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Death Race cover

Blu-ray Reviews: Death Race

Originally published in Sound and Image, April 2009, v.22#5
Last updated 26 June 2009

Death Race
2008 - Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Ian McShane, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Max Ryan, Jacob Vargas, Jason Clarke and Frederick Koehler

Movie: 4 Picture: 4.5 Sound: 4.5 Extras: 5

Universal Pictures picked incorrectly. At the start of the high definition wars, it opted to go exclusively for HD DVD. Consequently, it has been the last of the majors to Blu-ray.

But, perversely, this means it seems to be better at doing Blu-ray than several of the others. That's because, pretty much from the start, HD DVD had all the advanced capabilities also intended for Blu-ray, but which the first couple of generations of players lacked.

So here I am with the first Universal Blu-ray I've had in my hands to review, and what do I find?

Absolutely everything. This is how Blu-ray should be done.

But, first, the movie. This is Death Race, allegedly based on 1975's Death Race 2000. After watching this Blu-ray, I rewatched the older work and confirmed my impression: the new movie takes from the old the concept of using cars as weapons, and nothing else. Which is just as well, since the new movie is a fairly exciting action piece with hard-as-nails Jason Statham as the man forced into being a driver, while the old piece is a camp, goofy number with moments of brutality mixed in.

There's plenty of brutality in the new one -- it's rated MA, and there is no sex -- and no goofiness at all.

The 2.35:1 picture is presented in MPEG4 AVC at 1080p24, and with the English sound track in DTS-HD Master Audio. The picture is dark and with little colour saturation, intentionally. The Blu-ray represents it well. The sound uses the surrounds and the subwoofer intensely, but not really in the inspired way that I would have hoped for in such a movie. I felt surrounded by sound, not immersed in the scene.

You get an audio commentary. You get a very different video commentary, implemented via BonusView PIP. You get a 'Tech Specs' graphical overlay in which you can explore information about the characters and their machines. You get persistent bookmarks, including loop sections. And you even get BD-Live. This allows you to download a dozen trailers (480i60), plus a bunch of user guides on how to use the 'My Chat', 'Movie Commentaries' and other BD-Live facililities. The trailer downloads paused at various points for up to a minute, as though a new chunk had to be downloaded. Repeated playings had the trailers pausing in the same places, suggesting that they aren't stored locally but downloaded on demand for each playing. After watching five, the data stored on the Playstation3 for this title was only 13MB: too small for the trailers.

In the 'Create Your Own Race' special extra, you can select from seven different 'Angles' of the one race any number of cuts to present your own version of the five and a half minute spectacular. You can do this multiple times, and your races will persist (but you can delete them). And you can share them with friends, and download your friends' cuts, via BD-Live.

These seven 'Angles' aren't really angles as provided for by Blu-ray and DVD, but seven sequential sections of Title 83. All that this feature has to store, or send around the world via BD-Live, are time pointers to cut points in this title.

So here we have decent movie with spectacular sound and picture, and imaginative and powerful use the advanced features of Blu-ray. I say: Universal, keep them coming!

Running time: 111 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 24.97Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 4247kbps (Core: DTS 24/48 @ 1536kbps); Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish: DTS 24/48 3/2.1 @ 768kbps; Commentary: Dolby Digital Surround 2/0.0 @ 192kbps
Subtitles: Japanese, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish, Chinese, Japanese (Commentary), English (Commentary), French (Commentary), Italian (Commentary), German (Commentary), Spanish (Commentary), Dutch (Commentary), Danish (Commentary), Finnish (Commentary), Korean (Commentary), Norwegian (Commentary), Portuguese (Commentary), Swedish (Commentary), Chinese (Commentary)
Extras: On screen Tech Specs; BonusView PIP Video Commentary (PIP: 480p24, MPEG4 AVC); Featurette: 'Behind the Wheel: Disecting the Stunts' (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD 2.0 @ 192kbps); Featurette: 'Start Your Engines: Making a Death Race' (1080p24, MPEG4 AVC, DD 2.0 @ 448kbps); Blu-ray trailer (1080p24, VC1, DD 5.1 @ 448kbps); 'Create Your Own Race' clip editor; BD-Live
Restrictions: Rated MA (Australian rating); Region Free

This is the video bitrate graph for this movie, generated by BDInfo 0.5.2:

Death Race video bitrate graph

This is the video bitrate graph for the BonusView PIP stream in this movie. It shows where the PIP windows appear during its course:

Death Race PIP video bitrate graph

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