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John Sciacca’s 4K HDR Wish List

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List

I knew going into this exercise that my list wasn’t going to contain the big, weighty titles Dennis and Mike came up with (though Amélie was on my list in my original draft—one of my very favorite foreign films that I agree with Dennis would definitely look terrific in 4K HDR!) While those two gentlemen have an almost scholarly knowledge of film history, director and cinematographer styles, and influences, I am just happy most times to sit back and be entertained. Having said that, my list definitely mirrors my taste in movies, featuring tons of mainstream titles that have received multiple Academy Award nominations and wins, and includes the No. 2 and 3 top-grossing films of all time! With few exceptions, these are probably films you already own—or have definitely watched—and a new 4K transfer would be a great reason to revisit them.

J.S.

THE ABYSS

Of course, I’m speaking about the longer, fleshed-out Special Edition version that restores a much needed 31 minutes to the theatrical release, but after 18 years, it’s time. And not only would a 4K HDR version be most welcome, so would an HD Blu-ray release! Somehow, this James Cameron film never got past DVD, and it would definitely benefit from the full 4K treatment. With lots of dark underwater shots and bright lighting, The Abyss is another great candidate for a 4K HDR transfer, and all of the water drips and acoustics aboard Deep Core would certainly benefit from an expanded Atmos sound mix.

 

AVATAR

James Cameron’s world of Pandora was so real, some people actually felt depressed when the movie was over. Just think how gorgeous Pandora would look at night in 4K HDR, with all of that bioluminescent plant and animal life glowing on the screen. Still one of the best 3D experiences I’ve ever had, Avatar in 4K would have incredible richness and depth, and would also be a great lead-in to the sequels that are supposedly coming . . . one day. 

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

This happens to be the 60th anniversary of the film so it’s the perfect opportunity to relive this Blake Edwards classic! And after seeing how fantastic My Fair Lady looked in its recent full restoration with a new 4K HDR scan, I can’t wait to see how Tiffany’s would look. And, of course, any opportunity to revisit Audrey Hepburn is one worth taking.

 

DAS BOOT

One of the greatest submarine films ever made—arguably the greatest—Wolfgang Petersen’s 209-minute epic director’s cut is a claustrophobic, cramped, sweaty adventure as you spend hours trapped in the tight, pressurized confines of a German U-

boat on the run, getting to know the crew and see how they tick and work under pressure. The dark interiors of the sub will definitely benefit from HDR, and a new Atmos soundtrack will expand the already immersive Dolby Digital version.

 

THE INDIANA JONES TRILOGY

The rumor mill says this one will likely be coming later this year to correspond with a new, fifth Indy film, but until the Trilogy actually arrives, these movies will be on the top of many people’s 4K wish list. Perhaps the greatest serial film ever made, Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action classic, and seeing how great the Star Wars films (specifically Empire Strikes Back) looked and sounded, I’ve no doubt these films will become home theater reference titles when they get here! From the sparkle of gold, to the intensity of flames, to the bright reds and deep shadows inside the Temple of Doom, the Indy franchise should look and sound fantastic in 4K!

 

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

With a lot of hazy, smoky, foggy images shot over the water, this Russell Crowe-led film will really benefit from the higher bitrates and resolution of a 4K HDR transfer. It also features a fantastic soundtrack and audio mix with lots of creaks and groans from the ship that will truly be elevated (literally!) by a new Atmos immersive mix.(I’ve long used the opening 

scene to demo surround systems in my custom showroom, and even in 5.1 it delivers an immersive experience!) Unfortunately for now, we can only imagine how those cannon blasts, explosions, and splintering wood and shredding sails will sound in a lossless sound mix.

 

THE STING

One of my favorite films, you don’t come to The Sting for terrific audio and video but rather for the story, the chemistry between the characters, and the snappy dialogue. Even still, it would be great to see this movie shined up like a new penny, letting you appreciate the wardrobe and set design like never before, ya folla? And a new audio mix would give Marvin Hamlisch’s ragtime arrangements more room to shine.

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List
TITANIC

At the risk of making this list overly Cameron-heavy, I had to throw in Titanic as well. One of the most successful films of all time, it definitely deserves to sail again in 4K. The lengths Cameron went to to recreate that ship’s first (and last) voyage are legendary (down to redoing the visual effects to make sure the stars were correct for how they would have been that night!), and I’d love to revisit Jack and Rose in full 4K HDR splendor to fully appreciate all of the details and designs. 

 

TRON: LEGACY

From a visual standpoint, this 2010 Tron reboot should look fantastic, with tons of glowing neon lighting inside the computer world overlaid against deep blacks, giving this the potential to be a true HDR tour de force. All of those bright transitions and shades against black can also be a real cause for banding and noise, making another reason why Legacy could look truly reference in HDR. Plus, the Daft Punk mix will (hopefully) get some expanded room to breathe and fill the room with an Atmos mix.

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.

Michael Gaughn’s 4K HDR Wish List

Michael Gaughn's 4K HDR Wish List

Trying to come up with a reasonably brief list of titles worth upgrading to 4K HDR is as maddening as lopping off hydra heads. Once you have one nailed down, up pops another equally worthy contender until you feel like you’re going to be devoured by the damn things. So what follows is far from exhaustive and is being put forth knowing full well there are scores of other titles that should have made the cut as well. To help keep things manageable, I’ve limited the list to:

 

♦  Movies from before digital filmmaking went mainstream. These are the efforts most likely to benefit from 4K HDR, if done right.

 

♦  Ones where the elements are likely to be in decent shape. As we’ve said often, UHD can work wonders but it can also be merciless at revealing flaws, so there’s little point in prioritizing titles that will just leave you asking “Why?”

 

♦  Movies as vital and relevant as anything of more recent vintage, as opposed the kind of musty old museum pieces that are easily filed away under “Classics”.

 

And there’s one other criterion: There seemed little point in pushing titles based on their popularity. Blockbusters and fan favorites will inevitably get leapfrogged to the front of any upgrade queue because, while they rarely reflect well on the filmmaking art, they’ve got the built-in advantage of fan rabidity to help ensure ROI.

 

I’ve instead focused on movies based not on their box office but their influence—especially their influence on other filmmakers. These tend to be the films that innovate instead of replicate, that are more likely to be the (sometimes awkward) expression of an individual viewpoint than of a corporate collective. “Big” movies tend to be able to fend for themselves, while more human, inherently, not accidentally, creative efforts need all the advocates they can get.

M.G.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS

All of Douglas Sirk’s subversive soap operas from the mid ‘50s should be upgraded immediately. Their influence on filmmaking has been undeniable and huge; by being so true to their era, they’ve aged well; and they’re still reliable roadmaps to how to effectively screw with the system. All That Heaven Allows goes to the head of that list, though, thanks mainly to the genius cinematography of Russell Metty (Touch of Evil, Spartacus), who might have done his best work here, somehow both respecting the subject matter while puckishly revealing its cheesiness.

 

THE BAND WAGON

Technicolor from the ‘50s can look garish if not handled right—partly because the original films already looked pretty gaudy and even the slightest misstep can push that completely over the line. Of course, Technicolor got goosed hardest of all in musicals, many of which have such amped-up palettes that they can be painful to watch now. (I pity the poor tech fool who gets assigned The Pirate.) But The Band Wagon is often considered the best musical ever not only because Comden and Green’s script opts for wit over jokes—an intelligence that tends to spill over into the production numbers as well—but because Vincente Minnelli deployed his Technicolor resources with taste if not always with restraint. Upgrading The Band Wagon could give it an unfiltered immediacy it hasn’t had since the day of its release.

Michael Gaughn's 4K HDR Wish List
BARRY LYNDON

Given the phenomenal job Warner Bros. did with The Shining, it’s impossible not to be antsy to see what they’ll do with what might be the most masterfully photographed movie ever. Clockwork Orange is due out over the next few months, but that won’t give us many clues about how Lyndon will fare, since Kubrick went deliberately low-fi for Orange. But if they can pull this off, it could easily become the reference disc for judging films from before the digital era.

 

BRAZIL

How can you not? Terry Gilliam, with this film, created a style that influenced practically every film and cinematic TV series since. The trick would be upgrading it while staying true to its very deliberate messiness. This is not a film you want looking like it was shot yesterday.

Michael Gaughn's 4K HDR Wish List
CONTEMPT

Not only is Raoul Coutard’s cinematography brilliant, but this film—and specifically, the look of this film—has been so influential that it deserves to be pushed to the top of the Godard list. If you want to cut straight to what was coolest about the look and feel of the ‘60s, watch Contempt. Godard was mocking epics shot in widescreen (in the film, Fritz Lang famously says widescreen is only good for shooting snakes and funerals), but makes an indelible case for it here.

(A quick digression: Foreign films tend to be treated like the Miss Congeniality of lists like this—and I’m pretty guilty of that here as well. Their influence on filmmakers, though, is on par with—and often exceeds—the influence of the stuff from their squeaky-wheel American cousins. But because they’re not big, loud, and stupid, eager to slap you on the back or punch you in the face, we don’t offer them up for consideration as often as we should.)

 

DOUBLE INDEMNITY

How do you pass over the film that single-handedly defined noir? People are still reinterpreting, and outright stealing from, John Seitz’s groundbreaking cinematography to this day. As films like Psycho and Dr. Strangelove have shown, it can be a gamble whether older black & white films will hold up under the upgrade process. But Indemnity was a prestige project for Paramount, so hopefully there would be a decent source to work from.

 

THE GENERAL

Silent films tend to be as easily overlooked as foreign films but many of them are as visually compelling as anything shot today. Singling ones out for upgrades can be a tough call, though, because who knows what kind of shape the elements are in? I’m throwing The General out there because it’s as much an exercise in style as it is in genius comedy—like Matthew Brady photos come to life.

 

THE LONG GOODBYE

Robert Altman’s both affectionate and cynical reimagining of Raymond Chandler continues, like Once Upon a Time in the West (see below), to be hugely influential, and Vilmos Zsigmond’s deliberately funky cinematography could look gorgeous in 4K HDR (despite the flashing). A lot of films aim for grit—this one has it on display in every frame.

 

MANHATTAN

There are at least 15 Woody Allen films from Annie Hall on that deserve to be done in 4K HDR, but given the opprobrium that’s been heaped upon him it’s likely to be a struggle just to get couple of them upgraded. It might seem to be perverse to be pushing for what has become, decades after the fact, his most controversial film, but this is his most ambitious and satisfying work and Gordon Willis’s widescreen black & white cinematography, which isn’t particularly well served by the current HD incarnation, could look spectacular in UHD.

 

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE
OR
YOUNG MR. LINCOLN

John Ford was such a consummate filmmaker that at least one of his films needs to be bumped up soon—but which one? The obvious choice would be The Searchers, but that

seems too obvious. I’d opt instead for either one of these—partly because they don’t carry as much extraneous baggage as Searchers so you can appreciate Ford as an artist without getting dragged into faux notions of myth. (If we were just talking about visuals, a case could be made for the Greg Toland-lensed Long Voyage Home, but that’s not really Ford at his best.)

Michael Gaughn's 4K HDR Wish List
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

The influence of Sergio Leone’s epic, cheeky western is pervasive (Tarantino wouldn’t have a career if he couldn’t constantly pillage this film) and its reputation grows with every year. It’s not the most subtly photographed movie, but 4K could make it sublime just by staying true to its sheer widescreen filminess. And then there’s that Morricone score . . .

 

VICTOR/VICTORIA

Blake Edwards was a solid but only occasionally brilliant filmmaker, but Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, and even The Party would all seem like good candidates for upgrades. Many film enthusiasts would vote for The Great Race, and parts of that would look spectacular, but it’s just too ungainly a film, and not that funny. Victor/Victoria is solid, beautiful, and the laughs still work—4K HDR, in competent hands, couldn’t help but enhance the experience.

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

Dennis Burger’s 4K HDR Wish List

Over the next three days, we’re going to be publishing our wish lists of movies we’d put at the front of the queue for 4K HDR upgrades. As is obvious from our “4K HDR Essentials,” some older titles have fared really well when brought out digitally in a form that can match their original film releases. Others, for a variety of reasons, haven’t done so well. Our lists represent the ones we think will most benefit from the upgrade.

 

You’ll find that our choices are pretty eclectic and run the gamut from mega-blockbusters to the unjustly obscure. We encourage you to check out all our wish lists to get a good sense of what the UHD re-release market could have to offer over the next couple of years.

—ed.

Dennis Burger's 4K HDR Wish List

One of my favorite college courses was Econ 101, not because of the subject matter but because of the professor. He was notoriously tough and gave all-essay exams, but he had a peculiar practice with those exams. If students took issue with a question, he encouraged us to scratch it out and write a new question in its place, then answer it. If you managed to convince him that your question was better than his question, and assuming he was satisfied with your answer, he’d give you extra credit.

 

Mind you, we don’t get extra credit here at Cineluxe, but when Mike asked me for a list of movies I wanted to see in 4K HDR, I immediately flashed back to that Econ prof. If I sat down and thought about it, I could crank out a list of 100 movies that legitimately deserve the upgrade from HD. The question I want to answer instead is not “What?” but “Why?”

 

Why do I want all of these films released in 4K HDR? That’s the real question I’m attempting to answer here. As such, you could probably substitute any of the titles below for any number of others representative of their era, their style, or the format in which they were finished.

D.B.

AMÉLIE

Apparently admitting this makes me something of a Brooklyn hipster chick, but so be it. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s best film makes my heart happy. I’ve never been overly happy with its presentation on DVD or Blu-ray, though (and little birdies in Hollywood have told me that Jeunet isn’t a fan of the home video master, either). Amélie was finished in a 2K digital intermediate, so I wouldn’t expect much in the way of enhanced detail in a 4K HDR re-release (short of a complete restoration, which the film honestly doesn’t need). But watching Amélie in HD is like watching a bag of sentient Skittles trying to break out of prison and

pounding on the bars in frustration at their inability to truly live free. You can literally see where the colors are raging and straining against the limitations of older home video technology.

 

 

KILL BILL VOL. 1 & 2

When you get right down to it, the real benefit of 4K HDR isn’t the extra pixels or the extra colors. For me, it’s about removing distractions. And although the Blu-ray releases of this over-the-top Quentin Tarantino mashup/homage to schlocky grindhouse cinema and martial-arts flicks are pretty great overall, I still find their limitations glaring. Some of the darker scenes are graded a little too brightly to avoid the loss of all shadow detail, and although primary colors should dominate the palette, there are scenes in both films where there’s a bit too much of a push toward the primaries. I also wouldn’t mind the option to watch The Whole Bloody Affair, the 215-minute original edit of the film that existed before Harvey Weinstein forced Tarantino to either make cuts or split it into two pictures.

 

 

THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR

I won’t pretend that this mid-1970s Robert Redford/Faye Dunaway/Max von Sydow vehicle is the best espionage thriller of all time. It’s a little preachy and neither as engaging as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) nor as thematically coherent as its own spiritual successor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). But dammit, I still love 

the film despite its flaws and have never been satisfied with any of its home video releases.

