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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: THE KARATE KID I & II, Collector's Edition Box Set

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#1 of 10 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted May 07 2010 - 02:00 AM

The Karate Kid I & II (Blu-ray)
Collector’s Edition Box Set
Studio: Sony
Rated: PG
Film Length: 126 minutes/113 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: English, French, Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1; Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English; English SDH; French; Spanish; Portuguese
MSRP: $39.95 (individually: $24:95)
Disc Format: 2 50 GB
Package: Two keepcases in a single slipcase cover
Theatrical Release Date: June 22, 1984; June 20, 1986
Blu-ray Release Date: May 11, 2010
Just in time for the upcoming remake, Sony is releasing the original Karate Kid and its first sequel on Blu-ray, both individually and in a collector’s box set. The original is a classic that holds up beautifully. The sequel is one of the rare ones that continues the story in a manner faithful to the original. Both have been given the high-quality treatment on Blu-ray we’ve come to expect from Sony.
The Features:
The Karate Kid: Teenage Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) is uprooted from the familiar environs of Newark and dragged across the country by his relentlessly upbeat mother (Randee Heller). Journey’s end is the San Fernando Valley, specifically Reseda, which is the low-rent side of the tracks. As if being new in town and in high school weren’t hard enough, Daniel has the bad luck to fall for Ali (Elisabeth Shue), who’s beautiful and lives in Encino (the classy part of town). Ali also comes with the baggage of a jealous ex-boyfriend, Johnny (William Zabka). In addition to having a gang of admirers, known as the Cobra Kai, Johnny happens to be the star of a local karate dojo run by one Kreese (Martin Kove), a former commando whose code is “no mercy” and who surely loves the smell of napalm in the morning. It looks bad for Daniel, and he takes more than one beating.
But Daniel finds a protector and mentor in an unlikely figure: Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), the Japanese-American handyman at the apartment building where his mother has lodged them. This diminutive, taciturn figure – unnoticed by most and underestimated by all – sympathizes with a fellow outsider and begins training Daniel for both fighting and life. Through a series of plot turns that it’s probably best not to examine too closely, Daniel and Johnny end up facing each other in the annual All-Valley karate competition, with Miyagi, Kreese, Ali, Mrs. Larusso and a crowd of extras watching and cheering.
The heart of the film – and the reason for its enduring appeal – is the relationship between Daniel and Miyagi. As actors, Macchio and Morita are as unlikely a pair as their characters, which makes their screen chemistry all the more remarkable. Macchio’s previous major credit was a supporting role in Coppola’s The Outsiders (which launched a dozen careers), and he would never again have a leading role so perfectly suited to him as Daniel Larusso (“a wimp with a chip on his shoulder”, in the words of screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen). And Morita works wonders, creating a fully realized character from a part that, played one way, could have been an ethnic caricature (a Japanese Yoda) or, played another, could have been so severe as to drain all the fun from the part (which was apparently the effect when Toshiro Mifune auditioned). Morita manages to make Miyagi imposing, warm, perplexing and cheerful, all at once, and his timing is impeccable – which isn’t surprising when you remember that he got his start doing standup comedy. What seemed like an improbable background during casting turned out to be the perfect training for playing a character who may not say much, but always says it at just the right moment.
No one has identified the studio executive who wanted to cut the scene where Daniel inadvertently discovers a key chapter from Miyagi’s personal history, but director John Avildsen won the battle and the scene stayed (and, in Avildsen’s judgment, it’s what got Morita an Oscar nomination). The scene is crucial, because it’s the moment when Daniel realizes that everything Miyagi has been teaching him about the importance of maintaining “balance” in life is more than words. It’s something Miyagi has had to learn the hard way, through experience.
The real measure of Morita’s achievement is that, twenty-six years and countless jokes and parodies later (including by Morita himself in Spy Hard), people still know who Mr. Miyagi is, and you still believe him in The Karate Kid. That’s the power of an iconic screen creation.
The Karate Kid II:
The sequel picks up immediately after the conclusion of the first film in the showers following the big match. These opening scenes resolve some unanswered questions (notably, what happened to Kreese?), as well as laying out elements that will pay off by the sequel’s end.
