John Sciacca Tag

“The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire”

The Hunger Games

Never mind that they’re categorized as YA (Young Adult) fiction, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy—The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay—was a must-read between 2008 and 2010. Now, nearly 10 years after the last book in the trilogy, Collins is bringing readers back to Panem with a prequel novel titled The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, which takes place about 50 years before heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is born and will follow Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) long before he rises to power as President.

Several weeks ago, Dennis Burger wrote about his and his wife’s annual tradition of watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, returning to the films much like comfort food. The Hunger Games has a similar quality for me and my wife. When browsing through the onscreen cover-art display on our Kaleidescape system, one of the four titles in the tetralogy is bound to pop up, prompting us to say, “Oh! The Hunger Games. I’d totally be up for watching that again!”

 

I can’t say just what it is I love so much about these movies. Perhaps it’s because the films—particularly The Hunger Games—do such a wonderful job of staying true to the fantastic source material. Perhaps it’s because even though the first film revolves around an almost entirely teenage cast, it never treats it as a kid’s story. Perhaps it’s because with all the films clocking in at over two hours—with the first two just shy of two and a half—it’s because they have plenty of time to develop, giving you an opportunity to actually care about these characters and their life-and-death struggle. Perhaps it’s the fantastic acting, including the role

GAMES AND FIRE AT A GLANCE

With a Hunger Games prequel novel about to hit stores, now is an ideal time to revisit the film adaptations of the original book series. The first two movies—The Hunger Games and Catching Firehaving been shot on film, especially benefit from the 4K/HDR treatment.

 

PICTURE     

HDR adds depth and dimension to the shots, and punch to brighter elements like flames, fireballs, and Caesar’s smile.

 

SOUND

The Atmos mixes feature tons of immersive atmospheric effects, hard-directional cues, and generous use of the height channels.

that turned Lawrence into a superstar and Woody Harrelson’s perfect take on former Games winner now mentor Haymitch Abernathy.

 

For those not familiar with the story, I’d urge you to first visit the novels, as they do help to flesh out some bits that will increase your appreciation for the series. If reading isn’t in your future, then I’ll offer a spoiler-free summary.

 

In a dystopian future, the nation of Panem is divided into 12 districts. Rebellion nearly tore the nation apart, and as the opening titles inform, “In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public ‘Reaping.’ These Tributes shall be delivered to the custody of The Capital. And then transferred to a public arena where they will Fight to the Death, until a lone victor remains.”

 

Hailing from District 12—one of the poorest in Panem—Katniss volunteers as Tribute after her younger sister’s name is initially selected for participation in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Katniss and fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are then whisked away to the Capital, where they are given makeovers along with time to train and to hone their skills, both in order to survive the Games and to hopefully impress viewers in an effort to curry favor with wealthy sponsors who can potentially save a Tribute’s life by sending gifts into the Games.

 

If you like to draw parallels between films and our country’s current political situation, there are elements here between the charged climate in Panem and our national divide, should you want to look for them. Panem is pretty clearly divided between the haves of Districts 1 and 2 and the have-nots of everyone else, which can be a nod to the 1%-ers. There are also those who support and love the Capital and those who want to start a rebellion against it. The tenuous role of Gamekeeper—kept alive and in position at the whim of President Snow—could also be compared to the current administration’s revolving Chief of Staff position.

The Hunger Games

Of the four films—the final installment of the book trilogy, Mockingjay, being split into two parts—The Hunger Games is my favorite. Getting to know Katniss, Peeta, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch, Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and over-the-top host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) establishes and draws you into the series.

 

Taking place almost a year 

after the events of The Hunger Games, the second film, Catching Fire, uses the Quarter Quell to turn victors’ lives upside down—“What we game makers like to call ‘a wrinkle.’” It also tells you far more about life in the Capital and sets the spark of the rebellion that occurs in the final two films, both of which take place almost immediately after the second film ends.

 

With 24 teens fighting in The Hunger Games until a “lone victor remains,” you’d expect a lot of death, and the filmmakers handle this in a PG-13 manner without shying away from it or glorifying it. By far, the most action happens at the Cornucopia at the very start of the games, but this is filmed in a frantic, handheld style with quick cutaways and edits that give you the sense of what is happening—and who is dying—while sparing you the gore.

 

All four films are available in both UHD Blu-ray and via Kaleidescape in full 4K HDR. The first two were filmed in 35mm and were taken from a 2K digital intermediate for home release, while the final two were shot on ArriRaw at 2.8K and taken from a true 4K DI.

 

The filmmakers frequently push in tight on actors, often with a face almost filling the screen, and you can appreciate the terrific detail here. Every pore, scar, and stray hair—even Effie’s pancake makeup—is clearly on display. You can also see all the texture and detail in clothing, with the jackets worn by Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg) having fine single-line detail on the shoulders that is sharp and clear. The only artifacting I noticed was some jaggies in the shadows of fallen spears at the 42 minute mark in the first movie.

 

Longer shots in The Hunger Games are softer, however, with the leaves and trees in the forest not having razor-sharp edges. Also, there is a large tree in Catching Fire that is pretty obviously CGI that looks soft in the 4K transfer.

 

Night plays a key role in the first two films—it’s the best time to move around undetected when you’re being hunted or to hunker down and sleep—and while blacks were deep with nice low-level detail, there is a bit of noise in parts of the first film I didn’t notice in the second. Also, there’s a tad of grain in some of the shots in the first film, but it’s not distracting.

 

HDR’s enhanced contrast adds depth and dimension to the images, and gives additional punch to things like roaring flames, fireballs, or even Caesar’s enhanced smile. It also creates a wonderfully natural image in the second film when some characters are talking next to a fire with their faces lit with a warm glow from the flames. You can appreciate the wider color gamut and HDR in Catching Fire, where you see the elaborate costumes at the Capital party, the glowing lights on Caesar’s 

set, or Katniss’ “girl on fire” dress with colors that burn off the screen.

 

All four films feature Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtracks, and while the mixes for the first two aren’t overly aggressive, they certainly do a great job of putting you in the action, with tons of immersive atmospheric sounds, hard-directional cues, and generous use of the height speakers when appropriate.

 

During the many outdoor scenes, the room fills with the sounds of insects buzzing, leaves rustling, and birds chirping. The room also fills with the sounds of Caesar’s roaring crowds, or the buzz and hum of machinery and lighting inside the Game room. There are also a couple of moments where 

The Hunger Games
Catching Fire

you’re alerted to someone behind you by the snap of a twig from the rear or the angry bzzzzz of a tracker-jacker nest. PA announcements are mixed into the height speakers to good effect, making it sound like the voice is booming into the arena.

 

The couple of moments in Catching Fire that feature gunfire are loud, sharp, and dynamic, and when there is a moment that calls for deep bass—fireballs crashing into trees, trees crackling and splintering, the cannon boom announcing the death of a Tribute—the soundtrack delivers.

 

Dialogue remains well presented and clear no matter the action, making sure you never miss an important exchange between characters.

 

The Hunger Games series has great replay value. It’s entertaining from start to finish, whether you’re watching it for the first time or the tenth. (Seeing the first two movies for the first time even inspired my 13-year-old daughter to go read the books.) If you haven’t watched it presented in full 4K HDR with the Atmos soundtrack, now is the perfect time to get ready for your return to Panem when Collins’ new book arrives on May 19.

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.

The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man (2020)

As I begin this review, I’m chuckling to myself over something I wrote in my Underwater review almost a month ago: “Somewhere along the line (perhaps in 2004 with the introduction of the first film in the Saw franchise), Hollywood started turning the horror genre into something . . . distasteful. Filmmakers went from trying to simply scare people to trying to outdo each other by shocking and brutalizing viewers with horribly graphic depictions of torture and mutilation.”

 

The Invisible Man is categorized as “horror” and happens to be written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the gentleman who wrote the first three films in the Saw franchise as well as four installments of the grisly Insidious series. But don’t let 

Whannell’s connection with those films deter you from seeing Man, as it is far more a psychological thriller with a few jump scares thrown in than a traditional horror film, and it certainly shares little of the grisly attention to the macabre with Saw.

 

Following a string of films over the years based loosely on H. G. Wells’ 1897 book of the same name, Man updates the story for the 21st century, using modern technology along with some timely feminist issues to craft a tale that is both suspenseful and engaging. It was also one of the films that received an incredibly short theatrical run—just four weeks—before NBC Universal made the decision to make it available as a premium-video-on-demand rental for $19.99 and then for purchase in full 4K HDR video quality with a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack.

 

The film begins with Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escaping a beautiful oceanfront home in the dead of night. We’re given no reason for her escape, but her terrified demeanor and elaborate plans, which include drugging her husband

INVISIBLE AT A GLANCE

More psychological thriller than horror film, The Invisible Man relies on film-like visuals and a carefully crafted surround mix to create an appropriately creepy atmosphere and deliver the scares.

 

PICTURE     

HDR helps bring needed accents of light to the film’s many dark scenes.

 

SOUND

The Atmos mix heightens the sense of horror by continually immersing you in the action, whether through subtle sounds like the creaking of tree limbs or the loud crashing of waves against a rocky shore.

with Diazepam and turning off all the security cameras, make it clear the marriage to wealthy optics pioneer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has not been a loving one.

 

Cecilia describes years of dominating control and psychological and physical abuse at the hands of Adrian, and hides out with policer-officer friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), terrified to even step foot outside the house for fear her husband will track her down. When her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) brings news that Adrian was found dead of apparent suicide, Cecilia feels her life might finally be hers again. But she is then summoned to the law office of her husband’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), who informs her that Adrian left her $5 million.

 

Which is when the weirdness starts happening.

 

Cecilia can’t shake the feeling she is being watched or there is another presence in the room with her. Blankets get pulled off her in the middle of the night, doors open and lights flicker, then the bottle of Diazepam she used to drug Adrian appears on her bathroom counter.

 

Of course, when Cecilia suggests that her husband faked his own death, found a way to make himself invisible, and is harassing her, no one believes her, thinking this is just PTSD from the years of abuse. Even when she tells them, “He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him,” the thought of an invisible person tormenting her is too much for people to believe.

 

When this specter starts actively ruining Cecilia’s life—sabotaging a job interview, sending hateful emails, hitting Sydney, and more  . .and worse—Cecilia decides she has to get proactive.

 

Filmed on the paltry budget of just $7 million, Man is not an effects-laden film, but is propelled by Moss’s terrific acting and some interesting camerawork. Often, the lens will slowly travel to an unoccupied part of a room and just . . . linger there. “Is something there?” “Are we supposed to be seeing something?” “Is something going to happen?” This adds to the tension of many scenes, as you are left hanging with this will it?/won’t it? stress that keeps you engaged.

 

With many “horror” films, you are shown the subject of the nightmare fairly early. Take Pennywise the Clown from It. From the very beginning, we know what he looks like (at least in his preferred form), and seeing him/It takes away some of that fear because it is now a known. Once we see the boogie man, we can process it and deal with it. But when you don’t, or in this case can’t, see the thing that is haunting you, it becomes all the more terrifying. Is it there, right next to me? Is it waiting just in the other room? The sense that it can pop out literally at any moment from anywhere heightens the suspense and adds to the jump-scare factor.

 

One of the classic tropes of films involving invisible men is the classic shower scene—unseen man sneaks into the shower and creepily watches young girl(s) showering. I’m happy to say that Whannell avoids that, and the film is certainly better for not stooping to that level.

 

Shot on Arriraw at 4.5 K resolution, Man is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. While images are clean and detailed throughout, I found them to be of the “softer” variety, looking more film-like rather than digital. Long shots didn’t have that razor-sharp quality of some transfers. Closeups certainly retain a ton of detail, with the tight shots on Moss revealing every ounce of emotion and every subtle inflection in her gaze, along with every pore, line, hair, and blotch. We can also appreciate fine fabric detail, such as the weave texture on Cecilia’s pillowcase.

 

The color palette is often on the dreary side with exterior shots, with even an early shot of the Golden Gate Bridge appearing in a blue-grey misty morning pan. Interiors often have a slick-modern silvery blue-grey look as well.

 

There are many dark scenes in the film, and HDR is used nicely to give extra pop to bright lighting throughout, whether the lights in the darkened house Cecilia escapes at the beginning, the gleaming overhead fluorescents of Adrian’s work space, or piercing flashlight beams. Beyond just the added brightness, images look incredibly natural with lots of depth and black-level

detail.

 

When watching It, I discovered just how much a creative audio mix can heighten a horror movie, adding to the tension and awareness of what is happening by having subtle little audio cues emanate from a full 360-degree soundfield. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack here does a great job of immersing you in the onscreen action. From the opening moments, where massive waves roll in overhead to powerfully crash on rocks against the front wall, you are in the action, and audio is used in sudden jarringly loud and dynamic moments to keep you on edge.

 

As you move about throughout quiet scenes, there are the subtle sounds of wind howling outside, the buzz of fluorescent lights, the sounds of air blowing through a gently rattling HVAC register, or the creaking and swaying of tree limbs and branches. Inside, you hear audio cues of doors creaking open, footsteps treading on wooden floors, or the buzz of a silenced cellphone over your head. There is also a pouring rainstorm that pelts water into your room, with the sound of heavy droplets splashing overhead.

 

The musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch Chamber is also appropriately tense. It features Christopher Egan conducting the Orchestra of London, and there are

The Invisible Man (2020)

several moments, such as the opening “Escape” or the song “Attack,” that have an ominous, almost alien-sounding quality as they blare loud electronic bass-heavy notes from all around.

 

When I can’t take my eyes off the screen long enough to jot down a viewing note, I know the film is intense and engaging. The Invisible Man might be treading through mostly familiar territory, but it does it with first-rate acting and a quality audio mix. And there aren’t too many horror films that can garner Rotten Tomatoes critics’ ratings of 91 and Audience Scores of 88. If you’re looking for a movie that offers a bit of edge along with a couple of good scares, The Invisible Man makes for a fun night in your home theater.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape’s Cheena Srinivasan

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Kaleidescape’s CEO Cheena Srinivasan about the current state of the movie industry and home entertainment. Among other things, with theater chains around the world being closed due to the pandemic, movies are being released in the home market far earlier than usual, and the studios have held the release of some major films and delayed production on others. Cheena shared his insights on Kaleidescape’s movie sales, the quality of streaming versus downloading, and day-and-date film releases.

—John Sciacca

We are in uncharted waters when it comes to traditional film distribution, with some studios releasing movies to the home market right after they were in theaters for only a short time. Are you seeing customers exploring catalog or older titles or are they primarily going for new releases?

Kaleidescape is interesting in that we cater to a movie-loving audience that has invested in a high-quality media room or home theater experience. These people are generally affluent and also tend to be very busy, so they are looking for great content to watch in the time they have. But when it comes to great content, it’s hard for the latest releases to make up for what a hundred years of movie-making has already contributed to people who love cinema, so there’s always good stuff to catch up on. Kaleidescape has a deep library of more than 11,000 titles, and historically we’ve always seen a 65/35 split between customers purchasing great catalog library titles and new releases.

 

We have agreements with 44 movie studios now, giving us a complete content offering. In general, the number of movie downloads increases each year, and for March we saw a 70% growth. New titles being released early certainly helped these 

numbers, and we also had a nice injection from the recent 4K James Bond releases.

 

Besides movies, we also have a large selection of concerts, TV series, documentaries, and even operas. If you want to enjoy a nature series, there is nothing better than the rendition of Blue Planet II available in 4K HDR from BBC. No one else offers that with the level of 

quality we do. Ditto with some of the Disney 4K HDR titles with full Dolby Atmos audio. We are very proud to have the kind of offerings we do for the cinema connoisseur, people who really care about that experience—because that’s what it’s all about, the experience.

 

We also offer a movie pre-download service enabling dealers to provide a turnkey solution for their clients. Clients can choose from the finest curated content that is important to them, which is then purchased and downloaded at the factory onto their new Kaleidescape system. When the system is configured in the client’s home cinema, all of their pre-purchased fantastic content is available to watch immediately.

 

Most other internet services rely on streaming for content delivery, but Kaleidescape employs a download-only model. Why is that?

To ensure that predictable, always-great experience we’re known for, content must be downloaded instead of streamed. This is something we have taken as an anchor for our brand. With Kaleidescape, you can schedule downloads to happen when everyone is asleep, and once downloaded, the content resides on a server in your home and you aren’t reliant on the

internet or delivery speeds to dictate the highest fidelity picture and sound playback.

 

With recent improvements to our system and a gigabit internet connection to your home, we’re able to deliver a full 4K movie with lossless audio soundtrack in 15 minutes or less. We can’t provide instant streaming playback without sacrificing what the brand stands for, which is the finest quality experience every time.

 

Increasingly, studios aren’t releasing 4K versions of movies on Blu-ray but instead sending them directly to the download and streaming services. The recent Kristen Stewart film, Underwater, is one example, as are the older, non-Daniel Craig James Bond films. Is this the next step in the demise of physical media?

Disc-based products have declined rapidly in the past couple of years, which makes total sense to me because there is more complexity with anything physical. You have to forecast how many quantities are needed for different markets, then edit, review, test, approve, and manufacture the discs. This is followed by working with retailers on the logistics of stocking the right amount, and, finally, working with the retailers to dispose of unsold inventory at a discount or loss. This is too much work, and you have none of this complexity or uncertainty with digital. Internet entertainment will be the way consumers will watch Hollywood’s greatest movies for years to come.

 

Universal tried something unprecedented with the release of the Trolls sequel as a $19.99 premium video-on-demand rental the same day it was scheduled to be released in theaters. Do you think we will see any long-term changes to traditional theatrical release windows after things open back up, and will this help ease the move to more widespread day & date releases at home?

We have not seen other studios following NBC Universal’s lead. Most studios, especially with big, blockbuster titles, have opted to push them out until later when theaters reopen. That’s because it’s very risky to release movies early. It all depends on how much money you put into producing the movie and what kind of confidence you have in terms of monetizing that content over a period of time to break even on the investment. There’s no proven model for doing early releases, and I think studios will embrace the age-old belief system: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if you’re going to fix it, you better have very high confidence it’s going to work. What is clear is that more mid-range and low-budget films will be hitting the home entertainment window, skipping theatrical releases.

