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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

Revenge, fumetti-style


One thing I genuinely admire about UK-based distributor of Italian cult films on DVD, Shameless Screen Entertainment, is their willingness to involve the directors of the films they release. Last year, they put out a copy of Piero Schivazappa’s The Frightened Woman, which reassembled the film into a full length cut which the director then went on to approve. This April 27th, they’ll be doing the same again on an even grander scale with their release of Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga.

This film had a particularly unfortunate history, having been re-edited by its producers behind Farina’s back while he took a few days off after locking the film. When he returned from his holiday, he found that his film had been butchered with the missing elements having seemingly been destroyed, and he had no choice but to attempt to salvage what remained. It was this version that was ultimately released on DVD in the US by Blue Underground in 2003, with the deleted materials presented in poor quality video dupe form as a bonus feature. Now, however, Shameless has gone one step further and it has been (as per the press release) “restored, re-graded, re-edited and re-imagined” by Farrina himself. Time will tell just how significantly different this new cut will be, and whether or not a better quality source has been obtained than what we saw on the Blue Underground DVD, but I suspect I’ll be holding on to that earlier release for posterity purposes.

The specs certainly sound good, offering both English and Italian audio with optional English subtitles (a significant step up from the BU DVD’s English-only presentation), and an array of extras including a new introduction and interview with Farrina, two short films he directed, and a “Shameless Fact Track” by the knowledgeable Wilson Bros. And, on top of all that, you’ve got to love the quote from Farrina on the front cover:

Finally, after 35 years, you can see my film as it was before the producers hacked it to pieces.

The press release also mentions that another little-seen Italian 70s gem, Luigi Bazzoni’s Footprints, will also be coming to DVD courtesy of Shameless.

Source: DVD Times

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009 at 2:08 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Web

BD review: Bolt

The lightweight nature of the extras and the elevated price resulting from the inclusion of two additional throwaway discs aside, this BD release of Bolt is impressive. While I would have liked to see a little more meat in terms of bonus content, the audio-visual presentation can’t be faulted in any way, and the film itself, although occupying the middle ground in terms of the quality of Disney’s animated features, certainly hits all the right spots as far as humour and emotion are concerned.

I review Disney’s Region A Blu-ray Disc release of Bolt, which hits shelves today, just ahead of its standard definition DVD counterpart. Has this film relit the Disney flame, or is it another damp squib? Read on and find out!

Review at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 5:01 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

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:

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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!


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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
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

Quantum of Solace BD impressions


Now this is frustrating. A number of people, whose opinions I value highly, have praised Quantum of Solace, but I must confess that, as I watched it, I kept thinking “Am I missing something?” I should, I suspect, say up front that I’m not a James Bond fan. I’ve only seen a handful of the films, and Casino Royale is the only other one I own a copy of. I found that particular film to be a very impressive reboot of a series that, from what I could see, had become very formulaic and rooted in fantasy. It toned down the over-the-top set-pieces and brought characterisation to the forefront, giving Bond a distinctive personality, something he never really had for me in any of the other films I’d seen. I had high hopes for Quantum of Solace, but was ultimately very disappointed. The basic plot itself isn’t the problem. I rather like it, in fact, and the thematic elements, particularly the recurring motifs of betrayal and trust, could have made for some meaty material. For me, it comes down to a combination of the script, which is muddled and unfocused, and the direction, which is confusing at best and staggeringly inept at worst, especially in terms of the action sequences. Newcomer Marc Forster appears to hail from the “shakeycam” school of direction and the “blunt scissors” college of editing, and as a result the film has too much in common with the Bourne franchise for its own good. Scarcely a minute went by when I didn’t find myself wishing Martin Campbell and his editor, Stuart Baird, had stuck around after Casino Royale and handled this one too. Casino Royale was genuinely well-made and its stylistic restraint was greatly appreciated in an age where every action film director seems to think making things as incomprehensible as possible is the way to go. Some striking images aside (Bond and Camille wandering through the desert is a particular stand-out), this just looks and feels like a generic action movie.

