Dinotasia Blu-ray Review

I’ve always loved dinosaurs, even before Steven Spielberg made them even cooler in Jurassic Park, so when Dinotasia came up for review on Blu-ray I jumped at the chance thinking it to be the next “Terra Nova”. Sadly, I couldn’t have been more mistaken, but even after learning that Dinotasia was more documentary than fantasy/fiction I was still interested; after all, this was coming from the Discovery Channel, the people who brought me Planet Earth.

Sadly, Dinotasia lacks any of the gorgeous real-world photography seen in that series and settles for some rather poor CG leftovers from another dino-related Discovery Channel miniseries called Dinosaur Revolution from 2011. That four-part documentary failed for its own reasons, so just imagine a movie compiled from the cutting room floor scraps of a previously failed project.

German director/actor Werner Herzog provides some basic narration to the 80+ minutes of assembled clips that come together as pretty much just a bunch of dinosaur fight sequences that lack the charm of the old stop-motion animation from the original Land of the Lost TV show, but seldom achieve the polish of the Land of the Lost movie remake. There is a reason this footage was cut from the original project and trying to assemble it into its own entity is just insulting. Even pre-teens have more sophisticated tastes and will likely laugh at this film.

Blu-ray can’t save this floundering title as it is only being presented in a 1080i (yes “i”) 1.78:1 AVC transfer. There are moments of pristine brilliance but just as many other moments of poor compression, jaggies, soft focus, and murky contrast, not to mention the dated CGI that you would expect from a high school filmstrip. And even when the CG looks “good”, the animation of the dinosaurs is nothing short of comical. The larger ones lack the weight and presences you experience in Jurassic Park, and the smaller faster creatures jump around the screen almost as if they are missing frames of animation. The live action plates are much better than any of the CG creatures, but the two don’t always blend as seamlessly as they should – certainly nothing like Disney’s Dinosaur masterpiece.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix provides a bit of 3D ambience in certain instances but for most of the film you’d be hard pressed to distinguish it from the stereo mix that is also available, and there is very little LFE to drive your subwoofer – something you kind of expect in a dinosaur movie. As previously mentioned, the narration is laughably bad with Werner just rattling of dinosaur names and stating mundane facts.

Bonus features don’t provide any additional encouragement to buy this disc. You get four 1080i featurettes like; “Rivals – Extended Cut”, “Troodon – Tom de Rosier Animatic”, “Mating Rites”, “Forbidden Fruit – Performance Reference”; in all, totaling about 45 minutes of additional information that is no better (some even comically worse) than the feature event.

The real deal-breaker is that Dinotasia is now streaming on Netflix, so you have no reason to plunk down the $20-30 asking price for this laughably lame “documentary”. The Discovery Channel should be ashamed for trying to gouge the public by selling their scraps from one bad documentary as a standalone feature. There is nothing to learn from Dinotasia other than how NOT to make a documentary. Skip this disc and watch on Netflix if you are desperate for some prehistoric laughs.


Titanic: Blood & Steel Review Blu-Ray Review

It’s a safe bet that everyone knows the tragic story of the sinking of the Titanic by now. Lord knows James Cameron has released enough versions of his fictionalized account of the disaster-turned-love-story, but Titantic: Blood & Steel takes a more profound, and in my opinion, far more interesting look at the creation of this infamous ship in this 3-disc set that brings all 634 minutes of the original miniseries to stunning Blu-ray.

Much like Cameron’s opus, this miniseries blends real-life characters and events with fictionalized trappings to create a more compelling and entertaining drama lest the series devolve into a how-to-build-a-boat documentary. The timeline is quite thorough as we begin at the beginning with metallurgist, Dr. Mark Muir (Kevin Zegers) who joins the ranks at Harland and Wolff in Belfast to research and create the new steel that will be used for the new White Star ships. Muir will soon find himself working with various other individuals such as Lord Pirrie (Derek Jacobi), J.P. Morgan (Chris Noth), Sofia (Alessandro Mastronardi), the prerequisite love interest, and the ship architect, Thomas Andrews (Billy Carter).

The story not only revolves around the building of the ship but the people who built it, mostly dealing with the various class distinctions, both socially and religious, creating a unique parallel of Protestants vs. Catholics to the rich vs. the poor. These class issues become front and center when Jim Larkin (Liam Cunningham) comes in to champion the working class. While there is a surprisingly large number of historically real characters and situations, much of the drama is heavily fictionalized, and other supporting characters are tossed into history to keep things freshly dramatic such as the New York Times Writer, Joanna Yaeger (Neve Campbell).

The story wanders at times and the pacing is a bit off as you get into middle third of the 10+ hour event, but there are enough characters and side plots to keep you interested until the inevitable climax. But it is a long and unpredictable road, so make sure to spread your viewing out over several days, much like the original presentation. For those looking for a story about the ship, keep in mind this miniseries deals with just about everything but, and the Titanic is merely a backdrop for a lot of human drama unfolding around it.

To their credit, the cast performs admirably despite a script that stumbles on occasion, and the overall production value is tremendous with great locations, incredible wardrobe, and mostly seamless CG effects for virtual sets and period effects. The 1080p AVC transfer looks great while preserving the 1.78:1 original aspect ratio. Contrast is good, colors are realistic, and the detail levels are razor sharp. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is functional and mostly underutilized with the exception of a few of the larger scenes around the shipyards and such. Those are immersive, but for the most part this is a front and center, dialogue driven experience, and as such I have no complaints.

For those looking for more after the 10+ hour drama you won’t find much in the way of bonus features; just two relatively short features including The Making of Titanic: Blood and Steel, and The Visual Effects of Titanic: Blood and Steel, that cover the production of the film and the use of CG visual effects.

The title and even the DVD cover art is a bit misleading in that viewers might think they are getting another shipboard drama that unfolds onboard the infamous cruise ship, but in reality what you end up with is a lot of interesting drama about the people involved in the creation of the Titanic as well as an unique look into the class and religious distinctions of the period. Not many miniseries ever achieve, let alone maintain a film-worthy presentation throughout, but Titanic: Blood & Steel does just that from start to fateful finish.


The Dark Knight Rises Blu-ray Review

I have a love-hate relationship with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy; I hate them in the theater and love them a few months later when I watch them at home. Don’t ask me why, although I do know I didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises in the theater mainly because I couldn’t understand what Bane was saying beneath his mask. I left the theater muttering that I would at least be able to turn on captions when I had the chance to revisit the film on Blu-ray but thankfully; somewhere between my local multiplex and my living room, the sound engineers worked some serious magic, and now Bane’s poetic tirades sound like a mix of Darth Vader and Sean Connery and are completely intelligible.

With that major obstacle removed, The Dark Knight Rises is a crowning achievement in this darker and more brooding adaptation of the Batman saga. While nothing will ever top the iconic Joker (Heath Ledger) from the second film, Bane is a formidable nemesis with roots that creatively link back to characters and events from the first film. Other prominent links like Harvey Dent’s fabricated legacy tie this sequel neatly to the previous installment, a legacy that has created a virtual crime-free Gotham where all the major criminals are locked away in a super-max facility and Batman is still a fugitive in hiding.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse, a figment of speculation and rumors as Gotham’s finest gather at his very mansion to memorialize Harvey Dent. It will take the seductive cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), posing as a maid to rob Bruce of his mother’s pearls to bring him out of hiding. Along the way we have the delightful banter and chemistry between Bruce and Alfred (Michael Caine), as well has his main gadget guy, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). But even before all the Wayne Manor drama we get to meet the main villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), as he performs a daring mid-air kidnapping of a nuclear scientist; the only man in the world who can turn Bruce’s clean energy source into a neutron bomb and setup the main plot of the film.

The Dark Knight Rises takes some daring risks. It not only removes Alfred from the story by the second act, it removes Bruce/Batman from the equation for nearly an hour, as we get to watch anarchy descend upon Gotham under Bane’s till-doomsday rule. This gives the third act a unique feel of desperation as we watch a rebellion slowly simmering beneath the tyranny only to come to a full boil when Bruce returns to Gotham to save the day. The story is delightfully complex with plenty of twists, at least for the first-time viewer, and many of the scenes are loaded with so much action this will be one Blu-ray you will be watching multiple times just to appreciate the details.

Videophiles will be delighted with the marvelous 1080p AVC transfer that brilliantly preserves and seamlessly transitions between the 2.40:1 letterbox and the 1.78:1 IMAX sequences. Contrast is sharp and perhaps even boosted to create a darker and grittier Gotham, but the black levels are solid and when color does make it into the picture, it is warm and lifelike. Textures are detailed and sharp and everything from set design to wardrobe to gadgets like the Bat-cycle and the Wing are meticulously crafted and become an integral part of the film. Even the city of Gotham becomes a prominent and evolving character in the overall story.

Ironically, my biggest complaint with the theatrical viewing is my greatest joy with the Blu-ray version; that being the outstanding audio presentation, and not just Bane’s powerful dialogue that seemed to emanate solely from my subwoofer and vibrate the bones in my body. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is superb at complete 3D audio immersion with all channels firing in perfect harmony while perfectly balanced dialogue comes from the front and Hans Zimmer’s score permeates the room with its emotionally manipulative music. When my subwoofer wasn’t trembling beneath Bane’s formidable presence, it was working overtime for scenes like the opening mid-air hijacking and any of Batman’s cool motorized gadgets; especially when the Wing comes roaring out of that dark alley. I was as stunned as the cops.

The Dark Knight Rises is loaded with bonus content starting with the Second Screen Experience that you can download to your favorite mobile device and sync to the film for all sorts of exclusive content that can be enjoyed while watching the film. The bulk of the content is on the second disc and includes a 68-minute Production feature that goes into great detail on many of the major scenes and stressing just how little CG Nolan used to create this film. Also on the disc are three Character featurettes totaling 28 minutes and going into greater detail on Bruce, Bane, and Selina. Reflections is a 15 minute piece that focuses on the cinematography, sets, locations, lighting, and IMAX specifics. And perhaps my favorite extra on the disc, a 58-minute documentary on the Batmobile, every version and variation from comics, TV, and all the films; not just Nolan’s military-style Tumbler. There are four theatrical trailers as well as a standard DVD copy and an UltraViolet digital copy, but sadly, no iTunes copy.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic movie and the perfect way to simultaneous cap off the Batman trilogy and, unless I was completely mislead by hints and the events at the end of the film, usher in a new hero for a new age. I may just have to give up the theater entirely, as the Blu-ray presentation of The Dark Knight Rises is a far superior and much more enjoyable experience that my initial viewing. With gorgeous visuals and one of the best sound mixes of 2012 this is one movie that deserves a place of distinction in your Blu-ray collection.


Hitman: Absolution Review – PC

After six long years Agent 47 makes his triumphant return in Hitman: Absolution. Ask any fan of the series and they’ll tell you, Blood Money is a tough act to follow, but a lot has been happening with the stealth-action genre lately; just look at the recently released Dishonored, and of course Assassin’s Creed has taken covert killing to all new heights.

