U2: Rattle and Hum (HD-DVD) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: PG13 (some adult themes) Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 HD Encoding: 1080p HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Audio: English 5.1 EX Dolby Digital Plus, French and Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; English DTS 6.1 Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; English SDH Time: 98 minutes Disc Format: 1 SS/DL HD-DVD Case Style: Keep case Theatrical Release Date: 1988 DVD Release Date: August 08, 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. In 1988, there was no bigger band in the world than U2, so they capitalized on their hubris by hiring a slick video director to film their tour and subsequent love affair with American music. The result is U2: Rattle and Hum, or as many have called it, “Rattle and Ho-Hum”. The picture follows U2 through several stops on The Joshua Tree tour and captures some exceptional live performances. It also takes time out with the band as they discuss the importance of some of the songs from The Joshua Tree and others, as well as how that tour had influenced the new songs that became Rattle and Hum. The resulting music and documentary winds up being fair at best and I get the impression that by the time it came to cut the doc, the band and director Phil Joanou were just plain tired. The picture lacks any real excitement (save for some of the performances) and you don’t come away knowing the band that much better. There is apparently hundreds of hours of footage of Rattle and Hum in the hands of collectors, and this footage paints a much more in-depth picture of the band during that time. Hopefully someday, we’ll see a multi-disc set that expands this documentary so we have a proper chronicle of one of the most important tours in rock history. 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. Paramount pulled a fast one on us with this release by encoding the video in MPEG-4 AVC where as all their other releases I’ve reviewed have been in VC-1. Since the film was shot in both 16mm and 35mm, and mostly in black and white, it is a very gritty and grainy picture that may have not been best represented by an HD video presentation. While moments of the performances look good, they don’t look great and I’m attributing that to the original source material. Black levels are good, but they tend to smear into the darker colors; there is not a lot of detail in the shadows either. Colors vary from scene to scene and film stock to film stock: some of it is accurate; some of it is highly desaturated. Detail on the band in some of the scenes is excellent and gives us a glimpse at the quality of the HD reproduction when it has something to work with. I had some questions about the audio reproduction so I wound up pulling out the SD version of the disc for comparison. I found myself preferring the SD video since it didn’t make the grain so noticeable and obtrusive, giving the picture a smoother appearance. Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is attained by a 5.1 analog connection Since this was a music video at heart, I was expecting to be able to close my eyes and believe Bono was in my room singing. While that comes across, I think drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. may have left the bass drum in Ireland. The 5.1 EX Dolby Digital Plus (DD+) soundtrack produces very clear and bright highs and mids, but it is lacking in the mid to low bass. I was very surprised by this and I even went back to verify there was no issue with my equipment, which there was not. To see if this was the way the feature was mixed, I pulled out the SD-DVD and compared the DD soundtrack to this one. The SD version has a little more bass to it, but not by much, and I would attribute that more to my receiver’s processing of the DD track than to that of the source material. The vocals and guitars are clear and natural and there is good separation in the front soundstage. The surrounds don’t open up a whole lot, and you mostly hear audience effects and the occasional musical echo. This, unfortunately, does not present as an immersive sound field as I would like for a concert disc. The 6.1 DTS track (labeled as DTS-HD on the disc itself) has a little more bass to it, but it lacks the power and presence of the DD+ track. 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. Outside of the trailer, there are none! Theatrical Trailer (VC-1, 1.85:1, DD+): Curious that the trailer is in VC-1 and the feature is in MPEG-4… 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. - 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: U2: Rattle and Hum is an interesting film to see a band on the way to becoming the biggest in the world. Throughout the doc, you can feel the hunger in the band; the desire to transcend rock n’ roll to become something more. There is also a level of humility in the band that is not as prevalent anymore, now that Bono has assumed the roles of The Fly and peacemaker. The HD-DVD is the weakest of Paramount’s initial wave of releases I have reviewed so far, showing deficiencies in both audio and video, and it is not a necessary upgrade to your library.