Carrie Blu-ray impressions
Today, I got to check out my first ever MGM Blu-ray disc in the form of Carrie. As you may or may not know, 20th Century Fox has, as of 2006, taken over the distribution of MGM’s titles on home video, so it is their logo that appears when you hit “Play”, and, I suppose, ultimately their responsibility. Fox received a lot of flack in the earliest days of Blu-ray, for their excessively high RRPs ($40 for every title, even catalogue ones), their favouring of the outdated MPEG-2 codec and their tendency to lose a substantial amount of bonus material during the DVD-to-BD transition. (Of course, some might counter by pointing out that, out of all the major studios releasing titles in HD, Fox is the only one to have included lossless audio on every disc right from the get-go.) To cap it all, Fox disappeared off the face of the HD map for the better part of 2007, citing concerns over weaknesses in the format’s copy protection. With the arrival of the new and improved (and supposedly impenetrable) BD+, Fox rejoined the fray… only for BD+ to be cracked within the week. Oddly enough, I don’t feel a shred of sympathy for them.
Anyway, Fox have made some improvements to the situation, gradually transitioning over to AVC instead of MPEG-2, and generally doing a better (but still well away from perfect) job of including the extras available on existing standard definition editions of films. And, of course, they haven’t done another disappearing act since the BD+ debacle turned out to be little more than hot air.
Unfortunately, for all the gains made by Fox, the people in charge of putting together their MGM titles are still labouring under the misconception that we are living in the dark ages. Bare-bones, single-layer, MPEG-2 discs devoid of all extras are the norm - in fact, I can’t remember the last MGM title to carry anything more than a trailer. And that’s assuming the discs come out at all - two years down the line, I’m still waiting for The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Ultimately, the MGM crew give the impression of treating HD as little more than an afterthought, and it’s because of this (and the lack of film I would actually want to buy from them) that have held me back from investigating their output at all until now.
Anyway, Carrie - how is it? Well, one thing’s for sure, the specs are typical MGM - MPEG-2 encode, single-layer disc, no extras apart from a trailer, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix, alongside the original mono mix. For the latter alone MGM immediately gains points over the likes of Warner, who routinely omit the original audio of their films in favour of distracting remixes. That’s the strongest point in this release’s favour. Otherwise, there’s not much praise that can be heaped upon it, although we need to bear in mind the source materials: the image looks rather diffuse and murky, but then I doubt that Carrie ever looked razor-sharp to begin with. Grain reduction is evident in places, although not consistently, and at times the grain does look reasonably natural. It’s definitely no Patton or Dark City, that’s for sure. It’s unclear what the source material is - Lyris suspects a print rather than the original negative - but, if this is the case, it’s difficult to know whether going back to an earlier generation would have resulted in any appreciable improvement to the perceived image quality. It’s a tough one overall, and I doubt that it’s going to impress anyone (the “I want everything to look like a Pixar movie” crowd will complain about the grain, and the “I want films to look like film” lot will probably be equally unimpressed, albeit for different reasons), but I’ve seen plenty of high profile titles subjected to extensive restoration work which look a lot worse. It’s certainly no worse than a lot of the shovelware put out by Universal.
(20th Century Fox/MGM, USA, MPEG-2, 18.5 GB)