DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Alamo

Discussion in 'DVD' started by DaViD Boulet, Sep 26, 2004.

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    THE
    ALAMO

    Studio:TOUCHSTONE Year:2004 Rating:PG-13 RunTime:137 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 OAR warning: separate Pan-Scan version available, so beware when renting, purchasing, or receiving as a gift!Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 DD French Subtitles:English, French, SpanishSpecialFeatures:Feature Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Documentaries… ReleaseDate:September 28, 2004





    Feature...


    It will be easier not to “Remember the Alamo!” this time around. [​IMG]

    The movie wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t good either. I was expecting an “epic”. At the minimum I wanted a film that pulled me into a state of emotion so I could identify with the passion and pain of the dramatization of the historical account. I wanted a film with moments of dialog that would resonate with a penetrating force, and imagery that would pull together disparate story lines into visual, poetic harmony. I wanted characters with whom I would become involved emotionally, so that the investment would cause a twinge of pain as I’d watch them be slain, and then sling-shot me back into a victorious encore with the final battle won.

    None of that happened.

    But it wasn’t bad. Though it never moved me, the dialog never gave me cause to cringe or disengage. Acting seemed adequate, but it was as though the characters were never “given a chance” to really speak to me. Images were bold without feeling pretentious or forced, yet didn’t captivate me with a sense of “awe” as I had hoped. So nothing out-right “wrong” with the movie, just nothing out-right “right” about it either.

    I’m not a U.S. history buff, though I’ve read reviews of this film which testify that (astonishingly) the Hollywood account here isn’t offensively off-base and that the majority of facts upon which this film is based are indeed accurate. The special feature content of this disc, including the undocumented commentary, goes into great detail elaborating on the level of historical accuracy that the creative team was intent on establishing in this film, which lends an authentic sense of integrity to the production even though artistically I didn’t consider it to be a “good movie”. You history buffs out there lurking the HTF boards…do us all a favor and post your thoughts on this matter.

    I’m sure some of you out there love this movie. I’m sure some of you passionately dislike it. Me—I’m indifferent. Consider the table of discussion open for all opinions to be expressed.




    Picture...


    Disappointing on a wide-angle system. From my approximately 1.6 screen-width viewing distance (16x9 106” screen) the 2.35:1 anamorphic image looks grossly over-filtered with absolutely no fine-detail preserved. The effect is not very different than that of the original Kill Bill Volume 1 DVD. A few close-up shots provide a temporarily satisfying level of perceived detail but this is normal for even generously-filtered DVDs. Edge enhancement is also quite obvious at my viewing angle and rooftops, character silhouettes, and sharp-edged objects don’t escape its ringing signature. I’m actually a little surprised by all of this because most of the TOUCSTONE DVDs that have crossed my path lately have generally had “good” preserved detail and relatively low-levels of EE. I continue to hope that Disney will, at some point, begin to consider these problems more ardently and seek to correct whatever is “going wrong” in the mastering chain of the DVD titles under their care.

    I should point out that my criticisms of this title are I the context of “wide angle” viewing, which means anyone watching a front-projection image from a “normal” distance or anyone choosing to sit closer to their large-screen HDTV or flat-panel display (measure how wide your display is, then move until your head is just over 1.5 times that width away from the screen…that’s the kind of relative distance I’m talking about when I say “wide angle” which seems uncomfortably close to most direct-view or HDTV sets, but is perfectly appropriate for some very refined HD displays and front-projection systems). If you’re viewing your HDTV from more than two screen-widths away, then chances are that The Alamo will look “good” in overall sharpness and perceived clarity and the ringing artifacts from EE may be negligible or invisible altogether.

    The Good…

    Ok, it’s not all bad. Good news is that compression seems well employed and I noticed no distraction from MPEG artifacting. Color is also outstanding…saturation is bold and vivid and the blues and reds in the soldiers’ uniforms are especially breathtaking. Much of the movie utilizes a subdued color-palette but that’s an artistic choice and not to be confused with any technical discrepancy with the disc. Black level is well grounded and contrast seems strong with a bold expanse from deep black to bright whites. One thing that I’m assuming is a point of artistic intention: Black levels appear crushed at times and whites appear a bit blown…not a “digital” looking blown but more like a photographic blooming…like some of the film stock was intentionally manipulated to provide an other-worldly and hyper-dramatic impact. If so (as I’m assuming) then the effect is successful, and one of the earmarks of this film that added quality to the presentation.

