BluRay/DVD Reviews

Columbia TriStar’s Superbit DVD Series: PANIC ROOM, ANACONDA, & SNATCH

By • Dec 17th, 2001 •

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VHS tapes are terrible, and I parted with some of my laserdiscs on e-bay. Remember The Criterion Collection? I had to have them because of all the extra stuff. Now, I’m getting all my old favorites on DVD.

So, of course, the time was right for enhanced DVD’s to hit the market. I’ve taken a look at several of Columbia TriStar’s Superbit DVD’s and actually compared one of them (Snatch) to the previously issued, original DVD I have in my collection.

But first, why Superbit? Apparently, the director’s commentary and all those extras, including the trailer and cast interviews, took up a lot of picture quality space. These Superbit DVD’s omit the bonus material for enhanced video bit rate on the primary DVD. In some DVD’s, a second disc does carry those extras. Columbia TriStar uses a new hi-video transfer process and special MPEG-2 compression method bringing the standard frame-to-frame bit rates of 4-5 Megabits per second to 6-8 Mbps. This process is said to bring more detail, vibrant colors, and finer tones to a movie. Further, for the best sound quality, Superbit DVD’s offer both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, insuring the best sonic performance and increased channel separation.

Is it worth it?

I took a good look at a few in the latest series of Superbit DVD’s released by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment: PANIC ROOM, ANACONDA, and SNATCH.

PANIC ROOM

Columbia TriStar’s PANIC ROOM is being heralded as a prominent title in the forefront of the Superbit DVD series. This is a rather unusual offering, since PANIC ROOM is filmed primarily in somber gray and black tones. We all know how much director David Fincher likes rain. It’s dark, and raining outside Meg Altman’s (Jodie Foster) vast, cavernous apartment in New York City. Since the entire movie takes place on the first night Meg and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) moved in, the sharp lines and angles, as well as the near monastic interiors that Fincher works so superbly in, are richly showcased. Vibrant colors are not demonstratively apparent, however, the picture quality is crisp and clear and the movement in the dark by the home invaders is as defined as in the theatrical release.

Watching it again brings the thriller’s technical aspect center stage, especially Fincher’s gliding camera and fluid movement through a house few of us will ever walk through, no less call home. The title sequence remains impressive and brilliant.

Does Meg’s actions hold up on repeated viewings? Well, watching PANIC ROOM again does tend to question her choices, but she knows which telephone wires to fiddle with and how to start an electrical fire. From the comfort of one’s sofa, some of her decisions were stupid. The intruders Burnham (Forest Whittaker), Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) and Junior (Jared Leto) are an inspired trio, with Whittaker always giving his character an added dimension of moral introspection. If someone is going to cave, it’ll be Whittaker. His characters are always thinking things through.

PANIC ROOM has an aspect ratio of 2:40:1 and the only extras are the non-anamorphic teaser trailer, filmographies, and the French audio track with Foster doing the French dub herself! Do I want to watch PANIC ROOM again with Fincher and Foster talking through every setup and explaining every technical device employed? In the case of Fincher, I’d have to say yes. I’m also disappointed in the cardboard case and cardboard slipcover. I much prefer the deluxe packaging used in the other Superbit titles.

ANACONDA

Next up was ANACONDA – admittedly a guilty pleasure and just a fun movie to watch. The picture quality is gorgeous. There’s no way around it. You see it immediately. The lush greens and the vivid colors of the jungle are all perfectly rendered. This is a terrific movie to show off what Superbit can deliver. In this case, ANACONDA without commentary by the director, writer and stars in favor of more visual clarity suits me just fine. The surround sound tracks, both in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS, works flawlessly to broaden the creepy sounds of the jungle and the river and brings a sharp, detailed-oriented stereo separation.

Anthropologist Steve Cale (Eric Stoltz) leads a documentary film crew headed by director Terri Flores (Jennifer Lopez) into the world’s most isolated part of the Amazon jungle to find a lost tribe. Within mere minutes, Cale is incapacitated and spends the rest of the film unconscious on a cot. Flores and her team (including Ice Cube and a subdued Owen Wilson), come across shipwrecked adventurer Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) and take him along. Sarone claims he can help them locate the lost tribe. His secret agenda – capture a live, mythical anaconda -unknowingly becomes their objective as well. Even though this will make a good documentary as well, everyone is suspicious of Sarone. They have reason to be wary of Sarone since he is using them as snake bait.

