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The worst HD images I’ve ever seen


I got home from work today to find a package from Amazon waiting for me, containing BCI’s recent double-disc Blu-ray release of Paul Naschy’s The Night of the Werewolf and Vengeance of the Zombies. I’d heard varying reports about these discs, with some viewers reporting what sounded like severe playback problems, so I decided to investigate the matter myself. Suffice to say, I’m so shocked by what I saw that I’m uncharacteristically going to say nothing and leave it to my brother, who encodes DVDs for a living, to explain just how appallingly bad these discs are. From his site:

As someone who’s authoring SD DVDs on a comparatively miniscule budget, I understand entirely what it’s like to be working with limited resources and some old film stock. My job is to make damn well sure that not even a trace of this shows in the end product (I look forward to the day I can show screen grabs, the wait is pretty agonising for me).

So, I can almost sympathise with BCI Entertainment, who have just released their first Blu-ray Disc. My situation, where I’m working with a mature, standard-def format is very different to their one of working with a relatively new HD disc spec.

The difference is video knowledge, and knowing where to stop (I’m sorry, but I’m done with being afraid of looking arrogant - this is quite clearly a release gone wrong). BCI’s release, a double-feature of “The Night of the Werewolf” and “Vengeance of the Zombies” - two Spanish horror films the 70s and 80s - contain unforgivable mistakes which are related to authoring mishaps, not a lack of money - which is much less understandable. Both films are presented in 1080i (the packaging claims 1080p) which is unusual, given BD’s native support for 1080p/24, but isn’t fatal.

Firstly, the black level hasn’t been correctly set somewhere along the line, so no matter how good your display is, the best blacks you’ll get (without compensating for it, that is) will be very milky grey. As I said, that’s a baffling mistake, but because we can lower the “Brightness” setting on our display, it’s not entirely unrectifiable (I’m not entirely sure what effects this will have on the image’s tonal range, though).

The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Above: The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

As usual, my biggest gripes with these discs are how shoddily digitally manipulated they are. There’s nothing we can do to undo these effects - these copies of the films are ruined for good. The film grain on both titles has basically been eroded with what looks like a purely Spatial process, which gives things a waxy appearance and cuts off details. In my opinion, film grain reduction should ideally not be done at all, but if you’re going to attempt it, it should be done first across the time axis (temporally) rather than at the single-frame level.

Every so often on “Zombies”, the picture will freeze up entirely for a few frames. Either this is a weird encoding bug, or it’s a botched attempt at hiding areas of damaged film. If it’s the latter, I sympathise because I know how tricky film damage is to undo, but as I said, know when to stop. Removing entire frames from the film is much, much more distracting than any film defects and is much more damaging. If you can’t undo the film damage - then leave it alone and make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. If it’s the former, well, it should have been fixed.

The audio on “Zombies” appears to be very out of sync. I’m not sure if this is down to shoddy dubbing or a disc authoring error, but I suspect the latter. In that case, it’s not forgivable. It should have been corrected before the discs were mass-produced.

The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Above: The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Moving on to “Night of the Werewolf”, the image is just as eroded - the same shoddy attempt to hide film grain is here. What’s the point? The grain is still here, the difference is that now it looks waxy and ugly, rather than like natural film grain. Now you’re left with a still grainy image with lowered detail, so you’ll please neither camp. Secondly, the film stutters badly throughout. I’m assuming that the 3-2 pulldown hasn’t been correctly applied (it shouldn’t have been applied at all - BD supports native 24p).

Most bizarrely of all, this one actually has DVNR artefacts. By “DVNR artefacts”, I mean instances where an automated system set up to remove dirt and scratches from the film has mistaken parts of the image for dirt and tried to remove them (example at 19 minutes, 20 seconds). So it would appear that the people in charge DO have access to this expensive equipment?

Before anyone says “These are low budget films, they’d never have looked great”, I wouldn’t be entirely sure. What’s there shows more potential, underneath the digital mangling. Again, leaving things alone looks like it would have been the best policy. And yes, I know what these films are. People would be much more upset if, say, “The Godfather” had been bungled in this way, but I don’t care whether it’s “Night of the Werewolf” or “Revenge of the Valley Girls III”, because 1) we can’t start judging and 2) good mastering techniques are free.

Oh, one other thing. Both discs have 14.1gb and 12.8gb filled respectively, falling way short of the 25gb maximum capacity of a single layer Blu-ray Disc. I’m not sure what the point of this is.

I think it’s great that smaller companies are beginning to release films in HD, but honestly, these discs should never have gone out the door in this state. They are seriously dreadful by anyone’s standards. I would hate for poor quality releases like these to add fuel to the already-existing “only Hollywood live action blockbusters should be released in HD” fire - these releases do more harm than good and if I had been calling the shots, I would never allow for these to have gone into mass-production. Small companies have it rough in the HD world, but there’s a difference between having limited funds and making a mess.

Oh, the one thing I have to add is that Vengeance of the Zombies is in the wrong aspect ratio. The entire film is presented in open matte 1.33:1.

Posted: Saturday, February 09, 2008 at 7:50 PM | Comments: 2
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology



Oh dear. It seems that BCI could use a shift to a new authoring house. Apparently the reason the Zombies disc is open-matte (which it is also on the SD release) is that when they tried to crop it to display anamorphically, it just did not look right - again a suggestion that someone they are employing simply does not know what they are doing.

Posted by: Tim R-T-C, February 10, 2008 7:15 PM


And to think, we were excited at the idea of these smaller outfits releasing stuff in HD.

If this and Anchor Bay's first efforts are anything to go by, I'm in no way disappointed that they've gone Blu-only...

Posted by: Danno, February 13, 2008 9:52 AM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 30th 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:


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