Fury – Blu Review

Fury offers above average (but far from perfect) video and outstanding audio with plenty of extras in this new release from Sony Pictures

Beautiful steelbook from Target.
Beautiful steelbook from Target.

World War II is one of Hollywood’s favorite subjects, and it clearly interests star Brad Pitt as he appears in his second film on the subject in just five years. Fury, directed by David Ayer and starring Pitt, Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walking Dead), Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), is the most realistic WWI combat film I have seen since Saving Private Ryan (one of my “must-have Blu Rays). It brings the grittiness of the war to the screen and does not shy away from any of the horrors of the terrible conflict.

The version I own is the Target steelbook (pictured right), found here. It has some excellent artwork on the front, back, and inside, but only comes with the Blu Ray and a Digital Copy. If you are looking for the standard Blu Ray/DVD combo pack, you can find that version here. It is currently priced at around $15 on sale, and is well worth picking up for that price as I can not see such a quality film dropping much lower than that price anytime soon.

PICTURE QUALITY

As mentioned above, Fury’s picture quality delivers the gritty, gray. and dreary look that is required of any World War II film in order to accurately portray the mood during the conflict. With this film taking place in some of the War’s darkest days towards the end of the conflict deep in German territory, it was necessary to get this feeling across with a darker video presentation. However, at times the video seemed so dark, especially within the confines of the tank and during the climatic scene at night, that it was very hard to follow what was happening. I watched in a very dimly light room with no windows, and so there was no outside light interference which can make the darker scenes of certain films nearly impossible to see. Be prepared to watch this one in a dark environment if you want to enjoy the aforementioned scenes.

An idea of how some of the darker scenes look in "Fury"
An idea of how some of the darker scenes look in “Fury”

This being said, the rest of the film looks fantastic. If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, the picture quality is equally comparable to that in terms of the graininess, color, and dreary tone. The fight scenes are fantastic and the visual appeal of two or three tanks fighting on an open landscape is worth watching for alone. The color, although typically gray, also has some exciting moments during the fight scenes. When the tracer rounds are fired from the two opposing tanks and heavy machine guns, the vibrant green and red coloring that the tracers carry makes for an extremely realistic viewing experience.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 4/5

AUDIO

Presented on a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, the audio is Fury’s best asset. With the film being focused on tank warfare, the sound needed to be exceptional in order to give an accurate representation of the intensity of the fighting. The whizzing of anti-tank rounds, heavy machine gun fire, grenade explosions, and fly-over bombing runs were all extremely satisfying. As planes flew overhead, you could hear the engines travel from your rear speakers to your front and center speakers, creating the immersive home viewing experience that should be expected of all HD media. Dialogue was clear, even over all of the fighting and whizzing bullets, which means that the center speaker was appropriately used as the driver for the dialogue, while all other action was directed through the side and rear speakers. This is especially important in films like Fury, as the outside noise should never drown out the dialogue. There is nothing more annoying than adjusting your volume to reflect the change in scene. The ideal home viewing experience offers a smooth transition in volume from a dialogue driven scene to an action driven scene, and Fury is certainly ideal in this respect.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Fury has an impressive amount of extras for a standard release, with almost an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, and several short features ranging from 11-20 minutes in length, as follows:

The crew of "Fury" work on filming the complex tank sequences.
The crew of “Fury” work on filming the complex tank sequences.

Blood Brothers – 11 minute featurette detailing the authentic WWII experience Fury has become known for, featuring interviews with cast members and WWII veterans.

Director’s Combat Journal – 17 minute piece detailing director David Avery’s creative process, editing of the film, and technical details involving the tanks and how to film in such a complex arena.

Armored Warriors – 12 minute feature with interviews by real WWII veterans

Taming the Beasts – 13 minute feature on the process of securing real WWII tanks for the film, and learning how to operate and maintain these massive, 70+ year old monsters.

EXTRAS SCORE – 5/5

OVERALL SCORE – 4.5/5

FINAL VERDICT: Fury is a must-own Blu Ray. With a top-notch audio track and a substantial amount of extras, this one is worth buying for your collection immediately!

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Sin City: A Dame To Kill For – Blu Review

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is one of the best Blu Rays I have ever watched, regardless of any negative critiques it has received. With a 3D version included in standard packaging, this is a must own for any collector or home theater fanatic.

