John Sciacca Tag

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Charlie's Angels (2019)

I was born in 1970, so that made me just a bit too young to be the target demographic for Aaron Spelling’s original Charlie’s Angels TV series, which ran from 1976-1981. (As a young boy, I was far more interested in the exploits of Lee Majors as USAF Colonel Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.) So, I didn’t come into this latest Angels movie with any real baggage of the original TV show, or any real expectations short of hoping it would be an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours in my home theater.

 

And I think that is the right level of expectation to set going into the film.

 

Unlike the 2000 and 2003 Angels films directed by McG, which relied heavily on star power in the form of Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz as the titular Angels, this movie tapped two far less known actresses to make up two-thirds of the Angel trio, with Elena Houghlin (Jasmine from Disney’s live-action Aladdin remake) as Elena Houghlin and TV actress Ella Balinska as Jane Kano. To bring some name recognition to the cast, we have Kristen Stewart as third Angel, Sabina Wilson, and Elizabeth Banks who also wrote the screenplay and directed the film, as Rebekah Bosley.

 

The film also managed to grab Sir Patrick Stewart as John Bosley and Djimon Hounsou as Edgar Bosley. (The movie explains that “Bosley” is more akin to a rank in the Townsend Agency akin to Lieutenant, rather than an actual name. So, I learned that.)

 

Almost from the first frame, this movie establishes its agenda and might as well throw up on the screen in huge neon pink letters, “WOMEN GOOD! MEN BAD!” When in doubt, assume that any male character is going to be bad, and that any female character will be a martial arts and weapon-master badass.

 

The film opens with Sabina on a penthouse date in Rio De Janeiro, with the very first lines of dialogue being her telling her date, “I think women can do anything,” with the man condescendingly replying, “Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should.”

 

Imagine the writers room erupting with an indignant, “Oh, no! He didn’t just say that!” and you’ve got a sense of this film’s message.

 

We learn scarcely little enough about Sabina (her name is Italian, but she’s not; she grew up rich and troubled, or did she?), Jane (former MI6 operative), or Rebekah (first Angel promoted to Bosley) to really know anything or care about them. All we really need to know is that they know how to fight, shoot, infiltrate, and get the upper-hand on any man they run across, all while looking beautiful, with perfect hair and clothing.

 

Originally this was intended as a reboot of the franchise, but instead it was decided it would be a continuation of the original TV series and McG-directed films. There is a brief scene near the beginning when John is retiring that we get a walk-down-memory-lane montage that briefly shows us the original Angels cast as well as Liu, Barrymore, and Diaz in an attempt to tie everything together. This is also where we learn that the Townsend Agency is worldwide, with branches—and Angels and Bosleys—arrayed around the globe to protect us from the shadows. Or something.

 

The film’s plot revolves around Calisto, the latest development of tech entrepreneur Alexander Brock’s (Sam Claflin) company that can bring cheap, limitless power to the planet. However, Calisto engineer and programmer Elena has discovered an exploit that can weaponize Calisto, turning it into an untraceable localized human-killing EMP device. After she brings this to the attention of her boss, Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) and is rebuffed, she decides to tell an outsider, bringing in the Angels. The rest of the film is a global chase trying to recover all of the Calisto devices and keep them from being sold to a mysterious buyer.

 

The film’s soundtrack is driven by some major pop stars, including Ariana Grande (who co-produced the film’s soundtrack), Normani, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey and the movie doesn’t miss any opportunities to cue up these tracks. In fact, sometimes the film seems like it’s just looking for the opportunity to jump to the next scene where it can set up another room-filling bass-driven pop song in some new exotic location such as Rio, London, LA, Berlin, Hamburg, Istanbul, or Chamonix. 

 

As I said at the outset, going in with expectations low, and knowing this isn’t a movie you should over-analyze (like they just bring in Elena, this totally untrained civilian scientist, giving her access to an armory and top-secret gear, and effectively adopt her as a full-fledged member of their secret and highly trained team, immediately throwing her into harm’s way? But, she’s a woman, and—surprise!—also a master hacker, so of course she comes equipped with all these skills, so that makes total sense.)

 

Definitely watch through the first part of the end credits, which have some of the film’s most fun moments. Here we see Angels in a variety of training situations getting instruction from some cool cameos. We also get a reveal of who Charlie is.

 

While shot in a combination of 3.4 and 8K resolutions, this transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, however don’t let that deter you. Sony definitely knows how to make an excellent-looking home video transfer, and this doesn’t disappoint. 

Closeups reveal incredible levels of detail, showing the heavy application of makeup on some actress’ faces. We also get lots of textural detail in clothing and buildings, with images looking tack-sharp.

 

Images are incredibly clean and detailed throughout, regardless the lighting condition. There is one underwater scene with shades of blue that would give bandwidth-limited streaming services a fit, but here there is no hint of banding or anything else untoward. Blacks are also deep and noise-free.

 

HDR is used effectively throughout, giving images plenty of depth and punch. There are several dark interior scenes where stray lights deliver lots of pop, to nighttime exteriors like the opening nighttime scenes showing streetlights right off the ocean in Rio. Explosions also have a lot of punch and glowing reds and oranges that benefit from the wider color gamut. The scenes in the Chamonix castle look especially good, with bright glowing tube lights and the Angels’ sequin dresses shimmering iridescently.

 

Sonically, the film is a bit reserved for a big action movie. Explosions and gunshots have the appropriate weight and impact, but most of the audio seems to be spread across the front channels. The surrounds are called into play during the big action and chase scenes, with things being thrown around the room and 

Charlie's Angels (2019)

debris flying overhead, and music is mixed dynamically up into the front height channels to expand the soundstage. But I didn’t notice the usual sorts of ambient room and city sounds that normally breathe life into more developed soundtracks.

 

If you’ve read my review up to this point, you’re probably sensing a lot of negativity, and might assume that I hated Charlie’s Angels, but that isn’t the case. While I didn’t think Angels was necessarily a good movie—Ocean’s Eight was a far better and smarter female-buddy caper film—it isn’t a total stinker either.

 

And while I’m not generally a fan of Kristin Stewart and her typically one-note emotional range, she is actually quirky and funny here, and the most interesting Angel in my opinion. Plus, at 52% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter and with a 78% audience score it definitely won’t be the worst thing you’ll see this year, and it has its big action and chase moments that certainly play well in a 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.

Midway (2019)

Midway (movie)

Maybe one of the most important things about a film concerning itself with historical events is that it do so truthfully and accurately. Sure, we’ll forgive some minor inconsistencies at the expense of storytelling, dramatic license, and time constriction, but you need to get the majority of things right. And in this respect director Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, White House Down) retelling of Midway gets them right. (You can see a factcheck here at History vs Hollywood.)

 

Of course, the next thing a film needs to do to be successful is to be both engaging and entertaining, and I’d say Midway succeeds on these merits as well, an opinion echoed by its Rotten Tomatoes Audience score of 92%. This is not to say Midway isn’t without its flaws, attested by the critics’ less-than-enamored RT score of 42%.

 

The film opens four years before the events of Pearl Harbor with Japanese Admiral Yamamoto (Etsushi Toyokawa) ominously telling US intelligence officer Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) that Japan will attack if its oil supplies are threatened. Cut to December 7, 1941 and the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which delivers the US Navy its biggest defeat in history.

 

Midway concerns itself with the events following that attack, and how the US regroups and looks to not only save itself but deliver a counterpunch to the Japanese navy, leading up to the attack known as the Battle of Midway.

 

With the modern-day might of the US Navy, we don’t often think about just how close to utter defeat the naval forces were following Pearl Harbor. On that day, more than 2,300 sailors were killed along and 1,000-plus wounded, 18 ships were damaged or sunk, and 180 planes were destroyed. To restore naval operations, Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson, wearing a white wig nearly as distracting as his big white Joe Biden teeth from SNL sketches) is brought in to take control of the Pacific Fleet, described as “the most difficult job in the world.”

Midway (2019)

Following Pearl, the US had just three functional carriers, compared to Japan’s ten and zero functional battleships compared to Japan’s nine, with the Japanese also having more cruisers, bombers, and fighters; and much of their equipment was more modern. If the gamble at Midway didn’t pay off, the United States would have likely been sidelined for much of the war.

 

The movie does a good job of presenting these stakes, as well as compressing the timeline into an easy-to-follow narrative. If it is guilty of anything, it’s of trying to cram so many stars into so many roles that none of the characters are really fleshed out. It’s hard for viewers to really care for anyone when they have just a bit of screen time before another new and famous face is trotted out in the next scene.

 

And, honestly, there is more than enough drama in the true events of the war that we don’t need to be distracted by cutaway stories about USO parties or brief shots of homelife.

 

A perfect example is Mandy Moore cast as Ann Best, wife of hotshot pilot Dick Best (Ed Skrein), who seems to be there just so they could have her name in the credits, and serves no real role in the film. Dennis Quaid is also underused as Admiral Halsey. Aaron Eckhart is given a small role as Jimmy Doolittle, a pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for leading a near-suicidal bombing mission on Tokyo who must bail out in China and evade capture from the Japanese army, which killed 250,000 Chinese civilians for aiding in the escape of Doolittle and the other American pilots who survived the raid (events covered in the 2017 film In Harm’s Way). Musician Nick Jonas is brought on to portray real-life hero Aviation Machinist Bruno Gaido, receiving enough dialogue and backstory to give his character a bit of depth.

 

It’s tough to build much suspense when retelling a story where most viewers already know the outcome, but Midway manages to give the action scenes enough tension that you can’t help but groan as bombs and torpedoes slide just past their targets, missing by scant feet. The film also blatantly telegraphs its heroes. We know early on that cocky pilot Dick Best is going to be playing a big role in the air campaign, and when we see him perform a ridiculous landing maneuver onto an aircraft carrier very early on, we know we are going to see this move again later in the film. When Nimitz instructs Layton to make sure the 

Midway (2019)

intelligence mistakes of Pearl aren’t repeated, you know the time will come when Layton will have to convince Nimitz to trust him. Or that the friction between Dick Best and Wade McClusky (Luke Evans) will turn into a grudging respect.

 

Shot on Panavision DXL cameras at 8K resolution, Midway is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, not unusual for a film so heavily laden with CGI effects. Closeups feature 

lots of detail, but don’t seem to have that Nth degree of resolution of films with a true 4K DI. There is still plenty of detail to appreciate n clothing, from a crocheted top worn by Moore in one scene, to the wooly texture of Japanese officers’ uniforms, to the collar stitching on Americans’ shirts, to the leathery texture of the pilots’ seats.

 

Since none of the ships portrayed in the film still exist (at least not in their WWII-era state), they all had to be created, and the resolution does lay bare several instances of pretty blatant CGI, where things just look a bit video-gamey. The opening shot of an aircraft carrier with sailors doing PT on the deck just doesn’t ring true, especially if you focus on individual characters long enough. Nor does a scene at a graveyard in Pearl, which just looks . . .off. Any time there are so many computer-generated ships and planes on screen—which is often—there are bound to be a few instances where some shots aren’t perfect, but it is often the long shots that seem to suffer most.

 

HDR is used to good effect throughout, not just to enhance the brilliant red-orange fireballs that erupt from exploding ships and planes, burning with a vibrant fury and intensity, but also to bring an extra layer of depth and punch to interior shots aboard ships where sunlight in pouring in through port holes or walkways. The ocean gleams in shades of blue, with bright highlights as the sun glints off its surface, and exterior scenes are bright enough to make you squint into the sunny skies. Blacks remain deep and dark, and I didn’t notice any banding, which is a challenge with the varying shades of blue and grey

in the skies as planes fly in and out of different lighting and cloud cover.

 

Beyond the visuals, Midway offers a fun ride that sounds fantastic in a home theater. In fact, you might call it a 2-hour 18-minute Dolby Atmos spectacle masquerading as a war movie. The sound mix plays a dynamic role in nearly every scene, and if anyone has every wondered if their height speakers are working or if Atmos can add to the immersion of a movie, just show them any of the aerial attack scenes where the audio lends a wonderful third dimension to plane flyovers.

