When HD Disappoints
Before anyone accuses me of being partisan and picking on an HD DVD release, let me state for the record that Blu-ray has had a disproportionately high number of stinkers (Stargate, Fifth Element and House of Flying Daggers are just the first few that jump to mind) and this is actually all the more surprising because Universal's HD DVD releases have been so consistently excellent.
I'm a big fan of David Fincher as a filmmaker. The Game was released in Fall of '97 as Fincher's follow-up to his dark classic, Seven starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. Seven was remarkable in elevating such grisly subject matter to the rare trifecta- it was an artistic, critical and commercial success. This is something that hadn't been accomplished since Silence of the Lambs, and hasn't been accomplished again in the intervening years.
The Game wasn't as successful as Seven on any of those levels, but it's an excellent movie still, featuring standout performances from Michael Douglas and Sean Penn and virtuoso direction from Fincher. Prior to this Universal HD DVD, this movie had only received an early, awful non-anamorphic DVD transfer from Polygram. I was damned excited when I pulled this screener out of the package. Unfortunately my enthusiasm didn't last five minutes into this transfer.
This isn't worth making any fine points; this transfer is simply among the worst I've seen on either HD format. I know the film is dark, so was Seven. I kept waiting for a single scene or instance in which this transfer would clearly demonstrate its superiority to a respectable DVD. It never happened. While this disc is a big step up from that early DVD, I'm still waiting for a worthy remaster of this movie.
Universal is the only studio exclusively releasing its content on HD DVD. In championing the format it has promised to deliver over 100 titles to the market this year. This is in response to the onslaught of titles coming from Blu-ray's exclusive studios, which are numerous.
HD DVD has had two things in its favor to this point. By my own unofficial reckoning HD DVD has been far more consistent in providing top notch HD image quality than Blu-ray, and it's a mile ahead in offering compelling enhanced interactivity features. I don't think it will behoove the format or its fans to compromise on quality and try to win the war on quantity.