Since I know that so many of you received Blu-ray players for Christmas, I am expecting to see plenty of feedback in the comment area below this week as we run through the post-Christmas BD releases. My hope is that like me, many of you will develop a real affinity for great Blu-ray releases such as WALL-E and Iron Man, releases that are filled with the cool stuff that sets Blu-ray apart from standard DVD. Then again, we may need to start that particular lesson next week, as this list of special weekend releases turned out to be a real letdown. From our friends at Paramount come three hot new movies with not-so-hot special feature line-ups…
Eagle Eye (December 27)
I can’t say that I was all that hot for Eagle Eye when it hit theaters earlier this year, but after watching it again on Blu-ray I can see where some folks were drawn to it — it is certainly an exciting film, despite its ridiculous plot and its even more ridiculous amount of content grafted from previous films. It is The French Connection meets War Games meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it never blinks or apologizes for it. And for some, that’s okay. It makes for a good popcorn movie, right?
Buy from Amazon
Sensory Experience: For all its story shortfalls, Eagle Eye is a good looking film. Director D.J. Caruso has developed a very polished, sharp, modern aesthetic for his films which seems to work in a Michael Bay meets The French Connection sort of way. And in High Definition, Eagle Eye does jump off of the screen, grabbing its audience and beating them with intense action for a solid 117 minutes.
Supplemental Material: This release, as well as its partner on standard DVD, is packed with behind the scenes extras. The main behind the scenes feature is impressively in-depth and features comments from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, director D.J. Caruso, Shia LaBeouf and Michelle Monaghan. For anyone who really enjoyed the film, all of the special features should impress, right down to the deleted scenes and the chat between director D.J. Caruso and John Badham, director of War Games. As well, if the movie itself didn’t make enough of a statement about the information age and personal security, there is an entire special feature dedicated to it on the DVD. They bring in various experts on privacy and information technology who talk around the film’s central issue, which is all well and good, and even interesting for about 3 minutes. Unfortunately that is only about 1/3 of the feature. All of the special features are long and rich with information, something that we don’t always see. Another note — the BD jacket touts a major feature being an alternate ending — and for my money this alternate ending is even more ridiculous and stupid than the rest of the film. Seriously, it’s dumb.
Added Value: This is where Eagle Eye falls completely flat. There is no director commentary, no picture-in-picture special features, not even any BD-Live features. In fact, upon inspection I found that the 2-Disc DVD and the BD releases are identical, save for their resolution. It is indescribably disappointing.
Final Verdict: A good looking, passable chase thriller with a plot that goes from 0 to ridiculous in less than one act. It looks great in HD, but comes up way short on Blu-ray exclusive special features. This one is a rental at best.
The Duchess (December 27)
Like so many period dramas, The Duchess didn’t exactly blow me away. It felt like an extension of about 30 other similar films, lacking in any uniqueness. Though in its defense, this film appears to be built to be shooting for a Best Costume Design Oscar and nothing more. And sadly for those of us who are not mature (myself included), Keira Knightley stays mostly (though fabulously) clothed through the entire affair.
Buy from Amazon
Sensory Experience: The Duchess is a film filled with gorgeous set pieces and fabulous costumes, but beyond that we don’t get anything else to talk about in the HD release. It’s a talky film that focuses on character development and copious amounts of dialog, not the kind of movie you run to buy for its look and feel.
Supplemental Materials: This release includes a limited, but somewhat interesting selection of special features. There is a very generic “Making Of” featurette and another feature that goes into the actual history of Georgiana, Duchess of Deconshire. As well, there is a pretty cool “Costume Diary” that highlights the film’s biggest win, the design of the lavish costumes by Michael O’Connor. Other than that it is bone dry. No director commentary, no deleted scenes (not a huge deal) and nothing else to really dive into the produciton. It is just another obligatory round of special features.
Added Value: Ugh. The further down this week’s list I get, the more frustrated I become. While other studios such as Universal are loading up their Blu-ray releases with tons of BD-Exclusive special features like U-Control and visual commentary, Paramount is just going in the wrong direction. The Duchess’ featurettes are in HD, yes. But that is all.
Final Verdict: Once again with have a very passable film, this time a solid period drama, that crashes and burns on Blu-ray. As someone who is getting used to paying $30 to bring home my favorite movies, I must demand better. With a flavorless and limited selection of special features, The Duchess is a definite pass.
Ghost Town (December 27)
One of the most unsung comedies of the year, Ghost Town shows off the immense comedic talent of Ricky Gervais, the man who gave the world The Office. And while Gervais’ box office draw might not be that of Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen, the man is hysterical. Combine that with really great smaller performances from SNL’s Kristen Wiig and Tea Leoni and we’ve got a movie worth watching, no matter the format.
Buy from Amazon
Sensory Experience: Comedies are tough to talk about in the “look and feel” category, as they are quite often set up simply to allow the actors to do their thing. Like many dramas, they are completely driven by dialog and character-focused action. Ghost Town is no exception, making for a relatively unremarkable showing in HD.
Supplemental Material: I must admit that while the special feature selection for this release is incredibly limited (as in small), I did have some fun with the commentary track with director David Koepp and Ricky Gervais. It once again proves that Gervais is just plain funny, no matter the time, date or setting. Beyond that there is a “Making Of” featurette that is awefully generic and a special effects-focused feature that illuminates the film’s lackluster effects. They really should have rethought the making of this disc and put an hour of Ricky Gervais talking about everyday life on as an extra. I’d watch that.
Added Value: The special features, which also happen to be shared with the DVD release, are in high definition. Whoopie! Or…not.
Final Verdict: I am going to recommend that you make it a point to see Ghost Town, as it is one of the funnier movies to release in 2008. Unfortunately you should probably do it without forking over the dough for the Blu-ray disc, which has nothing special to offer.
Also hitting Blu-ray this weekend was one other release that I was not able to review…
Resident Evil: Degeneration (December 27) - Despite the fact that it was a direct-to-DVD sequel in an already mediocre franchise, I’ve heard good things about this film. And in inspecting the Blu-ray specs, it might just be enough to top the three releases I was able to review above.
Be sure to check back in Tuesday as we run down all of this coming week’s Blu-ray releases, including Days of Thunder, Serenity and Event Horizon.
The Blu-ray Report is the weekly column in which FSR’s HD-addicted Executive Editor Neil Miller rants and raves about the upcoming week’s Blu-ray releases. To buy or not to buy, that is always the question. Check back ever Monday to find the answers.