Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: October 09, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:25:26

Video: 2160P (HEVC, H.265)

Main Audio: 5.1 English Dolby TrueHD Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.33:1 & 1.85:1

Notes: This release includes a Blu-ray disc and a digital “Ultra-Violet” copy of the film.

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“I always thought that Evil Dead was a little campfire story that you tell at a camp to kids to scare them at night. But, I don’t think anybody thought it was a beautifully produced, theatrical experience. It was shot in 16mm, all the effects were done for a quarter… It was something that was crudely done…” –Sam Raimi (Horror Galore, March 25, 2015)

The “crude” and low-budget nature of Evil Dead’s production is really a major part of the film’s charm. Unlike Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is an over-the top superficiality to this film about a small group of young twenty-somethings trapped in an isolated cabin while being overcome by demonic forces. Raimi blends an eerie atmospheric tone with absurd silliness, and it somehow works—at least for a certain kind of audience.

Evil Dead has a production history that is almost as insane as the film itself (just read Josh Becker’s incredibly whiney production journal). Actually, two films were produced. A short demo film was initially shot on 8mm in order to show their potential investors in Detroit:

Within the Woods was made I think in 1979. It was made to be a tool to help us raise money from potential investors. So it wasn’t really a prototype, like a ‘pilot’ or anything like that, for Evil Dead. It was really just something that we could show investors. ‘See, we’re going to make a horror movie, and it’s going to be like this. We’ll have monsters, monster makeup. Bruce Campbell will be in it as one of the actors. Ellen Sandweiss will be in it as another.’ So they could see them acting, even though it wasn’t exactly the same story. ‘We’ll have suspense sequences and scares, and the monster will be something like this.’ You know, the point of view of the camera. ‘We’ll never show it.’ So it’s really a tool for these kids—Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi, me—to show potential investors what we were doing. Because, in Detroit, the idea is so insane to ask somebody for money to invest in a movie—especially 30 years ago. They had no idea what we were talking about. So we needed something to show them.” –Sam Raimi (IGN, October 30, 2015)

Once the money was raised, the young filmmakers were thrown into an insanely difficult shoot that would challenge their resolve and threaten their health:

“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life… I was very young. There was no running water, and [the weather] was in the 20s and 30s—we didn’t have any winter wear. It was freezing. When you’re in that cold for 16 hours, you start to—I started to die. There was no food, and everything was covered in Karo syrup in that temperature. So I’d be running the camera, but my hands were covered in Karo syrup. You’d lean against something and get it all over your hands. The only water we had was in a hot water heater so you could make instant coffee. Boiling water over your hands from the tap; that’s how you’d wash them, to load the film into the camera… it was really slow, and eventually the cast, one by one, dropped out and said, ‘I’ve got to go home. You said this would only be for like four weeks. It’s been like eight weeks.’ Even our cameraman and what little sound we had left said, ’we’ve gotta go.’ So we were left with just Bruce, Rob, myself, my friend Josh Becker and my other friend David Goodman. David never came down to the set. He was always our cook back at the house, so it was really the four of us.” –Sam Raimi (IGN, October 30, 2015)

Of course, the filmmakers still had a number of obstacles to clear after the film was eventually finished. In fact, we probably wouldn’t be discussing the film some 35 years later if it hadn’t been for Stephen King’s kind endorsement.

“We could not find distribution for our film. No American distributor wanted to touch it once we were done. It was a very depressing process, going to every single distributor in America and getting a ‘no.’ But we were lucky enough to find a man by the name of Irvin Shapiro, who was a film sales agent. He said to us when he saw the movie, ‘Well, it ain’t Gone with the Wind, but I think I can make some money with it.’ So he took it to Cannes—not the festival, per se, but the film market, which happens concurrently with the famous film festival… During one of these marketing screenings at the Cannes film festival, where there were different distributors watching the films trying to make their judgments as to what they’ll buy that year, Stephen King was in the audience, and we heard, ‘Oh, he was really screaming and shouting during the movie.’ And I was the biggest Stephen King fan in the world… Irvin Shapiro said to me, ‘Ask him for a quote, if he liked the movie.’ So I called him, because he was also represented by Irvin Shapiro, and his movie Creepshow, and said, ‘Could you give us a quote, what you honestly thought of the film?’ He said, ‘I won’t do that, but I will write a review. If there’s something in the review that you want to use as a quote, you can.’ So he wrote a review for ‘Twilight Zone’ magazine. It was very generous of him, and we were able to use the very positive quote that he gave us. Without that, the movie may have been lost, but with Stephen King’s endorsement, we were able to make our first sales. Then the film started to be successful where it had been sold. Then, after that British success, we were able to enter it into film festivals and awards. Then we were able to find an American distributor. So really, his endorsement opened the doorway for the film to be seen.” –Sam Raimi (IGN, October 30, 2015)

The article written was entitled, “Evil Dead: Why You Haven’t Seen It, and Why You Ought To,” and it is an affectionate article that provided plenty of positive fodder for the Evil Dead team to add to the film’s marketing materials:

“When I met Sam Raimi at The Cannes Film Festival in May of 1982, my first thought was that this fellow was one of three things: a busboy, a runaway American high school student, or a genius. He wasn’t a busboy, and Raimi finished high school some time ago, although he has sort of ageless sophomore looks that are going to keep bartenders asking to see his driver’s license or state liquor card until he’s at least thirty five. That he is a genius is yet unproven; that he has made the most ferociously original horror film of 1982 seems to me beyond doubt. The only problem is that you may never see it…

…Most of the large American film distribution nets have now passed on Raimi’s independently financed film. (The latest to pass was Paramount, which distributed the hugely successful—if brainless—Friday the 13th; their verdict… was that too much was just too much.)

The Evil Dead has the simple, stupid power of a good campfire story—but its simplicity is not a side effect. It is something carefully crafted by Raimi, who is anything but stupid… [The story synopsis] doesn’t sound like much. Well, neither does ‘Hansel and Gretel‘ or ‘Bluebeard‘ in the hands of an untalented teller. What Raimi achieves in Evil Dead is a black rainbow of horror. The make-up of his zombies is derivative of Dick Smith’s work on The Exorcist, the plot is derivative of Romero’s Dead movies (even the antidote is derivative of these—remember the idiotic sheriff in Night intoning that you had to ‘burn ‘em or shoot ‘em, but they move slow . . . they’re dead. They’re all messed up’?), and his small troupe of actors ranges from the merely adequate (Ellen Sandweiss and Betsy Baker) to the fairly good (Bruce Campbell and, in particular, Hal Delrich, who brings the happy, beer swilling fraternity scuzzo to gruesome life). So, what’s going on here?