Absolution continues the tradition of “freedom of choice” by providing you with these elaborate scenarios set in highly detailed levels, often populated with dozens of brilliantly designed AI bystanders. Your mission objective is clearly laid out but the way you execute that mission is entirely up to you. It’s no wonder I played through the opening prologue tutorial level five times before moving on to the first missions – there were just so many ways to approach not just the final target, but every encounter leading up to her.

The story involves 47 going after a rogue agency handler who has wiped the organization’s hard drive and gone into hiding in a luxurious safe house in Chicago. It is there we meet up with 47 as he pulls up in an ice-cream truck and begins his expertly guided tutorial that teaches you the new stealth mechanics as well as 47’s new powers of observation, body concealment, distraction, and multi-shot takedowns. By the time the tutorial is over 47 will have rescued a young girl who has secrets of her own, but rather than turn her over to his boss he stashes her in a monastery, making 47 the target of his own agency’s manhunt.

Hitman has always been about experimentation and even a bit of trial and error. Sometime the solution is obvious and other times it may take painstaking exploration of the entire level to unlock all the possibilities. One of the earlier missions in Chinatown you are tasked with killing a target who is heavily guarded by police. The obvious tactic would be to take down a lone cop, use his disguise to get close and strangle him, but there are so many other more interesting ways to get the job done; many of which I didn’t even realize until the final mission tally screen where these methods are revealed. Somewhere in the level is a sniper rifle. You could also find some poison and dose a plate of food, or in my ultimate solution, I planted a car bomb, hit the car to trigger the car alarm and when the target came to investigate, detonated the device remotely and casually walked to the exit. Ironically, this method ended the level after only five minutes of play, but it also netted me the highest score.

Scores and checklists give Hitman: Absolution incredible replay value, especially since many of these levels can be finished in less than 30 minutes once you know the “secrets”. The entire time you are playing an ongoing tally of your progress will be shown in the corner in the form of a score that is compared with your friends, your region, and the entire world. There are goals that are checked off for completing your mission in each of the various methods as well as unlocking guns and disguises for all the possible NPCs in each level. Perhaps the most difficult achievement is completing the Suit Only goal, as this requires you to finish the level without using any disguise. Obviously, this method requires more action and gunplay than others, and that is where the new point-shoot gimmick comes into play. If you played the last Splinter Cell you know exactly how this works. You freeze time and mark your targets then watch them all go down in a hail of glorious scripted gunfire.

Hitman is all about stealth and despite your trademark silverballer pistols that can be dual wielded or used alone and silenced, you have your other trademark weapon, the piano-wire garrote that you can keep readied yet undetected. Your new instinct mode allows you to scan the area for enemies as well as key objects you can interact with. You no longer have an endless supply of coins to toss to distract the AI, but you can find other objects that serve the same function. Then it’s up to you whether you slip past or strangle them while their back is turned. You’ll want to stash dead or unconscious bodies so they aren’t detected by patrolling guards, and there are usually ample boxes, lockers, crates, or other human-size hiding spots that can hold one or two bodies including yourself if you need a quick place to hide.

Disguises play a huge part in Hitman by allowing you to access new areas of the level without drawing undue attention, but even disguises have their own rules. Disguises only get you into certain areas and anyone wearing the same outfit has a greater chance to see through your deception, so if you are dressed as a landscape worker you need to be careful when approaching other landscape workers. Of course, you can also enhance your disguise with a momentary use of Instinct.

Using your instinct, either to analyze the levels or blend into the crowd, will slowly drain your instinct meter, but this can be refilled by simply doing your job. On the higher difficulty settings the instinct feature will no longer show useful items in the level and manual checkpoints will be disabled, adding a bit of pressure to the mission. While the game auto-saves at key moments, you will occasionally find optional glowing checkpoints to save your progress – usually right before a particularly challenging situation.

At times, Hitman: Absolution is more of a puzzle game than an action game. Unlike any other game in the genre, your situational awareness of not only your surroundings but the people in those areas and all the tools at your disposal are paramount in completing the levels and earning top scores. While it is entirely possibly to trigger an alarm and still finish the level, the gamer in me had me clicking on the Restart Checkpoint countless times in the game, or better yet, once you “blow the mission” you can race around the level gathering valuable intel for your next attempt or trying to locate the hidden evidence in each level.

Absolution is a 10-hour game that will take you 20-30 hours to complete out of the sheer joy of experimentation and original replay value, but that doesn’t even include the Contracts mode; perhaps the most ingenious aspect of Absolution. Contracts allows gamers to create their own missions, not with some fancy level editor, but by merely using the existing missions and letting you create a custom rule (or restriction) set; anything from limiting the weapons used to the disguises worn to imposing an impossible time limit for completion. You can then share these contracts with the online community and compete for the highest scores. For something so simple, Contracts is deceptively addicting, not only in creating your own diabolical rules, but attempting the ones created by others.

Released on console and PC, our review was done with the PC version and I have to confess, this is one of the most gorgeous games I have played in 2012. Even my 2-year old PC manages to run this game flawlessly at the highest of settings and the lighting, textures, animation, and sheer spectacle of complexity blew me away level after level. There is one scene early in the game where you open these doors and enter Chinatown, and the way the designers framed the event then pushed the camera into this congested area with at least a hundred people milling about – you just know they were sitting back smugly saying, “yeah…we can do that.” The designers go even further with their crowd designs in a later level as you make your way through a congested train station.

