Dario Argento


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Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)


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.)

[Continue reading "Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)"...]

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

A picture’s worth a thousand words


I want to take a moment to showcase a web site run by one of Land of Whimsy’s regular readers, Bjørn Erik Hundland. Specialising in direct screen captures of Blu-ray discs releases, it proves the old adage that a picture really is worth a thousand words. While it’s not always possible to tell exactly how a disc will look in motion based upon static screenshots (The Stendhal Syndrome being a prime example of how still frames can be misleading), I tend to find them infinitely more useful than the average wordy article written for one of the “professional” review sites. Immediately, you can get a good idea of the transfer’s overall detail levels and, on a calibrated monitor, the colour, contrast and brightness levels. Often, you can also pick out degraining, filtering, edge enhancement and other unpleasantries.

What I particularly like about Erik’s site is that he’s showcasing titles that are a little off the beaten track - ones which generally don’t get much attention on other sites providing similar services. This is particularly true of titles coming out of Hong Kong and the Scandinavian countries, where, by the looks of it, some very nice work is being produced. So, if you like the HD screen captures I provide on my site, be sure to bookmark Erik’s, which provides a similar service to mine, albeit covering a slightly different range of material.

Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 9:24 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology | Web

DVDs I bought or received in the month of November

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Hannibal (R0 Germany, Blu-ray)
  • Shrooms (R0 UK, Blu-ray) [gift]
  • The Stendhal Syndrome (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Wall-E (RB UK, Blu-ray) [review copy]

How’s that for self-restraint? I said last month that I’d have to cut down, and by golly, I only went and did it.

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 11:59 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli

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)

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Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:38 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

More Four Flies details


Following up on my report on Thursday that Dario Argento’s long-lost Four Flies on Grey Velvet is to finally receive a legitimate DVD release next year, more details on the disc have been revealed. In addition to the impressively tasteful cover art, the specs have been revealed in a promotional flyer posted by Marc Morris at the Cult Movie Forums:

  • 16x9-enhanced anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, restored from the original negative elements
  • English and Italian mono audio
  • Teaser trailer
  • Original trailer
  • English opening and closing credits
  • Extensive poster and photo gallery

I’m really excited about this release. While the included extras are not quite as all-encompassing as many of us would have liked (given this film’s troubled history, I really was hoping the red carpet would be rolled out), but, as the saying goes, it’s better than nothing. To tell the truth, I’m just happy to know that I’ll finally be able to own a copy of this film that has at least passable (and hopefully better than that) image quality. Roll on February 24th!

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 7:38 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

Four Flies to get legit release

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Above: Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Source: Horror-101

After German DVD outfit Retrofilm released a highly dodgy copy of Dario Argento’s lost giallo, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, last year, it was only a matter of time before the rights holders, Paramount, showed their hand. The megacorporation, notorious for sitting on the title for years and refusing to license it to interested parties, appear finally to have conceded and have sold the DVD rights to MYA Communication and Ryko Distribution, who will officially release the it in the US on February 24th, 2009. Not that this has anything to do with Retrofilm’s bootleg being such a hot commodity, my goodness no!

No specifications for the disc have been revealed yet, but it would be nice to think that a title as elusive as this will be granted some choice bonus features. I know absolutely nothing about MYA Communication, barring the suggestion, as per posters at the AV Maniacs forum, that they are an offshoot of the seemingly defunct NoShame Films. I hope they do this release justice: the film deserves to shine after so many years of being confined to grotty pirate copies.

Oh, and, in related news, a teaser for Argento’s upcoming film, Giallo, has materialised online. Quite apart from the eye-rollingly amateurish nature of the trailer, this looks like yet another project for hire for Argento, similar to his Masters of Horror hack jobs. I’ll wait ‘til I’ve seen it before making an actual judgement on it, but this footage doesn’t look particularly promising.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Web

Léon Blu-ray impressions


Remember Léon (known as The Professional in the US)? Great film, looked absolutely terrible in every single incarnation on home video. Seemingly no-one could get it right, with even the so-called Superbit release being nothing more than a harsh, ringy mess with absolutely no detail whatsoever. (See here for evidence of just how appalling it looks.) When I first heard that the film had been released on Blu-ray by German distributor Kinowelt, my initial reaction was to assume that it would simply be more of the same. After all, the most recent US release, the 2005 version laughably referred to as a “Deluxe Edition”, was claimed to have come from a high definition master, and I made the not unreasonable assumption that the same master would simply be regurgitated for Blu-ray. Then, however, I was linked to screen captures of the new release by regular Land of Whimsy reader FoxyMulder, which, despite exhibiting a severe amount of contrast boosting, looked infinitely better than I’d expected.

