Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Because every truly epic anime needs a Power Metal adaptation


(2004, Medusa's Coil)

If you're still scratching your head with the native Italian accents and all, here's the lyrics:

This world man's destiny is controlled
By some transcendental entity or law
At least man knows that he has no control
Over his own will

On the day the hawk fell
You saw your love betrayed
A new order to enslave the world
And for you a new battle to fight

[BRIDGE]
We are the darkness, your own race
We taste the flesh of your comrades
No, I won't surrender
Your heart is ours, your blood is ours
The brand will grant you no escape

Angels or demons? Apostles of death

[CHORUS1]
Bloody trails veil my dreams
By the sword of the Berserk
But I know I will be free
From the demons that hunt my soul

On the road you walk in silence
There's only darkness by your side
The roots of evil grow and thrive
In the world that mankind's created
The traitor was your brother
Once he led you to the stars
Now you wield your sword in battle
Just to claim your vengeance in blood

[BRIDGE]

The world has been damned, do we have to die?

[CHORUS1]

[CHORUS2]
We have only one chance
Fighting or dying
In this burning hell called earth
Last son of the hand of God
Traitor of love...
You married hate to my soul...

"I am the flesh....
Ambrosia for the immortal ones"
Come into my flame...
My violent desire
"You tear apart...
The human pleasure from it's cradle"
I order your ruin...
Killer of passions...
"Better death
Than your damned fire"
I devour your essence...
On your body my perversion
"Better the sword
Than your claws on my breast"
Settle your mortal senses
To my cruel will...
  


Did I mention they also did THIS?

Catch you later, friends.

Of Death, Of Love, of Interpositives

What with the new Hollywood "adaptation of Tiziano Sclavi's cult smash hit DYLAN DOG upon us, it should come as no surprise that CineKult, the Italian distributor of the Sclavi penned psuedo-spinoff DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, has re-released the 1994 film as a shameless cash-in. Particulars of why we're getting it now out of the way, considering how great Michele Soavi's surreal "zombie" film is, and especially how rotten the old Anchor Bay DVD was, I can't say that getting a chance to own the flick in High Definition is a bad thing.

First, the bad news: Fucking thing is "Region B" only. So if you've only got a US made player, don't bother importing - it's not going to play, ever. If you have a BD-ROM and some copy protection scrambling magic, however, you should be good to go. Not to condone this sort of thing or whatever, but the main movie is just under 25GB, so if you're the clever sort you could probably just rip the feature and burn it for easy playback on US players.

Now for some good news: Despite the distributor's website claiming that the release was Italian-only, the BD includes the original English dialog in an uncompressed PCM stereo mix and subtitles, should you feel the need to watch it dubbed in Italian. There's evidently a pretty major dropout on the English dub during a non-dialog scene, but with the odds stacked against this release including the English dub in the first place you don't hear me bitching too hard.

The release is also stuffed to the gills with exclusive special features, including a 30 minute interview with the staff about the experience making the movie, a 35 minute look behind the technical aspects, an 11 minute discussion of the Dellamorte Dellamore novel, a 40 minute discussion of the Dylan Dog comics, a 30 minute discussion on Italian horror comics in general, a vintage 18 minute EPK, the original trailer, and a TWO HOUR long panel about the Dylan Dog movie! There's even the Michele Soavi commentary from the prior DVD - and I know I've already forgotten a couple of things in here. It's a lot of stuff to chew on... assuming you're up on your Italian, I mean. If not, it's mostly useless talking heads. Oh yeah, there's also more trailers for Italian genre DVDs than I can even keep track of. As is the norm, the Italian disc may not be cheap, but at least they sure give you your money's worth.

So here's the REAL question... how's it look?













Mwa-hahahahaa!! 1080p, bitches!

As you can see in the second screenshot, there's black damage on the print itself, implying that a positive print was used rather than the original negative - that's certainly unfortunate, but also more or less expected for a film of this vintage and perceived "value". Print damage is present but not particularly rampant, though I suppose anyone expecting a totally clean transfer might be slightly disappointed that they didn't go in and remove each and every bit of dung stuck to the print. The transfer is also quite dark, though that seems to match with the vintage trailers and Italian DVD releases, so I can only assume that's the 'look' Soavi wanted for the feature. The film is simply starting to look its age, but I don't tend to think of that as a terrible thing; it's a unique product of the 90s anyway, so preserving the film the way it looked theatrically is far from the worst thing CineKult could have done with it. I'm almost just satisfied knowing it's not a screaming noise-fest or a pasty DVNR nightmare.


