John Sciacca Tag

Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate

Going back and undoing a canon is one of those things we find Hollywood doing more frequently when it wants to reboot a franchise whose mythology has grown so large and expansive—or troubled—that screenwriters or filmmakers feel they need to wipe the slate clean to have the creative freedom to move forward. The Star Wars universe saw a large number of extended-universe books removed from its canon after Disney bought the property from Lucasfilm, as did the latest X-Men Days of Future Past and Dark Phoenix, which saw characters previously killed off returned to life.

 

(I felt these were examples of “retconning”—or retroactive continuity—where plot holes are adjusted, corrected, or explained after the fact, such as Rogue One’s explanation that the Death Star’s fateful port hole was actually not just a design flaw on the Empire’s side, but rather a bit of purposeful subversive engineering. However, Cineluxe’s resident film reviewer and expert

on all things meta explained to me that removing things from a canon is not a retcon.)

 

Call it what you will, the latest Terminator film, Dark Fate, basically wipes the slate clean and says this movie is the only true sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, removing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), Terminator Genisys (2015), and the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008–2009) from the canon.

 

Admittedly, none of the works following Judgment Day lived up to the initial greatness of the franchise, but I found them 

all to have their moments, especially the extended director’s cut of Salvation, which featured solid performances by Christian Bale as John Connor, leader of the resistance, and Sam Worthington as part man/part cyborg Marcus Wright. Special effects continued to improve, and each story worked to flesh out the Terminator universe.

 

Terminator creator James Cameron lost the rights to his own story, and when he declined to do an original third film, Hollywood went on without him. However, creative control returned to Cameron in 2018, and he finally set about making the sequel on his terms.

 

According to Cameron, who has writing and producing credits and also had his hand in the film’s editing, “This new film has recaptured the tone of those first two films. It’s gritty, it’s fast, it’s intense, and it’s just a white-knuckle ride.”

 

Amen.

 

Dark Fate is packed with action almost from the first frame, and has very little downtime, with just a few expository scenes explaining who our new heroes are, what Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton reprising her role) and a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger also reprising his role) have been up to these past years, and what the stakes are this time around.

 

The film opens three years following the events of Judgment Day, with digitally de-aged versions of three main characters setting the stage for the rest of the film. The de-aging (shown below) is so well done it made me wonder if this was footage restored from Terminator 2. Just two minutes in you get a very clear message that Cameron and team aren’t screwing around and will be taking this film in new directions when one character is brutally killed off.

Terminator: Dark Fate

From a storytelling standpoint, Dark Fate doesn’t really offer much we haven’t seen covered in previous Terminator films. We have a new and improved REV-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna) sent back in time by Legion, the future AI ruling group built for cyber warfare, to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who will become the new future leader of the resistance. Of course, the resistance counters by sending back a protector, Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is a cybernetically augmented and enhanced human able to fight toe-to-toe with Terminators, though only for short, intense bouts.

 

What it offers is just a bigger, more over-the-top, and evolved version of what we’ve seen before. The Terminators have advanced, and the REV-9 is a combination cybernetic endoskeleton with a shapeshifting liquid metal exterior that can split into two parts, doubling its fighting and killing power. With Grace, we have a far more capable human; stronger, faster, smarter, and more lethal. The fights, chases, and explosions are all bigger, faster, better choreographed, and more devastating.

 

My wife and I both enjoyed the movie. It kept you engaged and entertained with non-stop action that kept ratcheting up in intensity. It was great to see Hamilton back in action as Connor, and Arnold offering a different take as a Terminator that has lived among humans for 22 years with no mission to carry out and trying to fit in. Mackenzie also does a great job as Grace, her near-6-foot height making her a believably imposing fighter. I felt they could have done a bit better with the casting or acting by Luna, as he doesn’t quite capture the relentless steel-eyed-killer persona mastered by Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in T2.

 

Filmed in ArriRaw at 4.5K, Terminator: Dark Fate is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. But it doesn’t have that razor-sharp detail of many modern 4K films, and I actually thought it had been sourced from a 2K DI.

 

I found image quality to be far more organic and film-like than typical digital capture, with long shots and interiors on the softer side than what we’re used to seeing. This isn’t meant as a knock, as images are clean and noise-free, and look great in closeup, revealing every mark, scar, and wound on Grace’s body and every detail of the REV-9’s endoskeleton construction; rather, stylistically, this movie looked more like film than video. Oddly, the very last scene appears to be very sharp, definitely 

visually different from what came before it. Whether this was done by design (the future looks bright!) or just happenstance I can’t say.

 

It also takes a very mild hand at the HDR pass, having blacks that are generally dark-dark-grey as opposed to inky-black. Many of the scenes also have a very muted, earth-tone color palette, not lending themselves to colors capable of taking advantage of HDR’s wider gamut. Even early explosions don’t have much visual intensity, though scenes later in the film appear more vibrant.

 

Sonically, however, this Dolby Atmos soundtrack is reference throughout, with the sound-mix team never missing a chance to squeeze every note of atmospheric sound from a scene. From the opening moments, there are organic, textural sounds of waves breaking, water running through sand, and a crackling fire that distinctly place you in the moment. Nearly every subtle moment fills the room with sounds of wind blowing, leaves rustling and trees rubbing together, to the more dynamic action sounds of machines and things flying along the sides of the room and overhead, or water flooding all around you.

 

Bass is also flat-out aggressive and powerful, having a ton of weight, crunch, and impact. Shotgun blasts are appropriately huge and brutal, punching you in the

Terminator: Dark Fate

chest with bass energy, with cars slamming into each other and explosions having real weight. The Dark Fate mix is active and exciting, and the stuff home theaters are made for.

 

This is not a cerebral film, and one that doesn’t add anything truly fresh to the Terminator story. Rather it’s a popcorn-munching, special-effects extravaganza with familiar lines echoed from new characters that will keep you entertained for its full runtime. It also features a truly immersive and intense sound mix that is sure to make you and your guests ooh and ahh.

 

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.

Checking Out Sony’s First Digital Cinema

With the last day of CES ending at 4 p.m., and my flight home usually not leaving until around midnight (2:04 a.m. this year, as it turned out), I’ve developed a post-CES tradition of going to watch a movie at one of the premium large-format cinemas in Las Vegas.

Two years ago, I visited the AMC Town Cinemas to see The Commuter in that theater’s Dolby Cinema. This year, I was excited to visit the first—and currently only—Sony Digital Cinema, at the Galaxy Theatres in the Las Vegas Boulevard Mall. 

 

Even more exciting, this was the final week Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker would be playing there, giving me a much desired second viewing of the film in arguably the finest theater in Vegas and potentially the entire country. (I am keeping this spoiler-free for anyone who has yet to see the movie.)

 

Last February, Sony announced it would be introducing its new Digital Cinema, the company’s first foray into an

Checking Out Sony's First Digital Cinema

experiential premium large-format (PLF) theater. The Vegas theater location opened in April, with Shazam being the first film shown. (A second theater is expected to open in the Dallas/Fort Worth area this spring.)

 

I had wanted to visit the theater since reading about its opening, so I was extremely excited to finally be able to stop by after CES. The ticket prices were surprisingly reasonable, with an evening show costing just $14.75 (plus a small convenience fee 

for booking online). Compared to theaters in New York and LA, that is a bargain and a half!

 

Designed to compete against Dolby Cinemas and IMAX, the Sony PLF theaters are built around Sony’s flagship dual 4K HDR laser projectors as well as Dolby Atmos immersive audio. The SRX-R815DS projector combination delivers 30,000 total lumens on screens up to 82 feet wide with an industry-leading 10,000:1 contrast ratio.

 

The Sony Digital Cinema is touted as having “the biggest screen in Las Vegas,” and, in a town where size matters and bigger is better, that means something. While the theater didn’t have exact specs on the screen size, they said it measures roughly four stories tall by seven stories wide.

 

On the audio side, the Sony theater has a total of 18 side surround speakers (nine per side), six rear surrounds, and 16 overhead height speakers, along with an array of screen and subwoofer channels, delivering pinpoint audio immersion from any seat.

 

As you approach the ticket taker, you are greeted by an

array of nine flat panels showing what is playing in each of the theaters, along with a large display advertising the Sony Digital Cinema in Auditorium 2.

 

Dolby incorporates something it calls “inspired design” into its Cinemas, which is meant to transport viewers into another space to be fully absorbed in the cinematic experience. This starts before you even walk into the auditorium with an audio/

visual pathway with a full-motion HD video wall, and immersive sound sets the mood as you enter.

 

The Sony theater doesn’t employ anything quite so impressive, rather a sleek sign as well as digital signage indicating the movie playing and upcoming showtime.

 

Entering the theater, you get your first glimpse of the massive screen, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. This is an auditorium where you would not want to sit anywhere near the front rows, as you would be straining your neck trying to take in the full scope of the image. The screen takes up nearly the entire front wall, and definitely fills your field of view.

 

The auditorium holds up to 217 people, with an entire row reserved for handicap seating. Chairs can be reserved 

Checking Out Sony's First Digital Cinema

when ticketing, and each faux-leather seat offers full power recline as well as a swing-out snack tray with integrated drink holder. (The theater has a large snack bar with a fairly extensive food and drink offering.)

 

The chairs were very comfortable, but I do prefer the Dolby Cinema’s seating, which is in two-chair, “loveseat” arrays where you can pull up the center arm rest for two people to sit together, if desired.

Checking Out Sony's First Digital Cinema

Also, there wasn’t as much care given to sightlines at the Sony theater compared to Dolby. Depending on where you sat—and how high or low you sat in your seat—the view of the very bottom of the screen could be blocked by the front-row seats. Also, the Sony seating array felt more like traditional “stadium-style” seating, where the Dolby seating has partitions between rows and is

staggered and positioned so you can’t see anyone in front or behind you, making it feel like a more private, personal experience.

 

For a design aesthetic, Sony chose a dark grey paneling look for the floors and walls, which offered a good contrast to the black seating and kept the environment nice and dark. Blue accent lights highlight each of the surround and height speakers 

prior to the beginning of the film.

 

The assistant general manager, Mike Boyd, was a fantastic ambassador for the cinema, and when I shared my enthusiasm for being able to experience the Sony Cinema, he went out of his way to provide me any details, including bringing the head projectionist down and letting me speak with him.

 

The projectionist, Paul, offered to let me stick around after the film for a special private viewing of some of Rise of Skywalker in 3D. However, 

Checking Out Sony's First Digital Cinema

due to some issues with my plane reservation, I had to head to the airport straight after the movie finished.

 

Sonically, Star Wars sounded flat-out awesome. The system delivered deep, powerful bass that was tight and sharp, easily able to produce frequencies I could feel in my seat. The snap and thrum of lightsabers delivered a near tactile experience that added to their power. The large array of surround and overhead speakers produced truly hemispherical sound, with ships streaking down the side channels and lots of creaks, groans, and water dripping from overhead aboard the destroyed Death Star, and voices echoing overhead and swirling around the room at appropriate moments.

Checking Out Sony's First Digital Cinema

Visually, the Sony projector combo easily lit up the entire screen, delivering bright and intense whites as well as deep and inky blacks. The brilliant reds of Kylo Ren’s light saber sizzled off the screen with true HDR vibrancy, as did crackling Force lightning bolts. The screen was so huge, the heaving waves 

outside the destroyed Death Star almost felt a bit disorienting, like I was floating and rolling on the water. Images were tack-sharp with razor-edged detail.

 

My one complaint with the image quality had nothing to do with the projector system, but rather with the layout of the theater. The walkway running between the first three rows of seats and the reserved handicap seating is constantly illuminated with pathway lighting. This was distracting, and just enough to kill the absolute contrast the Sony projection system is capable of, showing that the auditorium wasn’t truly black during dark scenes. Also, the lower corners of the screen were washed out a bit from the stair lighting left and right of the front three rows. I’m sure these are concessions to safety, but are issues I don’t recall with the Dolby Cinema.

 

I’m assuming readers will want me to choose a “winner” between the Dolby and Sony offerings, but that is difficult to do after watching two completely different films nearly two years apart. I’ll say that both theaters offer a fantastic experience that surpasses even what the finest luxury home cinema can deliver. Sonically, they were very similar (at least to my memory), with both featuring very immersive Dolby Atmos audio delivered via numerous speakers.

 

The Sony Cinema edges out Dolby in sheer size, but only by a few feet. However, I think I have to give the Dolby Cinema the edge in picture quality due to the better light control, keeping all stray light off the screen to deliver higher absolute contrast.

 

Bottom line, theater lovers living in or visiting Vegas have two great choices when it comes to watching cinematic content, and I’d strongly recommend checking out both for your next moviegoing experiences!

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.

Gemini Man

Gemini Man

Between Men in Black, Bad Boys, and Independence Day, there was a time when Will Smith ruled the summer box office with hit after hit. He was a bankable star studios could count on to carry tentpole films, but then a string of disappointments took some of the shine out of Smith’s star, and he stopped being offered those marquee roles.

 

Smith’s latest bid to return to box office bankability was Gemini Man, which is available as a 4K HDR download with Dolby Atmos soundtrack from the Kaleidescape Store a full three weeks prior to its January 14th 4K Blu-ray release. Unfortunately for Smith—and Paramount Pictures—Gemini was a flop at the box office, costing an estimated $138 million to make, and grossing just $173 million worldwide against an estimated $275 million needed to break even. Further, Gemini belongs to that increasing list of films that sees a real divide between critics—receiving a measly 26% on Rotten Tomatoes—and viewers—scoring 83% from audiences, making you wonder, “Who’s right?”

 

According to Wikipedia, Gemini Man was originally conceived in 1997, but “the film went through development hell for nearly 20 years.” Over that time, multiple directors were attached along with numerous actors, with Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, Nicholas Cage, Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, and many others set to star at

various points. This kind of struggle to get a film to screen rarely results in box office success.

 

Another challenge Gemini faced was director Ang Lee’s insistence on shooting the film at a high frame rate (HFR) of 120 frames-per-second (fps), five times the 24fps Hollywood standard. Besides adding to the cost and complexity of production, this limited the number of screens that could actually show the film at Lee’s desired frame rate, with just 14 Dolby Cinema screens in the US able to show the film at the full 120fps. (Even then, the Dolby Cinemas were limited to showing it at 2K resolution, being unable to display 3D, 120fps, and 4K simultaneously.)

Lee’s previous HFR release, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, was given a chance for a wider audience in its home video release, becoming the first major title to be released in 4K HDR at 60fps, the technical limit of the 4K Blu-ray format. And while the film had some stunning, truly reference-caliber visuals, it had a distinctly un-filmlike video look that distanced many viewers.

 

While the 4K Blu-ray disc of Gemini Man will include the film at 4K 60fps, the digital download is currently limited to the traditional 24fps, which is the version currently available from Kaleidescape and what I’m reviewing here. (It’s important to note that Billy Lynn was initially available from Kaleidescape at only 24fps, but later became available at 60fps as a free upgrade, so it’s possible the same will be true for Gemini Man. According to Kaleidescape, “There is no announcement at this time. Paramount hasn’t made a 60 fps file available for digital, but we have made them aware that we are interested.”)

 

Smith plays Henry Brogan, a former Marine Scout Sniper now working as a top-tier assassin for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Brogan’s skills behind a rifle are legendary, but he’s a bit haunted from years of killing and the 72 people he’s dispatched, and decides to retire when he feels he’s losing his edge.

 

When he learns that his latest kill might not have actually been guilty and that he has been used, Brogan starts investigating. In retaliation, the DIA decides to get rid of all loose ends, including sending kill squads to take care of Brogan and his former team. When Brogan dispatches the first hit team, Clay Varris (Clive Owen), who heads a black-ops unit codenamed Gemini, unleashes a young new assassin to finish the job.

 

This young assassin named Junior (a digitally de-aged version of Smith) bears a striking resemblance to Smith and seems to know and anticipate all of his moves. After a test reveals that Brogan and Junior share identical DNA, Brogan is determined to learn where this clone came from and what the government is using him to do.

 

Shot in a combination of 3.2 and 4K at 120fps, Gemini’s transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the images look reference-quality throughout. Closeups bristle with detail, showing every pore, whisker, and strand of hair. Images of Smith’s hands and fingers while he’s holding his sniper rifle reveal every whorl and loop in his fingerprints. Apparel shows fine textural details like the weave of a linen shirt, the loops in a terrycloth robe, or even the individual gold links in a necklace.

 

Without question, this film put all the resolution and detail up on the screen, and it looks gorgeous. Only once, at the very beginning, did I notice any video that was anything short of reference—a small bit of line twitter in the lines and structure of the roof complex.

 

The plot takes Brogan to multiple locations around the world, and outdoor scenes are bright, sharp, and very detailed, with long-range shots featuring rich depth and dimension. The scenes in Cartegena are especially vibrant and rich with color. Some scenes, like in Budapest, look like they were obviously filmed against a green screen—one of the dangers of 4K’s ultra-revealing nature.

 

Blacks are clean and detailed, though many night shots on the ocean are lit like via a full moon and aren’t totally dark. HDR is used nicely to create shadow and dark-level detail in outdoor scenes resulting in beautifully realistic images. A scene in some catacombs includes a fight where a flare is thrown into water, creating layers of shadows with no hints of banding. And a

scene in Varris’ office is bathed in various shades and layers of black while still revealing rich detail and clean images.

 

One of the film’s big gimmicks is Smith’s digital de-aging, where you get him fighting a much younger version of himself. The first big encounter/fight between the two Smiths played out like a non-stop video game battle, with them running, jumping, leaping, and chasing each other from building to building and through the streets, including a John Wick-esque motorcycle fight, as if each character had multiple lives in reserve. At a distance, the de-ageing effect worked very convincingly.

 

But closeups of young Smith looked just slightly . . . off. His face was a bit waxy and smooth, like he’d undergone excessive digital noise reduction, and his mouth while talking looked somewhat digitized or like the audio was out of sync. My wife felt Junior looked like a videogame character. Since the movie’s premise rides on the believability of this effect, I have to say that as good as Smith looked, you were often aware that you were watching an effect.

 

As mentioned, the Kaleidescape download includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and the audio is used nicely to create some ambience in scenes, such as birds and bugs buzzing about on Brogan’s farm. Gunshots also have nice snap and 

Gemini Man

impact. The Atmos mix also provides a ton of width to the front images, making sounds extend well out into the room and far beyond the screen.

 

While I found the soundtrack adequate, it wasn’t especially dynamic or immersive. Whether this was because I was so caught up in the movie and enjoying the drama or just because the mix actually was a bit restrained, I can’t honestly say.

 

While Gemini Man is far from perfect, it is entertaining, with a plot that’s just complex enough to stay interesting; and the picture quality looks fantastic on a luxury home cinema system. This might not be a movie we’ll still be watching years from now, but it does make for an entertaining night in your own theater.

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.

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

It’s time for another anniversary re-release review here at Cineluxe. Forrest Gump recently received a 25th-anniversary 4K HDR makeover, and is available on 4K Blu-ray disc as well as for download from the Kaleidescape Store, which is how I enjoyed it.

 

I remember watching Forrest in the theater at the time of its original release back in 1994 (and several times afterwards on both VHS and LaserDisc) and being blown away by its innovative use of CGI to create Forrest’s (Tom Hanks) incredible life. Industrial Light and Magic used CGI in a way unlike any other film at that time—from the feather that floats and dances around at both the beginning and end of the film, to Forrest shaking hands with a number of former presidents at the White House or standing behind Governor Wallace on the steps of Alabama University, to removing Lieutenant Dan’s (Gary Sinise) legs so convincingly that I actually thought Sinise was legless.

 

Today, we take CGI imagery for granted, with filmmakers able to create entire worlds (à la Disney’s recent “live action” Lion King remake), but in 1994, Forrest Gump was an effects tour de force that didn’t feel like you were watching a movie driven by effects. This was a case of the technology being used to help tell the story and immerse you in Forrest’s life, instead of being the story.

 

At its heart, Forrest Gump is really a pretty simple film—a life recapped in a series of flashback memories by Hanks while he’s sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. But it is heart—propelled by Hanks’ genuine and spot-on portrayal of Gump and by Robert Zemeckis’ deft directing—that makes the film still hold up after all these years.

 

There are actors who so inhabit roles that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing them—Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. And Hanks’ portrayal of Gump certainly deserves to be on that list. From the first time he says, “My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump,” Hanks is Forrest, and there is no separating the two.

 

Hanks never uses Gump’s being “different” and his 75 IQ (borderline impaired) for laughs or for pity. Instead, he portrays him as curious, honest, and pure, always looking for the best in those around him. Ultimately Gump is driven by the desire to please people, but especially his loving and protecting mama (Sally Field); his best good friend, Bubba (Mykelti Williamson); his best gal, Jenny (Robin Wright); and his Vietnam officer-in-charge cum First Mate, Lt. Dan.

 

Due to Hanks’ portrayal, we never feel sorry for Forrest or even think about his IQ after it’s initially mentioned, but rather we root for him as he lives a bigger-than-life life where he just happens to be in all the right places at all the right times and displays his ability to run like the wind blows.

 

For the film’s 25th anniversary, Paramount created a true 4K scan of the original 35mm print and gave the audio a Dolby Atmos makeover. If I had to summarize the image quality of the new 4K HDR transfer in a word, it would be “uneven.” The images are mostly clean and sharp, and there are scenes where they look tack sharp with tons of detail; but other scenes are almost out of focus and lack real definition.

 

As with many film-to-4K transfers, closeups often show the real improvements in image quality, revealing the texture in curtains, drapes, bed linens, clothing, and actors’ faces. In an early scene where Forrest is being fitted with his leg braces—to help his back “being as crooked as a politician”—the tiny dots inside the plaid pattern of his shirt are clearly resolved.

 

It’s longer shots or things in the background that often don’t have the same sharpness and detail. Leaves on trees, fields of grass, and stalks of corn tend to look softer and less defined. The opening shots of the sky reveal a fair bit of noise and grain, 

which isn’t uncommon, since that particular shade of blue tends to wreak havoc with film capture. Also, a couple of scenes have some brief aliasing in fine edges. The archival footage is also very soft and definitely shows its age, especially when contrasted with the sharpness of the rest of the film.

