Dennis Burger Tag

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: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2021)

This review was supposed to be done weeks ago. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was technically released to UHD Blu-ray on July 6, 2021. The day it was due to arrive, though, Amazon informed me they didn’t have an estimated ship date. So I went to Best Buy. No Scott Pilgrim. I hit Walmart. No Scott Pilgrim. I scoured every online source for shiny silver discs and no one could get me a copy of this movie in physical form in anything approaching a predictable timeframe. Thankfully, the disc finally arrived from Amazon this past weekend. 

 

If I hadn’t already decided that this would be my last disc purchase, this whole experience would have pushed me hard in that direction. The reality is, discs are a niche product at this point. There’s only one replication facility left in North America that can produce UHD Blu-rays, as far as I know, and when they get backed up or when there’s more demand than expected for

a title like Scott Pilgrim, getting your hands on a copy becomes a frustrating affair.

 

But you’re not here to read a treatise about the current state of a dying format. You’re here to read about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and whether the new Dolby Vision remaster was worth the wait. And indeed, it was—but not quite in the ways I expected.

 

I’ve always just assumed that this, one of my favorite movies, was shot digitally. But about ten seconds into watching the new remaster, I jotted a quick note on my notepad: “This looks like 35mm!” Indeed, the movie was shot on photochemical film, and as good as the old Blu-ray was, it just wasn’t revealing enough to deliver the nuance of fine film grain.

 

There’s just no denying it in 4K. And mind you, this is a

SCOTT PILGRIM AT A GLANCE

The 4K release makes it clear this ultimate self-reflexive comic-book movie was shot on film—a fact the pre-UHD versions failed to reveal. 

 

PICTURE
The new Dolby Vision color grade & dynamic-range expansion are very rarely in your face, pulling out splashes of color and brightness only for punctuation.

 

SOUND     

The Atmos mix is big, bold, loud, and an outright violation of your subwoofers’ rights.

remaster, not a full-on restoration. The original 35mm camera negatives were not rescanned. This is an upsample of the old 2K digital intermediate. But it still represents enough of a boost in resolution and fine detail that the analog origins of the film are there to be seen, clearly and unambiguously.

 

And as subtle a difference as that is, it’s enough to change the entire vibe of Scott Pilgrim for me. It’s a weird movie if you’ve never seen it—it’s another one of those films that is simultaneously a thing and a critique of that thing. It’s a pop-culture-reference-packed comic book movie that playfully mocks all the shortcomings of pop-culture-reference-packed comic book movies. It’s a sendup of everything ridiculous about video games, made by and about people who completely adore video games. It’s a takedown of hipsters despite being hipsterish as heck. It sort of takes the piss out of vegans and feminists and the LGBT community but with complete and utter love and respect for anyone who falls under any of those umbrellas. It walks the fine line of laughing with, rather than laughing at. 

 

But perhaps the biggest seeming contradiction at the heart of the film is that it’s a grungy garage-band rock-and-roll picture (with, by the way, the single best original motion-picture soundtrack since Almost Famous, thanks to the songwriting talents 

of Beck and the vocal and musical talents of the actors, all of whom performed the music seen in the film themselves), but it’s also a super-slick special-effects extravaganza.

 

And again, that element of the movie has always worked on Blu-ray. But it simply works so much better in Dolby Vision, since you can see the grit and organic chaos of film stock under the computer graphics and other effects. It’s not simply that Dolby Vision makes Scott Pilgrim look better; it legitimately allows it to work better as a piece of art, as a

story about the weirdness of nostalgia, as a big old bag of very intentional contradictions.

 

Mind you, there are still one or two very brief moments where you can see the consequences of the 2K digital intermediate—a bit of lost resolution here and there in the backgrounds or in quickly panning shots. But they’re so fleeting I’m not sure it would be worth the effort to do a ground-up restoration.

 

One thing I want to be clear about is that the new Dolby Vision color grade and dynamic-range expansion are rarely in your face. By and large, the chromatic character of the imagery remains the same. There are a few splashes of color here and there that ring through with more vibrancy and purity. There are also some nice specular highlights from time to time. But the new color grade really keeps those splashes of color and brightness in its back pocket and only pulls them out for punctuation. The biggest difference in terms of dynamic range is that blacks are blacker, shadows are better resolved, and the overall image has a more natural dimensionality and depth. 

 

The new Dolby Atmos remix, on the other hand, very rarely shows similar restraint. It’s big, bold, loud, and an outright violation of your subwoofers’ rights. Normally, I would hate this kind of mix. But for such a ridiculous spectacle as this movie is, it just works. I wouldn’t change a single thing about the mix.

Of course, none of this will make a lick of difference if you’re not a fan of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And if you’ve never seen the movie, all I can say is that a quick watch of the trailer will tell you whether you’ll love it or loathe it. (I’ve never met anyone who thought it was “just OK”.)

 

But if you’re already a card-carrying member of the Scott Pilgrim fan club, this new Dolby Vision release is an

essential upgrade. Just maybe skip the hassle of trying to get it on UHD Blu-ray. I spot-checked the disc against the Vudu and iTunes streams, and there’s virtually no meaningful difference between them in terms of picture quality. Level-match the soundtracks, and there’s no real difference in audio fidelity, either.

 

So, yes, grab this new Dolby Vision remaster at your earliest convenience. But if you don’t have a Kaleidescape, just go ahead and buy it via MoviesAnywhere. I’m glad I have the disc on my shelf, since I know it’ll be there when my internet service is out and I need my Scott Pilgrim fix right this very now. But if I had to do it over again, I would have just bought the digital copy and saved myself a massive headache. 

