Kaleidescape

Review: The Killing

The Killing (1956)

The staging is often stilted, the acting often laughably bad when it’s not just mismanaged, it’s a concatenation of crime-drama clichés that leans almost to the breaking point on John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, the whole punctuated by pretentious, even silly, compositions and tracking shots that convey nothing, and yet Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is one of the seminal works of American filmmaking, poised right on the pivot into what would become, for better or worse, the modern era of the 

movies. This is Kubrick’s first real feature, and he freely admitted that, in that time before film schools, he still had his training wheels on—and it shows. But, determined not to be a studio hack, aiming to be the first true independent within the studio system, he pushes the boundaries throughout. The results might be ludicrously mixed, but they’re a damn sight more interesting than what almost any other director was doing at that time, and their implications were, in retrospect, huge.

 

Critics did dismiss The Killing as a low-budget Asphalt Jungle knockoff—an accusation that was true as far as it went. And Kubrick might have seen himself as more of a Hustonian director at that point (although his affinity lay more with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), but as he hit his stride as a filmmaker, it became obvious that if you created a Venn diagram of the two directors, any common 

THE KILLING AT A GLANCE

Kubrick’s first real feature is a bit of a mess—it’s also one of the seminal works in American film.  

 

PICTURE
Lots of grain, lots of noise—but not so much to make it unwatchable, and with enough clarity to allow you to appreciate Kubrick’s photojournalistic roots.

 

SOUND     

Oddly uneven dialogue levels that would be worth fixing if the film ever makes it to 4K.

ground between them would be minimal, and suspect. The more plausible explanation is that, in a bid to be palatable to the system, Kubrick donned a Huston disguise and used it as a Trojan horse to insinuate himself with the studio elders.

 

I can’t begin to do the film justice in this short review, just point out some things that might make the experience more interesting if you decide to revisit it—beginning with the fact that, while Jungle was a character-study-driven crime drama that was also about process, Kubrick decisively shifted that emphasis, not unsympathetically showing that his characters were pawns of much larger forces—not metaphysical but post-war societal ones defined by increasing dehumanization (a 

viewpoint well captured in the many meanings of the title—all but one of which is lost on contemporary viewers, with their blinkered fixation on bloodshed).

 

While Kubrick wanted to garner the largest possible audience, he had no interest in feeding them A-list pablum. He instead drew from the fertile muck of the B- (and often C-) movie world—a vital perspective on his work that’s rarely (actually, as far as I know, never been) explored. In many ways, his movies owe far more to Ed Wood and Burt I. Gordon than to William Wyler or Cecil B. DeMille. Just consider the recurring presence of actors like Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel or those godawful Gerald Fried scores (with Fried joined at the hip to the equally obstreperous Albert Glasser). And while it wasn’t deliberately placed there for the production, it’s not just pure chance that a poster for “Lenny Bruce and His All Girl Review” can be glimpsed on a seedy downtown LA wall when Sterling Hayden goes to buy a pawn-shop suitcase for hiding the loot. In a sense, Kubrick always showed an affinity with Bataille, constantly reminding us of the fetid underbelly that was essential to creating the Hollywood sheen—and driving the American engine.

 

And then there’s Jim Thompson, the roman noir King of the American Underbelly, whose work went through a very much lauded revival thanks to a seemingly endless string of film adaptations from the 1990s into the new millennium. Accepted wisdom has it that moviemaking wasn’t equal to Thompson’s material at the time he was an active writer. The truth is that none of those recent adaptations are worth the spit it took to make them. None of them grasped

Thompson but just pushed the more lurid elements for all they were worth. If you want to know his work, read his books—or watch The Killing or Paths of Glory. Or The Shining.

 

True, Kubrick didn’t know what to do with what Thompson was handing him—the scenes between Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr. were great on paper but beyond what Kubrick was then capable of as a director. But they’re still meaningful, and amusing in ways that go beyond their status as kitsch, because they make it clear that Cook’s put-upon George Peatty is very much the heart and fulcrum of the film (which you would never know by looking at Kaleidescape’s cast list, where his name is oddly omitted.) 

 

There’s also Lucien Ballard, who’s a bit of a curious case. Known for shooting Three Stooges shorts, he lensed for Kubrick here with mixed but sometimes inspired results, then went on to do both Blake Edwards’ The Party and Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch—which officially qualifies him as a kind of subversive chameleon. The Blu-ray-quality transfer of The Killing—like the hit-and-miss 4K one for Dr. Strangelove—helps highlight the huge impact Kubrick’s photojournalistic work had on his films—something that was a lot harder to discern in earlier, lower-res releases. That documentary aesthetic lends an authentic grit to

the action that more polished studio noir could never capture.

 

Brace yourself for a lot of grain, along with a lot of digital noise, but The Killing is definitely viewable on a big screen, and it’s worth making the effort for the shots where those forces aren’t as much in play, such as the many tight shots, a lot of them—like most of the closeups of Sterling Hayden and those key exchanges between Cook and Windsor—quite striking. (As with most older films, the opening titles are overly enhanced. When is somebody going to figure out how to make those stop looking like bad student video and more like film?)

 

Not much to be said about the audio, except that nothing can really be done to ameliorate the impact of Fried’s clangorous blaring except to scrub it from the film completely. I noticed on this viewing, though, that there were big disparities in the levels of the actors’ voices, which I’m sure is a baked-in problem but one someone should address if this ever makes it to 4K.

 

I don’t mean to dump too hard on The Killing, but it’s in no sense a great film—but it is an infinitely intriguing one, with moments of undeniably bold camerawork, editing, design, sound, and acting that still hold up. And of course there are all those early indications of the filmmaker Kubrick would eventually be. Maybe what 

The Killing (1956)

most redeems the movie is that you can sense him trying to claw his way above all the then-current melodramatic and romantic clichés in an effort to find higher, more authentic ground. (The contemporary equivalent would be trying to make a film that’s not hopelessly fouled by adolescent fantasy and its attendant fascist notions of power.) He would continue that parlous ascent all the way through Paths of Glory and Lolita, with decidedly mixed results, before emerging a master artist with Strangelove. (Even Kubrick freely admitted that Spartacus doesn’t count.)

 

You don’t have to be a Kubrick—or Jim Thompson or Sterling Hayden—fan to enjoy The Killing. But you do have to leave most of the current cultural biases at the door—and there are so many of them—to even begin to appreciate it. It’s not mindless entertainment, a diversion—it’s a movie.

Michael Gaughn

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

Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga

Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga

“Hate-watch” is defined as “watching [something] for the sake of the enjoyment one derives from mocking or criticizing it.” I think that kind of sums up my feelings about the Fast & Furious franchise, which is now improbably in its ninth full-length film plus a spinoff in the form of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. What started out as a small crew, led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who drove souped-up muscle cars to hijack trucking shipments, now finds this “family” of drivers, thieves, and hackers somehow thrust into a situation where they need to travel the globe—and into space!—to save the world from a cyberterrorism attack.

I think I’ve seen all of the movies in the franchise but I’d be lying if I thought I could explain how we got to the events of Fast & Furious 9, or attempt to untwist all of the complex relationships—he/she’s betrayed us; he/she’s dead; he/she’s back again—that have happened over the course of the automotive soap opera that is the previous films.

 

Honestly, though, understanding any of those prior films and having a lot of backstory knowledge of them isn’t really important to watching—hate or otherwise—FF9. In fact, I’m not sure I can totally unravel all of the plot points of for you. About five minutes into the film, I turned to my wife and said, “Wait. We’re in the jungle now . . ?” and trying to describe the movie to a co-worker made me feel a bit like Winona Ryder’s character in Reality Bites attempting to define “irony” during a job interview.

 

The best thing to do with this film—along with about any 

FF9 AT A GLANCE

The ultimate car-chase franchise strikes out in new directions—even outer space—leaving all plausibility behind. 

 

PICTURE
Although taken from a 2K digital intermediate, the image quality is so terrific throughout—just clean, sharp, and detailed—you’d think it was a 4K DI transfer.

 

SOUND     

The aggressive Atmos mix uses all of the speakers to immerse you in the action, with your subwoofer getting a nice workout as well, delivering a satisfying low-end that can rattle your couch.

recent entry in the Fast franchise—is to check your sense of reality at the door, grab a bowl of popcorn, turn off the lights, and just let all of the glorious action wash over you. Why are things happening? How are things happening? Is that even possible?!? Quiet, Poindexter, you’re thinking too much! Just expect that this film will do virtually everything short of literally jumping a shark.

