Blu-ray BD-Java Reviews
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
There are only very few mass produced consumer products that can lay claim to being true works of art, and Disney's two new entries to the Blu-ray arena, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, may represent the best that high-definition discs today can offer, and as such can be said to have crossed the line into true art.
The care and love that went into the production of these discs are lovingly apparent in the beautifully rendered cover art and outer cardboard sleeve. It may be mere marketing fluff, but the inclusion of cardboard sleeves, and the use of artwork on the disc itself (which Sony in particular seems to have eschewed for its blu-ray offerings), give some weight and majesty to the actual product, kindling in the user a sense of heightened anticipation.
Each title is composed of two discs. A BD-50 disc that contains the movie itself and a BD-25 disc that contains all the extras. That's 75 GB of pure entertainment folks! :-)
Both titles are authored in BD-Java (BD-J), and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl features a new BD-J game called Liar's Dice. As an added bonus, Disney generously included in the package a glossy four page booklet that introduced the game and its rules to the new user.
The superior craftsmanship in these discs continues on with the actual titles themselves. Since the titles are authored in BD-Java (BD-J), it made me chuckle to see the usual Java initialization icon, in this case a rotating key that flashed "Loading" beneath it at the start of the movies.
The menu is a wonder, a visually stunning panorama depicting a flaming three-dimensional pirate's skull overlayed above a dark ocean cove, with island atolls hulking darkly in the background. The animated flaming skull introduces you to the title in an erie voice, and even admonishes you if you take to long to pick a menu item with the one-liner "Are you just resting on your oars laddie?"
Viewers who have watched Sony's Ghost Rider, whose lead character had a tendency to morph into a motorcycle-riding fiend with a similarly flaming head, probably wondered how Disney could get the look and feel so right while Sony floundered around and ended up with such a tacky and cheap looking version.
The Liar's Dice game can be accessed directly from the main menu, and you are greeted with a larger version of the flaming skull, which entices you to play the game. You can also easily switch back and forth between the game and the movie, a transition that is bordered by the rotating key. The title deposits you exactly at the spot that you left the movie, which means that you can play a game or two whenever the need arises without worrying about whether you'll need to find the right scene after the game ends.
This BD-J application is a seamless combination of animated scoring menus and live-action clips that were entirely created specifically for this feature. As the game starts, you are greeted by a rowdy host of pirates, including Pintel himself and Marty the Dwarf, as well as several other grimy looking men who drink, curse, and generally provide an amusing background to the whole proceedings. It's quite fun to see how many unique ways these rather scummy figures can insult you, and the faces of Pintel and Marty are so expressive that my wife and I found ourselves chuckling at the grimacing pair.
The feature also gives you the option of having the characters give a brief lesson on the rules of the game. I would suggest going this route as not only is the game somewhat complex for newcomers, but there are some funny scenes in this clip of Marty and Pintel as they suddenly realize that they're not eaxctly sure of the rules themselves.
The game itself is based on that scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest where Will Turner challenges Davy Jones to a game of dice. In this case, you will be going against Pintel, who is helped by Marty the Dwarf and his pirate friends, a boisterous abd ugly looking lot indeed. You and Pintel are each given five dice, which you shake, roll, and hide underneath your respective cups. You then take turns bidding on what dice you think are under both cups, without being able to see the dice that Pintel has hidden. What makes the game more challenging is that each successive bid must increase in either quantity (for example, from 1 to 2) or in die value (for example, from the five dice to the six dice), or in both. If you believe Pintel is bluffing, then you can call him a liar and both of you reveal your remaining dice.
So, how does Liar's Dice measure up?
First, a big kudos to Disney for taking the time to create exclusive clips for the making of this feature. The clips were funny, and there were enough of them that unless one played the game many times, it really seemed as if the characters were interacting with you, especially since for each alternative event, the developers shot different scenes. For example, if you tarry too long with your move, Pintel blurts out several different one-liners, including:
"Take your turn before I take it from you!"
"Be smart now...or Davy Jones be growing a new barnacle before this game end!"
"I'll kill(?) your scurvy bones if you don't take your turn soon mate!"
I found myself playing the game repeatedly simply to see whether I could spot some new clip that I hadn't seen before.
Second, the game itself is complex enough that people can enjoy playing it repeatedly. My wife got into the spirit of the game very easily, and delighted in outwitting Pintel and his crew, although she did note that some of the clips were repeating themselves. The ability to move seamlessly betwewen the movie and the game was very convenient, and we found ourselves switching between the game and the movie repeatedly whenever we felt the need.
Third, game play using the Playstation 3 was very fast and smooth, and the transition between clips and animated sequences in the feature was nearly seamless, although the characters had a tendency to freeze for maybe a second when animated scoring menus popped up.
Finally, I think making features like this where extra clips are used as part of the package is a great way to get viewers more into the spirit of the title itself. I did not care about that dice game played by Will Turner and Davy Jones in the movie when i first saw it (mainly because I had no idea what the rules were), but now that I have played the game, i find myself replaying that scene to see whether I can pick up on the game flow.
Deeply enmeshed BD-J applications like this, which tie in with the storyline and allow people to delve more deeply into the culture of the movie, are more enjoyable than features which have somewhat more tenuous connections to the subject matter.
This is not to say the feature was perfect, since there were some things that might have been improved. For example, when everyone shows their dice, you are given only a second or two to register Pintel's dice. This is not a fatal problem, but it certainly was annoying.
Beyond the minor points though, there are also some other factors to consider in the wider scheme of things. Disney did a superb job of working within the current limitations of the Blu-ray players that are currently in the market. Although Playstation 3 owners generally had no difficulties with the movie or its features, there were some people with standalone Blu-ray players who reported problems playing the BD-J authored main disc. Fortunately, such problems were remedied by upgrading to the latest firmware. By comparison, an unofficial poll of Matrix Hd-DVD owners showed that an incredible 33% of people reported having serious problems with the HD-DVD movie beyond simple firmware updates, with many having to return and get new copies (which hopefully would not have the same serious problems).
The lack of certain BD-J functionality in current players may have also imposed limitations in the engineering of the Liar's Dice feature. For example, a couple of viewers voiced the opinion that it would have been "supercool" if they could somehow play the game against human opponents (something that would necessitate the existence of BD-Live and mandatory network connectivity in all Blu-ray players), and some suggested the capability of uploading the results of their play onto a central server, so players can compare their results to others.
Indeed, one can only wonder how much more entertaining and useful the Disney offerings might become once the BD-J specs have been fully and correctly implemented in the various second generation Blu-ray players. Until then, one has to admire the ingenuity and tenacity of Disney in fully exploring and mapping the current boundaries of BD-J development. Bravo!
NOTE: All images in this article are copyright to Buena Vista Home Entertainment.. They are not meant to correctly depict the actual representation of the movie in high-definition.