Silverado on Blu-ray disc

Derivative, perhaps, at least a bit, but Lawrence Kasdan's Silverado is its own movie in the end, a mini-epic that's well worth your time if you're a fan of Western movies.

An ensemble cast brings this sprawling tale of love, lust, corruption and redemption in the old West to life. The movie opens with Emmett (Scott Glenn), in a shootout with unknown assailants while on his way to a town called Silverado to visit with his family. He's just been released from prison, we find out later. He, meanwhile, finds out much later who attacked him and why, but for a while he's in the dark. In reality, however, they're gunslingers sent after him Ethan McKendrick (Ray Baker), who Emmett had killed earlier.

On the road to Silverado, he comes across and rescues Paden (Kevin Kline), who was left in his undies to die in the hot desert sun by, apparently, the same gang that attacked Emmett. Together, they head out and, much to Paden's chagrin initially, though he gets involved willingly later, they spring Emmett's kid brother Jake (Kevin Costner) from the Turley jail where he's about to be hanged for killing a man in what he claims was (and which appears legitimately to be) self defense. They also pick up Mal (Danny Glover) a peaceful sharpshooter who is also headed to Silverado, in his case to help his family.

Silverado is a town without pity: McKendrick dominates the town and has set up his own puppet sheriff (Brian Dennehy), a former bad guy with whom Paden once rode.

The rest of the movie tells the tale of how this unlikely band of reluctant heroes – Paden, Emmett, Jake, and Mal, come together to save Silverado from McKendrick and his thugs and free the citizens to pursue happiness in the manner of their own choosing.

Sounds pretty cliché, doesn't it, but Kasdan, who co-wrote the script, doesn't let that ruin what's actually a pretty slick story, well told and well directed and which also features some darn nice scenery (and besides the landscape, there's also Rosanna Arquette).

The cast is terrific. Besides those mentioned, we're also treated to John Cleese as the tough immigrant sheriff of Turley, Linda Hunt as the woman who runs Dennehy's saloon, and Jeff Goldblum as a gambler who breezes into town just in time for all the shooting to start.

The Blu-ray features that "book-like" case that's becoming ever more popular, and which is in fact kind of neat. Besides the disc itself, the book includes – well, a book, or more accurately a booklet with info on the film, its stars, story, and the like.

The movie itself features a lovely 1080p transfer that, while grain is in evidence in places (especially near the beginning), is very rich and colorful. The blacks are great, giving the Blu-ray pretty good depth, and the widescreen (2.40:1) picture's superb detail shows up the fabrics of the costumes and other details like that, beautifully. In all, a very good transfer.

Ditto for the audio, which is presented in Dolby TrueHD. There's decent use of the surround channels and though the overall sound can be just a tad thin compared with today's soundtracks, overall it's  a fine effort.

Extras include "Movie Q", with features "live", in-the-movie info about the movie, and the disc is also BD-Live enabled if you care. There's also "Along the Silverado Trail", a historical commentary.

Not BD specific, but good nonetheless are "A Return to Silverado'" in which Costner discusses his involvement in the film, and there's a decent "Making of" featurette as well.

Silverado, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
132 min. 1080p widescreen (2.40:1), Dolby TrueHD
Starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Rosanna Arquette, John Cleese, Kevin Costner, Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan & Mark Kasdan, produced and directed by Lawrence Kasdan

The Dark Crystal"The Dark Crystal" and "Labyrinth" on Blu-ray disc

The Muppets Meet Tolkien & Lucas

Epic in scope and conception, "The Dark Crystal" is a live action heroic fantasy peopled (well, maybe not "peopled") with creatures from the late Jim Henson's universe of creatures. It's a marvelous attempt - and a wonderful Blu-ray - and it succeeds in many ways.

But overall, it leaves one wishing they'd have waited until they could exploit the range of computer graphics available now that weren't available then.

That's because, while the "all Muppet" cast is remarkable, they still end up coming across as puppets incapable of expressing subtle emotions - as opposed to the likes of Jar Jar Binks, Yoda, Buzz Lightyear and the like.

Still, you have to give Henson and Associates a lot of credit for even trying - and for achieving as much as they did. And to be fair, part of the reason for "Crystal's" ultimate ponderousness is the fact that it takes itself far too seriously, not that the puppets can't emote well enough.