Then we jump forward six months to summer vacation. A letter from Okinawa calls Miyagi back to the home he abandoned 45 years earlier. There he is reunited with the ailing father who taught him karate, and there he must also reckon with the tangle of love, honor and rivalry that caused him to flee the village at the age of 18. The rivalry is with Miyagi’s former friend and fellow karate student, Sato (Danny Kamekona), who has grown rich by, among other things, founding a famous dojo and buying up all the land in sight. Sato’s star pupil is a hooligan named Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) – and guess what? He rides a motorcyle and has a gang. Any similarities to Kreese and Johnny are, of course, entirely coincidental.
Daniel has insisted on accompanying his friend and teacher, out of both loyalty and curiosity. Once again, he is a stranger in a strange land. Having been dumped by Ali at the end of the school year, Daniel is available, and his eye lights on Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita), a beautiful village girl whose dream is to study dance. (At one point, the two of them watch a scene from Fame on a TV in a store window. Pay attention for a brief appearance by B.D. Wong, now the resident police shrink on Law and Order: SVU.)
While the sequel reproduces many familiar story “beats” from the original film, the creators (all of whom returned) were canny enough to shift the focus so that they wouldn’t feel like pure repetition. The second film is more Miyagi’s story than Daniel’s. Sato has been waiting years for the chance to settle an ancient grudge, and he goes to considerable lengths to provoke the peace-loving Miyagi into a death match. Chozen is the main agent of Sato’s efforts, and Daniel is frequently the collateral damage. Indeed, the film’s biggest strain on credibility is that Daniel, after such extensive training from Miyagi, can still be knocked down so easily.
But since the title is still The Karate Kid, it’s ultimately Daniel who ends up facing a deadly enemy, through a series of “only in the movies” plot turns. As befits a sequel, the setting is bigger and more theatrical than in the first film. I leave it to the individual viewer to decide whether it works.
What does clearly work is how Morita and Macchio portray the developing relationship between Miyagi and Daniel. The surrogate father and son have grown closer between the two films, and they show it in numerous ways, not the least of which is Miyagi’s new openness about his former life. In the first film, Daniel stumbled on Miyagi’s past only because Miyagi was drinking. In the sequel, they share an equally emotional scene, but this time Miyagi is sober and conscious, and the great Pat Morita conveys a wealth of emotion without having to say a word.
The Karate Kid: Sony has provided their usual exemplary transfer, but expectations should be adjusted for the source. This is a 1984 film from the analog era, and it was not a big-budget affair. The image is detailed and colorful, but it’s also soft. Thankfully no one has applied any artificial sharpening or grain reduction (or, if they have, the work was done invisibly). To my eye, this is a beautifully film-like image that’s a pleasure to watch. If you want something that looks like Avatar, watch Avatar.
At this point in the video evaluation, some reviewers might talk about “black crush”, because scenes in interiors or at night have shadows or dark areas that are inconsistent in the delineation of detail. This was not uncommon in films of the era, especially with less-than-blockbuster budgets. I can’t claim detailed recall of specific shots after 26 years, but my best guess is that these instabilities in black levels have been reproduced as accurately as the source will allow.
The Karate Kid II: The sequel’s image is consistent with that of the first film, but it’s noticeably sharper and more detailed. Whether this reflects a bigger budget, different film stock or superior elements is impossible to tell. Many shots have a hazy, filtered appearance, and black levels are sometimes inconsistent, but night scenes are generally superior in sharpness and detail, as compared to the first film. The colors in the Okinawan scenes (with Hawaii as a stand-in) are vivid and varied, and they provide yet another marker distinguishing the sequel as its own world. The resolution on the Blu-ray image is so good that I noticed various opticals and model shots that were never obvious before.
The Karate Kid: The DTS lossless track gets the job done but is otherwise front-centered and unremarkable. I don’t have any of the previous DVDs, but my research indicates that they retained the original film’s stereo mix, which suggests that this is the first time the soundtrack has been remixed for 5.1. It’s not an improvement, and, if anything, it brings out limitations in the original recording, especially Bill Conti’s brassy orchestrations, which can sound harsh and fatiguing at high volumes. I continue to believe that the better treatment for stereo soundtracks from this era is to deliver the original mix in a lossless encode and otherwise leave it alone. The DTS mix works best for the soundtrack’s selection of Eighties pop tunes, which come through sounding pretty good (unless, of course, you’re someone who runs shrieking from the room at the sound of Bananarama).
