More H.G. Lewis to Blu-ray in January from Vinegar Syndrome

Another day, another new cult video label, though I dare say this one has me excited. Vinegar Syndrome (a subsidiary of the Process Blue restoration lab) take their name from that horrid destructive condition that has thankfully ignored my own meager 8-and-16mm library, and their aim is to rescue as many exploitation obscurities as they can manage from that same undignified and smelly fate. They’ve taken as their debut project a triple feature (in Blu-ray / DVD combo pack) of rare Herschell Gordon Lewis sexploiters, and by virtue of the HGL pedigree alone I can’t very well not support that. They’ve got a few other tasty morsels lined up for DVD and Blu-ray release as well, like Massage Parlor MurdersSavage Water and Death by Invitation, but what really has me excited for VinSyn’s future is this tidbit from their “About” page:

Film restoration can easily become a tricky subject especially with a lack of general consensus on how to do it ‘right.’ Our goal is to as accurately as possible recreate a theatrical viewing experience. We never employ any noise/grain reduction and use digital restoration tools only to remove or reduce severe image damage.

What’s that, you say? A label that just wishes to bring their properties to home video in as authentic-to-source a manner as possible while avoiding the digital pitfalls suffered by majors and minors alike? VinSyn are pushing all sorts of the right buttons with me, and here’s hoping it translates into plenty of groovy grindhouse video releases in the process.

As for The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis triple feature Blu-ray / DVD combo pack, it streets January 8th and can be pre-ordered either directly through Vinegar Syndrome (free US shipping!) or through standard outlets like Amazon.com. The details, copied from the press release, are quoted below:

The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis
Three previously thought lost sexploitation features from Herschell Gordon Lewis, the acclaimed master of exploitation cinema.

ECSTASIES OF WOMEN (1969) is a torrid comedy/drama set in the swinging world of late 60s Los Angeles.
LINDA AND ABILENE (1969) combines the savagery of a classic Hollywood western with sequences of intense eroticism.
BLACK LOVE (1971) exposes the lovemaking habits of the contemporary black couple through a series of amusing and creative vignettes.

All three films have been restored in 2K from their original camera negatives and are being released on home video for the first time anywhere in the world!

Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Bonus Features:
- Original theatrical trailers for each film
- Extensive historical liner notes
- Special edition lab cards for each film

For samples from the 2k restorations of each film check VinSyn’s blog post here. They look damn good to me, so good that I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for the Wtf-Film video shelf. After the relative disappointment of Image / Something Weird’s HGL treatments I can’t wait to get my paws on this…

Blu Notes: Night of the Living Dead ’90

It’s been 22 years since Tom Savini’s official remake (scripted by Romero himself) of the landmark 1968 horror Night of the Living Dead first reached theater screens, more than long enough for a certain nostalgia to build up around it. I must admit to having not much liked the film upon first seeing it, but in the years since I’ve developed a respect and even an affinity for it. As such I was eager to revisit Savini’s Night as film, but such a kerfuffle has erupted with regards to its Blu-ray presentation from Twilight Time that it’s utterly distracted from that process. So in lieu of a film review (one will follow later, I promise) here are my observations on the release itself.

To state the obvious, this presentation of Night of the Living Dead is significantly different, aesthetically, from any that has been made available before. There is typically no shortage of praise to be found in these pages for Sony’s archive restoration department, but their approach here certainly raises questions. Given Sony’s usual approach (either to work directly with someone involved with the production to develop the film’s aesthetic on video, or to go by past knowledge – release prints, etc.) it’s difficult to imagine the changes here passing muster without the approval of someone involved in the original production, though just who that might have been remains unknown (edit to add: The source is evidently a 2010 HD master minted with the involvement of DP Frank Prinzi. Thanks, internet!). What is known is that Tom Savini has now given his approval to the Blu-ray’s new look, making the answers to what’s “right” or “wrong” with Night of the Living Dead‘s appearance rather more ambiguous.

Now for the changes. The first major alteration to how the film has appeared begins almost as soon as the film does. The first twenty minutes of the film, straight daytime sequences in all past editions, now shift from daylight to day-for-night (or twilight, more specifically) over the course of Barbara’s opening flight from the cemetery and the early events at the farmhouse. Colors cool, contrast flattens, and darkness pervades. It’s a dramatic difference in comparison to past editions, and one I can’t say that I’m really enamored with. The problem here is that the shift just doesn’t work within the previously existing language of the film, which is veritably screaming daytime (the ambient soundtrack, full of chirping birds, is a good example) even as the new timing tells us otherwise. Minor details unnoticed before, like Ben arriving with his truck lights off, now pose problems for the new continuity, and what of the film’s montage noting the changeover from day to night? It’s still here, of course, calling into question the whole rationale of artificially clarifying a point the film already makes.

While those first 20 minutes mark the most significant diversion from the past, the rest of the film has been treated as well. The whole appearance has been flattened, from the contrast to the color, leaving the majority of the picture with a darkened and dulled, almost antique appearance. While I don’t find the overall effect objectionable within the context of the film I do find the dimness of the white levels a bit of a distraction. Areas of the image that should be hot (flood lights, a basement lamp, muzzle flashes, even the film’s one big explosion) are unnaturally cold and grey, as though the image were being projected with a defective bulb. The same (or at least a similar) effect has been applied to the daylight sequence that closes the film, lending it a similar quality to “flashed” pictures like Deliverance and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Aside from the alterations Sony’s transfer appears sound, presenting with a very healthy level of detail and a consistent, refined layer of film grain that only rarely descends into noisiness. The image appears free of the usual brand of digital tampering, with no evidence of edge enhancement or adverse noise reduction, though the new color filtering has resulted in some unpalatable posterization effects at times (see the zombie’s face and surrounding sky in the sample below). Twilight Time have given Sony’s contentious HD master a healthy technical backing – the video is encoded Mpeg-4 AVC at a reasonable average bitrate of 26.8 Mbps, and compression artifacts are never an issue.

The audio will prove another sticking point for many. Sony, typically quite astute in their mastering of surround remixes, obviously weren’t paying quite as much attention here, and at least one key sound effect – the shutter click heard over the closing credits montage – is absent from the mix entirely (I can’t vouch for any other missing bits as I’m just not that familiar with the film). Otherwise the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track sounds quite good, with Paul McCollough’s electronic score (also available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track) given substantially more room to breath than in more compressed past editions. Per the usual for Twilight Time’s Sony-licensed titles, optional English SDH subtitles are included. The release arrives with a Tom Savini audio commentary (ported over from the older DVD) as well as the original theatrical trailer in HD, and Julie Kirgo contributes another fine booklet of liner notes.

Twilight Time went out of their comfort zone in responding to fan requests and releasing Night of the Living Dead ’90 on Blu-ray, and while it’s a shame that the release hasn’t matched expectations the outrage that’s developed against it has been a little… well… outrageous. The label is doing their part in accepting returns from the unsatisfied customers, and otherwise there’s always the bloated resell market (this limited edition was out of print before it was even released, and is already fetching lofty prices from third party scalpers). I consider it fortunate that Night‘s sellout status has alleviated some of the pressure on me for a yea or nay recommendation. Personally speaking, I can live with the disc even as much as I don’t care for some of the changes – I’ve been relying on a decades-old VHS up until now and my pack-rat home media sensibilities mean it’s always there if I need it. Those looking to purchase are encouraged to know what they’re getting into1, particularly at the current going rates. Director Tom Savini has approved of it and I may be fine with it as well, but it’s ultimately up to your personal preferences, and mileage will vary.

1 I realize this wasn’t an option for most, as the title sold out before reviews were even possible. This is the assumed risk of limited edition collecting – either buy early, with the possibility of being disappointed by the eventual result, or wait for coverage and risk paying out the nose.

Blu-ray screenshots were taken as full resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Night of the Living Dead was reviewed from a screener graciously provided to this site by Twilight Time.

Blu Notes: Gamera vs. Barugon

This article deals exclusively with the 2009 Kadokawa Blu-ray release of Gamera vs. Barugon (大怪獣決闘 ガメラ対バルゴン / Daikaiju Ketto: Gamera tai Barugon). For coverage of the film itself, and the domestic Shout! Factory DVD, click here. Gamera vs. Barugon is available both as a standalone and in a four-film Show Gamera boxed set from Amazon.co.jp.

Specifications:
released:
7/24/2009
disc: All Region / single layer BD25
video: 1080i / 2.29:1 / color
Mpeg-4 AVC / 27.4 Mbps
audio: 16-bit LPCM 2.0 mono Japanese
subtitles: none
supplements: announcementtheatrical trailer

Another day, another classic Daiei effects fantasy on Blu-ray from Kadokawa Entertainment. Released in Japan in August of 2009 (the film is as yet unavailable on Blu-ray outside its home territory) Gamera vs. Barugon is another high-price Blu-ray that will have limited appeal elsewhere. Audio is Japanese only, no subtitles are included, and supplements are limited to an original theatrical trailer and a “special announcement” trailer both Barugon and its original co-feature Daimajin. With an asking price of ¥4,935 (roughly $64.00 USD) this is going to be a tough sell for most, but one indisputable fact remains – for those looking to own Gamera vs. Barugon on Blu-ray this disc is currently the only option.

Like Giant Monster Gamera this Blu-ray is sourced from the same HD master previously used for both the Japanese 40th anniversary Gamera Z-Plan DVD boxed set (issued in 2006) and Shout! Factory’s more recent DVD, and the improvements across formats, while notable, remain pretty modest. Before my thoughts, a brief comparison:

DVD leftBlu-ray right. DVD shots were captured as lossless .png in VLC from the Shout! Factory DVD, scaled to 1920×1080 for ease of comparison and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% in Gimp. Click to view full size.

 
 
 
 
 

Kadokawa’s slightly windowboxed 1080i Blu-ray presentation improves in the expected areas, with detail, contrast, and color each tightening up appreciably in most areas, with the more modest effects photography seeing the least improvement. Still, this is an old HD master (six years at the youngest, and possibly older) and it looks it. The film texture is rendered in a noisy fashion that’s really anything but film – I was actually reminded of the look of some of the laserdiscs I used to own, though the effect is much more subtle here by virtue of the resolution. Detail is reasonably crisp, but a level of artificial sharpening has been applied and some edges display with modest aliasing artifacts (see the rim of Onodera’s glasses in the final shots above). I didn’t find any of the issues here overly distracting in motion, but anyone anticipating anything beyond a reasonable home presentation from this Blu-ray will be sorely disappointed. In the end it’s just the latest link in the chain of improvement for a series that I’ve owned in practically every format imaginable, with plenty of room left for improvement.

Technical specs are less robust than on the other Kadokawa Gamera Blu-rays by virtue of the length of the film (like the rest this is only a single layer BD25), but still substantial enough to support the modest transfer. Gamera vs. Barugon receives an Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a healthy average bitrate of 27.4 Mbps, and compression artifacts are never an issue. The Japanese audio is presented in 16-bit LPCM 2.0 monophonic, and despite some flatness inherent to the original mix it sounds quite good. As previously stated there are no subtitles (English, Japanese, or otherwise) and the only supplements are an original theatrical trailer and a “special announcement” trailer for Gamera vs. Barugon and its original co-feature Daimajin. Each is presented in 1080i HD from native HD transfers. The disc appears to be all-region compatible, and played just fine both in my PS3 (Region A) and in my Region B secondary deck.

This is another disc without much of an audience beyond the more ardent Gamera devotees out there, and whether or not it will be worth it to you depends entirely on your expectations and how well you can justify the exorbitant expense. I had the disposable income available and wanted Gamera in HD, so it works for me. Your mileage will definitely vary.

Blu-ray shots were captured as full resolution .png in VLC with yadif taking care of the interlacing, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. Click to enlarge.

Gamera vs. Barugon is available on standalone Blu-ray from Kadokawa as well as in Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box I – pictured left – which includes Giant Monster Gamera (1965), Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967), and Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras (1968). Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box II is also available, and includes Gamera vs. Great Evil Beast Guiron (1969), Gamera vs. Great Demon Beast Jiger (1970), Gamera vs. Deep Sea Monster Zigra (1971), and Space Monster Gamera (1980).

Blu Notes: Giant Monster Gamera

This article deals exclusively with the 2009 Kadokawa Blu-ray release of Giant Monster Gamera (大怪獣ガメラ / Daikaiju Gamera). For coverage of the film itself, and the domestic Shout! Factory DVD, click here. Giant Monster Gamera is available now, both as a standalone and in a four-film Show Gamera boxed set, from Amazon.co.jp.

Specifications:
released:
7/24/2009
disc: All Region / single layer BD25
video: 1080i / 2.28:1 / b&w
Mpeg-4 AVC / 37.5 Mbps
audio: 16-bit LPCM 2.0 mono Japanese
subtitles: none
supplements: theatrical trailer (1080i HD)

What can I say – I love Gamera in all of his various incarnations, but thanks to their staple status in the television syndication packages of my youth my heart will forever belong to the original Showa-era films. I grew up thrilling to every moment as that most unlikely of heroes fought Barugon and Gyaos, Guiron and Zigra, and while it is those imaginative color spectacles that remain my favorites the humble, black-and-white Giant Monster Gamera is where it really all began. Produced on a B-budget by Daiei Co. in 1965, Giant Monster Gamera is beset by all the usual problems associated with first-of-their-kind productions (it was Daiei’s first true giant monster film) and quite a few others besides, but it’s an interesting effort despite its many limitations, and still a heap of fun provided you’re in the right frame of mind.