I see a little bit of aliasing, too, that I can't quite finger the source of - maybe this is an older 1440x1080i telecine, and upscaling that to 1920x1080p is to blame? Certainly looks scaling-related, and I don't think it'd be a problem on my end... I'll make it a point to look into this later.

There's some of those minor "combing" looking oddities I talked about when I reviewed Alien 2: On Earth, and extremely minor scratch repair niggles I could bitch about if I wanted to, but for a low budget cult film made after the fall of the Roman Cinematic Empire, I'm quite satisfied with the results. I imagine fans who have suffered through the DVNR riddled and contrast boosted Anchor Bay DVD for years (as I myself did) will see it as nothing short of a revelation. It's entirely possible that there's a scene with heinous DVNR or contrast boosting oddities I've yet to stumble across, but if the rest of the disc looks anything like the above, I have no major complaints.

Unfortunately, I can't take more time and watch the disc from end to end just yet. I'm still busy, still leaving for the weekend, and still up to my armpits in crap I should be doing that has nothing to do with Michele Soavi. I just wanted to be sure I had this all posted before I left so y'all could take a peek.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kentai's Suicide by Scratch Repair

Fun stuff, ladies 'n' gents, fun stuff. KentaiFilms.com will probably be down until the start of next month. There's a lot of back-end work that needs to be re-done, and I'll be damn busy up until then, so for anyone curious we should be operational again shortly.

'Cause it's almost Easter, goddamn it.
Now where did Jesus hide my Peeps...


Why am I busy, I hear that one guy in the back (who may be a recording I planted) asking? The short version is that I'm working on a 4+ hour long video restoration project. It's thankfully not as drastic as the last one I undertook, just a pretty basic de-scratch job.

Unfortunately, "basic" and "descratch" is something of a lie - if you're doing it right, anyway. See, descratch filters are awesome because they can remove thousands of little niggling bits of debris stuck to each layer of the print by comparing 3 frames at a time, and replacing an errant spec of a solid color with the combined data from frames around it. It can mean the difference between a Grindhouse quality print and a new sparkling restoration, if used properly... the downside is that it can't always tell when those errants specs of color are "real" details or not, and it'll end up erasing them completely. One famous example was arrows and lightning-bolts disappearing totally on the first BD release of Gladiator, while another are outlines being scrubbed right out of the camera-shaking effects found in FUNimation's HD master of Dragon Ball Z. Toon Demigod John K. has some GREAT EXAMPLES of exactly what I'm talking about.


Digital Scratch Repair (or "DSR") is one of those tools you're really not supposed to use unless you really need to. Oh sure, I can already hear you thinking that "all print damage should be removed by hand" - it's a nice thought, but a totally unrealistic one. Certainly lavish, expensive Hollywood level restoration involves a large group of living, breathing, photoshopping video slaves (many of them farmed outside of the US, I'm certain) but every studio out there uses automated processes to remove the most obvious errors. Heck, Sony got all excited about creating a new and super-accurate DSR process to use on that Taxi Driver restoration they just put out on Blu-ray... yeah, that one that people are already touting as "Blu-ray of the Year" when it's not even fucking May. The results speak for themselves I suppose, but I have to kind of scratch my head and wonder just how necessary it was to error-check up to one pixel in a 4k scan... I'm all for removing print damage unless it was added intentionally, but do we need a literal army of dust-busting robots programmed to shoot us dead if we get a spec on our shirts? 'Cause I swear that's where this shit is heading...

In this case, we have a decade-old print rife with optical effects that's absolutely riddled with print damage. I couldn't hand it off to my employers without at least trying to fix up the worst of it, so after fixing the black level and experimenting with a few other oddities on the transfer, I quickly found DSR to be The Ticket(TM) - not only does it combat the heinous multi-generational 35mm film grain without smoothing the whole transfer over, but it removes the multiple layers of analog... yuck.