 

You’ve likely heard the saying “Give the people what they want,” which is clearly a message long-time series director and writer Justin Lin took to heart. While the film has a meager Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating of 59%, it racked up a near-franchise high 82% audience score, so Lin clearly understands the formula—action, action, and more action!—his fans expect.

 

Similar to the upcoming James Bond film, FF9 was never going to be released anywhere but the movie theater, and it had five different release dates between 2019 and 2021 before finally hitting theaters on June 25. Producers were right to wait, as the film has brought in nearly $625 million at the global box office to date, making it the top-grossing American film to date

in 2021. It was released as a PVOD rental on July 29, where it is available for Kaleidescape owners as a Premium Rental for $21.95, in full 4K HDR and Dolby TrueHD Atmos quality.

 

If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll be happy to know that the gang is mostly here for this one, and the film includes nearly every returning member of Toretto’s crew from past films save for Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). (Deckard Shaw [Jason Statham] has a brief mid-credits appearance in what I’m assuming is a tease for the next film.) We also have Charlize Theron returning as baddie Cipher, along with a new antagonist in the form of Jakob (John Cena), who is

Dun dun DUH!!!—Dominic’s long-estranged brother! Sure, for a guy that has talked about almost nothing but the importance of family over the course of eight previous films, you might have expected him to have mentioned the fact that he had a brother at some point, but just refer to that part about thinking too much and asking too many questions. The film does a decent job of providing some backstory for this new brother dynamic, with some flashback scenes spread throughout that show the origins of their rocky relationship and how racing has always been in the Toretto blood.

 

While fans are coming to FF9 expecting a ton of over-the-top action set pieces with crashes and explosions aplenty—and, rest assured, you’ll get them—with a film like this, you’re also expecting to have a fun time. (Which is why Hobbs and Shaw is ultimately a far more entertaining film to watch.) Part of the problem is that the movie takes itself so seriously—especially Diesel, who sulks and growls his way through nearly every take—that it misses the fun part. John Cena has some comedic chops that are wasted here. Instead he spends most of his time on camera trying to out-brood Diesel.

 

The only two characters that seem to remember this isn’t actually life and death and meant to be entertaining are long-time members of Toretto’s crew, Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson). The scenes between them offered the film’s few chuckles as well as some really self-aware fun-poking at some of the franchise’s more ridiculous bits with lines like, “I was just thinking if this was a movie, this would be the part where . . .” or “You know ain’t no one gonna believe this, right?” or “I’m not even going to mention that part about the submarine [from the last movie]” that lets the audience know that these guys are aware of the ridiculous situations we’re watching.

 

I’m not sure there’s any point in trying to explain the plot. For one, I’m not sure I could, and, let’s be honest, the film’s plot isn’t what’s going to bring you to the table for this. Suffice to say, there’s this super-weapon thing called the Aries—a two-part device that if assembled and activated basically gives someone control over every computer on the planet. Or something. Dom’s crew is trying to get it before Jakob and his crew, and they follow various clues and bits of information around the world—South America, London, Tokyo, Edinburgh, Tbilisi—in an attempt to stop him. Insert car chases, crashes, gunfire, fist fights, and explosions throughout. Oh, and they launch a modified Pontiac Fiero into space. You know, the yoozh. 

 

So, is it worth your time? Well, I’ll say this . . . it looks and sounds great, so if you’re willing to invest nearly two and a half hours in something for the sake of a  quality home theater experience, this delivers. While IMDB reports it was filmed in 3.4K and this is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, thimage quality was so terrific throughout—just clean, sharp, and detailed—

I was sure this was a 4K DI transfer. The only exception tis the flashback scenes that occur in 1989 and look much softer, grainier and “film-like” by design.

 

Closeups reveal tons of facial detail, including every pore and bit of stubble on Diesel’s face and head, or the texture in the ever-present ribbed muscle-T’s that make up the entirety of Torreto’s wardrobe. There’s also plenty of detail in long shots, with scenes shot in London and Edinburgh looking fantastic, with razor-sharp building edges and clearly defined brick and stonework.

 

There are a lot of moments for the HDR grading to shine, with bright headlights gleaming during night races, flashlights and fluorescents illuminating dark garages, tunnels, and hideouts, or the bright neon lighting and signs in Tokyo. The actors’ faces are also often shown in warm, golden-colored lighting, and HDR gives nice shadow depth and detail.

 

The audio mix also delivers with an aggressive Atmos mix, using all of the speakers to immerse you in the action. You get cars racing well outside the main channels, along the side walls and into the back of the room, things zipping and flying overhead, dust and debris from explosions cascading down all around, and the zing of bullet hits. In the film’s quieter moments, we also get some nice 

Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga

ambience with outdoor sounds of bugs, birds, and wind noise. Your subwoofer will get a nice workout as well, with explosions and collisions that deliver satisfying low-end that can rattle your couch.

 

With the shortage of new content hitting the home market, FF9 provides a big summer blockbuster to “enjoy” that will likely be a crowd pleasure for a big movie-night watch party. And fans/haters of the series will be happy to hear there are already two more films planned to conclude the series. Obviously, if they don’t use Fur10us as part of the next title, someone should be fired.

John Sciacca

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

Review: Ran

Ran (1985)

Discussing Akira Kurosawa’s Ran publicly is a strange feeling for me, so my apologies if I seem a bit more awkward than usual here. This film has always been a private indulgence for me, a secret pleasure. When new people come into my life, I might sit them down and make them watch Amélie, or Almost Famous, or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or The Conformist. But never, ever Ran.

 

Part of that boils down to being protective of it. You tell me you don’t like 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Searchers or Tokyo Story? It’s all good. Different strokes and all that. Sit next to me in the dark and watch Ran, though, and if you come out of 

the experience feeling anything less than reverence, I’m probably never inviting you over for movie night ever again.

 

At least, I assume that would be the case. I’ve never even shared the experience with my wife, simply out of fear she would take custody of Bruno in the divorce. 

 

Part of that forced isolation while viewing Ran, though, comes down to the recognition that this isn’t an easy film to watch. It’s exhausting, though not in the ways we would normally hang that adjective on a work of cinema. It’s methodically, deliberately exhausting. That fatigue is an essential element of the film.

 

It’s also, at times, a brutal film, both emotionally and physically. And although the violence is mostly cartoonish, with its cheap blood-squirting effects and its overwrought 

RAN AT A GLANCE

Akira Kurosawa’s King Lear-inspired late-period masterpiece gets a subtle upgrade to 4K. 

 

PICTURE
Just a handful of scenes show the benefits of UHD resolution, and the colors are just as muted, reserved, and measured as they were on the Blu-ray.

 

SOUND     

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a textbook example of how films of this vintage and importance should be remixed.

death scenes, it hits me harder in this film than almost any other. The carnage may look fake, but it feels real.

 

That makes it a questionable choice for a feel-good get-together with friends. All that said, this is a film that I think needs to be in the collection of any serious cinephile, for more than one reason. Firstly, it’s Akira Kurosawa’s last truly great film. (Madadayo is very good, but falls just shy of greatness). Seen from a more charitable perspective, though, it’s incredible that the auteur managed to make such a vibrant work at the age of 75. 

 

Kurosawa’s age definitely shows in the film, but not in its production. Ran—which, by the way, translates roughly into something like chaos, discord, turmoil, turbulence—is in many ways the filmmaker’s grandest statement on human nature. It has been described as a beautifully nihilistic work, but I think that’s far too reductive. Here, as with many of his best works, Kurosawa shines an unflinching light on human nature and the most ignoble tendencies of man. But describing the film as nihilistic assumes Kurosawa saw in us no capacity to rebel against our basest instincts, to rise above. Ran is a warning, a parable, a lesson from which to learn. Kurosawa shows us humanity at its worst to inspire us to be better.

 

It’s also reductive to simply write Ran off as an adaptation of King Lear, as so many have done. Kurosawa didn’t recognize the parallels between the story he wanted to tell and the Bard’s famous play until late in the scripting process. King Lear certainly influenced Ran in ways, some subconscious, but to pretend that the latter is a direct adaption of the former—the way Throne of Blood (1957) very deliberately transposed the plot of The Scottish Play in space and time—would hang some additional baggage on the movie that it was never designed to carry. 

 

Chances are good, though, that if you have any interest in purchasing this new 4K HDR release, you couldn’t care less about what I think of the film. You may even think the above opinions are daft. That’s fine.

 

What I think we’ll agree on, though, is that this is the best-looking home video release of Ran to date. Just don’t go in expecting monumental improvements over the excellent StudioCanal Blu-ray from 2016, which was taken from the 4K restoration used here. 