I ordered a copy, which turned up on Friday. First, I’m sorry to have to report that this disc has been locked to Region B only, denying those of us with Region A players the right to watch this great film. As such, I’ve only been able to watch it on my 20” PC monitor and examine the encode at its native resolution in VirtualDubMod, so my impressions don’t necessarily correlate with the experience of viewing it on a decent-sized setup. (No doubt I’ll eventually have some means of watching Region B titles properly, but until then, I won’t be assigning a concrete rating to this disc or giving it a place in the HD Image Quality Rankings checklist.)

The disc itself comes in a very nice metal case, just like the one used for Warner’s UK Blu-ray release of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It looks very slick, albeit in a minimalist sort of way. The disc is dual layer and features both the shorter theatrical cut and longer integral version of the film, achieved through seamless branching (the file size listed below covers only the integral version). Separate English and German DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks are included, as well as optional German subtitles. Finally, all of the bonus content from the aforementioned Deluxe Edition DVD has been ported over, barring the pop-up trivia track. This release also gains a DTS 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) isolated score, which I believe was previously featured on the old American single-disc and German 2-disc DVD releases. All in all, if you don’t mind the loss of the trivia track (and I can’t imagine many people mourning it), this is by far the most comprehensive package to have been released for the film so far.

As for the transfer, how is it? Well, like I said, much better than I expected. It’s an AVC encode, and it appears to have been taken from a completely different master, given that it carries the 2007 100th anniversary Gaumont logo at the start rather than the 1990s “map” version used for all previous releases. (Incidentally, I really hate it when studios do this, replacing their old studio logos when they re-release films. The French companies appear to be particularly fond doing of this.) As previously mentioned, contrast boosting has been applied, and in places it becomes excessive, blowing out the highlights completely and mangling shadow detail. This is particularly pronounced in shots 1 and 2 below, and is in my estimation similar to the utter travesty that was last year’s remastered version of Suspiria. Luckily, Léon features a far more muted palette than Argento’s masterpiece, so the effect is considerably less distracting overall. Still, it’s very disappointing that someone (Gaumont, I’m presuming) decided to do this, as it’s an odious practice and one that is every bit as destructive as noise reduction or edge enhancement.

That aside, it’s a rather nice-looking disc. Not stunningly perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid presentation and a significant step up from the dreadful DVDs. Detail is good if not great, and while there is some ringing, I’m guessing it’s optically induced rather than the result of deliberate edge sharpening or filtering. Some noise reduction appears to have been applied, but it’s not overly destructive. Overall, despite the flaws, it’s well worth picking up, provided you can play the disc.

Léon: The Professional
(Kinowelt, Germany, AVC, 25.9 GB)

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Posted: Monday, November 03, 2008 at 3:44 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology | Web

DVDs I bought or received in the month of September

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Blow (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • La Femme Publique (R0 USA, DVD) [sample copy]
  • Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Kill Bill Volume 1 (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Kill Bill Volume 2 (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Mean Girls (R2 UK, DVD) [gift]
  • Mother of Tears (RB France, Blu-ray)
  • Tekkonkinkreet (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (RA USA, Blu-ray)

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days. I’ve been really busy with PhD work. Hopefully things will quieten down a bit by the middle of next week.

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 10:03 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Mondo Vision | PhD

Mother of Tears Blu-ray impressions


Mother of Tears recently became the first Dario Argento film to get a high definition release (well, discounting his Masters of Horror episode Jenifer, put out by Anchor Bay last year), having been released on Blu-ray by French label Seven Sept. I ordered a copy, and it arrived today. Unfortunately, as I suspected would be the case, it’s coded for Region B only, which is less than thrilling for Region A people such as myself. It also insists on enabling French subtitles whenever you select the English audio track, but neglects to provide you with a means of turning them off again (this “feature” afflicts a number of French DVDs and BDs). Luckily, those of us in PC-land who are armed with a copy of AnyDVD HD can easily correct both of these errors.

The disc is a single layer BD-25, and the film has been treated to a VC-1 encode. Unfortunately, while there are some nice things about the transfer, there are also a number of problems. Chiefly, the image appears to have been quite heavily noise reduced, resulting in waxy facial features and textures, with some edge enhancement added on top to give it that unnatural, digital look. It’s not a dreadful transfer by any means, and it’s a noticeable step up from Optimum’s DVD, but, as I always say, saying a high definition release looks better than a DVD is about the most back-handed compliment you can pay it. Screen captures are, as usual, below.

Mother of Tears
(Seven Sept, France, VC-1, 16.7 GB)

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Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008 at 10:35 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 1 and 2: In Sight of the Lord


Written by Tony McHale; Directed by Andy Hay

Shortly after Waking the Dead’s third series had completed its initial run, it won an Emmy (oddly enough, for what I consider the weakest episode of that series, Multistorey). The result was that, for the fourth series, it received an extended run of twelve episodes, up from the usual eight. The same producer, Richard Burrell, remained on board, and he succeeded in securing the same key writers who had been responsible for the show’s growth.

Oddly enough, though, Series 4 starts with a storyline penned by an outsider. Tony McHale is the creator and current executive producer/lead writer of Holby City; he also wrote and directed several episodes of Casualty between Series 9 and 14. His scripts, particularly of late, have had something of an unhealthy obsession with religion, Christianity to be precise. In fact, it seems to be his goal to get as many storylines revolving around religion as possible in the show under his guidance. This episode of Waking the Dead is no exception, offering up a whole lot of cryptic biblical references in a storyline which involves a serial killer hammering nine inch nails into the skulls of various men who were formerly soldiers in a Second World War army battalion.

This two-parter is unusual in that whereas normally Waking the Dead’s storylines start off reasonably logical and then throw you for a loop in the final half-hour, it’s actually the other way round this time. That’s not to say that the episode is particularly difficult to follow, but, for the first hour and a half, the writing is rather choppy, lurching from one plot development to another without a clear sense of logical progression. Boyd and the team make several rather odd leaps in logic, and while the majority of them don’t end up playing out (such as Boyd’s seemingly out-of-the-blue suggestion that the victims could have been Communists and were therefore assassinated for their political beliefs), I get the sense that McHale knew where he wanted to end up but had a bit of trouble actually getting there.

Actually, of all the Waking the Dead storylines, this is probably actually the most giallo-like of the lot, not only in terms of the killer’s motivation but also his attire: he wears a black coat, black fedora and black gloves, and at one point even employs the sort of harsh whisper that many a giallo killer has been known to employ in order to disguise his voice. The director, Andy Hay, has clearly watched some Argento in his time.

Elsewhere, it’s business as usual. Boyd has sprouted a rather alarming amount of facial hair, which in turn seems to have done nothing for his temper (“I don’t give a shit about your rights!” he bellows at one suspect who has asked for his lawyer to be present). Meanwhile, see if you can spot how often Frankie is conveniently positioned behind a table or another character: the actress, Holly Aird, was pregnant at the time, and, as the series progressed, the production team had to resort to greater and greater lengths to conceal her ballooning stomach.

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Waking the Dead: Series 3, Episodes 3 and 4: Walking on Water


Written by Simon Mirren; Directed by Andy Hay

After yet another extended delay, I finally get back into Waking the Dead’s third series, and with a significantly better episode than the season premiere. Taking the same path as Series 2’s Special Relationships, the plot this time focuses on a man, Mark Lovell (Craig Kelly), who has recently been acquitted of the murder of his adoptive father, Thomas, an event which took place almost a decade ago. On the night of the murder, four other members of the family vanished without a trace along with their boat. When the latter is discovered off the coast near the family home and salvaged, Boyd reopens the investigation, the assumption being that, if they can find out what happened to the rest of the family, they stand a good chance of finding Thomas’ real killer. Unfortunately, since he was locked up, Mark has changed - dramatically so. He is now Maria, and Maria is proving to be less than cooperative when it comes to dredging up Mark’s past.

