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Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)

DVD

Note: I am extremely grateful to Thomas Rostock for setting me up with a copy. Thanks!

Another World Entertainment is a Danish DVD company whose mission statement is “to try to secure the best possible transfers and extras available and to lavish attention on each film through booklets, trivia and other bonus features.” They have already released a handful of giallo titles, including Duccio Tessari’s Puzzle, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Sergio Martino’s Torso, and the latest film to come under their radar is Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, called “the giallo to end all gialli” by someone whose name has unfortunately escaped me. Earlier in the year, Thomas Rostock, the person responsible for masterminding this release, contacted me to let me know about it and discussed various matters with me. What follows are my honest opinions on the finished piece, going into as much detail as possible. (Note: I am grateful to Thomas for filling me in on some of the historical issues surrounding this film’s life on DVD.)

Before discussing the AWE release, a brief preamble as regards existing versions of the film on DVD would probably be advisable.


The 2000 Anchor Bay edition

DVD

The most widely-viewed of these is probably the 2000 North American release from Anchor Bay, supervised by Bill Lustig (instantly recognisable by its hideous cover art). It featured an anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation of the full-length 126-minute Italian cut of the film, with the choice of watching the entire film in Italian (subtitled in English), or primarily in English but with scenes for which English dubbing either never existed or was untraceable presented in subtitled Italian. Back in the day, this release was generally fairly well received, although Lustig drew no small amount of flack for his frankly baffling decision to freeze-frame the original “moving image” of David Hemmings at the end of the film so he could overlay English- rather than Italian-language credits, due to not being able to source a copy of the film with the original English text intact. Why he didn’t simply leave the credits in Italian remains a mystery to this day, as the clumsy freeze-frame is jarring and unfaithful to Argento’s intentions.

Barring the issue of the credits, there are also several other issues with the Anchor Bay disc which cast it in a somewhat negative light in 2008. Chiefly, these stem from limitations in the master itself. In creating the master, Lustig scanned and colour corrected the film’s intermediate positive in standard definition NTSC (720x480) at 29.976 frames per second, rather than going down the high definition 24p route that has since become (more or less) the standard. The transfer derived from this really doesn’t hold up particularly well on modern equipment, suffering from edge enhancement, an overall lack of detail and some invasive grain reduction, causing noticeable smearing. It also has a moderate amount of visible print damage which I consider to be a fairly minor concern in comparison with the other problems on display.

In addition, Lustig’s standard practice at the time as regards audio mixes ensured that the film’s original mono soundtrack never saw the light of day. Instead, he created, with Chase Digital, a 5.1 remix, and then downmixed that to stereo in order to provide a 2.0 track for those not equipped with surround sound setups. As an audio purist who refuses to listen to remixes if at all possible, I find this situation incredibly frustrating.

The Anchor Bay disc was later replicated in its entirety in 2007 by Lustig’s Blue Underground company, when Anchor Bay’s rights to the film lapsed.


The bastard spawn of Anchor Bay

The majority of subsequent DVD releases of the film have been derived from Lustig’s NTSC master. These include, as per Thomas:

  • German Dragon/Raptor 1-disc and 2-disc releases
  • French Wild Side 2-disc release
  • Dutch Film Works 1-disc release
  • Australian Madman Entertainment 1-disc release

I probably don’t need to tell you that all of these are video-based NTSC to PAL standards conversions, and as such suffer from all the flaws that you can expect from such a process, namely ghosted motion, stuttering and a loss of overall detail. They can be recognised by their use of Lustig’s fatal “freeze-frame” end credits.


Sticking plaster on a gaping wound

DVD

In 2004, Italian distributor Medusa, who owns the home video rights to most of Argento’s films in that part of the world, released their own version of Profondo Rosso, again derived from Lustig’s NTSC master and again an NTSC to PAL standards conversion. However, they did what none of the other distributors could be bothered to do and actually reinserted the original Italian opening and closing credits, complete with the “moving image” of David Hemmings. This is actually incredibly frustrating, because the credits themselves, in native (and progressive) PAL, look very nice indeed, contrasting horribly with the mushy standards conversion that is the rest of the film. Presumably, therefore, Medusa had access to an Italian print that was in reasonably good condition, so the fact that they opted to transfer only the credits instead of the whole film is incredibly frustrating.

