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Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb isn’t just a casual film fan but a true connoisseur who both loves movies and savors the whole movie-watching experience. So it’s not too surprising that he’s the principal engineer of user experience for the premium movie-download service Kaleidescape, nor that he has a reference-quality theater in his Silicon Valley-area home.

 

What really sets him apart from most film lovers, though, is how deeply he became involved in the process of researching, planning, and executing his theater—a process he recently recounted for Cineluxe’ John Sciacca.

ed.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb

Most people have a story about how they got involved in home theater. For me, I saw Speed on LaserDisc at a friend’s house, and that was it. What is your story?

My dad took me to visit a friend of his who had a home theater. He had a CRT projector with a ridiculously ahead-of-its-time control system called Frox with an onscreen display to control all of the components. The system looked and sounded great for the day, but ironically the thing that really stuck with me was that he had his equipment in a bookshelf on the back wall with a closet you could walk in to access the back of the gear. When I built my theater, I put the equipment in a separate room for sound reasons but I made sure to incorporate access to the back of the racks.

 

How has your theater system evolved over the years?

My first system was just a big rear-projection TV with a LaserDisc player and VCR. After that, I moved to a front projector. Then I bought my own house and planned on 

converting an existing room into a theater, but the dimensions were really wrong, making it hard to arrange seating. We basically had to restructure the house to accommodate my current theater.

 

Your space isn’t really a traditional man cave or reference movie theater, but more of a hybrid. How did that design come about?

It was really an interesting process. I hired general contractor Bob Byrne with the intention of converting that existing room, but as I was explaining the project to him, he realized that if we took out a wet bar and relocated a bathroom and a 

mechanical room, we could gain a lot of space. It went from a 13 x 19 room to 19 x 24, which was a crucial change. It required taking out a load-bearing wall, pouring a couple of footings, and putting in a steel I-beam. A lot of work, but incredibly worth it.

 

I also brought in theater designer Keith Yates, who gave me two proposals for having two rows of seats [shown at right]. One had a riser, and the other required cutting the concrete slab and excavating down a foot to lower the front row, which I never would have thought of, but was the way to go for a host of reasons.

 

I wanted a big bookcase in the room, both because I needed someplace for my books and also to make it feel more like a study than a scaled-down commercial theater. Bob designed the aesthetics of the bookcase and Keith’s team did the engineering to incorporate the center speaker and two subwoofers, air returns for the HVAC system, and acoustic treatments behind all the books. We also have acoustically transparent motorized shades that mask the outer shelves when the screen is down, to eliminate visual distractions.

A Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

I requested the curved stage, having seen a similar design in a magazine. I picked tanoak flooring for it, which is a really pretty wood with a little red tone in it that fits in well with the sapele mahogany used for the bookshelves and the other woodwork, and with the rosewood on the floorstanding speakers. Originally, the boards were going to just run front to back, but Bob proposed tapering them to follow the curve, and that totally took it to a new level. If you follow the convergence point the tapers make, the really cool thing is that the focus of those boards is the front-row center seat, which is my seat.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

A clamping system was used to hold the curved boards for the stage in place
while the glue dried so there would be no visible nail holes

Tell us about your current theater system.

Unsurprisingly, the primary content source is the Kaleidescape—a combination of the Premiere components for disc-based media and our Strato family for downloaded media and 4K content joined through a software and hardware solution called Co-Star that makes it all act like a single system. I have about a thousand movies in my collection. I also have a TiVo and a streaming player to be able to watch other stuff.

 

It wasn’t possible to have a booth or hush box for the projector, so I needed a model that was quiet. I’ve had a series of Sony projectors, culminating with a Sony 995ES. With its laser light engine and ARC-F lens, it produces fantastic bright and vivid images while still being reasonably quiet.

 

Video processing is handled by a Lumagen Radiance Pro, which works with the motorized screen-masking system from Screen Research and also provides the HDR tone mapping. The screen is 96 inches wide, or 110 inches diagonal in a 16:9 aspect ratio, but masks down to 104 inches diagonal for 2.4 aspect-ratio films. I went with a motorized screen because I

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Trinnov MC processor was used during construction to create two
separate calibrations for the theater—one for group viewing and one
optimized for solo listening from the center seat

wanted this room to be multipurpose, with the screen out of the way of the big bookshelf up front when I’m not watching movies.

 

The front speakers are Aerial Acoustics, and the subwoofers are a mix of three Seaton SubMersive HP subs and four Velodyne SC-IWDVR in-wall models, three of which are in the ceiling. I’m currently upgrading my audio processing from the Trinnov MCwhich handles the system’s room EQ and speaker correction, to the Trinnov Altitude 16.

A Control4 system operates everything, including automated screen masking and lighting scenes, triggered by the Kaleidescape system. I have to laugh because the thing that really floors new visitors to my theater is that the lights come up by themselves when the end credits start.

 

How about acoustic treatments?

The acoustics were designed by Keith Yates and his company. All the walls and the ceiling are covered with fabric that conceals the acoustic treatments and the surround speakers.

 

I spent lots of time auditioning fabrics because the material had to be aesthetically appealing, meet certain acoustical characteristics, and not reflect light coming off the projection screen. I bought extra fabric and have it squirreled away in case it’s ever damaged or we have to take fabric down for a repair or upgrade.

 

Keith’s team also designed ultra-quiet HVAC for the room, and sound isolation. The theater achieves an NC-14 noise rating with the HVAC and the projector running, which is comparable to many recording studios. Even the lighting transformers are remote-mounted to eliminate hum. Bob also took great care to ensure that there would be no rattles or vibrations. All the construction is glued and screwed rather than nailed, and even the speaker wiring is glued to the walls. We also did an extensive vibration/rattle test before installing the fabric.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

An interactive 3D tour of the theater

People don’t generally consider seating essential theater equipment, but I know you spent a lot of time researching your chairs.

I had previously sat in various dedicated theater seating that I found uncomfortable so I wanted seating comfortable enough for the length of the movie. I happened across these chairs made by a Norwegian company called Ekornes that lift your head slightly as you recline, which seemed perfect for movie theater seating, and there were many models to choose from. I went to the local dealer, told them I was building a theater room, and asked if I could come by from time to time and sit in a chair and read a book for a couple of hours, and that’s what I did until I found the right ones. You can sit in these chairs for hours and hours.

 

Do you have any upgrades planned?

My system is 7.1 right now, but I will be able to use my new Altitude 16 processor to add ceiling speakers to do a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos system. Once we do that upgrade, the room correction processing will move from the MC to the Altitude, and the MC will be retired.

 

With a room like mine, some upgrades are easier than others. Changing the projector is comparatively easy, and we were smart enough to run conduit for any cabling changes. But the speakers behind the fabric are not easy to change. Adding new Atmos speakers will likely mean redoing the entire ceiling. Fortunately, I do have extra fabric. Also, the ceiling is acoustically treated, so I’ll work with Keith to identify where those speakers will go and if anything else will need to be changed acoustically; and of course Keith will update the calibration.

 

Do you plan to upgrade to 8K as well?

On my screen, a 4K pixel is less than 1/32nd of an inch. Obviously, those pixels would be bigger on a larger screen, but I would also want to be sitting farther away from a larger screen. So, do I need my pixels to be smaller than 1/32nd of an inch when viewed from 12 feet away? I don’t think so. It’s already hard enough to get a 4K image in sharp focus—just imagine what an 8K lens will cost!

 

The exception might be something like IMAX. But, in my opinion, IMAX-size screens are only appropriate for content that is shot for an IMAX-style presentation. When you take content shot for cinematic presentation and blow it up to IMAX size, it’s 

too big for my comfort. It doesn’t become more immersive for me, it just becomes too big. If I were watching IMAX nature features at home on a screen double the size of mine, but from the same seating distance, then sure, 8K would be dandy.

 

Has spending time sheltering at home caused you to rethink the space? Are you finding you are using it more for non-movie viewing like TV, concerts, or gaming?

I have definitely been using the space more! I usually watch a movie a week with friends, but since that is not 

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

feasible at the moment, it’s freed me up to watch a movie any time I feel like it, without the pressure to save the good ones for when people come over. So I’m really enjoying that!

 

There have also been some very enjoyable series streaming recently—Watchmen, Westworld, The Mandalorian—though you see the shortcomings of streaming video pretty readily on a big screen, which can be distracting. But The Mandalorian was 2.35:1 aspect, which made it feel more cinematic.

 

I love music and concerts, and I have a bunch of concerts on the Kaleidescape system I watch when I’m in the mood. There are a few I go back to again and again because they look and sound so darned good! Cream: Live at the Royal Albert Hall is one of the best mixed concerts I’ve ever heard.

 

Any closing thoughts?

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hiring great people. Bob was the perfect contractor for this complex and detail-oriented project, and he brought in numerous craftsmen whose skills all contributed to its success, especially Steve Kent, the cabinetmaker and finish carpenter. Keith and his team did a fantastic job with the acoustical and technical requirements of the theater and making it all work within the existing framework of the house. Every time I go into my theater, I’m grateful to everyone who built it.

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.

3 Must-See Music-Based Movies

3 Must-See Music-Based Movies

In “3 Must-See Music-Based Videos,” I presented a performance video, a jukebox musical, and a legendary concert performance. This time, all three of the highlighted titles are traditional movies, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less divergent in how they handle their music-themed material.

HAIRSPRAY (2007)

John Waters’ original 1988 movie was fantastic fun, with a quirky yet amazing oddball cast of characters including drag legend Divine, Debby Harry (of Blondie fame), Sonny Bono (yes, as in Sonny & Cher), comedian Jerry Stiller, Rikki Lake, and even special-guest showcases by The Cars’ Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora.

 

While music is central to the movie—it has a terrific soundtrack—Waters’ Hairspray can’t really be considered a true musical in the theatrical sense. But the film became such a cult favorite over the years that is was eventually transformed into a fun hit Broadway musical. (I saw it in that original run with theater legend Harvey Fierstein taking over DIvine’s leading role of Edna Turnblad!)

 

Happily, the next stage for Hairspray was to bring things full circle and make a major movie out of the Broadway version, and that is where we enter the story:

 

“Good morning, Baltimore!”

 

The 2007 Hairspray is a wonder of poignant scripting, swingin’ songwriting, Technicolor-flavored staging, and a good ol’ dose of sweet-hearted fun. A joy to watch right from the opening number, the movie is chock full of earworm-worthy moments. (The 

Blu-ray version even has a sing-a-long feature!)

 

The terrific cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, John Travolta, Jerry Stiller (yes, he appears in both film versions, in different roles!), and Nikki Blonsky in her feature-film debut as Tracy Turnblad. The ensemble cast becomes especially important for the large group and dance sequences later in the film. Even Travolta’s full-drag portrayal of Edna Turnblad makes a great deal of sense once the dance numbers start. (He’s much more limber than Harvey was on Broadway, obviously still retaining some of the skills he honed during his Saturday Night Fever days.)

Where to See Some Music

All of the films here are available on all of the major non-subscription streaming services, as well as for download on Kaleidescape.

 

A = Amazon Prime / G = Google Play
I = iTunes / K = Kaleidescape
V = Vudu / 
Y = YouTube

The original music in Hairspray echoes the vibe of early Motown soul and Brill Building girl group rock ’n roll, falling just this side of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. The songs effectively represent the near underground sounds that helped change the pace and face of musical entertainment in the early 1960s—a period when mainstream pop was quite bland and stagnant until about 1963 when Motown and The Beatles hit it big.

 

The 48 kHz (probably 24-bit) 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is gently immersive and mostly in stereo, with a tasteful use of the surrounds for select sound effects, choral group singing, and overall ambiance. The music sounds rich, warm, and rocking.

 

The film’s look and feel features a rich, diverse color palette balanced by the gritty street realities of urban Baltimore. All this combines to make Hairspray a highly enjoyable home entertainment experience that somehow makes time melt away.
A / G / I / KV / Y 

3 Must-See Music-Based Movies

ONCE (2007)

Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once tells the story of a charming near-romance between two broken-hearted musicians who meet amidst unusual circumstances. In reality, Hansard is primarily a musician, singer, and songwriter who not only led his fantastic rock band The Frames for decades but also first came to this writer’s attention as part of the band in movie The CommitmentsIn Once, he plays an aspiring singer/songwriter armed with great songs, a passion for his unfulfilled musical dreams, and the unlikely prospect of reconnecting with his former girlfriend.

 

There is a great real-life back story to this film that ultimately became a terrific promotional vehicle for Hansard and Irglova, who ended up romantically involved and later formed a musical side project called The Swell Season. In the film, members of The Frames participate in a recording session that borders on Partridge Family idealism yet somehow manages to make you suspend disbelief while simultaneously tugging at your heartstrings. 

 

This is not a big-budget production, but Once has a great independent-film look and feel that plays well on a big screen. Parts of it were filmed guerrilla style on the streets in Ireland.

 

It’s well worth the price of admission to watch Once for the mesmerizing opening sequence and for Hansard’s jaw-dropping performance of “Say It to Me Now” on solo acoustic guitar. (Do take note of his guitar, which has been worn down so much it has gaping holes in it!) 

 

There is much joy to be found in this heartwarming film that eventually became a Broadway show. Once can be found on Kaleidescape and on Blu-ray with a stereo DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that sounds good and feels as natural as the cinematography. This film is ultimately a beautiful cinematic experience, thanks to compassionate acting, a strong script, and a timeless tale.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

3 Must-See Music-Based Movies

A STAR IS BORN (1954)

This Judy Garland masterwork—the second of the (to date) four versions of A Star Is Born and in many ways the benchmark-setter—deserves to be seen and appreciated on multiple levels. Beyond the fascinating and heart-wrenching story line, this film was a make-it-or-break-it moment for the Wizard Of Oz star. Accordingly, the studio pulled out the stops. Containing truly stellar performances by both Garland and James Mason, A Star Is Born contains many jaw-dropping visuals, including a fantastic behind-the-scenes perspective on what Hollywood was like in its Golden Age.

 

To get some idea of the richness of the production, one need go no further than the demo-worthy scene featuring the now classic pop/jazz standard “The Man Who Got Away.”  Set in an after-hours jazz club, you will see arguably Garland’s finest moment on the silver screen, a perfect blend of tremendous music, impassioned performance—I still can’t believe she’s lip syncing to a pre-recorded track, it’s that good!—and beautifully designed staging supported by expert lighting. This one scene is like a mini film-within-a-film that took months and several complete redesigns to perfect—as explained in the deluxe edition bonus features on the Blu-ray + DVD deluxe edition that came out in 2010.

 

From a home theater enthusiast’s perspective, one of the really interesting things about the 1954 A Star Is Born is that it has one of the first stereophonic movie soundtracks, a good four years before stereo records became a commercial reality. The movie is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, but the surround channels are mostly for room-filling ambience. Most of the action is up front in stereo, and that’s just fine. The sound design is tasteful, innovative, warm-sounding, and ultimately an integral part of the viewing experience. 

 

When Norman Maine (James Mason) walks into the club prior to “The Man That Got Away,” note how the audio perspective convincingly creates the sense that you’re Mason’s character opening the door and entering that environment. And near the end, when Mason is starting to seriously contemplate suicide, the scene suddenly switches perspective. You can see him reacting to a distant conversation that Garland is having, which sounds like it’s literally coming from another room.

 

A Star Is Born is full of well-crafted details like that, making it an important film to take the time to appreciate. One of Warner Brothers’ first CinemaScope films, it remains one of the greatest dramatic musical movies ever.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

Mark Smotroff

Mark Smotroff breathes music 24/7. His collection includes some 10,000 LPs, thousands of
CDs & downloads, and many hundreds of Blu-ray and DVD Audio discs. Professionally, Mark has
provided Marketing Communications services to the likes of DTS, Sony, Sega, Sharp, and AT&T.
He is also a musician, songwriter & producer, and has written about music professionally for
publications including Mix, Sound+Vision, and AudiophileReview. When does he sleep?

5 Great “Big City” Films

5 Great "Big City" Films

Anyone who’s spent much time in metropolitan areas knows that each big city has a distinct personality. Filmmakers have long taken advantage of this fact, allowing urban centers to be not just the backdrops for their stories, but practically characters. Woody Allen’s work is a prime example: What would Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall, and Manhattan be without New York City? Here are a few movies that celebrate the good, the bad, and the ugly of major American cities and their inhabitants.

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956)

How can a film without a single on-location shot qualify as a celebration of New York City? Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps relies on studio sets for its very few outdoor scenes, and the establishing skyline doesn’t pretend to be anything but a hand-painted set. It works because a city is more than its buildings. In Casey Robinson’s screenplay, based on Charles Einstein’s 1953 novel The Bloody Spur, the characters’ actions, attitudes, and dialogue define Manhattan. On its surface, this is a homicide thriller, but we know who the murderer is in the first scene (it’s John Drew Barrymore). The real point of the story is to show how the news media exploits crime for ratings. That practice is commonplace now, but it used to be centered in New York.

 

Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning TV newsman, part of the Kyne News Syndicate, which has just been passed to its founder’s lazy playboy son, Walter Kyne, played with wide-eyed bafflement and bravado by Vincent Price. Kyne pits three of his top newsmen—George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, and James Craig—against each other, competing for the new job of Executive Director. Mobley gets caught in the middle of their battle. The underhanded dealings, the snide remarks, the workaholism fueled by alcoholism, the use of sex as corporate currency (Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, and Ida Lupino hold all the power)—these are hallmarks of the frantic NYC media life of the 1956. We don’t need a shot of Times Square to recognize Manhattan’s pounding heart.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

PREMIUM RUSH (2012)

Fast-forward into the 21st century, to a very different movie that’s just as much a love song to Manhattan’s frenetic pace. Written and directed by David Koepp, Premium Rush stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a bike messenger who gets finds his life in danger when a customer specifically asks for him to pick up a parcel. Unfortunately, gambling-addicted cop Michael 

5 Great "Big City" Films

Shannon wants what’s in that package—at any cost. Good thing fellow messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez) steps up to help.

