DVD image comparison: Inferno
The release of the Italian DVD of Inferno in October 2007 is a pretty major event, because it marks not only the first time the film has been released on DVD in its native country, but also because it means that the US Anchor Bay release is no longer the only official DVD release of the film in the world (an unauthorised German version, a bootleg of the Anchor Bay DVD, has also been doing the rounds for some time). The lack of variety has meant that there has been little sense of perspective on Anchor Bay’s release - i.e. how good it actually is, how accurate a representation of the film it is - until now.
The Italian release is by the original theatrical distributor, 20th Century Fox, who treated the film absolutely shabbily at the time of its original release, and, until now, didn’t seem to want to know about it. This new release, which includes menus in both English and Italian, begins with the traditional Fox logo and fanfare (seeing this at the start of a Dario Argento film is a truly surreal experience, like two distant worlds colliding), but other than that, both versions are identical in terms of film content, with both featuring English credits and location type.
This is where the similarities end, however. A brief glance at any of the screen captures I’ve posted should reveal that two completely different masters have been used, demonstrating massive differences in terms of brightness and colour palette. Broadly speaking, the Italian release is lighter throughout, improving the shadow detail considerably (see how much clearer Example 10 is on the Italian DVD, for instance). The blacks aren’t truly solid, though, suggesting that some artificial brightening may have been applied. It’s also clear that the Anchor Bay release is noticeably cropped, with a considerable amount of additional information visible on the left and right of the frame in most shots, as well as a smaller amount at the top and bottom. The difference becomes less pronounced at around the film’s half-way mark, however (Example 12 onwards), with the increased visual information generally only being significant on the left hand side of the frame.
Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox
In terms of detail, the Fox release appears to show more than that of the Anchor Bay, although some of the perceived sharpness is the result of edge enhancement. It’s not the most severe I’ve ever seen, but it does add a degree of “digitalness” to the image that we could have done without. The compression is definitely much improved on the Fox DVD, utilising a significantly higher bit rate on a dual layer disc (the Anchor Bay disc is a single layer affair). This leads to better presentation of the film grain, as well as helping to make the details stand out better in darker areas. Overall, I think the Fox transfer has the better technical presentation, but the edge enhancement lets the side down.
Moving on to the colour palette, and this is where things get tricky. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to see that the two are very different colour-wise, and I’m at a loss to decide which one is the more accurate. Comparing it with my PAL UK LaserDisc (from Encore) certainly doesn’t do much to shed light on the subject, as the colours on that release are all over the place thanks to the analogue technology. For the most part, the Anchor Bay transfer is considerably more saturated, with colours that at times verge on the extreme. Inferno, like its predecessor, Suspiria, was always intended to have moments of dazzling primary colour, but some of the examples posted here make me slightly suspicious that Anchor Bay indulged in a bit of colour pumping. In particular, if you look at Example 9, you can see that, when lightning strikes on the Anchor Bay version, the entire screen is tinted a strong blue, whereas, on the Fox DVD, a more natural white is shown. Is this a similar case to the Halloween debacle, where the lab timing has been ignored for the Fox release, or is Anchor Bay guilty of jacking up the colours for their version? Anyone want to contact Dario Argento or Romano Albani to get their input on the matter? I suspect that’s the only surefire way of settling this controversy!
In a purely aesthetic sense, I can’t decide which of the two I prefer. This is such a visually-driven film, using composition, lighting and colour to evoke mood, and as such, I suspect that the experience will change quite substantially depending on which version you watch. I do know, however, that I’m not keen on the oddly flat lighting on Eleonora Giorgi’s face on the Fox DVD in Example 6 (the Anchor Bay transfer is much more aesthetically pleasing in this shot). In the end, I’m not going to call it either way. Take your pick.
Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox
For audio, the Anchor Bay release provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the English language version, plus a 2.0 surround mix in the same language. The latter is, however, not derived from the film’s original stereo theatrical mix, but is instead a downmix of the 5.1 remix. The Fox DVD, meanwhile, provides the original English stereo mix, along with the original Italian mono mix, and optional subtitles in both languages, the English subtitle track serving as a translation of the Italian dialogue rather than a transcription of the English. In terms of clarity, the Italian mono track fares the worst, coming across as somewhat muffled, although it is listenable enough. The two mixes on the Anchor Bay DVD fare the best in a technical sense, demonstrating a decent level of clarity, although, given that both tracks are remixes, they cannot really be considered to be representative of Argento’s original intentions. The English stereo track on the Italian DVD, by contrast, initially sounds a lot harsher and more strained, with some noticeable crackling during the first few seconds. The clarity definitely improves as the film progresses, with things improving leaps and bounds after the opening credits, and the differences soon become quite negligible, although the Anchor Bay remixes continue to have the slight edge in terms of overall fidelity. Purists, however, may prefer this slightly weaker quality stereo track to the remixes offered by Anchor Bay.
In terms of extras, the Anchor Bay release is definitely the winner, boasting a trailer, gallery, talent bios and an interview featurette, whereas the Italian release features only the trailer (in poorer quality, and with burned-in Spanish subtitles).
Overall, I’m really not sure how to call this. Both releases have their definite strengths and weaknesses. I suspect that it ultimately comes down to how important you consider it to be to have access to the original stereo English recording and the Italian language version. If you want both of these, then the Fox release is for you. If, however, neither of these are important to you, then it essentially becomes a question of which of the two transfers you find to be more aesthetically pleasing. Use the screenshots I’ve provided and decide for yourselves!
Go ahead and check out the full comparison here!