Without saying too much about the project, it's the sort of film where there's endless possibilities for dust to get trapped in the image, and for some reason it looks like the negative for the last several reels was stored in a constantly-running washing machine instead of an archive. Unfortunately, it's also the kind of project where minor details will disappear on camera pans and sudden cuts, so it's the sort of film I need to watch like a hawk and make a massive cut-list that'll default back to the "untouched", raw transfer whenever the DSR is erasing real detail instead of print damage.

There's just one tiny problem; the label already announced a date before I got the materials, and I've only got about a week to finish all 4+ hours. But the absolute best part? I haven't even seen the film yet!

So before I leave for my long weekend I'm plowing through the both of them, doing my best to get acquainted with the specific scenes and effects and douchebaggy camera movements that are going to fuck up the DSR hardcore. My goal is to watch both films by tomorrow, and then spend a day or two with each of them once I get back to key out the scenes I can already tell are going to be warped beyond recognition... you can actually watch details bulge and warp and completely disappear on the workprint I've been making. It's trippy as all hell to watch, and the flick itself was pretty trippy to start with!

But I think a week should be just enough time to swap out scenes where processing does more harm than good, encode it, and sync up a couple of language tracks. It'll be a tight squeeze, but I should be able to hunker down and finish this monster up. I can't give it the loving frame-by-frame attention I bestowed on a previous title, but rest assured, I'll catch the worst offenders of DSRicide or die of a caffeine overdose trying.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Serbian Solution

The cool cats at Twitch hosted an interview with US Distributors "Invincible Films" over their plans to release A SERBIAN FILM, which friends of the Kentai Blog will know as one of the half-dozen or so films I've ever felt kicked me square in the balls. In a move that probably surprised absolutely no one, they presented a "heavily cut" version to the MPAA in the hopes of getting an R-rating...


There's absolutely nothing R-rated going on here.
You'll, apparently, just have to trust me on this one.

Didn't fucking happen. Seriously guys, that might have been the biggest waste of time since Mel Gibson trimmed six minutes from Passion of the Christ in the hopes that the remaining 2 hours of a dude getting tortured to death would somehow squeak by with a PG-13. Here's the part that needs to be repeated, ad naseum, however:


'The DVD and Blu-ray will be edited, but it won't be as edited as the theatrical version.

It really depends on what happens between now and then, what we end up doing. There are obviously some legal issues we have to look at.'


I'm not certain if they're worried about finger-pointing of "Child Pornography", which is what got the poor bastard who runs the Stiges film festival in Spain in some seriously deep shit, or that catch-all "Obscenity"... which the film could (and, eventually, probably will) run afoul over in pretty much any country that bothers to release it uncut. The film is certainly foul, disgusting and perhaps the single most offensive feature film ever put together as a work of entertainment, but the fact that even the guys who paid money to distribute it in the US are getting cold feet leaves me only able to sigh and shake my head. It's not that I want them to do time or anything, it's just that they knew better. Whilst America is one of the freest nations in the world today, there is still a line that home video distributors simply can't cross, and when you put your balls on the line and say you're releasing A Serbian Film you'd better fucking mean it.

Oh sure, they've already made a rather sound argument; "If we don't release it cut, we can't release it at all." And that may be true. But if it is true, why the fuck did you even bother? Bootleggers existed for a reason; they were there to pick up the slack that legitimate, mainstream distributors were either unwilling or unable to fill. Whilst I can at least in theory appreciate the sense in releasing an edited version specifically for the Wal*Mart and Blockbuster crowds, releasing a "less cut" version satisfies no-one; anyone who's never heard of the film probably wouldn't want to sit through it in the first place, and anyone who does know what the film is surely isn't going to want to settle for a version missing footage. This isn't even one of those bullshit Cannibal Ferox scenarios where a cut version MIGHT be preferable since you don't have to watch animals being abused; A Serbian Film's rape, torture and abuse is all completely fake, and as such it can even be enjoyed by those crazy PeTA assholes.


...did we ever mention the endlessly awesome
Aya Sugimoto was also one of those assholes?