Mostly what’s going on is Sam Raimi, who is so full of talent that somebody unable to get it together might be tempted to wonder if gobbling the man’s fingernails might do any good. In Evil Dead, the camera has the kind of nightmarish fluidity that we associate with the early John Carpenter; it dips and slides and then zooms in so fast you want to plaster your hands over your eyes. The film begins and ends with crazily exhilarating shots that make you want to leap up, cheering. (At Cannes, French cinema-freaks did exactly that.) In the first, we are skimming giddily over a swamp; in the last, we come plunging madly down a wooded hill into that damn deserted cabin, where all the madness, dismemberment, and lunacy occurred. This was no Steadicam, imported at five thousand dollars a day (as in The Shining), it was, instead, what Raimi and company ingeniously called a “shaky-cam.” He describes it in the offhand manner that a wunderkind might explain how he made an atom smasher out of a couple of Campbell’s soup cans for the Hicksville Science Fair.

‘We couldn’t afford a Steadicam,’ he says, ‘so we improvised. We mounted the camera in the middle of a two-by-four about fifteen feet long. A couple of guys grabbed it, one on either end, and they just ran like hell.’ In some of Evil Dead’s other eye-popping shots, Raimi or Philo carried the camera—which weighed about ten pounds—strapped to one hand. Somebody ought to tell Kubrick, Spielberg, ‘et al’ that there’s really nothing to this stuff. Just bolt the camera to a two by four and run like hell.

The Evil Dead was basically a cottage production, much like Night of the Living Dead, which made its appearance in less difficult (read pre-MPAA) times. Raimi and his two partners put up what money they could; he and producer Rob Talpert went after the rest. Talpert and Bruce Campbell, the film’s star, dropped out of Michigan State University and raised much of the film’s small budget (well under a million) from private investors: lawyers, Raimi says, doctors, builders, contractors—‘people like that.’ …But it wasn’t just to raise dough for the production, he emphasizes; they would hire a good bunch of lawyers to hammer out an airtight investment agreement. And so they seem to have done, because the investors are happy enough. Evil Dead may never play an American screen, but deals have been made in several foreign countries, including the lucrative Hong Kong market. The investors will probably get clear, mostly due to Raimi’s jury-rigged production company…

…But so far, nothing is shaking up in Raimi’s native country, in spite of the standing ovations at Cannes. The smart Hollywood thinking is that the day of the ‘raw horror film’ has passed. Raimi is not happy about the idea, but in the meantime he’s turned his attention to a new picture. The working title is Relentless. The same word might apply to Raimi himself.

Asked what he wants out of the business, he says: ‘Right now I want to make enough money to get my car fixed. It’s been sitting out in the front of my house since we finished Evil Dead, and my folks are pestering me to have it taken away. I don’t want to do that. I want to get it fixed.’ Raimi’s car, it turns out, is the one driven by the hapless college students in Evil Dead. At one point, it almost drops through a decaying bridge. The crew saved it after the crucial take, but as he turned into his home block after the film was wrapped, the engine caught on fire. It’s sitting there now, in Detroit. So’s the film—waiting for an American distributor. Any takers?” –Stephen King (Twilight Zone, November 1982)

Sam Raimi has gone on to enjoy a terrific career in film, and Evil Dead went on to find an American distributor and eventually became a cult phenomenon. This reviewer disagrees with King about the degree of potential genius inherent in the film (and the comparison to John Carpenter), but horror nerds who haven’t discovered this particular movie should check it out immediately and forego the remake.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate houses their UHD and Blu-ray discs in a standard 2-disc UHD case with a sleeve that includes the same artwork that graced the film’s most popular one sheet. This should make fans extremely happy! The first pressing also includes a sleeve with this same artwork that will help protect the case and the discs that are housed inside.

One Sheet

The UHD menu is reasonably attractive and easy to navigate while the included Blu-ray utilizes the same animated menu that graced earlier North American Blu-ray editions. (In fact, it is the exact same disc.)

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Picture Quality:

UHD: 4 of 5 Stars
Blu-ray: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Disc One: 4K UHD

In all honesty, Evil Dead was never going to be an adequate demo reel for the strengths of the 4K UHD format. One can only expect so much from a low budget 16mm film. Grain is abundant, the image is rather soft, clarity isn’t terribly impressive, and the transfer seems to crush some of the shadow detail (although the limitations of the original film elements seem to be at least partially to blame for most if not all of this). However, depth does appear to be decently rendered, and the contrast is somewhat better than what can be seen in the standard Blu-ray transfer (which has always been a reasonably strong one when one keeps their expectations in check). Color also sees a notable improvement over the Blu-ray edition. It is actually difficult to imagine the film looking much better than this, and our four (out of five) star rating was given based upon what consumers expect from the format. Had we rated the disc merely on what the film’s original elements are capable of delivering, it may have very well been given at least half of another star.

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Disc Two: Blu-ray

This is the same Blu-ray transfer that was included in the previous two disc “Limited Edition” that was released in 2010 and the “Steel Book” edition that was released in 2014. In fact, this is the same disc (complete with the same menu and opening previews). In other words, if you own any of the previous North American Blu-ray editions of Evil Dead, you already own this disc and know exactly what to expect in terms of quality. The only thing different about the disc is the artwork that decorates it.

Two versions are included here: a 1.33:1 version and a 1.85:1 version. It seems likely considering the film’s original distribution method that Evil Dead probably played in both ratios during its original release but it is impossible to say for sure. I have read that Raimi requested a 1.85:1 presentation during days of DVD, but various sources seem to differ as to which of these is the actual intended ratio. In any case, the viewer is allowed to choose their preference. Both versions are of comparable high quality, and this allows one to discuss both of these versions at once.

The heavy grain inherent in the 1080P image was organic to the source elements, as is the softness of the image and the deficiencies in clarity. Everything we described in our description of the 4K transfer also applies here. This is a very good representation of the source elements, and the result is an extremely clean image. Anomalies such as dirt, debris, and damage are minimal and never distracting. The film has certainly never looked better than it does on these discs.

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Sound Quality:

UHD & Blu-ray: 4 of 5 Stars

Evil Dead employs a rather lively sound design but it wasn’t originally a 5.1 mix. Purists will no doubt wish that a high definition transfer of the film’s original mix had been included here. There were obviously limitations inherent in the film’s original audio elements, but this track manages to rise above them as it offers the viewer an incredibly immersive experience. It really sucks the viewer into the film. Panning is employed in the mix, and the atmospheric sounds are all well placed and prioritized. It’s a very engaging mix, and one has few complaints about it. The only trouble is that it seems silly not to offer the viewer the option of watching the film with its original mix.

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Special Features:

UHD & Blu-ray: 1 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Sam Raimi (Director), Robert Tapert (Producer), and Bruce Campbell (Actor)

Honestly, this newest commentary track (which originally featured on the film’s Blu-ray debut only to be carried over to this release) has nothing on two earlier commentaries that featured on various DVD editions of Evil Dead. The first was a track with Raimi and Tapert and the second featured Campbell’s perspective. These earlier commentaries were brimming with information, but this one is mostly dead space and goofy chatter. Remember that the word “newer” is not necessarily an indication that something is “better.”