 

If consumers get used to the in-home convenience of enjoying movies, especially as they come closer after the 

theatrical release, they might decide to just wait and not go to the theater. But there is a case to be made that blockbusters and tentpole films are mutually beneficial for both content owners and theater chains. The big question no one can really answer is, “What can we expect in the future?” It doesn’t make sense to have a tentpole and require people to sit six feet apart from each other, because tentpoles are as much a social driver as the movie itself. And what if customers get frustrated that tickets are sold out because the theaters are operating at 50% capacity? This is why I think many studios have decided to push new releases out many months to when theater operation returns to normal.

 

Now that people are aware that they can find themselves at home for long periods, do you think they will start improving their entertainment systems and we will perhaps see a boom in media room installations?

The resurgence of interest in home theater and media rooms suggests that people are looking at it and saying, “It may not be a bad idea. We could enjoy it for many years to come.” And once they do that, that’s a psychological, mental preference change. But I think no matter what, content owners always win. It’s a mere matter of figuring out the economics, and the market will adapt and evolve.

 

It’s also very clear that the home entertainment experience is improving, and people are becoming more cognizant. Just look at the millions of soundbars and millions of 4K TVs, or even general consumer awareness of technologies like Dolby Atmos. The more that large-TV big-screen viewing happens, the more people will decide, “Hey, I’m going to find out if I could have somebody come and put a media room together!” We have always diverged from the general market in that our audience

tends to be pickier about how and with whom they spend their time—the emphasis is as much social, big-screen home cinema experience with the people you love. This is about quality entertainment time.

 

It’s been interesting to see the vibrancy of home entertainment in a very big way, and I’ve been happy 

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

about recent reports discussing the shifting of content viewing and streaming services away from portable, mobile devices over to TVs. Kaleidescape has never offered any kind of mobile viewing experience because we don’t deem that to be cinematic. Anything cinematic is deserving of watching with family and friends, and we’re fortunate to be the purveyor of the highest fidelity content for home cinema owners.

 

I think there are going to be some major changes over the next couple of years that will make us look back and say, “You know, I’m glad I was on the side of internet home entertainment because this is a horse that’s destined to win!” Home entertainment has a lot of tailwind and that’s going to help it in the foreseeable future.

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.

Star Wars: A New Hope

Star Wars: A New Hope

As I mentioned in my review of The Empire Strikes Back, this year’s May the Fourth celebration (or Revenge of the Fifth, should you prefer the Dark Side) will be particularly festive, thanks to the recent release of the entire Star Wars franchise in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. Along with the impressive “The Skywalker Saga” box set ($250), which includes all nine films across 27 discs along with hours of bonus materials, the films are also available for sale individually from digital retailers. Even better, internet services are currently discounting the titles, with each movie available for download on Kaleidescape for $13.99.

Along with Empire, Cineluxe has featured reviews of the two latest films in the Star Wars canon, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. But we thought it would be worth taking a look at the film that started it all: Star Wars. Or, as it is known now, New Hope.

 

While the modern usage of “blockbuster” started in 1975 with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, A New Hope took that to the next level in 1977. In our modern era where movies are in and out of the theater in a little over a month, A New Hope enjoyed a theatrical run that lasted over a year, including one theater in Beaverton, Oregon that ran it for 76 weeks! Images of lines wrapping around the block waiting to get a seat were commonplace.

 

I was seven when the film came out, and I can clearly recall seeing A New Hope for the first time. My family was visiting Carmel, California, and my parents dropped me and my 

NEW HOPE AT A GLANCE

The 4K HDR/Dolby Atmos treatment benefits A New Hope as much as it did The Empire Strikes Back, making the 43-year-old initial entry in the Star Wars saga feel surprisingly contemporary.

 

PICTURE     

HDR is used judiciously, but adds plenty of pop to lightsabers, laser blasts, engine thrusters, and the Star Destroyer’s cannons.

 

SOUND

Atmos really opens up the Oscar-winning soundtrack, making Tatooine, the Cantina, the Death Star, and even the garbage compactor feel more convincing.

cousin off at the theater while they went shopping. I can’t recall having any anticipation about seeing the movie, or even hearing anything about it prior to walking into the theater, but my world changed when the lights dropped and that opening fanfare blared from the speakers. When that Star Destroyer flew overhead for the first time, I remember thinking this was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and how was this even possible?!?

 

For two hours, my cousin and I sat engrossed, taking it all in. When it ended, we ran out to the lobby, told my parents that we had just seen the most incredibly movie of all time! and then turned around and went back inside to watch it again! We then spent the rest of the vacation lightsaber fighting each other with anything we could grab that could be imagined into a sword.

 

I was also fortunate enough to see A New Hope at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood—which also showed the film for a staggering 57 weeks!—where my biggest memories are of the giant auditoriums and eating an entire box of Red Vines that

I also used as straws to drink a large Coke.

 

Today, there are basically three different generations of Star Wars fans: Those who grew up with the original trilogy, those raised on the prequel trilogies, and those who have come in recently with the sequel trilogies. And, with no disrespect to these “newer” fans, it is difficult to fully appreciate just how important Star Wars is to someone who didn’t grow up with it. From 1977 to 1983, it played a massive role in our lives. It was what we played, what we talked about, what we imagined, what we dreamed.

 

With Star Wars, George Lucas created a universe so real and so unlike anything that had come before that it transcended just being a movie. And to have this come about at an age when you were old enough to understand just how special and different it was, and then grow up with it over the next six years . . . well, it’s not an exaggeration to say it shaped many people’s lives.

 

If you grew up during that time, you fantasized about making that trench run in your X-wing and using the Force to fire those proton torpedoes; or waving your hand and changing someone’s mind; or snapping open your lightsaber and standing down Vader; or playing space chess (technically “Dejarik”) with Chewie aboard the Falcon; or having a Princess place a medal around your neck while the galaxy cheers.

 

And, to think, it was nearly not to be.

 

Multiple studios passed on the film early on, and the first

edits were said to be nearly unwatchable. The film was basically “saved” in post production as the incredible models and special effects came together (it won an Oscar for Best Editing), and it was finally bolstered by one of the greatest soundtracks ever thanks to John Williams. (If you haven’t watched the fascinating and fantastic two-and-a-half-hour documentary Empire of Dreams—The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, I assure you it is worth the price of a month’s subscription to Disney+ for that alone!)

 

Taken from a new 4K scan, this transfer is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate, and images throughout are incredibly clean and detailed, with little film grain, but also little damaging effects or softening from heavy-handed use of DNR (digital noise reduction). It is difficult to believe you are watching a film that is 43 years old, especially when you get to the finale, which has visual effects that still impress. (Granted they’ve been digitally helped over the years, but still . . .)

 

Closeups reveal incredible detail, such as the scratches and textures in the metal of R2-D2’s dome, or the streaks of white paint on his body. You can see the fray in Obi-Wan’s (Sir Alec Guinness) robe along with every line in his face, and practically feel the velvet texture of Vader’s cape. In one scene on the Death Star, I was able to clearly read the text “THX-1138” on one of the monitor screens in the background, a homage to Lucas’ first film. You could also see that the masks of the Stormtroopers influenced by Obi-Wan were a bit sloppily finished, with paint that isn’t perfect.

 

Colors look terrific and natural throughout, with laser blasts and lightsabers appropriately bright, as well as the bright blue of the Falcon’s engine, the red of the X-wings’ thrusters, and the bright green of the Star Destroyer’s cannons. (I’m also happy they fixed the saber “fizzle” during Obi-Wan and Darth’s battle.) You can see the crags, cracks, and textures in the rocks near Obi-Wan’s cave, and all of the fine little details put into the interior of the Falcon to make it look like a ship that has logged a lot of miles, errr, parsecs, traveling the galaxy.

 

Black levels are deep, and space looks appropriately inky, but not at the expense of crushing shadow detail. This really gives nice pop to all of the spaceships, as they stand out in stark contrast to the blackness of space around them. Notice the early scenes aboard the Tantive IV as Leia and the droids move around darkened corridors and passageways, or the prisoner detention bay on the Death Star with its deep-black walls, but you can still make out detail in the guards’ black uniforms.

 

HDR brightness is used sparingly—the Falcon’s glowing engines, big explosions—however, the overall depth of contrast added by the extra dynamic range provides enhanced images throughout, adding depth and dimension.

Sonically, A New Hope was game-changing when it came out, winning an Academy Award for Best Sound and a Special Achievement Award for Ben Burtt’s sound effects. And they have definitely done an admirable job of amping up the sound mix for the 21st century while retaining the classic elements that made it so memorable. From the opening, the Star Destroyer flies overhead, an iconic moment now expanded with overhead explosions as it bombards Leia’s ship. And when the tractor beam grabs it, you hear and feel the ship being pulled overhead. When the Falcon escapes the Death Star, TIE fighters fly over and around in pursuit, but the biggest sonic moment is held for the end, during the attack on the Death Star, with trench guns blasting all around, TIE’s screaming past and roaring overhead.

 

Every scene is brought to life with its own sonic space. You get the winds blowing overhead in the Tatooine desert, the background hum of life and little mechanical noises aboard the Death Star, the sounds rattling around in the Cantina, the appliance sounds in Owen and Beru’s kitchen, or the squeaks and groans of metal twisting and crushing in the garbage compactor.

 

Blaster fire is nice and dynamic, and bass is deep and engaging when called on, 

Star Wars: A New Hope

such as the deep thrum of the Falcon’s sub-light engines, the Death Star priming its main weapon, or the buzz of lightsabers. Deeper bass comes from the Falcon jumping to hyperspace and the massive explosion of Alderaan, with the Death Star’s spectacular destruction sounding particularly good, featuring a concussive bass wave that ripples and travels back through the left side of the room.

 

Yes, you can bemoan that this isn’t the original theatrical cut we grew up with. And that Lucas has tinkered yet again with the (now) infamous “who shot first?” Cantina scene. (Just Google “Maclunkey,” if you aren’t aware.) Or that the CGI creatures outside Mos Eisley that were added for the 1997 Special Edition bring nothing to the film—and now look even more jarringly out of place given the quality and look of the rest of the film. And that the added Jabba scene just steals the greatness of his reveal later in Return of the Jedi. I’ll grant you all of that. But to that, I’m still going all-in with this: This 4K HDR version of A New Hope is hands-down the definitive, best the movie has ever looked and sounded, and if you don’t watch it, you are punishing only yourself.

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Review: The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Disney and Lucasfilm gave Star Wars fans a real gift this year, making all nine of the franchise films (plus offshoots Rogue One and Solo) available for the first time in 4K HDR transfers with Dolby Atmos immersive audio soundtracks. And, as an even more special May the Fourth present, the films are also all currently marked down at sale prices through digital retailers, with each movie available for download at Kaleidescape for $13.99 (opposed to the usual $33.99). A bargain in any galaxy
. . . no matter how far, far away!

While I’ve reviewed the two latest films in the Star Wars canon—The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalkerwe thought it would be interesting to take a look further back in the franchise and view one of the installments widely considered to be the best of the bunch: The Empire Strikes Back.

 

I was seven when Star Wars—now known as A New Hope—was released in 1977, and I can’t remember being as excited about seeing a sequel as when Empire came out in 1980. (In retrospect, it’s clear Empire only set me up for a lifetime of disappointment, expecting that all sequels would be fantastic and surpass the originals.) I clearly remember begging my dad to take me on opening night, and then breaking down and sobbing when he said he wouldn’t—a devastating blow to 10-year-old me having to wait even one extra day! (For the record, I have seen every Star Wars film since—including the Special Edition re-releases—on opening day.)

EMPIRE AT A GLANCE

Even if you already have Empire in every previous format, you’ll want to add this 4K HDR/Dolby Atmos transfer to your collection. Both picture and sound are reference-quality.

 

PICTURE     

Space has never looked blacker, the pinpricks of starlight have never looked brighter, and you can see every wispy strand of hair on Puppet-Yoda’s head.

 

SOUND

The Atmos mix is not only dynamic—with resonant AT-AT foot stomps and lots of impressive flyovers—but detailed, revealing all the activity in the Hoth rebel base as the blizzard rages outside.

As impressive as the first film was, Empire ratcheted everything up several notches: Exciting new locations—Hoth, Dagobah, Bespin; new weapons—snow speeders and AT-AT walkers; Jedi training, and a far more impressive lightsaber battle between Vader and Luke (Mark Hamill); new characters—scoundrel/frenemy Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the Emperor (Ian MacDiarmid), a character so powerful even Vader kneels before him, and a new Jedi Master, Yoda! Plus, a huge—you actually want to hear an audience let out an audible gasp!?revelation from Vader, along with the introduction of everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett.

With all that going on, it’s no wonder this movie is both the best reviewed—Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of 94—and most fan-loved—audience score of 97—of the nine-film series, along with being my personal favorite. And, let me assure you, it not only holds up after 40 years, but, oh my DAMN! does this film look and sound absolutely amazing! Fully restored and taken from a new 4K digital intermediate, Empire is clean, detailed, sharp, and visually stunning, and never looked as good as we have it now.

 

As stunning as the audio and video transfer is, nearly as impressive to me was not only how well the film holds up after all this time, but just how impressive the visual effects still are. Sure, you can tell that the Tauntauns and AT-ATs are stop-motion miniatures, and some of the matte paintings can’t compete with modern CGI, but overall, the film still absolutely delivers. (Leia calling Han “laser brain” and Luke oddly scratching Chewie under the neck still remain cringeworthy.)

 

George Lucas famously broke away from the Hollywood machine after the first film, deciding to take full control of his story and opting to finance Empire entirely on his own (a story documented in the fascinating two-and-a-half-hour Empire of Dreams—The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, available for streaming on Disney+). Doing this not only made him fabulously wealthy, it made him realize he would be too busy to take on the directing chores, instead asking a former film professor, Irvin Kershner, to take over at the helm. Besides managing finances, Lucas also looked over the special effects of his other budding enterprise, Industrial Light and Magic, and remained involved as executive 

producer, writer, and editor, something you get an interesting glimpse into via one of the included special-feature docs “George Lucas on Editing The Empire Strikes Back.” 

 

Literally from the film’s opening seconds, you will notice the improvement in picture quality. The starfield is black and crisp, with hundreds of bright pinpoints of starlight (were there always that many stars?), and the opening text scrawl is a glorious vibrant yellow that leaps off the screen.

 

All of the space shots are wonderfully deep and black, with bright star points and little lights illuminating the various ships, along with a variety of colored engine plumes. These shots now have far more contrast, and the Imperial Star Destroyers look gorgeous. Featuring a beautiful shining-white leading edge, they’re illuminated by hundreds of lights, making them appear more ominous and alive and massive, and allowing you to appreciate all the detail.

The Empire Strikes Back

Edges are just razor-sharp and clean throughout, with closeup detail so good that you see every line and pore in the actors’ faces. Leia (Carrie Fisher) looks incredibly fresh-faced and young and beautiful. You also notice that the shoulder restraints of the snow-speeder pilots appear to be just bubble wrap. These tight shots reveal individual strands of Chewbacca’s fur, along with each single wispy piece of hair on Yoda’s head, face, and fingers, and each wrinkle and expression. Puppet-Yoda is more alive and real than ever, and you can really appreciate the master work done here by Frank Oz.

 

There were a lot of practical sets and props used during production, and the image quality really lets you appreciate the detail and care that went into them. The detail and texture along the Falcon is amazing, and you can see all of the little nicks and scratches and wear on the various pilots’ uniforms and helmets. The details of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) frozen in carbonite—with little dimples and cracks and pits—are also clearly visible. We get several nice interior shots of the Falcon’s cockpit, alive with hundreds of glowing and blinking lights of different colors, all vibrant in HDR.

 

While the Hoth battle scene is one of my very favorites—and is as exciting today as ever, enhanced with both better images and audio, and with the details of the snowy landscape now more visible thanks to HDR—I think one of the most visually striking parts of the film is in the carbonite freezing bay. Here the deep black of the room is accentuated with glowing orange, with bright blue lights and with smoke all around. When Vader and Luke face off here in the first saber duel, it looks

absolutely phenomenal. The visuals are crisp and sharp with tons of contrast, creating incredibly cinematic images that are every bit as dynamic and compelling as anything you’ll see in modern film.

 

As good as the images are, the sound does an equally impressive job of bringing Empire up to modern sonic standards, with the mixers taking every opportunity to have ships and objects flying or rumbling past overhead. Right from the start, probe droids launched from the Destroyer whiz across your ceiling, not to mention all the flyovers from tie-fighters, snow speeders, mynocks, and more. Ghost Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) and the Emperor’s voice boom from overhead and all around as appropriate.

 

Beyond the big action scenes, we get a ton of ambience and atmospheric sounds in nearly every scene. Take a moment and listen to all the little things that are happening inside the Rebel bases on Hoth . . . there are shouts from off screen, ambient little buzzes and droid noises, and mechanical sounds of repairs going on. Outside on Hoth, the blizzard whips wind and snow around the room. On Dagobah, we are immersed in jungle sounds, with creature noises and leaves rustling, and a brief rainstorm that showers the room.

The Empire Strikes Back

Bass is deep and powerful when called for, whether it is explosions or the mighty foot stomps of the AT-AT walkers. Perhaps most important, dialogue is always clear and properly placed, not always in the center channel but tracking characters as they move off screen.

 

I honestly can’t say enough about this 4K HDR transfer of The Empire Strikes Back; it is truly reference quality in every way. And having purchased the Star Wars films in so many formats and versions over the years—VHS, letterbox VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray—I was seriously planning on sitting this round of Star Wars releases out. But after watching Empire, I am starting to question that decision. If you are a Star Wars fan, you have never seen the movies looking like this, especially in a fine home theater. In many ways, it feels like seeing them again for the very first time. And that is a priceless experience.

 

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.

The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights

Numbers don’t lie. And following the dismally low critical and fan reception of A View to a Kill—Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% and audience score of 40%, both franchise lows—along with lackluster box-office receipts, the decision was made to move on from the aging Roger Moore as MI6 agent Bond, James Bond.