To complement the outstanding visuals is a masterful soundtrack, flawless sound effects, and impressive voice acting by some major Hollywood talent. The open credit sequence reads like a major motion picture. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time either eavesdropping or blending in using a disguise, there are numerous chances to overhear some amusing conversations, some of which may even provide a valuable clue.

When it comes to Agent 47, Blood Money will always have a special place in my heart, but given the six years of evolution for stealth-action gameplay, Hitman: Absolution is definitely the crowning achievement for this franchise. The game is more cinematic and more story driven than ever before, the Instinct is a much better alternative to the old map view, and you have never been given this much freedom when it comes to killing in a video game. Absolution is a brilliantly designed game, perfectly executed, and looks and sounds amazing on the PC.


Far Cry 3 Review – PC

I’ve played a lot of first-person shooters over the years including 2004’s Far Cry which sets you on a series of islands fighting for your life against mercenaries and science experiments. The open-world nature of the game was what really drew me in to the point that I even dove into its console ports without a second thought. The series has changed hands since the first release and a sequel set in Africa was released in 2008 though I found it lacking despite being able to dynamically set things on fire. It’s been 8 years since my first adventure in the Far Cry franchise and I can happily say that Ubisoft’s newest addition, Far Cry 3, is single-handedly the best in the series so far.

It isn’t insanity that makes me say this but Far Cry 3 has completely regained my attention like the series did back then but not just for the same reasons. The game starts off like a movie featuring a rich kid’s paradise filled trip to another country to party and get wasted with friends. Actually that’s exactly what happens right up until Jason Brody, the main character, ends up in a bamboo cell with his army trained brother Grant. It’s here we meet the crazy mercenary named Vaas who seemingly lets you escape after he unmercifully kills your brother. After you flee for your life, and are forced to kill for the first time, you wake up in a village after a nasty fall from a collapsed rope bridge.

There you are greeted by an ex-army man named Dennis who sets you on your path to save your friends… oh and liberate a country while you’re at it. As I started playing I quickly fell into the role of Jason Brody, and not just because I share his name. It’s more to do with the fact that the basic controls are seemingly consistent with previous installments especially when using the traditional keyboard and mouse setup. The only time where I found a controller useful is when driving a vehicle throughout parts of the campaign if your so inclined to using them. The thing about Far Cry 3 is that while using vehicles is handy to get around the island, you’ll miss the beauty of the island itself that you’ll experience up close on foot. Just don’t expect the beauty to always love you back.

A trip through the beautiful Rook Islands will wield many surprises along the way including caves, hidden tombs, and water holes hidden amidst lush terrain and sandy beaches. There are also plenty of reasons to explore the world and they heavily have to do with you becoming strong enough to save the ones Jason cares about most. From the moment you first reset a radio tower to the first kill of a little boar; your actions define you and prepare you for the battles ahead. You see Far Cry 3 is a lot like a lot of the big RPGs out there where every kill, mission completion and hidden collectible gains you experience until you level up and gain skill points.

Unlike most RPGs this shooter has a unique way of showing that you’re getting stronger via the Tatau (tattoo) on your arm. Players will start out being able to gaining abilities like basic takedowns and the slide ability and then graduate to better archery skills, advanced foraging and better takedowns as the story progresses. For each skill you purchase another part of the Tatau is inked on your arm until the design is complete. I have to say that while that part is really cool and immerses you into the culture and feel of the experience, I really enjoyed the crafting and survival aspect of the adventure more.

Initially you are given enough money to buy a pistol to defend yourself, but you’ll soon find that you need more serious firepower down the road to survive. However you can only carry one gun and limited ammo; that is where crafting comes into play. Normally I’m not a big fan of crafting items, even in RPGs, but unlike them it’s a necessity in Far Cry 3. You have to craft everything from holsters, ammo pouches, quivers and even wallets and loot sacks to get very far in the game. Luckily your crafting materials are found all over the place in the form of plants and animal hides.

While plants won’t put up much a fight don’t expect the wildlife to stand there and get shot at willingly. The world of Far Cry 3 is a living and breathing entity where animals will go into fight or flight mode at the slightest provocation and humans will actually mourn death instead of walking by as if nothing happened. There are so many AI routines running under the world’s shining exterior that it boggles the mind. You could fire one round of any gun around certain animals and get pecked or stampeded to death. You can often use the wildlife to your favor in sticky situations or as acts of subterfuge like shooting the door open of cage containing a tiger and letting it do the dirty work for you when taking over an outpost.

Outposts are one of many things to do in Jason’s story as you explore the Rook Islands. For starters, you can do supply drops via a quad, races on jet ski or boat, and even trials indicated by red rocks in designated locales across the islands. There are also a lot of collectibles to be found scattered everywhere including SD cards that reveal seedy dealings across the island, as well as the missing letters of WWII Japanese soldiers. There are also a lot of hidden relics to find as well. For the not so avid treasure seeker there are maps for sale in any shop to show you the general location of each one. It’s up to you to do the rest of the leg work.

As I said before walking through Far Cry 3’s world is a great way to take in the beauty of the islands. The folks at Ubisoft Montreal have created a world that absolutely stunning and one that lives up to the tradition that this series is known for. You can stand on a rock off the shore of pearly white beaches and look through crystal clear waters to see a giant manta ray swimming by. If beaches and the sound of wind and water as it flows upon the sand don’t suit you can retreat to the beautifully created lush forests full of wildlife or the high mountain terrain where you get a grand few of the area around you via camera or sniper scope. If your PC and graphics card can handle it I absolutely recommend cranking the settings up to Ultra with DirectX 11 enabled to see the developer’s vision the way it’s meant to be seen right down to the realistic textures of people’s skin and clothing.

Far Cry 3 features amazing graphics but it also contains and equally impressive audio package that really puts you in the world. If you want you can stand on the shore after the sounds of a gunfight end, close your eyes and listen to the soothing sounds of water and birds. I had a feeling the audio was going to be good after hearing M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” during the opening video amongst the voices of the main character and his family and friends. But the audio is more than a way to put you in the mood to play as it also can be utilized to keep yourself in one piece. By listening to the world around you can determine what animals are around you in the wild or enemies so that you can prevent detection if possible. If you have a 5.1 Audio setup you can practically detect where animals are long before you see them if you’re the cautious hunter.

Far Cry also has a lot to offer to the more ambitious player. For starters there is multiplayer that features all your favorite modes including team Deathmatch or territories based matches. What makes Far Cry’s multiplayer modes different is that there is team economy system in play. Every time a player helps take a location or aids a fallen teammate they earn points to call in Pysch Gas to turn the tides of battle in unexpected ways. Players can also design their own maps for added insanity via the Map Editor.

While the multiplayer mode wasn’t for me I really enjoyed the Co-Op mode featuring a separate story based around the same island. This story follows four down-on-their-luck individuals looking for a way to escape their own private hells. The story seems to take place before the events of the main story though you’ll find out that key players from the main story are involved like Vaas across this six chapter story arc. I actually enjoyed the faster paced nature of this story especially when I experienced it with a full crew online. There are already a strong number of people in the world playing the co-op mode and I have to say that there were some real team players out there that I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with.

Far Cry 3’s story depicts one man’s survival, sacrifice, and dive into the depths of insanity as he risks more than he bargained for to save the ones he cares about most. Ubisoft did a masterful job of bringing back the essence of the original predecessor while crafting a much darker story. Far Cry 3 features a fantastic emotional story with solid controls, breathtaking visuals and a co-op mode just as energetic as the main event. This is by far one of the best shooters that I experienced all year and I absolutely recommend picking up Far Cry 3 for PC today.


Red vs. Blue: Season 10 Blu-ray Review

Halo turns 11-years old this year and following right behind it is the insanely popular machinima web-series Red vs. Blue celebrating its tenth anniversary and its tenth season. What started off as a simple series of sketch comedies designed around manipulating the in-game graphics of Halo characters and dubbing in hilarious and often edgy dialogue has now turned into an extremely ambitious and polished effort by a massive group of talented folks who now combine classic machinima with state-of-the art motion-capture and stunning CG animation to create something that transcends both unique art styles.

I was a latecomer to the RvB universe. I knew the series existed and I even watched a few episodes in the early years but it wasn’t until the series arrived on DVD that I really dove into the franchise, consuming the Blood Gulch Chronicles (first five seasons) in a single marathon session. I was hopelessly hooked and have enjoyed each new seasonal installment since, but I have always resisted the urge to watch the episodes online, and after watching Season 10 I simply couldn’t imagine watching these 20+ episodes trickled out on a weekly basis.

There are no obvious breaks in the narrative, even when the action shifts to a new planet or even a new timeline to focus on a different set of characters. The individual parts of Season 10 seamless merge to create a 165-minute masterpiece of story, action, drama, and incredible special effects mixed with some classic old-school machinima manipulation. What started off as fairly random sketch comedy has evolved into a story so deep and compelling at times it rivals the game it is based on.

Season 10 continues the blend of game graphics and stunning CG work that is quickly approaching theatrical quality. The motion capture is exquisite (kudos Monty), especially in the numerous choreographed fight sequences that will not only blow your mind but have you scrambling for the remote to watch them all over again. To complement the visuals we get some high-energy music courtesy of Jeff Williams and Lamar Hall, but the real treat is the return of Trocadero whose music works much better in the non-action sequences.

The deeper story continues to be difficult to follow if you aren’t paying attention, and often it would take a second viewing or even bits of the insightful commentary track to smooth out the rough plot edges. There are so many characters spread across two timelines, and characters that were gone are now back and other characters aren’t who you thought them to be. Even more problematic for newcomers to the franchise, there is no midway access point for those wanting to join the fun short of starting at the beginning, as this is one of the most self-referential series of all time. Thankfully, Rooster Teeth is releasing a 10-year compilation box set so you can do just that.

Season 10 also makes its debut on the Blu-ray format. While the first two-thirds of the series really doesn’t benefit from the high-definition treatment these past few season have come to feature more and more CG with Season 10 actually tipping the balance in favor of CG, whether it be full-blown 100% computer created sequences or just rampant digital trickery to enhance the classic machinima techniques. Needless to say, the episodes are all 100% digital, so their transition to Blu-ray is fantastic, even when limited by the source material that may reveal a less-than-stunning texture or some jaggy angular edge that suffers from improper anti-aliasing.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is greatly appreciated, especially in the more open and more epic fight sequences and especially the opening space chase in the prologue. The dialogue is perfectly balanced and along with the sound effects, all placed flawlessly within the 3D space, although as expected, the experience is a bit front-channel focused with the rear speakers chiming in for very specific effects.

As with any project where the guys making it have just as much fun as we do watching it there are plenty of extras starting with a feature-length commentary with several of the creators including; Matt Hullum, Miles Luna, Kerry Shawcross, Monty Oum, Burnie Burns, and Kathleen Zuelch. And in keeping with tradition you have 16 minutes of PSA’s, 7 minutes of Outtakes, and 5 minutes of Trailers.

