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For the first wave of Blu-Ray releases, Sony's selections were mainly action films with a couple of chick-flicks thrown in to placate the wives. One of those was the Will Smith vehicle from 2005, Hitch. An amusing film, it has a simple plot that's funny with endearing characters while not being too emotional or melodramatic making it acceptible by both genders. While the film was a nice choice for Blu-Ray release, the reproduction wasn't what I was expecting. With a soft picture that has a lot of grain, this isn't a reference quality disc.
Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) or 'Hitch' for short, has a unique business: he's a date doctor. If you're a man who has found the woman of your dreams but can't get her to notice you, Hitch will take care of it. He coaches his clients in the ways of love and women, offering sound advice that would work in real life too. (When she's talking, listen to what she's saying and respond. Be yourself. Don't spend the evening staring at her breasts and imagining what she looks like in the nude.)
Hitch's biggest challenge comes in the from of Albert (Kevin James), an overweight nerdy accountant. Not only is Albert's physical appearance and social skills lacking, but the object of his desire is a famous heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Think of someone who looks like Norm from cheers with the warmth of Cliff (from the same show) wanting to date Paris Hilton. Hitch is up to the challenge however, and sets out to do his majic.
Meanwhile Hitch himself has been hit by cupid's arrow. Sara (Eva Mendes) is the gossip columnist for a New York Daily paper who's famous around the office for being un-datable. When she and Hitch meet in a bar, the date doctor is intrigued and puts his skills to work. Thing are going well for both couples until Sara starts digging into how Allegra Cole ended up dating a guy like Albert, an investigation that will lead right to her boyfriend.
This was a simple, if ultimately forgettable, film that would be good for a date. Will Smith has some funny lines and makes some interesting observations of both men and women. No matter what movie Smith appears in, he's smooth and this one in no exception. He has a lot of screen presence and is quite believable. You can easily see the handsome and debonair Smith knowing just what to say and do to get a lady to let down her guard long enough to be swept off her feet.
The stand-out performer in the show is Kevin James though. He steals every scene he's in as the lovable but socially and physically inept Albert. The highlight of the film is when Albert shows Hitch how well he can dance, hamming it up before the camera without being too over the top.
The film isn't deep by any means and it's pretty predicably. It has all of the romantic comedy plot points that by now have become cliched including Sara having a homosexual man as a good friend, men who are pigs and just want to sleep with women, and a misunderstanding between the main characters that breaks up the couple near the end. Even with these, it was an enjoyable film that works more often than it doesn't.
I have to admit that I was underwhelmed by the image quality of this disc. It does look better than the standard definition DVD, but just by a bit. I was really hoping for an eye-popping disc that would make me feel proud to have dropped a large wad of cash on a first generation player, and that's not what I got.
The first thing that struck me about the widescreen (2.35 : 1) image was how soft it appeared. The lines weren't as sharp and well defined as I was hoping. Small details still blend together like the texture of Eva Mendes' hair when she's talking to Hitch on the walkie-talkie that he's sent her.
Another surprising thing was the amount of grain, or possibly digital noise, that was present in the picture. Large fields of a solid color, such as the sky over New York City, weren't uniformly solid and even, there was a texture to them caused by the grain. These large areas would also move, ever so slightly, which surely wasn't what the director intended.
On the positive side, some details were easier to discern in this high definition version of the movie. A good example of this is the scene in the conference room where Albert is able to 'shock and awe' the woman of his dreams. There are several closeups of Amber Valletta that show details of her face, slight freckles and texture, that weren't noticeable in the SD DVD. While this is good, if you freeze on a frame and look at it carefully, viewers will also notice some slight posterization, where the colors on her face change in computer generated steps, rather than a gradual change.
The blacks were deep and solid, which was very nice to see, but sometimes details were lost in these dark areas. Will Smith's hair was often a single colored shape with no texture or depth to it. Eva Mendes's black jacket seems to merge with her dark blue Beatles shirt in her introductory scene too. This was a more minor problem than the others that were mentioned, but it was disappointing to see none the less..
In all, while this is a very nice looking disc when compared to a standard DVD, it is not an outstanding example of the possibilities of high definition video. The image isn't as sharp and defined as it could be, there is posterization in places (probably a result of the MPEG compression that is being used) and details are sometimes lost in dark areas. I predict that years from now this disc will be regarded as only having only average video quality when compared to other Blu-Ray discs, and that's how I'm rating it.
Am I being hard on this disc? Yes I am. I wouldn't have spent the time and energy critiquing a regular DVD to this extent, and if it was a SD DVD it would have gotten high marks. The thing is, this isn't a regular DVD. It's the next generation of digital video and as such it should be judged to a higher standard. It's obvious that Sony is still having a bit of trouble mastering discs for their new system, and that's not totally unexpected.
Like the video quality, the audio is nice and solid, but nothing that's significantly better than what's on the original release. The disc comes with a uncompressed PCM audio track, an English DD 5.1 track and a 5.1 French dub. The film is dialog based and as such most of the soundtrack is centered on the screen. There is some use of the front soundstage, and occasionally the rears, but there's not a lot going on with this mix. The audio is clean and clear and free from distortion of other audio defects, and there is good range with the background music sounding very good. An appropriate track for a movie of this type, it won't impress anyone but it does its job.
When the HD formats were first announced, I predicted that these early titles would have new and exciting bonus material to give people an incentive to make the jump to a new system. While I still think it would be a cheap and easy way to sell some players and discs, apparently Sony doesn't. There aren't any bonus items on this disc that weren't on the SD version, in fact, several featurettes that were on the regular version are omitted from this Blu-Ray disc. Thanks a lot Sony.
Another slap in the face to early adopters of this format is the fact that the extras, all in 4:3 format, are stretched to fill a 16:9 picture. I assume that this is the fault of the Samsung BD-P1000 player and not the DVD, but without another player to compare it with it's hard to be certain.
This disc comes with two featurettes, Dance Steps Made Easy, a behind the scenes look at the filming of the segment where Kevin James shows Will Smith his dance moves, and Dating Experts, which talks about the dating themes of the film. There is also a four-minute gag reel as well as three trailers. All of these bonus items seemed to be taken straight off of the SD version were not in high definition..
This is a fun, low impact movie that's great for a date of casual evening in. While the Blu-Ray disc does look better than the standard definition DVD, it's only marginally better. Add to that the fact that Sony left off several bonus items that were included with the original release, and it makes it hard to recommend upgrading. If you don't have a copy yet, based on the strength of the film and the slight improvement in video quality, this disc gets a light-hearted recommendation.