Daniel Craig is good in the title role, but he doesn’t have anything like as much to work with here as he did in the previous film, beyond the vague notion of him being hell-bent on revenge. Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton, meanwhile, do their best, but they don’t fare well on the heels of Casino’s Eva Green, who to be fair is, alongside Emily Blunt, possibly the most charismatic actress of her generation. The performance I enjoyed the most was that of Giancarlo Giannini, whom I’ve enjoyed in everything from The Black Belly of the Tarantula to Hannibal, and who manages to give the character of Mathis some real humanity.

For a more favourable take on the film, by the way, Baron Scarpia is your man.

Casino Royale’s BD release was handled by Sony Pictures, and a superb job they did of it too: it got my coveted “10/10” rating on the Discerning Viewer’s Ranking List, and to this day is almost always the first disc we reach for when testing new hardware. With Quantum of Solace, the home video rights have shifted back to MGM, who through their distribution partner 20th Century Fox have put out a very good disc. Detail is very impressive when the camera stays still for more than a second, and the compression is superbly handled from beginning to end. I suspect that a minute amount of filtering may have been applied - either that or I’m seeing the results of downscaling from the 4K master. What I’m referring to is a small amount of ringing around high frequency edges: check the location type in Example 1 and the subtitles in Example 16 to see it at its most obvious (and even then it’s pretty subtle). It’s the only black mark I can possibly give to this otherwise stellar presentation. 9.5/10

By the way, check out the extremely obvious selective airbrushing that has sporadically been applied to Judi Dench’s forehead. Always good for a laugh, and even better for taking you out of the film with its distractingness. Don’t you just love it?

Quantum of Solace
studio: 20th Century Fox/MGM; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 27 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 36.43 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Friday, March 13, 2009 at 10:01 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | Technology

Just arrived…


Quantum of Solace (Blu-ray, 20th Century Fox/MGM, Region A, USA)

Posted: Friday, March 13, 2009 at 12:30 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema

Pinocchio BD impressions


Pinocchio is one of my all-time favourite Disney features. I’m not sure whether or not I’d call it the best, but it’s definitely in the running. I watched the new BD release tonight - it’s high definition debut - and am largely pretty pleased with how it looks. Like every Disney feature to get a new master since the Masterpiece Edition DVD of Alice in Wonderland in 2004, Pinocchio has essentially been completely scrubbed of grain, a process which, oddly enough, many enthusiasts don’t have a problem with, despite the resoundingly negative reactions whenever the same is done to live action titles like Patton or Dark City. I can understand why this is: given the comparative simplicity of even the lushest animation when compared to live action, the results of grain removal being applied to this medium is considerably less destructive than when applied to the complex textures of real people’s faces, fabric and so on. However, it’s safe to say that Pinocchio on BD looks nothing like how it originally did in cinemas, and I personally have severe problems with this. The image tends to look unnaturally static, with held shots in particularly taking on the feel of having been freeze-framed. Grain is aesthetically pleasing and is part of the character of these films, and in my opinion the sooner Disney realise this the better. There is one instance, where a bolt of lightning illuminates the screen, which briefly shows what the film could have looked like had its natural grain structure been left intact (see Example 11, which feels like a tantalising glimpse into something altogether more organic.)

Having accepted that the film now looks more like a product of 2009 than of 1940, we ultimately have a very nice presentation. It’s not as crisp-looking as the BD of Sleeping Beauty, and we can only speculate as to why this is. Less inherent detail to begin with? More grain being scrubbed out and taking detail away with it? Either way, it’s pleasing to look at provided you don’t mind the overly static appearance. Additionally, whereas Sleeping Beauty features some occasional nasty-looking digital screw-ups, I could detect nothing of the sort on Pinocchio. (Prior to viewing the disc for myself, I did see in some captures that had appeared online what looked like DVNR artefacts, but in actual fact these turned out simply to be the result of the underwater effect applied to the film’s third act; see Example 15.) There’s the occasional bit of weirdness where the colours are concerned, though: for example, during Stromboli’s puppet show, for a number of shots Pinocchio’s shirt inexplicably turns white instead of yellow, despite this not occurring on the previous DVD release (the 2003 UK special edition):

