Thursday, 14 May 2015

Generation Game: The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) vs The Last of Us Remastered (PS4, 2014)

Welcome to a new feature that will focus on games. And in particular, releases on two Blu-ray compatible consoles, the Sony PlayStation 3 and the direct successor, the PlayStation 4. The first one is a good one, it's Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic action survival game, The Last of Us.

When Sony announced The Last of Us at the end of 2011. It came as a shock to many, myself included, that the developer behind it was Naughty Dog, creators of Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and more recently Uncharted. The Last of Us is a drastic departure in tone and setting, and no one should have worried because it's a fantastic game.

The Last of Us got many plaudits, won over 200 game of the year awards and sold over 7 million copies on PS3 from release. Naturally, with it releasing just months before the PS4 arrived, speculation was rife about a PS4 version being on the horizon. Well, it did exist and was released a year after the original release. It was called The Last of Us Remastered, and was that, a remaster, an improved version of an already great game. So, the question is, what has changed and how much was improved?

Graphics wise, Remastered doubles the resolution of the original game from 720p to full 1080p. That's a nice difference, and there's also higher resolution textures as well as other bells and whistles that make a nicer, sharper, cleaner image. It also replaces the in-game character models with the higher quality, more detailed, cutscene variants.

The biggest difference however is the framerate. The PS3 version often dropped below 30fps but the PS4 version runs at 60fps but it does also have drops below that, but they're not as severe. The PS4 game also offers a 30fps lock option which feels sluggish after playing in 60fps. However, the 30fps option does improve the game in minor ways graphically, such as improved shadow quality. Though personally, I'll take the 60fps anyway.

The framerate difference is apparent when playing. Because The Last of Us is a game where you have to make every bullet count, the higher framerate allows for more precision in your shots. Another thing that helps admittedly is the much improved DualShock 4 that the PS4 uses.Though I do believe it can be used also with the PS3 version, but I can't say that for certain. Remastered also takes advantage of the Share functionality that the PS4 offers by having a Photo Mode which allows you to take screenshots of the game and alter the camera, add filters etc to create some wonderful imagery using the game.

Gameplay wise, it's the same game, except for the framerate difference earlier. Remastered also has a faster initial load time, I say that since there's no load times during gameplay except for when you have died but those are rather short on both versions.This is down largely to the PS4's way of dealing with game installs. It installs the whole thing to the hard drive whether it's on Blu-ray or not.

The big difference aside from graphics and performance is content. The original game came with the main story, which as good as it gets in games as of now, as well as the Multiplayer mode, which is far better than it has any right to be. The only advice I can give for that if you do play it is DO NOT RUN. It'll make sense.

Content is where Remastered gets its biggest differentiator over the PS3 original. In multiplayer terms, you get the two paid map packs, Abandoned Territories and Reclaimed Territories included. There's also a free map pack, Treacherous Territories, for both PS3 and PS4 as well but that was released after Remastered was released so it's a separate download.

The big DLC difference is Left Behind. Left Behind is a separate, also it was recently made available standalone, piece of story content where you play as Ellie and it explores her relationship with Riley, her close friend who is mentioned in the main game. There is two timelines, one set before the game and one during. The prequel part is definitely the better part because of the character development that takes place.

There's also an even harder difficulty mode included with Remastered, and is a paid option on PS3, called Grounded mode. Grounded reduces the on-screen HUD and makes enemies do more damage and makes resources even more scarce than Survivor, the default hardest difficulty. It's a mode for the most hardcore, I haven't tried it... yet.

Remastered also includes an hour long documentary on the development of The Last of Us. It's interesting to look at how a game comes together as it explores the various components of game development. The documentary is also available elsewhere but I think it's a nice addition.

Well that's all there is to it. I should probably point out that there's a The Last of Us Game of the Year Edition, which is all of the Remastered content, except for Photo Mode, on PS3, making this whole comparison a bit worthless. Oh well, I thought it was worth doing anyway.

The Last of Us is a fantastic game on either PS3 or PS4 and you wouldn't regret it on PS3, even if the PS4 version is the better version. If you only have a PS3 and don't want to fork out for a PS4 just yet then go for it, unless you really have to play the best version of any game.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Movies that aren't on Blu-ray, but should be

Many movies and TV shows have graced the Blu-ray disc format since it was first introduced to the public. However, not everything has, same with most formats in reality, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some movies that are wanted on Blu-ray. Here are a selection of a few that aren't as of writing available on Blu-ray.

Bad Boys 2

Like a broken clock twice a day, Michael Bay can make a decent movie.Bad Boys 2 is a film about Will Smith and Martin Lawrence having some played-up bromance, explosions (of course, it's a Michael Bay movie) and not taking things too seriously. That's why it's a good movie, well maybe 'good' isn't the right word, 'fun' perhaps? Anyway, the reason for it's lack of Blu-ray version is unclear, especially when you consider that the first Bad Boys film is available. Come on Sony Pictures. Please.

The Iron Giant

Ah yes, The Iron Giant, the 1999 animated movie that was based on the book The Iron Man, not to be confused with Marvel's Iron Man. The Iron Giant is a massive robot, and in the 1950s, when the story is set, it's a big deal. I could go on all day as to why The Iron Giant is a great movie, and worthy of a Blu-ray release, but I won't. Instead, look at that poster which is the DVD cover art, it's sublime. Brad Bird directed The Iron Giant, and he went on to direct The Incredibles, the one Pixar film that needs a sequel. Those are two things that should happen. Will they? Only Warner and Disney know. 

UPDATE: This happened. 

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy

Looking at this, you're probably thinking "the original Star Wars trilogy is already on Blu-ray", and you'd be correct, mostly. The versions available on Blu-ray are the Special Editions, the ones where certain things were changed with CGI for some reason, or changed for no reason like Greedo shooting first when originally it was Han. Anyway, the original theatrical versions of the original Stars Wars Trilogy would be an excellent addition to the library because they are the versions of the movies that many of us saw first, especially if you were around when the films first released.

However, it is extremely unlikely, not just because of the already released Blu-ray version, but because of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. This is because Fox still retain the distribution rights to the original movie and I imagine they would want a big percentage of the royalties for any re-release, even though Disney and Fox know that fans would pay a premium for the original theatrical versions on Blu-ray. Oh well, at least we can look at the great posters I put up above which came from the talented Olly Moss, who also did the cover art for Resistance 3, which is also great. 

UPDATE: Fox is being bought by Disney so the barriers to this happening are now gone. It's purely up to Disney and if it feels it's worth the time and money to remaster the original films. 

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie

I should explain this one. I'm in no way saying that Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie is a good movie, because in reality it isn't (I did think it was as a kid but I recently watched it again and it wasn't enjoyable to be honest, mainly because it's plainly obvious the writers and producers didn't know why the show was popular). The reason that I want it on Blu-ray is because I feel like I want such as big part of my childhood preserved on a newer media format. Ideally, the series would be remastered but that's incredibly unlikely given how many episodes there are, 60 episodes makes up Season 1 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Of course it would look dated now but as any early 90s movie with CGI that's just how technology works. The biggest issue stopping a Blu-ray release is like Star Wars above where Fox still has distribution rights and with Saban now working with Lionsgate on the new Power Rangers movie for 2016, it's unlikely that any deal will happen.

I know four is a strange number but it's an even one and so that is all I can think of for Blu-rays that don't exist but they should. One day, maybe... probably not.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Blu-ray Review: Team America: World Police (2004)

With all of the controversy surrounding Sony Pictures' The Interview, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as they essentially mock North Korea and their leader Kim Jong-Un. When the film was initially pulled from the US, Paramount had the idea of airing Team America: World Police in it's place. Since Team America also has a North Korean despot at the centre of the film, noise was made about that too and Paramount cancelled those plans. So, having it on Blu-ray, I thought now would be a good time to take a look and see how it shapes up.

Team America: World Police comes from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are best known as the creators of South Park. The style of Team America is very much the same crude humour of South Park but with marionette puppets, who are themselves in the style of old shows such as Thunderbirds. Except it's all done terribly, on purpose.

The Blu-ray release made it's way to the UK in 2013 and I am surprised that it has never been released on Blu-ray in North America. Which is ironic if you think about it. Luckily for those across the Atlantic who want the Blu-ray, it is region free so anyone can get it, at a premium though I would think.

The Blu-ray release is a bare-bones release, more so than most because it lacks any form of special features at all, which is very disappointing. It's very much a basic re-release that hasn't had any extra attention to it apart from the HD transfer of the movie as well as various dubbing options that it comes with, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Japanese. The picture quality is as expected in HD. Nothing spectacular but not poor.

