Dario Argento


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The colours, man… the colours!


Last night, I went to a special screening of Suspiria at the Glasgow Film Theatre with Nick from DVD Trash, and we both had a blast. This was the first time I’d ever seen an actual print of the film, having only previously been acquainted with its DVD and BD incarnations, and it was quite the experience. The turn-out was surprisingly good, and while we did have to contend with the usual degree of tittering that accompanies any screening of an Argento film, people seemed to really get into the spirit of it. There was even one guy sitting in front of us who kept whistling along to the music and tapping his walking stick in time with it. Sometimes, the laughter seemed at odds with what was happening on the screen - for some reason, people seemed to think Suzy killing the bat near the end was just hilarious - but on other occasions, it was more justified. Seeing it in the company of new viewers and hearing their reactions reminded me of how funny some of Alida Valli’s mannerisms and reactions are - completely intentional, I’d wager.

Just to continue the never-ending debate surrounding the film’s colours (more specifically, the horribly ganked colours on the new HD master from 2007), what the GFT screened was a UK theatrical print from the 70s, complete with the old BBFC “X” card at the start. The deaths of Pat and Daniel were cut to ribbons, of course, and Sara’s murder was all but obliterated… although, in the case of the latter, I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate edit or simply the result of footage being lost to print damage. While, all things considered, the print was in reasonable shape (it must have seen nigh on three decades of use, after all), tramlines were more or less constant, and there was an abundance of splotches and speckles. There were also a handful of noticeable jumps, mainly around reel changes.

The colours were terrific, however, and it gave me a new-found appreciation for the Anchor Bay DVD, which really is very faithful to how the GFT’s print looked. The DVD may be a little undersaturated, but in terms of brightness, contrast etc. it appears to be pretty much spot on. The overall colour temperature also tallied, although the print we saw did seem to be yellowing slightly - as is only to be expected of an Eastman print of this vintage. Certainly, the lovely presentation I saw last night looked nothing at all like the the nasty Italian Blu-ray release from this year or the equally nasty French and Italian DVDs from 2007… which is what I’ve been saying all along, of course. Still, it was nice to see a genuine print with my own eyes, just so I could confirm that the Anchor Bay DVD really is how the film looked back in the 70s.

Update, May 28th, 2009 11:06 PM: I’ve gone back and rewritten the post slightly after realising that it was a semi-incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness babble. Blame that on my writing it first thing before work after a very unsettled night, in which I got about two and a half hours’ sleep!

Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 7:21 AM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento

Two Evil Eyes BD impressions


Rewatching the Dario Argento/George A. Romero collaboration Two Evil Eyes again tonight for the first time in a few years, I was struck by two things. First, Edgar Allan Poe had a tendency to repeat himself. Secondly, the Romero segment isn’t as plodding as I’d remembered. True, the Argento half is still the better by a considerable margin, but I’m slowly coming round to the notion that Romero’s The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar has been unfairly maligned. Actually, at the same time, I’d even be tempted to suggest that Argento’s The Black Cat has been slightly overrated by some. I’ll hopefully be putting together a full review before too long.

As far as the transfer goes, I’d suggest that this is one of those rare instances where the screenshots shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an entirely truthful representation of how the disc looks in motion. Quite a few of them look rather “smudgy”, but in actual fact during playback it looks extremely crisp and film-like. Of all the Argento films released in HD so far, this is by far the best-looking - although, as far as Romero is concerned, I’d edge towards Optimum’s Region B Night of the Living Dead looking slightly better. I was extremely satisfied with how this disc looked on the whole, with only the optical shots (which aren’t exactly numerous) showing reduced detail. 9/10

Two Evil Eyes
studio: Blue Underground; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 39 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 46.66 Mbit/sec

Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes Two Evil Eyes

Posted: Saturday, April 11, 2009 at 11:49 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews | Technology

Just arrived…


Two Evil Eyes (Blu-ray, Blue Underground, Region ABC, USA)