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: Ray (2021)

Ray (2021)

I need to cop to some ignorance right from the giddy-up: I’m not familiar with the literary works of beloved director, documentarian, illustrator, and composer Satyajit Ray. As such, I’m not really in a position to judge the fidelity of Netflix’ Ray, a new four-part anthology adapting four of the auteur’s short stories: Bepin Choudhury’s Lapse of Memory, Bahurupi, Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment, and Spotlight. All I can really tell you is whether or not the series stands on its own.

 

And the answer to that is, unfortunately, a bit complicated. Judged as a mini-series—and Netflix certainly pushes that interpretation by referring to the collection of four shorts as “Season 1″—Ray is a tonally and stylistically inconsistent mess of 

a thing that is unified only by its name.

 

Mind you, there are flashes of brilliance throughout the entire run. With the exception of the fourth short, the performances are captivating across the board. The first three episodes also do a fantastic job of establishing mood and conveying feeling.

 

There’s more that works about those first three episodes than doesn’t. But that’s not really how we determine whether or not something is worth our time, is it? We—well, I should say I, since I can only speak for myself—don’t really sit down and make a list of pros and cons and tally up the results before judging a movie or TV series or whatever the heck Ray is. Instead, I sort of intuitively gauge whether a work gave me more than it took from me.

 

And in that respect, three of the four installments of Ray have to be written off as intriguing failures. The first, “Forget Me Not,” an adaptation of Bepin Choudhury’s Lapse of Memory, does a lot right. It’s beautiful to behold (although perhaps not by videophile standards, since it’s intentionally 

RAY AT A GLANCE

This Netflix anthology of works inspired by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray is highly uneven, but features one standout that more than makes up for the series’ shortcomings. 

 

PICTURE
The third, worthwhile episode is richer, more colorful, warmer, and more vibrant than the other three, with deeper blacks and more penetrating highlights, all accentuated by the Dolby Vision presentation.

 

SOUND     

The music in the third episode is on a whole other level of artistry from the other three, and its mix manages to be atmospheric and inviting instead of over the top and off-putting.

flat and muted) and the acting is sublime. But at 64 minutes, it overstays its welcome. By 45 minutes in, I was ready for it to be over. Soon after that mark, the story shifts to a twist ending that flubs the landing, rendering the entire journey—as worthwhile as it is in spots—unfulfilling. The Dolby Atmos sound mix for “Forget Me Not” is also aggressive to the point of abusiveness.

 

My biggest problem with the second installment, “Bahrupiya,” adapted from the story Bahurupi, is that it’s mean-spirited and depressing, but for no real reason. To drag this short into a wholly Western context that’s borderline unfair, “Bahrupiya” had the potential to be something like Todd Phillips’ Joker, but somewhat more grounded in reality. In fact, it ends up being less so, and it fails to really convey any meaning in the end, aside from some obvious moralizing. Kudos to the makeup and prosthetics departments for some truly world-class work on this one, but it’s simply too soul-sucking to recommend.

 

The third entry, however—”Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa,” based on Barin Bhowmick’s Ailment (aka Barin Bhowmik-er Byaram)—is simply an amazing way to spend 53 minutes. My only complaint is that while other shorts in the series could have benefited from the loss of 20 or 30 minutes of runtime, “Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa” could have kept me glued to the screen for at least a couple hours. 

 

This installment was directed by Abhishek Chaubey (showrunner Sayantan Mukherjee helmed the first two and Vasan Bala directed the last), with cinematography by Anuj Rakesh Dhawan, and it’s the latter’s contribution in particular that I’m most smitten with. This simply doesn’t look like any of the other installments in that it’s richer, more colorful, warmer, more vibrant, and benefits from deeper blacks and more penetrating highlights, all of which the Dolby Vision presentation accentuates. 

 

The episode also sounds different from the rest, in that the music is on a whole other level of artistry altogether, and the mix manages to be atmospheric and inviting instead of over the top and off-putting. 

 

By the way, I’m speaking of the original language track there, which is labeled as Hindi, but is in fact a mix of Hindi, English, and Urdu. Skip the English track, the default track when you load up the series for the first time. The dubbing is horrible throughout, but perhaps most importantly for our purposes, the English mix loses a lot of the atmospheric ambience of the original Hindi Atmos track. It’s flatter, more constrained, and less naturalistic. 

 

“Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa” is, in many respects, a simple tale. It’s the story of a kleptomaniac singer, something of a local celebrity, who finds himself sharing a train compartment with a fellow traveler from whom he stole a beloved (and ostensibly magical) pocket watch many years past. The bulk of the runtime is devoted to the tension that develops as he first recognizes his old mark, relives the original theft in his vivid imagination, then tries his best to right his old wrong. That’s it, really. That’s the whole story. But it’s told in such an imaginative way that one cannot help but be mesmerized by it all. 

 

The less said about the fourth episode, “Spotlight,” the better.

 

So, my recommendation would be to check out the third episode and skip the rest. Make sure to switch over to the Hindi Atmos track, though. It’s not all in Hindi, mind you—the characters bounce around from language to language, sometimes in the course of a single sentence. And even in the English dub, you’re going to have to turn on the subtitles for at least some of the Urdu exchanges that couldn’t be translated and overdubbed for contextual reasons. 