 

HDR is used sparingly throughout, not really pushing dynamic-range boundaries. There are scenes where whites are fairly brilliant, such as the shoelaces in Forrest’s Nikes or the T-shirts worn in the Army barracks. The napalm strike in Vietnam benefits from the additional dynamics. Blacks are also deep and noise-free. Colors are rich and vibrant, such as the bright Crimson red jacket worn by Alabama’s football coach, Bear Bryant. The greens in Vietnam are also lush, with clear distinctions between the different shades of green in the uniforms, helmets, camouflage, canteens, weaponry, etc.; and the golden-orange sunset on the bayou looks beautiful.

 

Gump is known for its fantastic soundtrack, featuring nearly 50 songs that capture the sound and feel of the period. Thus, I had high hopes for the Dolby Atmos mix, but it’s even more restrained than the film’s use of HDR. The height speakers are used very sparingly throughout, coming into play to add some atmosphere like rumbling thunder, bird chirps, or some reverb to add space to the Washington

Forrest Gump

speech scene. A helicopter flyover in Vietnam is also mixed nicely into the height speakers.

 

Most of the soundtrack is mixed across the front three speakers, which gives the music nice separation, and keeps dialogue clear and understandable. The big Vietnam firefight has some bullets that whiz into the surround speakers and the hurricane scene pushes wind and the groaning ship out to the surrounds, but the mix is sonically tame by today’s standards.

 

Forrest Gump is an undeniable classic, ranking No. 76 on the AFI’s Top 100 list, and receiving 13 Academy Award nominations and taking home six statues for Best Picture, Directing, Actor in a Leading Role, Writing, Film Editing, and Visual Effects. In 2011, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” While this isn’t a perfect transfer, it retains all the heart and feel, and belongs in any film collection.

 

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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.

Ad Astra

Ad Astra

For an early anniversary present, my wife surprised me by sending me to attend the Adult Space Academy at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. (Yes, much to my surprise, Space Camp is actually a thing, and something 12-year-old me had desperately wanted to attend but thought had long been a missed opportunity.)

 

For three days, I lived in Habitat One and was immersed in all things space, touring the grounds where much of the US space program developed under Wernher von Braun, training for and completing missions, spinning in the Multi-Axis Trainer, and much more. It was all quite a thrill, and made me feel like a kid again, experiencing and enjoying the wonders and scientific complexities of space travel.

 

Needless to say, after leaving One Tranquility Base, I was hopped-up on NASA and space travel, and when I saw that Ad Astra was releasing early for download at 4K HDR from the Kaleidescape Store, I jumped at the opportunity.

 

Virtually since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have frequently looked to the moon and beyond for creative inspiration in their storytelling, and over the years Hollywood has managed to deliver some truly epic films—both factual and fictional—that have revolved around space travel. Ad Astra’s director James Gray said he wanted the film to feature “the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie,” so I was hopeful for a film that not only entertained but that nailed the science.

 

And . . . not so much.

 

Ad Astra belongs to that increasing number of films that has a real divide between critics and moviegoers, but whereas these disparities are usually with audiences preferring the film to critics, Ad Astra received a Rotten Tomatoes score of 84% and just a 40% audience score. So, who’s right?

 

I have to side with the audience here. Ad Astra is such a slowly paced, agonizingly nonsensical, trying-so-hard-to-impress with its self-importance movie that I occasionally started questioning whether it was actually a brilliant film and I was just too dense or emotionally stunted to understand or appreciate it. Then there would be things like Roy McBride’s (Brad Pitt) droning expository voiceovers, lunar rovers being attacked by a group of space pirates (which, I guess, are a thing now), or random rabid space baboons that take over research stations and lie in wait to attack that I felt my disdain was fully justified. I hung in there through all 123 minutes waiting for some big resolution or enlightenment to drop on me and then . . .the end credits appeared.

 

In reading some of the critics’ reviews, I almost felt like I had watched a completely different movie. This was no transformational, emotional journey. Instead Ad Astra was so plodding and confusing it felt like a script that had gone through numerous writers and studios, with things happening that made no sense whatsoever.

 

And that “most realistic depiction of space travel”? Yeesh. The science in this film is virtually non-existent to the point of being insulting. (If you’d like a thorough breakdown of all the physics problems with Ad Astra, take a look at Bill Hunt’s “two cents” at the Digital Bits.)

 

Pitt has been widely praised for his acting in this film, but that wasn’t enough to connect me to his character or really care about what was going on. Most times McBride, who is known for keeping a cool, steady, slow pulse rate regardless the situation, and who has to regularly take Blade Runner 2049-style psychological evaluations, seems detached or disinterested, just a drone going about his duties. The film also features Tommy Lee Jones as Pitt’s long-lost, marooned-on-Neptune father, H. Clifford McBride, Donald Sutherland as a retired military colonel re-tasked to chaperone Pitt, and Liv Tyler as McBride’s (ex?) wife, Eve, who I don’t believe utters a single word in the film and is only shown in brief flashbacks and memories. Also, the actor playing Lt. General Rivas (John Ortiz) looks so much like a totally miscast Fred Armisen that I found his scenes to be a bit distracting.

 

So, assuming you are going to watch Ad Astra regardless of what I or anyone else says, are there any redeeming factors to screening the movie at home?

 

Fortunately, yes.

 

Filmed in ArriRaw at 3.4K and taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, images are mostly terrific looking. The film uses different color palettes for different environments, with scenes on earth looking very film-like and having greens, blues, and

neutral tones, with scenes on the moon being much sharper and having a silvery-white look, Mars a dusty, rusty orange-red, and Neptune a beautiful gleaming navy-blue.

 

You definitely can’t knock the film’s visual effects, and the large set pieces such as the ginormous earth antenna, the interiors of space crafts, and the moon-buggy chase all look great and show terrific attention to detail and set dressing. Closeups reveal tons of detail, such as the twist in the cabling used on the large antenna, the weave of fabric on Pruitt’s jacket, the woolen texture of Pitt’s army uniform, or scratches and blemishes on the astronauts’ helmets.

 

There are a lot of shots off into outer space, and blacks are deep and clean. HDR is used nicely to punch up the rocket engines during launches as well as some of the bright displays and instrumentation aboard the ships. 

 

20th Century Fox maddeningly refuses to supply Kaleidescape with the object-based Dolby Atmos soundtrack found on the UltraHD Blu-ray disc, but even still, the 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track here offers plenty to enjoy, especially if combined with an upmixer like Dolby Surround or DTS Neural:X. There are lots of little atmospheric sounds that immerse you in the action, such as air hissing 

Ad Astra

when hatches open and close, the creaking and groaning of the antenna structure, devices giving off electrical buzzes and crackles, or a variety of PA announcements. 

 

Dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, though there were times when lines spoken inside of helmets sounded muffled and unclear. There are also some low, steady deep bass notes near the end that will test your media room for any loose items that rattle.

 

Ultimately, I was disappointed with Ad Astra and doubt I’ll ever watch it again. It was slow, unentertaining, and never seemed to find its footing. The film is summed up by one of the best IMDB-user reviews I read, “Brad Pitt goes to Neptune, but this script comes from Uranus.”

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.

Die Hard

Die Hard

Few things give you that, “Wow! Really?! It’s been that long?!?” feeling like a milestone anniversary re-release of one of your favorite films. Die Hard came out in 1988, the same year I graduated high school. I first saw the movie on VHS with two high-school buddies, viewing it on a relatively small TV with a pair of speakers connected to a stereo system. (Remember that home theater was virtually non-existent back then, and a VHS Hi-Fi player—or LaserDisc player—connected to a stereo was practically state-of-the-art!) But the presentation didn’t matter. The film was so gripping and unlike any other action movie I’d seen that it held my attention from start to finish.

