Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: February 12, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:55:27

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: This title was previously released on Blu-ray in the US by Shout! Factory, and this new Arrow disc is also available in a Steel Book edition. The two Arrow releases are superior to the earlier Shout! Factory release.

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“All of the elements that people say are a little too much in my films, I never believe is too much. I just think they are supposed to be that way and I don’t want to stop to worry about how people think about my ideas about life. I believe that’s how life is.” –Takashi Miike (IGN, July 22, 2004)

Takashi Miike’s Audition is a polarizing film that has divided horror audiences since it first hit the festival circuit at the turn of this century. Actually, this is probably the highest praise that can be bestowed upon a film like this one. Mikke doesn’t pander to the expectations of his audience but instead uses them as a weapon. He doesn’t explain the fever dream surrealism but allows it to act as a kind of hallucinogen that incapacitates the viewer and denies them the security that comes with clarity. The plot follows a lonely widowed father named Shigeharu Aoyama. With the blessing of his son, he decides to seek a new wife. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to proceed and seeks the advice of a colleague who encourages him to take advantage of their position as film producers by staging an audition to find the perfect woman to suit him. He begins the process of casting the part of his wife by reading the resumes of the various applicants and is immediately drawn to a woman named Asami Yamazaki. He becomes even more enchanted with Asami after her interview and eventually decides that he will pursue her romantically. The young woman is somewhat shy but does seem charmed by Aoyama.

It’s a set-up that would be at home in a romantic comedy, but Asami is a deranged psychopath. Needless to say, things are going to go very badly for Aoyama. It would be a shame to say much more than this, but it can be said that Audition makes Fatal Attraction seem like a Disney Channel movie. Arrow’s packaging claims that it is “one of the most shocking J-horror films ever made,” and this might actually be an understatement (although it must be said that J-Horror isn’t this reviewer’s forte). Horror fans should proceed with caution but without reservation. Even those who end up hating Audition won’t be able to forget it.

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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 Matthew Griffin and the film’s American theatrical one sheet design. The first pressing also includes an attractive collector’s booklet featuring an analytical essay entitled “Guilty of Romance: Love, Loneliness, and Loss in Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’” by Anton Bitel. It makes for extremely interesting reading regardless of one’s own particular interpretation of the film.

One Sheet

Menu

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate. Those who own other Arrow titles will know exactly what to expect here.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s booklet includes the following information about their transfer of the film:

“The original 35mm interpositive was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin registered 4K AriScan and was graded on Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Overall image stability and instances of density fluctuation were also improved…” -Liner Notes

We haven’t seen the Shout! Factory disc nor the original Arrow disc that was released exclusively in the UK, but this does seem to be a more technically robust transfer than either of those earlier releases (especially the Shout! Factory release). It seems likely that most of the weaknesses of this transfer were inherent in the original source material as it is a bit soft and fine detail suffers from the aesthetic. The thick layer of grain is fairly well resolved and everything looks very nice in motion.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master is a nice representation of the film’s original sound elements. It’s difficult to determine the level of clarity in the film’s dialogue since the film is in Japanese, but there aren’t any obvious issues here and all of the other sound elements are nicely prioritized in a mix that isn’t overly dynamic but supports the film admirably.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Takashi Miike (Director) and Daisuke Tengan (Screenwriter)

Takasi Miike and Daisuke Tengan sit and discuss the film as well as their careers in their native Japanese. Subtitles are included to aid English speaking viewers. A moderator prompts them throughout the track and asks questions to keep the information flowing, but one does wish that a more comprehensive account of the production was given and that their own personal interpretations of the film could have been examined in more detail. It is a track that fans will want to hear, but one doubts if casual viewers will get much out of this conversation.

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Tom Mes (Miike Biographer)

The Tom Mes commentary will inarguably be the most digestible for English speaking viewers and it could be argued that it is more informative as well. It is an organized and incredibly coherent track that covers production and studio history, the original novel, academic analysis, and much more. One of its strongest attributes is that Mes compares certain scenes with those in the original novel and even reads passages from an English translation.

Introduction by Takashi Miike – (01:15)

This low-fi introduction finds Mikke sitting in front of a home movie camera as he basically says he is glad it is available to be seen on home video. It’s a pretty useless addition but fans might welcome it since it was included on an earlier release.

Damaged Romance – (35:20)

Tony Rayns does a rather admirable job of offering a contextual history of Takashi Miike’s career before eventually focusing on Audition and its release. He also discusses the film’s unique qualities. It’s the only video-based program on the disc that is presented in English and is probably the easiest information to digest as a result. It probably ties with the Mikke interview as the best supplement included in this package.

Ties that Bind – (30:06)

Arrow’s exclusive interview with Takashi Miike is probably the most focused and well produced interview included on the disc (with the possible exception of the Tony Rayns appreciation). The director discusses Audition and the impact that its success had on his career. There is an enormous amount of information covered here—including his thoughts about and his reaction to Ryû Murakami’s original novel. Fans will be thrilled to have it included here and casual viewers might find that it enhances their appreciation of the film.

Tokyo – Hollywood: Ryo Ishibashi – (16:14)

Ryo Ishibashi discusses his origins as a musician, his origins as an actor, the kind of roles he has played in the past, how he chooses a project, his reasons for agreeing to appear in Audition, and various other pertinent subjects in this sort but interesting interview.

From Audition to Vampire Girl: Eihi Shiina – (20:09)

Eihi Shiina talks at length about her career and really zeros in on Audition more than some of the other actor interviews featured on this disc. She discusses her film preferences, her initial meeting with Takashi Miike during the film’s casting, working with more experienced actors, the final scene, and much more. It adds an enormous amount of value to the disc.

Miike’s Toy: Renji Ishibashi – (20:55)

Renji Ishibashi discusses a variety of topics concerning his acting career, and focuses in on a few specific films and directors. His work for Mikke is discussed at length as well. It’s a nice interview that fans will enjoy.

The Man in the Bag Speaks: Ren Osugi – (16:56)

Ren Osigi sits before a camera and discusses a variety of topics concerning his acting career, and this includes working with Mikke and his small role in Audition.

Theatrical Trailers

Japanese – (01:38)

International – (01:16)

It is nice that Arrow has seen fit to include both the original Japanese trailer and the International trailer for fans to compare. Arrow provides a spoiler warning for the Japanese trailer explaining that it includes more spoilers than the International version.

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Final Words:

Audition isn’t for everyone but it’s an incredibly interesting horror movie and this new Arrow Blu-ray is the best way to view it in the home environment.

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hitchcockmaster

Spine # 137
blu-ray cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:37

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 29.73 Mbps

Notes:This title is also available both individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art) in the DVD format and was given an incredible release in the same format by The Criterion Collection several years before that release.

The film was later given a lackluster Blu-ray release by MGM Home Entertainment both as part of a three-film set entitled, The Classic Collection and as an individual release. This new Criterion edition is from a new 4K restoration transfer of the film and represents an upgrade in quality.

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“In spy films—in all spy films—we have what is called ‘The MacGuffin.’ The MacGuffin, if…

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Gallery  —  Posted: January 25, 2019 in Alfred Hitchcock, The Criterion Collection
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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:45:47

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

English DTS X

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish DTS

5.1 French (Canadian) DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: A 4K UHD/Blu-ray release of this title is also available and both releases come with an Ultraviolet copy of the film.

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“It just brought us back to the first one and how simple it was. Carpenter didn’t spend the first 45 minutes of the movie explaining how Michael Myers was still alive, and what cult he’s part of, and what bloodline he’s from, and what relative he wants to go after. All of that was gone, and instead he set up this relatable, grounded, realistic world that leaves you filled with dread at the thought of him coming back and destroying it all. For us, that was the start. How can we clear away the clutter and go simple, so the horror can take the front seat and not all this baggage and exposition? That led us to directly connect it to the first one. That became the touchstone.” –Danny McBride (Deadline, October 24, 2018)

The above quote may seem somewhat surprising to anyone who has seen this sequel-reboot to the classic horror franchise. McBride claims that the decision to ignore all of the sequels was made in an effort to simplify their narrative so that it would come closer to John Carpenter’s original, but their script is too cluttered with dispensable subplots to actually achieve that simplicity. The idea to bring Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) back to hunt Myers could have worked, but she should have served as a kind of emotionally damaged Dr. Loomis. We didn’t need the two podcasters to understand her personal hell, because we have the wonderful restaurant scene with her fractured family to drive this home. The screenwriters should have let Laurie’s various interactions with her daughter and granddaughter speak for themselves. It would have been a more nuanced approach to revealing the history behind their damaged relationship. The film’s subplot involving these so-called “journalists” simply wasn’t needed and it stretches credibility. The only function that they serve is to deliver information to the audience and the original 1978 mask (actually an “aged” facsimile of that mask) to Michael Myers.

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Laurie Strode grants a pair of unnecessary podcasters an interview. The scene is well performed but largely expository.

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Michael Myers collects his mask and becomes “The Shape” after dispatching the two podcasters.

We also didn’t need the annoying subplot with Dr. Sartain. Laurie Strode calls him “the new Dr. Loomis,” but he is the antithesis of that classic character. His obsession with Myers merely complicates the film. Finally, we don’t need the subplot that involves Allyson’s “misunderstood” boyfriend (who doesn’t come off as worthy of her). This is supposed to be a suspenseful horror film and not a soap opera. We don’t need these scenes to add to our admiration of the character, because we have seen how much she cares for her grandmother (a character that the audience loves). Her scenes with Cameron only serve to make these characters seem underdeveloped, because we don’t spend enough time with them to care about the relationship. It is simply another unnecessary distraction. It seems like he is only in the film to ruin Allyson’s phone (so that she is more vulnerable), and there are a variety of simpler ways to achieve this. Again, the film as it stands is too cluttered to be suspenseful and plays like an action movie instead of a horror film.

John Carpenter’s original film was powerful because it put an emphasis on suspense and atmosphere. The shape stalked his victims endlessly before he murdered them, and this is the reason that the film worked brilliantly. David Gordon Green’s film spends too much time on unnecessary subplots that don’t go anywhere. He never shows the shape actually stalking his eventual victims for more than a few moments. He replaces suspenseful sequences with a higher body count, but these violent murders mean nothing without a proper buildup. Remember how Michael Myers enjoyed playing with his victims in the original? This sort of playful taunting only happens once in this film, and little to nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination. Furthermore, Green doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of how John Carpenter used his frame. It is true that he opted for a wider anamorphic image, but he doesn’t shoot in depth nearly as often as Carpenter did in the original and seems to prefer longer lenses.

Carpenter used all three fields of the z-axis and kept an uncluttered frame so that the Shape could appear in the background while characters in the foreground remained blissfully unaware of his presence (or had Myers in the foreground as potential victims went about their business in the background). David Gordon Green tries to do this on occasion, but the bokeh created by the longer lenses often obscures him so that it becomes easier to overlook his evil presence. Clarity is an essential element of suspense. A few of the murders even lose their punch for the simple reason that what is happening on the screen isn’t as clear as it should be (and the sometimes frenetic editing only exacerbates this particular issue). Alfred Hitchcock used collision montages to great effect, but he understood how and when to use them. Green doesn’t seem to have a grasp on these things. Again, what we have here is a series of action sequences. This isn’t nitpicking. One hopes to judge a film based on the filmmaker’s intentions, and both Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have stated repeatedly that their intentions were to make a film that felt like Carpenter’s original, and the fact is that the two films have little more than a few characters in common (and even they have been changed substantially).

However, many (if not all) of these complaints could be applied to the other sequels in the franchise, and most of those have a number of more annoying issues to add to the ones listed here. (Don’t even get me started on the terrible “Thorn” mythology that was introduced in Halloween 5.) As sequels go, this new Halloween is probably as good as fans have any right to expect. After all, this is the eighth sequel in the franchise (the seventh focusing on Michael Myers) and the second sequel reboot. (We won’t even mention the annoying Rob Zombie remake series.) Of course, all of the other sequels had one thing that this one doesn’t: their own title! What on earth was the reasoning behind naming this sequel “Halloween” and not distinguishing it from the original film? Sequels should have their own titles. This movie is many things, but it most certainly isn’t Halloween.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Universal protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard two-disc case with artwork taken from the original one sheet. They merely cropped some of the negative space so that the iconic mask appears larger on the Blu-ray cover than it would have otherwise. The case itself is protected with an embossed slipcover that features the same artwork.

one sheet

The Blu-ray artwork was taken directly from this one sheet.

Actually, the disc’s static menu also utilizes this image as the iconic theme music from the film plays in a loop. It is both attractive and intuitive to navigate. (Those who own other Universal discs know exactly what to expect.)

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The first Halloween film to be shot digitally has been given an admirable Blu-ray transfer with deep black levels that don’t crush, a crisp image that showcases a wealth of fine detail (despite a few soft edges that appear throughout the duration), and autumnal colors that appear to be rendered faithfully alongside splashes of crimson blood. It’s a strong encode of the original digital elements and seems to be free of the issues one fully expects to see in transfers for films of this nature.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The disc offers fans a choice of two audio mixes of the film’s audio elements. The first is a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer and the second is a DTS X mix of the film. Both tracks are solid, but many will probably prefer the DTS X option. It isn’t as dynamic as other mixes of this sort, but it certainly serves the film admirably (as does the 7.1 DTS-HD mix). It is a pretty dynamic track due to the film’s musical score, although a few of the sound effects may seem slightly anemic to some ears. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear throughout the duration.

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Special Features:

2 of 5 Stars

Seven Deleted/Extended Scenes — (12:42)

This collection of deleted scenes is the only worthwhile supplement on this disc. They all belong on the cutting room floor, but it is interesting to see what was cut from the film.

Extended Shooting Range: Deleted Suicide Thoughts

This sequence is now located in a different place in the film as it was originally intended to proceed the arrival of the two podcasting journalists. It is interesting to see how cutting the last portion of the scene and moving it elsewhere in the linear narrative changed the film. It might alter how fans experience Laurie Strode’s interview at the beginning of the film.

Shower Mask Visit

It was a wise decision to cut this scene as such scenes are pretty cliché and this one doesn’t work very well.

Jog to a Hanging Dog

This is one of those disturbing image moments that would have added very little to the film. It is easy to understand why it was cut from the final assembly.

Allyson and Friends at School

This scene would have given us more time with Allyson and her friends.

Cameron and Cops Don’t Mix

This is a make-up scene between Allyson (Laurie’s granddaughter) and Cameron (Allyson’s boyfriend). Their reconciliation is interrupted by a pair of cops. The drunk Cameron can’t help but mouth off and is arrested as a result. The cops come across as a pair of assholes, but Cameron comes across like an idiot. Few will feel bad for him, and it might actually make a few people question why Allyson is with him as he obviously has issues.

Deluxe Banh Mi Cops

This is an extended version of a stupid conversation between a pair of cops. A shorter version of the scene is in the final film.

Sartain and Hawkins Ride Along

I can’t help but hope that this isn’t a real deleted scene. It seems almost as if the actors are adlibbing before the camera to amuse themselves. It is ridiculously stupid and concerns the psychiatrist picking his nose (or “scratching his brain”). This one really needed an explanation.

Back in Haddonfield: Making Halloween — (06:05)

This disjointed and almost incoherent piece of EPK fluff barely tackles the making of the movie. It merely features footage from the film as talking heads and interview soundbites bump into each other at random. Praise is given to John Carpenter’s original film, the concept is discussed, and characters are dissected in the most superficial manner possible. Why do studios bother putting these so-called featurettes on the disc?

The Legacy of Halloween — (04:25)

This roundtable discussion between John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, David Gordon Green, and Jason Blum doesn’t delve too deeply into the legacy of the original film, but it is slightly better than the previous featurette. Unfortunately, it is light on actual information and plays like a commercial for the new movie.

