Iron Maiden: Flight 666 Blu-ray Review
'Flight 666' is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with MPEG-4 AVC 1080p coding.
As this entire production was filmed in high definition the print is of course completely immaculate. Every shot during the documentary portions looks incredibly real and naturalistic. The sharpness of the image can be stunning on occasion, especially during the concert segments and well lit facial close ups. The majority of the plane and scenic shots exude a pleasing depth, as do some shots of the enormous stadiums, which are packed to the rafters with fans. The contrast ratio is strong throughout and really displays some cavernous blacks during the on stage performances, wherein areas of the stage are continuously bathed in darkness. Shadow detail is also well represented with the faces of the fans clearly visible even in the semi-gloom of the night-time gigs. Colours are well saturated for the duration, with the vibrant shades of the light show really demonstrating a bold palette. I noted no banding during the concert segments which are prone to this effect due to the intense lighting conditions. There were a couple of below average shots which generally surfaced during poorly lit areas such as backstage/on the tour bus and demonstrated some digital noise. However, this is a minor complaint and the entire transfer looks remarkably solid for such a long shoot performed under varying (and sometimes difficult lighting) conditions. A couple of the scenes also seem to have had grain introduced intentionally but this is always organic and unobtrusive.
This is an above par transfer that certainly makes full use of the capabilities of BD, having been shot in high definition. The concerts provide some stunning examples of clarity, such as well defined guitars, cymbals and visible hieroglyphics on the stage, with the documentary portions appearing very solid and naturalistic throughout.
'Flight 666' boasts both dts-HD Master Audio and PCM 5.1 uncompressed surround tracks (as well as an inferior Dolby Digital 2.0 mix).
I have to say that I was very excited when I checked the specs and saw that two uncompressed tracks were included on this release. I had a listen to both and (as expected) there was no discernable difference between the two. I thought that the crowd effects were a little more pronounced on the PCM track, while the dts-HD Master Audio mix provided a little more in the way of LFE extension and felt slightly more dynamic. As such I stuck with the dts option for the purpose of this review.
Right from the outset, as “Ace's High” gets underway, all speakers erupt with activity and the presence of the track was immediately felt. Frantic bass, guitars and drumming, all overlain with Dickinson's theatrical vocals, overwhelmed the listening position with the power of metal! As we switch back to the documentary segments the entire soundstage seemed to fall into silence. Interviews and other dialogue orientated content become the focus, which is never difficult to follow. There are a couple of ambient effects thrown in for good measure, largely comprising Ed Force One flying around the room or the manic screams of the fans. The documentary segments are for the most part subdued but do include a soundtrack from Maiden's back-catalogue which is well represented on this mix (even if the tracks are short lived). Surround and LFE presence is somewhat lacking during these segments.
Moving back to the concert portions (which are present at various intervals throughout) the mix really is given a serious activity boost. Every speaker is utilised, with the roars of the crowd making intelligent use of the surround channels (although their shouts can seem over dominant during certain songs). Dickinson's voice is also allowed to float around the room on various occasions, such as during the chorus of “Ace's High”. For the majority he is rooted to the front channels and is generally audible but can seem a tad low in the mix at times. Harris's bass is given the presence and tonality which it deserves and is one of the instruments which is never lost in the mix. The same can be said for McBrain's drumming which continuously pounds in a relentless onslaught. However, the same cannot be said for the guitar wielding trio (Smith/Murray/Gers) who can become indistinguishable at times. It's only during their respective solos that the guitar element really shines. The bass too (both from Harris and McBrain) can lose some of its punch and can vary from song to song. I suppose these faults are due to the varying acoustics which each venue produced and is not a direct result of the mastering process. However, I do feel a better effort should have been made to ensure uniformity across the complete range of musical instruments, which should be a given on a professionally engineered release (as is claimed on the BD box). Don't get me wrong, it still sounds excellent but it could have sounded slightly better.
This release is a strange one to score. The concert segments are without doubt a highlight and provide some stunning examples (“Run to the Hills” “Fear of the Dark” being my favs) of how good Maiden sound live. The mix is somewhat off in parts though and leads to some of the musicality being lost, either drowned out by the other members of the band or the crowd. The documentary segments are adequate but by no means provide any instances to wow or impress with aural activity. If I was marking this solely on the concert segments it would get an eight, a six would be granted for the doc segments, so I'm going for a happy medium of seven!
