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Attention spookmeisters!


Well, in just a few hours it will be All Hallows Eve, and, as promised, I have some spooktacular reviews for you. Unfortunately, the list is somewhat shorter than I would have hoped, due to my coming down with a nasty case of writer’s block, which didn’t clear up in time for me to get through my entire list of titles. Still, here’s what you can expect to see tomorrow:

  • Midnight: The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • 6 AM: Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 12 PM: Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 6 PM: Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Unfortunately, I’ll be out at work all day tomorrow, so I won’t be on hand to post links to the reviews themselves until I get home. If you just have to be at the front of the queue, I suggest you loiter around DVD Times and watch out for them as they materialise. Unless you have anything better to do, that is.

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews

Madre di musica


Messaggerie Digitali has made the score to Mother of Tears available as a downloadable album for the price of €9.90. Personally, I’m going to wait for my order of the physical CD from MovieGrooves, which should be dispatching in early November, but the Messaggerie Digitali site allows you to sample the first 30 seconds of each of the 46 tracks. Just be warned that the track titles are very spoiler-intensive.

Posted: Monday, October 29, 2007 at 11:36 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 3)

You can view Part 1 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Alice in Wonderland) here, and Part 2 (Peter Pan to The Black Cauldron) here.


The Great Mouse Detective [a.k.a. Basil the Great Mouse Detective] (John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener, Burny Mattinson, 1986) - Draw between all the current releases, which all present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with the original stereo audio replaced with a 5.1 remix. The Region 2 UK release features scratchier opening credits due to the title having been replaced with the UK variant, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, but otherwise the transfer is comparable to its Region 1 counterpart. Both versions that I have seen feature what seems suspiciously like missing sound effects during the climactic fight between Basil and Ratigan, but, not having seen an earlier, non-remixed version, I can’t say for sure.

Oliver & Company (George Scribner, 1988) - All the current releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with the original stereo audio replaced with a 5.1 remix. The Region 1 release, however, gains a bonus cartoon short, Lend a Paw, not found on any other version.


The Little Mermaid (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1989) - The 2006 Platinum Edition is the version to go for, as it features an anamorphic presentation and the most extras. Its Dolby Digital 5.1 track is presumably derived from the 6-track audio that accompanied 70mm screenings of the film. Please note, however, that, unlike the now OOP Limited Issue version, it has been cropped from 1.66:1 to its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It also suffers from DVNR artefacts.

The Rescuers Down Under (Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel, 1990) - All the current releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and include the same extras. The Region 1 Gold Collection release features a Dolby Digital 4.0 track, whereas all other releases have a 5.1 track. The original theatrical mix was presumably stereo, making neither track ideal.

Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991) - I don’t own the one on DVD. All releases present the film in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, matted from the CAPS native 1.66:1, and feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 presumably derived from the 6-track audio that accompanied 70mm presentations of the film. The 2-disc Platinum Edition was released in all territories, although I am under the impression that the OOP Region 1 version suffers from compression and edge enhancement issues, more so than the Region 2 releases, which are also affected. Note that a single-disc “Special Edition” was released in the UK, which features minimal extras and includes only the new extended version of the film, which includes a “newly rediscovered” song, so it should be avoided.

Aladdin (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1992) - All releases are the same in terms of content, presenting the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix (plus a “Disney Enhanced Home Theatre remix), along with copious extras spread across two discs. Having seen both the Region 1 and Region 2 UK releases, I would say that the Region 1 version has a marginally better transfer (comparison here).


The Lion King (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, 1994) - All releases are the same in terms of content, presenting the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix (plus a “Disney Enhanced Home Theatre remix), along with extras spread across two discs. Please note, however, that all versions are derived from the 2002 IMAX re-release, which features some modified animation and effects, as well as a different Walt Disney Pictures logo and static (rather than scrolling) end credits. It also features a newly-integrated song, the Morning Report, which can be disabled from the setup menu.

Pocahontas (Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg, 1995) - Go for any one of the various 2-disc releases (10th Anniversary Edition in Region 1 territories, but released under different labels elsewhere), which feature the most extras and present the film anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. Avoid the earlier single disc releases, which are non-anamorphic and have very poor image quality.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1996) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases present the film in its matted theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, cropping a small amount of information compared with the native CAPS 1.66:1 ratio, and feature the original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. The Region 1 release also features a DTS track and an audio commentary not found elsewhere, but has poorer image quality than the various PAL releases (comparison at Bjoern’s Place).

Hercules (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1997) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases are non-anamorphic and present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, accompanied by the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The Region 2 re-release (i.e. not the one distributed by Warner Home Video) comes with an additional featurette.


Mulan (Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft, 1998) - All UK releases have been cut to remove a headbutt (although the film was initially released uncut erroneously, and copies of this recalled UK disc now fetch a hefty price on eBay). The best version is the Region 4 Australian 2-disc Special Edition, which presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, accompanied by the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix plus several extras. The Region 1 Special Edition includes the same extras but has poorer image quality, especially during the final third of the film (comparison here). The UK Special Edition features a DTS track but is cut. The earlier single editions feature minimal extras and a film-sourced transfer matted to 1.78:1, with the Region 1 version being non-anamorphic.

Tarzan (Kevin Lima, Chris Buck, 1999) - All versions present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, while most versions feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track; the Dutch, Scandinavian and UK Special Edition releases feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The 2-disc Region 1 Collector’s Edition boasts some additional featurettes not found on other releases. Also note that the old UK Collector’s Edition is missing the audio commentary, but that it is included on the newer UK Special Edition. Avoid the various single-disc editions, which are lacking most of the extras.

Part 4 will follow in the not too distant future…

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 10:58 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology

The digital restoration bandits claim another victim


If you’ve read even a few posts on this site relating to the image quality of DVD and HD materials, you’ll know that to call me a bit of a perfectionist would be understating the case somewhat. Simply put, I believe that, if you’re going to do a job, you should make sure it’s a good one, and that there is no excuse for the vast majority of substandard transfers being put out at full price.

Now, poor presentations are bad enough when they are simply the result of a bad encoding job. Edge enhancement, filtering, over-zealous compression - all these things, when added at the stage when the DVD itself is being encoded, are disappointing to say the least, but they are not the end of the world. Someone else can always come along and try again later - see What Have You Done to Solange? for an example of a poor quality older edition being superseded by a new edition which went back to the original source materials and rectified the mistakes that had previously been made. It becomes so much worse, however, when a company spends a large amount of money to restore a film and, in the process buggers it up. Such a situation is always problematic because, often, the new master that is created becomes the de facto standard for any number of future iterations. Create a high definition master of an ageing film and, for some time to come, this master is going to be used by every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to release the film on DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray or any format of their choice, rather than going through the costly (and, in their eyes, pointless) process of returning to the original source materials and creating a new master.

