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Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

All of us have those few movies we’ve seen that make a lasting, indelible impression on our minds. For me, the first was Star Wars (now with Episode IV—A New Hope added to its title). I saw this when I was seven, and can still clearly remember the massive Star Destroyer flying overhead to start the movie and knowing I was in for something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Another was The Matrix. I can clearly remember turning to my wife while we were watching the movie and saying, “I have no idea how they are doing any of this! Man, I am loving this movie!” Terminator 2: Judgment Day is another film that sits firmly in that category.

 

Even more than the original Terminator, T2 was a film that just fired on all cylinders. Here we have Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good guy Terminator we can cheer for, a buffed-out and intense Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor saving humanity from a new threat, and an all new T-1000 liquid-metal terminator (Robert Patrick) that defied any of the special effects technologies my 21-year-old brain could comprehend. I can remember walking out of the theater with my cousin and just dissecting the movie for hours, wondering how they accomplished some of the shots, and planning when we could go see it again.

 

As I got into the custom installation business years later, T2 was one of those go-to movies for demo fodder for clients wanting to experience home theater. The canal chase and Connor’s escape from the sanitarium are both scenes that pack a ton of action and tension into a short, intense sequence.

 

Like Star Wars, T2 is one of those films I’ve owned in multiple formats over the years. A VHS tape, then a special-edition widescreen VHS tape, then on LaserDisc, then DVD, then on Blu-ray. But for some reason, I had skipped out on upgrading to the 4K UltraHD version even though it’s priced incredibly low for a 4K title. Yesterday, while browsing at Target with my daughter, I saw T2 sitting there in its 4K slipcover for the just-can’t-refuse price of $7.50, and I decided to snatch it up.

 

I’m not going to waste any space offering any kind of synopsis for Terminator 2. If you’ve seen it, then you know what the movie is about; if you haven’t, you either have no interest in it, or need to drop everything and go watch it immediately.

 

This version of T2 is taken from a new writer/director (James Cameron)-approved 4K digital intermediate created in 2017 for the film’s 3D re-release. And bizarrely the film opens with a title card that says, “This 3D version has been produced by Studio Canal,” even though the film on the disc is most definitely not in 3D. While the 4K disc only contains the original 137-minute theatrical version, the Blu-ray included in the 4K set also includes the 153-minute Special Edition and 156-minute Ultimate Cut, along with several special features, featurettes, a making-of documentary, and commentaries.

 

Now, there has been a fair bit of controversy and angst surrounding the picture quality of this release of T2. In fact, one enthusiast site has a forum dedicated to discussing it that has over 9,000 posts.

 

The complaints mainly revolve around the somewhat aggressive use of DNR (digital noise reduction) throughout, which has scrubbed the grain from the movie’s original 35mm negative. However, it had been years since I’d sat down to watch the movie from start to finish, and with my brand-new JVC 4K projector, $7.50 seemed like an incredibly reasonable investment in an evening’s entertainment.

 

What you have here is a T2 that looks a lot like a modern, digitally-captured movie instead of something shot on film. Images are surprisingly clean, sharp, and detailed, with almost no noise. For me, I was mostly pleased with the images; but some purists—as a forum inciting 9,000 comments would attest—are not.

 

However, like it or lump it, it’s important to remember that this transfer got Cameron’s blessing, so it’s the Terminator 2 he wanted released. And, without a doubt, it’s the best-looking T2 we have.

 

There are moments when the DNR appears to have been applied a bit too heavily, with the result making some faces appear a bit waxy, smoothed, and overly botoxed. But, remembering that the Terminator is a cyborg, this waxy look didn’t seem especially out of place for me. I was far more aware of the sharp details in closeups, revealing pores, lines, and pockmarks in Hamilton’s face, or the pebbled texture and grain in Arnold’s leather jacket, or every strand of T-1000’s perfectly coiffed ‘do.

 

While some of the effects scenes don’t hold the same magic they did back in 1991—what was cutting-edge morphing technology almost 30 years ago has been eclipsed many times over since—the film still holds up remarkably well as a whole. The T-1000’s relentless pursuit of John Connor (Edward Furlong) still feels as intense, and unstoppable, as ever, and the enhanced resolution lets you appreciate the makeup work used on Arnold as his increasingly damaged skin gives way to reveal the cyborg beneath.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Black levels also benefit immensely in this new transfer, being deep, inky, dark, and noise-free; and these deep black images benefit the overall look. One thing that seems to frequently show an excessive amount of digital noise in older films is the powdery blue sky in outdoor scenes, and there were only a couple of instances where I noticed some of this noise in the desert as Connor plans to head to Mexico. But even then it were far less noticeable than in other recent 4K transfers such as Karate Kid or Field of Dreams. During the attack on Cyberdyne, there is a lot of smoke and gas that swirls around, and it never exhibited any noise or banding.

 

Interestingly, one scene of a trailer-mounted AC unit in the desert exhibited a surprising amount of jaggies and moiré as the camera passed; something you almost never see in 4K images any longer.

 

As much as they used DNR to clean up and modernize the look of T2, I found the restoration to be restrained with the HDR grading and the use of 4K’s wider color gamut. There are scenes, like the opening battle between humans and Terminators, which features a lot of flames, explosions, and laser bolts, or the lightning storm that accompanies a Terminator emerging into our time, that benefit from HDR. Another scene that is also enhanced by HDR is the climactic finale in the steel mill, with dark shadows and glowing red-hot molten metal.

 

But far more often images seem a bit restrained. Explosions seem to lack detail or the bright intensity that modern movies exhibit, and I would have liked to see the reds pushed more aggressively in explosions and the steel factory. Also, the color grading in some scenes has been pushed towards cooler, steel-blue hues, giving them a sterile aesthetic.