    But I just cannot overlook that blurry, video-esque/filtered image riddled with ringing from EE (a steady halo traces across the bottom of the image throughout the film as result of “ringing” from the “hard line” of the lower letterboxing bar!). It may only plague wide-angle viewers at present, but bear in mind that as time goes by such large-screen systems continue to improve in quality and decrease in price…and it won’t be long before you, yourself, are viewing your software on such a system. Hey…remember you also said that your 4x3 480-interlaced NTSC TV was “just fine” and that you “wouldn’t upgrade” to 16x9. And now you’re trying to convert your friends and get them to upgrade to a new 16x9 HD set just like you. Trust me…a 106” image isn’t that far off in your future either…and for that reason, I think it important to judge absolute DVD image quality from this point of reference.


    Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]




    Sound...
    Gorgeous. Outstanding. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio on this disc is fantastic. All the usual accolades apply: great frequency response, unrestricted dynamic range (so it seems to the ears), smooth yet detailed and intelligible dialog etc. There are a few noteworthy points to add that really stood out to me. The first is that the instrumentation (as in musical instruments presented in the live-context of the film) are wonderfully recorded and have a very “live” or “there” presence. The fiddle playing especially. The other thing to commend is the visceral use of 5.1 mixing to full-advantage during the battle-action scenes. Bullets, canons, explosions, shrapnel impact and gunshots seemingly fill a 360-degree soundfield in which you, the listener, are disconcertingly placed.

    The gunshots and such don’t have that blood-stopping, dynamic impact like they do on “Open Range” but they come close. Those of you who love a good battle scene, especially a “vintage” scene of a period battle like The Alamo will reach for this disc proudly as your “5.1 demo disc” of choice.




    Sound Quality: 5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Special Features...



    Some outstanding special features on this disc…which makes me wonder if the compressionist was tempted to add that extra notch of filtering given the competition for bit-real-estate. The extras focus heavily on the historical accounts we have of the Alamo battle and it’s surround entourage of players which should please any history fans and certainly educate the rest of us and help add a little appreciation for the great effort that went into the making of this film.


    Disc 1:

    [*]Feature Commentary: Not mentioned anywhere on the packaging, Steven L. Hardin (historical advisor) and Allan Huffines (military advisor) provide outstanding screen-specific commentary that historical buffs will savor, and will add a deeper appreciate of the film and its historical foundation for those who take the time to explore it. Their discussion is informative, educational, and interesting. Given the historical nature of this film’s account, this is the rare exception where I might advice that someone unfamiliar with the details of the account might consider listening to this commentary track before watching the film. I found that understanding the details and care that the creative team underwent trying to invoke an sense of authenticity into this production was essential in helping me establish a positive view of this film, and I think I would have enjoyed the film much more had I possessed this knowledge prior to viewing.
    [*]Deleted Scenes: There are about five. You can watch them with or without director’s commentary and there is a “play all” option. All are presented in 4x3 lbx with 2.0 audio. All but the last one (“candle dance” seemed to me to have made the film better by their absence, but I would have preferred to have the last deleted scene inserted back into the film. Just my preference. [​IMG]

    [*]Walking in the Footsteps of Heros: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. A wonderful study that details the historical accounts of several of the primary protagonist leads and explores the documented facts surrounding their stories and how the actors and direction attempted to reflect, or “replicate” those accounts in film. Added immensely to my appreciation for the film and all the integrity of effort that went into its produciton.

    [*]Return of the Legend: Making of the Alamo: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. This is the primary “making of” documentary on the disc. It clocks in at close to 20 minutes and is filled to the brim with great information about all aspects of making this film…from casting to historical details to set design to costuming to special effects…and it’s all good stuff. Watching this feature and becoming more aware of the great time and labor of love that were a part of this production gave me more respect for the feature than my impression of “just watching it” left with me.

    [*]Deep in the Heart of Texas: 4x3 video, 2.0 DD audio. A little bit more of the “making of” fan-fare focusing more on 2nd and 3rd level characters and story lines. Again, the emphasis here is on historical accuracy and this shorter (about 8 mins) feature also added to my appreciation of the feature film.
    [/list]







    All Together...



    While not high on entertainment value for the general audience, the strengths of this film lie in its faithfulness to historical accounts of the Alamo battle and the persons who fought and died there. As a result, while perhaps not appealing to those seeking a “good movie” in terms of an epic film or a dramatic, artistically-depicted story, American History buffs are bound to be pleased, especially given the special-feature content of this disc which is so history-centric. Picture is disappointing for wide-angle viewers, but most traditional TV viewers won’t find anything offensive about the image and the sound quality is reference-setting regardless of your system. I’ve provided the facts as best I can…it’s up to you on whether you buy, rent, or pass on The Alamo
     
  2. GeorgePaul

    GeorgePaul Second Unit

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    Thanks for the objective review, David...I found this to be a historically faithful, underrated film. What killed it was its distributor insisting on a PG-13 rating--otherwise director Hancock would have had the necessary freedom to make a true epic of the battle at the Alamo.

