Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Image of the Animator



That uh... that just doesn't seem right, does it. Was this an optical shot maybe?
Hey there's an idea, let's check out an optical shot! With all it's print damage and--



...are you fucking serious, Image?! No, maybe I just picked a few bad examples...



(RESIZED TO 720X486, AND THEN BACK TO 1920X1080*)

...okay? That's a little better, I guess. Obviously the overly red push and boosted saturation on the Elite DVD has never done the skin tones in this film any favors, but there's a shocking lack of, for lack of a better term, difference between the 2002 DVD master and this new Blu-ray. There's slightly more info on the bottom of the frame, but less on the other three sides, and if there's an instance where the Blu-ray has even slightly better shadow detail, I can't find it in any of the caps floating around. It literally looks almost exactly the same except with exponentially better compression and a completely different application of grain-removal.

I might post more on this later if I have the time/energy/pitchforks, but here's the short version: Image used a less-sloppily processed version of the Millennium Edition master. From 2002. There's simply no other explanation, or even excuse. It sickens me to say this, but if I had anything positive to say, it's that it's still less embarrassing than their THE HILLS HAVE EYES upscale last year because that bargain-binned motherfucker was literally identical to the DVD. When given high quality materials, Image has produced some phenomenal looking Blu-rays. Too bad this clearly isn't one of them...

Let's not kid ourselves on this one; It'd almost be impossible not to improve upon a 10 year old DVD with syrupy DVNR artifacts and a bitrate of about 5.5 Mb/s. But mark my words, the general lack of fidelity looks like an SD transfer, and based on how much nicer Digibetas tend to look when compared to their DVD counterparts... yeah, I'm pretty goddamn sure we're looking at an upscale. I've been wrong in the past, certainly, but I've been right more times than I'd like to remind anyone. It's also possible that Elite Entertainment spent the extra money to do an HD restoration ten years ago, never once mentioned it in the marketing materials, and this now aged HD master just... isn't very good? It's not impossible, but it's doubtful as all hell, on a number of levels.

The other possibility is that Image managed to get Brian Yuzna to approve an HD transfer that happens to share virtually every hallmark as the SD master minted a decade ago, and I just ain't buying that for a second. Image Entertainment claims that this is a brand new 1080p source... but they also claim in the same press release that this is the R-rated cut of the film. So, make of that what you will.

Whatever the source was, let it be known that the Image Blu-ray of Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR, arguably the finest film in that fantastic director's canon... really sucks. Resolution is stilted for one reason or another, print damage seems just as rampant as it did on the DVD, and I just... don't want to talk about it any more right now.

Thanks to Ian Jane, who unknowingly triggered my rage-button with his initial review and screenshots. He probably doesn't know it, but his early review screenshots of bullshit like this give me enough pure spite to get through every day, so all I can do is thank him.

*Do keep in mind that the aliasing/blurred appearance you see on the wine glass in the above "Downscale/Upscale" sample is a side-effect of the process itself; the DVD does NOT have blatant aliasing issues. My goal with that is to establish that 480p is more than enough to convey the resolution of the pin-stripes missing on the Blu-ray which, I can only assume, was a casualty of the rather brutal and primitive noise reduction Elite used on their "THX Approved" Digital Transfer.

What's that? You want MORE?! Eh, sure, why not. Just to keep it a bit kinky this time we're stealing lossless caps from the HIGH DEF DISC NEWS site. Thanks guys!

I'll give credit where credit's due; that little "No Admittance" sign in the last comparison was an ugly smear on the DVD, but perfectly readable on the Blu-ray. It's also odd that there's ringing on the optical forced-narrative subtitles on the BD but not the DVD... could this have been a less than optimal HD master that was low-pass filtered to the breaking point, robbing it of anything resembling fine detail and filmic texture? Honestly, it's hard to say. The Blu-ray is still rubbish if we have to look this goddamn hard for a difference between the BD and the DVD, regardless of what resolution their master was.

My advice is to wait and see what comes out of Second Sight in the UK: with any luck, they'll trounce this Image release. If nothing else it'll come in a steelbook, and we know that SOMEBODY was obviously recording new material with Barbara Crampton.

Hey, Second Sight, now is the perfect (and only) time to consider enlisting Don May Jr's help on getting a proper 2K restoration of this film done! Hah, as if they don't already have a master ready for replication...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Do You Remember Hate?

