John Sciacca Tag

Review: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (1956)

When you talk about classic films that have served as the basis for modern movies being able to stand on the shoulders of giants, you’d have to include Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. With a budget of $13 million, it was the most expensive film of its day, and its success likely went on to lead studios to greenlight other epic films like Ben Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, and Lawrence of Arabia, which certainly paved the way for bigger and bigger films down to our day. 

 

As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews, as much as I’m a film lover, I have some gaping holes in the list of classic films I’ve seen. After checking off Spartacus and My Fair Lady I was happy to add Commandments to my list, especially when the new 4K 

HDR version released for the film’s 65th anniversary arrived at Kaleidescape.

 

With a run time of 3 hours and 51 minutes, Commandments is a whopping 127.1 Gigabyte download, meaning there is a significant amount of information here that couldn’t fit onto a single 100 GB 4K Blu-ray disc. For those looking to see this movie in its finest quality, the Kaleidescape version is the way to go.

 

According to Paramount Home Entertainment’s press release:

 

As part of the restoration done in 2010, the film was scanned in 6K and those files were the basis for this brand-new Dolby Vision version, which shows off the full beauty of the original VistaVision negative. The VistaVision format used special cameras to feed 35mm film into the camera horizontally in order to capture a wider image spread over two 35mm film

COMMANDMENTS AT A GLANCE

This 4K HDR presentation of Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic gives a great sense of what it must have been like to see an “event” film in the age of the movie palaces.

 

PICTURE
Colors are rich and vibrant throughout, and there’s a surprising amount of detail in the images, although the seams sometimes show in the Academy Award-winning effects work.

 

SOUND     

The 5.1-channel DTS-HD audio mix is mainly spread across the front three channels, resulting in clear presentation of the dialogue.

frames, giving VistaVision twice the resolution of regular 35mm film. In addition, Paramount spent well over 150 hours doing new color work and cleanup on the scan. The move to Dolby Vision created the opportunity to further improve the look of the film: blacks are enhanced and improvements were made to smooth out special effects mattes to create the most vibrant and pristine image possible. The 4K film presentation contains an introduction by DeMille, an intermission, an overture/exit music card, and an entr’acte card, along with a DTS-HD 5.1 lossless soundtrack.

 

Viewing these epics certainly gives you a glimpse into the spectacle that was not only filmmaking but film-going in that earlier era of cinema. At nearly four hours, this would have been an evening event that played at a classic movie palace like Radio City Music Hall, possibly with a live orchestra performing before the movie, and it’s easy to imagine crowds of well-dressed filmgoers out for a night on the town working their way down aisles and into the auditorium to find their seats while the overture that precedes the film plays. As the music stops, the screen fills with images of curtains opening to reveal director DeMille introducing the movie and explaining the lengths they went to to ensure its accuracy and how they relied on historians to fill in the missing 30 years of Moses’ life not chronicled in the Bible. In fact, it’s not until 8:30 into the run time that all of the credits and opening pomp have concluded and the film actually starts.

 

Of course, with a film of this length, audiences would get restless, so there is an intermission—more accurately an entr’acte—where they could file out to the lobby, use the restroom, grab some concessions, and discuss the film’s exciting first half. 

Following the conclusion, the house lights would raise and the audience would slowly shuffle out as the film’s score played and an “Exit Music” card filled the screen.

 

I’ve been to many opening nights of major films, but they no longer carry this kind of gravitas and event feel, a bit how I imagine air or train travel would have been like in the early days.

 

This first half of the film (up to the entr’acte at 2 hours 16 minutes) concerns itself with the biblical account of Moses found in Exodus Chapters 2-3, where Moses (Charlton 

Heston) is found as a baby floating in a basket on the Nile River and raised by Bithiah (Nina Foch), a daughter of Pharaoh Sethi (Cedric Hardwicke). Sethi’s son, Rameses (Yul Brynner) is jealous of Moses’ success and attention and rivalry for the throne, and after Moses kills an Egyptian, master builder Baka (Vincent Price), Rameses banishes Moses from the land, where he is forced to wander in the wilderness. There he discovers Jethro (Eduard Franz) and marries his daughter Zipporah (changed to Sephora in the film, Yvonne De Carlo), and ultimately receives his assignment from God (in the form of a burning bush) to release his people from Egypt’s bondage. The second part of the film focuses on Exodus 5-14, with the ten plagues delivered against Egypt, and Pharaoh Rameses ultimately freeing the slaves from bondage and letting them leave Egypt, only to change his mind and then confront Moses at the Red Sea; and then accounts from Exodus 20 and 32 where God delivers the Ten Commandments to Moses while the people craft a Golden Calf to worship after Moses has spent so long on top of Mount Sinai.

 

Despite DeMille’s opening comments, there is some liberal interpretation of the events actually recorded in the Bible, with characters added, storylines extrapolated, and timelines moved around. A more accurate telling of Moses’ story can actually be found in DreamWork’s excellent 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt. I was also surprised the film chose to gloss over and just mention seven of the ten plagues, arguably some of the most exciting parts of the Exodus account. We also get the classic “Old Hollywood” oddness of casting young people to play older characters, with the woman playing Moses’ adoptive Mother, Foch, actually being a year younger than Heston. 

 

Accuracy aside, this is a sweeping tale that is a visual spectacle, especially the grand outdoor scenes filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai, and the Sinai Peninsula. Where Spartacus was known for hiring a cast of thousands to portray the Roman armies, I never really felt like I was seeing that immense scale of people up on screen. Here, however, in the scenes where the Israelites are working as slaves building monuments and then when leaving Egypt, the screen is literally filled with people and animals, giving it a massive scope and scale. The sheer enormity of the production and logistics of filming these scenes is incredibly impressive, especially when you understand that every person and animal on screen is real—something that would surely be created far less expensively in CGI today. The results of the restoration process are certainly impressive, with clean, sharp-edged images and tons of detail throughout. Excessive grain has certainly been cleaned away, but without giving the film an unnatural look. 

 

Closeups reveal the intricacy and ornate designs of Egyptian necklaces and jewelry and carvings, or the texture of fabric and cloth worn by Pharaoh, and the pebbling and wear in stone blocks or monuments. Even long-range shots—such as one of a mass group of slaves harvesting straw to make into bricks—have great depth and focus.

 

Colors are also rich and vibrant throughout, such as when Moses returns from Ethiopia with tribal people in bright-colored dress, or the many golden elements throughout Egypt, or the sparkles and shimmer found in drapes, Pharaoh’s headdress, and other costumes. Shadow detail is good throughout, including interior scenes lit by torches producing nice golden hues and rich shadows. 

 

Interestingly, there were two moments when the color “green” is specifically mentioned where the objects are not green. One is when an Ethiopian princess says she wants to give Moses “this green stone from our mountains” and the stone is blue 

looking, and another scene where they are told to raise a green pennant and the pennants are more a teal/light-blue color. Whether this was due to missing elements or just the difficulties of working with the Technicolor film negative I can’t say.

 

I also never noticed any of the excessive soft focus (Vaseline on the lens) that seemed to plague every scene showing Varinia (Jean Simmons) in Spartacus. Image quality throughout Ten Commandments was consistently terrific, less a couple of scenes (such as one of Moses wandering in the desert and another where he goes to the burning bush) that looked far more aged/less restored than others, perhaps due to damage to the original negative.

 

Of course, one can’t expect perfection from a 65-year-old film, and there are bits where Commandments shows its age. Process shots filmed using either matte paintings or rear projection are noticeably softer and grainier, making them stand out even more. There are significantly visible black edges around objects in the foreground of composite shots. Also, some of the scenes—for example the women bathing before Moses is discovered—look like they are shot on a set.

 

While certainly dated by today’s standards, the Academy Award-winning effects 

The Ten Commandments (1956)

in the film—Moses’ staff turning into a serpent, Death coming into the Egyptians’ homes, and especially the parting of the Red Sea—still hold up remarkably well, and I can only imagine how impressive they would have been for their time.

 

Sonically, even though the film has a new 5.1-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, it is mostly a three-channel affair across the front speakers. Dialogue remains clear and easy to understand, anchored in the center channel, with the orchestration given some room and width across the front left/right speakers, as well as some of the crowd and army noises. If anything was mixed into the surround speakers, it certainly didn’t overly call attention to itself.

