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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Two old plots – or, bad, bad buddies

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Dec 2003/Jan 2004, v.34#6

Bad Boys (Superbit) cover Bad Boys (Superbit)
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Will Smith, Téa Leoni, Tchéky Karyo and Joe Pantoliano
The Fast and the Furious (Superbit) cover The Fast and the Furious (Superbit)
Director: Rob Cohen
Starring: Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster and Rick Yune
Movie: B, Picture: A+, Sound: A, Extras: D Movie: B, Picture: A+, Sound: A, Extras: D
Sequels have been breaking out again, this time around to the buddy movie. While Bad Boys II recently graced the cinema screens, Columbia Tristar has revisited the 1995 predecessor with a Superbit release.

The concept behind Superbit is simple. The MPEG2 video compression used for DVDs works by progressively degrading the image, the more compactly the video is packed. Squeeze down the video enough and splotchy artefacts begin to appear near high contrast boundaries, focus is softened and formerly gentle colour gradations adopt well-defined paint-by-the-numbers steps.

How much compression is applied depends on two things: the amount of disc space available, and the hard DVD data transfer limits. Superbit DVDs provide more disc space by the simple expedient of leaving off everything but the movie. No extras, in other words.

DVDs were designed to provide a reasonable quality rendition of a two hour movie on a single layer DVD. Superbit DVDs are dual layer, so with a movie the length of Bad Boys (114 minutes), there's no reason why the determining quality factor shouldn't be the 10 megabits per second DVD data transfer limitation.

That's pretty much what happens here. Even though only 7.1 gigabytes of the 8.5 available are used, the movie itself lopes along with an average bit rate of 8.41Mb/s. The typical DVD normally runs somewhere around 5Mb/s. Of course, you have to subtract a bit over 1Mb/s for the Dolby Digital and DTS audio tracks, but that still leaves you with the best quality picture we will see of this movie, at least until high definition media become available.

Of course, this quality permits you to glory in a fairly standard love-hate relationship between two cops, who solve crimes by ignoring just about every constraint imposed on law enforcers by the US Supreme Court. But that, also, is standard fare.

Superbit offers another couple of enhancments. All titles come with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio tracks. This should not be taken as the ideal opportunity to compare the two, though. For most Superbit titles, the DD audio is delivered at its maximum rate of 448kb/s (even though Bad Boys only gets 384), while the DTS is the half-rate version of 768kb/s (or 754, depending on the equipment you are using to report on it).

While the merits of DD vs DTS remain open, on both of these discs there isn't much in it and any differences can best be attributed to the quality of the respective decoders in your home theatre receiver, and the 'dialogue normalisation' applied in the DD version, which changes its level compared to DTS.

One other great feature of Superbit is that the Sony Pictures DVD Center, which does the mastering of all Superbit titles, has pulled a trick that eliminates the layer change. Somehow, all Superbit titles glide right over this with no pause at all.

Since this movie is a bit shorter than Bad Boys, it only requires 6.1GB of disc territory, yet it still manages an 8.3Mb/s average transfer rate. Being a newer film, this transfer looks even better. With a big projector there's incredible detail. Pay attention to the shop where Paul Walker kind of works near the start.

This also is type of a buddy movie, but in this case the other tried and true version: a growing relationship between the 'good' guy and the bad guy. Somehow the good guy here doesn't seem to mind risking the lives of bystanders as he blats about town in his super-duper-charged boy racer mobile, all with the aim of penetrating a truck hijacking ring. Oh, of course, that is equally standard fare.

Running time: 114 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s; DTS 5.1, 768kb/s
Subtitles: English, Dutch, Hindi, English for the Hearing Impaired
Features: Superbit encoding
Running time: 102 minutes
Aspect: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s; DTS 5.1, 768kb/s
Subtitles: English, Dutch, Hindi, English for the Hearing Impaired
Features: Superbit encoding

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