Getting More Immersed with Indiewire

  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart

The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film

For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.


Bond 50 Blu-ray Set Announced

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Trailers | Leave a comment

What a week for Bond: First Thomas Newman was officially announced as the composer of Skyfall (Nov. 9) — no surprise considering his association with director Sam Mendes (American Beauty). Now word comes out of CES that all 22 current Bond films (Dr. No through Quantum of Solace) will be released on Blu-ray this fall from MGM Home Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in in a special Bond 50 anniversary box set. This includes nine previously unreleased films (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, GoldenEye, and Tomorrow Never Dies).

Bond directors John Glen (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill), Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) and Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) with special guests Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Caterina Murino (Casino Royale) made the Blu-ray announcement today during a Directors’ panel discussion in the Panasonic Booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

More than 130 hours of bonus features are promised, including some new and exclusive content.

“With all 22 feature films available on Blu-ray in one collection for the first time this is a great way for fans to catch up on 007’s epic journey before Skyfall hits theaters next Fall,” said Michael Brown, SVP, MGM Home Entertainment. “Now viewers can enjoy the intense action of the innovative franchise in the most immersive home experience possible.”

“We have a whole program of exciting activities planned for our 50th anniversary year, beginning with today’s announcement, by Fox, of the release of all 22 films on Blu-ray for the very first time,’’ added Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, with Eon Prods. “We are also delighted that Fox has unveiled a specially designed anniversary poster which we hope the fans will love as much as we do. Our website, will be regularly updated with all the latest anniversary news and events.”

Universal Launches Centennial Celebration

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Tech | Leave a comment

Universal will mark its 100thanniversary in 2012, and will commemorate its centennial with a yearlong celebration of its cultural legacy.

This includes the extensive restoration of 13 of the studio’s most beloved titles: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Birds, Buck Privates, Dracula (1931), Frankenstein, Jaws, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List, Out of Africa, Pillow Talk, Bride of Frankenstein, The Sting, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment will kick off the celebration on Jan. 31 with a special 50th anniversary release of To Kill a Mockingbird, debuting on Blu-ray for the first time ever. Throughout the year, Universal will pay tribute to other influential films in the Universal library with special events and Blu-ray releases of such iconic classics as Jaws and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Universal will reveal an updated animated logo tied to the centennial. The animated logo will make its first appearance in front of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax at its premiere in February, and for that film’s U.S. theatrical release on March 2nd. (The new static version of this logo is unveiled today and is featured at the top of this release.) Other activities surrounding the studio’s 100th anniversary include a vibrant social media campaign, special events, theme park activities, and promotions.

“This is a proud moment for all of us who’ve had the privilege of working at Universal Pictures,” said Ron Meyer, Universal Studios President and COO. “Our centennial is designed to bring special memories back to longtime movie lovers and fans, and to engage new audiences with our extraordinary library of films for the first time. Our goal, 100 years later, is to preserve, restore and continue the iconic legacy of this studio for generations to come.”

Fans and film enthusiasts can start celebrating online today at the official Universal Centennial website,, a one-stop destination dedicated to Universal’s 100 years.

In the spring, select fans will have the opportunity to attend a special gala anniversary celebration on the lot featuring many of the filmmakers and artists who shaped the studios history. In addition, the studio will spotlight the 100th Anniversary throughout various worldwide film festivals and other featured events, panels, and activities.

On April 30, 1912, Universal Film Manufacturing Company filed its certificate of incorporation with the state of New York. In 1915, Carl Laemmle officially opened Universal City, the largest film production facility in the world. Throughout Universal’s 100 years, the studio has served as a home for many of the most talented filmmakers of all time (such as Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Jackson, Spike Lee, John Hughes, and Judd Apatow).

Chinatown Comes to Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar | Leave a comment

Chinatown arrives on Blu-ray April 3 from Paramount Home Media. It’s part of the studio’s centennial celebration. The modern hard boiled masterpiece from ’74, directed by Roman Polanski and written by Oscar-winner Robert Towne, sports a new high-def transfer, and offers packaging that features the original theatrical poster and collectible booklet.

Paramount sent me the following additional info:

-  Scanned from the original negative

-  To significantly improve the image, several short sections where the original negative was missing were replaced with digitally combined separation master scans: This gave a previously soft, compromised image quality a sharper more integrated look, especially in the “orange grove” scene.

-  Final color correction overseen by Towne, who has worked closely with Paramount over the years on this film and knows the creative intent of director and cinematographer well.

-  The 5.1 audio remix was done from an original mono multi-track recording. Audio expert Bruce Botnick oversaw the work and had a close working relationship with composer Jerry Goldsmith.