 

The normal whoosh of bike messengers in traffic turns even more breathless as Shannon chases bike-bound Gordon-Levitt from the safety of his car. The client is up at Columbia University and the package is going to Chinatown, so the movie becomes a lightning-paced tour up and down Broadway. This film uses only on-location shots, mostly outdoors, so 

lovers of NYC will enjoy recognizing landmarks block by block. Action fans will love all the hair’s-breadth near-misses as bikes maneuver between moving cars, thanks to visual effects orchestrated through a combination of a crack stunt team and the CGI magic of Zoic Studios. The sound design alone makes this movie a thrill; Jamie Baker and his Foley team put the viewer right there on the street with the yellow cabs.     A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

ABOUT LAST NIGHT (1986)

Not every city has that East Coast vibe. In 1974, David Mamet wrote Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a lean, sarcastic play about dating in a midwestern city in the 1970s. More than ten years later, the play inspired a screenplay by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue for Edward Zwick’s romantic comedy About Last Night. The only remnants of Mamet’s signature 

acidic, stylized dialogue are hilarious passages where Bernie (Jim Belushi) flaunts his sexual exploits to his pal Danny (Rob Lowe). Yet, while the language may have lost its zing and the expanded plot runs toward Hollywood predictability, there are few finer cinematic tributes to the city of Chicago.

 

From a baseball diamond in Grant Park and a walk over the Chicago River on the Adams Street Bridge to the commute north from the Loop on a clattering L train, Zwick and cinematographer Andrew Dintenfass capture the essence of the Windy City. The focus on noisy bar life squares with midwestern reality. Zwick filmed pubs on Division Street, and the interior of Mother’s, the characters’ favorite 

Where to See Some Big City

All of the films here are available on all of the non-subscription streaming services, as well as for download on Kaleidescape, except for the The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which isn’t available on iTunes.

 

A = Amazon Prime / G = Google Play
I = iTunes / K = Kaleidescape
V = Vudu / 
Y = YouTube

hangout, is a studio set exactly replicating the real thing, although they chose a bar across the street from Mother’s to be its exterior.

 

As for the film itself, there are some interesting moments of truth about relationships as Danny dives too fast into a commitment with Debbie (Demi Moore). Debbie’s best friend Joan (Elizabeth Perkins) is the snarky-tongued female counterpoint to Belushi’s character, and she gets in some prime jibes about male behavior while simultaneously craving men.
A / G / I / KV / Y 

 

 

STRAIGHT TIME (1978)

On the West Coast, filmmakers have viewed Los Angeles from many angles and in many different lights. One distinctive view is Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time, based on Edward Bunker’s novel No Beast So Fierce. Dustin Hoffman is Max Dembo, newly 

released from a six-year prison sentence for armed robbery. The opening sequence shows him lost in the wide, cold world of L.A., trying to get his bearings and re-enter life.

 

The fates and the system are stacked against him. An irresponsible friend (Gary Busey) and an unsympathetic parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh) make going straight impossible. A nice girl who thinks she wants adventure (Jenny Mercer) falls hard for Max, even as he returns to his life of crime with an old colleague (Harry Dean Stanton, who flat-out steals the film). 

5 Great "Big City" Films

There’s nothing nostalgic or sweet about this version of the city. To the accompaniment of David Shire’s sultry jazz score, Grosbard focuses on gritty L.A. as an empty shell. Its wide streets and wide sky ironically symbolize what a harsh, suffocating prison society can be.      A / G / KV / Y

5 Great "Big City" Films

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (2019)

Some 500 miles north of L.A., writer/director Joe Talbot gives cinematic life to a unique perspective on San Francisco. This is the true story of a black man named Jimmy Fail (playing himself) and his best friend Jonathan (a wonderful performance by Montgomery Allen), who decide to go live in a historic mansion when the owners move out. Jimmy has been told his whole life that his grandfather built the house, and he believes he has an ancestral right to it.

 

This is a quiet yet intense film about the search for belonging. Jimmy and Jonathan, thoughtful and artistic, don’t feel they fit in with the colorful characters in their own poverty-line neighborhood. But they don’t seem to belong in a four-million-dollar house either. The spot between those extremes eludes them, a place where they could celebrate their heritage yet also be modern individuals. Innovative editing and the use of slow motion make everyday actions take on an otherworldly quality. There’s a lot of humor, too. San Francisco comes across as both a great mystery and an old friend, holding secrets in her fog and answers just over the rise of each hill.     A / G KV / Y

Anne E. Johnson

Anne E. Johnson is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. Her music journalism appears
regularly in
Copper Magazine, Classical Voice North America, and Stereophile. She’s
also the author of several novels and over 100 short stories, mostly science fiction
and fantasy. Learn more on AnneEJohnson.com.

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

The Canadian province of Newfoundland may seem a strange place to set a TV series to those who live on the North American mainland. To apply what John McPhee once wrote of Alaskas relationship to the lower 48 states, Newfoundland is a foreign country largely populated by Canadians.

 

But because it is so small and insular, the capital and largest city, St. Johns, with a population of just 114,000, makes an unexpectedly interesting setting for the under-appreciated streaming TV series Republic of Doyle.

 

Republic of Doyle, a former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation hit whose six seasons stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime, has all the elements of a successful series. Its about a loving but frequently squabbling father-son team of private detectives. The co-creator, main writer, and showrunner Allan Hawco plays Jake Doyle, whose impulsiveness and risk taking dont serve him any better than it did when his brashness got him kicked off the St. Johns police force. While solving crimes, he still causes trouble that requires balancing by the slightly steadier hand of his dad Malachy, played by the veteran Irish actor Sean McGinley.

Its built around family; it blends comedy and crime, sex and romance with finesse. But the most important character may be St. Johns itself. Hawco and company are keenly aware of the foibles of a place where English is spoken in an accent that may require subtitles or closed captions for other English speakers, where the slang may seem foreign to other Canadians, much less Americans. Hawco and 

Want to See Some QLCF?

You can find Republic of Doyle on Amazon and NetflixSpiral resides on Hulu, while Nit i Dia can be found on AmazonThe Paper on Netflix, and Bordertown (Sorjonen) on Netflix.

most of the rest of the ensemble cast are natives of Newfoundland, and their fondness is evident for the quirks of a place where police and thieves, doctors and gangsters, all seem to have known each other since high school.

 

The importance of place is recognized in meta fashion in Episode 10 of Season One. A pretentious Toronto-based crime novelist Garrison Steele (played with comic condescension by the fine Canadian actor Victor Garber) shows up in the Doyle home with the intention of writing a new book based on Jake and the Doyle clans peculiarities. My publisher wants me writing QLCF. Can you believe it?”

 

A clueless Jake murmurs: QLCF?”

 

Quaint-location crime fiction,” Steele says. He suggested I try Newfoundland. . . . The seafood seems passable, and you speak something like English, so I agreed.” Jake reluctantly agrees to let Steele accompany him on a case, and a sub-genre of international streaming TV has been given an official moniker. 

 

Quaint-Location Crime Fiction has become one of the great allures of streaming TV, now that so many channels—including Netflix, Amazon, PBS Masterpiece, and others—have gone deeper into programs that take place all over the world. The 

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

appeal is obvious in this time of staying at home: Armchair travel was never easier to places some of us have never ventured, or even considered visiting.

 

One of the rules of QLCF is that it avoids the visual clichés TV long used to identify larger cities. The long-lasting French police and justice series Spiral works because you almost never see a shot of the Eiffel Tower or a storefront on the Champs-Élysées. Exteriors are mostly shot in arrondissements where tourists

never tread, immigrant banlieues where even the police dread to visit. Its not exactly QLCF because it is in Paris, and much of it takes place inside the corridors of power, like Law & Order: Paris.

 

American network shows rarely get it: Hawaii 5-0, with its touristy shots of Waikiki beaches, is not QLCF. Neither is NCIS: New Orleans, with its try-too-hard French Quarter headquarters and broad clichés about music and food. Perhaps Miami Vice, with its pre-mega-monetized South Beach locations, could thank its quaint location for some of its success.

 

But QLCF isnt just a setting, or a studio set, in the streaming world. Indigenous architecture, especially when shot on streets that capture neighborhoods, homes, and apartments that take you behind the doors where the characters might live, are part of the appeal. Here are some recent favorites that make the most of their QLs.

Nit i Dia (Night and Day). Amazon Primes Catalan-language show, is set in Barcelona. While most QLCF is set in smaller cities and towns, Nit i Dia stays away from the tourist areas to show the private side of the metropolis. The ensemble revolves around forensic specialist Dr. Sara Grau (Clara Segura), who 

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

becomes deeply involved in the hunt for a serial killer. Like many of the characters, she is unhappily married, a paragon of professional responsibility with a singular compulsion: engaging in the anonymous and semi-public hookups for which Erica Jong coined the phrase zipless” sex. She is far from the only unhappily mated member of the large, talented ensemble of doctors, cops, judges, lawyers, and psychiatrists, whether married, unattached, gay, or straight, with kids or without.

 

There are exterior shots of the massive modernist buildings designed by Gaudi and Miers van der Rohe that Barcelona is known for, but the interiors that take us into the homes and workplaces of characters gives Nit i Dia its quirky flavor. There are scenes of churches from which a killer seeks his prey, and neighborhood bars where thugs, drug dealers, and prostitutes gulp beers and plan their schemes.

