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DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Million Dollar Baby & The Phantom Of The Opera HD DVD(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (1 Viewer)

Herb Kane

May 7, 2001

Million Dollar Baby
Phantom of the Opera

Studio: Warner Brothers
Format: HD DVD
Year: 2004 (both)
Rated: PG 13 (both)
Film Length: 132 & 141 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: DD-Plus 5.1
Color/B&W: Color
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $28.99 each
Package: Single discs/HD DVD Keepcases (red)

Let the games begin. After much anticipation, the first of the high definition DVD releases were recently released by Warner Brothers. The first wave included, The Last Samurai (2003), The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and Million Dollar Baby (2004). It was the intent of this reviewer to have these posted sooner however, the Canadian release of the new Toshiba HD-A1 player was almost a month after the US release. So without further adieu, here is the first of many, HTF HD DVD Reviews.

Million Dollar Baby:

"Winners are simply willing to do what losers won't"

If all contemporary films were made like this, I might never watch another classic ever again. The fact is, however, they're not. Like a bottle of fine wine, Clint Eastwood just keeps on getting better. In what was his 25th directorial effort, Eastwood would succeed in not only directing, but producing a film that would secure seven Academy Award nominations and four wins, including Best Picture. Not only would Eastwood go on to win the Best Director award, the film's star Hilary Swank would win for Best Leading Actress and long time fan favorite, Morgan Freeman would capture his first Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Frankie Dunn (played by Clint Eastwood) is a tired and troubled proprietor of a run-down gym in Los Angeles. He has spent the last several years teaching and coaching a promising young boxer, Willie Little (played by Mike Colter) who has up and left his dedicated trainer for a more promising (and potentially more lucrative) shot at the title. The loss and disappointment of his young apprentice has hurt him deeply and when he is approached by a young and seemingly talent-less female boxer, he quickly responds, "I don't train girls". Maggie (played by Hillary Swank) is a 30 year old woman, who seems young by nature, hasn't had many breaks in life. The woman who was brought up on the fringe of society is tremendously persistent and pleads with Frankie to be her trainer. Boxing is the only dream she's every truly had. It becomes clear that she is extremely dedicated as she’s a waitress by day - something she's done since she was a kid - and trains tirelessly by night. She sees boxing as the only means possible, to leave the greasy café.

Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris (played by Morgan Freeman) is a former boxer, who was managed by Frankie many years earlier. Now he is the caretaker of the gym, living in a small room there and is Frankie's best friend and confidant. He's also the stabilizing factor, keeping Frankie's feet firmly planted whenever necessary. Their friendship is unflappable although it would seem they like to bicker as Frankie chastises Scrap about wearing holey socks - while Scrap wastes no time razzing Frankie about his constant reading of poetry. It's that same voice of reason that is able to convince Frankie to give Maggie that chance as he finally agrees to be her trainer. Maggie proves herself, working her way up through various title bouts but just when she's about to claim worldwide fame and success, her career takes a sudden and unexpected turn.

As the story unfolds, we learn the agony and torment Frankie is going through, as he tries to connect with his estranged daughter only to have each and every letter he sends her marked, "return to sender". He keeps the evidence of his attempts in a shoebox high on a closet shelf. Maggie, it would seem, becomes the loving and needy daughter he so yearns to have. The other burden Frankie carries is that of guilt. Years earlier, Scrap, sustained severe injuries losing eye during a title bout while being managed by Frankie. Frankie's guilt, although rarely discussed, is ever present.

The film was adapted by Paul Haggis from Rope Burns: Stories From the Corner, a 2000 story by Jerry Boyd, a 70-year-old fight manager who wrote it as "F.X. Toole." Needless to say the performances here - all of them - are terrific. The chemistry here between Eastwood and Freeman is electric as Freeman is the voice of reason, able to pull Frankie's character back when necessary. Like in the ultra-popular The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman spends much of his time telling the story by way of voice-over narration. I can't think of anyone better, to set the demure and laidback tone, at least in terms of Scrap's likeable and respectable character.

Phantom Of The Opera:

As I've followed the reviews closely over the past several months of the 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber / Joel Schumacher film collaboration, I've seen everything, from this being compared to some of the best musicals ever made to those reaching the depths among the worst of films ever produced. All of this should serve to tell us one thing; it's probably not the best musical film ever made, nor is it the worst. It would seem as though one of the greatest single characteristics determining this vast soup-to-nuts reaction, is the expectation moviegoers possess in relation to their stage production experience.

Through the evolution of time, the film was to star the two original Broadway performers, Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman but they were eventually ruled out as were a number of others including (and interestingly) Antonio Banderas. The leads selected were relative newcomers; Patrick Wilson as Raoul, Gerard Butler as the Phantom and the show stealing Emmy Rossum as Christine. It's not an easy film to critique in terms of their acting skills (for obvious reasons) but there should be no debate as to their ability to sing - whether or not it’s to your liking will be a personal decision. The supporting roles are filled by Miranda Richardson as Madame Giry, Minnie Driver as the incredibly annoying diva Carolotta, and Ciran Hinds and Simon Callow as Firmin and Andre, the new proprietors of the Opera House.

I suspect there are very few who don't have at least the most basic knowledge of the storyline but in brief, the 2004 film version is told in flashback. The Phantom Of The Opera is set in 1870 at the Paris Opera House. The beautiful, young chorus girl, Christine Daae is an up-and-coming opera star who steps into the spotlight after the opera’s spoiled diva, Carlotta, quits the production. Christine’s been tutored by a mysterious Phantom for years. Her unseen teacher has taught her well and she sings like an angel, impressing the theater’s new managers enough to allow her to become their new leading lady. While the naïve Christine believes her gentle tutor is the spirit of her father, her adopted mother (the ballet’s mistress) knows the truth. Christine’s teacher is really the disfigured Phantom who haunts the Opera House. A musical genius who’s gone mad, the Phantom has lovingly overseen Christine’s development. As she gets her opportunity to shine onstage, the Phantom’s affection and hold over the young woman is in jeopardy when a wealthy young man, Raoul, falls for the burgeoning beauty. But, once he realizes Christine has slipped away, the Phantom's jealousy has terrible consequences.

There's nothing extraordinarily special about Schumacher's approach as he presents the material in a mostly straightforward and predictable manner - albeit, a beautiful one. However, one could argue that, for a movie like this, his approach is the correct one. He offers a number of tremendous visual images, none greater than the chandelier being raised as the Opera House returns to its splendor of 1870. Ultimately, it would seem that appreciation of The Phantom Of The Opera will hinge upon your opinion of Andrew Lloyd Webber's skills as a composer. However, fans of the stage play should take heart in knowing Webber personally selected Schumacher as the director, with the two working closely on this film, a project that’s been over 15 years in the making. Webber first approached Schumacher about directing Phantom Of The Opera back in 1988.

There would appear to be as many criticisms as there are characteristics worthy of praise, however the greatest single complaint seems to be the comparison to the stage production in terms of its faithfulness the play. I'm not going to delve too deeply here, but I suspect if the film took a direction that vastly differed from the adaptation of the stage play, there'd be just as many complaints from the opposite camp. In the same vein, in terms of the film being an extension of the stage production, the right decision was made. To be clear, several minor plot changes do exist such as:

The change of timeframe with respect to chandelier crash, which occurs late in the film. Another nice touch occurs when there is a visit to Christine's grave. Raoul pays a visit to the gravesite and discovers a trinket; a signature rose wrapped in his black ribbon and the ring. A nice touch which verifies the Phantom's continued love after many years.

Purists may complain and compare this film to the 1925 silent classic with Lon Chaney or the 1943 remake with Claude Rains. The film shouldn't be. Andrew Lloyd Webber was not striving for shock and horror. Instead, he wanted to emphasize the romance and operatic elements.

As for the HD DVD packaging, for those who have not yet seen the new cases, they are similar in nature to the regular DVD Keepcase, however, they are approximately 1” shorter and slightly thinner with rounded edges and are virtually the same width. All in all, the new cases are nice and should conserve a little bit of “real estate” on the precious library shelves. The entire case is red plastic with the HD DVD banner across the top. One would assume the Blu Ray disc case will be identical - only in a blue case.

The Features:
Million Dollar Baby: 5/5 :star::star::star::star::star:
Phantom Of The Opera: 4/5 :star::star::star::star:

For the purpose of the initial WB HD DVD wave, I invited my friend and fellow HTF Reviewer, Michael Osadciw. We spent the afternoon scanning back and forth from the previous SD versions comparing them to the new releases. Mike’s impressions are shared below as well.

To start, my initial impressions of the new Toshiba HD-A1 player would indicate that it is built quite well. While the faceplate itself is plastic, the remainder of the housing is all metal and appears to be quite sturdy, weighing in at twice or even three times the weight of regular DVD players. Much has been said about the boot up period (approximately a minute) but for those using projectors who should be firing up their projector a few minutes prior to viewing, this should be a non-issue. Even if you're not using a PJ, the minute it takes is really only a minor inconvenience and should not be considered a "flaw" or a deal breaker for that matter. Knock on wood, I have not yet experienced a freeze-up as has been reported by some new HD-A1 player owners.

My only real criticism of this player is the remote. It is terrible. Although on the surface it appears to be well made (brushed metal) - it is big and not ergonomically comfortable, the buttons seem rather flimsy and the text of the various functions are printed on a shiny black surface making the text difficult to read in daylight - never mind a dark theater environment. I can foresee the purchase of a programmable remote in the very near future.

For the sake of the reviews, the HD discs were watched using components as my HDMI cable hasn't yet arrived. I've ordered one from the forum sponsor RAM Electronics (http://www.ramelectronics.net), so as soon as they arrive, I'll conduct the next round of reviews using it.

I have given considerable thought as to how I should evaluate and score the new HD discs. It seems as though the majority of sites are extending the grades, in effect, doubling their current eligibility. That seems to be the most practical way to score these as we would have to assume that all of these new high definition releases should be superior to their SD counterparts. I would recommend that reading the textual descriptions at this stage of the game is probably more valuable than any rating score that we can assess, since the desire to leave some breathing room for future releases is only natural.

And finally, before we get to the reviews, I can't help but think that the vast majority of readers want to know how these new releases compare to their SD predecessors. Whenever possible, I'll do my best to offer up my thoughts as to whether the new HD release offers a substantial enough improvement over the previous SD release.

Million Dollar Baby:
If I were asked to describe HD DVD so far, four words would immediately spring to mind; sharpness, color, contrast and dimensionality. The level of image definition has to be seen to be believed. Wait till you compare even the FBI warning logo on the SD to the new HD DVD release. Colors seem to be exceptionally real and lifelike. Levels of contrast are perfect, particularly during the darker scenes where definition of blacks are murky on SD releases. And lastly, dimensionality. Even the text bar menu at the bottom the screen appears to layered. Things like branches swinging and blinds or shades all appear to be very real and textured.

Shown in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this video presentation is very impressive indeed. Colors are vibrant and saturated perfectly. Skin tones always looked real and accurate. There is still a chilly hint of blue hues that frequent the overall look of the film, something that I noticed during the SD presentation. Blacks were deep and dark - yet never murky and whites were always clean and crisp. Image definition was also impressive and was absolutely razor sharp. The sweat on the boxers as well as the wrinkles on poor Clint, are glaring. As I stated above, what really impressed me and stood out like a sore thumb was the amount of dimensionality and texture the film exhibits. There are many examples of an almost 3D like effect projected by my Sharp 9000 DLP PJ.

As we would expect, the print was virtually immaculate and free of any dust or dirt - scratch free. There were absolutely no signs of any edge enhancement visible on my system.

This is a quote from my SD review:

I'm sure we'll see this in HD before too long although I can't imagine the improvement being earth shattering. In a word; wrong.

Michael Osadciw’s Thoughts:
This is my first look at a feature-length film on HD-DVD. Like many others who were able to catch a glimpse of HD-DVD in 2005, it was always a test disc we saw. Tests discs are unreliable to conclude about the image of HD because they don’t represent final product, not to mention that the RPTVs I saw them on where not calibrated and were noisy as hell in terms of video performance. Now, thankfully, final product is available to the market of home theatre die-hards.

Million Dollar Baby excelled in delivering hyper-detail in video quality. I found this title really showed that it’s worth anyone’s dollars to make the jump to high definition. If we were to put HD-DVD and SD-DVD in the boxing ring, you can bet your gloves that SD-DVD will be K.O.’d on the first punch.