 

For the film’s 25th anniversary, 20th Century Fox re-released the Die Hard series in a box set, but those transfers were taken from existing video elements and featured no improvement over the initial Blu-ray release. Fortunately, for the 30th anniversary, the studio decided to right that wrong, and gave the movie a full remaster, with this release sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. And while Die Hard has been available on 4K Blu-ray Disc since May 2018, it is just now available in full-quality download from the Kaleidescape Store, which is how I enjoyed it.

 

For me, there are two standouts that make Die Hard the great film it is. First is Bruce Willis in the role of off-duty NYPD officer John McClane.

 

Remember that when this movie came out in 1988, Willis was certainly nothing of an action star, and not much of a movie star at all. Besides his role in the TV series Moonlighting and some bit parts in other TV shows, his “big” film role had been as a kind of goofball in Blind Date.

 

But Officer McClane was not your typical highly-trained and overly-lethal Spec Ops-trained action star of the day, but rather a relatable everyman suddenly thrust into an incredible situation where he had to figure things out on the fly and struggle virtually every second to outwit the bad guys, save the hostages, and survive. The decisions he makes as a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time give viewers the hope that maybe they could do the same. And Willis interjects just enough humor 

and personality to keep the film from being too dark.

 

But even bigger and more important to the film’s lasting success than Willis’s performance is that of Alan Rickman as ultra-cool villain, Hans Gruber.

 

Gruber was really unlike any other villain we’d seen to that point. He wasn’t a bizarre, megalomaniac Bond villain; he didn’t have 

Die Hard

any weird predilections or affectations; nor was he some supernatural character or monster. He was an exceptional thief who reads Forbes, quotes literature, and wears bespoke Savile Row suits. His first lines are read from a small notebook as he addresses the hostages in Nakatomi Plaza: “’And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.’ Benefits of a classical education.” This is not the typical bombastic entrance of a film’s central villain, and lets you know that Gruber is different. Further, Gruber’s fantastic lines of dialogue are delivered perfectly thanks to Rickman’s classical theater training. Gruber, who conducts the raid on the Nakatomi Plaza like he’s negotiating a hostile business takeover, ranks among the greatest villains of all time.

 

It’s hard to imagine anyone not being familiar with Die Hard, but it’s likely been years since you’ve watched it, as was the case for me. (Unless you belong to that group that considers Die Hard one of the best Christmas films and make it part of your annual festivities.) I had an imported copy of the DVD sitting on my Kaleidescape server, and, frankly, it never looked that great. So, the 4K HDR release was a perfect time to revisit this classic, which looks hands-down better than I’ve ever experienced it. 

 

On Christmas Eve, a group of European criminals take over and lock down the Nakatomi Plaza, taking a floor full of employees enjoying a holiday party hostage in the process. The plan is to break into the vault and steal more than $600 million in negotiable bearer bonds, blow up the building, and be on a beach earning 20% before the authorities realize what happened. But the thieves’ plans are disrupted by the presence of an unexpected party guest in the form of Willis’s McClane. Using nothing but his wits and his duty weapon (well, at least until he can commandeer something better), McClane fights off the terrorists, makes contact with local law enforcement, and uses every resource available—save for shoes—to save the day.

 

I know fellow Cineluxe reviewer Dennis Burger feels “older movies shot on 35mm or larger film stock are the ones that stand to benefit most from the latest Ultra HD and HDR home video standards,” but it’s important to set expectations. Die Hard unquestionably looks the best we’ve seen here, but if you’re looking for the gleaming sharpness and every last pixel of detail you’d find from a modern digitally captured film, you’ll likely be disappointed.

 

There are definitely moments where the added detail and resolution are greatly appreciable, such as the closeups revealing pore detail of the actors’ faces without any of the “waxiness” that can come from overly used DNR. You can also see the weave of fabrics, such as the fine lines in Willis’ undershirt, and notice the detail on the gold frame sitting on Holly Gennaro’s (Bonnie Bedelia) desk. As the limo pulls into Nakatomi Plaza to drop McClane off, you clearly see the sharp lines and detail in the paver stones.

 

But other scenes sprinkled throughout look almost out of focus or even blurry, such as one scene in Holly’s office when she is talking to John. And while lines and edges are mostly sharp, there are other scenes that reveal some aliasing, such as a pile of sheetrock on one of the unfinished floors of the Nakatomi building. 

 

Black levels are nice, deep and clean, but sometimes blacks are so black that detail is lost, such as with the texturing of Hans’s suit. Colors are rich, such as the sunset in LA revealing a rich, vibrant red-orange tapestry that has no banding.

 

HDR is not used aggressively, but definitely adds impact to explosions, gunfire, and bright computer-monitor images. It also enhances the fluorescent lighting on the unfinished floors and oncoming headlights, compared to the Blu-ray. The night scenes overlooking LA from the top of the tower also look terrific.

Die Hard was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing (as well as Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects), so you might have hoped that a new immersive sound mix would have been part of the 4K release, but that isn’t the case. (I wish studios would pull a page from Sony’s book on how to do a proper anniversary release, but that seems to be too much to ask . . .) What we have here is a DTS HD-Master 5.1-channel mix that is certainly serviceable.

 

The musical score is given nice room to breathe across the front channels, and dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, which is paramount in any sound mix.

 

Sound mixes have evolved over the past 30 years, and Die Hard doesn’t look for every opportunity to mine deep low-frequency information. Even some of the big explosions don’t have the bass impact you might would hope for. But still, bass impact is there for the big moments, such as the rocket-launcher attack on the SWAT vehicle or the elevator-shaft explosion or when the final seal of the bank vault is released. Gunshots—of which there are plenty—have good dynamics.

Die Hard

There is a good bit of ambient and surround information that upmixes well using either Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural. We get the nice effect of the FBI helicopter flying overhead, sounds of sprinklers from the fire-suppression system, secondary explosions, and glass shattering.

 

Die Hard was a gamechanger for the action-film genre, and is considered one of the best action films of all time. Fortunately, we can enjoy it again looking better than ever. It remains a ton of fun to watch and is a must-have for any home theater 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.

Angel Has Fallen

Angel Has Fallen

I’m a pretty big sucker for military thrillers. You make a movie involving submarines, fighter jets, Navy SEALs, Delta Force, or something tied to Tom Clancy, I’m 100% gonna be down to watch. Another of the military sub-genres I’m a sucker for is anything involving the US Secret Service.

 

Years ago, while working as a golf professional at a private country club in the Bay Area, I got a chance to watch the Secret Service in action as our club hosted then-president Clinton for a round of golf. His single foursome required a total of 17 golf carts, including the forward and aft security details featuring guys riding around with giant binoculars and touting large unzipped black bags holding shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, a colonel carrying the “football” with the nuclear launch

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codes, and the president’s personal doctor with a chilled supply of medical equipment. (There were also black-clad Spec Ops assaulters who disappeared up into the trees, snipers on overwatch at the top of the country club, two presidential limos circling the streets bordering the course to shadow the president’s position, helicopters sweeping over the course, and even fighter jets that occasionally flew over! How much that single round of golf cost tax payers I can only imagine.)

 

I volunteered to take box lunches out to all of the groups, and as I was driving up to the security detail tasked to the president’s group, I noticed that the agent in the passenger 

seat very nonchalantly crossed his leg and slipped his right hand down to his right thigh. And there was his pistol, perfectly aimed at me and tracking me the entire way as I pulled up and got out to hand over the lunches. Rather than being scared, I thought it was so cool how subtly professional and dialed-in the guy was, covering me the entire time, but being so discreet about it. And not everyone can say that they’ve had a Secret Service agent point a gun at them.