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Final Words:

Those who are fond of Evil Dead will probably be quite pleased with the UHD transfer, but the lack of supplements is bound to disappoint. There’s plenty of supplemental material available, and it seems a shame not to carry it over to this UHD package. However, the die-hards will probably find the prospect of viewing the film in 4K UHD too sweet to pass up.

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Distributor: Gunpowder and Sky

Release Date: September 06, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:45:38

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.39:1

“The setting is our childhood.” -François Simard (Screen Anarchy, August 09, 2018)

Summer of 84 didn’t exactly set the box-office on fire when it was released to theatres this summer but it deserved a much better response. The film was helmed by the “three-headed-dragon” known as RKSS (François Simar, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell)—an independent filmmaking collective that one hopes will gain a huge following in years to come.

The premise is simple and straightforward: Every serial killer is somebody’s neighbor. 15-year-old Davey (a boy whose conspiracy theories have raised the eyebrows of those close to him for quite some time) becomes convinced that the policeman that lives across the street from him is a serial killer known for murdering a number of boys in the area (the “Cape May Killer”). After convincing his three hormonal friends that he may actually be on to something this time, they all agree to investigate and begin spying on the local law enforcement hero. The group treats it as yet another game for a while, but things will soon turn serious when it becomes clear that their actions are going to have severe consequences. Could Davey possibly be right, or is it his overactive imagination? Viewers will probably expect a mystery or some sort of twist ending, but this film has other intentions.

Certain critics have written the film off as derivative (and they are absolutely right), but to complain about the film’s derivative nature is ridiculous in this case for the simple reason that this is a large part of the film’s charm. It feels like one of those Spielbergian coming-of-age thrillers that were so popular in the 1980s (perhaps mixed with a generous dose Stephen King)—and it absolutely nails that atmosphere (even the Carpenter-esque synth score is on point). It would make an excellent double feature with any number of teen horror films that were actually made in that era (The Goonies, Stand by Me, The Lost Boys, Fright Night, The Gremlins, etc). The “familiar” premise actually adds to the nostalgia—and the nostalgia is undoubtedly the key ingredient in this particular experience.

The interesting thing about this is that everything we think we know about this sort of film will inevitably be used against the viewer before the credits roll. Sure, wrap yourself warmly in the glow of what you mistakenly look at as a more innocent era—but you may also want to wear a cup, because Summer of 84 plans to kick you when your guard is down. Davey will never be the same.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Gunpowder and Sky houses their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring a slightly altered variation of the film’s primary one sheet (the credits at the bottom of the poster aren’t included on the cover and both the title and “A Film by RKSS” have been moved up slightly). More home video releases should carry over a film’s original one sheet. They are nearly always superior.

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Interestingly, the static menu system reminds one of the days of DVD as there is a separate menu for the disc’s bonus features. The primary menu also includes the one-sheet image seen on the disc’s cover, while the supplemental menu has a sort of “in character” group photo of the film’s teenage characters. It is reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The image transfer is surprisingly solid. There’s an impressive level of fine detail—a fact that a few of the teenage actors may very well lament. Textures are on full display even in many of the film’s darker scenes. Colors are also well handled. Certain optical moments (such as fades and other dissolves) do seem to showcase some very minor flaws but the banding on display during these moments aren’t evident enough to distract the viewer. In fact, one doubts if most viewers will even notice if they aren’t scrutinizing the transfer for these specific issues.

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s sonic design will please anyone with an affection for eighties horror as the synth score is always on point and is well supported by this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer. It really resonates here—especially as the bass kicks in to create a very rich atmosphere. Dialogue is always clear (even when characters aren’t speaking distinctly) and sound effects are given the appropriate amount of weight. The overall mix is well balanced and effectively handled as it gives the film’s sound design room to breathe in the home video environment. It may not be the most dynamic track in the world, but it will certainly immerse the viewer in the film’s suburban nightmare.

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Director’s Commentary with RKSS

There are actually two different commentary tracks available on the disc (one is in English and the other is in French). The English track offers behind the scenes anecdotes and story observations in a very casual and conversational manner. It could have probably provided the viewer with more information (both technical and anecdotal), but the easy-going and jovial track manages to engage and entertain while elevating one’s appreciation for the film. One assumes that the same can be said for the French track as well (no English subtitles were provided for either track).

As a side note, we do lament that there were no deleted scenes included on the disc. The English language commentary makes it quite clear that there was at least one significant deleted sequence in the form of an alternate opening. It seems a shame that it hasn’t been included in this package.

Bloopers Reel – (04:22)

This b-roll footage offers some amusing mistakes and moments of silliness that occurred while shooting certain scenes. It is nice to have these included on the disc.

Stills Gallery – (01:22)

Sixteen “behind the scenes” photos are presented with musical accompaniment. Short dissolves separate each of the photos. There isn’t anything revelatory to be seen within these frames, but those looking for a glimpse behind the curtain will be happy to have them included here.

Final Words:

Summer of 84 may not be the year’s best horror film but it is a fun throwback to the VHS era as well as an incredibly diverting forty-five minutes.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 26th, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:31:13

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3552 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 448 kbps)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 22.99 Mbps

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When it comes to the subject of Orson Welles, cineastes can be divided into two distinct categories: the apologists and the critics. The apologists believe that everything he touched is, at the very least, a flawed masterpiece that could’ve been a perfect film if it hadn’t been for meddling producers and studios or a lack of funds. The critics seem to view him as a man who couldn’t get out of his own way and play the game. Obviously, either one of these views makes for an incredibly interesting subject for a documentary, but it probably won’t surprise most people to learn that Chuck Workman’s Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles falls on the side of the apologists.

The documentary’s original release fell on the eve of his centenary and takes the viewer on a journey through his life and career—but with the exception of the earlier portions of the film, it is really devoted almost entirely to his work in film (both in Hollywood and as an independent filmmaker). It has obviously been produced with love and includes many interviewees who offer their memories, knowledge, or general appreciation for his work. What’s more, there is plenty of archival interview footage with the always articulate director, and one can see scenes from nearly every film that Welles directed (both finished and unfinished).

One imagines that it will be shown often in classrooms and by anyone who appreciates his work, because it offers a rather thorough general overview of his film work. However, his struggles making each individual film was given short shrift, and the production for each of these creative ventures could (and probably should) be the focus of their own feature-length documentary. Magician is also nearly void of any real analysis when it comes to his output. How do these films fit into the filmmaker’s worldview? Are there any camouflaged autobiographical elements in his films? What were they? We never learn, and these subjects are never even raised. There is also no effort to examine his personal life or his interpersonal relationships. All of this seems a shame, but it is also understandable. Chuck Workman cast an extremely wide net, and it was inevitable that the result is simply an incredibly interesting primer.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by a clear Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring the film’s one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo on the exterior and still a still of Orson Welles behind a large film camera on the interior. Inside the case is a small booklet that features chapter stops and film credits. These pages are illustrated with photographs of Welles.