Anyone expecting me to get down on my knees and suck the cock of SUPER SPACE FORTRESS MACROSS: DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE? / 超時空要塞マクロス 愛・おぼえていますか - also sometimes known as "Superdimensional Fortress Macross", and more commonly, "Attack of the Bionoids" in its butchered US home video premier - will be a bit surprised. It's not because the film doesn't deserve its fair share of knob-gobbling; the film is absolutely a masterpiece on a technical level, and it, perhaps intentionally, sewed the seeds for a lot of the bizarre genre-fusion and pandering fetishism that permeates Japanese pop-culture to this very day. It also bears a certain uncanny resemblance to Ridley Scott's Prometheus as well as H.P. Lovecrafts At The Mountains of Madness, but that's... neither here nor there, I guess. Even if it is kind of kick-ass.

Rather, it's because that pole has been slobbered for so goddamn long and by people who love the whole Macross-slash-Robotech canon so much harder than I do, it'd just be a waste of your time. It's a cultural icon unlike any other; the "perfect form" of the seemingly unending Macross legacy, an early cornerstone of Japan's Anime Invasion - in its unedited form a forever legally-unattainable status symbol to the first generation of the American otaku community, the film has a unique legacy and support that few pieces of home-grown animation outside the gilded walls of Disney and Warner can lay claim to. People love the shit out of this movie, and if you want to know why... ask them. They're the guys you want to see get pumped. If you want to see ME sound like a crazy fanboy, just ask me about Hokuto no Ken or Urotsukidoji... I'm afraid I only have so much fervent love to give on a daily basis!

That said, I'm totally not above bashing the ever-living shit about the freshly released Japanese 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, available in both the expected STANDARD and FUCK YO' MOMMA SOLD-OUT LIMITED editions!

The Japanese text reads something like "Disc may not be as awesome as described."

So, first and foremost: IT'S FRIGGIN' CENSORED. As y'all reading this probably know, one of the lead animators on the film (and original Macross TV series) was none other than ITANO Ichirou, who's ridiculously complex and expertly rendered-by-hand missile battles were given the nicknames "Itano Circus" by fans. Itano is also the sociopathic madman behind some of the most brutal and violent animation of all time, including Angel Cop, Gantz and Violence Jack: Evil Town. With that in mind, it seems almost quaint that he snuck in a pair of hyper-violent gags in the film's rapid-fire action, which included both a very shot (4 frames or so) of a man's skull being crushed until his eyes and jaw literally explode out of his own face, and another gag during the finale where a falling building crashes down on a hapless bastard so quickly it decapitates him in a way that's... far more hilarious than it probably sounds. The former simply has a massive gaussian blur thrown over the last few frames of grue, while the latter not only blurs it up but adds a sudden flash of white light, implying that he was vaporized instead of torn to shreds. Because, you know, being exploded is so much less violent than getting crushed? Curiously enough, a shot of a Zentradi's kisser being melted off is left intact just a few seconds after the first censored scene, so why they only decided some of the more extreme violence had to go is anyone's guess...

Oh wait, I do have a theory! See, limited or not that "Blu-ray" also comes with a new PS3 game. Japan's home video market hasn't really taken to compulsory video ratings, but their game industry is an absolute slave to them, and with substantially higher ratings given to graphic violence than we typically see in the West, game developers tend to tread very carefully on how bloody their computer entertainment can be. The Computer Entertainment Ratings Organization has a pretty straight-forward rating system that goes from "A" (all ages) to "B" (12+), "C" (15+), "D" (17+) and "Z" (18). The actual PS3 game included in the set is rated 'A', while the film got a 'B' rating, effectively knocking the whole package from an All Ages to a PG-13. I can see Bandai-Namco wanting to see this game sell like gangbusters - developing an original video game costs a hell of a lot more than a new film transfer, after all - and perhaps these edits were made specifically with the goal to get the whole thing down to a lower rating? Whatever the case, you guys know I abhorrer censorship in all forms of art, and considering the film has been re-released on VHS, Laserdisc, and as far back as 2007 on DVD without issue, to edit the film now seems more than a bit silly...

What's even worse is you can select "THEATRICAL VERSION" from the menus... but it's a filthy lie as both are equally censored. See, there's two differet cuts seamlessly branched, with the alternate version being the "COMPLETE VERSION". The only difference is that the latter includes a text scroll at the start of the film, and a new graphic at the very end, so... yeah. The one surviving director on the project, KAWAMORI Shoji, has literally Lucasified this fucker by making the opening look like a Star Wars movie. Stay classy, Shoji!

