Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: November 28, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:34:31

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1:85:1

Bitrate: 28.81 Mbps

Title

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Eddie Bunker (Reservoir Dogs), Animal Factory was Steve Buscemi’s second stint in the director’s chair and sees him marshaling a formidable ensemble cast, including Bunker, Danny Trejo (Machete) and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler). The story follows a troubled youth named Ron Decker (Edward Furlong, American History X) who is sentenced to a ten-year stint in the notorious San Quentin State Prison for a drug-dealing conviction. Inexperienced in the ways of prison life, he’s taken under the wing of Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe, To Live and Die in LA), an experienced con with the entire prison in the palm of his hand—inmates and guards alike. But as Ron grows increasingly cocky in his privileged role as Earl’s confidant, he might be biting off more than he can chew with some of the jail’s more volatile inhabitants.

As someone who doesn’t typically enjoy movies set in penitentiaries, the film was unable to rise above my particular prejudices against the genre. It seemed somewhat oddly plotted and the characters didn’t really interest me. It does at the very least make an honest effort towards developing the film’s two primary characters, but (for whatever reason) these efforts were in vain. Frankly, it would be impossible to give the film an unbiased review. Those who admire prison movies might very well have a very different experience.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray disc in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. There is also an attractive booklet that features an essay written by Glenn Kenny entitled Too Real: Steve Buscemi and Edward Bunker’s ‘Animal Factory’ which is illustrated with several stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

SS01

Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

There are two kinds of Arrow Video releases. There are those with restorations overseen by Arrow, and those with older transfers acquired from outside sources. Unfortunately, this particular release belongs to the latter category, and the result is a typically lackluster transfer that manages to best standard definition releases of the film but certainly doesn’t impress the discerning videophile. The information about the transfer included in the book is rather vague, and this is always a red flag. We merely learn that the master was produced and delivered by Ambie Distribution.

It isn’t really a bad transfer, but it could really be much better. It simply doesn’t distinguish itself and can be a bit uneven in every respect. It does exhibit a decidedly filmic texture throughout with distinguishable grain, and detail is improved over earlier standard definition releases. However, this improvement should be much more substantial than it actually is here. The Razor-sharp images that people expect from Arrow simply aren’t forthcoming. Other elements (clarity, color, compression, etc.) can be described as adequate.

SS02

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 Linear PCM track provided by Ambie Distribution seems to be a fair representation of the original audio elements with only source-related weaknesses evident. Some might lament the lack of a more dynamic mix, but it is unreasonable to expect a better track than what audiences experienced upon the film’s theatrical release.

SS02

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Eddie Bunker Danny Trejo

Arrow includes this archival commentary with Bunker and Trejo, and it is probably the disc’s most significant supplement despite the fact that it wasn’t produced specifically for this new Blu-ray release. There is too much dead space throughout the duration of the track, but their conversation is more than worth checking out. A variety of topics are covered in a somewhat generalized manner, including Buscemi’s directorial work on the film, Bunker’s prison experiences that influenced certain elements of the story, Trejo and Bunker’s personal prison experiences (they met in prison), prison culture, and other pertinent subjects.

Eddie Bunker: Life of Crime – (20:50) – (1080P)

Forshaw (author of American Noir: The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction) discusses the life and work of Eddie Bunker while putting a personal spin on the topic when he discusses his encounters with Bunker. It is worth viewing if one is a fan.

Trailer – (01:15) – (1080P)
There is a reason that this isn’t listed as the film’s “theatrical trailer.” It looks more like a video trailer for the film, and one actually wonders why Arrow even bothered including it here.

SS03

Final Words:

There is much to admire in Animal Factory, and those who appreciate these films should pick up this new Arrow Blu-ray. Having said this, the film isn’t for everyone and the transfer isn’t up to Arrow’s usual high standards.

SS03

Advertisements

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: November 14, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 96 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: This edition also includes a DVD copy of the film.

Title

It wasn’t long before the Blaxploitation boom moved into the horror market, bringing the world Blacula, Blackenstein, Abby (a Blaxploitation rip-off of The Exorcist) and cult favorite J.D.’s Revenge, which is the focus of this review.

