The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray impressions
I’m off work today with a stomach bug of some sort, and have been doing my best to distract myself from the stabbing pains and waves of nausea by putting my copy of the recent Blu-ray release of The Stendhal Syndrome, from Blue Underground, through its paces. Overall, we have what I consider to be a strong but problematic presentation, although to what extent these problems were avoidable is open to debate.
The first thing that struck me about it was how grainy it is. The grain is extremely pronounced and harsh, more so than The Counterfeiters, previously the grainiest film I owned in high definition. The intensity and appearance of the grain is such that Lyris immediately suggested that it had been artificially sharpened at some stage in the chain, and, after giving the matter due consideration, I agree. Judging by its appearance, the source material (a 35mm interpositive) was pretty heavy in the grain department to begin with, but, if our theory is correct, this has been unnecessarily accentuated digitally. It’s not awful by any means, and it looks considerably better in motion than in still frame form, but it does look a little on the harsh side and not very naturalistic. It also causes problems for the encoder, which simply can’t cope with this level of grain, meaning that virtually every shot in the film is crawling with tiny compression artefacts. Again, they aren’t overly apparent in motion, but are quite noticeable in still frame form.
I’m therefore happy to report that, other than these issues, I have no complaints about the image quality. Presumably, the same master that was used for last year’s standard definition release was used for the BD, and as a result it is far closer in terms of colour palette and contrast to that release than to the earlier Region 2 Italian DVD from Medusa, which, in comparison, looks decidedly washed out. Detail levels are pretty decent, although the heavy grain means that it never has the crisp clarity that so many crave for their HD presentations. Given that every single Blue Underground standard definition DVD I ever saw was over-zealously filtered, I’m extremely pleased that this odious practice doesn’t appear to have followed them into the HD domain.
Audio-wise, things get rather baffling. In addition to the same 448 Kbps English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks that were present on the DVD release, we also have two 7.1 tracks, both lossless: DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Frankly, I don’t understand the logic behind this, as the presence of one automatically makes the other pointless. I find this particularly confusing given that Blue Underground is a low budget independent label; I’d have thought they would have better things to spend their money on than licence fees for multiple audio formats. Personally, I wouldn’t have objected if one was English and the other Italian, but as both feature the inferior English dub, I can’t imagine either getting much of a workout on my speakers. English subtitles are also included, and they are, as far as I can tell, dubtitles rather than captions for the Italian audio.
One final note on the audio: the stereo mixes that accompanied the film on both the Blue Underground and Medusa DVD releases are missing in action. Now, I know that there is some debate as to whether the film was original mixed in stereo or surround, but this, coupled with a similar absence on Blue Underground’s BD of The Final Countdown (released theatrically in stereo), does give me some cause for concern. Are Blue Underground doing a Warner and neglecting to present these films with their original audio intact in HD? If so, Bill Lustig should know better, given the flack he received for his bungled remixes of (among others) Suspiria. Let’s put it this way: if The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrives on Blu-ray in February sans its original mono English and Italian tracks, I will be sorely disappointed. My advice, in the unlikely off-chance that anyone is listening: ditch the redundant 7.1 remixes and include the original mix as a matter of priority. By all means include one lossless remix, but any more than that is overkill, particularly if it impacts on the film’s original audio.
The Stendhal Syndrome
(Blue Underground, USA, AVC, 35.1 GB)
Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:38 PM
| Comments: 17
Categories: BD Impressions
| Dario Argento
That's quite a shame, I was hoping BU would do a better job. I already bought it anyway, even though I've never seen the film, but I like Argento enough to purchase even his presumably less-than-stellar efforts.
Here's hoping they do a better job with The Bird... and future releases, since that movie and much of his earlier work deserves special treatment. Really looking forward Suspiria and Opera on BD above all.
Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, November 22, 2008 8:55 PM
I know that Blue Underground's DVD was straight dubtitles (given the number of times subtitles appeared when no one was speaking), but I was flipping back and forth between the DVD and BD and did notice one change in the subtitles. At the start of Chapter 9, Anna is walking in the rain, she passes a guy and they say "Ciao" to each other. On the DVD the subtitle reads, "Hi, Anna, how's it going?"(this matches the English dub). On the BD, the subtitles are "-Hi." and "-Hi."
I don't speak Italian (and I haven't compared all of the sub/dubtitles), so I can't say how accurate the subtitles on the BD are, but Blue Underground has at least fixed one spot of the subtitles to accurately translate the Italian track.
Posted by: Derrick King, November 22, 2008 9:01 PM
Please don’t think that this is in any way a bad release. It’s actually far, far better than I was expecting and the sharpened grain is nothing like as big an issue in motion as it is in still frame form. It’s considerably better-looking, for example, than the French BD of Mother of Tears. Ultimately you’ll have to judge it for yourself, but I’m definitely not disappointed by this disc.
