Ultimate Fights appears in an aspect ratio of mainly 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. One sequence used a 2.35:1 ratio, but the rest remained fullscreen, despite the varying aspect ratios of the original films. As with most compilation pieces, Ultimate featured erratic picture quality but for the most part, the image seemed to be adequate.
Sharpness usually looked reasonably decent. Some of the clips came across as moderately soft and fuzzy, but those varied from segment to segment. They Live seemed rather bland, and the bits from The Killer and Scarface showed some serious problems; they lacked much clarity or distinctiveness. However, most of the movies appeared fine, and the use of much quick-cutting for a lot of them helped obscure many flaws.
Some moiré effects and jagged edges appeared, especially during Crouching Tiger, the only movie to feature a widescreen aspect ratio. However, it lost points because of the lack of anamorphic enhancement; the reduced resolution caused the elevated level of jags and shimmer. I also noticed periodic examples of moderate edge enhancement.
Print flaws caused some moderate concerns. Of course, these varied widely from movie to movie, but for the most part, grain was the main problem; many of the clips showed modest graininess. Otherwise, a mix of small problems cropped up, such as speckles and grit, but most of the films looked decent. Again, The Killer and Scarface presented by far the least attractive images, as they offered very messy images. Otherwise, the clips seemed fair but unspectacular.
Colors tended to be moderately drab, but that factor probably related mainly to the original cinematic designs. Bright, vivid hues don’t make sense within the gritty world of these sorts of action flicks, and the followed the usual pattern of dark and dank scenery. Throughout the subdued scenes, most of the tones looked reasonably clear but they remained pretty flat as a whole. The colors never stood out, but I didn’t feel that they caused any concerns.
Similar variation related to the black levels and shadow detail. Blacks were never very dense and deep, but they also didn’t appear to be too flat or murky. Overall, I thought they lacked much intensity or depth, but they were acceptable for the most part. Shadow detail usually came across as decently heavy but not excessively opaque; the many low-light sequences failed to deliver great definition, but I found few true flaws.
Probably my biggest complaint about Ultimate related to its lack of original aspect ratio presentations. As I noted, only Crouching Tiger used the appropriate dimensions; all of the rest - including fellow 2.35:1 flicks like Blade - went fullscreen. This seemed odd and it diminished the potential impact of the scenes. Overall, Ultimate Fights provided a watchable but fairly weak visual presentation.
Not surprisingly, the “processed” Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Ultimate Fights also offered a mixed bag, though it seemed to be acceptable for the most part. Soundfields varied based on the original material, from the monaural of The Killer to broader presentations for newer flicks. However, even recent movies like Gladiator and Blade didn’t seem to offer very involving tracks. For the most part, the audio stayed pretty firmly anchored to the front channels. Some reasonably good stereo music appeared, and a mix of effects spread nicely across the forward speakers; these elements blended together well and moved fairly cleanly.
However, most of the audio stayed stuck in the center, and the use of the surrounds seemed minor at best. Some general reinforcement of music and effects occurred, but I didn’t detect anything more substantial than that. Frankly, I got the impression that the original soundtracks had been “dumbed down” for some of these films. Flicks like Gladiator and Blade featured solid audio in their original incarnations, but Ultimate appeared to muck with them for unknown reasons. They weren’t totally uninvolving, but they seemed to be changed for a “lowest common denominator” presentation; they all appeared more similar than one would expect, which meant the better pieces lacked the strength they could have presented.
Audio quality was moderately erratic but it sounded generally decent. Speech was generally a little thin and boomy, but most of the lines seemed acceptably natural and distinct, and I detected no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects showed some mildly excessive echo effects that made them sound a little artificial, but they usually were reasonably clear and accurate. Music showed fair dynamic range and clarity, and the low-end response demonstrated pretty good depth. As with the soundfields, however, the material occasionally appeared less clean and dynamic that one would expect. I don’t mean to pick on them, but again I found surprising problems with Blade and Gladiator. Among others, they seemed particularly rough and mildly distorted, factors that didn’t appear in their original mixes. Much of Ultimate Fights came from lower budget and less prominent sources, and that material seemed more acceptable, perhaps because I expected less of it. Nonetheless, the audio for the DVD appeared somewhat problematic at times, though most of it was acceptable.
Since the main program lasts only 54 minutes, Boogeymen tosses in a nice mix of extras to pad out the package. Some of these can be accessed while you watch the compilation itself. We find an audio commentary from film producer Tsui Hark, the man behind flicks like Black Mask. Although only a few of his efforts appear in Ultimate, Hark provides a fairly interesting and informative discussion of the fight genre. Clearly speaking from prepared notes, Hark drops trivia and production notes about all the films and offers insight into the various styles of fighting depicted. For obvious reasons, he’s most in his element when he talks about martial arts movies, but he manages to provide good remarks for each of the pictures. Frankly, it’s much more entertaining to watch Ultimate with this commentary active than with the films’ original audio; the piece actually makes sense within this context.
A second audio commentary comes from “fight master” James Lew. He doesn’t seem to know as much about the various productions as Hark; Lew’s remarks appear more extemporaneous than the prepared material heard from Hark. Lew concentrates more on the fight choreography and that side of the coin, and his comments add some interesting thoughts about the work, though they’re not as useful as Hark’s. (Note that you won’t find access for this commentary in the standard place. The easiest way to get to it is to start the program and manually flip to audio channel 4. It also appears in the “Fight Cards” area mentioned below, but that option forces you to listen to the track one scene at a time, so it doesn’t seem very productive.)
Yet another alternate audio track appears via the Ultimate Rumble Techno Mix. This offers a different way to watch the feature. Instead of the narration and standard movie audio, we hear a stomping score, offered in Dolby Surround 2.0 audio. It seems useless to me, but maybe someone will like it.
Another extra that accompanies the film is the FlixFacts. With this option activated, the program provides a text commentary along the bottom of the screen. A nice variety of general facts come from this area. Few seem revelatory, but most seem interesting and useful. It’s a good way to learn a little more about the films.
Next we get Behind the Punches, a nine-minute and 50-second featurette. Here we again see “fight master” James Lew and a couple of stuntmen as they demonstrate the basics behind the creation of a fight scene. We also get a few comments from Jean-Claude Van Damme about the subject. The featurette provides a reasonably good description of the subject.
Fight Cards provides a moderately interesting feature that displays some text information about each of the 16 movies featured in Fights. Each screen shows a synopsis of the battle, the style of fighting and weapons used by each participant, and some statistics like “blows delivered” and “blows landed”. It’s insubstantial but kind of fun.
As I alluded above, you can listen to James Lew’s commentary on a scene-by-scene basis through this area. The domain also provides a short text biography of Lew. More of that sort of information appears in Fighter Profiles, a collection of actor biographies. We get notes on Wesley Snipes, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Ken Lo, Billy Chau, Scott Welch, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Sven-Ole Thorsen, and Rab Affleck. The information seems brief but fairly interesting, as it concentrates mostly on their fighting talents; that appears to be the reason so many prominent actors like Al Pacino, Brad Pitt and Liam Neeson didn’t show up in this section.
Next we find the Name That Frame game. This provides a random image from one of nine movies, and you need to identify it. As far as I can tell, there’s no reward for success; the games appears to continue forever no matter how well - or poorly - you do.
My Top Five basically lets you program the DVD. Select your five faves and watch them in any order desired. As with the alternate music track, I think this option seems fairly useless, but I won’t complain about the increased level of accessibility.
A slew of theatrical trailers appear on the DVD. We find clips for Scarface, Legend of Drunken Master, Crossing the Line, Gladiator, Timecop, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, They Live, Black Mask, First Blood and The Killer. I’m not sure why the DVD failed to include ads for the other six movies, but I appreciated the fact these didn’t simply promote titles owned by Universal, the parent company behind the “FlixMix” banner; most of the movies come from them, but they spread the wealth a bit.
Additional ads appear in the FlixMix Recommends section. This area promotes Boogeymen as well as fellow Universal titles American Pie 2, The Fast and the Furious, and Slapshot 2: Breaking the Ice. It also includes a music video for “Control” by Puddle of Mudd. The song seems like nothing more than fairly standard grunge rock, but the video actually tries to tell a small story about the singer and his girlfriend. Hey, it’s not much, but I see so many really bland videos on DVDs that I’ll take what I can get!
Finally, Fights tosses in some DVD-ROM materials. The “Skull Crusher Trivia Game” features two levels of 10 questions each. You have to get at least eight correct in the initial level to move to the second, and another score of at least 80 percent provides a small reward: a brief QuickTime clip in which James Lew demonstrates another aspect of fight choreography. The snippet isn’t worth the effort.
In addition, the DVD-ROM area includes links to the websites for Ultimate Fights and Flixmix.com as well as a “Sound Effects” feature. This lets you mix together fight film noises like swings and crunches. Lastly, the “Select-O-Matic Scene Machine” lets you program the DVD to play back the various scenes in any order you desire.
Some genres seem logical for a compilation format, but I don’t think Ultimate Fights works, as battles lose their appeal outside of their natural context. The program appears fairly lackluster and never becomes engaging. The DVD provides acceptable but erratic picture and sound with some fairly good extras. Actually, the supplements offer the sole entertaining moments during this disc. If you want to see almost an hour of non-stop fights, you might enjoy this package, but I thought it seemed fairly pointless.