Thursday, March 14, 2013

Get Yer' Boomsticks Ready

 Because you know... Japan.

So, first the good news: both France and Germany are releasing Sam Raimi's horror-fantasy mash-up cult classic ARMY OF DARKNESS on Blu-ray in exhaustive Special Editions, which are all set to include a grand total of three cuts of the film: The familiar 81 minute R-rated "US Theatrical" version, the 89 minute "International Theatrical" version few English speakers have ever seen, and the 97 minute "Director's Cut". Ginchy, right? We can finally marvel at Bruce Cambpell at his Campbelliest in 1080p, free of the studio mandated cuts that saddled the American cut of the film!

What could possibly go-- actually, I'm not even gonna finish that sentence. At least half of you know exactly where this is going, but, let's talk about it anyway...

The good news is that, at the very least the 81 minute "US Cut" will be pulled in its entirety from the same HD master Universal has released on Blu-ray in various territories, while the 89 minute "International Cut" will be provided by an HD master compiled by MGM for various European and Asian territories. So what of the 10 minutes worth of footage featured only in the Director's Cut? If early reviews can be trusted, I've got three words for you, friends:

Standard Definition Upscale.

"But what about the MGM Hong Kong DVD?!" I hear some of you ask. "That looked great! It had to be from an HD master!" And supposedly it was... partially. According to a hastily translated account ripped from - if I'm not mistaken - the FOLLOWING REVIEW, this is what they had to say on the matter (with some basic grammar fixes by yours truly):

"MGM had an HD-Master for the Euro Version. They used it for the release in Germany and for the Hong-Kong DC, both on DVD. For the additional scenes in the HK DVD, MGM had only an SD-Master, which they edited into the Euro Version. So the Director's Cut on DVD in Hong Kong is a mix of the Euro Version HD Master, and additional scenes in SD."

That's coming from somebody who's actually seen the disc, but... honestly, I have trouble buying it. The fact is, the "DC Exclusive" footage looks great for a standard definition release, and it all just looks so damn good, I have trouble believing that MGM haphazardly spliced an interlaced SD master into a pristine HDCAM source to accomplish it. More importantly, the DC includes fresh scans - HD or not - from a 35mm source from start to finish. Clearly MGM has access to a complete and usable film source - why not request that single reel of footage be re-transferred? Could this be a joint venture between Filmedia and Koch and both of them decided, "Psh, fuck that DC, man - it's just not worth the money"? Hell, Koch transferred less than a minute for their release of 4 Flies on Gray Velvet, something just doesn't add up here.

Maybe I'm completely wrong, but the difference in quality between the International Cut and the Director's Cut is simply a non-issue; I have trouble even spotting when it switches from familiar footage to extended gags, and considering I broke a dozen blood vessels in each eye watching the color timing snap unexpectedly on that totally uncut German release of Ebola Syndrome where everything suddenly turns a jaundiced yellow hue whenever extended blood is about to flow, I'd like to think I'd notice something. Of course, it's not impossible that MGM created an SD master of the DC from start to finish, and this new HD master was Frankensteined between that and a pre-existing "International" HD master... there's just too many variables here to put my finger on, at least before the damned thing is officially available to the public.

The Filmedia French release (Evil Dead 3 : L'armée des Ténèbres) packs all 3 cuts on a single disc, presumably via seamless branching, with a retail of 25 Euros. Germany has an upcoming release via Koch Media (Die Armee der Finsternis), which will be available in both a Director's Cut only single disc for 15 Euros, or a top-popping 6 disc 2 Blu-ray/4 DVD combo in a Media Book for 45 Euros. That hefty price increase comes with the now rarely seen US TV Cut (basically a sanitized presentation of the International Version) and ports Director's Cut commentary, while both include various behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and a host of deleted scenes that every fan of the film has probably seen at one point or another. My guess is that Koch and Filmedia will be using the same HD master, but as nobody's yet seen the German release, it'd be premature to state that as fact.

I'm on the fence over which of these releases to grab, but it won't be too much longer before I get one of them shipped to my door. We'll take a more in-depth look soon enough. In the meantime, I'll try to share some thoughts on a very special purchase I made earlier in the week... we'll see how horribly distracted I get, though.