 

“Hungama Hai Kyon Barpa” is, in many respects, everything you could hope for from a good home theater experience. It looks and sounds fantastic, Netflix’ presentation is unimpeachable, and it’s a lovely little tale to boot. Again, I cannot speak to its fidelity as an adaptation, but as a work of motion-picture entertainment, it’s a lovely and surprising experience from beginning to end. I only wish the other three episodes had been anywhere near as good. But they’re self-contained, so you can safely ignore them.

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: Black Widow

Black Widow (2021)

If you’re clicking on a review of Black Widow right now, I can only assume you’re here in search of one more person’s opinion about whether it was worth the wait. The simple answer to that is: Yes. If you don’t mind, though, I’m gonna ramble on for a bit about why.

 

I’m normally not one to invest much energy in the horse-race discussion about movies like this. But in the case of Black Widow, it’s hard to ignore. It was supposed to come out last year, but ended up being one of many casualties of the global pandemic. Meant to kick off Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it got beaten to that punch by WandaVision, Falcon

and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. It’s probably the biggest Disney movie to date to be available via Premier Access, three months ahead of its free-to-view streaming release on October 6, 2021.

 

The thing is, though, none of that really matters. None of it has any bearing whatsoever on the quality of the movie. And yet, it’s a hard discussion to avoid.

 

Why do I say it doesn’t matter, though? Well, for one thing, Black Widow was always going to be a movie whose release was a little weird, temporally speaking. The bulk of the plot takes place between Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but it’s a story that couldn’t really be told until after Endgame (2019), not necessarily for narrative reasons but for emotional ones. To fully make sense of the character of Natalia Alianovna Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in this story, you have to understand not only the redemption arc she’s been on 

BLACK WIDOW AT A GLANCE

The Scarlett Johansson-centric MCU actioner finally makes its long-awaited debut in theaters and on Disney+.

 

PICTURE
The Disney+ presentation is stunning, with gorgeous colors, plentiful fine detail, and spectacular use of HDR .

 

SOUND     

Apparently mixed for movie theaters, the Atmos soundtrack is occasionally a little too dynamic; and the volume needs to be goosed slightly to unlock the full fidelity of the audio.

since first introduced to the MCU in Iron Man 2, but you also have to know that she’s the type of person who would make the sacrifice she did in Endgame.

 

All of that makes Black Widow a puzzle piece that you can only place in time, not merely space. But that’s sort of fitting for a character as complex as Natasha. I won’t bother to even begin to attempt to explain the plot. Doing so would make me sound ridiculous. It’s got a thousand tiny little moving pieces, and it plays a very dangerous game with them in that it all flirts with being just a little too much. I’m normally turned off by plots this complex—give me a simple story any day of the week—but writing simple stories is difficult.

 

Here’s the thing, though: The convolutions of the script don’t seem to be a product of laziness, but of necessity. Story writers Jac Schaeffer (WandaVision) and Ned Benson (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), along with screenwriter Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), seem to understand that this one had to do a lot of heavy lifting and cover a lot of ground. It also manages to pull off a trick that few stories do successfully—it manages to be a critique of a thing while also being that thing itself. Black

Widow is a comic-book action movie, yes. But it’s also a subversion of the genre, a sendup of its tropes, and a cheeky rumination on the dangers of idolizing these impossibly perfect characters.

 

It only works because the writers understood three key things.

 

Firstly, pacing: For every big action set-piece (and there are plenty of them, with car chases that rival Baby Driver and fight sequences that are every bit as stupid and amazing as anything in the John Wick series), there’s at least as much time devoted to quieter, tenderer character moments.

 

Secondly, tone: The movie deals with a lot of heavy material, from psychological manipulation to the exploitation of vulnerable women to Cold War hangover, but it always strikes the right balance between sincerity and levity. It knows when to take itself seriously and when not to. It’s heartbreaking one moment and legitimately hilarious the next.

 

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly: It just knows what it’s about, and although it would take two hours to recount the narrative beat by beat, it’s easy to explain what it all means. Ultimately, Black Widow is about family—specifically that weird and contradictory set of emotions that comes from interacting with your family now that you’re an adult; that troubling realization that your parents were just cosplaying as adults for your entire childhood; the baffling combination of rage and familiarity that only your relatives can drag out of you simultaneously.

 

It’s also about freedom—not only the necessity thereof but also the cost and why that cost is worth paying. While playing around with that theme, the story also touches on notions of free will and animal instinct. But all of that really points back to freedom.

 

And that’s it, really. As many twists and turns as there are in the plot, all of them ultimately support the themes of family

or freedom, or both. That’s what keeps Black Widow grounded throughout, what keeps it from devolving into utter chaos.

 

Can I just say, though, that this is yet another blockbuster movie I’m so glad I didn’t have to suffer through in a packed cinema? Its presentation on Disney+ far surpasses the quality of any commercial cinema I could reasonable reach in a half-day’s drive, and I also got to enjoy it without suffering the distractions of an auditorium full of chatty extroverts and their rowdy kids. At home, I could give it my full attention and even take a tinkle break halfway through without being forced to choose between skipping an action sequence or a bit of character development.

 

The Dolby Vision presentation is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, as most MCU movies are, which was itself sourced from original footage captured in a mix of 4, 6, and 8K. Fine detail abounds, not merely in closeups but also in long shots (which many of the action sequences are—a welcome break from the claustrophobic framing of most high-octane movies these days). Colors are gorgeous and the high dynamic range is employed spectacularly.