 

Every new Blu-ray that comes out sports a drastic shift in overall color balance. That says to me that 8-bit color simply isn’t sufficient to capture the palette of the original camera negative, and the digital wizards working on new masters are having to pick and choose how and where to limit the imagery. I want to see the colors as director Sydney Pollack and cinematographer Owen Roizman saw them, and I’m not saying HDR would guarantee that, but it would certainly make it possible. What’s more,

even the best HD transfers of the film are riddled with moiré artifacts that shine a bright light on just how much extra detail there is to be extracted from the existing elements.

 

I know the film has been restored in 4K. So it shouldn’t be that much effort to actually release it in 4K.

 

 

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Recent 4K HDR releases of black & white films like It’s a Wonderful Life

and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington have demonstrated how monochromatic cinematography can benefit as much from HDR as do the most colorful of films. I’m itching to see if that holds true for my favorite Gregory Peck film and one of my favorite book adaptations in the history of cinema. The Blu-ray release from a few years back was (and still is) fantastic looking, but I have to think there’s ample additional shadow detail to be eked out of the negative, especially in the nighttime scenes, like the one in which Scout, Jem, and Dill save Atticus from an angry mob.

 

 

RAN

Several years back, StudioCanal finished an extensive frame-by-frame remaster of Kurosawa’s loose adaptation of King Lear, with color grading overseen by cinematographer Shôji Ueda. And while this elusive release was a huge improvement over previous home video efforts, it was only made available in HD, despite the restoration being done in 4K.

 

There have been rumors and rumblings of a proper 4K release, perhaps in Australia, maybe in the US. Who knows? Apparently COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench in StudioCanal’s release plans. At any rate, I’m starving for this one. While I would love to see Kurosawa’s black & white classics properly remastered in 4K (if Criterion ever gets around to supporting modern video formats), this vibrant work is the film of his I think would benefit most from the enhanced resolution and especially the expanded color gamut of 4K HDR. Watching the Blu-ray release, you can tell there’s ten pounds of color here crammed into an eight-pound bag.

Dennis Burger's 4K HDR Wish List
THE RED SHOES

I’ve had the wrong impression of Technicolor for my entire life, since I’ve never seen it projected and assumed that home video releases were at least reasonably representative of how the format was supposed to look. Due mostly to the popularity of The Wizard of Oz, we’ve all come to associate the three-strip color process with hyper-saturated colors that appear more painted than filmed. But as the 4K HDR restoration of Oz revealed (at least to me), there’s a ton of chromatic subtlety to be extracted from those old Technicolor films, and I’m itching to see classics like this given more room to breathe, without every color being cranked to 11. Unfortunately, as I hinted at above, Criterion has still yet to hop aboard the 4K train, and the film’s distribution rights are firmly in their hands. If they decide to get with the times anytime soon, I hope this is their first 4K release.

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.

Ep. 14: Barry Sonnenfeld on . . . a Little Bit of Everything

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Knowing that Barry Sonnenfeld has just finished shooting a series for Apple TV+—a tongue-in-cheek take on Studio Era musicals called Smigadoon—and that it was one of the first projects to go into production in the midst of the pandemic, we were curious to check in to see how he fared. He proved eager to talk not just about how he and his team rose to that challenge but about a slew of other topics as well, especially his plans to create a new screening room in a less than hospitable space.

 

Given all the ground we covered, it seemed best to opt out of the usual description of topics and provide a stripped-down road map instead:

 

4:39     His experiences shooting during the pandemic.

8:15     The virtues of filming in Vancouver.

8:52     The similarities of shooting Smigadoon and A Series of Unfortunate Events.

11:23   The similarities between Smigadoon and Pushing Daisies & his other work.

13:17   Apple TV’s and Netflix’s requirements for shooting in 4K.

15:33   Fighting HDR.

17:48   8K.

19:17   Working with Apple TV and Netflix vs. traditional studios.

22:37   The emergence of cinematic television.

23:53   His various screening rooms.

26:05   The challenges and opportunities of his new screening room.

26:44   The Apple app for accessing Academy screeners.

27:32   Jumping into Atmos.

28:38   Digital room correction.

29:06   Get Shorty.

35:45   Can they pull off the Oscars this year?

37:02   Somehow, we end up talking about the designated-hitter rule.

37:52   The fate of movie theaters and its impact on film financing.

40:21   Should streaming-only content be eligible for Oscar consideration?

41:12   Doing professional film production on an iPhone.

42:55   His James Randi project.

44:33   The intersection of art and technology.

44:59   The one good thing about 8K.

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

Review: David Byrne’s American Utopia

David Byrne's American Utopia

When we think about the closures and scheduling upheavals caused by the pandemic, at Cineluxe we generally focus on what this has meant for theaters and movie releases, but it has had an equally disastrous impact on live events like plays and concerts. The Great White Way—Broadway—officially closed to the public on March 12 (and remains closed), and most large concert tours have been postponed as well.

 

At the intersection of play/performance, concert, and movie is David Byrne’s American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee. Utopia has been available for streaming on HBO Max since October 17, and recently made available to other digital retailers like 

Kaleidescape, where it is offered for both purchase and rental.

 

Inspired by Byrne’s 2018 tour for his tenth solo studio album, American Utopia, Byrne worked the concert into a Broadway show that ran at the Hudson Theater from October 4, 2019 to February 16, 2020. (It is set to return to the Hudson for a four-month run starting September 17.)

 

For the pop-culture impaired, David Byrne is most known as the lead singer and principal creative force behind Talking Heads. In high school, I thought Byrne was about the smartest and coolest rock star around. I loved Talking Heads, owned every album, and wore out countless batteries devouring their albums on my Walkman. But, sadly, I never had the chance to see them perform live.

 

I did do the next best thing, which was to go and see the band’s seminal concert film Stop Making Sense more than

UTOPIA AT A GLANCE

This Spike Lee-directed film of Talking Heads frontman Byrne’s concert/performance piece is on par with the classic Stop Making Sense.

 

PICTURE
The image quality is generally quite good, letting you appreciate all of the facial detail of performers, but the HD presentation does lead to some artifacting.

 

SOUND     

The mix is restrained and front-centric, with most of the audio in the center channel, with the surrounds deployed for light fill.

once, including several midnight showings at the Berkeley Theater, where people of all ages would get up and dance down in the aisles and down in front of the screen. It was fantastic. I’ve since seen Byrne perform live on three occasions, including the American Utopia show when it came to Charleston in September 2018.

 

While the Utopia film is very similar to the concert experience, it does differ a bit in the set list and song order. While I’m sure Byrne has reasons for the songs selected and their order in establishing and telling his story, there is plenty here for fans to enjoy. In total, the show features 21 songs, including a sampling of Talking Heads songs spanning six different albums like “Don’t Worry About the Government,” “I Zimbra,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Burning Down the House,” and “Road to Nowhere,” as well as music from five different Byrne solo albums.

 

Part of the joy of going to a live show is being able to focus on the bits you want to watch—say a particular performer, or maybe some interplay between band members happening off-center. Obviously, with a film you are limited to what the director chooses to focus on, and Spike Lee mainly opts to keep Byrne in frame (the smart choice), switching between tight, medium, and wide shots that show the full stage and all of the performers. He also offers other camera angles the paying audience would never have access to, such as some interesting overhead shots that show some of the band’s choreography. I never felt distracted by the cuts or camera selection and felt they did a good job of serving the show.

