Arrivederci Amore, Ciao and my review copy of The Secret of NIMH both arrived this morning. A few quick words on Arrivederci Amore, Ciao before we proceed: I only got the chance to glance at it briefly, but it doesn’t look to be a very good transfer at all. It’s fuzzy, washed out and video-like, and it’s also not progressively flagged. It’ll do until a better English-friendly presentation comes along, but that’s about the kindest thing I can say about it. I highly doubt that the English-unfriendly French release looks this weak.
Anyway, The Secret of NIMH fares somewhat better. Despite the patent lack of serious bonus features in what was supposed to be the 25th anniversary release of this film (after a decent audio commentary and a cursory 15-minute featurette, the only other extras contained in the 2-disc set are crummy kiddie games. Even the accompanying booklet looks more like the sort of menus many restaurants do for pre-schoolers, with a crossword, mazes and join the dots puzzle. Still, the film is ultimately what counts, and I’m happy to say that the transfer improves quite noticeably on the old non-anamorphic UK release. It doesn’t look dazzling, but MGM’s rather conservative restoration (if indeed one was done at all) is still preferable to the overly processed look of Disney titles like Bambi and Peter Pan. Gary Goldman, one of the film’s producers and directing animators, supervised the colour timing for this release, and it shows, because it avoids the garish “pumping” that goes on so often with animated DVD releases these days. The colours look smooth and natural, and will apparently be the first time American viewers will get to experience the film on a home video format in anything approaching its intended timings - previous releases were apparently mangled by incompetent technicians who used Mrs. Brisby’s fur colour as a basis to regrade each scene, without realising that her fur intentionally changed colour depending on the lighting conditions!
But could someone in the know please fill me in on the film’s intended aspect ratio? The DVD includes both 1.33:1 fullscreen and 1.85:1 widescreen versions, and I can’t help thinking that the fullscreen version looks more “right”:
Below, you can see that a lot of the artwork created for the backgrounds shown during the closing credits is being lost, and the composition to me strongly suggests an intended ratio of 1.33:1:
As you can see, the widescreen edition is a fairly straightforward case of cropping the top and bottom of the frame, with a small amount of picture being gained at either side. Now, obviously, as a film released in 1982, it would have to have been projected theatrically in a widescreen ratio - more than likely 1.85:1 for American cinemas, although, as with many Disney titles from the same period, the Internet Movie Database lists an intended ratio of 1.66:1. On their commentary, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman make no mention of which is their preferred presentation, although it may be that they have expressed their opinions in this matter elsewhere. Does anyone know?
In any event, you can expect a full review at DVD Times in the not too distant future, although I would like to reread the novel on which the film was based, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, before I get started.