I’m the type of guy who owns 3,000 DVDs, so when the two High Definition formats were announced, I used the HD wars as an excuse not to take the leap into a new format. But truth is, I don’t want to start over. And besides that, I’m pretty convinced that the future of movies is digital downloads and streaming (imagine a service where you can watch any movie released, anytime you want, for a $50 a month subscription fee… I’d pay it).

But then a couple weeks ago I found myself standing in the Virgin Megastore in downtown San Francisco debating on if I should buy WALL-E on DVD, or for a few dollars more on Blu-ray. It’s not that my home is entirely Blu-ray-less, we have a Playstation 3.I decided to pull the trigger and buy my first Blu-ray movie. And there probably aren’t many better choices than Pixar’s WALL-E. The visuals and sound are quite amazing. It would be hard to watch this film in standard DVD resolution.

After watching the film, I started watching the Cine-Explore feature with director Andrew Stanton. It’s an audio commentary track supplemented by concept art, animatics, video footage from production and various other stuff. It’s basically a visual audio commentary. I can’t begin to explain to you how cool it was to watch the movie in this new visual commentary mode. I remember watching my first audio commentary on DVD (for the movie Scream) and having the same feeling.

To me, the selling point for DVD was not the improvement in picture quality. It was the extra features. I’m not sure if that is the case with mainstream America, but most of my friends also made the jump due to the additional features. And it seems to me that the concept of extra value features is one of the reasons that America isn’t adopting the Blu-ray format as quickly as Hollywood would like.

WALL-E resulted in me buying a stand alone Blu-ray player. For me it was a reason to switch. But I have since discovered that not many of the discs are taking advantage of the extra feature capabilities of the Blu-ray format. Mainstream America doesn’t see the jump in video quality enough of a reason to buy a whole new player. And it’s tough for me not to agree, especially if you have a television below 36 inches. Hollywood needs to give mainstream America a reason to switch. And I’m sorry, the reason won’t be BD-Live features that allow you to record your own audio commentary and send it to your friends. If Hollywood expects consumers to pay double to price for Blu-Ray, they have to start putting some extra effort into creating value added content.

Blu-or-Not is a new weekly feature on /Film where I will take a look at the newest Blu-ray releases and tell you if they are worth the extra money. It is not my job to tell you if a movie is worth buying or not, for that you can read Adam’s weekly This Week in DVD feature. I’m here to tell you what your options are, and if a Blu-Ray purchase is worth the extra money. So lets get to it.

Death Race
Exclusive to Blu-ray:
Create Your Own Race allows you edit your own race scene using seven different video feeds. You switch between little video monitors on the left of the screen using your remote. The completed video can be saved or sent to your friends through BD-Live. This feature was actually a lot of fun. I’ve seen similar features on DVD releases, but they never gave you the control that you now have on the Blu-ray format.

Picture in Picture: You can watch the movie with picture in picture inclusion of scene specific behind the scenes video and interviews. While this isn’t as good as say the WALL-E Cine-Explore, I can see how this feature will improve over time. It’s quite cool to watch the action of a scene being choreographed right before the sequence plays out on the big screen. There are a lot of cool behind the scenes footage during the action sequences, and the footage during the talking sequences are extended or re-purposed from the behind the scenes featurette.
Digital Copy of the film for your computer, iPod, iPhone, etc.

DVD Features in HD:
Unrated and Rated Versions: Both versions of the film are included on one disc, but the director’s commentary track only applies on the Unrated version of the film. The Unrated version is 6 minutes longer.
Start Your Engines – The Making of Death Race and Behind the Wheel: Dissecting The Stunts: Your standard 20 minute / 8-minute Behind the Scenes Featurettes

Video: 4 out of 5
Sound:
5 out of 5
Blu-Ray Exclusives:
3 out of 5
Extra Features:
2.5 out of 5
Price: $39.99 MSRP ($30 on Amazon)

Bottom Line: The action scenes are worthy of 1080p, and the Picture in Picture feature make this one worth going Blu. Kids will enjoy the Create Your Own Race feature (heck I even enjoyed it for about 10 minutes) and the digital copy is always a plus. BLU

Burn After Reading
Exclusive to Blu-ray:
Nothing

DVD Features in HD:
Finding the Burn (5min), DC Insiders Run Amuck (12min), Welcom Back George (3min):
Standard EPK featurettes, shorter than usual and somewhat lacking.

Video: 4 out of 5
Sound:
4 out of 5
Blu-Ray Exclusives:
0 out of 5
Extra Features:
1 out of 5
Price: $39.99 MSRP ($27 on Amazon)

Bottom Line: The Blu-ray features are non existent, and even the DVD features are lacking. While I dug this film a bunch, it’s not the type of movie that requires incredible picture and sound. NOT

Polar Express Presented in 3-D
Exclusive to Blu-ray:
3D Version of the Movie is a Blu-ray exclusive, and the only special feature which is exclusive to the Blu-ray release. James Cameron has been well spoken against releasing films on home video using the old red and blue 3D glasses. He says it is a step backwards, and that it is detrimental to the public opinion of Digital 3D. While I certainly understand his point (the main thing being that mainstream American can’t tell the difference between the old technology and the new, and a lot of people still associate the two together), I must admit that watching the film in 3D on my 60 inch Sony DLP was amazing. Yes, the eyes began to strain pretty quick (something that doesn’t happen as often with the newer 3D technology) but seeing the snowflakes whizz by my head in 3D was an extremely cool experience. I can imagine how much I would have loved this if I were a kid. From what I understand, the red/blue 3D only words with some television sets. I tried the disc in a 19 inch 720p LCD television and while I could see some depth, the effect was not nearly as good. I’m not sure if this is due to the size or screen technology. I’m sure someone will set the record straight in the comments. But the bottom line is that 3D effect can vary from room to room and television to television, and even in the best environment,you will eventually suffer eye strain from the old red/blue 3D technology. One little complaint I have is that the popup menu is not formatted for 3D, so if you use it during 3D playback of the film, it becomes very jarring.

DVD Features in HD:
The disc contains a ton of different making of featurettes, which are all geared towards young children. They are hosted by the children characters from the film and are extremely annoying to watch. One of the more interesting features is the Flurry of Effects sequences which show five different sequences from the film split screened with the final film version and the motion capture sessions used to record those sequences. These segments are truly fascinating. I almost wish that Warner Bros included a whole extra version of the film where you could watch the movie using just the motion capture footage.

Video: 4 out of 5
Sound:
5 out of 5
Blu-Ray Exclusives:
5 out of 5
Extra Features:
3 out of 5
Price: $34.99 msrp ($24 on Amazon)

Bottom Line: With or without 3D, Polar Express is a movie that makes great use of the extra screen resolution. While the disc doesn’t contain any traditional Blu-ray exclusive extras, the 3D version of the film is exclusive to the Blu-ray release itself. The addition of this extra version of the movie is enough for me to recommend the Blu-ray version over the traditional DVD release. BLU

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