The Bird with the Crystal Plumage BD impressions
The giallo lives in HD! Long live the giallo!
Ahem. Tonight, we watched Blue Underground’s recent BD release of Dario Argento’s debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the first “true” giallo to appear in high definition (I’m not sure The Stendhal Syndrome truly counts). I’ve waxed lyrical about the film in the past, so I won’t bother discussing that aspect of the package here. Instead, I want to concentrate solely on the audio-visual elements, starting with the excellent transfer, which exceeded my expectations by a considerable margin.
Like so many of its ilk, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was shot using the Chromoscope process, a system not unlike Super35 in practice. Lenses have obviously progressed a long way since 1970, so you’d be wrong to expect something with the crispness of a modern Super35 production like, say, Casino Royale or The Descent. Once you get past the fact that a number of scenes have a natural softness to them, presumably reflecting the natural aberrations of the lenses used, you can enjoy this rich, film-like and ultimately extremely satisfying presentation of an excellent movie. The grain is lovingly rendered with a crispness that resolves detail down to the pixel level, allowing the softness that pervades at times to look natural and film-like rather than the mush you get when an image has been artificially softened. Compression is handled very well for the most part, with only a handful of noticeable artefacts, most of them in darker scenes, invading on occasions. My only real criticism as regards this release would be Blue Underground’s decision to insert English-language opening and closing credits, which turn out to be blurrier and slightly more processed-looking than the rest of the movie. Given that, barring a single insert during the opening credits, all the on-screen text appears in Italian (newspaper headlines, computer print-outs and the like), I don’t know why they didn’t just leave the whole thing in Italian and give it a sense of unity. 9/10
Which brings us to the slight matter of sound. Whatever Blue Underground got right with the transfer, they well and truly fumbled on the aural front. Gone are the original English and Italian mono tracks that were to be found on the DVD release. In their place are an array of remixes in a variety of formats, which simply serve to take up space and cancel each other out. In addition to a lossy Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 EX remix, we get three separate English tracks, all of them surround sound remixes: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. One of these English tracks would have been more than sufficient. The first two audio formats are both lossless and should therefore (in theory) sound identical. Furthermore, both feature “legacy” standard definition audio streams for those who don’t have the hardware to play these new lossless HD audio formats, rendering the Dolby 5.1 EX track pointless. Blue Underground also had the nerve to claim that the reason they left the original mono audio out was because there wasn’t enough room for it, what with all the disc space taken up by these remixes. This is crazy on two fronts. First of all, if they didn’t cram the disc full of redundant remixes, there would have been plenty room. Secondly, it’s all academic, because in any case there is enough room left on the disc for additional audio tracks: a mere 31.7 GB out of a total of 50 GB is actually used.
Ultimately, there is no excuse for this sorry state of affairs, and it means that, as much as Blue Underground might like it to be, this release cannot possibly be considered definitive. I sincerely hope someone there takes notice of the negative criticism they have attracted for this decision, both from myself and other viewers, because, by failing to include the original audio materials, they are doing a great disservice both to the films and to their customers. I’m well aware that a “flat” mono track won’t wow listeners in the same manner as a bells-and-whistles 7.1 remix, but personally I care a great deal about the preservation of films, and this is not possible to do if the original elements have been tampered with. For me, remixing is as offensive a process as colourisation, and only slightly less obnoxious than pan-and-scan.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
studio: Blue Underground; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 28.5 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 42.42 Mbit/sec
Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009 at 9:14 PM
| Comments: 10
Categories: BD Impressions
| Dario Argento
I read somewhere that scenes have been inserted back into this release that were originally cut back in the seventies - Is this true and do they add anything to the film and are you given a chance to watch the film without these scenes ?
Sounds good on the image front and i agree totally that original mixes should always be included on these discs and not just remixes.
I'll buy this release.
Posted by: FoxyMulder, March 6, 2009 10:04 PM
This BD uses the same master as Blue Underground’s previous DVD release, which added a few frames of slashing to one of the film’s murders (the girl in the elevator). It doesn’t really add anything significant, but it’s appreciated nonetheless. Other than that, there have been various cuts made to the film over the years at the hands of different distributors, but the only other version I’ve seen is the Italian Region 2 DVD, which is complete barring the few missing frames during the aforementioned slashing.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, March 6, 2009 10:29 PM
The grain looks a little sharpened but at least it isn't smoothed over and unresolved.
Posted by: Kram Sacul, March 7, 2009 3:10 AM
I've seen this BD in motion, on a sizable projection set-up, and don't believe any undue sharpening to have occurred - it ain't STENDHAL, that's for sure (and that was far from a bad rendering).
This is an exciting transfer, and bodes well for upcoming releases from Blue Underground's back catalog.
Posted by: Jeffrey Allen Rydell, March 7, 2009 3:28 AM
Yes, unlike Stendhal Syndrome's BD, the grain in Crystal Plumage looks completely natural. It really is a marvelous-looking transfer, and I'll expect more of the same from Blue Underground in the future. If they ever get their hands on Tenebrae, hopefully it won't be vertically stretched like Anchor Bay's most recent DVD.
Only 31.7 GB used? They very well could have included lossless encodes of the mono Italian and English tracks and still had plenty of room to spare. I can't believe the actions of Blue Underground regarding this matter.
Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, March 7, 2009 5:06 AM
Looking at the overall bit rate (42.42 Mbit/sec), I suspect the bandwidth wouldn’t have allowed for two further lossless audio tracks, even single-channel ones (or, at the very least, they would have been cutting it very fine). A couple of 192 Kbit/sec lossy tracks, just like the ones found on the DVD, should have been perfectly feasible, however.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, March 7, 2009 2:22 PM
Shows how much I know, ha. Still, at least the DVD mixes could've been thrown on.
But of course, ideally they'd knock off both 7.1 mixes (since in a previous comment someone mentioned that nothing really goes on in the two extra channels), or perhaps keep one of them but exclude the 5.1 mix. I don't get why they can't see that there's no point at all for having so many surround mixes.
Posted by: Christopher D. Jacobson, March 7, 2009 3:41 PM
It's all about the $$.
The fans obviously bought the BU DVD. The "purists" who bought the Blu Ray release will have to stick with their DVDs in stead of selling them second hand. BU is the winner.
Another way of forcing you to keep your DVDs is by not including all the extras, like they did with other releases..
At least that's how I would do it ;)
Posted by: Crystal Plumage, March 7, 2009 8:54 PM
Glad to see classic genre films are being put out with such visual style on Blu-Ray. Support like this will go a long way to convincing me to commit to high definition in the near future. Plus this release, being ABC region coded in NTSC format, will play on a UK PS3 or am I mistaken?
Posted by: Count Fosco
, April 16, 2009 1:50 PM
Yes, it will play in a UK machine. “PAL” and “NTSC” as such don’t exist in high definition - they only become a factor for standard definition bonus features. The confusion is created by the fact that some discs from the old PAL territories are mastered for 50 Hz, which are incompatible with players from NTSC territories. However, “PAL” players can play both 50 Hz discs (e.g. the recent Wallace & Gromit BD) and the more standard 24p discs (i.e. 99.9% of BDs out there), provided the region code matches.
Posted by: Michael Mackenzie
, April 16, 2009 2:13 PM
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