 

So, after that, I’ve had a special place in my heart for the professionalism and thoroughness of the Secret Service detail and love movies that show them in action. (In the Line of Fire is a real favorite!)

 

One of the more exciting film series in this genre has been the Has Fallen trilogy starring Gerard Butler as former US Army Ranger turned US Secret Service agent, Mike Banning. Starting with Olympus Has Fallen in 2013, where Butler had to retake the White House and save President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) after he was captured by a North Korean-led terrorist group, followed by London Has Fallen in 2016, where Banning had to transport Asher through the streets of London after Marine One is shot down and seemingly everyone in the city has become a terrorist hellbent on killing the President, we now get the third in Angel Has Fallen.

 

Noticeably different in this film is the replacement of Eckhart’s Asher as president, and if there were any overt references to Asher in Angel, I missed them. But, as five years have passed since the end of London, it makes sense that Asher has moved on from the office and political life. He is replaced with some semblance of continuity by Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman), who has steadily risen in the government ranks, having served as Speaker of the House in Olympus, Vice President in London, and finally getting the presidential nod here in Angel.

 

Bannon is still the principal agent on the presidential detail, though his body and mind are a bit worse for wear after all the years of active service. But he once again finds himself in the middle of things, after an assassination attempt leaves Trumbull in a coma, and all of the evidence points to Bannon as the mastermind behind the attempt.

 

Bannon is forced on the run, needing to evade capture from both the FBI (led by Jada Pinkett Smith as Agent Helen Thompson) and the Secret Service while also trying to track down those responsible for the attempt on Trumbull’s life and insure they aren’t successful in another attempt. Along the way, Bannon enlists the help of his estranged and off-the-grid father Clay (Nick Nolte). 

 

Angel belongs to that increasingly common group of movies that has a real divide between critics and fans, with critics giving it only 39% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences giving it a 93%. While not the strongest movie of the trilogy—Olympus holds that title—it features a steady stream of action, with plenty of explosions, gunfire, and car chases designed to give fans of the series what they want.

 

Shot in ArriRaw at 3.4K, Angel is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate and generally looks terrific. Edges are razor sharp, and closeups reveal tons of detail. In fact, perhaps a bit too much detail for the likes of Butler and Freeman, whose faces show lots of weather and wear, while shots of Nolte clearly show every crazy stray hair on his head and in his beard. Even things like the small American flag pin on Trumbull’s lapel clearly show the individual red and white stripes of the flag, and you can also see the thread and stitching detail in clothing. Compared to the Blu-ray version (included with the 4K purchase

from Kaleidescape), there is noticeably more sharpness and detail, especially in closeups.

 

There are quite a few night or very dark interior scenes, and blacks are generally deep and clean. There is a bit of digital noise in some of the scenes when Bannon is being transported by the FBI, but these are shot in torturously low light, and really are more a testament to how far digital capture has come rather than being a drawback by revealing a bit of noise. Most night/dark scenes look terrific, such as the night shots of DC, which look gorgeous, with the city beautifully lit in full HDR glory.

 

HDR is used nicely to enhance the image throughout. During the opening, sunlight streams through openings in a building, illuminating its dark interior with bright shafts of light. Car tail lights, police lights, and dashboard instruments all have tons of pop, courtesy of HDR.

 

Sonically, Angel has a lot going on thanks to a very active and immersive Dolby Atmos sound mix that kicks off almost from the opening frame. The sound mixers seemed to use every opportunity to put appropriate sounds overhead, such as helicopters flying and hovering, or a swarm of drones zipping around the ceiling. There’s a near constant bit of atmospheric audio filling the speakers, like radio 

Angel Has Fallen

chatter and off-screen announcements, and gunshot echoes and reports. Equally important to the quality of the special effects is the ability to clearly understand dialogue and what is being said, and Angel has no problems in this regard.

 

My only real complaint with the audio is that bass seemed to be a bit anemic. There were numerous big explosions throughout that never seemed to really push the LFE channel. None of the big moments delivered the kinds of pants-fluttering bass levels you’d expect from a big action film, and it was a little disappointing that Angel didn’t have some more low-end impact to accompany gunshots and detonations.

 

Fans of the Fallen series will be pleased to hear that series producer Alan Siegel recently announced plans for a fourth, fifth, and sixth film, meaning we haven’t seen the end of Bannon’s days on the detail.

 

Angel Has Fallen is available for download now from the Kaleidescape Store, two weeks ahead of its physical-media release on November 26.

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.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

All of us have those few movies we’ve seen that make a lasting, indelible impression on our minds. For me, the first was Star Wars (now with Episode IV—A New Hope added to its title). I saw this when I was seven, and can still clearly remember the massive Star Destroyer flying overhead to start the movie and knowing I was in for something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Another was The Matrix. I can clearly remember turning to my wife while we were watching the movie and saying, “I have no idea how they are doing any of this! Man, I am loving this movie!” Terminator 2: Judgment Day is another film that sits firmly in that category.

 

Even more than the original Terminator, T2 was a film that just fired on all cylinders. Here we have Arnold Schwarzenegger as a good guy Terminator we can cheer for, a buffed-out and intense Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor saving humanity from a new threat, and an all new T-1000 liquid-metal terminator (Robert Patrick) that defied any of the special effects technologies my 21-year-old brain could comprehend. I can remember walking out of the theater with my cousin and just dissecting the movie for hours, wondering how they accomplished some of the shots, and planning when we could go see it again.

 

As I got into the custom installation business years later, T2 was one of those go-to movies for demo fodder for clients wanting to experience home theater. The canal chase and Connor’s escape from the sanitarium are both scenes that pack a ton of action and tension into a short, intense sequence.

 

Like Star Wars, T2 is one of those films I’ve owned in multiple formats over the years. A VHS tape, then a special-edition widescreen VHS tape, then on LaserDisc, then DVD, then on Blu-ray. But for some reason, I had skipped out on upgrading to the 4K UltraHD version even though it’s priced incredibly low for a 4K title. Yesterday, while browsing at Target with my daughter, I saw T2 sitting there in its 4K slipcover for the just-can’t-refuse price of $7.50, and I decided to snatch it up.

 

I’m not going to waste any space offering any kind of synopsis for Terminator 2. If you’ve seen it, then you know what the movie is about; if you haven’t, you either have no interest in it, or need to drop everything and go watch it immediately.

 

This version of T2 is taken from a new writer/director (James Cameron)-approved 4K digital intermediate created in 2017 for the film’s 3D re-release. And bizarrely the film opens with a title card that says, “This 3D version has been produced by Studio Canal,” even though the film on the disc is most definitely not in 3D. While the 4K disc only contains the original 137-minute theatrical version, the Blu-ray included in the 4K set also includes the 153-minute Special Edition and 156-minute Ultimate Cut, along with several special features, featurettes, a making-of documentary, and commentaries.

 

Now, there has been a fair bit of controversy and angst surrounding the picture quality of this release of T2. In fact, one enthusiast site has a forum dedicated to discussing it that has over 9,000 posts.

 

The complaints mainly revolve around the somewhat aggressive use of DNR (digital noise reduction) throughout, which has scrubbed the grain from the movie’s original 35mm negative. However, it had been years since I’d sat down to watch the movie from start to finish, and with my brand-new JVC 4K projector, $7.50 seemed like an incredibly reasonable investment in an evening’s entertainment.