 

Most Spaniards live in apartments, according to a survey in The Atlantic, and Nit i Dia likes to go inside the buildings. If youve ever visited a large European city and wondered where the residents really live, Nit i Dia will show you. The dark, depressing railroad flat in which a divorced fireman lives, detesting his aging mother and doting on his middle-school age son, gives a hint of the struggles of his divided personality. A guilt-ridden judge, miserably married to his crippled classical-music-critic wife, are evidently well-off, but they live in a claustrophobic apartment, crowded with a piano and the sound of bitter music. In a middle-class neighborhood, a suspected killer gets stuck in an old-school single-compartment cage elevator during a power outage and the other apartment dwellers try to break into the elevator to capture him before a power restoration somehow allows him to escape.

 

It seems purposeful, then, that Dr. Grau and her moody, immature husband, a volatile self-absorbed sales manager, live in a pretty, modern house, with plenty of glass, an indoor swimming pool, and a surfeit of marital strife.

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

The Paper (Novine) is a newspaper drama (not to be confused with the London-based Press) takes place in Rijeka (population 128,000), the third largest city in Croatia. Much of the show appears to be shot there, although credits (in Croatian) cite locations in Zagreb as well. The first Croatian-made series on Netflix, the drama centers on an independent newspaper in a corrupt country, region, and city. The black, white, and 

red fonts in the opening credits remind one of the childhood riddle from a time in which everyone read print newspapers: Whats black and white and re(a)d all over? (The concept may also be borrowed from the color scheme of Masterpiece Mystery.)

 

Like print newspapers everywhere, Novine is proud of its independent journalism and struggling to survive. The series begins with a fatal automobile accident and hints of a police cover-up. Initially pursuing the story, the editors and reporters start feeling political pressure to leave the story alone. Though these journalists are finely attuned to the labyrinthian ethical landscape in which they must work, they are unprepared for the disruption caused by Novines purchase by the corrupt construction executive Mario Kardum. Editors are fired; an ambitious, talented woman reporter is promoted to run the paper; and, as always, power corrupts. Reporters flee or stay, depending on their ability and willingness to compromise their integrity. The drinking of local beer and fruit brandy, for sorrow or celebration, is ubiquitous. The sex, of the easy-come, easy-go variety. Cigarette smoking is so universal it seems mandated by Croatian law.

 

Rijeka has a lovely-looking port when looking out from the city, but the landscape is filled with construction cranes, cracked cement, houses built on hills with little regard for zoning regulations, and a surfeit of crooked cops, politicians, and clergy wielding power, by fist, gun, blackmail, or through the pages of the newspaper. Its a small city, and its hard to stay out of the way of trouble, especially if youre one of the throwback journalists seeking the truth.

 

Scandanavian noir has been a staple of QLCF even before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo crossed over to the mainstream. The venerable Wallander (the original Swedish version) is set and filmed in Ystad, Sweden, where the detective played by Krister Henriksson drinks, walks his dog by the Baltic Sea, and broods while pondering the crimes in his small city—the prototypical example of QLCF.

Bordertown, a Finnish show known in Finland as Sorjonen after the main character, is a particularly interesting example of the sub-genre, and the first Finnish series go to international, via Netflix. (A third season of Bordertown came to U.S. Netflix in May.) Kari Sorjonen (Ville Virtanen) is a cop of 

Now Streaming: Quaint-Location Crime Fiction

extraordinary mental acuity. His wife has been treated for brain cancer: It seems like a good idea to relocate to her quaint, quiet, scenic hometown, Lapeenranta. It would seem like a nice place to raise their teenage daughter, too, if it wasnt for the teenagers easy access to drugs and a roaming pedophile sex trafficker terrorizing young teen girls. The move from city to country is a staple of quaint location crime fiction, and it never works out for the cop and family looking to lighten their load.

 

Set and shot in largely in Lapeenranta (scenes in Season One were also filmed in Estonia and Lithuania), the small city of 73,000 is equidistant from Helsinki and St. Petersburg, and about 18 miles west of the Russian border. Its a popular tourist magnet and center of commerce. But theres a lot of bad stuff happening here, and like the St. Johns of Doyle, everyone knows everyone else: Paulina Sorjonens high school boyfriend is now the deal-making mayor of the city.

 

Sorjonen joins the Serious Crime Unit of the small police department, and it seems both financial shenanigans and heinous sexual crimes involving both sides of the border require his attention. Hes a crime-solving genius with poorly developed social skills: A flashback to his childhood shows signs of autism, or perhaps what used to be known as Aspergers. His quirks include barefoot, nearly headache-inducing trances to focus on suspects and solutions, twisting his limber, lanky torso in some sort of inner tai-chi knot while he rearranges his notes on the wall.

 

Hes a fascinating character, but only to the extent that his personality seems a perfect match for the place. A Lapeenranta tourism website quotes Bordertown show creator and native son Miikko Oikkonen as saying the town is depicted in the series as if it were one of the main characters. Which, of course, is an essential requirement of Quaint Location Crime Fiction. Walking tours of Sorjonens Lapeenranta are available.

Wayne Robins

Wayne Robins is a veteran journalist, music critic, and author. His books include A Brief History
of Rock . . . Off the Record, 
and Behind the Music: 1968. His articles and essays have appeared
in anthologies about Steely Dan, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Joni
Mitchell, and others. A 2021 inductee of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame for his writing and
criticism at Newsday (1975–
1995), he is an adjunct professor at St. John’s University in
Queens, NY.

Jaws

Jaws

Widely regarded as one of Steven Spielberg’s best films, residing well within the AFI Top 100 list, and holding the honor as the first-ever true summer blockbuster film are all fine reasons to pick up the new 45th Anniversary 4K HDR transfer of Jaws, but none of them are why the film still resonates with me to this day. 

 

Nope.

 

I was five when Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, and for some reason my dad thought it would be a good idea to take 

our family to see it at a drive-in theater. So, I remember Jaws for absolutely ruining night swimming for me for my entire life, and for giving me a fairly unhealthy fear of the water that persists.

 

I don’t remember a lot about my childhood from age five, but I do remember seeing Jaws. (Well, all of it except the very opening, where my dad made me cover my eyes as Chrissie [Susan Backlinie] runs naked out into the ocean for what turns out to be a very unfortunate evening swim. So, yeah, watching a Great White shark brutalize and eat people was somehow OK for a five-year-old, but catching a brief glimpse of Chrissie’s shadowed side-boob, not so much. Go figure.)

 

I remember drawing pictures of a lone stick floating on top of the water inspired by Pippet, the black lab that played fetch with a stick. I also recall recoiling at Quint’s (Robert Shaw) strangled, bloody screams at the end at he is slowly eaten whole alive. But the real doozy for me was when old 

JAWS AT A GLANCE

The first summer blockbuster ever, and the film that launched Spielberg’s career, gets a restrained but effective makeover in this 45th-anniversary edition.

 

PICTURE     

The restoration respects the looks of the original 35mm film stock, sticking to freshening it up a bit and showing a light touch with the HDR enhancements.

 

SOUND

The new Dolby Atmos mix doesn’t venture far from the original mono track, but does add some nice atmospheric effects and effectively places John Williams’ score among the surround channels.

Ben Gardner’s (Craig Kingsbury) head pops out of the bottom of his boat punctuated by a sudden intense burst of music, likely the first jump-scream in my life.

 

For the rest of that summer, I kept expecting that head to come popping out of anywhere there was water. The toilet, the bathtub, you name it. I can also thank Jaws for the fear that the tile mermaid at the bottom of my grandparents’ black-bottomed pool would somehow come to life and drag me under whenever I went swimming.

 

So, yeah. Jaws has been a part of my life for just about as long as I remember.

 

And you know what? The film still totally holds up. The acting, the dialogue, the chemistry, the editing . . . it’s all still great and all still works. The best parts of the film are aboard the Orca with Quint, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) interacting. The dynamic between the three of them is fantastic, and Quint’s monologue about surviving the USS Indianapolis is still powerful and compelling (despite the fact that he was apparently black-out drunk when filming that scene initially).

 

Of course, John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score retains all the tension and drama to enhance each scene, but even the shark scenes and effects remain believable and frightening after 45 years. Sure, there are scarier, more brutal, and bloodier shark films out there today, but Jaws sets the standard for scary things in the water, and the bar remains high.

 

There are actually some close-to-home parallels between Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) arguing to keep the beaches open for all of the 4th of July festivities and our current economy and states deciding on what and when to reopen. With tourists set to pour into the town, bringing needed lifeblood to the little beach town’s economy in light of a giant alpha predator turning the shallow waters into a smorgasbord, the Mayor argues that closing the beaches shouldn’t be an option.

 

About the only things that really date the film are Mayor Vaughn’s suits and the variety of clearly out-of-fashion swimwear seen on the beaches of Amity.

Jaws

One thing I really noticed on this viewing was just how little we actually get to see that 25-foot Great White shark. In fact, it isn’t until an hour in that you finally get your first brief glimpse. But this turns out to be one of Spielberg’s master strokes in creating suspense and unease, wondering every time someone enters the water if there will be an attack or sudden reveal. In fact, Jaws is an example of a film that succeeded because of its technical challenges, rather than in spite of them. The shark model, “Bruce,” was notoriously buggy during production, frequently causing Spielberg to shoot around it, but instead of hampering the film, it makes it work that much better.

 

Another thing that struck me on this viewing of Jaws was the dearth of end credits. Compared to modern films, where it isn’t unusual to have eight or more minutes of credits, with the screen packed with hundreds of names at a time, usually of those serving on a variety of visual effects teams, here they run just over a minute and most of the screens feature just a couple of names. This really showed the stark contrast in production back in the ‘70s, relying entirely on practical effects, and how much Spielberg was able to accomplish with just a relative handful of help compared to modern blockbusters.

 

For its 45th Anniversary release, Universal Studios has given Jaws a full 4K HDR restoration, and this transfer is taken from a new 4K digital intermediate. Originally shot on 35mm film, this new transfer retains the look of its photochemical origins, with grain visible in the pale blue and low-lit evening or sunsetting skies, but it is as if layers of age have been wiped away in the restoration to produce images that are just clean and new-looking.

 

This isn’t a movie with lots of sharp, detailed edges—though it appears to look sharper and more detailed later in the film aboard the Orca—or one that has micro-details leaping off the screen, but rather a transfer that retains the best of both its film and digital look to present something that looks both new and correct for its period.

 

Closeups occasionally reveal plenty of detail, with one shot of the Mayor’s anchor-festooned suit revealing fine, sharp blue single-line pinstriping detail that i is horizontal on the lapel and diagonal on the breast and arms; and foreground objects have nice defined edges. But this transfer is more about the overall pristine look than moments of single-strands-of-hair pixel resolution. Some shots look a bit soft and defocused, but this appears to be more an issue with the original focal point during filming than a lack of resolution in the transfer.

 

They took a pretty delicate touch with the HDR grading here, with occasional bright highlights such as the opening flames of the beach fires, or bright lights aboard ships, but the added dynamic range lends itself to more natural and realistic-looking images as light levels get low, and we retain deep blacks but still plenty of shadow details. There are several underwater scenes with a variety of lighting, or with bright lights probing through smoke and mist on top of the water that could cause banding issues, but images remain clean and distortion-free.

 

When I heard Jaws had been given a Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio makeover I was . . . curious. I mean, what could an immersive sound mix do with a 45-year-old mono master short of possibly being used to gimmicky effect that spoiled a classic? Well, much like the video, the new audio track takes the best of the Jaws soundtrack and uses modern technology to expand and improve it. This is most noticeable in John Williams’ fantastic score, which is now lifted above the front channels and mixed into an enveloping canopy overhead, filling the room and surrounding you in the iconic music.

Beyond that, they have used audio cues to subtly enhance other moments throughout the film. There are bird chirps, ocean waves crashing or lapping against things, wind sounds, or creaks and groans of the boat rolling in the water that all pull you into the scenes. On the beach, we get a nice mix of radios playing, and a helicopter flyover as it patrols the waters for sharks.

 

Dialogue is mostly clear and understandable throughout—especially with Williams’ score given room up in the height speakers—except for a few moments where many people are talking/shouting at once in some of the crowded exterior scenes. Also, don’t expect much from your subwoofer, though it does get a little room to show off during the finale.

 

The best word I can use to describe this 45th Anniversary release is “restraint.” They used technology where available to improve the experience while being careful not to do anything that would be detrimental to the Jaws so many of us remember.

 

While the Kaleidescape download doesn’t include any of the fairly extensive extras that accompany the 4K Blu-ray disc—which include two near feature-length documentaries, The Making of Jaws and The Shark is Still Working: The Impact &

Jaws

Legacy of Jaws—these are the same extras included with the 2012 Blu-ray release, so if you have that, you aren’t missing out on anything new. On the plus side, the 4K HDR version is available from Kaleidescape for an incredibly reasonable $15.99—or just $11.99 if you are upgrading from the Blu-ray version—which helps offset this, and makes it an absolute must buy.

 

Jaws is one of my favorite films and this newly restored version illustrates why it remains a classic that belongs in every collection.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

One of the biggest concerns I’ve had about about the home video marketplace in the years since we started to transition from discs to online distribution is the decline in well-made behind-the-scenes supplemental material. We’ve seen some exceptions, like Beyond Stranger Things on Netflix, but bonus goodies of this sort almost seem like a vestige and little more, and they’re far too rare even at that.

 

I’m not sure if Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian is a full-blown reversal of this trend, but it’s certainly a welcome addition to the ever-growing library of content available on Disney+.

 

You know what? Strike that. To call this series a return to the glory days of behind-the-scenes documentaries that flourished during the DVD era would be to sell it short. Unlike far too many of those bonus features, this eight-episode exploration of the 

making of the first live-action Star Wars TV series doesn’t have a promotional or congratulatory bone in its body. Nor does it lean on all of the tropes that practically defined the making-of doc in decades past.

 

Few and far between are the stereotypical shots of creatives or performers answering questions in front of a green screen. In fact, one almost gets the sense that director Brad Baruh has never seen a behind-the-scenes documentary and is making up his own formula as he goes along.

 

That’s actually not the case. Baruh has been involved in the making of a few Marvel Cinematic Universe docs and even had a hand in a couple of the best “one shot” short films set in the MCU. But with Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, he breaks the mold, structuring the series around a series of roundtable discussions, each focusing on a different aspect of the series or its legacy, rather than following the making of the series in chronological order.

 

The first episode takes a deep dive into the directors who worked on the show, and subsequent episodes explore its place in the Star Wars universe from a storytelling perspective as well as a pop-culture phenomenon perspective, along with the actual grunt work of production and post production.

 

But what really makes Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian 

such a joy is that it’s wildly unpredictable. Rambling discussions that would have been left on the cutting-room floor in the hands of a more seasoned pro instead become the centerpiece of an episode. Actors, directors, producers, and effects artists are allowed to take the conversations in directions that interest them, rather than simply pandering to the voyeuristic tendencies of the viewer.

 

(Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the trailer for this series, which seems intent upon cherry-picking the few shots and discussions in which it does gravitate toward tried-and-true territory, but oh well. Marketing people are gonna market. Don’t let that turn you off.)

The series even treats some of the controversies behind the making of The Mandalorian with unapologetic honesty—like the fact that star Pedro Pascal wasn’t really behind the mask of the titular Mandalorian all that much, and was instead played primarily by stuntmen Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder depending on the needs of the scene.

 

The best episodes of the series so far are those that focus on the technical wizardry that made The Mandalorian possible, like the advances in virtual set technology and the reliance on video-game engines for real-time rendering of backdrops that responded to camera movement. But at its heart, what makes Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian such a pleasure to watch is 

that every story it tells is ultimately a human story. While watching the series, my mind has been blown on several occasions to discover that things I thought were special effects actually weren’t, and things I never would have suspected to be special effects actually were. But instead of treating these technological wonders as the subject of interest in and of 

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

themselves, Baruh treats them as the efforts of creative humans solving problems in a way that no one ever solved them before.

 

And in a way, that’s a bit of a metaphor for Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian as a behind-the-scenes documentary. You’ve certainly seen bonus features that aim for the same end goals. But you’ve rarely seen ones that approach those goals in quite this way.

 

As I write this, three episodes have yet to air, and the last will hit Disney+ on June 19. Whether you dig in now or wait to binge the complete run of eight episodes is your choice, of course, but don’t sleep on this one. Even if you’ve never been a fan of supplemental material, this series is so original in its approach to deconstructing the creative process that you owe it to yourself to give it a shot.

 

And if nothing else, its title—not The Making of the Mandalorian, or Behind the Mask, or anything of the sort, but rather Disney Gallery—gives me hope that this isn’t a one-off, that indeed Disney+ will be home to future series of this nature, which maintain the spirit of old DVD making-of supplements by documentarians like Charles de Lauzirika, Van Ling, David Prior, and Laurent Bouzereau, but in a fresh new way that embraces the streaming era of home cinema.

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.

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

photos by Randall Michelson

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis and acoustician Steve Haas have collaborated on a number of cost-no-object home theaters, but probably none of those efforts has been as ambitious, versatile, or well-realized as the Paradiso. Seventeen years in the making, this Southern California gem is actually an entire home-entertainment complex built around an Italianate piazza. The reference-quality 15-seat home theater doubles as a fully-fledged concert hall. The nightclub features a hydraulic stage and can handle anything from a rock band to a jazz group. Next door to the club resides an arcade, containing the homeowner’s extensive collection of pinball machines and video games. There’s even a g-force flight simulator.

 

At a time when people are developing a new appreciation for what home entertainment has to offer, the Paradiso provides the ultimate example of what can be done when you venture outside the home theater box. I recently talked to Steve and Theo about the project’s genesis, execution, and legacy.

—Michael Gaughn

THEO KALOMIRAKIS: The client had been dreaming about doing a theater with me and asked me to do the basement of his house, which is next to where the Paradiso is now. It had a seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling, so it was only a modest room. I did it because I liked the guy very much. He was passionate about doing something, but there was not much I could do with the space. So he sensed I was kind of compromising.

 

One day, he called me and said, “Theo, I have good news and bad news for you.” I said, “What is the bad news?” He said, “I have to pull the plug on the theater downstairs because I cannot see myself working with you in such a compromised space.” 

“So, what’s the good news?” “I bought two lots next to my house, and I want to set you free to design whatever the hell you want. Let your mind soar. I trust you.” It was the best thing I was ever offered to do.