The film’s ridiculous story is interesting enough to recommend a rainy day viewing if one happens to be at a loss for something to watch. We follow a law student named Ike who enjoys a night on the town with his devoted girlfriend and another couple. They all attend a night club that is showcasing a hypnotist act, and Ike is one of the volunteers chosen from the audience. This throws his entire loss into chaos, because it turns out that this somehow allows the spirit of a violent gangster named JD to possess his body. Through Ike, JD attempts to take revenge upon those who were responsible for his death.

It is all much too silly to ever become frightening and the acting is a bit uneven as it has a tendency to go over the top. However, this silliness is probably partly responsible for its cult following.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips and what is presumably the film’s original poster art (which is marginally superior but not particularly impressive). There is also an attractive booklet that features an essay entitled Psychic Connections that was written by Kim Newman (author of Nightmare Movies) and a number of stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

By no means can this new high definition transfer be listed amongst Arrow’s best, but it does offer a superior visual experience to the previous DVD incarnations (while retaining its somewhat gritty aesthetic). Detail and color see the most improvement here with some deep blacks that seem reasonably rendered. There doesn’t seem to be any problematic digital manipulation and the thin layer of grain is rather stable throughout the duration. All in all, this is the most anyone has the right to expect for this particular film.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The Linear PCM English Mono audio track is relatively solid as well. It features clear dialogue throughout and the music and ambience also seems to be well represented.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

The Killing Floor – (HD) – (46:03)

Arthur Marks (Director), Jaison Starkes (Screenwriter), George Folsey Jr. (Editor), and Glynn Turman (Actor) feature largely in this better than average retrospective document about the making of the film. Anecdotes about various aspects of the production are peppered throughout and it makes for a rather engaging and surprisingly informative experience. One might even say that this is essential viewing for fans of the film.

Here Lies J.D. Walker – (HD) – (17:42)

David McKnight (the actor who portrayed J.D. Walker) discusses the film with Steve Ryfle in this extremely rare interview. The topics covered here are surprisingly vast as te actor remembers how he won the role, his working relationship with Arthur Marks, his work ethic, and his efforts to make his portrayal as authentic as possible. A lot of information is packed into these seventeen minutes and one only wishes that it could have been longer. Fans should really love this!

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (02:08)

The Theatrical Trailer (which has seen better days) should bring a smile to the faces of anyone who enjoyed the fake trailers that featured in Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse double feature. It’s pretty campy and ridiculous, but this is part of the charm of having it included here.

Arthur Marks Trailer Reel – (HD)

There is some guilty pleasure to be derived from these very vintage trailers from a number of the directors other feature films.

Bonnie’s Kids – (03:11)
Bucktown – (02:17)
Friday Foster – (02:38)
Monkey Hustle – (02:20)
A Woman for All Men – (02:27)

Radio Spots – (HD) – (01:49)

The same can be said of these two radio spots (one of which advertises a double feature with Coffy).

Image Gallery – (HD)

A basic slideshow of film-related images is exactly what one has come to expect from such galleries It isn’t anything special, but one supposes that fans of the film will welcome its inclusion here in any case.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

J.D.’s Revenge is one of Arrow’s “lesser” releases, but it is still given a strong transfer and a generous helping of worthwhile supplements. Fans of the film should be pleased. One can imagine Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez having a lot of fun with this disc!

hitchcockmaster

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Region: Region A

Notes: These films are also available individually with standard Blu-ray packaging and as a part of The Masterpiece Collection.

Universal owns the rights to more Alfred Hitchcock titles than any other studio and they certainly milk these properties for every penny that they are able to squeeze out of his admirers. However, one really shouldn’t complain because this allows fans ample opportunity to own these films (and have plenty of choices as to how they want these discs packaged). Each of the films available in this collection have been available on Blu-ray for quite some time (both as individually packaged titles and as a part of other sets), and these image and sound transfers are the same ones utilized for those earlier releases. What’s more, these discs include the same supplemental material. Interested parties can read more detailed…

View original post 2,114 more words

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: November 14, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:46:47

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: This Blu-ray comes with an Ultraviolet copy of the movie. A DVD edition of the film is also available.

Title

“This issue with sexual assault against women on the reservation—I mean, it’s existed since the inception of a reservation system. But, really, in the past 15, 20 years, it’s exploded. And it gets no attention, which is the motivation for writing [Wind River].” -Taylor Sheridan (NPR, August 5, 2017)

The film follows a relatively green FBI agent (Elisabeth Olsen) who teams up with a game tracker with deep community ties to the Wind River Indian reservation where he lives and works. Their mission is to find out who is responsible for the raping and inevitable death of one of the reservation’s young women. It is a languidly paced effort that allows the viewer to absorb the rough terrain and get to know the characters involved—a fact that some critics have written about as if this were one of the film’s negative attributes despite the fact that it is in actuality one of its strengths. Too many films are made for viewers with ridiculously feeble minds and short attention spans. Thankfully, this was not the case here, and the subject matter reflects this fact.

“You know, the movies I make—the goal isn’t a mass audience. They’re not expensive films. So the attempt is to reach a much more limited audience—one would say an audience that enjoys films that challenge them emotionally and intellectually. I think that the great challenges for the studios when they make, you know, these massive tent-pole movies, where, you know, in order to recoup their costs they need many millions of people to go see them—and there, you do need to have a broad appeal, which makes it more difficult and challenging to say something that might be controversial or uncomfortable.” -Taylor Sheridan (NPR, August 5, 2017)

It is too bad that there aren’t fewer “tent-pole” movies produced and more films like this one released every year.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film-related artwork. The case is further protected by a slip sleeve that features this same design. It is a reasonably attractive if standard package.

The animated menus employ footage from the film accompanied by some of the sound design featured therein. It’s a reasonably attractive menu and intuitive to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 2K Arri-Alexa cameras have captured some extremely detailed footage and this transfer is a reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of that particular footage in addition to the color correction choices made by the filmmakers for its theatrical release. It is an incredibly sharp presentation and showcases an impressive amount of fine detail throughout the duration. Contrast also impresses the discerning eye as it is easy to see the slightest differences in the various shades of white throughout the frame during some of the snow sequences. Interiors are perhaps less impressive but don’t seem to have any noteworthy issues to report. The muted color palette is appropriate for the material and pleasing to the eye.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track should please audiophiles as it is a subtle but dynamic mix that pulls the listener into the film’s sonic universe. Dialogue is clear and intelligible despite some mumbled dialogue and is presented through the central channels. The unusual score and exterior ambiance are where the bulk of the surround activity is located and all elements are well prioritized.

SS04

Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Deleted Scenes – (03:11)

The two deleted scenes included on the disc are by far the most interesting and substantial additions to the few supplemental features and come in at slightly over three minutes. The first scene is titled Sounds like Wolves and finds Cory Lambert talking to a few police officers after having killed a few wolves. This particular scene comes in at under a minute and doesn’t add up to much. The other scene is titled Jane Checks Into the Motel and follows Jane Banner as she arrives in the area and checks into a hotel. Her interaction with the hotel clerk is amusing and well worth seeing despite the fact that it wouldn’t have added much to our understanding of the character or her situation as an outsider.

Behind the Scenes Video Gallery – (09:54)

There are three promotional featurettes included here. Each one focuses on a different key participant (Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, and Taylor Sheridan) but nothing in any of these EPK promos is particularly enlightening. They contain the same vague statements about the participants and their work on the film that one has come to expect from such content. Even the short clips of “behind the scenes” footage don’t manage to elevate these pointless promotional clips.

SS05

Final Words:

Wind River is well worth watching and those who wish to own it couldn’t do better than to add this Blu-ray to their collections.

SS06

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: October 24, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 109 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 7.1 English Dolby True HD (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio:

English Dolby Atmos
5.1 French (Canada) Dolby Digital
5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital
5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital
5.1 English Narrative Descriptive Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 27.95 Mbps

Notes: This release includes a DVD copy of the film and s DVD edition is available for purchase. However, this edition only includes the Deleted Scenes Featurettes. All other supplements are exclusive to the Blu-ray edition.

Title

In Annabelle: Creation, several years after the tragic death of their young daughter, a doll maker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shut-down orphanage into their home. They soon become the target of the doll maker’s possessed creation, Annabelle. So, riddle me this: Why would any doll-maker in their right mind create such a doll as Annabelle? Even if it weren’t possessed by an evil entity, one can’t imagine anyone saying, “Oh, what an adorable doll!” No normal child would want it in their room at night. One also wonders who came up with the idea of making a prequel to what was already a prequel. David F. Sandberg’s direction elevates the material into a reasonably effective horror diversion, but the film never offers the viewer anything that they haven’t already experienced in better films. What’s more, certain scenes are absolutely ruined by the cartoonish CGI effects which are utilized in situations that should depend on practical effects.

