Glory 4K UHD

gloryposterTonight I finally watched my 4K disc of Glory; first time I have seen the film for several years. What a magnificent film, what glorious (sic) music from James Horner. I was so lucky to be loving films and going to the cinema while films like Glory were being made, and someone like James Horner composing stuff like his scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart

I texted my old and now-distant friend Andy that I’d re-watched Glory again, and reminisced about the day we first watched it. Andy, my cousin Tony and I had watched Born on the Fourth of July that afternoon, then gone over Tony’s for a takeaway tea (his folks were away) and later returned late evening to the Showcase cinema  to watch a film called Glory, that we knew nothing about other than it was a Civil War movie. We’d been impressed by a big carboard standee of the poster that had been on display in the lobby of our Showcase cinema for a few weeks: a beautiful image that promised… something. You know, back in the good old days of great, imaginative poster art. We didn’t expect, though,  that we would walk out at midnight, stunned, convinced that we’d just seen a better film than Born on the Fourth of July: it was the Oliver Stone film that critics were raving about. Glory seemed to just come and go, but it certainly left its mark on us. I searched out the Glory soundtrack CD a few days later. Popped it onto a cassette and blasted it out of the cheapo stereo in my beat-up old death-trap first car as I raced Andy and I through Cannock Chase in blazing sunshine several days later. Good times.

I grew up watching Jaws, Star Wars, CE3K, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner at the cinema… and so many others. I was a really lucky guy, looking back. Films were better then. Film music was better then.

Glory looks really fine on 4K; its a gorgeous, grainy image with real depth and vibrancy, particularly those shots of the setting sun obscured by fire-smoke etc. Its a good example of how film-like the 4K format is with HDR. What a cast that film had too. And there is a very real, tactile feel to the film too, as there’s no CGI. Its all pretty much real, which just makes the battle scenes all the more impressive. After watching the film I put the commentary track on and watched it again, not something I do as often as I used to. Its one of those (rare) picture-in-picture commentary tracks, in which we can see the speaker in a smaller image in the corner. Anybody remember those? DVD and Blu-ray had some really ambitious, clever features like that, that the studios just don’t seem to bother with anymore. Its getting so that looking back at the glory days of DVD makes me feel lucky to have been around in those exciting days for a film-lover. I remember when every new special edition seemed to be more ambitious, films like The Abyss, Contact and T2, and the first boxset of the Alien films. I used to buy them on R1 from a local hi-fi store, but actually bought The Abyss disc when I was on holiday in San Francisco back in either 2000 or 2001. That’s a surprisingly long time ago, now that I think about it- but isn’t everything? That night I vividly recall first watching Glory with Andy and Tony was 32 years ago. 32 years ago!

Tracking tells me my expanded Glory soundtrack disc from La La Land left America yesterday. Its on its way. Really looking forward to hearing it. Eat, drink and be merry, Morgan Freeman tells me on the commentary track, for tomorrow we die. That’s one way of summing up Glory, and maybe life too.

Well, I’m tired. Time for bed, folks. This film was a good one.

Directors Cut of Star Trek: TMP 4K in 2022

Fascinating! Well, unless someone is winding me up with some elaborate geek scam (and I’ll be honest, it does feel a bit like a ‘pinch-me’ moment), this is a turn-up indeed, and one surely worthy of Spock’s raised eyebrows. Paramount have announced that a 4K restoration of Robert Wise’s 2001 Directors Cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture is indeed coming after all. This is after the recent news of a set of the first four Star Trek films on 4K UHD being released this September as part of the franchises’ 55th Anniversary celebrations, the inclusion of the theatrical cut-only of ST:TMP seemingly shutting the door on the Directors Cut ever appearing in HD or UHD.