 

A variety of audio mixes have accompanied T2 releases over the years, and this is definitely a film that seems tailor-made for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround remix. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here, and we are given a DTS-HD Master 5.1 mix that I believe was ported from the previous Blu-ray release. (Interestingly, the German soundtrack included on the disc has a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix, so if you auf Deutsch, you can enjoy that.)

 

Fortunately, the mix keeps dialogue clear and intelligible throughout, and it upmixes with either Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural to height speakers very nicely. For example, when the T-1000 is attacking the group in the elevator, you can clearly her him slashing from overhead. Later in the film, a helicopter also flies overhead very convincingly. There are lots of scenes with subtle atmospherics, with sounds placed well around the room, putting you in the action. While not an object-based immersive mix that could have made for a truly epic home theater demo, T2’s audio mostly delivers.

 

I did find bass to be a bit of an uneven bag. Some scenes push the LFE channel, whereas others seem like the sound mixers shied away from the bass volume output. I’d have loved to feel a bit more impact from things like Arnie’s shotgun, or vehicles smashing into each other. Fortunately, bass is loud and deep during all the scenes and moments you’d expect, such as the semi-truck exploding or the Cyberdyne facilities blowing up.

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the greatest science-fiction and action films ever made, and it deserves a place in any collection. It’s also shockingly affordable. If you haven’t watched it for a while, the 4K version makes the perfect opportunity to revisit, smoothed out blemishes and all.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Hellboy (2004)

Hellboy (2004)

Try as we might to be objective, the truth of the matter is that those of us who make at least part of our living reviewing films bring some significant biases to the table. So, I should just go ahead and show my cards in this case: I’m a massive fan of Mike Mignola’s folklore/gothic horror/action comic-book series Hellboy and all of its respective spinoffs, from B.P.R.D. to Abe Sapien to Lobster Johnson to Frankenstein Underground.

 

I tell you that, not because it really has any bearing on the quality of Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 big-screen adaption of the comic, but more as a heads-up that things might get a little geekier than usual in this review. The thing is, when Hellboy hit theaters 15 years ago this year, most people had probably never heard of the comic book on which it was based, and as 

such had little concern for how faithful it was to the source.

 

Times have changed, though, and fandom has become more toxic across the board in almost every respect, so it’s become somewhat trendy to bash the movie for taking some significant liberties with the comic. Less so in this first installment than in its followup, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but still. There’s no denying that in bringing the characters and mythology of the Mignolaverse to the screen, del Toro decided to adapt and interpret rather than be a slave to the printed page.

 

And to that I say, “Thank goodness.” One only needs to look at the most recent cinematic adaptation of Hellboy—Neil 

Marshall’s unimaginative regurgitation of the comic stories “Darkness Calls,” “The Wild Hunt,” and “The Storm and the Fury”—for proof that translating material between two mediums isn’t as simple as copying and pasting. It’s true the 2019 Hellboy reboot is more faithful to the storylines, dialogue, and even the overall structure of the comic than the 2004 film. What the new film overlooks, though, in its attempt to be a gritty R-rated gorefest, is the comic book’s profoundly ironic humanity.

 

That emotional human core is exactly what del Toro latched onto it formulating his own version of Hellboy. And most of the deviations from the comics storyline it leans heavily on—”Seed of Destruction,” in case you’re curious—ultimately boil down to bringing themes about family to the forefront and building the rest of the story around them. Such motivation results in some substantial character changes—Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman, for example, bears only the most superficial resemblance to her comic-book counterpart.

 

A subtler deviation comes in the form of a slight genre shift. Whereas del Toro’s Hellboy maintains the gothic horror and action elements of its inspiration, the comic’s folklore underpinnings do get dropped in favor of pure fantasy. But all of these modifications work in service of Hellboy as a movie, no matter what you want to say about their effect on it as an adaptation. 

 

A relative failure though it may have been at the box office, Hellboy has always been treated well on home video, starting with a fantastic three-disc Director’s Cut DVD in 2004, on through a wonderful early Blu-ray release in 2007 and a lot of re-

packagings in between and since. Now, for its 15th anniversary, Sony Pictures has graced the movie with a ground-up 4K restoration, which serves as the source of Kaleidescape’s recent UHD/HDR release.

 

This release proves once again that films shot on 35mm film stand to benefit more from UHD/HDR than do newer, all-digital efforts. The imagery here is 

Hellboy (2004)

simply sumptuous, reference-quality in virtually every respect, with the exception of a handful of computer-generated effects that don’t quite stand up to the quality of their practical counterparts. For what it’s worth, even the worst of Hellboy 2004’s CG effects look better than the best of Hellboy 2019’s, so don’t take this as too harsh a criticism. Overall, this new remastered transfer is simply stunning.

 

Unsurprisingly, the new high dynamic range transfer really flexes its muscles in portraying the film’s shadows, of which there are plenty, although it does take the opportunity to dazzle when called upon to do so. For my money, though, the biggest improvement over the decade-old 1080p transfer is in its more refined handling of the movie’s mostly muted color palette. Though there’s simply no denying that there is oodles more detail onscreen here than we’ve ever seen on any previous home video release of Hellboy. Textures, too, get a big boost, all the way down to the fine organic grain structure of the original film elements.

 

Truth be told, I’m not quite as sweet on the new Dolby Atmos remix of the movie’s soundtrack, although your mileage may vary. If you like tons of overhead sound effects, you’ll be in heaven here, because the Atmos redux never misses an opportunity to employ the height channels to their fullest effect. Oftentimes, it does so in the interest of atmosphere, which is where the remix really worked for me. When the action cranks up, though, so do the height channels, and I found it to be frankly a little too distracting, although that’s a common complaint on my part when it comes to object-based surround sound.