Henson and fellow traveler Frank Oz (who also brought Yoda to life) directed this tale of Jen, one of the last surviving Gelfling, and his quest to repair the Dark Crystal and therefore reunite the evil Skeksis and the good Mystics into the single entity they should in reality be.

The movie looks terrific (as does the Blu-ray), with beautiful matte painted landscapes and a dizzying array of exotic sets and mythical creatures. The Gelflings are the closest thing to human to be found in this universe and some of the creatures will leave you scratching your head in wonder at how they managed to pull them off.

But in the end, a puppet is a puppet (even the pre-CG Yoda couldn't move his mouth completely convincingly, though on the whole he's more believable than the Gelflings) and as mentioned, the movie takes itself so seriously that it ends up being less fun than it could be.

The Blu-ray disc presentation is in 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), and the picture is very clean and sharp, with good depth. It's the best this flick has looked yet on video. The picture is excellent for the most part, though there's a bit of noise in places.

Audio is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and it's also very nice.

The new dics also features plenty of extras, including there new Blu-ray exclusives:

  • The Book of Thra - Dark Crystal Collector
  • ShekTeks' Crystal Challenge (a trivia game)
  • Picture in Picture Storyboard track
  • Introduction by screenwriter David Odell

There's also some repeated stuff from the last DVD version:

  • Commentary from Brian Froud
  • Making of Documentary “The World of the Dark Crystal”
  • Reflections of the Dark Crystal: “Light on the Path of Creation” & Shard of Illusion” Two behind the scenes documentaries with rediscovered footage from the Henson archives and new interviews with the people behind the movie

In all, "The Dark Crystal" deserves to be seen, if for no other reason than as a snapshot of the transition period from live action to digital movie making. If it were to be made today, it would probably come from someone like Pixar, and would probably be a better movie technically.

But Henson, Oz, et al did it first and pushed the envelope about as far as it would go at the time.

Good for them!

The Dark Crystal, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
approx. 94 min. 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD
Produced by Jim Henson and Gary Kurtz, Story by Jim Henson, Screenplay by David Odell
Directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz



Labyrinth, which teams Jim Henson with George Lucas, is a more satisfying fantasy than "The Dark Crystal" (reviewed above).

Not only is it just as ambitious, but this time around it manages to include some welcome humor, something that was unfortunately missing from the very dark "Crystal."

Labyrinth also features some real, human actors (and David Bowie, too), which gives the movie a more realistic grounding in reality - thereby making the fantasy even more believable, since you have some people you can root for instead of just puppets.

The story follows Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), an imaginative teenager stuck at home baby-sitting her baby brother when she'd rather be doing just about anything else. In frustration, she calls out to the Goblins to take little Toby away - then is stunned to find it really happens and she's then forced to enter the fantasy world of the Labyrinth on a quest to get him back.

Enter the fantasy part of the film, which is populated with all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures, some of whom are friends of Sarah and some of whom are hell bent to prevent her from saving the kid from the Goblin King (Bowie).

The production as a whole, from the sets to the special effects, creatures and performances, is spectacular - with the exception of Bowie, whose Jareth the bad guy is very laid back and restrained. Labyrinth needed a larger than life villain, like Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West, but instead it got a rock star. Too bad.

The script is by Terry Jones, of Monty Python fame, which may explain the much lighter touch on the word processor than was exhibited in "Dark Crystal." But there's still enough action and imagination to keep fantasy fans happy.

The widescreen Blu-ray is presented in 1080p, of course, with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack and the picture and sound are great, with nice blacks and depth on the picture and an immersive soundtrack. Extras include Blu-ray Live (Ho Hum), and "The Storytellers," a picture in picture track that includes interviews with Cheryl Henson, actor Warwick Davis (Willow, among others), and puppet people and creators.

There's also a commentary by Brian Froud as well as some very interesting features on how they pulled the feature off. Labyrinth, like The Dark Crystal, is a heroic fantasy that's well worth seeing - and is another terrific example of how Henson and Lucas have pushed the state of the art. Of the two, however, "Labyrinth" is the more satisfying.

Labyrinth, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
approx. 102 min. 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD
Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie
Executive Producer George Lucas, Produced by Eric Rattray, Story by Dennis Lee and Jim Henson, Screenplay by Terry Jones
Directed by Jim Henson

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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