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Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

ROYALE AT A GLANCE

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

 

PICTURE     

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

 

SOUND

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

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

 

That is, until we got Daniel Craig.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Casino Royale (2006)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Casino Royale (2006)

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

 

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Expandable Media Room Systems

Expandable Media Room Systems
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

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

optimized moving-watching experience.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Two Types of Expandability

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

 

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

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

 

An Upgrade to Real Surround Sound

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

The Foundation of a Whole Home’s Worth of Music

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

 

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

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

 

Putting It All Together

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

 

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

 

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

Dennis Burger

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

Goldfinger

Goldfinger

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

GOLDFINGER AT A GLANCE

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

 

PICTURE     

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

 

SOUND

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Colors pop, especially in bright outdoor scenes. A 

Goldfinger

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Goldfinger

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Are People Watching Hollywood’s Early Releases?

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases

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

 

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

 

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

2) Release them for sale digitally.

3) Release them directly to streaming sites like Netflix.

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

5) Postpone the theatrical release date indefinitely.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Here are the results along with a bit of commentary.

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

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

click on the images to enlarge them

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 4

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 5

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 6

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

roughly the same amount of time as Onward.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 7

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

 

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

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 8

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

“The Lord of the Rings” in Disquieting Times

The Lord of the Rings in Disquiet Times

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

 

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

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

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

 

I didn’t need to ask which trilogy.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Lord of the Rings in Disquieting Times

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Dennis Burger

THE BEST OPTIONS FOR WATCHING THE EXTENDED EDITIONS

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

—D.B.

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

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

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

Why I Can Wait for “Lord of the Rings” in 4K

The “Last March of the Ents” scene from The Two Towers is one example of the subpar compositing
that could become even more obvious in a 4K version of The Lord of the Rings

Pretty early on in our most recent journey to Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth, it struck me how silly my wife and I were to hold off on watching The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King Extended Editions in anticipation of a 4K/HDR remaster (a professional upsampling of the 2K digital intermediate) or restoration (involving a new scan of the 35mm film elements), whichever we end up getting later this year or next year or whenever it comes. Truth be told, these films have always been a bit dodgy-looking in places even when they were first released, especially from a special-effects perspective.

 

True, the sprawling landscapes of New Zealand, cast in the role of Middle-earth, are a wonder to behold. And the costumes and prosthetics are among the best ever committed to film. But the handful of digital effects (aside from Gollum, one of the 

trilogy’s main characters) were never that great to begin with, and the compositing was pretty subpar across the board even for the day

 

Not that it really matters, since these films exist mostly in the viewer’s imagination, but their visual shortcomings can probably be blamed at least in part on the reported $250 million budget for the entire 12-hour trilogy—which, to put things in perspective, is less than twice what Sam Raimi was given to make the first Spider-man film, released around the same time (with roughly one-sixth the runtime and far fewer special effects); and it’s less than a quarter of of what Amazon is spending on its upcoming Middle-earth 

TV series (sadly now on indefinite hold). Jackson did what he could with his relatively meager budget, but if the seams showed in the early 2000s (and they did), you could forgive them for not having gotten any better in the nearly two decades since.

 

What has held up amazingly well is the film’s sound design and mixing. I’ve yet to discover any subsequent home video release that uses surround sound as effectively as the Blu-ray release (or Kaleidescape downloads) of the Extended Edition trilogy does, not only in creating such a compelling sense of space, but also in dropping the viewer right into the middle of a war.

 

The sound goes through such radical shifts of amplitude—from the quietest whispers in the dankest caverns to the thunder of 45-foot-tall pachyderms stomping across the battlefield and clashing with hordes of horsemen—that it serves as a torture test for even the highest-performance home audio systems. In fact, to this day, the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition is the first Blu-ray I grab to gauge the dialogue intelligibility of any new speaker system or surround processor that passes my threshold for review purposes.

It’s also the reason I called my friend Anthony Grimani, world-renowned acoustician and designer, many years ago for advice on how to dampen the sound of my HVAC system, because even the subtle whoosh of air rushing through intake vents is enough to disrupt the delicate balance of this immaculately crafted audio experience. So too are any egregious reflections or standing waves in the room itself. In truth, the mix is as much a torture test for room acoustics as it is for gear.