 

The good new is, over-done though it may be, the remix is utterly seamless, and sounds exactly the way I imagine the movie would have always sounded if modern audio technology had existed in 2004. So, again, if you’re a big fan of Atmos, I think you’ll get a real kick out of this one. The new mix maintains all of the dynamic oomph that has made this movie a go-to home

theater demo since the DVD days, and it does so while also maintaining excellent dialogue intelligibility and unimpeachable fidelity for the movie’s memorable score.

 

If, on the other hand, you fall into my camp when it comes to Atmos, you may be disappointed to find that the new Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround remix available on the recent UHD Blu-ray release is missing from the Kaleidescape download. The only other soundtrack options here are low-bitrate Dolby Digital (not Plus, just Dolby Digital) 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio stereo.

 

The UHD/HDR download is also missing not one, but two new audio commentaries recorded for the theatrical cut of the movie, which is also missing here. The Kaleidescape version includes the Director’s Cut only, which—to be fair—is a substantially superior version of the movie, even if its differences mostly amount to five or six seconds of footage here and 30 or 40 seconds of footage there. Also missing is a 15th-anniversary retrospective called To Hell and Back, along with a brief new introduction by director del Toro.

 

Don’t think that Kaleidescape is alone in its exclusion of these new bonus features, by the way. Sony seems fit to have withheld them from almost every digital release of this new UHD/HDR version of the movie, except, oddly enough, 

Hellboy (2004)

the iTunes download, which ports over all of the supplements included on the UHD Blu-ray. The good news is, buying the UHD version on Kaleidescape also gives you access to the Blu-ray quality download, which brings with it a cornucopia of wonderful bonus features, most notably the six-part documentary The Seeds of Creation, which at 143 minutes runs longer than the movie itself. So, you’re really not missing out on too much, unless you’re an audio commentary junky like I am.

 

If you’re not a bonus feature completist, there’s really nothing about this release to criticize. Hellboy is a fun, beautifully shot, often sweet, and utterly charming movie that’s better served by this new 4K restoration than any previous home video effort. The improvements in picture quality—especially in terms of color, shadow detail, and black levels—simply cannot be overstated.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Why Aren’t Enthusiasts Honest (With Themselves)?

I would like to say AV enthusiasts are a weird bunch, but the truth is all enthusiasts of any genre are weird—present company included. One of the things I find most peculiar about enthusiasts of any persuasion is their—ahem, our—incessant need to “lie” to ourselves. What I mean by that is simple: We often lie or convince ourselves that we require, need, or even have

more than we actually do.

 

I have been running a YouTube channel aimed squarely at AV enthusiasts since 2013 (I think), and in all that time one “truth” has remained constant: Everyone claims to need or have more, when in reality they often do with less. For example, if I talk about or review an AV receiver, one of the common responses I get is, “Does it have [insert some insane request here]?” When I inevitably reply, “No”, the response quickly turns to, “Well, I would’ve bought it, but . . .”

 

Yeah, right.

 

What’s more interesting is the amount of data YouTube and other services provide creators like me that show just how not cutting-edge enthusiast are—or at least think they are. More often than not, enthusiasts shop solely on price and not on the features or performance they so dearly covet. Depending on what types of links within my videos they click on, I can quite literally see how they shop for AV gear. And I have to tell you, it’s never how they claim to.

 

More often than not, if enthusiasts choose to click on my

links in order to shop for AV gear, they often start by going to the product I talked about. But from there, they go on an exploration of other equipment that I would classify often as comparable, but which is almost always less expensive.

They only really buy what I’ve reviewed when it truly is their cheapest option—for example, Crown Audio’s XLS DriveCore 2 amplifiers (shown at right). These amplifiers cost a few hundred dollars each, but put out Krell-like power ratings. It doesn’t hurt that the Crown amplifiers also sound good, but you get my point.

 

All of this data flies in the face of enthusiasts’ public statements that products must offer the Earth, moon, and stars

Why Aren't Enthusiasts Honest (With Themselves)?

for them to consider purchasing, and that their purchasing decision is always about performance—absolutely.

 

I just don’t understand why we do this to ourselves. There’s no shame in having a $300 AV receiver if a $300 AV receiver gets the job done. There’s no shame in only having a 50-inch TV. I get the need to want to keep up with the Joneses, but the reality is the Joneses don’t even have what you think they do, for we’re all the Joneses.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

If you’re looking for a family-friendly film that appeals to—and is appropriate for—nearly all ages, and that isn’t animated, you don’t often have a lot of options. Of course, Disney has been churning out live-action remakes of many of its classics, but this is a category many other studios have decided to avoid.

 

But since my daughters are 3½ and 13, I’m always interested in films that can work for all of us. So, when I saw that Dora and the Lost City of Gold was available for 4K HDR download at the Kaleidescape Store a full two weeks before its disc release, I queued it up for a family movie night.

 

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series, Dora the Explorer, the movie modernizes many of the beloved characters and puts them on a jungle adventure. My oldest, Lauryn, used to watch the animated series, so I was familiar with the main characters: Dora (Isabela Merced), her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of those other Wahlbergs), Swiper the stealing fox (voiced [unnecessarily] by Benicio Del Toro), and Boots the monkey (voiced bizarrely—but, thankfully, briefly—by Danny Trejo). I also knew about Dora’s talking Map and Backpack, whose voices are reprised by original voice actors Marc Weiner and Sasha Toro respectively.

 

Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about the animated series to jump right in and enjoy City of Gold, but those who are will certainly appreciate some of the clever overt and subtle nods and references sprinkled throughout the film, such as how Dora occasionally turns to the camera and says things like, “This is a golden poison frog. Can you say, ‘severe neuro-toxicity?’” which is one of cartoon Dora’s signature educational moves.

