HTF HD-DVD Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by PatWahlquist, Aug 2, 2006.

  1. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (HD-DVD)

    Studio: Paramount Home Video
    Rated: PG13 (stylized sci-fi violence and brief mild language)
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Video Codec: VC-1
    Audio: English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English DTS 5.1 (see Audio section)
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH
    Time: 106 minutes
    Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD
    Case Style: Keep case
    Theatrical Release Date: 2004
    HD-DVD Release Date: June 25, 2006

    Movie Review Note: As I move into more HD-DVD reviews, I am cutting back on the length of my comments on the movie itself to deal more with the technical aspects of this new format. This will be done specifically on the catalog titles provided by Paramount. When they begin releasing titles day and date, I will spend more of the review on the merits (or lack thereof) of the title.

    Part Indiana Jones, part Buck Rogers and a loving homage to 1930’s serials, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow shows us a world that may have been had the Industrial Revolution gone just a bit differently. Kerry Conran’s picture is a technological marvel, in that there were no sets or environments, for the most part. Everything with the actors was done in front of green screen, then the environments were digitally added later. Technological marvel aside, is it a good show?

    When a dark and murky New York City of the early 1900’s is attacked by giant robots hell bent on sucking all the power out of the great metropolis, it’s up to Sky Captain (Jude Law) to save the day. Sky Captain comes whizzing in with his plane, guns ablaze, to stem the threat of the robot’s attack all while saving the girl, Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow), an intrepid reporter who smells the big story. Polly finds out there is a greater plot afoot, and an evil scientist is trying to take over the world. When Sky Captain’s base is attacked and his tech-y sidekick, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi) is kidnapped, the mission becomes more personal, and Cap and Polly fly across the world and back to put an end to the bad guy’s schemes!

    In writing that synopsis of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, I thought I had left something out of the basic plot, but there really isn’t much more to it. I had not seen this picture prior to this viewing, but I had heard plenty of complaining about it. However, I enjoyed it on a very visceral level, not paying too much attention to the thinness of the plot and allowing myself to be swept up in the visuals of it all. I would also think that by adding three A-List actors to the mix would give this film some more zip, since it’s surely lacking in what should be a fun time. I appreciate the fact Conran has taken his subject matters so seriously, but these types of stories, especially the age they are extolling, benefit from the snappy patter of the leads. The only exception to this is Angelina Jolie, who plays a rival for Sky Captain’s affections; Jolie eats up every bit of her scene and she is a joy to watch.


    Video:
    Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 12-S4 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 720p. Thus, the HD-DVD discs are being displayed in 1080i for evaluation purposes. I am using a Toshiba HD-A1 for a player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

    Correctly framed at 1.85:1, the picture is smooth and soft while still showing fine detail. I had some trouble evaluating this picture since it was “shot” so soft, but you are able to see plenty of detail if you pay close attention. What is there under the softness is sharp and clear, such as in the pilot’s helmets and gear or the lettering on some of the instruments and mechanics in the rocket bay. Sky Captain has a very muted color scheme to emphasize it’s period setting as well as a homage to similar films of the past. Even still, flesh tones seem natural and life like among the CGI environment. Black levels are good and show detail. I noticed no edge enhancement, video noise or picture dirt.

    In comparing the HD-DVD to the SD DVD, you will notice increased sharpness around all of the objects. The halos which are part of the look of the picture tend to make the image more of a blob in the SD version, but that issue goes away in the HD-DVD. The SD also seems to suffer from more video noise, and that too is gone in the HD version. While this is a definite improvement to the picture on HD, it’s not quite as noticeable as it has been on some of the other recent releases.

    As an aside, I had recorded Sky Captain off of my HD cable service. In comparing the HD-DVD to the cable HD, the disc was much cleaner and lacked the video noise my cable company introduced into the picture. This was an interesting exercise to see this picture on three different mediums to gain a further appreciation of how each format, SD, HDTV and HD-DVD present an image.

    Audio:
    The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection

    I watched the feature with the Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) track engaged. This is one of the most active tracks I have heard in some time. There are plenty of panning effects between all of the channels and the surrounds are used almost constantly. The surrounds also stay engaged during the quieter sequences to further maintain the mood (check out the jungle scene in Chapter 13, for example). Bass levels are good, but they don’t go as deep as I would expect in a soundtrack such as this, so you may want to drop your levels to compensate. Voices are clear and natural but tend to jump out at you a little bit.

    The package lists the DTS track as being DTS-HD, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. In the menu set up I could only select the DTS 5.1 track and there is no mention of a DTS HD track. There was no DTS on the SD release. In comparing the DD+ and DTS tracks, the DD+ exhibits a cleaner and higher frequency response, where as the DTS track seems almost muted. Bass is deeper in the DD+ track and it packs more of a punch, such as when the robots are walking the streets of New Your City.


    Bonus Material:
    With the advent of HD-DVD, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant.

    All of the bonus features were ported over from the SD release. The only “upgrade” in this area is the trailers are in HD.