It transpires that a full restoration (i.e. rebuild) of the Directors Cut., originally created only in SD format back in the days of DVD, has been greenlit for a premiere on the Paramount+ network in 2022. Apparently the work hasn’t begun yet, and it is assessed that it will take between six to eight months to complete: on board  for the project are producer David C. Fein, restoration supervisor Mike Matessino, and visual effects supervisor Daren R. Dochterman, all of whom worked previously with director Robert Wise preparing the original 2001 re-cut of his 1979 feature. So, a mid-late 2022 premiere over in the States followed by a disc release over here and in other international territories. Feels a lot like what happened with HBO Max financing Zack Snyder’s Justice League: maybe streaming is not the Great Evil after all –  it certainly seems good for SOMETHING. 

Anyway, if done right – and I certainly have faith with Matessino involved- this will be great indeed. I still watch my Blu-ray of ST:TMP from time to time and while its fine (oddly one of those films that seems to improve with age, for all its numerous faults) I always wish I could sometimes turn to Wise’s revised cut. Heck, with advances in CGI this could actually be a vast improvement over the 2001 edition (lets see those artists fully match their CGI Enterprise with the film’s gorgeous original model photography). So you know, the long wait looks like it has been worth it. 

Bonfire of the Cinemas

News today that Villeneuve’s Dune has been pushed back from its December release to, not just next year, but as late as October next year -yes, October 2021, a whole year away as I type this- was possibly expected, but still comes as something of a shock. Following on from confirmation that Cineworld cinemas here in the UK -and in the US, too I believe- intend to close for the next four to six months, making as many as 5,500 UK employees redundant, well, its all very alarming. It really feels like we are witnessing a bonfire of the cinemas. 

The Class of 2020, save for a few unlikely candidates like Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros Tenet, seem to have upped sticks and walked off to the pavilion (to strike a very British cricket analogy) and not coming out to play until 2021. All those films we expected to see, from James Bond to Black Widow to Wonder Woman to Dune, and possibly later own on disc editions on our shelves by late Winter or early Spring, remain unseen, possibly for another six months (and certainly twelve months, in the case of Dune). And of course, those films gate-crashing the 2021 party have left those films already planned for 2021 up in the air (Dune moving to next October has pushed The Batman to March 2022, which seems such a long time away). 

One has to wonder though, how many cinemas will still be around next summer to show those tardy 2020 flicks rubbing shoulders with the ‘proper’ 2021 flicks that refuse to be shoved around. Or perhaps the more important question is who will be running them/owning those cinemas. Maybe the fittest will survive and will be all the better for it, with less competition ensuring fuller cinema screens for those that remain viable, while others have the shutters up for good. Also, if the marketplace gets overly crowded next year, will some films suffer when another blockbuster comes out the following week to steal its seats and punters, or will we see a Nuclear Box-Office Summer with studios bullishly putting out tentpole films out on the same weekends? That’s if we even get a summer box office next year, its hard to say what state things will be in regards Covid.  Will audiences feel confident enough to return to cinemas in droves next summer? I read some pundit claiming that it will take cinemas five years to recover audience numbers to what they were last year, in a similar fashion to how the airline industry is claiming it will be several years before flight numbers recover properly. 

How many times can Eon delay its next Bond movie? At this rate Tom Hardy will be getting too old to play the guy.

And indeed, what does this mean for the already crumbling physical media market without new product- it surely cannot thrive with endless catalogue titles being re-released in 4K and Blu-ray. Its a question if it can even survive like that, nevermind thrive. The 4K format is already fairly niche (one could well argue that even Blu-ray is niche, as DVD still seems to dominate what little shelf-space physical discs enjoy in Supermarket real estate) and what 4K UHD needs in order to in any way progress is titles like the new Bond, or visual spectacles like Dune and other blockbusters. The release schedules for the Autumn already look desperately anaemic, when we should be looking forward to the home releases of all those films that thrilled us in May – July.  Except of course they didn’t. 

Its all frankly mind-boggling. Time to find a good book, maybe….

Total Recall DVD (back when that was ‘cutting edge’ AV)

Here’s something I found in the garage- my old R1 DVD of Total Recall. Remember when disc releases of movies weren’t just about the picture quality or even the extras but the packaging too? Say what you like about the movie, but this one’s a little special: the disc comes in a round tin that is embossed to look like the cratered surface of Mars. Its pretty neat. At the time I probably thought it would be the definitive and final copy of the film I would ever need buy. Was I ever that young and foolish? My Blu-ray steelbook is sitting on a shelf behind me just daring me to be stupid enough to replace it with a 4k UHD copy.

A Brave New (Discless) World?

Days like today… well, maybe it’s not just days like today really, it’s just that days like today just make it seem worse. You ever get the feeling that the world is spinning on, off on its own mindless course, leaving you behind? Sometimes it’s what passes for modern politics or modern music or modern movies that sends me scurrying toward an old favourite on the shelf, whether it be a film or an album or a book, some avenue of escape from the ‘new’ in the comfort of the old.

It felt a little more pronounced today, when I read the news that Samsung is getting out of the Blu-ray hardware business, over in the US at any rate. Some people are describing it as another step towards the end of physical media, and it’s hard not to acknowledge some truth in that. Disc-based media, whether it be CD, DVD, Blu-ray or 4K UHD is being increasingly marginalised by the relentless popularity of streaming/downloading. No doubt Netflix is a huge part of that, as people get used to watching films and tv shows on demand- and they don’t seem at all concerned about it being of lesser quality. Well, of course they don’t, as some seem quite satisfied watching films etc on their mobile phones or tablets (which is curious, as tv panels just seem to be getting bigger and bigger). The value of a quality 4K disc or Blu-ray seems lost on those somehow still satisfied with DVD. Likewise there is a whole generation out there who don’t buy music, but listen to streams (legitimately or otherwise) instead. Music, films, media in general, seems to have become a transitory thing, sampled, dipped into, almost background noise. That notion is anathema to me, someone who cherishes/values such things and has curated a collection of my favourite films and music and books.

I remember when films receiving network premieres on tv were a special thing, when films themselves were special- now, they are almost like the pulp paperbacks sold cheap in the 1960s, 1970s, picked up, read, discarded. A $200 million blockbuster turns up in the bargain bin (a virtual bin in Amazon, a physical one in HMV or local supermarket) in the space of months. In the immediate moment, we all like a bargain, but in the long term, how much damage is it doing, and how much damage has it already done? I dearly miss the days when films could be something revered and special, their viewings rare. Nowadays they are available on demand and immediately discarded and forgotten.

I think it could also be argued that it impacts on cinema revenues, even though by and large attendances, we are told, are on the up with cinema chains raking in greater profits. When I was in Cineworld last week, I was (yet again) assaulted by invitations to join its ‘Cineworld unlimited’ subscription service in which you can watch as many films as you like for a monthly fee- basically, Netflix for those who don’t like to stay at home, I guess. I suppose if you go very often it saves you money, and Cineworld can always get extra cash out of you for the premium stuff like Imax and 3D etc. Here’s a curious fact that my wife assaulted me with from one of her old diaries- back in 1995 we watched 34 films at the cinema (something that blew my mind and will return to in a later post). Last year I think it was maybe 3, or 4 films at the cinema. This year I have only seen one, so far (last week’s Alita). I have gravitated to the alternative of discs or streams on my quality television, thankyou, and away from noisy patrons distracted by their mobile phones, but alas that alternative is becoming marginalised somewhat- the physical side anyway. And yet cinema attendances are up, so I guess I’m being left behind again.

CD production, meanwhile, is getting more limited all the time. Bottlenecks in CD manufacture became an increasing issue last year, causing some delays to soundtrack releases for some of the speciality labels like La La Land and Intrada, and such bottlenecks caused issues for the manufacture of some Blu-rays prior to Christmas (the 4K 2001: A Space Odyssey was a particular casualty in the US). I suppose such delays indicate there is still some demand worth noting, but it also indicates how manufacturing capacity is gradually reduced to match the lowering demand for the physical product, a self-fulfilling cycle. It ends only one way, and I guess I’m being left behind again.

I don’t trust the studios or the the content providers with digital. Most downloads and streams are simply licenses to view their product and can be withdrawn at the providers/copyright owners whim. I had a copy of Blade Runner on digital along with a physical copy that I bought a few years ago- my disc is fine, but that digital download is useless now, its gone, license expired I guess. Quality, too, is an issue, but it seems quality is as much a niche as anything else when people are happy enough with DVD or dodgy compression artifacts. We could be falling toward a PPV future and everyone seems happy enough, but if digital becomes the only access point, and the price of that PPV can be raised, does that move people towards illegal streams/piracy or just away from the product altogether?  How many people would pay £10 every time they want to rewatch Hitchcock’s Vertigo or Bridge on the River Kwai or Zulu?  Or maybe pay £5 just to watch one of them with a commentary track?

No, I think those extras that we film fans love will be consigned to history soon enough.

I used to think that the inevitable end of physical media was yet some years away, and hopefully it is, but recent things like hardware manufacturers dropping out of the game or Sony Music no longer licensing albums to third-party labels suggests the digital-only route could be nearer than I feared. Or maybe this is just one of those days when I think the world is dancing away on some other road than the one I’m on. You get old enough, you realise this isn’t the world you were born in.

Which can be a good thing, most of the time, God knows. But I like owning my films and albums, damn it. Before long I’ll be buying back-up players to hoard in the loft for safety’s sake: what kind of a world is that?

Bonfire of the Digital Vanities

Regular readers may have noticed that more and more of my reviews are of tv shows and movies watched via streaming rather than on disc. Its something I’m becoming very aware of. Ever since the start of 2017 I have tried to limit my spending on discs, if only to try get control of space issues and to stop buying discs that sit on the shelf unwatched. To some degree I’ve succeeded in that (and yes, failed too, as so many anime series boxsets will testify to) and the fact that so many posts are about streamed films etc must be a mark of some kind of success. Certainly 2018 has seen a big change and me subscribing to Netflix now as well as Amazon Prime can only mean its a trend that will continue.

This year I have bought the following on disc- BR2049, Thor Ragnarok, Indicator’s Hammer Vol.Two box, Charley Varrick and Experiment in Terror. That’s all, and we are fast approaching April now.

But I would hate to see the physical disc format fading away and I do much prefer owning my favourite films on disc. I think the inevitable future of ‘streaming only’ is a pretty dark one for some of us- I read recently of rumours that Apple are intending to discontinue music downloads and go completely the monthly subscription route. Don’t know how true it is, but it does have a ring of truth and inevitability to it. Where music goes, film and tv are sure to follow. Imagine having to pay a monthly subscription in order to watch your movies- I suppose we are already halfway there- instead of watching them on disc whenever you want. Some may argue there is no difference but I’d contend that there is one, certainly regards extras (although even on-disc that’s something studios are bothering less and less with), picture quality, and even just the ownership and ease of access issue- what happens when the Internet goes down? I’ve had a few experiences in the past where the digital copies of films that came with discs seem to have disappeared from my digital collections, so it would seem that digital license doesn’t necessarily last forever (drok it, even my Blade Runner: Final Cut, which for some reason shows in my collection but will not play).  Now, these digital copies are just bonuses really that I never watch but the fact that they can disappear is just more wood for the bonfire of the digital vanities, surely.

Call me old-fashioned, but I like my films and tv shows on disc in just the same way as I still buy music on CD. But it’s getting harder all the time. If you want to watch The Man in the HIgh Castle without prime, forget it- there’s no disc option so no way, even if you watched it on prime, that you can add it to your cherished tv box-set physical collection no matter how much you may love it. Even the old habit of buying your favourite sitcoms/comedy shows on dvd (Frasier etc) is getting impossible with more recent stuff- I love The MIddle but there’s no disc release of that show anywhere. Increasingly the only way to access stuff is via subscription.

We’ve been so spoiled by VHS sell-through, DVD and Blu-ray it’s hard to fathom going back to the bad old days, but it all may well come back. Will the time one day come when you will never be able to buy a Star Wars movie?  Man, thats so 1970s.