It’s at this stage that Waking the Dead becomes very, very confusing, and I must confess that, despite having now seen the episode three times, I’m still completely flummoxed by what is supposed to be going on in the final twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that the writer, Simon Mirren, inserts a Big Huge Plot Twist out of left field, involving conspiracies, espionage and drug smuggling, and it’s a shame, because everything leading up to these final twenty minutes is very good. I love the way the script pokes fun at Boyd’s discomfort when faced with Mark/Maria. Much like with David Hemmings’ character in Argento’s Profondo Rosso, Boyd isn’t disgusted by the sight of a man dressed as a woman: he simply doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for all his tantrums and crudity, Boyd is actually a pretty liberal fellow, something of a rarity in TV detectives. (When Spence asks how Mark’s gender disorder affects his status as a suspect, Boyd snaps back “It doesn’t.”)

There’s some nice direction in this episode too, including a very neat shot of a body being slid out of a storage freezer, shown from the point of view of the body. On the other hand, I’m not wild about the various shots of the dead appearing and vanishing while Frankie is working alone on the salvaged boat. It’s getting a little too close to the pseudo-mysticism that plagued some of the later episodes for my liking.

Holby connections: The writer of this episode, Simon Mirren, penned several episodes of Casualty during the Series 13-14 period (he’s also Helen Mirren’s nephew), while Craig Kelly, who plays Mark Lovell, starred as SHO Daniel Perryman throughout Casualty’s tenth series.

Posted: Monday, August 04, 2008 at 11:13 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

Blu-ray Stendhal this year


Blue Underground’s web site has been updated to include a release date for the company’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Dario Argento’s splendid The Stendhal Syndrome: November 18th. This and Don Taylor’s The Final Countdown are the only two Blue Underground Blu-ray releases to have release dates, and, while I’m slightly surprised that this will by the first Argento film to be released in high definition (Jenifer doesn’t count), I’m more than happy that it’s on its way. Now hurry up with a release date for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage!

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Web

Damn your eyes!

Diablo III

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned that certain members of the online fan community had reacted with dismay (that’s a polite euphemism, by the way) to Diablo III’s richer colour palette as compared with its predecessors. Today, I want to expand on this issue.

Colour in games is a subject I’ve touched on before. To put it simply, I think there isn’t enough of it. The trend, these days, is to go for grim, desaturated visuals in games, presumably because the developers are under the mistaken impression that using a colour palette comprised exclusively of brown and grey makes their product seem more mature and “serious”. The games industry has a rather irritating habit of aping Hollywood rather than breaking new ground of its own, and I suspect that what we’re currently seeing with games like Gears of War (in my opinion one of the most visually unappealing games released in recent years) is an offshoot of this. In filmspeak, “desaturated” has come to equal “raw and gritty”, and game developers, thinking that “raw and gritty” beats “fun and escapist” any day (despite the fact that any game’s first goal, surely, is to be fun to play), have latched on to this grim aesthetic.

Isn't this cheery?

Above: Isn’t this cheery?

I’ve already demonstrated the visual decay of the Unreal Tournament franchise, with the latest instalment, Unreal Tournament III, sucking all the saturation and joy out of a franchise that once prided itself on its arresting design and frankly excellent use of colour. Thankfully, there are people who understand that not everyone wants to play their games exclusively in brown and grey, with the recently released Community Bonus Pack 3 serving as an excellent example of what the game should have looked like from the outset. Here, a group of fans have taken the tools made freely available to them with the game and have created levels which, frankly, blow their official counterparts out of the water in terms of aesthetics.

Someone else who gets it is Brian Morrisroe, art director on Diablo III. Here is what he has to say on the subject of visual design:

There’s a certain amount of grit and realism that we want to bring to the game, but it’s important to take the player into a fantasy realm. That’s what we’re really all about here, is exploring that idea of giving you something you’ve never seen before. If we simply took photographs and just applied that to a bunch of polygons, that’s really not us doing our job, so we really wanted to explore and push this idea of bringing a unique, different look to the Diablo III universe.