Now, along comes Suspiria, one of my favourite films of all time, and one which has a very distinctive look that is absolutely paramount to its enjoyment. Basically, mess up Suspiria’s transfer, and you mess up the whole experience. Now, recently, a brand new restoration of Suspiria was commissioned, going back to the original negative (which, apparently, was in a state of some disrepair) and minting a fresh high definition master. This master, it seems safe to assume, will be with us for some time to come, and is likely to be the first port of call for any company wanting to release the film.

I have but a single question for Technicolor, who handled this restoration:

What the fuck have you done to one of my favourite films?

Here is a screen capture from the 2001 Anchor Bay release of the film. It shows a flash of lighting illuminating the screen as Mater Suspiriorum’s lair self-destructs.


Now, take a look at the same frame as seen in CDE’s so-called “Definitive Edition”, recently released on DVD in Italy in a special commemorative metal tin.


It gets worse. Suzy rushes down the corridor as it rips itself apart before her very eyes. Anchor Bay:




Ayeee! Crayola attack! Goodbye, shadow detail! Hello, blown-out highlights!

Want more? Anchor Bay:




Suzy is as horrified as I am when someone shines a yellow floodlight at her!

There’s just no stopping these restoration “artists” and their state of the art technology. Anchor Bay:




Think you’ve seen it all? Think again. Anchor Bay:




They’re having a laugh, surely? Anchor Bay:




I hope you chumps kept the damn receipt when you commissioned this! Anchor Bay:




Suzy and I are kindred spirits. After the horrors we had both encountered, the only way we could come to terms with the ordeal was to laugh it off.

Right, joking over, Technicolor has some serious explaining to do. Unless this is a simple case of a technical glitch that somehow made its way past every single stage of quality control (and I don’t see how it could be), then someone is guilty of tampering with, nay, wilfully vandalising a work of art in the worst possible way. Let’s see if I can do the same. Don’t you think Whistler’s Mother looks better with the contrasts jacked? Not even Mr. Bean could do as admirable a restoration job.

Whistler's Mother

And hey, how about the Mona Lisa? That could do with some light digital tweaking for the twenty-first century, couldn’t it?

Whistler's Mother

I mean seriously, guys, Jesus! Did no-one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, what you were doing was a bit shitty? This is not how you treat a classic that has built up a justly deserved reputation for being one of the most visually spellbinding films ever created. Seriously, this makes what Anchor Bay did to the film’s audio mix on their DVD seem virtually irrelevant. “Definitive Edition” my left teste.

Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 25 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

DVD image comparison: Inferno


The release of the Italian DVD of Inferno in October 2007 is a pretty major event, because it marks not only the first time the film has been released on DVD in its native country, but also because it means that the US Anchor Bay release is no longer the only official DVD release of the film in the world (an unauthorised German version, a bootleg of the Anchor Bay DVD, has also been doing the rounds for some time). The lack of variety has meant that there has been little sense of perspective on Anchor Bay’s release - i.e. how good it actually is, how accurate a representation of the film it is - until now.

The Italian release is by the original theatrical distributor, 20th Century Fox, who treated the film absolutely shabbily at the time of its original release, and, until now, didn’t seem to want to know about it. This new release, which includes menus in both English and Italian, begins with the traditional Fox logo and fanfare (seeing this at the start of a Dario Argento film is a truly surreal experience, like two distant worlds colliding), but other than that, both versions are identical in terms of film content, with both featuring English credits and location type.

This is where the similarities end, however. A brief glance at any of the screen captures I’ve posted should reveal that two completely different masters have been used, demonstrating massive differences in terms of brightness and colour palette. Broadly speaking, the Italian release is lighter throughout, improving the shadow detail considerably (see how much clearer Example 10 is on the Italian DVD, for instance). The blacks aren’t truly solid, though, suggesting that some artificial brightening may have been applied. It’s also clear that the Anchor Bay release is noticeably cropped, with a considerable amount of additional information visible on the left and right of the frame in most shots, as well as a smaller amount at the top and bottom. The difference becomes less pronounced at around the film’s half-way mark, however (Example 12 onwards), with the increased visual information generally only being significant on the left hand side of the frame.


Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox


In terms of detail, the Fox release appears to show more than that of the Anchor Bay, although some of the perceived sharpness is the result of edge enhancement. It’s not the most severe I’ve ever seen, but it does add a degree of “digitalness” to the image that we could have done without. The compression is definitely much improved on the Fox DVD, utilising a significantly higher bit rate on a dual layer disc (the Anchor Bay disc is a single layer affair). This leads to better presentation of the film grain, as well as helping to make the details stand out better in darker areas. Overall, I think the Fox transfer has the better technical presentation, but the edge enhancement lets the side down.

Moving on to the colour palette, and this is where things get tricky. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to see that the two are very different colour-wise, and I’m at a loss to decide which one is the more accurate. Comparing it with my PAL UK LaserDisc (from Encore) certainly doesn’t do much to shed light on the subject, as the colours on that release are all over the place thanks to the analogue technology. For the most part, the Anchor Bay transfer is considerably more saturated, with colours that at times verge on the extreme. Inferno, like its predecessor, Suspiria, was always intended to have moments of dazzling primary colour, but some of the examples posted here make me slightly suspicious that Anchor Bay indulged in a bit of colour pumping. In particular, if you look at Example 9, you can see that, when lightning strikes on the Anchor Bay version, the entire screen is tinted a strong blue, whereas, on the Fox DVD, a more natural white is shown. Is this a similar case to the Halloween debacle, where the lab timing has been ignored for the Fox release, or is Anchor Bay guilty of jacking up the colours for their version? Anyone want to contact Dario Argento or Romano Albani to get their input on the matter? I suspect that’s the only surefire way of settling this controversy!

In a purely aesthetic sense, I can’t decide which of the two I prefer. This is such a visually-driven film, using composition, lighting and colour to evoke mood, and as such, I suspect that the experience will change quite substantially depending on which version you watch. I do know, however, that I’m not keen on the oddly flat lighting on Eleonora Giorgi’s face on the Fox DVD in Example 6 (the Anchor Bay transfer is much more aesthetically pleasing in this shot). In the end, I’m not going to call it either way. Take your pick.


Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox


For audio, the Anchor Bay release provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the English language version, plus a 2.0 surround mix in the same language. The latter is, however, not derived from the film’s original stereo theatrical mix, but is instead a downmix of the 5.1 remix. The Fox DVD, meanwhile, provides the original English stereo mix, along with the original Italian mono mix, and optional subtitles in both languages, the English subtitle track serving as a translation of the Italian dialogue rather than a transcription of the English. In terms of clarity, the Italian mono track fares the worst, coming across as somewhat muffled, although it is listenable enough. The two mixes on the Anchor Bay DVD fare the best in a technical sense, demonstrating a decent level of clarity, although, given that both tracks are remixes, they cannot really be considered to be representative of Argento’s original intentions. The English stereo track on the Italian DVD, by contrast, initially sounds a lot harsher and more strained, with some noticeable crackling during the first few seconds. The clarity definitely improves as the film progresses, with things improving leaps and bounds after the opening credits, and the differences soon become quite negligible, although the Anchor Bay remixes continue to have the slight edge in terms of overall fidelity. Purists, however, may prefer this slightly weaker quality stereo track to the remixes offered by Anchor Bay.