At around the same time or shortly afterwards, Medusa also released a 2-disc edition of the film, the first disc being the same as that of their single-disc release. The second, however, contained a 24 fps high definition Windows Media version of the film for PCs, purporting to have been scanned from the original camera negative. I have not seen this disc for myself, but I have recently taken steps to source a copy and should be receiving it before too long. I had hoped to have had my hands on it by now, but, Christmas postal delays being what they are, I’m now doubtful that I’ll see it before the New Year. Either way, I’m told that it has a very yellow, faded appearance and is in poor shape, with a plethora of visible scratches and several frames missing altogether. Clearly, if the negative is to be used for any subsequent DVD (or Blu-ray) releases, some substantial restoration work will have to be carried out on it. Personally, I’m very interested to see this Windows Media version, if only to get some idea of the amount of work that will have to be done before it can pass muster.

A final note regarding the Italian DVD release: the rights holders purport that the film was run through the MTI Digital Restoration System, removing dirt and scratches, in addition to being colour corrected under the guidance of cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller. Furthermore, they profess to have used audio restoration tools to reduce pops, hiss and the like. To be blunt, I believe these claims to be outright lies. The MTI DRS is a complex and expensive piece of equipment, and one that requires a great deal of user input (contrary to popular belief, it is not an automated dirt and scratch removal process but rather one that detects defects and then asks a human operator to “okay” every instance of clean-up). If Medusa (or whoever created the master for the Italian DVD) had both the time and money to invest in this process, why they chose to perform it on a standard definition standards conversion rather than their new scan of the original negative is a mystery to me. Which do you think would yield more pleasing results? Beyond that, however, I see zero evidence in the final transfer that any additional clean-up has been performed beyond what (if any) was carried out by Lustig when he created his NTSC master: to reiterate, exactly the same print damage is visible in both. To clarify this, I went through close to 50 individual frames which contained damage on the AB disc, and then called up the corresponding film on the AWE disc. Each time, the exact same print damage was visible in the AWE release. Exactly the same is true of the audio, which sounds subjectively identical to that of the Anchor Bay DVD. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for companies to make trumped-up claims of “Digitally remastered!”, “Brand new HD-sourced transfer!” or “Approved by the director!”, and no-one will call them on it. In this case, I am 99.9% sure that no additional work was done by the Italians on the transfer beyond running it through the standards conversion process.


Profondo Rostock

DVD

Now, in late 2008, yet another new release of the film is added to the fray, this one released by Danish company Another World Entertainment. This version is a 2-disc set containing both cuts of the film: the original 126-minute Italian “director’s cut” and the shorter 105-minute English-language export cut - a fan favourite for some, although personally I feel that the cuts rob the film of much of the complexity that makes it so special in the giallo canon. Still, for completion’s sake, it’s very nice to see it here. The AWE release also includes a handful of bonus materials: the by now ubiquitous Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror documentary narrated by Mark Kermode, and a brand new English-language audio commentary provided by Rostock himself.

