Posts Tagged ‘Blu-ray review’

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:30:56

Video: 2160P (HEVC, H.265)

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

Alternate Audio: Mono English Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.35:1

Notes:This title has seen many DVD releases and two Blu-ray releases. This marks the film’s UHD debut. Special features are never consistent when it comes to this particular title, and this creates a problem for anyone who wishes for a clean upgrade. The transfer for the UHD disc was sourced from different elements than the included Blu-ray (see below for a more detailed analysis).

Halloween

“Well, you call it a slasher film. I guess the original slasher film was Psycho. That was the film that all of these things are kind of based on… Psycho was the big daddy of them all. And it had a literal slashing scene in…

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films (Signature Series)

Release Date: October 16, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:20:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1854 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 2.00:1

Bitrate: 31.50 Mbps

Notes: This title has been released previously on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films, but this “Signature” edition represents a notable upgrade. It contains a better transfer and several worthwhile supplemental features that were not included on that earlier release. However, it should be made clear that this release has been limited to 5,000 units.

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The 1950s isn’t a decade that springs to mind when it comes to terrific science fiction or horror films. Such films in this particular decade tended towards ridiculously large bugs, blobs, mutations, the tamest of space creatures, and the ravages of nuclear fallout. It is simply much too difficult to take such films seriously as they weren’t terribly well written, technically proficient, thought provoking, or scary. However, one particular film from this genre does seem to stand above the others and that film is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It isn’t without its flaws, but it manages to captivate the imagination despite itself.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers was directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) and stars Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates, and King Donovan. McCarthy portrays a doctor in a small California town whose patients begin to suspect that their loved ones have been replaced by emotionless imposters. When their concerns eventually prove to have validity, it is too late to save the town—but can he save himself and his small group of friends (not to mention the rest of the world)?

The thematic concerns of the story have divided fans for generations. Some believe the film to be an allegory about McCarthyism while others claim that is was alluding to Communism. The truth of the matter is that if the film was solely about either one of these issues, it would no longer be seen or discussed today. It is more accurately about the dangers of blind conformity in general, and this is a theme that is unlikely to go out of style. There are simply too many people in our society willing to sell their identities to the lowest bidder. Individuality is out! Everyone feels the need to be like everyone else, and those who are unwilling or incapable of falling in line are damned to the margins of society. This is the reason that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has already been remade three times (in 1978, 1997, and 2007)! Seriously, who doesn’t know their fair share of pod people?

There is a line from the end of the film that should sum up this review and answer this question rather admirably: “They’re already here! You’re next!

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by a clear case that showcases a dual-sided sleeve with film relater artwork on the outside cover and a production still that decorates the inside of the case.

A small booklet featuring a scholarly essay by Kier-La Janisse is also included. The essay is entitled At First Glance Everything Looked the Same: Identity Crisis in Don Siegel’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers and it discusses the themes of identity and conformity that are inherent in the film. It also gives contextual information about the sociopolitical environment of the time that it was released. It is a nice and attractive bonus that is illustrated with production stills.

Menu

The attractive static menu utilizes the same artwork featured on the cover and is easy to navigate. However, there is a strange misalignment on the words “English Subtitles” (see above).

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Olive’s “Signature” edition transfer of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is actually sourced from the same elements that were used for their previous release. This does seem to be a slight upgrade, but there really isn’t an overwhelming upgrade in terms of image quality. However, it is a dramatic upgrade from any other release of the film on home video. It isn’t at all a terrible transfer, but it isn’t nearly perfect either. The encode is superior to their 2012 release—at least from a technical standpoint, but this is a film in need of a new scan of the best available film elements (at a resolution of at least 4K). There is obvious crushing of detail in the darker sequences and it is quite a bit softer than it needs to be. Obviously, this softness may very well be the result of the “Superscope” process (they artificially render an image as anamorphic in post-production after shooting in the academy ratio). This lends a softer look to the image. Density and depth are somewhat problematic as well. It is nice to find that Olive hasn’t made any effort to artificially correct these issues, because this would have only made matters worse. Film damage is never really problematic or distracting, but there is the occasional blemish.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio transfer is also quite solid as the various sound elements are well prioritized in the mix, and given room to breathe in high definition. It is a technical upgrade from the film’s previous Blu-ray release (the previous transfer was a 16-bit render while this transfer is 24-bit). Age related issues such as distortion or hiss seem to be absent. In short, we are given a very clean representation of the film’s original audio.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, and Joe Dante

Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins, The ‘Burbs) moderates a conversation with McCarthy and Wynter that is always engaging, usually charming, and occasionally informative. Dante is an obvious fan of the film and contributes quite a few nuggets of trivia while McCarthy is quick with anecdotal memories. However, Wynter is a bit less vocal—though she does attempt to discuss one of her recollections only to be cut off by Dante and McCarthy. Such interruptions happen all throughout the track, but Wynter never gets back around to whatever she was going to discuss. This seems a shame.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Richard Harland Smith (Film Historian)