 

There are a few very minor and very fleeting blemishes, but I’m really not sure whether they’re a consequence of post-production, Disney+’s encoding, or the fact that I streamed it on Day One, simultaneously with millions of other people.

 

Evidence for the latter comes from the fact that, on my Roku Ultra, with my 250mbps internet connection, the stream didn’t switch from 1080p to 4K until about two-thirds of the way through the Marvel Studios logo that precedes the movie. Disney+ normally launches at 4K for me.

 

Evidence for these blemishes being baked into the master come from circumstantial evidence. There’s a shot very early on that takes place in a shadowy bathroom. There’s about a quarter-second of very, very minor banding as the flat tiles of the environment give way to the shadows. But the very next shot is in the same environment, with the same tonal variation, and there’s no banding. There’s also a long shot of Natasha’s trailer that exhibits a touch of moiré for a few frames. But a few minutes later there’s another shot of the exterior photographed from the same distance in roughly the same light, and there’s no moiré. 

 

So I can’t be sure if these momentary visual imperfections can be blamed on streaming or taxed servers or what. But thankfully they add up to no more than a cumulative second over the course of a 135-minute film. Otherwise, Black Widow looks stunning. 

 

It also sounds way, way better in my home than it would in any movie theater I’ve ever sat in. Mind you, the Dolby Atmos track seems to have been mixed for large auditoria, not home cinemas, so it can be a little too dynamic in spots. I also had to turn the volume on my preamp up to +3dB (with 0dB being cinema reference levels) to unlock the full fidelity of the track, especially the bass. If you have a well-designed sound system, though, you’re in for a sonic treat. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to watch Black Widow with a soundbar as your only audio system—even a really good soundbar—you’re quickly going to discover what it feels like to pack ten pounds of you-know-what into a five-pound bag.

 

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Disney continues to support these day-and-date releases via Premier Access as Hollywood attempts to force a return to normal over the next year. All I can say is this: If I have the option to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies—the only movies I really feel compelled to see Day One—in the comfort of my home in quality this far superior to even a good cineplex for just $29.99? Sign me the heck up. I’ll never need to sully the bottom of my flip-flops with sticky popcorn grease ever again.

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.

The Last Blu-ray Disc

The Last Blu-ray Disc

I had a bit of an epiphany this week. In case you haven’t heard, the long-awaited 4K HDR home video release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is upon us. It’s available now on Kaleidescape and iTunes. It hits UHD Blu-ray and Vudu on July 6. 

 

The choice of where and how to purchase this one weighed way more heavily on me than any movie-buying decision should, if I’m being honest about it. Ultimately, I decided on the UHD disc for a handful of reasons. For one thing, the disc comes with a MoviesAnywhere code, so I’ll have access to a high-quality digital stream no matter where I am. 

 

But perhaps more importantly, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is one of those movies I occasionally need access to no matter the circumstances. I’m not saying it’s my favorite film or anything. I’m not saying I think it’s even the best of its decade. I’m merely saying that there is a handful of movies—this being one of them—I turn to for a pick-me-up when nothing else is doing the

trick. The unique, quirky jubilance of this ironically ironic comic-book adaptation just makes me happy in a way few other movies do.

 

And sometimes I need that fix even when the internet is down (especially when the internet is down!). Or when I’m sick in bed, three rooms removed from my Kaleidescape system. And the only way to fill that specific need is with a good old disc-shaped polycarbonate sandwich.

 

But something occurred to me as I was adding Scott Pilgrim to my Amazon shopping cart: I think this may be the last of that sort of movie ] I don’t already own in physical form. I 

bought the big 27-disc Star Wars UHD Blu-ray collection when it came out, and I swore that would be my last movie disc purchase. Then The Lord of the Rings came along and proved me wrong. I have The Wizard of Oz on 4K disc. The Big Lebowski too.

 

If I bothered to sit down and make a list of all the movies I could potentially find myself needing to watch even in the throes of an internet outage or a period of convalescence, I’m starting to think Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the only bullet-point on the list that doesn’t already exist in disc form on the shelves of my media room.

 

And, hey, I reserve the right to change my mind. It’s entirely possible some filmmaker will come along in the next few years and make a movie that scratches a similar itch, as unlikely as that seems given that I’m approaching the age where people stop liking new things. For now, though, I’m feeling pretty confident July 6, 2021 will mark the end of an era for me. That date will (probably) be the final time I purchase a movie on disc.

 

It’s weird. That’s realization feels simultaneously momentous and inconsequential.

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.

REVIEWS

Black Widow (2021)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Life in Color (2021)
Luca (2021)
Sweet Tooth (2021)
The Cineluxe Hour

EPISODE 20 | THE STATE OF THE STREAMING ART

Review: Life in Color

Life in Color (2021)

If you have someone in your life who insists that streaming simply isn’t capable of delivering an AV experience worthy of a true home cinema, here’s a fun little experiment you can perform, assuming you’re willing to spend a few bucks. If you don’t have one already, go out and buy a Roku Ultra for $75 or whatever they’re selling for at the moment. Hook it up to the biggest and best display in your home. Fire up either of the first two episodes of the new Netflix/BBC co-production Life in Color and skip past the opening credits. 

 

Then invite the bitrate dogmatist in your life to sit and watch a few minutes of the series. If they’re anything like most videophiles, they’ll soon be begging to borrow the disc or at least know what it’s called so they can order their own copy. 

