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The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights

Numbers don’t lie. And following the dismally low critical and fan reception of A View to a Kill—Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% and audience score of 40%, both franchise lows—along with lackluster box-office receipts, the decision was made to move on from the aging Roger Moore as MI6 agent Bond, James Bond.

 

At the start of filming of the next Bond film, Moore would have been 59—far too old to portray the hard-living Bond that creator Ian Fleming imagined to be in his mid-30s. Casting for Moore’s replacement had the Broccoli production team interviewing a

variety of actors, including Sam Neill (best known for the Jurassic Park films) as well as Pierce Brosnan.

 

The role was offered to Brosnan, who accepted. However, interest skyrocketed in Remington Steele, the NBC TV series Brosnan was contractually obligated to, once word got out he would be the next Bond, and at the last moment—three days before its option expired—NBC decided to renew Steele for another season, causing Broccoli to withdraw the offer. (As we know, Brosnan ended up getting his turn to wear the tux and double-O license a few years later . . .)

 

Instead, the role of Bond in The Living Daylights, the 15th film in the franchise, went to Timothy Dalton.

 

According to an interview, Dalton said he wanted to bring a decidedly different take to the super-spy compared with the Moore-era Bond. “I definitely wanted to recapture the essence and flavor of the books, and play it less flippantly. After all, Bond’s essential quality is that he’s a man who 

DAYLIGHTS AT A GLANCE

Timothy Dalton helped pave the way for Daniel Craig by taking Bond back to his Ian Fleming roots in this tepidly received post-Moore effort to reset the franchise. 

 

PICTURE     

The 4K transfer is sharp, featuring exceptionally deep blacks, but the original film elements haven’t fared as well as the ones for the much older Goldfinger

 

SOUND

The 5.1 mix, derived from the original stereo, keeps almost all of the sonic action in the front channels and doesn’t show the dynamic range or solid bass we’ve become accustomed to in an action film.

lives on the edge. He could get killed at any moment, and that stress and danger factor is reflected in the way he lives, chain-smoking, drinking, fast cars and fast women.”

 

After years of having a Bond who was better with a joke than a gun, Dalton brought a definite edge and physicality to the role. You can tell from the opening minutes that this is a Bond ready to get down to work—maybe not always loving the job, but taking it deadly serious. Dalton’s Bond is cold—quick to point a gun at an unarmed woman and rip her clothes off to serve as a distraction—but also bringing a bit of wry humor when appropriate. And—true to Bond’s literary incarnation—taking no joy in killing, and disobeying an order rather than kill a non-professional.

Daylights is also the last of the pre-Daniel Craig-era Bond films to use a title and material directly from Fleming’s work, again connecting it back to the original feel. (The entire opening act with Bond facing off against the female cellist/assassin is pulled straight from Fleming’s story of the same name.)

 

Reception of Dalton as Bond is . . . mixed. Some lists rank him as the worst, while others rank him in the middle. Without a question, he had the difficult task of creating a darker, harder-edged interpretation of the character while simultaneously not alienating the legions of fans that had grown up watching Moore’s lighter take for seven films over 12 years.

 

It’s also difficult to divorce the actor from the films, and with only two movies to establish his Bond bona fides—one of which was the uneven License to Kill—it was tough for Dalton to create a solid legacy.

 

After recently re-watching Casino Royale (2006), it is a bit difficult to view the older Bond films without seeing them 

through the lens of both Royale’s modern style and Craig’s portrayal. While I really enjoyed The Living Daylights, being a fan of Dalton’s Bond and of the opinion that Maryam d’Abo (as Kara Milovy) is one of the most attractive Bond girls, some of the shortcomings of the earlier films are more apparent—particularly the over-the-top silliness of arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), John Rhys-Davies—who doesn’t seem Russian in any way—as new head of KGB, General Pushkin, and terrible portrayal/casting of Felix Leiter by John Terry, who more comes off like some kind of California surfer dude than a CIA field agent.

 

We’re not given any indication of the source material for the 4K Ultra HD presentation here, but it was likely taken from the file created for the 2012 Blu-ray Disc release. Originally filmed in 35 mm with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, if nothing else, the picture quality of Daylights makes you truly appreciate the amazing work done by Lowery Digital in restoring Goldfinger. Even though Goldfinger is 23 years older, in some ways it looks sharper and cleaner.

 

Daylights begins with a mock raid by 00-agents on a British compound at Gibraltar being defended by the SAS, and the greyish-blue skies reveal tons of noise and grain. Edges are generally nice and sharp, especially of the black-clad  00-commandoes against the white rock wall, and closeups often reveal lots of detail, such as the rich plaid patterns and wool textures of suits worn by Bond and others, particularly Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) Glen Plaid pattern.

The Living Daylights

Interestingly, I felt like the film started looking better after its first third. Whether it was different lenses used, brighter exterior scenes that filmed better, or just me getting used to the look I can’t say, but images were noticeably cleaner and less grainy. For example, the exteriors in Czechoslovakia with bright outdoor lighting and vibrant red buses all look quite good, as does the snow chase in the Aston Martin, with the sharp contrast between the white snow and the dark grey Aston Martin Vantage and the dark Russian military uniforms.

 

But I never really felt like I was getting that nth degree of resolution and detail visible from 4K transfers. There is also a bit of inconsistency with some of the longer shots looking a bit softer and not as in focus, and this was more noticeable on my 115-inch projection screen opposed to my 65-inch direct-view.

 

Blacks are deep and black, and with your theater lights off, Daylights definitely delivers a cinematic black. There is a scene where Bond is driving an Audi and we see the black of Dalton’s hair against the differing blacks of his tux and bowtie and the

car’s dark interior. Sometimes, however, the blacks are so dark that some details in the lowest end can be lost, such as in some of the night scenes where characters are almost lost in their black clothing.

 

The movie was originally mixed in Dolby Stereo, and the DTS-HD Master 5.1-channel mix here doesn’t really deliver much in the way of surround sound. I’d say about 80% of the audio is presented across the front three channels, with the surrounds occasionally getting bits of the musical score, or some reverb of explosions, engine noises, PA announcements, or other effects to provide a bit of expansion. If my processor’s Neural:X upmixer placed any sounds up in the height speakers, it wasn’t noticeable. Even still, the presentation had a nice width to it, delivering a soundstage that stretched across my front wall, with dialogue that was always clear and intelligible.

 

Sound mixers took a much more delicate hand to mixing bass frequencies back in the ‘80s—remember this was before the dedicated low-frequency effects (LFE) channel Dolby Digital and DTS designed to give mixers more headroom for deep bass—and things like explosions, vehicle crashes, a Harrier jet lifting off, and gun shots definitely don’t have the same dynamic impact they do today. The big desert finale is definitely the film’s sonic highlight, with explosions, gun fire, horses riding 

The Living Daylights

all around, the plane’s loud propeller engines, and ricochets sparking off in all directions, but even still, it is pretty light on sonics by modern film standards.

 

Sometimes it takes a bit of time away from something in order to appreciate it, and I think that is the case for many with Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond. And it is surprising how well this holds up after 33 years, especially when compared to the schlocky final films in the Moore canon. If for no other reason, we need to thank Dalton for paving the road that led us to the Daniel Craig Bond we have today. The Living Daylights might not be the favorite in your Bond film collection, but I challenge you to not put it in the Top 10.

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.

Underwater

Somewhere along the line (perhaps in 2004 with the introduction of the first film in the Saw franchise), Hollywood started turning the horror genre into something . . . distasteful. Filmmakers went from trying to simply scare people to trying to outdo each other by shocking and brutalizing viewers with horribly graphic depictions of torture and mutilation. I mean, just because I might like some unsettling tension and a good jump-scare doesn’t mean I want to watch someone explicitly cut into pieces by some Rube Goldberg torture machine.

That’s one of the reasons why Underwater interested me, a film that looked like it was leaning into the scarier elements of its sci-fi nature, but with a PG-13 rating that insured the frights would be mostly gore-free. Also, the trailer screamed a mash-up of The Abyss, Alien, Deep Star Six, and The Meg, the first two of which I happen to love (especially the far superior—and “finished”—Special Edition version of Abyss).

 

At 95 minutes, Underwater isn’t a long movie, and I think that might actually be my biggest criticism. The story just jumps right in, with no backstory or character development other than some text on maps and prints during the opening title sequence. After a long opening shot that pans down a massive length of the Kepler research and drilling facility—establishing that we are seven miles under the ocean and well beyond any help from the surface—our first shot is of Norah (Kristen Stewart) in a bathroom brushing her teeth, just moments before all hell breaks loose. I think the film 

UNDERWATER AT A GLANCE

This Kristen “One Note” Stewart bottom-of-the-sea horror/thriller might not have been a box-office hit, but it’s a nice, tight 95-minute thrill ride that delivers big on the scares. 

 

PICTURE     

Both the atmosphere and action are enhanced by the 4K HDR transfer, which reveals every detail in the meticulously detailed sets and accentuates the pricks of light in the film’s many dark scenes. 

 

SOUND

The DTS-HD Master mix (no Atmos) is suitably immersive, featuring some of the most powerful and frequent deep-bass action you’ll find in any recent film.

would have been more interesting if we were given the opportunity to know any of the characters a bit and see what daily life aboard the Kepler was like before thrusting everyone into peril.