I wish to single this commentary out for special praise, as I’m of the opinion that it is the best of its kind that I have ever heard for an Argento film. To date, only five of the maestro’s movies have received audio commentaries. The Anchor Bay releases of Tenebre and Phenomena feature Argento himself, but are unfortunately are hampered by the director’s faltering English and his apparent reticence to revisit his old projects. Anchor Bay’s Trauma and The Card Player, meanwhile, feature commentaries by Argento expert Alan Jones, while Blue Underground’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage teams Jones up with journalist Kim Newman. The greatest strength of the Jones (and Newman) commentaries is their engaging and chatty nature, but this is also their downfall: largely unprepared, they entertain and, where relevant, provide some interesting trivia about the films’ actual shooting (Jones visited the sets for both Trauma and The Card Player when they were in production), but they lack the depth of a good critical commentary. Rostock addresses this with Profondo Rosso, delivering a thoroughly researched and meticulously prepared track that has a lot in common with the “scholarly” tracks that tend to be found on Criterion’s DVDs. I’m full of admiration for the amount of research he clearly carried out prior to recording the track, including digging up a fair amount of information that was completely new to me - for example, his observations about the original script, as well as David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi rehearsing the arm wrestling scene up to 70 times, and Argento almost drowning Giuliana Calandra for real. He also provides an excellent explanation of the Jewish motif that is present in the film, and for making sense of Marcia Landy’s vague and baffling assertions about Helga’s Jewishness inviting viewers to remember the Holocaust - which I admit I dismissed in my own fan commentary. My only (slight) criticism would be that he does spend quite a lot of time describing what is happening on the screen - indicative, perhaps, of the speaker’s lack of experience with this type of material (this is his first audio commentary). Overall, though, this is an excellent track that undoubtedly puts my own fan track firmly in the shade, and that alone is enough to make me happy to have this DVD in my collection. Would I class it as superior to the Jones commentaries? Possibly, but at the same time it’s worth bearing in mind that they both serve different agendas.

Unfortunately, what really lets this release down is that the transfer (for both versions) is derived from the Italian 2004 master - in other words, a standards conversion of Lustig’s aged NTSC master. As such, all my complaints about the Medusa disc hold true here: the image lacks definition, suffers from ghosting and strobing, and is overall underwhelming. Thomas has told me that he did pursue the option of licensing Lustig’s original NTSC master and doing a “proper” NTSC to PAL conversion (such as was done with Mondo Vision’s excellent DVD of La Femme Publique, taken from a PAL master and converted to NTSC without going down the video-based standards conversion route), but that the amount of money demanded in order to use this transfer was so high that it would have been impossible to recuperate in sales to the Scandinavian market at which this release is aimed. As such, AWE’s choice was simple: either go with the poor-quality standards converted transfer or don’t release it at all.

Personally, I’m glad they went ahead with it, if only for the commentary, which, as I mentioned already, is excellent. Add to that the fact that this disc is reasonably priced (£8.99 at CDWOW), and it shouldn’t make too big a dent in your wallet if you want to check out an informative and scholarly examination of perhaps the greatest giallo of all time. Add to that the fact that, although still a standards conversion, its presentation of the 105-minute export cut is the best so far (and comes complete with the original English closing credits that Lustig was apparently unable to track down), and you have at least two reasons to pick up a copy. However, those who simply want to watch the full-length “director’s cut” in its best possible quality are going to want to hold on to our Anchor Bay/Blue Underground discs, for two reasons. First of all, barring the closing credits fiasco, they still constitute the best visual presentation of the film. Secondly, due to rights issues, there are no English subtitles on the AWE disc. This means that those of us who don’t speak Italian fluently will be unable to watch the 126-minute version fully.

Overall, though, I am not about to say “Don’t buy this release,” but rather “Weigh up the facts and buy with caution.” I hope that this overview of the situation gives people all the information they need to make their own decision about whether to pick up a copy or not. Myself, I hope that someone some day comes along and does this masterpiece the justice it deserves. Until then, however, we shall simply have to make do with the variety of discs available on the market, each with their own individual strengths and weaknesses.

 
Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 13
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

 
Comments

1.

I have the AB DVD.
I'll wait for a BD.

Posted by: Daniel Sardella, December 23, 2008 5:05 PM

2.

I watched the WMV9 Medusa version on a 1650x1080 LCD monitor (the WMV resolution is slightly less, 1440x816) and I must say that it shines when compared to the indeed horrible standard DVD in the same package.

On my first and so far only try, some months ago, I didn't notice any overwhelming problem with the "almostHD" transfer, but I am by no means at your level of expertise in judging visual quality - maybe it was just happiness in finally seeing some Argento HD action on my old computer.

Posted by: MCP, December 25, 2008 10:34 PM

3.

MCP - I now have the good fortune of owning the WMV9 version, and I’ll be posting my thoughts on it before too long. Short version, though: I’m impressed by it. Seriously impressed. It’ll make a beautiful Blu-ray one day.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 25, 2008 10:38 PM

4.

Merry Christmas Mike!