 

The film begins with six-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) living in the Peruvian jungle with her explorer parents Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Peña). Dora spends her days playing and exploring with Boots and Diego, learning a lot about jungle life and survival. Cut to ten years later. Believing they’ve finally cracked the clues needed to locate the hidden Inca city of Parapata, Dora’s parents send her off to stay with Diego, who has since relocated with his family to Southern California. This move takes Dora way outside of her comfort zone, forcing her to experience an entirely new culture where she most definitely doesn’t fit in: High school.

 

After being waylaid during a class field trip, Dora, Diego, and two other students find themselves in Peru, where Dora learns her parents have gone missing. From there, the group embarks on an adventure to rescue Dora’s parents and get back to civilization, which forces them to work as a team to overcome a variety of obstacles and challenges, and ultimately locate and explore Parapata.

 

There is a fair bit of action for a kid’s movie, certainly enough to keep adults entertained, but most of it is fairly tame. And while there is some peril, there are no fatalities or gunplay. Much of the adventure is Goonies-style, with rolling logs, underground water slides, and different puzzle-traps to solve. It also reminded me a bit of Lara Croft-light, with adventuring Dora taking point and using her wits and skills to lead the group.

 

Both Boots and Swiper are animated in a far more cartoony style than the hyper-realistic animals featured in The Lion King (2019), but this is by design. However, a couple of other animals—namely a boa constrictor and pair of scorpions—show their too obvious CGI origins. The film does contain one fully animated scene, which is a great homage to the original series.

 

One of my favorite things about the film was Dora herself. She is determined, self-confident, smart, optimistic, and always sees the good in others. She doesn’t spend the movie obsessing over a boy, or worrying what others think of her, or endlessly gazing into a cellphone. This is the kind of positive “girl power” image I want my daughters to see. There are enough mean-girls films out there, with know-it-all kids surrounded by clueless adults, and it was incredibly refreshing to watch a movie about a 16-year-old girl who is trying to make the world a better place without needing to tear anyone else down to do so.

 

Dora on 4K HDR looks way better than any kid’s movie has any right to. My first note on the film was, “Image is super clean and sharp.” Filmed in ArriRaw in 3.4 and 4.5K, Dora is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the image quality 

definitely shows. Closeups reveal individual strands of hair, the texture of clothing fabric, and the detail of the jungle terrain.

 

Colors are also vibrant throughout, with lots of bright yellows, greens, blues, and reds. This is especially true in the closing credits song-and-dance number, where the school student body comes together in multi-colored outfits. The bright, daytime jungle scenes also look terrific. And there are a few shots of bright fires and blazing sunsets that also benefit from the wider color gamut, as well as the brilliant, lustrous gold of statues and idols.

 

HDR is used throughout to deliver deep blacks, especially during the night scenes or when the gang is inside some location solving a puzzle. In one scene, the group needs to use sunlight and mirrors to bounce bright light around a room using reflective bowls, producing both dark blacks and piercing brightness.

 

Sonically, Dora also benefits from a fairly dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The jungle is filled with atmospheric sounds like birds, insects, and dripping water that immerse you in the location. During one scene, arrows whip past and overhead or thunk into walls. The sound team takes other opportunities to get creative with the sound placement, like a ringing school bell, Boots racing around the 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

jungle treetops, water flooding the room, or voices. Bass is also appropriately deep and engaging when called for, especially during the finale at Parapata.

 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold makes for a fun family night at the movies—entertaining and humorous for adults (my wife especially liked the “dig a pooh hole” song), without being too intense or mature for kids. It’s a film younger viewers may want to visit more than once, drawn to Dora’s infectious charm. It also has the bonus of looking and sounding terrific in your home system, making it a real win in my book.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Rocky

Rocky

While by no means the first boxing movie, Rocky is without a doubt one of the very best, ranking No. 57 on the AFI Top 100 Movies List and going on to launch five sequels and two spinoffs (Creed and Creed II).

 

However, while it is nearly always described as a “boxing movie,” there is actually surprisingly little boxing in the movie. Other than an opening scene to establish that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) can take and dish out a beating, some training on the speed and heavy bags, and the final fight with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the film spends just a few minutes of its nearly two-hour runtime in the ring.

 

Instead Rocky dedicates the vast majority of its time to character and relationship development, and, in a way, it reminded me of Jaws in the way it builds and builds towards the big fight/shark reveal. Even the title fight at the end doesn’t dedicate a ton of screen time to the boxing, but rather shows a few key choreographed fight sequences from different rounds, followed by girls flashing round cards to show that the fight is progressing towards the 15th and final round.

 

Without question, Rocky launched the mega career of Stallone, establishing him as a leading action hero, and, to a lesser degree, gave ex-NFL player Weathers his big Hollywood break as Creed. Stallone wrote the original screenplay for the film (apparently in a feverish three-and-a-half-day period after watching a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner), and famously held out on selling the script to United Artists until the studio agreed to cast him in the starring role—a decision that turned out the be the best of Stallone’s career.

 

But as good as the screenplay is, Rocky likely wouldn’t have had nearly the success it had if not for the quality of the acting throughout, with everyone doing exactly what they needed to enrich their characters and flesh out the story. Beyond the boxing, Rocky is a movie about relationships—between Rocky and love interest Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky and trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky and friend-antagonist Paulie (Burt Young), and Rocky and mob-boss Gazzo (Joe Spinell)—and for these to work, the acting had to be spot-on.

Rocky

What you might not remember is just how successful Rocky was at the 1977 Academy Awards. Besides winning three awards for Best Director (John Avildsen), Best Editing, and Best Picture, it received nominations for Best Actor (Stallone), Best Actress (Shire), Best Original Screenplay (Stallone), Best Sound Mixing, Best Music (Bill Conti), and Best Supporting Actor (both Meredith and Young).

 

Rocky was also one of the first (but not the first) films to use the new Steadicam process for smooth photography during action scenes and the iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not too shabby for a movie made for under $1 million that went on to gross $225 million!