 

As it is, Underwater doesn’t much concern itself with telling us anything about the characters or what they’re doing seven miles under the ocean, just doling out the little bits and pieces of info we need to know as the movie unfolds. The upside is we jump straight into the story and the action, but the downside is we don’t really care much when someone meets their demise; it’s just one less person to follow. But maybe no character development is better than something schlocky that feels forced.

 

I’m not a huge fan of Kristen Stewart and her, ummm, “emotional acting range.” In fact, just Google “Kristen Stewart Underwater” images and you’ll see an entire page of thumbnails revealing approximately the exact same semi-perplexed/
angry/
concerned expression. (We also are given no insight into Stewart’s decision to shave her head and dye her hair blonde for the role for some reason.)

 

However, there is little in this film that requires much emotional range from her. She’s thrust into a pretty terrible situation from the opening moments in which she could die at any second due to any number of factors, so semi-perplexed/angry/
concerned is a pretty appropriate look.

 

The film’s plot is fairly straight-forward: After a massive undersea earthquake ravages the Kepler, the surviving crew must find a way to continue to survive under the constant threat of immense underwater pressure, lack of oxygen, and a constantly deteriorating habitat.

 

While making her way to the escape pod bay, Norah encounters other crew members, one of whom is Paul, played by T.J. Miller, who brings his usual sarcastic wit and tension-breaking humor to his scenes. After finding that the escape pods have been jettisoned and that the radio can’t reach anyone topside, the group of six decides their only chance is to don some massively pressurized diving suits, descend to the ocean’s floor, and walk a mile across the bottom of the ocean to join up with another station where they can hopefully resurface.

Underwater

During the walk, they stumble across an otherworldly deep-sea life form that has been awakened because, as Emily (the film’s other female role, played by Jessica Henwick) states, “We drilled too deep; we took too much!”

 

That environmental jab aside, Underwater manages to be entertaining and maintain enough tension and mystery that it kept me interested to see what happened next. And it delivered on the “horror” promise with some quality jump-scares that had my wife spilling her drink not once but twice.

 

Shot on ArriRaw at 6.5K, this transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and it shows, with images that are sharp, clean, detailed, and fantastic-looking. Edges are razor-sharp and in focus, and closeups show incredible detail, revealing pores in actors’ faces, as well as defined single-beaded droplets of water or sweat. In one shot, you can clearly see that Norah’s chest is covered in goosebumps. Underwater shots reveal particles floating around that are individually sharp and defined.

 

The resolution and image quality also let you appreciate the attention to detail in the set dressing. The Kepler appears like it could be a functioning station (well, up until the earthquake), with screens and workstations all around, as well as the large pressurized diving suits with varying degrees of scratches and wear.

 

This is a movie that really benefits from HDR, with tons of dark scenes punctuated by a variety of bright light sources. The very opening shot has the camera panning down and down (and down . . .) the depths of the dark ocean, showing the Kepler illuminated by different colored lights that shine brightly in the dark background. There are also numerous dark shots inside the station or outside in the ocean lit by bright flashlights, overhead fluorescents, computer screens, crackling and sparking electrical lines, warning lights, etc. and they all look great. Blacks are deep throughout, and remain clean and noise-free.

 

Any time you are filming under dark and murky water with bright lights illuminating, you run the risk of banding or other digital artifacts. This is only exacerbated when you factor in the higher compression required for streaming. Fortunately, the Kaleidescape transfer keeps these potentially troubling shots from becoming a mess, presenting images without any noise.

 

Fox has a maddening habit of not providing its digital releases with the fully immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack available with the theatrical release, and that is again the case here. However, the 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix on the Kaleidescape download is so active and immersive—especially when run through a modern receiver’s capable upmixer—you won’t feel

like you’re missing much. (Though I’d be lying if it didn’t make me wonder how much better that Atmos mix could potentially be!)

 

From the film’s opening moments, we get the atmospheric sounds of water bubbling up overhead, followed by the creaking and groaning of the habitat’s steel structure, along with the steady buzz and hum of overhead fluorescent lighting to put us in the scene of the momentary calm.

 

Shortly after, the earthquake hits and the Kepler experiences a catastrophic hull breech, with the rig groaning and crumpling all around, filling the room with sounds of metal twisting, steam venting through burst pipe, announcements blaring from the overhead PA, and jets of water bursting. As they move about the structure, the group is accompanied by the surrounding sound of the ambient noises aboard; water dripping and splashing, ongoing PA announcements, electrical lines buzzing and humming. When the crew abandons the Kepler, we are immersed in ocean sounds, and the crew breathing.

 

The soundtrack also features regular immense bass activity that will push your subwoofer and room to its very limits. Whether it is the deep bass of the structures’ crumpling and buckling steel, or of things crashing and crumbling 

Underwater

around you, the movie has deep, room-jarring bass that is frequent, appropriate, and very tactile. In fact, this might have some of the deepest infrasonic bass signals I’ve heard, causing things to vibrate, shake, and rattle in my room that I’ve never heard before. At one point, I got up off the couch to check to make sure my speakers weren’t destroying themselves due to all the bass energy and discovered that it was my projection screen’s metal housing that was vibrating loudly in sympathy with the bass onslaught!

 

While Underwater stumbled theatrically, it managed an audience score of 60%, and I think it actually is more suited to viewing in a well-designed home theater. While the plot offers nothing new, it is fun and entertaining to watch, and offers some great visuals along with an even more dynamic, powerful, and immersive surround mix. Also, since the decision was made to not give Underwater a 4K Blu-ray Disc release, the full 51-GB download from the Kaleidescape Store is by far your best viewing option.

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.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter

photo by John Frattasi

Steve Haas is the person you call when want to make sure your home theater will sound better than any movie theater. His extensive body of work for various commercial venues and high-end private viewing and listening spaces has established him as one of the world’s leading acoustical engineers. And his collaborations with legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis have made him synonymous with the highest-quality dedicated home theaters.

 

But media rooms (also known as entertainment rooms, multi-use spaces, or communal spaces) are increasingly becoming the movie-watching venue of choice in the luxury market—even though they’re in many ways the antithesis of what you would want for a reference-quality home theater. They tend to be part of an open floorplan, need to serve other forms of entertainment beyond movies, are frequently flooded with ambient light, and feature serious acoustical challenges like hardwood floors, huge plate-glass windows, and large stone and concrete surfaces.

 

None of that changes the fact that the high-end market really likes these kinds of rooms. Fortunately, things like larger, brighter video displays, innovative projection-screen materials, digital room correction, and way more sophisticated lighting and shading control are helping to tame what would have until just a few years ago been impossible spaces for watching movies at any real level of quality.

 

But advanced tech can’t do everything it takes to make a room exceptional, or even acceptable. Which is why we wanted to talk to Haas about what he does to bring these often resistant spaces into line.

—Michael Gaughn

Media rooms can vary dramatically but clients are looking for great performance regardless or they wouldn’t be engaging you. How do you typically handle something like that?

One of the first steps we always employ is understanding from the homeowners how they and, if applicable, their family use their homes—or how they intend to use it, if it’s a new home. Will they all gather in the media room at the same time to watch a movie? In that case, it’s more about dealing with the quality and not so much worrying about whether the sound spreads to the kids’ bedrooms.

 

 

To ensure the acoustical quality of a media room, I would think it would be crucial for you to be brought in early in the planning for a new home or a renovation. Otherwise, you could be dealing with a badly compromised space. Are you usually advising from the beginning or do you find yourself having to make do?

That’s a great question because it really is all over the map. More often than not, the architectural design and interior design are already well underway or nearly completed; or worse, it could be that the construction has already started. And as 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

This multi-use media room in Connecticut contains a home theater . . .

sheetrock starts going in, the homeowner gets a sense of just how much this house is going to sound really “bouncy”— reflective and reverberant—and maybe they should get somebody to deal with these spaces.

 

That happened to us with a project in Westchester County recently. It was a gut renovation well underway; and that’s when the homeowner just realized, “Wow, we really need somebody.” We had to come in and do a lot of massaging to the interior design and the architectural design to 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . billiards lounge . . .

get what we wanted.

 

That project had two different rooms—a two-channel listening room and a media room that were both very open to the surrounding spaces, pretty much flanking the kitchen and breakfast-nook area. The entire right wall of the two-channel room was stone, surrounding a fireplace—which, of course, there’s nothing we can do about that—and the media room itself had a lot of glass, very much glass. So we’re always dealing with compromises in situations like that.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . and recording studio. Unique acoustic treatments and acoustically transparent finishes—including metal mesh, micro-perforated clear shades, and both exposed and concealed wood diffusion panels—were employed to achieve the desired aesthetic and acoustic performance. (photos courtesy of Audio Command Systems)

A lot of luxury homes, especially out west, favor very open floorplans and almost exclusively hard surfaces like wood floors, stone walls and fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows. And often the client wants their great room to double as a media room, which is usually the least conducive space in the home. That has to be a worst-case scenario for you.