 

Planes rip along the side walls and into the back of the room, or roar past overhead, diving down on unsuspecting pilots, bullets shredding things around you. Flak shells explode left, right, above, and behind you, with bullets ricocheting all around the room.

 

Midway will also test your subwoofer’s mettle, with deep bass present throughout. Beyond the bombs and explosions, ships crash through waves with appropriate weight, and AAA guns thump you in your seat with repeated blasts. There is also the constant low, steady, bassy rumble as a background reminder that you’re aboard a warship, along with other ambient mechanical sounds to place you on

Midway (movie)

board, or the deep, throaty roar of the planes’ engines. There is also the carnage of the USS Arizona breaking up after explosions and then ripping itself apart with groans, creaks, and the rumble of crumpling steel.

 

Available for download now at the Kaleidescape Store ahead of its 4K disc release on February 18, Midway hits enough high points to overlook its flaws, and makes for a rollicking night in your home theater, with one of the most dynamic and immersive Dolby Atmos audio tracks I’ve heard in a while.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Turn on the TV, scroll through the radio dial, or browse a few Internet pages and it doesnt take long to see that the world is a pretty angry and divisive place right now. People are often mean and spiteful for no good reason, and there is little good news to be heard. Look no further than the partisan pettiness of Tuesday nights State of the Union Address. And I think thats one of the reasons why A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is just so refreshing.

 

It’s hard to imagine anyone besides Tom Hanks portraying Fred Rogers and recreating his landmark television show. With little more than a wig, some larger eyebrows, a change of wardrobe, and a slower speaking manner, Hanks perfectly channels the essence and spirit of Mister Rogers. Deservedly, Hanks is up for another Academy Award, this time in the Actor in a

Supporting Role category.

 

Like Rogers, Hanks is genuinely likable and trustworthy, and he has chosen a slate of roles throughout his career that have made him beloved. I also have to think the wheels to cast Tom Hanks as Rogers might have started turning a few years ago when Hanks removed his blazer and donned a sweater during his opening monologue on his ninth hosting gig on Saturday Night Live and launched into his America’s Dad” skit.

 

However, this is not really a movie about Mr. Rogers per se, but rather the relationship that builds between Rogers and 

cynical Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) after Vogel is tasked with writing a 400-word puff piece on Rogers. Vogel has a penchant for being ruthless with his subjects, to the point where his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson, whom many will recognize as Beth Pearson from This Is Us) says, Lloyd, please dont ruin my childhood” when he tells her about his assignment.

 

Interestingly, although much of this movie is based on actual events, central character Lloyd Vogel doesnt exist. The actual writer is Tom Junod who did write a piece for Esquire titled Can You Say . . . Hero?” back in 1998. While Junod has praised the film, he asked the writers to change his name and those of his family due to the way some of the family relationships are portrayed.

 

Fortunately for us—and Andrea—Lloyd discovers that Mister Rogers is exactly as he seems. There are no hidden demons, no buried secrets, and no ulterior motives. Rogers is just a genuinely kind, nice, and decent human being who spent every day striving to make himself and the world a better place, but especially for children. In an era where other childrens programming was entertaining kids by having people smash pies into their faces, Rogers treated children as real people, taking on real subjects like death, prejudice, and divorce, and helping kids to navigate through the complex world they were growing up in.

 

His message to parents was to love your children for who they are, not for what they will be, and not to forget your own childhood.

 

The movie tracks Vogels emotional journey as he struggles with a damaged relationship with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper). We watch as the closer Vogel gets to Mister Rogers, he grows and learns the value of letting go of anger and truly offering forgiveness.

 

If you know nothing about Fred Rogers, I invite you to watch this video of him testifying before a Senate subcommittee back in 1969. Rogers was there to defend the federal funding for Public Broadcasting, and in the course of his six minutes of 

talking, he completely disarms and wins over the subcommittee chairman, Senator John Pastore. You will learn everything you need to know about Rogerscalm, soothing nature and passion for his work in this short exchange.