 

Something else that can’t be understated is Stallone’s shape and conditioning for this film. While it isn’t unusual today to see stars getting jacked and shredded for roles—often spending months preparing and training—Rocky came out six years before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout role in Conan the Barbarian, and this level of fitness certainly wasn’t the norm for leading men of the day. But Stallone brought a legitimate level of strength and conditioning to the role, and you can see this in his thighs during an early training session with Mick and in the one-arm pushups he knocks out.

 

Rocky comes to the Kaleidescape Store in a 4K HDR transfer, one of the first batch of titles to be available following a distribution agreement signed with MGM. 

 

Shot using Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses on 35mm film, Rocky’s negative is actually 1.33:1 aspect ratio but matted down to the 1.85:1 aspect shown. There’s no information on the restoration process or on the digital intermediate used.

 

The transfer is a bit of a mixed bag at times. Unlike many of the re-releases from Sony that I’ve raved over, there were quite a few scenes in Rocky that look like they could have used a bit more time in restoration or digital cleanup. (Though it’s possible that the original film elements just didn’t lend themselves to further improvement.) Dark and low-lit scenes such as the boxing match at the opening and the early scenes inside Rocky’s apartment reveal lots of noise and grain in the image. Also, the pale blue of the early morning and day sky scenes seems especially susceptible to showing tons of noise, such as during Rocky’s first morning run (after he famously chugs the five raw eggs).

 

Images look cleaner and less noisy starting at Rocky’s first visit to Adrian at the pet store, and there are many closeups in the film that have startling detail and clarity, with razor-sharp edges that are clean and detailed. Other scenes, though, have almost uneven focus as if the camera’s focal point was off, most notably in one scene where Rocky and Adrian are sitting on the couch at Paulie’s, where half of Rocky’s face is almost blurry.

 

The higher resolution also makes some things like the heavy makeup used for “the vegetation” on Mickey’s ear or some of the fight damage appear less real. And there are shots during the big fight near the end where large crowd shots that were mixed 

to make it appear like a much larger crowd is watching look obviously cut in.

 

Compared to the earlier Blu-ray releases, however, this Rocky looks better in nearly every regard. Skin tones are more natural, colors in the ring at the end are more vibrant, as is the sun in Rocky’s big morning run, and the blacks of Rocky’s leather jacket, pants, and felt hat are nice, deep, clean and noise-free. (You also notice how Rocky almost never changes his outfit . . .) Images are noticeably sharper in almost every shot, especially things in the background.

 

Originally featuring a mono sound mix, the DTS-HD 5.1-channel mix found on both the 4K and Blu-ray versions does a nice job of spreading audio across the front channels. It even gets a bit of crowd noise into the surrounds during the big fight and moves Conti’s iconic “Gonna Fly Now” out into the room. But this is not a movie you’ll ever use to demo your theater system. As much as I’m all for a new immersive Dolby Atmos mix with a re-release, I’m not sure there was much in the original material that would benefit.

 

Unfortunately, dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially near the big fight at the end, where there is so much going on sonically that I struggled to hear the ring announcers over all of the music and crowd noise. But this is a case

Rocky

where the fists are really doing most of the talking, and missing a phrase here or there doesn’t have a big impact on enjoyment.

 

Remembering Rocky was filmed on a shoestring budget 44 years ago, it’s safe to say no one will mistake this latest 4K transfer as a modern film shot in native 4K on Arri cameras. But this is likely the best Rocky has ever looked, with the HDR and color grading giving the image life and depth without any flatness, and this is a classic that belongs in every collection.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Marvel's Spider-Man

It may seem somewhat odd to shine a spotlight on a game that was released more than a year ago—or to even be talking about gaming at all on a site devoted largely to luxury home cinema. But the simple truth of the matter is that when Marvel’s Spider-Man was released for PlayStation 4 back in September 2018, I found myself in the middle of a long hiatus from console gaming to focus on some more strategic PC games that had been piling up in my Steam library. What drew me back was an unused PlayStation Network gift card my dad had given me for my birthday, as well as the relatively new release of Spider-Man: Game of the Year Edition, which hit store shelves recently. What I discovered when I finally dug in was one of the most compelling home cinema experiences I’ve had in ages.

 

For those of you who aren’t deeply imbedded in video-gaming culture, “Game of the Year Edition” is common vernacular for a soft relaunch of a popular game that generally includes all of the little add-ons that have been released since, bundled with the original title, for one lower price. In the case of Spider-Man, that includes three mini-sequels, collectively dubbed Spider-Man: The City that Never Sleeps, which sold for $9.99 a pop in the months following the main release. Spider-Man: Game of the Year Edition collects all of this content—the original game and its followups—on one disc (or in one download) for $35.

 

As for why I’m taking the time to write up a year-old game on a site like Cineluxe, there’s a good reason for that, which has nothing to do with my long delay in finally picking it up and playing it. Simply put, Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most cinematic games I’ve played in ages, both in its gameplay and its AV presentation. But not in the most intuitive of ways.

At its heart, Spider-Man is what’s known as an open-world game, the world in this case being a slightly scaled-down and very Marvel-specific version of Manhattan circa 2014 (when development of the game began). Simply put, this playground in and of itself is a technological wonder, not only in its relatively faithful recreation of Times Square, the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station, etc., but also in the way it captures the feeling of moving through the city from district to district, squinting at the sunlight gleaming off buildings in the daytime and the stunning array of neon, halogen, and LED lights piercing what little darkness exists in the shadows at night. The way the game uses its deep shadows and intense highlights to convey the Manhttanhenge effect is simply among the best applications of HDR I’ve seen to date.

 

All of this could be written off as mere eye-candy, of course, but it’s more than that. The developers of Marvel’s Spider-Man, Insomniac Games, spent so much time working on the web-swinging mechanic—making sure webs would only attach to buildings or flagpoles or what have you rather than clinging to empty air as in past Spidey games, for example, and also 

making sure the parabolic physics of such swinging felt genuine—that if there weren’t some verisimilitude to the look of the city itself, the illusion of Tarzaning through its vertical landscapes would be broken. 