We’ve certainly worked on rustic media rooms in Colorado, Utah—all that part of the country. And there are solutions, like monolithic plasters and 

micro-perforated woods, that can be used in an open-plan home to at least tame the sound, to help ensure it’s not just one echo chamber, one reverberant nightmare bleeding into the rest of the home. Also, trying to achieve as much tonal balance in the way the architectural materials are absorbing sound between low, medium, and high frequencies is essential. You have a fair chance of at least being able to enjoy a controlled room, even if it’s not dialed in with the level of finesse we would have in a dedicated room in a different type of architecture. It’s really important to understand that not every architectural style is going to lend itself to a fabric-wrapped room.

 

 

Home theaters are designed to be isolated, but in an open floorplan, the great room is often the physical center of the home. I would imagine you have to worry as much about the sound bleeding into the rest of the house as you do about the quality of sound in the room itself.

Because media rooms are outside that dedicated area, we often design them as part of the whole-house acoustic design. So we’re looking at various spaces throughout the home, not just for a high level of performance, but basically for general acoustic privacy.

 

If somebody wants to play a movie loud or have other types of entertainment, such as watching TV or playing video games, there’s really no way to stop that sound from completely taking over a good portion of an open-plan home. And that’s where we really have to think about the compromises. We have to think about it very holistically in terms of the

usage of the home.

 

Are we able to implement engineered absorptive/diffusive treatments, like we would in a dedicated room? Sometimes, but often not. Your left wall relative to the screen might be completely treatable because it’s just going to be bare sheetrock, but then the right wall is that huge stone fireplace we talked about.

 

 

Is it more important to get sonic symmetry—which is usually one of the key criteria when designing a 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve Haas with the Father of Home Theater (and
Cineluxe contributor), Theo Kalomirakis

listening room, media room, or home theater—or do you just place treatments where you can and not worry about the symmetry?

I would argue that symmetry is extremely important because even if the sound is compromised, you don’t want it to change drastically when you go from left to right across the room. As long as we can treat other surfaces (ceilings especially) and achieve overall control, this approach can get decent results.

 

 

A lot of these homes have large, open stairwells that feed directly into the great room area. That has to be a particularly big challenge.

That’s always a very important issue to raise, and there are a lot of times where the designers will say, “You know what? Yeah, we have to close off the stairwell. Otherwise, they will hear everything everywhere in the home.” And you can do that when you’re in early enough in the design process. There are creative ways to design contained stairwells that provide that type of sound control.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve calibrating a 38-channel audio system in a large event space for a private residence in Sydney, Australia

Some people would say that digital room correction—not the kind found in mass-market receivers but the higher-end implementations—can compensate for a lot of the problems you’ve been describing with media rooms.

Well, it can fix a lot, certainly—or I shouldn’t say “fix,” because it’s a matter of just taking what is already there and reducing what the physical space has done to compromise it. If you know your speakers are behaving fine out of the box, then you have to understand what makes them not perform optimally at those particular seats. And that has a lot to do with their interaction with elements of the room that aren’t perfectly controlled because of the compromises we’ve been talking about.

 

With today’s processors, whether it’s mid-level or certainly the higher-end processors, there are a lot of tools in place to do this. But it cannot be done fully in an automated fashion even with the best processors. They just don’t work well without somebody with trained ears and skills looking at their results and saying, “OK, that got me a fair distance forward. Now here’s what we need to do to tweak it. Here’s how to optimize it with a manual calibration to get that last 10 to 20%.”

 

It’s easy to understand why the processors some manufacturers claim are perfect and get perfect results really don’t. There are things acoustically that can be overcome with electronics and there are things that just cannot. If you have a room that is

all hard and reflective surfaces, whether it’s glass, sheet-rock, stone, you name it, there’s just nothing a processor can do to overcome the excessive reflections and reverberations.

 

Yet there are those who will claim they can. The end users and AV integrators really need to understand that you can bend the laws of physics, but you can’t break them. If you have speaker interactions with nearby hard surfaces that cause what’s called “comb filtering”—short delayed reflections that combine with the direct sound to cancel a series of frequencies—no  processor eliminate that. That is absolutely a physical correction that needs to be made to the interaction of the speakers with the surrounding room and the surfaces close to the speakers.

 

 

So, when you talk to a client, what do you tell them is the best you can achieve with a media room, compared to a dedicated home theater?

We can say that on a scale of 1 to 10, that it’s not going to be a 10. No media room I’ve ever worked on is a 10—essentially flawless acoustically. Now, do we have solid 9’s? Absolutely, because we’ve worked hard with the entire design team to make intelligent compromises that achieve a well-balanced experience that thrills the end user.

 

If something is going to be well below an 8 or 9, then the client needs to understand that. They need to get to the point where they say, “I’m OK with a 6 or 7 because I’m gaining all these other functions. I have these beautiful vistas of the mountains out this glass window. The stone fireplace is just over the top. Wonderful. All these things.” We have to always remember it’s not just about what we do and what we bring to the table. It’s the overall experience. And people sometimes are OK with balanced compromises.

 

 

Since you often find yourself being brought into a project later than you would prefer, what needs to happen to change that?

First of all, it’s educating homeowners and architects on what happens when you ignore the need for proper acoustics. And fortunately there are a lot of case studies, a lot of horror stories, we can share that say, “OK, here’s what happens when you ignore acoustics in any regard.” Either the quality in some cases or the privacy, the isolation of just general noise, allowing exterior noise or mechanical equipment noise to infiltrate the rest of your house.

 

I really do think the answer lies with the architects and designers because they have to be on board with saying, “You know what, we don’t want our houses just to look good or feel good. We want them to sound good as well.” And that is a stretch for a lot of visual designers. That’s no secret because it’s just not something they’re used to. And they also have a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to implement acoustics.

 

What we’re trying to do is basically quell those misconceptions to say, “There is a way to do this without turning your beautiful house into a science project or burlap panel or whatever.” The biggest challenge and biggest effort one can make is to let the designers understand that we can give homeowners a much better sensory experience and also add to the wellness factor of their home from multiple senses and not compromise in any appreciable way.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies

Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies

I am a congenital tightwad, yet I shell out a significant amount of money each year for subscription video-streaming services. The usual suspects show up on my credit card statements: Amazon Prime Video (as part of my annual Amazon Prime $119 subscription), Netflix ($15.99/month), and HBO ($14.99/month). In an unusually weak moment last June (albeit one I haven’t yet regretted), I signed up for a Mubi yearly subscription that set me back $95.58.

 

Despite well over $500 disappearing from my bank account over the course of a year, my go-to source for streaming movies (and other video content) hasn’t cost me a dime since I discovered it about eight months ago. I’m not talking about one of the more prominent, ad-supported services like Tubi—the self-proclaimed “world’s largest free ad-supported video on demand 

(AVOD) service”—or Pluto TV, the ad-supported streaming TV/VOD service. Instead, I’ve become enamored of Kanopy, a free service that’s mostly streamed under the radar of most cord-cutters.

 

Kanopy describes itself as “a video-

Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies

streaming platform dedicated to thoughtful and thought-provoking films” that was founded in 2008 “to provide academic institutions with essential films that foster learning and conversation.”

 

That was great as long as you were a student or faculty member at a participating university or college. Three years ago, though, Kanopy began offering its services to public libraries, a move that enabled anyone with a library card at a participating library to stream selections from Kanopy’s impressive collection of films and videos. Kanopy’s reach is pretty remarkable, too.

 

I must admit that when I read that Kanopy specializes in “thoughtful and thought-provoking films . . . that foster learning and conversation,” I assumed they meant either “boring as hell” or “incomprehensible high-concept art” flicks. Of course, one man’s cinematic gold is another man’s cure for insomnia. In this case, however, there’s enough variety among Kanopy’s 30,000-plus titles that you’d have to be the most contrarian, irritable, and thoroughly unlovable person on the planet (no offense intended for those of you who happen to fit that description) not to find something worth watching in the selections obtained from Kanopy’s 12,000-plus filmmaker and supplier partners. Some of the more recognizable of these partners include The Criterion Collection, Kino Lorber, Paramount, PBS, Film Movement, Oscilloscope Laboratories, and A24.

 

There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Movie

Although using Kanopy doesn’t cost anything directly, either in subscription fees or time spent watching advertisements, it isn’t really free. Your ability to use it is funded by the academic institution you’re associated with or your local public library.

 

“Just as libraries purchase books for their patrons to borrow,” the folks at Kanopy helpfully explain, “they also offer a variety of digital resources. Kanopy can provide its viewers with free access because the public library or university covers the associated costs, allowing patrons to watch for free, with no advertisements.” As a result, not just anyone with internet access 

can log into Kanopy and start streaming movies for free. You have to have a valid library membership with a participating public or institutional library.

 

Not every public library offers access to Kanopy as part of its digital services. In my case, I live near the county line that separates two public library systems. I’m a member of both thanks to reciprocal agreements among a handful of the regional libraries in my state, but only one of these two

a sampling of Kanopy’s film collections

(click on the images to enlarge)

systems offers Kanopy. (Both, on the other hand, do offer Hoopla, a digital service with fewer movies—a little more than 10,000 last time I checked—but Hoopla also includes access to music, audiobooks, ebooks, and comics.) Kanopy says its service is available in more than 4,000 libraries worldwide with more than 45 million public library patrons potentially able to stream titles from its collection.