 

At the start of filming of the next Bond film, Moore would have been 59—far too old to portray the hard-living Bond that creator Ian Fleming imagined to be in his mid-30s. Casting for Moore’s replacement had the Broccoli production team interviewing a

variety of actors, including Sam Neill (best known for the Jurassic Park films) as well as Pierce Brosnan.

 

The role was offered to Brosnan, who accepted. However, interest skyrocketed in Remington Steele, the NBC TV series Brosnan was contractually obligated to, once word got out he would be the next Bond, and at the last moment—three days before its option expired—NBC decided to renew Steele for another season, causing Broccoli to withdraw the offer. (As we know, Brosnan ended up getting his turn to wear the tux and double-O license a few years later . . .)

 

Instead, the role of Bond in The Living Daylights, the 15th film in the franchise, went to Timothy Dalton.

 

According to an interview, Dalton said he wanted to bring a decidedly different take to the super-spy compared with the Moore-era Bond. “I definitely wanted to recapture the essence and flavor of the books, and play it less flippantly. After all, Bond’s essential quality is that he’s a man who 

DAYLIGHTS AT A GLANCE

Timothy Dalton helped pave the way for Daniel Craig by taking Bond back to his Ian Fleming roots in this tepidly received post-Moore effort to reset the franchise. 

 

PICTURE     

The 4K transfer is sharp, featuring exceptionally deep blacks, but the original film elements haven’t fared as well as the ones for the much older Goldfinger

 

SOUND

The 5.1 mix, derived from the original stereo, keeps almost all of the sonic action in the front channels and doesn’t show the dynamic range or solid bass we’ve become accustomed to in an action film.

lives on the edge. He could get killed at any moment, and that stress and danger factor is reflected in the way he lives, chain-smoking, drinking, fast cars and fast women.”

 

After years of having a Bond who was better with a joke than a gun, Dalton brought a definite edge and physicality to the role. You can tell from the opening minutes that this is a Bond ready to get down to work—maybe not always loving the job, but taking it deadly serious. Dalton’s Bond is cold—quick to point a gun at an unarmed woman and rip her clothes off to serve as a distraction—but also bringing a bit of wry humor when appropriate. And—true to Bond’s literary incarnation—taking no joy in killing, and disobeying an order rather than kill a non-professional.

Daylights is also the last of the pre-Daniel Craig-era Bond films to use a title and material directly from Fleming’s work, again connecting it back to the original feel. (The entire opening act with Bond facing off against the female cellist/assassin is pulled straight from Fleming’s story of the same name.)

 

Reception of Dalton as Bond is . . . mixed. Some lists rank him as the worst, while others rank him in the middle. Without a question, he had the difficult task of creating a darker, harder-edged interpretation of the character while simultaneously not alienating the legions of fans that had grown up watching Moore’s lighter take for seven films over 12 years.

 

It’s also difficult to divorce the actor from the films, and with only two movies to establish his Bond bona fides—one of which was the uneven License to Kill—it was tough for Dalton to create a solid legacy.

 

After recently re-watching Casino Royale (2006), it is a bit difficult to view the older Bond films without seeing them 

through the lens of both Royale’s modern style and Craig’s portrayal. While I really enjoyed The Living Daylights, being a fan of Dalton’s Bond and of the opinion that Maryam d’Abo (as Kara Milovy) is one of the most attractive Bond girls, some of the shortcomings of the earlier films are more apparent—particularly the over-the-top silliness of arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), John Rhys-Davies—who doesn’t seem Russian in any way—as new head of KGB, General Pushkin, and terrible portrayal/casting of Felix Leiter by John Terry, who more comes off like some kind of California surfer dude than a CIA field agent.

 

We’re not given any indication of the source material for the 4K Ultra HD presentation here, but it was likely taken from the file created for the 2012 Blu-ray Disc release. Originally filmed in 35 mm with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, if nothing else, the picture quality of Daylights makes you truly appreciate the amazing work done by Lowery Digital in restoring Goldfinger. Even though Goldfinger is 23 years older, in some ways it looks sharper and cleaner.

 

Daylights begins with a mock raid by 00-agents on a British compound at Gibraltar being defended by the SAS, and the greyish-blue skies reveal tons of noise and grain. Edges are generally nice and sharp, especially of the black-clad  00-commandoes against the white rock wall, and closeups often reveal lots of detail, such as the rich plaid patterns and wool textures of suits worn by Bond and others, particularly Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) Glen Plaid pattern.

The Living Daylights

Interestingly, I felt like the film started looking better after its first third. Whether it was different lenses used, brighter exterior scenes that filmed better, or just me getting used to the look I can’t say, but images were noticeably cleaner and less grainy. For example, the exteriors in Czechoslovakia with bright outdoor lighting and vibrant red buses all look quite good, as does the snow chase in the Aston Martin, with the sharp contrast between the white snow and the dark grey Aston Martin Vantage and the dark Russian military uniforms.

 

But I never really felt like I was getting that nth degree of resolution and detail visible from 4K transfers. There is also a bit of inconsistency with some of the longer shots looking a bit softer and not as in focus, and this was more noticeable on my 115-inch projection screen opposed to my 65-inch direct-view.

 

Blacks are deep and black, and with your theater lights off, Daylights definitely delivers a cinematic black. There is a scene where Bond is driving an Audi and we see the black of Dalton’s hair against the differing blacks of his tux and bowtie and the

car’s dark interior. Sometimes, however, the blacks are so dark that some details in the lowest end can be lost, such as in some of the night scenes where characters are almost lost in their black clothing.

 

The movie was originally mixed in Dolby Stereo, and the DTS-HD Master 5.1-channel mix here doesn’t really deliver much in the way of surround sound. I’d say about 80% of the audio is presented across the front three channels, with the surrounds occasionally getting bits of the musical score, or some reverb of explosions, engine noises, PA announcements, or other effects to provide a bit of expansion. If my processor’s Neural:X upmixer placed any sounds up in the height speakers, it wasn’t noticeable. Even still, the presentation had a nice width to it, delivering a soundstage that stretched across my front wall, with dialogue that was always clear and intelligible.

 

Sound mixers took a much more delicate hand to mixing bass frequencies back in the ‘80s—remember this was before the dedicated low-frequency effects (LFE) channel Dolby Digital and DTS designed to give mixers more headroom for deep bass—and things like explosions, vehicle crashes, a Harrier jet lifting off, and gun shots definitely don’t have the same dynamic impact they do today. The big desert finale is definitely the film’s sonic highlight, with explosions, gun fire, horses riding 

The Living Daylights

all around, the plane’s loud propeller engines, and ricochets sparking off in all directions, but even still, it is pretty light on sonics by modern film standards.

 

Sometimes it takes a bit of time away from something in order to appreciate it, and I think that is the case for many with Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond. And it is surprising how well this holds up after 33 years, especially when compared to the schlocky final films in the Moore canon. If for no other reason, we need to thank Dalton for paving the road that led us to the Daniel Craig Bond we have today. The Living Daylights might not be the favorite in your Bond film collection, but I challenge you to not put it in the Top 10.

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.

Underwater

Somewhere along the line (perhaps in 2004 with the introduction of the first film in the Saw franchise), Hollywood started turning the horror genre into something . . . distasteful. Filmmakers went from trying to simply scare people to trying to outdo each other by shocking and brutalizing viewers with horribly graphic depictions of torture and mutilation. I mean, just because I might like some unsettling tension and a good jump-scare doesn’t mean I want to watch someone explicitly cut into pieces by some Rube Goldberg torture machine.

That’s one of the reasons why Underwater interested me, a film that looked like it was leaning into the scarier elements of its sci-fi nature, but with a PG-13 rating that insured the frights would be mostly gore-free. Also, the trailer screamed a mash-up of The Abyss, Alien, Deep Star Six, and The Meg, the first two of which I happen to love (especially the far superior—and “finished”—Special Edition version of Abyss).

 

At 95 minutes, Underwater isn’t a long movie, and I think that might actually be my biggest criticism. The story just jumps right in, with no backstory or character development other than some text on maps and prints during the opening title sequence. After a long opening shot that pans down a massive length of the Kepler research and drilling facility—establishing that we are seven miles under the ocean and well beyond any help from the surface—our first shot is of Norah (Kristen Stewart) in a bathroom brushing her teeth, just moments before all hell breaks loose. I think the film 

UNDERWATER AT A GLANCE

This Kristen “One Note” Stewart bottom-of-the-sea horror/thriller might not have been a box-office hit, but it’s a nice, tight 95-minute thrill ride that delivers big on the scares. 

 

PICTURE     

Both the atmosphere and action are enhanced by the 4K HDR transfer, which reveals every detail in the meticulously detailed sets and accentuates the pricks of light in the film’s many dark scenes. 

 

SOUND

The DTS-HD Master mix (no Atmos) is suitably immersive, featuring some of the most powerful and frequent deep-bass action you’ll find in any recent film.

would have been more interesting if we were given the opportunity to know any of the characters a bit and see what daily life aboard the Kepler was like before thrusting everyone into peril.

 

As it is, Underwater doesn’t much concern itself with telling us anything about the characters or what they’re doing seven miles under the ocean, just doling out the little bits and pieces of info we need to know as the movie unfolds. The upside is we jump straight into the story and the action, but the downside is we don’t really care much when someone meets their demise; it’s just one less person to follow. But maybe no character development is better than something schlocky that feels forced.