 

It isn’t just graphics and physics that drive the experience, though. The sound also elevates the AV presentation of the game, 

Marvel's Spider-Man

with a rich real-time uncompressed 7.1 soundscape and cinematic score that whips and whirs around you as you swing through the city or walk its streets, or even poke around in the science lab where Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) works when the red-and-blue pajamas come off. (By the way, not that this really affects the gameplay, but you’re far from limited to the default two-toned onesie, as one of the game’s most compelling Easter-egg hunts is an ongoing search for the badges and components that allow you to craft or unlock all manner of other Spidey-suits.)

 

Of course, whooshing around from skyscraper to skyscraper or tinkering with circuit boards in the lab isn’t all there is to do here. There’s an overarching story—based not on any of the previous versions of the Spider-Man mythos, but rather a new amalgamation that draws elements from the best that movies and cartoons and comics have to offer—and you’re drawn to new story beats by way of police-scanner alerts or cellphone calls from allies and loved ones.

 

Quite frankly, it’s a more emotionally engaging story than that of any Spider-Man film to date, in part due to its complex ethical and moral themes, but also due to its length. Simply burn through the main storyline without stopping to thwart muggers or

Marvel's Spider-Man

terrorists or take perfectly framed photos of Manhattan’s numerous landmarks and you could probably reach the story’s conclusion in 20 or 25 hours.

 

That’s certainly enough time to become attached to the characters and invested in the relationships, but it would also be completely contrary to the point of the game. 

The beauty of Marvel’s Spider-Man is the freedom it gives you to explore this world and its wonderful original storyline at your own pace.

 

As I approached the end of the main quest, my wife and I sat on our sofa—me an active participant in this wonderful interactive storytelling-and-exploration experience; her a very willing passive viewer—and openly wept at the poignant and impactful emotional resolution of it all. It’s honestly that engaging.

 

Of course, having the Game of the Year Edition meant I still had three more intertwining stories to explore, more petty crimes to deal with in the byways and back alleys between the Church of the Intercession and Battery Park, and more time to rummage around in the city’s sewers and abandoned subways. And while feeling a little tacked on at first, this trilogy of mini-sequels eventually evolves into yet another web of intrigue that picks up on threads only hinted at in the main storyline. It may lack some of the personal emotional resonance of the main game, but it does amp the moral complexity up to new levels.

 

Whether you merely play through the primary questline of Marvel’s Spider-Man or pick every achievement and side quest clean, as I’ve done (purely as a consequence of wanting to spend more time in this amazing world), you owe it to yourself to play it on the best AV system in the house. And yes, that even includes an Atmos sound system.

 

I know I’ve grumped in the past about not being the biggest fan of object-based surround sound with movies, but the 7.1 soundtrack of Spider-Man upmixed into Atmos opens the landscape of Manhattan up, bringing it into the third dimension in a way that meaningfully enhances the open nature of this exploration-based interactive experience. Hearing the roll of thunder and crack of lightning not merely around you, but also above you, helps transform the game world into something you exist within, rather than merely a backdrop you navigate through. 

 

By the way, if you do play the game through a reference-quality sound system, make sure to dip into the audio settings and make one essential tweak. Change the default sound mode from “Home Theater,” which is really intended more for soundbars and smaller sound systems, to “Maximum,” which is mixed for “premium home theater systems or studio playback.”

 

Little touches like that prove at least some game developers realize the home cinema potential of their efforts, even if the AV industry continues to treat video games like mere children’s entertainment.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Cineluxe Trendsetters: Sam Cavitt

In the second in our series of interviews with the people who define and drive luxury home entertainment, we talk to Sam Cavitt of Paradise Theater, which has offices in Maui and San Diego. 

 

Sam is part of a small group of home theater specialists who don’t fit completely into the traditional categories of technology integrator, acoustical engineer, or interior designer. His main function is to bring together and coordinate the best people in the various trades necessary for creating no-compromise luxury private cinemas.

 

Believing that the standards for experiencing entertainment at home have fallen as people have settled for good-enough rooms and systems, Sam has a launched a Cinema Connoisseur initiative to educate the public on what it means to have an exceptional movie-watching environment.

 

In the interview above, he talks about how commercial theaters no longer represent the gold standard for movie watching, the benefits of an expertly crafted private cinema, and his goals for Cinema Connoisseur.

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The Wonderful 4K “Wizard of Oz”

The Wonderful 4K "Wizard of Oz"

As much as we tend to discuss Ultra HD video and high dynamic range in relation to the latest that Hollywood and Netflix have to offer, it’s sometimes easy to forget something quite important: The films that stand to benefit most from current home-video standards aren’t the newest digital spectacles but rather classic works created entirely in the analog domain. Older films simply possess a level of detail and nuance no previous home-video format has been capable of replicating, and short of cinema revivals, most of us have never seen them in all their splendor.

 

That said, I don’t know of any film as old as 1939’s The Wizard of Oz to make the leap into 4K/HDR before now. For that matter, I don’t know of any other movies filmed in three-strip Technicolor that have been remastered for 4K/HDR. That alone makes this new home-video release academically interesting, even if the Judy Garland classic holds no emotional sway over you.

 

Not that it matters, of course, but it does for me. Hold emotional sway, that is. I’ve owned Oz on every home-video format available in the U.S., including every VHS release, every Laserdisc release, every DVD and Blu-ray. But my love affair goes further back than that. One of my earliest memories is of lying belly-flat on the rug in our den, watching Dorothy and friends traipse down the Gray Brick Road on our old black-and-white tube TV. Much to my dad’s chagrin, that was the start of a yearly tradition for me—one I uphold to this day, every Thanksgiving.