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The disc’s menu features footage from the film and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Transfers of documentaries are sometimes much more difficult to evaluate, because they usually rely on a wealth of varying sources of varying resolution and quality. Therefore, when this reviewer reports on the disparity between these sources, it would be extremely unfair to hold this against the transfer. On the other hand, one doesn’t wish to give the reader an inaccurate impression of what to expect.

The fresh footage shot by Workman for this particular film looks quite nice as it showcases quite a bit of fine detail and a respectable level of clarity. Most of the clips from the various films in Welles’ filmography also look reasonably attractive, although an amateur short that was shot long before his debut as a proper filmmaker have seen better days. Archival material is (and was always going to be) all over the place, but this adds a quality that some will argue add to the overall experience. Television video dances with old filmed television, damaged behind the scenes footage, and other such sources. It adds personality.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s difficult to imagine anyone expecting a truly dynamic sonic experience from such a film, and those who are will be likely to complain. However, the more reasonable among us will likely agree that Cohen’s 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio option more than pulls its weight in support of this documentary feature as it offers nice fidelity for the most part (again, sources were always going to vary in this and every other regard).

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

A Conversation with Chuck Workman – (08:59)

Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) interviews Chuck Workman in this short promotional EPK featurette. The experience feels almost like a short appreciation of the director’s overall career in much the same way that DVDs and Blu-rays sometimes include short appreciations of individual films by various filmmakers or scholars in lieu of a proper “making of” documentary or analysis of the feature. It’s nothing more nor less than this, but somehow it seems more worthwhile than many of those that focus on an individual film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc and does a nice job of introducing the overall tone and method of presentation that the film employs.

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Final Words:

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles is an easy recommendation for anyone who is even remotely interested in the work of this incredibly polarizing filmmaker. It might not offer anything new for anyone who is familiar with the life and legend of Orson Welles, but it somehow still manages to hold ones attention. Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray offers the best way to see the film in the home environment, and it therefore easily earns a recommendation for anyone whose interest has been piqued. It’s also a pretty good way to prepare one’s self for the upcoming release of The Other Side of the Wind.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: March 17, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:27:30

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 29.53 Mbps

Notes: This title received a prior North American Blu-ray release from Sony, but the transfer was inferior. It was also given a Region Free UK release by INDICATOR that includes a very similar transfer.

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“I believe you know the story of [The] Lady from Shanghai. I was working on that spectacular theater idea, Around the World in 80 Days, which was originally to be produced by Mike Todd. But, overnight, he went bankrupt and I found myself in Boston on the day of the premiere, unable to take my costumes from the station because 50,000 dollars was due. Without that money we couldn’t open. At that time I was already separated from Rita; we were no longer even speaking. I did not intend to do a film with her. From Boston I got in touch with Harry Cohn, then director of Columbia, who was in Hollywood, and I said to him, ‘I have an extraordinary story for you if you send me 50,000 dollars, by telegram in one hour, on account, and I will sign a contract to make it.’ Cohn asked, ‘What story?’ I was telephoning from the theater box office; beside it was a pocket books display and I gave him the title of one of them: Lady from Shanghai.

I said to him, ‘Buy the novel and I’ll make the film.’ An hour later we received the money. Later I read the book and it was horrible so I set myself, top speed, to write a story. I arrived in Hollywood to make the film with a very small budget and in six weeks of shooting. But I wanted more money for my theater. Cohn asked me why I didn’t use Rita. She said she would be very pleased. I gave her to understand that the character was not a sympathetic one, and this might hurt her image as a star in the public eye. Rita was set on making this film, and instead of costing 350,000 dollars, it became a two million dollar film. Rita was very cooperative. The one who was horrified on seeing the film was Cohn.” —Orson Welles

…And so goes the legend behind what is quite possibly the director’s most damaged Hollywood effort. Many scholars believe that the film’s failure was the final death blow to his Hollywood career (although he would make Macbeth for Republic the following year and return a decade later with Touch of Evil). Only one thing is certain: the film, it’s troubled production, and the studio’s mutation of Welles’ original editing and intention for the film during post-production is wrapped around legend—and legend tends to be a tumultuous blend of truth and interesting fiction.

There are even signs of apocryphal information in the director’s origin story. For one thing, the picture is an adaptation of a novel entitled “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King—a novel owned by Columbia after being sold to them by William Castle. However, some elements seem to be true and Cohn sent the director the money that he needed believing that he was getting a writer, director, and a leading actor for a ridiculously low price. Of course, he would soon regret his acceptance of this deal.

The production seemed cursed from the start. Cohn was furious when the director gave Rita Hayworth a make-over for the film and truly believed that her new blonde hairstyle would ruin her career—an opinion that is both incredibly misogynistic and short-sighted since hair grows back and she could always wear a wig during the interim. In any case, this poisoned his opinion of Welles and The Lady from Shanghai from the very beginning of their working relationship. Things were to only get worse when cameras began rolling on location in Mexico. The cast and crew were cursed with the worst environment imaginable and had to deal with poisonous creatures and insects as well as illness and severe weather. Welles was bitten by an insect that cause a reaction so severe that his face swelled to the point where he couldn’t even open one of his eyes, Hayworth became ill numerous times, various crew members contracted dysentery, his assistant cameraman (Donald Ray Cory) became overheated and died of a heart-attack, Errol Flynn (who owned the yacht that appears in the film) stayed drunk and often hold up the production by disappearing for hours at a time, and all of this put them behind schedule.

MILLION DOLLAR HAIRCUT

Rita Hayworth sheds her famous locks for the production of The Lady from Shanghai.

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When Viola Lawrence (the film’s editor and studio stooge) saw the film’s unique location footage, she became worried and reported to Cohn. When he reviewed the rushes, he ordered that Welles shoot glamorous close-ups of Hayworth to have inserted into the film. The result is that the film has a number of awkwardly inserted close-ups of Hayworth that are completely unmotivated. Since Hayworth’s previous films usually included a singing performance, he also had Welles shoot her singing “Please Don’t Kiss Me” during one of the yachting sequences. He somehow made this work for her character, but it wasn’t really necessary and does date the film quite a bit.

Lawrence would again wreak havoc after a preview of the director’s 155 minute rough cut tested poorly. Over an hour of footage was deleted from the film—including substantial portions of the scene at the Chinese opera and the much-lauded funhouse finale. It’s fair to assume that the film would have been trimmed to some extent regardless, but taking an hour of footage out of the film has resulted in an incredibly uneven film (albeit an incredibly interesting one).

To make matters worse, the Welles absolutely hated Heinz Roemheld’s score (and for good reason). He had gone to enormous effort to temp the film in order to give the eventual composer an idea of the proper tone that he wanted for each moment as well as where to add and where not to add music. These cues were entirely ignored by Roemheld. After all, he didn’t work for Welles. He worked for Cohn.

