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.

Blu-ray

Jurassic Park Trilogy Invades Blu-ray

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

Universal Home Ent. is on a Blu-ray roll this year with Scarface, American Graffiti, Animal House, and Blues Brothers. But with today’s release of the Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy, they’ve definitely hit a new milestone. It’s not only the first of the prestigious Steven Spielberg Universal franchises to go Blu (next year will see Jaws and E.T. plus the Indy trilogy over at Paramount), but it’s obviously also a VFX touchstone. ILM’s CG dinosaurs were an animated game-changer and they look terrific in HD. The skin shines and the reptilian textures are very believable. In fact, the animated performances still work wonders. And without that sense of awe when looking at the T-Rex and his pals, Jurassic Park never would’ve achieved such greatness. Of course, it helped that Michael Crichton hit a cultural nerve with his thrilling cautionary tale (raising the stakes after The Andromeda Strain and Westworld). And the CG work only got better in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. It changed animation and VFX and we are beholding its legacy today.

Of course, the dinosaurs were all set to be stop-motion, courtesy of Phil Tippett’s Go-Motion technique made famous in Dragonslayer, but Dennis Muren wanted to at least try out a CG T-Rex test, and Spielberg gave him the OK: “He’s never really been interested in technology, but his ideas have given opportunities for that technology to be used,” Muren told me a few years back. “He would’ve been OK with stop-motion dinosaurs in Jurassic — we were going to add blurs to them and everything. But there was something else we could do better at the time.”

Tippett said he felt extinct (which Spielberg turned into a joke in the film), but the director wisely kept him on to supervise the animation of all 50 digital dinos because of his invaluable knowledge of movement and behavior, and it earned Tippett his second Oscar. Not only that but this led to a ground-breaking transition at Tippett Studio from stop-motion to CG.

Going French on Blu-ray with Criterion

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

In a nice twist of fate, Criterion has recently rolled out some indispensable French classics that look exquisite on Blu-ray, including Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, The Complete Jean Vigo, and Claude Chabrol’s landmark debut, Le beau Serge. Viewing them together is not only like being transported back in time, but also like experiencing a continuum: Vigo, who tragically left us prematurely, created a hybrid of naturalism and impressionism, tweaking the privileged for their pomposity and celebrating the idealism of youth; Cocteau emphasized both enchantment and horror in his fairy tale retelling, using a vivid mixture of styles, textures, and film stocks; and Chabrol ushered in the French New Wave for the Cahiers critics-turned directors with an assured debut about provincial suffocation and the fear of mortality among twentysomethings.

Of course, Vigo’s Zéro de conduite and L’Atalante are famous for their grade school rebellion and maiden voyage for newlyweds on a journey of discovery, but the earlier mock travelogue (À propos de Nice) and sports documentary (Taris) are revealing primers. All but Taris are photographed by Boris Kaufman (On the Waterfront), who helped navigate the stylistic and emotional shifts from the real and the imaginative.

With Beauty and the Beast, Cocteau found a post World War II allegorical statement about man’s inhumanity to man in a kaleidoscope of fear and redemption. It remains one of the most beautiful movies ever made and a way of melding different artistic influences.

Le beau Serge may have been overshadowed by Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, but even Truffaut appreciated Chabrol’s maturity beyond his years in evoking working class melancholy in his hometown of Sardent.

The Tree of Life Goes Blu

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

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life bows on Blu-ray today (Fox Home Ent.), providing the opportunity to dip into his brilliant summary statement about coalescing nature and grace. The imagery by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning in HD (which is why he’s the Oscar front runner so far). Coupled with the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (the score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent along with the use of various requiems), this is reference quality.

The Tree of Life is a free-form, existential journey that captures fleeting moments of life.  It primarily focuses on a Texas family in the 1950s, setting up a tension between nature (personified by Brad Pitt’s conflicted, talkative father) and grace (personified by Jessica Chastain’s peaceful and quiet mother).  It’s bookended by a present-day segment about the alienation experienced by the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), a successful architect haunted by childhood memories.  Early on, sparked by a moment of grief, the film suddenly leaps to a birth of the universe segment that addresses the meaning of the cosmos.