Posted: Monday, April 06, 2009 at 10:29 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento

BDs and DVDs I bought or received in the month of March

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • March 4, 2009: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 7, 2009: Bolt (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 12, 2009: Pinocchio (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 13, 2009: Quantum of Solace (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 19, 2009: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Region 0 USA, DVD) [review copy]
  • March 19, 2009: Weeds: Season One (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 20, 2009: Rebus (Region 0 UK, DVD)
  • March 20, 2009: Suspiria (Region B Italy, Blu-ray)
  • March 23, 2009: Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 8:39 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

BD review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

As far as the transfer goes, this BD release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a superb example of how to properly treat a catalogue title. In terms of audio however, the lack of the original mono mixes is a grave oversight and one that sullies this release considerably. It’s a delight to see Dario Argento’s landmark first film released in high definition and looking this good, but without it’s original sound this release can never hope to be considered definitive.

Dario Argento’s landmark first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, arrives on BD courtesy of Blue Underground. I crack the case over at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 5:51 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews

DVD review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet

While the very fact that we finally have an authorised copy of the film with reasonably good image quality is a cause for celebration, Four Flies on Grey Velvet’s official DVD debut is, alas, far from the unmitigated triumph for which many of us were hoping. On the one hand, it’s probably a minor miracle that the film is available and looks as good as it does. The missing footage and audio problems, however, are significant enough for me to suggest that Mya should strongly consider a recall to correct, at the very least, the sound pitch. This disc gets a relatively tepid recommendation from me: it is, on balance, the best release of the film to date, but it is my firm hope that either Mya or another company revisits this title in the future and does it proper justice.

Pigs take to the skies and Satan ice skates to work as Dario Argento’s long-lost third film, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, finally gets an authorised DVD release, courtesy of Mya Communication.

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Saturday, March 28, 2009 at 2:01 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews

Four Flies on Shaky Ground (long post)


So, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, huh? I was going to post about the new DVD from Mya some time ago, but to be honest, every time I was about to actually write something, it seemed as if some new scrap of information emerged. The latest, of course, is that an upcoming Italian DVD release from 01 Distribution has been halted, because the Argentos have cried foul and are taking legal action against the perpetrators. Going by a Google translation of a statement issued by close Argento associate Luigi Cozzi, an “unidentified foreign company” sold the film’s rights to RAI, but Dario and Claudio Argento claimed that these rights were not theirs to sell. Obviously, this is going to take some time to sort out, and in the meantime the question has arisen as to exactly how legitimate the Mya release is. The Argentos claim to own the film’s rights in every territory except the US, where they are held by Paramount, but there can be little doubt that the Mya DVD was put together without any input from Paramount, which in turn raises the possibility that Mya’s release is on ground every bit as shaky as the postponed Italian release. For the time being, I’m going to assume that the Mya is legit, but my advice would be to pick up a copy of it immediately if you want it. You never know - tomorrow we could wake up to find that all remaining copies have been yanked from the shelves.

So, let’s get all this legal farragho out of the way and discuss what really matters: the disc itself. So, the “lost” Argento film that fans have been clamouring for, for the better part of four decades. Presumably, then, Mya pulled out all the stops to make the definitive release of this elusive gem? Well… no, not really. In actual fact, Mya have screwed up this release pretty royally, on two counts:

1. The English audio track is a disaster.

2. Approximately 40 seconds’ worth of material is missing. No, really.

[Continue reading "Four Flies on Shaky Ground (long post)"...]

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009 at 3:08 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Technology | Web

Suspiria BD (final) impressions


This is a little later in coming than I would have liked, but I’ve been fighting off the effects of a less than pleasant cold over the last couple of days and have only just got round to catching up on the various matters needing my attention. (A post on the new Four Flies on Grey Velvet DVD from Mya is also in the pipeline.) We watched the BD release of Suspiria on the big screen on Tuesday night, and it proved to be a rather frustrating experience, on two fronts. First of all, because our attempts to synchronise the BD video with the English audio from the Image Entertainment LaserDisc weren’t entirely successful. Secondly, because of the aforementioned video unpleasantness.