Given the absolute dearth of critical coverage (in Japanese or otherwise) of Kadokawa’s high definition releases of the classic Gamera films it was with some small reluctance that I invested (and investment is the word!) in the company’s pair of Showa-era Blu-ray boxes – two collectible packages that together comprise all 8 of the original Gamera films. I knew I was bound to be happy either way. Having lived through the days of Sandy Frank and Just 4 Kids’ ep VHS travesties I was excited at the very opportunity to own the original series in HD, but with an asking price of over $40 per film I couldn’t help but wonder just what I had gotten myself into.

It seems important to note that neither Giant Monster Gamera nor its co-features are English friendly in any but the most taunting of ways (the titles are listed on the packaging in both Japanese and English, and exclusively the latter on the disc art). Indeed, even hard-of-hearing Japanese audiences are out of luck here, as no subtitles have been included in any language. The feature audio is pure and simple 16-bit LPCM 2.0 monophonic Japanese only.

Additionally, those expecting some order of supplemental heft will find Giant Monster Gamera and its Blu-ray cohorts sorely lacking in that department. All that’s included with these discs – and I mean all – are the original theatrical trailers for each film. Similarly the two boxed sets offer little of note beyond their significantly reduced per-film prices. The Showa Gamera Blu-ray Boxes (I and II) arrive with attractive outer boxes and include a protective plastic sleeve and obi. First pressings – which mine evidently are – also include a limited lenticular 3D cover art, but no additional paper extras.

Now, what of the film? Giant Monster Gamera premieres in HD digital at the appropriate (if oddball) theatrical ratio of 2.28:1 by way of a slightly windowboxed transfer in 1080i (the rest of the Gamera Blu-rays are interlaced as well). I suspect this to be the same HD master that was originally prepared by Kadokawa for the 11-film 13-disc megabucks Gamera Z-Plan DVD Box from 2006, and it is the same HD master sourced by Shout! Factory for their domestic DVD edition. Seen in its native resolution the HD master offers an appreciable improvement in clarity and detail over the latter (comparison below), though whether or not that’s worth the investment will be up to your individual preferences. Otherwise this is a rather modest show, with an overall aesthetic that reminds of some of Fox’s older black and white HD masters. Contrast is the real weakness here, but the dull original photography appears more to blame than Kadokawa - Giant Monster Gamera has always looked pretty flat, and too much of a bump to the black levels and contrast risks rendering some of its shots downright unintelligible. There’s a certain analogue noisiness to the grain that renders it both more noticeable and less refined than it perhaps should be, but in motion I was undeterred. Otherwise the image retains a reasonable level of detail throughout, and while I suspect some sharpening has been applied it was not of sufficient stuff to distract from my viewing.

Image comparison – DVD left, Blu-ray right. DVD shots were captured as lossless .png in VLC from the Shout! Factory DVD, scaled to 1920×1080 for ease of comparison and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% in Gimp. Click to view full size.

 
 
 

Though only single layer Kadokawa have not skimped on the technical front - Giant Monster Gamera‘s modest charms receive a robust Mpeg-4 AVC video encode at a high average bitrate of 37.4 Mbps. The lossless LPCM audio complements the image nicely, and while personal tastes will vary I found this a pleasing-enough presentation overall.

The more I see Giant Monster Gamera the more I appreciate it. That it’s derivative of Toho’s own Godzilla is undeniable, from its concept right down to many of its narrative tropes, but there’s an offbeat quality to the film that attracts me more and more. There are those who will doubtless expect more for their money from Kadokawa’s Blu-ray (which appears to be all region compatible, and played fine in my region B secondary deck), but them’s the breaks – those who want to play the Japanese import game have to learn to live with top tier pricing, the virtues of value be damned. As for the disc, I wanted Gamera in HD and I got it. It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly not up to the standards the format is capable of, but it’ll do. Recommended for the HD-hungry Gamera devotees out there. As for the rest, enjoy the pretty pictures.

More Blu-ray shots. These were captured as full size uncompressed .png in VLC with yadif taking care of the interlacing, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

Giant Monster Gamera is available on standalone Blu-ray from Kadokawa as well as in Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box I – pictured left – which includes Giant Monster Duel: Gamera vs. Barugon (1966), Giant Monster Dogfight: Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967), and Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras (1968). Showa Gamera Blu-ray Box II is also available, and includes Gamera vs. Great Evil Beast Guiron (1969), Gamera vs. Great Demon Beast Jiger (1970), Gamera vs. Deep Sea Monster Zigra (1971), and Space Monster Gamera (1980).

Blu Notes: Four from Twilight Time

As much as it may seem that I relish the opportunity to review shoddy home video releases, gloating in picking out the various troubling minutiae that others might gloss over, I really don’t. Covering such dismal treatments as The Deadly Spawn on Blu-ray (times two!) is a tedious, draining, unpleasant process that I wish could be avoided entirely, regardless of its necessity. No, when it comes to home video I vastly prefer watching and reporting on the jobs well done, and for the last year boutique label Twilight Time have proven themselves to be dependable providers of just that. I’ve somehow become unjustifiably backlogged with the label’s releases over the last couple of months, but after such a disappointing start to this week I’m happy to have them to fall back on.

What follows are four brief disc-only reviews of the latest Twilight Time offerings, as well as substantial image samplings from each. Consider it a blessing that the label has left me with so little to discuss here. While not always perfect, these discs are all quite good, and I’d not hesitate to recommend any among them to fans.

High Time
(Blake Edwards, 1960)

In terms of its presentation this Bing Crosby / Blake Edwards comedy is easily the weakest of this latest wave of Twilight Time Blu-rays, but even here my complaints are limited. High Time arrives, for what appears to be its premiere on digital home video, in a modest 1080p transfer at its intended theatrical aspect ratio (2.35:1 CinemaScope). Contrast isn’t so punchy as it perhaps should be, and the DeLuxe color appears a bit dull in return, but the most noteworthy issue here is to do with the lack of any notable restoration. The source elements, while far from being in the worst of shape, are marked with all manner of minor damage and debris, and dirt, specks, and light scratches are readily evident throughout the transfer. Otherwise the film grain is relatively well rendered, if a touch noisy in places, and the modest detail allowed by the CinemaScope process is reasonably preserved. All in all it’s an acceptable presentation complemented by a similarly acceptable single layer encode (Mpeg-4 AVC with an average bitrate in the low to mid 20s), and given the film’s lack of representation in the video market otherwise I’m hard pressed to make too much of its deficiencies – all my quibbles aside, this looks fine.

Purists will be pleased to find High Time‘s original 4-track recording alive and well, and soundly presented in DTS-HD MA. The best part of the film may well be Henry Mancini’s terrific score, which sounds lovely in 4-track and is made available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track besides. There are no subtitles, and an original theatrical trailer (in SD) and a typically nice set of liner notes from Julie Kirgo round out the package. High Time is available now from ScreenArchives.com and their Amazon storefront.

The Sound and the Fury
(Martin Ritt, 1959)

This Faulkner adaptation (or bastardization, depending on your perspective) from the underrated Martin Ritt is another Fox classic making its home video debut, and the quality of its presentation was a real surprise to this viewer. The Egyptian, with its pristine CinemaScope visuals and lush DeLuxe color, still ranks as the best of that studio’s collaborations with Twilight Time, but The Sound and the Fury isn’t far behind – someone at Fox clearly cares about this one.

Whatever the reality may be, The Sound and the Fury‘s presentation here makes it impossible to think the source elements were in anything but pristine condition. What blemishes do appear are so infrequent and of such minor stature to hardly warrant mentioning, and after the unexpected grittiness of High Time the cleaner, more refined nature of the image here is very much appreciated. Detail in the CinemaScope image is again modest, though with some subtle appeal, but contrast is at proper levels and the DeLuxe color appears quite natural. The Sound and the Fury is another single layer transfer, but the Mpeg-4 AVC encode (average bitrate again in the low 20s) does no wrong by the film grain, which remains well-rendered throughout. Both Fox and Twilight Time have done very well here, and I’m left with nothing to complain about with regards to the visuals.

Though a 4-track show upon release The Sound and the Fury gets a more typical DTS-HD MA 2.0 track here – it sounded quite good to these ears, with the score (this time from Alex North) again taking top honors. There are no subtitles. North’s music, available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, is the only on-disc supplement, and Julie Kirgo contributes another excellent booklet of notes to round out the package. The Sound and the Fury is available now through ScreenArchives.com (Amazon lists it as “currently unavailable”, but I imagine it’ll be there soon enough).

Steel Magnolias
(Herbert Ross, 1989)

Like As Good as it Gets before it, Herbert Ross’ Steel Magnolias raises the question of just what hope there is left for the big studio libraries on home video when well-received all-star dramas less than 25 years old are on the licensing chopping block, but I digress. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of this Tristar production from 1989 offers exactly what should be expected of high definition editions of such recent titles – a trouble-free presentation that even I can’t find a fault with.

Steel Magnolias makes the jump to 1080p at the appropriate theatrical ratio of 1.85:1, and the transfer leaves nothing to complain about. The overall appearance is warm, with well saturated color and an attractive level of detail that’s well within expectations for a flat-photographed 35mm production of its time. Film grain is light and unobtrusive, but consistent and well-rendered to boot. Steel Magnolias gets the superior technical treatment of the discs covered thus far. The two hour feature is spread comfortably over a dual layer BD50, and the Mpeg-4 AVC-encoded transfer clocks in at the typical Twilight Time bitrate of 33.2 Mbps on average. Audio is as faultless as the video here, DTS-HD MA 5.1 with Georges Delerue’s score accompanying in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track – optional English SDH subtitles are included. Twilight Time offer a substantial supplement by way of a feature commentary with director Herbert Ross (in standard DTS), and a book of liner notes from Julie Kirgo rounds out the package. Steel Magnolias is available now through ScreenArchives.com (there is no Amazon listing at the moment).

Bye Bye Birdie
(George Sidney, 1963) 

Every once and a while a Blu-ray presentation really gets me, and while I’m no great admirer of the film (another Broadway adaptation from George Pal Joey Sidney) Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of Bye Bye Birdie got me good.

Presented in 1080p from another exceptional Sony restoration, Bye Bye Birdie offers fans of the production all that they might have hoped for – a film-accurate video presentation that really pops. The biggest story here may be the color, which is as sumptuously rendered as anything I’ve seen on the format thus far. In recent years Sony’s restoration team have done more to preserve the visual potency of their Technicolor library than any others around, and their work here is beautiful indeed. Pitch-perfect saturation is backed with airtight contrast, and the resulting image has irresistible zing – I couldn’t take my eyes away. The image impresses in other aspects as well. Damage is so minimal as to be a non-issue, detail is strong, and the film grain is deliciously rendered. The 112 minute feature creeps into dual layer territory, and a strong Mpeg-4 AVC video encode (average bitrate 33.2 Mbps) lends spotless support. You’ll hear no complaints from me.

In the audio department Bye Bye Birdie is the beneficiary of a typically strong Sony 5.1 restoration / upmix, and while I’m not overly fond of the music here it certainly sounded good to me – optional English SDH subtitles are included. Supplements boast an isolated score track in DTS-HD MA 2.0 as well as an original trailer and teaser for the film, both presented in beautiful HD. Another fine set of liner notes from Julie Kirgo round out the package.

Bye Bye Birdie is perhaps the best Twilight Time release of the year, and even though I don’t even like the film I can’t help but recommend it. Work like this deserves to be supported, and if there’s any justice in the world this will be the label’s next sellout title. Bye Bye Birdie is available now from ScreenArchives.com and their Amazon storefront.

The following Blu-ray screenshots were produced by our usual method – captured as full resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.

High Time

The Sound and the Fury

Steel Magnolias

Bye Bye Birdie

The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is out now on Region B-locked Blu-ray from Spirit Media, a division of Koch Media, and can be purchased through Amazon.de.

Though his name is plastered practically everywhere distributor American International Pictures could find to put it, both within the film itself and on its advertising, this moody slice of early 60s horror is a Poe adaptation only in the minds of those who marketed it. 1963′s The Haunted Palace, filmed by Roger Corman at the height of his directorial career, instead holds a more precious honor, and stands (at least according to whole minutes of research) as the first credited film adaptation of the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Though infused with touches from other tales (including The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow over Innsmouth) and altered substantially besides, The Haunted Palace is in its foundation a loose version of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, with none other than Vincent Price (of late a regular with both AIP and Corman) in the title role.

The tale begins in the coastal village of Arkham at some point in an intangible, diffused past. The locals are on edge, and justifiably so. Young woman in the community have been disappearing into the night with disturbing regularity, only to reappear some time later, their minds traumatized by some unremembered thing. Blame for the trouble is heaped solely (and correctly) at the feet of resident warlock Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price again), who’s been putting on a fiendish twist on the Dating Game in his basement courtesy of a conveniently located pit-to-beyond. When yet another fertile young lass wanders off to the foreboding confines of Curwen’s mansion the local men decide they’ve had enough, and divvy out the stocks of torches and pitchforks for a good old-fashioned witch burning. While his complicit mistress Hester is spared Curwen is not so lucky, though he gets the last word in the usual way – by promising to beset Arkham once more from beyond the grave.

An oddly specific 110 years later Arkham still dwells under the Curwen curse, and its shadowed alleys crawl with the half-human great-grandchildren of the warlock’s bizarre experiments. The men of the town, an unintentionally hilarious set of familiar faces (amusingly also all the same age as their long-dead ancestors) still grumble, but their grumblings take on a newfound seriousness when Charles Dexter Ward and his young bride (Debra Paget) roll into town. The Wards are there to take on their inherited estate, the Curwen mansion, ignorant of the dark history of the place (Mrs. Ward muses at the quaintness of the name of the town tavern – The Burning Man!). As anxieties stew in town the Wards settle into their new home, finding the mansion unexpectedly livable thanks to the similarly unexpected presence of housekeeper Simon (Lon Chaney Jr!). Charles settles in especially well, even as his wife finds his behavior increasingly peculiar. Particularly strange is his fixation on a portrait that hangs over the fireplace, a painting of a man long dead, yet all too familiar…

It must be said that, as an adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Haunted Palace is pretty lousy. A standard ancestor-possession angle (Price on Price!) takes over for the story’s more corporeally sinister model and indeed, too many alterations otherwise have been made to list. Though it may fail strictly as a Lovecraft film it does maintain interest as a Lovecraftian one, and while undeniably quaint by the standards of the writings themselves it remains notable as cinema’s first real stab at the mountainous legacy of weird the author left behind. Odd as it seems to say of such a traditional Gothic horror picture, this was pioneering stuff, with the inescapable usual-ness of Charles Beaumont’s screenplay (completed, it’s said, with an assist from one Francis Ford Coppola) balanced by the incursion of Lovecraft keyphrases – “Necronomicon” and “Cthulhu”, “Yog-Sothoth” and “Elder Gods”. It’s an uneasy mix to be sure, but it paved the way, and when Die Monster Die! arrived from AIP two years later Lovecraft and his tale The Colour out of Space were duly noted as the inspiration.

The Lovecraft connection aside The Haunted Palace presents precisely what one came to expect from its generation of Corman productions. Though made for what was doubtless an insubstantial sum Corman does his damnedest to give every penny its due, and deceptively spacious set design coupled with the keen art direction of Daniel Haller (soon to direct two of AIP’s Lovecraft productions himself) keep the film from ever feeling so compact as it really is. The style here is squarely in line with that of Corman’s earlier Poe films (complete with a seaside castle, cobweb-draped interiors, and endless dark and stormy nights), and that’s just fine with me – in terms of the genuine artistry displayed this generation of features remain his best work as a director. Also of note is the cast, another fine mix of aging big-name talent and B-movie regulars. Price and Chaney Jr need no introductions here, but the supporting cast is full of familiar faces as well, including house favorites Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, House on Haunted Hill), John Dierkes (The Naked Jungle, The Hanging Tree) and television regular Frank Maxwell.

This isn’t exceptional cinema, not by a long shot, but those looking for an atmospheric bit of classic horror could certainly do worse than The Haunted Palace. Beaumont’s writing may be suspect (what should really be expected of he who gave us Queen of Outer Space?) and the tropes all too familiar, but Corman’s direction is certainly on the mark, at least until the limp and perfunctory “we’ve gotta have a monster!” finale. Still, I’m a forgiving sort (at least where this kind of cinema is concerned), and The Haunted Palace pushes more than enough of the right buttons to earn my recommendation. See it, and keep the hell out of the cellar!

I suppose we had to start somewhere with bringing Roger Corman’s cycle of Poe films to Blu-ray, and even if The Haunted Palace just barely fits that bill (there is a Poe quote at the end…) it’ll do in a pinch. Working from a fine high definition master minted by MGM (who appear to have transferred practically everything AIP, including the lamentable/lovable In the Year 2889, to HD) German outfit Spirit Media have produced a similarly fine disc here, and with Premature Burial already out from the same label the future of Corman’s best films on Blu suddenly looks bright indeed.

The Haunted Palace is presented in full 1080p at the original Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (actual AR 2.36:1), and despite giving the impression of being largely unrestored the image here is quite strong for the most part. There are smatterings of minor damage (dust, specks, scratches and so on) throughout the video presentation, most notably during the many optical shots (there are a lot of fades here, as well as a few special effects outright), but nothing really untoward for a film of its age and production standard. Cinematographer Floyd Crosby’s ace photography ranges from crisp interiors and close-ups to soft-diffused exterior takes, and all is properly preserved here with a reasonable level of definition. The Pathe Color shows some intentional restraint, but appears natural throughout, and contrast is rich in the frequently dark image. It’s not a perfect presentation – several of the frequent opticals are overwhelmed with grit, due perhaps to limitations in the source elements for these segments, and there are shots, especially early on, that have the appearance more of video than of film. Still, the benefits of this HD offering substantially outweigh its few limitations, and for the most part this looks very good.


One of the opticals mentioned above, which looks substantially rougher than others of its ilk seen throughout the film (compare to the castle shot below).

Spirit Media’s single layer approach leaves the technical specifications modest for The Haunted Palace, not that the film appears to suffer for it. The video receives a middle-of-the-road Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 19.6 Mbps, evidently more than enough for the production’s modest visual charms – I noted no egregious encoding faults, and have no complaints. Audio arrives in two flavors – original English and German dub, both presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 monophonic – and sounds very strong across both. Ronald Stein’s tremendous score, a waltzy and atmospheric affair that becomes a star of the show in its own right, benefits particularly from the lossless bump. There are no subtitles to be found (not even German), and an original trailer in English (SD, and in very rough shape besides) is the only extra. The Haunted Palace is coded for Region B, and those itching to import will require multi-region capable hardware to play it.

Given its regional coding, price (around $22 to import for me), and dearth of supplemental content Spirit Media’s Blu-ray of The Haunted Palace isn’t going to be for everyone, but for fans of Corman in general and his Poe films specifically this is tough to resist. If there’s a proper indicator of my personal feelings it’s that upon viewing the disc I wasted no time in ordering the same label’s Premature Burial as well (for those keen, the two arrive as a Blu-ray double feature in late October), and provided that disc turns out as well as this one I’ll be a happy man. Fans unencumbered by region-locking may wish to indulge, and for the rest of you there’s always the old MGM DVD.

Blu-ray screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. Click each image below to view at full resolution.

The Haunted Palace is available now through Amazon.de

Night of the Living Duped, or Why Forgotten Films’ Dead Blu-ray Deserves to Be

This article is an addendum of sorts to the substantial coverage of Night of the Living Dead and its Blu-ray iterations that is already available here. Those who want to hear what I have to say about the film should look here, while those interested in the other two Blu-ray releases I’ve reviewed thus far should look here. And those of you looking for a review of the unlicensed gray market Forgotten Film’s Blu-ray of Night of the Living Dead, you’re in the right place.

Now forgive me for my brevity, but I really don’t want to waste any more time than is absolutely necessary on this one. As the screenshots included here will no doubt convince, Forgotten Films’ Blu-ray edition of Night of the Living Dead from 2009 is little more than a copy of another Blu-ray edition that uses Dimension Films’ HD master of the film (I suspect the Optimum given its cheapness and date of availability). Little more, but yes, a little. For some dubious reason, either to hide their outright thievery or to bolster their claim to copyright in case anyone should chance to copy their “work” (there are scads of copyright statements in their presentation), Forgotten Films have imposed a slight but painfully obvious cut during one of the film’s dialogue scenes. The cut arrives between Barbara’s lines, “We came to put a wreath on my father’s grave,” and, “And he said ‘Oh it’s late, why did we start so late?’” and eliminates all that rests between. The two frames below appear immediately before and immediately after the cut:

 

Otherwise differences are minimal here. The similarity in contrast is exacting, as is the tight framing, long a sticking point with the Dimension Films transfer and the editions minted from it (including a domestic DVD and several foreign Blu-rays). Sharpness is reduced modestly in the Forgotten Films, doubtless a byproduct of their copy / cut / paste process. Audio is lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 monophonic, but the rest of the technical specs are sound enough. The 1080p transfer is well encoded in Mpeg-4 AVC at an average video bitrate of 30.4 Mbps. Too bad it’s stolen, and edited besides.

The disc comes housed in decidedly amateurish packaging (note the misspelling of the word “struggle” on the front, if you can distract yourself from the awful art for long enough to read it that is), and the only supplement is a worthless 18 minute still gallery of images culled directly from the film. Needless to say I can’t recommend, especially not with superior and officially licensed editions being so readily available from other territories. Those looking to blow $20 on an inferior product can look this one up Amazon themselves – I’ll have no further part in it. The rest of you should steer clear.

Comparison images are taken from the Optimum Releasing Blu-ray, reviewed separately here. Order is Optimum first, followed by Forgotten Films. 

All new screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. 

Daimajin Trilogy on Blu-ray from Mill Creek in September

Fans of giant monsters and jidaigeki alike should mark your calendars for September 18th, as that’s the date Mill Creek will unleash Daiei’s inimitable Daimajin trilogy on domestic Blu-ray. Those who want a primer on the films should check out our article here. Each and every of them is a long-time favorite of mine, and needless to say, I’m excited.

Quoting from Mill Creek:

In 1966, the Daiei Motion Picture Company – the studio behind Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON and the Gamera series – released a trilogy of films that combined elements of the popular daikaiju (giant monster) and jidaigeki (period drama) genres.  Set during Japan’s “Warring States” era, the Daimajin movies told the story of Majin, a giant statue of an angry god that would come to life in times of desperation to punish evildoers. But when Majin’s rage was unleashed, it could be directed at both the wicked and innocent, alike.

Acclaimed for their serious tone and spectacular special effects, DAIMAJIN, RETURN OF DAIMAJINand the rarely-seen DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN present a unique take on a monster who is both savior and devil.

CONTENTS:

1. DAIMAJIN 
2. RETURN OF DAIMAJIN
3. DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN

Bonus Features – All New English language track for DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN

Mill Creek’s Daimajin 2-disc Blu-ray collection streets September 18th with a retail price of $24.98, and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon.com.

Score One for the Old Country: The Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray Debacle

When I reported not so long ago that Universal’s new Classic Monsters Essential Collection Blu-ray was due in October, I was under the impression that Amazon’s pre-order price for the title – $111.99 for the 8-disc set – was perfectly reasonable. That was before news of the UK edition arrived, and I’ve since changed my tune dramatically.

Quoting from Amazon.co.uk, the specs for the release are as follows (region coding is unknown at present):

For the first time ever, eight of the most iconic cinematic masterpieces of the horror genre are available together on Blu-ray as Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. Digitally restored in perfect high-definition picture and perfect high-definition sound. This essential set includes a never-before-seen featurette about the restoration of Dracula and the first ever offering of Creature from the Black Lagoon in its restored Blu-ray 3D version.

Contain hours of bonus features, a 44 page booklet and 8 exclusive art cards with original theatrical posters.

Dracula (1931):
The original 1931 movie version of Bram Stoker’s classic tale has for generations defined the iconic look and terrifying persona of the famed vampire. Dracula owes its continued appeal in large part due to Bela Lugosi’s indelible portrayal of the immortal Count Dracula and the flawless direction of horror auteur Tod Browning.

Bonus Features: Dracula: The Restoration – New Featurette Available for The First Time!, Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About the Making of Dracula, Dracula Archives, Score by Philip Glass performed by the Kronos Quartet, Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal, Feature Commentary by Steve Haberman, Screenwriter of Dracula: Dead and Loving It , Trailer Gallery

Frankenstein (1931):
Boris Karloff stars as the screen’s most tragic and iconic monster in what many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made. Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) dares to tamper with the essential nature of life and death by creating a monster (Karloff) out of lifeless human body parts. Director James Whale’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel and Karloff’s compassionate portrayal of a creature groping for identity make Frankenstein a timeless masterpiece.

Bonus Features: The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made a Monster, Karloff: The Gentle Monster, Monster Tracks: Interactive Pop-Up Facts About The Making of Frankenstein, Universal Horror, Frankenstein Archives, Boo!: A Short Film, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, Feature Commentary with Historian Sir Christopher Frayling, 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring the Classics, Trailer Gallery

The Mummy (1932):
Horror icon Boris Karloff stars in the original 1932 version of The Mummy in which a team of British archaeologists accidentally revives a mummified high priest after 3,700 years. Alive again, he sets out on an obsessive-and deadly-quest to find his lost love. Over 50 years after its first release, this brooding dream-like horror classic remains a cinematic masterpiece.

Bonus Features: Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed, He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art Of Jack Pierce, Unraveling the Legacy of The Mummy, The Mummy Archives, Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong, Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jensen, 100 Years Of Universal: The Carl Laemmle Era

The Invisible Man (1933):
Claude Rains delivers an unforgettable performance in his screen debut as a mysterious doctor who discovers a serum that makes him invisible. Covered by bandages and dark glasses, Rains arrives in a small English village and attempts to hide his amazing discovery, but the drug’s side effects slowly drive him to commit acts of unspeakable terror.

Bonus Features: Now You See Him: The Invisible Man Revealed, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935):
The acclaimed sequel to the original Frankenstein has become one of the most popular horror classics in film history. The legendary Boris Karloff reprises his role as the screen’s most misunderstood monster, now longing for a mate of his own. Colin Clive is back as the proud and overly ambitious Dr. Frankenstein, who creates the ill-fated bride (Elsa Lanchester). The last horror film directed by James Whale features a haunting musical score that helps make The Bride of Frankenstein one of the finest and most touching thrillers of its era.

Bonus Features: She’s Alive! Creating The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein Archive, Feature Commentary with Scott MacQueen

The Wolf Man (1941):
Originally released in 1941, The Wolf Man introduced the world to a new Universal movie monster and redefined the mythology of the werewolf forever. Featuring a heartbreaking performance by Lon Chaney Jr. and groundbreaking make-up by Jack Pierce, The Wolf Man is the saga of Larry Talbot, a cursed man who transforms into a deadly werewolf when the moon is full. The dreamlike atmospheres, elaborate settings and chilling musical score combine to make The Wolf Man a masterpiece of the genre.

Bonus Features: Monster by Moonlight, The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth, Pure in Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney, Jr., He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce, The Wolf Man Archives, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver

The Phantom of the Opera (1943):
This lavish retelling of Gaston Leroux’s immortal horror tale stars Claude Rains as the masked phantom who haunts the Paris Opera House. A crazed composer who schemes to make beautiful young soprano Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) the star of the opera company, the Phantom also wreaks revenge on those he believes stole his music. Nelson Eddy, as the heroic baritone, tries to win the affections of Christine as he tracks down the murderous, horribly disfigured Phantom.

Bonus Features: The Opera Ghost: A Phantom Unmasked, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Scott MacQueen, 100 Years of Universal: The Lot, Theatrical Trailer

The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954):
Captured and imprisoned for scientific study, a living “amphibious missing link” becomes enamored with the head researcher’s female assistant (Julie Adams). When the hideous creature escapes and kidnaps the object of his affection, a crusade is launched to rescue the helpless woman and cast the terrifying creature back to the depths from which he came. Featuring legendary makeup artist Bud Westmore’s brilliantly designed monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon is an enduring tribute to the imaginative genius of its Hollywood creators.

Bonus Features: The Creature From The Black Lagoon in Blu-ray TM 3D, Back to The Black Lagoon, Production Photographs, Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver , 100 Years of Universal: The Lot, Trailer Gallery

The only substantial differences between this list and the specs for the US edition is the exclusion of the Spanish version of Dracula, considered by many to be the superior film, but don’t fret. While I’m unsure of why it is excluded from the spec sheet, Universal Pictures UK have confirmed that it will be included on the release itself, making this set nigh identical to its upcoming US counterpart with the exception of the possible differences in packaging.

Now for the kicker: The UK Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection Blu-ray, including the same 8 discs of films and supplemental material, is currently available for pre-order at a whopping £37.49 through Amazon.co.uk. At present exchange rates the total comes to just $54.00, shipping included, for orders originating in the United States, or less than half the price of ordering the domestic equivalent!

Needless to say I’ve since cancelled my US pre-order – $55 plus in savings is too much to pass up on. While there is a slim chance that the set will be locked for Region B (the majority of Universal’s UK releases are region free duplicates of versions they’ve made available worldwide), those unencumbered by the troubles of region compatibility are encouraged to go the same route.

The UK Universal Classic Monsters Essential Collection Blu-ray is due for release on October 1, 2012.

Things to Come

directed by William Cameron Menzies
1936 / London Films / 96′
written by
H.G. Wells from his novel The Shape of Things to Come
original music by Arthur Bliss
cinematography by George Perinal
starring Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Sir Ralph Richardson, Margaretta Scott, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Maurice Braddell
released June 18th, 2012 by
Network / Granada
video: 1080p / 1.33:1 / B&W / Mpeg-4 AVC
audio: 24-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono (English)
subtitles: English
discs: single layer BD25 / Region B (locked)
and dual layer DVD9 / Region 2 / PAL
Things to Come is available for purchase through Amazon.co.uk.

Penned by H. G. Wells from his novel The Shape of Things to Come and directed by feature newcomer William Cameron Menzies, who had already garnered acclaim for his accomplished production design, the lavish 1936 Alexander Korda production of Things to Come never quite amounts to the sum of its parts. A masterwork of design and ideas hamstrung by cold human drama and a penchant for speechifying, Things to Come is perhaps best described as an unforgettable failure – a sprawling epic of speculative fiction and philosophical propaganda that’s no less a classic for all of its faults.

Things to Come‘s ambitious narrative follows the 100 year history of the English metropolis of Everytown, from its destruction in war-time in Christmas of 1936 to it’s glittering future rebirth. The yarn is constructed around two generations of the family Cabal (both played by Raymond Massey, Arsenic and Old Lace), who are rarely so much characters as they are mouthpieces for Wells’ selfsame political-scientific philosophy. In 1936 John Cabal volunteers for the war effort, taking to the air as a fighter pilot. As the global conflict drags on for decade after decade, reducing Everytown to a pre-industrial autocracy, Cabal secretly organizes a new society of scientific fascists – a technologically unchallenged and black-suited army for peace. His Wings Over the World fills the skies of 1970, putting an end to all warmongers with the ‘gas of peace’, setting humanity on a track towards miraculous scientific progress and transforming Everytown into a glittering underground utopia.

In 2036 John Cabal’s great grandson Oswald Cabal, leader of the future governing council, must face a new threat to progress – an uprising among the citizens of Everytown who seek to halt mankind’s first trip around the moon. As hordes of rioters surround the enormous Space Gun that is to launch the rocket, Cabal orders it fired, preserving man’s quest for knowledge and sending the protesters into oblivion. The conclusion sees Cabal standing before an enormous telescopic lens, contemplating whether mankind is doomed to be Earthbound or fated to expand its conquest to the rest of the Universe. “Which shall it be?” he asks, words that are repeated again in the rapturous chorus that closes the film.

Propelled by the shear magnitude of its production alone, Things to Come is dramatically inert for the most part. Sir Ralph Richardson (DragonslayerThe Bed Sitting Room) takes a memorable turn as a mid-century despot of Everytown known only as the “Boss”, while Sir Cedric Hardwicke (George Pal’s War of the Worlds) does much the same as the doomed revolutionary Theotocopulos in the future Everytown of 2036. Unfortunately the “Boss” and Theotocopulos are little more than straw men, existing solely to be put down by righteous Cabal (either of them) and lost to the unstoppable march of progress. For his part Raymond Massey does well by a role that’s less forgiving than any of the rest, and effectively ties the multi-generational drama together even though he’s given little to do but strike a pose (often in one of two ridiculous costumes) and espouse interminable tracts of Wells’ philosophy.

While Wells himself can be blamed for the deficiencies in Things to Come‘s drama, having penned the script himself (with updates by Korda associate Lajos Biro, The Thief of Bagdad), it was the power-struggle between producer Korda and Wells, who had been granted unprecedented access to and influence over the production, that would lead to the film’s steady decline. Wells proved difficult and inflexible with regards to the production, while Korda often reacted to what he disliked about the picture (like Wells’ interminable exposition) by simply removing it. By the time the film first reached American shores Korda and its distributors had already excised half an hour of its original 130 minutes, compromising its continuity and whatever narrative flow there had been in favor of the spectacle alone. Further release variations would be even shorter, with some running barely more than an hour.

Director William Cameron Menzies, along with photographer Georges Perinal, designer Vincent Korda and effects director Ned Man, assured that Things to Come would at least have a cohesive visual style, from the opening moments in pre-war Everytown to the closing starscape, and no matter how cold and turgid its dramatics may be the technical achievements of the thing are difficult to overstate. The futuristic rebuilding of Everytown, in which massive excavators hollow out a cavernous expanse that swiftly develops into a vast antiseptic city of porcelain and glass (complete with moving sidewalks and glass-tube elevators) with the booming themes of Arthur Bliss taking precedence over any sort of sound effects, is perhaps the mother of all science fiction montages. Even the substantively embarrassing Space Gun, the film’s one absolute piece of scientific bunk (it even has a sight!), is of impressive construction and imposing scale.

But the spectacle is hardly limited to the future of 2036. The air raid sequence that begins the picture is one of most successful undertakings of its kind, with swift and lyrical cross-cutting between a panicked population and defensive military operations culminating in a terrifying tour-de-force of urban destruction and human misfortune. Mann’s complex miniature and composite effects are certainly more transparent a full seventy five years after the fact, but the brilliantly realized imagery (explosive anti-aircraft barrages, buildings reduced to rubble, survivors struggling among the wreckage, and the body of a child half-buried in debris) has lost none of its visceral potency. The montages that follow, detailing a horrific futility of a decades-long war between nations through the power of image alone, are pure Menzies, a mix of the literal and the symbolic that drives the story more effectively than any of Wells’ truncated drama. The plague-ravaged and despotic future of 1970, complete with a massive exterior set of bombed-out Everytown, invites one of science fiction’s great visuals – a fleet of improbably gigantic aircraft flown by the peace-dealing soldiers of Wings Over the World, emerging from the clouds to put an end to the warmongers once and for all. That’s the image that so captivated a much-younger me, viewing Things to Come on television for the first time in one of its many confounding broadcast versions, and though the ideas behind it don’t settle so easily with me anymore the scene has lost none of its grandeur.

While its difficult for me to believe that the potential with Things to Come was not greater than what eventually came to pass, the final product still ranks as the unparalleled science fiction achievement of its generation. The ravages of time, battles with overzealous editors and a dubious public domain status may have conspired to eradicate much of this top-tier production’s original luster, but it’s still a hell of a thing, brimming with big ideas and some of the most classic of classic sci-fi conceptions. Regardless of whatever problems it may have Things to Come is still must-see genre material, and gets an easy recommendation from me.

The atrocious Legend Films Blu-ray of last year (which crammed colorized and black and white versions of both Things to Come and SHE onto one over-stuffed BD50) can now soundly be laid to rest, having been properly trounced by Network / Granada’s Blu-ray update of their already fine PAL DVD set from 2007. That DVD edition was already the superior of Legend’s presentation, besting it in both image quality and substance at every turn, but this new Blu-ray certainly seals the deal.

Not only is Network / Granada’s new presentation sourced from superior elements – a full restoration of the longest extant version of the film, and the same used for their earlier DVD – but it improves markedly on the technical front as well, more than doubling the bitrate of the Legend Films. It’s not a perfect representation, of course. The 75-plus year old film naturally shows some age in the form of dirt, specks, and scratches as well as in some minor image instability. There’s also an odd two-frame glitch during the bombing of Everytown, though in motion it flits by too quickly to really be noticed (the glitch is present in the 2007 DVD as well, and thus must be present in the HD source files).

Otherwise I’m at a loss to complain about much of anything here. Detail, already very strong in the earlier DVD, resolves even better in its native HD, and the contrast (a major shortcoming of the Legend Blu-ray) is tremendous. Georges Perinal’s ace photography is crisper and more spectacular than ever, especially during the bombing of Everytown and feudal post-war sequences, and the texture of the film, itching to break through in the SD, clarifies into a lovely grain. Technical specifications are modest, and even so mark a huge advancement over the Legend Films release. The video receives a middling Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average bitrate of 19.6 Mbps, but holds together nicely all the same. Posterization is never an issue, and the occasional artifacting is of such minor stuff as to go unnoticed in playback. I’m very pleased - Things to Come has never looked better on home video than it does here, and I doubt much could be done to demonstrably improve upon it.

Looks aren’t everything, though, and if there’s a real weakness in this presentation of Things to Come it’s the audio. To be clear, this is a film that has never sounded good by modern standards, but Network / Granada have caused as many problems as they’ve corrected in their efforts to restore it. The problem here is the over-zealous filtering that was done to clear the track of pops, cracks, and especially hiss. While much of this has been remedied, and to some good effect, the processing has also created an anomaly that reminds of the phasing problems that plague some sub-standard surround mixes. The effect was exaggerated in the PAL DVD of the film, where the up-pitching did it no favors, but it’s still perfectly noticeable in this film-speed rendering. It’s a distracting issue, particularly with regards to Arthur Bliss’ score (which sounds weaker and more tinny than usual here – the original recording was rough enough to start with), but, as with the earlier DVD, I found it livable here. I know there are others out there more sensitive to the problem, and those who found the DVD’s audio overly distressing should proceed with caution here. For those concerned with the technical side, the monophonic recording is presented in lossless 24-bit LPCM and yes, optional English subtitles (yellow) are provided.

With the exception of two image galleries, which are now presented in HD on the first disc, the rest of the supplements are duplicated from the earlier 2-disc DVD set in SD PAL. The Blu-ray disc of the film features the same audio commentary with Things to Come historian Nick Cooper, the two aforementioned image galleries, as well as a US re-release trailer for the film and a .pdf format copy of the post-production script, accessible with a BD-ROM drive.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray edition is a PAL-format dual layer DVD9, and all of the other material from the earlier DVD edition appears to have been included. You get On Reflection: Brian Aldiss on H.G. Wells, a vintage 25 minute documentary from 1971, a lengthy Russell Harty interview with Things to Come star Sir Ralph Richardson from 1975, as well as The Wandering Sickness, a 78rpm recording from London Films in 1935. Also included is a Things to Come virtual extended edition, which uses text and images to relate various material, both cut and unfilmed, to produced what Network / Granada advertise as a “tantalizing ‘what-if’”. This is one of the more fascinating extras ever devised for a DVD release, and while the constant interruption of text and stills keep it from being traditionally entertaining, the intrigue factor is sky high. The clear-case packaging replicates the exceptional work done for the special edition DVD with some dimensional alteration (love that cover!), and includes a new printing of that edition’s extensive (and I mean extensive) booklet of liner notes from Nick Cooper. Things to Come is region-B locked (bonus DVD is Region 2), and will require multi-regional hardware to play domestically.

I’ve been looking forward to an inevitable hi-def upgrade of Network / Granada’s swell SD special edition for several years now, and though the final product is imperfect (particularly the audio) it more than meets my expectations. Those who have been waiting for a quality HD presentation of Things to Come finally have it, and I can’t help but recommend.

Comparison grabs
Network / Granada DVD (upscaled to 1080) | Legend Films Blu-ray | Network Granada Blu-ray

More Network / Granada Blu-ray Screenshots

All new screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool. The comparison shots were sourced from our earlier review of the Legend Films Blu-ray.