 

With the advent of CGI, it’s likely we will never have a modern film of the scope and scale of The Ten Commandments. Ranked as one of the AFI’s Top 10 epic films of all time, and nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), The Ten Commandments is certainly a film worthy of your home theater. There’s also no doubt it has ever looked better than what we have here, and while its runtime is a bit daunting, the intermission provides a natural breaking point, making it easy to split over two evenings, giving you a wonderful trip back into classic Hollywood. 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Gattaca

5 Classic Offbeat Sci-Fi Films

On the surface, Gattaca might seem a bit of an odd choice for Sony to select from its catalog to give a new 4K HDR restoration and transfer. Released in 1997—meaning it missed the 20th anniversary and is a bit early for the 25th—with a reported budget of $36 million, the film only brought in $12.5 million at the box office. Even with relatively high Rotten Tomatoes critics (83%) and audience (87%) scores, and sitting at No. 22 on IMDB’s list of the top sci-fi movies of all time, the film never really gained much traction and likely wasn’t on anyone’s list of titles that needed a 4K release. However, the themes of institutional discrimination—based on genetics here rather than race—make it pretty timely for viewing, and much 

of the science in this set in the “not-too-distant future” seems pretty much within grasp of our modern technology.

 

I generally like a dose of action with my sci-fi, but that’s not the deal here. In fact, for a sci-fi film, Gattaca has almost no action or even special effects. Instead, it relies on the strength of its premise, and succeeds by just telling an interesting, compelling, and believable story performed by a superb cast. It also has a pretty compressed timeline, with the principal action taking place over a span of just a few days (with some flashbacks to fill in story points), which keeps it moving along.

 

With eugenics being the principal driver of the film’s theme and plot, the title “Gattaca” comes from the letters used to label the nucleotide bases of DNA, being adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. In this future, all humans are genetically-typed at birth, and any inherent flaws, like a propensity for bi-polar disorder, heart conditions, and even

GATTACA AT A GLANCE

This 1997 sci-fi tale of genetic discrimination still holds up and looks great in this 4K HDR restoration.

 

PICTURE
The UHD transfer delivers loads of detail without having the grain scrubbed to rob the movie of its original film look.

 

SOUND     

The new Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack focuses most of its attention on delivering clear dialogue but also uses the additional channels to expand the mix and make it more immersive.

a predicted lifespan, are cataloged. This information, which is stored in a national registry, follows you through life, determining what you are eligible to do. Those with any issues are considered “Invalid” and relegated to performing menial jobs, essentially locked out from being able to succeed.

 

To ensure children have the best options in life, genetic engineers can help with designer DNA—for a price. With these modifications, they can not only eliminate any flaws or defects to make sure children are “Valid,” they can also give them additional skills and traits to excel, and even a lengthened lifespan. But, the better the modifications, the higher the cost. DNA is the commodity in this world, and everything from dating to job interviews is based on a quick scan of one’s genetic material. 

 

Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) is a natural-born child with no genetic modifications, but his genetic profile contains numerous flaws, including a 99% chance of a heart defect and an estimated lifespan of just 30.2 years. Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), on the other hand, was dealt a near-perfect genetic hand and his profile will open any door. Unfortunately, a car accident leaves him paralyzed. With help from a black-market matchmaker—and some body modifications—Vincent becomes a “borrowed ladder” and assumes Jerome’s identity. This creates a symbiotic relationship where Vincent is able to pursue his dream job due to the doors Jerome’s DNA can open—“You could go anywhere with this guy’s helix under your arm”—and Vincent uses his income to support Jerome in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. And with the interview consisting of just a single urine sample of Jerome’s “pure” DNA, Vincent lands the job at Gattaca Aerospace, where he is on track to serve as engineer on an upcoming rocket to the Saturn moon Titan—a launch window lasting just seven days that opens once every 70 years. 

 

Vincent and Jerome go to great lengths and are fanatical about keeping Vincent’s DNA and true identity hidden. Things are going great with Vincent excelling at his position at Gattaca, but just days before the scheduled launch, a director there is murdered inside the labs and the feds are called in to investigate—a process that involves vacuuming up all genetic materials there and DNA testing all employees. When a stray eyelash identifies that an Invalid—Vincent—was inside Gattaca, he becomes the prime suspect, and Detectives Hugo (Alan Arkin) and Anton (Loren Den) doggedly pursue him. During this, Vincent falls for co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman), who becomes a further piece he needs to juggle and keep his truth hidden from. 

 

As the countdown to launch looms, and with the Feds closing in with random and more invasive genetic testing, will Vincent be caught or will he go to space? 

 

Gattaca has a very cool and stylish look, feeling a bit noirish. Although set in the future, the vehicles, the architecture and interiors, and even technology like watch phones and DNA readers, have a retro look. The film doesn’t concern itself with trying to be too futuristic—there are no holograms, hover vehicles, or robots, which makes it easy to buy into.

 

Originally filmed on 35mm stock, this version is taken from a new 4K digital intermediate. Images are clean throughout, with just a bit of grain and noise in some scenes, like light-blue skies or some blown-out whites, and edges are nice and sharp as well.

 

While the movie doesn’t have the tack-sharp look of modern digitally shot movies, it delivers loads of detail without having the grain scrubbed to rob it of its original film look. Closeups show the pinpoint detail and stitching in clothing, or pores and whiskers on actor’s faces, less Uma Thurman, whose face looks smooth and flawless. Only one scene really jumped out—at 1:25:30, near the end of the movie, where Vincent and Irene are talking after his true identity is revealed—where the grain 

was so cleaned away that images were startlingly modern-looking.

 

Color is also used throughout to give Gattaca its look. We have futuristic cool blues, metallics, greys, and blacks in some scenes and rich golden hues in others, especially when Vincent is looking back on his past. The HDR grade does a nice job here of delivering these colors as well as deep, clean blacks along with nice shades and rich shadow detail, and with bright highlights and punchy greens from computer monitors and screens.

 

Gattaca also received a new Dolby TrueHD Atmos sound mix, and while most of the attention is focused on delivering clear dialogue, they also used the additional channels to expand the mix and make it more immersive. During the opening scenes, we see bits of fingernails and snips of hair falling on screen in slow motion, and these land and bounce with heavy bass thunks, and we get the delicate sounds of each hair landing and being placed exactly in space in the front of the room. The listening room also fills with little atmospherics to establish a scene, like hums inside a building, wind blowing, or machinery noise.

 

The height channels are used to expand the soundtrack by playing the reverb and echo from PA announcements in the Gattaca offices, or lifting music from a jazz 

Gattaca (1997)

club or piano concerto up for a fuller presentation. The frequent rocket launches—viewed off in the distance by Vincent—also flare up into the ceiling and deliver some nice low end from your subwoofer. Another scene has Vincent crossing a very busy freeway, and the roar of traffic fills the room with the rush of cars coming from everywhere. Occasionally, this echoing and reverb of voices seems a bit overdone, such as when characters are talking inside the Gattaca offices, but it never lasts long enough to be too distracting.

 

Gattaca might be the perfect sci-fi film for people who aren’t really too into sci-fi. While it develops slowly and is light on action, the plot is intriguing, the acting is top-notch, and the visuals are compelling. And at just 106 minutes, it is long enough to develop its story and characters, but not too long to wear out its welcome. Also, the idea of wanting the opportunity to achieve your hopes and dreams regardless of the preconceptions others place on you—or your DNA—certainly makes Vincent a relatable character.  

John Sciacca

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

Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

I was nine when the Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out in 1979. I was never really a fan of the Star Trek TV series, but I was excited to see that movie as I was all hyped up on space and alien movies following Star Wars (now Episode IV: A New Hope) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the trailers looked like it would be an exciting film with good effects—really all a nine-year-old could hope for. 

 

The reality was, that film was so boring, I haven’t felt any need to ever see it again. Even 40-plus-years later I can recall going to sleep, waking up, and then going back to sleep again, just waiting for it to end. I’m sure my memory has clouded the reality of it, but I recall it being filled with agonizingly slow closeup pans of the Enterprise that felt like they lasted 30 minutes, as the

camera just moved all around the ship over and over. It was like the filmmakers were just so proud of this ship they had created, they wanted everyone to appreciate each and every inch of it.

 

Had this dud of a film been the first Star Trek movie today, it likely would have killed the franchise, with studios far less likely to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into a second chance.

 

Fortunately, three years later under a different director we got what is widely considered the best film in the original series: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (Even so, Paramount strongly hedged its bet, giving Khan roughly 25% the budget of The Motion Picture.) We got a great villain, action, an easy-to-understand plot, and a massive shock of an ending that also set up the next film. This was the Star Trek critics and fans alike wanted, nabbing

KHAN AT A GLANCE

Probably the best film in the Star Trek franchise holds up surprisingly well in 4K HDR, despite some subpar effects shots and occasional softness.

 

PICTURE
When the shots are sharp, the images are clean with lots of detail. Solid blacks and punchy highlights throughout.

 

SOUND     

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel mix is heavily focused on the front channels and pretty undynamic by modern standards.

Rotten Tomatoes Critics’ and Audience scores of 87 and 90% that have only been bested by one other film in the franchise, J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot starring Chris Pine at Captain James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto filling the role of Spock.