 

In my “4K HDR Wish List” from February, I said I thought Ran, of all Kurosawa’s films, would “benefit most from the enhanced resolution and especially the expanded color gamut of 4K HDR. Watching the Blu-ray release, you can tell there’s ten pounds of color here crammed into an eight-pound bag.”

 

Well, I was wrong on both counts. There are, at best, a handful of scenes where the benefits of UHD resolution can be seen, and the colors are just as muted, reserved, and measured as they were on the Blu-ray. This new restoration was overseen and approved by cinematographer Shôji Ueda, so it’s safe to assume it’s true to the original vision for the film. But as it turns out 8-bit 1080p video was more than sufficient to unlock most of the detail and almost all of the colors found on the original camera negative.

 

There are some improvements in contrasts, which contribute to an image with more depth and nuance. Am I saying you shouldn’t upgrade to the 4K HDR version? Of course not. Why wouldn’t you want to own the best presentation of the film seen to date? Just go in knowing that the improvements are incremental at best. There are also a few noticeable instances of

edge enhancement as well as some grain that looks more digital than organic, but that was true of the 2016 Blu-ray as well and can’t be pinned on Kaleidescape’s otherwise unimpeachable presentation of this somewhat flawed but still much appreciated remaster.

 

The only options for audio on Kaleidescape are the original Japanese in stereo or remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I don’t care how much of a purist you are, opt for the latter. It’s a textbook example of how films of this vintage and of this importance should be remixed. It’s largely a three-channel affair, with surrounds mostly used to add ambience and space to the mix. But dialogue sounds fantastic and is always utterly intelligible, locked firmly as it is in the center channel.

 

I do have a slight beef with the English subtitles, which can’t be turned off or modified in any form. The problem is that they’re mostly white, with but one pixel of black surrounding each letter to give it some contrast. For the bulk of the film, that’s perfectly fine. But in shots that are brightly lit, in which the lower portion of the image is mostly gray or white or very light tan, the subtitles get a bit lost in the image.

 

Other than that, the only major flaw with the Kaleidescape release is that 

Ran (1985)

Lionsgate, which is distributing this new 4K HDR release in the U.S., seems to have once again given Apple the exclusive on bonus features. That means iTunes is your only option if you want to enjoy the incredible feature-length documentary AK, short of buying the disc. That said, the Kaleidescape 4K HDR release is surprisingly inexpensive—just $14.99. So if you have that option, grab it, obviously.

 

But if you have the 2016 Blu-ray already and you’re not obsessed with very minor, momentary, sporadic improvements in picture quality that you’d probably only notice in a direct A/B comparison, you can probably safely stick with the disc you already own.

Dennis Burger

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

Review: In the Line of Fire

In the Line of Fire (1993)

I can remember sitting in the theater when the first trailer for In the Line of Fire came on. Trailers were different back in those days, and didn’t have the best bits from the film slickly excised and edited down to a two-minute sizzle reel that all but gave everything away. In fact, the first third of this trailer just showed “Nov. 22 1963” on screen, with a red ticking second 

hand while a voiceover described how a Secret Service agent had been a split-second too late to save President Kennedy and had spent a life second-guessing himself. When the second hand gets to the bottom of the screen, the 6 in 1963 (from when Kennedy was assassinated) slowly starts rotating while you hear a phone call begin, with the caller menacingly taunting the agent over what happened back in Dallas. Finally, as the 6 rotates into a 9 for 1993, when the film was going to be released, the camera pulls back to reveal crosshairs centered on the number, and the 

caller says, “I see you, Frank. I see you standing over the grave of another dead president.” Cut to Clint Eastwood grabbing a pistol, racking the slide, and turning to the camera and growling, “That’s not gonna happen,” and you’ve got a film I’m 100% gonna see.

 

It had been some time since I’d revisited In the Line of Fire, so I was thrilled to hear Sony Pictures was giving it a new 4K HDR remaster with a new Dolby Atmos sound mix, giving a reason to rewatch this classic.

 

Plot-wise, the film is pretty straightforward. Ex-CIA nut job Mitch Leary (John Malkovich) has decided he is going to kill the president but he wants to make it a bit of a cat-and-mouse game with Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood), 

who served on Kennedy’s Presidential detail, and was standing feet away from the car when Kennedy was fatally shot. (Digitally inserting Eastwood into archival photos with Kennedy in Dallas added some realism to the film, a year before Forrest Gump did it.) As Leary plans for the assassination, he continues to call and taunt Horrigan, who, with help from partner Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott), agent Lily Raines (Rene Russo), the rest of the Secret Service, the FBI, and even the CIA, track down every clue and lead to try and identify and stop him before he takes his shot.

 

There are so many things that just work for me in this movie. For one, the film is long enough to allow the pacing to feel steady and unhurried but not too long that it wears out its welcome. The plot moves along at a realistic pace, constantly doling out enough bits of information and details to keep you engaged and involved, but that gives the film 

LINOF FIRE AT A GLANCE

The Eastwood vs. Malkovich battle of wits gets a new 4K HDR remaster and Dolby Atmos mix. 

 

PICTURE
One of the better film-to-4K transfers, the movie is sharp, clean & clear, and just beautiful-looking throughout.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix isn’t overly aggressive and is a great update of the soundtrack for modern systems, expanding the elements that are already present.

added realism. Much of what the Secret Service does is just brute-force, manpower investigation, and we get enough scenes of that to give us a sense of what is actually involved in working the protection detail for the most powerful man in the world but not so much that it becomes tedious or like a documentary.

 

Eastwood is great as grizzled Horrigan, looking to end his career by getting another chance at stopping the “big bullet,” proving to himself that he was willing to sacrifice his life for Kennedy’s back in Dallas. Instead of just a one-note agent or character that has slipped into alcoholism or some other abuse, we see Horrigan off the clock, listening to jazz, playing piano, having what feels like a life instead of just being some two-dimensional construct. Similar to how Eastwood played Bill Munny going out for one last ride in Unforgiven, here he’s clearly at the end of his career in a young-man’s game, looking to go out holding his head high. 

 

Equally great is Malkovich as ex-CIA “wet boy” Leary. Much of the first half of the film involves Leary taunting Horrigan over the phone about his failings in Dallas. “If you’d reacted to that first shot, could you have gotten there in time to stop the big bullet? And if you had—that could’ve been your head being blown apart. Do you wish you’d succeeded, Frank? Or is life too precious?” For the film to work, you need a strong, smart foil to Horrigan, and to believe Leary is not only willing, but capable of pulling off the assassination, and Malkovich’s intense performance—specifically some of his later phone calls with Horrigan—shows how smart, unhinged, and willing he is.

 

Something else I noticed during this viewing is how director Wolfgang Peterson (who did another fantastic film about a Presidential assassination attempt in Air Force One) kept Leary’s face hidden, obscured, or shown only in tight closeups or deep shadow for the first 30-plus-minutes of the film. It reminded me of Jaws and other “monster” movies in this way, as you are kept a bit in suspense waiting for that character to be revealed.

 

I have been very impressed with many of Sony’s 4K home releases, and I’m happy to say In the Line of Fire looks as good as any of them. This release is taken from a scan of the original camera negative and master interpositive to create a new true 4K digital intermediate with HDR color grading. I was a little nervous for about the first 30 seconds, where the opening sky shots of DC show a lot of noise, grain, softness, and general lack of detail, but then the camera cuts to shots of the city, buildings, and traffic and it just snaps into sharp, clean, clear focus, and it remains just beautiful-looking for the remainder of its two-plus-hour run time. 

 

Throughout the film, I just kept thinking that it was as if layers of imperfections had been wiped away, and we were seeing exactly what it must have looked like through the camera viewfinder. Detail wasn’t scrubbed away into softness; it’s just that everything that isn’t the film is removed, and every detail is left clean and easy to appreciate. With the possible exception of some huge restoration projects like My Fair Lady and Spartacus, this is one of the better film-to-4K transfers I can remember watching. It is just terrific-looking, and a benchmark for other studios of how a 35mm film-to-4K transfer should be handled.

 

The most detail is definitely appreciated in closeups, with faces showing every pore, line, and whisker, or beads of sweat that pop up on foreheads. It’s not like you need 4K to appreciate the complexion differences between a (then) 63-year-old 

Eastwood and 39-year-old Russo, but this sure lays them bare. You can also appreciate the textures in different clothing, from the pebbling of a tuxedo shirt Eastwood wears, to the fine check, plaid, and striping patterns in suits and jackets. Long shots, such as the big crowd scenes during the President’s outdoor rally speech in Denver, look quite good also, with lots of depth, detail, and color, as does the sharpness and detail in the brickwork during the building chase scene.