 

I’m not a huge fan of Kristen Stewart and her, ummm, “emotional acting range.” In fact, just Google “Kristen Stewart Underwater” images and you’ll see an entire page of thumbnails revealing approximately the exact same semi-perplexed/
angry/
concerned expression. (We also are given no insight into Stewart’s decision to shave her head and dye her hair blonde for the role for some reason.)

 

However, there is little in this film that requires much emotional range from her. She’s thrust into a pretty terrible situation from the opening moments in which she could die at any second due to any number of factors, so semi-perplexed/angry/
concerned is a pretty appropriate look.

 

The film’s plot is fairly straight-forward: After a massive undersea earthquake ravages the Kepler, the surviving crew must find a way to continue to survive under the constant threat of immense underwater pressure, lack of oxygen, and a constantly deteriorating habitat.

 

While making her way to the escape pod bay, Norah encounters other crew members, one of whom is Paul, played by T.J. Miller, who brings his usual sarcastic wit and tension-breaking humor to his scenes. After finding that the escape pods have been jettisoned and that the radio can’t reach anyone topside, the group of six decides their only chance is to don some massively pressurized diving suits, descend to the ocean’s floor, and walk a mile across the bottom of the ocean to join up with another station where they can hopefully resurface.

Underwater

During the walk, they stumble across an otherworldly deep-sea life form that has been awakened because, as Emily (the film’s other female role, played by Jessica Henwick) states, “We drilled too deep; we took too much!”

 

That environmental jab aside, Underwater manages to be entertaining and maintain enough tension and mystery that it kept me interested to see what happened next. And it delivered on the “horror” promise with some quality jump-scares that had my wife spilling her drink not once but twice.

 

Shot on ArriRaw at 6.5K, this transfer is taken from a true 4K digital intermediate, and it shows, with images that are sharp, clean, detailed, and fantastic-looking. Edges are razor-sharp and in focus, and closeups show incredible detail, revealing pores in actors’ faces, as well as defined single-beaded droplets of water or sweat. In one shot, you can clearly see that Norah’s chest is covered in goosebumps. Underwater shots reveal particles floating around that are individually sharp and defined.

 

The resolution and image quality also let you appreciate the attention to detail in the set dressing. The Kepler appears like it could be a functioning station (well, up until the earthquake), with screens and workstations all around, as well as the large pressurized diving suits with varying degrees of scratches and wear.

 

This is a movie that really benefits from HDR, with tons of dark scenes punctuated by a variety of bright light sources. The very opening shot has the camera panning down and down (and down . . .) the depths of the dark ocean, showing the Kepler illuminated by different colored lights that shine brightly in the dark background. There are also numerous dark shots inside the station or outside in the ocean lit by bright flashlights, overhead fluorescents, computer screens, crackling and sparking electrical lines, warning lights, etc. and they all look great. Blacks are deep throughout, and remain clean and noise-free.

 

Any time you are filming under dark and murky water with bright lights illuminating, you run the risk of banding or other digital artifacts. This is only exacerbated when you factor in the higher compression required for streaming. Fortunately, the Kaleidescape transfer keeps these potentially troubling shots from becoming a mess, presenting images without any noise.

 

Fox has a maddening habit of not providing its digital releases with the fully immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack available with the theatrical release, and that is again the case here. However, the 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix on the Kaleidescape download is so active and immersive—especially when run through a modern receiver’s capable upmixer—you won’t feel

like you’re missing much. (Though I’d be lying if it didn’t make me wonder how much better that Atmos mix could potentially be!)

 

From the film’s opening moments, we get the atmospheric sounds of water bubbling up overhead, followed by the creaking and groaning of the habitat’s steel structure, along with the steady buzz and hum of overhead fluorescent lighting to put us in the scene of the momentary calm.

 

Shortly after, the earthquake hits and the Kepler experiences a catastrophic hull breech, with the rig groaning and crumpling all around, filling the room with sounds of metal twisting, steam venting through burst pipe, announcements blaring from the overhead PA, and jets of water bursting. As they move about the structure, the group is accompanied by the surrounding sound of the ambient noises aboard; water dripping and splashing, ongoing PA announcements, electrical lines buzzing and humming. When the crew abandons the Kepler, we are immersed in ocean sounds, and the crew breathing.

 

The soundtrack also features regular immense bass activity that will push your subwoofer and room to its very limits. Whether it is the deep bass of the structures’ crumpling and buckling steel, or of things crashing and crumbling 

Underwater

around you, the movie has deep, room-jarring bass that is frequent, appropriate, and very tactile. In fact, this might have some of the deepest infrasonic bass signals I’ve heard, causing things to vibrate, shake, and rattle in my room that I’ve never heard before. At one point, I got up off the couch to check to make sure my speakers weren’t destroying themselves due to all the bass energy and discovered that it was my projection screen’s metal housing that was vibrating loudly in sympathy with the bass onslaught!

 

While Underwater stumbled theatrically, it managed an audience score of 60%, and I think it actually is more suited to viewing in a well-designed home theater. While the plot offers nothing new, it is fun and entertaining to watch, and offers some great visuals along with an even more dynamic, powerful, and immersive surround mix. Also, since the decision was made to not give Underwater a 4K Blu-ray Disc release, the full 51-GB download from the Kaleidescape Store is by far your best viewing option.

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.

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

As I mentioned in my Goldfinger review, my dad was always a Connery man. It was the Bond he started out with and who he associated with the character. Roger Moore was the Bond I grew up with, and his looser style and cooler gadgets—thanks to improvements in Q Branch no doubt—resonated with me. For years, For Your Eyes Only was my favorite installment in the franchise.

 

However, as I got older, read the Ian Fleming (and John Gardner and Raymond Benson) novels for myself, and had more Bond options, I realized Moore really wasn’t the best representation of this character. Where Moore was quick with a quip or 

tongue-in-cheek comeback, Fleming’s Bond was often brutal and not into trading barbs of the verbal variety. He went about his business of killing with professional detachment; taking no joy in the act, but never shying away from it.

 

In Fleming’s own words, “I didn’t intend for Bond to be likable. He’s a blunt instrument in the hand of government. He’s got vices and few perceptible virtues.”

 

In many ways, Timothy Dalton got closest to this brutal edge that was the literary Bond. Unfortunately, though, he hit the not-likable part a little too literally for much of the Bond viewership.

 

For me, the Bond films reached a franchise low-point with Pierce Brosnan. I initially had high-hopes for him after Goldeneye, but then the Brosnan films started relying too much on gadgetry and ridiculousness. (Denise Richards as 

ROYALE AT A GLANCE

Daniel Craig’s first foray as 007 shows a less pretty, more brutal Bond, more in line with Ian Fleming’s conception of the legendary super spy. 

 

PICTURE     

The transfer is mostly good, revealing lots of detail, and HDR helps give everything a convincingly natural look. 

 

SOUND

The 5.1-channel mix is dynamic and active, properly placing you in the scene, whether it’s a rain storm, a chase through a construction site, or the ambience of an airport terminal.

nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough?! Ugh . . .). And when we finally got to Bond parasailing a giant wave into enemy territory, followed by racing around in an invisible car, and a cameo of a fencing Madonna in 2002’s Die Another Day, well, I didn’t think I had another day to give.

 

That is, until we got Daniel Craig.

 

Remember, though, that when Craig was initially cast, the world was anything but supportive. The press dubbed him “the blonde Bond,” a clear departure from Fleming’s descriptions, and fans were similarly dismissive. (Fleming, by the way, several times describes Bond as looking like singer, songwriter, actor Hoagy Carmichael. A passage from Moonraker describes Bond as “certainly good-looking . . .  Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”)

 

With four years between Day and Casino Royale, it gave the franchise a chance to cool off. And by the time Royale came out, Bond was ready for a much-needed reboot, not only with a new leading man, but with an entirely new realism and edge, reborn in the 21st Century.

 

Casino Royale is the first Fleming novel, a fitting point for the series to restart from, and the film opens in gritty, grainy, ultra-high-contrast black-and-white where we see a relatively inexperienced Bond new on the job. This is a Bond yet to earn his 00-license, which we quickly learn requires two kills to attain. The first kill is a brutal, personal, up-close-and-ugly affair that doesn’t go quick. The second is . . . easier.

 

Gone are the quips and jokes. This is the brutal blunt instrument Fleming imagined.

 

After Brosnan’s heavy reliance on gadgetry, here we have a Bond utterly stripped of gadgets and tricks. (Though you’ll notice several key instances of Sony product placement throughout.) Instead, we see Bond at his best, relying on his guts, brains, 

and self to outwit and scramble out of trouble. Craig is clearly—and visibly—in fantastic shape, and he isn’t the “pretty Bond” of his predecessors. His grappler’s body is scarred, and his face shows the wear of numerous fights and the hard life Bond leads, but when we see Craig thrust into Bond’s world, he is utterly believable.