Pinocchio (2003 UK DVD) Pinocchio (2009 US DVD)

Otherwise, though, I tend to lean towards the feeling that the colours of this new master are more authentic than those of the previous release. I’m well aware that Disney now routinely refer to the original cels in order to determine the colour timing for their HD masters (a process that, as I previously outlined, is not as good an idea in practice as it is in theory), so I would suggest that there’s still a strong chance that the colours on this release are not a good match for those of the original theatrical exhibitions, but even so I would take these over the yellowy-looking 2003 DVD any day. I’m ultimately not disappointed by how the disc looks, although I maintain that, had Disney treated the film with more respect towards maintaining its integrity, it would have been considerably better. 8/10

studio: Buena Vista; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 22.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 36.31 Mbit/sec

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Oh, and a big “thank you” to Chuck for pointing out that there is a missing vocal effect on both the 7.1 remix and the supposedly “original theatrical soundtrack” (restored mono): Jiminy Cricket’s “Right!” just before “Take the straight and narrow path/And if you start to slide” is completely absent. Additionally, when watching the disc tonight, my brother also immediately noticed that Jiminy’s line “Look out, Pinoke!” at the end of the song, as Pinocchio falls over, has also disappeared into the ether. Both these lines were present and correct on the previous DVD, and on the earlier Gold Collection release. Quite how this happened is a mystery to me, and, while these two omissions don’t ultimately ruin the experience, it’s a disappointing degree of sloppiness on what Disney quite rightly considers one of its flagship titles.

At the end of the day, I’m giving this disc my recommendation, but it definitely falls a couple of notches shy of perfection. Oh well, there’s always the 80th anniversary in ten years’ time…

Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:24 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

Just arrived…


Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (Blu-ray, Buena Vista, Region A, USA)

Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 2:35 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema

Could this be the worst BD ever released?

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

It’s not often that screen captures of a Blu-ray Disc make me exclaim out loud, but Koch Vision managed to elicit just such a response from me when I saw shots of their release of Dave Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels over at DVD Beaver. I already knew, from discussions on various message boards prior to its release, that the HD presentation of this 1939 public domain title was severely compromised, having been unceremoniously cropped to 1.78:1 from its intended 1.33:1 ratio. Nothing, however, prepared me for the hideous sight that met my eyes when I checked out the DVD Beaver review. Not only does it appear to have been culled from a standard definition master (and one which appears to be afflicted by dot crawl at that), it has also been subjected to a level of digital noise reduction (DNR) that makes the BDs of Patton and Scary Movie look positively unmangled in comparison.

Go ahead, click the link and be prepared to lose your lunch. Someone well and truly koched this disc up.

I’ll conclude with a comment by my brother, who seems to me to have done an excellent job of summing up this shoddy situation:

Quite frankly, the BDA should clamp down on garbage like this being put out. At best, it’s a shit disc sullying the ultimate AV format, and at worst, it’s confusing consumers who actually expect High Definition when they buy Blu. My other fear is that unknowledgeable reviewers and buyers think the film looks like shit because it’s old (if I had a penny for every time I’d heard that one). Cut it out, guys.


Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009 at 2:33 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web

Bolt BD impressions


Those with more than a passing interest in Disney will probably know that Bolt started off as American Dog, the brainchild of Lilo & Stitch director Chris Sanders. When Disney Feature Animation was shaken up with the arrival of John Lasseter as its new chief, many projects were scrapped entirely or heavily retooled, with Sanders and American Dog being unfortunate casualties of this regime change. The result is that the film that has now made it to our screens bears only a passing resemblance to what it once was, the extent to which the new version has been homogenised and defanged having been documented in a post I made last year. Furthermore, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the plot is a step-by-step retread of Lasseter’s own Toy Story, with the eponymous Bolt going through the same character arc as that film’s Buzz Lightyear. The end result is an enjoyable film, alternately funny and moving in the fairly typical Disney way, and if not quite a return to form then it is at least a significant step in the right direction. However, I fear it will be remembered less for what it is than for what it might have been.