Richard Harland Smith’s commentary is less engaging but more informative than the Dante-McCarthy-Wynter track. He covers topics such as the film’s production history, biographical information about the cast and crew, the fifties sociopolitical climate, his personal observations and interpretations, and so much more that it moves rather rapidly. While some commentary tracks suffer from long periods of silence, this one has the opposite problem. Smith covers so much information that his delivery is too fast for the listener to completely digest. The occasional brief pause is essential and would have helped him punctuate the various points that he is trying to make. His commentary about the imagery of the pod-birth scene is especially interesting and might alter the way the viewer experiences the sequence for the rest of their lives.

Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited – (26:35)

Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers), Stuart Gordon, and Bob Burns (Historian) discuss the production and legacy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this short documentary that sits somewhere between a “making of” account of the production and a generic “appreciation” of the film. It’s not a very comprehensive “making of” program, but it certainly beats nothing at all.

[Note: Mick Garris doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of the Hitchcockian “MacGuffin.” He misuses the term in this segment. This was one of this program’s weaker moments.]

The Stranger in Your Lover’s Eyes – (11:54)

This may very well be the disc’s best video-based supplement. The first portion of the two-part essay finds Kristoffer Tabori (Don Siegel’s son) reading from Siegel’s autobiography (A Siegel Film) about the production of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is illustrated with a wealth of stills and footage from the film. The second part can be best described as Tabori’s personal observation of the film’s themes as they apply to his father’s life and personal concerns. It really packs a lot of information in a relatively short span of time. It is essential viewing for fans and a true asset to the disc.

The Fear is Real – (12:26)

Larry Cohen (The It’s Alive Trilogy, The Stuff) and Joe Dante both discuss the film and its significance—though Cohen seems to be the more prominent presence. Frankly, he seems more enamored with his own work than the film that he is supposed to be discussing (which is strange considering his films are so terrible). One assumes that he is featured because he had a hand in the horrible 1993 remake of the film, but this is neither here nor there. Both participants share their memories of seeing the film as children and the impact that it had on them and the genre. Dante has more useful comments (while Cohen has more screen time)—including his memories of meeting author Jack Finney with Kevin McCarthy in the eighties.

I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger – (21:08)

I No Longer Belong finds Matthew Bernstein discussing the life and career of Walter Wanger. It is an incredibly interesting and informative discussion and well worth twenty minutes of the viewer’s time.

The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon – (08:19)

The Fear and the Fiction is really a conversation about the themes of the film, and how people are divided as to whether it addresses McCarthyism or Communism. Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynters, Stuart Kaminsky (Don Siegel’s assistant), Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Mick Garris, and others address the issue.

1985 Interview with Kevin McCarthy – (07:25)

Tom Hatten hosts this television interview with Kevin McCarthy, and it is one of the disc’s true treasures. The segment is much too short, but it is certainly nice to hear McCarthy discuss the film and its enduring legacy.

What’s In a Name? – (02:16)

What’s In a Name is an extremely short clip that addresses the various titles considered for the film before they finally landed upon Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Return to Santa Mira

Return to Santa Mira is a collection of clips that detail where the various scenes in the film were shot and (in most cases) what these locations looked like in 2006 (which is when the clips were shot). It’s a nice addition to the disc but isn’t terribly substantial.

There are a total of eight clips:

Intro – (01:48)
Town Square – (01:34)
Homes – (02:07)
Alley – (01:14)
Cave – (01:41)
Staircase – (01:43)
Overpass – (01:03)
Wrecking Ball – (01:42)

Original Theatrical Trailer – (02:18)

It is nice to see that the original theatrical trailer has been included on the disc. It is a nice addition to a supplemental package that was already far above average.

Rare Documents

Thirteen production documents are featured here. There are call sheets, a list of actor’s considered for the leading role, the screenplay’s cover page, memos about censorship (mostly concerning the fact that both of the leading characters are divorced), and an opening narration featuring Orson Welles that would have been completely superfluous and overwhelmingly cheesy had it been shot.

At First Glance Everything Looked the Same: Identity Crisis in Don Siegel’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers

This is the same essay by Kier-La Janisse that was included in the booklet. One can also read it on their television screens if the whim strikes them, but it is difficult to imagine that anyone would prefer to read it in this particular manner when the booklet is much more convenient.

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Final Words:

This reviewer has never been terribly fond of the horror and sci-fi films of the 1950s but this film is an exception. This is the best that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has looked on any home video format (even if it is only a marginal improvement over the previous Olive Films release). Fans will want to add it to their collections, and curious parties who haven’t already seen the film should check it out. It will make an excellent addition to your Halloween festivities.