As for the movie itself, well it certainly has a point to make. Team America: World Police is a team of highly trained people who fight terrorists the world over. Of course, coming from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it isn't that simple. Team America is an organisation that claims to be fighting for freedom but often makes things worse with their brash, overzealous attitude and their total disregard for anything that isn't killing terrorists, even if it means blowing up famous landmarks.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what Team America: World Police represents. The clue is in the title. Basically, Team America is Parker and Stone saying that America causes a lot of the world's problems and sees itself as this great saviour when it's not. They say it by using a comedy with puppets. As you do.

Well, the film. It's hard to explain without spoiling it. Well at the beginning terrorists are planting WMDs in Paris (Je Suis Charlie), and Team America turns up in, despite there only being five of them, a jet, a helicopter (which has supposedly kept up), and a cargo plane. That's a comment about America, pollution and wastefulness you would think.

In Team America, there are five members: two (and one former) of which are voiced by Trey Parker, who is very much multi-talented. These are all of the characters that he voices:

  1. Gary Johnston
  2. Carson
  3. Joe Smith
  4. Kim Jong-il
  5. Hans Blix
  6. Matt Damon
  7. Tim Robbins
  8. Sean Penn
  9. Michael Moore
  10. Helen Hunt
  11. Susan Sarandon
  12. Drunk in Bar
That's not including the minor character voices too.

The movie's protagonist is Gary Johnston who is a theatre actor who gets approached by Spottswoode (voiced by Daran Norris) to join the team after Carson died in Paris (that's a spoiler but it's necessary to spoil to say what the film is about). Anyway, after convincing him that he isn't going to put his dick in Gary's mouth, Spottswoode takes Gary to Team America HQ which is inside Mount Rushmore, because why not. There he meets the rest of the team that makes up Team America: Joe Smith, Chris (voiced by Matt Stone), Sarah Wong (voiced by Masasa), and Lisa Jones (voiced by Kristen Miller) and despite their efforts, leaves, to only then return and join the team. Team America also has a super computer called I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E (voiced by Phil Hendrie) who doesn't very intelligent at all.

Anyway, without spoiling too much, it ends up where the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G for short, yeah...) based on the Screen Actors Guild, a real thing, and Kim Jong-il team up to hold a peace conference in North Korea. The F.A.G is led by Alec Baldwin, to whom I get the impression Parker and Stone don't like. This comes from the fact that in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the Baldwin's house gets bombed. Members of the F.A.G include Samuel L. Jackson (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), Tim Robbins, George Clooney, (voiced by Matt Stone), Helen Hunt, Liv Tyler and Matt Damon (whose entire dialogue consists of Matt and Damon). The F.A.G is in the film because of the fact that Hollywood actors are often seen in political climates when they perhaps shouldn't be. That's all I can really say about the story without spoiling so you can guess the rest, or just watch the film.

Another thing that needs to be pointed out is how good the soundtrack. Clearly inspired by the action movies of the 1980s, with songs like the theme song which evokes those upbeat, can take on anyone type of song. It also has a message about how America sees itself throughout. The soundtrack is full of songs referencing others from movies and also take shots at certain things, such as one song called The End of an Act questioning why Michael Bay gets to keep on making movies and why Ben Affleck is an actor. Both very good points it has to be said. The soundtrack was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and if you know his work, it shows.

Is Team America: World Police a good film, or at least watch-able on Blu-ray? The lack of any special features whatsoever is disappointing but I personally like it, I liked it when I first saw it in around 2004 or 2005. It received a mixed reception but seems to have become a cult classic, which I'm sure Trey Parker and Matt Stone feel better about now than at the time of release, at it had numerous production issues throughout. Team America is a movie for those who like things that aren't too serious and incredibly over the top. One scene in particular encapsulates this more than any other. I'm not going to say which one but if you've scene the movie then you'll know the one. Yes, that one.

America, fuck yeah!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Blu-ray Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Movies based on video games have never been, well, any good to be honest. They often miss the point of what make the game likable and sometimes it's simply a case of the game not being the right fit to be a movie. In 1995, New Line Cinema had the brilliant idea of releasing a film based on the fighting game series Mortal Kombat. Mortal Kombat first released in 1992 by arcade specialists Midway and was so controversial, it was responsible for the forming of the North American games rating board, the ESRB. Mortal Kombat is also notable for: spelling things that usually begin with a C with a K, it's violence that led to the ESRB's creation, and also its lack of creativity because it uses "palette swaps", different colour character outfits, and turns them into different characters. Nevertheless, the series is still going to this day, thanks to Warner Bros buying it after Midway went bankrupt in 2009, and there's a new entry, Mortal Kombat X, that launches in 2015.

