Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music

In another combination theatrical and home day-and-date release, the third film in the Bill & Ted franchise, Bill & Ted Face the Music, dropped this past Friday (August 28)—29 years after the second film, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and 31 years after the original Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, making it one of the longest gaps between film sequels ever. Available for rental or purchase through a variety of streaming outlets, you can purchase Face the Music for download from Kaleidescape for $39.99, where it is available at Ultra HD resolution (not HDR) with a DTS-HD 5.1-channel audio mix.


I was 19 when Excellent Adventure came out and saw both it and the Bogus Journey sequel in the theater. It had been years since I’d watched either movie, so I prepped for Face the Music by watching Excellent Adventure again. Unquestionably a

cheesy, schlocky B movie, what really drives the film is the fun of watching these two likable idiots bumbling through time in an attempt to fulfill their musical destiny by first acing a high-school history presentation so they can graduate. While often described as a “stoner comedy,” there is never any evidence of the duo getting high; rather, they are just a wildly optimistic pair that look for the best in situations and get by on dumb luck and the help of a telephone-booth time machine.


My memories of the second film are far less fond, with the ridiculousness of evil doppelgängers sent from the future, trips to the afterworld to beat Death in a variety of games, and Bill and Ted building robot versions of themselves to win a “battle of the bands” competition playing along with Death and some aliens called Station. It just didn’t have the fun of the original, and the proclamations of, “Dude!” “Excellent!” and “Righteous!” wore thin.


So, the real question here is: After 29 years, did the world 


Arriving a scant 31 years after Excellent Adventure, with Keanu Reeves displaying questionable judgment returning as Ted, this sequel will likely appeal mainly to GenXers but isn’t such a bad way to spend your time with so few other new releases out there.



The 4K transfer is clean and sharp, with plenty of detail, but the absence of HDR results in the images looking flat, without pop or depth.



The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is room-filling when appropriate, with surprisingly potent bass.

really need or even want another episode in this franchise? And, perhaps even more curious, why would Keanu Reeves want to return to playing valley guy Ted while in the midst of a career high point with the insane success of polar-opposite character John Wick? And will another 90-minutes of his “Whoa! Dude!” surfer-Ted persona somehow diminish the Wick franchise?


I was skeptical going into viewing Face the Music, and likely would not have watched it if not for Cineluxe. And I wonder if the film will actually find more financial success because of the current theatrical shutdown, giving content-starved viewers something new to watch at home that they otherwise would have taken a pass on.


With Reeve’s current popularity, I was thinking Face the Music’s real hook would be some incredible cameos sprinkled throughout to add another element of fun to the adventure, but that was not the case. (Though we do get one scene with a rather famous musician who pops in to play himself.) Also, I hoped director Dean Parisot would bring some of the same fun and understanding of the genre that he did with Galaxy Quest. While the film has a surprisingly high Rotten Tomatoes critics rating of 81% and an 82% audience score (both franchise highs), I think it will mostly appeal to Gen-Xers who will give a lot of its shortcomings a pass by playing the nostalgia card and appreciating the fan service. (When I asked my 13-year-old daughter, who had never seen either of the other films, how many more times she’d watch Face the Music, she said, “Negative one. I wish I’d never seen it the first time.” Ouch!)


The movie begins with Bill S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan, the sole remaining members of their once super-band Wyld Stallyns, who have gone from playing concerts viewed all over the world to playing empty bars on Taco Tuesday, still struggling to write the one super-hit song destined to unite mankind around the world.


Besides the leads, Face the Music manages to get other members of the band back together, including Hal Landon Jr. returning as Ted’s dad, Chief Logan, Amy Stoch  as Missy-mom (now marrying Ted’s younger brother after divorcing both Bill and Ted’s dads), and William Sadler as bass-shredding Death. The wife-princesses, Joanna and Elizabeth, are still here but have been once again recast. (These two characters have now been played by six different actresses.)


New to the cast are Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) and Billie Logan (Brigette Lundy-Paine), Bill and Ted’s music-loving daughters, who play a major role in the plot and do their best to maintain the mouth-agape bewildered expression and mannerisms of their respective parents, as well as the always-delightful Kristen Schaal as Kelly, daughter of Rufus (George Carlin) from the first two films, and the time-traveling Terminator-esque self-aware robot, Dennis Caleb McCoy (Anthony Carrigan).


Without the benefit of a universe-uniting song, things are unraveling throughout time, with people and landmarks transporting to different times and places, and Bill and Ted are up against a deadline with which to create and perform the song or risk the irreversible collapse of reality.


With the clock ticking—and with a time-traveling phone booth once again at their disposal—the boys decide to visit themselves at different points in the future after they’ve already written the song so they can just steal it and bring it back. Billie and Thea decide to help out by gathering some of the greatest musicians throughout history—Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart—to help perform the song.


Watching the various incarnations of Bill and Ted—whose lives get progressively worse the further they go into the future—brought some of the film’s funnier moments, and the girls’ quest to get famous musicians was certainly reminiscent of Excellent Adventure (as well as the musical number from the talent show of Revenge of the Nerds). But my family and I all thought one of the film’s highlights was the song and video over the beginning of the closing credits, which feels like the 

cameo-filled moments (we spotted “Weird” Al Yankovic and Guillermo Rodriguez, but it seems like there were many others we just didn’t recognize) I hoped the film would have. Also, stick around for a final post-credits scene, which will likely be the last we see of Bill and Ted.


As mentioned, this is a non-HDR 4K transfer (at least for now) and the opening Orion logo offers a throwback to ‘80s-era VHS-level picture quality, but rest assured things quickly improve. Shot in ArriRaw at 2.8 and 3.4K resolutions, images are clean and sharp, with enough detail to reveal how much our leads have aged as well as the fabric detail in clothes and outfits throughout time. But the picture quality doesn’t have that razor-sharp look of many modern transfers, and backgrounds are often a bit soft.


Most noticeable—especially after watching so many modern films—is the lack of HDR grading. Without it, images just look a bit flat, and lack pop and depth, especially in scenes with bright images in the background such as in the therapist’s office or when talking to Death in his office. Also, you can see where images would benefit from the wider color gamut, such as the bright flashes of color as Bill and Ted are traveling through time.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Even without an immersive audio mix, the sound is entertaining, and room-filling when appropriate, such as the time-unraveling scenes and the big musical performance. Bass is also surprisingly potent, with the time-traveling phone booth slamming into the ground with room-shaking authority. Scenes also have a nice bit of spaciousness, such as the background wails in Hell or the reverb of Jimi’s guitar. Dialogue is also clearly presented and easily understood throughout.


If this is the last we see of Bill and Ted, this was certainly a better sendoff than their Bogus Journey. And their message to “Be excellent to each other!” and “Party on, dudes!” isn’t such a bad thing for these crazy times.

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

The Strange Journey of Tom Waits

The Strange Journey of Tom Waits

Last Sunday evening, I had a chance to do something I hardly ever get to do—devote all of my attention to listening to some music. I uncorked a Portuguese red I’ve never tried before, flicked on a single, small incandescent lamp, then unsheathed and cued up Side One of Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner.


The whole exercise felt a bit like a ritual, and I guess you could consider it the musical equivalent of comfort viewing—going to one of the very few things that have always made me feel grounded to reaffirm their ability to ring true no matter how much 

the world has changed around them.


A 1975 Bones Howe-produced two-LP set recorded live at LA’s Record Plant, Nighthawks is Waits in full hipster mode, from the period when he was using his faux Kerouac routine to disarm audiences while going up hard against the pop-music mainstream. You were far more likely to know him at the time for Rusty Warren-type retreads like “The Piano Has Been Drinking” and “Pasties and a G String” as the epic “Tom Traubert’s Blues.”


The first cut, “Emotional Weather Report,” is an extended monologue-quasi-song with Waits resorting to every corny Vegas-comic gag to ingratiate himself, winking so hard the whole time that you can’t help but grin. “I’ve been playing nightclubs and staying out all night long, coming home late—gone for three months, come back and everything in the refrigerator turns into a science project.” “I’m so goddamned horny the crack of dawn better be careful around me.”


But parts of the song that had just struck me as laugh lines before—“with tornado watches issued Sunday for the areas including the western region of my mental health, 

and the northern portion of my ability to deal rationally with my disconcerted emotional situation—it’s cold out there”—felt strangely bittersweet, even wrenching, this time around.


Then, as Nighthawks slipped into “On a Foggy Night,” I had a kind of epiphany. It’s common knowledge that Waits went through one of the most radical transformations in pop-music history, but it didn’t hit me until then that the change was far more a maturation than any kind of rebranding. Once you go beneath the jokey surfaces, there’s actually an amazingly consistent through-line to his work. Songs like Nighthawks’ “Better Off Without a Wife” and 2002’s “All the World is Green” might seem to exist in completely different worlds, but just shift the emphasis a little here and there and the actual distance between them is so slight it’s barely there at all.

A lot of the stuff on Waits’ initial albums might seem gaggy and trite, but view it through the lens of everything he’s done since Swordfishtrombones and you realize how fundamentally poignant those early efforts are. They don’t have the rigor, incisive, often bitter, irony, or unflinching moral probity of his later work, but they aren’t just the throwaway ditties of some one-trick booze-addled clown.


Then, around the time of “Warm Beer and Cold Women,” I was graced with another seeming insight—that not just his later efforts but the whole of Waits’ work stands at the pinnacle of the American songwriting tradition. Sensing how much Nighthawks honors and feeds from everything that preceded it, in a way then-popular stadium rock never could, I realized how early on he blew past his contemporaries.


Most pop performers write songs, but they’re not songwriters. Never having fully immersed themselves in the tradition, instead donning and shedding styles the way they’d try on designer Ts, they not only don’t have a good grasp of the basic mechanics but lack the reverence and awe that would inspire them to match or exceed the best efforts to date. But it’s clear

in retrospect that Waits is, and always was, a master, able to pluck the most vital, fertile, and redolent elements out of the musical stream until he was eventually creating songs where every turn of phrase was a perfect evocation of a different aspect of everything that came before, pivoting seamlessly from, say, Hoagy Carmichael to the Delta blues to Kurt Weill to Big Mama Thornton to Stephen Foster to early Satchmo to Tin Pan Alley to a Salvation Army band without ever using any of it as a crutch, and making it all feel whole.


I’m not saying Waits stands alone above his peers and their successors. Randy Newman occupies much the same ground. Both used novelty 

The Strange Journey of Tom Waits

songs early on to win over audiences, lacing them with just enough irony to let the intelligentsia know they were fashionably cynical, but both have gone far deeper than their contemporaries, showing a decidedly unfashionable vulnerability and sentimentality that actually lifts their work to a whole other level.


Newman, of course, is pared down, almost diffident compared to Waits’ flamboyance and radical experimentation. But each is a fully formed songsmith and not the usual mercenary faddist. And, far too honest in their work, neither would stand a chance if they were starting their careers in the far more intolerant and censorious present.


None of the above is meant to suggest that I drifted from listening to Nighthawks into some kind of brooding meditation. Whatever thoughts I had came unbidden, and flickered just long enough for me to jot them down here. Maybe they were just a product of my mood or a reaction to listening to early Waits against the backdrop of these strangely trivial and parlous times. Or maybe it was just the wine.

Michael Gaughn

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.

The Cineluxe “Comfort Viewing” Guide to “The Lord of the Rings”

Comfort Guide to LOTR

Maybe you saw Peter Jackson’s epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy in cinemas back in 2001, 2002, and 2003 and haven’t dug back in since. Or perhaps you’ve caught the films individually here and there on cable over the years. Or maybe you’ve never seen The Lord of the Rings at all. (That might seem improbable, but I see new YouTube clips on my timeline every couple of days proclaiming “I’ve never seen Fellowship of the Ring” or “FIRST TIME WATCHING Lord of the Rings: The

Fellowship of the Ring” or something to that effect.)


No matter what your relationship with the films may be, settling in to watch them from beginning to end can be an uplifting experience, which is something all of us need right now. What the series’ fans know—and what new viewers are learning with ever-increasing frequency—is that The Lord of the Rings is emotional nourishment. Spiritual sustenance. In other words: It’s comfort viewing. Despite the focus on hobbits and elves and dwarves and magical artifacts, The Lord of the Rings is, at its heart, about times like those we’re currently living through. It’s about defiant endurance in the face of uncertainty. It’s about clinging to hope when there seems to be none.


But committing to an 11-plus-hour movie marathon can be daunting, no matter how inspirational the films themselves may be. In addition to the time investment, there’s the fact that the films have been released to home video so many times that choice overload starts to kick in.


That’s where this guide comes in. The goal here is to help you enjoy The Lord of the Rings in the best quality

possible, whether for the first time or the twentieth, and to help you navigate the wealth of bonus materials based on your personal interests and preferences. Before we get to all of that, though, the first thing you need to decide is which version of the films you should watch.


Director Peter Jackson has famously said the theatrical versions are his preferred cuts, and that the extended editions are simply “a novelty for the fans.” That is absolute rubbish. The theatrical edits are a roller coaster of unevenness, with the first and third films—The Fellowship of the Ring and The 

Return of the King—being perfectly enjoyable for what they are, but only as self-contained films with no connection to the rest of the trilogy.


On the other hand, the second film, The Two Towers, is a confusing mess of a thing in its original edit. At 178 


Watch the Extended Editions.
Forget the theatrical cuts even exist.

minutes, it’s a laborious slog, filled with one non sequitur after another, packed with characters whose motivations make little sense. The 228-minute Extended Edition, by contrast, positively whizzes by. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the histories and motives of its characters and the mythical lands they populate.


From a purely narrative perspective, the Extended Editions of Fellowship and Return aren’t quite that essential, but they still add some much-appreciated depth and context. They also insert some connective tissue that ties the three films together


Buy the films on Blu-ray or on Kaleidescape. Streaming simply doesn’t do them justice.
Comfort Guide to LOTR

into one unified work.


Skip the Extended Edition of the first film, for example, and you may be left wondering where certain items and artifacts central to the plot of the second film came from. Watch the shorter theatrical cut of Return of the King, and one of the second film’s major characters just disappears from the narrative with no explanation and no resolution.


So if you’re committing to watch all three films—and why wouldn’t you?—the Extended Editions are certainly the preferable option. But before you go traipsing off to Vudu or Amazon or some other digital retailer to buy the trilogy, allow me to make the case for why streaming doesn’t do these films justice.


That’s an odd pronouncement coming from me, especially given that I’m probably the biggest cheerleader for streaming here at Cineluxe. But streaming falls short of 

delivering The Lord of the Rings in all its glory for a couple of reasons. First, the films aren’t available yet in 4K/HDR, and probably won’t be for another year, at least. And while 4K streaming looks pretty amazing these days, the same can’t be said 

for HD. Second, the streaming versions of the Extended Editions lack the amazing Appendices, which we’ll dig into in just a bit.


That leaves Blu-ray Discs and the Kaleidescape downloads as your best options if you want to enjoy The Lord of the Rings to the fullest. If you opt for Blu-ray, each film is split across two discs to keep the compression from getting too out of hand. 


This actually works to the advantage of The Fellowship 


The first and third films can be viewed in halves, while The Two Towers should be approached as one long film with a quick potty break between scenes.

of the Ring and Return of the King, though, since you can treat the first and second half of each as a film in its own right. Take a break at the halfway point to grab a meal or take a nap or even sleep for the evening and you won’t disrupt the flow of the experience too much. The Two Towers, the middle film in the trilogy, doesn’t break quite so cleanly, so you’re better off treating it as one long film with a quick potty-break intermission between scenes.


If you’re watching on Kaleidescape (or if you ignored my counsel and bought the films on iTunes or whatever), you don’t get such neat breaks, since the films run straight through from opening to closing credits. But you can always hit the


If you want to explore the extras but you’re not sure you’re up for all 21 hours’ worth, you can go straight to the groups of Appendices that suit your specific interests.

intermission button on your remote right after “The Council of Elrond” in Fellowship of the Ring (you’ll know it when you get to it, I promise) and just after “The Siege of Gondor” in Return of the King. (That one’s not quite as obvious, but just remember to take your break right after the orcs start pushing a big flaming battering ram shaped like a wolf’s head toward the gates of the city of Minas Tirith and chanting “Grond! Grond! Grond!” That’s the name of said flaming wolf-headed battering ram.)


And that’s it. Congratulations! Make it through one more 

disc (or a few more hours of film) after that point and you’ve finished the epic journey through the lands of Middle-earth in the best way possible. 

But hang on a minute. If you’re like most people, once you’ve experienced all three films, you’ll be itching to know more about the books that inspired the trilogy and the process of adapting them for the big screen. That’s where the Appendices come in.


On both Blu-ray and Kaleidescape, the Appendices are broken into six parts (two per film, with each Appendix getting its own disc if you opted for physical media). The neat thing is, they follow a reasonably  predictable structure, so if you know for sure you don’t want to watch all 21 hours’ worth of documentaries (not a typo), you can hone in on the sort of background information that interests you most.


The odd numbered Appendices (the first disc or batch of bonus content) tend to dig into the history, themes, and meaning of the books themselves, along with the writing and planning that went into adapting this supposedly un-filmable book into three of the best films ever made. As such, Appendices 1, 3, and 5 explore the life of author J.R.R. Tolkien; the publication of the book; the characters, the peoples, and the locations of Middle-earth; and preparatory work like writing the screenplay, adapting the scripts from two films to a trilogy once Miramax passed on the adaptation and New Line stepped in, and creating the costumes, sets, props, etc.


The even-numbered Appendices are probably more your speed if you’re primarily interested in The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy of films and not so much as an adapted work. Appendices 2, 4, and 6 explore the long process of shooting the films, as well as post-production work like editing, special effects, sound effects, and score music.


“But wait!” he says in his best Billy Mays voice, “There’s more!” Each film is also accompanied by four full-length audio commentaries. Again, there’s some consistency here,

Appendices 1, 3 & 5 focus on the book, its author, and the translation from page to screen.
Comfort Guide to LOTR
Appendices 2, 4 & 6 are more like typical behind-the-scenes documentaries
Comfort Guide to LOTR

with one track for each film focusing on the writing, one on the design, one on production, and one with the cast. 


Still hungry for more info? Each film has 4 commentaries that range in appeal from “must listen” to “for hardcore nerds only.”

The cast commentaries are the best by a long shot, since Sean Astin is a walking/talking film encyclopedia and Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are straight-up laugh-out-loud hilarious throughout. Andy Serkis also performs part of the commentary for Return of the King in character as Sméagol/Gollum, which is something you don’t want to miss.


The commentaries featuring Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh,

and Philippa Boyens are also absolute gems if you want to take a deeper dive into the process of adapting the book than the documentaries in the Appendices provide. 


The other two commentaries for each film, I must admit, are for hardcore fans only, so unless you’re absolutely obsessed by this point, you can probably safely skip them. To wit, I’ve only listened to the design and production commentaries two or three times over the past two decades. (By contrast, I watch all 21 hours’ worth of Appendices every other year, and dig into the cast and writers’ commentaries at least once every three years.)

Dennis Burger


"The Lord of the Rings" in Disquieting Times
"The Lord of the Rings" in Disquieting Times
Comfort Guide to LOTR

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.



We are big fans of sound design here at Cineluxe, as a good audio mix reproduced on a well-designed home theater draws you into the fictional world and helps you appreciate films on a deeper level. But the work that goes into crafting the many layers of a rich, detailed, and organic sound mix—especially the often intricate and minute sounds created by the Foley artists (a term that is likely known by most readers, but definitely well worth exploring here if you aren’t familiar)—are often buried beneath the score, dialogue, or other effects in a scene.


We often focus on feature-length movies or series here, as well as programming that is almost exclusively in 4K HDR with a lossless Dolby Atmos surround mix, but the new short series Zenimation is such a master class in audio appreciation that it 

was worth highlighting.


Currently available only on Disney+, the show description says, “Unplug, relax, and refresh your senses for a moment of mindfulness with Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Zenimation—an animated soundscape experience. . . . These iconic scenes become an aural experience like no other with the sounds of ocean waves, an icy forest, and soaring flight. Zenimation pays tribute to both the visual and sound artists who have created Walt Disney Animation Studios’ legacy of films.”


And before you start in that you don’t have the time to watch another new series, relax! Zenimation requires an incredibly minimal time commitment, with the entire series taking less than an hour to watch.


Mindfulness is one of those terms that has become increasingly popular in the stress-filled times we currently


Sequences from Disney cartoons stripped of all audio save their sound effects and grouped by moods give you an opportunity to relax and appreciate the art of Foley at the same time.



HD video presented at 2.35:1, but given that most of the content isn’t widescreen, it might have been better framed at 16:9.



These videos are really all about the sound, and they upmix nicely, but won’t exactly test the limits of your system.

live in. Wikipedia defines it as “the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, which one develops through the practice of meditation and through other training.”


Zenimation is presented in HD with a 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio mix and is broken into 10 parts: Water, Cityscapes, Discovery, Flight, Explore, Night, Nature, Serenity, Water Realms, and Levity. The shortest episodes last just four minutes, and the longest only seven.


All episodes feature beloved Disney characters such as Moana, Ariel, Elsa, Aladdin, and Judy Hopps, focusing on scenes and moments germane to that episode’s subject. My only real complaint is that they chose to show everything with letterbox bars, retaining a 2.35:1 aspect ratio throughout. That would be fine if all the content were native 2.35:1, but a fair bit of it is 16:9 (or less) which means pillar-boxing (black bars on all four sides) the image. Perhaps keeping the constant vertical height is a better way of staying in the mindfulness zone, but I would have preferred the 16:9 content filled the screen. 


Also, since much of this content already exists on Disney+ in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos audio (even older titles like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid), it would have been nice if they would have just pulled scenes from these titles for a better overall presentation. Instead, we are limited to the audio and video resolutions of The Rescuers Down Under, Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch, and some of the other older titles.


Those nits aside, these scenes stripped of music, other effects, and dialogue with the Foley effects amplified allow you to focus on the specific sound elements that help bring each scene alive, and the scenes flow nicely from one to the next. Remember, unlike a live-action movie, in animation, no sound is captured “on set,” and every bit of audio is created to bring the scene and the animated world to life.


Clearly hear the rippling sounds paddles make as they pull through in the water, the drips of splashing wave droplets, or bubbles drifting up past characters underwater. Some of my favorite audio moments are from Moana, such as the scene on her boat. Note the sounds of her stitching and pulling the thread through the sail, pulling ropes on the boat, and the wind billowing and creaking all around. 


Outdoor scenes let you appreciate sounds of birds chirping off in the distance well outside your main left/right speakers, the rustle of leaves as you pass through a forest, the sounds of birds flapping overhead, along with the sounds of rain and crashing thunder.


Not all of the sonic moments are about bombast, but many allow you to appreciate the subtleties and nuance of the mix. Notice the echoing of Anna’s footsteps inside Elsa’s immense ice castle, the delicate rustle of grass beneath Rapunzel’s feet, the tonal change of the fire crackling on Moana’s torch as she walks from a cramped cave into a large cavern, or the spark of fire and smoke trailing from an incense stick Mulan lights. Or discern the distinctly different sounds used for shooting stars, all of which convey the same sense of motion but with a different feeling.


While Zenimation doesn’t employ an immersive object-audio mix, the upmixer in a modern surround processor does a capable job of positioning appropriate sounds overhead. You’ll hear the screams of eagles, fireworks exploding, wind whistling and rushing past, birds chirping, the ringing of bells from Quasimodo’s tower, as well as rain droplets and water splashes. There is also a nice amount of deep bass courtesy of things like the deep cascade of waterfalls, the stampede of animals, or the crackling of stones and boulders.


Zenimation gives movie lovers a fun and creative way to understand the audio elements and sound-design work that goes into crafting a film’s sonic world, helping you appreciate the art of filmmaking. And with the whole series taking less than an hour to watch, there’s no excuse not to check it out. 

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

Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads

Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Johnson is the most legendary bluesman in the genre, with a story to match, and the Netflix documentary Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads (one of eight episodes in the ReMastered series) examines his life and myth.


Johnson was born in 1911 in Hazlehurst, Mississippi and died in 1938 at the age of 27. He was not a good guitar player until, as the story goes, he went down to a crossroads at midnight and sold his soul to the devil in order to become one of the greatest Delta blues players of all time. The details of his recorded output are inextricably woven into the Robert Johnson legend—he only released 29 songs (along with some alternate takes) for the American Record Company—and there are only three authenticated photographs of the man.


Yet Johnson, who scuffled as an itinerant musician and didn’t become famous outside his local area until long after his death, became a 

towering influence on people like Keith Richards, Eric Clapton (who famously covered Johnson’s “Crossroads” on the Cream Wheels of Fire album),  and uncountable other blues and rock artists. Many of his songs are classics, like the “Cross Road Blues” (as it was originally titled), “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” and ”Love in Vain Blues” to name a few. As Bonnie Raitt says, “If you love the blues, you just gotta go back to the root of Robert Johnson.”


Devil at the Crossroads examines Johnson’s life in detail in its approximately 45-minute run time. It features many excerpts from his recordings, as well as artists like Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, and Bonnie Raitt playing his songs. Much of the documentary consists of interviews with his grandson Michael Johnson as well as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, artist and Columbia 

Records producer John Hammond, and others, along with archival footage of the era and of musicians he influenced like Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Robert Plant.


The documentary brings a lot of information to light, debunks some received wisdom, and leaves unanswered questions. This isn’t the documentary’s fault—not all that much is known about Johnson and much that’s been passed down over the years is contradictory.


The cornerstone of the Robert Johnson myth is that he sold his soul to the devil in order to become an extraordinary guitarist. In fact, at one point in his life Johnson left his Delta home for about a year and came into contact with guitarist Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman, the best guitar player in the region. The story goes that Zimmerman took Johnson to a grave and showed him how to play. When Johnson returned 


Part of the Netflix Remastered series, this 45-minute documentary on legendary bluesman Robert Johnson suffers from some ill-considered animation and could use some extended performances of Johnson’s work, but otherwise does a good job of telling the story of his obscure life and his tremendous influence on contemporary music.



Clear, full-bodied, and well-mixed. The audio of the original recordings has been cleaned up and de-noised, but not intrusively so.

home, he had become so good that people thought he must have made a deal with the devil. As Michael Johnson notes, “Playing music in the graveyard perpetuated the myth.”


We learn that not much was known about Johnson until his death certificate was discovered in 1967, after which more information came out and “a new key would open up yet another door.” Johnson grew up in an environment of sharecroppers and wanted to make a living with the blues, but it was dangerous for a black musician to travel during those times. Yet as Taj Mahal points out, “You played that music and you could be outside of yourself and you could take everybody else [in the audience] out.”


Devil at the Crossroads doesn’t go into depth regarding Johnson’s playing technique, although Terry “Harmonica” Bean notes that Johnson had exceptionally long fingers, which allowed him to do things other guitarists couldn’t. Keith Richards points out that Johnson could sound like a one-man band, covering the bass, chords, and melodies simultaneously on the lower and upper strings. “One part of what he’s playing is talking to the other part and he’s [singing] in the middle.”


The documentary goes into far more detail about his personal life, his first wife dying in childbirth, his conflicts with family members, and his never knowing his biological father. All of this and other difficulties fueled his need for playing music, traveling, drinking, and womanizing. “Robert’s life was just one tragedy after another. It never seemed to end for him,” says Michael Johnson. It did in fact end after Johnson drank from a poisoned whisky bottle at the Three Forks Juke, given to him by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson had taken up with. He died on August 16, 1938.


Johnson’s music began to be rediscovered in a major way by, of all things, what the documentary calls “78 geeks”—college students in the 1950s and early 1960s who would buy boxes of 78 RPM records. In 1961, John Hammond was instrumental in the release of Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers, which introduced a new generation to Johnson’s music.


Devil at the Crossroads does have flaws, the most egregious of which is the use of cheesy animation to illustrate some of the narration. It distracts from and cheapens the seriousness of the subject matter. And while there are plenty of song excerpts by both Johnson and the performers, I wish they would have included a full performance or two. Another thing that will irk blues aficionados to no end: The documentary shows the “crossroads” where Johnson supposedly sold his soul—and shows it over and over again. However, it is not known which intersection is actually the crossroads.


That said, Devil at the Crossroads is visually well done, artfully mixing archival footage, location shots (including the shack where Johnson was supposedly born!), and interviews. The sound is clear, full-bodied, and well-mixed. The audio of the original recordings has been very obviously cleaned up and de-noised, but not intrusively so. And the songs and performances make you realize how much the haunting sound of acoustic slide guitar is crucial to acoustic blues music.


Most of all, Devil at the Crossroads conveys the tragedy and the emotion of Robert Johnson’s music and life. As grandson Michael Johnson points out, “I really believe he was searching for the freedom within, the soul within.”

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Time for another little thought experiment. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department had the 70-year-old law struck down that said movie studios can’t own theater chains. With the chains currently way back on their heels and their future looking dimmer than one of their overused projector bulbs, the timing of the decision couldn’t be worse—if you own a theater franchise—or better—if you’re one of the unfortunates who has to patronize one of their theaters.


I think we can all agree that, while you can be eager to go to a theater to see a film, nobody ever really looks forward to going to the theater itself. We put up with them, but we don’t enjoy—let alone savor—them.