 

Getting Credit Where Credit is Due

In addition to the library membership requirement, there are two other aspects related to using Kanopy that potentially limit its overall appeal. One is that Kanopy is a streaming-only service. Unlike Amazon Video, Netflix, and even Hoopla, it doesn’t offer downloads for offline viewing.

 

The other drawback is that some libraries may limit the number of videos a user can watch each month. Kanopy says this number will vary by library, but in my case, the limit is six plays/month. I’ve found other libraries that offer only four plays and some that allow eight per month.

 

The play credits reset at midnight on the first day of each calendar month. Unfortunately, unused play credits do not roll over into the following month. A play credit is deducted from your account once the video you’ve selected has played for five seconds (yikes!). After that, you have 72 hours to finish watching the video or, for that matter, watch it in its entirety as many times as you can fit into the 72-hour timespan without being charged for an additional credit.

 

There is one workaround for the play-credit limit, and it’s totally legit to use. When you create an account with Kanopy, you can link it to memberships from more than one library. That way, if you use all of your play credits from one library, you can switch to the next linked membership and begin using those play credits. I don’t have that luxury. My daughter, on the other hand, can use her access to our local public library as well as the library at the university where she goes to school.

Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies
Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies

Although my interest in Kanopy primarily involves its movie streaming library, it also offers over 6,200 educational titles from The Great Courses—plus an extensive collection of children’s titles, called Kanopy Kids. You can access the titles in either group without being charged any play credits.

 

Speaking of access, Kanopy makes it easy to access its service. In addition to streaming titles via a web browser on your computer, it has mobile apps for iOS and Android devices, as well as Amazon Fire tablets. There are also Kanopy apps for TV devices, including Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Roku, and Chromecast.

 

Free Isn’t Even the Best Part

As I mentioned at the outset, my inner penny-pincher is what initially drew my attention to Kanopy. But if I were to make a list of all the things I like about the service, the fact that it’s free would be near the bottom.

 

For some reason—and this is entirely subjective—I am quite fond of the interface. In many respects, it’s not that much different from the look and feel of the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video interfaces. Kanopy’s, however, is more subdued (much like, dare I say it, a library), whereas navigating the others is more akin to dodging salespeople as you wander through a big-box store.

 

I especially appreciate the fact that Kanopy’s “Browse by Subjects” page is unadorned and straightforward, with none of the incessantly blinking “Watch Me!” banners or the prominent placement of each service’s exclusive content. I’ve also found that the selections offered under the “Related videos” and “People who watched this also watched” tabs are much more appealing than the suggestions I usually get from Amazon or Netflix—so much so that my watchlist of movies on Kanopy continues to grow faster than I’m able to enjoy them. (I’m up to 216 at the moment, but I always end up adding two or three movies for each one I watch.)

Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies

Kanopy’s theatrical selection, while not being as wide as Amazon’s or Netflix’s (ever-shrinking) options when it comes to standard box-office fare, is first-rate if you’re a fan of silent movies, classics, foreign, or independent films. Just as a quick example, the latest searches I did came up with 50 releases from The Criterion Collection, nearly 950 from Kino Lorber, 86 from A24, and 152 from Samuel Goldwyn Films. Since Kanopy’s catalog covers over 100 years of filmmaking, the picture quality will vary. Many of the early titles are remastered, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Metropolis (the meticulously restored 149-minute original-length version as well as 1984’s color-tinted, 84-minute reconstruction Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis that includes a most unfortunate MTV-era pop soundtrack). Other films, including many of the selections from the DEFA Film Library’s collection of East German films, are unaltered from the original source and will exhibit scratches and other flaws.

 

OK, So It Isn’t for Everyone

For most people, Kanopy won’t replace all of their other streaming services. For folks without library (public or academic) memberships, it won’t even be an option. Anyone who regularly streams more than one movie a week will likely exhaust their available play credits before the end of each month. Fans who like to binge-watch sitcoms won’t find much to watch. (Although there is an episode of “Screenwriting 101” from The Great Courses called “The Sitcom: The Simpsons” available—and viewing it doesn’t count against your play credits, either.) I can tell you that I use Kanopy often enough that I’ve moved it to the top of the list of apps on my Roku Ultra’s home screen.

 

One final note about the hidden costs behind Kanopy. I know next to nothing about the economics of libraries. Nor do I know virtually anything about the way the various movie-industry players, especially the independents, make (or lose) money. Kanopy says that “On average, over 50% of the revenue collected from public libraries and academic institutions is paid to the independent film market through royalties.” To me, that sounds fantastic. But evidently, the cost to the libraries of providing Kanopy to their patrons is not insignificant. If you’re interested in the gritty economic underbelly of the Kanopy/Public Library/Academia ecosystem, check out Chris Cagle’s “Kanopy: Not Just Like Netflix, and Not Free” post from May 2019 at Film Quarterly.

Darryl Wilkinson

During his 33 years of tenure in the consumer-electronics industry, Darryl Wilkinson
has made a career out of saying things that sound like they could be true about topics
he knows next to nothing about. He is currently Editor-at-Large for
Sound & Vision, and
sometimes writes things that can be read—if you have nothing else to do—elsewhere.
His biggest accomplishment to date has been making a very fashionable Faraday
cage hoodie.

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

What we do seems frivolous at times like this, but is it?

 

A time like this elicits many thoughts and emotions. Naturally, concern ranks high on that list. However, self-reflection may also arise. What can we do to help? Are we doing enough? How about our work. Is it relevant? Is it frivolous?

 

As a private-cinema design and engineering firm, this last consideration resonates. In the gamut of career paths, from first responders, doctors, nurses, and public-safety providers to those of us providing entertainment solutions, we might think of

ourselves as being on the unimportant end of the spectrum. Certainly, in times of immediate crisis, screening a film or the availability of background music are not urgent needs.

 

Not everyone can be on the front lines. Just like theater designers and integrators, most who own or are considering private cinemas or other similar entertainment amenities are more of the entrepreneur type. Entrepreneurs’ contributions to society include providing careers, stimulating the economy, and providing products and services that enrich the lives of others. Where would we be without these things? All of us look forward to when we can get back to business and on with our lives.

 

And what about that? What our lives will look like is an important consideration. Undeniably, they will be different. How so is yet to be determined. That determination is in many ways up to us. Individually, we can choose to shrink away, following recent trends even further into an isolated lifestyle, connecting electronically but leaving more tangible contact in the past. Too risky. 

 

And what about those pursuits that feed our happiness—fine dining, art, and entertainment, among others? These will change for certain. But it will serve no good purpose to compromise on life well lived. It is vital that we continue to pursue and celebrate the best that life has to offer. Our meals should be exquisite; we must find beauty and appreciate it. We are created to celebrate and enjoy. 

 

But not alone. A 75-year Harvard study tells us that it is the quality of our relationships that counts. Good relationships keep us healthier, happier, and living longer. So, it isn’t just about finding things to enjoy, it is about enjoying them with those we love. We know this but we don’t always act on it. We are more likely to grab a bite on the run than prepare a meal to enjoy together. Plug in our earbuds instead of going to a concert and stream the latest movie on our device rather than go out to the movies.

 

Next to dining together, group entertainment activities are the most important times for building togetherness. Unfortunately, these facts do not bode well for us given 

today’s trends. It seems the mad rush to do more has resulted in our doing less of the more important things. We do not take the time to savor a meal together. Instead we rush to a convenient eatery to sit at the same table miles apart from others as we check email, social media, and text before rushing off to the next pressing activity. Would it make a difference if the dining experience were more compelling—a meaningful occasion, capable of breaking the spell of our urgent lives, enabling us for a time to pause, connect, and enjoy the time and each other? 

 

Applying this logic to our entertainment activities, we can see that private cinema has much to offer. First of all, movies are intended to draw us away from the whirlwind of life and into a story. Using our emotions, thoughts, and senses, film is the one artform capable of engaging us so completely. The result is a connection.

Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?

This CEDIA Gold Award-winning private cinema was designed and engineered
by Paradise Theater and installed by DSI Luxury Technology

Even in a public theater, strangers laugh, curse, and cry together. How much moreso if the audience is family and friends gathered together. The private cinema experience itself becomes an event and a destination. Important if we are to realize the benefits of gathering. It is too easy to multi-task our way through casual gatherings, thus failing to connect. Choosing to come together for the purpose of enjoying an anticipated movie or program and sharing that experience is singularly bonding. What’s more, private cinemas, when well done, are particularly attractive spaces. It’s easy to lose track of time when ensconced within these environs. A private cinema is an altogether appealing diversion!

 

None too soon, there will come a time for us all to put this social distancing behind. In the meantime, we can all do our part to stay safe and make those first responders’ and public servants’ jobs easier. Those of us in business can be diligent to maintain our enterprises and supply the jobs, products, and services we have under our purview.

 

We in the entertainment-related industries can take heart that what we do will be essential to our society as we recover. Who knows, we might have some impact in doing it better this time around as we offer ways to make our homes into places that draw us together rather than staying apart. Where our love of life, beauty, family, and friends can be more contagious than any virus. After all, it is transmitted with laughter and a smile. Both pretty common occurrences in a private theater.