 

Having recently rewatched the latest trilogy of films (all available in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos audio on both 4K Blu-ray and from Kaleidescape), and with Kaleidescape running a special pricing promotion on all Trek films, I thought it was time to revisit Khan and see how it held up after almost 40 years. And besides being a great film, Khan is also the only movie from both the William Shatner and Patrick Stewart eras that has been given a 4K HDR makeover, making it ready-for-primetime in a modern home theater.

 

The version available from Kaleidescape is a Director’s Cut that includes some three-plus minutes of additional footage. It’s been so long since I watched the film, I can’t tell you what was added back in, or if it has any real impact on the story. 

 

The movie begins with Spock (Leonard Nimoy) administering the famous Kobayashi Maru simulation to Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) who—as expected—fails badly. Admiral Kirk (Shatner) is now out of active command, depressed and sitting behind a desk at Starfleet. After some Romulan ale and a chat with Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Kirk decides to join the Enterprise crew on a routine training mission that, well, turns into not being so routine after another starship—the Reliant—is taken over by the genetically engineered Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who was abandoned by Kirk on a planet to fend for himself 15 years ago. Khan has been plotting his revenge on Kirk for years, and now with the Reliant under his command—as well as possession of a powerful planetary terraforming device called Genesis—he is ready to deliver some revenge . . . a dish best served cold! 

 

For a “fresh” perspective on the movie, I watched with my 14-year-old daughter and her similar-aged friend, neither of whom had ever seen any of the Star Trek movies or TV shows. For them, the movie was a bit slow, taking too long to get to the action. They also found the effects and some of the acting a bit, shall we say, “dated” to put a kind word on it. 

 

While having nowhere near the level of lustful gazing found in The Motion Picture, we are still treated to a few lengthy slow shots as the camera gives us plenty of time to appreciate the Enterprise in all her glory, and Montalban’s enthusiastic performance of Khan is still great, with his impossible-to-ignore physique on display throughout. (Remember, he was 62 when this was released and looks like he just stepped out of the gym following a serious Chest-Day workout.) 

 

Compared to Star Wars—a film that had a similar budget and that debuted five years before—the effects in Khan are noticeably sub-par. (And, admittedly, haven’t benefitted from decades of the ILM effects’ team reworking . . .) Laser blasts and photon torpedoes look like they’ve just been drawn in, some of the ship flying sequences and explosions are clearly models, and one scene is very obviously on a stage with matte paintings. We also don’t get near the stage dressing and attention to detail—just take a look at a lot of the switches and knobs aboard instrument clusters on the Enterprise and it appears they don’t do anything. Of course, some of these are just byproducts of the era—and the difference of what we’ve come to expect from high-quality CGI—that are more noticeable now with 4K’s enhanced resolution and detail. 

 

Filmed in 35mm, the original negative “was in terrible shape” and received a 1080p remastering back in 2009 for the Blu-ray release. There’s no word (I could find) about the sourcing of this 4K HDR version, but my guess is that it is taken from a 2K digital intermediate.

 

The big thing you’ll notice here is how clean the images look. Right from the get-go, the title sequence and blackness of space just look clean and sharp. The shots in space all look especially good, with deep blacks and bright white star points. There is a fair bit of grain in the opening scenes aboard the Enterprise, but that seems to be less noticeable as the film goes on, or maybe I just got used to it. 

 

Another thing that really stood out is a pretty noticeable change in focus and sharpness in some scenes, sometimes even when cutting back and forth to two characters talking. At first, I thought it was maybe vanity defocusing to not show Shatner’s

age (51), but it wasn’t—he’s sharp and clear in some shots, and soft and diffuse in others. This is all the more noticeable because of the generally sharp edges and images throughout most of the film, with some images looking as clean and sharp as a modern production. When focus is sharp, closeups have tons of detail, revealing every line and wrinkle in Kirk’s face, pores in Khan’s chin, or the heavy facial makeup on Spock. You can also really appreciate the rich, thick burgundy felt texture of the uniform jackets worn by the Enterprise crew.

 

There are some bright highlights in the form of some strobing lightning flashes, stars, explosions, and video screens, but where HDR really benefits is in shadow detail and just overall realistic, natural-looking images. Color gamut didn’t look especially expanded, but we get some nicely saturated reds and greens.

 

The 4K HDR download features a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which differs from the 7.1-channel Dolby TrueHD audio found on the Blu-ray disc (and Kaleidescape Blu-ray download). This mix is heavily focused on the front three channels, and definitely seems pretty undynamic by modern standards.

 

Audio effects like wind sounds, sirens, alarms, and explosions get a bit of width, as does James Horner’s score. My processor’s Dolby upmixer did its best to 

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

expand the soundstage, with some steam and engine sounds placed overhead; and the Enterprise jumping to warp speed had it streak high up across the ceiling. Fortunately, dialogue is pretty clear throughout.

 

Time has been mostly kind to Wrath of Khan, and it certainly has never looked as it does here. For Trek fans, this is a no-brainer—it’s great to revisit the original crew of the Enterprise on one of their finest voyages. But for those new to the series—and younger viewers—they might be better served jumping into the new films, which are certainly heavier on the action, effects, and sonic bombast. 

John Sciacca

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

Review: Chaos Walking

Chaos Walking (2021)

On paper, Chaos Walking had all the makings for the start of a major franchise. Based on the successful award-winning trilogy of novels from Patrick Ness, the film is an adaptation of the first book in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go. It’s also led by two major young stars: Tom Holland of recent Spider-Man MCU fame and Daisy Ridley from the final trilogy of Star Wars films. And it’s directed by Doug Liman, who also helmed The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live Die Repeat), with a significant budget of $100 million.

But history has shown us that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in Hollywood, and even though you have all the right ingredients and budget for a gourmet meal, you can still end up making a nothingburger. Which isn’t to say that Chaos Walking is a bad movie. In fact, it plays really well in a modern home theater with a very clever and active Dolby Atmos soundtrack and clean, sharp visuals. It’s just that watching it, you could see that it had the potential to be so much more.

 

I’m a fan of dystopian Young Adult fiction. I’ve read the trilogies in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, James Dashner’s Maze Runner, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, and Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, but I’d never heard of the Chaos Walking series, so I can’t offer any commentary on 

CHAOS AT A GLANCE

This adaption of the ‘Tween trilogy of the same name doesn’t live up to its potential, but does provide some diverting eye and ear candy.

 

PICTURE
The film looks great, with the images always clean and sharp.

 

SOUND     

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix is pretty aggressive, with the height channels frequently employed for ambient effects and dialogue.

how true the movie remains to the book. Sometimes, that’s the best way to go into a series, without bringing any of the preconceived ideas and expectations from a 500-page book that a film can almost never live up to. (I’d submit The Dark Tower as a prime example on how to run totally roughshod over a beloved series of books in a single 90-minute film.)

 

Chaos Walking had a torturous path to the big screen. After announcing Liman as director in 2016, principal photography began in 2017, with an original release date set for March 2019. However, after poor initial screenings, and scheduling conflicts of the leads delaying reshoots, and then a global pandemic, the film didn’t see its theatrical debut in the States until March 5. Following poor reviews (22% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and even poorer box office (grossing just $17 million worldwide), the film arrived on PVOD on April 2. It is now available as a premium rental option from Kaleidescape for $19.99, where it includes a 4K HDR download with Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

 

The film opens with a title card reading:

 

“The Noise is a man’s thoughts unfiltered, and without a filter a man is just chaos walking.”

—Unknown New World Settler

 

It’s the year 2257, and the settlement of Prentisstown on the planet New World is inhabited only by men. Every citizen’s thoughts are on display for all to see and hear, something they call The Noise. The town is run by Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) along with Preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo), who we learn early on doesn’t get on well with the Holland character. 

 

We’re told that the native aliens on the planet, the Spackle, came and killed off all the women. One day while out walking in the forest, Todd Hewitt (Holland) comes across the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft. The sole survivor is Viola (Ridley), a woman who has no Noise, who goes on the run after hearing and seeing Todd’s Noise. The men of Prentisstown capture Viola, and she is questioned by the Mayor where she discloses that she was in a scout ship from a larger vessel filled with 4,000 people due to land any day. Viola escapes, and when it is clear that the men mean to do her harm, she and Todd go on the run looking for help in a neighboring settlement.

 

I found the premise interesting and compelling, and the plot device of seeing/hearing all of the men’s thoughts was a nice way of delivering exposition, along with some humor courtesy Holland, whose Noise is especially chatty, with his quips reminding me a bit of his Peter Parker. I also felt that Holland and Ridley did the most with what they were given, and Mikkelsen seems to dig into his role as the Mayor. It’s just that it never really got going, or offered enough information, character development or motivation, or drama to gain any real momentum—especially when the film’s big “surprise” reveal takes place about halfway through and then just leaves us with a typical chase as Prentiss and his men try to track down Viola and Todd.

