Top 10 HD Transfers of 2007
(List created with help from David Mackenzie)
As someone who has developed a reputation for being extremely difficult to please when it comes to the transfers of films on DVD, the advent of high definition has been both a blessing and a curse. Obviously, it is a blessing in the sense that those responsible for transferring films to either HD DVD or Blu-ray (or both) now have six times as much resolution to work with as they did before, meaning that, provided the source materials are top drawer and the encoders resist the urge to play around with the ever-irritating filtering and edge enhancement controls, they can finally provide home viewers with a presentation that matches or even exceeds what they would see at the cinema. However, it also ends up being a curse in that, by contrast, if the source material isn't up to snuff and the technicians are incompetent (both of which are sadly all too prevalent), then flaws that might not have been noticeable in standard definition become major eyesores when "blown up" to a resolution of 1920x1080.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a nice gesture to celebrate the absolute cream of the crop by devising a list of the best transfers I have seen released in the last twelve months. Bear in mind that this list is somewhat subjective. I don't claim to have seen every single HD DVD and Blu-ray disc released in 2007 (far from it), so it's entirely possible that I've missed an absolute gem or two. Likewise, I'm sure you'll disagree with some of my choices here, which is absolutely fine: if you made a list of your favourite transfers of the year, I'm sure I'd do likewise. However, I hope you enjoy this little feature, which was a nice opportunity for me to take a much-needed break from bitching about the flaws found in the majority of transfers (high definition or standard definition) and lavish praise on what have been, for me, the Top 10 HD Transfers of 2007.
Oh, and, as an added bonus, I've included a screen capture for each of the ten transfers covered here. Each image is clickable, opening a full resolution 1920x1080 capture taken directly from the disc itself in a new window.
Without further ado...
10. Blade Runner: Final Cut (HD DVD/Blu-ray)
Warner, USA, VC-1
While catalogue titles can look very good on both high definition formats, broadly speaking the ones that really shine are those for which digital intermediate masters are available. Blade Runner, however, taken from a 4k scan of the original negative, proves to be the exception to this rule. With not a lick of edge enhancement in sight and detail that blows away many transfers for films released this year, it's hard to believe Blade Runner is more than 25 years old. That's not to say that it has been cleaned up beyond recognition - on the contrary, it still looks beautifully film-like - but it just goes to show how good an older film can look when the studios invest the necessary time and money. Read John White's review of the UK 2-disc HD DVD release.
9. Black Snake Moan (HD DVD)
Paramount, USA, AVC
In terms of the quality of new releases, no studio has pleased me on as consistent a basis as Paramount. While their treatment of catalogue materials tends to be as variable as the other majors, one thing that seems to hold true is that, if they are bringing out a film for which a digital intermediate exists, the output will be as close to flawless as is possible with lossy compression. While Black Snake Moan, by its nature, doesn't wow with razor sharp detail in the way that some of the titles on this list do, it really is incredibly difficult to complain about it in any way.
8. Cars (Blu-ray)
Buena Vista, USA, AVC
One of the misnomers I hear being most frequently bandied about regarding high definition, after the claim that a film has to have been shot in HD to look good on an HD format, is the belief that animation doesn't benefit from the HD treatment as much as live action. If anything, the opposite is true, and Disney's Blu-ray release of Cars goes a long way towards showing just how good an animated title can look in 1080p. It does, unfortunately, suffer from a small number of minor compression issues, but the upgrade it provides over the DVD is immense, with every one of its 2,073,600 available pixels put to use.
7. Spider-man 3 (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures, UK, AVC
This may actually be the most detail I've ever seen in a presentation of a film, regardless of format. There are moments that simply leave your jaw hanging slack because you can't believe how much visual information has been squeezed on to a single disc. Were it not for the fact that a small number of shots have been inexplicably oversharpened, resulting in some mild but noticeable ringing around edges, then I am of no doubt that this would have been the finest transfer I'd ever seen.
6. Silent Hill (HD DVD/Blu-ray)
Concorde, Germany, VC-1
Sony Pictures' 2006 release of Silent Hill on Blu-ray in the US, one of the format's first ever titles, was marred by its flawed compression - a combination of inadequate disc space and an outdated codec. Almost exactly a year later, German-based Concorde corrected their mistakes by taking the same superb master and releasing the film simultaneously on both high definition formats with a superior encode. As with most of the films included in this list, there is detail in this transfer down to the level of the individual pixels, making this one of the strongest examples of what high definition is all about. Read Michael Mackenzie's review of the HD DVD release.
5. Hot Fuzz (HD DVD)
Universal, UK, VC-1
Of all the major studios releasing HD content, none has a more varied track record than Universal. The same label responsible for a slew of underwhelming catalogue releases, and who shamelessly released Traffic on HD DVD, taken from an upconverted 480i standard definition master, have also put out some of the finest-looking HD titles to date. In fact, with more 10/10 transfers awarded to them by myself than any other studio, one really has to wonder why they can't get it right more consistently. Hot Fuzz is a prime example of how good a new film can look when transferred from its digital intermediate source with no unneccessary tampering: a flawless presentation from start to finish.
4. Casino Royale (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures, Finland, AVC
The first high definition venture for James Bond does Agent 007 proud with a sublime transfer featuring razor sharp detail and expertly handled compression. Arguably Blu-ray's flagship title of 2007, more copies of this disc appear to have been bundled with various pieces of hardware than any other movie, and it is to Sony's credit that they selected their finest transfer to show off their format's capabilities. Read Dave Foster's review of the UK release and Michael Mackenzie's review of the uncut Finnish release.
3. The Bourne Ultimatum (HD DVD)
Universal, USA, VC-1
Jason Bourne's third outing on the big screen features more jittery camerawork and frenetic editing than you can shake a stick at, and only the very best transfer could possibly suffice for this difficult material. Thankfully, Universal pulled this one out of the bag, gracing the film with a pin sharp image with no visible compression problems, capturing every zip pan and jump cut to perfection. An extremely impressive presentation all round, and the best-looking transfer of the trilogy by far.
2. Inside Man (HD DVD)
Universal, USA, VC-1
An extremely pleasant surprise, Spike Lee's smart crime thriller looks incredible on HD DVD thanks to a highly detailed transfer that is marvelously handled in every respect. While it may not be the flashiest film around, its transfer eclipses every other live action movie that I've seen released in high definition this year, and shows that you don't need to be a bloated $200 million epic with lots of explosions and CGI battles to excel in HD.
1. Ratatouille (Blu-ray)
Buena Vista, USA, AVC
It was perhaps predictable that the award for Best HD Transfer of 2007 would go to an all-digital animated feature: after all, it comes from a flawless source and was visually sumptuous to start with. Ignoring the artistry of the film itself, however, Ratatouille's transfer on Blu-ray is an outstanding piece of work. Writer/director Brad Bird specifically asked Rick Sayre, a Pixar technical director who also handled the encoding of the DVD releases of The Incredibles, to be in charge of creating the DVD and Blu-ray transfers for the film, and I for one am incredibly glad that he did. Ratatouille features a smooth, warm look as opposed to the overly sharp, synthetic look favoured by most CG-animated films, and as a result details don't always leap of the screen in the way that they do on, say, the Blu-ray release of Cars, but this is completely appropriate given the film's intended look. I cannot find a single flaw in this transfer, and I mean that in a literal sense: generally, even the best-looking transfers, regardless of the disc format and codec used, will feature minuscule elements that cause it to fall just shy of perfection, be it a tiny compression artefact here or a smidgen of edge enhancement there, but there is none of that in Ratatouille. Truly, a transfer to be celebrated and one that I have a hard time imagining being bettered for a considerable time to come. Read Michael Mackenzie's review.