The disc is, or course presented by BVHE, a studio who has absolutely not let us down so far. Pretty much every transfer they have brought to us so far on Blu-ray has not let us down. Kill Bill Volume One, therefore, has a lot to live up to. And whilst it is most certainly NOT the unblemished transfer that some are saying, it is a very long way indeed from being a disappointment.
The problem here, and the reason why I just cannot award it a perfect mark, is the inconsistency on display. Previous releases like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, for example, have blown me away - but at no point does Kill Bill Volume One have the same effect. When it is good it is very good, but some scenes really do let the side down.
First, the good stuff. Generally throughout the film the sharpness, clarity, and detail is absolutely superb. There is no doubt that you will see things in this transfer that you simply haven't seen before. Whether it be individual beads of sweat on character's faces, or the intricate detail on the Hanzo sword - there is much here that amazes. A perfect example of this is the aftermath of the “House of Blue Swords” scene. The very last fight takes place in a back room, with the characters silhouetted against a blue background. It was always a beautifully filmed scene, and on Blu-ray it pops off the screen - the detail in the shadowed characters and the contrast against the blue background is searing. It is a beautiful scene.
What follows is equally impressive but in a different way. The final showdown takes place outside the house of blue light in a snowy garden. In this scene there are several shots from ground level taken way back from the action. Every snow flake can be clearly seen, and even with the characters so far away, the level of detail is still clear. At moment like this Kill Bill Volume One does impress. And these are not the only moments. Check out the rain on the window when the bride is on her hospital bed, for example.
The transfer has to cope with a lot of different styles, and the main body of the film is shot with deliberately over saturated colouring. The transfer does an excellent job of rendering these, and despite the style being not to this reviewers taste - you cannot blame the transfer for that. Likewise, when black and white scenes appear - when the objects are stationary (such as the opening scene) the result is truly amazing. The anime scenes too are a revelation - clear and bright.
But there ARE areas of disappointment here. Mainly it is in the lack of facial detail in some scenes. It is hard to put a finger on why but whereas in some scenes you feel you could reach out and touch the faces, in others it seems little better than SD. I also noticed some softness in the picture on occasion - noticeably in some of the earlier scenes in the pussy wagon, and the first fight scene.
Anyone considering whether to purchase this disc should certainly not be put off by the above observations. This is certainly a serious leap over the SD disc, and at times is level with the best our format has to offer. Just expect a few scenes, especially early on in the film, to not quite hit the standards of the rest of the transfer. This, to me, is why it is a “very good” transfer rather than a “perfect” one.
Again, let's start with the good stuff. Tarantino has always viewed music as an essential part of a film, and here the music absolutely sounds fantastic. Everyone knows the track that kicks in when O-Ren Ishii and her cohorts enter The House of Blue Shadows, and in this mix it really stands out. Other tracks as well have much added punch and dynamism in this mix.
Additionally dialogue is clear and precise all the way through. Even the most mumbled dialogue is easy to hear throughout without any alteration to the levels. The sub also gets an excellent workout - perhaps a little too much LFE though, as I had to alter the levels on the sub to get the best out of this soundtrack.
Front separation, too, is excellent. The front speakers are used fantastically to create atmosphere, with effects panning across the soundstage in perfect accompaniment to the action.
So, why am I disappointed? In two words, the rears! The film starts really promisingly. As The Bride lies on the floor prior to being shot, the film opens with her heavy breathing, and the sound circles the room, getting progressively more urgent and laboured. It is an amazing effect, and a perfect example of what good sound design can do.
Sadly, we rarely hear the rears in use again. Apart from some ambient effects during the odd thunderstorm, and the arrival of the bikers at The House of Blue Light (an amazing effect) it is almost as if there are no rears at all. This is extremely disappointing, and I feel a lot more could have been done here.
Kill Bill Volume One has been eagerly awaited on Blu-ray since it was announced and the first thing to clarify is that as expected you are only getting the international cut. If you are holding out for the full Japanese cut then you need to wait a bit longer.
Finally we get The Making of Kill Bill Volume 1. Lasting 22 minutes, this really is a bit of a puff piece. Short on great detail, this is worth a watch but is unlikely to last repeated viewings.
If you are not prepared to wait, though, then what will you get if you purchase now? Well, you will get Tarantino's most underrated film. Full of outrageously clever scenes, and shot by a director on top of his game - the film delivers in spades. Yes, it is violent - but in a cartoonish way that is unlikely to cause too much offence, at least to this reviewer. So, if you have never checked out the film before, then it comes highly recommended. Unless you are the ultimate film geek, the cuts do not affect the film one iota - and this is easily the best presentation there has been yet. It is light years ahead of the SD version.
Upgrading is also an easy choice. There may well be the odd scene that it is not up to scratch with the picture, but generally the video transfer is excellent, and you will see detail here that you have never seen before. The audio is less of an obvious upgrade. Don't get me wrong - it IS an upgrade, but I just feel that better use could have been made of the entire sound field. The extras, though, are exactly the same as the SD release.
True devotees of the film may want to wait until the uncut Japanese film comes out, but I would urge even those to bite the bullet now. We might never see that cut in Hi Definition - and even if we do it is sometime away. In the meantime Kill Bill Volume 1 is another excellent release from BVHE and is well worth the investment, for both newbies and hardcore fans alike.
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