Season 10 takes the Freelancer saga into exciting new territory as we learn more about these soldiers and how their experimental AI’s work, and it also marks the return of the original group of red and blue warriors to their more classic state of irreverent sketch comedy. The final moments of Season 10 were created using the new Halo 4 engine and look incredible. It won’t be long before the machinima looks just as good as the mo-capped CG stuff, but until then I look forward to seeing the characters, story, and technology evolve in Season 11.


Red vs. Blue: RVBX: Ten Years of Red vs. Blue Blu-ray Review

Halo turns 11-years old this year and following right behind it is the insanely popular machinima web-series Red vs. Blue celebrating its tenth anniversary and its tenth season. What started off as a simple series of sketch comedies designed around manipulating the in-game graphics of Halo characters and dubbing in hilarious and often edgy dialogue has now turned into an extremely ambitious and polished effort by a massive group of talented folks who now combine classic machinima with state-of-the art motion-capture and stunning CG animation to create something that transcends both unique art styles.

To celebrate their 10th anniversary and their debut on Blu-ray, Rooster Teeth has released a massive 14-disc compilation box set featuring all ten years of Red vs. Blue and hours upon hours of bonus content, extended footage, and special features. If you’ve never gotten into Red vs. Blue or you are looking to convert your existing DVD collection into high-def then look no further than this definitive release.

While the first two-thirds of the series really doesn’t benefit from the high-definition treatment these past few season have come to feature more and more CG with Season 10 actually tipping the balance in favor of CG, whether it be full-blown 100% computer created sequences or just rampant digital trickery to enhance the classic machinima techniques. Needless to say, the episodes are all 100% digital, so their transition to Blu-ray is fantastic, even when limited by the source material that may reveal a less-than-stunning texture or some jaggy angular edge that suffers from improper anti-aliasing.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is greatly appreciated, especially in the more open and more epic fight sequences that become staples of the later seasons. The dialogue is perfectly balanced and along with the sound effects, all placed flawlessly within the 3D space, although as expected, the experience is a bit front-channel focused with the rear speakers chiming in for very specific effects and modest use of LFE when appropriate.

Rather than dissect ten years’ worth of story in yet another review I would simply refer you to our past reviews for the individual seasons.

Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles – Season 1-5
Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction – Season 6
Red vs. Blue: Recreation – Season 7
Red vs. Blue: Revelation – Season 8
Red vs. Blue: Project Freelancer – Part 1 Season 9
Red vs. Blue: Project Freelancer – Part 2 Season 10

I will save this review space to comment on what you get exclusively in this amazing box set. While much of season-specific content remains the same, even to the point of being offered in SD, the actual episodes have been upgraded to MPEG-2 1080i quality in 1.78:1 While Blu-ray certainly enhances the richness of color it also reveals several shortcomings in the production; all of which find their limitations in the source material and not the creative efforts of the production team. As we get halfway into the 10-year run the bonus features start showing up in HD, some even in 1080p. So take a deep breath and let’s dive into 14 discs of Red vs. Blue:

Disc One: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Season One
This disc features 5+ minutes of Outtakes, nearly 18 minutes of classics PSAs, and two feature-length commentaries; one from 2003 and an updated track recorded in 2010 with more people chiming in. And finally, you have a special edition of Episode 1.

Disc Two: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Season Two
This disc has 9 minutes of Deleted Scenes, nearly 5 minutes of Special Videos, 8 minutes of Outtakes, 14 minutes of PSAs, and another amusing feature commentary.

Disc Three: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Season Three
The third disc is home to 8 minutes of Outtakes, 9 minutes of Deleted Scenes, nearly 19 minutes of Special Videos, a 4-minute Coming Soon section and a more technically oriented commentary track.

Disc Four: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Season Four
Look for nearly 19 minutes of Special Videos, 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes, 10+ minutes of Outtakes, a 2-minute Intermission and a fairly casual feature commentary.

Disc Five: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Season Five
The Blood Gulch Chronicles wraps up with 15 minutes of Special Videos, 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes, 15 minutes of Behind the Scenes, 12 minutes of Alternate Endings, a 15-minute feature called “Out of Mind”, and another feature commentary that makes you feel like you are just watching the show while hanging with the guys.

Disc Six: The Recollection Season Six
Things get more serious this season, both in story and bonus features. “Recovery One” is a 16-minute feature you don’t want to miss followed by the standard 21 minutes of Special Videos, 6+ minutes of Deleted Scenes, 24+ minutes of Behind the Scenes, 3 minutes of Outtakes, and one of the better commentaries up to this point in the series.

Disc Seven: The Recollection Season Seven
We start with the 20 minute feature, “Relocated” followed by 19 minutes of Special Videos, 4 minutes of Deleted Scenes, 4 minutes of Outtakes, and an enjoyable two-man commentary with Burnie Burns and Gavin Free

Disc Eight: The Recollection Season Eight
“Holiday Plans” kicks off this bonus package with 12 minutes of hilarity followed by 20 minutes of Special Videos, 4 minutes of Outtakes, 11+ minutes of Behind the Scenes with a focus on the female cast, and another cool technical commentary.

Disc Nine: Project Freelancer Season Nine
17+ minutes of Special Videos get you started before diving into 3 minutes of Deleted Scenes, 3 more minutes of Outtakes, 27 minutes of Behind the Scenes, and an extremely interesting commentary track; especially if you are interested in the visual effects aspect of production.

Disc Ten: Project Freelancer Season Ten
PSAs are back and in HD with 16 minutes of amusing and not-so-educational content. 7 minutes of Outtakes, 5 minutes of trailers and my personal favorite commentary of the series wrap up this rather short list of bonus features.
Disc Eleven: The Blood Gulch Chronicles Bonus

This is the only disc in the box that isn’t an actual Blu-ray disc and features a massive assortment of SD extras, so much in fact they had to divide it into three menu options:

Red Team – this section includes footage from various press tours and festivals as well as numerous trailers, a Halo 3 Launch Mini-series, and some cool insider looks at Bungie and Microsoft.

Command – this section has numerous ads and trailers, various missing scenes, lost footage, event footage and galleries for fan art and staff photos, all sorted by date.

Blue Team – this section starts off with all four parts of the Recovery One mini-series with commentary, a cool history of Red vs. Blue, information on the cast and crew, and plenty of community fan art and photos and a neat PAX Q&A.

Disc Twelve: Grifball Volume 1
This disc has three features including the 22-minute Expansion Mini-Series, the 11+ minutes Zero Tolerance Mini-Series, and the Rules of the Game PSA.

Disc Thirteen: Grifball Volume 2
The 10+ minute Franchise Player Mini-Series and the 12 minute Double Agent Mini-Series barely begin to fill the thirteenth disc.

Disc Fourteen: Behind the Scenes of Red vs. Blue
Ten years of Red vs. Blue are summed up in a 42 minute Rooster Teeth retrospective followed by a repeat of some Season 10 content that goes deeper into the visual effects with more outtakes, deleted scenes, and a live table read. The Music of Red vs. Blue is also celebrated in a 17+ minute feature with interviews for Jeff Williams and Trocadero.

Red vs. Blue: RVBX: Ten Years of Red vs. Blue is an easy recommendation if you are just getting into the series, but it’s a tougher sell if you already own the original DVD’s. The nature of the machinima limits what Blu-ray can bring to the table and it’s really only the final three seasons that even start to showcase the HD goodness of their CG creation. I also have to question not only the ridiculous size of the package, but the fact that they used 14 discs to store what could have fit on 11. Griffball could have easily been combined on a single disc rather than waste two 25GB Blu-rays on 30 minutes of content each, and why does disc 14 repeat much of the Season 10 extras already found on that disc. Perhaps the size of the box and the number of discs is meant to offset the sticker shock since you will be paying anywhere from $125-$180 to add ten years of Red vs. Blue to your Blu-ray library.

Step Up 4: Revolution 3D Blu-ray Review

I’m a bit late to the “Step Up Party”. I think I may have seen bits and pieces of the first movie; the second movie went to another editor for review, we never got a review copy of the third film, and here we are with Step Up 4: Revolution 3D, a movie so visually compelling, both in amazing choreography, stunning locations, and its attractive cast, not to mention a sub-thumping soundtrack that had me researching Neo: X sound systems on my iPad before the end credits started to roll.

Revolution is an experience more than a movie, extremely light when it comes to a serviceable story. The script we do get is merely a thinly woven narrative to get us from one dance number to the next, and they even offer a menu option to take you straight to those if you wish to skip the embarrassing moments of professional dancers and models trying to emote their lines. We have a group of underground dancers who call themselves The Mob, which consists of a mobile DJ, an urban street artist, and gonzo videographer, and a group of dancers way too good to be dancing in the streets. The Mob is led by Sean (Ryan Guzman) whose only aspiration is to get their Flash Mob videos seen by enough online viewers to win a huge cash prize. But things change when he meets Emily (Kathryn McCormick) at the hotel beach bar one day.

Emily is an aspiring dancer trying to secure a position with an elite dance troupe by the end of the summer otherwise her father (Peter Gallagher) will make her return to Cleveland and work in his real estate empire, an empire that is about to tear down a section of the Miami waterfront where Sean and his friends hang out. So while Sean is teaching Emily to “loose up” Emily teaches Sean and the Mob that it is better to fight for a “cause” than for hits on YouTube. Can the power of dubstep and choreographed dance numbers stop a multi-million dollar real estate deal and save a community? Of course it can.

But let’s face it – you aren’t watching this for the story or the b-grade acting. Step Up 4 is all about the amazing dance numbers set in unique locations with surprising “flash mob style” accuracy, and in that area Revolution excels. The film starts strong with a takeover of Ocean Blvd, and then goes into more intimate locations like a fancy restaurant or my favorite, a swanky art gallery where the Mob brings art to life. The numbers get larger, the music gets louder, and the street art gets more impressive as we make our way to the dance climax set at the waterfront amongst massive shipping containers. You might doze off between the numbers but once the music starts you will be glued to the screen.

The 1080p transfer looks incredible in both the MVC (3D) and AVC (2D) 2.40:1 widescreen presentation. The colors are vibrant and the aerial shots of Miami are as mesmerizing as the dance numbers. The 3D effects are subtle yet effective and most noticeable in the dance numbers with various special effects and such. There are only a few moments of in-your-face 3D that come off as laughably intentional. My favorite 3D moment was the office lobby flash mob with thousands of dollar bills floating off the screen and into my living room.

The shining element of Step Up 4 has got to be the sound mix. In the 10 years I’ve owned my subwoofer and out of over 1,100 Blu-ray discs nothing has sounded this amazing when it comes to a musical soundtrack. The only thing that comes close is my collection of DTS audio CD’s and even those can top the DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix. If you don’t own a good subwoofer then it’s time to go shopping and if you don’t own a Neo X amp…well…I’m still waiting for more movies to support that format before I plunk down $1500+ for a new AVR. Outside the expertly mixed flash mob scenes you have an evenly balanced mix of score, environment and dialogue that makes great use of all the channels.