For fans of the original Sin City, the sequel, A Dame To Kill For, was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, the fans of the first movie were not enough to avoid a box office disaster. A Dame To Kill For opened 9 years after the original, and so much of the fanfare surrounding the first movie was long gone by the time its sequel hit theaters, resulting in a worldwide total over just under $40 million. This is a far cry from Sin City’s huge 2005 theatrical run, where it made nearly $160 million worldwide. However, box office totals have no affect on the quality of a Blu Ray release, and in some ways low ticket sales can mean home viewers will get more when the Blu Ray is released.

For example, when A Dame To Kill For was released on Blu Ray, it came in a three disc package featuring the 3D version, the standard Blu Ray, and a DVD. Typically, studios release the 3D version of their films separately and charge $3-$4 more for 3D. When a 3D movie does not perform well in theaters (think Dredd, Immortals, or Prometheus) the 3D version can be coupled with the standard Blu Ray, which is a very good deal for home viewers with 3D capabilities. I was able to grab my copy for only $10 at Target, and while the price is back up to around $20 right now even at that price it would be worth getting, especially for fans of 3D.

The cover art on the Best Buy exclusive steelbook.
The cover art on the Best Buy exclusive steelbook.

The only Blu Ray exclusive for A Dame To Kill For was a steelbook from Best Buy, found here, although it looks like it will be tough to find, with shipping unavailable. The version which I own can be found here, and is the suggested version for the average fan. If you are a Sin City super fan, by all means pay extra for the steelbook, but I do not believe it is worth the extra money for the average home viewer.

PICTURE QUALITY

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is the best looking Blu Ray I have watched all year. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore why. First off, Sin City is meant to look spectacular and its stylistic form of film is what sets it apart from any other movie. There have been copycats, but other than 300 none have come close to matching this style of filmmaking. The entire movie is filmed in black and white, with very limited color in certain scenes and for certain characters. However, black and white picture has never looked so vibrant. The blacks, grays, muted whites, and bright whites mixed together into one cohesive image look stunning on Blu Ray, and it is highly recommended that you watch this movie with the lights dimmed or completely off so that you can feel the full effect of this style.

One of the stunning black and white scenes from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For
One of the stunning black and white scenes from Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

There is absolutely nothing to complain about with this Blu Ray release, but there are a few things to be mindful of. First off, the aspect ratio was kept at its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. This means that there will be a very slim black bar on the top and bottom of your widescreen HDTV, but this is normal and you should not zoom in on the picture or alter it in any way. For those of you with projectors, the black bars could be either wider or non-existent depending on settings and your screen’s ratio, but I would still recommend keeping the film in its original ratio so that none of the amazing picture quality is lost. Secondly, if you are watching the 2D version of the film there are a few scenes, especially early on, where you can tell they were intended to be seen in 3D. In these scenes, the gimmicky look you can get from 2D movies made for 3D conversions is visible, but only if you are really paying attention. Otherwise, this is an amazing Blu Ray. I do not like to call anything perfect, but this is as close as I have seen to perfect from films released this past year.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 5/5

AUDIO

There is less to talk about with the audio from this release, as it is your standard 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio that is very typical of most home releases these days. I would have liked to see a 7.1 mix from A Dame To Kill For as it certainly would have benefited from such a total surround sound experience, but the 5.1 mix does an excellent job as well. Dialogue is clear and well mixed with the louder, more violent scenes, so there is little volume adjusting to be done with this film, which is always a plus. The rear speakers are in full use, as the sounds of Sin City surround you. Every gunshot, shattered window, and exaggerated punch that Sin City is so well known for was produced brilliantly through my speakers, and as the filmmakers intended, it is truly like stepping into a comic book or graphic novel. It is a near perfect audio track, although the real winner with this film is its presentation and picture quality. Am I as excited about the audio as I am with the picture with A Dame To Kill For? No, but it does its job well and I have no complaints.

AUDIO SCORE: 4.5/5

EXTRAS 

Surprisingly, even with a three disc combo pack featuring a DVD, 2D Blu Ray, and 3D Blu Ray, Anchor Bay (the studio who released this Blu Ray) provides a very good amount of extras. If you happen to own the Target Exclusive, I do believe there are more extras available on their own disc, but I do not have that version and thus am going to provide the typical extras that come with all other releases.

