House of Blu-ray Page 2

Second skirmish: two big-budget sci-fi action movies from the 1990s.

The first thing that strikes me about The Fifth Element (Sony; Movie •••½, Picture/Sound •••) is that faces occasionally have a roundness closer to that on many HD DVDs. It's not as solid as, say, the images on Million Dollar Baby (which have a three-dimensionality throughout compositions), but it does make you sit up and take notice. I suspect that this depends a lot on the filmmakers' good old-fashioned modeling with lighting, but the greater detail and wider contrast range of high-def results in a more realistic picture.

Wider shots sometimes lack sharpness and definition - and occasionally, dirt and damage on the film-source elements mar visibility. But the close-ups of Milla Jovovich reveal the flawlessness of her face, with nary a pore or blemish in sight. Skin tones are extremely natural (all over her body), and the bright whiteness of her skimpy bandage outfit sets off the vibrancy of her intensely orange hair and piercing green eyes.

Sound is very good, too, with oomph in both the explosions and the music - which washes around you but rarely offers any separation of instruments. The opera singer's voice is full, resonant, and distinct. Effects pans, as when the flying taxi sweeps overhead, are accurately placed.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Lionsgate; Movie •••, Picture/Sound ••½) hasn't profited as much from its high-def release as I'd hoped. Yes, the sound is impressive, with lots of low-frequency effects, clarity, and detail (though not the distinctiveness of the uncompressed PCM soundtracks). And the picture isn't as flat as that on the standard-def DVD. Nor does it suffer from the fuzziness that DVDs now seem to have on a big screen. (How quickly expectations grow.) Still, whereas T2 on DVD was always a great benchmark, the Blu-ray edition won't cut it as a test disc in this new high-def era.

Unlike the double-disc DVD release of T2, the Blu-ray Disc doesn't include the extended version, only the theatrical cut. And though it has the commentaries made in 2000 and 2003 (by James Cameron) and a couple of excellent featurettes, many other extras from the various DVD editions have been left out. Er, are there already plans for a Blu-ray Disc re-release?

The Fifth takes down T2. Sony goes ahead 2-0.

For one more Blu-ray face-off - between the first Terminator and Crash - see the expanded roundup coming soon. But for now, the big news is that a format touted for its high-def picture impresses most in Sony's sound.

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