Judge Adam Arseneau enjoyed watching this UMD on his DVD player. The problem came when he tried to get it out again. The trick is to use a hammer.
Like the original Appleseed, only bite-sized!
This is the very first UMD review that DVD Verdict has ever published. I volunteered to write it because I may be the only member of the staff who actually owns a PlayStation Portable (PSP) system. It feels good to be special.
What is a UMD, you may ask? A UMD is a tiny little DVD-like disc encased in white and transparent plastic which the PSP uses to store games and movies…kind of like what a MiniDisc is to a regular CD. Sony has begun releasing feature films in this proprietary UMD format to watch on its portable game system, the PSP being quite the capable little media player. As of late, other Hollywood studios have begun to see the attraction of marketing directly to mobile cinema fans with disposable income in their pocket (since anyone who owns a PSP instantly qualifies for this categorization), and UMD movies are springing up everywhere.
So we have Appleseed for the UMD, Geneon's groundbreaking CGI-remake of the classic Shirow Masamune graphic novels and subsequent 1988 OVA by Kazuyoshi Katayama. Long-hyped to be the savior of Japanese animation, the new Akira and all that good stuff, Appleseed was the anime equivalent of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within: a jaw-dropping technical display of animation and computer graphics wrapped around a mediocre film. For everyone who waited with great anticipation for Appleseed to make its way to North America (myself included), it was…something of a letdown.
Please note that Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger has written up a fine review of Appleseed (the DVD version) and my feelings about the film closely mirror his own, so there is no need to rehash the excellent work of a colleague. The assumption is that reading this review, oh, gentle reader, you are familiar with the shortcomings of the film and are simply considering picking a second copy up as an UMD to enjoy while on the move. Therefore, I shall proceed accordingly.
Trying to review a UMD disc is to cruise into uncharted waters, since there are precious few standards as of yet set to judge audio and visual quality. To the uninitiated, the biggest thing you need to get your head around is that a UMD isn't a DVD: it holds barely half the space of a single-sided DVD. As such, UMD versions of movies cannot contain all the good things you expect to see from DVDs today: alternate language tracks, surround sound modes, extras, commentary tracks, featurettes, etc.
Accordingly, Appleseed on UMD is a heavily-stripped down affair from its DVD counterpart. We get the film itself (presented in a slightly modified 1.76:1 aspect ratio to match the PSP screen), both a stereo Japanese and English track, and subtitles. Toss three trailers in for good measure, and that's it.
Brightly-lit sequences are simply jaw-dropping on the tiny PSP screen, the resolution so crisp and luminescent you could swear the image was as close to portable perfection as humanly possible. There are times when Appleseed will actually reach into your throat and take your breath away, it looks so spectacular. Unfortunately, during dimly-lit sequences (like the butt-kicking introductory sequence), the PSP screen's performance is poorer. Black level consistency is a problem, and the low-light conditions make the refresh rate of the screen a noticeable problem, since fast-moving objects (especially the color red) tend to streak and blur across the screen like motion sickness. I had envisioned the subtitles to be an issue on the tiny screen, but I was pleased to find them entirely readable and visible throughout the film.
Since the film is presented only in stereo, the audio mixing problems that plague the DVD version are rendered irrelevant on the PSP. The film is barely audible through the tinny PSP speakers, and you need a set of good headphones to really enjoy the sonic capabilities of the system. Appleseed sounds spectacular. The stereo mix has no problem keeping up with the hail of gunfire and bullets ricocheting about, and the score and dialogue come through well-balanced and with authority. Both the Japanese and English dubs sound comparable in terms of mixing, but I generally ignore dubbed tracks in favor of subtitles. This is as good as portable anime can look and sound, let me tell you.
Available for about 15 bucks, the UMD version of Appleseed is priced almost identical to the standard retail DVD version, which makes this truncated version seem something of a rip-off. I cannot imagine anyone buying a movie solely in UMD version over DVD, and I believe the assumption is that people will buy UMD movies as an "alternate" version of a loved film to take on the road. Naturally, this means the entire concept of UMD movies is one giant double-dip, making them inherently poor value for the consumer.
On the other hand, I am hard-pressed to find a more inherently enjoyable fashion for watching movies on-the-go than the PSP. I have watched movies on laptop computers, in car entertainment systems and on portable hand-held media devices, etc., but nothing yet has come close to the ease of snapping in a UMD to your PSP and kicking back with a movie. It isn't perfect, but it is one of the best solutions I have seen yet. I cannot deny the appeal of being able to take a tiny cartridge out and watch a full-length film with near-DVD visual and audio quality wherever you go, and Appleseed is as great a choice as any. The ability to make your friends die of envy at the jaw-dropping technical capabilities of the PSP when you load up that first fight sequence almost make it worthwhile alone.
I can certainly see the appeal of having a small UMD library of well-loved titles to tote around with me. The problem being, I just can't see myself playing DVD prices for them. If studios start pricing UMD movies at discounted prices compared to DVDs, getting in on the UMD bandwagon could seem a remarkably attractive venture. But until the prices start falling, it is hard to recommend buying a UMD version of any movie over its DVD counterpart, be it Appleseed or any other film.
With more and more studios every day making the jump to UMD, the staying power of the medium admittedly looks better with each passing day. Take yourself down to any brick-and-mortar store, and you are bound to see more than a few UMD titles sitting around these days. However, it should be noted that at this time, Sony's portable video game system is still the only consumer device in North America than that play the discs. And a PSP isn't cheap. It is still a niche market within a niche market, to say the least.
Out of the limited catalog of UMD titles, it is great to see some full-length anime titles available. If you are planning on growing a UMD collection, and you have the extras cash burning a hole in your pocket, and you can overlook the film's shortcomings? Appleseed will do just fine.
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