My compass is pointing to DVNR
New Line were caught red-handed applying grain-reduction techniques to their Blu-ray and HD DVD version of Pan’s Labyrinth, and ever since, the more observant of us have been keeping close tabs on their treatment of films in high definition. The good news is that The Orphanage, about which I shall be posting later today, managed to escape from their clutches unmolested, but The Golden Compass has not been so lucky. Posters at the AV Science Forum were quick to pick up on a waxy appearing affecting several shots, along with the pictures to prove it. None of this was conclusive, though, particularly given that some of the shots posted looked absolutely fine, so I decided to get hold of a copy of the disc to judge for myself.
My copy arrived the previous Saturday, and, having now gone through it with a fine toothcomb, my overriding impression is that two things are going on here. First of all, certain actors, particularly Nicole Kidman, have been fleeced with the same technology that assaulted Johnny Depp’s cheeks and nose in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Milla Jovovich’s face in Resident Evil: Extinction. As unpleasant as the results are, this is ultimately an artistic choice employed by the director and as such is not something for which we can blame the technicians who encoded the disc.
Secondly, however, a fairly heavy grain reduction pass appears to have been applied to the entire film. I have no idea whether this was done to the original DI master, or specifically for the Blu-ray release, but either way the results are somewhat less than pleasant. This is something that can’t really be conveyed with static screenshots, but the grain has stopped being moving detail and has instead become something more akin to a static pattern imposed upon the image. The process also appears to suck fine detail from objects such as walls, fabric and the actors’ skin, resulting in an image that, much of the time, looks pretty synthetic and unappealing. It appears to be present throughout, but the fact that its severity seems to vary on a shot by shot basis (compare Daniel Craig’s face in Shots 4 and 5) suggests to me that this was done on a per-scene basis at the DI stage.
This is not a bad-looking disc, per se, but it’s also pretty far removed from what film looks like. Perhaps this was what writer/director Chris Weitz intended for his movie, but, if so, his is not a taste that I share.
The Golden Compass
(New Line, USA, VC-1, 24.1 GB)