Friday, December 26, 2008

Sirabella Didn't Go As Berserk As I Thought

"Direct from 16mm film masters", he says. "Better video than the Japanese DVDs" he adds.

John Sirabella, CEO of Media Blasters and its' general anime subsidiary, Anime Works, was naughty this year getting my hopes up for a Berserk restoration. I'm not sure if I should leave him $50 in his stocking or not.


What you see above is a comparison of the old (left) and new (right) DVD transfers used on the upcoming BERSERK REMASTERED collection. Having prior watched a video comparison of the old and new OP sequences, I saw different frame judder and felt all warm and squishy knowing that a new telecine was being used. Unfortunately I was suffering from a mild bout of temporary retardation, and didn't take into account that the Japanese OP and "clean" creditless OP used to make the English credits would - by default - literally have to be a completely different transfer. A clean OP is created for the animation, and credits are added afterward via optical printing. I know this. Hell, I've known it for years. I was just so pleased by what I saw that I didn't stop to put two and two together.

Take a look at the above image. Aside from being interlaced and a bit softer, with a line or two of information cut off from the top, the two look virtually identical... don't they? The improvement is obvious in terms of clarity and not needing to worry about combing, but for a "new transfer" and "direct from 16mm film", there's virtually no difference. How could that even be?

Creating a new telecine means literally re-scanning the film print to create a new video transfer, and with every telecine setup being different, not to mention every colorist having a different opinion on how the material handed to him should look, it would be almost mathematically impossible to have the EXACT same framing each time. Either you'd get a bit more info or a bit less, be shoved more to the bottom of the frame, or maybe to the side. The fact that the colors on these two are also completely identical proves that no color correction was performed, and once again, that's almost mathematically impossible to do with a brand new telecine. If something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck you don't say "it's a swan" just to mess with people. That'd be silly. This "new" transfer looks just like the same Digibeta tape masters Media Blasters was given in 2002, so I'm going to assume that's exactly what they are.

I'm reminded of Anchor Bay talking about "vaulted 35mm Italian film masters" for Tenebre and Phenomena being used for their "New 16:9 Remastered" DVD release, when in fact all that they did was IVTC and upscale the LD transfers made a decade ago by the Roan Group. Media Blasters basically did the same thing here, claiming the transfer is "straight from film". What the hell else would it be from, anyway? VHS? Laserdisc? Wax paper? Silly putty? This isn't a new transfer "from film", it's a new DVD transfer from an old Digibeta, and for Sirabella and the guy who worked his ass off restoring it to pretend it's anything better is deceptive as hell. I'm not saying the new release isn't an improvement, nor that I've rules out buying it, I'm just disgusted at the layer of bullshit we have to peel off to get to what's actually in the box set!

To be fair, though, a lot of time and effort went into this release. New subtitles, a proper IVTC for a new progressive encode, and as you can see from the stationary background the new transfer is sharp as a tack compared to the vertically filtered initial release. There's also been a wealth of audio restoration performed to balance levels from episode to episode, as well as fixing pops, hiss and dropouts which plagued the (often mono) initial release. In the audio/video department this may well be superior to the VAP Japanese DVD release, and the fact that it's English friendly and sells for just $50 makes it quite a steal in the long run. In the same way that the upscaled Tenebre DVD is better than the initial non-anamorphic DVD, the re-encoded Berserk DVD collection is better than the original Berserk DVD collection... but wither that means it's "remastered", let alone "directly from 16mm film" is highly debatable.

It's really more like the "BERSERK: We weren't competent enough to present the show in stereo with progressive video and accurate subtitles 6 years ago, so here's the Competently Produced Edition". I guess that just doesn't have the same ring as "BERSERK: Remastered", though. I was sympathetic towards Sirabella when he was handed a PAL VHS copy of LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN and told to find his own damn uncut 35mm print, but this is just inexcusable. It also makes me cast some doubt on him saying that the Special Edition Ichi the Killer R1 DVD was from a "new print"... but I'll be damned if it's not the best looking DVD release of that film out there.

At least I no longer have any desire to check out that "Kite Remastered" DVD in March, since at best it'll be a comb-filtered disc with a better bitrate. No thanks. The Kite: Special Edition looks just fine. Short of an uncensored Blu-ray showing up from Kitty Media, I think that Sirabella has more than enough of my money for that title.

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