First off, I have been a member of AVS forum for some time and regularly visit the HD DVD software section of this forum. The review below is my first significant contribution to the forum
After watching The War' on HD DVD recently, I felt compelled to write a review and compare it to the DVD, as I have not seen any official reviews at the time of writing. (update: soon after I finished this review and before posting it onto the forum, highdefdigest posted their review of The War on their website. I'm surprised at how much our reviews have in common - especially our references to the DVD version. Our audio and video scores were even the same!)
I admit to being a big fan of this movie, although I know it can be a bit preachy' at times. The War is set in the summer of 1970 in Mississippi. Steven Simmons (Kevin Costner) has recently returned from Vietnam and is trying to fit back into life as he once knew it. However his time in Vietnam has left its scars (both physically and emotionally), and has placed strain on his relationship with wife Lois (Mare Winningham), and his children Lydia (Lexi Randall) and Stu (Elijah Wood), who are 12 year old twins. While Steven is trying to re-build his own life, Stu and Lydia are spending the summer building a tree house with the help of their friends, while trying to avoid the Lipnicki children, who take on the "local bullies" role.
The acting by most is natural and convincing. Elijah Wood's portrayal of the intense but likeable Stu is very well done. Kevin Costner, in what must be one of his best (yet lesser known) roles, is very understated and brilliantly cast as Steve. Lexi Randall, as Lydia, also shines at times, although she is almost overshadowed by the wonderful performance of her best friend Elvadine, played by Latoya Chisholm
This movie has a similar feel to that of Fried Green Tomatoes (both films are directed by Jon Avnet), so if you're a fan FTM The War is definitely worth a look.
The overall picture quality of this HD DVD is very good. For the most part the image is sharp and the colours are vibrant. The lush greens of the forest and the bright blue sky in some scenes look fantastic. There are some close-up shots of the actors' faces that are so detailed I just said wow' out loud when I saw them, and the scenes filmed in the forest display an incredible depth. At times this transfer looks brilliant - almost on par with the best looking HD DVD titles out there - quite an achievement considering this title was released in 1994 (1999 on DVD).
However, there is some noticeable grain in night scenes and some sequences filmed indoors. There is also the odd occasion where the picture looks slightly soft and out of focus, and while contrast is fine in daylight scenes, blacks tend to look more dark grey at night. I also noticed the odd artefact, but nothing too distracting.
Being very impressed with the overall picture quality of this HD DVD, I dusted off the DVD version and gave it a spin for comparison's sake. The difference between the two is so great, I now find the DVD unwatchable. You do not realise just how much better the remastered HD DVD looks until you compare it with the original DVD transfer.
From the first 30 seconds of this movie, as the camera pans around a large oak tree that is to become a central part of the movie, the difference between the two formats is like chalk and cheese. The DVD looks dark and out of focus, colours are muted and you struggle to make out any finer details of the tree and its surroundings. There is also constant and irritating grain. In comparison, the detail of the tree's twisting branches and bark on HD DVD is much more evident. The transfer is also significantly brighter. In fact, every aspect of the underwhelming DVD picture has been improved significantly. After comparing the remastered HD DVD to the DVD, this has to be the greatest improvement I have seen when comparing the two formats and the same movie. Hats off to Universal!
First up, I was surprised when The War was announced on HD DVD by Universal, and even more surprised to learn that it would come packaged with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Not that I'm complaining, but I assumed other, more bombastic titles would have been more likely to receive a TrueHD soundtrack (ie - Dante's Peak, another Universal title that was released at the same time as The War)
This movie is primarily dialogue driven, therefore the majority of the soundtrack comes out of the front three speakers. However the rear speakers are employed almost constantly in a subtle way for most of the movie. You are constantly aware of the chatter of insects buzzing through all speakers - typical of what you would experience in the Deep South in the middle of summer. It is a wonderfully immersive mix that draws you in to what is happening on-screen
There are some loud and impressive sections in this soundtrack where all speakers are used to great effect. Flashbacks to the Vietnam War, and scenes at a water tower and marble mine are the audio highlights of the movie. These scenes are mixed at a high volume in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack, adding to their impact. Bass is strong and tight without becoming overpowering. Sure, the discrete sound effects are not as convincing as those on well recorded and recently released action movie, but once again it is an impressive mix for a 13 year old movie
The War soundtrack includes a mix of classic songs from the 1960s and 1970s (Cat Stevens, Credence, The Supremes, Aretha Franklin), and also boasts and interesting and varied score that is especially moving in some scenes.
In comparison to the DVD (which contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital track), the HD DVD Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack is a noticeable step up in quality, but not as great as the improvement in picture. The DVD soundtrack is actually not that bad to begin with (and is mixed about 4dB higher than the HD DVD), but the HD DVD version is more immersive during the quieter scenes, and definitely more powerful during the action sequences. The difference between the Dolby Digital Plus and TrueHD mixes are slight, with ambient noises and dialogue sounding clearer on the TrueHD mix.
One small fault found with both mixes is the slight distortion of Steven's voice at one point in the movie when he is talking to Lois in the bedroom.
Being familiar with The War already, it was a real treat to see a movie I enjoy viewing so much being resurrected to look and sound this good. Universal has done wonders with the transfer, making it look so much better than the DVD it is not funny. And while the audio mix won't blow your socks off, it certainly has its moments and compliments the film nicely. If you want to see just how good 13 year old catalogue title can scrub up, pick up a copy of this HD DVD.
Equipment used in this review:
- Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player, connected via HDMI (used for both HD DVD and
DVD versions of the film)
- Panasonic PT-AE900 Projector projecting on Oz Theatre Screens 100 Fixed Frame
- Yamaha RX-V2700 A/V Receiver (w/ Rotel RB-1070 Stereo Power amp powering
- Paradigm Monitor v.5 speakers (Monitor 11 Fronts, CC-390 Centre, Titan Monitor
Surrounds x3) Yamaha YST SW-1500 Subwoofer