2001: A DVD Odyssey Consistently Outstanding

Consistently Outstanding

The Bounty
Sound A- Picture A Film A
A young Mel Gibson squares off against Anthony Hopkins in this film about the Bounty mutineers. This is not only very possibly the most historically accurate of the films on the subject, it's also the most interesting and complex. The story centers on Hopkins' Captain Bligh, and make no mistake—it's Hopkins' performance that dominates here. The sound is not spectacular, but full-range, crystal-clear, and notably enhanced by Vangelis' haunting music. The picture is a little grainy in a few, mostly dark scenes, and slightly soft in others. But most of the time it's vivid and colorful, nearly popping off the screen with detail and dimensionality. Not to be missed.

Sound A Picture A Film A+
The technical quality of this DVD is way more than good enough, though both the audio and video are just enough short of the best clarity and depth to preclude the highest rating. But Braveheart may well be the best film of the '90s—if you aren't put off by the graphic violence of the battle scenes and the suggested violence at the end (more than a bit excessive, in my opinion, and definitely not for the younger set). A film that must be seen and a DVD worth owning.

Bring It On
Sound A- Picture A- Film A-
High school cheerleaders vie for a national title, encountering problems and adventures en route. Doesn't sound like much (except maybe for the cheerleader part)—not a single teenager gets axed here—but this comedy is surprisingly entertaining and manages to be very funny without resorting to gross-out humor (with one exception). The picture is a little soft but not distractingly so. The sonic excitement is primarily in the music, particularly near the end and in the not-to-be-missed credits.

Chicken Run
Sound A- Picture A- Film A+
What can you say about chickens trying to fly the coop? This delightful clay-animated (actually, plasticine) feature was one of the best films of 2000, and while some might argue that that isn't saying much, it would be a delight in any year. It's one of those films that speaks to both children and adults. The Dolby Digital sound is a little lean (the DTS track is a bit richer, and could fairly be rated as A) but it works well for the film. The image is a little soft throughout, but at least is not handicapped by edge enhancement.

The Emperor's New Groove
(Buena Vista)
Sound A- Picture A Film A-
This offbeat Disney animated feature about an evil emperor in an Inca-like kingdom who is turned into a llama, is befriended by a peasant, and mends his ways, will appeal to both adults and children. While not as brilliantly witty as, say, A Bug's Life, there's some very funny stuff here, from a Riverdance spoof to the villain's hunky, cooking-obsessed doofus of a henchman. Great fun. The animation is clearly from the simple-is-better school, and while it works for the story, there's little technical complexity or depth here. It's vividly colored, but any resemblance to Disney's more sophisticated efforts like Tarzan ends there. There's nothing at all wrong with the transfer, though it doesn't jump out in a way that would demand the very highest rating. The same for the sound; it's clean but just a little bland.

Finding Forrester
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound A- Picture A- Film A-
Any film with Sean Connery is worth a look, and this one has the bonus of a breakthrough performance by 16-year-old Rob Brown. Amazingly, Brown was discovered when the filmmakers posted a notice at his high school for open auditions. The film is marred mainly by its eerie similarity to Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant directed both). There is, perhaps appropriately, a homage of sorts to Hunting in the epilogue here, which I won't reveal. But the heart of Finding Forrester is solid and pushes the right emotional buttons. The sound is very good though unfailingly subtle. The picture quality varies somewhat from scene to scene (some of this is clearly from the original photography), with occasionally visible edge enhancement.

Sound A- Picture A- Film A
The picture is a little soft; the sound is very good but doesn't surprise in any way. The film itself is a must-see delight—a riotous parody of the Star Trek franchise and subculture. It's deftly done, without an ounce of meanness—the filmmakers are clearly laughing with the fans, not at them.

Sound A Picture A Film A+
Do we need to say more? This is the biggest-selling DVD to date, so if you don't already own it, there's probably nothing I can say to convince you to add it to your collection. The images are frequently dark and brownish, but that's the way the film was photographed, and there's little to criticize in the DVD transfer itself. This welcome return to the venerable Roman-era sword-and-sandal epic is very violent (think Braveheart), but fast cutting makes it less stomach-churning than it might have been.

Jurassic Park
Sound A Picture A- Film A
The video transfer is just a little shy of the best—a bit of softness here, a bit of edge enhancement there. The soundtrack is solid, with strong bass (Dolby Digital version reviewed). The landmark special effects are still completely convincing eight years after the film's release.

The Legend of Bagger Vance
Sound A Picture A Film A
Another one of those films you'll either love or hate for its slow pacing and fantasy atmosphere. In a way, it does for golf what Field of Dreams and The Natural did for baseball, bringing out the near-mythic quality of sport. But, like those other films, you don't have to be a fan of the subject sport to enjoy it—I'm no golf enthusiast, and I loved Bagger Vance. The sound is never spectacular, but gets you into the movie and never disappoints. The picture would have been A+ if not for that old devil—just a little too much edge enhancement, most noticeable on medium and long shots with lots of detail.

The Natural
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound A- Picture A Film A+
The greatest baseball film ever made? The Natural can certainly duke it out with Field of Dreams for that honor. The video transfer at first seems a bit soft, but you soon realize that this originates in Caleb Deschanel's incredibly atmospheric photography. It does sharpen up considerably after the dreamy prologue, but always remains superbly natural and filmlike. The fact that the sound transfer is not 5.1 is a little disappointing, but the unusual 4.0 mix provided here is one of the best non-5.1 soundtracks I have heard and doesn't let the film down in any way.

The Red Violin
Sound A Picture A Film A-
Not everyone was entranced by this story of the travels of a violin through the centuries, but there's no denying that the tale is consistently interesting. The photography is dark and heavy on earth tones, but the transfer captures it very well. The sound is also impressive, with most of the credit due to the music score.

Remember the Titans
Sound A Picture A Film A
This inspirational and true story of the integration of a high school football team in Alexandria, Virginia straddles the line between moving and overdone. See my full review in this issue.

The Rock
(Criterion Collection)
Sound A Picture A Film A
The sound appears to be about the same as in the earlier Buena Vista DVD release, but this Criterion Collection version has a new anamorphic transfer, and that makes all the difference. This disc looks worlds better than the original, an uninspired letterboxed version that, from the visual evidence, could well have been made from the same video source used for the even older laserdisc. You might want to use the Buena Vista DVD as a coaster—you'll never watch it again.

(Columbia TriStar)
Sound A- Picture A- Film A-
This true story of a mediocre student and athlete who longs to play football for Notre Dame may be hard going for those who can't connect with what sports fandom and school spirit mean to some people. But for those who can, Rudy is a tremendously moving and uplifting little film. It's only incidentally about football; the real story is about following your dreams. The sound is solid—the main attraction is Jerry Goldsmith's superb score—and the image, while a little uneven, particularly in shadow detail, is generally good.

Sound A Picture A- Film A
This delightful story about Gilbert and Sullivan may be a bit too long; there are about 20 minutes too many in the opening exposition. But once the main plot kicks in—about the writing and staging of the team's greatest hit, The Mikado—the fun never stops. The sound is fully up to the job, but images are consistently soft.