Universal vs. Sony Pictures: Round 2
This morning, my copy of the Japanese Blu-ray release of Danny the Dog sailed through my letterbox and flopped gracefully on to my door mat. I’d been waiting for this release with some anticipation for a few reasons.
Firstly, while this title is (well, was) an HD DVD exclusive in the US, put out by Universal, in Japan the results are held by Sony Pictures, making it a Blu-ray exclusive. Whenever the rights are held by different companies in different territories, the possibility arises for rather interesting results as the two studios each handle their separate encodes (and, as the case may be, masters) differently. Additionally, two different cuts exist for this film: the American/British version, entitled Unleashed, is about a minute shorter than the international cut (Danny the Dog), lacking some character-building scenes and slightly extending an early montage, in addition to substituting the film’s final shot. Personally, I was disappointed when Universal failed to include the international cut on their HD DVD release, so, since 2006, I have been eagerly anticipating another distribution getting a crack at it.
Good news, then: Sony Pictures’ Japanese release is the international cut, complete with Morgan Freeman and Jet Li bonding over groceries (that’s not as weird as it sounds). Even better news: it includes subtitles in Japanese and English, both of which are optional. Beyond that, though, things become a bit confusing, particularly when it comes to the transfer.
In my DVD image comparison between the US, UK and French standard definition releases, I remarked that the French release (the international cut) had a markedly different colour palette in comparison with the other two (both the shorter cut). The short version, by and large, looked to have its colour values more heavily manipulated, resulting in “the warm-tinted scenes looking warmer […] and the desaturated ones looking more monochromatic” (to reiterate what I said in the Comments section of my comparison).
Well, the Japanese release features different grading again, less contrasty than either the French DVD or the UK/US DVD and HD DVD releases, which were quite heavily “pumped”, crushing some of the shadow detail and blowing out the highlights. In addition, while the US HD DVD was clearly taken from a digital intermediate, the Japanese version comes from a film source. It exhibits more grain (I strongly suspect that some noise reduction was performed on Universal’s HD DVD), but, while it seems to superficially show more detail, this is in fact due to edge enhancement, resulting in some unsightly halos around highly contrasted edges.
So, a toughie. I definitely prefer the look of Universal’s release, which appears smoother and more natural, and has (to me) a more aesthetically pleasing colour scheme, but have a look at the images below and see which you think is the more eye-pleasing of the two.
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 12.8 GB)
Danny the Dog
(Sony Pictures, Japan, AVC, 26.1 GB)