 

Since the house is located in an Italianate enclave, he said, “We need to do something that would be very much in keeping with 

the neighborhood.” Which is fine, but I realized the size I had in mind for the theater exceeded the one-story height that would be allowed there. That started our endless process of digging down to create a subterranean environment.

 

Originally, there were going to be two more floors below the piazza level, and he kept pushing. “Let’s dig some more. Let’s put the bowling alley there. Let’s have a restaurant for 30 people.” I said to him, “If we dig anymore, we’re going to reach China before we do the theater. So let’s put a stop on it.”

 

And then 2008 came. When the bubble burst, he called me and said, “There is no budget to excavate, so we have to scrap the basement. Can we limit the scope to make it into just the piazza level?” And of course, we redesigned the whole thing.

Inside the Ultimate Luxury Home Entertainment Space

click on the image to enlarge

The idea of adding multiple environments is an extension of what I have described in my book, Great Escapes, as my need to break away from the constraints of a very limited room where you only watch TV. I was dreaming of spaces where before you go into the theater, you have to go under marquees and through lobbies and other areas. And now, here I had the room to do it.

 

We ended up creating a city environment based on his desire to bring in Italian architectural influences. He sent me to Italy and I spent 10 days in Siena. I took about 2,000 photographs in nearby villages for reference. I came back and showed him some incredible charcuterie stores that sold cheeses, and pizzerias, and this and that, and he said, “Let’s do it.” The only things that were dictated by him were the arcade, because he had a very nice collection of pinball machines and video games, and the nightclub because he wanted to have gigs for jazz.

 

He basically gave me permission to go crazy. He didn’t ask me to do this village or do this or do that. I presented the ideas that he gradually grasped and accepted. It’s usually a collaborative effort. The client lets his imagination go to think about the things that mean something to him, and I put them into context.

 

Steve, you were obviously heavily involved in the theater space, but I would imagine you worked on the nightclub as well.

STEVE HAAS: We were involved in all the spaces, really, because acoustics and audio mattered in the pizzeria, the arcade, and even the lobby. For all of these, we provided general noise control, sound containment, and acoustic treatment, as well as audio system design and calibration. But the premier spaces were the cinema, the nightclub, and the pizzeria. This wonderful client was just so open in sharing his goals and desires. In addition to his love for arcade games, he also loved live music. His daughters were both learning to play string instruments, so he wanted the ability to have everything from a more formal concert environment to a loose hangout-type of club where you can have rock bands or jazz groups come and play. He can have a chamber trio performing in the theater and a rock band in the club with no sound bleed between them.

 

Somebody coming into the theater cold would think it’s just for watching movies, but it’s actually a fully-fledged performance space as well.

TK: I want to remind you, Mike, that the theaters that have inspired me over the years were never just for watching movies. The movie palaces were mixed-use spaces where you could have an orchestra and also acrobats or a comedy act or whatever, which is exactly what the Paradiso can do. So it’s not like we suddenly came up with the novel idea of using a

theater this way. This project brought us back, completed the circle to what the movie theaters were supposed to be.

 

Does the desire to be able to do live performances in a home theater come up very often with clients?

TK: Yes, but usually at a much more elementary level.

 

SH: It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. And, yes, that’s a biased perspective, but I think a lot of people just don’t realize what can be done. 

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

And even if you don’t go to the nth degree like we did with the Paradiso, there are many ways to upgrade a theater space, and it starts with the layout. You have to have the space to be able to have one to four people be able to play and perform, and have a system that can support it—not just audio, but lighting, because that’s different from what you need for a home theater system.

 

TK: Because live performances require specific lighting, we brought in a very well-known lighting designer with a background in theater. This is probably the only project I’ve done in the US that incorporated so many different disciplines. It’s not just the clients who don’t realize all the possibilities. Even the designers cannot wrap their heads around how many wonderful things you can do in a space like that.

 

Steve, the theater had to have a traditional surround sound system for watching movies, but you also have your Concertino system in there for live performances. Are they two discrete systems or is there some overlap?

SH: I think we did share a couple of components. Maybe some of the subwoofers were relay switched back and forth, but inherently quite independent.

 

There was a lot of control programming. If you could see all the bells and whistles switching behind the scenes, it would be amazing. Almost a dozen processes switched in a sequenced manner to go just from theater mode to live concert and back, 

but the user interface was as simple as pressing a button for the initial selection and then there were custom presets within each mode.

 

What did the Concertino system bring to this project in particular, given what the client wanted to do?

SH: The Concertino, which is in the nightclub and pizzeria as well, expanded the ability to have various kinds of live music in an acoustically dry room. As Theo knows, we don’t design “dead” home theaters. However, even a mildly dry diffused home theater appropriate for cinema presentation doesn’t provide the right acoustic for many types of live music.

 

This acoustic-enhancement technology allows the performance space to become a true-sounding

concert hall, cathedral, or any other space you can imagine. So if they want to have a choir, string orchestra, or even a jazz group with a bit livelier sound, you can do that and then blend it with more traditional amplified sound as needed.

 

I’ve heard that people have been in that space and didn’t even know there was processing going on because it sounded so authentic, or is that an exaggeration?

SH: That’s exactly right. This is a world of difference from the Concert Hall and Cathedral modes you get in your car stereo or home receivers. This is recreating in the digital virtual electronic world exactly what a real hall of a different size, different shape, a different acoustic will do to enhance sound—the early reflections, reverberations in the proper timing and frequency manner. The technology can be described for days, but in the end it’s all about what happens when somebody presses a button and sits down and that string quartet, that cellist comes out, and just like, “Wow.” It’s just a great experience for performers and audience alike.

 

Theo, you weren’t here when Mike and I discussed how things are changing with music performances over livestream during the pandemic, but having spaces like this, whether it’s to this degree or even one or two degrees lower—I think a lot of affluent homowners are going to say, “You know what, I don’t want to be in a theater with 1,000 or 2,000 other people for quite some time. So why not create great-sounding spaces that will allow me to bring that type of experience home, literally, for not just movies, but for live music and other types of live entertainment?”

 

TK: I am hearing from people, “I don’t want to go to the movie theaters and catch a disease. I want to make my house be more like a theater.” This is an incredible new opportunity. And it’s up to us to capture it and relay the message that you can have this kind of theater space in your home.

 

SH: Am I hearing Theo saying he’s getting back into custom theaters again?

 

TK: I do want to do custom theaters but very, very selectively. If there is something of the caliber of the Paradiso, I will do it.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury
theater designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs.
Theo is the Executive Director of Rayva.

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

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.

Screwball Odds & Ends

When writing up the best classic screwball comedies and their modern counterparts, I knew I was likely overlooking some films that arguably belonged on the list. But how could I forget . . .

Screwball Odds & Ends
10

(1979)

This is the ultimate Blake Edwards screwball comedy. Most of Edwards’ comedies contain elements of classic screwball, certainly always slapstick. Films like The Pink Panther, The Great Race, and even Victor/Victoria qualify as terrific films that use the best of all comedy elements. Edwards even has a later film entitled Blind Date that is an over-the-top and dark screwball comedy. But 10 is a small masterpiece of insane comedy and slapstick.

Here, the beautiful girl causing all the trouble (by just being mindblowingly sexy with a corn-row hairstyle) is Bo Derek. And the slapstick prize goes to the film’s star Dudley Moore. By 1979, he certainly was an expert at this genre. (Let’s not forget the original Bedazzled!) And speaking of “Julie Andrews! Julie Andrews!,” Andrews herself is on hand, providing fine support. She also adds excellent contrast to Derek and some much-

needed rationality for Moore. This film also doubles as a classic sex comedy, but since sex doesn’t change much from generation to generation, this film holds up marvelously!

 

When listing the best recent screwball comedies, it’s easy to overlook a great favorite, so my apologies to Blake Edwards and Dudley Moore.

 

In fact, since Peter Bogdanovich’s re-introduction of the screwball comedy with What’s Up, Doc?, the last 50 years of cinema have been laced with all kinds of related comedies. Some are screwball-like, some are “drug comedies” or contemporary 

“sex comedies.” Some are great “genre spoof” comedies like Spaceballs, High Anxiety, or 21 Jump Street.

 

Here’s a comprehensive list of the many other truly wonderful screwball-comedy-like films that also deserve a mention:

 

Animal House

American Pie

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Blast from the Past

Caddyshack

Clueless

50 First Dates

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Groundhog Day

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

In and Out

Isn’t It Romantic

Legally Blonde

Liar Liar

Napoleon Dynamite

Meatballs

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

Splash

Tootsie

Trainwreck

27 Dresses

Weekend at Bernie’s

Wild Child

Zoolander

All of the Mel Brooks genre spoofs like Young FrankensteinSilent Movie, and High Anxiety.

 

Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor I & IIComing to America, and Bowfinger.

 

Will Ferrell movies like Talladega Nights, Anchorman, and Blades of Glory.

 

Chevy Chase movies like Funny Farm and the “Vacation” series.

 

And last but certainly not least . . .

 

Any of Tyler Perry’s “Medea” movies. They are all outrageously inventive and wonderful.