The bravura birth of the universe sequence can now be studied and appreciated more closely as well (also a VFX Oscar contender): “It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Dan Glass, the esteemed visual effects supervisor who oversaw the VFX-laden sequence.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Editorially, Malick utilized what editor Mark Yoshikawa calls a “relay system of editing.” He adds, “He didn’t want the presence of the editors’ fingerprints on it.  That is why he always had Chivo [Lubezki] and Joerg [Widmer, the camera operator] grabbing bits that we could never really use for traditional coverage.  It was very challenging.”

VES Production Summit Take Aways

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, performance capture, Tech, VES, VFX | Leave a comment

Here are some take aways from Saturday’s VES Production Summit at the beautiful Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills:

* The industry needs better educated stereographers: They should know camera as well as post/VFX. However, there’s a DP turf war going on between the cinematographer and the stereographer, so the cinematographer needs to embrace bringing the stereographer in on the trio with the director, and the stereographer needs to understand the needs of the cinematographer.

* The latest tax incentive wrinkle has high-end VFX artists being lured away to other countries as a result of better lifestyle opps. So the talent pool is definitely improving overseas.

* Former MPAA president Bob Pisano suggested that sequencing and pricing have to be rethought since time-based windows obviously don’t work in the era of social media.

* X-Men: First Class had a hectic four-week post schedule for VFX and the whole production was turned around in less than a year, but, because they pulled it off, there’s a concern that this will become the norm and not the exception.

* Rise of the Planet of the Apes was hailed as “Apeatar” in the way that it leveraged the Avatar performance capture system and was done quickly and efficiently. But the original version had James Franco dying but it didn’t test well, but you can be sure the alternate version will be touted on the upcoming Blu-ray.

* A lack of clarity and preparedness before you go into production is consequential — that is the systematic problem at the heart of so much abuse of VFX artists that the VES is currently trying to address in its Bill of Rights.

Trailering More Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

Stand aside Muppets, here’s more of the real deal. The new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21) looks grungier and more ominous as we get deeper into it. I especially like the golden hued interiors in contrast to the snowy white exteriors. And Rooney Mara is beguiling; Daniel Craig burns with intensity; Christopher Plummer is refreshingly vulnerable; and Stellan Skarsgård looks quietly sinister. David Fincher is definitely in his element.

Meanwhile, TOH reports that Music Box will release the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition Blu-ray on Nov. 22. The box set will offer more than two hours of additional footage not seen in the theatrical versions of the original Swedish films (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).

Star Wars Goes Into Orbit on Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Movies, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

So much for the backlash: The Complete Star Wars Saga (Fox Home Ent.) bowed as the all-time catalog Blu-ray title last week, selling 1 million units for $84 million. Are we surprised. That should give Blu-ray a big boost, with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Jaws, E.T., and the Raiders of the Lost Ark trilogy.

Ironically, the first time I ever heard of Blu-ray was when George Lucas touted the HD format back in ’95, two years before the launch of DVD. And, not surprisingly, the Saga looks and sounds terrific in HD. Sure, the prequels look superior because of digital improvements, but the original trilogy, despite some blemishes, dazzles as well. You can see such sharpness and detail (including the wear and tear on R2). And it’s fun comparing the wondrous Yoda puppet with the CG version (introduced now in Phantom Menace). Yes, there are the notoriously new revisions, but they’re minor and actually work in the overall scheme of things.

Interestingly, a few years ago I asked Lucas what order I should introduce to my boys, and he unhesitatingly replied chronologically instead of the order they were made. Well, it didn’t work out that way — until now. The boys insisted on watching the prequels first, which are their favorites, and I joined them. I must confess that it was a fascinating way to go. Surprise was sacrificed for suspense, obviously, but they took delight in pointing out the echoes that reverberated: Anakin saying, “I have a bad feeling about this,” which wraps around to Han in Episode IV, even though the trope originated with Han.

I haven’t had a chance to dip into the bonus features yet. I’m still reveling in the movies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bZ0OLfNlN4

Spielberg to Release Original Raiders, E.T. on Blu-ray

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

Steven Spielberg has always had one foot in analog and one in digital, and reaffirmed it Tuesday night after an L.A. Live digital screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark hosted by the Hero Complex’s Geoff Boucher. Spielberg proudly proclaimed that the audience was seeing the original theatrical version. He was then joined onstage for the 30th anniversary screening by Harrison Ford, who proclaimed that shooting the swordsman was his idea.

“This is the best I think it’s ever looked,” Spielberg said, “because, in preparation for the eventual release on Blu-ray, we had to correct the print again and get the original negative out of the salt mines, and then we had to do the separations, and basically the files, which are just amazing, with all the technology of today, without changing any of the movie materially, we haven’t removed anything, we haven’t added CGI, there’s no digital enhancements! It’s purely the movie some of you may remember from 1981.”

Meanwhile, Spielberg announced that the beloved Raiders trilogy and E.T. would be released on Blu-ray next year in their original theatrical versions, again, looking better than ever with only nominal digital cleanup. (He previously told Ain’t It Cool News that Jaws would go Blu in 2012). However, in sharp contrast to his good friend George Lucas, who enjoys improving his films as technology evolves, the celebrated director regrets digitally tampering with E.T. (Remember the guns being replaced by walkie-talkies and the CG enhanced extra-terrestrial?)

“…I was disappointed in myself. I got overly sensitive to E.T., and I thought if technology evolved… it was OK for a while, but I realized what I had done was I had robbed people who loved E.T. of their memories of E.T.

Raising Kane on Blu-ray

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

Warner Home Video has finally done right by Orson Welles’ legendary Citizen Kane, released today on Blu-ray. Thanks to the studio’s digital wizards at Motion Picture Imaging (MPI), supervised by colorist Janet Wilson, and overseen by Ned Price, VP of mastering, Warner Bros. Technical Operations, the 70-year-old Kane has never looked better. The source for most of the picture was a 4K scan from a 1941 composite fine grain positive master that Price had uncovered a decade ago in Europe. This makes up for the inadvertent mistreatment on DVD, which was de-grained and printed too brightly.

Now Kane retains its chiaroscuro beauty and grain structure by the masterful Gregg Toland, and its innovative sights and sounds can be better appreciated in HD. Welles applied his training in theater and radio to the film experience in a fresh, exciting, and modern way with deep focus and triangular compositions with high ceilings (owing to John Ford) and overlapping dialogue.

But, first and foremost, Welles was a magician, and there are a lot of brilliant optical tricks and MPI has made sure we don’t see through the illusion. And while some have complained in recent years that the bloom may be off the Rosebud, the Blu-ray lets us see the textures in such finer detail that it’s like watching Kane in a whole new way.

3-D Fit For The Lion King: Retrofitting a Classic

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

I discuss the new Lion King 3-D conversion (opening Sept. 16)  in my latest TOH indieWIRE column. Disney stereographer Robert Neuman figured out a nice hybrid aesthetic for hand-drawn 3-D, and overall the added depth makes it a worthwhile experience despite the dimness factor. Producer Don Hahn, meanwhile, recalls when nobody wanted to work on this B-movie.

Star Wars Tweaks for Blu-ray

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, VFX | 1 Comment

The internet is absolutely apoplectic about George Lucas tweaking Star Wars: The Complete Saga for Blu-ray (Sept. 16 from Fox Home Ent). Hardcore fans are even calling for boycotts. First, we supposedly learned that Darth Vader utters “Nooo!” while cringing at Emperor Palpatine electrocuting his son, Luke Skywalker, and then again when hurling his master to his doom.

Now, there’s further outrage over the complete CG Yoda in Phantom Menace; some new blinking Ewoks in Return of the Jedi; and a louder shriek from Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to scare the Tusken Raiders in the desert.

Well, get over it. There’s symmetry when you recall that the younger Anakin/Vader bellowed a similar “Nooo!” when learning that his wrath caused the death of the love of his life, Amidala. And the CG Yoda is merely introduced earlier (he was originally CG in only two wide angle shots before the complete transformation in Attack of the Clones). As for the CG toying with the Ewoks, that’s a minor improvement. And if the audio embellishment of Obi-Wan turns out to be true, that’s not so bad either. It’s an emotional outburst that comes as a nice surprise.

Lucas is always revising Star Wars — we all know that. I’ll concede that Greedo shooting first was revisionism at its worst, but that’s an old battle. The rest of these are within the realm of acceptable. I can’t wait to experience Star Wars going Blu. I’ve been waiting since 1995 (on the eve of the DVD launch), when I first heard about Blu-ray from none other than Lucas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bZ0OLfNlN4