While I personally could care less about the theology, Passover has always been my favorite holiday. Part of the reason is because the ritual itself is based upon an event that it is easy to get behind (freeing slaves). Another aspect of it is that there are certain foods that are eaten at the Seder that I can enjoy only at this time of year, and this year, the victuals happened to be particularly succulent.
Bitter herbs are supposed to be consumed at a Seder to represent the bitterness of the life under the whips of the slavemasters. My grandfather always seeks the strongest of horseradish roots to make his ckhain (ground horseradish), and this was the best batch he has ever made. He also made the charoseth, which is a paste made from apples, cinnamon, nuts and wine; this year he used both walnuts and almonds to make it, and it was divine.
Okay, now this next bit is hard to explain. Matzoh balls are supposed to be light and fluffy. The problem is that nobody in my family except for my grandmother likes them light and fluffy. We like them hard, like rocks. Unfortunately, my grandmother who likes them light and fluffy is the person who actually makes them, so every year there is disappointment as we tap our spoons into the matzoh balls, only to find them soft and insubstantial.
Well, this year they were perfect.
It is safe to say that, while Terminator 2: Judgement Day was not the first "event movie," it redefined the parameters of the "event movie." James Cameron's sequel, while lacking in the originality and internal symmetry of its predecessor, was great eye-candy, and the effects of its unprecendented use of a digitally created character, are still being felt throughout all aspects of the film industry. The movie was also notable for having a strong female protagonist.
After its initial release on laserdisc, T2 has also represented the cutting-edge of home video technology. Except for its original release, the movie has always been produced by Van Ling under the supervision of Lucasfilm's THX quality assurance program (the first laserdisc for them to supervise was Cameron's own special edition of The Abyss).
The theatrical version of the film was supplanted by a voluminous box set, which presented a (then) brand-new digital transfer of the extended version of the film, a fully enveloping Dolby Surround soundtrack and a supplement that is to this day considered as comprehensive as it is all-inclusive. The film was also available without the supplement, but the kitchen-sink aspect of the bonus material, combined with the fact that disc producer Van Ling took full advantage of the capabilities of the laserdisc format, caused it to be termed by many "film school in a box."
I often found this disc not only to be a great demo disc in terms of picture and sound quality, but also to how much information could be stored on a laserdisc. No matter who it was I was showing the disc to, there was always some aspect covered by the supplements that would interest them. Some people were interested in the section describing the creation of the T-1000 effects. Others were fascinated by the section on the film's sound mix. Still others were into the section on which guns were used where in the film.
With the premiere of the DVD format, the theatrical version of T2 was released in the new fledgling format. This was one of the first RSDL (dual layer) discs, so despite a bit of distracting edge-enhancement, the picture was quite a step above its contemporaries. The anamorphic picture transfer was a distinct improvement over the previous editions of the movie. The sound was presented in a brand-new Dolby Digital 5.1 track (mastered at 384 kb/s).
The extended version was then issued as an "Ultimate Edition" DVD, which featured a brand-new picture transfer and newly remixed sound, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (this time mastered at 448 kb/s) and DTS ES 6.1. I must say that I was quite nonplussed by this presentation. The picture was not a significant improvement over the theatrical version DVD, and the sound, while it had some nice separation effects, didn't quite have the power that it should have had. That said, the supplement, which included all of the material from the laserdisc spruced up for the new digital format, was exemplary.
In preparation for the release of the (odious) Terminator 3: The Rise Of The Machines, Artisan decided to reissue the film once again. After the "Ultimate Edition," where could one really go? The answer is this "Extreme Edition," which features a new specially created picture transfer and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 EX audio. After enticing Cameron to record a new commentary track, disc producer Van Ling concentrated on making the definitive presentation of this film on home video, with a supplementary section that would complement the material on the "Ultimate Edition."
Having already bought the "Ultimate Edition," I didn't really think that this release had anything new to offer, but I was over at a friends' house who had it. We put it in just to see what it looked and sounded like, and I was blown away.
This disc has one of the best picture transfers I have ever seen on DVD. The colors are spot-on accurate and the picture is razor-sharp, making a 16:9 monitor look more like a window than a television. Although there is no DTS track on this edition, I have to say that this is one of the few times that a Dolby EX track sounds better than the DTS ES. Raz and I A-B tested several sequences, and the "Ultimate Edition" looks blurry and sounds flat in comparison.