The Original Scream Queen — (02:32)

Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal of Laurie Strode and her status as the ultimate scream queen is the focus of another EPK promo that seems to have been edited by a nine year old crack junkie with ADHD.

The Sound of Fear — (03:19)

The score really warrants a more comprehensive dissection than this generic promo can offer fans.

Journey of the Mask — (02:33)

Here again, this is a subject that really deserves better.

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Final Words:

Evil doesn’t die and apparently profitable horror franchises are immortal as well. This newest sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween tries very hard to honor the original film, but those involved seem to have little to no understanding as to what made the original film a classic.

It is certainly entertaining and earns an easy recommendation for those who enjoyed the other sequels in the series. Just don’t expect it to match the brilliance of John Carpenter’s original film.

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Fans of the Halloween franchise should get their hands on a copy of Ernie Magnotta’s “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series.

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Spine #952

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:28:22

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 31.33 Mbps

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“They destroyed Ambersons and the picture itself destroyed me! I didn’t get a job as a director for years afterwards.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

So goes the legend of Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons—another “mutilated masterpiece” in a career full of “mutilated masterpieces.” In any case, this is what Welles would have the world believe. It cannot be denied that the man knew how to spin a good yarn. The best of all of these tales may actually be his own revisionist history. There is certainly evidence to dispute many of his claims as to the details surrounding R.K.O.’s reshaping of Ambersons, but the legendary Welles version will always be the accepted version as it paints the picture of a misunderstood genius in an industry full of philistines.

The one thing that is absolutely certain is that the finished product was a source of sadness and regret for the director.

“I loved ‘Ambersons’ [and] wanted to make a movie of it, [but] the point of Ambersons—everything that is any good in it is that part of it that is really just a preparation for the decay of the Ambersons…

…It was thought by everybody in Hollywood while I was in South America that it was too downbeat—a famous Hollywood word at the time, downbeat—so it was all taken out, but it was the purpose of the movie to see how they all slid downhill, you see, in one way or another…

…There’s no scene in a hospital. Nothing like that ever happened in the story, and the great long scene—which was the key long scene at the end—which was ‘Aggie’ Moorehead in a third rate lodging house… and Joe Cotton has come to see how she is, and that was the best scene in the picture and it was what the picture was about… It’s gone… In other words, [at] about the time Major Amberson dies, the picture starts to become another picture—becomes their picture.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Welles mentions “South America” and this alludes to one of the director’s unfinished projects entitled It’s All True. Unfortunately, this particular unfinished project played a major role in the misfortunes that befell The Magnificent Ambersons.

“I was in terrible trouble then, because I was sent to South America by Nelson Rockefeller and Jock Whitney. I was told that it was my patriotic duty to go and spend a million dollars shooting the carnival in Rio. Now, I don’t like things like carnivals and Mardi Gras and all that, but they put it to me that it would be a real contribution to Inter-American Affairs and the Latin American world and so, without a salary and a budget of a million dollars, I was sent to Rio to make up a movie about the carnival. But in the meantime comes the new government. RKO is now a new government… They had promised me when I went to South America that they would send a moviola and cutters to me and that I would finish the cutting of Ambersons there. They never did. They cut it themselves.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Robert Wise, the film’s editor, is often vilified for his part in the reshaping of Ambersons, but the reality is that he was simply carrying out orders. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else. In any case, it wasn’t simply a matter of the film being edited without his input, and it wasn’t altered simply because it had a bleak tone. The actual trouble seems to have been the result of an unsuccessful preview screening of the film.

“At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print. At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print… We took this one to Pomona and the preview was just a disaster. The audience disliked it, they walked out, they were laughing at Aggie Moorehead’s character and it was an absolute disaster. So what were we going to do with it? We went back and cut out the scenes with Aggie Moorehead where they were laughing at her over-the-top performance. It was a long picture, as I recall…

…Well, we took it the next time to Pasadena and it played a little better but still not acceptable. We then cut some more and re-arranged things and the third time we took it to Inglewood but we had cut so much out we had continuity problems and needed some new scenes to bridge the gaps. They asked me to direct a scene between George and his mother and that was one of my first directing experiences, that scene between Dolores Costello and Tim Holt in her bedroom. We took it to Long Beach and they sat for it, they didn’t walk out, they didn’t laugh. And that’s the way it went out. We had to get a version that would play for an audience.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Scholars are always talking about the “original version” of The Magnificent Ambersons as if the theatrical version of the film isn’t the “original version.” The fact of the matter is that the preview version of the film wasn’t a finished version, and Orson Welles never actually got to cut the film to his liking before heading to Rio. One imagines that the preview version was closer to the director’s intentions than the finished product, but this edit was simply an unfinished assembly of the film. Nobody really knows how closely that version actually matched the director’s vision for the Ambersons. The true tragedy is that only one “finished” edit of the film has ever existed, and this is what was released into theaters on the bottom half of a double bill. No true director’s cut of the film can ever exist (even if someone miraculously finds the earlier preview cut), because Welles was never allowed to oversee a definitive cut. This is what truly bothered Welles.

“Even if I’d stayed in the US to finish The Magnificent Ambersons, I would’ve had to make compromises on the editing, but these would’ve been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself, I would have found my own solutions and saved the picture in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.” –Orson Welles

Orson Welles During Production #2

Orson Welles during the production of The Magnificent Ambersons

One certainly wishes that circumstances had been different. As it turns out, the longer preview version of the film is forever lost to history since the film was made at a time when little thought was given to the future of a studio’s catalogue.

“It was standard practice that, after the previews, when you’d come back and take sequences out you’d put them in the vault. About six months after the films were released and if you didn’t need to change the film, they’d sell the footage for the silver. But that was nothing particular with Ambersons. It was just company practice. All this about how we destroyed and mutilated it is nonsense.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Some sources claim that the negative was melted down because the silver nitrate was needed for the WWII war effort. Just think of the countless treasures that are now lost to history as a result of such a shortsighted practice. It should make us grateful for the treasures that still remain. To call The Magnificent Ambersons a “lost film” seems ridiculous. It may be a bastardized version of the director’s original intentions, but it exists in its original theatrical form—and this existing version is really quite remarkable (even if it is something less than a masterpiece).

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging. Like many other collectors, this reviewer tends to prefer Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. However, this particular design is undeniably attractive. The artwork by Eric Skillman should certainly please fans of the film. Also included is a booklet that resembles the film’s screenplay—a twice-stapled bundle of white pages with most essays written in the courier font (the exception is a short selection by Welles himself)—with the original script’s title page as its cover. The pages contain six worthwhile essays, including “What Is and What Might Have Been” by Molly Haskell, “Surfaces and Depths” by Luc Sante, “Echoes of Tarkington” by Geoffrey O’Brien, “The Voice of Orson Welles” by Farren Smith Nehme, “Loving the Ruins: Or, Does ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ Exist” by Jonathan Lethem, and an excerpt from Orson Welles’s unfinished 1982 memoir entitled “My Father Wore Black Spats.” All essays are worth reading and add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features film-related artwork rendered in the same style employed for the packaging and the layout is exactly what collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s transfer was taken from a 4K restoration that was scanned from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain from the Museum of Modern Art. As is their usual practice, they cleaned the scan of dirt and debris while also correcting age-related anomalies such as warps, splices, scratches, and etc. Purists will be pleased to discover that they have retained the 1.37:1 aspect ratio of the film’s original theatrical presentation, and the resulting image looks much better than this reviewer was expecting. It is a vast improvement over the somewhat rare DVD edition (from earlier special editions of Citizen Kane) in that the darker scenes aren’t nearly as uneven and showcase more detail. Contrast appears to be more accurate here as well and the texture is more filmic. There may be a few density issues inherited from the source elements, but these aren’t terribly problematic. The digital corrections made during the restoration process were obviously made with incredible care and didn’t leave any room for criticism. It looks great in motion as well. This is a release that fans of Orson Welles have been waiting for and it shouldn’t disappoint them.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s restoration extended to the film’s original audio as the track was taken from the 35mm print and cleaned of hiss, hum, crackle, clicks, and thumps. Their work is featured in the film’s original mono presentation as a Linear PCM audio track that showcases great stability but can admittedly sound slightly thin on occasion—though this never really becomes troublesome. It never impedes one’s ability to understand the dialogue or distracts the viewer by calling attention to itself. Bernard Herrmann’s score sounds much better without being oppressed by the excessive compression of the DVD format as it is given more breathing room. In short, the limitations of the track are due to the limitations of the original production techniques and the age of the source elements. Criterion offers viewers a track that is as good as can be reasonably expected.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Robert L. Carringer

It is difficult to think of a more appropriate commentator on The Magnificent Ambersons as Carringer had written a number of books about Orson Welles and his work—most notably “The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction.” The book reconstructs the “lost” version of the film by analyzing the various surviving production documents and other artifacts and personal interviews with several of the people who worked on the film.

