Friday, May 26, 2006

Remastering and Rethinking what I buy.

So Full Metal Jacket is out on HD-DVD.

I don't own that disk. Nor the hardware to play it. And yet I'm pretty much the target audience for it. So what do I do in situations like this? I let others make that educated guess for me and review their asses off. And the reviews aren't giving me a lot of hope.

On the one hand, Full Metal Jacket was never meant to be an aural or visual symphony: the film was shot with a flat, soft pallete and released in mono sound, which in 1987 was pretty rare. The age of the blockbuster was in full swing, and Kubrick just wasn't interested. He wanted his war film to look like the TV news footage that was most familiar with those growing up during the Vietnam War. The film is claustrophobic, grainy, overcast... not pretty in the slightest. And short of filming it on 16mm, it was as close to authentic as you were going to get.

The aspect ratio - something I've bitched about prior - is also an interesting problem. Kubrick knew the film would be matted, to 1.66:1 in Europe and 1.85:1 in the States. Regardless, he shot the film at 1.37:1, so that it could be shown on home video and on TV without being cropped (and partly, I assume, to make the TV News footage illusion all the more complete once it had run it's theatrical course). Kubrick filmed open-matte so that the films weren't butchered beyond recognition on the old square TV sets of the 20th century. But it's a new era, and TV's are now nice and wide to accomidate movies in their original widescreen aspect ratios.

Or, that's the theory anyway.

Full Metal Jacket is presented on HD-DVD at 1.78:1, which is basically the original US theatrical ratio. (A little too tall - it should be matted to 1.85:1 technically, but close enough, I guess.) It's also presented only with the 5.1 made for the DVD, when they easily could have slipped a (compresed!) mono audio track strictly to make wacko's like me happy. But they didn't. They also could have included the fullscreen version in "standard" DVD quality as an extra (since the disk only has the theatrical trailer). They didn't. So, here's the real question: does it LOOK any better than the DVD?

I don't own an HDTV. But I can do basic math. DVD's have 720x480 pixels. HD-DVD has 1920x1080 pixels. Assuming you start with film - which has way more detail than HD too - an HD transfer should always look better than an SD transfer.

...and all the reviews so far have said that the HD print looks only marginally better - if at all - than a well encoded anamorphic DVD.

While I know for a fact that movies like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and Land of the Dead will look fantastic with 6 times the resolution of an over-filtered and badly compressed DVD, films that don't look too hot on DVD already aren't going to look 6 times better than the already fuzzy SD version. Don't get me wrong, I'm an anal sociopath and I'll spend my cash on the best version available every chance I get... but if you already own the DVD, and you think it's just fine, even I'm not going to convince you that you're totally, without a doubt better off buying it again.

I'm also fascinated what's going to happen on BD (Blu-Ray) and HD (HD-DVD) releases for overtly long movies. Just today I was poking at that lovely KINGDOM OF HEAVEN extended director's cut. Sounds like a hell of a set: the 3 hours of the film split across 2 disks, with another 2 disks worth of extras. For $30, how can you turn that shit down?

But this is the real question: how many BD's or HD's will the film be across when it hits High Definition? (I'm not going to sit there and say "studio X supports Y format" - this is all a theoretical argument, and most studios are supporting both now anyhow.) In much the same way that a Laserdisc could only fit a 2 hour movie on 2 sides minimum, this giving DVD the straigfht forward advantage of being able to stay on your lazy ass longer and enjoy a movie without flipping, BD/HD may make those long Hollywood epics that are in such high fashion now a breeze in that the whole film is only on 1 disk. 'Course... this begs the question to how many hours worth of "acceptable" quality can you fit on a BD or an HD? With most HD's being 30 gigs and most first-run BD's being 25 gigs (with 50 or so gigabyte options at a higher retail) , it's clear that a 2 hour movie and suppliments can fit nice and snug. But what about a 3 hour movie with another 3 hours of extras?