 

So, grab a “screwball” and a highball drink, and look at the world in a whole new and topsy-turvy way. Between all the great comedies from Hollywood’s Golden Age and the contemporary comedies of the last 50 years, you’ll have months and months of laughter at your disposal, so live, love, and laugh with the best!

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Why We Love “Galaxy Quest”

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest was only a modest hit, partly because it was stupidly marketed as a kids film. But it has earned a steadily growing following from an incredibly diverse group of people in the 21 years since its release. That usualy doesn’t happen with something like a sci-fi comedy. But it happened here.

 

The point of this little opus is to give you a different perspective on the film, if you’re already a fan, or encourage you to check it out if you’ve never seen it before. Given that, anyone looking for a comfortable and considered take on GQ should make a beeline for Dennis Burger’s below-the-fold appraisal, while those willing to first take a swim through an acid bath are encouraged to begin with Michael Gaughn’s more prickly appreciation.

—ed.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Michael Gaughn: The Journey Continues . . .

I’m not a Trekkie. I’m not a Tim Allen fan, I’m not a Sigourney Weaver fan, I’m not really an Alan Rickman fan—although he is the only good thing about Die Hard. I am a Tony Shalhoub fan, but who isn’t? Had Galaxy Quest been a Harold Ramis film with Alec Baldwin in the lead, as originally conceived, I never would have gone within a million miles of a stinkburger that big.

 

My love for this movie began with one of those “I’ll give this thing five minutes and’ll probably just turn it off” decisions that sometimes yields gems. It turned out to have enough going for it, well beyond its sci-fi trappings, to keep me engaged for the duration. But I didn’t really begin to appreciate how great it is until it had some time to insinuate itself into my being.

 

Galaxy Quest is the Casablanca of sci-fi comedies—a movie much greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, it’s got an incredible cast—but how many incredible casts have gone down with their respective ships? The script—like much of the film, 

apparently—started out pretty goofy and was actively reinvented on the fly. Director Dean Parisot wasn’t exactly a name at the time—and hasn’t been much of one since, which is a bit of a mystery.

 

It’s not a particularly well made film—which is to say it’s as well made as any mainstream Hollywood movie, which isn’t saying much. There are some 

awkward edits and some equally awkward pauses in the performances, which were mostly smoothed over by cranking up the volume on David Newman’s accomplished but often overly insistent score. Which is another way of saying that what the film gets right—often thanks to that Casablanca type of zeitgeist-driven blind luck—helps divert your attention from its manifest flaws.

Galaxy Quest is one of those too rare phenomena where something exceptional gets made despite the system, the circumstances, and even the nuts and bolts of the film itself.

 

It’s definitely a comedy, but it’s not a relentless joke machine like the lamentable and indigestible Spaceballs. Its beauty is that it’s equal parts comedy, drama, and action. Everything is held in balance (somehow), and it all stems from character. The film rarely cheats.

 

Everything good about GQ is based in emotion—deep emotion. That puts it at the opposite end of the spectrum from such cold-blooded exercises as the clinical Airplane! and the smug, nasty Hot Fuzz (and A Million Ways to Die in the West and just about every recent comedy I can think of).

 

That emotion is probably the thing that’s caused GQ to stick with people and ultimately brought them to appreciate it. And it’s never cheap sentiment—the film earns every one of its affects. Which is why even though some films have aped its form, none of its descendants have come close to touching it in the intervening 21 years. (A case could be made for The Office, but The Office always sucked at real emotion. It always lacked the courage to go all the way there.)

 

Every comedian, good and bad, has a go-to Gilligan’s Island joke. It’s pretty much the working definition of a cheap laugh. But GQ’s Gilligan’s Island bit always gets a huge laugh despite its obviousness because it’s simultaneously really funny and deeply ironic and deeply wrenching. You can tell that the empathetic aliens truly feel the 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
SO, WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH DEAN PARISOT?

Given its production pedigree, the caliber of its cast, and it’s ever-growing reputation, you’d expect to find out Galaxy Quest was helmed by a master of comedy with a solid string of hits to his name.

 

Nope. It was made by Dean Parisot, a director with a journeyman’s resume, but who’s shown enough command of his craft and demonstrated enough brilliance in his work that his oeuvre really should contain some gems besides GQ.

 

But it doesn’t, really. And it’s hard to fathom why.

 

Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted,” the second-best episode of the first attempt at a live-action Tick series. (For those keeping score at home, the best episode is “The Funeral.”)

 

“Arthur, Interrupted” stays true to The Tick’s core silliness but is the only time in the series’ unfairly truncated run Arthur even begins to feel three-dimensional. The gags are all motivated, instead of just pasted onto the action. And the performances are solid across the board—especially David Foley as the “licensed graduate student”-cum-superhero fetishist.

 

That episode would have been the perfect audition piece for Galaxy Quest—except Parisot directed “Arthur, Interrupted” three years after he made GQ. How do you go from creating one of the greatest movie comedies ever to doing a one-off episode of an unknown network sitcom?

 

Movie directors slum all the time, but they usually do it between big projects. For Parisot, there really haven’t been any other biggies.

 

I don’t have a neat way to wrap up this little sidebar because I couldn’t even venture a guess as to why his career played out the way it did. But I can’t help thinking of Terry Lennox’s lament in The Long Goodbye: “A guy like me has one big moment in his life, one perfect swing on the high trapeze.”

M.G.

castaways’ distress and have made their plight a centerpiece of their cobbled together culture. That one joke shows exactly how trusting, naive, and vulnerable the Thermians are—and how far they’re in over their heads.


A lot of people rightly point to the scene where Sarris tortures Thermian leader Mathesar as the movie’s pivot. But that moment goes well beyond setting up the final act to being the most extraordinary thing about GQ and the main reason it’s on 

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
NEVER SURRENDER

Galaxy Quest has long deserved a documentary that explains how a seemingly trite space comedy came to earn a reputation as one of the most substantial films of its era. Never Surrender (2019) isn’t that documentary.

 

It’s hard to tell whether the filmmakers just don’t get what makes the movie great or, in an age when everything has to pander to an agenda, couldn’t find a way to both suck up to GQ’s base and actually talk about the film.

 

The interviews with the primary creative forces are all pleasant enough. But they’re mostly gushing and superficial and tainted by the rank air of nostalgia. The absence of any discussion of the villain, Sarris, suggests the filmmakers were too focused on the light and fluffy to dig very deep into the film itself.

 

The greatest crime, though, is all the time wasted on the cosplay contingent. That phenomena is sad enough on its own, but by making it the documentary’s frame, the makers embraced exactly the wrong explanation for why GQ has endured.

 

Galaxy Quest isn’t a great sci-fi or fantasy film. It’s just a great film. Period.   

M.G.

its way to becoming a true exemplar of that much-abused word “classic.”

 

It’s played absolutely straight, and sublimely well. If Enrico Colantoni hadn’t been able to bring convincing depth to the squishy caricature Mathesar, Sarris didn’t come across as a legitimately menacing villain, Tim Allen hadn’t been able to reach way down beyond anything he’d done previously (or has done since), and Parisot hadn’t had the insight and fortitude to stage the scene as unalloyed drama, and hadn’t been subtly and carefully ratcheting up the emotional resonances throughout the film to reach that point, it would have been a disaster.

 

It’s not just dramatic, it’s emotional. And it’s not just emotional—it’s emotionally nuanced and complex. And it underscores the secret at GQ’s core—the reason why it works on its own terms, why it hasn’t just survived but thrived, and why its strengths have practically nothing to do with Trekkies, geeks, nerds, or any of the other arrested-development types who’ve inherited the earth.

 

Everybody in Galaxy Quest is vulnerable—in some cases, to the point of debilitation. And that vulnerability runs the gamut from an actor’s inevitable petty insecurities to the potential extinction of a race. The

film, thankfully, has no superheroes. Everyone in it is just doing the best they can. And the ones who are most armored, most heavily weaponized, most willing to revel in raw power turn out to be the most vulnerable of all. And nobody plays the victim card.

 

Which is why it could never be made today. Which is why GQ is emotionally rich, while virtually every recent film feels stunted.

 

Galaxy Quest deserves to be celebrated because, like its characters, it’s managed to endure despite the odds. But we should also consider what it means that it could very well be the last of its kind.

Why We Love Galaxy Quest
Dennis Burger: The Relevant Conundrum

If you’d locked me in a prison cell and offered me the key if only I could figure out the one movie for which Mike and I share an unbridled enthusiasm, I would have immediately pounded on the door and begged for clemency. I knew where our disparate musical tastes overlap (Bach, Randy Newman, Cake, and that’s about it). I could tell you where our politics intersect (way outside the mainstream, and I’ll say no more than that). I could even tell you in what ways our moral and ethical philosophies are simpatico (surprisingly, given that they’re both wholly our own). But when it comes to cinema, we’re Oscar and Felix. Statler and Waldorf. Martha and Snoop.

So it’s a little shocking (although perhaps it shouldn’t be) that one of the few films we both unapologetically adore is the 1999 sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest. Like Mike, I don’t come to this film as a fan of the genre it parodies. I’ve only seen a couple of Star Trek films and accidentally caught a handful of episodes of the TV shows over the years. I’ve always been more of a fantasy geek than a sci-fi nerd, much preferring Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings and the like to The Next Generation and The Wrath of Khan and their ilk.