CGI Enhancement

Here is a taste of the aforementioned CGI.

It probably seems as if I am nitpicking, but CGI is one of the top three worst things to happen to the horror genre (the other two are probably the “found footage” gimmick and Rob Zombie). Once upon a time, in the olden days before CGI developed into what it has become today, the horror that unfolded before the viewer’s eyes seemed impossible to fake. After the chills subsided, one had to wonder how the filmmakers made such things unfold before their eyes—and it all looked organic. Everyone now knows that CGI artists can simply create such effects with relative ease and the magic is gone. What’s more, it never feels organic! As a matter of fact it usually looks slightly cartoonish. Even gore is created with CGI now, and it doesn’t result in more realism despite what some people may think. Worse, the magic has been drained from these films.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in the standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork, and the case is protected by a slipcover showcasing the same artwork.

One Sheets

One Sheets

 

Surprisingly enough, the design is decidedly superior to both of the one sheet’s that we’ve seen.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers provides a strong transfer that faithfully carries over the strengths and weaknesses of the original photography. The image supports an impressive amount of fine detail and colors are represented as they were intended by the filmmakers. There might be some slight banding in some portions of the image, but this is really the only problem here. Most will be more than satisfied.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Better are the sound options available on the disc which include a Dolby Atmos track that is as close to perfect a track as anyone could possibly hope to experience. Dialogue is clear and well prioritized in the center speakers while a healthy amount of ambience and music wraps around you while effectively sucking you into the film’s universe. The 7.1 English Dolby True HD track is nearly as effective and will certainly satisfy those without Atmos capabilities.

SS04

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with David F. Sandberg

David F. Sandberg is an interesting commentator and his track is both engaging and informative. It actually makes this reviewer wish that he had more affection for the film.

Deleted Scenes Featurette – (12:04) – (HD)

This is really a collection of deleted scenes but there is contextual information about why they were left out of the film as well. One would have preferred to have these included separately with an optional “play all” function, but it is always nice to have a film’s deleted scenes available on a disc.

Directing Annabelle: Creation – (42:21) – (HD)

Surprisingly informative and more comprehensive than one expects from a standard studio Blu-ray release, this short documentary examines David F. Sandberg’s work on the film. Fans should enjoy watching this better than average look at the film’s production as there is quite a bit of “behind the scenes” footage included.

The Conjuring Universe – (04:51) – (HD)

Not so much a featurette as a shameless plug for the upcoming release of The Nun, the interviews available here are pure fluff and hardly worth the viewer’s time unless they are die-hard fans of the franchise and look forward to the aforementioned film.

Two Short Films by David F. Sandberg:

Those who admire David F. Sandberg’s works should enjoy these two shorts. Actually, one wonders why a director’s short efforts aren’t included on more Blu-ray releases.

Attic Panic – (03:10) – (HD)

Coffer – (03:09) – (HD)

SS05

Final Words:

Those who insist on watching only recent releases this Halloween could certainly do worse than Annabelle: Creation, but we recommend that those people broaden their horizons. Those who refuse to do so should be happy with this Blu-ray as it exhibits great picture and sound quality and supplemental material that is well above average.

SS06

Spine # 897

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 03:05:12

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 4051 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 27.19 Mbps

Title

“The American press was predominantly enthusiastic about the film, and Time magazine ran a cover story about it. The international press was even more enthusiastic. It is true that the English press was badly split. But from the very beginning, all of my films have divided the critics. Some have thought them wonderful, and others have found very little good to say. But subsequent critical opinion has always resulted in a very remarkable shift to the favorable. In one instance, the same critic who originally rapped the film has several years later put it on an all-time best list. But, of course, the lasting and ultimately most important reputation of a film is not based on reviews, but on what, if anything, people say about it over the years, and on how much affection for it they have.” –Stanley Kubrick (Interview with Michel Ciment)

We can announce with some certainty that there are enough admiring cinephiles to call Barry Lyndon a classic. In fact, there are those who would call it Kubrick’s masterpiece—although one might argue that his filmography is full of them. However, one doesn’t wish to imply that it is uniformly admired by general audiences. There are plenty of people who would agree with the following condescending words written by Pauline Kael:

