DVD Savant: http://www.dvdtalk.c.../s2984chin.html
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#20 of 54 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

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Posted August 12 2009 - 10:14 AM

I just rewatched the DVD last night and loved every minute of it. Absolute classic. This film only made $11MM in its theatrical run (shameful) but Box Office receipts are rarely the judge of a quality flick.

Interesting to read an opinion of the film that differs from mine (diversity rules!) - but for my money, this one is a gem!
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