 

The HDR grade isn’t too aggressive, but it delivers very realistic colors and shades, along with some nice, deep, and clear blacks and good shadow detail. There are some nicely vibrant colors as well, such as the scene with the reds of carpets, flags, and the First Lady’s dress at an embassy dinner. There are also some bright whites from button-down dress shirts. Night scenes also pop with car headlights and other lights in the dark.

 

While this Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix isn’t overly aggressive, it is a great update of the soundtrack for modern systems, expanding the elements that are already present. Dialogue is kept centered in the front, but we get a lot of expansion off screen that helps sonically put you in the moment. Sounds like cars and traffic, people chattering in offices or crowd scenes, sirens and dogs barking, 

In the Line of Fire (1993)

and other street sounds help establish the environment. A perfect example is during the opening scene aboard the counterfeiters’ boat, where you’ll hear the little groans and creaks and noises of the boat filling the room.

 

The audio mix becomes more aggressive when appropriate, such as the big throaty roar of large planes flying overhead or coming in for landing, the rumble of motorcycles driving through the room, passing along the sides of the listening area and into the back, or PA announcements. There aren’t a lot of gunshots, but the few there are—specifically when Leary is at the lake—have a lot of dynamics, with the report echoing out over the water. 

 

While Eastwood is better known for his westerns and Dirty Harry films, In the Line of Fire is one of my favorites in his oeuvre, and I’m thrilled we now have a reference-quality version to enjoy at home. Whether you’ve never seen it or watched it numerous times, it’s a classic that has never looked or sounded better that makes a worthy add to any 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.

A Quiet Place, Part II

A Quiet Place, Part II (2021)

John Krasinski has clearly attended the Chris Pratt school of “how to reinvent your acting career after playing a lovable goofball for years.” Best known as the office-nice-guy—and the other half of the Jim-and-Pam dynamic—Jim Halpert from his nine seasons on The Office, Krasinski has left quiet-Jim behind to become more of an action star, playing the roles of a special-forces operator in 13 Hours and  young CIA-operative Jack Ryan in Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series. Krasinski has also stretched his talents into writing and directing, most notably with the surprise hit A Quiet Place back in

2018, which he wrote, directed and starred in along with his wife, Emily Blunt.

 

After the huge success of A Quiet Place—raking in over $350 million at the box office against a budget of just $22 million—a sequel was all but inevitable, and Krasinski once again returned to bat the writing/directing/acting cycle.

 

While production began in June 2019, the film took the usual pandemic-postponed path before finally making its way to big screens. Originally planned for a March 2020 release, it was pulled when cinemas across the country closed, and then continued to be pushed back. Much like Christopher Nolan and Tenet, Krasinski was fairly insistent that this movie be seen in a theater as a shared experience, and not to be pushed to a streamer or PVOD release.

 

The film ultimately hit theaters on May 28, where it had one 

QUIET PLAC2 AT A GLANCE

This bigger-budget sequel to the 2018 megahit manages to deliver the horror without leaning on the gore. 

 

PICTURE
Shot on 35mm film, some shots look soft and grainy while others are sharp & clear, with HDR lending shadow depth and detail to the many low-light scenes.

 

SOUND     

A terrific Atmos mix filled with directional cues, many of them subtle, and lots of atmospherics.

of the biggest post-pandemic openings before finally coming to the Paramount Plus streaming service and becoming available for digital download via other retailers—including Kaleidescape—on July 12 after a shortened 45-day exclusive theatrical window.

 

While Quiet Place 2 could be viewed on its own without having watched the original—the opening has a bit of setup to understand what is happening—you’d really be doing yourself a disservice by doing so. Not only does the first film give you a lot of context to better understand the characters and events of the second one, it is also a terrifically entertaining movie in its own right. 

 

While the first film begins some 89 days after a sudden and unexplained invasion by a horde of blind, armored alien creatures with hypersensitive hearing and super speed intent on killing every human they encounter, and follows the Abbott family as they learn to survive in near total silence to remain hidden from the creatures, the second one begins at Day One of the invasion. Not only does this provide a bit of exposition for new viewers, it also gives the film a chance to bring Lee Abbott (Krasinski) back for a bit.

 

After the opening, Quiet Place 2 jumps ahead to Day 474 of the invasion, some short time after the events of the first film. The Abbott family of Evelyn (Blunt), hearing-impaired teenage daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and adolescent son Marcus (Noah Jupe) are still living on their farm, caring for the baby born near the end of the first film. After noticing some signal fires on the horizon, the family sets out to try to find a safer place and any survivors, where they meet up with an old family friend, Emmett (Cillian Murphy), who is living in an abandoned steel factory that provides a measure of sonic security from the aliens. 

 

While scrolling through a radio dial looking for any signals, they stumble across a station playing “Beyond the Sea” on repeat. Believing this is a clue to where other survivors are living, Millicent sets off on a quest to find them and see if she can weaponize her cochlear implant by playing the high-frequency feedback it produces through the radio’s transmitter. But not all of the human survivors are good, which adds another element to the danger. 

 

The film’s taut sub-90-minute runtime (excluding end credits) has very little fat and moves along at a brisk clip. Something is always happening to move the story forward, and by splitting the family into three groups, there is always some measure of tension and suspense. And because characters are generally whispering or communicating via American Sign Language, it forces you to pay attention, almost leaning forward in your seat, making you even more susceptible to the films several quality jump-scare moments. 

 

It has been some time since I watched the first film, but I feel like this had more action and excitement, and certainly gives a far better look at the aliens. With a much larger budget, in excess of $55 million, it also feels like a “bigger” film without losing the focus of the first film. Also, while this seemed like the kind of movie that all but screamed for a mid- or end-credits scene to tease a further installment, there isn’t one. 

 

A fair bit of Quiet Place 2 looked a bit soft and grainy to me, which made a lot more sense after I learned that it was shot on actual 35mm film. While the home transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, it definitely doesn’t have that tack-sharp look of modern digitally-shot productions. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shots—specifically closeups—that have abundant sharpness, clarity, and detail; it’s just that there are also quite a few moments—specifically long shots or scenes with extreme low-lighting—that are soft and a bit grain heavy, and more resemble a good Blu-ray transfer than a true 4K film.

 

Many of the scenes are shot in dark or very low-lit interiors, such as one of the principal locations inside an abandoned steel foundry and often inside an old forge with the door closed. Here HDR gives us nice shadow depth and detail, delivering very natural and realistic image quality. There are also quite a few scenes filmed by firelight (actual fires, candles, or lighters) that benefit from HDR’s wider range. 

 

For a movie with “Quiet” in its title, you might not expect the sound mix to play an important role, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, both this and the original film have absolutely terrific Dolby Atmos mixes that really help throw you into 

the scenes. Sound is an incredibly vital element to the story, and the mixers take every opportunity to provide directional cues to what is happening, heightening the suspense of the action.

 

There is so much tense silence where little clicks, creaks, and noises inform you what is happening—or when you are thrust into Regan’s silent hearing-space, when she is without her cochlear implant (which plays a significant role in both films), where sound can go almost totally silent.

 

There are tons of little atmospheric sounds throughout that really draw you into the experience. Whether it is birds chirping and wind rustling, the clicking and skittering noises of the creatures moving around and overhead, the tinkling of glass bottles, or the flooding rush of a fire sprinkler, you are frequently immersed in the action.

 

My one sonic nit was that some of Murphy’s dialogue could be a bit difficult to understand. He often speaks with a semi-closed-mouth husky-voices whisper that can make understanding a bit of a challenge.

 

A Quiet Place, Part II is almost like a classic horror film where suspense and what

A Quiet Place, Part II (2021)

you don’t see provides much of the scares, and it is the perfect “scary movie” for people who don’t like what the modern horror genre has become. The violence is mostly bloodless, and not the focus of the film.

 

Not only does it make for a great night at the movies, I think it actually plays better in a well-designed home theater outfitted with an array of Atmos height and surround speakers for the full experience. At home, you aren’t at the mercy of suffering through popcorn chewing, drink slurping, candy rustling, and audience chit-chat that would otherwise break the moment, allowing to really enjoy the ride!

John Sciacca

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

Review: The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

I’ve said it here before—I’m a sucker for submarine movies. Das Boot, U-571, Crimson Tide, K-19: The Widowmaker, Hunter Killer . . . I’m game for them all. If the movie takes place aboard, or features a lot of action inside, a sub—preferably one from the modern era—I’m all in. The tension of trying to slip past a boat actively searching for you, the pings of active sonar and the splashes of depth charges, the sounds of torpedoes streaking by as they narrowly miss, and the near inevitable moment when someone has to have a hatch closed on them to keep the sub from flooding . . .