 

Fleming’s Bond also had a voracious appetite for liquor, and his consumption

Casino Royale (2006)

of bottles of wine, champagne, and hard liquor at meals would have made Don Draper look like a teetotaler. We get a sense of that here, with Bond drinking heavily. We are also introduced to the Vesper, a martini of Bond/Fleming’s creation. (Finding key ingredient Kina Lillet can often be a challenge if trying to recreate this for yourself.)

 

There are many things that separate this Bond—both film and character—from the others. For one, the overall tone of the film is just darker, moodier, and more intense. We also get the series’ most brutal onscreen torture scene; one pulled directly from the book. Where other villains monologue about what they are planning to do to Bond, here Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) just gets down to business.

 

Also different is the character- and relationship-building we see developing between Bond and those around him, notably Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), M (Judi Densch), and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). The dialogue between Bond and these characters is sharp and fast, smart and poignant, looking well past the opportunity to simply work in some witty quip, but actually interested in developing the story and characters and challenging Bond. It also helps make him seem more human and relatable and vulnerable. Here we see a Bond who has fallen in love, who lets his armor down and decides to commit to another person and resign from MI6 before it consumes—or kills—him.

 

The movie is long. At 2:24, it is the second-longest Bond film, giving it plenty of time to develop the story and the characters. The Texas Hold ‘Em card game at the titular casino in Montenegro between Bond and Le Chiffre lasts a long time, but manages to keep tension and remain engaging without feeling overly long. It succeeds here because of the dialogue 

between characters, the developments on and off the table, and the way the game is broken up, allowing the players to rest and go about other business. Further, changing the game from baccarat (Bond’s preferred game in the novels) to poker for the film was another brilliant stroke. Baccarat’s rules are far more basic, making a simpler and less complex game, and wouldn’t have given this lengthy battle of wits and wills the same tension or pacing.

 

Shot on 35mm film, this is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, and images look mostly great throughout, but image quality doesn’t always rise to that ultimate reference-quality level. The opening black-and-white images remind me of some Kodak professional film stock I once used at a wedding, resulting in images that are either deep black or pure bright white, giving it a stark look that pops in HDR. The whites look a bit overexposed, revealing some speckles and giving it a (likely intended) gritty look to capture Bond’s admission into the 00 ranks.

 

Closeups reveal tons of facial detail, as well as the fabrics in clothing such as the fine detail and texturing in Rene Mathis’ (Giancarlo Giannini) tie, the pebbled texture in Bond’s 

tuxedo shirt or the delicate white-on-white V pattern in his suspenders. It also resolves literally single strands that have fallen loose from Vesper’s hair. Exterior shots in Montenegro and Venice also look fantastic, with buildings having brilliant sharp edges and definition, and full of color.

 

It’s the mid-length shots, such as when the camera pulls back at the gaming table, that don’t seem to have the same sharpness, almost as if a different lens or film stock was used, slightly pulling you out of the fantasy world.

 

There are a lot of night scenes, either driving around the streets of Miami or a chase outside an airport, or the bright lights illuminating the gaming table, and these benefit from HDR’s deep blacks and bright whites. We also get a lot of “natural” bright reflections as sun reflects brightly off rocks, or gleams on sweating faces and bodies. Outdoor scenes just look more 

real and natural with the wider contrast range. I didn’t find that the film makes much use of HDR’s wider color gamut, but skin tones look natural, as does a dust-filled embassy and the green foliage in a jungle. 

 

I was initially bothered that we didn’t get a new audio mix here, instead getting a “basic” 5.1-channel DTS HD-Master audio track, but fortunately, that disappointment didn’t last long as Royale’s soundtrack is dynamic and active. (It’s also worth mentioning that the disc release also contains the same 5.1-mix—no Atmos or DTS:X.)

 

Audio is used extensively throughout to properly place you in the environment, and a quality home theater processor’s upmixer does an admirable job creating a truly immersive mix. During an early scene, rain is pouring overhead, and the mix does a great job of putting that water up above you. As Bond runs through a construction site, the room comes alive with sounds of the site, with drilling, cutting, welding, and distant shouts all surrounding you. While in the airport, the room fills with sounds of passengers chatting and PA announcements. And during the interrogation scene, the audio takes on the low-ceilinged flat echo quality of the small space, with water dripping and splashing periodically in the corners.

 

There is plenty of gunfire throughout, and the dynamics are loud and sharp, 

Casino Royale (2006)

capturing the crack of the bullet and the sonic characteristics of various weapons. During the battle at the embassy compound, bullets hit and crash all around, with glass shattering, impacts striking walls, and debris falling and splintering. When called on, bass is authoritative, with impacts, collisions, and explosions sending waves of bass energy through the room.

 

Dialogue is well presented and easy to understand, as is the equally important—and beautiful sounding—12-cylinder engine note of the Aston Martin DBS (a car I actually got to spend an entire weekend with driving around New York several years ago . . .).

 

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy this film. From start to finish, Casino Royale is engaging, engrossing, and entertaining, and is the truest version of James Bond as Ian Fleming imagined and wrote. Fans of the series will want to own this movie looking and sounding its best, but even non-Bond fans will find plenty of action and intrigue here that will leave them shaken not stirred.

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.

Goldfinger

Goldfinger

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

 

There is perhaps no more iconic introduction catchphrase in the history of cinema, a line cribbed and lampooned countless times in nearly as many different genres.

 

Say the name “James Bond” and it immediately conjures a host of similar images in people’s minds. Bond, ever cool under pressure, gliding through a world inhabited by fast women and faster cars, pitted against ruthless super-villains bent on world 

domination. Bond, always perfectly attired, knowing the right thing to say or do in any situation, doing whatever necessary to complete the assignment at hand regardless the risk, saving the world and leaving with the girl.

 

Bond is the original man men wish they could be, and women wish they could be with.

 

While Ian Fleming’s Bond was a popular character in literary fiction—President Kennedy mentioning that From Russia With Love was one of his favorite books led to it becoming the second film in the franchise—it wasn’t until Bond hit the big screen with Dr. No in 1962 that he truly caught on and hit worldwide acclaim.

 

I came to Agent 007 through my father, and I can remember watching the latest Bond adventure when it would hit TV, gaping at the opening title sequences as each film revealed more and more inches of female skin, and wondering what incredible gadget the super-spy would have up his sleeve (quite literally in the case of the Rolex Submariner he wore in many of the early films). 

GOLDFINGER AT A GLANCE

The third—and maybe best known—of the Bond films looks pristine in this 4K transfer, which wipes away decades of grime from the image, giving you the sense you’re looking through the lens while the film was being shot. 

 

PICTURE     

So sharp and clean that it enhances iconic imagery like the film’s famous gold bars and bodies, but also accentuates occasional flaws, like painted backdrops and mismatched shots.

 

SOUND

The surround mix, derived from the film’s original mono soundtrack, is limited, but does add atmosphere to the Fort Knox scenes and some zip to Oddjob’s infamous flying hat.

My dad, who read all the Fleming (and subsequent John Gardner and Raymond Benson books), was a Sean Connery man, faithful to the original. And while Bond is now entrenched in the world’s consciousness, it’s likely there would be no Bond today had the casting fallen short with that first film.

 

Bond needed to be able to handle himself physically, but not be so big that he stood out. With a weightlifting and boxing background, and an imposing 6-foot 2-inch height, Connery fit the bill. He also needed to have enough style and charm that he could fit in playing baccarat with millionaires in Monte Carlo, or be believable driving around in an Aston Martin with a 

beauty at his side, but also be equally at home getting his hands dirty when the time called for it. Connery’s Bond oozed confidence and cool, and he wore the character like a second skin, setting the benchmark against which all future Bonds would be judged; and launching a franchise character who has now survived 26 films by a variety of actors and spanning seven decades.

 

Goldfinger comes to us renewed in 4K resolution, looking impossibly clean and fresh for a film that is now 56 years old. A final credits screen displays “Pristine Digital Restoration by Lowery Digital Images, a DTS company.” Lowery Digital won the right to restore the Bond films for Blu-ray back in 2004, and the company did significant work on the films at that time, repairing damage and doing digital cleanup, and making a full 4K scan of each frame. It’s likely that these are the 4K scans taken at that time, and also why we don’t have versions of these early films featuring HDR.

 

Today, the Bond opening title sequences are mini-features of their own, and Goldfinger is the first Bond film to really push the opening to be something more than just a song 

and credits. While the title sequence is incredibly tame by modern standards, with just clips from the film projected onto scantily clad gold-colored models while Shirley Bassey belts out the title track letting you know beyond any question that Goldfinger loves only gold, it was the first step that got us to where we are today.

 

The first thing you notice about Goldfinger is that it is presented in a slightly odd (albeit the original theatrical) aspect ratio of 1.66:1. When accurately presented, this will not quite fill out a 16:9 display, with small black pillarbox bars to the left and right of the image.

 

The next thing you notice is how clean images look. It is as if they polished off years of grime and neglect from a window, giving you a startling glimpse into what the cinematographer saw through the lens over 50 years ago. There is no dirt, specks, debris, or other nasties to detract from the image. Closeups are stunningly sharp and detailed, with edges in razor-sharp focus. Any scene where the camera pulls in tight reveals tons of micro detail and texture, whether in clothing, faces, playing

cards, or building details. You can actually see the dirt under Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) fingernails. There are also plenty of opportunities to appreciate the varieties of fabric in Bond’s suits or see the sharp and jaggie-free lines in the vertical stripes of Felix Leiter’s (Cec Linder) seersucker hat.

