PictureGoing back to my comment about the quality of the contents of the first blue box released by Universal would determine their commitment, going by what we have here, early adopters need not worry as the quality of the image is simply gorgeous...
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and given the 1080P treatment using the VC-1 codec, I can honestly say that I've never seen this film better - and I have seen it on HD DVD. If I was to take a shot as to why this is, it appears that the 50gig dual layered Blu-ray disc is encoded at a higher bit rate than the HD DVD. The level of detail is higher - in parts - but it also suffers from the minor problems that the red version suffered from - namely some inconsistencies. Where one shot will be brimming with detail, the next will lack that certain zing that took your breath away two minutes ago. A scene that you will notice this immediately is where the two teams have met up in Hamunaptra. The initial shot of the desert landscapes is full of grain and I for one was on the immediate look out for edge enhancement. However, to my relief it's absent all the way through. So the inconsistencies can be traced back to the original film stock as the main culprit is grain...
I found skin tones a little warm at times but given the desert settings, they don't seem out of place. Colours are natural and vibrant. Daytime scenes are sometimes breathtaking - the sky is a perfect dark blue set off by the bright yellow of the desert sand. The many night time desert scenes give the film an eerie feeling and are cleverly lit with what is supposed to be the silver desert moon.
All in all, a fine first release from Universal and the benchmark has been set for their future Blu-ray releases. Roll on the big monkey...!
SoundA big gripe on forums worldwide about Universal HD DVD releases was their more often than not absence of a lossless soundtrack. I reviewed one or two of their release at it seemed that the films that were crying out for them never had them - and the ones that did were often hit and miss (Darkman springs immediately to mind).
Well fear not - Universals first Blu-ray release has been given the full lossless treatment in the shape of a DTS - HD Master Audio 5.1 track...but was it worth the wait?
I can tell you from the off, when the score kicks in and we get superb CGI images of now ancient monuments being built, this soundtrack is reference material. Look at the bottom of those monuments - you'll see slaves being whipped and people conversing. Well now, to add to the visuals, you can also now hear the whips cracking and the people chatting. The dialogue, as the narrator explains what is going on, is solid and anchored firmly to the centre channel. It's the closest experience to being in a good THX certified cinema I've had and restored fully my faith in the quality of my equipment.
Bass is also the order of the day here. Those of you that have splashed out on expensive subwoofers will be glad to know that they'll be stretched to their limits with this disc. Every note in the score seems to be accompanied by a low frequency whuuump - it's brilliantly over the top.
When the action kicks in so do the surround channels. The Mummy has one of the most aggressive sound mixes I think I've ever heard and it's all brought to the fore in this brilliant DTS HD MA mix. Absolutely no complaints here - though I'm holding back on hitting the ten out of ten score. If I'm lucky enough to review the big gorilla when Universal get around to releasing that, I've a feeling I might be hitting then - until then, this is the new reference disc.
ExtrasHaving been released on several occasions, there have been more SD DVD versions of The Mummy than you could shake a stick at. All of them have been different in that they have all offered up different extras along the way. It seems that this Blu-ray disc gathers together the majority of the good stuff and adds one or two of its own ingredients - namely Universal U-Control that worked well on their HD DVD catalogue.
All of the extras here are presented in standard definition. We start off with:
Deleted Scenes (02.21). We get four scenes in all. A commentary would have come in useful here and the quality does leave a lot to be desired.
Feature Commentaries. we have three commentaries in total here - the best being the first that includes director Stephen Sommers. Your speakers will almost explode with the guys' enthusiasm. Poor old Bob Duscay (who's the editor of the film) never gets a look in!
the other two commentaries are a bit hit and miss. The first one contains a rather lonely Brendan Fraser who doesn't seem to have a lot to say - the final one involves Oded Fehr, Kevin J. O'Connor and Arnold Vosloo. Real die hard fans will probably love them but I found them a bit spacey with long gaps between anything that could be called a commentary.
I'm actually going to go from writing this review to visit the Universal website - in particular the job vacancies section. They might be looking for someone in the bright ideas department - my first idea would be to edit commentaries like this together to get one good one from three mediocre and save money and disc space...
The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Sneak Peek is Universals shameless way of plugging the real third instalment in the Mummy saga - starring Brendan Fraser and Jet Li as the creature, this has promise as it's been directed by Rob Cohen as Stephen Sommers has left his directors chair at the producers door.
Visual and Special effects Formation shows how the visual effects were created for the following scenes:
City Of Thebes
Imotep Eats Scarab
Rick Rescues Evelyn
The short featurettes are quite interesting as we see the design from plate photography to the final sequence.
An army To Rule the World Part 1 (04.02) is a short film on how the visual effects were created for Imoteps armies - it's also a shameless way to get you to buy the Blu-ray disc of The Mummy Returns as part 2 appears on it...
Unravelling The legacy Of The Mummy (08.02 is an all too short film on the history of the horror films made at Universal studios. Those of you with an interest in film will lap this up - more please.
Building A Better Mummy (49.55) is the real meat and veg of the extras package and features some brilliant behind the scenes footage. Another one for those of us that have an interest in the film making process. Of all the documentaries on this disc, this is the only one I wished had been given the HD treatment as I watched it.
Photo Montage (04.18) is a series of stills from the film set to the score.
Storyboard to Film Comparison of seven of the films major scenes.
U-Control is Universals version of picture in Picture. It works by activating it before you watch the film. You then get a larger “U” bottom right of the screen that will grow if there is content available to view. Press the red button on your Blu-ray remote to get some fascinating behind the scenes footage integrated seamlessly into the film. PiP is only one of its tricks - users of both HD formats will be very familiar with it.
Point to note though - you do need a profile 1.1 Blu-ray player or above to get them to work. They worked perfectly on my PS3 - but when I tried them on an old Samsung BD-P1000, the machine coughed and spluttered its way to a full factory reset.
Nothing there that hasn't appeared on several SD DVD's or HD DVD - but still a very comprehensive set of extras that you want mind watching again. Would be nice for them to be given the HD treatment in future though...
VerdictSet firmly in the “action adventure” genre rather than “horror”, The Mummy is a rollercoaster ride that will be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. Released nine years ago this summer, it still looks and feels as fresh as the day it was released.
A lot of the credit for that of course goes to Universal for going all out on their first Blu-ray release.
Inevitable comparisons are bound to be drawn between this version and the studios previous HD DVD release - so I'll not be any different - having seen the film on the old HD format.
Picture quality on this Blu disc is sharper and more detailed that the previous release. But the inconsistencies are still there. There are three or four scenes in the film where grain takes over. I know that grain is all part of the film making process - but it does detract slightly sometimes from the normal detail on show.
The sound quality between the two discs is much wider - the DTS HD Master Audio offering on this disc leaves the Dolby Digital Plus track on the HD version behind - the fact that it leaves a lot of more recent soundtracks in it's wake is a testament to the brilliance of the track on offer here. I would say this is the new reference disc for showing off the sound side of your home cinema systems - particularly if you're in the sector that likes its bass loud and deep.
None of the extras are original - but the depth of information on offer is well worth the effort of taking a couple of hours to watch them.
So - the $50 000 question - should I upgrade my HD DVD for this new Blu version...? With the slightly improved picture quality, massively improved sound and the addition of one or two more extras, I would say the upgrade was worth it. At the end of the day, it's up to you, the viewer. If you have equipment that can play back DTS HD Master Audio sound, I would say it's a no brainer.
Those of you that haven't dipped into the HD world of The Mummy as yet - what are you waiting for? click “BUY” now!!
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