From Jaws and Pacific to Prometheus and Sucker Punch, these discs rock!
Welcome to the second part in our roundup of awesome-sounding Blu-ray discs. If you're looking for multichannel platters that will test your system's mettle, look no further...
Forget the big rubber monster – John Williams' iconic score is the real source of the scares in Steven Spielberg's 1975 seminal Summer blockbuster. The deceptively simple shark theme is one of the most recognisable pieces of music in film history, now intrinsically linked to the idea of approaching danger.
The tune resounded around the heads of most cinephiles when it was announced that Jaws would be getting a DTS-HD MA 7.1-channel remix for the film's belated Blu-ray release, but anyone worried that the new multichannel soundtrack would spoil the movie's impact can rest easy. This is a very smart and subtle piece of re-engineering; one that opts to expand the soundfield and clean up the existing elements rather than reinvent the wheel. Crowd scenes now have an immersive feeling, ambient surround effects feel natural and (best of all) the score positively bursts from your speakers.
Dynamic. Exhilarating. Potent. None of these are words you would traditionally associate with a panda. But when was the last time you met a panda who was also a master of kung fu?
DreamWorks' hit animated sequel benefits immensely from the involvement of supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn. Building on the knowledge gleaned from working on live-action blockbusters like Saving Private Ryan and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Van der Ryan definitely brings his A-game to crafting what he calls 'the film's sonic tapestry'.
Tapping into the musical and rhythmic tempo at the heart of the martial arts genre, Kung Fu Panda 2's mix is a riot of surprising sound effects and cues that continually takes you unawares and puts a smile on your face (a prime example being Boss Wolf's attack on the Artisan Village). And the BD's expansive Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix recreates it absolutely flawlessly in the comfort of your own home. A kids' film with grown-up sound.
One boxset to rule them all? Well, that's certainly the case as far as lossless Blu-ray soundtracks are concerned. This must-own set includes the Extended Editions of Peter Jackson's epic fantasy flicks, each split across two BD50s to ensure optimal AV performance. Which is a good job, because this trio of bewitching DTS-HD MA 6.1 mixes deserves nothing less than the best.
The audio here is so unbelievably powerful and so unrelenting in its use of the full soundfield (that additional channel really helps envelop you) that your neighbours may think they're being invaded by hordes of Uruk-hai or in danger of getting trampled underfoot by an oliphaunt.
Amidst all of the trilogy's action, Tolkein's dialogue is given weight and perfectly picked out in the mix – when Gandalf bellows 'You shall not pass!' at the Balrog, you know he's not joking around. And throughout the movies, Howard Shore's memorable orchestral score is given a rich, rousing presentation. Spellbinding stuff that we hope The Hobbit can match.
Almost a decade after it unleashed Band of Brothers, HBO took us back to World War II with this equally brilliant 10-part miniseries. And, like its predecessor, The Pacific made use of some of the most talented technicians in the industry – such as supervising sound effects editor Benjamin L. Cook and sound mixer Nerses Gezalyan, who between them had previously worked on the likes of Gladiator, Kill Bill, Hellboy II and The Book of Eli.
Therefore, it won't come as a shock to discover that, despite its TV origins, The Pacific's gung-ho DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack does a remarkable job of bringing war to life in your cinema room. Tightly-controlled gunfire flies around the soundstage, panning effects are delightfully precise (you can follow the movement of planes by the audio alone) and there's no flabby bass to be found – just tight, impactful low-frequency effects accompanying every mortar shell. This is what war is good for!
Ridley Scott's long-awaited Alien prequel is one of the most accomplished stereoscopic films around. But there's no point in having great 3D visuals if your audio mix isn't similarly immersive. Thankfully, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix accompanying Fox's Blu-ray release is the perfect partner to the film's eye-popping visuals.
From the flyover of a primordial Earth to the final shot of that creature, this is one soundtrack that simply refuses to quit. The surrounds are continually engaged to breath life into Scott's locations – whether it's the sounds of computers on the bridge of the Prometheus or the dripping water and footsteps echoing through the tunnels of the alien compound, the mix never fails to make you feel you're right there in deep space with the rest of the cast. And this is just its atmospheric prowess – just wait 'til the more explosive sequences, such as the silica storm, to hear what this BD is really capable of.
Back in the early 1980s George Lucas' sci-fi spectacular was a mainstay of every AV fan's VHS or Betamax collection. Skip forward to the present day and it's much the same, only there are now six Star Wars films and they can all be enjoyed with DTS-HD MA 6.1 tracks in this impressive boxset.
We all knew what to expect from the prequels, and from The Phantom Menace's Pod Race to Revenge of the Sith's climactic lightsaber duel they don't let fans down with the scale and depth of their sonic delivery. However, it's the original trilogy that provides some of the biggest acoustic thrills. Here, the team at Skywalker Sound went back to the original audio elements and recreated the tracks from the ground up. The results are a revelation – sympathetic to the original material, while simultaneously bringing them into the modern age with dynamic surround effects and phenomenal bass response. The Dark Side has never sounded so good.
Director Zack Snyder had already treated us to a triple-bill of superior flicks (Dawn of the Dead, 300 and Watchmen) when he ushered in this surreal action thriller in 2011, and while it was a relative box office failure, its surround sound mix is reason enough to grab it on Blu-ray.
Warner Home Video's disc packs an intricate DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that dovetails perfectly with the outlandish onscreen action. As Snyder frequently moves his camera around in head-spinning 360-degree turns, or orchestrates his battle sequences in slo-mo, the audio follows suit. Effects are placed in every corner of the soundstage – from scraping samurai swords to whirling helicopter blades – and the LFE channel is in near constatnt use to add ominous heft to everything from footsteps to a rumbling train. Add in the guitar-heavy, pop-influenced soundtrack and you have an outrageous audio experience that's hard to beat.
Three things stick in the mind when watching this overdue sci-fi sequel: the immersive 3D presentation, Olivia Wilde in her rubber suit, and Daft Punk's electro-tinged soundtrack.
The latter is a treat for AV-hedz. Hollywood often likes to play it safe with its film scores, but the decision to hand the blockbuster reins over to a French dance music duo was utterly the right one – Tron: Legacy's futuristic soundtrack feels so natural against the backdrop of director Joseph Kosinski's stylised CG sets.
Although recorded with the help of an 85-piece orchestra at London's AIR Studios, Daft Punk's score is full of rich, synthesised bass and, through Disney's seven-channel DTS-HD mix (although the movie was released theatrically in Dolby 7.1), fills your room to bursting point.
The rest of sound mix is pretty nifty, too...
We're yet to meet anyone who doesn't have a soft spot for Pixar's comedy sci-fi jaunt, and much of the film's appeal – beyond the lush animation – lies in its scintillating surround sound. Hollywood certainly agrees, nominating Andrew Stanton's 'toon for original score, sound editing and sound mixing at the Oscars.
With entire sections devoid of dialogue, the work of audio engineer Ben Burtt is brought to the fore. On Blu-ray, this equates to a playful DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that raises the bar for atmospherics and pin-point accuracy. The desolate, windswept, future Earth of the opening act seems frighteningly real, while sonic effects, such as a clicking cockroach or Wall-E's robot voice, are startling in their clarity. Burtt famously went to extreme lengths to capture the film's array of audio tricks, utilising everything from a slinky to a 1950s hand-cranked generator. For some reason it still wasn't enough to bag him an Academy Award.
Check out Part I of our Blu-rays with Killer Audio roundup here.
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