 

Fortunately, the film at least looks great. Filmed on Arri at 6.5K, this is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate and images are always clean and sharp. You can appreciate the different textures, patterns, and wear in the fabric worn by characters, and see great detail in the closeups of actors’ faces. The focus is also razor sharp in scenes, with objects having clear and

defined edges, letting you see individual twigs, sticks, and branches in the forest.

 

New World is very organic, with lots of forests and the settlement a bit like an Old West mining town, with an earthy color palette. There are a few shots of Viola in space prior to landing, and these have a far more modern feel—brighter, with lots of contrast from space and planets and the mechanical elements of her ship. Black levels are deep and clean throughout, and the HDR grade helps with lots of shadow detail in the forest, as well as bright highlights from sunlight streaming in through windows and cracks in wooden slats.

 

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix is pretty aggressive, and there are tons of ambient sounds from the forest scenes as characters move about New World or when a gadget blasts laser bolts all around the room. One scene has characters hiding under floorboards and overhearing a conversation, and you hear the creak of wood and the conversation happening up overhead.

 

The Noise plays a big part in the film, and the mixers use this as a nice audio element, placing characters’ thoughts up into the height channels or filling the room with literal noise in large crowd scenes. Because the Noise is mixed up into the height speakers, sometimes that dialogue can be a bit tricky to understand, 

Chaos Walking (2021)

especially when many other layers of sounds are happening, but you can clearly hear all the important parts. And you’ll hear “I’m Todd Hewitt—control your noise” being thought over and over (and over . . .) as he tries to block his thoughts from others.

 

There aren’t a ton of moments requiring big low-end effects, but your subs are called into play —occasionally significantly—when appropriate, such as when Viola’s ship is entering the atmosphere or during a galloping horse chase.

 

With an audience rating of 71%, Chaos Walking definitely has some appeal. And with it being released in theaters just a month ago, it is some of the freshest content you can view at home. While its leads probably have more appeal to a ‘Tween crowd, Chaos’ premise is compelling enough to hold your attention, and the eye and ear candy certainly make for a fun evening at home. 

John Sciacca

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

Ep. 16: Kaleidescape Turns 20

The Cineluxe Hour logo

In the early 2000s, everyone assumed it would be the large electronics companies like Samsung, Pioneer, and Sony that would figure out how to best organize DVD collections so they could be enjoyed in a home theater or throughout the home. So we were all surprised when the answer came not from the big boys but from a small Silicon Valley startup called Kaleidescape.

 

Founded by Michael Malcolm, Cheena Srinivasan, and Dan Collens, Kaleidescape used its expertise in networking and data storage to create an elegant way to store, access, and enjoy movies, a solution that eluded—and continues to elude—the major electronics companies. With its iconic user interface, ability to jump past trailers and warnings straight to the film, in-house curated metadata for each movie, and compatibility with virtually every control and automation system, Kaleidescape showed the world exactly what movie management should look like. 

 

In the ensuing two decades, Kaleidescape has rolled with the emergence of Blu-ray Discs and then online digital downloads, staying one step ahead of the new delivery technologies to create solutions that always put the customer experience first. Its movie store now offers the largest and most comprehensive collection of films in highest-quality 4K HDR and lossless audio from all the major Hollywood studios.

 

To celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, we recently talked with co-founder Cheena Srinivasan, Kaleidescape customer-turned-new-CEO Tayloe Stansbury, and recently appointed marketing VP Norma Garcia-Muro about the company’s history, its current status, and its future opportunities. (Click here to read bios for Cheena, Tayloe, and Norma.)

 

Here are the highlights:

 

  0:50  John Sciacca talks about his experience reviewing the first Kaleidescape product.

  2:10   An early conversation John had with Cheena about online content delivery.

  3:21  Cheena describes the reaction to Kaleidescape’s introduction.

  3:52  Cheena on the founding of the company.

  5:24  Cheena on the development of the first product.

  8:30  The revolutionary impact of the onscreen display.

12:05  How Kaleidescape is more a software company than an AV company.

14:59  Tayloe’s early experiences as a Kaleidescape customer.

18:31  The development & introduction of the movie store.

22:23  The importance of backward compatibility.

24:14  The evolution of Tayloe’s Kaleidescape system.

26:22  How the Kaleidescape experience has remained the same as the hardware has evolved.

29:16  Norma on the movie studios’ perception of Kaleidescape.

31:55  Norma on her marketing initiatives for the company.

33:25  The unique passion Kaleidescape customers feel for the product.

35:43  The introduction of rental & PVOD titles to the service.

42:38  Kaleidescape’s status as a unique product & service.

44:39  Tayloe on the company’s near-term future.

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CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

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.

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: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

While it’s probably possible to talk about Zack Snyder’s Justice League (aka “The Snyder Cut”), released last week on HBO Max, on its own without discussing all of the baggage that comes with it, some context seems appropriate to establish why and how this all came to be.

 

First, we need to travel back to 2017. Snyder had completed two DC films for Warner Bros., Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which were going to establish and launch the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), setting it up to stand against the tide of Marvel heroes. As Snyder was deep in the process of completing his followup film, Justice League, tragedy struck his family when 20-year-old daughter Autumn took her own life. 

 

Understandably, Snyder and his wife Deborah (who was working as producer on the film) felt unable to continue with the demands of production and battling with the studio to get the film completed on his terms, and they decided to step away to focus on their family. 

 

Warner, with millions already invested and most of Snyder’s filming complete, brought in Joss Whedon to direct and bring the film across the finish line. Many had complained that Snyder’s vision for the DCEU was too dark (Batman v Superman had a 

dismal critics’ score of just 29%), and that Whedon’s more light-hearted approach combined with his prior success working on two Avengers films (The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron) was the right tone to help get the DCEU back on track.

 

Whedon took over the reins, rewriting, reshooting, and editing the film, injecting some humor to lighten the dark tone as well as making major trims to meet Warner’s alleged mandate of hitting a two-hour runtime—frankly an overly ambitious goal in a film planning on introducing three major new characters that would help carry the film and drive the DCEU forward, resurrecting another, setting up a new franchise Big Bad, and then having this newly assembled team save the world.

 

The result was 2017’s Justice League, a film Snyder says his wife and executive producer Christopher Nolan told him never to see as it “would break his heart,” and one that 

ZSJL AT A GLANCE

The subject of much social-media-driven fan expectation turns out to be an improvement on Joss Whedon’s stab at the film, resulting in a fuller, but not exceptionally better, experience.

 

PICTURE
Image quality is clean throughout, though never bristling with sharpness and detail—which might be due to HBO Max’s streaming bandwidth.

 

SOUND     

A pretty aggressive Dolby Atmos mix, with lots of atmospherics that appropriately fill the room, but with somewhat limited low-end dynamics.

seemed to disappoint more people than it pleased. (Though it must be pointed out that both its critics’ and audience ratings were higher than Snyder’s BvS . . . )

 

Over the years, rumors started circulating that Snyder had all of the footage he shot during his time in the director’s seat and that he had assembled a rough-cut that he’d shown to some friends and insiders, and that this true vision of Justice League was a film that righted all wrongs.

 

Fans glommed onto this and started a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement filled with the usual social-media fervor, including toxic and hateful rhetoric and cyberbullying on Twitter and Reddit and at least one death threat. Even members of the Justice League cast and crew started showing support for the release of Snyder’s version of the film, and the movement continued to grow.

 

A lot of hate was spewed at Whedon, who—at least as far as I can tell—handled it all like a silent professional. Also, it’s important to remember that he never asked for any of this. He wasn’t clamoring to take the film away from Snyder—he was brought in at the 11th hour to save a major project. This is kind of like a pinch hitter being brought in to replace an injured 

player who’s told by the manager that he has to bunt, and then being crucified for not living up to the crowd’s expectations.

 

At any other time, this likely would have never gone anywhere, but then Warner launched its streaming service, HBO Max. Hungry to gobble up subscribers with unique and desirable content—and with a huge legion of rabid fans out there clamoring for it—Warner gave Snyder the go-ahead—and budget—to finish his version, announcing that it would stream exclusively on the new HBO Max platform.

 

Whether you want to compare this to negotiating with 

terrorists or not, it actually makes a lot of sense from Warner’s perspective. This groundswell of fan support created a ton of social-media buzz and free advertising that the studio literally couldn’t have purchased. At a time when much of Hollywood was shut down, it also fast-tracked a marquee title exclusively available on its streaming service, with less than a year passing between the announcement and the film’s availability. While the estimated $70 million required to finish the VFX and do some reshoots might sound like a lot—especially on top of the estimated $300 million Warner had already sunk into the film—it certainly isn’t unheard of for a tentpole title. (You might recall Disney paid $75 million for the worldwide rights to Hamilton, and Apple paid $70 million for Tom Hanks’ film Greyhound.) It also brings a ton of interest back to the DC Universe, with multiple new films in the pipeline, and likely considering any additional monies spent on the Snyder Cut as investments in future properties.