 

And to the list of the best modern submarine films, you’d have to include The Hunt for Red October, based on Tom Clancy’s first book of the same name. For its 30th anniversary, Red October has been given a new 4K HDR release, which is available 

on physical media as well as for download from Kaleidescape.

 

What makes Red October different from your typical sub movie is that while there is some action—a handful of torpedo launches and a gunfight—the movie isn’t really about subs shooting at each other, or about a sub in some kind of trouble, stranding men in a confined and water-filling coffin, but really more a tense spy thriller that happens to revolve around—and take place aboard—submarines, as well as the mental chess match between the two principal actors.

 

Red October—both the book and the film—introduced the world to Jack Ryan, an aspiring CIA analyst with expertise in the machinations of the Soviet system, who eventually worked his way up to being a pretty capable field officer, and ultimately becoming President of the United States in the Clancy literary universe. Ryan has (so far) been 

RED OCTOBER AT A GLANCE

This classic light-on-gunplay-and-torpedoes Jack Ryan spy thriller gets a 30th-anniversary 4K HDR upgrade. 

 

PICTURE
While much of the film looks terrific, particularly closeups of the actors and shots aboard the USS Dallas, the video quality is uneven throughout.

 

SOUND     

The 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix is true to the original film while delivering quite a bit of excitement in a modern home theater, although the bass is pretty mild by contemporary standards.

portrayed by no less than five different A-list actors, including Harrison Ford (Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger), Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears), Chris Pine (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), and John Krasinski (Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series).

 

Taking up the mantle for this first film was Alec Baldwin, who was a perfect choice to play the everyman Ryan totally out of his depth being called to leave the desk and take his analysis into the field, face-to-face with the enemy. Ryan is someone far more likely to outwit an opponent with his mind than to engage him with his fists or a gun, and Baldwin handled the role perfectly, and it was disappointing he didn’t return to reprise him in future films. 

 

Set in 1984, the Soviet Union launches a new Typhoon-class nuclear missile submarine named “Red October” captained by veteran sailor, Marko Ramius (Sean Connery). The October is fitted with an advanced prototype “caterpillar” drive that uses a hydro-propulsion system that will make it virtually undetectable by traditional means, letting it creep up off the coast of a city and unleash its payload without any time to respond. While on a routine patrol, Jonesy (Courtney B. Vance), a star sonar operator aboard the USS Dallas, a USS Los Angeles-class attack submarine, picks up the Red October as it is putting to sea, tracking it for a while before it suddenly disappears. When news about the October’s capabilities are known, USS Dallas’ skipper, Captain Bart Mancuso (Scott Glenn), receives orders to relocate the October, track her, and remain in position to destroy her if need be. 

 

Simultaneously, the Soviet government launches nearly its entire naval fleet out to sea. Is it an unannounced exercise? A rescue mission? Or a prelude to war? 

 

After briefing Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones), Ryan brings his analysis to the Joint Chiefs, positing that he believes Ramius is not looking to start a war but rather looking to defect. Unsure of the Russians’ intentions, and with a lot of US naval assets headed towards confrontation, National Security Adviser Jeffrey Pelt (Richard Jordan) believes Ryan’s postulation enough to give him three days to confirm his theory. This puts Ryan on a flight out to an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, where he must convince Admiral Painter (Fred Thompson) to get him aboard the Dallas to make contact with Ramius. Meanwhile, the US fleet is in a race to intercept and engage Ramius before the Russian navy can find and destroy him. Of course, the Soviet Union is not going to sit idly by while a rogue captain hands over a multi-billion-dollar flagship submarine to its enemy, so how to solve the issue of getting hold of the submarine while it is being hunted and make the Russians believe it was destroyed?

 

Red October holds up remarkably well even after 30 years. Sure, some of the tech (primarily the screens aboard the subs) looks dated, but the story is still tense and believable. One thing that did take me out of the film a bit more on this viewing is the almost total lack of Russian accents by the actors portraying Soviets. Of course, Connery has his classic Scottish brogue, making no effort to conceal it, but even others (Tim Curry, Stellan Skarsgard, Sam Neill) just don’t sound Russian. The film does use an interesting “device” to switch from actors speaking Russian with subtitles to speaking English, but I can’t help but think that if they remade the film today, it would have a more “authentic” Russian crew.

 

Originally filmed in 35mm, this transfer is taken from a new, true 4K digital intermediate with a new HDR color grade. While many parts of the film look terrific, and have clean, sharp, defined edges and detail—particularly closeups of the actors, or shots aboard the USS Dallas—video quality is really uneven throughout. 

 

The opening had a lot of noise and grain and just general lack of detail, and if I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was watching a Blu-ray version of the film for much of it. (I actually checked my processor to make sure it was receiving 4K HDR content.) But the best-looking images snap you back to just how good the film can look. And then there are other scenes—such as when Ryan is briefing the Joint Chiefs—which were so badly focused and lacking in details they rivaled VHS quality, especially apparent when blown up to my 115-inch screen.

 

The filmmakers differentiate the look of the interiors aboard the Red October and the Dallas, not only through the set design but also the lighting, and it is almost as if they used different cameras or lenses for these shots. The October never looks as sharp or detailed as the Dallas, which just looks cleaner and clearer. 

 

There is a series of green graphic overlays that appears throughout the film, and these look bright, crisp and sharp. But the traditional white subtitles during the opening—when the Russian crew is speaking Russian-are blurrier, though near the

end these subtitles also look sharpened and cleaned up as well.

 

The HDR grade isn’t too aggressive, but it does a nice job of giving some extra pop to all the screens and buttons aboard the subs, as well as deeper, more realistic blacks throughout, and some bright glints and highlights off the equipment inside the subs or on the medals worn by sailors. We also get some nice depth of color when the sub is rigged for red, or the flashing yellow alarm lights. There were a couple of underwater shots that exhibited a slight bit of banding, and some of the visual effects shots of torpedoes or green screen had a bit of white edging.

 

Red October received three Academy Awards nominations, including Sound and Sound Effects Editing (for which it won), and the 4K release includes a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix that is both true to the original while delivering quite a bit of excitement in a modern home theater. I watched with DTS: Neural X upmixing engaged on my Marantz processor, and the film provided a surprising amount of atmospherics and immersion.

 

From the get-go, you are surrounded by the sounds of winds swirling and rain pouring overhead. Then aboard the subs, we get the sounds of humming 

The Hunt for Red October (1990)

machinery, crew noises, hatches opening/closing, etc. Other moments, like the pressure crushing in on the hull of the Dallas as it makes a deep dive with pops and groans of the metal, or the sounds of a helicopter hovering overhead, or the loud ping from active sonar scans, or the zip of torpedoes streaking past, all help to put you right into the action. I actually had the opportunity to spend a night aboard an active aircraft carrier, and the sounds of flight ops and the steam-powered catapult launch system were spot on.

 

Bass is pretty mild by modern standards, but we do get a bit of subwoofer involvement when torpedoes detonate, or the low hum of engines running. 

 

While this new transfer isn’t without some flaws, it is still the best we’ve had at home, and remains a fun, exciting night at the movies, with a PG rating appropriate for all members of the family. With a lack of new releases on the horizon, The Hunt for Red October is a classic that is certainly worth revisiting. 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Growing up, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was one of my absolute favorite films. I was only one when it was originally released theatrically, but it made its TV debut on Thanksgiving Night, November 28, 1974 (and was shown again on Thanksgiving 1975 and again in May 1976) and I can remember those televised presentations being something I greatly looked forward to and that our family would plan an evening around to watch. (Remember those days of scheduled viewing before everything was just available instantly at the press of a button?)

 

It was so easy for young me to fantasize about being Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) for those 100 minutes, rooting for him as he beat the odds to find the fifth and final Golden Ticket and won the chance to go behind the closed and secret gates of one of the world’s greatest chocolate factories and meet the amazing Mr. Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder) with Grandpa Joe (Jack 

Albertson). And once inside, to rise above the shenanigans of all the bad little girls and boys to win the ultimate prize. The film’s ending then leaves it open to your imagination to ponder what might happen next and what the future holds for Charlie and his Chocolate Factory.

 

As a parent now with kids of my own, Willy Wonka is still a treasured favorite we return to regularly, and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to come home and randomly find my daughter Lauryn watching it, pulling it up on our Kaleidescape and saying she just felt like seeing it again.

 

For me, Willy Wonka is a perfect family film. It doesn’t try to cram in a lot of innuendo or double entendres going for a cheap adult laugh. Sure, there are jokes and quips between adults that young viewers might not understand, but isn’t that just life as a kid watching adults interact?

