How to make a DVD on the cheap
My copies of the new Anchor Bay US releases of Tenebre and Phenomena arrived this morning. Unfortunately, as you will know if you’ve been following discussions of these new editions, you’ll already know that both are less than stellar.
If you were expecting gorgeous new high definition-sourced transfers, you can think again: to my eyes, both appear to be “fake” 16x9 upconverts of the old non-anamorphic masters. The new Phenomena appears to suffer from some overzealous noise reduction, which causes smearing. This is particularly noticeable during the second shot in Chapter 2, where, if you look at the grass at the bottom left hand side of the frame, you can clearly see it smudging and smearing as the camera sways slightly. And, given that they are derived from the same masters that were used for the previous releases, both are still missing material - a few seconds in the case of Tenebre, around six minutes in the case of Phenomena.
Audio (and lack of subtitle) options are identical to the previous releases. In other words, this means that the original mono (for Tenebre) and stereo (for Phenomena) mixes are nowhere to be found. Both discs include 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks, but these are both down-conversions from the 5.1 remixes created by Chase Digital.
The bottom line is that, from an AV standpoint, I really don’t see there being much point in picking up these new DVDs provided you already own either the old AB disc or another version. These are by no means awful discs, but the sad fact, for AB, is that, since they released their original DVDs of these films, other companies have come along and done considerably better, so to recycle these old masters in 2008 really is a bit much. The new featurettes that have been provided for both films are very good, and I really enjoyed hearing from the various participants (including finally putting a face to a name with the first on-screen appearance I’ve seen of Franco Ferrini on the Phenomena featurette), but it’s really a question of whether these two short documentaries justify the price of the new discs.
Regarding the issue of the ongoing debate about which version is the best, there is no doubt in my mind that the best all-round version of Tenebre is the Dutch release from A-Film, entitled Shadows. While this release is bare-bones, and it’s true that it does suffer from some colour timing issues in its second half, they are considerably less severe than on the Japanese DVD (which is admittedly the sharpest-looking of the bunch). It is also completely uncut (as is the Japanese release) and features by far the cleanest English audio track I’ve ever heard for the film, especially in comparison to the one used by AB, which sounds pretty noisy and scratchy.
Things get a bit trickier for Phenomena. The best-looking release, by far, is the Japanese one, and it is also the full-length integral version, but unfortunately, presumably as a result of using a longer cut of the film which sometimes includes shots which differ in length from the English version by a frame here and a frame there, several dialogue scenes are rendered in Italian only on the English audio track. If you’re prepared to do a bit of piecing together in a video editing program, you can put together a satisfying version, but if you intend to play it straight from the disc and watch it in English, you’ll have to be prepared for some key narrative scenes being in Italian, despite English audio existing for them.
I’ve posted some screen captures comparing these new releases to various other versions that are available at Dark Discussion.