Looking forward to hearing about the HD version, though I just may buy the AWE DVD in the meantime. Sounds like the special features are worth it even if the transfer might not be, and odds are when a new HD release happens it won't have the commentary or the export version.

Am I reading this right, and there are no English subtitles for the never-dubbed scenes presented in Italian on the English track? I think that the AWE release of TORSO was similarly not quite English friendly, and if so, that is a disappointment.

I'm almost ashamed to say I haven't seen it, but I did try renting it from Netflix ages ago only to find it was a poor bootleg of the AB/BU DVD, minus the English subtitles for the Italian dialog. Normally I'd just shrug it off, but the fact that those guys couldn't even be arsed to steal them ticked me off enough that I sent it back and haven't yet tried again. The fact that it was the *third* Argento bootleg in a row certainly didn't help!

Posted by: Kentai, December 26, 2008 4:13 AM

5.

The AWE release of Fulci's The Beyond looks absolutely terrible.

http://www.film-talk.com/forums/index.php?s=&showtopic=14056&view=findpost&p=462076

I've been afraid to more coin on other AWE discs ever since.

Posted by: Jayson Sehn, December 26, 2008 2:24 PM

6.

Kentai:

I’m afraid that’s correct: there are no English subtitles at all.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 26, 2008 11:38 PM

7.

Thanks for the confirmation. Darn, I guess I'll pick up the R1 after all and maybe get the AWE release solely for the features. Heh, look at me now, 3 days after I get a Blu-ray player in the form of a PS3, and already I'm thinking about how many DVD releases of the same film I need...

I wonder if the MTI Digital Restoration was used, but only for the Italian credits? That would make more sense than Medusa simply making the whole thing up, wouldn't it?

Posted by: Kentai, December 27, 2008 3:50 AM

8.

I do actually have a theory about where the MTI “story” came from… all will be revealed in a couple of days, hopefully.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 27, 2008 7:13 AM

9.

"MCP - I now have the good fortune of owning the WMV9 version, and I'll be posting my thoughts on it before too long. Short version, though: I'm impressed by it. Seriously impressed. It'll make a beautiful Blu-ray one day."

Is the WMV9 HD version encoded in a BluRay compatible format? I thought that those WMV9 HD DVDs for computer viewing were a format developed before VC-1. If so, I supposed you mean that the source used for it could make a beautiful BluRay?

Posted by: , December 28, 2008 2:56 AM

10.

“Is the WMV9 HD version encoded in a BluRay compatible format? I thought that those WMV9 HD DVDs for computer viewing were a format developed before VC-1. If so, I supposed you mean that the source used for it could make a beautiful BluRay?”

The HD version is an encrypted WMV9 file, which unfortunately means that converting it to something that could be burned to a BD and played by on a BD player isn’t really an option. Also, bear in mind that the WMV9 version has a resolution of 1440x816, which falls short of full HD, not to mention the low bit rate resulting in some pretty glaring compression artefacts. What I was basically inferring was that the master itself appears to be excellent, and that if that same master could be acquired for a hypothetical BD release, it stands a strong chance of looking excellent.

Anyway, I’ll be doing a full post on this before too long with screenshots.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 28, 2008 12:07 PM

11.

Mike:
The WMV9 file being encrypted, does that mean it won't run on the Xbox? Can you maybe please check if this works? Unfortunately my computer is a bit too old for HD files.

Also can you tell us something more about the audiotracks and subs on that WMV disc?

Posted by: Peter von Frosta, December 29, 2008 3:41 PM

12.

Doesn’t work on the Xbox, I’m afraid.

As for audio, all that’s provided is a 24-bit Dolby Digital 5.1 remix in Italian (at 440 Kbps), with no subtitles of any kind.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 29, 2008 6:58 PM

13.

Re: comment #6:

I was, it seems, mistaken. In fact, there are English subtitles for the scenes that are only available in Italian. The option just isn’t accessible from the menu, so you’ll need to use the “Subtitle” button on your remote. This certainly makes the disc much more viable for watching the film predominantly in English, although it still means that watching it entirely in Italian isn’t really an option unless you speak the language.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, December 30, 2008 5:59 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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