November 27, 2007

Cult movies already available in High Definition

While the latest blockbusters and flavours of the month are being pedalled hard on HD-DVD and BLU-RAY High Definition formats, it's good to see that some older films of interest, and cult Asian products are also joining the "High-Def" catalogue.

Some releases are shorter on extras than their DVD counterparts, but these formats mean that, on the right home video equipment, you can enjoy these films in better quality than they were ever seen in the cinema, with sharper pictures and cleaner sound. A far cry from the grainy scratchy prints we get in the UK (after they've played a dozen cinemas in the US) and the old monophonic sound systems of pre-multiplex cinemas where you couldn't even make out the dialogue (I still don't know the plot of the original Gone In Sixty Seconds...).

I'd love to cover these films at length when I watch them again, but for now, here's a quick look around. The 1980's are being better represented than the 1970's so far, but some of my favourite 80's films are already out there...

THE THING (1982)

John Carpenter's remake of The Thing from Another World (1951) is a must-see - certainly his most shocking film, featuring the bizarre and imaginative mutating alien creature. Carpenter's original Halloween is also out on Blu-Ray, and The Fog is out on HD-DVD.


My favourite Max movie, featured a more modest Mel Gibson as the hero of this trendsetting, post-apocalyptic epic. Called Mad Max 2 in the UK and Australia, but The Road Warrior in the US (where the first Mad Max had made less of an impression). Classic cinematic storytelling, gruelling stunt-heavy action, and one of the Coen Brothers' favourites too, as influential as The Evil Dead on their bonkers comedy Raising Arizona. Mad Max director George Miller has since found far easier and lucrative films to make... about talking, dancing animals... aargh!

HD DVD 'Combo' (also plays on DVD decks)

John Landis also peaked with this film, a no holds barred horror, that also works as comedy and a snapshot of life in Thatcher's Britain. Again the intricate special effects were achieved on set (like most of The Thing), meaning that there are no ultra-grainy opticals for HD to highlight.


This compendium sci-fi fantasy remake of sixties TV episodes has thus far been missing from even DVD. Again the special effects are largely staged on set, thanks to Rob Bottin's creations and make-ups. Each segment had a different director: John Landis made the ill-fated role-reversal opener. Joe Dante remade the episode 'It's A Good Life' with mad cartoony monsters, in-jokes and a pre-Bart Simpson Nancy Cartwright. Steven Spielberg submits the dullest and most schmaltzy segment, then George Miller saves the day with the barnstorming remake of 'Nightmare at 20,000 Feet'.


Thanks no doubt to the third filming of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend hitting cinema screens, it's good to see my favourite adaption so far get a release. Starring Charlton Heston as Robert Neville in a deserted L.A., this adaption strays from the novel, but in an interesting direction. It also had a poster declaiming that "The last man alive... is not alone". Credit due...


The most famous example of Bruce Lee on film has a very James Bond plot. It'll be a pleasure to see this given a quality presentation.

The high cost of producing High Definition discs currently prohibit many smaller cult films getting out on HD, and may prohibit titles from the far east getting re-released in the west. There are exceptions, and thankfully, some Asian HD releases already have English subtitles.

THE HOST (2006)

This has had a release in the UK and US, and the movie was very carefully mastered with HD in mind. This monster should stand up to very close scrutiny! How many other South Korean films make it to HD is another matter, though D-War has been announced for January.

FREEDOM 1 (2007)
HD-DVD / DVD twin standard

A groundbreaking release for the US is this new anime series. In Japan, OVA (original video animation) gets released chapter by chapter, the DVD sales funding the project while it's still being produced. It may look like a cheat to get only one 25 minute episode per disc, but they're still animating! The first episode of the Freedom project was specially released in the US before Japan.

The hardware and character designs in this futuristic adventure are by Katsuhiro Otomo, the director of Akira, no less. If you want to wait a few years, you will get eventually see all six episodes in one boxset - personally, I'm not going to wait.
The director, Morita Shuhei, previously made the fascinating short film Kakurenbo - Hide and Seek.

PAPRIKA (2006)

Satoshi Kon's (Paranoia Agent, Millennium Actress) new feature is out on Blu-Ray in the US. I'll wager that more anime films get released than any live-action from Japan and the
Far East. Tekkonkinkreet is also newly out on Blu-Ray in the US.

Blu-Rays released in Japan

Meanwhile, in Japan, both Ghost in the Shell feature films are out on Blu-Ray with English subtitles. The discs aren't cheap, but they're out there. If only a few Japanese films get a US HD release, hopefully their Japanese releases will still cater for English audiences this way. Getting the information about whether Asian discs have English subtitles on them is difficult though. For instance,
CD Japan hasn't been as reliable as usual about listing this information, so it's worth checking several sites. They do however have a special HD section mostly full of films from the US.

Another major consideration in this information minefield is the new region-coding map for Blu-Ray, which is NOT the same as the old DVD regions. America is now compatible with SE Asia, including Korea and Japan (but not China). Early releases didn't have this coding, but new discs won't play in your Blu-Ray player if the code is different. HD-DVD discs don't have any region coding.

In Hong Kong, the big budget, high-flying, swordplay costume dramas, like House of the Flying Daggers, are obvious choices for HD, but we didn't even see any HD players for sale in Hong Kong in July! So it's a pleasant surprise that
Initial D - The Movie (2005) is getting a Blu-Ray release. But is that a Region A or Region B disc though? I guess they count as China now. Like I said, international shopping continues to be a bit of a minefield.

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