The silliness is here – the CGI snake looks cheesy (and there’s not enough of it), Jon Voight’s accent is a wacky tribute to Tony Montana by way of Alabama, and Eric Stoltz’s character is still useless; but we do have Jennifer Lopez playing tough and looking appropriately ethnic for the last time. (Lopez looks Irish to me now.) Yet, I screamed and jumped at all the right places, and the slow glide of the Apocalypse Now boat through the jungle was luminous and lush – thanks to Superbit. For more fun, let’s not forget the trippy scene where Flores decides to put on lip gloss and use sex to distract Sarone. Since youth is safely behind him, Voight is working the “still virile, old man” angle with delightful persuasion. You can just hear this goat looking over the cast and saying: ‘Well, I guess I’m the sex symbol of the piece.’

ANACONDA is presented in anamorphic widescreen and has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. There is virtually no discernible film grain. The packaging is first-rate, and, more importantly, sturdy: an Amaray case with a cardboard silver slip sleeve over it. Subtitles are in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai! (What, no Russian?) ANACONDA is a first-rate example of what Superbit is bragging about.

SNATCHEven if you were paying close attention to the dialogue when you saw SNATCH in the theater, you still missed 20% of what was said. Maybe more. With the DVD, you can go back and figure out exactly what the characters are saying. Someone somewhere once said something to the effect that whenever an Englishman opens his mouth, he commends himself. Director Guy Ritchie exploits the different accents that comprise not only the English classes, but the criminal world.

Lots of criminals crowd director/writer Ritchie’s cinematic universe. Ritchie’s talent is putting together small-time hoodlums trying to step up in the criminal hierarchy. It never works out. Ritchie taps into the sociological caste system of Britain by infusing his films with all types of everyday characters most of us will never encounter. Through casting, dialogue, and costuming, Ritchie constructs an ensemble cast rich with colorful characters.

Frankie Four-Fingers (Bencio Del Toro – the man held in high regard for creating incomprehensible, inaudible dialogue as an acting style in THE USUAL SUSPECTS) runs a gang that stole a big diamond. He’s also a degenerate gambler. Boris the Blade is after the diamond and so is an American named Avi (Dennis Farina – destroying his career by starring in TV’s The In-Laws). However, Farina does deliver the film’s most hilarious line to a customs officer. There’s also a boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham), who, with his partner Tony, fixes fights. When they lose their fighter in a match, they make a deal with another one who just happens to be a bare knuckle champion (Brad Pitt), and, a Gypsy no one can understand. The Gypsy is not capable of throwing a fight. This band of Gypsies, always huddling together and only understanding each other, is the treasure piece of SNATCH.

I compared the Superbit SNATCH with my other, original DVD. Both have the same extras: a minute of extra footage from the U.K. edition; six deleted scenes, storyboard comparison, video photo gallery, and U.S. and U.K. trailers.

The ‘standard’ SNATCH and the SUPERBIT SNATCH are a 2-disc set; disc 2 of the SUPERBIT version is a re-packaging of the original SNATCH second disc. Both versions are digitally mastered in anamorphic video with scene selections, widescreen 1:85:1 in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, and come with English, French and “Pikey” (The Pikey subtitles will only appear when the Mickey character [Brad Pitt] is speaking).

The advantage of SUPERBIT SNATCH over standard SNATCH (aside from the improved picture quality, of course) is its inclusion of English DTS and expanded subtitle selection of Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

What the standard SNATCH has over SUPERBIT SNATCH is the English Dolby Surround and a French dub, a full-frame version of the film if you like, and a special gem called ‘Stealing Stones.’ Unfortunately, SUPERBIT titles are without audio commentary or a foreign language dub, which standard SNATCH can provide. Director Guy Ritchie and producer Matthew Vaughn give insightful comments into the making of the film, and often joke throughout the commentary about the gem-swallowing dog who ‘rapes’ his human co-stars with incessant leg-humping. So, if it’s really important to hear Ritchie and Vaughn show off their bravado personalities and talk about the horny dog, then you might prefer the original. Yes, I do enjoy listening to the commentaries, once. I watch the movies over and over again.

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