John Sciacca Tag

Venom

Venom

I’ll freely admit that I’m a superhero-movie fan. Ever since seeing the original, Christopher Reeve Superman: The Movie as an 8-year-old, I’ve loved watching these heroes battle to save the planet up on the big screen, and now in the comfort of my own home.

 

No franchise has done more to raise the bar of the superhero genre than Marvel, which, for the past 10 years, has been crafting a spectacular, epic tale that has gradually been drawing an entire universe of characters together in a battle for half the galaxy that began in Avengers: Infinity War and will culminate in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. (Not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [MCU], but still spectacular superhero viewing includes Wonder Woman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, especially The Dark Knight, which transcends the superhero genre into the realm of simply spectacular cinema.)

 

I bring this up because as much as I enjoy superhero films, I knew virtually nothing about Venom prior to watching. In fact, my only previous knowledge of the character was his appearance in the 2007 Spider-Man 3. From that film, I learned that Venom was an alien entity that bonded with Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and kind of became like a bad version of the character, wearing a black version of Spidey’s costume.

 

With this latest reboot of the character, I expected Venom to continue the MCU trend of bringing multiple characters together, or would at the very least include Tom Holland, who has taken over Spidey’s mantle starting in Captain America: Civil War and continuing in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Infinity War.

 

Well, umm, no.

 

While it was made in association with Marvel Studios, Venom is a standalone Sony Pictures release bearing no obvious connection to the MCU or even to Spider-Man. This is part of a complicated legal and licensing agreement between Sony and Marvel that you can read more about here.

 

So, unless you’re a hardcore Venom fan, you can scrap everything you think you might know about Venom and just go into this cold. In fact, knowing nothing might actually be the best way to approach this, since you won’t be burdened by any required geek-cred knowledge of backstories, interwoven plot lines, or fear of missing any fanboy Easter eggs.

 

This is an origin story, attempting to introduce and launch a new expanded universe of Spider-Man characters. But the film has a big shortcoming in the casting of (or maybe it’s the direction or the dialogue given to) Tom Hardy, who plays both Edie Brock and Venom. Brock is supposed to be this killer investigative journalist, but, honestly, Hardy comes across as just too slow, clunky, and dim-witted to be even close to believable in this role, and the early scenes with him as a journalist were the hardest for me to just sit back and enjoy.

 

Fortunately, your suspension of disbelief over Hardy’s journalistic prowess doesn’t need to last long, as he soon bonds with the alien symbiote Venom, who was brought back from a space exploration mission and kept locked in a lab looking for a compatible host. Once Hardy absorbs Venom, the rest of the film has him coming to terms with his new amorphous, shape-

shifting, and head-chomping alter-ego as the movie transitions from one action piece to another as the duo looks to take down the techno-billionaire bad guy. Actually, I found Hardy more believable post-infection since his body adapting to the “parasite” offers an explanation for his semi out-of-it behavior.

 

One thing Sony knows how to do is release fantastic-looking 4K HDR films,

and Venom is no exception. Detail and color are first-rate throughout, but especially during the multiple night scenes in San Francisco, where the city looks stunning. These shots take full advantage of HDR to produce bright lights and vibrant colors while retaining deep and solid black levels.

 

Venom has no shortage of big action scenes and visual effects, which all look terrific. One of the best scenes is a chase through downtown San Francisco (happening around the 54-minute mark) that highlights the best of what Venom is: Pure balls-out mayhem, with a liberal dose of SFX thrown in for good measure. Just don’t count how many times The Rialto theater appears in the background. Rather, sit back and enjoy the cars smashing and Brock/Venom racing manically through the crowded streets on a motorcycle.

 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equally impressive, offering a very dynamic mix that will definitely give your system a workout. There are tons of moments where the height channels are called into action, whether it’s drones or helicopters flying overhead, gun mayhem, or just the ambience representing the acoustic space on screen. Bass is particularly impressive, having a ton of weight and impact, with explosions you’ll feel in your chair. Venom’s voice is also recorded with a very cool effect, booming from all around and sounding like it’s coming from inside your head. 

 

The Kaleidescape download includes five pre-marked scenes, along with several bonus features, including multiple making-of docs, deleted scenes, and a special “Venom mode” that engages “informative pop-ups throughout the film to provide insight on the movie’s relationship to the comics, and to reveal hidden references that even a seasoned Venom-fan may have missed!”

