Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Transformer(ing) the Marketplace

Sunday turned out to be pretty much a Transformers day, what with me getting round to checking out the new HD-DVD release
(region free from the States, it's due out here on shiny disc in the UK at a hugely inflated price in a week or two) and the new issue of
Cinefex magazine waiting on my doormat when I returned from Ireland.

The latest Cinefex magazine

I saw the film on the big screen in Limerick just a few weeks ago and was lucky enough to see it in pristine condition (I suspect it was a digital cinema) with a fantastic sound system. It was, I felt, a film that needed to be seen on the big screen rather than shiny disc, and although I was glad I'd caught it I can't say I was as enthused as the likes of Empire magazine appeared to be with their rather over-the-top fanboy raves. Undoubtedly it was a roller-coaster ride of a film, and an entertaining experience, albeit one where you need to deposit your brains at the same stand where you buy the obscenely-sized tub of popcorn on the way in.

My personal enjoyment aside, I completely understand those who think director Michael Bay shouldn't be allowed near any film that has even the slimmest chance of being halfway decent. I know one can be too precious about these things (and I think I'm the only person on the planet who actually liked Pearl Harbor!) but let's face facts: Michael Bay is someone who approaches each film the same way - with no idea of subtlety, class, believable dialogue or even the most basic credibility. Worse, at least so far as I'm concerned, the man hasn't got a clue as to how to edit a movie unless it involves cutting things so fast you're likely to go into an epileptic fit if you try and actually follow each cut as it happens.

For the best example of 'a really good rant' about the man and the Transformers movie in particular check out the Radio 5 podcast where critic Mark Kermode goes into a long rant about Michael Bay 'the porn director'. It's hilariously accurate.

Michael Bay issues aside, and ignoring the fact that the film is too long - particularly with its overly-repetitive can't-make-out-what's-happening-in-the-fight-scenes second half - the film is an impressive technical tour-de-force, and it's not hard to see why two days after it officially went on sale this is now the biggest selling disc on the high definition format ever. CGI is often ropey and easily spottable even in the biggest budget pictures (I don't care what Lord of the Rings fanboys say - too often one is taken OUT of Tolkien's world because of poor matte paintings or poor special FX in those movies. Not so with this film, and if ILM don't sweep the boards with the FX awards this year then the Academy should just pack up and go home. On that front alone this film is ground-breaking, and as presented on the superb HD-DVD disc set that's been released this is reference-quality material.

In the cinema it was almost impossible to hear the dialogue because the surround sound effects were so loud throughout the whole movie, and it's the same here - which sound fanatics seem to see as being 'a good thing' despite the absence of a True-HD sound option. And although a 50" plasma can't compete with a large screen digital print (or the IMAX screen which is currently showing an 'alternate scenes' version in London) it's pretty clear that the HD-DVD disc represents a new standard in quality for showing off home cinema systems, even if you can't stand the totally dumbed-down content.

Leave your brain at the door, forget who Michael Bay is and it's an enjoyable romp. If you have an HD-DVD player this is pretty much a 'must own', not least because it makes excellent use of the new format with some great 'picture in picture' features, and a second high definition disc crammed full of extra's, themselves all in high definition, where most HD-DVD discs simply carry the low-resolution extra's over from the standard DVD. It becomes clear very quickly that a lot of work went into the HD-DVD presentation, which shows where the money is in making the movies these days, given that the film only exited the multiplexes a few weeks ago. Films are made to make money on shiny disc these days, and a cinema excursion may well recover the production costs, but it's the shiny disc that makes all the profits and needs to be an important part of the production process.

The Transformers disc is also a very important disc for another reason - it's extended the format war such that it's now looking like two formats (Blu-Ray and HD-DVD) are going to co-exist for quite some time now, where it had looked like Blu-Ray was going to be the clear winner. I've made no secrets of my preference (HD-DVD is region free; Blu-Ray isn't, costs more to produce - and therefore buy - for no perceivable advantage, requires a player that costs more, and is still in beta format with final specs which none of the existing players meet being finalised until next month) but Blu-Ray has clearly won the marketing war.

In the UK the HD-DVD camp have launched such a poor array of titles that the format seems doomed in Europe and it's only the cheap import service from MovieTyme who let you purchase in British pounds and ship from within the UK without import duties keeping the format alive with HD-DVD supporters. Originally Transformers was going to be made available in both high definition formats. But then Paramount and Dreamworks announced they were joining Universal Studios in going HD-DVD exclusive (at least for the next 18 months) which has changed the whole game. No self-respecting cinephile can afford to excluse both those studios from their collections.

Unfortunately I do think that longer term Blu-Ray will win, if only because Sony's marketing is so strong and they've managed to (finally!) persuade Fox to ramp up the titles they release. But in the meantime, I'm much preferring HD-DVD - if only because so many Blu-Ray titles are region locked and only available for US players.

Getting back to Transformers itself, it's hard to see why anybody would want any more information than is given in the over-the-top extra's disc included in the HD-DVD two disc pack that's been released. But if you do require more of a fix, or prefer your material in printed form, you could do worse than purchasing the latest Cinefex magazine which has three long, detailed essays into the effects processes used - not just for Transformers, but also for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Stardust too (with shorter pieces detailing work carried out on Sunshine and Resident Evil 3. Cinefex comes highly recommended from me, although UK readers will have to subscribe if they can't visit some of the more obscure cineaste stores in London.

Smile of the Day (courtesy of the not-for-the-prudish Skip's Acorn Treasury) is this You-Tube video on No dwarves or horses or things in places (Maxx's Diary). Don't worry, although the source for the link can get very racy there's nothing in the video itself likely to offend or shock, just hopefully raise a smile.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hiya! It's Mooch.

I came by here about 3 weeks ago reading your blogs and didn't think I needed to check in too often since you didn't have many entries. Jen told me how you were back and writing up a storm. Welcome back and now to the specifics:

We enjoyed Transformers, too. In a house where boys played with the toys, it was nice to see a decent film come out. I could comment about starlets who look 25 playing teens and other silliness, but really; that's what your here for.

Interesting comments on the BR/HD wars. With those studios backing up HD it might well cause a turn around, or at the very least, have two options in the world. I would certainly like that as monopolies make me verra nervous.

Plus Sony doesn't have the best reputation for it's concern for the common man. Very Bill Gates of them. In the US, we feel they tend to be smug bastards, rapacious and not caring a bit what the public wants, just what they can get out of their cleverness. Fabu products yes, but at what price?