The supplements on the "Ultimate Edition" will induce me to retain that issue of the film, the "Extreme Edition" is what I will put in to watch the film from now on.
In many ways, Pixar achieved a level of maturity with Finding Nemo that was quite unexpected; although the film takes place under water and features talking fish, birds and cetaceans, the characterization and emotional truths that it contains brings it to a level of storytelling that is on par with the technical achievements required to realize the world it is set in.
In addition to a bunch of extras, a superb 16:9 transfer (what do you expect, it was created from original digital sources) and a wonderfully enveloping Dolby 5.1 EX sound mix, showcasing Gary Rydstrom's amazing sound mix and Thomas Newman's beautiful, soulful score, there is what is called a "visual commentary."
Andrew Stanton hosts this, which is a standard commentary, supplemented by short documentary pieces that periodically show up. These are part of the commentary track (unlike the unwieldy "Follow the White Rabbit" type feature on The Matrix), and are incorporated into the fabric of the talk. In addition to the amiable relationship between the filmmakers (they sarcastically note how easy certain sequences were to create, as iJellyfish now comes with every new Macintosh computer) and the revealing vignettes on creating the digital reality of the picture, the film was a long personal journey for its creators.
This commentary is not for children (there is nothing offensive in it, all of the cursing is bleeped out by distributor Disney), and it goes directly to the heart of the appeal of the film. There is an unusual (but welcome) emphasis on the dramatic elements of the film here, how the characters developed and how that relates to their own experiences as parents. An animated film, especially a digitally created animated film, does not go into production with a finished script, often the story is still in development by that point in order to allow for the ability/inability of the technology to do what is needed. This was strongly recommended for anybody interested in knowing a bit more about this superb movie.
The disc also features another nifty feature; each of the menu screens can be viewed without the text overlays on endless loop. The effect is that it turns your television into a "virtual aquarium." Although I initially though of this as being a gimmick, it is actually rather pleasant.
Now that my SACD player is back from the shop, I have been enjoying those Bob Dylan remasters and the new Tommy.
Although only six of the Bob Dylan reissues feature 5.1 tracks, the sound on all of them is significantly improved, especially on the earlier ones. I A-B tested one of my favorite Dylan albums, "Nashville Skyline," against the old CD version. The difference was night and day. The old disc sounds tinny and anemic by comparison, while the new one has greater presence and fuller, richer sound.
The old discs, especially the earlier releases, had a tendency towards high-end distortion, especially with his voice and harmonica. This shrillness is completely absent from the reissues, yielding a very natural, well rounded sound.
The 5.1 remix on "Blood On The Tracks" is specifically notable. While the old CD never sounded that bad, the 5.1 mix renders it completely obsolete by offering a three-dimensional soundfield that immerses the listener into the music.
No, I'm serious.
It turns out that the original masters, once thought to have been destroyed by Kit Lambert, have been found, and they are crystal clear. The MCA remaster, while decent, can't hold a candle to this new edition of Tommy, remixed by Pete Townsend himself. That remaster, itself sounding like a layer of crap had been peeled away from the previous CD and LP incarnations of this extremely important work, still had some minor distortions and limitations. They are completely gone in this new edition.
The acoustic guitars come through with a previously unheard clarity, and the organ has a fullness to it that wasn't audible before. The sound has a... well, I guess the best term for it would be "intimacy" that Tommy never had before. The Who have never sounded so strong. This comes through splendidly on the SACD, and the 5.1 remix is beyond compelling.
While the SACD layer presents all this in optimal quality, it should be noted that this is a hybrid disc, capable of playback in any normal CD player as well, and the sound improvements are noticable there as well. While I would not suggest to anybody without an SACD player to upgrade Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" if they have the 20th Anniversary, Shine On box set or EMI reissues (all from the same master, despite what the packaging says, by the way), the stunning differences between the two issues of Tommy force me to recommend to anybody to upgrade to the new disc.
Hopefully, they'll redo Who's Next as an SACD as well...
Incidentally, for some reason, typing in "Pussy Galore" into Google yields some very interesting results.
"Oh no! It's Michael Jackson!! Swim away!!!"