Warren Miller has enjoyed a lengthy career putting out movies that highlight skiing, and has been filming skiing (and snowboarding, as we see in some segments here) for over fifty years (hence the title of the recent WM film, "Fifty".) The documentary filmmaker doesn't have the same level of involvement with his latest films, but despite being handled by others (although still released under the Warren Miller Productions banner), the films may not resemble Miller's great works, but still do a reasonably good job documenting the skills of some of the brightest stars on the slopes today.
"Playground", which is narrated by Olympic Gold Medal winner Johnny Mosley, goes to various locations to capture highlight footage (both skiing and snowboarding) that, to offer a compliment, is often IMAX-level in quality. "Playground" is not the first film under the Warren Miller banner to be filmed in high-def, but it is the first to be presented in the home on a high-def format, and the already gorgeous footage looks particularly stunning.
This particular title manages to go across the globe to cover skiing highlights, with locations that include such incredible sights as mountains in Japan, Alaska, the Northern reaches of Sweden and even a rather amazing indoor ski park in Dubai. In-between the footage of athletes flying down mountains and making daring jumps (and, as with previous films under the Miller banner, camera work is outstanding, as the action is captured splendidly), the participants profiled discuss their thoughts on their experiences and the sheer rush of trying to pull off astonishing stunt work on the slopes. The interviews are lively and fun, but aren't particularly memorable and really don't get too deep into any of the stars profiled.
A main complaint about the movie might be a pro for some viewers: the wall-to-wall hard rock soundtrack is a little overwhelming - while I like the genre of music, I think my issue was that some of these songs sounded interchangeable. The films Miller directed managed to offer stunning visuals and yet, have the friendly, low-key charm of a home movie. The more recent Miller films have a few funny moments and stunning visuals, but don't capture the same sort of charm and magic as the films were Miller was at the helm. Product placement is also obvious, although not to an upsetting degree.
"Playground" is a moderately entertaining offering - while not up to the standards that Warren Miller set, the film does capture some impressive highlight footage and the 100 minute running time passes by quickly.
VIDEO: "Playground" is presented by Shout Factory in 1.78:1 (1080P). As mentioned above, the film is the first "Warren Miller" offering to be presented in a high-def format. The results may not be flawless, but much of the footage looks jaw-dropping. Sharpness and detail are nothing short of outstanding - at least during most sequences - as fine details were often apparent and many scenes had a three-dimensional feel that was almost IMAX-like. Aside from some minor artifacting in a few scenes, the presentation looked as crisp as fresh snow and impressively smooth and clean. Colors looked bright and vibrant throughout.
The DVD, which is presented by Shout Factory in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, looks fine enough on its own terms, but pales somewhat in comparison to the excellent Blu-Ray edition. Sharpness and detail are very good, but look mildly inconsistent, with some scenes that offer very impressive depth and detail to the image and others that can appear a little on the soft side. Some minor artifacting was occasionally spotted, but no edge enhancement or other faults were seen. Colors looked fine, but lacked the kind of pop that they showed on the Blu-Ray edition.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The surrounds kick in for the blaring rock tunes, but otherwise, the "documentary-style" sound mix results in a largely dialogue-driven/front-heavy presentation. Audio quality was satisfactory; while dialogue remained crisp and clear, the music did seem light on the low-end, which made listening a little fatiguing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation sounded slightly muddier than the Dolby TrueHD presentation, but the differences between the two presentations were minor.
Final Thoughts: "Playground" is another romp around some of the great skiing/snowboarding spots of the world - it's gorgeously filmed, slick and basically entertaining. However, it lacks a certain charm and doesn't match up to the standard that Miller set before he stopped directing his films. The Blu-Ray edition offers considerably superior video quality and slightly better audio quality. Rent it.