PictureCadillac Records is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio using the Sony preferred MPEG-4 codec and whilst this is not going to set any fires alight it is nonetheless a respectable enough transfer.
Blacks whilst acceptable, rarely go as deep as they could have, especially in some of the clubs that Muddy and his cohorts frequent and this removes some of the finer details in those areas. Equally the image is a little more 2-dimensional than I was hoping for. At the other end of the scale whites do bloom on the odd occasion and again wash the image out a little during certain outdoor scenes, notably when Muddy is first approached to record his 'folk songs', the visit to Chess' house and sometimes in the recording studio itself.
Detail though is still apparent in the production suite with the plethora of knobs and dials bursting out, the analogue meters showing themselves off in pure retro fashion. That detail is more than apparent in the clothing with visible stitching and in the walls of Muddy's sparten apartment. Facial detail is a little lost though and indicates some form of DNR has been applied in post production. Certainly for a period piece like this I was expecting a little more grain and whilst there it some there is seems to have been toned down somewhat. Not the worst I have seen but still not something that I immediately warm to knowing it has been used.
Colours are bold and vibrant; perhaps a little too much so because of the time it is set but that in itself is more a stylistic choice rather than any transfer defect. All of these browns, yellows and beautiful reds are contained within their borders and the transfer itself shows no sign of any bleed. The transfer shows no indication of any banding or blocking but there is some enhancement there, usually showing its face in some of the brighter scenes.
SoundThis Dolby TrueHD 5.1 outing is clean and bright with no real cause for concern it's just that it seems to be a little too clinical for what we are watching. Like the video before it though this is not a fault of the transfer per se more a fault of the technical and stylistic choices that were made.
The dialogue, including the many songs which are sung, is stable, up front and rooted in the centre channel. It's distinct and clear enough with hardly a syllable lost. The backing tracks of guitar, electric harmonica, and drums are all very well presented and the individual instrument's sounds are easily identifiable. That though is the issue for me, it's just a little too clean, a little too well presented for the type of music this is trying to portray. It doesn't have that raw edge which I am more familiar with from some of the recordings I have on CD.
There's little use of the surround stage, some ambiance from streets and birds but nothing else to speak of and that was a wise enough choice to make. There's nothing there to distract you from the action going on up front; the frontal array is where the actions lies. When the music kicks in the frontal stage widens a little with good use of left and right, again with the vocals belting out from the centre channel. Range is good enough but not as wide as other, better tracks out there. That double bass never seems to go as low as it perhaps could have done and the shrill tones of Little Walters' amplified harmonica doesn't quite reach the heights it is more than capable of producing.
A good enough track, vocally you'll not miss a thing, musically however you might just feel that the blues had been born in the nineties rather than almost 70 years ago.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Darnell Martin.
Darnell wishes she could have included more, hopes she finds people will watch this and use it to get into the blues. She tried to describe what the blues is about but that's like trying to say how long a piece of string is. In the end she narrows it down to... Blues became Rock and Roll which became Pop music. The commentary is more a historical lesson rather than a scene by scene deconstruction and from that point of view it's a must watch for those of you wanting to find out more about these artists and the music they gave us. She does discuss the shooting, locations and actors involved but really all that takes a back seat to her undoubted enthusiasm for this period in history. This commentary comes with optional English, French, Spanish or Romanian subtitles.
- The Chess Record Player.
A Java controlled interface to the movie which allows you to select a playlist of songs from the film. When complete this playlist can be emailed, via BD-Live, to one of your friends. The feature works pretty well, not from a creation of a playlist point of view but obtaining a little more information on the song in question. Once a song is played you get a little snippet about the song in a lower pop-up window including song title, original artist and who is actually playing it in the film. Additionally the chapter skip forward and next buttons now move you from song to song, so it's a great way to navigate through the film if you just want to hear some of these great songs. The Java application did take an unusually long time to load, certainly longer than most applications I have experienced; still worthwhile though.
- Deleted Scenes. - 0:04:56 - 480i/MPEG-2
5 deleted scenes in total with a Play All function. An interesting enough collection and it can be argued that all of these should have remained in the final film. One scene which shows Muddy being locked out of the studio comes in two flavours, the first of which is much better. Certainly give these a watch. Even on the Play All you get a four second Sony copyright notice at the end of each clip.
- Playing Chess: The Making of Cadillac Records. - 0:26:10 - 1080p/MPEG-4
A standard 'making of' feature with the players and crew having their say not only on how they brought this film to your screens, but also some of the history of the people, times and music in this film. Producers and director have good things to say about the actors and the actors themselves praise each other. A pretty good watch, because like the best featurettes, it tells you more about the film and for an historical feature like this more about the real people the actors are trying to portray.
- Once Upon a Blues: Cadillac Records by Design. - 0:15:37 - 1080p/MPEG-4
Another excellent little featurette where Darnell Martin, Johnetta Boone (Costume Design), and Linda Burton (Production Design) give us some insight into what went on during pre-production and designing the look and feel of Chess Records through the ages. Costumes, colours and set design take centre stage. Both Johnetta and Linda indicate that the trick is always in the detail.
Trailers for Seven Pounds, Rachel Getting Married, and Hancock, all presented in glorious HD.
Logged on, tried to access the showcase option and the player just sat and looked at me with disdain.
VerdictOn the surface there's not too much that you can fault with this film; there's good performances, good production and Darnell Martin makes the film move and evolve at a good steady pace. Look through that initial sheen though and you'll realise that something is missing and that's the film's soul. It's just a little too polished, a little too sterile to do this music and the time real justice.
It was interesting to see who she chose to portray the life and times of Chess Records and I am sure someone else would have chosen different people. I for one would definitely have had Lee J Hooker in there for the contribution he made to the blues scene; each to their own though. Too many important, vibrant characters to cram into such a short space of time. A style which has steered musicians for decades since and still does deserves a little more than this but I really don't think that any film could really do the blues the justice it deserves.
Worth a look to get some insight and perhaps point you in the right direction but really if you want to know more about the blues, the music and the people who both created it and brought it to the masses then listen to their work. Listen and then go find out about the people who made it all possible.
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- Commentary with Writer/Director Darnell Martin.