 

I can almost define each era of my life in relation to how I experienced that annual ritual. My first time viewing it on a color TV was, it should go without saying, a significant revelation. And although there have been upgrades down the road since (the 1989 restoration of the sepia tones in the opening and closing acts, the 2005 restoration and re-alignment of the original Technicolor film strips), rarely has any viewing of Oz blown my mind quite to the same degree as seeing it in color for the first time.

 

Until now, that is. This new 4K/HDR release of The Wizard of Oz is the first that actually manages to replicate the experience of viewing the movie by way of a pristine 35mm print. And this is evident as early as those early sepia-toned shots in Kansas, which you wouldn’t think would make for a great HDR demo. But it’s important to remember that, for all the talk about peak 

The Wonderful 4K "Wizard of Oz"

brightness and nits and whatnot, the most significant boost to dynamic range that HDR delivers is in the lower end of the value scale. There are simply more steps of near-black to work with here, and that’s put to good use in the opening scenes of Oz by dragging detail out of the shadows without brightening the overall image.

 

It should come as no surprise, though, that this new transfer doesn’t really come to life until Dorothy steps through the

monochromatic door of her wind-tossed home into the rainbow land of Oz. But again, the benefits here may not be what you’re expecting.

 

If you go in anticipating tons of intense specular highlights, you’re going to be left wanting. Some vibrant peak brightness is used to bring out the sparkle of Glinda’s jewels and of course the gleaming glimmer of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. But in all cases, this higher-intensity brightness is organic and tastefully done. So much so that it may only affect you subliminally.

 

There’s simply no mistaking the color palette of this new transfer for that of any previous home-video release. Early video offerings of Oz did what they could with their limited color gamut. Around the time of the aforementioned remaster in the mid-2000s, though, Warner saw fit to actually boost the color saturation of the movie in order to approximate the Crayola hues Technicolor was capable of delivering.

 

The problem with this is that the entire color palette of Oz was dragged along for the ride. So, although the Wicked Witch’s verdant skin tones may have looked close enough, subtler colors like the pastel tones of the Lullaby League were overly boosted, overly intense—just plain wrong, when you get right down to it.

 

When viewed via Kaleidescape, the 10-bit palette of this new release (which was taken from an 8K, 16-bit scan of the original film elements) puts all of the colors in their proper proportions. So, for example, in certain scenes in Munchkinland, subdued pastels share the screen with luscious primary hues—something most of us have never seen outside of the film’s more recent theatrical revivals.

 

The detail and definition of this new transfer will also henceforth be my response to those who say we don’t need 4K resolution at home. Subtle details that were obscured by previous 1080p and lower-resolution releases are restored for all the world to see—even down to the individual hairs on Dorothy’s head.

 

Granted, there is, of course, a hefty helping of softness to the image in places, especially in closeup shots of Billie Burke (Glinda). My point is, it’s taken us until this point to finally bring all of the detail in the image—softened, filtered, gauzed though it may be in some scenes—to home displays. I’m struggling to see where even an 8K release could improve on what I’m seeing here in terms of detail and definition, much less color and contrast.

 

If I have a nit to pick, it’s that this new color grade still gets the opening and closing sepia-toned scenes a little wrong. It’s important to remember that this footage was shot in black-and-white and hand-tinted sepia—and then hand-tinted sepia again in the ‘80s. And, as with every release of the past couple decades, this version takes that sepia tinting just a touch too far, with slightly too much warmth. But that’s really only a concern if you get overly fussy about “filmmaker’s intent.” (Incidentally, 

if you’re curious about how I can speak to “filmmaker’s intent” in this case, given that there were so many chefs stirring this pot, we can look to a scene later in the movie in which Dorothy peers into the Wicked Witch’s crystal ball and sees her Aunt Em in Kansas, in all her sepia-tinted glory. That’s what Kansas is supposed to look like.)

 

And . . . [checks notes] Yep. That’s it. That’s literally the only pedantic niggle I can come up with. 

The Wonderful 4K "Wizard of Oz"

Some viewers may take issue with the fact that those sepia scenes don’t quite hold up to the clarity and definition of the film’s colorful middle. That’s largely due to the fact that the original film negatives for the first and last act were lost in a fire in the 1970s, and have since been sourced from an optical intermediate struck in the 1960s. The only original negatives we have at this point are for the color parts of the film. So this is the best Kansas is ever going to look.

 

The purist in me also wants to half-heartedly complain about the lack of the the original mono soundtrack with this new release, but I just can’t bring myself to grump about that, given how great the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix sounds. And this is a new remix, by the way—not the same lossless 5.1 mix that was included with the 70th- and 75th-anniversary Blu-rays.

 

The surround channels are employed a little more frequently this time around, and there’s an appreciable boost to dialogue intelligibility and vocal clarity across the board, along with some enhanced bass, especially during the tornado sequence. But 

all in all, this surround sound mix is true to the sprit and overall aesthetic of the film. It’s certainly not as egregious or aggressive as some recent remixes for classic films. So even if the original mono were present, I can’t imagine I would ever listen to it.

 

As for the Kaleidescape presentation of this new release, my only beef is that, in addition to the 4K/HDR version, you’ll also need to download the Blu-ray-quality version if you want access to all of the bonus goodies—including the audio commentary with historian and author John Fricke, which carries over from every home-video release since 2005. There’s also the excellent The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic from 1990, hosted by Angela Lansbury, which for some reason was dropped from the 75th-anniversary home video releases but makes a welcome reappearance here.

 

Oodles of other bonus features are certainly worth your time if you’re a dedicated fan, but these two are essential viewing/listening for everyone, so go ahead and download both versions of the film from the giddy-up. Why you can’t simply download the bonus features without double-dipping on the film itself is beyond me.