 ...shit, I forgot he always looks super serious.
I can't even tell if I've pissed him off or not...

Oh yeah, there's also an instrumental snippet of some thematic importance missing from the 5.1 remix, right before... "that" song starts. (You'll know, trust me.) Some of the animation has been fixed, as per the 2007 Remaster, and the Blu-ray features the original theatrical end credits (ie: white text on black). There is no SUPER SPACE FORTRESS MACROSS: FLASHBACK 2012 footage over the main staff roll like there was on the 2007 DVD, but the Limited Edition BD did include it on a separate disc... upscaled to 1080i from the same analog video master we first saw 25 years ago. Supposedly the film masters were lost, and seeing as how Flashback was edited on video specifically for the video market in the late 80s, I can see preserving the "raw" 35mm footage as not being seen as a high priority. A shame, but I guess it is what it is...

And as for the actual Blu-ray transfer... well, I can't speak from having watched the disc itself since, god-fucking-dammit, I'm not spending $100 on a censored Blu-ray. What I can say is that there's a BUNCH OF SCREENSHOTS floating around there on the internet, and holy hell, they aren't good...

I'll post a few relevant examples, alongside the 2007 "HD Remaster" DVD, with the BD on top and the 2007 HD Remaster DVD on the bottom. All of them came from the forum linked above, though I've re-compressed them to high quality JPGs in the hopes that they won't randomly disappear due to mild traffic. (Goddamn ImageShack...)

Pay close attention to the black outlines on the right-hand side, on the guy's arm and the folds on his shoulders... notice anything funky about the Blu-ray? What you're seeing is ghosting, data repeated from prior frames because the information is "similar enough", even if it isn't exactly the same. That's basically how grain removal works, and the above is a perfect example of what can go wrong if you try to smooth over between separate frames just a little too hard... a shame the HD version has this fairly obvious defect, since in this shot especially it looks pretty good otherwise. (Besides the crushed/smeared shadow detail, but more on that in a second!)

At first, the Blu-ray looks like a pretty substantial improvement; grain is better defines, outlines are substantially crisper, and of course there's none of that bullshit four-sided windowboxing to deal with. But look at the background, specifically the "lights" behind the two Zentradi commanders; they're actually blurrier on the Blu-ray! DVNR works in two ways, averaging between frames (temporally) and within a single frame (spatially). Ghosting is the temporal side-effect, blurring is the spatial equivalent. Both are an unfortunate side-effect of digital grain removal tools... and how, you ask, can I be sure that they even used grain removal?

I'm not going to lie; I haven't seen the master print they used for DYRL, nor have I seen whatever HDCAM-SR master the Blu-ray was pulled from. That said, I'm DAMN sure that a cartoon from 1984 was animated on some form of film stock, most likely 35mm in this case, and while the DVD has a pretty stable and natural looking level of grain, the Blu-ray just... doesn't. The grain looks like it just barely creeps in around the edges of moving objects and darker areas of the screen, which just isn't how celluloid crystals work. There should always be some level of visible grain on 4-perf 35mm, and the moment you see areas literally devoid of grain, you have every reason to be suspicious.

Oh god, I think I just threw up a little! So, the BD master clearly pushed the contrast and chroma saturation harder than its DVD equivalent, and doing that can enhance the original grain into the harsh shit you see above. Add some temporal filtering on top that's designed to keep SOME frequencies of noise which may or may not be outlines - you know, hard contrasty bits - and the results... look like shit.

Shockingly enough, this image was shown to establish that - in many ways - the Blu-ray IS actually an improvement over the DVD... but even here, the upgrade isn't exactly night and day. The enhanced resolution has made the lines all the more detailed and the boosted contrast does help them stand out a bit against the oft-muted midtones of the DVD, but even at the best of times, the DYRL Blu-ray appears to be something of a modest upgrade... a shame, that. I really wanted this to be something I'd be so wowed by that I'd still spend a small fortune to have it on my shelf, but if the best it can muster is "somewhat better" than the uncut DVD, then forget it.

If I had to guess, I think that the 2007 DVD and the 2012 Blu-ray are from the same initial HD telecine, but that the BD was "punched up" via contrast/saturation boosting, and the resulting exaggerated video noise was toned down with DVNR. The framing is virtually identical, and while it's possible to boost the contrast and clip highlights - as the Blu-ray seems to have done, in direct comparison - none of the comparisons I've found suggest that the BD actually has better highlight or shadow detail. The alternate possibility is that Bandai Visual have created a brand new scan that's worse than their prior efforts, but I'm going to swallow sadness at the mere thought and go with my initial "Recycled 2007 HD Master" theory, until someone can come up with a reason for me to doubt it.