    Commentary by Producer Jon Avnet

    Commentary by Writer and Director Kerry Conran and the VFX crew- production designer Kevin Conran, animation director/ digital effects supervisor Steve Yamamoto and visual effects supervisor Darin Hollings

    Brand New World, Chapters 1 and 2 (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+)

    The Art of World of Tomorrow (MPEG2, 4x3, DD+)

    The Original Six-Minute Short (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+)

    Deleted Scenes (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+) Totenkopf’s Torture Room and The Conveyer Belt.

    Gag Reel (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+)

    Anatomy of a Virtual Scene (MPEG2, 16x9, DD+)

    3 Theatrical Trailers (in HD) (VC-1, 1.85:1, DD+)


    Other notes on this HD-DVD edition:
    - The A and B buttons that can be utilized on some HD-DVD titles do not appear to have any function on this title. However, you can use press the menu button during the feature to get the menu items to rise up if you want to utilize them.
    - I use the on-screen display function extensively when doing reviews for time markers and audio and video formatting. This disc would disable several remote functions until I turned off the on-screen display. I have not noticed this issue on the HD discs from Warner’s or Universal.


    Conclusions:
    With Art Deco stylings, aerial hyjinks, some pretty faces and enough processor horsepower you too can make a big-budget Hollywood picture. The line between how much is physically needed seems to be less and less as Sky Captain proves. While no stunning achievement in story, it’s still an enjoyable diversion for a Saturday matinee, and the HD-DVD gives us a fine presentation with some familiar extras.
     
  2. Michael TLV

    Michael TLV THX Video Instructor/Calibrator

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    Greetings

    Hey Pat,

    The DTS thing is sort of confusing. They have gone and rebadged their 1.5 mbps DTS audio as DTS HD. The "real" DTS HD will now be called DTS HD Master Audio ... something or other.

    The 1.5 mbps rate would be the rate found on the laserdiscs and a few of the early DVDs before they went to the 768 kbps reduced data rate.

    The plot is thin because the plots for the serials in the 1930's were equally thin.

    Regards
     
  3. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    this movie becomes more enjoyable the more I watch it, but I always walk away feeling the two leads are sadly miscast. Both Law and Paltrow seem too artistocratic to sell the swaggering pilot and the plucky reporter. And yet when you watch the docs, you understand how happy the filmmakers would have been to get them. I agree that Jolie is a joy to watch though. Even though it amounts to a cameo, its probably the one movie of hers that I thoroughly, unhesitatingly enjoy.

    Also, for the kind of material this is emualting, I thought the plot was pretty nifty. story-wise, I liked it much better than either of the two Indiana Jones sequels.
     
  4. DavidJ

    DavidJ Producer

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    Wow, I agree with almost all of this. Law doesn't bother me much. I actually think he handles the part well. I know Paltrow was trying a Hepburn "Bringing Up Baby" kind of thing, but it just grated on me too much and I have a hard time liking her. If I were choosing between the two, I end up with Jolie's character.
     
  5. PatWahlquist

    PatWahlquist Supporting Actor

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    I have never seen what the big deal is with Paltrow. All of the raves she gets for every role she's in just completely elude me. When you put her next to Jolie, Jolie just knocks her off the screen.

    Michael, thanks for the info on the DTS bitrates. I'm still trying to get a handle on all of the "new" or rebadged codecs. I sorta agree with you on the thinness issue with the plot, but I got the impression that Conran was really trying harder on the story and fell short.
     
  6. Hayes Preston

    Hayes Preston Stunt Coordinator

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    I found something quite surprising when taking this title for a test drive. I also have the SD DVD and snatched it on the DVR for comparison. I found that the DTS soundtrack on the HD DVD, was the best presentation. The DD+ soundtrack seems to be lacking LFE information, to be sure I watch several scenes on the SD DVD and the HD broadcast, and sure enough, they both have more base than the DD+. Not the DTS soundtrack sounds (to me anyway) slightly more open than the broadcast or SD DVD soundtrack.
     
  7. Ed St. Clair

    Ed St. Clair Producer

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    Happy with about 80% of the PQ on the HD DVD discs I've read about so far.
    Which, is better than 40% of PQ I was impressed with, when viewing the clips on the demo disc (on four separate systems).

    However... ;-)
    I've not heard myself or even read about, a stunning, new HT audio reference demonstration, from any HD DVD title.

    Has anyone compared the best of HD DVD sound (so far) to the best that full bitrate DTS DVD, D-VHS or DTS LD had too offer?
    Thanks.

    Are we going to have to wait for multi-channel lossless and/or HDMI 1.3, before being "blown away"? :-(
     
  8. JohnS

    JohnS Producer

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    I just watched this(for a second time) the second time on HD.

    On my 1080p DLP TV, I thought it looked spectacular!
    Very sharp with great detail.

    DD+ was also very aggresive!
    I found myself liking this much better the second time around in HD.
    Just so much more enjoyable.
     