 

Stop Making Sense is widely regarded as the best concert film ever, with a lot of credit going to director Jonathan Demme, but I feel most of that film’s look, pacing, and style is really due to Byrne, who excruciatingly choreographed and stage directed everything, leaving Demme to just point cameras in the right direction and stay the hell out of the band’s way. Much the same can be said for Utopia, where Lee is just tasked with capturing Byrne’s vision and not calling attention to himself or pulling viewers out of Byrne’s performance. The fact that Sense is sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and Utopia is currently at 98% certainly speaks to the caliber of both.

 

Like with Sense, the Utopia performers don’t all take the stage at once. As Byrne described the gradual reveal of the band at the time of Sense‘s release, “If the curtain opened and everything was there, there’ll be nowhere to go. It tells the story of the band; it gets more dramatic and physical as it builds up.” The same is true here.

 

Except here we are able to better connect with the performers and truly see and appreciate everything they are doing. There are no cables, no gear, no big drum kits or other instruments, or wire tethering the performers to a single spot. Instead, they are all totally free and unencumbered to move about the stage. Some of the coordinated movements reminded me of stripped-down halftime marching band.

 

Byrne’s penchant for letting the music do the talking is also on display in the costuming, with all 12 band members identically clad in grey-suits, grey shirts, and no shoes (save for one who is discreetly wearing shoes designed to look like bare feet).

 

While the show is mostly one song flowing into another, there are little bits of non-sequitur dialogue Byrne uses to set up songs, such as how our brains lose connections as we grow from childhood or, prior to playing “I Should Watch TV,” how he used some of his original Talking Heads record contract money to purchase a Sony Triniton TV. There are also some semi-political jabs about immigrants, voter apathy, and Black Lives Matter, especially in the cover of the Janelle Monáe song “Hell You Talmbout,” which lists the names of various African-Americans who died as a result of encounters with law enforcement and/or racial violence, imploring listeners to say the names of the dead while images of the slain person held up by a family member are flashed on screen.

 

The stage is a simple grey square surrounded on three sides by silvery, vertical hanging fine metal chain that looks a bit like chainmail armor. The fine pattern in this chain produces a bit of line twitter and artifacting that is most visible on medium

range shots showing the back of the stage, potentially a limitation of the HD resolution. Still, image quality is generally quite good, letting you appreciate all of the facial detail of performers, which is the focus.

 

Instead of props and gimmicks, Byrne uses stage lighting to carefully highlight and frame the performers, using bright lights to reveal and shadows to conceal where you should focus your attention.

 

The audio presentation is very front-channel centric—primarily in the center but spread out across the left/right with just a bit of musical fill into the surrounds. Bass is not overwhelming, but your sub is called into action when appropriate. I’d say it is more of a restrained audio mix versus the big sound of a live show. Bass plucks and drum beats aren’t going to cave your chest in, and the music mixed into the surround speakers is so low as to be all but inaudible at a typical listening position. Surrounds are primarily used for crowd cheers, which get big and room-filling especially following one of the hit numbers. The mix is nice and clean, though, letting you hear all of the lyrics or focus on a particular instrument.

 

One of my favorite audio moments in the show is when the band plays “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On).” Here, Byrne introduces the band members 

David Byrne's American Utopia

as they start playing their instruments one at a time, letting you clearly hear how the song is assembled and appreciate that the band is actually producing all the sound you’re hearing. (This was also a highpoint for me from the live show.)

 

It’s difficult to not draw comparisons between American Utopia and Stop Making Sense, and I’d say that if you liked the one, then you’ll definitely like the other. (With the converse also probably true. Don’t expect Utopia to make a concert lover out of you if watching live music performances isn’t your thing.) And if you regret missing out on your chance of seeing Sense live, Utopia is the closest you’ll get without finding a time machine. The staging, the stark set, the performances, and even some of the song selections all feel very reminiscent of Sense, but in a good way, reimagined for a new band and performance. We also have a Byrne who is nearly 40 years older and a fair bit less nimble, and of course no Jerry, Tina, and Chris, but that’s always a wish for another day.

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.

From Customer to CEO: A Conversation with Kaleidescape’s Tayloe Stansbury

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

I first had the opportunity to speak with Tayloe Stansbury last November, just days after his appointment as Kaleidescape’s new CEO had been announced. He took an interesting journey to becoming the CEO, going from being a customer to joining the board in August 2020 and then being named head of the company. During that earlier conversation, it was clear Tayloe shared our passion for movies and home theater, so we jumped at the chance to talk to him again to discuss home theater, trends in the industry, and his plans for driving Kaleidescape forward.

—John Sciacca

Could you tell me what got you into home theater and a little bit about your primary viewing system?

Sure. I got into it about 20 years ago when I got a projector. It was one of those “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” moments—the projector then turned into a whole bunch of other equipment.

 

Somewhere along the line my dealer got me interested in Kaleidescape. My first reaction was, “Yeah, so what’s wrong with Apple TV?” This was about 10 years ago. But he convinced me, and I bought a small system—an M500 movie player and a 1U server—and we loved it, just because of the convenience and not having to sit through all the FBI warnings and extraneous previews and so forth that DVDs used to force on you.

 

From there, the system has grown. We swapped out our Madrigal, Revel, and Proceed equipment for mostly Meridian equipment. The projector is now a SIM2. It’s about 10 years old but it’s just an awesome 5,000-lumen device. It’s still gorgeous and it’s still powered with a Kaleidescape M500. So we now have a Storm processor, Meridian speakers, SIM2 projector, and three 1Us serving up a whole bunch of content. We also have Stratos and Terras in some of our other systems as well.

 

What kind of insights did being a longtime Kaleidescape customer allow you to bring to your new role as CEO?

In any company, it’s best to think of the customer first because that’s who you’re serving and that’s who you’re building your 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

products for. Coming into this as a longtime customer means I have a very clear outside-in perspective that’s enabled me to think about a number of problems a little bit differently.

 

One thing I know from having been a customer is that people don’t like having to buy the same content twice. You buy a movie at one resolution, and then you have to pay for it all over again when it’s offered in a higher resolution. Or 

you already bought the content on disc and loaded it onto a Premiere system, but now you want to get a Strato and Terra system but don’t want to have to repurchase a lot of the same content.

 

So one of the changes we’ve made is to offer format upgrades at a much lower price. And for people coming from a disc-based world, we’re offering disc-to-digital transition pricing for when you’re doing a Strato add-on to a Premiere system so you don’t feel like you have to buy your content from scratch all over again.

 

Spec’ing a Kaleidescape into a big six-figure system is a no-brainer, but how do you make the case for including one in a mid-to-low five-figure system where people tend to want to go with a Roku or an Apple TV?

Great question. First, not everybody who buys a high-end system gets a Kaleidescape. It’s crazy to think that someone’s spending $100,000 on a theater and then feeding it with a relatively low-bit-rate source device. When you’re playing a 4K HDR movie on a Kaleidescape compared to playing a 4K movie on a streaming device, you’re getting about four times the video bit-rate and about 10 times the audio bit-rate. It’s a pretty profound difference.

 

You might watch the streamer and say, “Wow, that actually looks and sounds pretty good.” But then play the same scenes again on a Kaleidescape and you’ll really see and hear the difference.