“When I first saw the movie, years and years ago, just before it was released, all I could think of was everything that was missing from the movie,” Towne told me two years ago. “And with the passage of time, those memories of what’s missing have faded and I can see the movie as a moviegoer — and it seems to me to hold together very well.” Towne terms Chinatown “the futility of good intentions.”

The disc includes more than 2 ½ hours of bonus material:

Commentary with Robert Towne and David Fincher— Towne and Fincher offer unique insights into this classic film.  No matter how many times you’ve watched Chinatown, this commentary will open your eyes to a whole new experience.

Water and Power (HD)— In this three-part documentary, Robert Towne visits sites along the original Los Angeles Aqueduct for the first time.  He is informed of the social and environmental impacts and given insight into the major issues around the creation and ongoing operation of the aqueduct.

o   The Aqueduct (HD)— The City of Los Angeles completed the 233-mile gravity-fed aqueduct from the Owens Valley in 1913, under the leadership of a self-taught engineer named William Mulholland. L.A. Department of Water and Power representatives along with Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of the engineer, discuss the development of the aqueduct and its contribution to the growth of the nation’s second-largest city.

o   The Aftermath (HD)— For decades a large rural community was desiccated under the management of water rights by the City of Los Angeles over a vast area of the Owens Valley. Legal victories beginning in the 1970s lead to successful reductions in environmental damages and the restoration of some natural habitats.  Historians, local ranchers and activists discuss the up-to-date impacts of the aqueduct and struggle to maintain a stable environment and community.

o   The River & Beyond (HD)— Prior to the building of the first aqueduct a century ago Los Angeles relied solely on its own local water supply: the Los Angeles River and its aquifer. Today the river as a water resource is largely forgotten. Currently there are plans to re-develop the river to reduce L.A.’s dependence on imported water, reducing the environmental impact on distant communities, while creating parks and open spaces for the city.

Chinatown: An AppreciationChinatown has been hailed as a perfect film.
Robert Towne’s cynical labyrinth of secrets and sin, Roman Polanski at the top of his form, Jack Nicholson in all his glory, Faye Dunaway at her sexiest and most mysterious, John Huston as one of the creepiest and most unrepentant villains of all time, the great cinematography, the wonderful score, the bandage on the nose…

In this featurette, prominent filmmakers express their personal admiration for the film:

o   Steven Soderbergh – Director – Traffic

o   James Newton Howard – Composer – The Dark Knight

o   Kimberly Peirce – Writer/Director – Boys Don’t Cry

o   Roger Deakins – Cinematographer – No Country For Old Men

o   Chinatown: The Beginning and the End

  • Chinatown: Filming
  • Chinatown: The Legacy
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)

Tellefsen Pitches Moneyball

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Editing, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

In my latest Immersed in Movies column for TOH at Indiewire, I speak with Moneyball editor Christopher Tellefsen about internal rhythms and getting under the skin of Brad Pitt’s Oscar-contending Billy Beane.Tellefsen works well with director Bennett Miller, who has a fondness for quests, and this is even more ambitious than Capote. Moneyball comes out this week on Blu-ray/DVD from Sony Pictures Home Ent.

Academy to Honor 8 Sci-Tech Achievements

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The AMPAS announced the eight sci-tech achievements represented by 28 individual award recipients, who will be honored at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at the Beverly Wilshire on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. They include Mantra software for the rendering of volumetric effects, the Phantom cameras, and “The Lowry Process” for digital noise reduction and other artifacts.

Indeed, how fitting that “The Lowry Process” be honored during the 50th anniversary of James Bond, since it was applied to the digital restoration of the Bonds several years ago, and we’ve reaped the benefits in the subsequent Blu-rays. (The Dr. No screen capture above courtesy of Gary Tooze’s DVD Beaver.) The Lowry touch has also been applied to the Star Wars and Raiders collections, as well as hundreds of other evergreens.

The Academy Awards for scientific and technical achievements are:

Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate)

To Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for the invention and integration of micro-voxels in the Mantra software.

This work allowed, for the first time, unified and efficient rendering of volumetric effects such as smoke and clouds, together with other computer graphics objects, in a micro-polygon imaging pipeline.

Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque)

To Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop, and Richard Toftness for the design and engineering of the Phantom family of high-speed cameras for motion picture production.

The Phantom family of high-speed digital cameras, including the Phantom Flex and HD Gold, provide imagery at speeds and efficacy surpassing photochemical technology, while seamlessly intercutting with conventional film production.

To Dr. Jürgen Noffke for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

The Master Primes have achieved a full stop advance in speed over existing lenses, while maintaining state-of-the-art optical quality.  This lens family was also the first to eliminate the magnification change that accompanied extreme focus shifts.

To Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas, and Michael Vellekoop for the concept, design and implementation of the Pictorvision Eclipse, an electronically stabilized aerial camera platform.