Diablo III

Quite. Rob Pardo, Blizzard Entertainment’s Vice President of Game Design, expands on this when talking about the game’s colour design:

If you look at Diablo I and II […] they obviously have the Gothic look to it, but […] they weren’t very colourful games, and one of the challenges we wanted to take with Diablo III was could we add colour but still maintain that Gothic dark feel? […] I think we want to take […] dark as an emotion rather than actual colour art choice, and I think that’s something that took a long time to get to the point that we’re at now - like, I think we’ve probably gone through at least three pretty major art direction shifts until we got to the point where we’re on stage, because I think it’s really difficult to pull that off, but we’re really happy with the look of the game now.

This is all well and good, and I must say that, from watching the gameplay trailer and looking at the screenshots, and perhaps most importantly from listening to what the people in charge of the game’s look have to say, any fears I might have had that they didn’t know what they were doing quickly evaporated. Yes, the original Diablo is a tense, atmospheric exercise in mood, and much of its success in that regard an be attributed to the desaturated palette and heavy use of shadows, but that doesn’t mean that this is the only way to achieve that mood. Rich colours can be just as effective at conveying terror. Just ask Dario Argento:


Unfortunately, none of this seems to have occurred to the armchair game designers currently throwing their toys out of the pram over the new game’s art style. The web, in particular Blizzard’s official Battle.net and unofficial diii.net forums, are awash with people reacting with horror to the game’s frankly lovely graphics. Petitions have sprung up and angry gamers have threatened to boycott the game unless Blizzard alters the art style to make it look exactly they way they want, while the less articulate have resorted to calling the graphics “gay”, “cartoony” and “childish”.

The reaction, from some people, has been so extreme that the subject of this negative response was even broached in an interview with Brian Morrisroe and producer Keith Lee. Mercifully, Morrisroe’s response was a polite but firm “fuck off”:

Diablo II had some very vibrant colours in it, and that’s something we wanted to play up, and […] something we really wanted to continue to explore was how can we use that colour, how can we use that vibrancy to really establish a mood? If you look at a lot of pop culture out there, colour is used to establish emotional states, and that’s something that we’ve studied over the development of the product. […] We pick our palettes accordingly, so although it might seem vibrant, the contrast levels, the dark and light values that you’re seeing within the game are still within the realm of the universe that you know, but we’re just adding a bit more colour to bring out an emotional response from the player.

The thing is, what the complainers seem to be forgetting is that, if the vibrancy offends their eyes so greatly, it’s easy enough to dial down the saturation either on their monitor or within their graphics card’s control panel, in order to get something more akin to what they’re looking for. Once colour has been removed, however, it’s incredibly hard to add it back, and turning up the saturation control doesn’t make shades of brown and grey any less brown or grey. There seems to be an expectation among some people that Diablo III should both look and play exactly the same as its predecessors, which I honestly don’t understand.

Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2008 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Games | Technology

DVDs I bought or received in the month of June

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • King Kong (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • The Kingdom (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Phenomena (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Stardust (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Strictly Ballroom (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Tenebre (R1 USA, DVD)
Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 1 and 2: Life Sentence


Written by John Milne; Directed by Edward Bennett

A playing card, the Queen of Hearts, is left on the windscreen of Dr. Claire Delaney (Susannah Harker), who, several years ago, was the first of six women to be abducted by Thomas Rice (Samuel West), and the only one to survive. All the others were raped and murdered, and, on each occasion, a pack of playing cards was delivered to the investigating officer, with the instructions that he gamble for the victim’s life by picking a card. Now, working under the assumption that Rice in fact had an accomplice, Boyd and his team set out to re-interview the notoriously slippery killer, now serving a life sentence.

It strikes me that this plot is rather similar to that of Dario Argento’s The Card Player, albeit without the Internet factor. This episode initially aired on September 2nd 2002, and The Card Player premiered in Italy in January 2004. Now, I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Dario Argento spends his time watching British television to get ideas for his film plots, but the likeness is nonetheless striking. The other point of reference, of course, is The Silence of the Lambs, the parallels being virtually impossible to ignore when you consider Rice’s “quid pro quo” attitude and Boyd’s use of Mel as a honey trap of sorts. Of course, Samuel West is no Anthony Hopkins and Claire Goose, good as she is, is no Jodie Foster, but the encounters between them (and Grace) are well-written and result in one of Waking the Dead’s truly tense scenes, as Rice systematically blocks his cell’s security cameras with various paintings, circling around Mel as he moves in for the kill.