After hearing the result, Welles wrote a memo begging to have the film re-scored. This request was also ignored. Most of the Columbia suits had already written the film off as a disaster and didn’t really want to spend another cent on a film that was doomed to failure—a prophesy they ensured by shelving the film for a year. Of course, this only signaled to the critics to prepare their poison pens for a real stinker, and they were more than happy to oblige.

These things happened all too often throughout Orson Welles’ career, but The Lady from Shanghai seems to suffer the most for it. It is probably the weakest of his Hollywood efforts. Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Touch of Evil tower above it while The Stranger and Macbeth are more coherent and no less interesting. Lady has a number of brilliant touches, but the overall result is an awkward and somewhat sloppily fragmented viewing experience. It doesn’t flow organically but instead relies on voice-overs to bridge scenes together and answer the inevitable questions imposed on the audience. The film’s final explanation is rendered unsatisfying because of this particular weakness—and in the end these deficiencies are only made more infuriating by the flashes of brilliance inherent in the film’s better moments.

 It is impossible to know for certain whether or not The Lady from Shanghai would have worked better had it not fallen prey to studio hysteria, but it is impossible not to lament the fact that we will never find out.

SS01

The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment houses their disc in the standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring film related artwork. They’ve made the unfortunate mistake of not utilizing the film’s original one sheet design as it was vastly superior.

One Sheet

The Original One Sheet for The Lady in Shanghai.

One assumes they decided that it was necessary to have Welles on the cover. They missed a pretty great opportunity as far as their presentation is concerned.

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The static menu features an attractive design, but one feels obliged to warn readers that there are no chapter stops on the disc.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment isn’t known for quality transfers, but Sony gave them an incredible 4K restoration master for this this release. Frankly, this new Mill Creek release is a significant improvement over the previous Sony release due to a superior transfer of the very same 4K restoration that appeared on that earlier disc. Instead of Sony’s VC-1 transfer (which was done at a much lower bit-rate), we are given an AVC transfer at a significantly higher bitrate (despite the fact that they have used a single layer disc. The film’s short running time and the lack of any supplemental material has allowed Mill Creek to offer this film at a maxed-out bitrate that rivals many dual-layered releases.

This transfer is brighter with less crush and much better shadow detail, but not bright enough to interfere with the Welles’s chiaroscuro aesthetic. Clarity has also seen an overall improvement and grain resolution is never problematic on the Mill Creek disc. Fine detail also impresses… in fact, the entire image is really quite lovely. Those who have been disenchanted with Mill Creek’s transfers in the past will be pleasantly surprised. The only issues of note are obviously the result of the film’s original production (optical effects appear softer than many fans might prefer). What’s more, the image is really quite immaculate… I’ll stop raving. It’s a great image transfer.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The film’s 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio maintains the original film’s mono limitations but is rendered in a manner that supports all of the various elements—including the aforementioned Heinz Roemheld score, sound effects, and dialogue. There aren’t any distracting anomalies (although there is some very subtle hiss evident if one is listening for it). Those expecting a dynamic mix will be disappointed, but nobody with any sense should expect such a track from a film of this era. Fans won’t be nearly as impressed with the track as they are the image, but rest assured that this is a solid and faithful rendering of the original sound elements.

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Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

This Mill Creek Entertainment release doesn’t offer any supplemental features.

The previous Sony edition had a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, but the transfer of the actual film wasn’t terribly great. The UK Indicator release was wise enough to carry this commentary over to their disc while also adding a video interview about the film with Bogdanovich, an appreciative video essay by Simon Callow, the theatrical trailer, and a trailer commentary by Joe Dante.

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Final Words:

The Lady from Shanghai is an interesting but extremely flawed film due to studio tampering. Those fond of Orson Welles or the film noir genre would be wise to add it to their collections, but one doubts if it would appeal to everyone. This Mill Creek Entertainment release is surprisingly solid as it has been taken from a gorgeous 4K restoration transfer and rendered at a maxed out bitrate (on a single layer disc). Those who wish to own a similar transfer in addition to supplemental features will have to pay much more and order the Indicator release from their website. However, if one measures the value of Indicator’s supplemental material against their asking price, they will find that it comes up short on the value end. Most people will find it difficult not to save their hard earned money and choose the Mill Creek Entertainment edition.

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Blu-ray Cover
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: July 31, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:17:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1973 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.39 Mbps

Notes: This is the Blu-ray debut of Village of the Damned, but the film was given a DVD release along with Children of the Damned in 2004.

Title

“What interested me was not to make a fantastic film but a film that was very real. To take an ordinary situation and inject extraordinary events into it.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

One could read quite a lot into Village of the Damned. It belongs to a period of horror that preyed on people’s fear of communism. There are two kinds of horror: one group tackles the evil within ourselves while the second preys on people’s natural fear of “the other.” This film fits snuggly in the latter category. The project was conceived at a time when WWII was still very much in the public’s consciousness, and one has difficulty divorcing the image of a group of evil blond children with notions about Aryan youth.

Aryan Youth

“I don’t think any of us were aware of it then, but of course now they remind you of the Hitler youth, blond-haired Aryan children and all that. I’m convinced that was an unintentional subtext; after all, the war was still fresh in our memories. But none of us had any idea of the impact it would make.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

The film’s opening sixteen minutes is really quite terrific—much better than the opening scenes in Carpenter’s remake. It is both efficient and effective storytelling and manages to grab the viewer’s attention. In all fairness, this reviewer has never read John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos,” but most sources suggest that this is a fairly accurate representation of this source novel.

The novel’s title was obviously changed, but it is worth noting that Cuckoo birds would lay their eggs in the nests of other species to the detriment of their own offspring. The parallel will be obvious to those who have seen the film, which unfortunately focuses more on the husbands of Midwich as they try to find a solution to this unusual invasion instead of focusing on the more interesting story of a group of women who have had their bodies invaded and must become mothers to these emotionless children. In essence, the women in the village are the victims of a sort of intergalactic rape. There’s a lot of untapped horror being suppressed here (and in the novel). Frankly, focusing on the men in the village isn’t nearly as effective—even if this did allow for a rather interesting a-typical starring turn for George Sanders.

George Sanders

Village of the Damned gave George Sanders one of his better late-career screen roles.

One imagines that there will also be viewers who are distracted from the less than perfectly rendered special effects, but this particular issue seems forgivable considering the production’s minimal budget and the era it was made. Any time the children used their powers, their eyes glow an eerie white. This was achieved by freezing the frame (or the part of the frame that includes their eyes) and rotoscoping the negative image of their iris over the original image. This works in some shots much better than it does in others. There are conflicting reports as to whether this effect was utilized in the UK prints of the film. There are many that say that they simply used normal shots of the children staring intently for these prints, and some vocal people who dispute this claim. If it is true, it would have been wonderful to have had both versions included here as one wonders if this version might not be superior. However, it is this effect that MGM used to sell the film (at least in the states), and it did a very good job of bringing patrons into the theaters.