  9. Xavier Roy-Bois

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    I can't agree more with you Ed !

    First thing :

    1) Release all HD DVD at their full bitrate for DD+ between 3 and 6 mbps

    (I heard that Warner releases were below 1.5 mbps ... grrr )
    (Universal is suppose to release them at 1.5 mbps ... grrr )

    2) Adjust le .1 LFE level of the DD+ track so it should sound equal at least to the one of the DTS track

    3) DolbyTRUEHD should be on all major release or killer soundtracks

    4) NO DIALOG NORMALIZATION CRAP !!!

    5) Pop corn !
     
  10. Larry Sutliff

    Larry Sutliff Cinematographer

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    I watched this yesterday. What a gorgeous presentation! Movies like this are what HD was made for.
     
  11. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    this is my first paramount hd dvd.
    and i cant wait to see more from them.
    just great.

    the only gripe is with the menu.
    on the case it says"easy to navigate menus". but once in the movie the menu doesnt let you get to the special features while "in movie" you hve to hit "home" leaving the movie to access the special features.

    NOT SO EASY.
     
  12. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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  13. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    well you dont need the menu for that you can toggle with the audio b utton
     
  14. Dave Moritz

    Dave Moritz Producer
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    I have not picked up my HD-DVD player but I am hoping to Sept. 1st, its on layaway right now. I also have to deal with the fact that my local retailer has not gotten there last shipment of HD-DVD player when they should have so far.

    I have allready purchased SC&TWOT and the DTS-HD badge on the back cover was why I picked it up. It sucks that this title now seems to be misslabled. I have not been a fan of Dolby Digital but I am looking forward to the new DD+ and cant wait to evaluate it on my own HT system. I also want to check out Dolby True HD on my HT system as that should be there best offering ever. I hope that they do not lable any other titles as DTS-HD unless they are truely DTS-HD titles.
     
  15. John H Ross

    John H Ross Screenwriter

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    Gosh... tricky. So just like DVD then? Aren't you gonna be leaving the movie to watch the special features anyway? Please don't tell me people are now watching documentaries and movies at the SAME TIME?

    Special features should only be available from the "Home" menu.

    John
     
  16. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    why is that josh.

    just like the beginning of sd dvd many features were touted as something great and were never used

    now again with hd dvd these newer features such as not leaving the movie to look at the menus and hitting a buttun to save a bookmark and several others arent being enabled

    "Gosh... tricky." no need to be rude.

    do you have an hd dvd player yet?

    so far we have seen three studios release movies and all three are enabling
    different menu features .

    "Special features should only be available from the "Home" menu."
    what reasoning is there behind that statement and why a hardfast rule like that anyway.


    paramount is the only one doing the "home" thing.
    wb's and universal allow all access to the menu while in movie
     
  17. John H Ross

    John H Ross Screenwriter

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    Double post
     
  18. John H Ross

    John H Ross Screenwriter

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    Because it's common sense. You either want to watch the movie, or you want to watch the special features. At least I'm presuming that's the case or has HD technology suddenly made people forget that DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray etc is about watching movies and not playing with toys?

    Let's look at 3 possible scenarios:

    1. You put the disc in to watch, let's say, some documentaries. What's the point of starting up the film and then coming out of it? That's just a waste of time and is a pretty ugly form of navigation. You should be able to access those materials from the home menu.

    2. You just finished watching the film and now you wanna watch some documentaries. Well the film is over anyway so what better than a home menu from which to access the bonus materials?

    3. The only possible benefit I can see of accessing special features from inside the film is if, after 26 minutes, you decide you're bored and want to watch something other than the film you're 26 minutes into watching! Now that's something that I, personally, have never done in the 9 years I've been buying DVDs. But let's just say that I did... well, going to the home menu and then selecting the feature isn't exactly gonna cripple my finger, is it? Plus you're gonna have to come out of the movie at some point anyway so why not come out before making the selection rather than after?

    Changing audio options on the fly is understandable (as an addition to being able to do it from the home menu), so is changing subtitle streams or whatever. But flying off into other video content... I'm sorry that's just a crazy thing.

    To my knowledge people just haven't been craving for these whizzy new menus for the last 10 years so why start now? Just because the technology allows it, and because it's something this marvellous new toy can do, doesn't stop it from being utterly ridiculous IMHO.

    John
     
  19. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    that last paragraph doesnt make sense.

    because a new technology doesnt mean anything to you shouldnt stop it's availability to everyone else.

    you come across as sounding devils advocate.

    and like you dont want things to be better then before.
    do you think it's ridiculous to have a scenes menu pop up without leaving the movie

    do you have hd dvd, i didnt get that answer from asking before.
     
  20. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    I like to be able to access commentaries directly, so not having to sort through half a dozen audio tracks is a benefit.

    I'd also like it if IME were accessible on the fly too, but Warner hasn't implemented that, apparently as a creative decision. I've confirmed that there's no technological reason they couldn't do it; it's just something they have to choose to do, like bookmarking or resuming play.
     

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