2001: A DVD Odyssey Sound Choices

Sound Choices

Almost Famous
Sound A+ Picture A- Film A
Heavy nostalgia for the Baby Boom generation, and one of the best films of 2000, Almost Famous does, perhaps, suggest that performers are attracted to rock music more for the partying than for the music. But the music does get more than its fair share, thanks to a soundtrack every bit as important as what's happening onscreen. The audio rewards are primarily in the songs, which are generously spread throughout the soundtrack, plus one impressive sequence set in a small airplane. This is also a very good video transfer, if occasionally marred by edge enhancement that's more visible on a big screen than a small one.

Fantasia 2000
Sound A+ Picture A- Film A-
Fantasia 2000 creatively equals its more storied predecessor, and, with more advanced technology at its disposal, far exceeds it technically. The soundtrack is little short of stunning in DTS or Dolby Digital (both are provided). The picture is marred a bit by clearly visible edge enhancement.

Sound A+ Picture A- Film A+
This four-hour dramatization of the Battle of Gettysburg is a superb achievement. Flawed in spots by slowness, excessive speechmaking, and unconvincing makeup (bad beards), its cumulative effect is nonetheless compelling. The vivid battle scenes will blow you away. The images are a little variable in quality (the film was originally intended for television, but was first given a brief theatrical release). At its best, the video transfer is very natural and filmlike, and there is no distracting edge enhancement. The sound, particularly in those battle sequences, is outstanding. The tight, reverberating bass will pin you to the wall, particularly in the cannon bombardment preceding Pickett's charge. (The actual bombardment went on for nearly two hours; as depicted here, it is impressively extended but not that long.)

The Patriot
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound A+ Picture A Film B
This film is a bit skewed narratively, with a cardboard villain and a title character driven less by patriotism than by revenge. Nonetheless, it's a finely crafted period drama about a rarely dramatized subject, the American Revolution. The video transfer is impeccable, though at times slightly soft, apparently by design. If anything, the DVD looks better than I recall seeing from a good print in a good theater. And The Patriot has one of the best-recorded soundtracks of the year. But be warned: It's even more violent than Gladiator.

The Perfect Storm
Sound A+ Picture A- Film A-
The shorebound opening scenes drag on a bit too long, and the film overall seems to have disappointed those who read the book more than those who haven't (I fall in the latter category). But once the storm hits, you can't take your eyes off the screen. This is cinema action at its best, with striking special effects that are required by the story rather than simply tacked on. They don't always look quite real—CGI still has a ways to go in producing photorealistic waves and ships—but there's so much going on that it's all mighty convincing anyway. The picture is a little soft (as it was in the theater), but has unfailingly good shadow detail in the dark second half. The sound is so frighteningly intense you'll be bailing out your home theater for days afterward.

Men In Black
(Columbia TriStar)
Sound A+ Picture A Film A-
Though the bass, while powerful, only rarely plumbs the depths, this rousing adventure's exciting and innovative sound mix and inspired storyline succeed where most attempts to mix science fiction and comedy fall flat. (Think Spaceballs—on second thought, don't.) The vivid video transfer falls short of an A+ rating only because of a slightly too aggressive hand on the edge-enhancement control.