    If I have one quibble with the film, it's that the character of Sam Houston was let off too easily. He is still given the glory at the end of the film by winning the decisive battle over Santa Anna, even though he signed the death warrant of the Alamo's defenders by refusing to send reinforcements because he didn't want to "sacrifice Texas."

    I was hoping this and other historical curiosities would have been fleshed out in the rumored Director's Cut of this film...but I take it that rumored release is dead? If so, I'll be picking this one up for Dad at Christmastime.
     
  3. Maggi Magg

    Maggi Magg Stunt Coordinator

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    According to IMDB this title is a DD EX movie.
    Is the 5.1 track on this DVD EX "flagged" correctly?

    Thanx in advance

    Maggi
     
  4. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Hmmm. I've know nothing of a fabled director's cut. However, that means nothing...it's not the sort of information I'd be privy to anyway (I just get discs in the mail with promo-material as they are released on DVD...never any deeper, insider info).

    It's quite possible that the 5.1 track is EX flagged. At the moment I (sadly) don't have a center-rear configuration and so my speaker array is the usual 5-channel. I'll consult my B&K AVR receiver manual however to see if there is a way to detect and confirm the EX flagging even if I'm not able to decode it fully in practice. good question.
     
  5. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

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    From what I know, don't give up hope. No guarantees, though.
     
  6. Jason Hughes

    Jason Hughes Supporting Actor

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    Is this 2 discs or 1?
     
  7. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    one disc...
     
  8. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    David, I'm curious to know, since you go on at length about it whenever you review something, how you arrived at your wide angle viewing scheme. First off, watching anything NTSC on that big a screen - how can it be good? I don't know how it can despite good equipment, which I'm sure you have. I know you've complained about other discs that I've then watched (Kill Bill NOT being one of them - that's just plain soft) and thought really had swell transfers. Are you serving the readership well with these reviewing standards, or do you think it might be better to watch the film two ways - on your system and then on a conventional tube or rear projection TV? Just curious.
     
  9. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

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    I plan on a blind purchase for this tomorrow. Looks decent enough. Thanks for the review DaVid!
     
  10. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Arthur,

    All good questions, and they point to the precise reason why I think it so important to do the kind of reviewing that I'm doing.

    Firstly, as hard as it is to believe, watching a *well mastered* DVD from a 1.6 screen-width distance can look AMAZINGLY good. Time and time again my guests remark "Is that really a DVD? It looks better than the movie at the theater!".

    And sometimes it really does.

    Why that particular "wide angle" viewing ratio? Because home theater is about home *theater*, and the movies we watch were *intended* by their creators to be viewed at wide-angle...the images were composed for this effect. It's the difference between "TV" and a "movie" and DVD is the first affordable consumer medium that really can deliver a "film like" image at this proper, theater-sized ratio. 1.6 screen-widths seems "close" when you think about your TV set...but if you go to a theater and sit in the middle or rear of the seating you don't think it's too close. That's what I'm talking about (not front-row...but mid to back row).

    THX recommends a viewing angle that's actually a tad wider than what I'm doing...but for me standard-def software and the screen-door artifacts on the DLP projector tend to make 1.6 a better compromise...still preserving the "theater" effect with some peripheral vision being stimulated but just far enough away that some of the artifacts from the projection technology and software aren't too glaring.

    The reason I talk about image filtering and EE the way I do is because that's how most of the DVDs I review for Disney/Miramax/Touchstone look. When I pop in a Warner Brothers or Fox DVD often I'm *astounded* at how much clearer and more natural/film-like they look. Disney has some catch-up work to do and I'm hoping that my reviews help hurry them along... [​IMG]

    In any case, rest assured that the vieing angle I'm using is not "too close for DVD". Not by a long shot. Good discs look GORGEOUS at this angle. Star Wars is a revelation...and looks better than it did in the theater. However, poorer-mastered discs will show their faults as well, and that's what you hear me comment.

    And if you read my review thoroughly, you'll see that I always put my critical comments in context with the large-screen and comment that from a farther distance (like with a conventional TV) the image will look much better. So I *do* make an attempt, as I review the disc at a 'reference' level, to try to let folks know how the disc will look on their system if their image happens to be viewed in a more traditional "TV" scale. I don't have a NTSC television...but what I do is stand back from my screen until the relative image size/viewing angle approaches what those watching on direct-view or RP HDTV's might see...and I comment about the impression.

    Of course, if the image looks great on a 100" screen...no need to worry...it will look just as great on a smaller screen too!

