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Out of This World Demo Scenes

July 23, 2010 By Dennis Burger

Click the images below for bigger versions:
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Fabulous Mr. Fox
Red Dead Redemption

Escape from reality with these truly transcendental Show-Offs discs
With the unbridled verisimilitude of 1080p and uncompressed multichannel surround sound, the home theater experience at times verges on being unflinchingly lifelike. Sure, there’s a lot of appeal in that, but sometimes you might just want to be transported to another reality altogether.

With that in mind I give you four favorite Show-Offs that don’t just peel back your eyelids or rattle your naughty bits, they take you to another place entirely.

Avatar (Blu-ray)
Best Chapter: 11—“Neytiri”


If you’re one of the four people worldwide who didn’t see Avatar in the cinema, close the magazine, go buy the Blu-ray, and thank me later. (Just be sure to come back when you’re done!) For those of you who saw it theatrically and passed on the Blu-ray for fear that it wouldn’t compare to the gigantic 3Di experience, fear no more. James Cameron’s sci-fi opus may have lost the eye-straining, nausea-inducing stereoscopic imagery on the journey home, but the Blu-ray more than makes up for that with a bolder, more vibrant picture.

The film is so replete with stunning action sequences you could skip to any chapter at random and be guaranteed a Show-Off experience like no other. The ecological destruction that dominates the last half of the film is heartbreaking, to be sure, but it’s hard to deny how breathtaking the razor-edged 1080p transfer and hyperactive DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack are. Before you can give two rips about the destruction of Pandora, though, you need to crawl into the world—really immerse yourself in the gigantic alien jungle in which the story unfolds. And there’s no better scene to make you believe you’ve woken up on a wild new world than the heart-stopping first meeting between the film’s two big, blue protagonists.

It starts off with a wildlife tussle that’d make Bear Grylls wet ’em, but in what may be a Show-Offs first, I’d suggest that you zip past the action and get to the talky bits if you really want to wow your guests. The imagery is astounding: a dense, exotic jungle at night, lit only by bold, bright, beautiful bioluminescence—every cool color of the rainbow springing forth from the foliage like nature’s own neon sign, while the soundtrack weaves a tapestry of chirps and clicks and gurgles and swishes that build a bubble of aural almost-reality around your head.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Blu-ray)
Best Chapter: 14

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

If ever there’s an award for Best Creator of Wacky, Weird, Wonderful Worlds You Just Want to Climb Into and Explore, it’ll be a shame and a sin if former Python Terry Gilliam doesn’t win it. If Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen didn’t seal that deal, then Parnassus (a welcomed return to form for the director) most certainly will.

Unfortunately for the spoiler-phobic, the film’s most immersive moments are at its climax, but the plot is so twisty-turny that chances are you won’t have a clue what’s going on if you skip right to the good stuff without having seen the film first. The aesthetic here is classic Gilliam, especially as Lily Cole’s character flees from dream into nightmare and the fabric of unreality starts to fall apart toward the end of the chapter.

But what really sells it is the audio: the crumbling landscape and Wonderland-like tunnels of broken glass onscreen wouldn’t have nearly the same impact if the soundtrack didn’t build them out of whole cloth in the air around your head. Close your eyes and you’ll still be transported wholly into the trippy world of Gilliam’s imagination.

The Fabulous Mr. Fox (Blu-ray)
Best Chapter: 5—“Mr. Fox Has A Plan”    

The Fabulous Mr. Fox

Speaking of building worlds out of whole cloth (although in a more literal sense this time), you might think it would be difficult to get truly lost in the completely handcrafted world of this quirky little stop-motion animated film. Au contraire—the Blu-ray boasts such a deliciously detailed picture that even with the stuttering animation and obviously small scale you can’t help but be drawn into the autumnal, arboreal environs of Mr. Fox and his companion critters in crime. Every frame is positively packed with such rich textures that you’ll swear your screen wall has been replaced by cotton and cashmere and calico and corduroy.

Check out Chapter 5 to see what I mean: every frame of these few minutes of film bursts with a million and one details, from the individual hairs on the foxy little puppets to the ultra-fine thread counts of the clothes they’re wearing. Don’t be surprised if you have to fight the urge to rub your cheek on Ash’s outfit, pet Agnes’ pretty little dress and pick the threads on Beaver’s Son’s jersey. Even the blatant animation tricks (polyfill fluff filling in for fire extinguisher foam, for example) don’t detract from the believability of this little microcosm; if anything, they make it even more engrossing.

Red Dead Redemption (PlayStation 3/Xbox 360)

Red Dead Redemption

There’s much to be said for kicking back and getting lost in someone else’s reality, but if you really want to explore another world altogether in your own home theater, you’re going to have to take control of it yourself. That’s exactly what this deliciously decadent old west opus from the makers of Grand Theft Auto lets you do. Granted, the turn-of-the-twentieth-century frontier setting of the game isn’t exactly another world altogether, but unless you’re a 100-year-old bounty hunter with a rough past and the scars to prove it, it may as well be.

The beauty of Red Dead Redemption is that it doesn’t put you on a path and force you to play its story. The world of the game is a gigantic sandbox spanning several wild territories, and you’re free to go wherever you want. No matter where you go, you’ll be treated to some amazingly enthralling sights and sounds, whether you’re choking on the dust out on the range, lassoing horses while the wild birds caw overhead or choking down the swill in the local saloon, playing poker while the piano player in the next room bangs out tunes in the main room and ladies of the evening entertain guests upstairs.

No matter where you travel, the details are astounding, from the fine grains of dirt on the plains to the swirling patterns in the wood plank walls, and the aural authenticity of the surround soundtrack sells the world so well you’ll swear you can smell the horse apples on the dusty streets outside your door.


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