This is a review about the new release of Yellow Submarine but I am using this an excuse to talk about Blu-ray discs!
Mark Evanier (http://www.newsfromme.com) is someone I know and respect. He wrote a great book on Jack Kirby, conducts seminars on comics and has written for TV. He had a similar path in home video but gave up when it came to Blu-rays. Like many, he did not want to rebuy all the movies he already bought. I understood his frustration. I, myself, held off getting a machine for a couple of years. Mark wrote an interesting and informed column on why he will not get a Blu-ray some time ago.
In 1959 my brother Norman brought home our first excursion into what would eventually be called Home Theatre. It was a ten minute, 8mm film in black and white of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It was a silent, subtitled, greatly abridged version. We took out our Bell and Howell Projector that my father bought in 1946 and watched the movie a zillion times. Soon we got a version of This Island Earth, a Three Stooges short and a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.
In the 1960s Castle films began selling 16mm sound films (and I think color) but we could not afford them.
In 1976 I got my first VCR, a Betamax. The picture and monaural sound were poor but I was able to record TV shows. Of course I recorded Abbott and Costello. Soon video stores opened, but most movies were $80-100 so I didn’t buy any but I must have rented a few.
Disney sued to have the record button removed from VCR for copyright reasons. But the Supreme Court ruled against them in the early 1980s and within a couple of years everyone had a VCR and rental stores were all over the place. But it was a competing system. JVC, that thrived as Beta (the better system, by the way) fell to the wayside.
In 1981, Pioneer released the Laser Videodisc. These discs produced, at the time, the best TV picture I had seen. By 1985, these discs were in stereo and often had “letterboxed” or widescreen editions of movies. They also began featuring bonus segments and, with The War of the Roses and Tootsie, optional narration over the movies. These discs looked very good on my 25-inch set, I fact, for the first time, I put the TV between my stereo speakers to hear the movie out of bigger speakers. These discs, however, never really were very popular. The discs were expensive, generally $30-50 but running up to $100.. These were the same size as an LP and also had to be turned over with only one hour of the movie on a side. Not many stores sold them either.
In 1990, when I moved into my house, there was no Home Theater as we know it today. TV screen were no bigger than 40 inches and surround sound was just beginning. I set up a very nice music room. But by 2000 I got my first HD, 60-inch Pioneer Rear Projection TV and placed it between the speakers. This killed the great sound I was getting for my music, having such a big box in the middle. That was my reason, several years to put a screen on the wall (110 inches) and use a front projector. I also put speakers in the rear walls to have surround sound too.
When DVDs came out, about 1998, I had a 32-inch TV set. DVDs were the size of CDs and were sold everywhere, relatively cheaply including my supermarket. Later, I was able to get used discs very cheap, as little as four for $20, so rather than rent, I bought. DVDs, of course had a full movie and often bonus features on one side and many of the features introduced on the Video Disc, a product that was instantly made obsolete by the smaller discs.
The DVD’s look very good and HDTV looked better. HD has about four times the resolution of a DVD. Well, a few years ago Blu-ray came out. How much better could it be?
DVDs were designed to give the best picture on our older, standard definition TVs, made with round glass picture tubes. Blu-ray is supposed to give the best picture to large, flat Plasma, LED and LCD High Definition screens. And it does.
Without a doubt, I finally feel like I am in a movie theater. The picture is big, sharp, colorful, with great contrast and detail. It’s a little too good. Nick Caputo, who contributes to this site, says he wants to wait for the Blu-rays rather than see movies in the theatre and sit through a half an hour of commercials and coming attractions.
Because the picture is so good, many great movies, like Yellow Submarine, The Godfather, The Seventh Voyage of Sindbad, and all the James Bond films have been remastered, redone to show the better images.
Honest to gosh, my brother and I put on The Wizard of Oz just to see what it looked like and could not shut it off, we loved it! Then, we put on some black and white movies to see what they look like. Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and The Third Man were incredible. They were just beautiful, detailed and with great contrast. But the step up in quality with Goldfinger, Dr. No, Fantasia, Snow White, and even Star Wars is noticeable and worth the effort.
Blu-ray also giver you 3-D. I saw the movie Hugo with in the theatre and at home in 3-D and it was fun and wonderful, But I still hate those darn glasses. John Carter looks fine in Blu-ray 3-D, but the color and detail stand out in regular 2D. So 3-D is not something I use much. The new machines are not expensive and start at $80. Make sure you get one with an “upscaler.” This will make your present DVDs look sharper and more colorful, but not as good as a Blu-ray.
But I am leaving out the sound, which is incredible too. Even Citizen Kane’s 70 year old mono track was exceptional and detailed. This, after a long journey from Pepperland, brings us back to Yellow Submarine.
First, I am not now, nor have I ever been a Beatle fan. Or a fan of Rock n Roll. So why did I get this disc: Because Yellow Submarine is, frankly, a great, inspiring movie. I am now so used to computer animation, Toy Story, Shrek and Up, that I was startled by how beautiful. imaginative and compelling hand animation can be. On Blu-ray the colors were back, the back grounds were wonderful and the story was so much fun.
The first thing that really got to me was the sound quality, which was better than a CD. You have to hear it to believe how quiet the background is, and how the voice is right there in the room. Remastered from the original sound elements, the surround sound here is wonderful, sometimes exaggerated and often funny.
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
So, briefly, what is the plot of the movie? It opens in Pepperland, when yadda, yadda, yadda, …BLUE MEANIES!
There are several interesting bonus features and documentaries on the movie. Plus a few souvenirs. First, there is a booklet included that has wonderful pictures and notes. Sadly, for me, it’s a bit too small to easily read, a problem I have had since growing older. And there are replicas of animation frames of the Beatles. All you need is love and $17 if you get it from Amazon.
For someone who has taken this journey, this may not sound right, but I am interested in the movies, not the technology. I see the technology not as the goal but a means to an end, to have the movie experience at home and watch some great films.
I have to invite Mark Evanier over. I wonder if Thundarr the Barbarian is out on Blu-ray yet. If not we can watch Goldfinger, which I recorded on my VCR, bought the Laser Disc, then the DVD and finally now the Blu-ray. At least I hope “finally.”