 

Venom belongs to that increasing group of films that sees a real divide between critics and fans. While scoring a meager 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, it managed an 85% audience score. In short, I’d say Venom is a classic big summer popcorn action film where it pays to check your brain at the door and just sit back and marvel (no pun intended) at the terrific visual effects and pummeling Dolby Atmos audio track. If you’re looking for some home theater eye and ear candy, Venom won’t disappoint.

John Sciacca

Venom

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.

Mission: Impossible–Fallout

Like scotch, red wine, and balsamic vinegar, the Mission: Impossible franchise seems to be one of those rare entities that actually improves with age. The latest installment, Fallout, is the sixth in the franchise (they dropped the number in the title following III), and it managed to not only bring in the most money—both foreign and domestic—of any of the films, but also receive the highest review scores of the series from Rotten Tomatoes (97%), Metacritic (86), and CinemaScore (A).

 

While I wouldn’t brand myself a Tom Cruise fan, I have to hand it to the guy—he definitely picks fantastic projects to be involved in. And, six films in, he has IMF agent Ethan Hunt down pat. Also, he sure appears to do all his own stunts, whether it’s racing motorcycles or cars, jumping off buildings (where he actually broke his ankle while filming Fallout), or learning how to fly a frickin’ helicopter for one of the film’s key scenes!

Mission: Impossible--Fallout

Part of what makes the Impossible franchise work is familiarity. We know we’re going to be in for some major action set pieces, we know we’ll be whisked to exotic locales, we know there will be crosses and double-crosses, and we know there will be rubber masks, and Fallout doesn’t stray from that formula. We also have a returning cadre of IMF agents helping Hunt in the form of Simon Pegg, playing Benji Dunn for the fourth straight film, and Luther Stickell, played by a Ving Rhames, who has appeared alongside Cruise in every MI film. Christopher McQuarrie follows up his writing and directing efforts from the previous Impossible film, Rogue Nationwhich is fitting as Fallout is a sequel of sorts.

 

Eager to check out this latest entry, I downloaded it as soon as it appeared on Kaleidescape, where it was available months before the disc release.

 

The film begins roughly two years after the action in Rogue Nation, which ended, you might recall, with head Syndicate bad guy Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) being lured into a sealed glass cell, where he was gassed unconscious and taken into custody. (While not a prerequisite, Fallout does assume some level of MI film knowledge, and watching—or re-watching—Rogue Nation would definitely help stave off some confusion—or at least add to the enjoyment of the film.)

 

Lane’s capture was not the end of the Syndicate. Rather, the group’s loyalists have reorganized into a splinter cell, calling themselves the Apostles, with a terror-for-hire philosophy that has been wreaking havoc around the globe. Fallout begins with—and the plot revolves around—Hunt and team trying to track down and recover three stolen plutonium cores that new

mystery-terrorist John Lark wants to make into nuclear weapons and bring destruction to the current world order.

 

Most of the movie was shot on 35mm film, and the amount of grain and noise is sometimes a tad excessive in dark scenes, and in brightly lit scenes such as the all-white bathroom at the club. It isn’t a bad transfer by any

means—rather, it looks like film instead of video. But several scenes were filmed in IMAX, and these look simply gorgeous in 4K, with an absolutely stunning amount of detail.

 

The Dolby Atmos track on Fallout is fantastic and reference quality in every way. Just the opening title sequence, with the iconic theme pulsing from every speaker, is a terrific audio demo in itself. Dialogue is clear and easily understandable throughout, no matter how frantic the action gets. Bass is deep and loud when it should be, with explosions rocking your listening room and gunshots carrying the appropriate degree of crack and sizzle.

 

Fallout is also one of the more impressive Atmos soundtracks I can recall lately, with the full complement of surround and height speakers used extensively to provide immersion and ambient effects. For example, in the beginning of the film, Hunt and crew have a meeting in a tunnel in Berlin, and the audio reflects this acoustic space perfectly, with rumbles and echoes happening all around, including overhead.

 

The last 30 minutes of the movie are sheer action, with the majority presented in IMAX video quality. Visually and sonically, it’s the stuff of absolute home theater legend, and reference in every respect. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but let’s just say that helicopters make for some terrific overhead Atmos audio, and Fallout’s conclusion in the mountains of Kashmir doesn’t disappoint.

 

At nearly two and a half hours, this movie is lengthy, and packed with twists, turns, and character introductions (and reintroductions) throughout, so you’ll want to keep your wits about you and actively watch this instead of trying to monitor a cellphone or iPad and just checking in when you hear an explosion. (I dare say you’ll pick up things and understand the film better on a second viewing.) Fallout is one of those rare mega-dollar blockbuster films that really pays off, and really shines in a luxury home cinema!

