Another Blu-ray disc reached me today, Sony Pictures’ US release of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book. I already own a check disc version of Tartan’s UK release (review here), but I wanted to pick up the American version for its exclusive commentary by Paul Verhoeven (which, based on my brief five-minute sampling of it earlier today, seems to be a good one - there’s something very enjoyable about listening to this unrelentingly cheerful Dutchman rattling on and on without seeming to pause for breath).
In terms of the image quality, I initially assumed that the Tartan and Sony releases would both feature the same transfer. Tartan are, after all, a smallish independent distributor taking something of a gamble by dipping their toes into the HD pool, and my expectation was that Sony would do whatever they could to help them out. Surprisingly, though, the two transfers are not the same. They were clearly minted from the same master (unsurprising, in this age of digital intermediates), and the differences are miniscule, but they are there. Flicking between the same frames on both releases (I hope to put up screengrabs later) reveals minute differences in the distribution of the grain patterns, indicating that these are different encodes, even if the changes can only be seen by zooming in to around 300% of the original size. Furthermore, while the Tartan release shows some light ringing at the top and bottom of the frame, and around the on-screen location type (see Example 3 in my recent comparison between the Tartan DVD and Blu-ray releases), this is nowhere to be found in Sony’s release. It just simply isn’t there. Now, there is no appreciable difference in the detail levels of the rest of the image, so I’m not quite sure what is going on here, but ultimately, the difference is pretty much irrelevant.
Unless you really care about a tiny bit of ringing around some text (which, if memory serves me correctly, occurs at less than half a dozen points in the entire film) and a eensy bit more at the top and bottom of the frame, there really is no reason to prefer one over the other. It ultimately all comes down to which bonus features you would prefer (interviews with Verhoeven and Carice Van Houten on the Tartan disc; Verhoeven commentary and documentary on the Sony)… and, of course, the price. My understanding is that the Tartan release comes packaged with the standard definition DVD, jacking the price up somewhat unneccessarily. The Sony release (which, incidentally, is, like the Tartan, region-free) sells for a very reasonable £13.24 at DVD Pacific, whereas the cheapest I can find the Tartan release is £17.89 at Sendit, so that may tip the scales for you.
Either way, you’re getting a superb, almost completely flawless presentation of what is, in my opinion, one of the most downright entertaining thrillers I’ve seen in recent years and my favourite Verhoeven film so far.