Looking through the disc again today, I noticed several other problems with the master, seemingly stemming from the digital noise reduction (DNR) that was applied during the extensive restoration. Well, perhaps “extensive” is the wrong word to use, since, while the budget clearly allowed for scanning the negative, performing an automated dirt and scratch removal pass, and goosing the brightness, contrast and colour values something rotten, it evidently didn’t stretch to decent quality control. I noticed several instances of the DNR machine screwing up during the thunderstorm at the start of the film, this image showing one of the worst affected frames. Gaffes like these serve to highlight how essential it is that, if making use of automated NR tools, you carefully check the output before signing off on it.

I also came across a strange effect whereby, at the start of each new shot, the first frame is perfectly crisp, retaining all of its inherent grain. Thereafter, the second frame has had more or less all of its grain completely eroded and as a result looks like wax. By the third frame, the grain has returned again. See, for example, this instance: (Frame 1), (Frame 2), (Frame 3). Something similar generally happens at the end of each shot too, with the last two frames seeming unnaturally blurry. This process is repeated without fail throughout the entire film, and I suspect it points to yet further careless misuse of the video restoration system.

Finally, we also have that age-old favourite, the DNR machine attempting to repair a damaged frame by taking material from another frame and making matters worse in the process, usually by selecting the wrong piece of visual information. This shot shows a particularly horrific example, where information from the same or a previous frame somehow ends up on the letterboxing at the bottom of the frame. Was anyone actually checking this stuff at all or did someone just his the “Go” button and head off for a leak?

All this has only soured my attitude towards this restoration of Suspiria even more. It has its strengths, don’t get me wrong. Detail is very good indeed, at least until the swimming pool sequence, at which point the film suddenly and inexplicably drops to a lower resolution for the remainder of its duration. Furthermore, barring the almost imperceptible gaffes at the beginning and end of each shot, the grain is well maintained. However, the film has not only been screwed up something rotten by having its values knocked out of whack, it has also clearly been subjected to a botched DNR process. This is, by any stretch of the imagination, a landmark film, but the way it has been treated is utterly indefensible and beggars belief. In my opinion nothing short of a brand new scan of the negative (or access to the initial scan prior to any digital manipulation being performed) and an intensive restoration process supervised by someone who actually knows what they’re doing will suffice. 4/10

studio: CDE; country: Italy; region code: B; codec: VC-1;
file size: 27 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 18.8 Mbit/sec

Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria Suspiria

Posted: Thursday, March 26, 2009 at 3:06 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | General | Technology

Vandalism (long post)


Here is more painful evidence of how much the new BD release of Suspiria and its 2007 Italian and French DVD counterparts have deviated from previous DVD releases of the film in terms of visuals. Below are, in descending order, (1) the US Anchor Bay DVD from 2001, (2) the Italian Eagle Pictures DVD from 2001, and (3) the Italian CDE BD from 2009. Please note that I am not attempting to claim that any one of these releases looks 100% “right” and that the others look 100% “wrong”. I am well aware that a degree of deviation is to be expected from one master to the next, whether in terms of framing, brightness, contrast, overall colour balance, or any number of other potential variables. However, the new release is “off” by such a wide margin that it’s simply not possible for both it and the two previous releases (which, slight differences aside, are quite similar to one another) to be “right”.

If cinematographer Luciano Tovoli did indeed approve the master used for the new BD release, then I can only conclude that either something went seriously wrong somewhere down the line after he had passed off on it, or he has lost his marbles. It’s not simply a case of this new release looking different: it actually looks downright unpleasant in places and is headache-inducing to look at. (This is especially the case with the first shot, where Daniel is shown approaching the school the morning after the “maggot” incident. Oddly enough, a similar shot far earlier in the film - the morning after the opening double murder - is comparatively less unmolested.) Sadly, this sort of contrast boosting is all too prevalent in newer releases of older films, with technicians working under the ignorant belief that “hotting up” the contrast makes them look somehow “better”. Generally speaking, though, the results are far less destructive than the ones you see here:

[Continue reading "Vandalism (long post)"...]