In terms of extras, the Anchor Bay release is definitely the winner, boasting a trailer, gallery, talent bios and an interview featurette, whereas the Italian release features only the trailer (in poorer quality, and with burned-in Spanish subtitles).

Overall, I’m really not sure how to call this. Both releases have their definite strengths and weaknesses. I suspect that it ultimately comes down to how important you consider it to be to have access to the original stereo English recording and the Italian language version. If you want both of these, then the Fox release is for you. If, however, neither of these are important to you, then it essentially becomes a question of which of the two transfers you find to be more aesthetically pleasing. Use the screenshots I’ve provided and decide for yourselves!

Go ahead and check out the full comparison here!

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 10:53 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

Movie madness


Yesterday was quite a delay for deliveries for me, starting with the arrival of the third and final season of Veronica Mars from DVD Pacific. Veronica Mars is not a show that I wholeheartedly adore, but I did enjoy the previous two seasons on DVD to varying degrees, and I found myself with a definite desire to hear how the story ends (although, by all accounts, there is little sense of closure in the final episode due to the amount of confusion as to whether the show would be picked up for a fourth season). If nothing else, the move out of the high school environment which dominated Seasons 1 and 2 should provide a much-needed change of pace, while I understand that, mindful of how difficult it was for viewers to get into the previous seasons midway, the producers broke Season 3 into several “mini-arcs” rather than going for one continuous year-long mystery.


Up next: the 2-disc Collector’s Edition of Mission Impossible 3 on HD DVD, also from DVD Pacific (dang, those guys should be paying me royalties!). From the brief glance that I took at it when it arrived, the transfer is every bit as good as I remembered - a virtually flawless presentation and one of the few times I can remember seeing a film photographed in anamorphic Panavision looking this good in high definition I suspect this is due to the fact that Panavision has lost a considerable amount of popularity with filmmakers in recent years, with Super35 tending to be the preferred process for shooting 2.39:1 titles these days. As a result, most Panavision titles released in HD are older, catalogue titles, many of which come from weaker masters. Not so with Mission Impossible 3, which is crisp and clear throughout, with nary an edge halo or soft shot to be found, and only a couple of compression issues preventing it from receiving full marks (we’re talking 9.9/10 stuff here).

The third and final delivery yesterday was the R2 Italian release of Inferno, from This particular release, which is very interesting, will be the subject of a dedicated post that I hope to upload at some point tonight.


Finally, today, the HD DVD release of Seed of Chucky arrived from, you guessed it, DVD Pacific. (Oh, shut up - I like this film, even if it’s in a “so bad it’s good” way.) I really wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of image quality for this one, but I’m pleased to report that it looks very fine indeed. It comes from a film element rather than a digital intermediate, but it’s one of the best film-sourced HD transfers I’ve seen recently, especially from Universal, who have churned out some decidedly underwhelming-looking catalogue titles this year. A handful of shots, and even a couple of entire scenes, look noticeably softer than the rest of the film, but at its best, it has a nicely crisp appearance without looking processed in any way. A very high 8/10, and it would have been a 9 if not for the softer scenes.

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 5:15 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | TV | Technology

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 2)

You can view Part 1 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Alice in Wonderland) here.

Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1953) - The 2006 Region 1 Platinum Edition includes the most extras, as well as the original mono audio mix. Non-Region 1 releases of the Platinum Edition ditch the original mono mix. Older releases, including the now-OOP Special Edition and Limited Issue versions, also omit the mono track and most (if not all) of the extras.


Lady and the Tramp (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1955) - The best available version is the Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition, which includes the 2.55:1 Cinemascope presentation of the film with its original 3-channel audio. A 1.33:1 version is also included, but this is just a pan and scan presentation of the Cinemascope version rather than the differently framed Academy version that was released for theatres not equipped for Cinemascope (this version has never been released on DVD). The Region 2 versions of the Platinum Edition ditch the 3-channel mix and pan and scan version. The OOP Limited Issue release features only a 5.1 remix and has much poorer image quality, slightly cropped to 2.35:1, plus a complete lack of extras. At all costs avoid the older, non-Platinum Region 2 releases, which are presented in pan and scan only.

Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, 1959) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All editions are currently OOP, although a Platinum Edition is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray in October 2008. None of the previous releases include the mono audio that accompanied Academy ratio presentations of the film, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found on every DVD is presumably derived from the 6-track mix accompanying 70mm prints of the film. Avoid the older, single-disc Region 2 releases, which are presented in 1.33:1 pan and scan; the various 2-disc Collector’s Editions all include the original 2.35:1 presentation (unlike Lady and the Tramp, the 1.33:1 prints were merely cropped rather than reframed), while the UK release features a DTS 5.1 track. The US version, however, contains a commentary not found elsewhere, so it basically comes down to a choice between audio and extras.

101 Dalmatians (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases are currently OOP. They all present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and feature 2.0 surround audio rather than the original mono mix. A 2-disc Platinum Edition is due out in March 2008, and is expected to feature the original mono audio (on the Region 1 release, at any rate), and be matted to the theatrical 1.75:1 ratio.

The Sword in the Stone (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1963) - All current releases present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and present the audio in a 5.1 remix rather than the original mono recording. Judging by footage shown in the documentary on Platinum Edition release of The Jungle Book, a new edition will be released in matted widescreen at some point in the future.


The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967) - The recently released 2-disc Region 1 Platinum Edition includes the best selection of extras and also includes the original mono audio mix (no word yet on whether the mono mix is included on Region 2 editions, but judging by recent trends, this is probably unlikely). Note, however, that it is presented in a matted theatrical ratio of 1.75:1 rather than the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy). The various OOP single-disc releases present the film in its Academy ratio, but feature poorer image quality and remixed 2.0 surround audio.

The Aristocats (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1970) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All the current releases present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and present the audio in a remix (2.0 surround in Region 1 territories, 5.1 for Region 2) rather than the original mono recording. A 2-disc Special Edition is due out at some point in the future, presumably with a matted 1.75:1 transfer and the original mono audio mix.


Robin Hood (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1973) - All pre-2006 editions present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy). The OOP Region 1 Gold Collection release features the original mono mix, while all other versions include only a 5.1 remix. The recently released Most Wanted Edition ditches the mono track and presents the film in a matted 1.75:1 ratio. The Region 2 UK release is also confirmed to suffer from severe DVNR artefacts (evidence here), but I have no idea whether the Region 1 version is similarly affected.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, 1977) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 25th Anniversary Edition presents the film in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio and features only a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix instead of the original mono track. The more recent Friendship Edition features similar specs, but boasts an improved transfer and includes some additional extras. Region 2 releases appear to correspond to the Region 1 25th Anniversary Edition in terms of specs and bonus materials.

The Rescuers (Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Art Stevens, 1977) - All available releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which appears to be an accurate reproduction of its intended framing, and feature a 5.1 remix in place of the original mono audio.