 

And that’s when you spring the trap. Hit the back button on your remote and return to the Netflix homepage. If your guest balks, hit Play again and implore them to point out any visual flaws in the imagery. Challenge them to show you any 

noteworthy compression artifacts. Ask them to point out any instances of less-than-razor-sharp detail, any loss of color purity.

 

Or, you know, maybe take a kinder and gentler approach. It occurs to me as I’m writing this that perhaps there’s a good reason I don’t have more friends.

 

The point is, this series, played via good streaming hardware, needs to be put in front of the eyeballs of more home cinema enthusiasts, if only as a prime example of just how much streaming has improved in just the past few years.

 

But even if you’re not here to inspect the imagery with a magnifying glass and marvel at the masterful application of high-efficiency compression, there’s a lot to love about Life 

LIFE IN COLOR AT A GLANCE

It’s news that David Attenborough is back in front of the camera at 95; it’s even bigger news that the video presentation here is practically flawless. 

 

PICTURE
Scenes that push the bounds of image complexity in ways Attenborough’s Our Planet never did appear without a blemish.

 

SOUND
The audio is merely 5.1, but it’s a lovely mix that up-mixes into Atmos beautifully.

in Color. The series is, in many ways, a bit of a throwback for host David Attenborough, a return to a time when he wasn’t merely narrating documentary footage but actively participating in the filming. I thought we’d seen the end of that era, given Attenborough’s age (95, for those keeping count). And this may be the last time we see him traipsing through the jungle to point out something cool and eye-catching.

 

It’s also something of a return to the more specialized sort of documentaries he more commonly made in the ’80s and ’90s. For the past few years, Attenborough has been focused on making grand statements, as if every new documentary released under his name was made as if it would be his last. But, as its name in implies, Life in Color is content to go deep rather than 

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Blue Planet II
Our Planet

wide, focusing on one topic with laser precision: The variety of colors in nature.

 

The first episode, “Seeing in Color,” focuses on all the ways life uses chromaticity to attract mates, signal friends, and repel foes, as well as the different ways animals see in color, both within and outside of the spectrum visible to humans. The second episode, “Hiding in Color,” focuses mostly on camouflage.

 

The third episode, “Chasing Color,” is a weird one, and I mean that in the best possible way. It sets itself up as a sort of making-of for the first two episodes, exploring the new camera and lens technology developed specifically for this series. But then it veers off to answer to the question: “How do you know that?” In other words, it’s a pretty satisfying explanation of the science behind the surprising little bits of trivia dropped by Attenborough throughout the earlier episodes.

 

As much as I loved the series—although, truth be told, I 

would happily consume nine hours of Attenborough narrating golf, or paint drying, or my last colonoscopy, so maybe I’m not the best judge of its quality—I almost found myself distracted by how impossibly perfect it all looks. Just over two years ago, I absolutely raved about the gorgeousness of Our Planet. But Life in Color looks even better, mostly because the few remaining encoding flaws that made brief onscreen appearances in the older series are nowhere to be seen here.

 

There are underwater shots reminiscent of those in Our Planet, and yet with none of the minor color banding that briefly reared its head there. There are scenes here that push the bounds of image complexity in ways Our Planet never did, and yet they appear without blemish. (There’s one particular shot, in which a peacock bristles its plume in slow motion, that’s such a kaleidoscope of fine detail that I would expect it to be riddled with some digital ookiness even at 100 mbps. And yet, with my nose on my screen, I couldn’t see any of the telltale signs of HEVC reaching its breaking point. I can only assume Netflix recently adopted a new encoder, because otherwise I just cannot make sense of why this imagery looks this pristine.)

 

Dolby Vision is also employed to stunning effect. There are colors on the screen that older home video technology simply wasn’t capable of reproducing—vibrant reds and yellows and greens that fall outside the boundaries of the color space used in the HD era. 

 

I guess if you want to pick nits about the presentation, you could take issue with the fact that the audio is merely 5.1, not Dolby Atmos. But it’s still a lovely mix. And it up-mixes into Atmos quite beautifully, especially in the scenes set within jungles or forests. 

 

So, yeah, maybe don’t take my advice when it comes to confronting your streaming-skeptical friends. Perhaps take a nicer approach. But make them sit down and watch Life in Color anyway. It’s honestly some of the most compelling home cinema demo material I’ve seen in years. 

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.

Demo Scenes: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Demo Scene: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
(Chapter 1, 0:00–14:12)

If you’re a fan of old movies, you’ve probably figured out by now that 4K HDR can be a hit-or-miss affair for films actually shot on, you know, film. Without access to the original camera negatives, HDR remasters of these old flicks can look dodgy and inconsistent—often worse than the old HD releases. Thankfully, though, the new Indiana Jones trilogy (yes, trilogy!—I said

what I said) is an example of older films being brought into the modern home video era with stunning success.

 

All of the films have been fully restored from the original negatives, with subtle applications of computer wizardry just to clean up things like bad compositing and wires and errant reflections. And each successive film looks better than the one before it.

 

Here’s the thing, though: If you’re looking to pop in some archeological action-adventure as a home cinema demo scene, finding a self-contained clip within the movies isn’t easy. Once the ball starts rolling (literally and figuratively), the action just keeps cranking along until the closing credits.

 

But one of the most spectacular demo scenes comes right at the beginning of the third movie, The Last Crusade. It’s basically a self-contained short film with an inviting beginning, rousing climax, and rip-roaring conclusion, all within a span of 14 minutes. It’s also some of the consistently best-looking and -sounding material in the entire franchise.

