Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Anchor Bay Strikes Back!

Watched the new 'Anchor Bay Collection' release of Dario Argento's 1982 giallo TENEBRAE the other night. (Or is that Tenebre? Damned Italian/Latin mishmash...) The good news is that not only does it port all of the special features from the old US DVD - including a Dario Argento and friend commentary track, 2 making-of sequences, international trailer, and an alternate credits sequence - but it also features a brand new documentary about the making of the film and features interviews with most of the prominent staff members. It's pretty cool stuff, and short of comparing it to the Aussie DVD (which is a port of the 'old' R1 plus the hour-long AN EYE FOR HORROR documentary), it's easily the best release out there in terms of special features.

Here's the bad news.

Allow me to quote Anchor Bay's clever marketing machine for a moment:

The five films in this collection have been remastered from original vault elements and are presented uncut and uncensored for an all-new look at one of the most controversial and influential filmmakers in the history of modern cinema.

What they fail to mention is that Tenebrae's transfer is actually just an IVTC/Upscale of the 1998 Roan Group LD. That's right, a decade later and we're still stuck with a trimmed, overexposed, soft, moire pattern prone transfer that was less than state of the art the moment it was made. That's not to say it's unwatchable, and all other English friendly uncut/anamorphic transfers have all sorts of crazy color timing issues (the Japanese DVD turns fucking green 45 minutes in!). The English mono track is nowhere to be found, and in its' stead is a 5.1 mix (and a stereo downmix) with all sorts of new hiss-free sound effects thrown in to disorient the hell out of the viewer. While not a clusterfuck of Suspiria-esque proportions, my only real complaint is that, like a lot of second-string 5.1 mixes taken from primitive mono mixes, the dialog is really, really quiet while the music gets really, really fucking loud, which means I'm turning the volume up and down every few minutes just to keep my ears from bleeding and not missing any of the already lo-fi dubbed performances. The mono Italian track is included, but A) most of the actors were speaking English on-set, and B) there's no English subtitles, so it's basically useless for a Yank like myself.

To top it off, the disc is slightly stretched from its' proper 1.85:1 to roughly 1.8:1, and as you can see by the above image it's prone to random deinterlacing-like aliasing due to both the scaling of a painfully low resolution source, and the original transfer likely not having been progressive and thus prone to bad 3:2 cadence. What you can't see (but I may show off later out of spite) are the moire effects that become really obvious during those nice long tracking shots the film is so famous for, particularly early on when John Saxon is walking with Anthony Franciosa out of the airport. A decade ago this transfer was easily the definitive release, but for Anchor Bay to pull its' deluxe "Anchor Bay Collection" moniker out for this cheap 'restoration' is just plain wicked of them, and not much more than a little white lie.

Would you hit Miss Eva Robin's, knowing she has balls? I might.

It also isn't technically "uncensored", since the stabbing at the end of the second dream sequence is cut from two to one, but the difference is so slight that I'd never recommend skipping the release just because of it. There's a couple snippets of basically nothing missing due to print damage, but nobody seems to give a fuck about those. The reason the footage was missed was because the footage is used twice in the film, and the Roan Group thought that stabbing once was how the scene was "supposed" to go. (D'oh!)

PHENOMENA has something an excuse to be cut: the additional minute's worth of footage was only used for the Italian edition of the film, and as such there's no English soundtrack for any of the extended dialog. (Hello, deleted scenes?! *Sigh*) The Japanese and Austrian DVDs spliced these scenes back in - albiet the film switches from English to Italian - and the Italian release is the full Integrale version ("Integral Hard" as it was called in Japan), but the whole film is dubbed in Italian (with English subtitles, at least), which means neither Jennifer Connelley nor Donald Pleasance are speaking with their own voices. See? this is exactly why I never wanted to like Argento, because the DVDs are all fucked up in some way-

Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, Tenebrae!

To put this into perspective, the 5 Films by Dario Argento steelbook - which also includes their "remaster" of Phenomena, and previously released DVDs of Trauma*, The Card Player, and Do You Like Hitchcock? - sells for $50 retail. The single 'remastered' discs (in covers that could have been cool had they been given a metallic slip cover) are only $20 a piece, so it's not as if you have to buy his latter films to get these. I also got the set as a gift - I requested it, even - so I had an idea as to what I was getting into. It may not have been the difinitive, Criterion-esque release that the fine film arguably deserves, but for the value of the price and the special features I'd say it's still the best option out there for people who've never seen it before, and can live with the issues I've mentioned in the above passages. Plus you get to see a surprisingly un-manly tranny choke some dude on her pump heel and a great double lesbian murder with a straight razor started off by the single greatest crane shot in genre cinema. How often can you say that?

*Trauma is its' own special little AB mishap... but I'll let you do the research if you're interested. The short of it is Anchor Bay promised to reveal never before seen footage, offering a unique Integral cut of the film. This in no way happened, and worse yet, they were handed never before seen English dubbed deleted scenes and didn't bother including them at all. These guys are... special.

Also... am I crazy, or is the titling 5 Films by Dario Argento meant to have the same subconscious ring to it as 4 Flies on Gray Velvet, the only Dario Argento giallo to have thus far never been given a legitimate English language video release? I could be insane ("Unsane", you say? Nyuk-nyuk...), but the more I think about it, the more I think I have something.

If you already own the flick in pretty much any edition, don't upgrade. The 18 minute featurette is nice, but nothing you can't learn by looking it up on Wikipedia just like everyone else. If - like me - you got here late to the Dario party, there are nicer looking and slightly longer options to those willing to import, but every new release of Tenebrae screws up as much as it fixes. Personally, I'm waiting until we've got some Tovoli approved HD remaster, since the only other option is to buy an expensive import and literally color correct every reel myself. Fuck that. They don't pay me enough for that kind of TLC, and by "they" I mean no-one and by "pay" I mean... christ, what do I mean at this point?

I could also point out that Tovoli is fucking insane, but this is another matter entirely and thus one I'll talk about another day.

Don't get your hopes up on Phenomena being any better. Pretty much everything I said about Tenebrae is also true there: still not technically uncut, upscale of a non-anamorphic digital master tape, one new featurette and all the old extras from the original Anchor Bay DVD. Similarly, there is no definitive version of Phenomena, so if you don't already own it, just pick up the 5 Films collection and be done with it.

While half-heartedly recommending the Japanese release of Tenebrae as being uncut and (vaguely) the better transfer, I'll point out that Xploited Cinema still sells it for about $40, and also point out that they're not quite going out of business, but they'll no longer be re/stocking new titles and thus are limited to whatever they have on hand at this moment. Tony and his crew are good people, and while I was hardly a regular there's no-one else I'd even think of turning to first for non-R1 DVDs. Xploited Cinema, you will be missed by me and so many of my spirritual co-horts that it makes me very sad.


Is this more appropriate here, or for The Gong Show?

That's right, a UK cover actually features nips... wow, how times have changed!

It even includes a PAL DVD with 'Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die', which Criterion was too stuck up to include on their upcoming DVD. Granted Criterion has some exclusive extras of its' own, but the promise of a new 1080p24 transfer, scanned directly from the Italian negative has me all sorts of moist. I guess if this release is Region A/B I'll no longer have an excuse to wait on a PS3, eh?

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