Pre-Christmas Movies of 2010

by Tina Holmboe 4th of January 2011 (archive)

Ladies. Fellas. Readers. Gents. There’s spoilers a–coming. Don’t say I didn’t a–warn you …

<ul> <li><a href=«#metropolis»>Metropolis (Blu–ray)</a></li> <li><a href=«#catsanddogs»>Cats and Dogs 2 (Blu–ray)</a></li> <li><a href=«#inception»>Inception (Blu–ray)</a></li> <li><a href=«#casablanca»>Casablanca (Blu–ray)</a></li> <li><a href=«#gonewiththewind»>Gone With the Wind (Blu–ray)</a></li> </ul>

As always, if you want more — lots more — technical detail on the blu–ray quality, I suggest http://www.blu-ray.com — no affiliation.

Metropolis

Metropolis is a movie we — read «movie enthusiasts» — all know, regardless of whether we actually like it. It has, without a doubt, influenced movie makers right–, left– and centre since it was first released in 1927.

It has also, ever since that time, been plagued by more than average chaos — not least the very real historical events it, and its producer Fritz Lang, had to survive.

It cost five million Reich mark — by some estimated to be around 200 million US dollars in current money — to make, ran hideously over budget, required 36,000 extras, took two years to shoot, and was a monumental flop at the box–office.

Sold off to Paramount, it was cut to pieces by American editor and bungler Channing Pollock, with the lost half hour actually, physically destroyed. For the next seventy odd years no–one saw the original.

Several attempts at restoration were made over the years, from the silly (Giorgio Moroder, 1984, with music by contemporary artists such as Freddy Mercury) to the serious (Murnau Foundation, 2002) — but not until a lost 16mm transfer from an original 32mm negative was unearthed in an Argentine movie vault was there any chance to do the story justice.

In the summer of 2008, 25 minutes of previously cut material was found at the Bueno Aires Museo de Cine. The 16mm dupe negative was in terrible shape but, at a cost of some 800,000 USD, set to work re–establishing continuity and balance between characters; restore lost bits of story which — to many — made the previous versions unfathomable, and in the end left a mere five minutes lost from the original movie.

And then, based on a 2K scan, they create a Blu–ray version — which I laid my hands on this December, and got around to watching on the 18th of same. I shan’t mention the story; it’s well known and I’d be spoiling. I will say that the finished product is looking as good as can be expected from a 70+ year film, and quite likely, given a decent 1080p projector and screen, better than it ever did — including at the 1927 premiere.

Conclusion? I will say that it was a highly enjoyable experience, and with the — sadly brief — documentaries included more than worth the cost.

Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Following Metropolis we spent eighty–two minutes in the company of the, possibly, single most insane crowd of cats and dogs ever — yes, this is a kid’s movie, no, we’re not kids, but…:) (Actually, as my friend David reminds me: we are ALL kids. I concur. So phthththt)

First of all, the Blu–ray quality is as one could expect from a movie made in 2010: excellent. It looks crisp, with good colour saturation and fine contrast. It’s to be expected. The CGI effects mesh nicely with the real–life acting.

Sound is good; including surround effects. Technically speaking there’s nothing much to nag about.

The story — certainly heralded as silly by many professional opinionists — is, on the other hand, a step up from just «good».

It starts simple enough, with a pre–text so well done, and so tongue–in–cheek, that if you blink you’ll think you’re looking at the new James Bond offering. It had me in stitches, and that doesn’t often happen before the movie starts. 10 out of 10 for the sheer guts.

The adventure follow K–9 trooper Diggs as he blows up a building, nearly gets tossed out of the police force, gets recruited by a secret organisation to fight the Feline Menace, and finally befriends feline–fatale Catherine of equally secret organisation MEOWS.

Dig I almost write «Riggs» up above? I just might have, ’cause anyone to whom the quote «Grab the cat … » ring bells will notice the none–too–subtle similarities between Diggs–the–german–shepherd and Riggs–the–suicidal–human; the stuff they blow up, the old–veteran–cop they drive to insanity, and the girls they fall for …

The very title is, of course, a pun on «Pussy Galore» from Goldfinger (1964), the robotic–squirrel–messenger at the end is blatantly playing off classic Mission Impossible (1966) memes, the song it sings a kick to Robin Hood (1973), and the robot a rather obvious Terminator (1983) reference — tho before we learn its true nature we’re very nicely lulled into thinking it’s a The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) spoof.

And, of course, we get Roger Moore doing the voice–acting for MEOWS top–dog «Tab Lazenby» … (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969 anyone?), the Yippee–ki–yay–screaming Scottish assassins (Die Hard, 1988), and the villain becoming a villain by falling into a vat of chemicals (Batman, 1989).

