Die Hard 3: With A Vengeance

A Critical Comparative Review of the Original Region 4 DVD, the Remastered Region 4 DVD and the NTSC Laserdisc

Specifications:
 
DVD (both)
Laserdisc
Video Format Region 4 (PAL) NTSC, THX-assured
Distributor Village Roadshow 20th Century Fox
Widescreen Yes Yes
Anamorphically-enhanced Yes No
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 2.35:1
Running time 128 minutes 130 minutes
Extras Theatrical Trailer 
Cast biographies 
Cast interviews 
Music video (Summer in the City) - original master only
Theatrical Trailer-Die Hard 1 
Theatrical Trailer-Die Hard 2 
Theatrical Trailer-Die Hard 3
Sound Dolby Digital 5.1 
MPEG Multichannel Audio (5.1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 
Dolby Prologic
Review System:



Introduction:

Additional comments are in red (these are the comments I added after having had the opportunity to view the original master of Die Hard 3). Special thanks to Guy Hazell from The Video Shift for loaning me an original master of this DVD.

Village Roadshow's Region 4 DVD of Die Hard 3 has come in for a great deal of criticism, with numerous complaints of video and audio problems. Because of the fuss made regarding this disc, Village Roadshow had this disc remastered (info also here). I compared the new master of this DVD with the laserdisc version, which I already had. I did this by viewing the movie scene by scene and comparing the two - I first screened the DVD scene, noted what I thought may have been faults, and then compared this with the laserdisc. I did this with both versions of the DVD (the remastered version and the original version). I then specifically compared several scenes from the original DVD to the remastered DVD. I only have a Prologic system, so I have made no comment on the 5.1 audio aspects of the transfers (except for one specific comment later on.)

I intend to submit this review to Village Roadshow and to the Video Mastering House (Digital Video Mastering) that created the transfer, and will add their comments (if any) to the end of this review. It is not my intent to flame or abuse anyone with this review, but rather to offer a constructive critique. I do not claim to have any special knowledge of the details of film to video transfers, only what I have been able to glean from my readings on the topic.

What Was Wrong With The Video:

The first point I would like to make about the transfers is that many times during the viewing, I would note what I thought was either a glitch or an MPEG artefact on the DVDs, which then turned out to be exactly the same on the laserdisc. This in itself was food for thought, as it makes me wonder whether or not we are perhaps being a little unfair on these DVDs by blaming DVDs for source defects.

The second point I would like to make is that a major complaint of the original master of this DVD was 'shimmer'. I believe that this is, in fact, attributable to composite video artefacts (dot crawl and chroma noise). The DVD I viewed (via S-Video) exhibited essentially none of these effects, whereas the laserdisc (composite) was riddled with them, particularly in the scenes that have been commented on previously as being problematic with the original DVD master.

I have now viewed the original master DVD. ALL of the shimmer which has been previously complained about was clearly evident in this version (more on this a little later). In fact, generally the shimmer was a little more noticable on the original DVD than on the laserdisc, because of the higher resolution of the DVD. I therefore must retract my previous statement that the shimmer was due to the use of a composite video connection.

Having said all of the above, however, I was still disappointed with the video quality of both the remastered release and the original release, but for different reasons. The remastered DVD appears to have been mastered from a release print of the movie rather than from a more pristine source. The original DVD appears to have been mastered from the same master that the laserdisc was created from and therefore showed the same artefacts as the laserdisc. This creates a number of problems with the transfers.

    1. Near the start of the movie, where John McLane is being driven to Harlem in the back of a police van, it is nearly impossible to stay focussed on the action due to the extraneous movement. The laserdisc version has movement due to some camera unsteadiness, but only about half of the movement that is apparent on the DVD.
    2. The closing credits, especially early on, are dreadfully wobbly.
What Was Right About The DVDs:

Lest I be accused of purely being critical about these DVDs, I would like to make a few positive points about them.

 Conclusions

It is my opinion that the fundamental problems with these DVD releases is the fact that the starting point for the DVD masters were not-up-to-standard sources. I think that the source for the original DVD was the same source as used for the laserdisc transfer, since ALL of the shimmer problems evident on the laserdisc were apparent on the DVD, even through an S-Video connection. I think that the source for the remastered DVD was either a release print from Village Roadshow (doesn't explain the 2 pauses) OR perhaps another laserdisc master. I am purely speculating at this point, but I wonder whether the original source material that Village Roadshow used was; NTSC laserdisc master for the original release, and PAL laserdisc master for the remastered release. I will try and clarify this point. If someone has a PAL laserdisc version of this title, I would be VERY interested in knowing if anamorphic circles are present just before the side changes (this would confirm my theory regarding the source masters).

I believe that given better sources, both of these DVDs could have been much better. Other than the criticism of the telecine wobble on the remastered DVD [if the original material was a release print], I feel that the compression was done as well as could have been expected given the evidently inferior source material at hand. I would be particularly interested in hearing from Village Roadshow or Digital Video Mastering with regards to the source material used for the mastering and any specific comments that they have on why these DVDs turned out the way they did.

I think that the picture quality of this release is far superior to any VHS release of this movie that I have ever seen, and would still blow away any 'Joe Average' looking at it. There has been some concern that anyone seeing this transfer would consider it a bad transfer and would be turned off DVD because of it. This is far from the case. I, however, do not think these transfers are up to the standard we should demand of DVD transfers.

So which transfer is better, the original DVD, the remastered DVD or the Laserdisc? This is a difficult question to answer. The clarity of DVD over laserdisc is clear to me, and the bigger your display device, the more obvious this is (I love my laserdiscs, but I hardly watch them any more since I [usually] prefer the DVD). The remastered DVD transfer is much sharper than the laserdisc version and does not have any of the 'shimmer' inherent in the composite laserdisc format. However, the laserdisc simply looks better because of its better grey scale and colour saturation and is much easier to watch because there is no telecine wobble. The original DVD transfer retains the colour balance of the laserdisc at a much higher resolution. Unfortunately, it also retains the shimmer of the laserdisc transfer. Both DVDs have unacceptable video pauses in them at what I presume are breaks in the masters for the laserdiscs. The original DVD has a complete drop-out of audio during the end credits. Perhaps a table of the problems of the various transfers is in order...
 
Original DVD
Remastered DVD
Laserdisc
Shimmer
yes (same as laserdisc)
very very little (much more watchable)
yes very noticeable, especially in scenes with horizontal lines, either stationary or moving.
Colour
same saturation as the laserdisc, very watchable
different colour balance, looks like an old film, harder on the eyes than the other transfers, little shadow detail
good colour saturation
Resolution
better than the laserdisc at all times
better than the laserdisc at all times
up to usual laserdisc standards
Telecine Wobble
none
yes, quite distracting at times
none
MPEG Artefacts
2 artefacts noticed
no artefacts noticed during the movie, some noticed during the rolling credits at the end
not applicable
Audio
audio drops out during the end credits
no audio problems
no audio problems
Pauses
2 unnecessary pauses
2 unnecessary pauses
2 pauses for side changes
 

My verdict? That's a hard one. I CAN say that the original DVD is better than the laserdisc. It has much greater resolution but otherwise looks identical to the laserdisc. The audio dropout at the end is a minor problem, and the 2 unnecessary pauses are minor irritations.

Deciding between the two DVDs is harder. The fundamental difference between the two occurs as a result of the use of different master material for the DVDs. The old release has better looking colour but has significant shimmer. The new release has a cleaner picture with no shimmer but suffers from telecine wobble and ordinary-looking colour. Do I prefer a better looking colour picture with shimmer or a not as good looking picture with telecine wobble but no shimmer?

My original verdict when I first wrote this article was to favour the LD over the (remastered) DVD because the picture was more watchable, even with the shimmer artefacts. Now, having viewed the original master DVD, I find the choice much harder. I definitely prefer the original master DVD to the laserdisc because of its greater resolution. With regards to the two DVDs, I think the only way I am going to be able to decide which one I prefer is to sit down with both DVDs at some stage and watch each one in its entirety and decide at the end which one my eyes preferred to watch (do I prefer nice-looking but shimmery colour or do I prefer a wobbly but shimmer-free picture?)

My new conclusions? I'll keep the remastered DVD as a sign of support for Village Roadshow, I'll hunt down a copy of the original DVD to buy (Village, don't suppose you have one going cheap?) and I'll sit down with both at some stage and decide which one I'll keep. I will, however, sell my laserdisc version of Die Hard 3 (anyone interested?). I have now concluded that the problems with this release were probably at the source stage rather than at the DVD mastering stage, and therefore possibly beyond Village Roadshow's control, so I will more than likely give them another go with their next release [rumoured to be The Long Kiss Goodnight].


Michael Demtschyna
29th June 1998
Updated 14th July 1998