Friday, December 07, 2007

HD-DVD Reviews: Mel Gibson in Hi Def (Twice)

Whether by subconscious motivations or just sheer coincidence, the latest two HD DVD movies I watched both star the artist formerly known as 'Mel Gibson'. It's a jolt to the system to see Mel in full glory on my small screen "acting" and not caught up in the recesses of whatever madness is driving him to create pseudo-crap like "Apocalypto" or making an appearance on TMZ due to outlandish, drunken racial slurs.

The Road Warrior

Outstanding film in every aspect and probably my favorite of the post-apocalyptic genre film (even more so than "Mad Max"). With oil prices rising over $100 a barrel recently, its not hard to imagine this film's manic sense of desperation coming true in the future. And while the narrative is pressingly contemporary (leather-clad scavengers dueling it out in a sun-scorched desert for any traces of gasoline or weapons), the visual aspect of George Miller's "The Road Warrior" are, quite simply, beautiful. Thinking back on the "Mad Max" series, it's hard to visualize noticeable amounts of color in the series besides desert brown and yellows, but in HD DVD, the images are impressive and the wide-open landscapes become even more frightening. And the climactic chase scene (running close to 17 minutes and logistically superlative for the DIY production of Miller's work ethic) stands out as a remarkable feat due to this version's attention to color, image definition and lack of pan-and-scan deterioration. This is the best HD DVD I've seen yet.


Actually, now titled "Payback: Straight Up; The Director's Cut", this 1999 film has been re-edited and re-scored by writer-director Brian Helgeland after the studio (and stand in director Mel Gibson) conducted a fairly thorough hatchet job of the film upon initial release. Far meaner and more linear than the original, Helgeland has done a good job with shuffling the picture back into something more in line with his original intentions. I liked the film on first release, and found it even more enjoyable on a second viewing. The odes to Boorman's "Point Blank" are still rife, and with name-drops courtesy of genre films such as John Flynn's "The Outfit" and Mike Hodges' "Get Carter", Helgeland's revenge drama plays out like a sinister doppelganger of those earlier crime classics. But, its Helgeland's style (washed out and faded with blue tint) that doesn't come across well in the Hi-Def format. This is actually only a notch above standard definition and certainly not worth the effort for sheer visual quality. Part of this may be because Helgeland was forced to re-edit the picture based on old film instead of the digital masters, but this is definitely not a showcase for the vast improvements that HD-DVD can bring to the average viewer's living room.

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