The Score Card


My Score Card, while more or less self-guiding, could benefit from a little explication.  Each category is based on a 10 point scale (since I seem to have been conditioned to think in those terms).  In each case, the closer to 10, the better.

• Movie

My score on a ten point grid for excellence in the art form, with allowances made for genre.  Thus, The Godfather, Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Samurai, It’s a Wonderful Life, Les Enfants du Paradis, Dumbo and Some Like It Hot all receive scores of 10, with Alien, Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Buster Keaton’s The General, close seconds at 9 points.  (I’m a tough grader.)

• Image

I thought it would be interesting to employ a grading system that incorporates both standard (DVD) and high definition formats (Blu-ray).  Such a scale should be linear and perceptual - where the size of the difference between adjacent numbers is perceived to be equal.  That said, I don't propose to make use of any measurement other than what I see with my video system.  I use both the projected image and images ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc in my determination.

The Image score has two numbers: The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray discs (or DVDs if I am reviewing a DVD.)  The second number places the image score along a ten point scale that includes DVDs as well as Blu-ray discs.  These scores are a reflection of the impression the projected image has regardless of how well it is transferred.  Thus problematic source material, such as Deliverance or The Stranger may be transferred to video in as perfect a representation as the source allows, but we cannot help but feel the result is not as good as it might have been when seen its ints initial theatrical run.  This is a purely subjective notion, of course, even an prejudice with little foundation.

Image Scores (second number)

10  - Cars - BRD/Disney

10  - Toy Story - BRD/Disney

9.0 - The Seventh Seal - BRD/Criterion

9.0 - The Host - BRD/Magnolia

9.0 - Good Night, and Good Luck - BRD/Warner

8.0 - Toy Story - DVD/Disney [10th AE]

8.0 - The Wizard of Oz - BRD/Warner

8.0 - The Illusionist - BRD/Fox

7.5 - Singin' in the Rain* - DVD/Warner [SE]

7.5 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - DVD/Columbia Superbit (China)

7.0 - Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade - DVD/Paramount

7.0 - Enter the Dragon - BRD/Warner

7.0 - Now, Voyager - DVD/Warner

6.0 - 8 1/2 - R1/Criterion

6.0 - Gone With the Wind - R1/Warner [CE]

6.0 - Bedazzled (1967) - R2/Second Sight (UK

5.5 - Seven Samurai - R1/Criterion [2006 edition] 

5.5 - House of Flying Daggers - R3/Edko (China)

5.5 - The Wizard of Oz- DVD/Warner [CE]

5.0 - Superman: The Movie - R1/Warner [SE]

4.5 - Bedazzled (1967)- R1/Fox

4.5 - The Little Mermaid - R1/Disney [SE]

4.5 - Seven Samurai - R2/Toho (Japan)

4.0 - The Stranger - R1/MGM (2007)

4.0 - The Natural- R1/TriStar [DC]

4.0 - Seven Samurai - R1/Criterion [1998 edition]

3.0 - Maborosi - R2/Emotion (Japan)

3.0 - The More the Merrier - R1/Columbia

2.0 - And Then There None - R1/VCI

1.0 - Jamaica Inn - R1/Kino

0.5 - The Stranger - FocusFilm

*"The Broadway Melody" sequence.

As an aside: while calibrating my brain for this category, I thought I'd try an experiment.  I went to see the last Pirates of the Caribbean installment, At World's End, at a local first run theatre, and sitting in my usual position about halfway between screen and projector, I tried to compare that image to the Blu-ray editions of the first two Pirates movies I had at home using my 100+ inch screen.  The angle of view was roughly the same in both instances.  After I thought about it awhile, what I observed was not so surprising: the image at home was much sharper.  But what the theatrical image had in its favor was SIZE.  And size is no small matter, even more than you might guess.  The effect on my brain when I graduated from a 29 inch CRT to a projected image onto a 100-inch screen was staggering.  The ease and readiness with which I was sucked into the drama seemed roughly proportional to the difference in size, i.e. about 10 times.  The new experience was relaxing, even hypnotizing.  Likewise, the effect of a theatrically projected image is just that much more seductive, +/- the effects of the presence of an audience, depending on the way in which they made themselves known.

• Audio

Until further notice, my remarks about clarity, dynamics and to a certain extent, the audio mix, will be made using my 2-channel audio system.  I realize this represents an unfair impression as to the intended audio mix, but until I find a surround system that remotely approaches the clarity and dynamics of my present 2-channel music system, I shall delay that purchase.

• Operations

Loading, Menus & Subtitles

Here I’m looking for ease of operation.  I don’t rate highly every attempt to make menu functions interesting.  Cool is good, but not when it requires a cryptographer to understand how to navigate from one point to another.  Subtitles should be placed and sized so that they are easily readable but don’t get in the way of the movie.

• Extras

Quality more than quantity.  I’m looking for features and commentaries that expand our notions about how movies are made - not just the mechanics, but the artistic decisions about casting, line readings, lighting, color, set design.  I take points off if they are not presented in high definition.

• Recommendation

The drama notwithstanding, we naturally respond to the quality of the image, whether it be in terms of size, sharpness, contrast, or saturation.   The same is true for audio.  This grade indicates the level of my emotional involvement as a function of the story, writing, acting, image, audio, and, to an extent, how the video image fares against the original theatrical presentation. 

Final Note

I feel it essential that serious grading of DVDs of theatrical films be watched on a front projection system.  Otherwise you are really watching television, with all its inherent compromises as to contrast and brightness, no matter how large the picture.  My suspicion is that we easily confuse content with process, and apply the same method to evaluating video.  A playback system is only so good at resolving differences, and when that ability is approached, the critic is persuaded by their response to content.

Up to a point, the smaller the picture, the less information can be perceived regardless of the resolution. (I understand that film is a more highly resolving medium than high definition video, but the difference in theatrical screen size and large screen home theatre should more than make up for that.)  No matter how sharp and highly resolved an image on a 36 inch CRT, you will see more information when the same image is projected with the same resolution onto a 100 inch screen. 

Part of the reason is viewing distance.  When viewing a CRT, we don't sit at the point where the mechanics of the display disappears and the image is completely integrated.  We sit much further away.  But with front projection, we usually sit proportionally closer than CRT, rear-projection or plasma viewing.  At such a distance from a large screen the image approaches the angle of view that we see in a theatre, with some of those benefits in tow.  On the other hand, the smaller the screen, the more we squint; the more we squint, the more left-brained our viewing experience as we try to make out all the detail we know is there, and so the less we can be emotionally involved.

Just a few thoughts on a work in progress.

September 1, 2007

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