The extras package comprises the entire concert set filmed in various stadiums around the world for your viewing pleasure. This was a masterful inclusion as this is what fans of Maiden really want to see. The concert footage itself is presented in 1080p and boasts the same audio options as the main feature. Each song is individually available for selection and there's also a play-all option. While the concert footage itself is phenomenally good and shows Maiden at their best it can, like the movie itself, seem somewhat disjointed. The flow of the concert is lost as each song is given its own mini-introduction comprising of where and when it was filmed. This break before each song prevents the audience from really feeling like they are taking part in the concert. The thrill of determining which song will be next and which Maiden classic will feature in the encore all become moot points. In saying that, to not include this content would have been an even bigger disgrace and so this observation becomes a minor gripe. The full concert listing is as follows :
“ACES HIGH” (01/02/08) - Mumbai, India
“2 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT” (07/02/08) - Melbourne, Australia
“REVELATIONS” (09/02/08) - Sydney, Australia
“THE TROOPER” (16/02/08) - Tokyo, Japan
“WASTED YEARS” (22/02/08) - Monterrey, Mexico
“THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST” (19/02/08)- Los Angeles, US
“CAN I PLAY WITH MADNESS” (24/02/08) - Mexico City, Mexico
“RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER” (14/03/08) - New Jersey, USA
“POWERSLAVE” (26/02/08) - San Jose, Costa Rica
“HEAVEN CAN WAIT” (02/03/08) - Sao Paulo, Brazil
“RUN TO THE HILLS” (28/02/08) - Bogota, Colombia
“FEAR OF THE DARK” (07/03/08) - Buenos Aires, Argentina
“IRON MAIDEN” (09/03/08) - Santiago, Chile
“MOONCHILD” (12/03/08) - San Juan, Puerto Rico
“THE CLAIRVOYANT” (04/03/08) - Curitiba, Brazil
“HALLOWED BE THY NAME” (16/03/08) - Toronto, Canada
All songs are featured in their entirety and contain multiple high definition camera angles (non-selectable) to make sure that every member of the band gets ample on screen time to satisfy their rock egos (actually there isn't a trace of rock ego with the Maiden boys but you know what I mean!). McBrain's drumming is particularly impressive as of course is Harris's bass playing. Murray, Smith and Gers all get their own space to create some incredibly melodic and complex harmonies/solos with Dickinson providing fuel for Maiden's fire. As mentioned, the audio presentation is somewhat varied from gig to gig but while certain aspects of the performance can be slightly lost in the mix, the overall audio presentation for the concert material is well above par and at times is very impressive. Possibly one of the most useful extras I have come across on a concert release but the inclusion of some extended interviews and/or a couple of deleted scenes/blooper reels would have made the extras package even more worthwhile.
In 2008 one of the biggest and most enduring metal bands on the planet, Iron Maiden, decided to take touring to the next level. Frustrated with touring restrictions in some of the poorer parts of the world, Maiden vocalist and pilot, Bruce Dickinson, decided to charter a customised Boeing 757 (named “Ed Force One”) and play 23 sold out concerts to half a million rabid metal fans in 13 countries. Not only that but their mammoth tour (which spanned 5 continents) would take place in just 45 days with Bruce himself piloting the plane! Ambitious to say the least but the veteran rockers, along with their well-practiced crew, make it look almost easy. Award winning documentary makers, Banger Productions, follow Maiden all the way around the world to capture this pioneering undertaking. For those of you expecting a 'Some Kind of Monster' intimate look at the inner workings of the band then look elsewhere. While there are numerous interviews with Dickinson, Harris et. al. they don't really expose anything which fans would not already know. This movie is about the tour itself and really looks at all aspects of making it possible, include the vision to introduce their older back catalogue to their newer fans around the globe. There's also plenty of concert footage but this is somewhat sporadic in its appearance and often only contains snippets of the Maiden classics. The concert segments, when they do erupt from the speakers, really inject life into the piece and help alleviate some of the slight boredom which the “filler” segments of the documentary can induce (the main culprit being numerous shots of Ed Force One). An enjoyable documentary but not as revealing or as compelling as I was expecting; it merely showed the Maiden crew as being down to earth and very passionate about their music. In saying that this is an interesting look at one of the most ambitious tours ever conceived and the inclusion of the concert footage (which shows Iron Maiden at their best) makes it a must for Maiden and metal fans alike.
As this documentary was filmed in high definition the footage is of very high quality. The video presentation during the concert segments is crisp and clean and demonstrates both strong colouring and a bold contrast ratio. There were a few instances of digital noise during the darker segments but this is a minor gripe. Sharpness and detail is impressive throughout, with the entire piece feeling very “realistic”. The audio is for the most part adequate during the documentary portions, with aeroplane noises, chatter and crowd effects being the only real surround activity. During the concert segments the audio really comes alive as metal is blasted from all speakers. The mix is dynamic with good LFE presence and surround bleed. Both drums and bass seem to have been given fair treatment in the mix but guitars can seem slightly muddled and indistinguishable during the non-solo segments. All in all a worthy audio/video presentation and this release demonstrates a clarity which is not normally as pronounced on concert releases.
It was a slight disappointment to see that there were no real extras as such on this release. Surely there had to have been tons of interesting tit-bits left over, enough at least for some dressing room footage of the band having a massive argument! Perhaps all the good stuff was used up? The inclusion of all the songs from the tour (with the full selection of HD audio options) does go a long way towards beefing up the extras content and really is one of the more useful extras I have come across a concert DVD/BD release. All in all, 'Flight 666' is a definite must have for all Maiden fans but also provides an opportunity for all music fans to see one the most ambitious tours in history and also to witness one of the most energetic and pioneering metal bands on the planet in action.
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