 

But that’s one of the great things about Galaxy Quest: It doesn’t lean too hard on shibboleths or obscure references. Instead, it takes the piss out of tropes so common they’ve permeated the pop culture consciousness. What’s more, it plays with those tropes lovingly, never veering into the cynical, mocking, or mean-spirited territory that would have been so easy to fall into.

 

That alone wouldn’t be enough to make Galaxy Quest a good film, though. We’ve seen other amiable spoofs about fandom—namely 2009’s Fanboys, which takes a shot at my own favorite franchise—fall flat for any number of reasons. What writer Robert Gordon and director Dean Parisot seem to understand that so few others in their position get is that even if your intentions are to have a bit of fun, you still need to make a good movie. And that’s perhaps the most

Where to See GQ

Galaxy Quest is available on all of the major non-subscription streaming services and for download from Kaleidescape. The best you can do, though, is 1080p with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. That makes this classic well overdue for a 4K HDR/Atmos upgrade. 

 

Amazon PrimeGoogle Play / iTunes
Kaleidescape /
 Vudu YouTube

Why We Love Galaxy Quest

surprising thing about Galaxy Quest—it takes itself seriously. The filmmakers and actors seem to grasp that levity is meaningless without gravity. As such, the film doesn’t strive for laugh-a-minute antics. In fact, it’s at its best when it gets really serious. More than anything else, though, what I love about GQ is that it’s actually about something. It strives to mean 

something. And that’s far more than I can say for the aforementioned Fanboys.

 

In his excellent but uneven collection of essays Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business, playwright/screenwriter/author/director David Mamet included Galaxy Quest on his very short list of four perfect films. And far be it from me to argue with Mamet, but I have to protest, if only mildly. Galaxy Quest does grasp that golden ring in only one pivotal moment. It’s a scene late in the film, in which Tim Allen’s character, Jason Nesmith, in a moment of heartbreaking vulnerability, must explain (to an alien who doesn’t comprehend the concept of dishonesty) why humans lie to one another in the process of crafting fiction. Nesmith fails to come up with a satisfying answer. And I can understand why this didn’t bother Mamet, because his fiction is full of characters who fail to recognize fundamental truths about themselves.

 

The thing is, though, Nesmith had already learned this lesson, and should have had a better answer. Because the entire point of Galaxy Quest—at least for me—is that we create such fictions to inspire one another. To motivate one

another. To give hope when there seems to be none. To get straight to the heart of truths about ourselves that non-fiction simply can’t uncover, at least not without seeming contrived.

 

Only one other tale—The Lord of the Rings—so effectively cuts to the heart of why we need fiction, why we tell stories to one another, why effective inspiration so often comes from seemingly the most trivial larks. And to be fair, that’s not even what The Lord of the Rings is about. But it’s a message that’s central to everything that makes Galaxy Quest work.

 

And aside from that one minor quibble, it’s why I think it actually is, very nearly, a perfect film.

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.

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.

Spirited Away

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away (aka Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi), makes me long for a time machine. Not necessarily so I could dial back the last 18 years and view the film again for the first time (although that would be a treat), but rather so I could capture my impressions after having just seen the film with fresh eyes.

 

I say this only because I come to Spirited Away with so much baggage that I find it difficult to discuss the film in and of itself. After nearly two decades of reading doctoral theses about linguistic symbolism, of devouring literary and film analyses, of falling down rabbit holes of spiritual, religious, and philosophical themes and the interconnections between those themes—

after all of that, it isn’t easy to simply sit back and consume the film as a self-contained work of art.

 

So I did the next-best thing. I sat beside my wife this weekend as she experienced this weird and captivating journey for the first time, unburdened by even cursory familiarity with its plot, much less its deeper meanings. Glancing out of the corner of my eye to see her giggle and applaud, weep and gasp, I was reminded of that first viewing. And I was also reminded that you don’t really need to know a damned thing about Spirited Away to appreciate it as one of the best animated films ever made.

 

But, then again, of course you don’t. After all, if it weren’t such a wonderful (and wonderfully made) adventure on the surface, would film scholars and critics and folklorists and pop-culture pontificators and linguists and PhD candidates still be struggling to deconstruct it in 2020?

SPIRITED AWAY AT A GLANCE

The anime classic is well served by the Kaleidescape download, which bests the Blu-ray release and provides both the original Japanese soundtrack and an excellent English dub.

 

PICTURE     

The 1080p presentation captures all of the details of the original animation.

 

SOUND

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix extends the world of the film out into the room, giving both weight and depth to the onscreen action.

So, forget all of the symbolism. Forget the film’s deep ties to Shintoism and Japanese cultural norms (some admirable, some deplorable). What makes Spirited Away work as a two-hour adventure that has the power to capture the heart even if you know no more about the concept of kamikakushi than you do about differential calculus?

 

The animation certainly helps. Not only is this Miyazaki’s most visually stunning work, it also represents perhaps the most artful (and subtle) marriage of hand-drawn 2D and computer-rendered 3D animation ever committed to the screen. The worlds of our ten-year-old hero Chihiro (both the material world and the spirit world) seem more real and more tangible than most cinematic settings captured in live action.

 

It isn’t merely the animation that creates this perception, though. What makes Miyazaki a master filmmaker (medium be damned) is that he understands how to lead the viewer through a story—and through the world in which it takes place—in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a passive viewing experience.

 

Perhaps the best example of this is the film’s denouement, in which Chihiro must travel to confront the twin sister of the sorceress who stole her name and employed her in a bathhouse for gods and spirits. (It sounds like gibberish, I know, but it all makes sense in the context of the story.)

 

In most films—especially fantasy films—Chihiro’s journey would have been written as an epic quest, fraught with danger and excitement. In Miyazaki’s hands, though, this journey is a quiet and contemplative train ride. This shouldn’t necessarily work, but it does, on two levels: It gives both little Chihiro and the viewer alike a chance to reflect, to contemplate, to catch our breaths together.

It’s a technique Miyazaki employs in most of his films, and one he describes using the Japanese word ma, which roughly translates into “pause” or “gap,” but which is probably best described as kinetic negative space. But no film—from the oeuvre or Miyazaki or any other filmmaker—makes such effective use of this technique as does this scene. And I think the reason it works so well here is that this ma doesn’t simply work on a narrative level. It isn’t simply a quiet, contemplative break from the action. It also gives the viewer the opportunity to revel in Spirited Away on the level of pure audiovisual experience. It may be the first time most viewers fully appreciate how seamlessly the 2D and 3D animation blend in this film. It may also be the first time you have room to truly meditate on Joe Hisaishi’s melancholic score. (Unfortunately, the clip above cuts this passage of the score short. Fortunately, you can enjoy this movement in its entirety here.)

 

I could go on, but to say more would be to rob you of experiencing—and indeed interpreting—this beautiful film for yourself. Then again, there’s so much to appreciate here even if you have no interest in interpreting a thing. Spirited Away has been likened to stories like The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with good reason. It is, on one level, simply an amazing coming-of-age tale framed through the lens of the fantastical, the mysterious, the inscrutable, and at times even the grotesque. But despite all of that—indeed, despite its deep roots in Japanese mythology and folklore—there’s something uniquely universal about Spirited Away.

 

It’s a film that rewards further exploration, sure. But again, all of that would be pointless if not for the fact that it’s a film worth watching over and over and over again purely on its own terms, with its patently obvious themes about greed and kindness and the nature of the self. Force me to construct a list of films that demand to be owned rather than merely rented (or

borrowed by way of a subscription service like HBO Max, soon to be the temporary home of this and all of Miyazaki’s other animated films in the U.S.) and Spirited Away would be on it.

 

Thankfully, Kaleidescape’s download of the film is a wonderful way to own it. We’re presented with both the original Japanese soundtrack and the surprisingly good English-language dub (overseen by Pixar’s John Lasseter) in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The film defaults to Japanese with English subtitles, as it should. But if you’re watching with younger viewers (or simply refuse to read captions), just know that the English dub maintains the film’s delightful score, as well as its effective and atmospheric sound mix. Both versions use the surround channels and subwoofer alike to extend the worlds of the film out into the room, and to give both weight and depth to the onscreen action.

 

Kaleidescape does present the film without the bonus features found on both Disney’s 2015 Blu-ray release and the 2017 follow-up by GKIDS (after Disney relinquished distribution rights in the U.S.). But that’s honestly of little consequence. Those bonus goodies did little to enrich the film.

 

What’s more important is that the Kaleidescape presentation is superior to the 

Spirited Away

already excellent 2017 Blu-ray. You could, I suppose, complain that Spirited Away isn’t available in 4K, but this better-than-Blu-ray-quality 1080p presentation lacks for nothing in terms of capturing all the details of the original animation. There is, perhaps, a second or two here or there that might benefit from a wider color gamut, but without the ability to A/B this transfer against a hypothetical 4K re-scan of the film elements, I can’t say that for sure.

 

What I can say for sure is that this one belongs in your collection whether you’re a fan of Japanese animation or not. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself so enraptured by Miyazaki’s magical worlds and his talents as a filmmaker that you end up exploring the rest of his catalog almost immediately. If you’re looking for a little guidance, I would suggest next diving into My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which are also available on Kaleidescape, along with rest of Studio Ghibli’s long-form catalog.

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.