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Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: October 09, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:33:38

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: This title is also available in the DVD format.

Growing up has always been hard. However, it is nearly impossible in this age where teenagers see magazine pages filled with flawless photoshopped images of models, films that feature characters with perfect bodies and radiant skin, and social media posts from individuals who filter the flaws from their selfies and post updates that are designed to create the illusion that they are living perfect lives. Worse, middle school and high school hallways usually have a small handful of boys and girls that seem to validate the legitimacy of these unrealistic images. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that these hallways are also littered with sociopaths who make it their mission to invalidate and abuse anyone who doesn’t fit into their particular clique. Everyone is someone else’s scapegoat. The social structure of the typical school isn’t unlike that of a prison—and this isn’t hyperbole. It would be nearly impossible not to develop an unhealthy dysmorphophobia about one’s image and an overwhelming amount of social anxiety.

This is why Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is such a remarkable film. It taps painfully into this teenage hell with the occasional dose of awkward humor. Elsie Fisher is an attractive teenager, but she is allowed to be a human being here. Her body isn’t at all toned or athletic, her acne-prone skin is on full display, and these things are shown without ever becoming a story point. It is simply her reality. People need to see real people with everyday flaws in the films that are being released. Impressionable minds rarely take into account that the seemingly perfect-looking actors who saturate most mainstream films have personal trainers and a top-notch hair and make-up team to create this illusion (not to mention the fact that they are occasionally “digitally enhanced”). Films should, above all, attempt to arrive at some sort of truth, and Fisher deserves a lot of credit for allowing her true image to be photographed. Her flaws are one of Eighth Grade’s most beautiful attributes, and her performance here is really quite remarkable (not to mention remarkably brave).

The film covers quite a bit of territory: social anxiety, the pressure to sexualize one’s self for the attention or validation of others, sexual harassment amongst one’s peers, the heartbreak of feeling invisible, and so much more. This is proof that small movies about “everyday” concerns can pack a powerful punch and become successful at the box office. These may be small subjects but they have enormous power. It is time for the film industry to wake up and offer audiences more films about true to life problems instead of the brainless stream of generic comic book movies that studios have been dumping into theaters with such mind-numbing regularity.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case featuring a sleeve with artwork taken from the film’s original one-sheet. The difference here is that the image has been cropped at the top and bottom and the review blurb included is from Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) instead of Kate Erbland (Indiewire). The first pressing includes an O-sleeve featuring this same artwork.

One Sheet

The animated menus utilize footage from the film and are both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate’s 1080P transfer is quite solid. Colors appear accurate and natural throughout, fine detail is usually perfectly respectable (although Kayla’s video blogs are intentionally shown with less resolution), black levels are fine and do not seem to crush pertinent information. There are no distracting compression issues to report either. There is really no room for complaint.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The included 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track certainly showcases the film’s unusual music admirably and with great dynamic range. Other elements are also well handled and admirably prioritized with the sometimes mumbled lines of dialogue always coming across clearly. Most would probably agree that the mix isn’t terribly dynamic as surround activity is rather modest, but one must take into account the sort of film that they are watching. There are certainly a few directional effects on display throughout the length of the film. Reasonable viewers should be pleased.

Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with Bo Burnham (Director) and Elsie Fisher (Actress)

Burnham’s informal conversation with Fisher is engaging enough for a single listen and will probably please most fans of the film. However, those who listen to these tracks for technical information, insight into the director’s artistic approach, production anecdotes, or anything else that might have been of practical use to the future filmmakers of tomorrow will find the track wanting. Basically, what we learn here is that the film was originally titled, “The Coolest Girl in the World” and that both parties are quite pleased with the final result.

Deleted Scenes – (11:55)

This is without a doubt the best supplement included on the disc. We are given a handful of deleted and extended scenes that were taken out of the final assembly of Eighth Grade and fans will be thrilled to have them here.

You’re Not Alone: Life in Eighth Grade – (14:49)

Those hoping for a comprehensive glimpse behind the making of Eighth Grade will be disappointed to find that this short featurette is simply a better than average EPK reel that finds Bo Burnham, Elsie Fisher, and a few of the other actors discussing the film’s story and themes in an extremely general way. There are a few brief glimpses at the cast and crew shooting the film, but this is really all anyone should expect.

Music Video – (02:33)

Frankly, this doesn’t add much to the package. It is a waste of disc space. They simply took footage from the film and applied various filters that make it look quasi-psychedelic (sort of like a really bad Instagram filter). This is accompanied by a piece of instrumental music from the actual movie. I would have preferred to have the film’s original theatrical trailer included here instead.

Final Words:

Eighth Grade has been embraced by audiences and critics for very good reasons. More small stories like this should be made. This is a Blu-ray that comes highly recommended!

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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.

Menu

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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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