We can’t say that he does the same in this commentary, but he does manage to point out many of the scenes that have been altered while filling us in on what has been removed. The commentary was recorded in 1985 for Criterion’s ancient laserdisc release of the film but holds up nicely even if his tone is more scholarly than enthusiastic.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum

James Naremore (author of The Magic World of Orson Welles, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook, On Kubrick, Film Adaptation, and etc.) and Jonathan Rosenbaum (author of Discovering Orson Welles, Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues, Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics, and etc.) lend their expertise to a new commentary that is just as scholarly as the Robert L. Carringer track. The film’s style is discussed as is some of the film’s history. They both comment about the film’s mutilation by the studio and the effect that this has on the fluidity of the film.

A Dangerous Nostalgia: Simon Callow on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (25:58)

Simon Callow (author of a three volume biography on Orson Welles: Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu, Orson Welles, Volume 2: Hello Americans, and Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band as well as other works about such figures as Charles Laughton and Oscar Wilde) discusses how the fate of The Magnificent Ambersons led to his own fall from glory while also examining the original Tarkington novel. Callow also references some of the specific alterations made by RKO. It is a worthwhile interview that could have been much longer as it is an interesting discussion that engages the viewer’s interest.

Joseph McBride on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (28:54)

Joseph McBride (author of What Ever Happened to Orson Welles, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, Searching for John Ford, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Two Cheers for Hollywood and several other cinema-related titles) discusses the studio politics behind RKO’s fateful decision to rework The Magnificent Ambersons into the film that we have today. It is an engaging interview that should again add something to the viewer’s appreciation of and interest in the director and this film specifically.

Graceful Symmetries: Welles’s Long Version of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (18:47)

Christopher Husted’s essay discusses the film’s mutated score by the great Bernard Herrmann and uses this score for clues as to what the so-called “lost” longer edit may have looked like. Again, this original essay adds quite a bit of value to the proceedings.

The Cinematographers – (15:40)

François Thomas (author of Orson Welles at Work) offers a scholarly essay about the film’s cinematography and how the various cinematographers involved brought a different aesthetic to their work on the film. This is a great way to examine the film’s history and overall aesthetic as it will certainly add to the viewer’s appreciation and understanding of the final theatrical “product.”

Orson Welles on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ (1970) – (36:34)

This May 04th, 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show features Orson Welles as one of the guests (along with Jack Lemmon) and covers a wide variety of topics. These include his early life, commonly believed exaggerations about him, his work, and etc. The information is both fascinating and entertaining. It might be the disc’s best supplemental feature (and this is saying a great deal).

Two To One (1927) – (28:05)

Two to One is a short film that was edited from a seventy minute silent feature entitled Pampered Youth (1927). It represents a silent adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons.” This shorter version was released in Britain in 1931.

Pampered Youth One Sheet

Those who are fond of the Welles version should agree that the inclusion of this short film offers the viewer a unique opportunity to compare the two different versions, and one imagines that it will add to people’s appreciation of the film (especially since sound is such a huge part of the aesthetic in an Orson Welles film).

Peter Bogdanovich Interview with Orson Welles (Audio) – (36:00)

These priceless excerpts from Peter Bogdanovich’s lengthy foundational interview with Welles were conducted throughout the latter part of the 1960s and the early 1970s and will make for fascinating listening for anyone with even the remotest interest in the director. He’s always engaging and it is revealing to learn his views on such topics as cinematography, composition, acting, and the work of other directors.

AFI Symposium on Orson Welles (1978 – Audio) – (29:46)

The audio recording of this 1978 AFI symposium about Orson Welles was excerpted from a longer recording and wasn’t recorded in a manner that makes the information particularly easy to digest, but fans of the director will likely agree that the information discussed makes the challenge well worth it.

The Magnificent Ambersons: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1939) – (55:42)

It is interesting to compare Orson Welles’s radio adaptation to his film adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons. There are many remarkable similarities and a few interesting differences in the two adaptations. The most interesting difference is the absence of Fanny Minafer in the radio adaptation and some subtle rearrangements in the ordering of a few of the scenes. The most interesting similarity is the striking resemblance between the two endings. The ending that the studio forced upon the film version—the ending that Orson Welles criticized so harshly—is remarkably similar to his own ending to the radio adaptation. It is nice to have this radio play included for these reasons. This episode originally aired on October 29, 1939.

Seventeen: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1938) – (01:00:05)

Orson Welles also adapted Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen for one of his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts. It is a reasonably diverting play but some of the characterizations are decidedly dated. (One might even argue that one characterization in particular is racist). The episode originally aired on October 16, 1938.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The original theatrical trailer is an excellent addition to Criterion’s stellar supplemental package. It is always disappointing when the trailer isn’t included on a Blu-ray release, because trailers give interesting insights into how a film was marketed to the public upon its release.

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Final Words:

The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city…” The magnificence of The Magnificent Ambersons, on the other hand, began years later in 1941 and has largely been overlooked due to its interesting backstory regarding RKO’s “sabotage.”

Criterion’s new Blu-ray release serves as a testament to the film’s underrated charms. They even sweeten the deal by offering an incredible array of supplemental features. It comes highly recommended for anyone with even a casual interest in the director’s career.

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One Sheet

 

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Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: December 18, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:56:50

Video:

UHD – Upscaled 2160P (HEVC, H.265)
Blu-ray – 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 7.1 English Dolby TrueHD

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.00:1

Notes: A Blu-ray/DVD edition of this title is also available from Lionsgate.

“I love thrillers and have always wanted to do one. I really wanted to write one but I just realized [that] I didn’t have the right skill set. I’m not really good at writing a thriller from scratch I don’t think. I didn’t try. I was just intimidated by it basically, but I thought, ‘God, if I can ever find a great thriller script, that would be so much fun to do.’ …It was just irresistible to do this. All I thought once I read it, Jessica Sharzer did an amazing adaptation of the book, but it just got my brain going, ‘Oh, we can add another twist here. We can add another twist here.’ We just started adding even more. I don’t like it when I see a thriller and I figure it out before it’s over. I thought let’s just make this one so twisty and turny [sic] that nobody has a chance of figuring out what’s going on until the end.” – Paul Feig (SlashFilm, September 13th, 2018)

In the interest of total transparency,  it should be said upfront that the name “Paul Feig” immediately tempered all expectations regarding the potential of A Simple Favor. Nothing in Feig’s oeuvre suggests that he is a filmmaker who might be capable of creating truly great cinema or that he has the qualities necessary for crafting an effective thriller. Frankly, many of his films (Spy, The Heat, Ghostbusters) were barely watchable—and these movies would have been even more atrocious if it hadn’t been for the decent but strained performances by the assortment of skilled actors who graced these productions (all of which deserved better material and direction than these particular projects offered them). Even Bridesmaids could hardly be described by any truly objective observer as a masterpiece (our apologies to Rotten Tomatoes for disagreeing with their 90% verdict).