“This film is a masterpiece in every insignificant detail. Kubrick isn’t taking pictures in order to make movies, he’s making movies in order to take pictures. Barry Lyndon indicates that Kubrick is thinking through his camera, and that’s not really how good movies get made—though it’s what gives them their dynamism, if a director puts the images together vivifyingly for an emotional impact. I wish Stanley Kubrick would come home to this country to make movies again, working fast on modern subjects—maybe even doing something tacky, for the hell of it. There was more film art in his early The Killing than there is in Barry Lyndon, and you didn’t feel older when you came out of it…” —Pauline Kael (Kubrick’s Gilded Age)

BTS

Frankly, any critic who hopes that a brilliant director will shovel out the same twaddle being shoveled out by lesser directors should throw their pen or typewriter in the garbage and tape their mouths shut. Kael somehow earned a great deal of respect as a film critic—no small accomplishment considering the fact that she was wrong more often than she was right. She was wrong about Alfred Hitchcock, she was wrong about the Coen brothers, and she was wrong about Stanley Kubrick.

When one is making cinema, details are never insignificant. They are used to build a very distinct world for the viewer, and those so-called insignificant details transport the viewer back in time with an efficiency that has rarely been matched by other directors.  What’s more, Barry Lyndon’s pacing isn’t slow—it is deliberate.  This distinction is an important one, because Kubrick has obviously worked the pacing out with the same meticulous attention. It is the sort of film that requires quite a lot of the viewer and will reward their effort. One must allow the images to wash over them with an understanding that the journey of this film is more important than the destination.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has really been on the ball lately as their beautiful package for Barry Lyndon is one of several exceptional releases in a matter of months. Other examples include last month’s 2-Disc Blu-ray package for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and a stellar 2-Disc/2-Version release of Orson Welles’s Othello earlier this month. This release for Stanley Kubrick’s period masterpiece is in every way their equal.

On the surface, this 2-Disc edition looks exactly like Criterion’s standard single disc releases. Both discs are housed in their standard clear case with a cover sleeve featuring a slightly altered and more simplistic incarnation of Jouineau Bourduge’s one sheet design for the film. Charles Gehm also contributed a design to promote the film, and Warner Brothers utilized it as the primary poster for Barry Lyndon’s original theatrical run. However, Bourduge’s more simplistic alternative one sheet design has become the most iconic image associated with the film. It is no wonder that Criterion decided to utilize it and they made the right choice!

Charles Gehm's One Sheet

Charles Gehm’s One Sheet Design

In addition to the two discs, Criterion houses an above average 40-page collector’s booklet that includes a scholarly essay by Geoffrey O’Brien entitled “Time Regained,” and two pieces that were originally published in a special March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer that was devoted to the film. The first is an incredibly in-depth interview with John Alcott entitled “Photographing ‘Barry Lyndon’” and it essential reading. Alcott goes into some technical detail about how many of the film’s innovative technological effects were pulled off—so much technical detail that some readers will find themselves ill-prepared to completely understand some of the information. The same can be said about a short article by Ed DiGiulio (president of Cinema Products Corporation) about the special equipment alterations and inventions that Kubrick needed for the film. It is entitled “Two Special Lenses for ‘Barry Lyndon’” and is well worth reading. This all adds up to an incredibly substantial booklet—which we prefer to Criterion’s single essay pamphlets.

One does wonder why Michel Ciment’s famed interview with Stanley Kubrick about Barry Lyndon hasn’t been included within these pages (especially since Ciment was interviewed for one of the disc’s supplements). However, to question why this hasn’t been included makes one feel like an unappreciative brat.

Each disc has its own menu design and features its own piece of music from the film, and both are attractive and intuitive to navigate. Anyone familiar with other Criterion discs will know what to expect.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has wisely secluded this three hour film on its own disc coupled only with a choice of soundtracks. This allows them to make the most of their new 4K digital restoration. The following information about the transfer was included in the collector’s booklet:

Barry Lyndon is presented in the film’s photographed aspect ratio of 1.66:1, as specified in a December 8, 1975, letter from director Stanley Kubrick to projectionists. This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film-scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The high-definition transfer created in 2000 and supervised by Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant, served as a color reference for this new master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management…” –Collector’s Booklet