 

The film has an interesting visual style, being presented almost as an episode of Mister Rogers’ 

Neighborhood. It opens with Rogers’ classic walk into the playhouse, removing his blazer and loafers and donning the famous red sweater and blue sneakers. He then introduces his new friend, Lloyd, and the story begins.

 

Scenes in the neighborhood” were filmed in Pittsburgh at WQED, home of the original set, and director Marielle Heller went to lengths to get those visuals to appear authentic, even using the same model cameras as the original production. There are many cut shots styled as the neighborhood of Make-Believe” with small-scale models as used in the original series, and even an educational video as was common from the original series showing how a magazine gets made. These scenes are all presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with greatly reduced resolution making them look soft and dated and accurate to the original.

 

Spending time with Mister Rogers must have been an intense, emotionally draining experience, with him giving laser focus to whoever he was speaking with. You get a sense of this when Hanks breaks the third-wall, turning to the camera and staring for long seconds as he invites us to remember those people who loved us into being who we are.

 

While the films master format is listed as being taken from a 4K digital, it also shows that it is from a 1080p/24 source format. Watching the movie, I was never struck by the sharpness or detail of the visuals. Images often looked a bit soft even in closeups, never attaining that ultra pore-revealing detail many current films exhibit. If not for the fact that both my projector

and processor were indicating they were receiving a 4K HDR image, I would have thought I was watching a Blu-ray.

 

While blacks arent truly deep, they are clean and noise-free, with images free of any banding. And while there isnt much here that truly benefits from the higher dynamic range, it does help with low-lit interior scenes and adds depth and dimension.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos track certainly isnt going to push the dynamics of your theater system. There are some nice atmospheric effects in some of the exterior scenes in New York as well as aboard the subway, and some reverb in large spaces such as a speech at a wedding early on, or the spaciousness of the soundstage of Rogersset.

 

Music is given plenty of room to breathe across the front channels and up into the front height speakers, giving it a better sense of space and width.

 

Neighborhood is a predominately dialogue-driven film, and fortunately the Atmos track does a wonderful job of keeping dialogue clear and understandable. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

There are a lot of movies that will look and sound better in your theater than A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, but there aren’t many that will leave you feeling better. The film released digitally this past Tuesday at the Kaleidescape Store, and will be available on 4K Blu-ray February 18. As a terrific companion to this film, I also suggest the fantastic documentary Wont You Be My Neighbor?, also available from the Kaleidescape Store.

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.

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

The old adage “fact is stranger than fiction” applies more to crime dramas like CSI and Dateline, but in the case of Ford v Ferrari fact can be more fascinating than fiction, and is certainly a heck of a lot more entertaining than much of what Hollywood has been delivering recently. While the physical 4K Blu-ray will arrive February 11, the 4K HDR version is available for download from the Kaleidescape Store now, which is how I watched.

 

The film’s plot is pretty simple: Ford is in the midst of one of its longest sales slumps in years and looking for a way to re-energize the brand and make its cars relevant to Baby Boomers, who are coming of age and looking for something more exciting to drive. Lee Iacocca’s (Jon Bernthal) solution is to tie the Ford name to winning, specifically at the grueling 24 Hours 

of Le Mans where Ferrari had long ruled the throne, including a string of six wins in a row. When Ford’s bid to purchase Ferrari (who “builds fewer cars in a year than Ford does in a day!”) is rudely rebuffed by “il Commendatore” Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone), Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) decides to go all-in on winning Le Mans, spending whatever it takes, and hiring the top race-car designer, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to put together a car and team helmed by veteran British driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale).

 

If you avoided FvF during its theatrical run because you’re not a car lover or a racing fan, rest assured this film still offers plenty to keep you engaged through its just over two-

and-a-half-hour runtime. Watching history unfold with a story not many outside the auto or race industry are familiar with is interesting enough, but the dynamic between Shelby and Miles is the engine that truly drives this film.