The Fox and the Hound (Art Stevens, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, 1981) - All available editions are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which appears noticeably cropped, suggesting that this is a pan and scan job rather than an open matte affair like the 60s and 70s productions. All releases dump the original mono audio mix in favour of a remix (2.0 surround on the OOP Region 1 Gold Collection release, 5.1 for all other versions).

The Black Cauldron (Ted Berman, Richard Rich, 1985) - All releases present the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of its 35mm screenings (a 2.20:1 ratio was used for the Super Technirama 70mm version); however, all but the French Region 2 release are non-anamorphic. The French release, which also includes English subtitles, seems therefore to be the preferred edition to get. All releases feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which I presume is derived from the 6-track mix that accompanied 70mm prints of the film.

Part 3 will follow in the not too distant future…

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 11:29 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 1)

Count Fosco, a good friend of mine, was recently inquiring about the subject of Disney animated features on DVD, and it occurred to me that a post dealing specifically with the available versions and which ones are the best would be a good idea. Disney, after all, has a rather annoying habit of releasing a film on DVD for a limited period, deleting it and then re-releasing it a few years down the line, and, as a result, there are several different iterations of many of their animated classics. This post isn’t meant to be taken as completely gospel, because I don’t own every single Disney film on DVD, but, generally speaking, I’ve tried my best to point out instances where I am unsure about a specific title.

So, without further ado…

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937) - I don’t own this title on DVD (surprisingly). Of the various editions released, the most preferable seems to be the now out of print Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition from 2001, which features the original mono track (the Region 2 UK release claims to have a stereo track instead, but I can’t confirm whether or not this is a mislabelled mono track). A new Platinum Edition is expected in 2009.


Pinocchio (Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, 1940) - The old Region 1 Gold Collection release is long OOP, but the currently-available Region 2 UK Special Edition features a very nice transfer, despite limited extras and a lack of the original mono audio mix. A Platinum Edition is expected in 2009.

Fantasia (James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, 1940) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The 60th Anniversary Special Edition and 3-disc Collector’s Edition (bundled with Fantasia 2000) are both OOP. A Platinum Edition is expected at some point, but there is currently no estimated release date.

Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen, 1941) - No known version contains the original mono mix. The recent US Big Top Edition has the most extras, although it does drop a few that were included in the earlier and now OOP 60th Anniversary Edition. It also has a cleaner transfer, although the 60th Anniversary Edition (the one I own) probably looks more faithful to the film’s original intended look.


Bambi (David Hand, 1942) - This film wasn’t actually released on DVD until 2005, as a 2-disc Platinum Edition, which is now OOP. Unusually, the Region 2 releases all seem to include the original mono mix, meaning that any of the available releases of this film should be adequate. Please note, though, that all releases suffer from some noticeable “drifting” artefacts.

Saludos Amigos (Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 1942) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 version is edited to remove a racial stereotype; I’m unable to confirm whether the Region 2 releases are similarly affected.

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1944) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 release includes the original mono mix. I don’t have access to the specs for the Region 2 version.

Make Mine Music (Bob Cormack, Clyde Geronimi, Joe Grant, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Joshua Meador, 1946) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases appear to be edited to remove an entire 8-minute short, “Martins & Coys”.

Fun and Fancy Free (Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan, 1947) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is preferable for including the original mono mix; all other versions feature a 5.1 remix.

Melody Time (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, 1948) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is edited to remove a cigar from one of the shorts; the Region 2 UK release is unedited. Note, however, that the US release features the original mono mix, while the UK release appears only to have a 5.1 remix.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, 1949) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is preferable for including the original mono mix, whereas the Region 2 releases are 5.1 only.

Cinderella (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1950) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The 2-disc Platinum Edition is the only current release of this film, and, as all territories appear to include the original mono mix, any version should suffice.


Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1951) - The 2004 Region 1 2-disc Masterpiece Edition includes the original mono mix and the best assortment of extras. Avoid the various Region 2 (and Region 4) editions, which junk most of the extras plus the mono mix so that the film can be sold on a single disc. The old OOP Gold Collection release features a poorer transfer and minimal extras, and is also missing the mono mix.

Part 2 will follow in the not too distant future…

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 8:09 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD

Halloween: what can you expect?


In just a few days’ time, it will be Halloween, and, naturally, I’m planning a splurge of horror-themed reviews for DVD Times. Last year, I concentrated mainly on covering HD DVD releases, but this year, things are going to be a little more balanced across the three formats I cover. So, provided I can actually churn them out within the next 8-9 days, here’s what you can expect to see:

  • The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Halloween (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • House of 1000 Corpses (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Now, I’m aware that that’s a bit of a tall order, particularly given that I also have work commitments and my PhD to think about, not to mention a review of the Blu-ray release of Oldboy, plus one of Blue Underground’s new release of The Stendhal Syndrome when it arrives, so I don’t want to promise anything. I’ll do my best to finish as many of them as possible, though.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:41 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | Halloween | PhD | Reviews

The optimum Mother of Tears experience

Mother of Tears

Source: Dark Discussion

Dark Discussion is reporting that Optimum Releasing has picked up the UK distribution rights to Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, with a view to releasing it on DVD in February or March 2008. A general theatrical release is, unsurprisingly, not planned, but Alan Jones is apparently trying to persuade Optimum to put together a screening of the entire trilogy in London with Argento himself in attendance.

Bear in mind that Optimum are also a supporter of high definition media, currently releasing HD DVDs and also supporting Blu-ray as of November. They haven’t released a whole lot of HD content as of yet, but in their most recent press release they stated an interest in responding to “the demand for a greater variety of product”, so it’s possibly worth contacting them and asking them to consider releasing Mother of Tears on either or both formats. I’ve sent them an email (, and I would strongly encourage you to do likewise.


In related news, the soundtrack to Mother of Tears is being released in Italy by the label Edel to coincide with the film’s theatrical release at the end of the month. MovieGrooves hope to have copies in stock by early November, and I’ve already got mine pre-ordered. I’m very curious to hear the score in all its glory - I’ve heard mixed reports about it, but the Jerry Goldsmith/Omen-esque snippets that I’ve heard in various trailers and the like sound quite enticing, and, if nothing else, it suggests something of a change of pace for Argento and Claudio Simonetti.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:38 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Music

Blu-ray bonanza

Blu-ray Blu-ray

On Friday, I received a couple of packages from DVD Pacific, containing the first two instalments of Masters of Horror: Season 1 on Blu-ray. Volume 1 contains John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch-House and William Malone’s The Fair-Haired Child, while Volume 2 contains Dario Argento’s Jenifer, Lucky McKee’s Sick Girl and John Landis’ Deer Woman. Hmm, something slightly wrong about the first Argento title I own in HD is comfortably the worst thing to which his name has ever been attached (then again, I haven’t seen all of the pre-Bird with the Crystal Plumage westerns that he wrote, so there could be some clunkers among them as well). Still, we all have to start somewhere, and I wanted to pick these discs up, given that Argento’s shameful contributions are the only episodes I have seen of either season of Masters of Horror. I just hope some of the other filmmakers were able to bring a little more of themselves to the table.