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

As I mentioned in my Goldfinger review, my dad was always a Connery man. It was the Bond he started out with and who he associated with the character. Roger Moore was the Bond I grew up with, and his looser style and cooler gadgets—thanks to improvements in Q Branch no doubt—resonated with me. For years, For Your Eyes Only was my favorite installment in the franchise.

 

However, as I got older, read the Ian Fleming (and John Gardner and Raymond Benson) novels for myself, and had more Bond options, I realized Moore really wasn’t the best representation of this character. Where Moore was quick with a quip or 

tongue-in-cheek comeback, Fleming’s Bond was often brutal and not into trading barbs of the verbal variety. He went about his business of killing with professional detachment; taking no joy in the act, but never shying away from it.

 

In Fleming’s own words, “I didn’t intend for Bond to be likable. He’s a blunt instrument in the hand of government. He’s got vices and few perceptible virtues.”

 

In many ways, Timothy Dalton got closest to this brutal edge that was the literary Bond. Unfortunately, though, he hit the not-likable part a little too literally for much of the Bond viewership.

 

For me, the Bond films reached a franchise low-point with Pierce Brosnan. I initially had high-hopes for him after Goldeneye, but then the Brosnan films started relying too much on gadgetry and ridiculousness. (Denise Richards as 

ROYALE AT A GLANCE

Daniel Craig’s first foray as 007 shows a less pretty, more brutal Bond, more in line with Ian Fleming’s conception of the legendary super spy. 

 

PICTURE     

The transfer is mostly good, revealing lots of detail, and HDR helps give everything a convincingly natural look. 

 

SOUND

The 5.1-channel mix is dynamic and active, properly placing you in the scene, whether it’s a rain storm, a chase through a construction site, or the ambience of an airport terminal.

nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough?! Ugh . . .). And when we finally got to Bond parasailing a giant wave into enemy territory, followed by racing around in an invisible car, and a cameo of a fencing Madonna in 2002’s Die Another Day, well, I didn’t think I had another day to give.

 

That is, until we got Daniel Craig.

 

Remember, though, that when Craig was initially cast, the world was anything but supportive. The press dubbed him “the blonde Bond,” a clear departure from Fleming’s descriptions, and fans were similarly dismissive. (Fleming, by the way, several times describes Bond as looking like singer, songwriter, actor Hoagy Carmichael. A passage from Moonraker describes Bond as “certainly good-looking . . .  Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”)

 

With four years between Day and Casino Royale, it gave the franchise a chance to cool off. And by the time Royale came out, Bond was ready for a much-needed reboot, not only with a new leading man, but with an entirely new realism and edge, reborn in the 21st Century.

 

Casino Royale is the first Fleming novel, a fitting point for the series to restart from, and the film opens in gritty, grainy, ultra-high-contrast black-and-white where we see a relatively inexperienced Bond new on the job. This is a Bond yet to earn his 00-license, which we quickly learn requires two kills to attain. The first kill is a brutal, personal, up-close-and-ugly affair that doesn’t go quick. The second is . . . easier.

 

Gone are the quips and jokes. This is the brutal blunt instrument Fleming imagined.

 

After Brosnan’s heavy reliance on gadgetry, here we have a Bond utterly stripped of gadgets and tricks. (Though you’ll notice several key instances of Sony product placement throughout.) Instead, we see Bond at his best, relying on his guts, brains, 

and self to outwit and scramble out of trouble. Craig is clearly—and visibly—in fantastic shape, and he isn’t the “pretty Bond” of his predecessors. His grappler’s body is scarred, and his face shows the wear of numerous fights and the hard life Bond leads, but when we see Craig thrust into Bond’s world, he is utterly believable.

 

Fleming’s Bond also had a voracious appetite for liquor, and his consumption

Casino Royale (2006)

of bottles of wine, champagne, and hard liquor at meals would have made Don Draper look like a teetotaler. We get a sense of that here, with Bond drinking heavily. We are also introduced to the Vesper, a martini of Bond/Fleming’s creation. (Finding key ingredient Kina Lillet can often be a challenge if trying to recreate this for yourself.)

 

There are many things that separate this Bond—both film and character—from the others. For one, the overall tone of the film is just darker, moodier, and more intense. We also get the series’ most brutal onscreen torture scene; one pulled directly from the book. Where other villains monologue about what they are planning to do to Bond, here Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) just gets down to business.

 

Also different is the character- and relationship-building we see developing between Bond and those around him, notably Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), M (Judi Densch), and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). The dialogue between Bond and these characters is sharp and fast, smart and poignant, looking well past the opportunity to simply work in some witty quip, but actually interested in developing the story and characters and challenging Bond. It also helps make him seem more human and relatable and vulnerable. Here we see a Bond who has fallen in love, who lets his armor down and decides to commit to another person and resign from MI6 before it consumes—or kills—him.

 

The movie is long. At 2:24, it is the second-longest Bond film, giving it plenty of time to develop the story and the characters. The Texas Hold ‘Em card game at the titular casino in Montenegro between Bond and Le Chiffre lasts a long time, but manages to keep tension and remain engaging without feeling overly long. It succeeds here because of the dialogue 

between characters, the developments on and off the table, and the way the game is broken up, allowing the players to rest and go about other business. Further, changing the game from baccarat (Bond’s preferred game in the novels) to poker for the film was another brilliant stroke. Baccarat’s rules are far more basic, making a simpler and less complex game, and wouldn’t have given this lengthy battle of wits and wills the same tension or pacing.

 

Shot on 35mm film, this is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, and images look mostly great throughout, but image quality doesn’t always rise to that ultimate reference-quality level. The opening black-and-white images remind me of some Kodak professional film stock I once used at a wedding, resulting in images that are either deep black or pure bright white, giving it a stark look that pops in HDR. The whites look a bit overexposed, revealing some speckles and giving it a (likely intended) gritty look to capture Bond’s admission into the 00 ranks.

 

Closeups reveal tons of facial detail, as well as the fabrics in clothing such as the fine detail and texturing in Rene Mathis’ (Giancarlo Giannini) tie, the pebbled texture in Bond’s 

tuxedo shirt or the delicate white-on-white V pattern in his suspenders. It also resolves literally single strands that have fallen loose from Vesper’s hair. Exterior shots in Montenegro and Venice also look fantastic, with buildings having brilliant sharp edges and definition, and full of color.

 

It’s the mid-length shots, such as when the camera pulls back at the gaming table, that don’t seem to have the same sharpness, almost as if a different lens or film stock was used, slightly pulling you out of the fantasy world.

 

There are a lot of night scenes, either driving around the streets of Miami or a chase outside an airport, or the bright lights illuminating the gaming table, and these benefit from HDR’s deep blacks and bright whites. We also get a lot of “natural” bright reflections as sun reflects brightly off rocks, or gleams on sweating faces and bodies. Outdoor scenes just look more 

real and natural with the wider contrast range. I didn’t find that the film makes much use of HDR’s wider color gamut, but skin tones look natural, as does a dust-filled embassy and the green foliage in a jungle. 

 

I was initially bothered that we didn’t get a new audio mix here, instead getting a “basic” 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master audio track, but fortunately, that disappointment didn’t last long as Royale’s soundtrack is dynamic and active. (It’s also worth mentioning that the disc release also contains the same 5.1-mix—no Atmos or DTS:X.)

 

Audio is used extensively throughout to properly place you in the environment, and a quality home theater processor’s upmixer does an admirable job creating a truly immersive mix. During an early scene, rain is pouring overhead, and the mix does a great job of putting that water up above you. As Bond runs through a construction site, the room comes alive with sounds of the site, with drilling, cutting, welding, and distant shouts all surrounding you. While in the airport, the room fills with sounds of passengers chatting and PA announcements. And during the interrogation scene, the audio takes on the low-ceilinged flat echo quality of the small space, with water dripping and splashing periodically in the corners.

 

There is plenty of gunfire throughout, and the dynamics are loud and sharp, 

Casino Royale (2006)

capturing the crack of the bullet and the sonic characteristics of various weapons. During the battle at the embassy compound, bullets hit and crash all around, with glass shattering, impacts striking walls, and debris falling and splintering. When called on, bass is authoritative, with impacts, collisions, and explosions sending waves of bass energy through the room.

 

Dialogue is well presented and easy to understand, as is the equally important—and beautiful sounding—12-cylinder engine note of the Aston Martin DBS (a car I actually got to spend an entire weekend with driving around New York several years ago . . .).

 

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy this film. From start to finish, Casino Royale is engaging, engrossing, and entertaining, and is the truest version of James Bond as Ian Fleming imagined and wrote. Fans of the series will want to own this movie looking and sounding its best, but even non-Bond fans will find plenty of action and intrigue here that will leave them shaken not stirred.

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.

Expandable Media Room Systems

Expandable Media Room Systems
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

When making a choice between a multi-use media room system and a dedicated home theater, it’s important to remember that each approach has its own upsides and downsides. With a dedicated home theater, every element of the room—from décor to seating to lighting and of course the AV gear itself—is selected, engineered, and installed with one goal in mind: An

optimized moving-watching experience.

 

With media rooms, that isn’t the case, of course. Movie night is just one among innumerable activities you’ll likely use the room for. So dialing in that Nth degree of performance isn’t always as predictable a process.