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 12:52 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

Suspiria BD (initial) impressions (long post)

Aaaaargh! Curse you, Beelzebub!


[Continue reading "Suspiria BD (initial) impressions (long post)"...]

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 at 3:07 PM | Comments: 22 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

Just arrived…


Rebus (DVD, Delta, Region 0, UK)

I was pleasantly surprised to spot this in Fopp today, where I was killing time while waiting before my meeting with my supervisors. The previous DVD release (by Universal) of this series starring John Hannah as the eponymous DI Rebus was missing the fourth and final episode, which would have aired on September 11th 2001 had a nice man called Osama Bin Laden not kicked up a bit of a stink, sending the TV schedules to halfway to hell. That episode ultimately disappeared into the ether and I believe aired a couple of times on one of ITV’s cable channels. It’s present and correct on this new edition. I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly gripped by Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, but I liked this TV adaptation of them, considerably more so than the dour Ken Stott interpretation that came along later.


Suspiria (Blu-ray, CDE, Region B, Italy)

Oh boy…

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2009 at 1:47 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | General | PhD | TV

Just arrived…


Four Flies on Grey Velvet (DVD, Mya, Region 0, USA)

What, you thought I was going to sit this one out?


Weeds: Season One (Blu-ray, Lions Gate, Region ABC, USA)

A steal at $12. It occurred to me that I didn’t actually own any television series in high definition, so I decided to take a chance on this one, about which I’ve heard positive things.

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 2:50 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

So near and yet so far


I reached a significant milestone in my PhD thesis today: the completion of the initial draft of my first actual analysis chapter. Prior to that, I’d written an Introduction (Chapter 1) and more drafts of the Literature Review (Chapter 2) than I care to remember. As a result, actually sitting down and writing about the films themselves came as something of a relief after nearly a year and a half of wading through the swamps of purely theoretical thinking.

This piece, which will be either Chapter 3 or Chapter 4 in the finished thesis (depending on where the chapter I’m going to work on next ends up fitting in), examines the male protagonists of gialli like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Short Night of the Glass Dolls - apparently “liberated” middle-class artists indulging in bohemian lifestyles in major European cities - and the issues of power and powerlessness that emerge from the films. Crucial to this chapter is my overriding theory that the characters in these gialli, which I have dubbed ‘masculine nightmare’ films, are embroiled in an ongoing power struggle, whether the aggressor is a serial killer, a duplicitous wife or society itself. From my conclusion to the chapter (warning: spoilers below):

Central to these portrayals of the roving male protagonist as a perpetual victim of suppression is an underlying fear of the loss of liberty: regardless of the situations in which they find themselves, characters such as Sam Dalmas, Andrea Bild, George Dumurrier and Greg Moore ultimately find themselves destabilised, trapped and powerless. All too often, they find out that the world is not exactly what they thought it was, whether it turns out that the apparently helpless victim is in fact the aggressor (in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that a supposedly dead wife is in fact very much alive (in One on Top of the Other), or that “the average man” cannot in fact “survive and keep individualism alive” (in Short Night of the Glass Dolls). Ultimately, they are left trapped, isolated and unable to trust even their own eyes; in short, they are denied agency.

The fact that these ‘masculine nightmare’ gialli materialised during a period of significant social reform and considerable advancement for, among others, the women’s liberation movements of Italy, Europe and the world at large seems, to point to a fear of the loss of power and control afforded to men in conventional patriarchal society that extends far beyond the conventional ‘boogie (wo)man’ stories portrayed in these films. Put simply, while a giallo such as Short Night of the Glass Dolls centres on the prevalent worst nightmare of being buried alive, it is actually addressing a far broader fear of a loss of power, control and authority in general…

If all that didn’t sound too esoteric for your tastes, and you’re interested in taking a look let me know (ideally, by emailing me at whiggles[at]ntlworld[dot]com) and I can send you a copy.