As for the treatment of the episodes on Blu-ray, you may already be aware that, barring the audio commentaries for each episode, all of the extras from the standard definition releases have been dumped. Classy, Anchor Bay, real classy. Anyone would think you didn’t care about what you were putting out. Oh, wait a minute - judging by Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Evil Dead II, that much is pretty clear.

Anyway, unlike most Blu-ray and HD DVD releases, these discs are encoded at 1080i rather than 1080p. The reason for this seems to be that the closing credits for each episode scroll at 60 Hz, necessitating the episodes themselves to be stored as such. Personally, I’m glad Anchor Bay didn’t try to deinterlace them themselves, as such results are rarely pretty. As for the image quality, it’s reasonably good. All the episodes have a similar soft, rather diffuse look, but I suspect it may turn out that they look as good as the source materials allow.


I’ve also received a check disc for Tartan’s upcoming UK Blu-ray release of Oldboy. The image quality is… eh, passable. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen a lot better. Looks rather murky and edge enhanced. I’ve been tasked with reviewing the technical components of the disc for DVD Times - we already have plenty reviews of the film itself, so there’s no need to repeat what others have already said.

See you at the movies!

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 10:44 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Technology

I am fury!

This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

Above: This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

While my month’s free subscription to Amazon UK’s DVD rental service is still active, I’m doing my best to work my way through as many awful films as possible. I may not be as experienced a connoisseur of Z-grade movie garbage as Baron Scarpia, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, and last night I had the dubious honour of sitting through Dr. Uwe Boll’s big screen adaptation of the arcade game House of the Dead.

You have to admire Dr. Boll. He consistently churns out garbage so bad that rats would turn their noses up at it, and yet still somehow manages to get funding for multiple projects and attract A-listers like Ben Kingsley and, er, Tara Reid. He seems to have made it his mission to wreck virtually every successful video game franchise of the past decade (although Halo and Silent Hill, it would seem, are safe, for now at any rate) - a laudable aim given that Hollywood Pictures had already set the bar phenomenally low with Super Mario Bros. The man is so adept at tooting his own horn and acting like a complete blow hole that it’s hard to find any sympathy for him when the critics trash his latest train wreck (although I must admit that I did feel just the teeniest bit sorry for him when 90% of his audience got up and walked out during his presentation at the Penny Arcade Expo of the opening scenes from his new film, Postal).

Anyway, enough of that. I’d previously seen Boll’s take on Alone in the Dark (review here, and had come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to conceive of a worse film. So horrifying was the experience that it very nearly drove me away from Boll’s filmography completely. However, last night, undeterred, I popped in House of the Dead, and quickly realised that Alone in the Dark was merely foreplay to my glorious encounter with the true face of Dr. Uwe Boll.

House of the Dead is a film so staggeringly inept and mind-bogglingly idiotic that I deem Boll to be either completely mad or a ground-breaking genius whose talents will only come to be appreciated after several generations. This is a film in which, with every line of dialogue spoken, you feel that the actors are doing their damnedest not to crack up. A film in which a group of snot-faced teenagers (at least, I’m assuming they’re meant to be teenagers - the actors playing them are all at least in their mid-20s) arrive at a rave to find it deserted and a blood-stained shirt on the ground, only to promptly separate to go exploring or have a shag (one participant goes so far as to boast about how quick he can make it). A film in which said teenagers (one of whom wears a one-piece jumpsuit with the stars and stripes on it, while another has a halter top cut so low that her jiggling breasts threaten to pop out at any second), when confronted by seemingly endless hordes of the undead, spend a whole lot of time running around, flapping their arms about and getting bitten, before inexplicably turning into expert gun-slingers/martial artists/sword-wielders (delete as applicable) and going at it to the backdrop of heavy metal that would give 80s Dario Argento a headache and slow motion that would cause John Woo to blush. Oh, and, to spice things up a bit, Boll randomly inserts clips from the original video game, presumably because, without them, you’d never know that this is supposed to be an adaptation of House of the Dead.

But wait! Surely it can’t be all that bad? After all, as Dr. Boll himself points out,

HOUSE Of THE DEAD was in a lot of territories a very big success. In Middle East, Russia, Spain, Thailand and South America was the movie similar to the USA and KANADA two weeks in the TOP TEN and a long time in the Video/DVD-Charts.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, I only saw it on DVD on a 40” LCD. Perhaps, had I seen it at the cinema, I would

recognize that the CINEMASCOPE look of the movie and the sound are absolutly A LIST and not one percent less quality as RESIDENT EVIL or UNDERWORLD.

Preach it, Herr Doktor!

In HOD we have a lot of GORE and a lot of action. Much more as in Resident Evil. The big battle in front of the house with the MATRIX and TURN TABLE effects, over 100 blood effects and 11000 cuts in 13 minutes will be film history in a few years because in NO OTHER FILM EVER was a similar scene. Also Rodrigez or Tarantino ever made a scene like this escalating action scene in HOD.

There you have it! A lot of gore and a lot of action! Turn table effects! Over 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts in 13 minutes! Truly this film deserves to go down in history! I was completely wrong! This is a masterpiece and a prime example of why Dr. Uwe Boll is the saviour of modern cinema. Why, he could be this generation’s Ed Wood - that’s how good he is.

Jesus fucking Christ. Now I absolutely must see Bloodrayne.

PS. If you still need convincing of Dr. Boll’s awesome talent, you can watch the entire fight scene, with its turn table effects, 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts, on YouTube.

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Games | Reviews

A pretty developed sense of perversion

Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Above: Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Throughout the 1970s, hundreds (if not thousands) of gialli were made, and, although many of them are now readily available on DVD, the vast majority are either lost entirely or only available in severely compromised grey market editions, usually copied countless times from already iffy materials. One giallo that I’d been wanting to see for some time was a 1978 offering called Enigma Rosso, also known as Rings of Fear, Red Rings of Fear, Virgin Killer (a pretty misleading title), Trauma (not to be confused with the 1993 Dario Argento slasher of the same name), and various other diverse titles. It bears the distinction of being the final part in the group of films unofficially referred to as the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, were helmed by the gifted and underrated Massimo Dallamano. Dallamano’s life was cut short when he was involved in a car crash in 1976, but he collaborated on the script for Enigma Rosso and, as far as I can gather, fully intended to direct it. The reigns ended up being passed to Alberto Negrin, and the buzz on the Internet has always been that the end result was nothing like as good as the first two films in the trilogy.

Until recently, the only version of the film that was circulated on a wide basis seemed to be a murky-looking, VHS-sourced pan and scan presentation of the English language print, which, with PAL speed-up, ran for approximately 81 minutes. Recently, however, the same version of the film (albeit with Spanish credits) showed up on DVD in Spain, non-anamorphic and with Spanish audio only but in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I bought this DVD back in August, and, a few days ago, put the finishing touches to my own personal composite version, which marries the English audio from the VHS dupe with the transfer from the Spanish DVD. The results, while far from ideal, are certainly preferable to either version on its own. I understand that several different cuts of the film were prepared for different markets, so presumably other versions exist which feature additional and/or alternate footage, but, for the time being, this is probably the best we’re going to get.