While chain owners, sensing their license to extort slipping away, have tried to improve the experience in recent years, all they’ve really done is attempt to adopt the virtues of a good home theater—ultimately just reinforcing the idea that you’re 

better off watching movies at home. In other words, by trying to make movie theaters more homelike, they’ve only made them seem more cold and corporate (and inconvenient and expensive) by comparison.


But what if, now free to pounce thanks to the recent decision, Disney decided to swoop in and snatch up one or more chains and turn the theaters into someplace you might actually want to go to, regardless of what’s playing? The company has demonstrated a kind of genius for processing great masses of people while making them feel like they’re being pampered. There’s no reason why that knowledge and experience and ruthless efficiency couldn’t be applied to bringing franchise theaters back from the dead.


I’m singling out Disney because, well, no other studio is really in much of a position at the moment to pull something like this off. To name just a few mitigating factors:


—Unable to get existing titles released or new ones into production, most major studios don’t have the cash on hand to execute something this big. Disney does.


—No other studio can deliver as many event movies, has enough diversity in its stable of franchises, or has a strong enough track record to single-handedly sustain box office for a large theater chain. Able to draw on its Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars titles—and whatever other franchises it gobbles up in the coming months—Disney does.


—Because the other studios don’t have as many event titles to offer, a theatrical run can’t deliver the same kind of promotional kick it would for Disney, which could use its theaters as a consistent springboard for building anticipation for, and actually selling, its films for home release.


—Sure, some of the other studios have theme parks and theme park-like attractions, but they’ve never taken them to the level Disney has. And, again, they

just don’t have the diversity of franchises and characters to drawn on. (All those decades of Imagineering have to be good for something, right?)


So I think we’ve firmly established that Disney is the studio best positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. But what exactly could they do to elevate theaters from depressing to desirable?


This is the easier part of our experiment, and an opportunity for everyone to play along at home. Imagine everything you like best about the theme parks replacing everything you hate most about going to a franchise theater.


—Instead of just having some bored employee standing around in a Buzz Lightyear costume because he doesn’t want to go scrub out the urinals, trained cast members could stage vignettes for the patrons waiting on line, themed to whatever’s currently playing.


—The food, beverages, and sweets could be unique offerings, similarly themed to the current film, instead of just some stale nachos tossed into a paper container with Darth Vader on it.


—A gift shop stocked with high-quality goods, again, tied into the film du jour with most of the inventory in constant rotation and staffed with people who actually know something about what they’re selling.


—A handful of high-end theaters are incorporating video walls into their lobbies, but what if every wall of the lobby was an 8K screen setting the mood for the evening by taking you deep into the jungle or to the bottom of the ocean or on a journey down Tom Hanks’ alimentary canal?


—And then there are the thousand other touches, from the signage—digital or otherwise—to the lighting to the colors to the seating to the fabrics to the attractiveness, professionalism, and basic decency of the staff—that the chains have traditionally bungled, opting for Vegas c. 1975 over anything that suggests taste, quality, or any kind of empathy for their patrons.


So, at a time when most people—including me—assumed the day was nigh when the theaters would be turning off the lights, padlocking the doors, and trying to sell off their digital projectors for scrap, there’s actually a possibility, however remote, that going to the movies could once again become an event as big as or bigger than whatever’s being shown and that we could be looking at a return of the local movie palace, executed with a boldness, ingenuity, and flair that would put their Golden Age forbears to shame.


Heresy, I know. But I can’t imagine a better time to dream.

Michael Gaughn

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.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

If you’re the type of person who enjoys mecha-versus-giant-monster action flicks, chances are pretty good that you saw Pacific Rim when it hit cinemas in 2013. Unfortunately, chances are equally good that you saw its awful followup, 2018’s Pacific Rim: Uprising.


Look, I know bad sequels are the rule, rather than the exception. But Uprising wasn’t just a bad sequel. It was a sequel so bad that it actually made the original worse by virtue of existing. Its convoluted plot and nonsensical character relationships, if accepted as true within this cinematic universe, somehow manage to retroactively undermine the straightforward plot of Guillermo del Toro’s ridiculously fun original movie. And as such, I’ve had trouble returning to Pacific Rim for the better part of

two years now, unable to wipe the stain of Uprising from my robot-and-monster-loving brain.


If you find yourself in the same camp, it’s time to give the first Pacific Rim another look-see. And if you’ve never seen either of them, I beg you to ignore the second movie and give the first one a fair shot, assuming the premise doesn’t offend your sensibilities.


Because, yes, Pacific Rim involves gigantic walking tanks that look vaguely humanoid, piloted by hotshot jockeys whose sole purpose is to clobber gargantuan other-dimensional creatures that stomp up from the ocean depths to lay waste to human civilization. But that’s not really what the movie is about.


As with all of del Toro’s movies, it’s a story about humanity. 


With interesting new releases in short supply, now is the perfect time to rediscover Guillermo del Toro’s inspired 2013 robots vs. monsters slugfest. 



One of the most stunningly detailed and visually awe-inspiring transfers of the 4K era.



One of the few Atmos mixes that manages to be immersive and enveloping without distracting from the onscreen action.

But specifically, it’s about the endurance of the human spirit in the face of impossible odds. The director draws a lot of inspiration from obvious sources like Gojira, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tetsujin 28-go, and Ultraman. But it’s also impossible not to see the influence the works of H.P. Lovecraft had on his vision for this mash-up universe. And it’s in inverting and subverting the themes of Lovecraft that Pacific Rim really finds its heart.


If you’ve not familiar with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology, it was the foundation of what’s known as cosmic horror, a genre about coming to terms with notions of the ultimate insignificance of humanity in the face of problems too large for us to comprehend. Pacific Rim effectively takes these horrors and says, “Hell, no. One way or another, we’re not going to let this be our end.”


As such, you can see it as an allegory for all sorts of things, from the threats created by natural disasters to the impending doom of climate change. No matter what existential threat you plug into the equation, though, del Toro is saying that cooperation—indeed, vulnerable acceptance of our reliance on one another—is the solution to problems too large for any of us to deal with.


Of course, I’m not digging too deep to get to these themes. Pacific Rim isn’t even remotely opaque. It wears its meaning on its armor-plated sleeves like any good rock-‘em-sock-‘em end-of-the-world battle royale movie should. But ultimately, the fact 

that Pacific Rim is about something—that it means something—is what sets it apart from so many other recent big-monster movies.


Unlike the 2014 remake of Godzilla and its 2019 King of the Monsters sequel, Pacific Rim stays grounded in the (admittedly overwrought) human drama of it all. Guillermo del Toro understands that if you don’t care what happens to the humans at the center of the story, you won’t really care when kaiju start ripping through 

cityscapes and knocking down buildings. As such, it leans on a rather unusual structure. Although, interestingly, it’s a structure that would be blatantly ripped off by Avengers: Endgame a few years later: Cram what the audience expects to be the entire movie into the first 15 or 20 minutes, then flash-forward five years and spend a protracted second act focusing on the character relationships before rocketing toward an epic battle late in Act 3.


The result is such a wonderfully paced movie that its 132-minute runtime feels like a brisk 90 minutes at most. (By contrast, Uprising’s 110 minutes felt like a brutal, relentless, never-ending gauntlet of incomprehensible masochism.)