 

It’s just as important to build a balanced system whether it’s for a secondary viewing area or a dedicated theater room. It doesn’t make sense to have any weak links in the chain, especially with the source that’s feeding all your movie content. By overspending on the latter parts of the chain, like the video display, speakers, and amplification, and underspending on the

first part, which is the source component, you’re getting garbage in, which just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

 

As you transition to lower-priced systems, there does come a point where the advantage and richness of a high-end source starts to become 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

overkill. But it actually happens at a much lower price point than one might think. Even a $25,000 theater or media room is going to be better served by having a Strato in it than by spending that same amount of money on better speakers or amplification. Having that clarity at the source driving what might be slightly less-expensive things downstream actually gives you a better balanced system overall.

 

And once you have a server, the cost of adding a player is only about three grand at current pricing. At that price, you’ve got to say, well, why wouldn’t you put one with every TV in your house, if it’s a 4K display and has a decent sound system associated with it?

 

Where are you seeing more pushback on the lower-end sales, from integrators or from customers?

It’s an awareness problem across the board, with people not understanding the difference it can make in the overall experience. For customers, it’s being aware of the importance of a premium content source to power their system. I think integrators get that, but may not be aware that Kaleidescape also offers integration options like being able to automate the room lighting and curtains, because the movies can cue the correct aspect ratio, they can lower lights and close curtains as the movie begins and can start raising the lights as the credits are rolling.

 

Theater closures due to the pandemic have upended traditional movie distribution. What impact has all this had on Kaleidescape?

Certainly there has been limited or no ability to go to theaters for a while, which is driving people who want to see movies to watch them at home. Twenty years ago, the possibility of having a home experience that would approach the theater experience wasn’t even there. But today, it absolutely is. So the content you’re getting from a Kaleidescape system is coming at a video and audio resolution that’s equivalent to what you’d be getting in a theater. And the sound systems you can get for the home have become much more affordable—and that’s now the more expensive part of the system. The ability to have an

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

absolutely cinematic experience at home without having to sit on somebody else’s popcorn is pretty amazing now.

 

Kaleidescape grew last year as a result of a lot of people watching more movies at home. We’ll have to see when theaters fully reopen whether people flock back to them or if this has put a permanent dent in their behavior.

One of the other changes is the ability to watch a movie when it comes out, as opposed to waiting for it to show up on video distribution. And we now have a rental feature that includes Premium Video on Demand (PVOD), so certain content can be released the same day it appears in theaters.

 

How did the rental option come about and what does it mean for system owners?

We thought it was important to offer this to our customer base because there are times when you’re like, “Do I really want to buy this movie?” Now you can just go ahead and rent it, and if it turns out you love it, we’ll credit half your rental price to the purchase. And of course then you don’t have to download it again. The rental is downloaded exactly the same as before—it’s the exact same bits you get when you buy a movie, so there’s no penalty in quality.

 

We’ll see how this plays out and if it changes people’s behavior. It might enable us to go to a new class of buyer because a lot of people don’t consider themselves movie collectors; they just like to watch movies. But they don’t typically watch them more than once, or it’s once in a long while that they’ll watch a classic again, like a Star Wars.

 

I think there’s been a misconception that probably goes all the way back to the beginning of Kaleidescape that it’s really a product for people who want to be able to organize their disc collections and make them instantly available, that this is a product for collectors as opposed to cinephiles, who just love to watch movies. This new service makes it clear you don’t have to own a single title.

 

They say the first 100 days in office are some of the most important, and by my reckoning you’re coming up on that number.

Pretty close.

 

How far have you gotten with your wish list and where do you see things going over the next year or so?

Coming with the perspective of a long-time customer really helps bring more outside-in thinking into the company. So that 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

was the big pivot I wanted to make. The examples I gave earlier were a result of thinking about things from the customer’s perspective.

 

That was the big mission I had, and it’s still ongoing. We have a large 

installed base, with many of them running older systems. We’d love to get them upgraded to Strato and Terra systems. So we’re putting together some programs to facilitate that.

 

It seems like there are three groups you’d want to talk to: The integrators who sell and service your product, current customers, and potential customers. What message would you have for each of those groups?

Since many of the dealers and integrators have a dated view of the company, it’s important to get the word out that we’ve got new changes coming, new policies coming, so it’s a different thing than when they checked in on us some years ago. Getting that message about vibrancy to dealers is super important.

 

With existing customers, we need to convey that we want to take care of them, we want to get the movies they might have in lower resolution upgraded to the highest res they can run on their system without price being a barrier. When they start running short of disc space, we want to make sure we notify them of the options they have for upgrading for more space.

 

For prospective customers who may not have heard of Kaleidescape, we want to get the word out through increased marketing testimonials and the like that this really does give you a better home cinema experience than you can get through any other source.

 

What trends do you see driving the luxury home entertainment market, and where does Kaleidescape fit into all that?

Watching movies at home has obviously grown in the last year. I don’t think theaters are dead, but if you can have a similar or better experience at home, a lot of people are going to be drawn to that. And that, of course, is the space we play into. And within that space, what we play to is the high end—people who care about excellence in their home viewing and listening experience. But we offer that at a price point that is reasonably affordable, even for systems that aren’t huge and aren’t intended for a dedicated theater room.

 

If all you’re going to do is end up with a cheap TV and no additional speakers, you may not want a Kaleidescape, but if you really care about what you’re watching, you probably do want one. So there are systems for streamers, and then there are systems for Kaleidescape.

 

There are basically two kinds of people: Those who have Kaleidescape and those who don’t but want it.

The problem is there are actually three categories. The third is the people who don’t know about it yet.

 

That’s true.

And we want to get it down to those first two categories—those who have it and love it, and this who don’t have it and want it. If we can do that, we’ll be in great shape.

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.

Review: Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter (2020)

Based on the Capcom videogame franchise of the same title and coming from the same team—writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson and actress Milla Jovovich—that brought us what feels like a lifetime full of Resident Evil movies, don’t expect Monster Hunter to deliver a lot in the way of subtlety, rich character development, or introspection.

 

What you do get is pretty much 90-plus minutes of pure action, maybe not so much hunting monsters but sure as heck spending the majority of time running, hiding, and avoiding them. (And, yes, there is definitely some hunting.)

 

Monster Hunter never shies away from what it is or what it’s trying to be, namely an action-packed, popcorn-munching film, which keeps our characters in mortal peril for virtually the entire time. There is no Spielbergian building of tension and 

suspense, making you wait until deep into the movie before finally letting us catch a glimpse of the monsters. Nope. From the opening minutes, Monster Hunter throws us straight in to the action, showing us these big-baddies and letting you know just what you’re in for.

 

I didn’t have any prior knowledge or experience of the game, but unlike Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, this is a case where the film’s trailer tells you exactly what you’re gonna get: Jovovich kicking ass and fighting for her life in a strange world against Kaiju-like creatures. Plus, I expected it to deliver a pretty thrilling and engaging Dolby Atmos sound mix. (Spoiler: It totally does!)

 

Like nearly every recent film, Monster had a bit of a ping-pong journey to its theatrical release. Originally scheduled to be released in September 2020, the film was delayed to April 2021, then moved back to December 30, then 

HUNTER AT A GLANCE

Based on the video game, this movie provides 90-plus minutes of pure monster-hunting action. 

 

PICTURE
Images are sharp, detailed, and clear throughout. HDR plays a big role, with loads of dark scenes punctuated by bright highlights.

 

SOUND     

The real treat here is the dynamic and aggressive Kaleidescape Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, which is by far the most exciting aspect of the film for a home theater fan.

Christmas week, finally debuting in the states on December 18. It bowed on home video via digital retailers February 16, with a planned physical release expected on March 2.