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There will also be those who feel that the film’s true villain is the village barber. The children’s haircuts are decidedly awful, and it boggles the mind why the remake didn’t at least improve upon this particular element. One wonders if normal hair would have added another layer to the film. Questions could have been raised as to whether the other villagers were simply imagining that these children were different. The audience could have been allowed to wonder this as well had they not been portrayed as so obviously the product of some malignant hive of alien beings.

All of this probably gives readers the wrong impression. This isn’t a bad film. While far from perfect, Village of the Damned is much better than one would expect. It was simply intended as a low-budget quota-quickie, but it managed to capture the audience’s imagination and still manages to do this 58 years later.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Warner Archives houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring artwork that is taken from the film’s original one sheet (although it has been slightly altered here). Luckily, their alterations have resulted in a superior design.

One Sheet

The American One Sheet

Menu

The disc’s static menu features interesting and attractive artwork as well and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Geoffrey Faithfull’s cinematography is allowed to shine. The 2K scan is clean and free of any distracting blemishes. Black and white films look pretty amazing on Blu-ray when the transfer is handled appropriately, and this one is no exception. Fine detail, depth, and clarity are all satisfyingly rendered with an organic layer of grain that adds a filmic texture to the proceedings without muddying the image. There are some density fluctuations during dissolves, but this isn’t really distracting and probably couldn’t have been avoided.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a good representation of the original mono source and exhibits clear dialogue elements and sound effects. Ron Goodwin’s score also sounds quite clean here. Obviously, this isn’t going to be an immersive sonic experience, but a more dynamic mix would not be in keeping with the film’s original mix or with the intentions of the filmmakers.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary by Author Steve Haberman

One would’ve preferred to hear a director’s commentary with Wolf Rilla or even a commentary with Martin Stephens (or both). Firsthand information always trumps third party information (no matter how well researched the information might or might not be). C’est la vie. What we are offered is at least better than it might have been. One does wonder why the author of “Chronicles of Terror: Silent Screams” was chosen for this commentary track. After all, Village of the Damned isn’t a silent film. Brief biographical information of various participants is given while also offering a bit of production history and appreciative observations about the film. He obviously prepared for the track but still manages to deliver this information in a casual and conversational manner. Interestingly, Haberman disputes the aforementioned claim that the film was released without the glowing eye effect in the UK. There’s more than enough reason to give this a listen if you enjoy the film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:01)

It’s great to have the film’s original theatrical trailer included here. It’s shamelessly heavy-handed, but that’s part of the fun of watching classic film trailers.

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Final Words:

“I’ve made 27 films and this is the only one people remember.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

Making even a single film that is remembered and admired over a half century later is quite an accomplishment. Forget the remake and pick up this original black and white classic.

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Spine #938

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:40:09

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.18 Mbps

Note: Sony Pictures gave this title a Blu-ray release in 2009, but this new Criterion edition bests it by offering a superior transfer and a wealth of worthwhile supplemental material.

Title

“Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watched them on tape. For Graham this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which, I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations. I guess it should. I don’t know.” –Steven Soderbergh (Truth or Consequences, Film Comment, July/August 1989)

Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape ushered in the golden age of independent filmmaking and proved that there is a market for small esoteric films that are aimed at adults. The then 26-year-old director worked from a script that he wrote in only eight days, and it told a rather simple story about the terror of true intimacy. Housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) feels distant from her lawyer husband, John (Peter Gallagher), who is sleeping with her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). When John’s old friend Graham (a magnetic, Cannes-award-winning James Spader) comes to town, Ann is drawn to the soft-spoken outsider, eventually uncovering his startling private obsession: videotaping women as they confess their deepest desires. The camera is a wall that Graham builds between him and any possibility of true connection. sex, lies, and videotape isn’t merely notable as the independent debut effort of a maverick filmmaker. It is also a film that holds up to repeated viewings.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Steven Soderbergh’s indie classic has been given the Digi-book treatment with a semi-transparent plastic slipcover that makes the cover image look as if it were captured on an old-school television screen. It’s a nice touch, but it is a far cry from Criterion’s best designs as it employs the same image (only slightly off-center and rendered with less contrast) than the one utilized for the 2009 Sony release. When Criterion announced their July releases a few months ago, they illustrated the announcement with very different artwork. We’re not sure that it isn’t actually better than the final result.

Sony Cover

This artwork was used for Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release.

Alternate Artwork

This artwork illustrated Criterion’s announcement of their release of sex, lies, and videotape a few months ago. Obviously, they didn’t end up using this design.

To be fair, it should be said upfront that Criterion has given the concept much more thought than standard Blu-ray packages typically receive. It’s no secret that I tend to prefer their standard clear-case packaging to their digipacks, but such issues are subjective and divide collectors. Luckily, this release includes a booklet instead of their standard pamphlet. What’s more, the text contained within this little gem is truly substantial.

An appreciative essay by Amy Taubin offers the reader a decent argument as to the film’s merit and place in independent cinema history, but the included excerpts from Soderbergh’s production diary—which includes an interesting self-penned introduction—is where the book really shines.

Menu

The animated menus feature footage from the film and are exactly in the style one expects from a Criterion release.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“…For this year’s restoration, we not only transferred from the original camera negative but also maintained 4K resolution throughout the whole process. The transfer was done at Deluxe in Culver City, California, and the final timing was done by Joe Gawler at Harbor Picture Company in New York, New York. The work on the dirt cleanup, etc. was redone again, this time at 4K.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Having never seen Sony’s 2009 transfer of the film, it is impossible to state conclusively just how much better Criterion’s 4K restoration looks. However, it comes from a much better source and has been handled with more care. Those involved with the production would prefer that you see this transfer (which is really quite remarkable). The image is pristine with excellent color fidelity and black levels are handled perfectly without crushing any discernable detail—and “detail” is another element that will impress viewers. Density and depth will also impress fans of the film. The transfer maintains a filmic texture that should satisfy purists with its very fine layer of grain.

