Latest Software Reviews

DVD: Love Actually—Universal
Video: 4
Audio: 4
Extras: 4
A review quote on the Love Actually DVD box touts this as "the most delightful film of the year," and that is precisely the world that comes to mind as you watch it: delightful. Yes, it's a very British word to describe a very British film, but it also perfectly encapsulates the film's pacing and performances. Rather than focusing on the trials and tribulations of one couple, Love Actually tells many stories about many couples. It's the anti–Love Story and the screenplay instructor's nightmare, but it's wonderfully engaging (albeit unnecessarily hard on overweight people).

The film's dialogue and music are its marquee features, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack renders them well, but don't expect much in the surrounds or sub. The 2.35:1 anamorphic picture's color saturation and detail level have pleasing naturalness to them; the picture's only hindrances are the shimmering artifacts that occasionally appear in horizontal elements.

Director Richard Curtis is the bonus material's unifying element. First, he joins Hugh Grant and other cast members in a wry commentary track. Next, he discusses some of his soundtrack choices and shows us the scenes with the dialogue turned down. Finally, he provides an intro for each deleted scene. The film needed serious trimming to reach its final two-hour-and-15-minute running time, so quite a few worthy scenes from each subplot were deleted by necessity. This is one of those rare instances where the deleted scenes aren't merely padding; they fill in the story nicely and make the overall package that much more enjoyable.—Adrienne Maxwell

DVD: The Haunted Mansion—Buena Vista
Audio: 4
Video: 5
Extras: 3
Eddie Murphy may get top billing in this not-too-scary comedy fashioned after Disney's theme-park attraction, but it's the production design and special effects that are this film's true stars. The intricately detailed, gorgeously creepy mansion, along with its resident ghosts and rotting zombies, steal the show right out from under Murphy. That's probably just as well, as the story created to flesh out (excuse the pun) the scenes we know and love from the Disney parks is as predictable as, well, every other spooky comedy ever filmed. (Kudos, though, to writer David Berenbaum for his subtle message about interracial marriage—a surprising theme to find in a movie like this.)

As the film's main attraction, the effects and art direction are featured prominently in the DVD's bonus material, which includes two very detailed making-of documentaries and two commentary tracks. There aren't many kid-oriented bonuses here, other than a virtual tour of the mansion, an outtake collection, and a music video.

The film is being released in a 2.35:1 anamorphic and a 1.33:1 edition. The widescreen version is beautiful, with crisp resolution and excellent detail, even in the dimly lit corners of the Gracey mansion. Thanks to the nicely done Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, when ghosts fly around the mansion's rooms, you'll hear them fly around yours, too.—Drew Hardin

DVD-Audio: Blues Traveler—Truth Be Told (Silverline)
The seventh studio album from Blues Traveler, the blues-rock quartet fronted by vocalist and supreme-harmonica-playin'-dude John Popper, is a stunner that catches your attention from the first listening session and continues to grow on you with each successive spin.

The disc contains both a 24/96 multichannel DVD-Audio track and a 24/48 Dolby Digital 5.1 version (but no DTS). On most tracks, the surround mix is subtle, with just enough rear emphasis to create a sense of openness. This is not a mix that re-creates a live venue—thankfully the focus is clearly on the artistry of the music and the vocals. "Thinnest of Air," an exceptionally lively tune, is one of the few spots where the surround channels take a break from their background role. While I normally remain unimpressed by overactive surrounds, the careful integration of the surrounds here was perfectly normal and quite enjoyable. The Dolby Digital mix is excellent, although you'll never go back to it once you hear the 24/96 mix. DVD-Audio's extra resolution brings out a subtle layering of instruments and vocals on "Stumble and Fall" that's sensational.

There's not much in the way of extras. The Live Photo Gallery offers a selection of shots of the band mostly from live concerts, but unfortunately you can't view the Gallery while listening to the 5.1 mix. You can, on the other hand, view song lyrics as each song plays. Although the extras are a disappointment, the music more than makes up for it on this finely crafted performance.—Darryl Wilkinson

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