The result is a substantial improvement over the 1.78:1 Warner Brothers transfer, and the differences go far beyond the fact that Criterion presents the film in its intended aspect ratio—even though the earlier transfer was really quite wonderful from a technical standpoint. For one thing, Criterion’s handling of the film’s grain results in an organic and very clean representation that is in keeping with the original image without getting in the way of fine detail. The image is much sharper here despite the intentionally soft appearance of the cinematography. This is simply the result of a technically superior 4K scan and not the result of digital tampering. Black levels are gorgeous and deep without crushing detail in shadowy areas of the frame. The clean-up work undertaken by those who restored the film has resulted in an immaculate image. As a matter of fact, the improvements evident in this new transfer are at their most remarkable during the darker scenes. Density is another area that shows a marked improvement over the previous Blu-ray transfers.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s sound elements have also seen a new transfer and restoration and technical details were included in Criterion’s collector’s booklet along with those concerning the image:

“…The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm magnetic DME (dialogue, music, and effects) track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. The alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2000 from original soundtrack stems by Vitali and audio engineer Chris Jenkins.” –Collector’s Booklet

Purists should be very happy to learn that the original mono track has been restored and included here along with the 5.1 mix. Both tracks are quite good and there aren’t any issues to report regarding either track as both sound incredible here.

SS04

Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Making Barry Lyndon – (37:52)

A “making of” documentary about Barry Lyndon should’ve been made years ago, but Criterion has happily corrected this oversight with this thirty-eight minute look at the film’s production. The program features new interviews with several of Kubrick’s collaborators, including Jan Harlan (executive producer/Kubrick’s brother-in-law), Katharina Kubrick, Leon Vitali (actor), Dominic Savage (actor), Brian Cook (assistant director), Michael Stevenson (assistant director), and Richard Daniels (senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive). It also includes an archival radio with Stanley Kubrick that certainly adds quite a bit to the proceedings. This is a somewhat comprehensive piece that covers such topics as pre-production research, the script—or what there was of a script, the special challenges regarding the film’s innovative cinematography, the meticulous costume designs, and anecdotes from those who worked on the film. One wonders why some of the stand-alone interviews weren’t included as a part of this more comprehensive piece, but this isn’t necessarily a complaint. Obviously, this is the strongest and most instructive supplement on the entire disc (and this is saying quite a lot).

Achieving Perfection – (15:32)

Achieving Perfection is an excellent featurette that focuses primarily on the film’s visuals and the painstaking work that went into creating them. It features interviews with Douglas Milsume (focus puller), Lou Bogue (gaffer), and excerpts from an archival audio interview with John Alcott (cinematographer). This piece gives a more detailed account of the infamous lenses utilized by the production in order to achieve the scenes that were lit using only candlelight. The problems and their solutions of shooting with these special lenses are elaborated on in some depth as are other scenes and their respective challenges. It is an incredibly informative fifteen minutes that seems to fly by all too quickly.

Drama in Detail – (13:34)

Christopher Frayling (Film Historian) discusses the tense working relationship shared by Stanley Kubrick and Academy Award–winning production designer Ken Adam. Their relationship was difficult for Adam because of Kubrick’s insistence on knowing the logic or reasoning behind each and every design. His sets had to work for the director both aesthetically and logically, and this was difficult for Adam who had a very different approach. As a matter of fact, he declined the chance to work with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey because his experience on Dr. Strangelove was so exasperating. Apparently, his decision to work on Barry Lyndon years later led to more than an Academy Award as he also had a well-earned a nervous breakdown.

Timing and Tension – (13:50)

Timing and Tension is a conversation with Tony Lawson who worked closely with Kubrick on the editing of Barry Lyndon. Lawson is modest about his contributions to the film and claims that he was not an equal partner during the interview, but it is clear that he was an essential cog in Kubrick’s well-oiled machine. His revelations about Kubrick’s approach to editing should fascinate the director’s admirers. The interview’s brief duration is rather deceptive, because there is an incredible amount of essential material here.

On the Costumes – (05:00)

This brief but fascinating interview excerpt with Ulla-Britt Söderlund (co-designer of the film’s costumes) was taken from a French television broadcast entitled Les rendez-vous du dimanche that aired on September 19, 1976. We see some of the costume pieces as Söderlund details the meticulous work that went into making them a reality. There is an incredible amount of information here considering its brief duration, and it is a remarkable addition to the supplemental package.

Passion and Reason – (17:35)

Michel Ciment’s interview is interesting and fulfills the disc’s need for a scholarly voice, but one feels it is one of the least interesting supplements on the disc. It isn’t as focused as it needs to be and the commentary is sometimes rather obvious. It works as an appreciation of the director and of the film but somehow falls short in terms of actual insight.

Balancing Every Sound – (10:13)

Balancing Every Sound is an interesting discussion with Leon Vitali (who eventually became Kubrick’s personal assistant). Vitali talks about the reason behind Kubrick’s decision to present the film with a monaural mix and how these same sound elements were later used to create a 5.1 mix. He goes into somewhat general detail about how their choices were guided by an honest effort to present the sound in a manner that was faithful to Kubrick’s original Mono mix. Several comparisons between the two tracks are offered.

A Cinematic Canvas – (15:04)

Adam Eaker discusses some of the artwork that influenced aspects of the film as well as some of the paintings that appeared in it. It wasn’t at all surprising to find that this scholarly discussion was one of the most instructive academic features on the disc. In fact, it is essential viewing for those who appreciate the film and its director. Artists discusses here include (in no particular order) Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, George Stubbs, Johan Zoffany, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Eaker discusses how the works of these artists directly influenced Kubrick’s vision in an incredibly clear and concise way that makes this an extremely worthwhile fifteen minutes.

Theatrical Trailer #1 – (04:07)

Warner Brothers probably knew that they had an unusual film on their hands—one that would be rather difficult to market to the film going public. Their concept for the trailers was to highlight the film’s artistic merit. It wasn’t “the thrill ride of the year” or the “most fun you’ll have at the movies.” It was a languid but beautifully crafted cinematic experience made by one of the undisputed masters of the art of film. Therefore, quotations from enthusiastic critics and a list of awards and nominations are recited from a distinguished sounding gentleman. This approach is probably not as unusual today as it was then, because one now sees these sort of trailers every Oscar season.

Theatrical Trailer #2 – (02:09)

The shorter second trailer highlights a few different scenes at certain points, but it is essentially a condensed version of the first trailer and utilizes the same “review and award accolades” concept.

SS05

Final Words:

In the opening paragraph of a seven-page cover review of the film for Time magazine entitled “Barry Lyndon: Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble,” Richard Schickel wrote the following:

“In [Barry Lyndon], [Stanley Kubrick] demonstrates the qualities that eluded Thackeray: singularity of vision, mature mastery of his medium, near-reckless courage in asserting through this work a claim not just to the distinction critics have already granted him but to greatness that time alone can — and probably will — confirm.” -Richard Schickel (Time, December 15, 1975)

The film would’ve proven this prophetic statement about Kubrick’s greatness even if it had been the director’s only effort. It is a singular experience that cannot be justified in any review (including Schickel’s). It is an uncompromising film that divides viewers, but this can be said about nearly all truly great films. Cinephiles should abandon all preconceived notions as to what a film should be and how it should be experienced—and if it is being experienced on home video, Criterion’s new Blu-ray is the best way to do this.

SS06

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: October 10, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:36:24

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3441 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio:

2.0 English Dolby Digital Audio
2.0 French Dolby Digital Audio
2.0 Spanish Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 22.71 Mbps

Title

Just the other day, this reviewer was with a group of friends when a promo for one of those banal made-for-television Christmas movies ran across a television screen that happened to be in the room. There was a collective groan. “It’s not even Halloween yet,” someone said. “As if Christmas in December wasn’t bad enough,” someone else interjected. Christmas is a stressful season that many people dread—primarily because it has become an obligation to spend money. The heart and soul of the holiday has been all but eradicated due to commercialism. It’s difficult to imagine what audiences must have been thinking when they settled into their theater seats and witnessed a Christmas story without having any notion as to what to expect in June of 1947.

One Sheet

The original one sheet for the film went out of its way to avoid giving away that Miracle on 34th Street was a Christmas-themed film.

Why on earth would a studio release a Christmas-themed entertainment in the summer? It boggles the imagination, but it isn’t at all surprising that the film was an enormous success. The Grinch himself might find his heart growing three sizes larger during such an incredibly charming entertainment. Ebenezer Scrooge could have been spared his haunting tour of Christmases past, present, and future if only such a film could have been screened for him all those years ago. Miracle on 34th Street is everything a Christmas movie should be. It prepares our hearts for the holiday and reminds us what it’s supposed to be about. It is for this reason that the film is still celebrated as one of the essential Holiday classics 70 years after its release. It is an open indictment of the very commercialism that has swallowed the holiday and what it really means to those who celebrate it.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

In some ways, a “70th Anniversary Edition” of Miracle on 34th Street that doesn’t include a new and better transfer of the film than what was previously available flies in the face of the film’s themes about the commercialization of the holiday season. However, we will admit that the packaging for this edition is more attractive than those included in previous Blu-ray editions of the film.