At least there can be no doubt that Disney has struck a home run with the BD transfer. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (slightly opening up the framing from the theatrical 1.85:1), Bolt looks superb from start to finish, and I honestly can’t fault it in any way. As with Pixar’s recent films, the team behind the film have generally favoured a slightly diffuse look, which means that the image doesn’t necessarily scream “razor sharp” at every opportunity, but looks considerably more natural than it would had they gone for a crisper look à la Open Season or (shudder) Big Buck Bunny. The compression is effortlessly handled from start to finish, and there is not evidence of digital manipulation in the form of filtering, edge enhancement and the like. A poster child for what the Blu-ray format is capable of and a nice big stinky sock to shove into the mouths of those who still believe that animation doesn’t benefit from high definition. 10/10

studio: Buena Vista; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 20.4 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 30.33 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Sunday, March 08, 2009 at 2:24 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

Just arrived…


Bolt (Blu-ray, Buena Vista, Region A, USA)

Posted: Saturday, March 07, 2009 at 9:43 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema

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 Butterfly Effect BD impressions


Isn’t it funny how the ravages of time can completely change your opinion of something? The other night, we sat down to watch the Canadian BD release of The Butterfly Effect, a film that I rated rather highly when I originally saw it back in 2004. Five years on and, while I can’t say I hated it, I was struck by just how inferior it was to how I’d remembered it. I still maintain that the premise itself is a rather good one, but it’s clumsily handled by first-time directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber (who also wrote the script and were, apparently, given the chance to get the film made on the back of the success of Final Destination 2, which they wrote). Furthermore, the internal logic is filled with inconsistences and nonsequiturs: for instance, if, going by the logic of the Butterfly Effect of the film’s title, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas, why does Evan (Ashton Kutcher - yeah, him) continually going back in time and altering fundamental aspects of his past appear to have no effect on the world beyond his immediate circle of friends and family? Most criminally, though, the performances are, across the board, pretty damn poor, with Ashton “if I frown really hard people might mistake me for a competent actor” Kutcher taking home the top honours in this field. Ultimately, we ended up being entertained by the film, but I suspect not for the reasons its makers intended.

Anyway, let’s talk about the transfer itself, because I assume the reason you’re reading this post in the first place is because you want to know how it looks. “Pretty good, for the most part,” would be my response. The Butterfly Effect is a fairly stylised film with a lot of digital manipulation and a variety of different looks for the various “realities” in which Evan finds himself. His frat brother incarnation, for example, exists in a world of eye-searingly oversaturated colours and some pretty heavy grain reduction. This is all, of course, completely intentional, even if it’s not particularly pleasant-looking. At the same time, however, some shots have been digitally processed for no apparent reason. For instance, take a look at Example 7, which takes place in the “original” reality - I don’t think there are words in the English language to describe what has been done to this shot. The upside is that, barring these instances, scenes that are meant to be grainy appear to have been left alone, the prison sequence being a case in point. A handful of scenes have also been over-sharpened (see, for instance, Example 6), and, after doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that these instances seem to correspond with scenes that were deleted from the theatrical edition but re-instered for the directors’ cut, which is the version presented on this BD. Some dicey compression also crops up occasionally, generally in the form of grain being affected by mild artefacting, with some more noticeable blocking in the shadows (there’s some particularly nasty blocking in the scene where Evan meets Kayleigh outside the diner where she works). Perhaps the film would have benefited from a BD-50? (Although there’s actually a lot of unused space on this BD-25.) 8/10

The Butterfly Effect
studio: Alliance Atlantis; country: Canada; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 17.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 20.65 Mbit/sec

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PS. Apologies for the lack of posts recently. I’m up to my neck in work for my PhD, and while I discovered the other day that I actually have a week longer to complete my chapter than I previously thought, I’m still having to dedicate nearly all my time to it.

Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009 at 4:12 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews | Technology

Just arrived…


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Blu-ray, Blue Underground, Region ABC, USA)

Posted: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 at 6:12 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema

The Silence of the Lambs BD impressions


Over the last couple of evenings, we’ve been enjoying some cannibalistic fun by watching the BD releases of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Until now, I’ve always been of the rather unusual opinion that Hannibal is the better of the two, but I must confess that, now, I’m beginning to reconsider this. About half-way through Hannibal, my brother commented “This is good, but they’re not really using Anthony Hopkins as much as they did in the first one.” I asked him if he knew that Hopkins only actually appeared for about fifteen minutes in Silence, and he was astounded. Many people have just such a reaction when it’s pointed out to them, and I take this as a testament to how powerful Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal Lecter is: he overwhelms the movie, and is the element people are most likely to remember, but in reality is screen time is very limited. By contrast, he is all over Hannibal (appropriately so, given the title), but somehow makes less of an impact. I’m not sure whether to blame Steven Zaillian’s script or Hopkins’ more nudge-nudge-wink-wink performance, or a combination of the two, but watching the two films one after the other, I found myself both appreciating Silence’s strength and noticing Hannibal’s weaknesses more than in the past. I still consider the latter a film of great beauty and don’t really feel that it’s possible to directly compare the two (I think doing just that is why so many people found the sequel to be a let-down), but let’s just say it’s wobbling slightly on the pedestal on which I previously placed it.

As for the image quality of the two films on BD, I’ve already covered Hannibal here. For The Silence of the Lambs, 20th Century Fox and MGM have served up an MPEG-2 encode - probably the same MPEG-2 encode that was prepared for the film when the BD was originally going to come out in early 2007. This disc has been subjected to some degree of criticism online, but I personally feel that it’s not as bad as some have suggested. A degree of grain reduction appears to have been applied, but it’s a long way indeed from looking like a waxwork museum in the Dark City vein. Some comparisons have been drawn to the far grainier theatrical trailer found in the disc, but I think it’s unfair to measure the level of grain found in it to that of the film itself, as the elements used for the trailer are likely to be at least a couple of generations removed from those used for the film master. Detail is less than stellar, but I suspect this was always going to be the case. The encoding, meanwhile, is not bad, although a smattering of compression artefacts can be seen on occasions, and become quite pronounced in the “epilogue” showing Clarice’s graduation (see Example 15).

My biggest complaint is the same one that I applied to the MGM DVD releases: the colour palette has, apparently, been changed somewhat from the film’s original theatrical exhibition. The now out of print Criterion DVD, the transfer for which was supervised by cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and approved by director Jonathan Demme, has long been held up as a more faithful representation of these men’s intentions. The MGM master tends to look a little overlit, particularly noticeable in the scenes “down in the dungeon”, which on the Criterion DVD are darker and have a slight reddish tint (symbolic, perhaps, of entering the bowels of Hell). The lighting in the MGM version looks a little too bright for what is meant to be a dank and foreboding place, and the beginning of Clarice’s second conversation with Lecter, which starts with the lights turned out, reveals some wonky shadow detail as a result of the gamma having been increased (see Example 5). The debate will no doubt continue as to just how right or wrong the Criterion and MGM versions are, but I know which one I personally prefer and am somewhat disappointed by how the film looks here. 6/10

The Silence of the Lambs
studio: 20th Century Fox/MGM; country: USA; region code: A; codec: MPEG-2;
file size: 20.7 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 25.06 Mbit/sec

The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs The Silence of the Lambs

Posted: Tuesday, March 03, 2009 at 1:16 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

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

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • February 3, 2009: Domino (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Donkey Punch (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Diary of the Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Butterfly on a Wheel (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 7, 2009: Sin City (Region ABC Canada, Blu-ray)
  • February 10, 2009: 21 Grams (Region A Canada, Blu-ray)
  • February 12, 2009: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 21, 2009: Changeling (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 23, 2009: The Silence of the Lambs (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 26, 2009: Body of Lies (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema

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