 

So . . . that kind of sets the stage for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

 

After all the protests and demands and waiting, is this four-hour-and-two-minute film a better experience that’s worth your time? Yes.

 

I can’t think that too many people would prefer Whedon’s JL to Snyder’s, as the ZSJL is just a far more complete and finished experience. (And currently stands with a critics’ score of 74% and audience score of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.) 

 

But, it’s also a totally unfair comparison. Warner would have never given the four-hour-plus ZSJL cut we have here a commercial theatrical release back in 2017, especially following the dismal ratings of BvS. And it isn’t enough of a film to be split into two-parts à la the final Avengers films—which had “earned’ their two-part release over 20 films of world and character building—and even if it had been allowed to be released at an extended three-hour runtime, that would still have required an hour of trimming from what we have here.

 

Honestly, much of the film and overall experience feels overly indulgent. This isn’t to say it isn’t mostly entertaining, it just feels like . . . a journey. And sometimes a long one at that. Here, Snyder is free to do whatever he wants without the limits of time nor benefit of any outside input of test screenings to see ways to improve (reminding me a bit of George Lucas surrounding himself with “Yes!” men when working on the Star Wars prequel trilogy). 

 

Beyond the runtime, we have Snyder’s decision to release the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with a title card reading, “This film is presented in a 4:3 format to preserve the integrity of Zack Snyder’s creative vision” appearing just before it begins. Sure, this might play great—and larger—on a giant commercial IMAX screen. which is Snyder’s ultimate goal, but for the 99.9% of HBO Max viewers who will be watching it on a 16:9 screen (let alone a 2.35:1 screen without the benefit of masking!) this “huge” movie feels smaller. 

 

At least Snyder pulled back from one of his original goals, to release the film in black & white. (He says “the ultimate version is the black-and-white IMAX version of the movie.”) Also, it feels like he was reaching for an edgier R rating for some reason, throwing in three completely arbitrary and out-of-place-feeling F-words to force the MPAA’s hand. Sigh . . .

 

At times, the movie feels like a kitchen-sink approach, lacking editorial restraint. Scenes like the singing after we see Aquaman entering the water or the ballad played over the lengthy slow-motion of The Flash saving future girlfriend Iris West just feel drawn out.

 

Even though Snyder has said he wouldn’t use a single frame of footage he hadn’t shot, fundamentally the ZSJL is much the same as Whedon’s 2017 movie, and watching it doesn’t feel like a wholly new experience so much as a fuller experience—kind of like skimming the Cliff’s Notes for War and Peace versus sitting down and pondering every word. The film still has Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) looking to locate and unite the same band of heroes: Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Once joined, the newly formed League fights alien-baddy Steppenwolf (a CGI character voiced by Ciaran Hinds), trying to keep him from collecting three otherworldly Mother Boxes he plans to join into a planet-killing unity. After claiming the Boxes from the Amazons and Atlanteans, the League uses the box entrusted to humans centuries before to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) back to help in their fight—a showdown against Steppenwolf and his horde of Parademons in an abandoned nuclear reactor in Russia.

 

Much of the order of the film is the same and all the big fights and encounters remain. The tone is just darker and heavier throughout, with virtually all of the levity and quips gone. You get a sense of the difference in tone and narrative structure from the very opening. Where JL 2017 opened with (a heavily CGI de-mustached) Superman talking about hope and pondering his favorite thing about Earth after doing some Superman rescue, ZSJL opens with Superman being killed (from the end of BvS), his death screams echoing around the globe and causing the Mother Boxes to awaken, thus announcing their presence to Steppenwolf.  

 

Everything is just way more developed, with characters getting far more fleshed-out backstories, particularly pre-Cyborg Victor Stone. (One thing that isn’t “developed” is Whedon’s random Russian family stuck in a house near the power plant. That foolish little subplot has been excised.) We also get a much deeper look into Aquaman’s Atlantis. Relationships make more sense because they have two more hours to be explored and expanded, and the team coming together feels more authentic because it isn’t just thrown together over a matter of minutes. 

 

Battles are also longer, more intense, and more violent, with action shown from different angles and perspectives. In Whedon’s JL, Steppenwolf seems virtually unstoppable as he just rolls through the heroes claiming the boxes, only to ultimately have Superman appear at the 11th hour to save the day. In the ZSJL we get a sense the band of heroes could defeat Steppenwolf even without Supe, and his conquests are much harder fought along the way. Another big change—though not fundamentally affecting the film, although it would have guided the DCEU going forward had Snyder’s ultimate vision for continued films prevailed—is that Steppenwolf (who also has a completely different look here) is not the Big Bad but rather just a servant of ultimate baddy, Darkseid (another CGI character, voiced by Ray Porter), who would have been akin to Marvel’s Thanos. 

 

We have to assume that with all the trouble—and expense—Warner has gone to give Snyder this mulligan, everything we see is exactly the way he wanted. Which makes it interesting that Snyder chose to divide the experience into “chapters,” with six parts followed by an epilogue:

 

Part 1: Don’t Count on it, Batman

Part 2: The Age of Heroes

Part 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son

Part 4: Change Machine

Part 5: All the King’s Men

Part 6: Something Darker

Epilogue: A Father Twice Over

 

While it makes for convenient stopping points when watching (the end of Part 3 is almost a perfect halfway point), and seems ready-made for episodic streaming, these part “breaks” within the film don’t seem to serve any purpose other than to introduce what’s coming, and actually take you out of the moment a bit. 

 

Visually, you get used to the 4:3 aspect ratio fairly quickly (especially if you have some screen masking), with the more vertical presentation making our standing heroes appear taller. In practical terms, this took my 115-inch 2.35:1 screen (92-inch 16:9) down to a 75-inch 4:3 experience, which certainly was a bit less cinematic. The HBO Max presentation is in 4K HDR, including Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. 

 

Shot on 35mm film and taken from a 4K digital intermediate, image quality is clean throughout, though I never felt it was bristling with sharpness and detail. In fact, in between Parts 3 and 4, we watched the first episode of Falcon and Winter Soldier on Disney+, and that looked sharper and more detailed. I was never taken by the micro detail in fabric or razor sharpness in a scene—in fact, some shots were noticeably softer than others. It certainly didn’t have the visual pop of other IMAX films, such as Mission: Impossible—Fallout. Whether this a case of the limitation of HBO Max’s streaming bandwidth or the source material is difficult to say. 

 

As mentioned, this is a dark film in tone, theme, and visual style. Much of it takes place either at night or in some darkened interior. Even the “daylight” scenes—such as between Clark and Lois Lane (Amy Adams)—outside in a cornfield are shot at near dusk. Blacks are nice, clean, and deep, and we get a lot of visual pop courtesy of HDR. Things like lights streaming in through windows, computer screens, and headlights all have a realistic look. We also get some nice punchy colors in the form of things like Cyborg’s glowing red eye, Amazonian’s golden outfit, and roaring flames. 

 

While I wouldn’t call the streaming experience “reference quality” video, it certainly goes beyond merely “watchable,” and makes me look forward to a second viewing in full-resolution video quality from Kaleidescape.

 

Sonically, the film has a pretty aggressive Dolby Atmos mix, with lots of atmospherics that appropriately fill the room. Whether it’s sirens, alarms, machinery, echoes, birds, wind, or motor sounds, interior spaces are rich with different audio cues to place you in the space. The battles also make good use of all speakers, throwing action into all corners of the room.

 

Even viewing at reference volume level, I found the mix to be missing some of the low-end dynamics I would have expected. Again, I can’t say this is due to the mix itself (unlikely), the limitation of streaming via HBO Max (definitely a factor), or the audio output of my Apple 4K TV (also suspect). While bass wasn’t non-existent, it never had the wallop you’d expect from a big-budget superhero film, and it wasn’t until the climax with the Mother Boxes where I ever really felt like bass was reaching a tactile level I could feel in my seat. Again, it makes me look forward to a second viewing on Kaleidescape in a lossless Dolby TrueHD Atmos audio mix. 

 

Now that it’s finally here, you have to ask whether the film was worthy of the social movement that helped bring it about and make it a reality. I’d say, no. 

 

However, I’d also certainly concede it is the better Justice League film, offering a far richer viewing experience that is definitely more in line in with the style and tone of Snyder’s two DC films that preceded it and giving us a glimpse into where he thought the DCEU would head. And if completing it and bringing it to the public brought Snyder and his family any personal closure from their tragedy, then that’s another positive. Among movie fans—especially the superhero-loving kind—Zack Snyder’s Justice League is going to be a watercooler topic for some time, and it will be interesting to see what—if any—lasting impact it will have on Warner’s plans for the DCEU going forward.

John Sciacca

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

Review: News of the World

News of the World (2020)

Tom Hanks has built up so much cred over the years from choosing excellent roles in major films that he is on the short list of movies I’m instantly keen on watching just because he is attached. When his latest, News of the Worldreleased theatrically on Christmas Day, I was anxious for it to get its eventual home release. It worked its way to PVOD in early February, and then finally debuted for sale on distributors like Kaleidescape on March 9.

 

I’ll be honest, I knew nothing of the Paulette Jiles novel the film is based on, short of my wife saying that she had started reading it and just couldn’t get into it. And if that wasn’t a ringing enough endorsement, it wasn’t like the film’s trailer was so compelling I felt I needed to rush out and watch. For me, Hanks’ track record of picking great films was the hook, and if the trailer or synopsis wasn’t enough to grab your attention, then you’re missing out on an enjoyable and beautiful-looking 

film.

 

The plot is pretty simple: Captain Kidd (Hanks), a former member of the Confederate Army, now makes his living traveling around small towns in Texas reading excerpts from various newspapers to gatherings of folks for ten cents a head. While heading to his next town, he stumbles across an abandoned young girl (Helena Zengel)—dressed in Native American clothing and who doesn’t speak any English—whom we eventually learn is named Johann. Kidd is told to take the girl to a Union checkpoint, but the Bureau of Indian Affairs representative is unavailable for months. This is essentially the first ten minutes of the film, with the remainder following Kidd as he travels to return Johanna to her surviving family.

 

Parts of the film reminded me a bit of Castaway, where 

NEWS AT A GLANCE

A satisfying tale set in the Wild West, fueled by terrific performances from the two leads and by absolutely fantastic-looking scenery and cinematography.

 

PICTURE
The visuals are so sharp and stunning they can almost pull you out of the time period of this film. 

 

SOUND     

While you do get some surround, the DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mix is very front-focused.

Hanks is mostly alone, save for Johanna who either doesn’t speak at all or speaks in non-subtitled Kiowa, with Hanks giving bits of exposition as he tries to interact with her. He is able to say much about the weight of burden, duty, and purpose with face, eyes, and pensive/troubled expressions. Interaction happens with others as the pair rolls on from one dusty, clapboard-fabricated small town to the next, discovering a variety of characters along the way, not all of whom are good.

 

The film is a definitely slow burn, a bit like Let Him Go. We see it building and edging towards the eventuality of Kidd reuniting Johanna with her family, but witness their growing relationship and her reliance on him along the way, with the unknown 

perils of what they’ll face on their journey or find on arrival. In my review notes, I wrote, “The movie is slow but compelling, with enough bumps of action and drama along the way to keep it gently moving forward, like soft gusts of wind that steadily keep a tumbleweed moving along.”

 

Writer/director Paul Greengrass is best known for his action films in the Jason Bourne series as well as bringing true accounts to the screen such as 22 July, United 93, and Captain Phillips, where he previously worked with Hanks. But instead of trying to force action here, Greengrass seems content to pull back and let us watch the story 

unfold, with the Wild West having enough hard challenges and unscrupulous people all on its own. Even the gunfights are a bit reluctant, with Kidd looking to avoid and escape trouble rather than embrace it.

 

One of the real treats here is Zengel, who was only 11 when the film was shot and who does a terrific job portraying twice-orphaned Johanna—a girl completely lost and alone in this strange world that seems to keep abandoning her. Zengel easily holds her own with Hanks, and is incredibly expressive and intense well beyond her years. What we have here is two great actors at different ends of their careers, and you can’t help but think we’ll be seeing a lot of Zengel going forward. She has already been recognized with four female supporting-actor nominations for her work here, including the Critic’s Choice, Golden Globes, and Screen Actos Guild. (The Academy Awards nominations have yet to be announced as I write this, but I’d be shocked if she doesn’t earn an Oscar nom as well!)

 

Shot on Arri cameras at 4.5K resolution, News is taken from a 4K digital intermediate and, oh boy, does it look it! I know we’ve written here about a film not being sourced from a 4K DI not being a deal killer to absolute resolution and looking good, but images here are crisp, detailed, and razor sharp. In fact, almost too much so, as the stunning visuals can almost pull you out of the time period of this film, which takes place in 1870 after the end of the Civil War. Images are clean throughout, but when the camera snaps into focus it’s like everything just goes Pop! You can clearly see single strands of Johanna’s hair or Kidd’s beard, or the thick, heavy texture of fabrics in hats, jackets, vests, and shirts. One encounter takes place on a rocky mountain, and you can see every stone and rock in sharp-edged detail, with every little crag and crack visible, including pebbles and bits of lichen.

 

The 2.4 aspect ratio is terrific for appreciating the huge, wide vistas of a Texas landscape that seems to just go on forever. The color palette is mostly dry, dusty earth tones, with an ever-present powder-blue sky, and home theater owners with a projector and scope screen are certainly in for a treat.

There are basically two times in the film: Day and night. Daytime scenes are bright enough, with the sun gleaming hard enough to occasionally make you squint, but reveal the incredible detail in the images. Night scenes—including those shot in darkly lit interiors—feel like they are lit mostly by available light and have deep and rich shadow detail doubtless helped by the HDR grading. Some scenes are lit by lamplight or candles or fire light, and the graduation to deep shadow at the edges of the shots has a very realistic quality.

 

Even though the film had a theatrical Dolby Atmos mix, we are “limited” to a 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master Audio soundtrack with the Kaleidescape download. While I have disagreed with fellow reviewer Dennis Burger in the past about Dolby Atmos (I being a huge fan and Dennis finding it occasionally distracting), the sound mix in News actually made me concede his point a bit.

 

The audio mix is very front-focused, with most of the presentation taking place across the front three channels. We do get some surround—such as when we are surrounded by hundreds of cattle milling about, or bits of rain pattering down outside a building where Kidd is doing a reading, or some outdoor ambience in  

News of the World (2020)

the form of bugs, wind, and distant coyotes—but primarily the mix is spread across the front three channels. What this does is keep all of your attention focused ahead and up on the screen—or straight-ahead as Kidd is fond of saying. There were parts where the height speakers could have been employed to position people scurrying about overhead, or perhaps howling coyotes or rustling winds far off in the surrounds in the distance, but this ultimately would have pulled you away from the action on screen.

 

There are some moments where the soundtrack kicks it up a notch, such as during a particularly heavy downpour, the heavy murmurs and oohs-and-aahs of a crowd during Kidd’s reading, or a severe dust storm. And when there are gunshots, they are loud and dynamic, with bullets whizzing and zipping across the front, splintering wood or ricocheting. The front-focused mix also gives you a chance to appreciate James Newton Howard’s score, which has a perfect, timeless western feel to it.

 

News of the World is a satisfying tale set in the Wild West that keeps your interest over its near-two-hour runtime, fueled by some terrific performances by the two leads, and absolutely fantastic-looking scenery and cinematography. While it might not be a film you’ll return to over and over, you’ll likely regret not seeing it at least once.

John Sciacca

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

Review: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

With Godzilla vs. Kong getting ready to debut theatrically and streaming on HBO Max on March 31, it seemed like a good time to revisit an earlier film in the franchise, Kong: Skull Island.

 

In the opening of my 4K HDR Wish List post, I wrote, “These are probably films you already own—or have definitely watched—and a new 4K transfer would be a great reason to revisit them,” and that definitely holds true for Skull Island. Released in 2017, I hadn’t watched the film in a few years, even though I had upgraded the HD version to the new 4K HDR version 

with Dolby Atmos some time ago when it became available at Kaleidescape.

 

While it doesn’t totally apply here, the quote “comedy is tragedy plus time” comes to mind. Skull Island didn’t really stand out in my memory as anything special, but on watching it this time, the movie was far more entertaining. Maybe it was the improvements in the audio/video quality, maybe it was having a better projector, maybe it was my daughter seeing it with us for the first time . . . Whatever the case, Skull Island just worked this time, having solid pacing, story, acting, and the right amount of quirky, just-shy-of-crazy, humor courtesy of John C. Reilly.

 

I’d also forgotten how much star power was brought to bear in this film. Along with John Goodman as head of the government agency Monarch, it unites four actors from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (which might be a record in a non-Marvel film, something I’d need resident MCU-expert Dennis Burger to confirm) including Tom Hiddleston (Loki), 

SKULL ISLAND AT A GLANCE

The film doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is—Kong running around an island battling and smashing stuff.

 

PICTURE
It doesn’t have the hyper-sharp detail and resolution of more recent movies but still looks fantastic, with very clean image quality and sharp, well-defined edges. 

 

SOUND     

A dynamic Dolby Atmos mix with something almost constantly going on, including big dynamic effects and tons of ambient jungle sounds.

Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), and Corey Hawkins (small part in Iron Man 3 listed as “Navy Op”).

