Scanning High-Def

V for Vendetta (Warner; Movie •••½, HD DVD Picture ••••, Sound ••••, Original Extras ••, New Extras: ••). This morally ambiguous movie is more a provocation to discussion than an outright statement about terrorism during totalitarian times, but its HD DVD is a clear argument in favor of the high-def format. The transfer, authored with the superior VC-1 codec, looks very impressive, with excellent contrast in its dark but rich images. V's cloak is jet black, there are plenty of bright whites, and the natural-looking skin tones have enough tonal variation and detail to produce a nice roundness to faces. The picture is sharp, crisp, and well-textured, so you can see all the stubble on Natalie Portman's forcibly shaved head and take numbers off plates in the background to check who's out after curfew.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel lossless sound is equally clear, so whispered plots can be overheard even against room-shaking music. Use of the surrounds is restrained until near the end when bullets echo past and down through a tunnel, and in the big finale when rumbling detonations go off all around and fireworks explode seemingly overhead, all to the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

The In-Movie Experience consists of director James McTeigue and the cast and crew as talking heads in a square picture-in-picture, interspersed with occasional behind-the-camera footage or storyboards. Unfortunately, the PIP is placed too far up the screen, and the "experience" comes in snippets lasting just a few seconds, with long periods of the film alone in between. There's also a dull featurette on the design, but far more interesting ones on Guy Fawkes, adapting the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons graphic novel to the screen, and (best of all) a 20-minute history of the new wave of comic books, going from the traditions of the 1950s to the development of the more complex and ambitious tomes of today.

Superman: The Movie (Warner; Movie •••½, Blu-ray Picture •••, Sound •••½; HD DVD Picture •••, Sound ••••; Original Extras ••••, New Extras: None). Thankfully all the wires were digitally erased in the 2000 restoration, because I'm sure they'd be highly visible in high-def despite the only fair detail and clarity in these two 1080p transfers (created using the VC-1 codec). Contrast is good, with colors ranging from the intensely rich planets at the beginning to the soft, hazy country home of Clark Kent's childhood to the grown Man of Steel's vibrant blue, red, and yellow costume and poppa Jor-El's deep black one. But the composite special-effects shots could use the kind of fixing that the original Star Wars trilogy received; they're still very grainy, and artifacts can also be a problem.

The Blu-ray Disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is immersive, with convincing audio pans sweeping around the soundstage. The nuclear explosions and earthquake rumble pretty well, but they could still be rumblier. Surprisingly, the HD DVD's Dolby Digital-Plus sound suffers slightly more from the light-bass blues - sometimes getting a bit tinny - and doesn't seem quite as surrounding or powerful, most noticeably in the rousing opening credits music and effects. However, the HD DVD picture's contrast and skin tones seem a little better, though visual differences between the two formats are minimal.

Director Richard Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz (who was the driving force in making this restored, extended 2000 edition and its rerecorded effects and remixed music), do a great double act in their commentary, telling all the tidbits about the making of the movie, whether politically incorrect from the studio's point of view or not. You also get a music-only track of John Williams's rousingly memorable score mixed into 5.1 channels, Christopher Reeve's screen test, and 80 minutes of documentaries that include interviews with members of the crew, Williams, and three of the four stars - Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Gene Hackman. The only one missing is the reclusive (and now late) Marlon Brando, though there is footage from his 1978 interview to make up for his absence.