Now, I'll admit one thing before anyone has a chance to rub my face in it; Do You Remember Love has always looked pretty crumby, in no small part due to the special-effects heavy nature of its production. This was produced before computers could do anything particularly useful in terms of animation, and so every time more than a few animation elements had to be on the screen, they were compiled together using multiple strips of film and an optical printer. As such, shots that are grainy, out of focus, and just generally pretty goddamn ugly have always been the norm for this film... and if that's all that was wrong with it, I'd have nothing to complain about. My issues are with the cranked-out contrast and almost total lack of grain on the shots that SHOULD be a straight scan of either the original negative or a master positive. In trying to smooth over the age and production seams of the material they've managed to make the whole damned film look underwhelming, and that's a shame.

So, is the DVD better than the Blu-ray? No, not at all. The limited resolution and bitrate alone mean that the Blu-ray wins by default, and as you can see, even the limited clarity of the film elements shine harder when it comes to crisp outlines and swathes of bright color in HD. Sadly, the DVD looks less processed than the Blu-ray, and teases us with a glimpse of how much better the Blu-ray might have otherwise been.

The promise of Super Space Macross: Do You Remember Love? looking and sounding notably better than ever is a hard Siren's Song to resist, I know, but the combination of random censorship and a "meh" transfer leave me more than a bit shocked. For one of Bandai Visual's flagship titles to have been handled so poorly is almost unprecedented, and with this being a part of the Macross 30th Anniversary celebration, it's likely the last new edition we're going to get for a good long time. Don't get me wrong, if you still have that old 'CLASH OF THE BIONOIDS' tape in the basement, and figure one more edited version with a new 5.1 mix wouldn't hurt, by all means, go for it. But if you're expecting this to be the definitive edition of what might be the Golden Age of Anime's transcendent masterpiece to not, in any way, involve Miyazaki, you might just be left wanting for another 500,000 cycles.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Killed By Death

The new MGM Blu-ray of DEATH WISH II is actually the heavily censored R-rated version, despite the unrated cut having been shown on HDTV, Netflix and Amazon Streaming for the last year or two.

Not cool, MGM. Not cool.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Persona(ble) Limitations

Sentai Filmworks, the phoenix that rose from the ashes of ADV what seems like a minor-eternity ago, has announced that they're releasing PERSONA 4: THE ANIMATION on DVD and Blu-ray September 18th to coincide with the US release both of the P4A: PERSONA 4 ARENA fighting game and the P4G: PERSONA 4 GOLDEN PS VITA remake. That's the good news...

The bad news is that while the DVD will be a fairly standard bi-lingual release featuring both a new English dub and the original Japanese dialog with English subtitles, the Blu-ray will only feature the English dub. This is the same bullshit tactic that was used for Bandai Entertainment's release of Kurokami. Remember that show? No you don't! Nobody does, don't lie to me like that...

The reasoning behind this absurd release is obvious enough: The Japanese release, which retails for about $900, gets its last of 10 Blu-ray volumes on the 22nd of this month. Sentai's first volume containing half the entire series 4 weeks later. Sentai's original MSRP was $70, or less than 1/6th the cost of the Japanese release. Aniplex sees a bargain priced "Region A" import release as a threat to their insanely expensive local alternative, and likely offered Sentai Filmworks the following four choices, each increasingly shitty in its own unique and sad way:

Only release the show on DVD and waive Blu-ray rights completely.

Release the Blu-ray dub only for typical US pricing now.

Release the Blu-ray bilingual for typical JP pricing now.

Release the Blu-ray bilingual for typical US pricing AT LEAST a year later.

Never having delved into the Persona franchise proper*, I can't say this particular release upsets me as a fan... but it does worry me as a consumer. We've seen "forced" English subtitles on several releases, and while slightly annoying in the scheme of things, I don't really mind much. Dub-only, though? That's just brutal.

Like I've said, I was never going to be first in line to pick up PERSONA 4 anyway, so maybe my stance here is irrelevant. But you bet your ass I'll be the first to say that I'll not support an anime Blu-ray that's been stripped of its original language.

* I own the PSP remake of PERSONA 3, so I'm not totally disinterested. Just distracted by a hundred other things.