 

The scene opens in 1912, with a young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) riding through the Utah desert with his Boy Scout troop, when he stumbles upon grave robbers and manages to abscond with the precious artifact they’ve stolen. There’s a thrilling chase on a circus train. There’s a pit of snakes. There’s a lion. Then there’s a flash-forward to 1938, where a grown Indiana (Harrison Ford) is yet again trying to get his paws on the same crucifix. 

You’ve seen the movie. You know how it goes. But here’s the thing: I don’t think you’ve ever seen it look (or sound) like this. Compared to the old Blu-ray release and digital HD version, this new 4K HDR remaster of The Last Crusade doesn’t look like an oversaturated cartoon. The color palette is more subdued, but also richer, more nuanced, more natural. Still, it’s punctuated by splashes of color far beyond the capabilities of Blu-ray. Indy’s scarf, the rich saturated colors of the illumination his father is studying—these hyper-color elements give the imagery the punctation it needs to look vibrant and dimensional without looking like a toddler got ahold of the Hue and Saturation knobs of your projector.

Demo Scene: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The new Atmos mix is also simply fantastic, especially in the 1938 sequences, where Indy has been captured on a vessel at sea in the midst of a raging storm. The crashing waves, the whooshing wind—all of it is given extra dimension by the new mix. It feels like you’re in the movie. Hell, it kind of feels like you’re in a theme-park ride, but that works for this franchise. The fact that they managed to add a third dimension to this aging mix without adding new sound effects is astounding. It doesn’t sound like a modern film—that would be stupid. But it does kind of sound like Atmos would have sounded like if it had been around in the 1980s. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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: Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth (2021)

Generally speaking, I’m not a stickler for accuracy in page-to-screen adaptations. Cinema and TV play by different rules than novels and graphic novels, and trying to translate from the latter to the former with perfect fidelity is a fool’s errand. All I ask when a beloved work of printed fiction is being adapted for audiovisual media is that the tone, spirit, characters, and thematic thrust of the original survive the process mostly intact. You’ll notice I said “generally,” though. Every so often, a TV series like Sweet Tooth comes along that violates every rule of adaptation, yet results in something that surpasses its inspiration in virtually every way.

 

I don’t mean to poo-poo Jeff Lemire’s excellent comic-book series of the same name, which I positively devoured in its initial run a decade ago. But the comic was a grim thing, as most post-apocalyptic horror stories are. It was dark and violent, and while it may have been thoughtful and thought-provoking, the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead proves that you can only 

sustain a grimdark live-action narrative for so long before it becomes fatiguing and nihilistic.

 

Perhaps that’s why showrunner Jim Mickle and executive producers Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey decided to take a cynical horror story and transform it into a decidedly anti-cynical fantasy tale, almost a fable, that nonetheless maintains so much of the emotional complexity of the original. The shift in genre brings with it sweeping changes in the plot, the characters, indeed the themes of the story, but the bones remain the same. Sweet Tooth, in both its forms, tells the story of a world ravaged by a viral pandemic (known as H5G9 onscreen and simply “The Sick” on the page) that wipes out much of the human population, at a time when all new babies born to human parents emerge as human/animal hybrids.

 

As society collapses, most of the remaining humans blame these hybrid children for causing the pandemic, which leads to the children being hunted to near extinction. 

SWEET TOOTH AT A GLANCE

The source material’s grisly horror becomes woodland whimsy in this Netflix tale of half-human/half-animal children trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. 

 

PICTURE
Splashes of rich primary & secondary hues make great use of Dolby Vision’s expanded color gamut, resulting in reference-quality home-cinema eye candy.

 

SOUND     

The aural emphasis is mostly on pitch-perfect dialogue & a wonderfully whimsical score, both of which are well-served by the 5.1 mix.

Macabre stuff, right? It’s not hard to imagine why Lemire took this idea in pretty grisly directions.

 

Mickle doesn’t wholly ignore the dark implications of this story prompt but rather than dwell on them, he rebels against them. The result is a series that is bravely sentimental, boldly heartwarming, and defiantly sweet. 

 

This was a risky decision, because none of it would work if not for the talents of Christian Convery, who plays 10-year-old Gus, a half-deer child whose father sequestered him in a remote wilderness encampment shortly after the world went to hell. While the story does jump around a bit, injecting flashbacks to fill in the mysteries of what happened as the apocalypse was unfolding ten years prior, the brunt of the story revolves around Gus’s first foray into the outside world in a quest to find his mother. 

 

Convery has to do a lot of heavy lifting here, displaying a range of emotions beyond the capabilities of most child actors. But he absolutely nails Gus’s mixture of wide-eyed innocence and dogged determination. We not only see the story unfold mostly from his perspective but we also experience this strange and wonderful world through his eyes. 

 

I won’t spoil much of that here, but there’s one particularly moving moment in the second episode that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the show: While taking refuge with a family who has made a life for themselves in an old ski lodge, Gus hears music for the first time in his life. I can only imagine what sort of direction Mickle (who helmed four of the eight episodes) gave to Convery. How on earth do you prompt a ten-year-old actor to react to music as if he’s never heard it before? How many takes must they have done to get that scene right? I can only speculate. What I can say for sure, though, is that the scene is the embodiment of pure joy, the likes of which you rarely seen onscreen. 