Otherwise, this turns out to be a fairly conventional, albeit nasty, tale of kidnapping and murder. Certainly, after tales of bodies being found in churches and photojournalists burning to death in Series 1, this one seems a bit more like “real life”, while certain aspects of this case do bear a passing resemblance to the abduction storyline of the pilot. It’s an assured start to the second series, however, and one with a set of suspects that is manageable and at the same time not so limited as to make the culprit seem obvious. Actually, several people are hiding something, and the various allegiances are not all what you would expect.

Incidentally, from this episode onwards, the team have moved into their permanent location - the rather snazzy-looking headquarters with the transparent evidence boards and a lack of sufficient lighting. The episode also contains what is, to the best of my recollection, the first time Boyd uses his favourite interview technique of leaning forward and asking a suspect a question, then asking it again ONLY THIS TIME SHOUTING IT SO LOUD THE SPIT FLIES OUT OF HIS MOUTH. Truly, a man of tact and subtlety.

Holby connections: Paterson Joseph, who plays Dermot Sullivan in this episode, starred in Casualty as nurse Mark Grace from Series 12 to mid-Series 13. Nowadays, though, he is probably best known as Johnson in Peep Show.

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7:47 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

How to make a DVD on the cheap


My copies of the new Anchor Bay US releases of Tenebre and Phenomena arrived this morning. Unfortunately, as you will know if you’ve been following discussions of these new editions, you’ll already know that both are less than stellar.

If you were expecting gorgeous new high definition-sourced transfers, you can think again: to my eyes, both appear to be “fake” 16x9 upconverts of the old non-anamorphic masters. The new Phenomena appears to suffer from some overzealous noise reduction, which causes smearing. This is particularly noticeable during the second shot in Chapter 2, where, if you look at the grass at the bottom left hand side of the frame, you can clearly see it smudging and smearing as the camera sways slightly. And, given that they are derived from the same masters that were used for the previous releases, both are still missing material - a few seconds in the case of Tenebre, around six minutes in the case of Phenomena.

Audio (and lack of subtitle) options are identical to the previous releases. In other words, this means that the original mono (for Tenebre) and stereo (for Phenomena) mixes are nowhere to be found. Both discs include 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks, but these are both down-conversions from the 5.1 remixes created by Chase Digital.

The bottom line is that, from an AV standpoint, I really don’t see there being much point in picking up these new DVDs provided you already own either the old AB disc or another version. These are by no means awful discs, but the sad fact, for AB, is that, since they released their original DVDs of these films, other companies have come along and done considerably better, so to recycle these old masters in 2008 really is a bit much. The new featurettes that have been provided for both films are very good, and I really enjoyed hearing from the various participants (including finally putting a face to a name with the first on-screen appearance I’ve seen of Franco Ferrini on the Phenomena featurette), but it’s really a question of whether these two short documentaries justify the price of the new discs.

Regarding the issue of the ongoing debate about which version is the best, there is no doubt in my mind that the best all-round version of Tenebre is the Dutch release from A-Film, entitled Shadows. While this release is bare-bones, and it’s true that it does suffer from some colour timing issues in its second half, they are considerably less severe than on the Japanese DVD (which is admittedly the sharpest-looking of the bunch). It is also completely uncut (as is the Japanese release) and features by far the cleanest English audio track I’ve ever heard for the film, especially in comparison to the one used by AB, which sounds pretty noisy and scratchy.

Things get a bit trickier for Phenomena. The best-looking release, by far, is the Japanese one, and it is also the full-length integral version, but unfortunately, presumably as a result of using a longer cut of the film which sometimes includes shots which differ in length from the English version by a frame here and a frame there, several dialogue scenes are rendered in Italian only on the English audio track. If you’re prepared to do a bit of piecing together in a video editing program, you can put together a satisfying version, but if you intend to play it straight from the disc and watch it in English, you’ll have to be prepared for some key narrative scenes being in Italian, despite English audio existing for them.

I’ve posted some screen captures comparing these new releases to various other versions that are available at Dark Discussion.

Posted: Monday, June 02, 2008 at 10:19 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology | Web


Blue Underground Blu-ray releases

Three months after announcing their intentions to break into the Blu-ray market, Blue Underground have provided a tantalising glimpse at some of the titles we can expect to see from them. While no release dates have been announced, these titles alone should be enough to whet the appetite of any serious cult cinema fans:

- The Final Countdown
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
- The Stendhal Syndrome
- Maniac
- Vigilante
- Fire and Ice

The brief preview trailer, available on their site, also shows material from Two Evil Eyes, Dead and Buried and Uncle Sam. We’re being promised 50 GB dual layer discs, 7.1 Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, plenty of extras and (contain yourselves) D-Box Motion Code support.

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2008 at 3:58 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

The day approaches…

It’s time for me to go into shameless promotional mode, but for good reason. After months of secrecy, I’m finally able to tell you something about the DVD project Lyris is working on. This is the first public announcement of this release anywhere, so consider yourselves lucky indeed.

La Femme Publique

Later this year, new DVD label Mondo Vision will be releasing its debut title, the first ever English-friendly release of Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique (“The Public Woman”), initially released in 1984 and starring Valérie Kaprisky, Francis Huster and Lambert Wilson. The name of Zulawski may be familiar to some of the Dario Argento fans visiting the site, since Argento has identified his 1981 film Possession as one of his favourites and a key influence on Tenebre.

This upcoming US DVD release is special for a couple of reasons. First of all, the film has never been released on any format in an English-speaking territory. As such, Mondo Vision’s DVD will feature the first ever English subtitle translation of the film. Secondly, I’ve had the opportunity to see the transfer for this film at various stages of its encoding, and I can honestly state that the final encode, completed a few days ago, is one of the best I have ever seen in standard definition. To say that this blows away what most of the other independent and also major studios are routinely putting out would be a gross understatement. Don’t take my word for it, though: feast your eyes on the images below (click the smaller thumbnails to view them at their full size).

La Femme Publique

La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique La Femme Publique

Not filtered, not edge enhanced, not noise reduced, not tampered with in any way.

Specifications for this release include:

- Digitally restored transfer mastered in high definition progressive video (1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, dual layer)
- French Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono audio
- First ever English-language subtitle translation (optional)
- Feature length audio commentary with Andrzej Zulawksi and Daniel Bird (recorded specially for this release)
- Exclusive new interview with Andrzej Zulawski (recorded specially for this release)
- 1984 theatrical trailer
- Image gallery
- DVD-ROM content (original screenplay and high resolution images)

In addition to the standard single-disc release, a limited edition will also be released featuring a bonus CD containing the film’s original score, as well as a special commemorative booklet.

Two more Zulawski titles, L’important c’est d’aimer (1975, starring Romy Schneider, Fabio Testi and Klaus Kinski) and L’amour braque (1985, starring Sophie Marceau and Francis Huster), will also be released this year.


Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2008 at 6:49 PM | Comments: 21 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Mondo Vision | Technology

DVD review: Mother of Tears

All things considered, Mother of Tears could so easily have been a much worse film than it is. As a conclusion to the Three Mothers trilogy, it’s not even remotely satisfying, paying lip service to various plot elements from the previous entries but failing to continue their thematic concerns in anything but the most superficial manner. Taken on its own terms, however, you have a pacey and at times very entertaining romp through various pieces of 70s and 80s horror iconography, bolstered by some stand-out set-pieces and gung-ho violence. It’s something of a reflection of how much times have changed that I can honestly say I enjoyed a Dario Argento film more as a fast, silly rollercoaster ride than as a work of art, but I prefer to look upon this as a “glass half full” endeavour. No, it’s not Suspiria or Inferno, but nor is it the disaster it could have been.

Three decades after starting his Three Mothers trilogy, Dario Argento comes full circle with Mother of Tears. I review Optimum’s R2 UK release.

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 1:43 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews

So many discs, so little time


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.


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.


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.)


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?


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.


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 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

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