 

On the other hand, media rooms have one big benefit most dedicated home theaters lack: Easy expandability and upgradability. And that’s what we’re focusing on in this second installment of our ongoing series on complete media-room solutions.

 

Last time around, we started with the most basic media room system imaginable: A great TV, a high-performance soundbar, and a single source component. This time, the focus is on similar systems that leave you a little more room to grow.

 

Two Types of Expandability

What does that mean, though, “room to grow”? It’s an acknowledgment of the fact that many luxury soundbar solutions are designed as the starting point of a larger entertainment system.

 

But that manifests itself in two different ways. In some cases, the soundbar you install beneath your TV can be augmented with additional speakers to form a room-filling surround sound home cinema speaker system. In others, 

the soundbar functions as the main speaker in a larger multiroom distributed music system. Which approach is right for you is a discussion you and your integrator should have, but we’ll be digging into both.

 

An Upgrade to Real Surround Sound

In our first post, we mentioned luxury manufacturers like James Loudspeakers and Leon Speakers, whose soundbars require external amplification and sound processing. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, since most soundbars come 

packing their own amps and decoding and such. But one big upside of the “passive” soundbar approach (so-called because speakers with built-in amps are referred to as “active”) is that you can grow the system exactly as you would any other speaker system.

 

Say you start with a Leon Horizon speaker custom-made to fit the exact dimensions and aesthetic of your TV. Since you’ll already be using a surround sound processor (like Anthem’s AVM 60 or Lyngdorf’s MP-50) and matching amps to power the soundbar, it’s not that difficult at all to add additional speakers now or down the road. You might want to add a couple of Leon’s Vault in-wall speakers near the back of the room for an elegant (and practically invisible) surround sound solution. You could also go one step further 

and add two or four of the company’s Axis in-ceiling speakers for a complete Dolby Atmos speaker system, all without replacing the soundbar under your TV.

 

Granted, your system will start to get a little complicated to operate at this point, so you’ll likely want to add an advanced control system from one of the Big Three automation manufacturers—Control4, Savant, or Crestron—along with an accompanying remote control.

 

The Foundation of a Whole Home’s Worth of Music

If, on the other hand, you read all of the above and thought, “Nah, I’m shopping for soundbars because I want simplicity,” that doesn’t mean you’re totally cut off from future upgrades or expansions. With many luxury manufacturers—Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen, just to name two—the soundbar actually becomes the centerpiece of a wireless multiroom music-distribution system (think Sonos, just a lot fancier).

 

Andrew Robinson has already written extensively about his experience with B&W’s Formation Duo wireless speakers. The Formation Bar is part of that same line, which means you can not only link them together and share music in every room of the house at the touch of a button, but you can also mix and match components in the line. The same subwoofer Andrew used to augment his stereo speakers—dubbed the Formation Bass—can be paired with the Formation Bar to add a little extra kick to the bottom end.

What’s more, the Formation Flex—the smallest speaker in the Formation lineup—can be mated with the Formation Bar to create a complete surround sound setup without the need for any additional wires. Granted, it’s not as expandable as the surround sound configurations listed above, in that you can’t do Atmos or expand past 5.1 channels at all. But given the multiroom capabilities of the system, that may be a tradeoff worth you’re willing to make.

 

Putting It All Together

As you can see from all of the above, things start to get a little more complicated at this level, but not too much. So if you’re looking for a simple soundbar media room setup that’s a little more flexible and expandable than the system covered in our first post, you first need to decide whether you want to expand within the room you’re in or outward into the rest of the home.

 

If it’s the former, a top-tier OLED or LED TV plus a James Loudspeaker or Leon Speakers soundbar, paired with a good surround sound processor and amp, gives you plenty of room to add additional speakers as you see fit. Add an advanced control from the likes of Control4, Savant, or Crestron, and your movie nights will be better than ever.

 

If, on the other hand, multiroom music is more your speed, a good TV plus a Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar and Formation Bass subwoofer (plus a couple of Formation Flex speakers, if you want surround sound) will not only elevate your movie-watching experience, but will also let you tap into one of the most sophisticated, stylish, and high-performance distributed-music systems on the market today.

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.

Goldfinger

Goldfinger

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

 

There is perhaps no more iconic introduction catchphrase in the history of cinema, a line cribbed and lampooned countless times in nearly as many different genres.

 

Say the name “James Bond” and it immediately conjures a host of similar images in people’s minds. Bond, ever cool under pressure, gliding through a world inhabited by fast women and faster cars, pitted against ruthless super-villains bent on world 

domination. Bond, always perfectly attired, knowing the right thing to say or do in any situation, doing whatever necessary to complete the assignment at hand regardless the risk, saving the world and leaving with the girl.

 

Bond is the original man men wish they could be, and women wish they could be with.

 

While Ian Fleming’s Bond was a popular character in literary fiction—President Kennedy mentioning that From Russia With Love was one of his favorite books led to it becoming the second film in the franchise—it wasn’t until Bond hit the big screen with Dr. No in 1962 that he truly caught on and hit worldwide acclaim.

 

I came to Agent 007 through my father, and I can remember watching the latest Bond adventure when it would hit TV, gaping at the opening title sequences as each film revealed more and more inches of female skin, and wondering what incredible gadget the super-spy would have up his sleeve (quite literally in the case of the Rolex Submariner he wore in many of the early films). 

GOLDFINGER AT A GLANCE

The third—and maybe best known—of the Bond films looks pristine in this 4K transfer, which wipes away decades of grime from the image, giving you the sense you’re looking through the lens while the film was being shot. 

 

PICTURE     

So sharp and clean that it enhances iconic imagery like the film’s famous gold bars and bodies, but also accentuates occasional flaws, like painted backdrops and mismatched shots.

 

SOUND

The surround mix, derived from the film’s original mono soundtrack, is limited, but does add atmosphere to the Fort Knox scenes and some zip to Oddjob’s infamous flying hat.

My dad, who read all the Fleming (and subsequent John Gardner and Raymond Benson books), was a Sean Connery man, faithful to the original. And while Bond is now entrenched in the world’s consciousness, it’s likely there would be no Bond today had the casting fallen short with that first film.

 

Bond needed to be able to handle himself physically, but not be so big that he stood out. With a weightlifting and boxing background, and an imposing 6-foot 2-inch height, Connery fit the bill. He also needed to have enough style and charm that he could fit in playing baccarat with millionaires in Monte Carlo, or be believable driving around in an Aston Martin with a 

beauty at his side, but also be equally at home getting his hands dirty when the time called for it. Connery’s Bond oozed confidence and cool, and he wore the character like a second skin, setting the benchmark against which all future Bonds would be judged; and launching a franchise character who has now survived 26 films by a variety of actors and spanning seven decades.

 

Goldfinger comes to us renewed in 4K resolution, looking impossibly clean and fresh for a film that is now 56 years old. A final credits screen displays “Pristine Digital Restoration by Lowery Digital Images, a DTS company.” Lowery Digital won the right to restore the Bond films for Blu-ray back in 2004, and the company did significant work on the films at that time, repairing damage and doing digital cleanup, and making a full 4K scan of each frame. It’s likely that these are the 4K scans taken at that time, and also why we don’t have versions of these early films featuring HDR.

 

Today, the Bond opening title sequences are mini-features of their own, and Goldfinger is the first Bond film to really push the opening to be something more than just a song 

and credits. While the title sequence is incredibly tame by modern standards, with just clips from the film projected onto scantily clad gold-colored models while Shirley Bassey belts out the title track letting you know beyond any question that Goldfinger loves only gold, it was the first step that got us to where we are today.

 

The first thing you notice about Goldfinger is that it is presented in a slightly odd (albeit the original theatrical) aspect ratio of 1.66:1. When accurately presented, this will not quite fill out a 16:9 display, with small black pillarbox bars to the left and right of the image.

 

The next thing you notice is how clean images look. It is as if they polished off years of grime and neglect from a window, giving you a startling glimpse into what the cinematographer saw through the lens over 50 years ago. There is no dirt, specks, debris, or other nasties to detract from the image. Closeups are stunningly sharp and detailed, with edges in razor-sharp focus. Any scene where the camera pulls in tight reveals tons of micro detail and texture, whether in clothing, faces, playing

cards, or building details. You can actually see the dirt under Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) fingernails. There are also plenty of opportunities to appreciate the varieties of fabric in Bond’s suits or see the sharp and jaggie-free lines in the vertical stripes of Felix Leiter’s (Cec Linder) seersucker hat.

 

Colors pop, especially in bright outdoor scenes. A 

Goldfinger

helicopter shot panning across a hotel and over a pool in Miami dazzles with bright gleaming whites and tons of appropriate bikini-clad skin tones, and golds shimmer with appropriate luster, whether in bars or the paint covering Jill Masterson’s (Shirley Eaton) body. Blacks are nice and dark, and noise-free. A shot with Bond in a tuxedo clearly shows the different shade and sheen of his lapels compared to the rest of the jacket.

 

Not everything is perfect here, though, as the razor-sharp focus reveals the limitations of some of the technology at the time. For example, many of the shots around the pool where Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is playing cards are so crisp, the blurred backgrounds look to be obvious backdrops. The same effect is visible again when Bond is driving Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet) around Switzerland in the famous Aston Martin DB5. And while closeups look tack-sharp, longer shots often don’t fare nearly so well. The famous scene where Bond is strapped to the laser cutting table —“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”—jarringly cuts back and forth, with the far shots looking much softer, almost like a completely different film.

Also, the opening sequence where Bond is coming out of the water in his scuba suit has an odd frame speed-up where he appears to move in double-speed for a second. On first viewing, I thought perhaps I’d imagined it, but it is definitely there and clearly a speed shift. This is not unique to the Kaleidescape download, so it’s something from the source material, perhaps due to damage or to lost elements.

 

Sonically, Goldfinger comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master soundtrack, but as the original film included a mono soundmix, you can’t expect too much from this. And, well, it doesn’t deliver much in the way of actual surround sound. The film is primarily spread across the front three channels, with little bass activity even during explosions. Gunshots have some nice dynamics, but a modern soundmix this isn’t. Even still, dialogue is well presented and every word is easily understood, and we also get some nice atmosphere, such as the audio inside the cavernous Fort Knox at the end or Oddjob’s (Harold Sakata) hat sailing past. 

 

As mentioned, Goldfinger is not the first or even second Bond film, but rather the third, and is actually the seventh novel in Fleming’s series. However, by this point in both the film and literary world, Bond was truly hitting his stride. He was 

Goldfinger

established as the world’s greatest secret agent, helped by a Q-Branch producing high-tech gadgets in the form of one of the most iconic vehicles ever committed to film, with Connery starting to lighten up with some quips—“Shocking. Positively shocking,” after electrocuting a baddie in a bathtub—with perhaps the most on-the-nose Bond-girl name ever in Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), and producing one of the most memorable villains in the series. The film scored a franchise-high critics rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes as well as tying the franchise-high audience rating of 89%, and it comes to the home looking as good as you’ve ever seen it.

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.

Are People Watching Hollywood’s Early Releases?

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Hollywood Dives Deep Into Day & Date” that discussed the different strategies major studios were taking in light of commercial theaters around the world closing in response to the virus pandemic.

 

As a quick recap, we’ve seen studios taking one of five actions with films either released or just about to be released.

 

1) Release them on a Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) rental model.

2) Release them for sale digitally.

3) Release them directly to streaming sites like Netflix.

4) Push the theatrical release date to a new date.

5) Postpone the theatrical release date indefinitely.

 

Universal Studios decided on a PVOD model for Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, which you can rent for $19.99, with a 48-hour viewing window. Universal is also going to make the Trolls sequel available for PVOD rental on what would

have been the day of its theatrical release, April 10.

 

Disney accelerated the release dates for two major films, bringing Frozen II to its Disney+ streaming service months ahead of schedule, and upping the digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by several days.

 

Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Lionsgate followed by making movies released theatrically between March 7-13 available for digital purchase. Disney then released the latest Pixar film, Onward, for digital purchase just two weeks after its theatrical release, followed by its availability for streaming on Disney+ just two weeks later.

Paramount Pictures decided to send its upcoming comedy, The Lovebirds, originally scheduled for theatrical release on April 3, directly to Netflix for streaming (no date currently available).

 

With all of these changes, it had us at Cineluxe wondering if this was having an impact on the viewing habits of viewers. Were people renting or buying these movies? If so, which ones? And, if not, why?

 

We put together a brief seven-question survey that received a total of 117 responses—certainly not a big enough response to be definitive, but enough to get a snapshot of what movie lovers are doing in these atypical times. (If you took the time to take the survey, thank you!)

 

I posted the survey in a variety of Facebook groups, including Home Theater Enthusiasts, Kaleidescape Users Group, Dolby Atmos Home Users, and UHD 4K Blu-ray Collectors, as well as at the Kaleidescape Owner’s Forum, with the goal of targeting people in the habit of regularly watching movies at home.

 

Here are the results along with a bit of commentary.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

click on the images to enlarge them

Question 1 dealt with PVOD rentals, with 2/3 of respondents saying either they had rented or planned to rent a title.

 

Question 2 followed up asking why people had not rented a title. The lack of quality was the biggest reason, indicated by 34% of respondents, as none of these PVOD titles were made available in 4K HDR video or with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. In second place with 25% was the lack of interest in the titles, with 20% saying the $19.99 price was too high.

 

Question 2 also offered a separate Other/Comment box that received quite a few answers. Ten people said they only buy movies, not rent; four said there were plenty of other movies to watch; two said it was the lack of quality of rental titles; one said the films weren’t available in a foreign language; and one said they only rented because they had a coupon.

 

Question 3 asked about purchasing early-release titles, and offered the ability to check multiple answers, which is why the results total more than 100%. Respondents could answer “Yes, but I would have bought it anyway” (36.36%), “Yes, I bought because of special pricing” (16.16%), “Yes, I bought because it was available early” (32.32%), or “No, haven’t purchased any of them” (40.40%).

 

The interesting thing is that the lower price of these titles had very little impact on the purchase decision, whereas the early availability motivated nearly one-third of purchases. If studios are looking to spur purchases in the future, shortening the theatrical window could be an option.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 4

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 5

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 6

Question 4 asked where people went to purchase these titles. The overwhelming weight of Kaleidescape purchases (33.33%) is telling for a few reasons. One, with the survey posted at the Kaleidescape Users Group on Facebook and at the Kaleidescape Owners’ Forum, it’s clear this is a passionate group actively interested in discussions about movies. Two, it’s logical that people investing in a high-end movie server like a Kaleidescape Strato would be interested in getting the latest releases. Three, it suggests Kaleidescape owners are among the highest percentage of movie buyers.

 

Apple held the next highest share at 21.51%, followed by Amazon (16.13%) and Vudu (12.90%). It’s also comforting to see that “Torrent Site” (a common means of getting nefarious, pirated content at no charge) received zero votes. In addition to the options listed, DirecTV, YouTube, and Xfinity all received one write-in. 

 

Question 5 asked if people were watching more movies recently, not streaming series or TV programming. Hollywood should take comfort in the fact that 64% responded they were watching either far more, or more than normal, showing that many still view movies as a primary source of entertainment. 

 

Question 6 asked which of the early-release titles people had watched at home, with a list of eight of the most popular current movies and allowing for multiple responses. Not surprisingly, the Top Three films are all ones available for purchase instead of rental, with the most-watched film being Pixar’s Onward at 37%. Onward had only been in theaters for two weeks, and was the Number One film in the country when theaters closed. In second place at 29% is Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, which benefitted from a full theatrical run but was released to home for purchase several weeks earlier than usual. And rounding out the Top Three is Sony’s Bloodshot at 23%, the latest Vin Diesel sci-fi/action title, which had been in theaters for 

roughly the same amount of time as Onward.

 

Call of the Wild, Downhill, Dr. Doolittle, I Still Believe, and Bacurau all received single write-ins. (While Trolls World Tour received 3% of the votes, it actually won’t be available for PVOD rental until April 10.)

 

Question 7 offered the same title choices, but this time asked if people did or would have seen any of these movies in the theater. With this question, I was trying to get a sense of how much theatrical revenue was lost due to films being released at home instead of the commercial theater.

 

Again, Onward and Birds of Prey were one and two, but this time with order reversed. The Way Back, the new Ben Affleck sports drama, actually benefitted from the home release, with only 1% saying they would have seen it in the theater, compared to 14% who purchased the title. Another title that benefitted was the controversial The Hunt, which had just over 8% saying they would see it 

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 7

in the theater compared to 11% renting it at home. Perhaps most telling is that more than 57% of respondents said they would not have seen any of these films commercially.

 

The final question asked if people missed going to commercial theaters. We often hear about the death of the commercial cinema experience due to a variety of factors, however this is split almost down the middle, with 48% saying they do miss commercial theaters, 30% saying they don’t really miss the theater and that viewing at home is much better, and 22% saying they rarely went to commercial theaters before.

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 8

Now that we are forced to spend so much time in isolation, will the communal experience be something we long to return to, or will it become something we look back at if this happens to change the movie-distribution model forever . . ? Only time will tell.

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.

“The Lord of the Rings” in Disquieting Times

The Lord of the Rings in Disquiet Times

Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist,
but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.  —Neil Gaiman

 

My wife and I have, for the better part of the past two decades, had one unwavering Christmas tradition. Once the stockings are emptied and the paper and bows either stashed away for reuse or thrown away if ripped beyond repair, we put on our pajamas and snuggle up on the couch to watch The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition trilogy. All 12 hours of it, although as our hairs get grayer and our bedtime creeps closer to dusk, we don’t always make it to The Return of the King, the third film in the trilogy, until Boxing Day. Some years we even dig through all 21 hours’ worth of the Appendices—six discs’ worth of bonus features that remain to this day the most thorough and engaging supplements ever included with a home video release.

This past Christmas, we broke that tradition. Not for lack of time or desire, mind you, but simply due to whispers and rumors of a pending 4K/HDR remaster (or, as some claim, a full-on restoration) of the films, slated for release sometime in 2020. The wait, we both agreed, would make our next viewing that much sweeter.