Finally, and not in the very least heavy–handed enough for a ton of rectangular building–blocks: Mr. Tinkles, in the mad–house, with the ice–hockey mask (Silence of the Lambs, 1991).

The kids will love this for the massive amounts of dogs and cats; for the colours and action and weirdness and the talking animals. The adults will, if endowed with a smidgen of funny–bone, enjoy, well, all of the above and the subtle/less–than–subtle movie references.

PS again: don’t watch the new Roadrunner animated short included on the Blu–ray. Fair warning. I can’t see it again; my lungs ain’t up to quite that much laughter more than once a lifetime …

Inception

Time to become unpopular. You’ve heard of Inception. You’ve likely heard quite a lot of Inception.

So had I, and as science–fiction is a particular favourite of mine I included it in the xmas2010 movie stack. Once again I’m getting the Blu–ray out of the way: it looks amazing. It sounds amazing.

As I’ve come to expect from BD releases in 2010.

And, well, that’s it. It looks amazing. The story isn’t boring, but it is dull. I watched it all. I didn’t yawn. My mind didn’t stray … much. It’s well–played, too. Good, solid acting.

Just … dull.

I won’t watch it again unless it is on the request of someone in the family who has missed it.

Casablanca

I need not spoil this one, I’m thinkin’. Nor shall I keep you long.

From the moment I read Greg Maltz’ review of the Warner Bros. 2008 Blu–ray release of 1942 blockbuster Casablanca I knew it’d go on my purchase list.

It’s one of those movies which, for some reason or other, have never made it into my collection. While I am contrary by nature, it is also a movie I fully agree is worth a spot — it is, in a word, excellent. The story–telling, while sprung out of poor routines, studio interference and literary hacking, is quite lovely; the setting mysterious and intriguing, and the characters both love– and hate–able.

Subsequently it is on my mental list of things to get, and, frankly, now was the time.

The Blu–ray does it justice — it is, for lack of a more bombastic phrase, magnificent. The picture, and the sound, is on par with modern recording techniques — the result of a 35mm original and a VC–1 encoding. I would make the claim that, provided a good 1080p projector, the movie has likely never looked so good.

Gone With the Wind

A long, long time ago — twenty odd years, to my chagrin — I went to see Gone With the Wind at the Colosseum Cinema Theatre in Oslo. ’tis a grand place, and today the world’s largest THX–certified cinema. How they’ve done that with the downright crappy acoustics I’ll never know ;)

It was an interesting experience. My date of the evening studied at a college some ten minutes walk away, and lived in their dorm. Still her father insisted on driving us there, and back. To this day I am uncertain as to whether I am honoured or insulted…. I’d known her since high school, she wasn’t into women, and my crush on her was long since relegated to history’s scrapheap. She was as bemused as I. Ah, well.

It’s the 2010 Blu–ray version from Warner Bros. that I laid my hand on for this year’s Christmas lineup — mostly due to my SO, who hasn’t seen it. Shocking, I know.

Warner did a VC–1 encoding of an 8K scan, taking as its source the cleaned up material used for a previous DVD boxed set, for this 1939 classic. Did it work?

Well … yes. Yes, it did. Granted, the 1.37:1 aspect was somewhat of a surprise, even though it oughtn’t be — but the colours are vivid, the image clean, and crisp with a layer of what some call «grain», and the sound good (translated: I can hear the dialogue, and the subtitles are merely a convenience).

Quite happy with this one.

Of course, it’s a peculiar little story with a fair amount of what–the–heck–were–they–thinking involved — but it’s hard to tell how much of that is the author, and how much is the movie–makers. I only have the Norwegian translation of the book.

Now, let’s accept that historically speaking the colours are more glossy than vivid — «A Civilization gone with the wind … » indeed. Civil — for whom? Not the women and children, of either colour, who supported it all, assuredly.

It’s all a bit wobbly. The producer attempts to instill values of honour and so forth in some characters, the exact opposite in others, and, in Scarlett O’Hara, both. Did anyone ever lift an eyebrow at the Irish gentleman giving his daughter that particular name? No?

What, indeed, to think of the little tidbit that in such a pious society they fail to recall that being given a hug is no sin, but gossip is?

Someone had an agenda, of course; whether it was the author or the movie–makers. I suspect both. Still, if you like the movie the Blu–ray is worth every pound.

And don’t get me wrong, kids. I don’t dislike this movie; not at all. But it is peculiar, like a filmed, heavily glossed theatre play. The moral, ethics and attituddes are not mine, but that’s not a requirement for a good movie.