A Dame To Kill For comes with four short extras, all in HD, and also features the Theatrical Trailer for the original Sin City, although there is no trailer for the sequel. Curious, but after the box office flop maybe the filmmakers wanted to relive the glory of the original and remind viewers of just how good that first effort was!

The extras are as follows:

High-Speed Green Screen – A fast forwarded 16 minute presentation of the film, before digital effects and CGI were added in post-production. It is an interesting glimpse into how these movies are made, especially in an era of film dominated by CGI and green screen effects.

Character Profiles – 14 minutes of interviews with the cast speaking about their characters. It is very basic, but interesting for fans.

Makeup Effects – 7 minutes with Robert Rodriguez, the Director, and Greg Nicotero, who did the makeup for this film and also works extensively on The Walking Dead and has worked on Evil Dead and many other makeup heavy horror movies since the 1980s. It is worth the look for fans of Nicotero’s work.

Stunts – A quick 6 minute look into the stunts for the movie with Rodriguez and the stunt coordinator.

Overall, they are all worth a look, with the highlights being the Green Screen Version, which is very cool for students of film, and the Makeup Effects short with Nicotero. I wish there was a bit more, and maybe something featuring Frank Miller, but it is still more than many releases are coming with these days.

EXTRAS SCORE: 4/5

OVERALL SCORE: 5/5

FINAL VERDICT: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is one of those movies which you have to own if you are a home theater enthusiast or movie collector. It is simply one of the best experiences you will ever have with your home theater. Ignore the critical reviews, and pop this one on the screen and enjoy the visuals. You will not be disappointed.

Star Wars: Original Trilogy – Blu Review

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy Blu Ray delivers excellent video (minus the controversial CGI) and solid audio, although for extras you will need to upgrade to the Complete Saga Edition.

The Star Wars Original Trilogy has been released on so many different formats and so many different versions that even the Blu Ray release offers two separate editions, not including the Complete Saga. The edition I own is found here, and must be out-of-print as it is only being offered through third party sellers on Amazon for ridiculous prices. The newer version of the Original Trilogy, found here, includes DVDs and is thus a six disc edition compared to my three disc edition, but other than that it does not offer any new materials outside of a different packaging. For the most hardcore Star Wars fans, I would suggest buying the Compete Saga Edition, found here. It is much pricier, at around $90 compared to the $70 total you would spend for the Original Trilogy and Prequel Trilogy, but it includes many more extras and can often be found on sale around the holidays, which makes it a much better buy than the two bare bones Trilogy sets which lack in extras.

PICTURE QUALITY

Regardless of your feelings about the Original Star Wars, Special Editions, and CGI additions made by George Lucas since the initial release in 1977, this Blu Ray release is the best you are going to see these films right now. The transfer is gorgeous, and they left much of the original graininess, which I enjoy in older films. I am not a fan of the “digital noise reduction” (DNR) which takes place when many older films are released on Blu Ray and aims to eliminate the grain for a more modern, digital look. I prefer the films in their original form, and thankfully with this Original Trilogy they have kept the DNR to a minimum. The colors are vibrant, the action is smooth, and it is hands down the best that Star Wars has ever looked.

Original Shot (Above) CGI Addition in Blu Ray release (Below) Make your own judgement!

For Star Wars purists, the additional CGI added during George Lucas’s edits when he re-released the Original Trilogy in 1997 are obviously an issue. However, with the exception of the famous scene in the cantina featuring Han Solo and Greedo, a lot of the changes are minor and do not detract from the viewing experience. Do they look awkward and out of sorts in place next to the original shots from the late 70s? Sure, but it would only bother the most hardcore fans and even they should be able to move past that and realize that this is the best Star Wars we have right now, and we need to work with what is available if we want to view the films in their new, exceptional HD transfers.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 4.5/5

AUDIO

There is no doubt that this is the best that Star Wars has ever looked in your homes, so will the sound stack up to the picture quality’s exceptional score? Yes, and it is actually the best part of this release. The Original Trilogy sports a 6.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 6.1 mix is a bit different, as typically most films would be released in 5.1 and most newer releases or new 4K remasters of older films would carry the 7.1 sound mix. With a 6.1 mix, there is simply a typical 5.1 track with additional sound coming from a single rear speaker, if you have them. If you have a 7.1 system, the rear sound will likely only come from one of the rear speakers, and on a 5.1 system the sound reserved for the rear speaker would be split between the two side speakers. The use of a more complex sound mix creates a much more enjoyable viewing experience, as those sounds of blasters or lightsabers being drawn behind the scene create an immersive experience. We have all wanted to get lost in the world of Star Wars once in our lives, and experiencing this Blu Ray release in our home theaters is as close as many of us will get. Overall, the audio is hands down one of the better experiences I have had with the blu Ray format, and it is a must have for your collection.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Star Wars: The Complete Saga

The extras are the only “Dark Side” to this release, which pale in comparison to the “Complete Saga” Star Wars collection that is also available. The only extras on this release are commentary tracks for each of the three films with George Lucas, the cast, and crew, with what is said to be “never before released commentary with archival interviews with cast and crew”. Other than this, there are no special features. In comparison, the “Complete Saga” is absolutely loaded with special features, with over 40 hours of extra content spread over three discs and the entire Star Wars series to date. For the ultimate Star Wars fan, this could easily make or break buying the trilogies as stand alone releases versus buying the “Complete Saga”.

EXTRAS SCORE: 1/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5

FINAL VERDICT: This is certainly an excellent release if you are just looking to add the Original Trilogy to your collection on a budget. If you have the money, I recommend this Original Trilogy set for those on a budget, but if money is no issue, get the Complete Saga. The additional special features are worth the price alone, never mind the upgraded quality of the packaging and addition of the Prequel Trilogy. You will not be disappointed. Either way, both are highly recommended!

2 Guns – Blu Review

2 Guns offers up decent video and outstanding audio in a Blu Ray release worth picking up for fans of action flicks or the great lead actors (Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg)

2 Guns has been available on Blu Ray for over a year now, and has been sitting on my shelf since I picked it up for right around $5 from a sale at Frys.com. It can be had these days for $14 at Best Buy and Amazon, but I would suggest waiting for a sale, as this is a typical shoot-em-up action movie that will eventually drop to around $5 again on sale, and should sit at lower than $10 on any given day. $14 is too high, so wait on purchasing this one for now! The only special packaging that came with this initial release was a MetalPak from Best Buy, which will currently run you $28. If you are a crazy fan of the film, and are a collector of MetalPaks and collectible packaging, by all means buy this version. For the casual fan, I would skip this one as it is not worth the price. As far as typical packaging, at this point you would be lucky to find a copy with a slipcover, as even 6 months ago when I purchased this title I did not receive a slipcover. Most likely you will be buying a simple Blu Ray/DVD Combo pack without the slipcover.

PICTURE QUALITY

2 Guns delivers a very average picture, especially for a “bang, bang, boom” type of film which offers up plenty of explosions, shootouts, and fight scenes. It is definitely nothing to write home about, and would fall right in line next to any average Blu Ray release, far behind films which really utilize the Full HD 1080p resolution, like “Avatar”, or “The Avengers”. A few of the scenes with large explosions are actually very subdued, using a slow motion technique rather than unleashing the full brunt of the blast onto our screens. This does not work well within the film, as it is very much supposed to be filled with action and should not water down these scenes by using cheesy slow motion.

A prime example of the yellow tint used in the film.
A prime example of the yellow tint used in the film.

With the film centered around the vast desert areas along the US-Mexico border, the yellowish tint to the film (pictured above) is actually very underwhelming at times. I was reminded of Breaking Bad when observing the color of the scenes, especially those taking place in Mexico. Breaking Bad was so well done that anything else seems like a cliché, which bothered me. However, moving past the negatives, there are definitely some positives! Darker scenes at night in cars, garages, and inside homes are very well done. The deep black colors really shine, but without muddying the picture. The end sequence is also extremely entertaining and ditches the slow motion for a full-fledged, massive scale shootout with all kinds of players. The film is worth picking up for this scene alone, as it is a joy to watch. Just don’t overspend!

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 3/5

AUDIO

2 Guns runs a DTS-HD 5.1 audio track, and it is always a good thing to see that “DTS-HD’ or “Dolby TrueHD” listed on a Blu Ray’s audio specs as they are both the top of the line when it comes to home entertainment audio. For those with 7.1 systems, I would be a bit disappointed that this did not come with a 7.1 audio track, as the sound is really the strongest point of this release. However, even with the 5.1 track, the sound is incredible. This has a lot to do with the content of the film, which is packed with shootouts and explosions for most of the film. The dialogue was incredibly clear through my center speaker, which was a plus. Often with a louder film like this one, you would find yourself constantly adjusting the volume to find the right mix of the louder action and the softer dialogue, but I jumped right into watching this at a constant volume with no clarity issues. Again, the standout scene from an audio perspective comes at the end of the film, where the end scene features Apache helicopters, thousands of flying bullets, and multiple explosions. It is ultimately one of the better sounding action movies I have seen recently, and the final sequence is a great chance to push your system and see it reach its full potential.

AUDIO SCORE: 5/5

EXTRAS

Director Baltasar Kormákur Image from IMDB
Director Baltasar Kormákur
Image from IMDB

The extras on this release are far from excellent, and are certainly the low point. The Blu Ray/DVD Combo pack includes the standard “Deleted and Extended Scenes” (12 minutes), as well as a commentary track with Director Baltasar Kormákur and Producer Adam Siegel, as well as a few short features on the making of the film. the deleted scenes do not offer much to the film, but would be fun for fans. The commentary is very dull to start and somewhat reserved. Kormákur seems very uninterested, as he often defers to Siegel, who rambles on very quickly throughout the commentary (too quickly for me). I must admit, I am not a huge fan of the commentary tracks on these very average films as they are what they are; basic shoot-em-ups which really do not need much explaining. In a film so simple and fun as this one, there does not seem to be a need for a commentary track. Overall, I definitely would not buy this one for the extras, and the lack of extras is also a major reason why it will most likely hit the “Under $10” shelves in the coming months.

EXTRAS SCORE: 2/5

OVERALL SCORE: 3.5/5

Final Verdict: Pick this one up and have some fun with it, especially if you are a fan of the leads (Washington, Wahlberg) but wait for it to hit the bargain bins or special sale shelves before you buy!

X-Men: Days of Future Past Blu Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a quality Blu Ray release with excellent picture and audio that will impress the neighbors.

Although it was released a few months back, I just got around to watching Days of Future Past (DOFP) this week during the blizzard up here in the Northeast. I own the MetalPak packaging of this film, which was a Target Exclusive and, judging by their website, is now out of print. The artwork on the front is nice, but I would have liked something more related to the film, rather than a generic cover featuring a close up of Wolverine and Raven (Mystique). However, the back cover artwork and inside artwork (featured above) are excellent, and will delight fans more than the simple slipcover that comes with other versions of this film. For the hardcore fans, the best version of this Blu Ray is the Amazon Exclusive which comes with a 7″ Magneto helmet as well as the 3D version of the film. You can find that version here, although it will run you close to $100. The regular combo pack is found here.

Front Cover Art
Front Cover Art

PICTURE QUALITY

As far as picture quality, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment usually delivers a great presentation, and DOFP is no exception. On my 55″ LED TV, the picture looked great. Colors were bright, quick movements and transitions were very smooth in the fight scenes, and the slow motion scenes with Quicksilver were especially impressive. The yellowish hue that was present in scenes from the 70s and the blue hue used for the scenes from the “Present Day” were an especially nice use of tinting, which can occasionally be overused. In this case, Director Bryan Singer has used the technique very effectively to convey a change in time, which helps the casual viewer keep track of scene changes and avoids any confusion. There was very little to complain about with this Blu Ray release, and it is highly recommended that you pick this one up when you have the chance.

PICTURE QUALITY SCORE: 5/5 

back cover art days of future past blu ray target metalpak
Back Cover Art

AUDIO

The audio track on this release is also very impressive, sporting a 7.1 DTS-HD mix. With my current 5.1 system, I was not able to hear the full power of the audio track, but the action sequences had booming bass and clear sound coming from all four side speakers that made for an enjoyable home theater experience. This is about as close as it gets to cinema quality audio on a Blu Ray, and is definitely recommend to test a new system, or show off to friends and family. If I have one criticism, and this may stem from the fact that it was a 7.1 mix and I was experiencing it on a 5.1 system, it would be that the dialogue at times seemed too soft when compared to the action sequences. I found myself adjusting the volume quite a bit in the beginning trying to find that happy medium between too soft dialogue and too overpowering action sequences. However, once I found the sweet spot it sounded excellent. Overall, with a 7.1 system I am sure that DOFP contains a fantastic audio track, and again it is highly recommended that you pick this release up!

AUDIO SCORE: 4.5/5

OVERALL SCORE: 4.5/5