 

What Skull Island does right is to focus on what it is: Kong on Skull Island. There isn’t a long preamble or slow build-up but rather a small bit of pre-credits setup that establishes a later payoff, a short explanation of the science of how this island has remained off the charts for so long and why it’s so important to investigate it now, a bit of introduction to the team, and then BOOM! You’re thrust straight into the action. Within the first 25 minutes, we are transported to the island and in the thick of it. Kind of like with the recent Monster Hunter, you aren’t tuning into a film called Kong: Skull Island for a deeply philosophical examination; rather you want an engaging and entertaining story wrapped around Kong battling and smashing stuff. This film plays by believable rules and allows you to maintain a suspension of disbelief, with none of those head-shaking moments where the visual effects team does something solely for the purpose of impressing with their skills.

 

And speaking of the VFX, they are surprisingly terrific. If Kong looked fake, the film would fail, or if they shied away from showing him in all his glory, you’d know it was a cheat, but there are plenty of closeups of the giant ape, and his size, scale, and speed are all realistic and impressive. In fact, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for its effects work (losing to Blade Runner: 2049).

 

Set in 1973 with the Vietnam war winding down, warmonger Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Jackson) is thrilled to have one final op with his Air Cav unit to investigate an uncharted island before returning home stateside. The soldiers head off to the island aboard a convoy of helicopters along with a small team of scientists including Goodman, an ex-British Special Forces tracker (Hiddleston), and a photographer Weaver (Larson). The idea is to test Brooks’ (Hawkins) “Hollow Earth” theory by flying around and dropping seismic charges on the island, but this gets the attention—and ire—of one mammoth 100-foot ape, who quickly dispatches the helicopters, leaving the team separated on the ground and trying to survive amidst other threats that are larger than life-sized.

 

Packard reminds me a bit of the saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to look at everything as a nail.” He’s an unabashed warrior, and he’s looking for a fight, and Kong is the obvious threat. If Kong has a social message underpinning the story, it would be looking for fights where there aren’t enemies, and learning to co-exist with those around us. But the film doesn’t beat us over the head with this, rather making a way to care about and root for Kong.

 

Eager to avenge his fallen soldiers, Packard goes off on his own agenda, ordering his men to hunt and destroy the ape, and he becomes the obvious antagonist to Kong’s role as island protector. Meanwhile, the separated team of Conrad and Weaver discover Hank Marlow (Reilly), a WWII-pilot who has been stranded on the island for 28 years and learned to co-exist with the natives. Together, they try to regroup with the remaining soldiers and travel across the island to the planned rendezvous point to escape to the mainland.

 

Shot on Arri at 3.4K resolution, Skull Island is taken from a 2K digital intermediate. While it doesn’t have the hyper-sharp detail and resolution of some more recent films, it still looks fantastic, with very clean image quality and sharp, well-defined edges. Still, some scenes are so clean and sharply detailed they could have been filmed yesterday. Closeups can have terrific detail, clearly showing individual stitching in the soldiers’ uniforms and exhibiting pore-level detail on all the actors’ faces, save for Brie Larson, whose face always looks angelically smooth.

 

Early, pre-island scenes in the film have a warm, earth-toned look with picture quality that was a bit reminiscent of The Brady Bunch, and the opening blue skies from the aerial dogfight have a bit of digital noise. On the island, colors are green and lush, with a variety of  shades for grass, trees, and foliage.

Many scenes are at night or in deep shadow, and HDR gives images plenty of depth and realism. An early scene in downtown Hanoi pops off the screen lit by bright neon lights; elsewhere there are brilliant flashes of lighting and vibrant, rich red-orange flames in the dark night of the island. The high bitrate of the Kaleidescape transfer also does a nice job keeping the island’s fog and smoke from becoming a digital mess.

 

Sonically, you get a glimpse of what you’re in for in the film’s opening seconds, with planes flying and fighting overhead and buzzing around the room. The overhead flyover—or tracking objects as they pass around and across the room—is a favorite of Atmos theater owners, and this definitely delivers, with plenty of other similar sonic moments, such as helicopters swirling around, announcements from PA systems, or the blare of master caution alarms. This is a dynamic Dolby Atmos mix that almost constantly has something going on, including big dynamic effects and tons of ambient jungle sounds like bugs and wind rustling leaves in trees.

 

The film also features a soundtrack heavily influenced by psychedelic, Vietnam-

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

era rock from the late ’60s, which is given a lot of room to play across the front channels and into the height speakers. The mix also does a great job of tracking audio objects, such as when things move left/right of center and then pass into the surrounds off camera. We also get a near-videogame use of localizing threats, as you’ll hear things coming up on the characters from the surround channels.

 

We also get to enjoy a healthy amount of low-frequency effects courtesy of explosions and Kong’s roaring and stomping.

 

Kong: Skull Island give a glimpse of the kinds of battles we can expect in Godzilla vs. Kong as Kong fights the Skull Crawlers, and be sure to stick around all the way through the end credits for a scene that leads into this upcoming sequel. As Marlow said, Kong is young and still growing, and we need him to keep growing to defend us from other threats. If GvK takes place in the present day, this will have given Kong almost 50 years of growing to prepare for this fight, and we’ll want him ready! Skull Island is a surprisingly fun time that makes for a great-looking and -sounding event in your home 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.

Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

If you need any further proof things are still in flux with theatrical releases, look no further than Disney’s latest full-length animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon. While theaters are opening around the country—including in New York, one of the top markets—studios are still being cautious with tentpole titles. And Raya is a perfect example of Disney re-testing the waters, as the company is trying a new strategy with the film, opting to release it both theatrically and via its Disney+ streaming service with the caveat of being a premium title requiring a “Premier Access” purchase of $29.99 for viewing rights. (The film will be available at no additional charge to all Disney+ subscribers beginning June 4.)

 

This is the second Premier Access title to debut on Disney+, following the 2020 live-action remake of Mulan. What makes Raya different is that it’s the first animated feature to debut on the service requiring an additional fee to view. Recent Pixar films Onward (which had a very short theatrical release prior to the COVID closures, then launched for sale on digital retailers for two weeks prior to landing on Disney+) and Soul (which opened exclusively on the streaming service on Christmas Day) 

were available for streaming at no added fee.

 

Raya also represents Disney’s first attempt to bow a movie simultaneously theatrically and at home—a clear sign the company is weighing the risk/reward of straddling the fence and seeing if its streaming subscribers will offset the lost theatrical revenue. Not everyone is thrilled with Disney’s decision, as Cinemark—the third largest US theatrical exhibitor—refused to show the film at any of its locations.

 

Fortunately, Disney makes it fast and simple to enable Premier Access for Raya. Simply click on the onscreen option and then enter the CVC information from your linked credit card and within seconds access is granted. With nothing to download, the film is instantly available for streaming.

 

Another interesting technical aspect of Raya on Disney+ is that it does not (currently) feature Dolby Atmos audio, even 

RAYA AT A GLANCE

Disney’s latest animated feature gets both a theatrical and a Premier Access release, making it available on Disney+ for an additional $29.99 fee.

 

PICTURE
The film’s bright and saturated color palette is visually arresting and a treat to look at. HDR provides beautiful depth, highlights, shadow detail, and rich colors throughout. 

 

SOUND
The soundtrack is pretty lackluster. Dynamics were heavily compressed and rarely delivers any impact, even at reference volume.

though the film includes Dolby Vision and was mastered for Dolby Cinema. This is definitely a break from the norm for films (and even original programming like WandaVision) streaming on Disney+, as most feature Atmos. Perhaps it will be added later (as it was for Frozen II), but early viewers—including yours truly—had to do without.

 

Raya features the classic elements of Disney princess fairytales: A girl loses her family and is forced to grow and trust in herself to solve some major problem, having to trust and enlist others along the way to aid in her struggle. She even passes many of the “princess tests” from Ralph Breaks the Internet.

 

What kind of princess are you? Do you have magic hair? (No.) Magic hands? (No.) Do animals talk to you? (Kind of.) Were you poisoned? (No, but it’s mentioned.) Cursed? (There is a curse on the land.) Kidnapped or enslaved? (No.) Made a deal with an underwater sea witch where she took your voice in exchange for a pair of human legs? (Ummm, no.) Have you ever had true love’s kiss? (Big no.) Do you have daddy issues? (Yep.) Don’t even have a mom. (Yep.) Do people assume all your problems got solved because a big strong man showed up? (A big strong man does join her quest and helps, but he doesn’t solve her problems.)” Also, put a checkmark in the “stare at important water” category too.

 

But Raya is also most definitely not your typical Disney princess film as Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is indisputably Disney’s most bad-ass, girl-power princess ever, featuring a lot of attitude and swagger. She never backs down from a fight and engages in various forms of hand-to-hand combat throughout. In fact, Raya reminded me of the live-action Mulan remake in many ways, including the fact that there’s no singing in the film. (Another break for your typical Disney princess.)

