Discussing the old school DVD’s that still sound and look great in the era of Blu-Ray and HD-DVD technology.
I’ve been having a hard time of it lately.
I consider myself an up-to-date guy. I was the first in my group of friends to get a big-screen HDTV and pro-scan DVD player. I love movies, and I love home theater systems. So you’d think that I’d already have a Blu-Ray / HD-DVD player, right?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not too happy with this new wave of …VD technology. I’ve just now gotten my home theater system to where I want it to be — and I think it looks and sounds darn good too.
That was up until Blu-Ray and HD-DVD technology was dumped on the world within the last year. After large (and greedy) corporations hammered out the details and the dust finally settled, more and more titles are being released each week.
Just don’t expect me to be the first in line at the local electronics store waiting to get a Blu-Ray / HD-DVD player. That would require me getting a new big-screen HDTV (my 65-inch Mitsubishi rear projection screen TV doesn’t have DVI or HDMI inputs) and a new 7.1 DTS/Dolby Digital audio receiver while I’m at it to take advantage of the improved sound formats on Blu-Ray / HD-DVD’s.
So just as I get my HT to where I want it to be, the powers that be expect me to blow it up and essentially start over?
I’m happy with what I’ve got, which is why I’m writing to you today. Even though we may feel like we’re behind in the rat race while we’re watching our old DVD’s on our old DVD players, I’m willing to guess that this new next-gen technology won’t catch on with the general public for at least 2-3 years. Maybe even longer. And maybe not at all.
So I hope you’ll join me in giving the powers that be the middle finger by discussing our favorite demo movies that give our current HT systems the best work outs they can possibly get from “old” DVD’s.
So without further adieu, let’s get to OLD SCHOOL DEMO.
With Superman Returns being released in theaters just yesterday — nothing would be more appropriate than opening that old box set of Superman movies and tossing the original film into the old DVD player.
Being the only movie in the Superman box-set that comes equipped with a re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track, Superman: The Movie rivals many current releases in the sound department — and that’s saying something — the film is 28 years old. While the image is a little grainy, it is to be expected from such an old film. That said, there are moments of razor sharpness and color clarity that would make you swear you were watching a movie released only 28 days ago. This is one of the best re-master jobs an older movie has ever received — right up there with Fox’s Alien.
From the moment the opening credits appear on screen from behind the viewer, the surrounds are put to good use with a loud but not ear-shattering swishing sound as the titles zip past the viewer. The subwoofer even participates during this credit sequence, especially when the Superman logo appears on screen. John Williams’ score also sounds great, coming from the surround and front speakers. I still get goose-bumps during this sequence and while the credits have always been a bit long (5+ mins) I still savor the opportunity to get hyped up for the film. Having seen Superman Returns just yesterday, I’m glad Bryan Singer took a similar approach with the opening credits for that film. It really sets the mood.
After the credits, we are on planet Krypton, and again the soundtrack doesn’t show signs of quitting after an impressive credit sequence. When General Zod, Ursa and Non are banished from Krypton in the phantom zone, the surrounds again zip to life as the rectangular bubble gum wrapper looking thing comes and takes them way — only to come back in Superman II.
Once Krypton is destroyed, the soundtrack reaches its pinnacle, but doesn’t blow its load so early in the game. The subwoofer rumbles to life as the Kryptonian landscape is demolished by collapsing crystal columns and subterranean explosions. Then the planet itself explodes, which caps off a still exciting, if prolonged, sequence complete with excellent low-end frequency usage and surround sound ambience.
Another cool demo scene is baby Kal-El’s trip to Earth through space, complete with Brando voice-over and Williams score. The ship races through your sound field, and while nothing will blow you away, it is a nice scene to notice the little things that always make a home theater viewing experience that much more enjoyable. For every bass-driven explosion, I also enjoy a subtle ambient scene where the surrounds are used, but not enough to really draw your attention to them. This is one of those scenes.
The next scene to check out would have to be the montage where Superman first appears, saving Lois Lane from the helicopter, thwarting bank robbers on the run and acting as an engine after Air Force One loses one during a thunderstorm. Superman whizzes across the screen and through your viewing room, and this scene gets a lot of attention from all speakers.
After an hour or so of dialogue driven narrative, one scene always makes me cringe and appreciate the home theater experience at the same time. It’s the scene where Lex Luthor emits a frequency that only Superman — and the dogs of Metropolis — can hear. This frequency rips through the entire sound field and you’ll almost have to cover your ears, especially if you’ve got the volume up high. Again, it’s not a “holy crap” scene, but it’s a nice way to surprise your friends when they are expecting something like the pod race from Episode I.
The film finally comes to an amazing viewing experience ending, when your entire viewing room will crackle and thump to life while Superman chases down 2 missiles, saves a town from the Hoover Dam explosion, fixes the San Andreas fault and reverses the entire planet Earth to go back in time and save Lois Lane from being crushed in her car after it falls into a crack in the ground.
The scene where Lois is buried alive in her car always gave me the willies as a child and the treatment it gets here gave me the willies again. You can almost hear every pebble, every speck of soil rush into Lois’ car — and you’ll almost feel trapped inside the car as the sounds of groaning of metal echo through your viewing room.
It’s also quite amusing when models are clearly used in flooding scene to re-creating the damn explosion. What may have looked good back in 1978 or on a small TV screen complete with a fuzzy VCR picture, obviously looks fake today and really takes the viewer out of the moment to realize something that the filmmakers don’t want you to notice. However, this is no slap against the quality of the film, just something that a good re-mastering job will do to older effects. My guess is that someone like George Lucas would have re-shot this sequence to make it more “up to date.” Thankfully, Donner did not. These model scenes add a certain charm to the film that most modern movies lack because they are chock full of CGI.
The bottom line is this: for a 28 year old film, Warner Bros. pulled their proverbial rabbit out of a hat when it comes to their DVD release of Superman: The Movie. Whereas some of these sound effects do sound a little aged, it’s still good a good demo disc, and probably the best demo disc for a movie that is this old. The image, while dated at times, was dusted off and has become a sparkling transfer to admire.
If you’re headed to see Superman Returns in the theater sometime soon, do yourself a favor and re-watch Richard Donner’s original, and appreciate the wonderful job that was done to bring Superman: The Movie into the DVD era.