The plot sees Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Fabio Testi, who also played the lead in What Have You Done to Solange?) investigating the death of a teenage girl, Angela Russo, whose body is discovered washed up on a riverbank. In predictable giallo fashion, it quickly emerges that something incredibly seedy has been going on, involving Angela and her three friends, quaintly known as “the Inseparables”. They, and the various employees of the St. Theresa’s boarding school, quickly begin dropping like flies, and Di Salvo, finding himself faced with a killer with, in his own words, “a pretty developed sense of perversion”, teams up with an unlikely accomplice, Angela’s younger sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli).

It immediately becomes apparent that this third instalment in the trilogy is very much a companion piece to its predecessors, as familiar elements crop up throughout. Peeping tom scenes of girls in showers? Check. Late night motorbike chase through the streets of Rome (at least I think it’s Rome - the locations used are fairly anonymous)? Check. Sordid sexual antics and corruption at the very core of society? Check. Back street abortion? Check. Negrin seems intent on combining the amateur sleuthing elements of Solange with the police thriller exploits of Daughters, and the result is rather confused and not altogether satisfying. There isn’t enough detective material to make an interesting poliziottesco, while at the same time the amateur detection scenes are too limited for a solid giallo. Negrin seems to want to both have his cake and eat it by catering to both markets, when in reality the end result ends up pleasing neither.

A lot of the confusion, I suspect, stems from the sheer number of writers involved. The English print credits Marcello Coccia, Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Negrin and Peter Berling for the final screenplay (while the Spanish print, predictably, gives a completely different, and smaller, list of writers). A lot of gialli seem to have been written by committee, but I can’t recall ever seeing another with this many names attributed to its script. Another reason may have been the multiple cuts supposedly prepared for different territories. This would certainly explain the setting up and abandonment of multiple subplots, including Di Salvo’s rather unconventional, seemingly non-exclusive relationship with a shoplifter who may of may not be his wife, as well as the established-then-abandoned-then-reintroduced partnership between himself and young Emily.

Or it could be that Negrin was simply being sloppy. This is the only film I’ve seen by this director, but it suggests that he wasn’t half as effective a filmmaker as Dallamano. The peeping tom shower scene has a clumsy, leering quality that lacks the thematic justification of the similar scenes in Solange (confounded even further once we learn the identity of the voyeur), while the cross-cutting between scenes of an abortion being performed on one girl and flashbacks to a raucous orgy involving herself and her friends falls flat on its face. This is the sort of parallel that Dallamano would have been able to draw in a more subtle way, but Negrin, lacking his skill behind the camera, has to resort to crasser, more obvious techniques. Riz Ortolani’s score, too, doesn’t really work, frequently throwing menacing stings into completely innocuous situations.

As for Testi and his character Di Salvo, he’s pretty much your typical 70s macho cop protagonist. His preferred method of investigation is to barge into people’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, haul them out of bed half-naked and scream “Who killed Angela Russo?” at them. He also knows just how to set people at their ease: confronted with a room full of stone-faced, prudish schoolteachers, he bellows “Someone with a cock this big raped Angela Russo!”, spreading his arms wide to demonstrate. He also performs a rather intriguing interrogation on a suspect prone to motion sickness by taking him to a theme park and hauling him on to a roller coaster ride, and he’s as likely to enjoy a nice meal and bed down for a kip on the premises of a suspect as he is to actually do a decent day’s work in the office. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think we ever see him setting foot inside a police station, while the oversized cardigan that he wears for the film’s duration robs him of much of his credibility - odd, given that, in The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters, I had no trouble believing in him as a cop.

In the final analysis, Enigma Rosso is comfortably the weakest of the trilogy. The final solution is disappointing and seems to be based more around hammering home the familiar message of corruption taking place in the very foundations of society than actually providing a satisfying explanation to the murders. There are definite moments of inspiration here and there, and it’s rarely boring, but it lacks the depth of Solange and the high octane rush of Daughters. Oh, to know what Dallamano had in mind for this one.

PS. I haven’t forgotten about The Giallo Project. In fact, I hope to get it started up again very soon. Think of this as a sneak peak at where I hope to end up in the somewhat distant future.

Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 1:17 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews

DVD review: The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition

While it would have been nice to have had the alternate Academy ratio version of the film included in the package, it goes without saying that this new Platinum Edition of The Jungle Book belongs on every Disney aficionado’s shelf. Controversial aspect ratio choice aside, this is a stellar package with an array of bonus materials that ranks among the best the studio has ever put out.

Arriving on DVD with considerably more than just the Bare Necessities, The Jungle Book remains many people’s favourite Disney film forty years after its original release. I’ve reviewed the Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition.

Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews

It’s a mad, mad world


I’m probably going to regret this when my credit card bill arrives, but what can I say? It’s one of my all-time favourite films, if not my absolute favourite, and I’m determined to get the best possible presentation possible, so I’ve ordered both the newly-released Italian 2-disc “Definitive Edition” tin box set of Suspiria from IBS, and the upcoming French 3-disc Collector’s Edition from

The situation, as far as I can determine, from various web sites and forums, is this:

The Italian release includes an English 1.0 mono track - not ideal, but, if it is derived from the mono recording that did the rounds back in 1977 at cinemas not equipped to play the film’s quadrophonic mix, then it will still be preferable to the monstrosity present on the Anchor Bay DVD. Also included are Italian 1.0, 5.1 and 5.1 EX mixes, although this surprises me somewhat as the 5.1 EX track presumably renders the 5.1 track irrelevant. English and Italian subtitles are included, as well as the following extras: two Dario Argento interviews, theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, gallery.

The French release includes no English audio options, and French subtitles are forced when any of the Italian audio options are enabled. These booby traps will not, however, thwart the HMS Whimsy’s skilled navigators. The offered audio options, as per Wild Side’s page on the release, are French mono and Italian mono, stereo and 5.1. The extensive array of extras is described in my previous post.

So there you have it. The Italian tin should be arriving within the next week or so, and, if nothing else, it will look very nice on my shelf next to my French Danny the Dog tin, which features a similar design. I must say I’m really stoked to see this new HD-sourced transfer in action. In an ideal world, I’d be sitting down to watch it in full 1080p on HD DVD, but that doesn’t appear to be on the cards just yet, so, in the meantime, I’m going to have to settle for plain old standard definition.

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 9:44 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Technology

To hell and back again


For a considerable length of time, Anchor Bay’s US release of Dario Argento’s Inferno was the only legitimate copy of the film on DVD (a German company also released an unauthorised version which was merely a port of the Anchor Bay version). It was a good release for what it was, but suffered from a couple of notable flaws. First of all, the transfer, while reasonably good, was slightly soft and suffered from some compression artefacts, probably due to cramming this visually sumptuous 107-minute film on to a single layer disc. Secondly, although a 2.0 surround option was provided, this was in fact a downmix from Anchor Bay’s own 5.1 remix rather than the original stereo recording in which the film was originally released.

