Looks like the postal system is well and truly getting back to normal. A whole slew of packages popped through my letterbox this morning, among them Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray releases of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Unfortunately, the news is pretty bad on every front, as all three are heavily flawed in one way or another.
We’ll start with the good (or, I should say, comparatively good) news first: Halloween is the best-looking title of the three, with acceptable (although far from outstanding) detail levels and no obvious noise reduction artefacts. On the downside, as has been extensively documented by Dave Mack at the AV Science Forum, this release, and despite (alleged) claims to the contrary from an Anchor Bay representative, the transfer provided on Blu-ray does not feature director John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey’s approved colour palette for the film. While not as mangled as the Divimax standard definition DVD, there are definite problems here, with the daytime shots alternating between looking too summery (the film is, after all, set in late Autumn) and having the proper “brown” look, while the blue tint that is supposed to be present in the night scenes seems to come and go on a shot by shot basis. In the past, I’ve come across statements suggesting (some of them rather convincingly) that the Divimax transfer showed the correct colour values, but ultimately I’m going to go with what Synapse Films’ Don May Jr., who has had first-hand experience with the original 35mm camera negative, has to say:
You can like the sharpness, detail and the way the new HALLOWEEN looks on BD. That’s fine. I have no problem with people’s opinions on what they like or dislike and I’m not going to insult someone for the way they feel about a film’s presentation. But, based on previous editions that I’ve seen and the fact that I own original OUT OF THE CAMERA 35mm camera negative (not dupe neg, not print, not IP) for HALLOWEEN shows that the blue tint SHOULD be there in a much stronger way than presented on the current BD version.
HALLOWEEN is a classic of the genre. A film like this deserves to be properly restored each and every time it comes out on a new format. On VHS, LD, DVD, BD or watching on MONSTERS HD or your favorite cable station, you can certainly love it any way you see fit. If you dig it, that’s fine. The way it looks, the way it sounds, in whatever format you decide to watch it in… But, the BD isn’t necessarily the way the filmmakers intended it to look and, as a person who does digital film transfers and has been working in the film industry for almost 15 years, I personally feel that all transfers need to be signed off on by one of the filmmakers close to the project (whether it’s the DP, the director, etc.). Almost every one of our transfers has been looked at by the filmmakers, or personally supervised at OUR expense by the filmmakers BEFORE it goes to DVD… that’s the way WE roll. It’s a courtesy and a respect that we have for the films we release and the filmmakers that spill blood, sweat and tears over their life’s work. Perhaps larger companies don’t see that as a viable expense, but we do and, in many of our fans’ minds, that what they appreciate the most about us. We just try to do it the right way, every time, so that these sort of situations don’t continue to pop up.
As for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, to the best of my knowledge they do not exhibit any problems with the colour timing, but they have plenty of problems of their own, which have been documented, with visual evidence, by Lyris on his site. To put it bluntly, Dawn of the Dead is a mess, suffering from hideous noise reduction artefacts (particularly smearing during pans), and Day of the Dead is only slightly better. Both are also noticeably edge enhanced.
I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed at all by Anchor Bay’s initial foray into the world of high definition. These masters may have been passable in the standard definition domain, but when you move into HD, you really have to step things up a notch. People are paying a premium from what they expect will be first-rate AV presentations, and sloppiness like this is just not the way to go.
One final positive point to help take some of the sting out of all the negatives: all three titles come with their original mono mixes intact, and, in the case of Day of the Dead, the mono mix does not suffer from the censored swearwords which affect the 5.1 (Dolby and PCM) remix. Given that several high definition releases of older films have featured only remixes (Universal’s HD DVD of An American Werewolf in London being a particularly nasty offender), and also given the company’s somewhat spotty track record in this area, Anchor Bay are to be commended for their decision to cater to purists.