The Karate Kid II: This is another track previously released in stereo and now remixed for 5.1, but the results are less harsh than with the original film. Some of the difference may be attributable to Conti’s score for the second film, which relies more on strings and pan pipe than brass. Given the setting, there are fewer pop tunes; the standout is the Peter Cetera theme song, “Glory of Love”, which, for anyone who remembers the summer of 1986, was inescapable. The DTS lossless mix remains front-centered except for a few sequences that take advantage of surround presence, notably a huge storm and Daniel’s final battle, in which a cacophony of small, handheld drums plays a pivotal role.
Special Features:
The Karate Kid:
Blu-Pop: This feature combines Blu-ray’s “picture-in-picture” capabilities with the familiar “pop-up” trivia format pioneered by VH-1. When activated, it provides pop-up balloons featuring either textual trivia about the film or new commentary delivered by Ralph Macchio and William Zabka (each appearing separately). A profile 2.0 Blu-ray player is required, and secondary audio must be activated. Each balloon appears and disappears with a distinctive whooshing sound, and activating Blu-Pop selects the main audio track and locks out any ability to change audio or subtitle tracks (so that it is impossible, for example, to listen to the audio commentary at the same time).
Director, Writer and Cast Commentary. This commentary was recorded for the 2005 special edition DVD and features screenwriter Kamen, director Avildsen and stars Morita and Macchio (though Kamen leaves midway through). They have an easy rapport together and are clearly having a great time, which sometimes leads to people talking over each other, but the warmth is infectious. It had been over twenty years since the first film, and it helped to have the participants prompting each others’ memories.
The Way of the Karate Kid, Parts 1 and 2 (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (24:00; 21:25). This 2004 two-part documentary first appeared on the special edition DVD and contains extensive interviews with screenwriter Kamen, director Avildsen and actors Macchio, Kove, Zabka and a frail-looking but still animated Morita (who would die the following year). Twenty years after the fact, the participants’ recollections may be rose-tinted, but the stories are fun and told with great enthusiasm.
Beyond the Form (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (13:03). An extended interview with Pat E. Johnson, the martial arts choreographer for the film, in which he also appears as a tournament referee. Johnson started his movie career working on Enter the Dragon. He’s passionate about martial arts and an interesting personality.
East Meets West: A Composer’s Notebook (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (8:17). Composer Bill Conti talks about scoring the film. I enjoy listening to Conti, because he dispenses with all pretension. He’s a guy with a job to do, and he gets it done.
Life of Bonsai (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (10:00). An extended visit with Ben Oki, a specialist in bonsai cultivation.
Trailers. The disc contains trailers for Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Extraordinary Measures, Facing the Giants and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep. The trailer for The Karate Kid is not included.
BD-Live. Even though it isn’t supposed to be active until street date, I was able to access the BD-Live features. Of chief interest are the trailers for The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid II, in either standard or high definition. If past practice is any guide, these will not remain available indefinitely; anyone who wants them should download them as soon as possible.
The Karate Kid II:
Blu-Pop. The pop-up feature on the sequel is limited to textual trivia; there is no live commentary. For some reason, activating the feature on this disc also switches on English subtitles, which cannot be turned off.
Original Featurette: “The Sequel” (SD; 4:3) (6:18). A short promotional piece featuring brief interviews with producer Jerry Weintraub (the only time he appears on these discs), Avildsen, Morita and Macchio.
Trailers & BD-Live. The same as The Karate Kid.
In Conclusion:
Even when they were new, The Karate Kid movies felt like a throwback. They had a sweetness and a PG innocence that seemed to belong to an earlier age. Today, in the era of ironic heroes like the denizens of Kick-Ass, these films are positively antique – and that’s their charm.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub

COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#2 of 10 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 07 2010 - 05:27 AM

Couldn't agree more. I'm going to be buying this set on street date. Thanks for the thorough review! You never know how catalog titles, especially non-blockbuster/non-historic films are going to fare when released on BD. Sounds like Sony did this one justice given the likely quality of the source material.
Even when they were new, The Karate Kid movies felt like a throwback. They had a sweetness and a PG innocence that seemed to belong to an earlier age. Today, in the era of ironic heroes like the denizens of Kick-Ass, these films are positively antique – and that’s their charm.

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#3 of 10 ONLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted May 07 2010 - 05:33 AM

I feel so old for saying I enjoyed these movies as a kid.  I'm glad Sony gave them the quality treatment they deserved. Thanks for the review.  Not only will I "cave" and pick them up on BD, but I had to go to Amazon and buy the MP3 track of Glory of Love....I couldn't get it out of my head after reading the review! 

#4 of 10 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 07 2010 - 07:29 AM

Thanks Adam. Now it's stuck in my head too.

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#5 of 10 ONLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted May 08 2010 - 04:29 AM


Originally Posted by Carlo Medina [url=/forum/thread/300423/htf-blu-ray-review-the-karate-kid-i-ii-collector-s-edition-box-set#post_3688761]

#6 of 10 OFFLINE   Bryan^H



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Posted May 08 2010 - 04:52 AM

I just pre-ordered it.  I think it's a little strange the third film in the series isn't included, as it does conclude the Daniel/Myagi story arc.  I may be one of the very few who think the third is a pretty good movie(although the first two are better). Can't wait to see this in HD.

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#7 of 10 OFFLINE   Edwin-S



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Posted May 08 2010 - 05:23 AM

I might pick these up. It has been years since I saw the films, but from what I remember Pat Morita was the best thing in them. These films might have been "throwbacks" when they were released but they were at least relatable to the experiences of real people, unlike todays films such as "Kick Ass". I mean, I can somewhat relate to the "mundane" tribulations that Macchio's character faced in these films; whereas, who can connect to a twelve year old swearing a blue streak and expertly blowing away adult mafia thugs. Also, with these old films, the people involved in them actually paid attention to making a story that made sense and related to the title of the film. I've seen the trailer for the upcoming remake of the "Karate Kid". Not only is the setting not very relatable but throughout the trailer all the references were to Kung Fu. If the makers can not discern the difference between the two disciplines or don't care then what can the rest of the film be like? Thank God for these old films, where the makers actually took enough time to at least pay attention to the detail that something called the "Karate Kid" should actually be about someone learning Karate.
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#8 of 10 OFFLINE   Rodney


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Posted May 08 2010 - 05:52 AM

Originally Posted by Adam Gregorich [url=/forum/thread/300423/htf-blu-ray-review-the-karate-kid-i-ii-collector-s-edition-box-set#post_3688720]

I went to Amazon to purchase "You're The Best" by Joe Esposito, which was in my head when reading the review, and I see that the "Karate Kid" Original Soundtrack will be available in three days (May 11, 2010). Coincidence? Hardly!


#9 of 10 OFFLINE   Carlo Medina

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Posted May 08 2010 - 07:21 AM

Okay so now I have "You're The Best" stuck in my head alongside "Glory of Love". Why not make it a trifecta and mention "Cruel Summer" as well. Ha! You're all welcome!

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#10 of 10 OFFLINE   jplepage



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Posted May 11 2010 - 10:13 PM

Another 80's classic in Blu-Ray. Hope it does well so we can start seeing more from them in our HD format

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