Finally, however, the Anchor Bay release has some competition. Released in Japan with some horrible cover art on October 5th, the exact specifications are unclear, and I’m not going to chance it and order a copy, given how expensive Japanese DVDs invariably are. Luckily, however, I don’t have to, as it has also been released in its native Italy (with the same horrible cover art) by its original theatrical distributor, 20th Century Fox. A scan of the full front and rear cover art was recently posted at Dark Discussion by member Opera 1987, and the eagled-eyed among us will be able to spot that it contains two audio options: “Italiano 2.0 mono” and “Inglese [English] 2.0 stereo”. Italian and English subtitles are also listed.

This release seems to check all the boxes for me: not only does it include an English stereo track (presumably the original recording rather than a remix), but it also provides the option to watch the film in Italian with English subtitles. I’ve always wondered how the film would play in Italian, with Argento’s own narration during the opening credits, and now it looks as if I’ll have the opportunity to find out. I’ve ordered a copy from


Coincidentally (or not), Inferno’s predecessor in the Three Mothers trilogy, Suspiria, is also seeing two re-releases this year, both derived from a new high definition master supervised by cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. CDE has already released a special tin box edition in Italy (artwork again sourced by Opera 1987), which looks to be fairly similar in terms of bonus content to the two previous DVD releases of the film in that country. In France, however, Wild Side is going all out, having recorded two hours’ worth of new interview material, featuring everyone from Argento to Tovoli to the restoration team. You can read an exclusive preview (in French) at DVDRama (thanks to Mannfan at Dark Discussion for the link).

The full list of bonus features, by the way, is as follows:

- The restoration of Suspiria - discussions with the restoration team
- Interview with Dario Argento
- Dario Argento: The Master of the Form - new interview with the director
- The Argento Connection - colleagues reveal their collaborations with the filmmaker
- Interview with Luciano Tovoli, director of photography
- Interview with Claudio Simonetti, composer
- Interview with Davide Bassan, son and assistant to production designer Guiseppe Bassan
- Interview with Dario Nicolodi, co-writer
- Argento as seen by: Pascal Laugier, Alain Schlokoff, Jean-Baptist Thoret
- Trailers
- Photo gallery
- Filmographies

According to, this release also includes a CD containing the original soundtrack, much like the Anchor Bay 3-disc limited edition.

DVDRama’s preview also includes screen captures from the release, which reveal a colour palette much closer to the two Italian DVD releases of the film than to the darker and more contrasty (but, by many, preferred) Anchor Bay release. Given that this transfer was supervised by Tovoli, it should be the definitive presentation of the film on DVD, although these small screenshots unfortunately fail to provide much of an idea of how the DVD measures up in the all-important areas of detail and encoding. Additionally, the preview fails to provide any information on audio and subtitle options. As many people will know by now, the audio on Anchor Bay’s Suspiria DVD is viciously mangled, and, if Wild Side have included English audio at all, it is to be hoped that they have gone back to the original 4-channel recording, or at the very least created a new mix based on it, rather than simply porting over Anchor Bay’s mangling.

This new edition is due out at some point in December (the 4th, according to the not necessarily reliable Amazon, and I’m sorely tempted to pick up a copy, although, knowing my luck, an HD release will be announced almost as soon as I do so (perhaps by the Weinstein Company, who recently acquired the US rights to the title, but have been quiet on the issue of HD DVD releases recently). Either way, I don’t think I could ever have too many copies of one of my favourite films of all time, and, if the hype is to be believed, then this new French edition could just render the much-vaunted Anchor Bay version obsolete.

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2007 at 4:21 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology

Blu-ray bonanza


Another Blu-ray disc reached me today, Sony Pictures’ US release of Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book. I already own a check disc version of Tartan’s UK release (review here), but I wanted to pick up the American version for its exclusive commentary by Paul Verhoeven (which, based on my brief five-minute sampling of it earlier today, seems to be a good one - there’s something very enjoyable about listening to this unrelentingly cheerful Dutchman rattling on and on without seeming to pause for breath).

In terms of the image quality, I initially assumed that the Tartan and Sony releases would both feature the same transfer. Tartan are, after all, a smallish independent distributor taking something of a gamble by dipping their toes into the HD pool, and my expectation was that Sony would do whatever they could to help them out. Surprisingly, though, the two transfers are not the same. They were clearly minted from the same master (unsurprising, in this age of digital intermediates), and the differences are miniscule, but they are there. Flicking between the same frames on both releases (I hope to put up screengrabs later) reveals minute differences in the distribution of the grain patterns, indicating that these are different encodes, even if the changes can only be seen by zooming in to around 300% of the original size. Furthermore, while the Tartan release shows some light ringing at the top and bottom of the frame, and around the on-screen location type (see Example 3 in my recent comparison between the Tartan DVD and Blu-ray releases), this is nowhere to be found in Sony’s release. It just simply isn’t there. Now, there is no appreciable difference in the detail levels of the rest of the image, so I’m not quite sure what is going on here, but ultimately, the difference is pretty much irrelevant.

Unless you really care about a tiny bit of ringing around some text (which, if memory serves me correctly, occurs at less than half a dozen points in the entire film) and a eensy bit more at the top and bottom of the frame, there really is no reason to prefer one over the other. It ultimately all comes down to which bonus features you would prefer (interviews with Verhoeven and Carice Van Houten on the Tartan disc; Verhoeven commentary and documentary on the Sony)… and, of course, the price. My understanding is that the Tartan release comes packaged with the standard definition DVD, jacking the price up somewhat unneccessarily. The Sony release (which, incidentally, is, like the Tartan, region-free) sells for a very reasonable £13.24 at DVD Pacific, whereas the cheapest I can find the Tartan release is £17.89 at Sendit, so that may tip the scales for you.

Either way, you’re getting a superb, almost completely flawless presentation of what is, in my opinion, one of the most downright entertaining thrillers I’ve seen in recent years and my favourite Verhoeven film so far.

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007 at 11:40 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

Blurry Blu-ray

Looks like the postal system is well and truly getting back to normal. A whole slew of packages popped through my letterbox this morning, among them Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray releases of Halloween, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Unfortunately, the news is pretty bad on every front, as all three are heavily flawed in one way or another.