 

The film opens with a ship sailing through a vast ocean of sand, with a giant creature slipping under sand dunes, stalking and attacking it. The Admiral (Ron Perlman) tries to fight off the creature, but it appears he is unsuccessful and at least one of the crew is lost. We cut to “our” world and see a team of soldiers led by Captain Artemis (Jovovich) tracking a lost group of soldiers. A freak and strange storm pulls the convoy through a vortex into the sandy world, where they discover the destroyed remnants of the missing team. A bow-wielding Hunter (Tony Jaa) in the distance tries to get their attention, but they are attacked by a Diablos, the same massive horned monster that had attacked the ship. The soldiers flee from the monster into a cave where . . . well, let’s just say things aren’t a whole lot safer.

 

Artemis ultimately teams up with Hunter and they form a plan to kill the Diablos and make their way to the mysterious Sky Tower (which looks like a combination of Mordor from Lord of the Rings and Stephen King’s Dark Tower) on the horizon.

 

As mentioned, the film is based on a game, and it has a real videogame pacing and structure to it. We get our mission, meet a foe, meet other enemies, add to our party, get training and level up, beat the foe, move towards an objective, and then encounter the end boss. There are also nods to anyone who played the game. like the “Meowscular Chef,” a random one-eyed sushi-preparing pirate cat creature that shows up near the end.

 

Hunter speaks in an unsubtitled foreign language not understood by Artemis, so there’s not a lot of chatting between the two beyond things like, “This is chocolate. Choc-o-late. You eat it.” In fact, the two begin their relationship ridiculously trying to kill each other, repeatedly punching, kicking, throwing, and even stabbing. I mean, they are the only humans around and we know they are going to end up working together, so why they inexplicably waste time and energy fighting is really kind of pointless. (Maybe it’s from the game, but whatever.) What we do get to see is that Jaa has some legit fighting chops, holding black belts in Wushu and Tae Kwondo, along with being highly skilled in Muay Thai and more, and from all of her years in action films, Jovovich at least appears that she can hold her own.

 

With an estimated budget of $60 million, the effects shots and world building in Monster actually look really good. There was only one scene where the CGI looked a bit janky and called attention to itself. The creatures’ world seems appropriately vast, and they never shy away from showing the creatures close up and in detail. And from the conclusion—and mid-credits sequence—it’s pretty clear they’re hoping this movie catches on and are primed for a sequel.

 

There’s no mention of the resolution used to capture Monster but images are sharp, detailed, and clear throughout. Closeups have sharp focus and show tons of detail, such as the texture in uniforms and helmets, or on the attached straps, buckles, and webbing. Edges are always sharp and defined, and I was never distracted by any visual flaws.

 

High dynamic range plays a big role in the image quality of Monster. Most of the film is a bright, desert sun beaming down to gleaming white sand contrasted against the blue skies and drab green/brown of the soldier’s cammies. There are also loads 

of dark scenes punctuated by bright highlights—either sunlight pouring in through holes in underground caves, candles burning in the dark, or big blasts of fire in the night sky. We also get the piercing blue-white of lightning strikes and glowing runes, not to mention the preternatural white of Jovovich’s teeth.

 

For home theater viewers, the real treat here is the Kaleidescape Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, which I would say is about as dynamic and aggressive as any I can think of. There are intense audio levels from all channels, and near constant activity from the height speakers. If you’ve been looking for a movie that shows off your investment in that new processor or additional speakers, look no further!

 

From the opening moments, you’ll be immersed in the sounds of the wooden ship creaking and groaning all around, as the sails and lightning snap and crack overhead. Vehicles crash and roll over (and over) across the top of the room, creatures skitter and crawl overhead and around, Ospreys and baddies whoosh and fly overhead, bullets fly, sand and wind blows, thunder booms. This mix is non-stop and by far the most exciting aspect of the film for a home theater fan.

 

Bass is also authoritative and powerful when called on, with monsters’ collisions and impacts energizing all the air in the viewing room. The only thing I might 

Monster Hunter (2020)

have liked was a bit more dynamics on the gunfire, but, really, in all of the cacophony, it might have been too much. And through all the mayhem, the little dialogue we do get remains clear and anchored to the center channel.

 

If you’re looking for a film that will lead to a deep discussion afterwards, this is not for you. I mean, they didn’t exactly bury the lede in the title. But if you’re in the mood to unplug, sit back, and enjoy a loud, raucous good time in your theater, have a few jump scares, and take a break from a ton of adult-language or gore, Monster Hunter should fit the bill. And for Atmos owners, the soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission.

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.

Review: The Snoopy Show

The Snoopy Show (2021)

One of the things I love about Roku is the ability to quickly and easily customize its home screen. Find yourself watching content from one app more than any other? Just click the asterisk and move it closer to the top of the screen. Left cold by the offerings of another streaming service? Bump it down in the list, perhaps to page two or three. It seems a little trivial, but I use the arrangement of apps as a metric for deciding whether or not to cancel streaming subscriptions. If I have to scroll down past the topmost three and a half rows of icons to get to an app, that app is no longer worth paying for.

I only mention that because, after having watched The Snoopy Show, Apple TV+ has moved up from the precarious ninth position (right near the bottom of the screen at bootup) and is now resting more comfortably on the second row of icons, just below YouTube, Netflix, and Disney+.

 

Not to put too fine a point on it but The Snoopy Show is better than it has any right to be. And if that seems a little harsh, think back to when you first heard that Apple would be producing new Peanuts animated specials. Was your initial reaction even slightly hopeful? If so, I wish I could bottle your optimism.

 

But maybe I’m just jaded. Thanks to Ronald Reagan’s reign of deregulation, I grew up in the era of cartoons as commercials, when every 22-minute animated romp—

SNOOPY AT A GLANCE

Both family-friendly and charmingly weird, this Apple TV+ series presents the new adventures of everybody’s favorite cartoon beagle without lapsing into franchise-itis.

 

PICTURE
The Dolby Vision presentation, while not expansive in its luminance, gives the gradience and shading of the backgrounds plenty of room to breathe.

 

SOUND     

It’s a shame the score doesn’t aspire to be anything more than poor-man’s Vince Guaraldi.

whether it aired on Saturday mornings or after school—was trying to sell me all manner of things I immediately begged my parents to buy. Robots in Disguise. Real American Heroes. Whatever M.A.S.K. was about. And, in the case of The Peanuts, Dolly Madison snacks, Coke, and Mickey D’s. (Although, to be fair, that last one wasn’t Reagan’s fault—that was true from the giddy-up.)

 

We’re in the midst of something of a cartoon renaissance, though. Kids today (and yes, it hurts my soul to type those words) have an embarrassment of legitimately good, kid-friendly, non-propagandist episodic animation to devour, from Steven Universe to Craig of the Creek to Hilda and Infinity Train, and it’s only been a couple of years since Adventure Time ended its run as one of the hands-down best TV series of the past 50 years.

 

Given that this is the environment The Snoopy Show is parachuting into, perhaps my expectations should have been a little higher. But I’m still honestly shocked that the creative talents behind this new Apple-exclusive series have put so much effort into making it so darned good.

 

Its virtues begin with its animation, which is both an homage to the classic Peanuts animated specials and a loving upgrade of their style. The characters themselves seem pulled straight from Sparky Schulz’s pen, and although the foreground animation has been giving a big boost (both in draftsmanship and resolution), there’s still something incredibly comfortable about the way Charlie Brown and Snoopy and the gang are animated. The herky-jerky, overly dramatic body language for which 

everyone’s favorite cartoon beagle is known translates beautifully into this new world of cartoons.