The Pictorvision Eclipse system allows cinematographers to capture aerial footage at faster flying speeds with aggressive platform maneuvering.

To E.F. “Bob” Nettmann for the concept and system architecture, Michael Sayovitz for the electronic packaging and integration, Brad Fritzel for the electronic engineering, and Fred Miller for the mechanical engineering of the Stab-C Classic, Super-G, and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads.

This versatile family of 5-axis camera and lens stabilizers allows any standard motion picture camera to be fitted into the open architecture of the structure.  The system can be quickly balanced and made ready for shooting platforms such as helicopters, boats, camera cars, or cranes.

To John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston, and Tim Connolly for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process.

The “Lowry Process” uses advanced GPU-accelerated, motion estimation-based image processing tools to enhance image quality.

To FUJIFILM Corporation, Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki, and Hiroshi Hirano for the design and development of the FUJIFILM black and white recording film ETERNA-RDS 4791 for use in the archival preservation of film and digital images.

Specifically designed for laser film recording and widely used in the industry today, the high-resolution FUJIFILM ETERNA-RDS 4791 film stock is an important step in protecting the heritage of the motion picture industry.

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette)

To Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel for the design and development of the ARRILASER Film Recorder.

The ARRILASER film recorder demonstrates a high level of engineering resulting in a compact, user-friendly, low-maintenance device, while at the same time maintaining outstanding speed, exposure ratings and image quality.

Portions of the Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation will be included in the Oscar ceremony.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by ABC. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

Immersed in Blu-ray: St. Louis, West Side Story

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar | Leave a comment

Vincente Minnelli’s masterful Meet Me in St. Louis (Warner Home Video) arrives on Blu-ray just in time for the holidays. It’s my favorite of Minnelli’s musicals (the first of the movie genre to dramatically integrate music into the emotional fabric of the story). The Technicolor looks stunning in HD, as we progress throughout the seasons, going from the heat of summer and the beauty of spring, right on through spooky Halloween and chilly Christmas. It all coincides with the emotional ups and downs of the middle class Smith family and culminates with Garland singing the melancholy “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to the scene-stealing Margaret O’Brien.

Then something miraculous happens, of course, when O’Brien, in a fit of rage, decapitates her snowmen because the family’s relocating to New York. It’s brilliantly shot in close-up from her innocent point of view. But there’s no place like home and the 1904 World’s Fair arrives as the harbinger of a new beginning. The circle of life, indeed.

By contrast, the arrival of the Oscar-winning West Side Story in a gorgeous and 50th anniversary Blu-ray set (Fox/MGM Home Ent.) represents a stylization of a different sort, in which both song and dance express emotional states of mind in this Romeo & Juliet of the street.

I still think The Sound of Music is Robert Wise’s musical masterpiece, but this comes a close second in a powerful and poetic adaptation of the Bernstein/Sondheim Broadway smash. The loss of innocence circa 1960 in New York City anticipates the violent destruction that would rip the hearts out of a nation coming to grips with race relations. Jerome Robbins’ choreography steals the show, though, in this large-format sensation that sounds as great as it looks in the home theater. It captured the zeitgeist of the era and certainly has its roots in hip-hop and beyond. Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer have no right to be as good as they are, and best supporting Oscar winners George Chakiris and Rita Moreno are unforgettable.

Revisiting KFP2 on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

With this week’s release of Kung Fu Panda 2 on Blu-ray/DVD (DreamWorks/Paramount), featuring stunning picture and sound and plenty of great bonus features (“Animation Inspiration” and “Animator’s Corner”), it’s time to revisit the work on display for Oscar consideration.  As director Jennifer Yuh Nelson has revealed in my interview, this cried out for a sequel that is more epic and intimate than the original.

“It’s more epic, it’s more emotional, and, graphically, it goes beyond the original in so many ways,” asserts Rodolphe Guenoden, supervising animator and fight choreographer. “And the original had a pedigree that was not such an easy task.”

For the sequel, the dramatic stakes are also raised with Po discovering his origin and how it relates to the conflict with Lord Shen (Gary Oldman).

“It was great seeing her be a part of the entire animation process because before she was part of the upstream departments with storyboards and visual development,” Guenoden adds. “But to actually have that collaboration in animation was [valuable]. She never lost track of the story she wanted to tell.”

This character arc is clearly evident in the fight sequences, according to Guenoden. “The scale and tone of the fights are different,” he says. “For the first battle sequence when we see Po in action, we wanted him to perform in the same way as his dream in the original movie. So it had to be slightly fantasized, and then each one after that had to reflect the story point that Jen wanted to emphasize.