    If you're ever in doubt just how *good* a Standard-definition DVD can really look blown up this big...next time you're in the DC area get in touch and I'll give you a demo!

    -dave [​IMG]

    p.s. DVDs are not really "NTSC" despite the logo on the case. If the disc is properly mastered from film-source material and flagged for frame-cadence, then it is most appropriately referred to as "Standard Definition" as a digital, component video, 480-progressive 16x9 image is a far-cry from "NTSC"!
     
  11. ClaytonMG

    ClaytonMG Stunt Coordinator

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    Are there any previews on this disc?

    Clayton
     
  12. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    My ex is in this film. (no kidding)
    I hope he gets killed.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    At the start of the disc, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Raising Helen and Around the World in 80 Days. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for Hero and Alias.
     
  14. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
    Supporter

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    dd ex flagged correctly using my denon 3803.

    sounds fantastic too.

    i just wish the image looked even a little better.
     
  15. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Thanks for your good response, David. I'd love to see your set up or a similar one. I wasn't thinking you were sitting close - I don't sit too close to my 56inch rear projection TV, which is extremely sharp and has a beautiful picture. I have progressive scan and all that jazz. It's just the whole DVD thing amazes me in terms of suddenly having a lot of young people (most of the reviewers here - I don't know how old YOU are :) ) be experts in this sort of thing and what a "film" look even is. I like to think I know, because I'm a bit older than most here and have been a bonafide NY movie buff since the mid-fifties.

    I really appreciate your thoughtful response and you definitely have my interest piqued re your system.
     
  16. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    One of my all time top ten guilty pleasures is John Wayne's take on The Alamo. When I heard that a remake was in the offing, and that it was going to attempt to be "historically accurate", I cringed. For one, no feature-length film about the Alamo has ever made money, and two -- legends are almost always more fun and more entertaining than the truth.
     
  17. Ian Currie

    Ian Currie Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review (followed by good justification of your review standards), David - thanks, I look forward to all your excellent technical reviews.

    Man, I wish Disney would wake up.
     
  18. Matthew Todd

    Matthew Todd Second Unit

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    David, I just want to say that I appreciate the way you review the films with a wide viewing angle. I'm watching them on a 84" wide FP CRT, and I know if it looks good under your viewing conditions, then it will look good on my system too.

    Matt
     
  19. Ron-P

    Ron-P Producer

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    Watched this last night and really enjoyed. It did try and be an epic but missed. PQ was good and the audio was excellent.

    As for the film. It entertained, story was decent, acting by all was good (less Quaid, his acting with his one faced strained expression throughout the film got very annoying, fast). Cinematography was nicely done as well. A nice addition to the dvd collection.
     
  20. MarcoBiscotti

    MarcoBiscotti Producer

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    I would strongly advise against a blind purchase on this title to everyone as I am a huge fan of both westerns, historical epics, war films and was truthfully extremely enthusiastic after seeing the trailers for this film expecting it to be a great movie despite all the negative reviews... WRONG!

    I own the original 1960 Alamo film with John Wayne and grew up on the Disney TV serials of Davy Crockett on the Wonderful World Of Color syndicated broadcasts and even home video. I also purchased the Davy Crockett Treasure set the first day of release and I can honestly say that these low budget TV movies from the 1950's were 1,000,000 times more entertaining and better made!

    I found this to be a pretentious, empty and shallow film which seemed to be aiming for a much higher class, chalk full of cringe-worthy dialogue and equally hokey, cliche music cues and horrible pacing. The characters had absolutely no depth or dimension and the entire film felt very superficial and vapid.

    Before ordering this on Pay Per View last weekend, I would have surely added this title to my blind-buy list, I'm thankfull I didn't!

    This is really the equivalent of an 1830's-era Troy production. It seems producers as of late are trying to jump on the bandwagon of such semi-recent hit films as The Last Samurai, Braveheart, Gladiator, The Patriot and Last Of The Mohicans, etc. only substituing the heart and soul of such successes, along with solid scripting, character casting, directing, etc. for big budget special effects, a bunch of pretty faces in costume and promotional-marketing hype yet the films themselves are hollow vessels.

    If you are interested in watching an overblown, insincere, melodramatic film that aspires to greatness with stupid period dialogue and trite brazen music compositions to cue the audience into when they should be expressing emotion, than you'll love this film and I suggest you pick up the recently released Troy DVD as well. For everyone else that loves honest, creative and entertaining movies with at least some sense of discernment towards it's purpose or plot, than I would not reccomend The Alamo. It's a waste of time and all-around bad movie. Even after reading David's review, I don't think he'd disagree...
     

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