It can be said that those who own the original DVD edition of this film will be floored. It really feels as if you are discovering the film for the first time. It seems more alive somehow. Criterion earns their reputation with this release.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“When it came time for the 2009 remastering, everyone felt that it was important to step back further to the original 1989 premixes in order to create an updated version of the track. The original 2″ Dolby SR-encoded 24-track analog premixes and the digital multitrack stems were transferred to Broadcast Wave files at the 24-bit/96 kHz standard… Extensive dialog editing was undertaken in Pro Tools to smooth out tone variations among camera angles, and to remove multitudes of snap and pops that we were unable to deal with given our 1989 dialog editing workflow. The music was “up-mixed” to full 5.1 from the original three-track (left-center-right) pre-mixes, although reference was made to the 1989 levels relative to dialog and sound effects…

…As happy as we were with this revision, one problem remained: there were considerable problems with generator noise during production, and we needed to go back to the original edited dialog tracks, before noise reduction and equalization had been applied during the 1989 premixing… The sound restoration took place at my company, Swelltone Labs, in New Orleans.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Considering the number of masters this film’s audio has been given, it is difficult to judge how close this 5.1 English DTS-HD master audio mix is to the original theatrical version of the soundtrack, but it does seem like those involved have made every effort to be faithful to the original audio—or at the very least to the filmmaker’s original intentions. Apparently, minor improvements have been made in an effort to eradicate some of the blemishes inherent in the original audio. Technological advances have allowed the filmmakers to offer us a product closer to what they originally wanted in the first place.
It’s certainly superior to the DVD edition’s audio track, and the subtle 5.1 mix adds a bit of extra life to the track. Even stringent purists should find themselves in agreement with the changes made here. We graded this audio transfer with an understanding of the limitations that were inherent in the original source elements, and most should agree that it earns its perfect score if they do the same.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

In addition to a feature length commentary track (and a commentary for an additional deleted scene), Criterion offers over 1 hour and 41 minute of video based supplemental material for fans to devour.

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Steven Soderbergh & Neil LaBute

Those who have owned the film on DVD will recognize this 1998 commentary track, which finds LaBute leading a conversation with Steven Soderbergh that covers the writing of the script, production stories, stylistic decisions and intentions, the casting, various challenges of working on one’s first feature the film’s unexpected and overwhelming success after Cannes, and more. It’s a pretty decent track and does add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Deleted Scene (w. Optional Commentary by Steven Soderbergh) – (03:20)

The rough quality of this video-sourced footage should not dissuade viewers from checking out this deleted scene which finds Ann confessing to her therapist that she is considering not continuing her therapy after Graham makes a comment about not trusting anyone who he doesn’t know intimately with his problems. The therapist seems annoyed and counters that Graham may have had an agenda and she ends up deciding not to discontinue her therapy sessions. In the included optional commentary track for the scene, Soderbergh claims that the scene was cut because it made Ann appear too “pliable” and due to the fact that it wasn’t needed since the audience was already aware that she had been thinking quite a lot about Graham.

Something in the Air: The Making of sex, lies, and videotape – (28:55)

Andie McDowell, Laura San Giacomo, and Peter Gallagher offer viewers much more than the usual generic navel-gazing comments that one expects from many of the more “making of” programs—but then this one was produced by Criterion. This retrospective look at the film’s production suffers only from the conspicuous absence of James Spader. The remaining three actors give candid accounts of how they were cast in their roles and then discuss their characters in some depth. MacDowell is an especially articulate and thoughtful subject and her presence is probably the highlight. They discuss the boost that the film gave to their careers and what it was like working with Steven Soderbergh on his first feature. This may very well be the crown jewel in this disc’s supplemental package.

1990 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (09:05)

It isn’t clear why this interesting archival footage was originally produced, but it finds a slightly awkward Soderbergh in Washington D.C. discussing sex, lies, and videotape shortly after the film’s enormous success. Topics discussed include the performances of each of the four primary actors, his inspiration for the film, his original trailer and the one eventually used by Miramax, the title, and more.

1992 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (13:31)

This interesting publicity interview is originally from an episode of The Dick Cavett Show and was meant to promote the release of Kafka (even though this film is only mentioned twice). However, Cavett is obviously more interested in sex, lies, and videotape and focuses on this film throughout the entirety of the interview. Fans will be happy to see it here. It adds enormous value to the disc despite the relatively short duration.

2018 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (06:17)

This “interview” or “introduction” is somewhat different from the fan Q&A that Criterion had originally planned. Apparently, Soderbergh was allowed to film this short piece on his own time, and this has resulted in a somewhat rambling fashion. The black and white footage is contains interesting information but is made less palatable by simply jumping topics without notice. The themes and structure of the film is discussed and he offers a comparison of his methodology during the production of this film and his more recent movies.

The Today Show: Interview with James Spader – (05:13)

This archival segment from a 1989 episode of The Today Show finds Gene Shalit and James Spader discussing the film’s enormous success. It is too bad that the interview couldn’t have been a bit longer since it is the only supplement that features Spader.

Cliff and Larry: Beginnings – (19:38)

Larry Blake (sound editor/re-recording mixer) and Cliff Martinez (composer) discuss the film’s music and sound design but get into detail about working with Steven Soderbergh and what they perceive to be unique about him as a filmmaker. It’s a light but revealing conversation that fans of the director and sex, lies, and videotape will appreciate.

Generators, Noise Reduction, and Multitrack Audiotape – (11:58)

Larry Blake’s video essay tackles the interesting subject of the film’s troubled sound mixes throughout the ages. Comparisons between the original Park City festival mix, the re-mix for Miramax’s eventual theatrical release, and this new 2018 mix illuminate just how rough the original location sound actually was before it was cleaned up for distribution and how Criterion’s new audio restoration improves upon the theatrical mix.

Trailers:

Trailer: Soderbergh’s Cut – (01:33)

Miramax’s Final Theatrical Trailer – (01:37)

Interestingly, there are two versions of the trailer included on the disc. The first is the unused Soderbergh cut which was too unique and indirect for marketing purposes. The second is Miramax’s final trailer for the film, which is noticeably more exploitive of the film’s sexual themes.

A Note on the Picture and Sound Restorations

This is a textual supplement that explains the differences in the various home video masters of the film and how each one was created. It is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why Criterion’s transfer is so special and the ultimate version of this movie on home video.

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Final Words:

“One never says never with restoring films, but this time, we think it’s for real. Steven [Soderbergh] asks that you destroy all previous copies.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

We feel that this quote says everything. Criterion offers the definitive home video transfer of the film with this release. It has been approved by the director and comes with an overwhelming amount of supplemental material that will add to one’s appreciation of the film. It comes highly recommended.

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Blu-ray Covers
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: July 10, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:30:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English Dolby Atmos

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital
5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital
English Audio Description

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: This package includes a DVD an Ultraviolet copies of the film.

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It’s rare for films produced in this day and age to feature such a simple idea with such an overwhelmingly cinematic vision. A Quiet Place is a film told only with images and sound with only the occasional exception. There is very little dialogue. It was not only unnecessary to tell the story via an endless stream of expository dialogue, it was essential to the film’s story that they didn’t. Other filmmakers could learn a thing or two from the success of this film and make more of an effort to tell their stories without resulting to tired and downright lazy dialogue to tell the audience the things that they need to know (especially since so many screenwriters aren’t very good at this). Those wanting to write and direct movies should at the very least know how to tell a story visually. It’s fundamental to the medium—so much so that it is ridiculous that one feels the need to mention it at all.

This approach is certainly a feather in director John Krasinski’s cap as he goes about spinning this tale of a family who must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. Knowing that even the slightest whisper or footstep can bring death, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) are determined to find a way to protect their children at all costs while they desperately search for a way to fight back.

