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So many discs, so little time

Blu-ray

The last few days have heralded a shed-load of DVD and Blu-ray releases pouring through my letterbox, most of which I’ve scarcely had time to give more than a cursory glance. Most of them were free review copies, and a good thing too as I recently had to pay off my Graduate Endowment, so my coffers are looking a little empty at the moment.

First up, and one that I did pay for, was Sony Pictures’ UK Blu-ray release of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It looks to feature a decent transfer for a catalogue title: detail is, on the whole, very good, but the tell-tale signs of grain reduction are consistently evident. At the moment, I’d peg it as being slightly better than the re-release of The Fifth Element, also from Sony, but more investigation will be needed.

DVD

Next up, on Saturday, Shameless Screen Entertainment’s UK DVD release of Piero Schivazappa’s trippy 60s shocker The Frightened Woman (a.k.a. Femina Ridens). As a nice surprise, they sent me a fully boxed copy rather than the “DVD in a paper wallet” affair that most of the UK studios favour, so I can savour the tacky artwork in all its, erm, glory.

Unfortunately, I can’t say anything particularly positive about the transfer. Yes, it looks considerably better than my old VHS dupe, but that’s not a fair or particularly realistic comparison. A more valid counterpoint would be Severin Films’ release of The Psychic, which had similarly poor image quality, with a lack of detail and what looked like a dodgy scaling job, manifesting itself in the form of jagged diagonal lines. I wonder what caused this. Perhaps both films were acquired from the same licensor, or perhaps both companies used the same (incorrectly set up) encoder? Either way, if I’d paid for a company to encode my film and it came back looking like this, I would have rejected it outright. In case anyone gets the wrong idea, this is nothing to do with the quality of the source materials, which, barring some tape-based inserts for scenes which wouldn’t be sourced from a print, appears to be in great shape. This issue here has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way it has been treated at the authoring stage. Not impressed.

DVD

Also in the package was the 2-disc release of the first series of Holby Blue, from 2 Entertain (the BBC’s front for commercial exploitation via optical disc). This is interesting, because I recorded the entire series directly to my computer via my USB TV stick back when it first aired, so I had a point of comparison to refer to when examining the image quality. The results, which you can see by clicking the smaller images below, are quite surprising:

Example 1
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

Example 2
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

Example 3
(Left: Commercial DVD; Right: My recording from DTV)
Holby Blue Series 1 Holby Blue Series 1

That’s right: the DVD release is considerably more filtered than what was broadcast on BBC1. Obviously, there are considerably more compression artefacts in the captures taken from my off-air recordings - that’s not surprising, given the notoriously shoddy standard of BBC’s encoding (BBC1 has a fixed 6 Mbps bit rate to play around with, so there’s really no excuse). I am, however, surprised, by how much more detailed my recordings are. A further black mark against the DVD release is that 2 Entertain have unceremoniously lopped off the “Previously” and “Next week” segments at the start and end of each episode, sometimes incredibly badly: the music has noticeable jump cuts and generally reeks of shoddiness. Is it so unreasonable to expect a complete package when you shell out your hard-earned cash for a TV series that you already helped pay for with your robber baron tax? (Ignoring the fact that I got the DVD for free, and, not being a home-owner, don’t pay the robber baron tax.)

DVD

The final disc in this package of joy was Optimum’s UK release of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. Audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English, with no subtitles, while the only extra is the trailer. Image quality (and I’m aware of sounding increasingly like a broken record here) is not too bad, but not too great either. There’s plenty of evidence of ringing as a result of brick wall filtering, and also a massive amount of noise reduction which robs the image of its natural grain. A couple of people who got advance copies of this disc mentioned that the film looked as if it had been shot on digital video, and I see what they mean. I wonder if Medusa’s Italian release (which doesn’t have any English audio options) looks any better?

DVD

This morning, I received an order from DVD Pacific containing the US release of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. This was an ITV adaptation of P.D. James’ novel of the same name (which I’m reading at the moment), starring Helen Baxendale and Annette Crosbie, and the DVD contains all four three-part episodes. My interest was piqued when I discovered that one of the three-parters was written by Barbara Machin, creator of Waking the Dead (the seventh series of which incidentally started tonight), so I decided to pick up this DVD set, fully aware that all four episodes feature standards converted transfers. This is, unfortunately, as far as I’m aware the only release of this programme on DVD, and beggars can’t be choosers. I won’t start watching till I’ve finished reading the book, though.

Blu-ray

Finally - and this is where my luck with image quality finally changes - I also received a review copy of the US Blu-ray release of Juno. My good friend Peter M. Bracke opines that this is “a fairly good-looking presentation”, but as usual I beg to differ. This is definitely the best high definition transfer I’ve seen from 20th Century Fox so far, bearing in mind that I own fewer of their films than any of the other major studios. The source material is such that it won’t make you leap out of your seat, marvelling at all the detail on display, but even so it’s an excellent presentation of a fairly low-key, muted-looking film.

Expect full reviews of The Frightened Woman, Holby Blue, Mother of Tears and Juno at DVD Times before very much longer.

 
Posted: Monday, April 14, 2008 at 11:19 PM | Comments: 6
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

 
Comments

1.

Mother of Tears doesn't have a discrete sub-channel?

Posted by: Peter von Frosta, April 15, 2008 12:11 AM

2.

Oops, sorry, that was a typo. It’s 5.1, not 5.0.

Posted by: Whiggles, April 15, 2008 12:16 AM

3.

Hey Michael, I'm still waiting on a pre-order of MOTHER OF TEARS from play.com - It's not due for release until later this month. Where did you get yours from and are copies already shipping? Also what's the English dub like compared to watching the film in Italian with make-shift subs?

Look forward to reading your review.

Posted by: Count Fosco, April 15, 2008 9:12 AM

4.

Hail Count, mine is a check disc direct from Optimum. To the best of my knowledge no stores are shipping theirs early.

The English version (which is not a dub as such, as a good 85-90% of the dialogue looks like it was recorded on set or at least dubbed by the same actors) in my opinion works better than the Italian, with a few exceptions. The few voices that are replaced are done very badly, with the bald assassin-type character being dubbed with a terrible, screechy cartoon character-like voice. Likewise, the narration of the Varelli book in the English version sounds incredibly cheap, like a placeholder narration - they really should just have taken the audio from Inferno, where it sounded much deeper and more commanding. On the whole, though, the English track sounds good and has an authenticity that the Italian one doesn’t.

Posted by: Whiggles, April 15, 2008 9:47 AM

5.

>> In case anyone gets the wrong idea, this is nothing to do with the quality of the source materials, which, barring some tape-based inserts for scenes which wouldn't be sourced from a print, appears to be in great shape. This issue here has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the way it has been treated at the authoring stage.

This isn't necessarily true. It's possible (unlikely but possible) that the company could have been given the source tape with this fault present. Ideally they would have rejected the tape and had it done properly, but this might not have been possible given the budget/deadline.

Not an excuse, but a possible explanation, the fault does not necessarily lie at the authoring stage.

Posted by: David Mackenzie, April 16, 2008 11:53 AM

6.

I know they did a D.I. on MOTHER. They certainly *could* have 'zorched' it with a careless job at the grading level.

Posted by: Jeffrey Allen Rydell, April 16, 2008 5:28 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

http://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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