Guenoden also enjoyed finding a different way for the Lord Shen to fight, and was assisted by new R&D for feathers from the technical department. “I took a lot of inspiration from rhythmic gymnastics as well as traditional assault forms,” he explains. “I wanted him to be very graceful, and I wanted him to be original and super flexible and unpredictable. I looked at a lot of videos of girls jumping around and doing incredible flips.”

Saldanha Gets Animated Over Rio

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

In my latest TOH column at Indiewire, Blue Sky’s Carlos Saldanha talks about his pet project, Rio, that’s in contention for best animated feature. He discusses feathers, Carnival, and capturing the look of his home. You can check out the stunning Blu-ray now available from Fox.

Apes Rises on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of the surprise hits of the year as well as a surprisingly terrific reboot (it’s made quite a few 10 Best lists), arrives this week on Blu-ray (Twentieth Century Fox Home Ent.). Weta Digital and Andy Serkis combine to make Caesar an extraordinary achievement in digital acting. It’s the favorite to take the VFX Oscar, and I call Serkis “The Man of a Thousand Digital Faces” in my TOH column at Indiewire. Fox is rightly giving him a best supporting actor Oscar campaign, though he’s clearly the heart and soul of the movie, directed by Rupert Wyatt.

Rise is certainly a reference quality Blu-ray; it looks sharp and sounds thunderous (sound editing/effects are also Oscar contenders) with lots of bonus feature that I haven’t had time to check out yet. For instance, there are 11 deleted scenes and I’m hoping the death of Franco’s scientist is among them, along with several featurettes such as “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries,” “The Genius of Andy Serkis,” and “A New Generation of Apes.”

“We rewrote skin, muscles, fur, and eyes one more time to do them a little bit better,” admits Joe Letteri, Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, who also oversaw The Adventures of Tintin. “But I think making the performance look as realistic as possible is still the main thing that we accomplished.”

Weta placed the performance capture actors out on location or on set with the other actors. Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, they developed an active LED system with infrared lighting that allowed Weta to  work in a variety of conditions and match the cinematography.

Weta also developed a new facial muscle system still in progress that delivers better capture and animation, particularly for secondary motion. “It’s a problem that’s not easily understood because the facial muscles don’t behave like the other muscles in the body,” Letteri adds. “They are not so bound by the skeleton. But on a face they’re moving other muscles around and other tissue, and there are deep embedded layers that have an impact on what kind of shape they do, which is really complex and why in the end we wind up sculpting a lot of these things.”

They made Caesar more human because they wanted him to look a little more intelligent than the rest of the apes and to stand out among them. “You could see it in his eyes: we made the irises a little smaller so you get a better idea where he’s looking; the muzzle is slightly smaller; and the forehead is shaped a little bit more like a human’s.”

The shock of recognition in Caesar’s eyes when he realizes how and why he must lead the revolt is Letteri’s favorite moment. To achieve this Weta made a new model that more realistically captures movement in and around the eyes and how they are affected by different lighting conditions.

They’ve signed Serkis to continue his Caesar pantomime, and I can’t wait to see how they evolve the story in the sequel, as it eventually dovetails into the original’s time-warp journey with Taylor.

Revisiting Cowboys & Aliens VFX

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Last summer ILM had competing aliens with Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens. Now you can compare both at home on Blu-ray/DVD. In fact, Jon Favreau’s western/sci-fi mash-up arrives this week via Universal Home Ent. with an extended cut that’s 16 minutes longer. It looks and sound stunning in HD, as does Super 8. As far as Oscar, though, the J.J. Abrams homage to Steven Spielberg has the definite edge. No matter: ILM had fun with both and each offered their tech challenges. For the Daniel Craig/Harrison Ford actioner, ILM was tasked with animating a 10-foot tall, bipedal reptilian-like creature.

“We created an uber alien in evolutionary scale to make it more complicated in hierarchy,” says ILM visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, who also oversaw onset VFX production. “We used the Legacy design as a foundation and then [VFX art director] Christian Alzmann and others developed it.

“And I thought that the irony of all this was that the aliens turn up and it could be more exaggerated for them. This is not their planet. They’re frontiersmen in a way: traveling to another place and having to deal with all the adversities of the climate. And in our case, we played up the fact that they weren’t comfortable in our world. There are flies all around them; they didn’t like the light; when they were wounded and exposed, a strange fungus grew around them.”

ILM keyframed all the animation (overseen by Marc Chu) because after doing some MoCap tests (a la Super 8), they found that it didn’t work to take the motions of a human and remap it onto the creature. “I set up an all-CG test for the studio where the cowboys were mocap,” Guyett continues. “It gave you an idea of what the aliens could do and we explored some fighting techniques (including Last of the Mohicans-style hand-to-hand) to see how they would attack a creature of that size. They have a complicated anatomy that we made organic to their behavior and in relation to their ship.”