It’s probably clear to the reader that this reviewer has a fondness for the film, but it is necessary to point out some of the film’s aesthetic flourishes diminish its power. Slight adjustments could have been made to make the film even stronger, and these adjustments aren’t additions but are instead subtractions. The concept is simple: a predatory creature with sensitive hearing will eat those who make a sound. Therefore, the little sounds we make going through our day to day life should be the music of the film. This is a case where adding non-diegetic music actually reduced some of the film’s suspense. The choice of adding Marco Beltrami’s syrupy sentimental passages of music as the characters navigate their lives was at best unnecessary and at worst distractingly inappropriate. The film’s minimal sound design would have sufficed and the result would be a more eloquent and suspenseful experience. Concentrating on the minor noises that we create throughout our day would have also added the graceful poetry that the music is trying so desperately to force upon certain areas of the film. The strongest passages are those without music for this very reason.

We will admit that some of the more suspense oriented music worked much better, but it is impossible not to wonder if the same thing could’ve been accomplished by using only the sounds of the creatures. Alfred Hitchcock used such a technique in The Birds (1963) to excellent effect as he planned the sound design as if it were a film score (even bringing Bernard Herrmann in as a consultant). Relying on music seems to fly in the face of the very concept that this story is built upon. The music was admittedly not as distracting after being acclimated to the unnecessary sentimental melodies (say maybe 20 minutes into it).

There is a moment with the husband and wife dancing with earbuds in their ears, but we are not hearing the music. This was a beautiful moment until they brought the music into the soundtrack as she shared her earbud with him. The point of this seems to be, “I saw them do this on Garden State (2004) and it was really cool. I’ve always wanted to work it into a film.” It would’ve been lovely had they continued to play the scene against the silence. Such brave choices would’ve been true to the concept and added a poignant grace, but this is a film produced by Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay-esque (“boom, boom, boom”) sound design wins out in the end.

The Monster

The creature in A Quiet Place.

In one of the Blu-ray’s supplemental features, they mention that the creature was originally planned to be less visible throughout the film but that they decided to feature them more overtly after falling in love with their design. Frankly, they should have stuck to their original intentions. The creature was too visible towards the latter part of the film. Quick moments of visibility would’ve worked better (and did work better in the film’s earlier scenes). I think that this only becomes more veracious when dealing with CGI creations since they aren’t organic.

I’ll stop here, because these are simply minor blemishes on a very good creature thriller. It’s better than a lot of the horror films that have been released in the past few years. It’s a lot easier to pick apart a film once it has already been made than it is to make even a bad film—and I wouldn’t call this a bad film.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Paramount protects their Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray case with film related artwork that blends an image from one of the foreign posters with a still in an obvious effort to include John Krasinski on the cover as if featuring him might result in more sales. That’s ridiculous and only disfigures the more simplistic foreign one sheet design (which was only “okay”). Why do marketing departments do this? It results in ugly artwork. This doesn’t come close to the worse we have seen but is still unnecessary and annoying. Happily, the case is protected by a slip sleeve. Unhappily, the slip sleeve features the same clumsy artwork featured on the insert sleeve.

The disc’s static menu is reasonably attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

A Quiet Place was happily shot on 35mm but only received a 2K digital intermediate master (according to IMDb and other sources). Having not seen the 4K UltraHD disc, it is impossible to state as to whether it would be a major upgrade from this disc. However, it is relatively clear that it hasn’t been given a true 4K transfer and was instead up-scaled from 2K. One imagines that this would result in only a minimal upgrade from the Blu-ray disc.

The Blu-ray, however, is beyond reproach and probably looks as good as it is going to unless they choose to rescan it in 4K at some point. There aren’t any compression issues to report, clarity is decent, color reproduction is very good with accurate flesh tones (at least within the context of the film’s aesthetic), shadow detail is even better, and the transfer showcases plenty of very crisp fine detail. It’s nice to witness a nice organic layer of light grain on a recent film for a change as the texture takes me back to horror’s glory days (even though I wasn’t really even round for those glory days). Frankly, this is an excellent transfer that is only limited by the production’s post-production workflow. Those purchasing the Blu-ray instead of the 4K release will have no real reason to bicker.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Just in case the five-star rating doesn’t make the brilliance of this mix perfectly clear, be assured that your high end speaker systems will have a chance to shine. The Dolby Atmos track is superb and really places the viewer inside the film’s world, but it should be said that it is during the quieter sequences that the mix really shines. It’s all about contrast and small sounds that will place the viewer on edge. The sound design is without a doubt one of the film’s greatest strengths (even if it is too bad that the music sometimes gets in its way). Both tracks are tremendously dynamic while offering terrific clarity, perfectly rendered low frequency effects, clear dialogue (though this is rather sparse in a good way), and a sonic experience that represents this film perfectly. The separations are beautifully realized and the elements well prioritized. Just keep in mind that it is a good track for the subtleties of sound design and not bombastic activity.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

The materials in the three featurettes included on this disc would have made a more substantial “making of” documentary than what one expects from recent home video releases, but instead of editing them into a substantial program, Paramount separates the material into three less impressive “featurettes” so that they can market the disc as having three supplements instead of just the one. Never mind the fact that if they had included the theatrical trailers and simply included more material, they would have had something that they could market without actually disappointing those who shell out money for the disc. Oh well.

Creating the Quiet: Behind the Scenes of A Quiet Place – (14:45)

While this “behind the scenes” glimpse includes more meaty material than we have come to expect from studio releases, each of the topics discussed could have been explored in more detail. This piece discusses the unusual concept, the genesis of the idea, the development of the project, and the cast in a very general way. It offers more than the typical EPK promotional fluff but lacks the depth that one once expected from their supplemental package.

The Sound of Darkness: Editing Sound for A Quiet Place – (11:44)

More detailed is this piece on the sound design and the score for the film. However, those who (like myself) felt that the sound design could have gone further than it did and not relied so heavily on music might get a headache from rolling their eyes. Don’t worry. This will pass.

A Reason for Silence: The Visual Effects of A Quiet Place – (07:33)

Special effects junkies will be pleased with this examination of the creature CGI that made it possible. At one point, the viewer learns that the filmmakers originally planned to show the creature less but fell in love with their final design and decided to show it more (or in more detail) in the final act. This was a mistake. It is too bad that they didn’t elaborate as to which scenes changed as a result and how these scenes were originally intended to play. This is a good example of the surface nature of the supplemental material. It never probes into the general statements that they make. It’s simply better than average.

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Final Words:

A Quiet Place earns its positive critical reputation but never quite reaches its own potential due to a timidity on the part of the filmmakers. It’s a good B+ movie that could’ve been an excellent A+ film had they trusted the audience a bit more than they did. Fans of the creature sub-genre will want to add this to their collection as it is the best they will have seen in a number of years. The Blu-ray transfer is technically very close to perfect and the supplemental package is better than one usually expects from studio releases. Obviously, this is a release that comes highly recommended.

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