 

If there’s a shortcoming in the show as a whole, it’s that Gus is such a compelling character that the story suffers to a degree when he’s not front and center, when the revelations unfold out of his eyeshot. But that’s a minor quibble, and it’s ameliorated by the gorgeous cinematography and Netflix’ nigh-perfect presentation, which work together to keep the eye engaged even in those rare moments when the heart isn’t. 

 

Rather than the drab post-apocalyptic environs we’re used to seeing in fiction of this sort, the world of Sweet Tooth is gorgeously verdant, with splashes of rich primary and secondary hues that make great use of Dolby Vision’s expanded gamut. The choice to film in New Zealand—despite the setting in the American Mountain West—gives the imagery a vibe that’s at once familiar and slightly askance. The flora doesn’t look quite right. The terrain feels a bit exaggerated. But all of this really works for the feel of the show, and every ounce of it is captured in stunning detail. 

 

There’s really one egregious visual blemish in the entire eight-episode run, and it occurs within the first few minutes of the first episode. In the prologue that establishes the premise—complete with narration by Josh Brolin—there’s about a half-second of posterization on one of the walls in a brightly-lit hospital. The thing is, this sequence is so heavily processed—with secondary hues pushed to their extremes and a dreamlike filter applied to the entire image—that it’s nearly impossible to tell if this is a consequence of bandwidth limitations or a byproduct of post-production. I lean toward the latter, since the rest of the show is downright reference-quality home-cinema eye candy. 

 

Some might be disappointed at the lack of an Atmos soundtrack but the series doesn’t really need it. True, some height-channel enhancements might have added to the immersiveness of the sequences set in the wilderness. But by and large, the series is a lot lighter on action than you might expect (much more so than the trailer would indicate), and the aural emphasis is mostly on pitch-perfect dialogue and a wonderfully whimsical score, both of which are well-served by the 5.1 mix. 

 

It’s difficult to know for sure whether you’ll like Sweet Tooth. You do, after all, have to have a stomach for outright weirdness and vulnerable sincerity in equal measures. If you dig Adventure Time, Where the Wild Things, and Pushing Daisies, it’s probably right up your alley. Granted, if I had a kid under the age of 10, I probably wouldn’t let them watch the series due to a few tense and scary moments here and there (most of which are in the aforementioned trailer). But for everyone else, it’s family entertainment of the best sort. 

 

My only concern is that if the show gets picked up for a second season—and it almost certainly will, given its popularity and cliffhanger ending—I hope it manages to hang onto its optimism, tenderness, and wide-eyed sense of wonder. We need more of that on TV, now more than ever.

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.

Ep. 20: The State of the Streaming Art

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Mike, Dennis, and John look at how far the streaming world has come from the Game of Thrones disaster two years ago, with HBO Max now offering reference-quality video—a standard more and more services are now able to meet. They also consider whether the affordable day & date model the studios adopted during the pandemic is likely to last, the problem of subscription overload, and wonder why Hollywood even bothered with the Oscars this year.

 

Highlights

 

  1:39   a brief description of the progression from Game of Thrones‘ lousy video to the reference-quality images in              Those Who Wish Me Dead

  2:38   streaming codecs can now handle chaotic images, like of a forest fire, without distortion

  4:24   the paucity of 4K HDR titles on HBO Max

  5:14   the increasing number of streaming services capable of reference-quality playback

  5:53   how even HD now looks better on Netflix and Disney+

  7:16   Amazon and The Criterion Channel need to improve their HD playback

10:11   how streaming quality is determined by the quality of both the service and the hardware

10:30   Roku vs. Nvidia Shield vs. Apple TV vs. TV apps

11:20   John expresses concerns about streaming’s audio quality

13:04   Dennis discusses Dolby Labs’ tests that show streaming is capable of reference-quality audio

14:04   Apple TV+ vs. Disney+ vs. Netflix vs. HBO Max vs. Amazon vs. Hulu vs. The Criterion Channel

16:12   will streaming soon become the only home-video format?

19:12   the increasing problem of too many subscriptions

21:31   Sony distributing its films on Netflix and elsewhere instead of setting up its own channel

25:05   will streaming continue to do day & date or will big movies go back to debuting in theaters first?

29:21   will the strength of streaming coming out of the pandemic doom movie theaters?

33:20   was there any real value in doing the Oscars during the year of a pandemic?

34:33   the Oscars don’t adequately take streaming into account, especially streaming series

39:30   John talks about the promise of Sony’s new Bravia Core streaming service 

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

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.

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 Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

If you’re looking for a study in ambivalence, you’ve come to the right place. My thoughts on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are many, and they’re almost all contradictory. Objectively speaking, this first followup to what I consider to be one of the best action-adventures ever made is a mess. It’s erratic, tonally inconsistent, and utterly relentless. Its over-reliance on gags (in more than one sense of the word) does it no favors, and it strains the bounds of credulity at every turn, never quite dipping into nuke-the-fridge territory, but coming awfully close. 

 

And yet, I absolutely adore this mess of a movie, perhaps even more than the admittedly superior Last Crusade, which was a massive course correction before the series went completely off the rails with its fourth entry, whose name I will not utter  

here. Temple of Doom may be flawed, but it’s fascinatingly flawed. It’s entertainingly flawed. And for all the nits I could pick with it, it’s never, ever boring. And perhaps most importantly, it has a certain rugged charm, despite all the ick.

