Along with 'Training Day' and 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' Warner has released 'Rumor Has It...' as part of its launch wave of Blu-ray titles. All three have been previously released on HD DVD, allowing us to finally get down and dirty with a true showdown between the two formats -- same movie, same studio, and... same results? Not so fast. 'Rumor Has It...' is the last of Warner's Blu-ray launch titles we have reviewed, and in all honestly our expectations were that it probably would bear the least noticeable differences between the two formats. Well, turns out we were surprised once again. But before we get to the technical nitty gritty, a quick film review of 'Rumor Has It...'
'Rumor Has It...' may not be a catastrophe on the scale of cinema's biggest boondoggles, but it is certainly one of Hollywood's most high-profile misfires of recent years. A sort of pseudo-sequel to the 1967 classic 'The Graduate,' the film's screenplay (by Ted Griffin) had been kicking around for a number of years and come to be regarded as one of Hollywood's great unproduced scripts, with even Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft briefly attached to the film in its early stages of development. Still, despite the esteemed status 'The Graduate' continues to hold in pop culture, it wasn't until last year that Griffin was finally hired (and quickly fired) as director, before helmer Rob Reiner stepped in and attracted big stars Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Costner and Shirley MacLaine to the project. Despite all the bad buzz, the film seemed like it might actually surmount its troubled gestation given the talent involved, and Warner positioned the film to be its big holiday romantic comedy smash of 2005 -- almost forty years to the month of the original release of 'The Graduate.'
Unfortunately, then everyone saw the film. Trashed by critics and ignored by audiences, even some of the film's own stars refused to publicize it. Word soon got out that 'Rumor Has It...' was an unmitigated disaster, and ultimately it grossed a respectable if hardly hit-worthy $43 million at the box office -- especially considering its reported $70 million production budget. Even Aniston has since lashed out at the film, calling it "the worst film, the worst experience" of her career. Ouch.
Arguably, 'Rumor Has It...' is a strange concept for a film. Neither remake, reimagining nor sequel, it is a sort of "what if" wish-fulfillment story of what might have happened to the people who served as the real-life inspiration for the fictional characters in 'The Graduate.' (If you understand that last sentence at all, you deserve an "A+" in Post-Modernism 101.) Here's the pitch: Aniston plays obituary writer Sarah Huttinger, who's engaged to Jeff Daly (Mark Ruffalo), but she's commitment-phobic and beginning to get cold feet. Then during a trip to visit her grandma Katharine (Shirley MacLaine), Sarah discovers that her deceased mother once had an affair with Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) -- and who, it turns out, was the inspiration for the book and movie of 'The Graduate.' (Are you following this?) Of course, runaway would-be bride Sarah soon develops a crush on Beau, and she is torn between finally taking her stroll down the aisle with Jeff, or repeating history all over again just to the strains of Simon & Garfunkel. I wish I could come up with some sort of "Plastics" reference to cleverly wrap-up this plot synopsis, but I just can't think of one.
Much to my surprise, 'Rumor Has It...' is not as bad as I had expected. That's not to say it is very good, but given its lousy reputation, I was expecting another 'Ishtar' or 'Heaven's Gate.' Unfortunately, it is not an epic catastrophe so much as it is just poorly conceived and weakly acted. Just about everyone on the screen appears lost, bored or even more confused than the audience. It is just hard to fathom what attracted Aniston, Costner and Reiner to this material. Sure, I love 'The Graduate' as much as anyone else, but the concept of Aniston as the long-lost daughter of the real-life inspiration for Katharine Ross in the original film, who must relive the events of the film in order to overcome her commitment issues, is simply bizarre. And Aniston certainly looks dismissive throughout, as if she suddenly realized what she signed on for halfway through the shoot and wanted nothing but to escape. Say what you want about Aniston, but she can be a fine comedic actress, but here she looks like a deer caught in the headlights, reduced to a series of annoying hair-tugging and lip-biting tic. This is easily her worst performance ever -- on any size screen.
The film's only bright spots come from turns by its supporting cast. MacLaine is the only one truly stepping up to the plate, and she's always a firecracker -- just the way she spins her sarcastic lines gives the film it's few genuine chuckles. But I also have to hand it to Costner -- he has actually reshaped himself as a fine supporting man lately, especially with last year's criminally overlooked 'The Upside of Anger.' Even in a film as misconceived as this, he makes one almost forget such career-killing flops as 'Waterworld' and 'The Postman' with a subdued (if a bit lethargic) wit that is actually charming. Only Ruffalo looks even more embarrassed than Aniston, and they have so little chemistry together that it actually makes the icky idea of her sleeping with the same man as her dead mother almost sane.
Ultimately, there is little to say about 'Rumor Has It...' other than the obvious -- it is destined to be remembered as nothing more than another Hollywood train wreck.
Well, I was rather surprised with this one. No, the differences between this Blu-ray transfer and its HD DVD rival (you can read my review of the HD DVD edition here) are not night and day -- nor are they likely discernible to anyone but dedicated technophiles -- but they are more pronounced that I expected. As I noted in my earlier Blu-ray reviews of 'Training Day' and 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' the biggest differences I noticed between the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions are brightness and contrast levels as well as more frequent and noticeabel compression artifacts. Unfortunately, all those issues also plague 'Rumor Has It...', and the inconsistencies are the most notable of any of Warner's three launch titles.