 

More than anything else, though, the thought of this meticulous mix being tinkered with and remixed in the era of Dolby Atmos frankly fills me with dread. Pull one thread the wrong way and the entire thing will simply unravel. Fortunately, the 6.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix (on Blu-ray and Kaleidescape) up-mixes beautifully into Atmos via a good AV preamp or receiver, so those of you who demand some overhead sound effects have that solace.

 

(I’ve never tested the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital+ remix available on Vudu and Amazon and other such services, but those digital releases lack the Appendices found on the disc and Kaleidescape Extended Edition releases, so you should avoid them anyway.)

 

All of this is simply to say that this most recent viewing of the films in their HD form left me convinced they may not look substantially better in 4K/HDR, and there’s a good chance that if they do by some miracle end up looking better, they could end up sounding worse. But we’ll cross that Bridge of Khazad-dûm when we get to it, I suppose.

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.

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story

Could Superman beat the Incredible Hulk? Is Batman a match for Iron-Man? These sorts of questions have filled the dreams of kids and comic book geeks alike for decades now, but they’re rarely seen as any more than conversation starters or flights of fancy. And yet, for some reason, asking who is the greatest baseball player or quarterback or goalie of all time is viewed

as legitimate discourse amongst grown-ass men and scholars alike.

 

Those of us who follow motorsports (serious ones, at least) know what a ridiculous question this is when applied to our own passion. Auto racing is as much about the team as it is the pilot. It’s as much about the car as the team. It’s as much about the chaos of meteorological conditions as it is the car. And, yes, we all have our favorite drivers (shout-out to Jan Magnussen), but that often has as much to do with personality or manufacturer affiliation as it does talent.

 

But such subjectivity didn’t satisfy Dr. Andrew Bell of the Sheffield Methods Institute, who set out in 2016 to use quantitative statistical analysis to remove (or at least account for) the differences made by cars, teams, weather, and even year-to-year variance in order to determine who was the best Formula One pilot of all time.

LIFE OF SPEED AT A GLANCE

This ambitious Netflix documentary about the greatest Formula One driver of all time will intrigue and satisfy racing fans and non fans alike.

 

PICTURE     

The 4K HDR presentation does well with the copious archival materials but really shines with the present-day interview segments and historical reenactments.

 

SOUND

The soundtrack is marred by a New Age-y score whose power-nap vibe seriously goes against the film’s auto-racing grain.

I mention this research only because the resulting paper forms the backbone of the new Netflix documentary A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story. And this fact alone—the use of scientific parsing to answer the question of who could beat whom if they never competed head-to-head—makes for one of the most fascinating sports documentaries I’ve seen in ages. Perhaps ever.

 

As with any documentary focusing on the accomplishments of a single individual, A Life of Speed leans heavy on biography, and provides a solid understanding of who Fangio was and what made him tick, even if you’ve never heard his name before. It also provides a pretty satisfying history of Formula One, a sport that emerged just as Fangio was making a name for himself in long-distance dirt-road racing. On top of that, it sprinkles in a bit of the history of automotive engineering.

 

Truth be told, if the film weren’t so well made, it would probably crumble under its own weight. It attempts to be three or four documentaries at once—which is at least two too many—and if not for the talents of director Francisco Macri and editor Luciano Origlio, it would be a mess.

 

Somehow, though, it isn’t a mess. Quite the opposite, in fact; by juggling so many balls so effectively, A Life of Speed manages to be interesting in several simultaneous ways.

Of course, given its historical nature, the bulk of the film is comprised of archival photographs, old film stock, kinescope recordings, and even a few well-played VHS tapes, it seems. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for Netflix’s 4K HDR presentation to latch onto, though. The present-day interviews and newly filmed historical reenactments are beautifully framed, wonderfully composed, and have a distinctive low-contrast look that still makes great use of the enhanced dynamic range and color gamut of our modern home video standards.

 

If there’s one criticism I can level at A Life of Speed from a creative perspective, it’s that the score is just awful. If you’ve ever used one of those power-nap apps that are all the rage these days, you’ll recognize the New Age-y ambience in a heartbeat.