Anyway, the movie, is it any good? And is the Blu-ray transfer up to scratch? Well, I'll answer that by taking a look at the case that it comes in.

The packaging for Mortal Kombat is as basic as you can get. Expected for a re-release to be honest. It looks nice though, the front cover has the famous Mortal Kombat emblem on it. On the back, it gives you all of the various information. It also includes a spelling mistake as it spells the name of Raiden as "Rayden".

So what about the movie itself? Well, Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who also directed the first and several more Resident Evil movies, so he seems to like adapting games) is a movie about a tournament called Mortal Kombat. This tournament sees kombatants (see what I did there) from Earthworld and Outworld (kind of like a parallel universe) face each other to find a victor. After winning nine times in a row, Outworld ruler Shao Kahn has his lieutenant Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) host the tournament so that he can win the tenth tournament, which would allow Shao Kahn to invade Earthworld and take over. That's a video game premise for you right there.

Anyway, to stop this, Earthworld has to send three fighters to win the tournament and they are: Liu Kang (Robin Shou) who is looking for revenge after Shang Tsung killed his brother, superstar actor Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Special Forces agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson, now Wilson-Sampras, as she married Tennis legend Pete Sampras in 2000). They are guided by, who I personally think of as the star of the show, Elder God Raiden (Christopher Lambert). Lambert is brilliant as Raiden but as good as he is, it's slightly disappointing that he doesn't look like the character does in the games, like the Japanese thunder god that he is.

Anyway, each of them, except Raiden since he's a god he can't participate in Mortal Kombat, must fight their way through the tournament. In the tournament, characters from the games are the ones featured, including: Kano, Kitana, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Goro and Reptile. The characters all appear true to their design in the games, except for Reptile, who is made with terrible CGI. I suppose there's nothing that can be done about that, the movie has just aged. The fights in the movie are fine by movie standards but do lack the brutality that the games are known for, for obvious reasons.

Visually the movie has come good looking locations and the designs do take some inspiration from the games, as you'd expect. The High Definition remaster of Mortal Kombat is a competent one as the film is in 16:9 widescreen and the colours and visuals are crisper than in SD. Though there is grain on the movie which is a result of the HD remaster. Nowadays, films aren't used and it's all digital.

Sound-wise, Mortal Kombat supports 5.1 surround sound and it's clear enough. Now, I can't mention anything about this movie without mentioning the fantastic theme song and the remix. It's one of the best theme songs from a movie in my opinion and it's actually a shame that it doesn't get used in the games in some way.

The general plot in Mortal Kombat follows very much the typical action movie of the sort but with the story of the games being used to craft it. There are some differences, I think the biggest is that Scorpion and Sub-Zero and on the side of Shang Tsung. In the games, Sub-Zero is very much against him. Scorpion is neutral and only has one enemy, Sub-Zero.

This storyline is kind of expanded in the special feature that's included with the movie and that is an animated movie called Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins. It follows some of the plot of the movie, but it focuses more on added some information on certain characters' background. It explains characters like Goro, Scorpion, Sub-Zero for example. For these flashback sequences, it uses complete CGI, which is as bad as it sounds coming from 1995. The main story uses CGI backgrounds with hand-drawn characters. Why the difference I don't know. It looks dated and sounds it with the cheesy dialogue and bad voice acting. It was an interesting watch, but it wasn't good. This wasn't remastered either, which is expected. Also included is the theatrical trailer, again in SD.

The Mortal Kombat movie from 1995 is an action movie from the time, it's cheesy, over the top, has aged special effects but endearing in its own way. It's a fun, cheesy movie and surprisingly so a video game adaptation. It's aged, definitely, but that doesn't mean that it can't be enjoyed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Blu-ray Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Welcome to the first in what will most likely be the main type of feature that will appear on Deep Blu-ray Sea. A review is a common concept and shouldn't need to be explained but I will anyway. Basically, I will get a Blu-ray, whether it's a single movie, set of movies or TV show series and maybe games, but I have a different idea for those in mind that I will expand on at a later time when I have a full concept. I also won't be giving a rating or a score in my reviews, simply because of the fact I'd rather not do and prefer it this way. Anyway, the first Blu-ray to be reviewed is a new release, they won't always be, and it is Marvel's latest blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Marvel has seen massive success with their Marvel Cinematic Universe (It's really called that) and since it was acquired by Disney, has gone from strength to strength when many feared the worst after joining the house of mouse back in 2010. Guardians of the Galaxy is another one of from the back catalog of comics and has been adapted in a big-budget bombastic style. The Blu-ray release has now hit and now it's time to look at what's up.

Guardians of the Galaxy's Blu-ray release is standard fare. Not surprising for the standard edition really. However, it's a little disappointment that there isn't more than the minimum expected from Marvel and Disney.

In the images above you can see what you get for your money, pretty much the disc and a case. I wasn't expecting a 200 page art book showcasing all of the designs from the movie but maybe at least something about the next upcoming Marvel movies perhaps. The box does confirm some good things, such as the fact that it is region-free so you can play it on any Blu-ray player, no matter where you are.

Another disappointment is the lack of artwork on the disc. The blue disc looks uninspired and dull. Not really important but it just looks cheap.

So, when it boils down to it, the presentation doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Some care, hardcore collectors, but the majority will just throw the disc into the player and see what's what. Which is perfectly reasonable. The question is, is Guardians of the Galaxy any good?

The answer to that is yes, in short. In longer terms, it's good but it isn't perfect.

The thing about Guardians of the Galaxy, and it's the same for pretty much all of these recent superhero movies, is that there doesn't feel like there's any tension. You just know that the heroes will defeat the bad guys and that's that. No real drama or twist. I know this is not meant to be an intelligent movie with more twists than a Turkey Twizzler but at least have something. 

Guardians of the Galaxy follows the story of Peter Quill and it's 1988, a happy time for young Peter at the beginning as his mother is on her deathbed (that's a joke about it being a happy time). Anyway, Peter's mother (played by Laura Haddock, who plays Will's love interest Alison in The Inbetweeners Movie and Sam in the best UK sitcom no one watched, How Not to Live Your Life) sadly dies and Peter runs off struggling to take it where he is abducted by a space ship, of course.

Years later, older Peter (played by Chris Pratt) finds a mysterious orb which he retrieves and takes to a broker on the planet Xandar, to the annoyance of Yondu (Michael Rooker), who was the one who abducted him. On Xandar, the broker won't take it as Ronan (Lee Pace) has an interest in it. Dejected, Quill sees Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who tries to take the orb for herself but is thwarted by Quill along with Rocket the racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel, weirdly) who want to turn Quill in to Yondu who has placed a bounty on him.

Basically, they get arrested by Rhomann (John C. Reilly) and sent to the Kyln, a giant prison. There, they meet Drex (WWE wrestler Dave Bautista) and decide to work together to escape and sell the orb, no knowing why Ronan wants it. Other characters include Nova Prime (Glenn Close) and Nebula (Karen Gillan).

What works in Guardians of the Galaxy is the humour and the action, like many Marvel movies before it. The production values are top notch. The chemistry between the main cast is what helps enormously because if there wasn't, the whole movie would just be awkward. It's formulaic but it is good fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's unfortunate that the villain Ronan isn't anything special or even memorable, but in the grand scheme of things, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he's a minor character. And that's what this is, Guardians of the Galaxy is introducing the team to the masses and setting them up for bigger things. It's a good movie despite it's issues as it achieves what Marvel wanted to do, and that is a summer popcorn flick. Nothing more, nothing less.

In regards to the Blu-ray release, the picture quality is as good as any modern film release. The image quality is nice and clean, the colours pop and have a decent variety, and the sound quality is excellent, there is full 7.1 surround sound support. The fact that the film has a great soundtrack helps, it's full of 80s hits. The Blu-ray also comes with extras, such as deleted scenes. The deleted scenes are interesting because they are unfinished. The scenes show low quality versions of Rocket and Groot for instance, as well as some missing special effects. It's actually cool to see this sort of thing as it goes to show how late in production everything comes together.

Other extras include a director's commentary from James Gunn and an early look look at Avengers: Age of Ultron which releases next year, which I'm sure will be a massive success.

All in all, the Blu-ray the release of Guardians of the Galaxy is a competent, if unspectacular release of a good yet formulaic superhero movie. It doesn't break any grounds but it does what people expect, and it does it well.