John Sciacca

Mission: Impossible--Fallout

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. 1: Is Home Theater Dead?

In the very first episode, podcast hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger (briefly) introduce themselves & explain what the Cineluxe site & The Cineluxe Hour are all about. At 6:38, Cineluxe contributor John Sciacca joins Dennis & Mike to help define luxury home entertainment & explain how you can have a personal luxury experience watching movies with a laptop & headphones. At 12:34, legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis joins the group to argue that dedicated home theater rooms are still the best way to enjoy movies at home, and to talk about his company, Ravya. And at 21:44, everybody weighs in on the most overrated movie directors ever before saying goodnight.

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CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

Small Room–Big Sound

Generally, when you think of a media room or home theater, it conjures up images of a fairly large space. Lots of seating, huge screen, drapes, columns, etc. And I would say most of the media/theater rooms I have worked in over the years are in the 18 x 25-foot ballpark, usually with 10-foot ceilings. Sometimes the areas are much bigger.

 

But do you need a large room to enjoy a luxury experience?

 

A few months ago, I reviewed a dARTS (Digital Audio Reference Theater System) audio system. Generally, I review gear in my living room, which is a fairly large space that opens up to both a kitchen and a nook area. With the room’s layout, I sit about 13 feet from my front channels and screen, and about 15 feet from my side surround and rear surround speakers.

Small Room--Big Sound

dARTS 535 Series digital surround theater system

But, due to the style and design of the system I was reviewing, installing it in my living room wasn’t practical. Instead, I installed the 5.2.2-channel speakers in a new bedroom we had built onto our home a couple of years ago. The room measures roughly 13 x 15 feet and has 9-foot ceilings—in other words, a bedroom size you would find in just about any home.

 

When I first started listening to the system, I was amazed at how much more detailed things sounded. Not that dialogue was suddenly clearer or that music notes were sharper, but how I was just constantly more aware of and noticing those distinct little sounds and Foley effects that are often buried in the background of a movie’s soundtrack. Small creaks and subtle ambient cues like leaves rustling, footsteps walking around in the distance, rain pattering outside. Watching It on this system—a movie with an absolutely fantastic and immersive Dolby Atmos mix—was absolutely terrifying, especially the scenes within the sewer and in the house on Neibolt Street.

 

And due to how the overhead speakers were installed (using a portable lighting rig re-purposed as an in-ceiling speaker holder to avoid cutting 10-inch holes in my new ceiling), they were 8 feet off the floor, or about 4 feet above my seated listening height. Compared with the “reference” system in my living room—which has vaulted ceilings spanning up to about 15 feet at the peak, with the four height speakers about 10 feet above my seated position—this produced overhead audio that was far more noticeable and localizable. When something was meant to sound as if it was happening above you, it happened right above you. Being in the center of this 5.2.2 speaker sphere produced incredible audio pans—front to back, side to side, top to bottom, sound just traveled with perfect tracking all around and over me.

 

Because there is less air to “energize” in a small room, you can use smaller speakers and still hit high sound-pressure levels, which helps from both a design and budget standpoint. Instead of one or two massive subwoofers, four small subs will deliver greater and smoother bass throughout. And because you’re physically closer to the speakers, you can generally listen at lower volume levels and still get a reference experience. I wasn’t blasting the system to feel bass impact waves or to be aware of the overhead and surround channels. In fact, I often listened at 10 to 15 dB lower than usual.

 

The smaller space also meant there were far fewer sonic distractions from other parts of the house—you know, the background-of-life sounds that every home has. Those hums, clicks, whirs, and other environmental noises all must be overcome in order to hear the soft sounds within a film or audio recording. Lower the background noise, and the sounds you want to hear are much easier to pick out.

 

In a way, this intimate, small-room experience was like listening to a pair of really nice headphones . . . but better! For one, I could share it with others. Two, headphones can’t deliver the same full-body bass impact of a great subwoofer. And three,

where headphones struggle to produce and place actual surround sound, this system did that in spades.

 

And guess what else? Because I was sitting much closer to my display, the 60-inch screen seemed far more cinematic.

Small Room--Big Sound

To be fair, some credit certainly needs to go to the fantastic sounding dARTS audio system and Marantz AV8802A processor (shown above). This combination would retail for just north of $20,000, and dARTS’ unique implementation of Audyssey room correction is a fair measure of the system performance’s “secret sauce.” Had I just tossed some entry-level gear together, the experience surely wouldn’t have been as impressive. (You can read my review here.)

 

Not only does every home have a small space or two that could be the perfect media room candidate, it might just turn out to deliver the best experience in the house. (For more on making the most out of a small space, read the “So You Think Your Room’s Bad” posts from Mike Gaughn & Dennis Burger.)

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.

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

To show that home theater and media rooms are for much more than just movie and TV watching, this week I’m reviewing Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague, available on Blu-ray Disc or for HD download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store (the version I watched).

 

If you’re a film fan, you’re likely familiar with Zimmer’s work, since it’s spanned the past 30 years. He has scored more than 150 films, including many for Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, and, most recently, Christopher Nolan. Zimmer has received numerous Grammys, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Original Score for The Lion King.

 

Filmed in Prague, this concert captures an evening during Zimmer’s 2016 European concert tour where he plays 35 songs spanning decades of his work and includes music from Sherlock Holmes, Crimson Tide, Gladiator, The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception. (Sadly, this concert pre-dates Zimmer’s fascinating and intense score for Nolan’s recent Dunkirk.)

 

An interesting (in a good way) twist is the concert’s Dolby Atmos mix, meaning it’s recorded to really shine in a luxury home surround setup. Now, you might or might not love the decisions made in this very aggressive mix, but no one will watch this and leave wondering whether all of their speakers were active or not. 

 

Years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Star Wars in Concert in person, an event that brought together the 86-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus along with a giant high-def LED screen, measuring some 60-feet wide by 30-feet tall. This two-hour performance featured music spanning all six Star Wars films, blending music, film, lasers, pyrotechnics, and spectacle into a fantastically memorable evening.

That experience set my expectations for this concert, so I assumed there would be video and effects accompanying the score, but I was wrong. In fact, the concert opens with no dialogue or introduction whatsoever. It merely begins with Zimmer alone on stage at a piano playing the opening notes from “Driving” (Driving Miss Daisy). He is soon joined by another musician on flute, and then another on accordion, and soon there is a full stage of musicians, along with a full orchestra, and backing vocals provided by the

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

Czech national choir, making 72 musicians in all—including Johnny Marr of The Smiths fame on guitar.

 

After playing the opening three songs, and at various points throughout the concert’s 138-minute run time, Zimmer steps to the mic to say a few words, introducing members of the band, and sharing some memories or anecdotes about the compositions.

 

Shot digitally on Arri Alexa, the 16:9 image looks beautiful. Colors are bright and punchy, black levels are deep and solid with no banding or noise, showing off clear differences between the different shades of black in the performers’ outfits, and there is plenty of detail.

 

While there are no laser effects and very little accompanying video (some pulsing lights and symbols that enhance the beat, rhythm, and mood of the score, not displaying any movie footage), the show features plenty of dramatic lighting to illuminate the performers and punctuate the intensity of various tracks.

 

One great benefit of owning the Kaleidescape version is that all of the songs are bookmarked, allowing you to easily jump to your favorite moments, or just press the “Info” button to bring up the title listing to identify what you’re listening to.

 

Like Zimmer’s scoring style, the audio from this concert is big and bombastic. It also differs from the original works in that it has more of a rock concert, electronic vibe to it, which arguably works better, and is more entertaining, for a live show. “Why So Serious?” from The Dark Knight is one of my favorite Zimmer works, and here it plays a bit like a Blue Man Group performance, with heavy percussion and an intense light show that well capture the Joker’s manic personality.

 

Played at reference volumes, this concert is quite loud, and has a surprising amount of deep low-frequency information, especially the opening notes of “Half Remembered Dream” from Inception. In fact, while watching this I had to remove the filter on my SVS sub that boosts bass at 32 Hz to give a bit of punch to films because it created just too much low-end bloat.

 

As mentioned before, the Atmos mix is highly immersive and aggressive, but also . . . interesting. Often concert or performance mixes are done from either an on-stage or in-crowd perspective, but for most of this show, you’re positioned primarily in the middle of the mix, with instrumentation and vocals frequently wrapping all around the room. The primary instruments and backing vocals are mixed heavily into the front channels, but also spread overhead and into the sides. If you find yourself too overwhelmed by the Atmos soundtrack, the Blu-ray also features a two-channel PCM mix. 

 

For fans of Zimmer’s works, this is an absolute must-get. For those who love watching live performances, or are looking for an entertaining evening at home that doesn’t involve explosions, jump scares, or the latest rom-com, this belongs on the shortlist.

John Sciacca

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

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.

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

One of the things we’re trying to encourage here at Cineluxe is ongoing dialogue, debate, and discussion. As we’ve stated before, the term “luxury” can be a moving target and mean different things to different people—or to put it more crudely, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

 

Dennis Burger recently wrote a post, “Luxury System Basics: Another View,” in response to my post discussing the minimum electronics required to outfit a system capable of delivering a luxury home experience. Reading Dennis’ post made me think, “Well, would he consider a laptop and headphones a luxury experience?!?”

 

I’ll admit, at first that voice in my head had a pretty sarcastic edge.

 

But then I started thinking on it a little more. I mean, could a laptop and pair of headphones deliver a luxury experience?

 

I think that answer is simultaneously “no” and “yes,” but most likely “a definite qualified maybe . . .”

 

Before I give a more considered response, let me start with a story for a bit of perspective.

 

After I got married, my wife and I moved into an apartment building in Walnut Creek, California. My entertainment system at the time consisted of a 25″ Proton CRT tube, some Boston Acoustics towers and matching center channel, a Yamaha surround receiver, and a Definitive Technology 15″ sub. Our first night in the new apartment, we watched Babe—yes, the talking pig movie—on VHS at a volume level that I would describe as modest at best. The next morning we found a note on our door that said (to the best of my memory), “You don’t live alone in the woods! You need to keep the volume down!”

 

This was crushingly disappointing to me as I knew it meant I’d no longer be able to enjoy movies or music at any kind of volume level until we moved out. And this on the second day of our one-year lease.

 

So, what if you love movies—or music—but live in a similar situation, where you’re unable to have a system due to neighborly issues? Or if you have a space that just can’t accommodate a massive screen? Or you travel a lot and want to have the best possible experience wherever you go? Or if you’re like Dennis’s friend Sara Beth and just find large screens overwhelming?

 

Modern laptops can deliver 4K HDR resolution, which is insane pixel density when compared to screens four or more times larger. They also have ultra-powerful processors, many gigs of RAM, and fantastic video cards for wonderful video scaling.

 

Some laptops even offer an HDMI input, meaning you can connect an external 4K HDR source like a UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4K TV, or Kaleidescape Strato and watch it on the laptop’s screen.

 

By the numbers, a decent-sized laptop screen—say 16″ diagonal—sitting in your lap would achieve both SMPTE and THX recommended viewing angles for an immersive experience. This would actually deliver the same visual experience as sitting 12.5′  from a 100″ screen. (If you’re curious about calculating recommended screen sizes for your seating position, this is a great site.)

 

Regarding screen size, I’d also say that I’d rather watch a great image on a smaller screen than a good one on a large screen. In other words, a 75″ screen doesn’t always trump the experience of viewing on a 55″ or 65″.

On the audio side, headphones can definitely deliver the luxury Schiit. (I’m referring to Schiit Audio, of course.) In fact, in some ways, a good pair of headphones with an outboard DAC and amplifier can get you far closer to the source material than audio systems costing many times the price. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to audition a pair of truly cost-no-object phones like Sennheiser’s Orpheus 2 or HiFiMan’s Shangri-La, then you know how truly jaw-dropping audio can be. Headphones can reveal micro details and subtleties that can be lost when listening on a traditional pair of loudspeakers, with bass response, dynamics, and isolation from outside noise that traditional systems struggle to match.

 

Headphones also aren’t impacted by the room’s acoustics, typically deliver fantastic audio at less-than-reference

Orpheus Comes Alive

Powering on Sennheiser’s $52,000 HE 1 (also known as Orpheus 2) headphones initiates an elegant ballet, the controls slowly extending from their recessed positions on the front of the marble plinth, the eight tubes rising and slowly warming to life, and the storage cover gently rising to reveal the headphones themselves, enclosed in a luxurious storage case. This orchestration is designed to entice and excite as the system slowly comes online, timed so Orpheus is fully ready to entertain upon completion.

—J.S.

levels, and won’t have your neighbors (or roommates) leaving any snotty notes on your door.

 

With virtualization software and processing like DTS Headphone:X or Dolby Headphone, you can even get a simulated surround experience while wearing a pair of headphones. Is it as immersive as having an actual dedicated 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker array, which can place sounds discretely anywhere in the room including directly over your head and behind you? No, but it can be pretty damn impressive.

 

The place where this kind of experience truly falls short is when it goes beyond an audience of one. Sitting hunched over a laptop screen side-by-side with a group of headphone-wearing friends is certainly no one’s definition of luxury.

 

So, can a laptop and headphones deliver a luxury experience for a solo cinephile? You tell me.

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.