So how many cuts will there be? We don't know yet. Honestly, I'd argue that it doesn't matter how much is missing: The film will be cut for American audiences - adults who could and should make up their mind if this is the sort of thing they "want" to see no longer have that option, not even on home video. I admit it's a no-win situation, but that's exactly why so many other distributors passed on it to start with! "Go big or go home", as they say. In this case, release it uncut or don't fucking bother releasing it at all.

This news is quite unfortunate, but perhaps it was also inevitable. Not since films like Maladolescenza or Cannibal Holocaust have the barriers of good taste in the name of legitimate cinema been pushed this hard, and with the difficulty the film is having in securing an uncut release seemingly anywhere in the world, I can't imagine anyone else is going to try again any time soon.

Fuk'n Banned in San Sebastian. 'Nuff said.

For those of the craziest of persuasions, these is a Norwegian Blu-ray release: Uncut and uncensored, in its' original Serbian language with a host of subtitles that'll be useless to anyone who's not Northern European. It's likely "Region B" only, but anyone with a BD-ROM can work around that... same with the lack of English subtitles on the disc, come to think of it. Wink-wink.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ga+Rei-Zero=∞ (GA-REI ZERO Blu-ray Impressions)



GA-REI ZERO/喰霊-零- was an unusual anime series from late 2008, on quite a few levels. For one thing it was a prequel, rather than an adaptation of the still-ongoing THE ENCHANTED SPIRITUAL BEAST GA-REI/喰霊 manga serial written by Hajime SEGAWA. For another, it starts off by literally introducing the cast of heroic characters who save Tokyo from a giant invisible monster, lets them have a moment to celebrate their job well done... and then murders each and every one of them as violently as possible before the end credits roll. Episode two continues down this dark and supernatural path, but episode 3 represents a massive shift in the show's tone and focus, having left me when I first saw it flabbergasted. I wasn't sure if the entire show had just rickrolled me hard or if it knew exactly what it was doing... thankfully, by the end of episode 12 I was satisfied that it had achieved the latter. Like so many brilliant works of cinematic upset, it subverts expectations just enough to clobber you with them later on, and I'm happy to say that Ga-Rei has a point to all these sudden shifts in mood and expectations...


In other words, it's not The Endless Eight or Umineko no Naku koro ni...

Ga-Rei Zero was a phenomenal series that kicked me in the balls with a flying motorcycle, though being totally unfamiliar with the comic it was based on I can't say if it serves as a decent introduction to the franchise that follows or not. The first episode is such a straight faced bit of monster-hunting military fantasy that I had no idea less than three episodes in I'd see two girls eating the same stick of pocky until they were locking lips, much less that the show would later drive spiked crystals through one of them until they were a total invalid. Ga-Rei Zero has a mean streak a mile wide and is refreshingly unafraid to get its' hands dirty by slaughtering main characters or forcing them to do horrible things to one another, but unlike the endlessly dour monochrome worlds of Shigurui or Jin-Roh, there's so much more on display than the nihilism. Ga-Rei effortlessly combines dramatic shoot-outs, gag comedy, moe shenanigans and Eastern mysticism into a wealth of entertainment that flips a switch from being cute and charming to horrific and sadistic, like a bipolar teenager who's created a monstrously catchy tune that switches from Justin Bieber to Children of Bodom in the middle of a natural progression... it honestly shouldn't work, but goddamn it, it does, and it probably works better than any other show out there that's tried to combine cute girls and extreme violence without feeling utterly pandering or pretentious. It sits alongside the queens of moe-horror, Elfen Lied and Higurashi, quite comfortably - though each of these titles are so dramatically different that it's difficult for me to pin down one as better than the other - it'd be a bit like like comparing Predator to The Deer Hunter just because they both have guys shooting each other in the jungle.

The series was directed by Ei AOKI, who's since directed a similarly excellent (though VERY different) TV series called Wandering Son/放浪息子, a show best described as a serious drama about transexuals in middle-school, so the last thing we can accuse the man of is being a one trick pony. Certainly Ga-Rei Zero may alienate some fans by pushing both ends of the anime pop-culture spectrum, but for those who don't mind a little cute in their gore (or vice-versa) will find a rewarding and very satisfying 5 hours of solid entertainment in this sexy little box...