The crazy thing about all of this is that my less than optimistic predictions were both right and wrong. I was absolutely 100% correct to doubt that Feig was capable of making a great thriller—because A Simple Favor is decidedly not a great thriller. Feig won’t stop winking at his audience long enough to worry with the business of building atmosphere or maintaining an appropriate tone. The characters are too broad and cartoonish to be taken seriously for even the briefest moment, and the convoluted story turns become much too ridiculous as the movie progresses. What’s more, there is too much mugging from the film’s supporting cast throughout the duration to maintain any sense of real anxiety or dread. The result is a film devoid of suspense and “twists” that carry no weight.

However, one’s experience is altered significantly when the film is viewed as a comedy. Suddenly, the film feels as if Feig’s comedic chops are maturing. A Simple Favor is far from perfect, but few will care as they will be taken on a rather fun ride. The plot centers on a mommy vlogger who seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend’s sudden disappearance from their small town. There are too many twists and turns to even attempt a detailed blow-by-blow and doing so would probably ruin the experience for anyone interested in watching the film. Just remember that the “dark side of Paul Feig” is still Paul Feig. The individual viewer will likely have their own opinion as to whether this is a good or a bad thing.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate protects their UHD and Blu-ray discs in a standard 2-disc UHD eco-case. We are not fond of eco-cases and find that they do not offer adequate protection for the discs or the artwork. Luckily, the first printing of this title includes a slipcover that features the same artwork and this further protects the case. The cover art for this release is based on one of the film’s one sheet designs but is slightly different. Frankly, it isn’t any better or worse than the original art. We will say that we noticed and are impressed that the marketing utilized a triangle motif (even martini glasses are triangular), and this falls in line perfectly with the film’s various thematic triangles.

The static menu uses a similar design and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

UHD: 3.5 Stars

It is impossible to discuss this 2160P transfer of the film without first making it abundantly clear that this is not a true 4K image. It is a 2K image that has been blown up to 4K. The fact is that not every film needs or warrants a 4K release, and A Simple Favor is one of the films that don’t. Remember when films like 28 Days Later and The Blair Witch Project were being released on Blu-ray even though they did not originate in high definition resolution? This resulted in standard definition images being blown up to a 1080P image for no other reason than to give collectors the right to brag that they owned the film on Blu-ray.

This is going to be an issue with a great many films being released today on this new format. A Simple Favor was shot in 8K, but it was mastered in 2K (which is only marginally larger than a Blu-ray’s 1080P image). The result is a 4K UHD release that isn’t actually 4K. We will admit that the Dolby Vision probably gives the UHD disc a slight edge over the Blu-ray, but it is challenging to elaborate further on the technical merits of this disc.

What is the standard for fake 4K? This isn’t at all a bad transfer of the film, it looks great for a film that has been upscaled to 4K. It simply isn’t truly a 4K image, and this accounts for our 3.5 score.

Blu-ray: 4.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray image, on the other hand, impresses with terrific detail and excellent color fidelity. Feig’s high key comedy lighting allows for a bright and wide range of colors (even in the darker scenes). Clarity and depth are also rendered beautifully here. It’s difficult to find reason for complaint. Shadow detail is slightly less than perfect and there are some extremely minor (and incredibly brief) banding issues that keep us from giving this disc a perfect score.

Sound Quality:

UHD and Blu-ray: 5 of 5 Stars

The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix offers a balanced track that enhances the film’s visuals with a reasonably dynamic surround experience. Dialogue is always clear, music has room to breathe, and effects are always well placed. It’s a great representation of the film’s original theatrical audio and this is the most important thing. There might be certain listeners who disagree with some of the mixing choices or wish that the track were more dynamic, but these people probably aren’t judging the audio on its own terms.

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Commentary with Paul Feig

Feig keeps his solo commentary moving the entire time. Actually, this is track that doesn’t have a moment of dead space. There’s plenty of information divulged and Feig is nothing if not enthusiastic about the film. He’s a bit quick to compare himself with Alfred Hitchcock, which does nothing but put a spotlight on the fact that the film has little in common with Hitchcock’s work. Let’s just say this is probably a release for Paul Feig fans and not fans of legitimate thrillers and leave it at that.

Feature Length Commentary Track with Paul Feig, Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Jean Smart, and Bashir Salahuddin

The director sits down with four important members of his cast for the disc’s second track. It is a lively track that does contain a few nuggets of interesting information, but is mostly just two hours of silly conversation. Fashion decisions and costume choices seem to be a common go-to topic of discussion, so anyone with a specific interest in this particular area of filmmaking may find the track especially engaging. It is a fun track that will probably appeal to die-hard fans.

Feature Length Commentary Track with Paul Feig, Jessica Sharzer, Jessie Henderson, John Schwartzman, and Reneé Ehrlich Kalfus

The third track brings together a wide variety of participants that include the writer of the screenplay, one of the film’s producers, the film’s cinematographer, and even its costume designer. It’s probably the strongest of the three commentaries in that it provides a wealth of information and constantly engages the viewer. If you only have the time and patience to listen to a single track, this is absolutely the best choice regardless of where one’s interests may lie.

Introduction by Paul Feig – (00:17)

For whatever reason, Paul Feig provides a brief introduction to the Blu-ray that adds nothing to the viewer’s appreciation of the film and only serves to take up valuable disc space.

Deleted Scenes – (11:36) – (11:49 with Intro)

Most of these scenes probably needed to be taken out of the film, but it is actually pretty interesting to see what was cut from the movie. This is one of the disc’s better video supplements.

Flash Mob (Alternate Ending) – (04:53) – (05:57 with Intro)

Those who doubted the above statements about Feig’s inability to make a great thriller can watch this alternate ending for indisputable evidence. This scene is so incredibly stupid and inappropriate, that one has trouble believing that it was ever considered as a real option for the film’s ending. However, various statements throughout the supplemental package claims that this was the original ending and that viewers didn’t like it. This is one case where the preview audiences actually improved the finished film. Apparently, the filmmakers didn’t have the common sense to notice that the ending doesn’t fit with anything else in the entire movie.

The Making of “Flash Mob” – (05:23)

In the introduction to the glimpse at the creation of the aforementioned alternate ending, Paul Feig describes the scene as an “amazing ending.” Of course, the only thing amazing about the ending is the unbelievable stupidity behind the idea’s conception. In what universe would this be a reasonable ending to this story? He says that he is a fan of Bollywood. Who cares? You can’t just shoehorn a dance sequence into a film because you like dance sequences. It’s not even an impressive dance sequence… but this should please anyone who cares to see footage of the cast and crew shooting this waste of time, money, and talent.

Gravestone Martinis – (19:40)

Gravestone Martinis is a bit of a mixed bad as it has both the typical EPK discussions about the two primary characters, but this is mixed with some interesting “behind the scenes” footage that almost makes the generic interview soundbites digestible.

Suburban Noir: The Visual Style of “A Simple Favor – (12:24)

It is odd that there is a featurette about the film’s style when one compares the film to Feig’s other comedies. This so-called “thriller” is even lit in the same generic high key lighting style used for a million other comedies (and probably even a few other comedies that pretend to be thrillers). There are admittedly a few nice touches in the film, but they seem to have a more grandiose view of this film’s aesthetic accomplishments than it really warrants. Anyway, there is quite a bit of “behind the scenes” footage to make it worthwhile for fans of the film.

Dapper Director: Diaries with Paul Feig – (10:34)

Paul Feig takes the viewer through a handful of the film’s shooting days. Such an approach could have provided a comprehensive look at the production, but this brief fluff piece merely shows a lot of “behind the scenes” footage as Feig discusses what was shot that day.

Love Triangle – (06:11)

One might assume that this featurette is about the relationship between the three primary characters in the film as it creates a so-called “love triangle,” but this short segment is actually a look at the film’s insane climactic confrontation (insane as in “completely ridiculous”). There is plenty here for fans of the film since it is made up primarily of “behind the scenes” footage and technical explanations explaining the squib effects.

Style by Paul – (04:46)

Again, this is one of those featurettes that may appeal to fans of Paul Feig as he was the inspiration for Emily’s elegant style in the film. The most interesting aspect of the film is the walking stick lesson that he and Bake Lively give at the end. However, one immediately wonders why the best of these featurettes weren’t edited into a single comprehensive “making of” documentary instead of being spread across eight anemic featurettes that aren’t particularly impressive. Actually, one doesn’t wonder. Everyone is acutely aware of the fact that advertising “eight featurettes” sounds better than “in-depth documentary” to anyone without the ability to think beyond the press release.

A Simple Playdate – (04:33)

Again, this look at the casting of the film’s two primary child actors seems offers a wealth of on-set footage and plenty of interview soundbites regarding their scenes, but this isn’t a topic that demands its own featurette.

Dennis Nylon – (04:55)

In another anemic clip, the films fictitious fashion icon “Dennis Nylon” and the production decisions that were made regarding this character are discussed. There is plenty of “behind the scenes” footage to add interest to this short clip that would be better as part of a longer program about the making of A Simple Favor. Oh Well.

Gag Reel – (03:30)

The included gag reel is mildly amusing but not particularly essential.

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Final Words:

Those looking for a comedy could do a lot worse than A Simple Favor, but those looking for a great modern thriller should keep looking. A better choice might be David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Honestly, there’s no comparison.

As for those lovers of comedy who wish to indulge in the film, we suggest purchasing the Blu-ray/DVD package rather than the 4K UHD/Blu-ray option since nobody really needs a 4K UHD disk containing a film that has been mastered in 2K resolution.

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Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: December 18, 2018

Region: Region Free

Length:

UHD – 02:28:49
Blu-ray – 02:28:51

Video:

UHD 2160P (HEVC, H.265)
Blu-ray – 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (Original 1968 Theatrical Mix)
5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (Restored Home Video Re-mix)

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital
5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 Italian Dolby Digital
5.1 German Dolby Digital
2.0 Portuguese Dolby Digital
2.0 Polish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Mandarin (Simplified), Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Ratio: 2.20:1

Bitrate:

UHD – 62.18 Mbps
Blu-ray – 29.98 Mbps

Notes: A 2-Disc Blu-ray edition of this new 4K restoration is also being released and represents a significant upgrade compared to all previous Blu-ray and DVD editions.

Title

“I didn’t have to try for ambiguity; it was inevitable. And I think in a film like 2001, where each viewer brings his own emotions and perceptions to bear on the subject matter, a certain degree of ambiguity is valuable, because it allows the audience to ‘fill in’ the visual experience themselves. In any case, once you’re dealing on a nonverbal level, ambiguity is unavoidable. But it’s the ambiguity of all art, of a fine piece of music or a painting—you don’t need written instructions by the composer or painter accompanying such works to ‘explain’ them. ‘Explaining’ them contributes nothing but a superficial ‘cultural’ value which has no value except for critics and teachers who have to earn a living. Reactions to art are always different because they are always deeply personal.” –Stanley Kubrick (The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick, 1969)

Those who have not yet seen 2001: A Space Odyssey will perhaps want to consider Kubrick’s words before viewing the film. Kubrick made no bones (no pun intended) about the fact that he designed the film to be a visual experience: “I don’t have the slightest doubt that to tell a story like this, you couldn’t do it with words. There are only 46 minutes of dialogue scenes in the film and 113 [minutes] of non-dialogue.” When one considers these pertinent details, it should come as no surprise that the film that many scholars consider his masterpiece is also his most polarizing. Those who love it love it for its inherent “ambiguities,” but those who hate it leave the theatre (or their armchairs) shaking or scratching their heads.

Most science fiction films that concern both space travel and extra-terrestrial lifeforms tend to feature discoveries of a more organic nature (consider the violent lifeforms discovered by the Nostromo crew in Alien over a decade later), but Kubrick’s ambitions are grander. His ambitious desire to create a very different kind of extra-terrestrial intelligence—and he articulated his intentions rather eloquently upon the film’s initial release:

“…There are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and roughly a hundred billion galaxies in the visible Universe. Given the common chemical nature of the Universe, the origination of life is now felt to be an almost inevitable occurrence on planets the proper distance from their suns. Most astronomers are now very predisposed to believe the Universe is full of life. And if it is, some of it would be millions of years advanced, simply because it was formed earlier. Our sun is not a particularly old star.” –Stanley Kubrick (In 2001, Will Love Be A Seven Letter Word, The New York Times, April 14, 1968)

He elaborated on these ideas in yet another interview:

“…Such cosmic intelligences [sic], growing in knowledge over the eons, would be as far removed from man as we are from the ants. They could be in instantaneous telepathic communication throughout the universe; they might have achieved total mastery over matter so that they can telekinetically transport themselves instantly across billions of light-years of space; in their ultimate form they might shed the corporeal shell entirely and exist as a disembodied immortal consciousness throughout the universe. Once you begin discussing such possibilities, you realize that the religious implications are inevitable, because all the essential attributes of such extraterrestrial intelligences [sic] are the attributes we give to God. What we’re really dealing with here is… a scientific definition of God…” –Stanley Kubrick (The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick, 1969)

In other words, the film is tackling themes that touch on our relationship to the universe—or our relationship to the creator (if one prefers). Considering this particular thematic material, it is no wonder that it divides viewers. It seems quite likely that many of those who dislike the film are responding to thematic undercurrents that don’t quite jive with their own theological philosophies as much as to the nontraditional plot structure (even if they aren’t consciously aware of those undercurrents). After all, the film does have a plot. It just happens to be presented in a more elusive manner than other films.

“I don’t mind discussing it on the lowest level—that is, [a] straightforward explanation of the plot. You begin with an artifact left on earth four million years ago by extraterrestrial explorers who observed the behavior of the man-apes of the time and decided to influence their evolutionary progression. Then you have a second artifact buried deep on the lunar surface and programmed to signal word of man’s first baby steps into the universe—a kind of cosmic burglar alarm. And finally there’s a third artifact placed in orbit around Jupiter and waiting for the time when man has reached the outer rim of his own solar system. When the surviving astronaut, Bowman, ultimately reaches Jupiter, this artifact sweeps him into a force field or star gate that hurls him on a journey through inner and outer space and finally transports him to another part of the galaxy, where he’s placed in a human zoo approximating a hospitable terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination. In a timeless state, his life passes from middle age to senescence to death. He is reborn [as] an enhanced being, a star child, an angel, a superman (if you like) and returns to earth prepared for the next leap forward of man’s evolutionary destiny. That is what happens on the film’s simplest level. Since an encounter with an advanced interstellar intelligence would be incomprehensible within our present earthbound frames of reference, reactions to it will have elements of philosophy and metaphysics that have nothing to do with the bare plot outline itself… They are the areas I prefer not to discuss because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it…” –Stanley Kubrick (The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick, 1969)

Interestingly, Kubrick doesn’t mention the film’s most famous sequence in his synopsis, and this is probably because it isn’t absolutely essential to that particular thread of the plot. When scholars and critics discuss 2001: A Space Odyssey, they will invariably focus much of their analysis on the HAL 9000 sequence. This is probably due to the indisputable fact that this sequence resembles the structure of a more traditional narrative and plays like a traditional science fiction movie. If it isn’t essential to the shape of the film’s primary story, it is certainly essential in that it grounds the film by giving the viewer something to latch onto. What’s more, it introduces elements that play into the film’s themes concerning the nature of existence.

“…The computer is the central character of this segment of the story. If HAL had been a human being, it would have been obvious to everyone that he had the best part, and was the most interesting character; he took all the initiatives, and all the problems related to and were caused by him. Some critics seemed to feel that because we were successful in making a voice, a camera lens, and a light come alive as a character this necessarily meant that the human characters failed dramatically. In fact, I believe that Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the astronauts, reacted appropriately and realistically to their circumstances. One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated—as ours soon will be—by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with such creatures. In the specific case of HAL, he had an acute emotional crisis because he could not accept evidence of his own fallibility. The idea of neurotic computers is not uncommon—most advanced computer theorists believe that once you have a computer which is more intelligent than man and capable of learning by experience, it’s inevitable that it will develop an equivalent range of emotional reactions—fear, love, hate, envy, etc. Such a machine could eventually become as incomprehensible as a human being, and could, of course, have a nervous breakdown—as HAL did in the film.” –Stanley Kubrick (The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick, 1969)

HAL isn’t terribly different from the extra-terrestrial beings in the film (both are pure consciousness and remain unseen as they have no traditional concrete form), but this is an area that probably deserves its own essay. Kubrick’s purely visual cinematic experience complements the philosophical themes at its heart. Such material cannot help but encourage numerous interpretations. It might even be said that the very elements that have polarized audiences for decades are the same elements that have ensured its longevity. Those who love the film have a very personal connection to it since each individual viewer projects the patina of their own perception upon it. In any case, 2001: A Space Odyssey redefined the limits of filmmaking and cemented Kubrick’s legacy even as it divided audiences upon its 70mm Cinerama roadshow release on April 4, 1968. It continues to kindle the imaginations of cinephiles and will probably continue to do so for another 50 years.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers has given Kubrick fans an incredible 50th Anniversary package that should thrill fans of the film. This is a gorgeous box with wonderful new cover artwork that houses a standard 3-disc UHD case and a slick envelope that houses an illustrated booklet and 6 postcard sized art cards.

The UHD case showcases a slip-sleeve that includes the same exceptional artwork as the box that holds it. The two Blu-ray discs are stacked in the same tray with the 4K disc stacked alone in the second.

Packaging

Standard cases are certainly preferable to the folder-style casing that these special sets are often given, and it is was great to learn that an eco-case wasn’t used for this release. (Folders scar discs and do not keep them secure, and eco-cases are flimsy and have holes that leave the artwork and the discs vulnerable). With this release, consumers are given a gorgeous and special presentation without sacrificing the safety of the discs themselves.

Blu-ray Menu

The menus on each are both attractive and serviceable while also being intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

UHD: 5 of 5 Stars

Building on the work done for the new 70mm prints, the 4K UHD with HDR presentation was mastered from the 65mm original camera negative. Leon Vitali (Kubrick’s personal assistant) supervised this restoration, which was derived from an 8K scan of the aforementioned negative before being regraded for this transfer. This particular format is in its infancy, but it must be said—and this isn’t hyperbole—that this is absolutely and without question the best UHD transfer that this reviewer has seen up until this point. It’s very difficult to imagine the film looking any better than this outside of a theatre.

First of all, fine detail is spectacular and impresses the viewer immediately. There’s an enormous increase in information and the dynamic range is incredible as well. Depth is more impressive here than we have seen it in any of the film’s previous home video releases. The grain structure is also expertly handled and to say that it is well resolved is a bit of an understatement. Colors are incredibly vivid—although the palette tends to be rather controlled throughout. Red-soaked frames are notoriously tricky on home video, but they just look incredible here. Black levels are also incredibly deep and never seem to sacrifice pertinent detail. It is really beyond criticism.

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Blu-ray: 5 of 5 Stars

The included Blu-ray disc is simply a 1080P transfer of that same restoration. As a result, it is a vast improvement over all of the film’s previous home video releases and probably still warrants an upgrade (even if you aren’t into UHD). For starters, the 2.20:1 aspect ratio represents the film’s theatrical frame with perfect accuracy. The earlier releases didn’t scan the 65mm negative but instead used a 35mm anamorphic reduction print. The result is that this transfer features more information on both sides of the frame. What’s more, there was inevitable distortion added to the 35mm print which now isn’t a problem. This is also a much cleaner image and everything that we mentioned above applies here (although to a lesser degree as a result of the reduced resolution).

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

This is one of those releases that should please everyone on all levels—and this goes double for the disc’s representation of the film’s sound as it offers two different 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio options. The first is the original 1968 theatrical mix and the second is a restored re-mix of the film’s original elements. Fans of the film have probably already experienced the restored re-mix as it was prepared for one of the film’s home video releases in 1999. In other words, the “original 1968 theatrical mix” is actually the newer track as the film’s original 6 track audio was repurposed for this release. It is nice to know that purists can sleep soundly while everyone else concerns themselves with the task of comparing these two choices to decide which they prefer.

These two options are actually incredibly similar and only distinguish themselves in the subtlest ways. It is simply a matter of how certain sounds are prioritized within the mix. However, these subtleties do alter one’s experience in interesting ways. Ambiance and music are affected more than other elements. Of course, there isn’t very much dialogue to speak of in this particular film, but both options present it in a clean and clear manner. Our favorite aspect of the soundtrack is actually the silence (which plays brilliantly against ambiance during key moments).

The dynamic range of the “restored remix” is probably a bit more impressive and it does sound a bit brighter overall (even as the original theatrical mix bests this version in terms of its rendering of low-end sounds). These enhancements, however, are re-workings of the film’s original mix and there are understandably more than a few cinephiles who aren’t going to like listening to any track that isn’t an accurate representation of the film’s original mix (no matter how subtlety these differences have been rendered).

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

4K UHD & Blu-ray (Disc One):

Feature Length Commentary from Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood

It is strange to discover that an actor’s commentary is provided for a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey but Dullea and Lockwood do a decent job. There are occasional long pauses when the film is allowed to play without comment by either actor, but these never become terribly problematic since Kubrick’s visuals are interesting enough to carry the viewer to the next comment. It seems as if each actor may have recorded their track separately as there isn’t any obvious interplay between these two participants. They both relay to the viewer how they were initially cast in the project and give their personal perspectives on working with Stanley Kubrick while also discussing their interpretation of the film’s content. Some fans may wish for more concrete information about the film’s unique production but it is actually a rather worthwhile tour through the film.

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4K UHD & Blu-ray (Disc Two):

The Making of a Myth – (43:08)

The Making of a Myth is a fairly decent retrospective documentary of the film’s production that was presumably produced for television (it is labeled a “Channel 4 Documentary”). It isn’t nearly as comprehensive as some of the “making of” documentaries that have been produced throughout the years but it beats nothing. James Cameron makes an appearance at the beginning of the program to provide an unneeded and decidedly awkward introduction, but he pretty much disappears after this as the documentary takes us into the topic at hand. It is interesting and worthwhile to note that the program originally aired in the year 2001, and that this is mentioned a few times throughout the duration.

Quite a few members of the film’s cast and technical crew are on hand to discuss their experiences and to comment on the material. For example, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Keir Dullea, Ed Bishop, Heather Downham, Daniel Richter, Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Brian Johnson, and Ray Lovejoy all make noteworthy contributions while Elvis Mitchell and Camille Paglia are on hand to lend their scholarly observations (which don’t really amount to very much). One can’t help but wish they had devoted more time on how the various sequences were shot, but it was terrific to see the archival “behind the scenes” production footage included here.

Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick: The Legacy of 2001 – (21:25)

Standing on the Shoulders of Kubrick is an appreciation of Kubrick’s masterpiece by a number of filmmakers, critics, and scholars. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, William Friedkin, Jay Cocks, Roger Ebert, Dan O’Bannon, Sydney Pollack, Ernest Dickerson, John Baxter, Paul Duncan, Jan Harlan, Douglas Trumbull, and numerous others are on hand to lend their insights. Many fans may very well prefer this program to The Making of a Myth, and those who don’t will find that they complement one another quite well.

Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of 2001 – (21:31)

Vision of a Future Passed: The Prophecy of “2001” is actually much more worthwhile than one might predict as it considers the accuracy of the film’s futuristic details. It is nice to report that the program has the capacity to enrich one’s appreciation of the film. It is required viewing for fans of the film.