 

What you have here is a T2 that looks a lot like a modern, digitally-captured movie instead of something shot on film. Images are surprisingly clean, sharp, and detailed, with almost no noise. For me, I was mostly pleased with the images; but some purists—as a forum inciting 9,000 comments would attest—are not.

 

However, like it or lump it, it’s important to remember that this transfer got Cameron’s blessing, so it’s the Terminator 2 he wanted released. And, without a doubt, it’s the best-looking T2 we have.

 

There are moments when the DNR appears to have been applied a bit too heavily, with the result making some faces appear a bit waxy, smoothed, and overly botoxed. But, remembering that the Terminator is a cyborg, this waxy look didn’t seem especially out of place for me. I was far more aware of the sharp details in closeups, revealing pores, lines, and pockmarks in Hamilton’s face, or the pebbled texture and grain in Arnold’s leather jacket, or every strand of T-1000’s perfectly coiffed ‘do.

 

While some of the effects scenes don’t hold the same magic they did back in 1991—what was cutting-edge morphing technology almost 30 years ago has been eclipsed many times over since—the film still holds up remarkably well as a whole. The T-1000’s relentless pursuit of John Connor (Edward Furlong) still feels as intense, and unstoppable, as ever, and the enhanced resolution lets you appreciate the makeup work used on Arnold as his increasingly damaged skin gives way to reveal the cyborg beneath.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Black levels also benefit immensely in this new transfer, being deep, inky, dark, and noise-free; and these deep black images benefit the overall look. One thing that seems to frequently show an excessive amount of digital noise in older films is the powdery blue sky in outdoor scenes, and there were only a couple of instances where I noticed some of this noise in the desert as Connor plans to head to Mexico. But even then it were far less noticeable than in other recent 4K transfers such as Karate Kid or Field of Dreams. During the attack on Cyberdyne, there is a lot of smoke and gas that swirls around, and it never exhibited any noise or banding.

 

Interestingly, one scene of a trailer-mounted AC unit in the desert exhibited a surprising amount of jaggies and moiré as the camera passed; something you almost never see in 4K images any longer.

 

As much as they used DNR to clean up and modernize the look of T2, I found the restoration to be restrained with the HDR grading and the use of 4K’s wider color gamut. There are scenes, like the opening battle between humans and Terminators, which features a lot of flames, explosions, and laser bolts, or the lightning storm that accompanies a Terminator emerging into our time, that benefit from HDR. Another scene that is also enhanced by HDR is the climactic finale in the steel mill, with dark shadows and glowing red-hot molten metal.

 

But far more often images seem a bit restrained. Explosions seem to lack detail or the bright intensity that modern movies exhibit, and I would have liked to see the reds pushed more aggressively in explosions and the steel factory. Also, the color grading in some scenes has been pushed towards cooler, steel-blue hues, giving them a sterile aesthetic.

 

A variety of audio mixes have accompanied T2 releases over the years, and this is definitely a film that seems tailor-made for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround remix. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here, and we are given a DTS-HD Master 5.1 mix that I believe was ported from the previous Blu-ray release. (Interestingly, the German soundtrack included on the disc has a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix, so if you auf Deutsch, you can enjoy that.)

 

Fortunately, the mix keeps dialogue clear and intelligible throughout, and it upmixes with either Dolby Surround or DTS:Neural to height speakers very nicely. For example, when the T-1000 is attacking the group in the elevator, you can clearly her him slashing from overhead. Later in the film, a helicopter also flies overhead very convincingly. There are lots of scenes with subtle atmospherics, with sounds placed well around the room, putting you in the action. While not an object-based immersive mix that could have made for a truly epic home theater demo, T2’s audio mostly delivers.

 

I did find bass to be a bit of an uneven bag. Some scenes push the LFE channel, whereas others seem like the sound mixers shied away from the bass volume output. I’d have loved to feel a bit more impact from things like Arnie’s shotgun, or vehicles smashing into each other. Fortunately, bass is loud and deep during all the scenes and moments you’d expect, such as the semi-truck exploding or the Cyberdyne facilities blowing up.

 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the greatest science-fiction and action films ever made, and it deserves a place in any collection. It’s also shockingly affordable. If you haven’t watched it for a while, the 4K version makes the perfect opportunity to revisit, smoothed out blemishes and all.

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.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

If you’re looking for a family-friendly film that appeals to—and is appropriate for—nearly all ages, and that isn’t animated, you don’t often have a lot of options. Of course, Disney has been churning out live-action remakes of many of its classics, but this is a category many other studios have decided to avoid.

 

But since my daughters are 3½ and 13, I’m always interested in films that can work for all of us. So, when I saw that Dora and the Lost City of Gold was available for 4K HDR download at the Kaleidescape Store a full two weeks before its disc release, I queued it up for a family movie night.

 

Based on the animated Nickelodeon series, Dora the Explorer, the movie modernizes many of the beloved characters and puts them on a jungle adventure. My oldest, Lauryn, used to watch the animated series, so I was familiar with the main characters: Dora (Isabela Merced), her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of those other Wahlbergs), Swiper the stealing fox (voiced [unnecessarily] by Benicio Del Toro), and Boots the monkey (voiced bizarrely—but, thankfully, briefly—by Danny Trejo). I also knew about Dora’s talking Map and Backpack, whose voices are reprised by original voice actors Marc Weiner and Sasha Toro respectively.

 

Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about the animated series to jump right in and enjoy City of Gold, but those who are will certainly appreciate some of the clever overt and subtle nods and references sprinkled throughout the film, such as how Dora occasionally turns to the camera and says things like, “This is a golden poison frog. Can you say, ‘severe neuro-toxicity?’” which is one of cartoon Dora’s signature educational moves.

 

The film begins with six-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) living in the Peruvian jungle with her explorer parents Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Peña). Dora spends her days playing and exploring with Boots and Diego, learning a lot about jungle life and survival. Cut to ten years later. Believing they’ve finally cracked the clues needed to locate the hidden Inca city of Parapata, Dora’s parents send her off to stay with Diego, who has since relocated with his family to Southern California. This move takes Dora way outside of her comfort zone, forcing her to experience an entirely new culture where she most definitely doesn’t fit in: High school.

 

After being waylaid during a class field trip, Dora, Diego, and two other students find themselves in Peru, where Dora learns her parents have gone missing. From there, the group embarks on an adventure to rescue Dora’s parents and get back to civilization, which forces them to work as a team to overcome a variety of obstacles and challenges, and ultimately locate and explore Parapata.

 

There is a fair bit of action for a kid’s movie, certainly enough to keep adults entertained, but most of it is fairly tame. And while there is some peril, there are no fatalities or gunplay. Much of the adventure is Goonies-style, with rolling logs, underground water slides, and different puzzle-traps to solve. It also reminded me a bit of Lara Croft-light, with adventuring Dora taking point and using her wits and skills to lead the group.

 

Both Boots and Swiper are animated in a far more cartoony style than the hyper-realistic animals featured in The Lion King (2019), but this is by design. However, a couple of other animals—namely a boa constrictor and pair of scorpions—show their too obvious CGI origins. The film does contain one fully animated scene, which is a great homage to the original series.

 

One of my favorite things about the film was Dora herself. She is determined, self-confident, smart, optimistic, and always sees the good in others. She doesn’t spend the movie obsessing over a boy, or worrying what others think of her, or endlessly gazing into a cellphone. This is the kind of positive “girl power” image I want my daughters to see. There are enough mean-girls films out there, with know-it-all kids surrounded by clueless adults, and it was incredibly refreshing to watch a movie about a 16-year-old girl who is trying to make the world a better place without needing to tear anyone else down to do so.

