We Were Soldiers HD DVD Review
Disc Resolution: 1080p, 2.4:1 aspect ratio
Display: Optoma HD80 (1080p)
Source Player: Toshiba HD-XA2
Reference System: Reference System 2
Audio Formats: 5.1 EX Dolby
Digital-Plus, 6.1 DTS
Video Format: 1080p/24 (2.4:1)
I nabbed the We Were Soldiers HD DVD early on since it was a pairing of Randall Wallace and Mel Gibson. That's as good as calling it Braveheart II as far as I'm concerned. It turns out the HD DVD video quality wasn't all I had expected (OK, it was downright disappointing), but we'll get into more of that that below.
Statement of Calibration
When reviewing HD DVDs it's important to have an accurately calibrated system. If the review system is not calibrated properly then it is near-impossible to know if you are describing assets or flaws of the disc, or assets and flaws of your reference display or audio system. In Reference System 2 there are several things that aid in the review process. The display (either the reference unit or a transient review sample) is calibrated to ISF standards (and in the case of the reference projector, re-calibrated at least once per month). The audio system is a known reference system - as are the acoustical qualities of the treated room. This means that if the reviewer encounters an audio anomaly, he'll be able to determine whether it exists on the disc or is simply an artifact of the room or listening setup. Without these conditions in place it is all but impossible to deliver a technically-focused review and we try to do our best to eliminate outside variables from what we discuss within the review itself.
Overview of Picture Quality & Noise
We Were Soldiers is what I would call a “ported” HD DVD – there aren't a ton of extras that take advantage of the new interactive features or abundant storage space afforded by the HD format. Audio options are limited (no Dolby TrueHD) and picture quality is rather average.
Note: Hollywood can't seem to just deliver a movie on disc to anyone. I find it ridiculous that pirated DVDs start promptly, with no mandatory FBI warnings in 3 languages or videos about how you wouldn't steal a purse. Of course the people who legally purchase DVDs have no choice but to be lectured. HD DVD seems no different except that the intro is about how great HD DVD is... Pssst, we know, we already bought the player – get it???? I'm sure as soon as HD DVDs start showing up on illegal download sites these intros will revert back to unskippable “You're a criminal, just admit it” intros.
On the American base of the 7th Calvary, during the opening scenes, the film quality is very grainy. For the most part this section looked no better than standard DVD. This level of quality continued until the troops arrived in Vietnam. For whatever reason I started seeing more shots at that point that I would say are more worthy of the HD DVD format. The graininess persisted, however, and was very noticeable throughout most of the film.
Black levels were actually outstanding as the scenes portrayed a good amount of depth without clipping the blacks. They allowed you to peer into the depths of the darker areas (for instance the night scenes) and check out detail that gave greater depth to the scene.
Colors were muted for the most part during the bulk of the movie, which takes place in a field in Vietnam. The few shots that occur in the US base give, however, you a glimpse into greater color, with the wives outfits sporting some very vibrant colors.
Audio Options & Resolution
There isn't a Dolby TrueHD track, though a dts 6.1 track and Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 EX track are provided. The attractive thing about this movie is that, as in Saving Private Ryan fashion, you know going in that sound is going to play a huge part in selling the movie. It has to in order for the film to be a success.
The opening scene with the ambush of the French patrol sets the scene by providing an exceptional glimpse at maximized use of surrounds and bullet shots/impacts that made me feel like I was in the middle of the action.
Once the Vietnam-centered firefight really gets going the surrounds literally exploded with gunfire. What was very cool was that the gunfire never really stopped throughout the film. Even when the scene quieted down to focus on dialogue or a dramatic moment you could still hear the firefight in the surrounds, albeit muted somewhat to allow the scene to have continuity. For example, in the evening scene when the Colonel speaks with Galloway (the reporter) the muted background gunfire and explosions were continuous and anchored you to the reality of the scene. Cutting to the Vietnamese bunker in a later shot, the sounds were further away and more muted, but featured enhanced bass to deliver the underground feel of detonations both nearby and in the distance.
Now, I never fought in a war, but I have fired many different weapons and the sounds felt authentic to me. It was, to be blunt, intense. Intensely intense. So much so that my jaw hurt from clenching my teeth after watching through some of the more critical scenes.
The extras on this disc are minimal. There is a commentary track by Randall Wallace, who was the Writer/Director, a Behind the Scenes featurette titled “Getting It Right” and 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary. The theatrical trailer and obligatory previews are also in the Extras section. Honestly, they wasted the opportunity to take advantage of HD DVD format and simply transferred the DVD content to the new HD format (albeit in higher resolution for the main film).
The menu system is simple and is arranged like a series of dog tags with barbed wire. This is one of the least impressive menus I've seen to date on HD DVD. Everything was easily accessible, of course, and the Extras (what few there were) were logically arranged within the menu. There were no “In-Movie Experience” options for picture-in-picture or any other advanced features that would take advantage of the new capabilities of the HD DVD spec.
I tend to just show the pics in this section – which say far more than I ever could in describing the types of imagery, detail and color you'll find in this film.
I would have been able to say that this was a benchmark disc for
audio and surround effects, however I feel that without a Dolby
TrueHD track that would be unfair given the competition. The video
quality simply left much to be desired. Extras were meager and rather
disappointing such that I'm forced to say that this might be a title
best picked up on standard DVD for now. Plot and story were
excellent, but my comments deal completely in terms of technical
merits of the disc. Save your money if you only want the best reference-quality HD DVDs gracing your software shelf.