Hmm, I’ll have to take a closer look to see if anything else has been changed. Thanks for pointing out that anomaly.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, November 22, 2008 9:19 PM
Looks quite good to me from those still images as in motion a grain structure never looks the same as when captured in a still image....I would much rather have a less than perfect transfer with more grain than a DNRed smeary mess.
I agree with you as regards the audio mixes.
Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 22, 2008 10:00 PM
I forgot to ask....Is this in it's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio ?
Posted by: FoxyMulder, November 22, 2008 10:04 PM
A note about the upcoming The Bird With the Crystal Plumage BD, I looked on Blue Underground's site and, disappointingly, the audio options listed are English: 7.1 DTS-HD; 7.1 Dolby TrueHD; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX and Italian: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX.
Posted by: Derrick King, November 22, 2008 10:45 PM
It is 1.66:1, yes, and very slightly windowboxed as well (notice the small black bars at the top and bottom), albeit not to the same extent as Criterion’s recent 1.33:1 DVDs.
Damn, that’s disappointing.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, November 22, 2008 11:11 PM
That IS disappointing. I'm all about lossless original mixes. If a movie was mono or stereo, give it to me that way. If surround, present it close to as it was originally done. And, yes, if a foreign language track is present (and the Italian should be on Argento films and the like), give us properly-translated subtitles, please. I can't tell you how much of a cocktease it is that on the more recent The Good, the Bad and the Ugly DVD from a few years ago, the Italian track IS there (unfortunately not on the other Leone westerns), but the disc only offers dubtitles. Huge low-point; basically makes the Italian track worthless in my book, so I never bother. I usually prefer the English dubs for these films anyway, seeing as how the main stars are mostly Americans speaking English, but it is fun to hear the "other original dub."
I have to ask, though: By the time Stendhal Syndrome was filmed, were they still filming motion pictures in Italy with no sound, or was it all filmed in English with an Italian dub replacing the original dialogs?
Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, November 23, 2008 4:16 AM
That surely sounds disappointing. :(
The DVD release of Crystal Plumage had an English mono track, so I was pretty certain that the Blu-ray would have it as well. I really cannot understand why they don't include the original tracks. After all there shouldn't be any space problems on a Blu-ray disc!
The grain also looks very unnatural and irritating on the screen captures of Stendhal Syndrome, not like film grain usually looks like - actually it really reminds me of an image that has been sharpened too much on Photoshop. *g* I hope it's really not that bothersome when viewing the film in motion. But right now I feel a bit disappointed, as I was really hoping for a definitive version of the film.
Posted by: BobaFett, November 23, 2008 5:32 AM
All of Argento’s films have been shot predominantly in English (barring, perhaps, Le Cinque Giornate, which was never distributed outside Italy), with a varying amount of post-dubbing. In the case of The Stendhal Syndrome, the dubbing director, Nick Alexander, felt that Asia Argento and Thomas Krestchmann’s English wasn’t up to scratch and so had their voices replaced. This, in my opinion, is quite possibly the greatest mistake he ever made in his long career supervising the English language versions of Argento’s films, and it’s because of that that, lip sync issues aside, I infinitely prefer the Italian dub, because it uses Asia’s actual voice.
I think it’s as definitive as we’re going to get for a long time. If you pick up a copy of the film, let me know what you think of the image quality. The grain really doesn’t look half as bad as that in motion. I watched the opening 20 minutes on my brother’s 123” wall-mounted display and felt that the grain presence was, at the most, moderate. If it wasn’t too troublesome on a display of that size, then I doubt it would seem overly intrusive on a more “normal” sized screen.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, November 23, 2008 10:48 AM
I got this BD today and agree that the grain is really pronounced. It looks like 300, even. However, I question whether "sharpenng" resulted in the grain looking the way it does. I'm not seeing heavy edge halos and edge-enhncement artifacts, and had the image been artificially sharpened surely I'd be seeing that, no?
The image really is bubbling with grain and looks highly textured, but I'm not so sure the heavy appearance of the grain is due to artificial sharpening. I'm also very happy that we're not seeing grain reduction and its resultant artifacts here. I wonder exactly how Rutonno exposed the negative on this? What filmstock was used, and did he push it?
Posted by: Vincent Pereira, November 27, 2008 1:38 AM
I gotta say, it looks sharpened to me. I think Michael may be right, that this occurred at telecine, because it just doesn't have the telltales I'm used to with the usual post-processing on titles (distinct halos, etc), as Vincent notes. There *is* ringing of a sort, but much less pronounced, without the slight enclosing contrast edge that comes with EE. It looks weirdly 'first generation' video to me. Not sure how else to describe it.
It's not a bad transfer overall, but backing off the sharpness just a touch would have lent it better apparent detail. There's a stretch later in the presentation where a bit of gatefloat in the source seems to result in a sort of 'contrast pulsing' as the encode tries to 'hold on' to the grain. That's about as unsightly as it gets, but I do think this transfer will begin to look a little dated a year or two from now.
Does anyone know what telecine set-up was used for transfer? It's my understanding that some older units 'bake in' a certain amount of sharpening that subsequent models have left behind.
-Jeffrey Allen Rydell
Posted by: Jeffrey Allen Rydell, November 27, 2008 4:02 PM
Looking at the Blu-ray some more, the grain definitely has an "odd" appearance, looking more like the 'fake' digital grain that was added to 300 rather than natural film grain.
Also, I have to agree re: the two lossless English soundtracks. The Italian dub definitely should have been lossless, as well- especially since most consider the Italian dub to be the prefered viewing option thanks to the awful "vocal artist" who redubbed Asia Argento's performance.
I also agree re: the inclusion of original sound mixes. Although the end creidts indicate that STANDHAL was originally mixed in 5.1, the Blue Underground is a remix, and, as has become far to common, has some errors, at least on the English mix. Look at the scene where Asia's ex-boyfriend comes to visit her after the murder of the woman in the "place where all the whores go". The English sound mix omits Asia's dialogue when her boyfriend tells her, "It was definitely Alfredo". We can see Asia talking in the shot, but her dialogue is gone, and another line is missing after he responds to her. This is even more annoying in that the "English subtitles" infact appear to be "dub titles" which were trainribed from the Blue Underground remix of the English track, and as such the subtitles omit these lines, too, even though we do hear Asia speak in the Italian mix.
Posted by: Vincent Pereira, November 27, 2008 8:33 PM
Regarding the above, I was wrong re: the subtitles. The English subtitles do in fact match the Italian soundtrack, even down to a line that's been changed in the English version- during Anna's exam by the doctor after she's first attacked by Alfredo, he advises her to get a pregnancy test in 5 weeks, a line that doesn't exist in the English vesion.
Posted by: Vincent Pereira, November 28, 2008 1:23 AM
That’s very interesting, particularly as it must mean that the Italian and English scripts match each other very closely. Admittedly, I’ve yet to sit down and watch the whole thing through in English with subtitles enabled, but whenever I sampled the two at once, the subtitles always seemed to match the spoken dialogue more or less completely.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, November 28, 2008 12:39 PM
I emailed Blue Underground with my concerns of their Stendhal Syndrome BD (mostly about the seemingly artificially sharpened grain and for not providing lossless Italian and English audio tracks), and they gave me this seemingly condescending response (honestly, I was not a dick AT ALL and even congratulated them in some ways), or they just thought I was some country bumpkin who didn't know what I was talking about:
Thank you for your email and your concerns regarding THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (Blu-ray).
The extra grain you are seeing is normal for a High Definition transfer of an older film, and is not the result of compression or artifacting problems. (Note: I mentioned seeing some weird artifacting due to the grain's sharpness, and I guess they misunderstood me.) It is present in the original photography of the film, as well as the High Definition transfer which was made in 2007 from the original Italian 35mm Interpositive under the supervision of the Cinematographer. Whether you think this grain looks "bad" is subjective. But a chemically-finished, lower budget film from this era would have inherent grain which becomes more pronounced in High Definition. We do not try to minimize it in any artificial way. (I had never said anything about minimizing it, I simply said it looked like they had made it too pronounced, which is quite the opposite of minimizing.) You may be interested in reading the following review which does a good job of addressing the film grain issue: http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/35560/stendhal-syndrome-the/
Regarding the available Audio options, in order to preserve the highest quality possible, we were limited in the number of audio tracks we could include on the disc. (I told them it was redundant to have two 7.1 mixes seeing as how they're virtually the same.) This prevented us from including the lower quality original mixes on the Blu-ray. Most people prefer watching the film with the highest quality sound options available, so it was decided to include those. However, the original mixes are still available on the DVD release should you wish to access them.
The English subtitles are actually a new translation made directly from the Italian language track, and not strictly a copy of the English dub track.
We understand that you can't please everybody, but we hope this information is helpful to you.
Blue Underground, Inc.
Yeah... OK. I haven't replied because it kind of seemed like a lost cause, but maybe I will. They seem to think I'm saying things other than what I typed them, like they just glanced over my email rather than really reading it carefully. My favorite part is where they say I can buy the DVDs to get the original mixes of both Stendhal and Crystal Plumage.
Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, December 8, 2008 5:07 AM
Thanks for posting their reply. What a really disappointing response from them. They go on about not being able to include the original audio mixes because they were limited by space, but then go ahead and include two completely redundant (and theoretically identical) lossless mixes, which take up the same amount of space as about 20 192 Kbps stereo tracks! What a joke. All they’re doing is encouraging purists to find a means of reverse engineering their discs to add the correct audio options back in.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, December 8, 2008 9:38 AM
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: