Fear and Loathing of the State
The extended edition of Enemy of the State (R1 USA) and the recently-released HD DVD version of Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (R0 USA) both arrived today from DVD Pacific. I’ve given Enemy of the State the once-over, and my report will, for now, be brief. Basically, it contains the same extras as the R2 UK release I already own - nothing more, nothing less. The transfer, meanwhile, features considerably less obtrusive edge enhancement than its British counterpart, but on the downside looks abnormally soft. Additionally, it strikes me as having much weaker colours than the R2, although I’ll have to do a side by side comparison to make sure. Either way, I’m curious to see the extended cut, but the new transfer doesn’t exactly set the world on fire.
On to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where I’m happy to report that things are better all round.
We all know how weak Criterion’s transfer of the film was, right? Actually, we probably don’t, because practically every review I’ve ever read of that release gave it a 10/10 (or equivalent) for image quality.
(On a side note, isn’t it amazing how a company’s own self-publicity can convince the public that said company is providing a better service than it actually is? The number of reviews I’ve read where writers praise Criterion to the heavens is just astounding, when in fact the discs they’re praising are so mediocre that they’re clearly not in a position to distinguish in the first place between a good disc and a great one! I actually bought into it myself for a long time, on the basis of a couple of stellar titles and a couple of not so stellar ones, whereby I believed the hype and assumed that the not so stellar ones were just blips. As it turns out, the reverse is closer to the truth: the stellar transfers are the ones that are the blips. In the end, as it happens, the average Criterion release is no better in terms of image quality than one from any other studio. I still thank them every day for spearheading the movement to present films in their original aspect ratios, and for creating the first LaserDiscs with bonus features, and for brilliant-looking discs like The Rock and Naked Lunch, but nowadays I’m convinced that the praise of their DVDs is a prestige thing rather than something grounded in reality.)
Anyway, the Criterion DVD looked abnormally poor, as did Universal’s version. Luckily, though, they’ve now been superceded by an HD DVD release which, while being rather bare-bones in comparison with Criterion’s stacked 2-disc release, and while not featuring a “perfect” HD DVD transfer like Serenity and Unleashed, is so much better than what preceded it that it’s literally like watching a different film.
Taken from a film element (presumably the 35mm interpositive also used for the Criterion and Universal standard definition releases, judging by the identical print damage), the first thing that leaps out is the monumental increase in clarity. The opening drive through the desert looks fresh and new, lacking the hazy, foggy appearance of the DVDs and literally coming alive in terms of film grain. The close-ups are eye-popping - for example, I never noticed Johnny Depp’s character’s clumsy shaving job before. Naturally, the increase in clarity continues to be evident throughout the film, although this is more evident in some scenes than others. The dark, low contrast sequences in the hotel, for example, unsurprisingly look slightly less defined than those taking place in the stark sunlight of the desert. The transfer is also pleasingly free of tampering, although, like Red Dragon, it also exhibits a degree of horizontal edge enhancement.
This is overall a mid to high 8/10. It’s fairly near the bottom of the heap as far as Universal’s HD DVD transfers go, but that’s no small achievement given how uniformally excellent they’ve been so far. For comparison, I’d put it on around the same level as Warner’s Constantine, which also suffered from slight edge enhancement.