Papillon (2017)

One of my favorite, truly epic “inspired by actual events” films is Papillon. Released in 1973, it stars Steve McQueen as Henri “Papillon” Charrière, a safecracker framed for murder and condemned to a life of hard labor at the notorious French Guiana penal colony on Devil’s Island. The film is balanced by a terrific performance from Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega, a counterfeiter who agrees to finance Papillon’s escape in exchange for protection.

 

I can clearly remember the first time I saw this movie, watching a late-night cable presentation at my grandmother’s house on a 20-inch tube TV, where the marathon tale of survival and escape from the brutalizing French penal system seemed like it ran for four hours.

Papillon (1973)

Papillon (1973)

Whether you saw and remember the original Papillon, I’m betting you weren’t aware it was recently remade. The new version came to theaters in a very limited release this past August with little to no fanfare, and moved on to home video shortly thereafter. When I saw that both versions were available for purchase on the Kaleidescape Movie Store in HD quality, I downloaded them to see how they compared.

 

Both films are based on Charrière’s international best-selling autobiographies, Papillon and Banco. (It’s interesting to note that the 1973 film features a screenwriting credit by Dalton Trumbo, whose own incredible life was the basis for the film Trumbo.) Whereas most “prison break” films spend the majority of time following the plotting of the escape, Papillon instead focuses on the characters and their daily nightmarish existence on Devil’s Island, where treachery lurks around every corner and 40% of prisoners died within the first years, with only two prisoners successfully escaping.

Papillon (2017)

Papillon (2017)

The remake is based on the 1973 screenplay, and thus borrows heavily from the original film’s storyline. Here, the titular character of Papillon (which means “butterfly” in French, for a prominent tattoo) is played by Charlie Hunnam, with Rami Malek (of recent Bohemian Rhapsody fame) taking over Hoffman’s role of Louis Dega. 

 

At 133 minutes, the new film certainly isn’t short, but is 18 minutes shorter than the original. This helps it feel faster paced, with less time spent on the solitary-confinement scenes, and quicker transitions to the film’s many dramatic moments. It also excises scenes from the original (notably the visit to the leper colony), but offers a bit of backstory at the beginning showing Papillon’s life outside of prison, in a very Gatsby-esque Paris.

 

In many ways, the new version reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s (in)famous Psycho remake. While Papillon isn’t a shot-for-shot remake like Van Sant’s Psycho, it leans so heavily on the original storyline, and even dialogue, that it ends up feeling like the same film. Hunnam does an admirable job portraying Pappy, but never seems to hit the same level of rock-bottom despair and suffering McQueen portrayed. Malek, however, does a fantastic job filling Hoffman’s shoes as the out-of-play and overwhelmed Dega just trying to survive to the next day.

 

One thing that can’t be faulted with the new film is the picture and sound quality. While not available in 4K HDR, it has nice detail and solid black levels. The color palette is mostly restrained by design, with drab prison and guard uniforms and hardscrabble landscape. But the images are natural looking, and outdoor scenes are bright, showing off the vibrant blues of the inviting waters surrounding the island. The 5.1-channel DTS-HD audio track is also quite active and does a great job keeping dialogue intelligible. It also upmixes wonderfully to a Dolby Atmos speaker layout, with nice overhead fill from the score and well-placed ambient effects, such as aboard the prison transport ship or during exterior scenes.

 

Critics and audiences alike greatly preferred the original film, with the 1973 version scoring 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 90% audience rating, while the new film only mustered 52% on RT with a 69% audience score. While I’d agree that the original is the superior film—and certainly the one to watch if Papillon is new to you—the remake is far from unenjoyable, and provides a great way to revisit an old favorite in a spruced-up manner. 

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.

Creating a Luxury Entertainment System: The Basics

Now that we’ve roughly established what a luxury experience is, it’s time to start talking about the minimum components required to create an entertainment system. In my experience working with thousands of clients over a 20-year career as a custom installer, I’ve found that the vast majority of people starting out don’t really have an idea what is required to create a surround system.

 

And whether you’re spending $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000, there are some essential components that are needed to create a luxury entertainment experience in your home—namely, a display, speakers, an audio processor and amplification, source components, a control system, and installation. Highly recommended would also be some comfortable seating, lighting control, and room treatments to tame the audio “beasties” that live in all but the most bespoke entertainment spaces. Here are brief descriptions of each essential ingredient—future posts will dive into greater detail.

 

Display

Frequently the most visible portion of an entertainment system, the display—whether a flat-panel TV or a projection screen—needs to be big enough to provide a cinematic viewing experience while not being so big that it overwhelms the room or 

makes viewers sitting close feel like they’re watching a tennis match. While not set in stone, for the purposes of Cineluxe, the minimum screen size should be around 75”.