We’ll start with the good (or, I should say, comparatively good) news first: Halloween is the best-looking title of the three, with acceptable (although far from outstanding) detail levels and no obvious noise reduction artefacts. On the downside, as has been extensively documented by Dave Mack at the AV Science Forum, this release, and despite (alleged) claims to the contrary from an Anchor Bay representative, the transfer provided on Blu-ray does not feature director John Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey’s approved colour palette for the film. While not as mangled as the Divimax standard definition DVD, there are definite problems here, with the daytime shots alternating between looking too summery (the film is, after all, set in late Autumn) and having the proper “brown” look, while the blue tint that is supposed to be present in the night scenes seems to come and go on a shot by shot basis. In the past, I’ve come across statements suggesting (some of them rather convincingly) that the Divimax transfer showed the correct colour values, but ultimately I’m going to go with what Synapse Films’ Don May Jr., who has had first-hand experience with the original 35mm camera negative, has to say:

You can like the sharpness, detail and the way the new HALLOWEEN looks on BD. That’s fine. I have no problem with people’s opinions on what they like or dislike and I’m not going to insult someone for the way they feel about a film’s presentation. But, based on previous editions that I’ve seen and the fact that I own original OUT OF THE CAMERA 35mm camera negative (not dupe neg, not print, not IP) for HALLOWEEN shows that the blue tint SHOULD be there in a much stronger way than presented on the current BD version.

HALLOWEEN is a classic of the genre. A film like this deserves to be properly restored each and every time it comes out on a new format. On VHS, LD, DVD, BD or watching on MONSTERS HD or your favorite cable station, you can certainly love it any way you see fit. If you dig it, that’s fine. The way it looks, the way it sounds, in whatever format you decide to watch it in… But, the BD isn’t necessarily the way the filmmakers intended it to look and, as a person who does digital film transfers and has been working in the film industry for almost 15 years, I personally feel that all transfers need to be signed off on by one of the filmmakers close to the project (whether it’s the DP, the director, etc.). Almost every one of our transfers has been looked at by the filmmakers, or personally supervised at OUR expense by the filmmakers BEFORE it goes to DVD… that’s the way WE roll. It’s a courtesy and a respect that we have for the films we release and the filmmakers that spill blood, sweat and tears over their life’s work. Perhaps larger companies don’t see that as a viable expense, but we do and, in many of our fans’ minds, that what they appreciate the most about us. We just try to do it the right way, every time, so that these sort of situations don’t continue to pop up.

Blu-ray Blu-ray

As for Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, to the best of my knowledge they do not exhibit any problems with the colour timing, but they have plenty of problems of their own, which have been documented, with visual evidence, by Lyris on his site. To put it bluntly, Dawn of the Dead is a mess, suffering from hideous noise reduction artefacts (particularly smearing during pans), and Day of the Dead is only slightly better. Both are also noticeably edge enhanced.

I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed at all by Anchor Bay’s initial foray into the world of high definition. These masters may have been passable in the standard definition domain, but when you move into HD, you really have to step things up a notch. People are paying a premium from what they expect will be first-rate AV presentations, and sloppiness like this is just not the way to go.

One final positive point to help take some of the sting out of all the negatives: all three titles come with their original mono mixes intact, and, in the case of Day of the Dead, the mono mix does not suffer from the censored swearwords which affect the 5.1 (Dolby and PCM) remix. Given that several high definition releases of older films have featured only remixes (Universal’s HD DVD of An American Werewolf in London being a particularly nasty offender), and also given the company’s somewhat spotty track record in this area, Anchor Bay are to be commended for their decision to cater to purists.

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007 at 7:23 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology | Web

The jungle is jumpin’!


Things have been a bit quiet around here during the last few days. I’m supposed to have quite a few discs of various formats on the way, whether bought, rented or for review, but there has been a nationwide postal strike, which has held things up. Various items are finally beginning to trickle in, and one of these was the R1 USA Platinum Edition of Disney’s The Jungle Book, which reached me yesterday.

This is a decidedly problematic release, and the reason for this stems from Disney’s decision to present the film in a matted widescreen ratio of 1.75:1. As I previously explained, although most commercial cinemas had become widescreen-only by the mid-1950s, Disney continued to animate their films in the Academy (1.33:1) ratio until as recently as the late 1970s (or early 80s, depending on who you listen to), and it is in this ratio that most of the studio’s films of the period were released on DVD until recently (with 1977’s The Rescuers, framed at 1.66:1, being the odd duck). These DVDs were open matte, revealing the entire Academy frame as drawn by the animators (again, there seems to be a single exception to this, with the 1.33:1-formatted The Fox and the Hound looking noticeably cropped on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD).

The Jungle Book The Jungle Book

With the 2006 re-release of 1973’s Robin Hood, however, all this changed. Previously released in the Academy ratio, the new DVD used the unusual ratio of 1.75:1, matting the image at the top and bottom and as a result reducing the vertical dimensions. As seen in Ultimate Disney’s review, the altered framing made the artwork seem much tighter - some might say claustrophobic. Some people were up in arms about this, but I’ve always attempted to remain as agnostic as possible on the issue. After all, one of my main demands for home entertainment (whether that be DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray or anything else) presentations of films is that they reflect, as closely as possible, the original theatrical presentations. It’s why I hate the concept of reframing in the first place, and why I continually rail against audio remixes or George Lucas-style “tweaks”.

The Jungle Book The Jungle Book

With The Jungle Book, I’m forced to come off the fence and categorically state that I don’t like the new framing. To put it plainly, it just looks wrong. Far from merely being tight, it looks cramped and claustrophobic, and the overall composition is all wrong. The tops of characters’ heads disappear at the top of the screen, while their feet frequently skirt just below the bottom of the frame in a way that I can’t believe was intended by the animators. A small amount of information is gained at the sides, but far more is lost. Compare the various images in this post and tell me which version looks the more balanced to you.

The Jungle Book The Jungle Book

Of course, on top of this, there’s the whole issue of this being yet another overly soft, DVNR’d to buggery Disney restoration from DTS Digital Images, with highly suspect colour values (more research required in this area to determine whether DTS have pulled another Peter Pan), but I’ll save that for the eventual review. At least, to end this post on a high note, the original mono audio track sounds excellent, and the bonus features are very informative - a big step up from those provided for Pan.

PS. For another recent example of reframing, check out what Robert Rodriguez has done to Planet Terror for its DVD release.

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 10:58 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology

DVD image comparison: Black Book (SD vs. HD)


When I first saw the DVD release of Black Book, I thought the image quality was unremarkable but basically acceptable. Several months later, after having seen the Blu-ray version, I now consider the DVD to be barely watchable. The DVD has been heavily filtered, sucking out a massive amount of the fine detail, and yet even so still exhibits severe compression artefacts on occasions (check the mush into which the sand disintegrates in Example 8, for example).

In contrast, the Blu-ray version is a revelation, even if it still falls just shy of perfection. A small amount of filtering has been applied, removing the finest layer of detail and also resulting in some very mild ringing (look carefully at the location type in Example 3). It’s still a very beautiful-looking transfer, though, and it’s the single fault in an otherwise stellar presentation.

This film also shows up, to a far greater extent than any other that I’ve compared so far, the difference in high definition colour gamut versus that of standard definition. Look how much purer the reds are, especially in Example 5 (I’m pretty sure the swastika flag is meant to be black, white and red, not black, white and orange).

The Blu-ray release ports over all of the extras from the DVD version, although Tartan have bizarrely chosen to imbed this standard definition content in a small window on the Extras menu, rather than presenting it full-screen. If you have a relatively small TV, this will make watching them quite a chore.

Check out the comparison here!

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2007 at 10:39 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

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