20th Century Fox houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with new film-related artwork that is attractive but not exceptional. Unfortunately, the case is of the eco-friendly variety that features large “recycle” holes that leave both the artwork and the disc vulnerable to damage. Luckily, the case itself is further protected by a sleeve featuring the same design.

The disc’s animated menus feature footage from the film and is above average aesthetically while remaining easy to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

20th Century Fox’s transfer of the film’s original black and white version. Yes, this means that it is unmarred by the ghastly colorization that viewers see on television every year. This is the film as the filmmakers originally intended it to be seen. While, those who remember the film’s earlier DVD transfers will notice a substantial improvement in image quality—an improvement made even more evident due to the fact that it hasn’t gone through as much digital manipulation. Grain is consistent throughout the duration of the film. Whites aren’t quite white, but blacks are rather inky and deep. Unfortunately, there might be a bit of crush during some of the darker shots in the shadow areas of the frame. Clarity is sufficient but not terribly impressive and contrast fluctuates more than one might hope. However, there aren’t any noticeable compression anomalies to distract the viewer.

This is a decent transfer but it isn’t an upgrade over earlier Blu-ray editions of the film, and it is impossible not to see this new release as a missed opportunity. To be fair, this might be the best that Miracle can look without a substantial restoration, but isn’t such a restoration warranted?

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master is the obvious choice despite the fact that the separations are artificially rendered and not terribly dynamic. It manages to seem faithful to the original audio, and the lossless track gives music and other sound elements more room to breathe than tracks that have been heavily compressed. One doubts if the track could sound any better under the circumstances.

SS04

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Commentary by Maureen O’Hara

One wishes that this was a proper commentary track instead of excerpts from an interview placed throughout the duration of the film. O’Hara’s memories about the production and those who worked on it are interesting and engaging but there is too much dead space. Why on earth didn’t they simply include the interview as a stand-alone featurette with footage and stills from the production? Frankly, this reviewer would be more excited about this than a commentary track, and it wouldn’t waste nearly as much of the viewer’s time. None of the information is comprehensive enough to include as a commentary, but it is certainly nice to have it here in some form.

AMC Backstory: Miracle on 34th Street – (22:06) – (SD)

Those who remember AMC during the days when the channel actually played classic movies will remember their short Backstory programs. This one follows their usual format and provides a brief look at the making of the film. It isn’t incredibly comprehensive and is as much an appreciation of the film as it is a proper “behind the scenes” examination of the production. However, there are some interesting revelations provided by Maureen O’Hara (Doris Walker), Robert Hyatt (Thomas Mara Jr.), Alvin Greenman (Alfred), Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister), Rudy Behlmer (Film Historian), and others throughout the duration. The result is a decent overview that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s great to have this included here.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History – (15:29) – (SD)

There is some minor overlapping of information in this short featurette, but this program focuses primarily on the location shooting at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In fact, it also includes a bit of background information about the parade which should be of interest to fans of the film.

Fox Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight – (01:46) – (SD)

Also included is an archival newsreel featuring clips from the 20th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 20, 1948. Perhaps most relevant is Edmond Gwen’s acceptance speech for his award for Best Supporting Actor.

Promotional Short – (05:05) – (SD)

This is in all actuality an unusual trailer for the film that doesn’t include a single frame from the actual film. This is because the film’s June release made it necessary to hide the fact that it is in actuality a Christmas movie. Various actors and directors appear to rave about the film in seemingly contradictory ways throughout the short length of the trailer. It is a very interesting approach but one wonders how in the world it actually brought viewers into theaters. In any case, it adds quite a bit of value to the disc.

Poster Gallery – (00:39) – (1080P)

This slideshow contains various posters and advertisements for the film. Interestingly, it is clear that the marketing department took great pains to camouflage the fact that Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas-themed movie.

SS05

Final Words

Forget the soulless 1994 remake and make room for this original 1947 classic in your holiday schedules. It will put your hearts and minds in the proper spirit for the season. The image and sound transfers are merely average, but the film itself is as charming today as it was 70 years ago.

SS06