 

The kids are kids, not adults playing kids, and they all 

WONKA AT A GLANCE

The mischievous family classic gets an appropriately gentle upgrade to 4K HDR. 

 

PICTURE
The 4K transfer looks like layers have been pulled away, giving you a glimpse into the Chocolate Factory likely better than what was shown in 1971.

 

SOUND     

The DTS HD-Master 5.1-channel mix doesn’t break any new ground, providing a bit of width to the soundstage. The most dynamic aspect is the musical numbers, which get room to breathe across the front speakers.

engender certain exaggerated qualities—the gluttonous German Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner), who tries to eat everything in sight; the “I want it now!” spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole); the perpetual gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson); and the TV-obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen)—that make for easy lessons in bad behavior. At the center of it is Charlie, a poor boy doing what he can to help out his family, trying to do his best in a world that seems constantly stacked against him, and looking for a break. But even Charlie isn’t perfect, being tempted by the intoxicating bubbles of Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting drink.

 

There is just enough about the Chocolate Factory that is edgy and off-kilter to make it mysterious—“No one ever goes in, and no one ever comes out”—but not too scary. (Well, except for the boat ride on the Wonkatania, where there are those creepy images, including a sudden startling moment of a chicken getting its head chopped off.) 

 

Then you have Wilder’s brilliant performance as Wonka. I can remember watching Wonka walking out of his factory for the first time, slowly limping along with a cane as he painfully ambles his way towards the gate, not knowing what to think of this mysterious figure who hadn’t been seen in public for years. Then in an instant, Wonka appears to trip before performing a somersault and leaping up to greet the crowd with a big smile and open arms. It sets the whole mood for who he is. There is a manic look in Wilder’s eyes that, along with his crazy hair, makes him a believable confectionary genius, with splendid quips often mumbled to no one in particular. Even with his mischievous, quirky, and downright bizarre behavior, there is a tenderness in his performance that makes you feel Wilder’s Wonka really loves kids, and has been rooting for Charlie to win, something I think Johnny Depp really missed in Tim Burton’s 2005 remake, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

 

I have been waiting for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to get a 4K restoration, and I’m happy to say it has definitely been worth the wait! The new 4K HDR transfer, taken from a 4K digital intermediate scan of the original 35mm film, looks gorgeous. Images are clean, sharp, and detailed throughout, looking like layers have been pulled away and giving you a glimpse into the Chocolate Factory likely better than what was shown in 1971. Right from the get-go, it’s clear that the picture has been refreshed and renewed in the best way. 

 

Closeups can have startling detail. Shots of Grandpa Joe show singular wispy hairs flying off his head, and every pore and whisker on his face, and shots of Slugworth (Gunter Meisner) let you see the details on the scar on his cheek. You can practically read every word of fine print on the lengthy contract the kids have to sign before heading into the factory, with the tiny letters being sharp and defined, and see the fine detail, such as the check pattern on Violet’s dad’s jackets or the plaid of Veruca’s father’s suit, and make out the engraving on the coin Charlie finds in the gutter. 

 

While the HDR grade is fairly modest, it lends a natural quality to images throughout. We do get some nice pop from the flashing of light off aluminum foil wrappers or the gleaming white shirt of Charlie’s science teacher. HDR also adds some depth to the Fizzy Lifting room, where Charlie and Grandpa Joe float up to the ceiling amidst a black background and chrome/steel grid, with iridescent bubbles floating everywhere. One scene that did seem a bit overblown was during the “Cheer Up, Charlie” song, where Charlie is walking in front of the moon and streetlights, which all had pretty clear blue rings around them. Whether this was from too much HDR or something in the original film, I can’t say.

 

What really benefits are the colors, which just pop, and are bright and vibrant, especially inside the factory and in the candy shoppe with its many brightly colored labels and candies. Things like the red-orange label of the Wonka bar or Wonka’s

purple jacket really have more vibrancy. Skin tones also look natural, well, except for the Oompa Loompas, which are appropriately orange. There is a bit of film grain present, particularly noticeable in shots of powdery blue-grey skies, but it is never distracting, and certainly hasn’t been scrubbed away into softness.

 

Some of the sets—particularly the scene inside the factory with the chocolate river—look a bit dated. The enhanced clarity and resolution reveal that a lot of the props are, well, props, with some of the “magic” spoiled by the fact that you can actually see that the candy isn’t real and that some of the striping is just colored tape and that much of the ground cover is synthetic turf. Also, the compositing of images on TV screens—specifically when Charlie is watching Violet—also stands out a fair bit. But most of the film holds up terrifically well, and the story is certainly timeless.

 

Sonically, this new 4K transfer gets a DTS HD-Master 5.1-channel mix that certainly doesn’t break new ground. Dialogue is kept well anchored to the center channel and is clear and intelligible throughout. We get a bit of width across the front, such as cars and trains passing far left/right outside the screen, or the ticking of a clock. The most dynamic aspect of the mix is the musical numbers, which get some room to breathe across the front speakers, and even get a bit

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

of bass extension for a nice and full presentation. If there were any actual “surround” sound effects, they were subtle enough to go unnoticed.

 

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a terrific film that definitely benefits from 4K’s added resolution and wider color gamut, and makes for a wonderful family-viewing experience. As Mr. Wonka says, “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted. He lived happily ever after.” 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Cruella

Cruella (2021)

Walt Disney Pictures has gotten into a bit of a rut with its live-action films recently, choosing to take the safer road of remaking classic animated titles like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan instead of trying to break new ground. With Cruella, we get an entirely new origin story of one of Disney’s classic villains, Cruella de Vil from 1961’s 101 Dalmatians.

 

Even though I’m a fan of Emma Stone (who stars as both Estella and Cruella), I didn’t have especially high hopes for this film. I wasn’t a big fan of the 1996 live adaptation of 101 Dalmatians starring Glenn Close (who happens to serve as an executive producer on Cruella) and didn’t think de Vil’s backstory would be interesting enough to make a compelling movie, and would 

just end up diluting what was such an iconic character.

 

Boy, was I wrong!

 

I enjoyed Cruella far more than I expected to. Here we learn what makes her tick, see where her sense of fashion and design came from, and discover what ultimately leads her to becoming the villain we all know from the original Disney animated film. And while she is just a straight villain in Dalmatians—what could be more heinous than wanting to steal puppies to harvest their fur for coats?—here Cruella is an anti-hero living on the streets and fighting for her adopted family against domineering fashionista The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who holds the London fashion world in her fist along with a secret to Estella’s past.

 

Beyond the writing and wonderful costumes and set dressing, you have to give much of the credit to the film being so entertaining to Stone, who is just so wickedly delightful and mischievous as Cruella. You really can’t help

CRUELLA AT A GLANCE

Disney goes punk (sort of), transporting the Dalmatians villainess’s back story to the world of mid-’70s London high fashion. 

 

PICTURE
The extended color gamut lets things like the bright red of London’s buses really pop, providing great shadow detail and creating a more natural-looking image.

 

SOUND     

This isn’t a dynamic Atmos soundtrack, with most of the audio kept across the front of the room, but it does a good job of helping the film lean on its jukebox of classic-rock tracks.

but root for her even though you know where her path ultimately leads. The scenes featuring Stone and Thompson are also some of the best, and the idea to make Stone two characters with distinct looks and personalities allowed for the two to share more screen time.

 

We learn early in the film that Estella loves fashion and design, but she also has a bit of a cruel streak, a personality her mother refers to as Cruella. To fit in—and stay out of trouble—Estella pushes her Cruella nature aside, dyes her hair red, and lives as a creative and eager-to-please girl hoping to start a new life in London. But when things become too much for Estella to handle, she turns to Cruella—the wild black-white haired girl with a hard edge, sharp tongue, and cruel streak—to step in and take care of business.

 

Like every film released in the past year, Cruella had a bit of a twisty trail to market. Originally scheduled to be released theatrically on December 23, 2020, it was delayed to May 28, 2021 where it also simultaneously bowed as a Premier Access title on Disney+, maintaining the $29.99 pricing Disney has established. After less than a month in theaters, Cruella was released to digital retailers on June 25, including Kaleidescape, which offers the film in a full 4K HDR version with Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio.

 

While the filmmakers did loads to try and tie this prequel to the original animated title, they weren’t dogmatic about it, and they made changes (such as setting the film in the ‘70s) that helped to modernize the story. Retained are Cruella’s friends/family/henchmen Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), and this pair provides most of the film’s comic relief (though I found the laughs to be more chuckles than guffaws, and some of the antics—such as chasing around a small dog dressed as a rat—will likely appeal more to youngsters.) Estella’s/Cruella’s relationship with Jasper also helps to humanize his character, as we see him wanting to accept his friend, but not always liking what that means, with Horace more content just trying to figure out, “What’s the angle?” to whatever scheme they were planning. 

