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Blu-ray Reviews: Corpse Bride

Last updated 6 April 2010

Corpse Bride HD DVD cover Corpse Bride
2005 - Warner Home Video Pty Ltd
Director: Tim Burton/Mike Johnson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant and Christopher Lee

Movie: 4.5 Picture: 5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 4.5

Corpse Bride (HD DVD)

Originally published in Sound and Image, July/August 2007, v.20#8

Well, a short review for a short movie is appropriate. Still, in view of the fact that every single one of the hundred thousand plus frames of this movie was an individually shot digital photo, I think we can forgive the movie makers for keeping it down to 77 minutes.

Story: timid young man from neuvo riche family is to marry into aristocratic, but impoverished, family. Instead he accidentally marries a corpse. All this is captured as puppet movements in a stop motion process that provides such wonderfully natural motion, it's easy to mistake it for CGI.

The sound is in the format very common on HD DVD, Dolby Digital Plus (which the player kindly decoded to 5.1 channel PCM), apparently with the EX extensions for a surround rear channel. You should be able to access this when you have full HDMI v1.3 connections. Lip sync was immaculate, which is quite an achievement in view of the manner of production.

As for the video, with so much of the movie shot in dark hues, the clarity of the HD DVD killed the DVD. Marvelous.

There are a stack of featurettes on the disc, which really ought to be viewed for an insight into how this mini-masterpiece was created. And one odd feature is a disc-based 'Zoom', which allows you to double, quadruple, or octuple the picture size, and pan around it with the arrow keys.

Running time: 77 minutes
Picture: 1.85:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC-1
Sound: English, French, Spanish: Dolby Digital Plus EX 3/2.1 @ 640kbps; Music Only Track: Dolby Digital Plus 3/2.1 @ 640kbps
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras: 2x, 4x & 8x Zoom; HD DVD Promo (2 mins); Featurette: 'The Animators: The Breath of Life' (7 mins); Featurette: 'Danny Elfman interprets The Two Worlds' (5 mins); Featurette: 'Inside the Two Worlds of the Corpse Bride' (4 mins); Featurette: 'Making Puppets Tick' (7 mins); Featurette: 'Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light' (4 mins); Featurette: 'The Corpse Bride: Pre-Production Galleries' (13 mins); Featurette: 'The Voices behind the Voice' (8 mins); Featurette: 'Voices from the Underworld' (6 mins); Trailer (2 mins)

Blu-ray Addendum: Corpse Bride (Blu-ray)

Corpse Bride Blu-ray cover Warner Bros pictures started the HD home entertainment business with an agnostic view as to Blu-ray and HD DVD. It released some titles in only the latter, but most of its releases were in both formats. Until, that is, shortly before the plug was pulled on HD DVD. Warner Bros decision to go Blu-ray exclusively was one of the last few straws on the camel's back.

When I started doing my reviews, the plan was to do two HD DVDs and two Blu-ray discs for each issue of Sound and Image. That came to an end with the exit of HD DVD, so now it's four Blu-rays each issue. But I actually had both the Blu-ray and HD DVD of Corpse Bride at the time I did the review. I chose HD DVD to fulfill the quota.

So what can I say about the Blu-ray version?

First, the special extras are identical in every way, except that the zoom feature and the HD DVD promo clip are missing from the Blu-ray. These days, as extras have improved (all the extras are in SD), I'd probably only give 3 or 3.5 stars for them.

Second, the sound is pretty much the same. The HD DVD gets Dolby Digital Plus, whereas the Blu-ray gets Dolby Digital EX. Both are delivered at 640kbps and both give 3/3.1 sound, except for the Music Only clip on the HD DVD which makes do with 3/2.1 sound.

As for the video, they are identical. Absolutely, completely and indistinguishably. I explain how I've shown that right here. What it boils down to is that when I digitally extracted matching frames from both versions, they proved to be bit perfect matches. Any differences in the picture quality are either in the head of the viewer, or due to differences between the playback platforms.

Now, here is my review of the Blu-ray version, written for Australian HI-FI.

Corpse Bride (Blu-ray)

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, March/April 2009, v.40#2

Tim Burton's 2005 dark fairy tale (he has made plenty of them) is a truly impressive technical achievement. He 'filmed' this 77 minute piece entirely with digital still cameras, using puppets, physical scale-model sets, and stop motion animation.

Unlike much movie animation (which often runs at 12 frames per second), each of the 24 frames per second of this movie depict movement. So we are talking about over one hundred thousand photographs of finely adjusted physical objects. The result is the best stop motion animation I've ever seen.

The story concerns an inept young man who accidentally marries a dead girl. The story and characters are nicely engaging and the movie is a full-blown musical, with several decent set-piece songs. The underworld number is especially good.

This Blu-ray has been around for a while and released at the same time as a HD DVD version (Warner Bros went both ways on the new formats for the first eighteen months). It is almost identical in almost all ways. The special feature set is the same, except that the Blu-ray lacks the HD DVD's zoom feature. The VC1 video encode is the same for both versions. By the same, I mean absolutely identical. I extracted a number of frames from both discs and compared them. They were bit-perfect identical.

Where they possibly differ is in the sound standards. Both offer three languages -- English, French and Spanish -- and a fourth Music Only audio track. On the HD DVD all four use Dolby Digital Plus -- one of the new audio standards supported by Blu-ray and HD DVD -- while the Blu-ray gets standard Dolby Digital. In both cases the tracks get the EX 6.1 channel treatment except, oddly, the Music Only HD DVD track, which makes do with 5.1 channels.

Although Dolby Digital Plus remains a lossy format, on Blu-ray it can be delivered by a bitstream of up to 1,700kbps, so it's tempting to think that the HD DVD may enjoy better sound. But in fact the sound is delivered in both formats at 640kbps. I couldn't tell the difference. Both sound excellent.

I suspect that at its lower bitrates, Dolby Digital Plus is no more than a relabelling of Dolby Digital.

Running time: 77 minutes
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC-1 @ 18.43Mbps
Sound: English, French, Spanish, Music Only Track: Dolby Digital Plus EX 3/2.1 @ 640kbps
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras: Featurettes (all 4:3, 480i, MPEG2, DD 2.0 @ 192kbps): 'The Animators: The Breath of Life' (7 mins); 'Danny Elfman interprets The Two Worlds' (5 mins); 'Inside the Two Worlds of the Corpse Bride' (4 mins); 'Making Puppets Tick' (7 mins); 'Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light' (4 mins); 'The Corpse Bride: Pre-Production Galleries' (13 mins); 'The Voices behind the Voice' (8 mins); 'Voices from the Underworld' (6 mins); Trailer (2 mins)
Restrictions: Rated PG (Australian rating); Region Free

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

Corpse Bride video bitrate graph

Comparison: HD DVD and Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the HD DVD version of this movie. As explained here, the HD DVD and Blu-ray versions carry identical video.

At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the HD DVD version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian HD DVD. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

A dead giveaway of a recent high definition release is the titles at the start of the movie. The photography may vary in focus, but the immaculate clarity of titles is lovely with Blu-ray/HD DVD. Look at those little twirls at the top of the 'O' and the left of the 'A':

Comparison 1

This is what it's all about. Look at that neck tie, it almost looks velvety with the Blu-ray. Look at those MPEG artefacts with the DVD:

Comparison 2

Just look at the small vase. Only on the Blu-ray does this have sufficient detail to reveal naturalistic highlights and reflections, thereby acquiring a three dimensional appearance:

Comparison 3

Comparison 4

More resolution provides, amongst other things, more detail. More detail provides, amongst other things, more texture. That skull looks a lot better with its rock-like surface visible:

Comparison 5

And we'll finish with another couple from a rather colourful underworld:

Comparison 6

Comparison 7

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