However, let it be said that 'Rumor Has It...' is a very good-looking film on either Blu-ray or HD DVD. Detail is terrific throughout, with fine textures clearly visible and deep, rich blacks. Colors are also vibrant and well-saturated, if sometimes so processed that all of the actor's faces appear to have been CGI'd more than Joan Rivers'. Both transfers also look quite three-dimensional, with a level of depth to the image that screams "high def."
However, the Blu-ray edition once again appears not only darker throughout the entire transfer, and contrast also suffers more acutely than on either 'Training Day' or 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.' For example, during the scene where Jennifer Aniston first comes home for her sister's wedding, there is a shot of her standing in front of an open front doorway. Flipping back and forth between the Blu-ray and the HD DVD versions, the Blu-ray image just didn't have quite the same pop. Whites were a bit brighter on the HD DVD, which made the fine blonde hairs on Aniston's arms clearly visible, while on the Blu-ray they blurred together in more of a brown mass. And later on during a scene with Aniston and Kevin Costner having a conversation while on a dance floor, some minor background details such as tableware and subtle light shadings were lost due to the darker cast of the Blu-ray. Compression artifacts, too, are also more distracting. I detected a few patches of what looked like noise or blockiness on such objects as flat, color walls and fabric patterns on the Blu-ray -- the HD DVD just looked more consistently cleaner and clearer. Again, none of these drawbacks are monumental, but the discerning eyes of this early adopter left me a tad disappointed with the Blu-ray.
Like all of Warner's inital Blu-ray titles, included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track encoded at 640kbps, a bitrate identical to that of the Dolby Digital-Plus track on the HD DVD version of 'Rumor has It...' (Note that although the HD DVD release of 'Good Night, and Good Luck' presents the film in Dolby Digital-Plus, the Blu-ray spec also does not require the use of the format except when a track goes beyond 5.1 channels, i.e., 6.1 or 7.1 soundtracks.)
Bitrates and formats aside, 'Rumor Has It...' is not a film with terribly inventive sound design. Certainly, this is a top-notch, professionally produced soundtrack -- it almost sounds as airbrushed as Jennifer Aniston's face on the disc's box cover. Dynamic range is excellent, with a real sense of clarity and depth to the mix that is entirely natural and pleasing. There are also some sporadic if effective uses of the surround channels, especially with the film's score and the lite-pop songs that litter the soundtrack. Dialogue reproduction is superb as well -- 'Rumor Has It...' is quite the chatty movie, and all those lame quips and one-liners comes through loud and clear. No, this is not a terribly enveloping presentation, but given the film's subject matter, it works perfectly fine.
What!? No two-hour making-of documentary? No multiple audio commentaries? No deleted scenes? Bloopers? Interactive map of 'Graduate' landmarks? Not even a pop-up trivia track?
Sorry kids, 'Rumor Has It...' has no real extras to speak of, aside from the film's theatrical trailer (which actually sells the film fairly well). Given the fact that just about everyone involved with this flop has disowned it, I guess we shouldn't be surprised. But at least a Rob Reiner commentary would have been fun -- if only to see if he realizes just how unintentionally infamous the film he made has become.
Since there are no real supplements, I'll take this time to once again point out why the Blu-ray menu navigation system is still lagging behind its rival. As I mentioned in my 'Training Day' and 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' Blu-ray reviews, while much ink has been spilled on the slow-as-molasses start up times of Toshiba's first-gen HD DVD players, I'm surprised no one has mentioned Blu-ray's atrocious menu access times. The Blu-ray may boot up a disc quicker, but with every single Blu-ray disc I've played (Warner or otherwise), clicking between menu options is not only slower than HD DVD, but also even standard DVD. Even simple functions like selecting a submenu or accessing a scene are accompanied by a little icon I call the "hourglass of doom." This symbol will pop up for as long as two or three seconds and the disc's menu animation will stall as the deck access the next chunk of information off the disc. What gives? Even on a standard DVD you can click between submenus almost seamlessly. Quite frankly, with Blu-ray, I feel like I'm playing an old PlayStation 2 game, not cruising around a next-gen high-def disc seamlessly.
That major gripe out of the way, also notable about Warner's Blu-ray releases is that the studio has decided to drop the interactive features that are standard on its HD DVD discs. You cannot bookmark your favorite scenes on Blu-ray like you can on HD DVD, and also gone is the ability to zoom in and pan over an image. Why Warner has dropped these cool if admittedly rarely-used functions I do not know. Otherwise, the navigation system on Warner's Blu-ray discs is the same as its HD DVD counterparts -- no main menu, just an overlay with Scene Selection, Settings, Special Features, etc., that you can toggle on and off in real-time during playback.
I must say, our first Blu-ray versus HD DVD comparisons continue to yield surprises. I wasn't expecting to see much difference in video quality between the two formats with 'Rumor Has It...', yet the two discs did bear noticeable differences, with the HD DVD boasting better detail and a more film-like look. However, the Blu-ray is a good $5 cheaper than the pricey $39.95 list price the studio is charging for the HD DVD/DVD combo version, so at least Blu-ray has that going for it. But even with its higher list price, in this reviewer's opinion the HD DVD release delivers a bit better bang for the buck.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.