When looking at the HD-DVD, the beads of sweat rolling off of the skin of the boxer could be counted drop by drop. Again, that glare of light off of the skin can be seen with great detail and wasn’t even present on the SD-DVD. In the training gym, HD-DVD delivers every little word on the posters and notes that are stuck to the walls. Like Phantom of the Opera, color resolution is improved again; plants, trees, flowers all come to life on the HD-DVD presentation that was otherwise hidden in undefined muck and noise on the SD-DVD. This brightly lit film is a good choice in showing off what HD-DVD can do.

Phantom Of The Opera:
The film is shown in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and to say that this film is gorgeous looking would, really, be selling it short. There is an awful lot going on in terms of the elaborate (and beautiful) theater, numerous bouquets of flowers and beautifully detailed costumes. It’s as though you feel you're always a second or two behind trying to capture the visual surroundings, while watching the film itself. It really is a visual feast. The film begs to be viewed in HD.

Colors, as you can imagine, leap from the screen and saturation was absolutely perfect. Flesh tones looked very real and accurate. Black levels were extremely dark and now, the Phantom’s cloak is perfectly defined showing the lapel and collar. That detail was not evident on the SD release.

The level of image definition was also impressive as was evidenced by the intricate costumes and flower petals etc. And similar to MDB, there is an impressive amount of depth to the overall look of the film. As we would expect, this print is immaculate and free of any dust or dirt blemishes. Edge enhancement was non-existent.

Michael Osadciw’s Thoughts:
The video can only be described as breathtakingly detailed. Compared to SD-DVD, the image improves upon depth perception; it makes you feel like you can jump into the image. All objects on screen seem to have their own place rather than appearing on a flat 2-D screen. Pieces of dirt on the cobblestone are clearly defined; images from afar appear strikingly real and part of the scene. The SD-DVD could not resolve strands of hair and distinguish space between people and the backgrounds. The SD-DVD also cannot define color as wonderfully as the HD-DVD can. HDTV benefits from a wider color gamut and HD-DVD clearly showcases this. There were green flowers on the SD-DVD that had noise crawling in it – the noise was completely eliminated on the HD-DVD. Contrast between bright and dark parts of the picture also seems slightly improved.

What I also find striking about HD-DVD is the color of skin; never have I ever seen flesh tones look so real and so different between actors. There is silkiness to the flesh that was unseen on home video until now and it will make the men look manlier and those beautiful actresses even more stunning. In a film like Phantom of the Opera, where there is dim lighting throughout but stage lights illuminated on the actors, you can see the reflection of the light off of the skin. I saw this effect on this film as well as Million Dollar Baby. Floorboards seem professionally polished and glossy. It was great!

What is eliminated on this HD-DVD is any bit of edge enhancement that could have been added purposely or accidentally during the transfer of the film to SD-DVD. I didn’t see any compression artefacts from the viewing distance.

Million Dollar Baby: 8/10 :star::star::star::star::star::star::star::star:
Phantom Of The Opera: 8/10 :star::star::star::star::star::star::star::star:


Million Dollar Baby:
Both Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are included on these discs. Both are recorded at a lower than standard reference level (approximately 10dBs too low), so keep this in mind when you start the disc or worse, switch to another one. I haven’t watched (or in this case, listened) to Warner’s 2nd wave, so I don’t know if this has been corrected however, this needs to be resolved for future HD-DVD titles.

I was just as impressed by the audio presentation as I was with the video portion, although admittedly, the noticeable improvements so easily recognizable with the video presentation are less obvious on the audio end. I suspect this will change when the hardware issue is resolved. The majority of this film consists of dialogue, all of which is clearly bold and intelligible. Even during the fight scenes and film score, the dialogue is never lost among the competition. The track is absolutely clean and free of any hiss or other noisy distractions. One note I made specifically during the HD viewing was that it appears as though dialogue appears slightly more forward.