Revolution is a bit light on the extras although I do commend the studio for releasing the 2D and 3D on a single sku. Thank you for an actual iTunes digital copy as well and not just that Ultraviolet crap (even though it’s a dual-purpose code). I don’t keep a lot of music on my iPhone and no movies, but Step Up 4: Revolution has found a permanent home on my iPhone just so I can listen to the music and occasionally view my favorite flash mob. Scott Speer, Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman team up for a fun and informative commentary. I couldn’t help but laugh as Kathryn kept updating her “favorite moment” of the film.

Other HD bonus features include Becoming a Star, Choreography, Dancing on Their Own, and Making the Mob, all covering various aspects of making the movie and behind the scenes antics, and all totaling about 30 minutes. If you want to turn the 99-minute movie into a 25-minute dance marathon then use the Flash Mob Index to pick and choose or watch all of the Flash Mob sequences sans story. And finally, there are two music videos, “Goin’ In” with Jennifer Lopez and FloRider, and “hands in the Air” with Timbaland and Ne-Yo.

Step Up 4: Revolution isn’t much of a movie when it comes to acting and storytelling, but in a movie like this it’s easier to teach a dancer to act than an actor to dance, and while the acting is shallow at best, the dancing is spot on with an energy and excitement that is undeniable. The whole flash mob theme is quite timely with our cultural obsession of YouTube and viral videos, many of which are flash mob related. The soundtrack alone is worth the cost of admission, but the amazing choreography and stunning visuals totally seal the deal. Revolution is a revolutionary Blu-ray and not to be missed.


Transformers Prime: The Game Review – DS

It’s always nice when a developer gives a little love to the older devices; whether it be for the sake of nostalgia, or to help those late adopters (for whatever reason), it is always a pleasant surprise to see a game pop up on the market to fill the bill. Case in point: Transformers: Prime for the Nintendo DS.

To be completely honest, it is not like Hasbro and Activision have come out with a DS exclusive here – with versions optimized for the DS, 3DS, Wii and the recently released Wii U, Transformers: Prime is making an all-out assault on everything Nintendo. It’s just the fact that they considered DS owners that makes Transformers” Prime it all the more special – it’s the thought that counts, right?

And honestly, pound for ground-pound, Transformers: Prime is not a bad package to be presenting DS gamers after all these years. With exceptional production value, solid button-mashing brawler action, and fairly impressive polygonal graphics, Prime was infinitely more enjoyable than I expected it to be.

Prime fits into the universe of the Hub network’s Transformers: Prime television series, while not directly in any particular season or storyline. This tie-in shows in the television-like production value that this version delivers. While obviously not as impressive as its console brethren, it still manages to deliver a story in a series of quality full-motion and still-motion scenes, overdubbed by fantastic voice work delivered by the show’s cast. The look might be a little more like a motion-comic than a cartoon, but it still is impressive on Nintendo’s aging handheld.

Like any quasi-mecha anime storyline, the script can get a little confusing. The Autobots travel to space to investigate a Dark Energon meteor that has suddenly appeared in the sky. They find it the property of the Decepticons who happen to be towing it with their ship The Nemesis in an attempt to harvest its Dark Energy. Naturally, a battle ensues, and the meteor splits open releasing its hidden contents; a super powered Unicron loyal, Thunderwing.

Thunderwing is a friend to none, serving as a great antagonist in this three-way battle for supremacy. All parties involved fall to Earth, and the good vs. Bad vs. Worse battle begins.
The gameplay is in the vein of an old school brawler of the linear button-mashing variety, consisting almost entirely of entering a level, smashing and/or blasting everything in sight, and proceeding on to the next level and eventually onto one of the game’s handful of bosses. None of the bosses are all that difficult to finish off, but it might take a few tries to recognize their weaknesses.

The controls are conspicuously old-school – which is absolutely perfect compared to the wonky motion-controlled mess that comes attached to the console versions. I found it much more natural to simply smash buttons rather than throw out my elbow once more like I did on the Wii version I recently reviewed.

The controls are far from perfect, though – while button mashing works for 90% of the game, there are times where precision is required, but not achievable. This is especially true when it comes to the driving. Utilizing the directional button for brake and gas as well as the traditional turning, driving is hard to master with any precision. This becomes particularly infuriating when the game requires players to switch from vehicle mode to robot mode for special melee attacks and it becomes almost impossible to line up squarely on an enemy or an object, and often results in missed opportunities and undue harm.

The visuals are surprisingly solid on the DS, even If they seem rather prehistoric compared to the current glut of smartphone apps most people are enjoying nowadays. Yes, there are definite seams and tears in the bland backgrounds, but it really could not get much better on the aged device. To put it in perspective, the Wii version didn’t look much better than this on the big screen and that is unforgivable – on the DS it is perfectly acceptable.

Transformers: Prime will require only about 3 to 4 hours of the gamer’s time to completely finish the story. Given that the game does not offer an online or multiplayer action, the only replay value comes from returning to previously completed levels and trying to improve your grade-letter score. This was hardly enough incentive to bring be back for more, but it is a bit of a bone for those self-competitive types.

The fact that Activision and Hasbro saw fit to release a DS title this long after the handheld’s prime (no pun intended) is enough to warrant kudos from me. The gift is made even sweeter by the fact that Transformers: Prime is actually a fun gaming experience – at least for a few hours. While I would have liked the game to offer a bit more in the replay arena, it is still a worthy gift for those late adopters who haven’t ventured onto the 3DS.