 

Colors pop, especially in bright outdoor scenes. A 

Goldfinger

helicopter shot panning across a hotel and over a pool in Miami dazzles with bright gleaming whites and tons of appropriate bikini-clad skin tones, and golds shimmer with appropriate luster, whether in bars or the paint covering Jill Masterson’s (Shirley Eaton) body. Blacks are nice and dark, and noise-free. A shot with Bond in a tuxedo clearly shows the different shade and sheen of his lapels compared to the rest of the jacket.

 

Not everything is perfect here, though, as the razor-sharp focus reveals the limitations of some of the technology at the time. For example, many of the shots around the pool where Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is playing cards are so crisp, the blurred backgrounds look to be obvious backdrops. The same effect is visible again when Bond is driving Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet) around Switzerland in the famous Aston Martin DB5. And while closeups look tack-sharp, longer shots often don’t fare nearly so well. The famous scene where Bond is strapped to the laser cutting table —“Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”—jarringly cuts back and forth, with the far shots looking much softer, almost like a completely different film.

Also, the opening sequence where Bond is coming out of the water in his scuba suit has an odd frame speed-up where he appears to move in double-speed for a second. On first viewing, I thought perhaps I’d imagined it, but it is definitely there and clearly a speed shift. This is not unique to the Kaleidescape download, so it’s something from the source material, perhaps due to damage or to lost elements.

 

Sonically, Goldfinger comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master soundtrack, but as the original film included a mono soundmix, you can’t expect too much from this. And, well, it doesn’t deliver much in the way of actual surround sound. The film is primarily spread across the front three channels, with little bass activity even during explosions. Gunshots have some nice dynamics, but a modern soundmix this isn’t. Even still, dialogue is well presented and every word is easily understood, and we also get some nice atmosphere, such as the audio inside the cavernous Fort Knox at the end or Oddjob’s (Harold Sakata) hat sailing past. 

 

As mentioned, Goldfinger is not the first or even second Bond film, but rather the third, and is actually the seventh novel in Fleming’s series. However, by this point in both the film and literary world, Bond was truly hitting his stride. He was 

Goldfinger

established as the world’s greatest secret agent, helped by a Q-Branch producing high-tech gadgets in the form of one of the most iconic vehicles ever committed to film, with Connery starting to lighten up with some quips—“Shocking. Positively shocking,” after electrocuting a baddie in a bathtub—with perhaps the most on-the-nose Bond-girl name ever in Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), and producing one of the most memorable villains in the series. The film scored a franchise-high critics rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes as well as tying the franchise-high audience rating of 89%, and it comes to the home looking as good as you’ve ever seen 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.

Are People Watching Hollywood’s Early Releases?

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Hollywood Dives Deep Into Day & Date” that discussed the different strategies major studios were taking in light of commercial theaters around the world closing in response to the virus pandemic.

 

As a quick recap, we’ve seen studios taking one of five actions with films either released or just about to be released.

 

1) Release them on a Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) rental model.

2) Release them for sale digitally.

3) Release them directly to streaming sites like Netflix.

4) Push the theatrical release date to a new date.

5) Postpone the theatrical release date indefinitely.

 

Universal Studios decided on a PVOD model for Emma, The Hunt, and The Invisible Man, which you can rent for $19.99, with a 48-hour viewing window. Universal is also going to make the Trolls sequel available for PVOD rental on what would

have been the day of its theatrical release, April 10.

 

Disney accelerated the release dates for two major films, bringing Frozen II to its Disney+ streaming service months ahead of schedule, and upping the digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker by several days.

 

Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, and Lionsgate followed by making movies released theatrically between March 7-13 available for digital purchase. Disney then released the latest Pixar film, Onward, for digital purchase just two weeks after its theatrical release, followed by its availability for streaming on Disney+ just two weeks later.

Paramount Pictures decided to send its upcoming comedy, The Lovebirds, originally scheduled for theatrical release on April 3, directly to Netflix for streaming (no date currently available).

 

With all of these changes, it had us at Cineluxe wondering if this was having an impact on the viewing habits of viewers. Were people renting or buying these movies? If so, which ones? And, if not, why?

 

We put together a brief seven-question survey that received a total of 117 responses—certainly not a big enough response to be definitive, but enough to get a snapshot of what movie lovers are doing in these atypical times. (If you took the time to take the survey, thank you!)

 

I posted the survey in a variety of Facebook groups, including Home Theater Enthusiasts, Kaleidescape Users Group, Dolby Atmos Home Users, and UHD 4K Blu-ray Collectors, as well as at the Kaleidescape Owner’s Forum, with the goal of targeting people in the habit of regularly watching movies at home.

 

Here are the results along with a bit of commentary.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?
Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 1

Question 2

Question 3

click on the images to enlarge them

Question 1 dealt with PVOD rentals, with 2/3 of respondents saying either they had rented or planned to rent a title.

 

Question 2 followed up asking why people had not rented a title. The lack of quality was the biggest reason, indicated by 34% of respondents, as none of these PVOD titles were made available in 4K HDR video or with Dolby Atmos soundtracks. In second place with 25% was the lack of interest in the titles, with 20% saying the $19.99 price was too high.

 

Question 2 also offered a separate Other/Comment box that received quite a few answers. Ten people said they only buy movies, not rent; four said there were plenty of other movies to watch; two said it was the lack of quality of rental titles; one said the films weren’t available in a foreign language; and one said they only rented because they had a coupon.

 

Question 3 asked about purchasing early-release titles, and offered the ability to check multiple answers, which is why the results total more than 100%. Respondents could answer “Yes, but I would have bought it anyway” (36.36%), “Yes, I bought because of special pricing” (16.16%), “Yes, I bought because it was available early” (32.32%), or “No, haven’t purchased any of them” (40.40%).

 

The interesting thing is that the lower price of these titles had very little impact on the purchase decision, whereas the early availability motivated nearly one-third of purchases. If studios are looking to spur purchases in the future, shortening the theatrical window could be an option.

Are People Watching Hollywood's Early Releases?

Question 4

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 5

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 6

Question 4 asked where people went to purchase these titles. The overwhelming weight of Kaleidescape purchases (33.33%) is telling for a few reasons. One, with the survey posted at the Kaleidescape Users Group on Facebook and at the Kaleidescape Owners’ Forum, it’s clear this is a passionate group actively interested in discussions about movies. Two, it’s logical that people investing in a high-end movie server like a Kaleidescape Strato would be interested in getting the latest releases. Three, it suggests Kaleidescape owners are among the highest percentage of movie buyers.

 

Apple held the next highest share at 21.51%, followed by Amazon (16.13%) and Vudu (12.90%). It’s also comforting to see that “Torrent Site” (a common means of getting nefarious, pirated content at no charge) received zero votes. In addition to the options listed, DirecTV, YouTube, and Xfinity all received one write-in. 

 

Question 5 asked if people were watching more movies recently, not streaming series or TV programming. Hollywood should take comfort in the fact that 64% responded they were watching either far more, or more than normal, showing that many still view movies as a primary source of entertainment. 

 

Question 6 asked which of the early-release titles people had watched at home, with a list of eight of the most popular current movies and allowing for multiple responses. Not surprisingly, the Top Three films are all ones available for purchase instead of rental, with the most-watched film being Pixar’s Onward at 37%. Onward had only been in theaters for two weeks, and was the Number One film in the country when theaters closed. In second place at 29% is Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, which benefitted from a full theatrical run but was released to home for purchase several weeks earlier than usual. And rounding out the Top Three is Sony’s Bloodshot at 23%, the latest Vin Diesel sci-fi/action title, which had been in theaters for 

roughly the same amount of time as Onward.

 

Call of the Wild, Downhill, Dr. Doolittle, I Still Believe, and Bacurau all received single write-ins. (While Trolls World Tour received 3% of the votes, it actually won’t be available for PVOD rental until April 10.)

 

Question 7 offered the same title choices, but this time asked if people did or would have seen any of these movies in the theater. With this question, I was trying to get a sense of how much theatrical revenue was lost due to films being released at home instead of the commercial theater.

 

Again, Onward and Birds of Prey were one and two, but this time with order reversed. The Way Back, the new Ben Affleck sports drama, actually benefitted from the home release, with only 1% saying they would have seen it in the theater, compared to 14% who purchased the title. Another title that benefitted was the controversial The Hunt, which had just over 8% saying they would see it 

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 7

in the theater compared to 11% renting it at home. Perhaps most telling is that more than 57% of respondents said they would not have seen any of these films commercially.

 

The final question asked if people missed going to commercial theaters. We often hear about the death of the commercial cinema experience due to a variety of factors, however this is split almost down the middle, with 48% saying they do miss commercial theaters, 30% saying they don’t really miss the theater and that viewing at home is much better, and 22% saying they rarely went to commercial theaters before.

Are People Watching Hollywood's New Releases?

Question 8

Now that we are forced to spend so much time in isolation, will the communal experience be something we long to return to, or will it become something we look back at if this happens to change the movie-distribution model forever . . ? Only time will tell.

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.