Category Archives: Movies & TV

Advent Children

It took its sweet time, but Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children – the CGI film arm of the new Final Fantasy VII triptych – is finally out (legally) in the West. I last saw it when I was in Japan seven months ago and can’t imagine why an English dub would take that long to record, but at least it’s here and I don’t have to rely on a typo-ridden fansub to understand most of it.

Advent Children

My impressions of the movie itself haven’t changed, even with the slightly better translation. I enjoyed it but it remains quite esoteric, assuming prior knowledge of the games by, for example, not even naming most of the original protagonists. The DVD addresses this slightly with the 25-minute ‘Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII’ feature which gives an abridged history, but even that is hard to follow and more useful for those like me who played a lot of the game but never finished it. Obviously it contains major spoilers for those who plan to finish it and somehow don’t know how it ends.

What will draw many people to this is the spectacular CGI. While characters fall short of looking completely lifelike as they did in the previous Final Fantasy movie, The Spirits Within, for my money they’re the best “realistic” CG humans on film so far, and since the whole thing is styled like an anime (no real hair can be that spiky) the occasional flaky animation doesn’t tend to detract. How does a person look when they’re backflipping off a skyscraper, anyway?

Either way, Advent Children remains an action-packed movie with some of the best high-flying combat scenes since The Matrix. It’s enjoyable as a purely visceral experience, which is probably why most exposition scenes are brushed aside in a few minutes to make room for another motorcycle chase. Not exactly deep, obviously, but good fun. Fanboy pornography, basically, and entertaining despite its vapid nature.

HD-DVD Impressions

Serenity on HD-DVD

The first HD-DVD players on the market, Toshiba’s HD-A1 and HD-XA1, have been out for a couple of weeks in the US now, and although they’re not due for release here until the autumn I’ve just been to see the HD-A1 in action. A friend got one off eBay ($800 including shipping!) so I went to his house to check it out.

While I wouldn’t pay that much, I’ve been considering importing for a couple of weeks since the early players are apparently region free, but also because that old trick of swapping out the $ for £ when setting prices has reared its ugly head again according to HDTV UK. $499 is £285: £214 ($375) less than the UK RRP. Disgusting, even for Serenity and Batman Begins in HD.

But holy crap, HD-DVD looks amazing. Obviously it looks sharper and more detailed than DVD since this is 1080p video (I saw it in 1080i), but what impressed me equally was how fantastic the colours were. It just looks colourful and vivid with a real three-dimensional quality to the picture. No artifacting that I could see either, even during scenes that push DVD like the rainy scenes in The Last Samurai. The landscapes in that movie were absolutely beautiful on DVD, and it was just accentuated in HD.

The menu system is especially cool. After the ubiquitous copyright messages and a good HD-DVD promo (including HD footage of The Matrix, amongst others) Samurai goes straight into the movie – no main menu. Pressing the menu button displays the options for scene selection, languages, and extras along the bottom, and they can be fiddled with while the movie continues uninterrupted in the background. Serenity’s slide out from the left very much like the Xbox 360 guide. Very slick.

The main thing that’s keeping me from getting on board immediately is the hardware. Besides the fact that it has the most godawful remote on the planet which becomes indecipherable in anything less than direct sunlight, the HD-A1 takes around 30 seconds to go from standby to actually playing the movie which is something that will inevitably be improved with future hardware generations. The other thing is that it’s pretty much the same size as my LaserDisc player despite only playing standard 12cm optical discs. Annoying that the only obstacle to HD bliss is my lack of space, but I suppose I’m going to succumb to a moment of credit card-induced monetary inhibition before too long.

Silent Hill Movie

Silent Hill's Pyramid Head

I’ve been excited about Silent Hill’s film adaptation for a while now since the early material seemed to be not-completely-rubbish and it has a decent pedigree, but when I agreed to see it earlier in the week the scariest thing about it was the complete lack of reviews. The first one didn’t even appear until Thursday and that’s generally a bad sign (as with games), but when that turned out to be positive I felt a bit more optimistic.

Still, I feel a kind of obligation to see game-based films so off I went earlier tonight, coupled with the lowest possible expectations. They generally serve me well with anything that I think might disappoint. Except that rubbish new Star Wars, of course.

Resident Evil and Silent Hill are oft-compared and the difference ultimately boils down to that RE is about jump scares and action while SH is psychological horror, and the same can be said of the movies. Resident Evil was adapted into an action movie whereas Silent Hill is a trippy and macabre film, aiming to constantly unsettle. Certain elements are borrowed from classic horror (to mention the one I’m thinking of would probably spoil things) but above anything else the style is taken from the games. This looks like the games and looks fantastic doing it, mainly because it’s frankly too dark to show the seams in the CG transitions between plain old creepy Silent Hill and its hellacious counterpart.

Those who aren’t familiar with the games may find it slightly cryptic until a sudden torrent of exposition towards the end (even storytelling methods are borrowed from games, apparently), and even then the end can leave you hanging. It’s fans who will get the most from it since, as I said, it looks like one of the games and squeals of delight are likely when old favourites like the Pyramid Head show up. There isn’t a lot of the red stuff until the end, but when it shows up it doesn’t do anything by half, with the triangled terror himself providing the gory standout.

My main criticism is the script and acting, as at the beginning in particular it’s fairly bad and Sean Bean puts on a really poor accent throughout. This aside though, it’s definitely the best game-to-movie that I’ve seen thanks to adherence to the source material and a respectful translation all around. Whether or not you like it depends a lot of whether seeing Silent Hill in film form is appealing, but as long as that’s what you expect you should have a good time.

Progressive Scan PR

HD-DVD, the first HD video disc format is now on sale in the US and I want one, even to the point of considering importing one. A friend of mine actually did that ($800 including shipping!) and should be getting his player any day now, so I’ll probably be posting some impressions of the format when I get the chance to steal a peek.

What I really want to talk about though, is this report. Not how orgasmic Kong would look in 1080p, but this section:

Universal’s next-gen HD bonus content will fully integrate online interactivity into the movie watching experience, “opening up new promotional opportunities” for studios by allowing HD-DVD users the option to learn more about on-screen items in a movie and even make purchases online.

One example of HD bonus content Kornblau illustrated was for the studio’s upcoming day-and-date release of ‘Fast and the Furious: Toyko Drift’ due later this year. Viewers could connect to the internet via the player, “trick out” a car seen in the film, then reinsert their creation back into the movie. Users could also click on the tire of a car seen in the film, then go online to purchase it and other related products.

They don’t miss an opportunity, do they? It’s pretty low how they force copyright messages and ads at the beginning of DVDs that you’ve paid for, but I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean that when a new car appears on screen you’re going to get a Sky Digital-style “Press the Red Button to Learn More” in the top corner. Or a New York promo in the opening scenes of King Kong.

Not that a new Fast and the Furious is going to have much integrity to speak of (at least it’s not named as absurdly as 2 Fast 2 Furious), but crap like inserting custom promotional content into a movie isn’t a good precedent to set. Just let us pay our money and get the movie we pay for, and if you want to put this stuff in there you’d better be dropping the price of the movies. Which I doubt they will…

The Jason Mewes Story

I talked about Kevin Smith’s blog some time ago (here to be exact) but there’s something on there that begs to be read, especially if you’re a Jay and Silent Bob fan. Jason Mewes had a well-publicised battle with drug addiction that pretty much started with weed around the time that Clerks was made and ballooned into crack, heroin, Oxycontin, and whatever he could lay his hands on that almost killed him or landed him in jail several times.

With the third anniversary of his sobriety around this time, Kevin has been blogging the full history of their relationship (start with part one, here) and all the crap that Mewes put him through. Reading it, I honestly don’t know if I could give someone that many chances and pour that much money into helping them. The moment they stole from a dealer and ran into the house where my family lived they’d have been out the door.

It’s spread over nine very long parts, but definitely worth the time to read and thankfully it all works out in the end, complete with quite a tear-jerking video on the last entry. Without Mewes we wouldn’t have the great-looking Clerks 2 to look forward to, which is clearly going to be the monster hit of the summer. That or Snakes on a Plane

MPAA: The MP Means “Missing the Point”

BoingBoing are reporting on a new download service that will allow the legal downloading of Hollywood movies. The caveat is that not only can they only be played in Windows, but they cost twice the price of buying a DVD, and burnt copies can only be played on a PC. Somehow they justify calling them DVDs despite this.

I’m not a fan of digital distribution since I like having DVDs/games/CDs on my shelf which I can browse through but I see it as an inevitability, and I sincerely hope that they start to show the consumers some respect if they expect people to buy into this. iTunes has the right idea by making downloading a matter of clicking a button and bundling in fairly permissive DRM (if we must have DRM that’s the kind to have) while making the price reasonable, but nobody will pay double the price of the physical media for such a crippled copy.

The assertion that people will pay that for the convenience is just laughable as well. I hear people saying that they use iTunes to get new albums for the convenience, even though it’s usually cheaper than actually going to the shop and buying it. Double the price isn’t the cost of convenience – it’s extortionate. Not to mention that, like the comment on BoingBoing says, the files are going to be big (you need at least 700MB for a passable quality movie) and it’s never going to be more convenient to sit and download for a couple of hours than it is to go five minutes away and buy the shiny new DVD…for half the price.