FUNimation released the series this week on DVD + Blu-ray. No, that's not "DVD and Blu-ray", that's "DVD with Blu-ray". Apparently actual brick and mortar retailers - which, by the way, is 21st century code for 'Best Buy' - tend to not break their Blu-ray titles down by genre, which has led specialty retailers (like FUNi, what with all of their animoos) struggling for a way to get customers to actually find Blu-ray titles in the general, vaguely-alphabetized Blu-ray shelves. Obviously they can't afford to get their own special endcaps like Di$ney, so they did what they felt was the next best thing: They canceled the separate DVD and Blu-ray releases for all their upcoming titles, and are instead selling them as a "Combo Pack" as a single SKU in a DVD-sized box. Though this seems ridiculous at first, let's not forget that FUNimation's own Lance Heskell has said that consumers can't always keep track of when a title is DVD-only, or finds that a store stocks the DVD and not the Blu-ray, and they'll sometimes compromise by buying the DVD without realizing they even have a better option. FUNi likely sees this as the best compromise to both push Blu-ray and keep DVD customers happy at the same time. I suppose that stuffing a "free" DVD copy in with a Blu-ray release is really nothing that unusual these days, but at least most of the Hollywood releases of this nature have the courtesy to slap the DVD in a squat blue case. That might not mean much to some people, but I've got to tell you, I really do appreciate it.

Do you remember HD-DVD?
Yeah, me neither...


To be totally fair, FUNimation isn't the first studio to take this asinine approach: Bandai Visual released several of their initial catalog titles in a DVD sized chipboard box with both DVD and Blu-ray (or even an HD DVD!), but as these releases proved to be the ire of HD-only enthusiasts, they eventually dropped the SD option and sold them in more sensible packages down the line - or they did in Japan, where Bandai Visual is still kind of a thing. Despite several of these having English dubbing on the discs - including Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, Patlabor and Patlabor 2 - only Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise was ever released stateside in this manner. (Jin-Roh got a similar package, but the DVD was dropped for a storyboard book.) I do own Honneamise, and while I was never entirely happy about it, the film is such a triumph of then-fledgling studio Gainax as a work of pure cinema that any self respecting fan of animation really needs a copy on their shelf. The fact that it had a translated booklet, and that I got it for less than 50% of the regular $80 MSRP sure didn't help my decision, either... still don't regret it. That box was such a hardcore monster that it was dropped from a height of about 3 feet while still in the plastic wrap, and the chipboard didn't even scuff. If it were bigger I'd turn it into a nuclear fallout shelter... it's that fucking hardcore.

FUNimation has been charging an extra $5 for "First Press" releases in the last year or so, and Ga-Rei Zero is no exception. The artbox is fairly attractive and notably sturdier than any of those flimsy cardboard monsters you'd get a season of The Boondocks or Ren and Stimpy in, though it's nowhere near as monolithic as the Bandai Visual variety. If you want to skip the deluxe packaging, you're going to have to wait until FUNimation sells out of them and then you can get the $60 version. Odds are it'll be two thinpacks in a cardboard sleeve, but as they literally haven't been produced yet we can only wait and see.

But at least the Blu-ray will look and sound fucking awesome... right? 


 JP Blu-ray (RESIZED 720p)


US Blu-ray (RESIZED 720p)



Well, despite the show being less than 3 years old it was animated in SD and then upscaled for HD broadcast and Blu-ray. The results are, as expected, not as nice as a "Native HD", but better than a DVD which is forced to use lower bitrates and less efficient codecs. The JP release looks about as perfect as an SD upscale can get, while the US release seems to have sharpened outlines in an attempt to give it more "oomph"... some people like it, and I'll cop to having used an edge sharpener once or twice in pretty dire circumstances, but to me it just makes the outlines look warped and over-processed. The grain is less refined on the FUNi transfer, too, but the US transfer is still fairly grainy, so if it was an attempt to actually denoise the source it's a resounding failure. More likely than not the US release cramming 9 episodes on a single disc has stressed the encoder to the point where it just smooths the grain out slightly - the result isn't nearly as damning as it was for earlier titles like Tsubasa and Samurai Champloo, but it's still there, no doubt about it. The whole transfer is decent, but still something of a disappointment for my first FUNi BD pre-order is ages.