 

The background art, meanwhile, is a whole new ballgame. The canvas upon which these little animated adventures take place is of a quality quite unlike anything we saw in Peanuts specials of yore. There’s some Looney Tunes influence, for sure, especially in the way the background artists play with 

abstractions and intentional registration errors. There’s also some obvious homage to the earliest Peanuts Sunday strips, before everything got simplified down to flat secondary colors. The Dolby Vision presentation of The Snoopy Show, while not expansive in its luminance, gives the gradience and shading of the backgrounds plenty of room to breathe without banding.

 

But what impresses me most about the imagery is that the background artists have cobbled their influences and inspiration into something unique, with a character of its own, and of a quality you just don’t expect to see outside of feature-length animation.

 

It’s a shame that the same can’t be said of the music. Composer Jeff Morrow seems content to play a poor-man’s Vince Guaraldi here, aping the musical style of the old animated specials without taking any risks. Classics like “Linus and Lucy” may seem in hindsight to be an essential element of the Peanuts, but it’s important to remember that laying down a jazz soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas was a creative risk at the time. The studio suits thought it would never fly. So while Morrow’s soundtrack feels comfortable, and is incredibly well-recorded and mixed, it’s not really true to the spirit of what 

Guaraldi and producer Lee Mendelson were aiming for with the music of that original special and its increasingly less-interesting followups.

 

That’s really the only bummer of note here. I could also grumble about the fact that some of the Peanuts gang have been voiced by actors who fail to capture the old-soul timbre I associate with the characters, but 1) that’s more of an observation than a criticism and 2) the humans are really the 

The Snoopy Show (2021)

secondary characters here. As its name implies, The Snoopy Show is about Charlie Brown’s canine companion, not Charlie Brown himself. And the focus on Snoopy (and Woodstock) results in a genuinely chaotic vibe that I just love to pieces.

 

Yes, the show still captures the existentialism inherent to The Peanuts (and in that respect, it hews closer to the comic strip than previous animated efforts), but given the rich imagination for which Snoopy is known, and the fantasy worlds he famously inhabits, the shift in focus away from the human gang and toward the pup results in a commensurate shift toward the whimsical and downright weird.

 

As such, there isn’t always a clearly defined narrative arc to the three eight-minute vignettes that make up each episode, nor is there any continuity between them. Each is its own little universe. One entire short is dedicated to Snoopy trying to cool off on a hot day. Another is entirely about his spastic and unselfconscious dancing. The latter, by the way, is one of the few vignettes to have any sort of overt moral, but it echoes the more covert ideology that permeates the series so far: Life may suck sometimes, but it’s a lot more bearable if we choose to actively rebel against the darkness and embrace the goodness and joy and goofiness in the world.

 

That may not be profound but it’s true to Schulz’s creation, and it gives The Snoopy Show a timeless quality that’s rare, even in this new golden age of children’s animated programming. It also means that the series isn’t insufferable when viewed through adult eyes. This is one of those rare shows parents might actually enjoy just as much as their little ones.

 

And that’s not purely a function of nostalgia. Part of it is the fact that the show never panders to anyone. There’s some stuff here that will fly straight over the heads of anyone under 10, but that’s okay. There’s certainly nothing inappropriate for such young eyes and ears. I just can’t imagine our young niece laughing at the same things that made my wife and me chortle.

 

Will you enjoy it as much as we did? I can’t say for sure. The missus and I are both overgrown kids and weirdos to boot. But I hope you do. Because as fanciful (and mischievous!) as it is, the world needs more cartoons like The Snoopy Show.

 

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.

Review: Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)

From the writing team that brought us the hilarious Bridesmaids back in 2011, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo re-team to write and star in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Originally slated for theatrical release in July 2020, it was pushed back nearly a full year to July 2021, before Lionsgate decided to go with a PVOD release via digital retailers on February 12.

 

Beyond its wide availability from sources like Apple TV, Hulu, and Fandango Now, Barb and Star is also one of the first PVOD titles to be available for rental on Kaleidescape.

 

Rental titles—PVOD or otherwise—are new for Kaleidescape, and the company takes a unique approach to delivering them. Unlike streamers, which deliver films in limited, compressed quality, Kaleidescape rentals are downloaded in full quality to an owner’s system just as if the film were purchased, meaning there’s no “rental penalty” with regards to picture or sound 

quality. As with other PVOD distributors, Kaleidescape rental titles remain on a user’s system for up to 30 days, but once viewing begins, there’s a 48-hour window in which you can watch the title as many times as you like, starting, pausing, rewinding, forwarding through the film as you would any other title. After the rental period—either the 30 days or 48 hours—has expired, the title disappears from the user’s system.

 

Another interesting twist with Kaleidescape’s rentals is that if you like the film and decide you want to own it, you can apply one-half of the rental price toward buying the film within 30 days. (This option does not apply to PVOD titles like Barb and Star as they are currently only offered for rental, not for sale.)

 

Having watched some of the trailers for Barb and Star, I thought I had a pretty good idea what the movie would be 

BARB & STAR AT A GLANCE

This wacky, absurd Kristen Wiig vehicle isn’t for everyone but makes for a nice PVOD diversion at a time when new releases are thin. 

 

PICTURE
The images feature bright and vibrant tropical pastels but are sometimes marred by “Portrait mode”-type selective focus.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is mostly restrained but really comes alive during the big musical numbers.

about: Two single, mid-life-aged female friends taking a vacation where things get a little wild. Turns out I was only about half right. About three minutes into the film, it takes a radical turn I don’t think anyone would see coming. Without spoiling the film, I’ll just say that Kristen Wiig plays two completely different roles—the titular easy-breezy, go-with-the-flow Star and another far less happy-go-lucky, sun-averse Sharon Gordon Fisherman who, due to a sleight that happened years before, has a secret lair and master-villain plot to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar with submarine-launched, weaponized killer mosquitoes.

 

Barb (Mumolo) and Star work and live together, sharing everything, and have been living a boring, beige, repetitive life lacking any adventure. After the furniture store the ladies work at suddenly closes, they decide to take the advice of friend Mickey (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and head down to Vista Del Mar to have an adventure and get their shimmer back.

 

While there, the ladies encounter hunky Edgar Paget (Jamie Dornan) at the bar, and after the threesome shares a “Buried Treasure” specialty drink together, they end up having a wild night where the ladies develop feelings. They try to court Edgar separately and secretly, but little do they know that Edgar is involved with Fisherman’s plot and not-so-secretly in love with her.

 

Things ultimately come to a head when the girls find out they’ve been sneaking around behind each other’s backs and that only they can save the town from the deadly mosquito attack.

 

For me, the jokes were more chuckles than big laughs. Sure, there are some funny moments scattered throughout but they were just too few and not enough, and I just kept waiting for it to hit, where everything clicked and came together. And I say that as someone who loved Kristen Wiig’s characters on SNL: Aunt Linda, Female A-Hole, Dooneese, Gilly, Sue, Target Lady . . . 

 

The movie is wacky and absurdist and jokes are often played, and played, and played. (Case in point, the whole Trish bit aboard the plane that just goes on . .  .) Characters randomly burst into song and dance, there’s a talking crab, a lounge crooner who primarily sings about boobs, and hijinks and romance ensue. It’s cheesy, ridiculous, and random but you’ve got to say this for it: Barb and Star leans-in and fully commits to its gags. And the girls’ wild exuberance, joy of life and the simple things, and comic charisma are what drive the film.

 

The cast includes cameos by several funny ladies including Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Rose Abdoo, who make up a hilarious and mean “Talking Club” (my favorite part of the film, that was sadly too brief), as well as Ian Gomez

as the girls’ boss and Daman Wayans Jr. as a spy that can’t quite keep a secret.

 

Visually, there’s a lot to love with Barb and Star, especially after the action moves to Florida, where things are filled with bright and vibrant tropical pastels—hot pinks, turquoise blues, gleaming whites. The outdoor shots, scenes around the pool and by the ocean are all sun-drenched and uber-saturated, and could be a travelogue for Florida.

 

Closeups feature great detail and sharp focus, such as Tommy Bahama’s (Andy Garcia) face, whiskers, and felt hat, or the texture and detail in Fisherman’s white-on-white cape. Many shots, however, almost felt like they were filmed with “Portrait mode” engaged, where any of the actors not in primary focus or objects in the foreground are just slightly (or not so slightly) blurred. Often objects at the edges or corners of the screen were blurred, something especially noticeable when projected on my 115-inch diagonal screen. I would describe the sharpness and detail as a bit uneven.

 

Sonically, the Kaleidescape rental (and eventual purchase) includes a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack that serves the primary role of ensuring that dialogue is clearly presented and intelligible. The mix is mostly restrained but useful for 

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)

creating ambience, such as the hums and echoes in Fisherman’s lair, announcements at the airport, or sounds of seagulls and waves crashing at the ocean. Sonically, the film really comes alive during the big musical numbers, such as the girls’ welcome to Vista Del Mar, a swirling rendition of “Cheeseburger in Paradise” after they finish the Buried Treasure, and a heavy bass-throbbing rave-feeling version of “My Heart Will Go On.” The sound mix isn’t enough to make or break the film, but it does an admirable job of serving it well.

 

So . . . this movie . . . I’m gonna say, Barb and Star is not going to be for everyone. In fact, I think it’s going to be one of those polarizing cult classics that people either love and watch over and over (probably with friends and while intoxicated) or they don’t understand at all and will never watch again. For me, this was the perfect rental title, as I’m not sure I’ll never need to join Barb and Star again, but hanging out with the ladies was good for a few laughs.

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.

Review: The Croods: A New Age

The Croods: A New Age (2020)

If there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s a sequel. Once the risk of investing in a new property has found audience favor—and the accompanying box-office success—then a sequel is almost sure to come. After grossing more than $587 million, a followup to DreamWorks’ 2013 The Croods was virtually cast in stone.

 

However, this prehistoric family had a somewhat challenging journey getting back to the screen. After the first film’s success, plans for The Croods: A New Age were announced in 2013, with original directors, Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders, intending on returning. But the film was cancelled in November 2016 after Universal acquired DreamWorks. The project was revived 

with a new director, Joel Crawford, in 2017 with a planned release in November of that year. But after facing multiple delays, it finally debuted theatrically in the States on November 25, 2020, followed by a PVOD release on December 18, and available to digital retailers like Kaleidescape on February 9. (A physical 4K release is expected on February 23.) Despite all of these hurdles, the movie managed to gross nearly $150 million worldwide, and gathered favorable critics and audience scores of 77% and 94%, respectively.

 

While you could certainly jump straight into New Age without watching the initial Croods—a brief opening scene does a quick job of catching you up—you’d be doing yourself a bit of a disservice and setting yourself up to miss some of the callback gags from Age. The first film introduces us to the Croods, a prehistoric family led by ultra-protective patriarch Grug (Nicholas Cage) that lives together and sleeps in a pile in a cave, spending every moment surviving some natural disaster and hunting food. Rebellious teenage daughter Eep (Emma Stone) sneaks 

NEW AGE AT A GLANCE

This 2020 sequel maintains the momentum of the 2013 mega-hit original, with terrific voice acting and eye-popping visuals enhancing the new adventures of the dysfunctional Stone Age family. 

 

PICTURE
Visuals are like an entire 64-color box of Crayons projected on your screen. Sharp and vibrant, the constant digital eye candy will make your display look its best.

 

SOUND     

The immersive Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack is a little restrained during the first part of the film but really kicks in for the finale, which delivers truly deep and powerful bass.

out of the cave one night to explore when she encounters a more modern human boy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), and after a disaster destroys their cave home, the clan sets out on a quest to find a new place to live.

 

The entire Crood family returns for this sequel including wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), son Thunk (Clark Duke), and Gran (Cloris Leachman). We pick up the story with the family still together, still dodging predators, hunting food, and sleeping in a pile, but the boy-girl relationship between Guy and Eep has evolved to the point where they are talking their tomorrow together, branching off and starting their own pack. This doesn’t sit well with Grug, who feels the pack is stronger—and safer—together.

 

One day, Grug discovers a huge wall, and on the other side discovers the far more evolved and on-the-nose named Betterman family, with husband Phil (Peter Dinklage), wife Hope (Leslie Mann), and daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran). The Bettermans live in a fantastic treehouse with separate rooms for all, wear sandals, take showers, farm for food, use modern tools, and more. They also happen to have been friends with Guy’s parents, and feel like life would be better if the Croods left, but that Guy stayed behind “with his kind of people” to be with Dawn.

 

The middle part of the film is the humor of watching these two clashing lifestyles trying to relate to, and interacting with, one another, with Phil and Grug in an alpha-male clash, Eep finally having a friend her age with Dawn, who feels similarly trapped under her family’s strict “no going outside the wall” rule, and Guy struggling with wanting the better life with the Bettermans while still loving cavegirl Eep.

 

During the final act, the families have their inevitable reconciliation as they work together to overcome a common, banana-loving foe.

 

While the movie doesn’t really break any new ground, the story of class struggle, love, growing up, and family are all relatable, but what makes it so entertaining are the site gags and terrific voice acting. Reynolds has repeatedly proven his great comic voicing and timing (Exhibit A and B: Deadpool and Aviation Gin ads), and Stone certainly holds her own with her

exuberance. Ugga is perfect for Cage to unleash his over-the-top self, and Dinklage is also on point as Phil, reminding me a bit of his Mighty Eagle character from The Angry Birds.

 

Besides bringing some fresh content that your home theater has been craving, New Age flat-out looks fantastic in 4K HDR. Images are razor sharp, clear, and pristine. Nearly every frame bristles with vibrant colors, like the entire 64-color box of Crayons has been projected onto your screen, with colors changing dramatically in almost every scene. From the greens of foliage to the rich red-oranges of fire to the bright blues of water to glowing bioluminescence at night, colors explode with richness and vibrancy you don’t see outside of animation. Almost the entirety of the 95-minute runtime is digital eye candy, making your display look its best.

 

While New Age uses a less realistic animation style than some Pixar films like Soul or Toy Story 4, it is consistent throughout, and images never lack for texture and detail. Closeups show the care and detail in the animation, revealing individual strands of fur, scratches, fabric detail, and grain. Some banana outfits near the end show such texture you can clearly imagine what they would feel like.

The Croods: A New Age (2020)

The Kaleidescape download of the film also boasts an immersive Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack. While the first half of the film is a bit restrained, there are still plenty of atmospherics spread around the room to put you into the jungle action. Whether wind or insect sounds, the echoes of the environment, or the musical score, the surround channels are called on to expand the soundstage. We also get a lot of far offscreen voice work and effects, with characters announcing their locations from surround channels around the room, or as someone—or something—is thrown into a far corner.. As we move into the film’s climax, we get a lot more excitement in the audio domain, especially with the subwoofer kicking in to deliver powerful low end. Also, be sure to stay through the opening part of the end credits to enjoy a Tenacious D version of “I Think I Love You.” Dialogue is also clear and easily understandable throughout.

 

The Croods: A New Age is an entertaining, family-friendly film that also happens to looks fantastic on a good display, making it an easy recommendation for your next movie night get together.

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.