 

Of course, car and race fans will appreciate the movie on a different level (a higher gear?), reveling in the technical details of car design and race mechanics, the lore of Scuderia Ferrari S.p.A., and what it took for Shelby and Miles to fight Ford’s corporate culture to create a car many felt the company simply incapable of producing.

 

The film is up for four Academy Awards—Picture, Editing, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing—and Bale received a Best Actor Golden Globes nomination. And, further speaking to its broad appeal, it received a Rotten Tomatoes “Certified Fresh” rating of 92, with an Audience Score of 98.

 

Shot in ArriRaw at 4.5K resolution, FvF is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate; and the movie looks terrific, with tons of detail and texture in every scene. The images aren’t overly enhanced with unnatural sharpness, but use every pixel for truly high-resolution visuals that bristle with detail. In an early scene where Bale is working on a car wearing a shirt with a tiny and tight check pattern, you can see every fine square. Closeups show every pore and line in actors’ faces, and the paint jobs on the cars have a glossy, liquid sheen. You can also appreciate the various textures in different suit and shirt fabrics and interiors.

Ford v Ferrari

Many of the scenes are shot outdoors, and the day scenes frequently have the sky in that certain shade of powder blue that reveals a bit of digital noise, but this just gives the images a more film-like quality. While HDR isn’t used aggressively, it does provide wonderful shadow detail, adding depth and dimension. Night race scenes benefit in the form of deep blacks while still showing bright headlights. And I’m not sure that the Ferrari’s rosso corsa color actually pushes the boundaries of the wider color gamut, but it does pop off the screen.

 

Beyond these visual qualities, it is the director James Mangold’s (Logan, 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) dynamic filming style, angles, and editing of the racing scenes that make FvF so exhilarating. I frequently had to remind myself I was supposed to be reviewing the film instead of just enjoying it in order to pull myself back from the engaging images and story to take note. The race scenes pull you in with various perspectives, from driver view, to low follow, to over the shoulder, to tight on the drivers. You can feel the tension and stress both the racers and the cars are going through as they click through the eight-and-a-half miles of country roads for 24 hours at Le Mans.

 

The filmmakers painstakingly recreated the exact twists and turns of the 1960s Le Mans raceway as it existed during this famous race, a course that has been significantly modified over the past 50 years. And the realism of the lengthy race at the film’s climax never loses intensity or becomes monotonous as you watch cars and drivers increasingly wearing down under the stresses.

 

One scene where Shelby is trying to impress Ford II with the importance of having the right man behind the wheel of the new Ford GT nearly has you experiencing the G forces and stresses on the body as he muscles the car around a tight road  

course. It’s possibly the closest you can get to what racing actually feels like without ever actually getting into a car, with the images capturing the intensity, excitement, thrill, and absolute speed of the race. (If you do fancy yourself a racer—and wind up in England—I can’t recommend a day at Palmer Sport enough. I got to drive the Formula 3000 open-wheel racer, and it was absolutely brilliant!)

 

As good as the images are, race cars are the soul of this movie, and it’s the vehicles’ dialogue through their engine sounds that pull you into the action. From the opening shots—even before the production credits have finished—there is a swirl of cars racing all around you with race announcers in different languages filling the room. The crash and bang as they shift up through gears, the throaty room-filling bass of the naturally aspirated engines revving up to red line, the cars braking late and hard into a corner—the audio puts you right in the car and sounds fantastic.

 

Frustratingly, 21st Century Fox still refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the Dolby Atmos soundtracks for its releases, so the download was limited to the 5.1-channel DTS-HD, but that still does an admirable job of putting you square in the action, and the Atmos upmixer provides a nice sense of immersion.

Ford v Ferrari

Even non-race scenes are filled with ambience, from the sounds of mechanics working, to the echoey expanse of the Ford factory, to the spaciousness of the outside world. My only quibble with the audio is that dialogue—especially Bale’s—was occasionally difficult to understand. I don’t know whether this was due to the noise of the races drowning out the voices, or just the heavy accent Bale used for Miles.

 

Ford v Ferrari is an entertaining and dynamic film that looks and sounds fantastic in a luxury home cinema, and one that should be on the very shortlist for your next movie night.

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: 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.