Warner Bros. (2008), Warner Home Video (February 26, 2008), 1 disc, 75 mins plus supplements, 16:9 ratio, Dolby TrueHD 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $29.99
During the Cold War, suspicion is replaced by hope as the Justice League is born.
The Sweatbox Review:
For over a year, I have been a high-def enthusiast. I bought into HD DVD when it still looked like it had a chance to succeed, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t. A year later, I did what I always knew I’d do, and I bought a Blu-ray player in order to be able to appreciate movies in both formats. I have no regrets, as I already am well stocked with movies in both formats, and I expect to be able to enjoy them for years to come. I have particularly thrilled to seeing CGI movies make it to high-definition, just as I have loved being able to see such favorite films as Superman: The Movie and 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1080 resolution. There is one area, however, in which I had yet to be sold on the idea of a hi-def upgrade. I’ve been saying for a while now that I did not expect traditionally done animation to look appreciably better in high definition. After all, I reasoned, the relative simplicity of line drawings and solid colors would not seem to naturally benefit from further resolution. Still, I was anxious to see if I could be proven wrong, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to compare the DVD and hi-def versions of the recent Warner Home Video release Justice League: The New Frontier.
I will not go into the specifics of my admiration for this movie. For that, I refer you to my review of the two-disc standard DVD edition. Suffice it to say that it may not be THE best superhero film ever done, but it’s right up there, with a terrific premise and interesting themes.
The first thing that I noticed about the Blu-ray, which I know should be rather obvious, is the artwork on the case. It’s… well, small. I am reminded of how much I always appreciated the huge artwork on laserdisc covers, which put the VHS cases to absolute shame. Add in a gatefold, and those 12-inch platters often found themselves in truly luxurious accommodations. The advent of the DVD made storage much easier, but we really lost something with going down to a five-inch disc and the likewise smaller case. (It is even worse in Canada, with packages often being made bilingual besides.) Now, with yet smaller cases for high-definition discs, our crowded media shelves once again get a bit of a reprieve, but we have again been left with less-impressive packaging. Oh, I like the cases fine, and the discs usually come out easily (well, except for the atrocious and ridiculous Battlestar Galactica DVD set), but the itsy-bitsy artwork and sparse back cover text do make me a bit regretful.
Sorry, I’ll get to the whole point of this now: Does high definition help a traditionally animated film? I compared my standard def copy, running upscaled on my HD DVD player, to the Blu-ray copy running out of a PlayStaion3, and I found that the answer is… YES. I cannot say I was blown away by the difference, as the standard def picture is really quite good, but there are definite advantages to the hi-def picture found on the Blu-ray (which should be mirrored on the HD DVD). The first thing one notices is that the image is simply sharper. The edges of lines are more distinct, making the picture “pop” more, even with these two-dimensional drawings. And, when a rougher line is used, such as the artist character’s brush line drawn during the prologue, it looks properly uneven on the Blu-ray, and fairly solid (and therefore less interesting) on the DVD. These are a small differences, though, and do not in themselves justify an upgrade. Other details, though, make a more compelling argument.
Solid-drawn and colored backgrounds do not appreciably benefit from hi-def, but textured backgrounds certainly do. For example, in the mountains surrounding an airbase, the faces of the mountains look muddy and blurred on the DVD, where everything blends together; but the details of the background painting are brought into clear focus on Blu-ray. More obvious are the differences noted when text is shown, such as in a newspaper story. On DVD, it looked like the indecipherable writing in the newspaper story had been deliberately blurred, and I had assumed that it featured only nonsense; but the validity of the text is apparent on Blu-ray, where I can read every word.
I made a surprising discovery, too, when I closely compared the two images. I had thought that the DVD picture was very good when I reviewed it, but I had not noticed the edge enhancement halos in the DVD picture until going closer to my screen for the Blu-ray comparison. Those halos became annoying when began to notice them, but on the Blu-ray these halos are minimal to absent.
The hi-def versions do offer upgraded sound, with Dolby TrueHD tracks, but unfortunately my current equipment is not up to the task of getting it out of the Blu-ray, since my receiver is too old, and the PS3 has no analog outputs.
In terms of extras, the hi-def versions drop the Appleseed Ex Machina preview and the other trailers, but all the other bonus features are the same… at first glance. The big difference is that Warner put the Justice League Unlimited bonus episodes on the DVD in only the 4:3 ratio; but on Blu-ray, they are in their proper 16:9 widescreen. Unfortunately, they are still shown only in the 480p resolution, not 1080p. Ya can’t have everything, I guess. I suppose I can just stick with the season sets anyhow.
If you have a standard DVD of New Frontier, you are not missing too much. But I do have to admit that the difference between watching this movie in standard def and hi-def is quite apparent even if it’s really a modest improvement. Still, I can admit that I was wrong before when I said that it shouldn’t make a difference. I guess I just didn’t want to think about upgrading hundreds of DVDs!! Now, I’ll be most curious to see more impressive traditionally animated fare, such as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, make the jump to Blu-ray. But that one won’t be out until this fall. In the meantime, I shall look forward to checking out the next animated DCU offering, Batman: Gotham Knight, on Blu-ray this summer.
(Note that the images here are not indicative of the Blu-ray picture. They are from the DVD. In any event, pictures are always compressed before posting anyways, regardless of their source, making comparisons on a computer screen somewhat artificial.)