In the case of HD, it's hard to say. With bitrates about 4 times that of a current DVD (with the maximum topping out at close to 40 mbps rather than DVD's 10 mbps) and only 3 times the space of a DVD-9, things just aren't adding up in to HD's favor. The advantage here is that since most extras are kept at standard DVD resolution (and thus standard DVD file size) the extras on the disk now take up a comparitively smaller portion, letting the compression on the film itself be far less than a DVD with 3 gigs or so of extras, and then only 6 gigs left to give the movie. Moreover, DVD's have been doing 2 disk (and 3 and 4) special editions more or less since the start, so should a movie run a particularl long time the extras could still be shuffled off on to a second disk - even a standard definition DVD should the studios choose - and nobody's likely to complain.

But what about BD? What about it's 40% more space, and it's more expensive production cost? This means that multi-disk editions are a no-go, and with a dual-layer BD you still end up with less space than a 2-disk HD set has. Sure, the BD could get the whole film - even a 3 hour film like Kingdom of Heaven - hopefully with extras, all on 1 disk... but at what retail? Surely not for $30 at Wal-Mart like the current DVD, not if comparitivelty short films like UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION with it's fluff-extras are going to sell for $40 retail.

So with DVD's selling at a few dollars over their wholesale price, and word that the kind of movies I'd actually WANT on HD/BD don't look much better than the DVD I already own, it's getting harder and harder to get a big ol' harbl at the thought of rebuying my entire library in those gay little pint-size keepcases, all with more resolution to show off how blurry the original film masters for low budget exploitation films really are. Sure, space is a premium and all that, but come on... DVD cases were the PERFECT size for this sort of thing, and how - how I ask you! - are you going to squeeze a worth-while booklet in to that package?

Media Blasters' even said at Anime Boston scant days ago thatthey're not going to be releasing anything in HD for a while. The formats are still too experimental, too risky to put in the investment 'till they've proven their worth down the road. This is paraphrasing, but I wasn't there, so. Sorry. Much as Sirabella's often not my favorite guy in the world to buy movies from... he's got a point. Remember D-VHS? No? What about Beta? Do kids these days even know what a Laserdisc is? Fuck, even -I- don't bother checking if any players can play VCD's: DivX compatability is more handy in this frighteningly digital age. Formats come and formats go, and in time DVD will die off too... but who's to say that BD and HD will be the next DVD, even 5 or 10 years down the line?

Maybe this will all be sorted out once... hell, I dunno'. Once the HDMI standard is fixed enough that you can use all of those new audio codecs? Maybe once some GOOD movies are out on HD? Maybe once BD so much as comes out? ...nah'. DVD's been around for a decade, and there's still a million and one ways to fuck those up.

That having been said, I recently saw the" steelpack" (or 'Steelbook', if you're German) package used for the new BOONDOCK SAINTS special edition, a packaging change I'm for once grateful for. I demand more movie cases I can beat people over the head with, without damaging the disks inside. I want to see that skull dent, baby!

So, all that ranting out of the way, let me say a few words about my job. I can't say much, since I've sworn secrcey to my boss, but I've moved on from "subtitle editor" to "subtitle translator". Kick-ass! The first film I'm working on, a cheap underground gore movie released by JVD in 1999 (you do the math... if you know me, you can probably guess), and with a runtime of just under 70 minutes and a mimimum of dialogue - what with those long scenes of bleeding and screaming - I was able to translate it in about 12 hours, with a 2 hour check session the next day. Now, the question is how well did I do? I've translated plenty of hentai, a hand full of making-of and interview segments, and I can read manga like Devilman, Fist of the North Star and Dragonball without needing my kanji dictionary anymore. But that doesn't mean I'm fluent, a word that doesn't mean much unless you were a white guy who grew up in Japan, more often than not. Still, with dialogue like this:

C'mon mister, get it up or you're disqualified!

You even ruined my little puppy!

I'm willing to be disgraced... but only for the money.

...how can I not do well? Hopefully the Japanese proof-reader will see that I'm not pulling translations out of my dick hole, and then I can get loved with money about twice as hard as I am now.

Maybe I'll be able to wax poetic abouut movies next month. Been a rough month, and I'm not afraid to say that I currently have no money, and no milk, but plenty of cereal. Yep'. That would explain why BLUES HARP was one of the few reviews, though be prepared for me to wax poetic about some truly frightening pinku films shortly.

Mmmm. Pinku.