Foucault, by the way, turned out to be very useful in conceptualising this notion of “power”. Or rather, Sarah Mills’ explanation of what Foucault was actually on about. If you’re struggling to make head or tail of the man’s writing, I heartily recommend her book, part of the Routledge “Critical Thinkers” series.

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 at 2:55 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | PhD

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.

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.

Image: 9/10; Audio: 0/10

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

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Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009 at 9:14 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

The bird with the bungled audio


As you may know, Dario Argento’s first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, gets its high definition debut in just under a week’s time, courtesy of Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-ray release. Screen captures and a review have now appeared at DVD Beaver, and I’m afraid it’s a case of good news and bad news.

On the plus side, the screenshots (which are, admittedly, somewhat over-compressed as is the DVD Beaver standard and therefore not a 100% accurate representation of the final product) suggest a very fine video transfer with the natural grain structure intact and a pleasing amount of detail. The DVD was so filtered that it always felt as if you were watching the film through a misty window, so it is a pleasure to see these captures looking so crisp and defined. All of the extras from the previous 2-disc DVD release have also been ported over.

On the downside, what hasn’t been ported over is an audio mix that is in any way representative of Argento’s intentions. Gone are the 2.0 mono English and Italian tracks that were on the DVD. In their place, as with The Stendhal Syndrome, are an array of redundant encodes of the same surround remix. Note to Blue Underground: if you are going to include a DTS-HD Master Audio track, you do not need to also include separate Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital tracks of the same mix. It’s pointless, a waste of space and only causes you to have to pay more in licensing fees. It really sticks in my craw that the original mono tracks were discarded in favour of these space-hoggers, particularly given the twaddle Blue Underground spewed about not having enough space left for the original audio.

Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

Suspiria goes Blu


Over at the High-Def Digest forums, it is being reported that Eagle Pictures will be releasing Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria on Blu-ray Disc in Italy on March 11th. The source, as far as I can gather, is a product listing at online DVD store DVDLand.it, so it’s probably worth taking this with a pinch of salt for the time being (I haven’t come across it listed anywhere else). Still, if it turns out to be true, then, for me personally, this is some of the most exciting news to come out of high definition land in ages. Of all the titles in my collection that are begging for the HD treatment, I can’t think of any more deserving than Suspiria, undoubtedly one of the most stunning-looking films ever made.

My main concern at the moment, however, is the previous “Definition Edition” DVD of the film put out by Eagle Pictures. You may remember what it looked like, but just in cast you don’t, let me refresh your memory. That’s right: a horrible, ugly contrast-boosted mess, so blown out that several moments were rendered unintelligible. My big fear is that this same source will be used for the BD - and I think it would make sense to assume that this will be the case, as the Definitive Edition was created from a brand new HD master in 2007, and I doubt that they would revisit the film elements again so soon after that. Right now, I’m just hoping against hope that the contrast boosting was applied not to the HD master itself but at the standard definition down-conversion stage. Anyway, I’ve pre-ordered a copy and will keep you posted.

Posted: Monday, February 02, 2009 at 11:52 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology | Web

Waking the Dead: Series 6, Episodes 3 and 4: Deus Ex Machina


Written by Nicholas Blincoe; Directed by Andy Hay

This episode manages quite a remarkable feat: on the one hand, it’s completely different from any other episode of Waking the Dead ever aired; on the other, it totally forgettable. It plods along to its conclusion, going in one ear and out the other, leaving no lasting impression. The plot is an odd one that doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the series, clumsily roping Boyd and co into recovering the Skull of the Mahdi, an artefact taken from Sudan as a war trophy more than a century ago, when a prominent Sudanese politician, Khaled Ahmed (Abdi Gouhad), goes on hunger strike. The team are also tasked with re-investigating the murder of an Iraqi refugee, Omar Jaffiri (Hassani Shapi), whose death may be related to the case of the skull. Along the way, they come across the Fakir society, a crowd of pretentious academics who like to dress up in robes and perform bizarre, masonic-like rituals.

