The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly When it Comes to Buying Blu Rays

About eight years ago, I remember as a kid, gathering all my VHS tapes together and selling them on Ebay, in order to get money to buy those same films on DVD. My parents could never understand my affection for actually owning my favorite movies—my father has never been a movie fan at all, while my mother is one of those watch-it-once types, except when it comes to anything starring Gregory Peck or James Mason. But for me, when I have a movie that I really like and know I will watch again, why bank on getting an un-scratched, actually playable disc from Netflix, when I can just own it? Say what you want about Wal-Mart, but that is where I buy the majority of my movies, or at least I used to. Their bargain bins and constantly discounted racks are a haven for any film buff, and if you go every so often, the selection changes with a decent regularity. But now, here I am, finding myself doing the exact same thing I did back then: I am selling my DVDs on Ebay so I can buy Blu Rays. My movie collection may not be the biggest ever, and I have not made an exact count, but I estimate it to be at least 100, counting both forms of discs, and some ultra-rare films on VHS that escaped my purge, because they were never transferred to any other medium.

As someone who always scoffs at new technology (I have had the same cell phone for three years now, while people around me seem to change bi-annually), do not take it lightly when I say that Blu Ray actually is the way to go, if you have or want to make the investment in an HD TV (an investment I would definitely push you to make). I am not a fan of the in-today, out-tomorrow controlled obsolescence that dominates the technology market, but being that I will never find myself interested in this new 3D gimmick, something that I think will go the way of the 8-track in years to come, because parents will see their young children’s vision impaired by the glasses, and all other sorts of health risks, I am now going to focus solely on Blu Ray.

However, there are risks involved in making your purchase, ones that were not present for VHS and DVD. The fact of the matter is, some films just do not make the high-definition transfer well, especially older films. You have to realize, that back at that time, before there was any type of home viewing device, filmmakers did not count on people being able to sit ten feet away from a screen, which is why so many goofs can now be caught. But that aside, a lot of times, the simple issue of taking care of the celluloid has doomed these older movies. There are plenty of exceptions, though, as I was absolutely blown away by the Gone With the Wind 70th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (1939). Even though I have grown to dislike the film, seeing it for the first time in a few years, when I actually did like it, I could not help but be amazed at the work that went into the transfer; or what went into the initial preservation—Casablanca (1942) also looked exceptionally well. This is why the purchase-factor is so difficult, because you cannot automatically assume that an old movie might not be worth watching. The 1991 film, JFK, had such an awful video quality that I actually returned it to the store, because it was like I was watching a glorified DVD. What went wrong? Could it have been avoided? All I know is, it made me think twice about purchasing this newer technology—I had the same problem with the Roman Polanski horror/thriller The Ninth Gate, which was made even later in 1999.

The other issue with older films was the “state of the art” technology used to make them in the earlier days of Hollywood. Matte effects for backdrops are even more easily recognizable than in other versions on DVD. This is because of what I mentioned earlier, in that no one ever imagined a viewer being able to watch something on his television or computer, and be able to pause, rewind, and zoom in to find mistakes. There are still some of those older technologically driven films that stand the test of time, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) which was made for high-definition, and the astonishing transfer is just like everything else in the film: groundbreaking. In fact, every Kubrick film I own on Blu Ray has impressed, which includes The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and A Clockwork Orange, all made before 1987. I am still waiting to add Barry Lyndon (the excellent cinematography will only be magnified in HD), Dr. Strangelove, and Eyes Wide Shut.

Even with the films I have had problems with, the one aspect that never ceases to come across as well-done is the audio. With the Gods and Generals Extended Director’s Cut (and this was even mentioned in reviews of the original cut), the audio was so spectacular that you actually felt you were in the middle of battle. The same goes for Kingdom of Heaven, with the vibration-causing clang and clash of swords thrusts and slashes, and even the John Wayne Vietnam film The Green Berets, which features plenty of explosions and lots of action. The only downside to the higher quality of audio, involves a visual tie-in. Most films, at one point or another, have over-dubbing used in some way. Perhaps an actor made a mistake, did not speak English well enough, or simply, the director decided to change the dialogue, but in any instance, this is now very easily seen. The audio level is a little bit different from the rest of the film, while the clarity on-screen can show lips moving at a different rate than the words he or she speaks. Older films, such as the John Wayne classics they are now starting to transfer, have fallen horrible victims. The over-dubbing mistakes in Rio Lobo were downright terrible (~80% of them having to do with Jorge Rivero’s character), and something I did not notice as much on the VHS version I previously had. This same issue was present in The Green Berets and even a little bit in Big Jake. However, The Searchers seemed to escape this with not much prevalence. Newer films too are noticed here, and even in the EDC of Gods and Generals, during Abraham Lincoln’s one talking scene, you can hear him speaking as he is climbing off the carriage, but if you look closely, his lips were not moving. Watch it again on the DVD version, and it is much less noticeable—but that is the price to pay when you put out a film with such high technology.

Overall, I would highly recommend moving to Blu Ray if you have not already. This will not be like my VHS purge, because all BR players play DVDs, which is another reason to make the purchase (some films are even starting to offer both BR and DVD in the same case, which saves money and gives you both). Granted, some movies are not worth getting rid of to buy another version, because they may not be something special about it, to you. There is also a common misconception that they are more expensive. This is true, but only in some instances; you just have to shop around, or buy online. If you are a Costco member, you can get many films, mostly older ones, for between $7.95 and $9.95, while newer ones are still under $20. You can also take advantage of the double-packaging as mentioned previously. If you have a favorite film, or you want to be treated to a spectacular viewing experience with a science fiction or outer space film, then Blu Ray is definitely the way to go about it. Just keep in mind that some transfers may not be anything to write home about, and you will be alright with making your new purchases. Take it from someone who hates new technology: invest in this one.

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