Pacific Rim’s excellent UHD/HDR10 transfer is further evidence for why we need to quit worrying about resolution. Sourced from a 2K digital intermediate (despite the fact that the movie was shot in 5K resolution), this remains one of the most stunningly detailed and visually awe-inspiring transfers of the 4K era. It’s true that the high dynamic range and wide color gamut aren’t used to mimic the look of film the way so many other successful 4K/HDR transfers do. Instead, the 10-bit color and cranked contrasts are used to give this neon-colored cartoon of a live-action movie the sort of depth and weight it lacked in high-definition.


I’m not knocking the 1080p release. It was one of the finest transfers of its day. But unburdened by the limitations of 8-bit video, the HDR transfer of Pacific Rim positively brims with a richness and intensity of color that was never possible at home

until recently. The streets of Hong Kong come to life with a neon vibrancy that makes this unbelievable world just a little more believable.


Bottom line, I would rank it in the Top 5 HDR home video transfers to date, and Kaleidescape’s release captures it all perfectly, from the rain-soaked inkiness of the predominately nighttime setting to the crackling potency of the radiation spewing from the mouths of the otherworldly beasts. Kaleidescape also offers the film with your choice of Dolby Atmos or Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, and although I would normally opt for the latter, this is one of the few Atmos mixes I truly love. It manages to be immersive and enveloping without distracting from the onscreen action, and the robust bass adds much-needed weight to the massive mechanical and alien combatants.


Interestingly, the Kaleidescape download of the 4K/HDR version includes something the UHD Blu-ray release doesn’t: All of the extras included with the original HD release. The 4K disc only features 13 short documentaries, known as “Focus Points,” which spotlight different aspects of the making of the film. The Kaleidescape download also includes deleted scenes and a hilarious blooper reel.


The best of the extras, though, is the audio commentary by Guillermo del Toro,

Pacific Rim

which you’ll have to download the 1080p version of the film to listen to. It’s worth the effort, since he dives deep into the color coding he used throughout the film to give viewers insight into the characters in a way that exposition simply couldn’t. The commentary also reveals the primary reason why this movie works when so many similar efforts are simply awful—because it was a labor of love. Del Toro genuinely adores big robots and gigantic monsters, and sees no reason why a movie about them can’t be made with the same care and attention to detail you would expect from a serious film.


Make no mistake about it: Pacific Rim is not a serious film. It’s a feel-good action flick with a ridiculous premise that only works if you buy into it. But it’s an incredibly well-made feel-good action flick with a ridiculous premise that only works if you buy into it. So, unless you’re simply allergic to that premise, give it a shot. If nothing else, I think you’ll find that it’s one of the best home theater demo movies ever made.

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.



With a scarcity of new releases on the horizon, it’s a great time to mine your collection for some classic content you might not have watched for some time—especially when that title has received a 4K HDR makeover with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Braveheart certainly qualifies as one of those films, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and available for download from Kaleidescape in a whopping 102.4 GB file.


Released in 1995, Braveheart was the darling of the 1996 Academy Awards, grabbing a total of 10 nominations, and winning five statues, including Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects, and Makeup. (It was also nominated for Screenplay,

Costume Design, Sound, Editing, and Music.)


While Mel Gibson has gone on to direct several films since, it is hard to believe Braveheart was only his second time in the director’s chair, following up on 1993’s The Man Without a Face. When you see the massive scale of the film, it’s beyond impressive that Gibson was able to pull this off as such a relative neophyte director, not to mention while simultaneously handling producing chores and portraying William Wallace, the film’s leading role.


I’m not a history buff, but Braveheart apparently plays a bit fast-and-loose with historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment. So if you’re a student of 13th-century English and Scottish lore (the film opens in 1280 AD) and looking for a movie that ticks off all the factual boxes, it will likely raise your ire. Instead, maybe consider Braveheart as “historical fiction,” depicting people who actually existed—William Wallace, Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau), Robert the 


A love story and some history provide the springboard for a series of increasingly bigger and more brutal battle scenes in this Mel Gibson Oscars fest. 



The 4K transfer brings out the intricate detail in the Oscar-winning cinematography while HDR helps deliver a better range of black & shadow detail.



The new Atmos mix isn’t particularly active, but it is atmospheric and does a great job of presenting the James Horner score.

Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan), Prince Edward (Peter Hanly)—doing the kinds of things they more-or-less did.


Rated R for “brutal medieval warfare,” Common Sense Media says, “Expect torture, hackings, stabbings, throat-slitting, and arrows and spears dealing horrible death and injuries,” and it doesn’t lie. The battle scenes are brutal, with body counts that would likely be in the hundreds. However, in my mind, I recall it being much more graphic—especially the ending—so maybe 25 years of movie watching things like John Wick and shows like Game of Thrones has just desensitized me a bit. Also, whereas many films today prefer to linger on the blood, viscera, and gore of combat, Gibson instead chooses to quick-cut away from much of it. (Possibly to reverse the MPAA’s initial NC-17 rating.)


With its epic, just minutes shy of three hours running time, nothing about Braveheart feels rushed—except possibly the reunion and relationship of Wallace and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack)—giving you plenty of time to know and care about the characters. The film opens with a bit of narration telling you all the backstory required, with “The king of Scotland had died without a son, and the king of England, a cruel pagan known as Edward the Longshanks, claimed the throne of Scotland for himself. Scotland’s nobles fought him, and fought each other, over the crown. So, Longshanks invited them to talks of truce—no weapons, one page only.”


Young William sees the hanged bodies of those Longshanks betrayed, and, shortly, after his father and brother are also killed by Longshanks’ soldiers. William is then raised by his uncle, who educates him and teaches him to use his wits before he uses a sword, and takes him on a tour of Europe. Years later, William returns to his village, wanting to have a simple life as a farmer, where he hopes to marry lifelong love Murron, and raise many sons.


In order to keep the Scottish population in check, Longshanks institutes an old tradition known as Primae noctis—First Night—giving nobles the right to take a maiden on her wedding night to have sex with her with the goal of getting her pregnant with English blood.


As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well, and Wallace and Murron marry in secret, telling no one so the local lord won’t discover. Of course, a blossoming love can’t be kept hidden, and after Murron hits a soldier who attempts to rape her, she is killed, inciting Wallace to start a rebellion to just kill as many English as possible, but leading him to ultimately take up the cause of freeing Scotland.


Along the way, more and more clans hear of Wallace’s exploits and successes in battle, causing his legend to grow to mythic proportions and having many join his cause until he is leading an actual army, fighting larger and larger battles, including the battle of Stirling, Falkird, and attacking the English city of York, where they start inflicting actual damage against Longshanks.


At its heart, Braveheart can be boiled down to love—what starts wars, and what is ultimately worth fighting and dying for. Beyond the initial love—and later outrage—Wallace feels for Murron, you see the love he has for his men, and ultimately his love of the idea of a free Scotland. This is contrasted with the ruthlessness and heartlessness of Longshanks, who only cares about positioning things for future rule, along with the lack of love between Princess Isabella—daughter of the King of France, forced to marry for an alliance—and Prince Edward—who is played as overly effeminate and having no interest in women.


As I didn’t remember much of the film, I was curious how it would hold up after so long. Not only are the acting and dialogue solid throughout and the scenery and cinematography beautiful (shot entirely abroad in Scotland and Ireland)–what you really appreciate is the massive scope of the large battles, which were filmed with practical effects. There are no CGI armies or digital doubles, or computer-enhanced backdrops—these are literally hundreds, nay thousands, of actual people pitched in battle in real environs. In many ways, you can see how the large battle scenes here could have served as a blueprint for The Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards.”


Originally filmed in 35mm, this 4K transfer retains an incredible amount of sharpness and detail, but keeps its film-like look rather than having the tack-sharp razor detail of modern productions. There is a bit of grain in some of the grey-colored sky shots, but I never found it distracting or objectionable.


The best images are scenes shot in close and mid focus, with longer-range shots not having as much detail and being a bit soft. Closeups bristle with detail, showing every line, pore, and beard growth, as well as the dirt and grime that seems to cover every non-noble. Edges are sharp, detailed, and well-defined, letting you clearly see every rock that went into building a structure or wall. You can also appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into the costuming, seeing threads and weaves and wear in the battle uniforms, as well as the set design. There were some shots—usually conversations between two people—that were slightly out of focus, which appears to be more a product of the original production.


This isn’t a film that pushes the bounds of UHD’s wider color gamut, with much of it having a muted, earthy, dirt and ground-colored palette. Even the tartans of the Scots are mainly muted mossy greens and browns. This contrasts with the vibrant 

reds and golds worn by Longshanks, or the colors of his soldiers. We are given many opportunities to appreciate the lush countryside, and you can definitely appreciate the rich greens and beauty of Scotland.


HDR is used less here to deliver eye-searing highlights—though there are a few fires that burn brightly—and more to deliver a better range of black and shadow detail throughout. Much of Braveheart’s action takes place outdoors in wide-open fields or in low-lit night or indoor scenes, and the enhanced contrast lets you better appreciate dark-level detail, resulting in a more lifelike image.


As mentioned, Braveheart also received a new Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, and what benefits most is James Horner’s Oscar-nominated score, which is given plenty space to open up across the front channels as well as being mixed up into the front height speakers for a truly large presentation.


I wouldn’t describe this as an overly active Atmos mix, and they definitely don’t look for every opportunity to push sounds up overhead unnecessarily. Instead, we get a much better sense of being in a large, open outdoor space, with swirling winds, birds chirping, leaves rustling, and other ambient sounds putting you outdoors. Other interior scenes have ropes swaying and rafters creaking 


overhead, with battles filling the room with the sounds of shouts, arrows whistling, swords clanging, fires raging, and smoke billowing up overhead.


Your subwoofer will have long moments of rest, but it is called into play when needed, either during big emotional moments of the score or from the pounding of horse hooves charging into battle that are powerful enough to rattle your seats.


Braveheart ranks high on many movie fans’ Best Movies’ list, though it sits at #78 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies, and doesn’t manage to crack AFI’s Top 100. (It does place #62 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheer: America’s Most Inspiring Movies list.) Prior to this viewing, I actually only saw the film once before, and that was on LaserDisc more than 20 years ago! (With a running time just minutes shy of three hours, I can only imagine how many side flips and disc changes it would have required back then!) The film definitely looks and sounds its best here, making it a perfect movie-night selection if you haven’t screened it recently.

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

Kaleidescape’s Luke O’Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

Someone peering in from the outside might assume that the Director of Content Operations at a luxury movie-download service like Kaleidescape is a kind of high-end traffic cop, tasked primarily with taking the 4K HDR files sent along by the various studios and ensuring they’re posted on the company’s movie store without any serious technical glitches—in other words, a job defined more by technical diligence than anything else.


But Luke O’Brien (like Kaleidescape’s Principal Engineer of User Experience Michael Kobb, who we profiled in “Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater”) is a deep-dyed movie fan. And his passion for film permeates the entire Kaleidescape experience, from the selection of movies to the creation of the transfers to the crafting of the descriptions on the interface and store.


With most big movies on hold with no clear sense of when—or how—they’ll make their way to the home market, which is causing a lot of people to turn to older films for entertainment, this seemed like a good time to pick Luke’s brain about the virtues of exploring Kaleidescape’s [11,000]-title catalog of films, series, concerts, and other content.

—Michael Gaughn

It seems like it might have been wiser for the studios to have released more of their big summer movies straight to the home market than to sit on them for an indefinite amount of time. But I guess they’re willing to gamble that they’ll get a big enough bump out of them when and if they’re able to get them into theaters.

I think the studios are going to do everything they can not to give up on that window. But as time continues to move forward, they do have a lot of stuff that is already finished. It becomes hard to make those choices about when do they actually get those titles into the world to monetize them. Even if they do choose to release some of them now, if we’re still in a period where they’re not getting back to things being filmed and finished, we’re just delaying another very hard dry spell we might 

have to experience months down the road. Because if you show everything you currently have in your backlog now, there will be a point later on when the well is dry and you have to figure out how you can live through that experience.


Premium video on demand (PVOD) seemed to come out of nowhere to at least get some mid-tier titles into the home market.

We’ve seen things that, if not tent poles. would have at least been prominent theatrical releases transitioned straight into the premium EST [electronic sell-through] and premium VOD markets. It’s the first time that’s happened. So we are in an unprecedented time right now.


How has this played out for Kaleidescape in particular?

It’s been a really interesting period for us. We are continuing to see very good traffic coming through our store. There are two things people are really diving into, both of which are encompassed by what we generally talk about as “catalog” —that is, movies that have been out for over a year.


One, there are a lot of films that maybe people missed the first time around but now they’re getting a chance to 

dive into. And then there’s also—I heard the phrase the other day—“comfort viewing” that’s taking place. This is where you have movies you love or stars you connect with and you’re diving into their content and kind of snuggling up with it to really make the end of your evening a more pleasant experience.


When this first all started to play out, did you see people gravitating naturally or sort of organically towards catalog in the sense that there was an unusual uptick of people going in and checking out those titles?

When the pandemic first started, we saw what a lot of platforms did, that movies like Contagion jumped into people’s minds right away. So there are some famous films like that that come to the top of your mind when you’re at a time like this. But as 

time went on, it became, “What are the things I’ve missed? What can I go and revisit in the catalog that’s going to help me be happy?” We just did a promotion where we featured some films of Stanley Kubrick as an extraordinarily masterful director. That’s an opportunity where people will say, “Oh man, I’ve seen The Shining. What are the other ones?”


As time has gone on, what do you see people gravitating toward? Are they getting more adventurous with their choices?

That’s more a per-customer sort of thing, but we are seeing some of them who are going in and doing more deep dives. They’re electing to go through and pick up a bunch of titles in the furthest reaches of the catalog, like some of the extraordinary noir films from the 1940s that they hadn’t gotten around to before. But for a lot of people, it’s the stuff they missed maybe two years ago—stuff that feels not that far away.


I know older films like Jaws, Top Gun, and Easy Rider have recently been

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

upgraded to 4K HDR. Do you see that trend accelerating, given the increased demand for catalog titles?

If that plan ends up coming into effect, we’ll likely begin seeing the results the very end of this year and into early next year. It takes a lot of resources for the licensers to go out there and do those 4K remasters. They really want to do them well and right. They don’t want to slap together a cheap “scan it up and ship it out”-type product to people. So when they make a 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

deliberate effort to go back and get those films redone, it takes a little more time.


While the market might not be able to make that happen as quickly as we’d like, I think we have to be pretty excited about what they’ve been able to get out of the new titles that have come through. To pick an example, The Shining, which I just mentioned—that 4K remaster is gorgeous. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, which only increases that wonderful Kaleidescape cinematic experience of being at home and getting to enjoy that movie in the best way it can be experienced.


For people who’ve never really gotten into older films, your AFI Top 100 collection would seem like a good place to start. I know you’ve been able to round that collection out since you obtained the rights to the MGM catalog, but is there anything else you’ve been able to do recently to spruce it up?