All that said, FUNimation has released several "SD Remastered" titles (ie: upscales) from 480i masters, and this one still sits comfortably on the "pretty good" end of that admittedly spotty track record.The US release is readily available and retails for $65, or $60 if you want to wait for the regular edition. I paid less than $45 with shipping, and if you're paying more than $50 you're doing it wrong. For comparison, the JP box set is no longer available and retailed for over $300 when it was! It's a shame that FUNimation's first "Premium" DVD + Blu-ray combo is less than ideal, but the show in it is great, and the price for the quality seems like a fair enough compromise. Just don't expect it to rock your home theater to the core... and if you don't give a flying fuck about a chipboard artbox, don't rush. It'll be available for a while yet, and for a few dollars less at that.

Audio is Dolby TrueHD lossless for both tracks - English is in 5.1, Japanese in Stereo, as standard for most Japanese TV shows. Subtitles are tiny and white with a very thin border, which is more or less the norm for FUNimation; so long as you don't have your contrast set too high and don't sit a mile from your screen, you shouldn't have any trouble reading them. The DVD release is split across 3 discs with 6 episodes each and a separate bonus features disc, while the BD is 9 episodes on the first disc and then 3 episodes + extras on the second. The packaging subtly favors the DVD even beyond the case size, giving episode numbers that correspond to the SD release. I'll admit I haven't given the set more than a curious glance, but having watched the show twice - once when it was being broadcast, and again once I had all the R2 DVD fansubs, I don't feel the need to watch it again immediately.

Don't let my nitpickyness fool you: I still recommend the release, despite my misgivings over the DVD packaging and feeling the transfer a "B" upscale when it so easily could have been an "A". FUNi's off to a rocky start with these combo packs, but the show is a keeper, there's an unusually high number of bonus features, and the packaging (despite being DVD sized) looks pretty nice. It doesn't look quite as nice as it could be, but for the price it's acceptable.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

-RD WITH THE CRYSTAL PL-



Director Dario Argento's 1970 film THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE/L'uccello Dalle Piume di Cristallo helped the the notion of post-modern Italian thrillers now known as "giallo" take a firm hold in the consciousness of audiences the world over. The fathers of the American "slasher" film and built on the ruins of thrillers of the 1960s like Psycho and Peeping Tom, early giallo were often based on paperback pulp novels published with bright yellow covers - "giallo" is simply Italian for "yellow", and though they called them 'thrillers' in 1970 eventually the name stuck. Directors including Mario Bava, Umberto Lenzi, and Sergio Martino moulded gialli (the plural of giallo) through the 1960s, where the films were typically a modest success, owing (as is so often the case with "terror" films) to their broad international appeal and floor-low budgets, but the explosion that dominated the Italian industry for a decade and change really began with this 1970 film.

Dario Argento - who at the time was both a successful critic and an emerging screen writer - was given permission to direct the film when he came up with what he felt was a really novel concept, but which he knew was one that could have been ruined if the script were given to a director who couldn't film "the twist" in a way that ruined the surprise in the final reel. The film is often noted as the first film in a trilogy - the "Animal Trilogy" followed by Cat O' Nine Tails and 4 Flies on Gray Velvet - but the three films are totally unrelated in terms of characters and narrative. As is so often the case, the first film is probably the best of them, but there's very different qualities that make each film worth seeing on its own - assuming, of course, that you're into the unique vibe that gialli from this period often seem to revel in.

Mirroring his superior 1975 feature Deep Red, a film Argento himself has suggested he made to turn the genre itself inside-out and force other Italian film makers from ripping him off using only the most basic clichéd elements found in the "Animal Trilogy", the identity of the killer is actually revealed at the time of the first act of attempted murder in The Bird With Crystal Plumage, but it's presented in such an unusual and subtle way that most viewers don't consciously recognize the "reveal" until the end of the film. This isn't some clever Fight Club bullshit or anything - sadly, that would come later as his career faltered - but true to his vision, Argento fought producers tooth and nail to get it completed and distributed, and when all was said and done it was number one at the American box office and took most of Europe by storm. Not bad for a skinny little mysoginist, right?



Aw, we just can't stay mad at him!
...then again, Giallo (2008) was gi-awful.

Blue Underground released The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (henceforth, just "Bird"), restored from the camera negative supposedly, on DVD in 2005. The same master was given a Blu-ray release in 2009, and as I've pointed out previously, went out of print earlier this year. The disc contained most of the Special Edition DVD supplements, boasted a lovely transfer in the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and included not one, but two lossless English tracks plus a lossy 5.1 mix of the film's Italian dub with English subtitles. The only thing missing was the original mono track, which is especially disappointing since one line of dialog wound up missing on the surround remix, but it's a minor enough gaffe that I'm still willing to point towards the Blue Underground release as a disc that anyone with even a passing interest in gialli should have on their shelf. It's also, incidentally, the sole disc I've seen in Blue Underground's rather vast catalog of European horror films that I'd consider citing as a reference transfer.

News was swift and brutal that Arrow Video, currently the premier UK distributor of cult horror films, would be releasing their own edition of Bird sometime in 2011. As is typical Arrow has created a host of original interviews and commissioned a lovely new piece of cover art from modern pulp legend Rick Melton, who's deliciously retro style is highly recommended around these parts. The release is set for May 2nd, and anyone interested can pre-order it from their retailer of choice for about £15 (currently about $25 USD, shipping included, if you go through Amazon UK as I do).




There's a dark cloud hanging over the Arrow Video release, however, and it's not even their usual track record of DVNR and low bitrates... I'm afraid the bad news is that they're not recycling the Blue Underground master (as they had done with City of the Living Dead), but instead are using a newer HD restoration supervised by none other than the film's Director of Photography, Vittorio Storaro. DP's are usually consulted for restorations of older films anyway, so this is neither shocking nor surprising in and of itself. The problem is that Storaro is rather infamous for feeling that the theatrical standard of 2.35:1 is simply not "good enough" for his own films, and has demanded that any and all transfers of his award-winning photography be cropped into the less expansive 2:1 aspect ratio.

We can't single out Bird as the only example of Vitto's insanity, however. In the early 1990s, while trying to find a compromise to present Apocalypse Now! on letterboxed laserdisc, he decided that the original 2.35:1 "scope" theatrical ratio was too blurry on any normal TV set, and settled on 2:1, cropping off about 17% of the original frame in the process. He cites the framing of iconic works of the Renaissance like "The Last Supper" as his inspiration, and has even pushed to have all films presented in this compromise between "Flat" 1.85:1 and "Scope" 2.35:1. Storaro's actually written quite a bit about the theoretical advantages of his so-called "Univision" (or "Univisiom" in his native Italian) aspect ratio, and to his credit, he may have been on to something back when the average TV was a block about 20" wide and nearly square.

HDTV standard became wider at 16x9 (1.78:1), or smack-dab between 1.33:1 and 2.35:1, making Storaro's intended compromise for preserving scope films in their original aspect ratio a complete non-issue; the difference in real-world resolution between 2.35:1 and 2:1 on a screen measuring 1.78:1 is largely negligible, and far less harmful to the image than cropping would ever be. Unfortunately, he's dug his feet in on the issue and continued to approve only cropped 2:1 transfers of Apocalypse Now! well into the new millennium, saying that the original framing simply "doesn't work" on a high definition monitor. Even the Criterion Collection release of Storaro's The Last Emperor was in this insane 2:1 ratio... despite the film having won an Oscar for Storaro's 2.35:1 cinematography. Let's face it, if even those untouchable bastards of the cinematic landscape couldn't get around Storaro's insanity, it's clear that the slasher-slinging kooks at Arrow Video didn't even stand a chance.

Storaro swears that cropping his own films isn't an issue because he selectively re-frames each and every shot as needed, preserving the "important" details as they appear. So let's take a look at what Bird in its' brand new Univisium ratio looks like in action, shall we?



"Scope" Blue Underground Blu-ray (OAR)


"Universium" Wild Side DVD (CROPPED)

If you want to see more of the cropped framing, take a look at the following gallery courtesy of French distributor Wild Side. There are numerous moments in which the entire frame is used - for dialog scenes, as well as scenes where the hero is being stalked through the streets - so while Storaro could pan and scan and fudge the framing as he saw fit for some films, it's just not going to work here for each and every scene.

Hell, let's just look at one of the single most iconic images in the film...


 One so awesome, Tarantino stole it verbatim!

There's got to be a way to preserve the integrity of this sequence at the 2.0:1 ratio, right? I mean that's why Storaro has literally overseen the panning and scanning of his other two most notable films. Maybe if we center it perfectly...




Fuck, that didn't work. It doesn't look like viewfinder marks at all - A-HA! I got this, what if we try to cram it over to one side? You know, just to get one of the viewfinder marks in view...




Well. That, uh... that really doesn't work, either. Not it looks like we're looking through half a camera, and now the guy on the right of the frame just looks like framing noise instead of a possible character.




I look at this and tend to think "well shit, that's not so bad..." , but by pushing the transfer over we're focusing on the man where in the original frame the target was much clearer. It's the lesser of three evils... but pretty dang evil none the less.

The fact that we're even talking about a pan-scan transfer for a Blu-ray coming out in March of 2011 is so unbelievably depressing that it makes me pine for the days when the biggest complaint I had were that the film was out-of-fucking-print. Oh yes Storaro, that's what your Univisium bullshit is, at least as far as anything you shot before 1998 is concerned. None of these three possibilities are anywhere near as good as the ORIGINAL GODDAMNED TECHNISCOPE FRAMING as seen on the Blue Underground transfer, so why would you bother fussing with it?!

By literally placing this woman in the cross hairs of the killer's camera, Dario and Vittorio are warning us together of her impending peril, placing us vicariously not only in the eyes of the victimizer, but in touch with the inevitable victim. These scenes open the film and continue throughout, giving the viewer a then-new type of chill, not only warning the audience of the violence to come but savoring it every step of the way in a way thought nearly unthinkable just weeks before it opened. It set the standard that slasher films would emulate - often poorly - a decade later, and remains one of the corner stones of quality giallo thrillers. Bird was not the first gialli, nor even the best, but it set the standard and tone for which each and every knock-off would follow, turning the genre into Italy's biggest cash-cow of the 1970s until Argento created Deep Red specifically to change the rules forever. The visuals in this film are incredibly important, and it's ghastly to think that one of the two people most responsible for them is not only willing, but eager to change that vision to prove that he picked the "best" widescreen format is nothing short of pathetic.

If you didn't buy the Blue Underground Blu-ray back when it was selling for $11 on Amazon, you're out of luck; with every new European release in the recent past or forseeable future having been sourced from the Storaroized Univisium 2:1 transfer, the Blue Underground release remains the best looking and most authentic to the original experience release available, and that bastard of a Blu-ray starts at about $50 via Amazon sellers, and eBay isn't looking much cheaper. My guess is that Blue Underground created the transfer themselves as proprietary materials, and are holding it for a fee - either that or Storaro has made it a point to not let the licensors release the film again in scope without someone going over his head... the only "someone" in that position being Dario Argento, who clearly didn't know (or care?) enough to step in and try to talk some common sense into Storaro in the first place... not that it would have done a lot of good. Storaro's such a nut that he's created a three-perf format to get as much resolution out of the 2:1 Universium format as is humanly possible - and then had to release the lot of them in 2.35, since nobody in their right mind would adopt the format for theatrical purposes. Storaro's off in his own Private Idaho, and the only people it affects are those who actually like the films he worked as DP on decades ago.

While it's not totally Arrow Video's fault, that doesn't change the fact that the framing is going to be a bloody mess on poor Bird. I'd recommend ponying up for the BU release, should you ever find it, but the Arrow Video extras and packaging may still tip some of you crazy collector-types over into owning both. That's fine, I won't fault a person for wasting their own money and I know I do it regularly... just don't say I didn't warn you first.

Oh, and before anyone asks, I have no idea if the Arrow Video release will have that odd minty green cast as the Wild Side DVD caps.  Only time and reviewers far more willing to slog through cropped transfers than myself will be able to tell us a month from now or so.