Struggling to put my finger on just why this episode left me so cold, I popped over to the BBC’s official Waking the Dead web site and took a gander at the various user reviews that had been submitted. One writer, Ian Gould, hit the nail on the head:

There were too many loose ends and the first part gave the viewer no ideas at all. I expect to be confused but this was beyond confusion, almost bordering on boredom.


The top and bottom of this episode is that it was based on three ideas of interrogation and that seemed to be the whole plot. I have never been disappointed with this excellent programme before but this particular episode was rubbish.

I apologise for using another viewer’s review in place of my own, but this simply demonstrates how much of a non-entity this episode was for me. Barring some striking images injected by the director, among them Eve’s physical reconstruction of the scene of Jaffiri’s murder, which mixes the past with the present in a manner reminiscent of Series 3’s vastly superior Breaking Glass, I can’t recall a single memorable moment in the storyline’s entire two-hour duration. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I actually watched the episode (I’m currently playing catch-up with my reviews), but I didn’t in any way feel compelled to revisit it. When it aired it was, by a considerable margin, the worst Waking the Dead episode to date, and while I feel that the next season’s Wounds was even poorer, there’s not really all that much between them.

Holby connections: in addition to his appearance in Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, Adam James (Michael Leonard in this episode) had a recurring role in Casualty as lawyer-cum-rapist Pete Guildford during Series 19.

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead

DVDs I bought or received in the month of December

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • December 4, 2008: My Blueberry Nights (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: Chemical Wedding (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Bodies: The Complete Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Home Alone (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: La Femme Nikita (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Fight Club (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: The Constant Gardener (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Chungking Express (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 17, 2008: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Trilogy (Region 2 UK, DVD) [gift]
  • December 24, 2008: Profondo Rosso (2-disc edition) (Region 2 Italy, DVD and WMV9 HD disc)
  • December 27, 2008: Hannibal Rising (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Night of the Living Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Transformers (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: The Island (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 31, 2008: Trial & Retribution: The Fourth Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)

Quite a haul to round off the year.

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 11:58 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

DVD image comparison: Profondo Rosso


On Christmas Eve, my copy of Medusa’s R2 Italian 2-disc edition of Profondo Rosso arrived. While the first disc contained in the package is exactly the same as the underwhelming single-disc (standards converted) edition released by the company the same year, the second features a high definition (1440x816) presentation of the film encoded in Microsoft’s Windows Media Video 9 format. Playable only on Windows PCs and featuring only a 5.1 remix of the audio in Italian (with no subtitles of any kind), it’s understandably less than ideal, but what it does do is hint at what a hypothetical Blu-ray Disc release might eventually look like.

Anyway, click here for a full comparison featuring the US Anchor Bay DVD, the recent Danish release from AWE, and the two Medusa discs - the standard DVD and the WMV9 version.

Profondo Rosso in standard definition Profondo Rosso in high definition

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:41 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes of the holiday season to all Land of Whimsy visitors. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white! I’m afraid I’ve been pretty busy this December (I even drew the short straw and ended up working the Christmas Eve shift at the library) and haven’t had time to draw one of my crappy pictures this year, so I thought I’d post a picture of our Christmas tree to warm the cockles of your heart. And yes, that is a hulking great CRT television. My dad bought it close to a decade ago, and it was his pride and joy. It’s now covered with discolouration splotches and hasn’t been turned on in so long that I’ll be amazed if it still works at all.

By the way, there has been an interesting development in my quest to get to the bottom of the Profondo Rosso situation. I’m continuing to investigate the issue and hope to be able to report back on it in a couple of days, but let’s just say that an absolutely gorgeous high definition master appears to exist…

Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology

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