 

Dora on 4K HDR looks way better than any kid’s movie has any right to. My first note on the film was, “Image is super clean and sharp.” Filmed in ArriRaw in 3.4 and 4.5K, Dora is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and the image quality 

definitely shows. Closeups reveal individual strands of hair, the texture of clothing fabric, and the detail of the jungle terrain.

 

Colors are also vibrant throughout, with lots of bright yellows, greens, blues, and reds. This is especially true in the closing credits song-and-dance number, where the school student body comes together in multi-colored outfits. The bright, daytime jungle scenes also look terrific. And there are a few shots of bright fires and blazing sunsets that also benefit from the wider color gamut, as well as the brilliant, lustrous gold of statues and idols.

 

HDR is used throughout to deliver deep blacks, especially during the night scenes or when the gang is inside some location solving a puzzle. In one scene, the group needs to use sunlight and mirrors to bounce bright light around a room using reflective bowls, producing both dark blacks and piercing brightness.

 

Sonically, Dora also benefits from a fairly dynamic Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The jungle is filled with atmospheric sounds like birds, insects, and dripping water that immerse you in the location. During one scene, arrows whip past and overhead or thunk into walls. The sound team takes other opportunities to get creative with the sound placement, like a ringing school bell, Boots racing around the 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

jungle treetops, water flooding the room, or voices. Bass is also appropriately deep and engaging when called for, especially during the finale at Parapata.

 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold makes for a fun family night at the movies—entertaining and humorous for adults (my wife especially liked the “dig a pooh hole” song), without being too intense or mature for kids. It’s a film younger viewers may want to visit more than once, drawn to Dora’s infectious charm. It also has the bonus of looking and sounding terrific in your home system, making it a real win in my book.

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.

Rocky

Rocky

While by no means the first boxing movie, Rocky is without a doubt one of the very best, ranking No. 57 on the AFI Top 100 Movies List and going on to launch five sequels and two spinoffs (Creed and Creed II).

 

However, while it is nearly always described as a “boxing movie,” there is actually surprisingly little boxing in the movie. Other than an opening scene to establish that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) can take and dish out a beating, some training on the speed and heavy bags, and the final fight with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the film spends just a few minutes of its nearly two-hour runtime in the ring.

 

Instead Rocky dedicates the vast majority of its time to character and relationship development, and, in a way, it reminded me of Jaws in the way it builds and builds towards the big fight/shark reveal. Even the title fight at the end doesn’t dedicate a ton of screen time to the boxing, but rather shows a few key choreographed fight sequences from different rounds, followed by girls flashing round cards to show that the fight is progressing towards the 15th and final round.

 

Without question, Rocky launched the mega career of Stallone, establishing him as a leading action hero, and, to a lesser degree, gave ex-NFL player Weathers his big Hollywood break as Creed. Stallone wrote the original screenplay for the film (apparently in a feverish three-and-a-half-day period after watching a fight between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner), and famously held out on selling the script to United Artists until the studio agreed to cast him in the starring role—a decision that turned out the be the best of Stallone’s career.

 

But as good as the screenplay is, Rocky likely wouldn’t have had nearly the success it had if not for the quality of the acting throughout, with everyone doing exactly what they needed to enrich their characters and flesh out the story. Beyond the boxing, Rocky is a movie about relationships—between Rocky and love interest Adrian (Talia Shire), Rocky and trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky and friend-antagonist Paulie (Burt Young), and Rocky and mob-boss Gazzo (Joe Spinell)—and for these to work, the acting had to be spot-on.

Rocky

What you might not remember is just how successful Rocky was at the 1977 Academy Awards. Besides winning three awards for Best Director (John Avildsen), Best Editing, and Best Picture, it received nominations for Best Actor (Stallone), Best Actress (Shire), Best Original Screenplay (Stallone), Best Sound Mixing, Best Music (Bill Conti), and Best Supporting Actor (both Meredith and Young).

 

Rocky was also one of the first (but not the first) films to use the new Steadicam process for smooth photography during action scenes and the iconic run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Not too shabby for a movie made for under $1 million that went on to gross $225 million!

 

Something else that can’t be understated is Stallone’s shape and conditioning for this film. While it isn’t unusual today to see stars getting jacked and shredded for roles—often spending months preparing and training—Rocky came out six years before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout role in Conan the Barbarian, and this level of fitness certainly wasn’t the norm for leading men of the day. But Stallone brought a legitimate level of strength and conditioning to the role, and you can see this in his thighs during an early training session with Mick and in the one-arm pushups he knocks out.

 

Rocky comes to the Kaleidescape Store in a 4K HDR transfer, one of the first batch of titles to be available following a distribution agreement signed with MGM. 

 

Shot using Panaflex cameras and Panavision lenses on 35mm film, Rocky’s negative is actually 1.33:1 aspect ratio but matted down to the 1.85:1 aspect shown. There’s no information on the restoration process or on the digital intermediate used.

 

The transfer is a bit of a mixed bag at times. Unlike many of the re-releases from Sony that I’ve raved over, there were quite a few scenes in Rocky that look like they could have used a bit more time in restoration or digital cleanup. (Though it’s possible that the original film elements just didn’t lend themselves to further improvement.) Dark and low-lit scenes such as the boxing match at the opening and the early scenes inside Rocky’s apartment reveal lots of noise and grain in the image. Also, the pale blue of the early morning and day sky scenes seems especially susceptible to showing tons of noise, such as during Rocky’s first morning run (after he famously chugs the five raw eggs).

 

Images look cleaner and less noisy starting at Rocky’s first visit to Adrian at the pet store, and there are many closeups in the film that have startling detail and clarity, with razor-sharp edges that are clean and detailed. Other scenes, though, have almost uneven focus as if the camera’s focal point was off, most notably in one scene where Rocky and Adrian are sitting on the couch at Paulie’s, where half of Rocky’s face is almost blurry.

 

The higher resolution also makes some things like the heavy makeup used for “the vegetation” on Mickey’s ear or some of the fight damage appear less real. And there are shots during the big fight near the end where large crowd shots that were mixed 

to make it appear like a much larger crowd is watching look obviously cut in.

 

Compared to the earlier Blu-ray releases, however, this Rocky looks better in nearly every regard. Skin tones are more natural, colors in the ring at the end are more vibrant, as is the sun in Rocky’s big morning run, and the blacks of Rocky’s leather jacket, pants, and felt hat are nice, deep, clean and noise-free. (You also notice how Rocky almost never changes his outfit . . .) Images are noticeably sharper in almost every shot, especially things in the background.

 

Originally featuring a mono sound mix, the DTS-HD 5.1-channel mix found on both the 4K and Blu-ray versions does a nice job of spreading audio across the front channels. It even gets a bit of crowd noise into the surrounds during the big fight and moves Conti’s iconic “Gonna Fly Now” out into the room. But this is not a movie you’ll ever use to demo your theater system. As much as I’m all for a new immersive Dolby Atmos mix with a re-release, I’m not sure there was much in the original material that would benefit.

 

Unfortunately, dialogue can be difficult to understand at times, especially near the big fight at the end, where there is so much going on sonically that I struggled to hear the ring announcers over all of the music and crowd noise. But this is a case

Rocky

where the fists are really doing most of the talking, and missing a phrase here or there doesn’t have a big impact on enjoyment.

 

Remembering Rocky was filmed on a shoestring budget 44 years ago, it’s safe to say no one will mistake this latest 4K transfer as a modern film shot in native 4K on Arri cameras. But this is likely the best Rocky has ever looked, with the HDR and color grading giving the image life and depth without any flatness, and this is a classic that belongs in every collection.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.