Paramount releases more classic sci-fi titles on 4K disc
By Jim Bray
Paramount studios continues to enhance nerdom with a slate of 4K releases culled from classic and near classic franchise films. And in the process, they've given Star Trek fans a healthy dose of new 4K versions of the original series-related movies.
The ones I wanted to see the most were the original George Pal War of the Worlds, and the supposed Director's Cut of Star Trek the Motion Picture. Fortunately, I also got to take a look at the 4K versions of Star Trek V – the Final Frontier, and Star Trek VI – the Undiscovered Country.
Oh, and because Paramount kindly bundled a Blu-ray of George Pal's great When Worlds Collide in the War of the Worlds package, we finally get to see a good hi definition (not Ultra, alas) of this earlier classic.
Let's tackle War of the Worlds first – and I apologize to Paramount and you readers (you know who both of you are!) for the delay. These titles have been out for a while now, but life intruded and I had to take a couple of months away from the home theatre to deal with family issues.
But I'm back now, and loaded for bear – or at least aliens!
War of the Worlds was one of the great sci-fi classics of the early 1950's. George Pal and Byron Haskin's adaption of Barre Lyndon's screenplay diverges a lot from H. G. Wells' original novel, for example it's set in "present day" (1950's) America instead of Victorian England. It also plays with some of the other aspects; for example, the Martian war machines' tripod legs are eliminated in favour of war machines that float over the surface of the earth as if by anti gravity.
That latter is probably as much attributable to the special effects capabilities of the time (it's easier, I imagine, to float the things than to animate three legs on each one – Ray Harryhausen's prodigious talent notwithstanding – and he wasn't involved here). And it isn't as if Pal's war machines aren't terrifically cool anyway.
Anyway, this WOTW is still a classic and I'm glad Paramount saw fit to send it to 4K rather than merely Blu-ray (and why didn't they do this with the accompanying When Worlds Collide, which is arguably just as good a movie, even if it isn't as famous?).
There's probably no need to rehash a plot practically everyone is familiar with by now, either via this film or Spielberg's very good remake, various TV movies and series, record albums, and of course Orson Welles' fantastic radio broadcast that's included here in the supplements.
Quick diversion: I'm really glad they included the Welles broadcast here. I hadn't heard it for many years and upon listening to it again I was struck by just how masterfully he'd pulled it off. The radio play is structured like news reports interrupting an evening of dance music, and I can see how people freaked out about it if they missed the beginning (in which Welles makes it very clear it's basically a Halloween prank).
The 4K version of WOTW looks terrific. The movie always looked great, but I'd only seen it on TV, VHS and DVD before this new version and it's well worth the wait. Colours are wonderful, details look great as well, and the black levels are as inky as you'd want. It's a terrific upgrade. I wish it were widescreen, but since it was shot originally before Paramount had added VistaVision to its technological arsenal, I'm glad they left it "un-messed with."
Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio – no Atmos included (or needed, really) – and it's about as good as one can hope for from a movie that's about 70 years old.
The extras are terrific as well. Not only do you get a couple of commentary tracks, there are also some documentaries about the production and about H. G. Wells, as well as the trailer and the abovementioned Welles version.
To me, though, the best bonus is When Worlds Collide, which predated WOTW in George Pal's panoply of productions. The concept – we're all going to die because Earth is about to be smashed to bits – may sound a bit silly (though all the real life hoohah over asteroids approaching Earth certainly makes it seem more relevant), but the screenplay is actually first rate. It shows the best and the worst – and the most expedient – sides of humanity as they work to build an ark to save at least some of the human race from extinction.
Exactly why we should be pursuing space colonization instead of "climate change". Hey, some day our Sun is going to go nova, and it would behoove us to not be here when it happens! But I digress…
The Blu-ray looks and sounds very good, age of the source considered, but again, I wish they'd have given it the 4K treatment as well. Still, at least there's now a good video version available.
Then there are the Star Treks…
Paramount sent me the Director's Cut of Star Trek the Motion Picture, which I've been dying to see ever since I heard it existed, while the other two titles mentioned up top round out the "original series cast" of movies before the franchise got handed over to the Next Generation folks. V – the Final Frontier is often considered the worst of the Trek films, though after watching it again I found it had its enjoyable moments. Not enough of them, and too much "camaraderie building" between the three main stars, but it sure looks and sounds great in 4K.
Ditto for VI, and it's a much better movie than V (and l). It wraps up the Kirk years well, and hints toward the alliance with the Klingons that we came to be familiar with in The Next Generation (heck, even a Worf is on hand in VI).
Both movies look great in 4K (with HDR) and they come with interesting extras (I'm not sure if they're all new or ported over from the Blu-ray releases, but most of it is worth the Trekkies' time). Audio is also very good – though they're offered in Dolby TrueHD 7.1 rather than being remixed to Atmos (and that's okay with me).
Ah, but I was so disappointed with the Director's Cut of TMP. I like the movie and have seen it dozens of times, but I always thought it was more than a tad ponderous and even pretentious. And there was little of the chemistry between the main characters that was so present in the TV series and other Original Series movies. So, when I heard there was a director's cut, I was all in. Especially after seeing a Trek documentary series that hinted about director Robert Wise's unhappiness with the way the movie turned out. Would the Director's Edition be the definitive one I wanted to see so badly?
Nope. Oh, it adds a few minutes of running time, moves some things around, and even includes a few new special effects, but it's all gilding the lily because the plot is exactly the same as before, with hardly any changes made, and none that are of any substance (it takes more than tweaking the opening credits to impress me!).
Still, it looks and sounds great in this restored and remastered 4K presentation. It was always a great-looking movie and this is the best version yet.
Audio has been tweaked to Dolby Atmos, but it sounded just fine on my 5.1 system.
You also get an entire Blu-ray disc of extras, some of which are new and some of which aren't, but most of which are quite interesting.
I also received the 4K disc of Warner Bros. new Elvis movie, directed by Baz Luhrmann. I've only seen one other Luhrmann film before, his take on Molin Rouge – which was great-looking but inferior to the old, 1952 version starring Jose Ferrer and directed by John Huston.
Elvis, which is as much about his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) as it is about the star, is also a visual wonder, though Luhrmann's direction keeps poking through via strange graphics and stuff, and that interfered with just trying to enjoy the movie. In the end, I didn't think much of it, though the music is very well done.
The 4K disc, with HDR, looks and sounds exquisite, though, and if you're a fan of the film, this is definitely the way to see it. It also comes with some interesting extras.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray