BD impressions: Gladiator
Wednesday 2 September, 2009 22:40
This is the first time I’ve ever bought a Blu-ray Disc simply to confirm what I already knew to be the case. I picked up Gladiator because I feel that it is important to get the word out about this title without having my views discounted by people who throw around the term “screenshot scientist” and tell me that my opinion means nothing unless I’ve seen the disc in motion. I already knew exactly what to expect, and was not in the least bit surprised by what I saw when I popped the disc into my player. Why?
Because direct screen captures do not lie.
Oh, for sure, a static frame can’t hope to convey the fidelity of moving grain, but the bizarre notion that rampant edge enhancement and a pitiful level of detail might somehow cease to be an issue in motion just baffles me. I’m sure that some of the ninnies over on that forum that I shall not name (you know, the ones throwing around accusations of screenshot doctoring and attempting to sabotage the Blu-ray format because, oh, I don’t know) will accuse me of going in with a closed mind, having already made up my mind about the disc without having watched it. I don’t care. There’s no earthly reason why I would want any disc to look bad, and what I’m about to say gives me no pleasure. I don’t like to repeat myself, so I shall say this just once:
Paramount’s release of Gladiator is probably the worst BD I have ever seen of a recent film of this standing.
Oh, there have been poorer-looking BDs, to be sure. BFI’s release of Salò is notoriously shoddy, and the less said about Koch Vision’s Gulliver’s Travels the better. And let’s not forget the standard definition upconverts like Universal’s Traffic and Optimum’s Escape from New York. There have been some truly revolting-looking discs of major Hollywood releases too, such as Disney’s Gangs of New York and New Line’s Dark City. All well and good, and personally I actually prefer both of these films to Ridley Scott’s sandal epic, but even so, Gladiator is a special case. It’s one of the big guns - one of a small number of titles that, if released three years earlier, could potentially have helped turn the tide of the Blu-ray/HD DVD format war in either direction. In terms of public clamouring for its release, it’s just about up there with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogies. For a major studio to screw up such a high profile release so badly, something must truly be wrong with their quality control, and serious questions should be asked as to how this film could have been treated so abysmally.
Let’s be clear: I’m not one of those people who believes that Film A deserves to be treated better than Film B. All films, regardless of their merits (which are highly subjective anyway), should be handled with equal care. However, the realist in me knows that some films are considered more “important” both by the studios and by the majority of the public, and with this higher “importance” comes higher expectations. The fact is that films like Gladiator sell Blu-ray players. This is not some obscure, niche interest film that only a handful of people are going to buy. People are going to pick up copies of this disc with the expactation that it will look stellar. Furthermore, I suspect that many suppliers, seeking to demonstrate what they assume to be the full capability of the format, will use it for in-store demonstrations in an attempt to shift BD players and HDTVs (the people in charge of setting up these displays tend to be even less discerning than the average person who frequents that forum I won’t name). Rightly or wrongly, people expect recent Hollywood blockbusters to be the best-looking titles. Ask yourself this: if you had limited knowledge of Blu-ray and saw this being touted as the best the format had to offer (which, incidentally, is precisely what Paramount is doing)…
studio: Paramount; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 32.84 GB (theatrical), 37.47 GB (exetended);
average bit rate (including audio): 31.42 Mbit/sec (theatrical), 31.37 Mbit/sec (extended)
…would you really want to see the worst?
I’m not going to regurgitate in any detail the pages and pages that have already been written about this travesty of a release, but suffice it to say: intolerable levels of edge enhancement, a complete dearth of fine detail, skin with the texture of hot wax, DVNR artefacts that a grade schooler could spot… this is a textbook example of a presentation that should have been rejected outright. 4/10
Oh, and here’s how the whole film could have looked had some actual effort been invested. These captures, from the scenes spliced into the extended edition of the film (viewable on the disc via seamless branching), are a sick joke, a slap in the face: