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ARMAGEDDON
Movie: 3.5 Disc 4.0 [Buena Vista Home Entertainment]

Even before Sept. 11, 2001, I was always a sucker for baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and patriotism. In Johnstown, PA, when I grew up, it wasn't uncool to celebrate the fourth of July, ohh and ahh at fireworks and wipe a tear from your eye when the "Star Spangled Banner" was played at high school football games. So, to those pretentious film goers who want high art, I say go to a museum. I want a movie that shamelessly manipulates my emotions, glorifies flag waving and makes my heart beat faster. Ergo, Armageddon rocks.

Roger Ebert's review of Armageddon notes: "'Armageddon' is cut together like its own highlights. Take almost any 30 seconds at random, and you'd have a TV ad. The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained. No matter what they're charging to get in, it's worth more to get out." Oh Roger, lighten up.

A giant meteor is heading for the Earth and the world is a goner unless a band of misfit oil drillers become unlikely astronauts and manage to save the planet. We have stupid politicians who want to set off explosions immediately, we have the heroic loner, we have the beautiful sweethearts, we have two fathers who regret their hard-living lifestyle, we have the good man who can't follow his dream into space because of a physical defect, we have the uptight military-trained astronauts who follow their orders to the letter, regardless of the facts, we have the rest of the band of outlaw misfits who work and play remarkably hard.

Yes, we've seen it all before. But that doesn't mean you're not in for a great time. I must admit, I'm partial to Bruce Willis movies. Gary and I were probably the only two people in the world who liked Hudson Hawk. But, along with Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper, we have Billy Bob Thornton, wonderful as usual as the executive director of NASA Dan Truman, who is placing the fate of the world into the dirty hands of the drillers; as the young lovers we have Liv Tyler as Willis' daughter Gracie and Ben Affleck as A.J. Frost, who reminds Willis too much of himself; Steve Buscemi is Rockhound, a perverted genius, the cast also includes Michael Clarke Duncan as the gigantic but lovable Bear and Will Patton as Chick.

One thing I noticed about Armageddon is the resemblance to the John Wayne, Jim Hutton film Hellfighters (1968). John Wayne plays oil fire fighter Chance Buckman (based on famed Red Adair); his wife (Vera Miles) has left him because of his dangerous profession; daughter Tish (Katharine Ross) falls in love with Chance's right-hand man Greg (Hutton). Chance is extremely unhappy about this: he doesn't want his daughter to face that kind of difficult life. Although Chance doesn't rescue the world, he and his crew do save quite a few lives and countries throughout the film. Sound familiar?

After Sept. 11, I wanted to watch something where the good guys win. This seemed just the ticket. We did consider if the meteors destroying New York would be difficult to watch, but rather, it made me think about the devastation caused by things we cannot control and how we must live our lives the best way we can, for each day is precious. Armageddon may not be great art, but it's definitely good heart pounding, flag waving, everyone can be a hero medicine, and as we so tragically learned, everyone really can be a hero.

The disc is first rate with stunning sound. Includes Dolby digital 5.1 audio, theatrical and teaser trailers, Aerosmith's music video "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."—Susan Svehla

 

 

 

 

 

THE FIFTH ELEMENT
Movie: 3.5; Disc: 4.0
[SUPERBIT Columbia Home Entertainment]

What a brilliant idea! One of the major selling points of the DVD format is the supplementals included on most discs including documentaries, audio commentary tracks, deleted sequences and other bells and whistles. For some people the movie comes secondary to the extras that make owning the movie unique and extra special. You know, the people who spend hours looking for hidden Easter egg extras.

But some of us simply want to watch and listen to the movie in the highest resolution sound and audio possible. Thus, the Superbit "pure performance" reissues of special movies is ideal for people who care only about the movie. Each Superbit disc starts with the highest definition masters and doubles the bit rate of the original release. Thus, the picture looks even better. And for audio, besides the regular Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, each Superbit disc offers a choice of DTS 5.1 surround. For me the DTS soundtrack only offered sporadically on bigger-budgeted movies always has the edge in clarity and density over the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. DTS, which needs its own special decoder and is now found more regularly on moderately priced audio receivers, is definitely the way to go for the best in DVD sound.

But what about the picture? The original DVD of The Fifth Element was reference standard quality, so how could Superbit improve upon perfection? Enter Mr. Art Cuevas, a degreed sound engineer and owner of Silver Screen & Sound Home Theater sales and installation here in Baltimore (check them out at silverscrn.com). I know Art very well, because we purchased our home theater from him and he comes by the home occasionally to "tweak" the system. Last week I showed him part of the Superbit The Fifth Element, a movie he knows only too well because the original pressing is a movie he uses at the store to showcase his systems. Within a few minutes of watching a movie he already knows by heart, Mr. Cuevas stated the Superbit version looks superior, definitely.

Don't go start pointing your finger and yelling, "They are forcing us to buy our movies all over again," because perhaps the DVD you now own is good enough. However, if you have a special love for a specific movie that is offered as a Superbit disc, the Superbit movie will look and sound superior (perhaps only slightly, but noticeably none the less).

The Fifth Element, a movie I originally saw and heard at the Bengies Drive In Theater, underwhelmed me. But hey, the drive-in theater is the worst place to see and hear a movie. At home The Fifth Element is fabulous science fiction entertainment, intelligent and fun. Director Luc Besson's futuristic world of the 23th century is visually impressive, but the character performances of taxi driver Bruce Willis, half-naked Milla Jonovich as humankind's sexy savior and eccentric Gary Oldman as the half-humorous villain makes the film more than just a visual treat. The movie's special effects are inspiring and often frightening, as an outer space energy ball threatens to gobble up the planet Earth. The sequence with the alien diva who sings sci-fi opera as well as delivering secrets of survival as evil aliens attack during her nightclub performance is another high point, both visually and aurally. The sequence where Jonovich studies the human history of war within a minute, saying nothing but staring intently at her visual monitor, tears rolling down her cheeks uncontrollably, speaks volumes of a subtle performance. The 3-D animation of the airborne traffic, swooping upward and downward, left to right, is both mesmerizing and dizzying. The manner in which the film blends true futuristic science fiction with a supernatural mythos involving the alignment of stones to deflect the evil threatening the existence of the planet remains me of the similar synergy that Nigel Kneale created decades ago in his Quatermass trilogy. Without ruining the plot, let me say that The Fifth Element is a reference standard movie for any home theater, and that the marriage of visual, audio and script is a rewarding marriage of three necessary elements to make a successful movie. The Fifth Element was unfairly ignored upon its initial release, but it is definitely a gonzo movie that appeals to both the head and the heart by creating edge of the seat suspense in a visual world that has never been seen before. The Fifth Element, simply stated, rocks.