That was barely more than three months ago, but it seems like years. Which may be why my wife (who’s classified as an essential worker and as such has to venture out every day in the midst of this pandemic, at a time when the rest of us are being encouraged—or ordered—to stay at home) crumpled into bed in tears late last week and said to me in a hushed half-sob, “I need the trilogy right now.” 

 

I didn’t need to ask which trilogy.

 

What I didn’t realize when I patted her shoulder and whispered an affirmative, though, is that the films we would soon watch would end up being very different from the ones we’ve known and loved for so long.

 

“’I amar prestar aen’ . . . The world is changed.”   —Galadriel, Lady of Lórien

 

The Lord of the Rings has always been a work of fiction that looked different depending on the perspective of the reader (or, since 2001, the viewer). When it was first published in the mid-1950s, audiences saw this tale of goblins and elves, wizards and dwarves, dark lords and magical rings as something of an allegory for World War II, with the One Ring symbolizing the atomic bomb, Sauron representing Hitler, and the Men of the West standing in for  . . . well, I think you can figure that one out.

 

The flower children of the 1960s latched onto the book and its pro-nature/anti-industrialization elements and subsumed it into the counterculture, making “Frodo Lives” something of a shibboleth for the hippies and the disaffected Frisbee-throwers that 

succeed them. By the time I discovered the book as a lad in the 1980s, many of us Gen-Xers viewed it as a prescient rebuke of crony capitalism and free-market fundamentalism. And of course, in the era in which Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations were released, I don’t think any of us could help viewing the story through the filter of 9/11 (though they were filmed before that dark day).

 

J.R.R. Tolkien would have bristled at all of these interpretations, despite the fact that he was somewhat responsible for them. In his foreword to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, the Professor (as we Tolkienites call him) famously wrote: “I cordially dislike 

allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history—true or feigned—with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of the reader. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

 

Given that, perhaps the highest praise I can heap upon Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations is that his films lend themselves to exactly the same sort of reinterpretation, in exactly the same way, and for many of the same reasons. Especially in the dark days that are upon us.

 

“It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and
doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing.”   —Boromir

 

Professor Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1937, not only as a sequel to The Hobbit, but also as a way of tying it into the larger legendarium that he first started to construct in the trenches during World War I. The book ended up being so much more than that: A vehicle for his love of language and linguistics, a delivery mechanism for his own philosophy and theology, a way of working out his frustrations with Shakespeare (especially Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But at the heart of The Lord of the Rings are Tolkien’s own experiences in World War I, where he lost most of his college friends (save one, Colin Cullis, who died in 1919, likely a victim of the H1N1 pandemic).

 

In part, one of the things he seemed most interested in conveying with the book is the horror of war, certainly, but also the cost of victory—the way in which a person is forever changed by such experiences. More so than that, though, the Professor seems intent upon conveying why some wars must be fought, despite the cost.

The Lord of the Rings in Disquieting Times

One criticism leveled against The Lord of the Rings (both the book and the films) is that the story just takes so damned long to get started. Granted, Jackson doesn’t take as long as Tolkien did to get to the point of it all, but he does spend a half hour or more piddling around in the pastoral lands of the Shire—homeplace to the humble and diminutive Hobbits—celebrating birthdays and quibbling over inheritances, before we ever get any sense of larger looming conflicts.

 

I’ve always appreciated the importance of this prelude, because in a sense Tolkien was trying to instill a sense of respect for this sort of cheerful normalcy. In his view, this is exactly why we must occasionally endure conflict: Not purely for ideological purposes or matters of principle, but rather to protect the simpler things in life—the brewing of ales and the smoking of pipeweed, but most of all an appreciation for peace and quiet and good tilled earth.

 

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less
than half of you half as well as you deserve.”   —Bilbo Baggins

 

But I’ll admit, I’ve never seen this extended intro as much more than a prelude. Until, that is, my wife and I sat down to watch the films this past weekend, and I saw these sequences anew. “This is the entire point,” I jotted down in the dark on a notepad I kept on my lap for the entire 12 hours we spent watching the films.

Oddly, just as these opening sequences now hold a more special place in my heart, they also hammered home just how quickly my wife and I (and many of you, I’m sure) are adapting to the new normal we’re living in. Bilbo Baggins’ eleventy-first birthday party isn’t so much a celebration to my eyes now as it is a collection of potential disease vectors.

How odd it is that in just a few short weeks, we’ve been psychologically conditioned to see other people—especially in large gatherings—as a threat, merely by virtue of their existence. It’s a point of view we’re all going to have to shake eventually if we’re to thrive as a society post-pandemic, and it’s stories like The Lord of the Rings—stories about fellowship, when that’s what we’re so desperately lacking right now—that I hope will, in some small way, help dispel that dark enchantment.

 

It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see
the end beyond all doubt. We do not.   —J.R.R. Tolkien

 

More than anything else, though, it’s the underlying message about hope in the face of darkness, of perseverance when things are bad and will certainly get way worse before they begin to get better, that means so much to me right now. What the Professor conveyed with his words and what Jackson translated so beautifully into film isn’t a sense of blind optimism, but rather a defiant endurance. And it’s a message I think many of us need at this moment in history.

 

Perhaps the most striking thing about viewing the films through the lens of today, though, are the scenes that previously struck me as heartbreaking but which now seem oddly bittersweet. “The Funeral of Théodred” in particular—a scene that 

was wholly cut from the theatrical release of The Two Towers, and one of a million reasons to skip that hacked up pile of non sequiturs in favor of the amazing Extended Edition—has never failed to bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. And yes, tears fell this time, too.

 

But the day before we watched The Two Towers, my wife told me about a 

work friend whose father is currently hospitalized and quarantined. She isn’t allowed to see him, and probably won’t be allowed to again before he dies. She may not even be able to give him a proper funeral. And she’s far from alone in that right now.

 

“How strange it is,” I wrote on my notepad, “that Théoden’s mourning now seems like a gift, that gathering to say farewell to a loved one seems like a luxury.”

 

Frodo Baggins: “I wish none of this had happened.” 

Gandalf the Grey: “So do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide
is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

 

Throughout the 12 hours of this monumental film trilogy, there’s one scene that wants or needs no reinterpretation, though it resonates now more strongly than ever. It’s also one of the few instances in which Peter Jackson and collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens actually managed to improve on Tolkien’s work. It’s the scene in which Samwise Gamgee delivers the most heartfelt of rallying monologues to Frodo Baggins in one of the duo’s bleakest moments to that point.

I’ve seen this clip shared on social media over the past few weeks almost as much as I’ve seen logarithmic graphs of exponential growth and tutorials for proper hand-washing, which speaks to the power of these films in times like these. Tolkienites like me can quibble all we want about the deviations from the source here, but this monologue cuts right to the heart of what the Professor himself valued the most in Fairy-Stories, as he called them.

 

Tolkien had no patience with those who looked down their noses at escapism, famously writing:

 

Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he
cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not
become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the
wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner
with the Flight of the Deserter . . . they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the ‘quisling’ to the resistance
of the patriot.

 

So, yes, The Lord of the Rings—in both print and onscreen—looks different from our current perspective, but it’s as meaningful now as it has ever been. At a time when the luckiest among us are captive in our homes—whether out of prudence or under threat of punishment—we need the escape these films provide. And we need its words of encouragement. We need to be reminded to look to the east at dawn, even if we can’t be certain our salvation lies there.

 

If we can’t safely walk through our front doors right now, at least there’s comfort in the fact that we can escape to the Shire or Lothlórien or the Plains of Rohan or Rivendell, the Last Homely House East of the Sea—places more real to many of us than the far-flung corners of earth in our own age—even if only for a few all-too-brief hours at a time.

Dennis Burger

THE BEST OPTIONS FOR WATCHING THE EXTENDED EDITIONS

While the inferior theatrical cuts of The Lord of the Rings trilogy do appear on subscription-based streaming services like Netflix and Starz from time to time, for now the only way to experience the proper Extended Editions is to buy them. With so many options available for home video purchases these days, though, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the choices, so here are my recommendations.

 

The best way to experience the trilogy, at least until the promised 4K/HDR remaster materializes, is either via Blu-ray Disc or Kaleidescape download (see below). Both feature the extensive Appendices, full of history about the book and its author, as well as how this beloved novel was translated for the screen. Both also feature the amazing DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1-channel sound mix.

 

Unfortunately, most à la carte digital streaming services just don’t do these films justice. You can generally find them sold individually or as a collection for a pretty decent price, but of these, only iTunes includes any bonus features at all, and only a few snippets from the Appendices, totaling no more than 90 minutes per film. (By contrast, the Blu-rays and Kaleidescape downloads deliver an average of seven hours of supplements per film, not including the four audio commentaries included with each.)

 

The trilogy does support Movies Anywhere, which means that if you buy it on Vudu, you’ll also be able to stream it on Amazon and iTunes and Google Play and all the rest. But no matter which digital streaming option you would usually favor—even given the Movies Anywhere option—you’re really better off going with discs or Kaleidescape download if you want the best experience, from the perspective of both presentation and bonus features.

—D.B.

To order the Extended Editions of The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, or The Return of the King
on Kaleidescape, click the images below:

"The Lord of the Rings" in Disquieting Times
"The Lord of the Rings" in Disquieting Times
"The Lord of the Rings" in Disquieting Times

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.