 

There is also a wonderful scene of Cruella maniacally driving a giant saloon through the streets, swerving back and forth crashing into things and hunching over the steering wheel with a crazed look that is a moment from the animated title brought perfectly to life. And absolutely stay through the first part of the end credits where the film really dovetails into the original. 

 

Shot on Arri in a combination of 3.4 and 6.5K, Cruella’s video transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and images are clean, sharp, and detailed throughout. The filmmakers shied away from intense, tight, pore-revealing closeups on the Emmas, but even still we are given loads of detail throughout. 

 

Fashion—specifically haute couture—plays a huge role in the film, and the costume design and attention to detail is fantastic and easy to appreciate due to the video quality. The sheer number of costumes worn by Stone and Thompson—let alone the numerous additional designs made for fashion shows and worn by party-goers—is amazing, and will likely garner Cruella an Academy Award nomination. With the resolution and sharpness of the video, you can easily appreciate the layers, textures, and small details that went into the many costumes, easily noting the different fabric weights, fine stitching, and design. 

 

Shot on location throughout London, the film has an authentic feel to it. Whether it is the set dressing of London streets, a near-perfect recreation of the famous Liberty department store, a variety of estates—principally Hellman Hall—or numerous visits to Regents Park, a making-of doc included with the Kaleidescape download shows the extent to which the filmmakers went to cover every minute detail, including many things that didn’t even appear on camera. All of this makes Cruella feel like a real world. There are many exterior scenes, which look terrific, especially shots of London at night—with the many lights, buildings, and shadows—looking especially good. 

 

The extended color gamut also lets things like the bright red of London’s buses or the light show at Cruella’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog” outdoor fashion show really pop. Beyond just giving great shadow detail and a more natural-looking image, there are some eye-reactive uses of HDR, including headlights at night and the pop and flash of camera bulbs, some red-orange-white flames in a big fire, and the bright white sheen of satin material or the glossy highlights coming off black leather/vinyl. 

 

Sonically, the soundtrack is the big star here. The film takes place in London in the 1970s, when the punk rock movement was starting to take hold, and features an extensive soundtrack of era-appropriate music including The Doors, Queen, Blondie,

The Clash, and The Rolling Stones. In fact, the music is like an extra character in the film, helping to establish the mood and emotion of nearly every scene, and giving it an edgier, punk vibe that fits Cruella and her fashion-design-sense to a T. Also, the music is given plenty of room to stretch its boundaries across the speakers and up into the height channels, providing a ton of space and presence. In fact, the expansiveness and immersive music soundtrack throughout Cruella is a great sales pitch for Atmos music in general!

 

Dialogue is clear and well presented in the center channel, with the exception of some of Cruella’s voiceover narration, which can be a bit forward-sounding.

 

I wouldn’t call this a dynamic surround soundtrack, with most of the audio kept across the front of the room, but it does a good enough job of serving the story. We do get some establishing ambience in scenes, such as park and street noises—cars and people in the distance, the sound of water in fountains, or another scene in a jail has off-camera whistles, phones, chattering, and the jangle of keys to place you in the moment. During another big moment, a swarm of bugs come flying out and then travels overhead and around the room before exiting to all sides. I did notice on moment that highlighted more the subtle detail of the soundtrack, when The Baroness is having lunch in a car and she throws her 

Cruella (2021)

trash—including a metal fork—out the window, and you can hear the delicate sound of the fork hitting the road.

 

While the film is mostly family-friendly fare—not a single swear or sexual moment to be found!—it does carry a PG-13 rating mainly for some intense themes (it’s implied dogs are killed) and peril (one character is left in a burning room to die). At over two hours, this also might be a bit much for younger kids to take on, and it definitely features a story with depth and themes designed more to appeal to adults. 

 

Cruella is one of the most original live-action films to come out of Disney in recent years, and if it didn’t grab your attention in the theaters or on Disney+, now is the perfect opportunity to enjoy it in highest-resolution at home! 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The Indiana Jones story had been planned as a trilogy from the start—the actor signing on to play Indy had to agree to a three-film deal—but it took five years after the release of Temple of Doom for the third film, The Last Crusade, to find its way to the big screen. During that time, the MPAA ratings board created the PG-13 rating, due in large part to the dark tone and graphic violence in Temple, and Crusade was the first film in the franchise to garner this “new” rating.

 

After the weaker box-office reception for Temple, director Steven Spielberg looked to lighten things up a bit for this third installment, returning Indy to more of the fun and light-hearted tone and elements that made Raiders of the Lost Ark such a 

fan favorite. The result is a film that feels far truer to the original and is frankly just more fun to watch.

 

Also, while Temple was the second film in the series, it is technically a prequel story as the events in that film are set in 1935, a year before the events of Raiders. But nothing in that film really feels like a prequel, as it is just Indy off on another adventure, with no returning characters or continuity to the story.

 

With The Last Crusade, we get both a prequel and a sequel, with two returning characters who have larger roles in this adventure, including Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), Indiana’s contact in the Middle East, and Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), the museum curator who is the recipient of many of Indy’s finds. More importantly, Crusade expands Indy’s family by adding his father, Professor Henry Jones, played brilliantly by Sean Connery. The dynamic between 

LAST CRUSADE AT A GLANCE

The 4K HDR presentation of the third Indy film receives the same appropriately light touch as Raiders and Temple of Doom

 

PICTURE
The restoration and 4K transfer make for a great-looking presentation, brimming with detail in many closeups and with some images so sharp that they look like they were shot digitally.

 

SOUND     

The new Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix never looks to go too far over the top but to just expand and enhance the original mix.

Harrison Ford and Connery is terrific, showing another facet of Indy’s character, and offering some additional humor and heart to the story, giving Indy something to care about more than just an ancient relic.

 

The film opens in Utah in 1912 with a 13-year-old Indy played by River Phoenix pulled into an adventure to recover a golden crucifix belonging to Coronado found/stolen by a treasure hunter while on a Boy Scout trip. Here we see Indy’s thirst for adventure as well as learn not only where he developed his affinity for the whip, but also see how he got the scar on his chin 

and developed his fear of snakes, and where his iconic hat came from. (It’s also fair to say that this opening scene was the genesis of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series to come three years later.) That’s a heck of a lot of ground covered in a film’s opening moments, and setting up the adventure Indy embarks on when the film jumps to its 1938 timeline!

 

Professor Jones, an expert on all things related to the Holy Grail, has gone missing in Venice while tracking down a new Grail lead for Walter Donovan (Julian Glover). After his father’s Grail diary containing a lifetime of Grail lore, clues, and maps suddenly arrives in the mail, Indiana is off on a search for his father, which means following the Grail leads and ultimately coming face-to-face—once again—with the Nazis (“I hate those guys”).

 

This film’s first act involves puzzle solving and adventuring that feels like it formed the blueprint for Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon character in The Da Vinci Code to come years later, before settling into the action that launches characters towards the finale and adventures that take them around the world. It also feels like Spielberg and Ford have settled into the rhythm and feel of Indiana, and the movie just clicks along, hitting familiar beats while also feeling new.

 

Filmed just eight years after Raiders and five years after Temple, Crusade’s video quality is similar to those films, which is to say the restoration and new 4K digital intermediate make for a great-looking presentation, again

brimming with detail in many closeups. I noticed far fewer instances of softness or focus issues compared to Raiders, and right from the opening, skies here looked bluer and less grainy.

 

Tiny details like fine bubbles rising in Indy’s champagne flute, and the texture in clothing like the tweed in Professor Jones’ suit, the heavy wool of Nazi SS uniforms, or the texture in Indy’s hat band, and the whiskers and pores on his preternaturally sweaty face are visible throughout.

 

As with the first film, there are scenes that have such razor sharpness, clarity, and detail that they could pass for modern digitally shot media. One such moment was where Indy and dad are on a motorcycle in front of the crossroads sign to head to Berlin or Venice, which was stunning. Outdoor scenes, specifically the day shots in Venice, look like gorgeous travelogue material, and you can really appreciate the scope of the outdoor tank battle. 

The HDR color grading is again reserved, but it adds depth and texture to images, especially shadowy and dark scenes or the brightest highlights of the desert. You can also really appreciate the brilliant colors of a stained-glass window in the Venetian church/library.