 

But hey, you’ve had 37 years now to figure out what you think of this movie and I’m unlikely to change those impressions. What you’re here for is a quick and simple answer to the question of whether the 4K HDR upgrade is worth it.

 

In a word: Yes! Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is exactly how a restoration of a movie like this should be handled. By that I mean that it undeniably still looks like film of its era. Despite some digital tinkering to improve the compositing and clean up a few practical artifacts, it hasn’t been tinkered with to the point that it looks like a modern 

TEMPLE OF DOOM AT A GLANCE

The iTunes presentation of the second entry in the Jones series features an almost flawless 4K HDR presentation and offers all the bonus features, which aren’t available elsewhere online. 

 

PICTURE
A big improvement over the 2012 Blu-ray release, with much better contrasts and new color timing that stays true to the movie’s film-stock roots.

 

SOUND     

The new Atmos mix uses height effects subtly but effectively, mostly to give John Williams’ score more room to stretch its legs.

movie, but it’s clean, well-preserved, and stunningly detailed.

 

The biggest improvements over the fundamentally flawed Blu-ray remasters from 2012 come in the form of much-improved contrasts and new color timing that doesn’t look like the negative was passed through a cheap Instagram filter. Saturation overall is way, way down from the Blu-ray, but the palette is punctuated by vibrant hues here and there that are way beyond the capabilities of 8-bit video. In that sense, it reminds me of the new remaster of The Wizard of Oz. There’s simply more nuance to the color overall. Every hue isn’t cranked to 11 the way it was in the previous Blu-ray release. The overall cast of the imagery is definitely warm, but not cartoonishly so.

 

Equally important to the effectiveness of this new remaster is the expanded dynamic range, especially at the lower end of the value scale. That’s especially beneficial during darker passages, like the camping scene toward the end of the first act. Previous home video releases of Temple of Doom have either rendered the scene so darkly that you couldn’t appreciate the 

visual gags or so brightly that it simply wasn’t believable as nighttime. In the new 4K remaster, the scene is appropriately dark and the shadows sufficiently inky, but there’s still enough dynamic range that you can actually see all the critters that torment Willie.

 

What’s true in that scene is true throughout the picture: The expanded dynamic range gives the image a richness and pop that makes it much more resolved, dimensional, organic, and analog in its presentation.

 

The audio, too, receives similar treatment in the form of a new Atmos remix overseen by Ben Burtt. Again, the audio is undoubtedly of the era, especially in the way it leans heavily on the midrange, and some of the sound effects sound a bit thin. But I’ll take that any day over newly recorded digital effects foisted upon a soundtrack of this vintage, which almost never sound right.

 

Height effects are employed subtly but effectively, mostly to give John Williams’ score more room to stretch its legs. Some sound effects also get a bit of a lift, but there’s nothing about the new remix that’s going to pull your attention away from the screen. In fact, there were a few times when I wondered if anything was coming out of the height channels at all, only to turn off Atmos processing on my preamp and find myself surprised by the collapse of the soundfield. That, in my opinion, is the highest compliment I could pay to any Atmos remix of an older film. I didn’t find it intrusive when it was there but I missed it when it was gone.

My only real beef with this new 4K version of the Indiana Jones collection is that no new bonus features were created to mark the occasion. Well, that’s not wholly true: Paramount did sanction one new featurette about the sound design of the original film, only to unceremoniously dump it on YouTube. Otherwise, the new collection carries over the bonus goodies from the last big release in 2012, of which there are plenty.

 

If you’re interested in those, though, you’ve got some choices to make. Right now, the UHD Blu-ray release of the quadrilogy is nearly impossible to find at retail, and secondhand copies are already selling for multiples of the MSRP. In the digital domain, only Apple includes the supplemental material, and since Paramount still refuses to embrace Movies Anywhere, you can’t simply purchase the movies on Vudu or Amazon and then bop over to iTunes to watch the extras. As such, I decided to buy the collection on iTunes and watch it on the Apple TV+ app on my Roku Ultra.

 

I also took a sneak peek at Temple of Doom on my Apple TV 4K (2017), and was pleasantly surprised that it looks amazing for the most part. The atmospheric smoke in the dance sequence in Club Obi Wan at the beginning of the movie looked a little noisy, but not egregiously so. Switching over to my Roku Ultra, said smoke was a bit less noisy and the overall image was crisper and better resolved.

 

I have to say, though, I’m sort of shocked that a bit of digital-looking noise in one shot is the only evidence of compression I could see, and inconclusive evidence at that. There are numerous scenes that function as torture tests of high-efficiency video encoding, like the quick shot of the glistening wet statue encountered by our heroes in the approach to Pankot Palace or the jewels on the costume of the young Maharaja. Both boast a lot of specular brightness but also a lack of uniformity. In other words, there’s nothing about the patterns in the imagery that’s predictable, especially in motion, and codecs like HEVC thrive on predictability, especially at lower bitrates.

 

Long story short, if there are any significant shortcomings in Apple’s encoding of the film, aside from perhaps that bit of noisy smoke in the intro, I can’t see them. The bottom line is that the iTunes version in Dolby Vision makes the previous Blu-ray release look like hot garbage in every respect.

 

So if you care about owning the extras (and I do, since I’ll be pawning off my old Blu-ray collection on a family member) and you have a way to stream Apple content in your home cinema, I can vouch for the iTunes release. It looks better on Roku hardware than Apple hardware, but both look miles better than any previous physical media release. And you can pick up the entire four-movie package for $34.99.

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.