D-Theater Update

Independence Day
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 2005772. PG-13. $34.95.
Picture *** (3)
Sound **** (4)
Film **

Cast Away
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 2005772. PG-13. $34.95.
Picture *** (3)
Sound ****(4)
Film ****

Ice Age
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. Dolby Digital 5.1. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment 2005772. PG. $34.95.
Picture **** (4)
Sound *** (3)
Film ***

Several dozen D-VHS tapes are now available for D-Theater, the high-definition format championed by JVC and supported by several film studios and the HD channel HDNet. While many of the films are of less than first rank, the three reviewed here were undeniable hits. None quite matches the audio or video quality of U-571—still far and away the best-looking and -sounding D-Theater release I've seen—though I hasten to add that I haven't seen all of them, by a long shot.

The Picture and Sound ratings in parentheses, above, are those we'd now give to the corresponding DVD release—ratings that for any number of reasons may differ a bit from the ratings we gave when we first reviewed them. We've added the designation "+" to the possible Picture ratings to account for the greater potential of hi-def. This potential is not always met; none of these titles quite makes the maximum grade.

The invading-aliens-from-outer-space sci-fi extravaganza Independence Day is a hodgepodge of inspired (and not so inspired) borrowings from a variety of films and TV series both obvious (War of the Worlds, V) and subtle (Henry V—I leave it to the viewer to figure out that particular Trivial Pursuit puzzler). Like it or not, no one can deny that ID4—as it was called during the promotions—put a lot of fannies in seats in the summer of 1996. It also makes for an exciting home-theater, high-definition video experience—provided you can overlook the film's many flaws. If it's not the sharpest-looking D-Theater tape we've seen, it nevertheless handily outperforms the DVD. The D-Theater sound is clean and scarily dynamic; this was always one of the most subwoofer-challenging soundtracks, and it still is.

Cast Away is an effective modern riff on Robinson Crusoe. Much of the film is virtually silent, apart from the ambient sounds of the island on which Tom Hanks' character is stranded; because of this, there isn't much to choose from soundwise between the DVD and hi-def versions. But the video, as expected, easily favors the higher-resolution D-Theater. The difference is the most pronounced of the three titles under discussion: The DVD has a considerable amount of edge enhancement, the tape is pristine. This adds up to a far more rewarding experience from the hi-def version.

I'm a little disappointed by what I see on the D-Theater tape of Ice Age—a fun entry in the increasingly popular genre of computer animation. I first saw the film in a DLP theatrical presentation, and, viewed on the SIM2 HT300 Plus DLP projector (review coming soon), neither the DVD nor the D-Theater version quite equals that experience. But the DVD comes strikingly close. In fact, the DVD actually looks sharper and more detailed than the high-definition tape. In theory, of course, this can't be, but for whatever reason, this is one film I'd rather watch on the little silver disc. The sound is slightly smoother and less edgy on the D-Theater tape, but not quite enough to swing the balance in its favor, particularly when combined with the far superior convenience of DVD.—TJN