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Planet Terror Blu-ray impressions (long post)

Blu-ray

My long-awaited copies of Planet Terror and Death Proof on BD arrived yesterday. We watched the former last night, and it was quite an interesting experience. As I’m sure just about everyone is aware, Planet Terror was shot digitally but, in an attempt to recreate the “grindhouse” aesthetic, director Robert Rodriguez intentionally added several layers of fake degradation, in the form of heavy grain, missing frames, splices, tramlines, dirt, scratches and other assorted artefacts. The end result is about as far from what most people expect from the high definition experience as you can get, to the extent that many have questioned the point of buying these films (Death Proof is similarly affected) in HD. I’ve always found such attitudes puzzling, since, from my perspective, lowering the resolution and adding a whole extra layer of digital artefacts, as you would get with the DVD editions, seems simply to be making the whole situation ten times worse. With the BD versions, you get something that is arguably closer to a “true” grindhouse experience, because the 1920x1080 resolution allows you to see every scratch, fleck and particle of grain, in addition to the underlying detail.

That’s not to say that the effect is entirely convincing. Watching the film at this high a resolution ably demonstrates that, while Rodriguez and co clearly wanted to evoke the aesthetic of damaged film, they don’t really understand how the process works. When the image warps and bends, it’s clearly the work of image manipulation software, and it’s somewhat distracting when you notice the same library of scratch effects being re-used again and again. That’s not to say that it’s an unpleasant experience, but I suspect the effect would have been a whole lot more convincing had Rodriguez done what Quentin Tarantino did with Death Proof and actually shot on film then physically degraded the elements rather than relying on computer trickery to fake it.

(Screen captures after the jump…)

Exclusive to the BD release is a special “scratch free” version. Purporting to have been transferred from a recently discovered negative (haw haw haw), it’s actually not entirely scratch free, as some damaged frames remain in place (see the captures below), but for the most part, it allows us to see what the movie looked like before the layers of degradation were applied. How does it look, then? “Weird” would probably be my answer. It makes for an interesting curiosity, but watching a film that has an intentionally B-movie atmosphere and aesthetic in such pristine (and, more importantly, digital) quality doesn’t ultimately work: basically, you know you’re watching something shot in 2007 with high definition equipment, and that destroys the whole illusion. Oddly enough, the regular version uses the AVC codec while the clean version is VC-1. In addition, when watching the clean version you are restricted to a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, while those watching the scratched version are treated to a TrueHD track, as well as a commentary by Rodriguez and an “audience reaction” track, similar to the one found on the extended edition release of Sin City. As a final curiosity, the clean version omits the Machete trailer and other theatre-style intertitles which accompany the regular edition.

So, how to rate the image quality of Planet Terror? That’s rather difficult, because the whole thing is intended to look like garbage. Detailed garbage, but garbage nonetheless. Knowing that the filmmakers went out of their way to create something with this look (unlike, say, Crank, where I suspect the over-sharpened look was simply the result of incompetence), it wouldn’t really seem fair to give the image either a low rating that reflects the end result in a cold and clinical manner, or a high rating that represents the transfer’s faithfulness to the filmmakers’ intentions. I suppose we can only really assume that it looks as good as it was ever meant to. As such, I’m going to withhold an actual rating.

Planet Terror
studio: Weinstein; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: AVC; file size: 24.3 GB; average bit rate: 33.09 Mbit/sec

Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror

 
Planet Terror (“scratch free” version)
studio: Weinstein; country: USA; region code: ABC;
codec: VC-1; file size: 15.3 GB; average bit rate: 21.6 Mbit/sec

Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror Planet Terror

 
Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 9
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

 
Comments

1.

Oh my god, it's codefree, yay!

It looks like it's still 1.85:1 or 1.78:1. Wasn't it released theatrical in scope?

Posted by: Peter von Frosta, January 6, 2009 2:43 PM

2.

Yeah, it’s 1.78:1 throughout. I did read somewhere that Rodriguez originally framed his film for this ratio and only converted it to 2.35:1 so it would match Tarantino’s Death Proof… but then again, on the second disc, most of the storyboards, animatics, CG renders etc. are framed for 2.35:1. To be honest, I don’t know what the situation is with this film’s ratio. Makes you wonder why Rodriguez didn’t just stick to one and be done with it.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, January 6, 2009 3:10 PM

3.

The scratch free version does indeed look weird. The fake film damage is a character in itself.

re: the aspect ratios

The 2.35:1 framing shown in the Japanese theatrical dvd and in the online trailers appear to have more image info on the sides:

http://www.caps-a-holic.com/vergleich.php?vergleichID=604

Captures from online trailer:

http://img185.imageshack.us/img185/2167/grindhousetrailer1wo2.jpg

http://img185.imageshack.us/img185/2529/grindhousetrailer2eb9.jpg

Posted by: Kram Sacul, January 6, 2009 10:54 PM

4.

I'll probably give in and buy these BDs soon. Try and sell my DVDs for a few bucks... I enjoy the intentionally crummy look of Planet Terror, even though Rodriguez clearly didn't have a clue how to make a grindhouse-type film. It's still a good bit of fun, and the BD seems to capture the look wonderfully with lots of detail. The "clean" version would also be fun to watch. Does Death Proof have a similar kind of viewing option? (Even though, as I recall, the scuffiness tends to go away about halfway through.)

Was thinking I'd hold out for a full Grindhouse theatrical release, but who knows when that'll ever happen. Was thinking I'd import a Japanese release if they do a similar box set like on DVD...but if the theatrical cut ends up coming from the same muddy-looking, cropped-scope source (judging by the screencaps in the link just above), then no thank you.

Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, January 8, 2009 7:36 AM

5.

Christopher:

No, there’s no such option for Death Proof. Tarantino shot his segment on film rather than digitally, and I believe the dirt and scratches are authentic - i.e. they actually physically damaged the film elements. And yes, it’s true, the damage disappears almost completely once Zoe Bell and her crew turn up.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, January 8, 2009 9:25 AM

6.

It's funny, there are theories on why that is (the damages more or less disappearing). Not quite up there with "What's in the suitcase" - but a few. The one that made sense to me is:

"It's supposed to give the impression that two separate prints were used to make one, watchable movie. This happened sometimes in the old days of grindhouse. There were times, in order for a theater or drive-in to present as best and complete a movie as possible, they might have to piece one together from two or more prints. The first and a second half of the movie are from separate prints."

Posted by: Erik, January 8, 2009 12:59 PM

7.

Ah. Death Proof having actual print damage makes sense, as not only did it feel more like an exploitation film, but it looked and played out more like one also.

I'll never get over how the "re-inserted" lapdance ruins the whole setup of the thing. What a lousy decision.

Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, January 9, 2009 6:06 AM

8.

Eh, IMO the only thing worth watching in Death proof is the car crash and the car chase at the end. It's still entertaining to watch but Rodriguez had way more fun with his material.

Posted by: Kram Sacul, January 10, 2009 9:11 AM

9.

I tend to agree with you, Kram. I really enjoy the final half-hour, but the lead-up to it is like pulling teeth. I think you’re right - Rodriguez got more into the grindhouse spirit and set out to make a fun B-movie, while Tarantino decided to make, in the words of Mark Kermode, “un film de Quentin Tarantino”.

Posted by: Michael Mackenzie, January 10, 2009 8:33 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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