 

Speakers

With few and rare exceptions, the speakers built into modern TVs are garbage and should never be considered adequate for providing decent sound, let alone a luxury experience. At a minimum, a surround system requires a 5.1-channel speaker configuration. This includes three front speakers near the display—left, center, right; two surround speakers often at the side of or behind the listening position; and a subwoofer (the .1), which handles the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel (that is, bass information like explosions and dinosaur foot stomps). As you get into larger rooms—and more advanced systems—the speaker count can go far above 5.1 to well over 30, with multiple subwoofers.

Audio Processor & Amplification

Surround sound audio is typically delivered in a digital format called a bitstream, which is made up of the 0s and 1s necessary to deliver an immersive audio experience. But you need a component that can decode all of this information and route it to the correct speaker. The most common surround formats are from Dolby and DTS, and they come in multiple formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD, and DTS:X. Once the signal has been decoded, it needs to be amplified before being sent to the speakers. Many systems combine these functions into one device called an AVR, or audio/video receiver. But many luxury systems use separate, specialized components for these tasks, to improve performance.

Trinnov Altitude 32 audio processor

Source Components

These provide the content you’re watching and/or listening to. Typical source components include a cable or satellite set-top box, a Blu-ray Disc player, a video game console, and a network streamer. To be considered luxury, a system needs to contain at least one 4K HDR-capable component, such as an UltraHD Blu-ray player, Kaleidescape Strato, Xbox One X, or AppleTV 4K.

 

Control System

By the time you combine all of the components required to create an entertainment system, you’ll have amassed a pile of remote controls. No system—but least of all one striving for luxury performance—should require multiple remotes to operate, so a single control system should be employed that can operate the majority of tasks with one, simple button press . . . or even a voice command.

 

Installation

In the hands of an untrained cook, even the most fantastic ingredients can result in an unappetizing or substandard dish. Similarly, no matter how great each of the individual pieces are, the entire entertainment system needs to be installed, integrated, and configured correctly to deliver its maximum performance. For most people, this requires hiring a professional installer whose job it is to tie everything together correctly.

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.

Luxury Defined–Take 2

Luxury Defined--Take 2

Following up on Dennis Burger’s “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” and my own “Luxury Defined,” I feel that a site calling itself Cineluxe needs to be able to pin down not just what luxury is in general but exactly what it means for a home entertainment space. Does it mean a private IMAX screening room with a 20-foot-wide screen, seating for 30, and a price tag north of $1 million? Definitely. Is it a big-screen TV with a well-designed and integrated surround system that puts you in the middle of your favorite film or concert? Most likely. Is it slapping a soundbar beneath a flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix? Probably not.

 

The dictionary actually lays out a pretty broad definition of luxury: “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort, or something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary; an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.”

 

So, when we’re talking about luxury as it pertains to the entertainment space, we need to first clarify what is “absolutely necessary,” and then anything beyond that would be luxurious. Well, potentially.

 

For an entertainment system, there are some barebones components that are “absolutely necessary” in order to have a functioning system: A display, sound system, and source components. In theory, this could all be rolled up into a modern smart TV, which provides the display/picture, the sound (albeit via abysmal internal speakers), and the source via built-in streaming. I dare say, no one would come over for a Netflix-and-chill and consider a solitary flat-panel TV on the wall as “luxury” in any sense.

 

A basic upgrade from the bare minimum would be transitioning to a larger screen, an improved sound system, and higher-quality sources. This could be the typical bedroom 55”-and-up screen with a soundbar and wireless subwoofer, and maybe a Blu-ray player or UltraHD streaming capabilities. A definite step up from the minimum of “absolutely necessary,” but still a real stretch to call it “luxurious,” even if you watch while ensconced in 1,000 thread-count sheets, wearing a cashmere robe, and sipping Cristal from Baccarat flutes.

 

To get into the realm of true “luxury entertainment,” we need to push the performance boundaries well beyond just what is necessary and start considering things like room integration and functionality. While not a hard-and-fast definition, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that at a minimum a luxury entertainment system would feature a 75” or larger TV or projection system, a multichannel surround sound speaker system with Dolby Atmos, and 4K HDR sources capable of delivering the best picture and sound quality. Additionally, a luxury experience would feature a well-designed control system to simplify operation, acoustical treatments to improve sound quality, comfortable seating, and lighting/shading control.

