Reviewed by Jeff McNeal
February 15, 1999
EAGLES: HELL FREEZES OVER
Full Frame, 4:3
PCM Stereo; DTS 5.1
Not Rated, 1994
The first time I saw this concert, it was on my local PBS station as part of their fundraising effort. They'd play a few songs, take an insufferably long pledge break, then go back and do two or three more songs and repeat the process over again. If you pledged over $120 to the station, they tossed in a copy of the EAGLES: HELL FREEZES OVER VHS cassette. I was intrigued, but decided that I'd just pop for the VHS tape by itself for under twenty bucks, being the cheapskate that I am. Thus, the EAGLES: HELL FREEZES OVER concert became the 20th or so VHS tape that I had actually purchased in about as many years of owning a VCR. It was that good.
When DVD came around, I greatly anticipated hearing this concert in glorious 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. In December, 1997, Warner Bros. had announced that this DVD would be forthcoming sometime in 1998. Some months after starting The BIG Picture website, I asked my new contact at Warner Bros. when we might expect to see the EAGLES: HELL FREEZES over on DVD. He assured me with confidence that the DVD would be forthcoming before Winter '98. Once that deadline came and went, we were surprised to see Image announce distribution of this title -- not in Dolby Digital 5.1 as we had been anticipating all along, but in DTS 5.1 and Pulse Code Modulated (PCM, 2-channel) stereo. Amidst the confusion as to whether this was going to be two discs (there is only one, with two packaging variations for retailers) this news came as a great disappointment to many -- and I asked Image Entertainment's Garrett Lee to explain why there was no Dolby Digital 5.1 version being offered. After all, DD 5.1 is the DVD standard, not DTS. Lee explained that Geffen Records' executive Irving Azoff (who is mentioned repeatedly by different band members as being the driving force behind the reunion tour) adamantly refused to allow this concert to be issued Dolby Digital 5.1 -- a move which reportedly caused Warner Bros. to pass on the deal. With this decision, Azoff has either severely curtailed potential sales of this disc -- or perhaps given some DTS fence-sitters encouragement to go ahead and plunk down the significant bucks it takes to give their home theaters DTS capabilities.
I came very close to purchasing new DTS upgrades myself in December '98, in the interests of providing a wider scope of reviews here at The BIG Picture, but ultimately decided against doing so, in part because of Azoff's decision. I don't like being held hostage to a format that costs more to buy into and more to purchase. I also don't care for the way longer features like DANCES WITH WOLVES must be spread out over two discs. Call it a "convenience" factor -- and a simple case of diminishing returns. From everything I've read and heard for myself in dealer showrooms, the sonic differences between Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 are so subtle and subjective that even experts can't agree if DTS offers any real benefits over Dolby Digital.
Another reason I'm shunning the DTS "upgrade" for the time being is because my review partner, Bob Banka, is adding DTS to his system in the near future and The BIG Picture will therefore have DTS reviewing capabilities through his efforts. I will amend this review at a later time after Bob has had the chance to review this disc with his perception of the DTS soundtrack. So I guess the crux of this review (for now) will be to determine: "Is EAGLES: HELL FREEZES OVER" a disc worth purchasing even if you don't have a DTS setup?" Does the PCM stereo track sound good enough to make the purchase of this disc worthwhile, even if you don't have DTS?
Garrett Lee assured us that the stereo PCM track sounded great and that many at Image Entertainment seemed to prefer it. Although we assume Irving Azoff must have some sort of financial stake in DTS to refuse a Dolby Digital 5.1 version, it's still a disappointment that this outstanding concert is going to be limited to a pair of stereo tracks on the overwhelmingly large percentage of the systems out there already in place. The various band members of The Eagles speak of Irving Azoff in almost hushed, reverent tones before the concert begins. But we're not impressed with Azoffs' apparent decision withhold a DD 5.1 soundtrack and along with it, derail the full potential of the concert experience for those not willing (or able to afford) the plunge into DTS. In our view, it was a bad call.
Would we rather not have the DVD at all since our preferred sound format was excluded? Probably not. It's simply too good of a concert to miss out on altogether.
So, with a healthy dose of anticipation and a bit of trepidation, we loaded this disc into our Sony DVP-S7000 and pushed the play button. The first thing we saw was a screen that gave us the choice of DTS or PCM. Needless to say, we chose PCM -- we had no choice with our less-than-a-year-old Dolby Digital 5.1 receiver.
After about 14 years of bickering, in-fighting and bad feelings, The Eagles regained their wings in 1994. Inspired by the warm accolades heaped upon them by newer country artists who had issued remakes of Eagles hits a year or so before, Don Henley, Glen Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh and Don Felder were reunited once more for a fantastic tour that included many of their old hits, mixed with new songs. As Glen Frey put it, the band just didn't feel as though the reunion would be legitimate without putting forth some new material. And what outstanding additions they were: "Get Over It" (which made the top ten on the album charts) "Love Will Keep Us Alive" (which reached number one and stayed on the adult contemporary charts for seven months) and "The Girl From Yesterday" are three real stand-outs in the concert filmed before a live MTV audience. They're the kind of songs that hook you the first time you hear them. With a full orchestral back-up, The Eagles made history with this landmark recording -- and the experience, even for casual Eagles fans, leaves a lasting impression.
As expected, THE EAGLES: HELL FREEZES OVER is framed in a 4:3 aspect and zooming in to fill our 16:9 screen really wasn't a good option. The tops of heads are cut off and the image clarity suffers with magnification. These revelations aside, the video quality of this disc is really quite good. Colors are bright and nicely saturated, black level is solid and color bleed, while present, doesn't distract too badly from the overall presentation. In fairness, concert videos with their bright lights and intense gels used to project color are notoriously difficult to reproduce on home video. It must be a hellish job for the boys on the bench to get each shot just right in terms of contrast and color saturation, since the lighting and color values are almost constantly in a state of flux. Keeping these considerations in mind and reflecting on previous concert videos on DVD that I've seen recently, I'd have to say that Image has done a very nice job with this disc.
Obviously, a review of this disc cannot be complete without an evaluation of the DTS soundtrack -- and that will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future and announced on The BIG Picture DVD News Daily page. But as for the PCM soundtrack, our review is somewhat mixed. Essentially, we heard excellent low and midrange sounds coming from our speakers, but there seemed to be a bit of a loss on the high-end. The shimmering, transparency of cymbals that we listen for when evaluating some of the higher frequency ranges just fell flat -- as in, barely audible. However, keep in mind that when we evaluate sound, we have all EQ settings on our Yamaha RX-V992 receiver set to neutral. A little tweaking of the treble on your receiver (or better yet, your multi-channel equalizer if you're fortunate enough to own one) should coax out a bit more brilliance from the PCM stereo track. The low end is fat and resonant. You can immediately hear and feel it on the first track -- Hotel California -- and it sounds terrific. Felder's guitar seems as though it's in the room with you. The acoustical strings sound warm, clear and vibrant. Then again, I always thought the HiFi VHS tape sounded outstanding as well.
So what does that tell you?
Check the Rock 'N World Band Eagles page for more interesting sales, chart and award stats about the HELL FREEZES OVER album.
Song menu with links to 4 pre-show chapters and 18 songs.
Bonus DTS audio track of "Seven Bridges Road"
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