2001: A Space Odyssey: A Look Behind the Future – (23:11)

A Look Behind the Future seems to be some sort of industrial promo that was produced for Look magazine, but the focus of the piece is the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey (although, it was going by a different title at this particular point in history). There is a wealth of “behind the scenes” footage, an interview with a few of the film’s technical experts, some statements from Arthur C. Clarke that were actually shot at NASA, and much more. It’s dry as desert dirt and one wishes that Warner Brothers had provided some contextual information, but fans will welcome this nostalgic glimpse of the production, and it is interesting to see one of the film’s early marketing tools.

What Is Out There? – (20:42)

What Is Out There? is unquestionably the most scholarly supplement on the disc as it examines some of the thematic material and ponders the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence while also questioning what this might mean for humanity. Keir Dullea introduces and reads excerpts from a variety of experts from interviews originally given to aid in the film’s production. These are broken up by excerpts from an archival interview with Arthur C. Clarke.

2001: FX and Early Conceptual Artwork – (09:33)

Douglas Trumbull and Christine Kubrick both appear in this short piece about some of the film’s special effects. The first portion features Trumbull discussing slit-scan and a few of the other techniques that were used in the infamous “stargate” sequence. Christine Kubrick then provides a brief contextual introduction to some of the abandoned conceptual artwork that was created for the final “trippy” portion of the film. It is worth checking out.

Interview with Stanley Kubrick [Audio Only] – (01:16:31)

This lengthy audio interview was conducted by Jeremy Bernstein during the month of November in 1966. The director was still working on 2001 when he gave this interview, and it is interesting to hear his thoughts about the film at this relatively early stage of the film’s production. However, the real value lies in his recollections about his early life and his memories and thoughts concerning the films that he had made up to the time the interview was recorded. Bernstein was interviewing the director for a short article about the director to appear in The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column. The audio plays over a still photograph of the “Starchild” gazing down at Earth.

Look: Stanley Kubrick! – (03:15)

A comprehensive examination of Kubrick’s time as a photographer and the various photographs taken by the director during this period of his career would be of enormous value. Unfortunately, this short piece is an all too brief gallery of a handful of his photographs proceeded by three textual screens of information. One wishes that a complete gallery of Kubrick’s photographs could have been represented and that the complete photographs had been shown. There are many photographs that haven’t been included here, and many of those that are included aren’t shown in their entirety.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (01:51)

The film’s original wordless Cinerama trailer relies only on the film’s cutting edge visuals and the majesty of Richard Strauss (Also Sprach Zarathustra). It’s nice to have it included here.

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Final Words:

2001: A Space Odyssey isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is a historically and aesthetically important film that changed the landscape of cinema in profound ways. One would hope that cinephiles who aren’t fans of the film can at least allow themselves a grudging appreciation and respect for it. Frankly, it isn’t this reviewer’s favorite Stanley Kubrick film, but its power is nonetheless undeniable. Those who don’t wish to take our word for it may find it easier believe one of contemporary cinema’s most popular auteurs:

2001 to me is the most cinematic film that has ever been made and it has been an honor and a privilege to be able to share the film with a new generation… 4K UHD allows the closest recreation of viewing the original film print in your own home. Kubrick’s masterpiece was originally presented on large format film and the deeper color palette and superior resolution comes [sic] closest to matching the original analog presentation.” – Christopher Nolan

Nolan’s enthusiasm for this release mirrors our own. This is an essential release not only for Kubrick fanatics but also for anyone who enjoys the science fiction genre. It is one of the essential home video releases of 2018.

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One Sheet

 

Also of Interest to Kubrick Fans:

 

Filmworker

DVD COVER

Leon Vitali was a rising British television actor when Stanley Kubrick picked him for the role of Lord Bullingdon in Barry Lyndon. That first encounter with the famed auteur proved decisive — he swiftly resolved to devote the rest of his life working for the director, this time behind the scenes, and took on just about every job available: casting director, acting coach, location scouter, sound engineer, color corrector, A.D., promoter, and eventually restorer of Kubrick’s films. Tony Zierra’s affecting documentary profiles the devoted “filmworker” — Vitali’s preferred job title — as he enthusiastically recounts his days with the notoriously meticulous, volatile, and obsessive director. The experiences brought both tremendous sacrifice and glowing pride.

Filmworker celebrates the invisible hands that helped to shape some of Kubrick’s masterpieces and reminds us that behind every great director, there may very well be a Leon Vitali.

This documentary is currently available on DVD from Kino Lorber.

Blu-ray O-Ring

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:10:52

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital

Subtitles: None

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 19.53 Mbps

Notes: Mill Creek Entertainment previously released this title without the “Retro VHS” O-Ring.

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It is bound to happen in all of our lives. We see an old movie that we once saw as a child being sold at a ridiculously low price. We remember laughing with friends, sipping sugary sodas, and stuffing our faces with pizza and popcorn as we watched the film with the sort of elation only a child can muster. It’s not beyond the realm of reason to expect that revisiting this same film might recreate some of that fun. After all, we tend to carry our affection for the films we loved as children into adulthood (even when they aren’t particularly good). Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

Re-watching Last Action Hero was an embarrassing experience. Did I really enjoy this movie as a child, or does pizza magically make terrible movies watchable? Maybe it lost its magic because it wasn’t a favorite. I merely had a good time when I saw it one night at a sleepover. Those poor little kids. Poor past me. I just didn’t know any better.

A description of the basic concept actually sounds promising: Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a boy who escapes the harsh realities of his life by watching movies. His favorites are the three “Jack Slater” films. The series stars his favorite actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the titular role and could easily be compared to the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon films. When young Danny is given an opportunity to see an advanced screening of the upcoming fourth entry (along with a “magical ticket”), he ends up being transported into the movie. He ends up being partnered with Slater because of his knowledge of the film’s villain (he had already seen the film’s first act before being sucked into the film’s universe). The plot eventually thickens when said villain gets his hands on Danny’s magic ticket and escapes out of the movie into the real world. Now Danny and his hero Jack Slater must chase the arch villain in the real world, a world where “the bad guys” can actually win.

At the time, meta-movies were actually quite rare. This send-up could have been great. It had Hollywood’s biggest action star, the director of Die Hard, and a promising premise. What it didn’t have was a good script.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment protects the Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case and protects the case with an O-Ring featuring “Retro VHS” artwork meant to resemble the video rentals of a past generation (the same generation who would remember the theatrical release of Last Action Hero). The Blu-ray’s slip-sleeve features normal artwork that was taken directly from the film’s primary one sheet.

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The animated menu uses the same one sheet design and video of explosive flames that play on a loop. Since there are no subtitles, alternative audio options, or supplemental features, “Play Movie” is the only button that appears.

Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

He’s Mean . . . And He’ll Blast through Your Screen! Now In High-Definition! That’s the promise that Mill Creek’s packaging screams at us from the confines of the slip-sleeve. Unfortunately, the high definition transfer isn’t terribly impressive. It isn’t terrible and certainly beats a DVD-quality image, but any objective analysis is bound to result in a bit of disappointment in discerning viewers. The quality of the image varies wildly. There are moments where fine detail is on par with what one expects from Blu-ray and moments where it falls short. The same can be said about depth, black levels, contrast, and just about everything else. The transfer also seems to suffer from excessive DNR and faces can sometimes appear waxy as a result.

Sound Quality:

2 of 5 Stars

Why are we not given a DTS-HD Master Audio mix of this film rather than this 5.1 Dolby Digital track? It seems like this disc could have made up for many of its deficiencies in regard to its image transfer by simply offering up a high definition audio track. This is an action film! One’s inevitable disappointment is exacerbated by the fact that there are no English subtitles available. There were moments of dialogue that were less than coherent (although, this is probably not the fault of the actual mix). Subtitles would have helped to clarify them.

Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

No supplemental material is included on this disc.

One Sheet

Final Words:

Last Action Hero is one of those movies that should appeal to pre-adolescent viewers, but it is unbelievably clumsy in a great many ways. Meta-movies are a dime a dozen at this point, and there are plenty of better choices if one finds that they are in the mood to see such a film. Mill Creek offers a similarly disappointing audio/visual presentation of the film. It’s probably safe to pass on this title.