 

Like the picture, I’d say that Crusade’s new Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix takes a similar track as the other films, never looking to go too over the top (pun intended), but to just expand and enhance the original mix. Sound elements like driving wind, rain, and waves crashing up over the sides of a boat, or motorcycles racing up from the back of the room along the sides to pass into the front, and the room-filling roar and crackle of fire are all enhanced and expanded with the new mix. We also get more expansion of echoes, such as the hammer blows as Indy is trying to shatter marble, the ambience of water drips inside of catacombs, or tank shells that fly overhead.

 

Sonically, some of the film’s most dynamic and active moments come when some German fighters are attacking. Here we get planes strafing Indy and dad in a vehicle, and the planes buzz all around the room, flying overhead, along the 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

sides, and into the back. Their engines and guns are mixed aggressively, and definitely add to the excitement of the moment. While never overused, the subwoofer is called on when appropriate, adding depth and weight to the soundtrack for things like explosions or collisions. 

 

With Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we are brought back to Indy’s beginnings and earlier adventures in the best ways possible. Even the ending echoes moments from Raiders’ opening cave scene, but in a fresh way. And as our characters literally ride off into the sunset with John Williams’ iconic score erupting from all around, you can’t help but have a great time. 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

What do you get when you combine two of the hottest writing/producing/directing talents around with one of the hottest action stars of the day with one of the top film composers of all time? You get Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

The joining of forces between director Steven Spielberg, writer George Lucas, lead actor Harrison Ford, and composer John Williams all but guaranteed a film that would rake in millions at the box office and become an instant classic. Perhaps a bit surprisingly, you also get a film that garnered nine Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture and Director), 

ultimately grabbing five wins including Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects.

 

Wanna feel old? How about if I tell you Raiders is celebrating its 40th Anniversary?! Yup, the movie was originally released on June 12, 1981. Wanna feel a little better about it? Well, to celebrate this milestone, Paramount has just re-released all four films in the Indy franchise, all restored and remastered in 4K HDR with new Dolby Atmos audio mixes with all picture work approved by series director, Spielberg. According to the film’s press release:

 

Each film has been meticulously remastered from 4K scans of the original negatives with extensive visual effects work done to ensure the most pristine and highest quality image.  All picture work was approved by director Steven Spielberg.

RAIDERS AT A GLANCE

The film that jumpstarted the whole action/ adventure-meets-videogames thing gets a 4K/Atmos makeover for its 40th anniversary. 

 

PICTURE
Closeups can have a startling amount of sharpness and detail and HDR has been applied with a light touch, staying true to the look of the original film.

 

SOUND     

The new Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix is similarly faithful, being used just to heighten and expand the soundtrack.

In addition, all four films were remixed at Skywalker Sound under the supervision of legendary sound designer Ben Burtt to create the Dolby Atmos soundtracks. All original sound elements were used to achieve the fully immersive Dolby Atmos mixes while staying true to each film’s original creative intent.

 

Besides remembering seeing the film in the theater—I was 11—I recall when Raiders was first released on home video. At the time, home-video sales were a bit unusual and most titles were priced as “Rental,” meaning they were all like $80 and up and sold to chains like Blockbuster. Paramount decided to make a splash with Raiders in the home market, pricing it at a shockingly low (for the time) $39.95, and I can remember rushing down to the video store and picking up a copy on Beta the day it was released, barely able to wait until I could get home and watch the finale in slow motion! This strategy paid off for Paramount, as the film went on to sell over a million copies by 1985, making it the best-selling film of its time.

 

While the action/adventure genre is well established now, Raiders seemed shockingly fresh when it came out. For almost the entirety of its near-two-hour run time, you are pummeled with one action piece after another as Indy is constantly thrown into

increasingly impossible predicaments.

 

Lucas has said he conceived of Raiders as a way of modernizing the serial films of the early 20th century, and it isn’t hard to imagine several cliffhanger “endings” during the film where viewers would be left wondering just how in the heck Indy was gonna get out of this mess. But, having not watched Raiders in years prior to this viewing, what really struck me was how it is really the ultimate videogame movie—of course, without the burden of actually having a videogame to be based on. We get a rugged main character with two primary weapons—whip and pistol—thrown into increasingly difficult challenges requiring obtaining prizes to move on, complete with road chases, boss levels, and puzzle solving.

 

Sure, after 40 years, some of the bits—like Indy looking for Marion (Karen Allen) through the streets of Cairo as she is hidden in a basket—seem a bit cheesy and silly. But, I think the humor and B-movie-esque qualities are part of what makes it so much fun—such as when the Nazi Toht (Ronald Lacey) menacingly assembles what we think is going to be a weapon to interrogate Marion, but what turns out to be a hanger for his coat, or when Indy just pulls out his gun to shoot the large sword-wielding thug, or Indy saying, “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.” These light-hearted moments help keep Raiders fun, which is a quality some modern films lack or just miss completely.

 

Originally shot on film, this transfer is taken from a new 4K digital intermediate, and it looks mostly fantastic. Closeups 

can have a startling amount of sharpness and detail, revealing every line, pore, and whisker on Indy’s face, or the fine weave in a dress Marion wears in Cairo, or the linen texture in Sallah’s (John Rhys-Davies) suit. The daylight market and street scenes in Cairo are bright and fantastic, showing the sharp pattern of the bricks and stones, and the textured detail of the walls, and the weave of the baskets. Some scenes look so good, they could be from a modern film, such as the opening shot of the group crowded around the drinking game at Marion’s bar, or the scene of the Nazis at the dig site, which has incredibly sharp focus across the width of characters that fill the screen. I did notice that some scenes have inconsistent or soft focus, especially in the beginning and at the very end of the film when Indy and Marion are walking down the steps. These scenes are probably more noticeable because so much of the film just looks so good. I also noticed things like single vine strands or a single, ultra-fine spider web that Indy pulls along with him.

 

I never found film grain to be objectionable, but it is definitely there and most noticeably in outdoor shots that show the powdery blue sky. We have enough grain for the film to show its film roots and retain tons of detail, without being softened away to look like digital mush. 

 

While there was some effects cleanup, apparently this was mainly done to remove lines from the composites, and I never found it objectionable or noticeable in the way Lucas usually likes to go in and modernize his films. One change I did notice was that it was always apparent that the cobra striking at Indy and Marion was behind a piece of glass, and now that has been removed, looking like they are in more peril. I also never noticed that the German phrase “Nicht stören” (Do not disturb) was written on one of the buildings in the map room. I’m sure it was always there, but the new cleaned-up transfer and sharper resolution make it easier to notice small details like this.

 

Colors are natural throughout, and the opening jungle scenes are both brighter and more contrasty than I recall them, with bright shafts of light pouring in through the trees and wispy smoke. Golds, especially of the Ark, look bright and brilliant. One scene with the lights in Marion’s bar and the various colored bottles of liquor backlit looked really good. Everything just looks as it should; whether it is the green jungle hues, the tans and browns of the desert, or the red-orange of fires, Raiders has

never looked better. We also get nice and deep blacks, and good shadow detail that really benefits from the HDR grading, making dark scenes really look more natural.

 

The sound designers didn’t look to hit you over the head (pun intended) with the new Dolby TrueHD Atmos mix, but just to heighten and expand the soundtrack. Right from the opening moments, you’ll notice the sounds of the jungle—bugs, birds, rustling leaves—filling the room and coming all around you. Inside the cave, you hear water drips and splashes that help put you in the scene, plus there’s the sounds of winds howling outside Marion’s bar, the cacophony of downtown Cairo, or the clinks and clanks of machinery aboard the German U-boat. Big obvious sonic moments like the giant boulder rolling overhead are enhanced with weight and texture and it now literally rolls over your head, or the thunder and lightning while they are about to dig into the map room, or the roar of the German plane’s propeller, and the spirits now fly and swirl all around the room and overhead at the big finale.

 

Older films often skimp on the caliber of gunfire, and while Indy doesn’t compete with modern mixes when it comes to replicating gunshots, I feel they gave a bit more punch and depth to this, especially Indy’s pistol, which has a really distinct

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

sonic character. We also get some decent subwoofer involvement when called for, such as explosions, vehicle collisions, or that big boulder.

 

John Williams’ iconic score is also given more room to expand in this mix, letting you appreciate his music more fully than even before. And all important dialogue is kept clear and intelligible and mostly in the center channel, except for a couple of fun moments such as Marion screaming “Indy!” as she is being carried around the city in a basket.

 

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those classic films that belongs in every movie collection, and it has certainly never looked or sounded as good as it does here. Also, as a real incentive for Kaleidescape owners, if you already own Raiders in your Kaleidescape collection, it is just $8.59 to upgrade, making it an absolute must-have. And with a fifth film reportedly in the works for next year, now is the perfect time to rejoin Indiana on an epic adventure!

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.