The track exhibits terrific dynamic range, frequently going back and forth from the subtlest of scenes to the chaos in the ring. Pun intended - the track packs a good punch which is evidenced by the visceral thuds and snaps of the boxing gloves as they connect on each of their opponents. When the connections are solid, the impact is enough to get our attention. The soundstage is equally impressive, not only in its ability at rendering the terrific Eastwood score, but aiding in the vastness of the gym and the various boxing arenas.

Surrounds in the film are used tactfully - not gimmicky or distracting, but effective and subtly placed i.e. crowd noise, locker room noises, street ambiance etc. Well done. There's even a few instances of an LFE workout. Similar to the SD release this is not something you'll use for a HT audio demo, but absolutely effective in doing what needs to be done.

Michael Osadciw’s Thoughts:
Listening to the converted-to DTS bitstream, my first impression was an improvement in dialogue reproduction. It sounds better integrated and more intelligible. While that was the first thing I noticed, I admit it was difficult to hear much else. I’d have to take more time to listen, but this is a film driven by manufactured sound effects so the differences could be less apparent at first listen. But like all good music albums, you always hear more and appreciate it the second time around. You can bet that my ears will be ready for my next audition.

Phantom Of The Opera:
I was as equally impressed with the audio track as I was with the video presentation. Rarely does a minute or two go by without music in some form or another and the front stage was incredibly vast and expansive. The music sounded wonderful. Regardless of the range, these musical numbers were impressive, always hearty and full bodied.

The track was crystal clear and absolutely free of any noise or other distractions. Dialogue was always exceptionally bold – even moreso than the previous SD release. There is decent employment of the surrounds. While they’re used mostly for music filler and envelopment, there are a few examples of effects and so forth. There is also some decent LFE info which kicks in during several scenes, particularly during musical numbers with organ music.

Michael Osadciw’s Thoughts:
The audio, as reported by others, is about 10dB less than the level on the SD-DVD. For this review we auditioned it using the coaxial digital output into Herb’s Lexicon processor. At that time I figured it would be easiest to listen to the Dolby Digital Plus encoding converted to a DTS bitstream (by the Toshiba HD-DVD player) and have the Lexicon handle the decoding and D/A conversion. I’m also not sure what loss, if any, is resulted from the Dolby Digital Plus to DTS conversion. But what most likely is true is that the Lexicon will have far better digital-to-analogue converters that what is inside a $599 Toshiba HD-DVD player, thus we should hear better sound.

So what was the audio like? I will describe the audio as being different sounding but would like to spend more time on this in the future on my own system. Herb’s system is more than capable of delivering the sonic differences between the Dolby Digital audio on the SD-DVD and the Dolby Digital Plus-converted-to-DTS bitstream on the HD-DVD. I’ll only describe the sonic differences between the two rather than the sound design.

The two main things I heard the most differences in were with dialogue and music. The dialogue did NOT have that heavy chesty sound that I often complain about when comparing Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks on SD-DVD. There was much more space and less forwardness with it, almost to the point that the whole front soundstage opened up a bit more and was more coherent between channels. While at first it may sound like the dialogue is thinner sounding, I have to disagree entirely with that; it sounded more developed in all frequencies.

The HD-DVD also sounded more musical in the effect of greater presence of resolution. During the Phantom of the Opera theme song, as the Phantom and Christine paddle through the dungeon and the strumming of the guitars is much more detailed and noticeable than it was on the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the SD-DVD. The SD-DVD seemed to have discarded most of that audio information. Bass also seems to have a little more force as well, although I can’t say I heard much improvement with dynamic range. When my HD-DVD deck arrives I’ll be sure to give you more information regarding improved audio. Audio quality is one of the most exciting aspects of home theatre and the move towards lossless sound has always been the Holy Grail for me.

Million Dollar Baby: 7/10 :star::star::star::star::star::star::star:
Phantom Of The Opera: 8/10 :star::star::star::star::star::star::star::star:

Special Features:
I can see this being a complaint among enthusiasts however the special features provided are basically identical to those which appeared on the SD releases. And while there have been those who denounce the entire format over this issue, I’d prefer to sit back and to see what transpires over the next year in an attempt to see the format mature – it did with SD releases, so it’s a pretty safe bet that HD DVD will evolve as well. The special features presented in 480i (anamorphic widescreen) look like this:

Million Dollar Baby:

The Theatrical Trailer has been included and is in pristine condition and in anamorphic widescreen - a terrifically intriguing piece, narrated by who else? Morgan Freeman. I could listen to this man all day long... Duration: 2:24 minutes.

The next feature is entitled Born To Fight which is a short documentary where a number of the film's participants show up. Hillary Swank talks about her training and preparing herself mentally for the role as Maggie, while Clint Eastwood makes a few brief appearance and talks about the basic premise of the film and producing a film dealing with characters who live on the periphery of society. Lucia Rijker discusses what it's like to actually be a professional boxer and how she was able to draw from her many personal boxing experiences. "Scrap" Freeman also appears offering some insight as the level headed pal who brings balance to his relationship with Frankie. Duration: 19:11 minutes.

The Producers' Round 15 is a short featurette which focuses on the details of the project getting off the ground. Albert S. Ruddy discusses his initial feelings upon reading the script for the first time. Paul Haggis talks about his involvement and the collaboration with Albert Ruddy. Tom Rosenberg goes into detail discussing why he wanted Swank to play Maggie, more than anyone else. Duration: 13:02 minutes.

Perhaps the best of the three featurettes is James Lipton Takes on Three which is a roundtable discussion featuring Clint Eastwood, Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman who appear fresh on the heels of the Oscars as the trio proudly show off their well-deserved hardware. All of the participants seem fairly relaxed and they all are fairly candid with their responses. A number of interesting questions are asked and answered including the initial expectations of the film to the various styles of acting in the film. Did you know that Morgan Freeman was a serious dance student...? Duration: 24:44 minutes.

Phantom Of The Opera:

First up is the Theatrical Trailer. It is in perfect condition. Duration: 2:24 minutes.

Behind The Mask: The Story of The Phantom Of The Opera which is a documentary narrated by Paul Hickey and covers everything from the original novel written by Gaston Leroux and includes the development of the stage production including the original film version starring Lon Chaney. The focus of this featurette is on ALW and his adaptation of the stage production. Here, we’re treated to a number of terrific performances from Crawford and Brightman. A number of participants appear here including Andrew Lloyd Webber, the original director, producer, lyricist, and numerous stage actors. An interesting feature if you’re a fan of Phantom. Duration: 65:08 minutes.

The Making Of The Phantom Of The Opera consists of three features including:

- Origins And Casting of The Phantom Of The Opera and includes brief comments from numerous cast and crew members during the London Theatrical Premiere. Comments include ALW’s decision to hire Joel Schumacher as the director. Duration: 17:31 minutes.

- Designing The Phantom Of The Opera highlights the technical aspects of the movie including miniatures (particularly of the Paris Opera House). The intricate and elaborate set creation is also featured. Duration: 11:05 minutes.

- Supporting Cast And Recording The Album Of The Phantom Of The Opera features comments from several members of the supporting cast. The extensive orchestra is also featured here and discussed. There is also more discussion including technical effects, such as the one-take crashing of the chandelier scene. Duration: 17:15 minutes.

Additional Scene: No One Would Listen is a short clip which features the Phantom singing number in the basement of the Opera House. Duration: 2:24 minutes.

While this reviewer doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the special features appearing in SD, I’m sure there are those who might be disappointed. I suspect this might change in the future as we’re witnessing the very early rollout of the format. Either way, it’s all about the film – as long as the feature is represented to the best of the studio’s ability, that’s where our priority should rest – at least at this early stage of the format.

Special Features:
Million Dollar Baby: 4/5 :star::star::star::star:
Phantom Of The Opera: 4/5 :star::star::star::star:

**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity – Video and Audio portions will be rated from 0-10. The remainder of the review will continue being rated from 0-5 (similar to SD DVD reviews). Since the ratings are not averaged, the final Overall Rating will be from 0-5.**

Final Thoughts:
Well, after several years of discussion, countless threads and it would seem like millions of posts, High Definition DVD is finally here. And I would have to say, that so far, it has been well worth the wait.

On a personal note, I was willing to wait on the sidelines till this mess was sorted out however, the opportunity to be involved early on was simply too appealing as it is indeed an exciting time for movie buffs and those who have an affinity for high end home theater. I was initially skeptical of the format (as I am still of the BD format) but after having spent almost a week with this new format, my initial thoughts have all but crumbled. Though it’s very early in the game, I am impressed - very very impressed.

Regardless of your feelings for this format (or the upcoming BD format), I would caution those who are clinging on to the early - very early - reports of condemnation of the HD DVD format. While there may be a few glitches to iron out – at least on the hardware side of things (and fortunately, I have yet to experience any of those bugs), the truth of the matter is that this format is far too young and new to be declaring either side a winner. We have no idea what's in store - no idea of what to expect months down the road. But if the first wave of HD DVD is any indication, this format looks promising. Frankly, I would be suspicious of anyone reporting this format a bust (or a victor, for that matter), and would be concerned of personal agendas. Only time will tell what's in store and frankly, enough of it hasn't passed yet.

In terms of the first wave of WB's HD discs, the studio did an admirable job at releasing three titles with a fairly broad appeal. As for the end result, while I don't see the "day & night" differences that were instantly evident with the VHS > DVD transition, I do see enough of a vast improvement to feel as though my investment was absolutely justified. I look forward to seeing what else the studio has to offer in future releases of the newest HD format.

Overall Rating:
Million Dollar Baby: 4.5/5 :star::star::star::star:

Phantom Of The Opera: 4.5/5 :star::star::star::star:

Highly Recommended...!!

Release Date: April 22nd, 2006

Robert Harris

Senior HTF Member
Feb 8, 1999
Real Name
Robert Harris

A well-thought out review.

And now if we can get more of the folks who are waiting on the sidelines for the HD vs. BD situation to end to take a leap of faith and join the high def revolution, we 'll be seeing even more product from the studios.



Senior HTF Member
Jul 19, 2002
well done! It would be cool to see more tag-team reviews in the future, though I know this isn't likely.

my favorite part of the review;

I'm sure you will echo these sentiments Herb- I can't wait :)

Walter Kittel

Senior HTF Member
Dec 28, 1998
Nice review as always, gentlemen. Looking forward to upcoming reviews. You fellows are going to have to come up with a new lexicon of adjectives to describe HD-DVD video if the few titles I've viewed are indicative of the format as a whole.

- Walter.

Michael Osadciw

Jun 24, 2003
Real Name
Michael Osadciw
Walter, I must say that Merrium-Webster has been my best friend for a long, long time... :)



Senior HTF Member
Feb 2, 2006
Real Name
YiFeng You
good review =). i like it that these films are reviewed through front projectors =).

Paul Hillenbrand

Senior HTF Member
Aug 16, 1998
Real Name
Paul Hillenbrand
Thank you for the HD DVD movie reviews.:)

Glad to see them and please keep them coming!



Feb 4, 2005
Nice reviews, thanks!

Any idea what the video resolution is? And what codec/format? What bitrate?
And what audio bitrate? What sample rate? How many bits? Lossless or lossy?

Here's hoping for a most commonly used format of 1080p h264 video, with 96khz/24bits lossless audio in 5.1 or more channels :D

peter m. wilson

Stunt Coordinator
Oct 25, 2002

Thanks for the reviews, I look forward to your thoughts on film transferrs that come from deeper in the vault.

I've been using an outboard scaler on a fully ISF'd (Michael TLV) CRT RPTV for about 4 yrs now and have often A/B'd a scaled dvd with the HD cable broadcast of the same film and have generally felt the the HD broadcast was slightly better.

The other day I had a chance to see a promo HD-DVD played on a 40" LCD display at a local high-end shop and was very impressed particularly of the clip of King Kong where the hair on his body seemed almost 3D. When I got home I played my regular copy of the disc and immediately decided that I would not be re-investing in the HD-DVD of this film for the sake of the video as the original is excellent in it's own right.

Theres no doubt that at some point I will be investing in a player (probably a combi) and as I've read enthusiastic and excited comments about theses new formats here and in other forums I seem to be one of the few who is dying to hear the upgraded audio more than the video.

I understand that "so far" the studios have decided to allow the 1080i layer to be available through the component inputs for HD-DVD and that BLU-RAY supporte studios will initially follow suit. Sanity may rear it's ugly head at last.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing how all of this plays out, but from the sidelines for the time being.

Peter M.

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