 

The story takes place in the once prosperous land of Kumandra, where dragons co-exist with humans and bring water, rain, and peace to the land. Evil spirits called the Druun come, turning all humans to stone, and the dragons sacrifice themselves in order to save humanity, placing all of their spirits into a single magic gem. A power struggle to possess the gem causes the once peaceful land to split into five tribes: Fang, Heart, Tail, Spine, and Talon.

 

After 500 years, Raya’s dad, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) of the Heart tribe, holder of the gem, tries to reunite the tribes, but the Dragon gem is broken into five pieces, with each tribe taking a piece and causing the Druun to return and turning many to stone. Raya escapes, and armed with her father’s sword and riding atop her combination pill bug/armadillo/hedgehog creature Tuk Tuk (Alan Tudyk), she embarks on a quest to find Sisu (Awkwafina), who is said to be the last surviving dragon. With hopes of ridding the Druun once and for all and bringing her father back, Raya’s quest leads her to all of the villages, which have their own visual style, and have Indiana Jones-like elements to complete.

 

Disney animation is top-notch, so the fantastic visuals shouldn’t come as any surprise. There are amazing levels of detail in closeups, with rich texture in fabric, wood, stone, and hair. Water—which plays an important role in the film—also looks photo-realistic, with incredible movement and reflection. Closeups of Sisu in human form reveal strands of hair that seem to be individually colored in her purple-pink-blue-white ombre style. And the care animators took in the way fabric drapes and moves on characters has lifelike realism. The computer animation style is different from Pixar’s, but equally top-shelf.

 

HDR provides beautiful depth, highlights, shadow detail, and rich colors throughout, especially when viewed on a Dolby Vision-capable display. The magic Dragon gem has a real Arkenstone quality, internally lit by shifting, glowing, sparkling shafts of light, and the Talon village at night is especially gorgeous, glowing with rich, warm, and vibrant lighting and lamps that leaps from the screen. Raya features a frequently bright and saturated color palette, and is visually arresting and a treat to look at.

 

Having watched the movie twice—once on my 115-inch JVC 4K projector and again on a 65-inch Sony 4K LED—I did notice that backgrounds frequently have a bit of a grainy/noisy/cloudy haze. As this is computer animation, it’s obvious it isn’t actually grain or noise, so I think it must be a stylistic choice the animators took to keep the world from appearing too perfect. They also frequently chose to use “portrait mode” styling on closeups, where objects not close up in frame are defocused.

 

Besides the movie not having an Atmos track, as mentioned earlier, I found the soundtrack to be pretty lackluster—unfortunately, a common complaint with many recent Disney transfers. Even played back at reference volume on my Marantz processor, dynamics were heavily compressed and rarely delivered any impact. It wasn’t until the film’s climax that it seemed like the subwoofers really kicked in, and even then, they were restrained and didn’t deliver the impact I expected. Whether this was a shortcoming of the film itself or my Apple 4K TV, I can’t say, but I was disappointed with the sonics. However, judging by the quality of the song “Lead the Way” (performed by Aiko) played over the end credits with a lot more dimension, dynamics, and space, I feel like it is the mix itself.

 

There are some atmospheric surround effects—particularly at the very beginning and end—such as wind, rain, forest sounds, and echoes, and the score is expanded across the front of the room, but primarily this is a front-channel-centric mix that feels like it is designed to be listened to through a TV or soundbar.

 

Raya and the Last Dragon looks gorgeous, and the voice acting—especially the always-likable Awkafina, who brings the right level of humor and quirkiness to Sisu—is on point. While the lack of any songs and a few intense scenes might limit its replay value for younger viewers, it’s an entertaining film that will appeal to many viewers, as attested to by its very favorable 95% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating and 85% audience score. I have two daughters —ages 14 and almost five—so for us, a movie night where we can all get together and enjoy a new Disney animated film was an easy yes.

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.

John Sciacca’s 4K HDR Wish List

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List

I knew going into this exercise that my list wasn’t going to contain the big, weighty titles Dennis and Mike came up with (though Amélie was on my list in my original draft—one of my very favorite foreign films that I agree with Dennis would definitely look terrific in 4K HDR!) While those two gentlemen have an almost scholarly knowledge of film history, director and cinematographer styles, and influences, I am just happy most times to sit back and be entertained. Having said that, my list definitely mirrors my taste in movies, featuring tons of mainstream titles that have received multiple Academy Award nominations and wins, and includes the No. 2 and 3 top-grossing films of all time! With few exceptions, these are probably films you already own—or have definitely watched—and a new 4K transfer would be a great reason to revisit them.

J.S.

THE ABYSS

Of course, I’m speaking about the longer, fleshed-out Special Edition version that restores a much needed 31 minutes to the theatrical release, but after 18 years, it’s time. And not only would a 4K HDR version be most welcome, so would an HD Blu-ray release! Somehow, this James Cameron film never got past DVD, and it would definitely benefit from the full 4K treatment. With lots of dark underwater shots and bright lighting, The Abyss is another great candidate for a 4K HDR transfer, and all of the water drips and acoustics aboard Deep Core would certainly benefit from an expanded Atmos sound mix.

 

AVATAR

James Cameron’s world of Pandora was so real, some people actually felt depressed when the movie was over. Just think how gorgeous Pandora would look at night in 4K HDR, with all of that bioluminescent plant and animal life glowing on the screen. Still one of the best 3D experiences I’ve ever had, Avatar in 4K would have incredible richness and depth, and would also be a great lead-in to the sequels that are supposedly coming . . . one day. 

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

This happens to be the 60th anniversary of the film so it’s the perfect opportunity to relive this Blake Edwards classic! And after seeing how fantastic My Fair Lady looked in its recent full restoration with a new 4K HDR scan, I can’t wait to see how Tiffany’s would look. And, of course, any opportunity to revisit Audrey Hepburn is one worth taking.

 

DAS BOOT

One of the greatest submarine films ever made—arguably the greatest—Wolfgang Petersen’s 209-minute epic director’s cut is a claustrophobic, cramped, sweaty adventure as you spend hours trapped in the tight, pressurized confines of a German U-

boat on the run, getting to know the crew and see how they tick and work under pressure. The dark interiors of the sub will definitely benefit from HDR, and a new Atmos soundtrack will expand the already immersive Dolby Digital version.

 

THE INDIANA JONES TRILOGY

The rumor mill says this one will likely be coming later this year to correspond with a new, fifth Indy film, but until the Trilogy actually arrives, these movies will be on the top of many people’s 4K wish list. Perhaps the greatest serial film ever made, Raiders of the Lost Ark is an action classic, and seeing how great the Star Wars films (specifically Empire Strikes Back) looked and sounded, I’ve no doubt these films will become home theater reference titles when they get here! From the sparkle of gold, to the intensity of flames, to the bright reds and deep shadows inside the Temple of Doom, the Indy franchise should look and sound fantastic in 4K!

 

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

With a lot of hazy, smoky, foggy images shot over the water, this Russell Crowe-led film will really benefit from the higher bitrates and resolution of a 4K HDR transfer. It also features a fantastic soundtrack and audio mix with lots of creaks and groans from the ship that will truly be elevated (literally!) by a new Atmos immersive mix.(I’ve long used the opening 

scene to demo surround systems in my custom showroom, and even in 5.1 it delivers an immersive experience!) Unfortunately for now, we can only imagine how those cannon blasts, explosions, and splintering wood and shredding sails will sound in a lossless sound mix.

 

THE STING

One of my favorite films, you don’t come to The Sting for terrific audio and video but rather for the story, the chemistry between the characters, and the snappy dialogue. Even still, it would be great to see this movie shined up like a new penny, letting you appreciate the wardrobe and set design like never before, ya folla? And a new audio mix would give Marvin Hamlisch’s ragtime arrangements more room to shine.

John Sciacca's 4K HDR Wish List
TITANIC

At the risk of making this list overly Cameron-heavy, I had to throw in Titanic as well. One of the most successful films of all time, it definitely deserves to sail again in 4K. The lengths Cameron went to to recreate that ship’s first (and last) voyage are legendary (down to redoing the visual effects to make sure the stars were correct for how they would have been that night!), and I’d love to revisit Jack and Rose in full 4K HDR splendor to fully appreciate all of the details and designs. 

 

TRON: LEGACY

From a visual standpoint, this 2010 Tron reboot should look fantastic, with tons of glowing neon lighting inside the computer world overlaid against deep blacks, giving this the potential to be a true HDR tour de force. All of those bright transitions and shades against black can also be a real cause for banding and noise, making another reason why Legacy could look truly reference in HDR. Plus, the Daft Punk mix will (hopefully) get some expanded room to breathe and fill the room with an Atmos mix.

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.