 

Luxury tends to have a nebulous definition as it is a bit of a moving target based on one’s finances at a given time in their life. For example, while I was in high school, eating out with friends at a place that required leaving a tip was a luxury. Today, it’s a luxury when my wife and I have a dinner bill that crests $200. My first “luxury” home entertainment purchase was a 15” Definitive Technology subwoofer that cost $700; today my system includes two subwoofers that sell for $2,000 apiece.

 

While you can’t put a dollar amount that defines a luxury experience, it’s safe to say that it does come at a price. Granted, a price that is many thousands less today than it was when I started in this industry 20 years ago.

 

When you have made a commitment to wanting something that is not truly one of life’s necessities—in this case, an entertainment system—luxury means aspiring towards achieving the best experience possible within your means. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I shall not today attempt further to define what is luxury. But you’ll usually know it when you see it.”

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.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Ant-Man and the Wasp review

The Disney/Marvel team really has the formula dialed in when it comes to creating successful and enjoyable superhero movies. Through a deft mix of writing, casting, humor, big action pieces, and a 10-year storyline that both lives on its own and weaves between all films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel films are entertaining and re-watchable, making them fantastic for viewing at home. And while many carry a PG-13 rating, as does Ant-Man and the Wasp, they are very family friendly in nature.

 

While technically a sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, don’t worry that you’ll be lost if you are diving in here. The opening scene lays the groundwork for the primary plot of this film: Years ago, the original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer) went sub-atomic to disable a missile, and she was thought to be lost forever to the Quantum Realm. Now her husband, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) think there is a way to bring her back. Of course, doing so requires dealing with some shady characters to obtain illegal, black-market tech, causing mayhem to ensue.

 

The film’s big hook is that Dr. Pym’s tech can shrink—and grow—a variety of objects, adding another layer to fight and chase scenes. These Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moments work very well, both visually and for moving the story forward, as well as providing some comedic moments.

 

Paul Rudd—the titular Ant-Man/Scott Lang—carries most of the film, balancing his roles as superhero and father while under house arrest for events that happened in Captain America: Civil War. (This is all explained early on by FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played with great comedic effect by Randall Park.) Rudd is just incredibly likable and easy to watch, similar—but far less foul-mouthed—to Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool, with an ability to organically inject humor into scenes without making it feel forced. Lilly is also fantastic as the Wasp, demonstrating she’s picked up some fierce fighting skills since leaving the island. (That’s a Lost reference, for those who missed it.)

 

The movie was filmed on a variety of Red and Arri cameras at resolutions ranging from 3.4K to 8K, while the home release comes from a 2K Digital Intermediate. This means that it doesn’t mine every bit of resolution possible, but still looks pretty terrific. A great example is the early scene where Jimmy Woo explains why Lang is under house arrest. He’s wearing a shirt with incredibly fine pinstripes that are almost a 1:1 4K resolution test. Other scenes reveal the pebbled texture and detail in Ant-Man and Wasp’s uniforms. The film’s color palette is mostly muted and natural, with a more restrained HDR pass. But the image still pops when it needs to—for example when heading into the Quantum Realm, or the computer screens in Dr. Pym’s lab. Black levels are also deep and noise free, with lots of shadow detail.

 

There has been quite a bit of angst over recent Disney/Marvel home releases with their sub-standard, heavily compressed audio mixes. In fact, a petition was started to get Disney to change the audio quality in future releases, currently with over 1,000 supporters. I’m happy to say that the Dolby Atmos audio quality on Ant-Man and the Wasp is far improved over recent D/M fare. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout, but more importantly to luxury home cinema owners, the sound mix is far more dynamic, with the overhead speakers used wisely and frequently throughout. This height layer is used for creating ambience and space in the scene, as well as creating directional cues—for example, The Wasp and other insects zipping around the room. If I had one complaint about the audio mix, it would be that they were a little light-handed in the deep bass department, with moments—such as during a big chase and fight scene near the end—that would have benefitted from some extra dBs in the LFE channel.

 

Two scenes that really show off the strength of the audio mix are “Lost in the Quantum Realm” at just over 11 minutes in, as well as Lang’s first visit to Dr. Pym’s lab at the 16 minute mark. “Lost” has audio that swirls and shifts all around the room, simulating Lang’s travel through the realm, with voices mixed in all channels to simulate a dream state. The lab scene wonderfully uses subtle cues like buzzing fluorescent lights, flying and crawling insects, and cavernous echoes to place you smack in the middle of the screen environment.

 

Oh, and without spoiling anything, definitely watch through the credits, as the team does a fantastic job of tying this film into the Infinity War timeline.

 

The film also includes a host of extra features including a director’s commentary, a variety of making-of featurettes, outtakes, and deleted scenes

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.