The Wonderful 4K "Wizard of Oz"

But what else is there to be said, really? If you’re reading this, you already know what the film means to you—you’re simply deciding whether or not it’s worth the 4K/HDR upgrade for an 80-year-old film. The answer to that is a resounding, enthusiastic, unapologetic “Yes!” Few films have benefited from the increased resolution, enhanced dynamic range, and most importantly the wider color gamut of our current home video standards nearly so much as this one. My biggest regret is that I can’t put 4K/HDR screen grabs in front of you and let you see the improvements with your own eyes. Unfortunately, the limitations of the web make that impossible. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Is Disney Planning to Bleed Netflix Dry?

Is Disney Planning to Bleed Netflix Dry?

Maybe the biggest story out of the entertainment industry this week is the news that David Benioff & D.B. Weiss—showrunners of the massively successful but ultimately disappointing Game of Thrones TV adaptation—have backed out of developing a new trilogy of Star Wars films, originally slated to debut starting in 2022. In isolation, this really only seems to be a big deal for the geek community. After all, unless you’re a big fan, why should you care who ends up developing the first Star Wars films to have absolutely no connection to the Skywalker saga, which is coming to an end this year?

 

Personally, though, I don’t think we can view this development in isolation. I think it must be viewed in its proper context as the latest volley in a brewing war between Disney (owner of the Star Wars franchise) and Netflix (new owners of Benioff & Wiess). It’s a war that’s been simmering since Disney announced its Disney+ alternative to Netflix back in 2018.

 

The first shots were fired when Netflix canceled all of its shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe owned by Disney (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, etc.). More recent skirmishes involved Disney deciding not to allow advertising for any Netflix series (or the service itself) on its numerous TV channels (including ABC, Freeform, Fox, FX, and National

Geographic). For some reason, ESPN is exempt from this ban, and it’s not clear whether it affects A&E Networks, of which Disney owns half.

 

The point is, the gloves are off. Disney is gunning for Netflix. Netflix is gunning for Disney (with some minor air support from Amazon, which refuses to allow the Disney+ app on its streaming hardware).

 

So, what do Benioff and Weiss have to do with any of this? The statement released by the duo about their departure says it all: “There are only so many hours in the day, and we felt we could not do justice to both Star Wars and our Netflix projects. So we are regretfully stepping away.”

 

It helps to know that the pair was originally picked to helm a new Star Wars trilogy back in 2018. But in August of this year, it was reported that an intense bidding war between Disney, Netflix, and Amazon for the rights to own Benioff & Weiss for the next five years had finally come to an end, with Netflix coming out on top, to the tune of $250 million.

 

If this seems extraordinary, it isn’t. Deals of this sort are 

becoming the norm, with Netflix throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at content creators in an attempt to corner the market on exclusive content that keeps eyeballs on screens (and subscription dollars flowing). But Netflix isn’t alone. J.J. Abrams (also of Star Wars fame) just struck a similar $300 million deal with WarnerMedia, whose own HBO Max streaming service is launching in 2020.

 

But while the Warners and Apples and Amazons of the world are all breaking their necks to make deals of this sort, the real war continues to be between Disney and Netlix. And you could argue that Disney lost this battle.

 

But did it? Did it really lose? To be frank, Star Wars fans haven’t really been all that excited about Weiss and Benioff’s new trilogy since it became clear the quality of Game of Thrones took a huge nosedive once the duo ran out of A Song of Ice and Fire books to adapt for the screen. And let’s face it: If Disney really wanted to win the bidding war for the creators’ souls, it could have, given that it has the one thing Netflix doesn’t—a positive cashflow situation. Netflix hasn’t turned a real profit since 2011, after all, and is expected to go $3.5 billion into the red in 2019 alone.

 

It isn’t wholly out of line to speculate that Disney may be attempting to force Netflix to spend itself to death, perhaps so it can swoop in and pick the carcass clean with little to no effort. That’s certainly one of the likeliest ways for the Mouse to win this streaming war.

 

No matter which corporation is ultimately victorious, though (and let’s be honest here: By that I mean “if Disney is ultimately victorious,” because there’s no way Netflix can win this fight if it keeps fighting on Disney’s terms), I can’t help but think that none of this is good for us, the consumers.

 

Both Netflix and Disney are acting like brats. I love them both. I have subscriptions to both (I already paid for three years’ worth of Disney+ in advance, based purely on all of their original Star Wars programming). And I honestly believe the streaming marketplace needs them both to thrive. But it seems that both are determined to make sure that doesn’t happen.

 

One of my favorite things about the rise of streaming and the decline of commercial cinemas as the dominant source of feature films is that smaller movies like The Irishman, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and The Meyerowitz Stories have, at least for a while now, been given room to flourish in a way they haven’t in years. But if the streaming landscape is going to become a battleground for bidding wars like this, I worry that—just as blockbusters have squeezed independent cinema out of actual cinemas—streaming services will soon become a simulacrum of the same phenomenon. (By the way, what would you call the streaming equivalent of a blockbuster? A pipeclogger? Oh well, that’s a topic for another day.)

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Cineluxe Trendsetters: Eric Thies

This is the first in our series of interviews with people who aren’t just part of but who define and drive luxury home entertainment. Each offers their unique, candid insider’s perspective on both current trends and the likely future.

 

Eric Thies is the owner of Los Angeles-based DSI Luxury Technology, one of the most successful integration firms in the country. He’s also a driving force behind both The Guild, an alliance of elite integrators, and the Home Technology Association, which helps guide people to the most qualified companies to address their entertainment and smart-tech needs.

 

A passionate advocate for holding home entertainment to the highest possible standards, Eric has never been shy about expressing his opinions, and in this interview he offers his straightforward take on topics like 8K, home theaters vs. media rooms, art walls, and the deplorable lack of standards in the integration industry.

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