Acquiring the MGM catalog did allow us to add films like Silence of the Lambs. And we’ve been able to enhance the collection with some recent upgrades to things like Duck Soup and Swing Time. We’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting the Top 100, which we know is one people gravitate to, as best we can.


If you could point people toward some other areas, what would they be?

To echo the recent winner of the Best Director Oscar, we want to continue to introduce people to the movies that

take a little more investment in terms of having to read subtitles. There’s so much good international content on our store, and we’ve got a Best of Foreign-Language Cinema collection. A great recent foreign title is François Ozon’s Frantz, which we added a couple of years ago and which did very, very well. It’s so morally challenging and visually stunning and just a great film to kind of get people engaged with.


It’s not clear to me why, but I know musicals can be a hard sell for some people.

We’re fortunate to have had animation keep the musical alive when live-action let it go away. But even new movies that aren’t musicals can still have that same intonation. One of the biggest hits last year was the remake of A Star Is Born. That has as much song as story taking place in it, so it’s got some of the qualities of a musical running through it. We just had the Trolls World Tour drop, which is an animated film that was one of the premium early releases. I’ve got a friend who says his niece

won’t stop listening to it. So that tells you it’s got a quality that is certainly attractive to the market as a musical.


Interesting people in silent films can also be a challenge.

100%. We have some real masterpieces that live there on the store, and if you can just get somebody interested in something like Buster Keaton’s The General, you can often lead them to other silent classics. The great thing about the foreign silent films is that there is no language barrier to watching something like Battleship Potemkin or Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can see really some of the most interesting and visually stunning movies you’re ever going to watch.


We’ve been focusing on films, but things like concerts and your recent acquisition of the PBS titles also give people room to roam.

For somebody who has invested in their home theater experience, being able to enjoy a concert film in lossless audio—there’s nothing like it. It blows the doors 

Kaleidescape's Luke O'Brien on the Importance of Catalog

off. One of my dealers reached out to tell me how excited he was to sit down and watch the INXS concert, which looks and sounds great because it was provided to us in HDR with Atmos audio. Bruce Springsteen’s recent significant movie was his Western Stars concert in a barn. It’s also sort of a personal journey film that I think is gorgeous and totally engaging.


You mentioned us recently adding PBS to the store. We have so much extraordinary television content, and the great thing about that is that it you can have a much longer-term engagement with it that’s not just a two-hour experience. If you watch one of those extraordinary Ken Burns documentaries, that’s several hours of your life having a deeply enveloping educational experience. I love a lot of the mysteries, like The Bletchley Circle. I watched The Manhunt for the first time, the Martin Clunes detective thriller from RLJ Entertainment, which is actually the length of a movie but it’s got that serial episodic hold to it that I find totally engaging.

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.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Barry riffs on everything from A Series of Unfortunate Events to subwoofers to
The Tick (2001) to why most movie theaters are like a bad BLT

In Part 1, director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men in Black, Get Shorty, Pushing Daisies) offered his thoughts on how film distribution, movie theaters, and Hollywood in general have fared during the current crisis. Here, he gets more personal, discussing the pandemic’s impact on his efforts to get a new streaming series into production and on his viewing habits at home.  

—Michael Gaughn

Will the backlog of tentpoles and other films awaiting release in turn hold up other films from going into production, so essentially all movie production shifts by about a year?

Mike, it’s less that there’s a backlog of movies to be released and more that there’s no production going on and no one has really figured out how to get production started. I’m in Vancouver and I’m supposed to start pre-production on a television 

series this week. Vancouver has done a very good job in containing the virus, but if I were a studio—whether it’s TV or streaming or features—I would be very hesitant to start a show knowing that the insurance companies will not cover shutting down for COVID.


If a hair & makeup person or an actress or a third grip gets COVID, you could be shut down for weeks at a minimum. Even though you can test every other day, I don’t see how it can work until there’s a 15-minute, accurate, no false-positives test where the crew can get paid to come in 15 minutes early, get tested, and then wait until someone says, “Okay, you’re clear, you’re clear, you’re clear. You can come in.”


This concept of zone shooting—where the grips and electrics come in and they light, and then they leave the set and the actors come in—it’s sort of an OK idea in theory, but in execution, it’s not the way movies are made. Because if you rehearse with the lead actors, how does a crew watch the rehearsal? Do they have to watch it from a witness camera? Who puts marks down for the stand-ins to know where to stand?

Then an actress comes in, now she’s in hair and makeup, which she wasn’t ahead of time. And the DP realizes he has to move a light three feet forward because her hair is blocking her face now. Do the actors leave, and then the grip and electric come back in and move that light three feet? And then the actors come back in and you hope you don’t get it wrong. I mean, it’s going to slow down the time it takes to shoot a show by 30% or 40%.


So it’s not about backlog, it’s about if I were a studio executive, I wouldn’t be making movies, I would be buying up libraries. Or buying movies that didn’t get released properly, that were really good but it was the wrong timing. Like I had a movie, Big 

Trouble, that was about Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville accidentally stealing a suitcase that’s a nuclear bomb. It’s an outright comedy, but it came out 11 days after 9/11 so it never got a successful release. But I would not be making new shows right now if I ran a studio.


Can you tell me a little more about what you’re working on?

The situation is up in the air and things can change or not. But I’m hoping to start a six-part musical for Apple written by Cinco Paul, who wrote all the Despicable Me movies. This is his first live-action feature. And it’s being produced by Lorne Michaels and his company Broadway Video. 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

Sofia Vergara, Ben Foster, Patrick Warburton, Tim Allen,
and Rene Russo in Big Trouble

It’s a half-hour series, and I’m not going to say who’s in it, but we hopefully will be starting prep this Monday. So that gives you an example of how things are still up in the air.


Well, good luck with all that.

Oh, thanks.


What impact has all this had on what you’ve been watching lately? Have you been going back and looking at older films?

Because of COVID, one thing I did is, in addition to my Kaleidescape, I also joined the Criterion subscription channel and I’ve been watching some stuff on that. It’s funny, Criterion gave me about 50 Blu-rays because I re-did Blood Simple for them and

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 2

The Criterion Blu-ray of
the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple

I also bought up a lot of Criterion Blu-rays, and you can’t find a Blu-ray player.


Costco doesn’t carry Blu-ray anymore, I had to go on Amazon to buy a player. Blu-ray is a dying business because everything is going to video on demand. I think catalogs are going to be where it is for a while, for sure.


Are movie theaters on their last legs? I mean, are we just drawing out the inevitable and the pandemic is just speeding that up? Or is there a reason for them to hang in there?

I’d get out of that business if I owned that real estate, although who do you sell it to? Maybe you sell it as an Amazon distribution center or an Apple store because no one wants a physical space anyway. So malls are dying, movie theaters are dying. Try to sell it and buy Amazon stock—that’s what I would do if I owned AMC.


Yes, it’s a dying industry, and Netflix and the streamers are going to really flourish. And again, Mike, because sound and picture quality is getting better and better and better for 

home theaters, the sacrifice of not going to a movie theater is now not about quality or even screen size. It’s just, do I want to be in a movie theater watching a comedy? See, for me, I think comedies rely more on big audiences than big action movies do. I had a better setup in Telluride to watch a big action movie than I ever did going to my East Hampton cinema and or even the Telluride cinema. So for me, the reason to be in a movie theater is to be with other people sharing a comedy, not watching bad VFX effects in a Marvel feature.

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.