 

There’s also the fact the film is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, which wouldn’t be a problem except Netflix positions its subtitles halfway into the black bar at the bottom of the screen, with no way of moving them. So, if you’re using a constant-height projection setup, you’ll likely miss half the film’s dialogue and narration (unless you speak Spanish, Italian, German, and English).

 

Don’t let those quibbles turn you off of this one, though. Even if you’re not a fan of Formula One—indeed, even if you’ve never heard the name Fangio in your life—A Life of Speed is one of those rare documentaries whose quality isn’t contingent upon your interest in the subject matter.

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.

Bloodshot

Bloodshot

A scant two weeks after hitting theaters, Vin Diesel’s latest action thriller, Bloodshot, finds its way to wide digital release, available for purchase now at the Kaleidescape Store in 4K HDR with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

 

Considering theater chains around the world started closing within days of Bloodshot’s release, its opening weekend gross of nearly $30 million indicates it was on track to be another big success for Diesel, potentially even launching a new franchise à la Fast & Furious or xXx. And with an audience score of 78%, Diesel proves once again that he understands what his fans 

are looking for. (With critics, not so much, as Bloodshot managed a rotten 29% rating.)

 

As the opening credits hit the screen, I sarcastically joked to my wife, “You can always count on Vin Diesel to deliver an ultra-realistic movie!” as I thought about some of the many physics- and reality-defying stunts he’s been a part of during the Fast franchise.

 

However, I have to say, the premise of Bloodshot works quite well for Diesel, the gravel-voiced actor who seems to convey any lines of dialogue with the exact same emotion and intonation. (There’s probably a reason why he was cast as the voice of both The Iron Giant and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.) Diesel’s character here, Ray Garrison, is a man of few words, much how John Wick lets Keanu Reeves use his fists and guns (and pencils, and motorcycles, and knives . . .) to do the talking for him.

 

So, I’m gonna say it. I really enjoyed Bloodshot.

BLOODSHOT AT A GLANCE

This Vin Diesel Total Recall-meets-Matrix-meets-Terminator-meets-RoboCop-meets-Live Die Repeat mashup is a feast for action fans, featuring a steady stream of demo-quality HDR/Atmos action scenes.

 

PICTURE     

The 4K transfer gets plenty of chances to show off its HDR capabilities, with lots of dark scenes filled with bright lights, gunfire, explosions, and even particles of flour.

 

SOUND

The Dolby Atmos mix successfully ranges from outrageous to subtle, doing as well with the sound of big machines as it does with creaking floors.

Yep. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is and what its fans want. It’s unabashed action, with big set pieces that move the story forward in an easy-to-follow manner that allows the characters to move from one exotic locale to the next destroying stuff.

 

Bloodshot/Garrison is actually not an original character, but rather based on a Valiant Comics character that can trace his origins back to 1992. But the story was totally new to me, so I can’t comment on how true it was to its comic roots, or anything else about the Valiant universe.

 

The film begins with US Marine Garrison single-handedly raiding a house in Mombasa and rescuing a hostage. Shortly after, Garrison and his wife Gina (Talulah Riley) are kidnapped by Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell) while on holiday in Italy, and when Garrison can’t answer Axe’s question about who leaked the location of the hostage, Axe kills Gina. And then Garrison.

 

He awakens, and finds himself in the headquarters of Rising Spirit Tech (RST), where the company’s CEO, Dr. Harting (Guy Pearce), reveals that Garrison has been resurrected by the company’s experimental nanite technology. Besides, you know, being brought back to life, this army of nanites now coursing through Garrison’s body gives him superhuman strength and healing, as well as the ability to tap into the Internet to access any data or knowledge he desires, basically making him the ultimate soldier.

 

A side effect of the resurrection is that Garrison has no memories of his previous life. During a conversation with another RST-enhanced former solder, US Navy diver KT (Eliza Gonzalez), Garrison hears a song that triggers memories of his wife’s killer, and from there Garrison is off to exact his revenge.

 

Or is he?

 

Bloodshot has a lot of elements of other films. It is definitely part RoboCop, with the resurrected, part-machine Garrison recovering memories and trying to reconnect with his previous life. It’s part Matrix as Garrison taps into the network to acquire skills on demand, like flying a Gulfstream jet. It’s part Terminator in the way he heals and reforms following grievous damage. It’s also part Live Die Repeat, as Garrison is forced to repeat missions. It’s also part Total Recall, where he’s not sure which memories are his and what he can trust.

 

But, if you’re gonna crib some movies for ideas, you could do a lot worse.

 

I’ve long held that some of the best looking and sounding movies released to the home market are coming from Sony, and Bloodshot is no exception. Shot on Panavision DXL cameras at 8K resolution, the home release is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and it looks it. Closeups are packed with detail and are razor-sharp, sometimes looking a bit too clear like when you are staring into every pore, eyebrow hair, or bit of whisker stubble on Diesel’s face.

 

Early shots of the Amalfi Coast or the Aviana airbase in Italy have a warm, gold cast to them, with candlelit and sunshine tones, while many later scenes are tinted with cool blues and silvers, giving images a glossy, high-tech sleek and modern palette.

 

The film’s real visual treat is its extensive use of HDR. There are many scenes throughout shot in dark interiors where there are lights—fluorescent bulbs, spotlights, screens, overheads, wall spots, case lighting, etc.—that brightly illuminate the scene without noise, banding, or washing out the dark details.

 

There is a lengthy tunnel fight sequence that makes especially good use of HDR, resulting in a visual feast that will make fantastic demo fodder. Garrison intentionally jackknifes a flour truck in a tunnel to trap a caravan. Once inside the tunnel, all the lights are off, plunging the entire space into blackness. As the bad guys start exiting their vehicles, the tunnel is illuminated by a variety of light sources: Vehicle headlights, red flares, weapon laser pointers, and gunfire. We can see the individual flour particles floating in the air, as well as the bright beams of light, sharp reds of the flares and lasers, and stabbing flames from the weapons.

 

Another scene has KT doing some kind of underwater ballet or tai chi. The camera looks at her head-on underwater, but behind her is a bright spotlight, illuminating her and the water in myriad shades of blues, which is just an absolute, worst-case banding nightmare. But here the gradations are smooth and seamless with no noise or banding, something I don’t think any bandwidth-limited streaming service could manage to pull off as beautifully.

 

Sonically, Bloodshot offers a ton for home theater fans to enjoy, with a soundtrack that is dynamic, engaging, and immersive throughout, with frequent use of the height speakers in creative and convincing ways. Whether it’s the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” blasting through the overheads and surrounds during an interrogation, or voices echoing around the room during

Garrison’s flashbacks, or the sound of machines sliding overhead with gears turning and whirring, you are always in the midst of the action.

 

The big fight scenes also pour on the audio mayhem as you’d expect, with bass that is deep and authoritative as needed, energizing the room with explosions. Gunshots are also sharp and loud, with bullets punching holes in the sides and rear of the room, followed by sounds of debris and rubble.

 

There are also some nice subtle audio moments, like the creak of wood flooring to indicate a person walking overhead, or glass shattering and elevator cabling creaking and whooshing past your head, or the sound of drones whirring overhead. Bloodshot offers a terrific amount of demo material to show off your theater, especially though with Atmos-capable systems.

 

This movie’s conclusion all but screams “BLOODSHOT WILL RETURN IN A SEQUEL!” as the main characters literally drive off into the sunset. But that sequel will likely have to wait and see how the box office—and home video sales—ultimately stack up.

 

Bloodshot isn’t a movie where you’ll be in for any big Keyser Söze reveals or plot

Bloodshot

twists as the bad guys are pretty clearly telegraphed. This movie is far more about the fun of the journey than the excitement of the destination. Most importantly, Bloodshot looks and sounds fantastic in a premium home theater, with perhaps one of the most active and dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtracks I’ve heard in a while, and it will likely find its way into your demo-scene sizzle reel.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

photo by John Frattasi

It’s easy to think of a media room as a low-performance or “good enough” entertainment space with a cheap TV and a Best Buy soundbar—a sort of glorified version of the old family den or man cave. To put it another way, there’s this pervasive notion that to enjoy movies at home to the fullest, you need to either install a dedicated home theater or you can settle for 

second best.

 

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. As I’ve argued plenty of times in the pages of Cineluxe, you can actually build a high-quality media room space that legitimately qualifies as a home cinema experience. If you have a home office, master bedroom, kids room, or communal living space that you want to upgrade into a fantastic moving-watching space, you can totally do that.

 

 

In our ongoing Cineluxe Basics series, I’ve covered all of the things you need to keep in mind when doing so, but those articles deconstruct the modern media room a piece at a time, i.e., what you should think about when picking a TV and what you need to know about surround sound preamps. They don’t really give you a holistic overview of what a complete media room system looks like. So, if you’re looking to convert your home office or kids’ room into a top-notch movie-watching space for the entire family without ripping out all of the walls and starting from scratch, you may be left wondering how far you need to go.

That’s where this new series comes in. Over the next few posts, I’ll be painting a picture of what a complete media room system looks like in terms of electronics, starting with the simplest of all high-performance luxury media room systems. In other words, a system that will have minimal impact on your décor, but maximal impact on your movie-watching enjoyment. And despite the pithy intro, I think a great TV and a really high-end soundbar is a great basis for such an essential system.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics
WHAT KIND OF TV, EXACTLY?

That depends, really. We at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience, so we think any good media room display should be big enough to give at least two people a viewing angle of 40 to 45 degrees. So, if you’ll just be watching your movies with your significant other, and assuming you’ll be sitting no further than six or seven feet from the screen, a 75-inch TV should be sufficient. If you have more viewers on a regular basis or you sit further away, it’s probably better to upgrade to an 85- or even 98-inch class display.

 

Splitting the difference, we think something like Sony’s Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV is a good recommendation. In terms of technology, it’s ahead of the curve. In terms of design, it’s the leader of the pack, and with its built-in Android TV operating 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Kaleidescape Strato S movie player

system, the only source device you’ll really need for a complete luxury entertainment system is a Kaleidescape movie player.

 

Of course, your local integrator may not be a Sony dealer, but if not, chances are good they sell 

LG instead, whose Signature Z9 88-inch OLED is a step up in terms of design and technology, but also a big step up in price.

 

 

IS A SOUNDBAR REALLY ENOUGH?

There’s this pervasive myth that soundbars are nothing more than a compromise for people on a budget looking for a down-and-dirty surround sound solution. And that’s still largely true in the $200-and-below range. But these days, there are any number of truly high-performance soundbars that can deliver shockingly good sound.

 

If you’re simply looking for big, room-filling, impactful Dolby Atmos/DTS:X surround sound without running wires through the walls or around the perimeter of the room, Sennheiser has been turning heads in recent months with its new Ambeo Soundbar, an all-in-one sound solution that delivers 5.1.4-channel audio for $2,499. You might consider adding a subwoofer 

to the mix if you just can’t abide anything less than the deepest, hardest-hitting bass, but it’s not necessary. And if your local integrator doesn’t carry the Ambeo, the Yamaha YSP-5600 and Sony HT-ST5000 soundbars also deliver cinematic sound in a simple package. (Although, to be fair, neither of those is quite as technologically advanced as the Sennheiser.)

 

Luxury speaker manufacturers like James

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Leon Speakers Horizon soundbar

Loudspeaker and Leon Speakers also make some truly gorgeous soundbars that, in some cases, can even be custom-made to perfectly match the width of your TV. They may be a little more complicated to set up, since they do require amplification, but if utter aesthetic sophistication is important to you, they’re definitely worth a look.

 

In my next post, I’ll start digging into what a slightly more elaborate—and indeed expandable—media room system looks like. But if you’re just looking for the basics, and if you’re looking to minimize the disruption to your design aesthetic, the Sony Z9G Master Series paired with a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar and a Kaleidescape movie player, properly installed and calibrated, will give you one heck of a movie-watching experience at home.

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.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

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.

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

REVIEWS

Casino Royale (2006)
A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story
Bloodshot
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Onward

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms
Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies
Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?
The Cineluxe Hour