Kriztoffer Swank said...

I'll hang back and see the reports/screenshots pour in before I get all excited. I too have a difficult time believing that DC-only scenes are from an SD master, because assuming (most of) the HK DVD is from an HD source, I don't notice any drops in quality aside from obvious matte effects and that.

And I just watched all three movies back-to-back using the Anchor Bay and Lionsgate Blu-rays for the first two (respectively) and the HK DVD for the third upscaled on my 52", and I thought it looked bangin'.

I'd definitely love to have the movie in HD. If I can just get the DC in 1080p filmic glory, I'll be beyond pleased, though I'd also like having the US theatrical cut in the same/similar quality since all current HD editions look like sun-baked vomit with all that nasty EE; I've seen the movie twice in theaters on 35mm and both times I was wowed by the color and grain structure, which is terribly messed up on the Anchor Bay DVDs and Screwhead Edition BD.

The Euro cut? I dunno... It'd be an interesting curiosity to check out but not necessary. The US cut has an interesting streamlined feel to it, so I'm not sure an "extended" version of that would be all that fascinating; if I want the "full" viewing of the movie, I'll just go with my preferred director's cut.

So yeah, I'll, uh...wait and see before my hopes are up. If the German box ends up using the same HD master for the US cut as what's made the rounds, and the DC is a decade-old master with upscaled SD footage spliced in, I think it's safe to say I'll pass and just stick to my HK DVD.

Kentai 拳態 said...

I'm expecting a flood of MGM R3 DVD vs BD comparisons in the next couple weeks, and I'm holding off any actual judgment until I can compare a copy of the actual disc for myself. A small pool of comparisons can be useful, certainly, but this is a really fun film that deserves my full attention on its 20th anniversary. (Wait - holy shit, it's been 20 years?! I am getting old...)

I just don't believe that Koch Media would use SD upscales for a 20 year old Hollywood film, not after all the time and money they spent on 4 Flies on Gray Velvet. I don't know a thing about Filmedia, but common sense would dictate that they're from the same materials...

I've yet to see a single EVIL DEAD film on 35mm, much to my chagrin. Amazingly there's a local place doing a "Marathon Show" with the Raimi trilogy building to the remake at midnight, but AoD and the remake will be digital presentations... which makes me think the latter is going to be either a DVD or Blu-ray showing of the DC. Just a hunch, though.

Y'know what I did see on 35mm recently? COONSKIN. The "proper" 1.85:1 framing cropped the copyright out of the film. AWESOME.

David said...

I fucking KNEW there was something wrong with the framing on that Coonskin DVD from the very moment I saw the trailer. Goddamn it.

David said...

Oops, totally misread that comment. I'll blame that on the less than two hours of sleep I got.

I guess it's still relevant, though, considering the official Coonskin DVD that came out last year was cropped to 1.85:1 and everything I've seen from it looks awkwardly framed at BEST.

Kentai 拳態 said...

I'm still disappointed that Shout! Factory hit legal troubles back in 2010, I can only assume with the producers of the political documentary entitled - of all things - STREET FIGHT. I'd imagine that release was going to include a Bakshi commentary and a retrospective of some kind, and if any film demands one, COONSKIN is it!

It's safe to say that I have very mixed feelings about the 16:9 "HD Remastered" transfer Xenon eventually released on DVD. It looks a hell of a lot better than all of the LD sourced bootlegs we've seen up until now, but the framing is awkward, at best. That said, the COONSKIN storyboards were made in 1.85, so... I honestly have no idea what happened.

It's times like this, I wish Blu-ray would use all that extra space to include both a 1.85:1 version and a 1.37:1 version.

Anonymous said...

Here's a comparative. For the 81 minutes R-Rated cut, it looks like they used the same horrible master featured on previous editions. For the International and Director's Cut (both available by seamless branching), however, a new and surely better master has been used.
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1, subs: only French.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Yo, Kentai—
Real quick, just wondering if you have any thoughts on this BD burner:

If there's any concern being external. I'd imagine using USB 3.0 shouldn't hinder anything in regard to playback and burning. This will be used as my all-region BD player once I get my new compy all put together (which is gonna take some slow scratching away for parts).

And to consolidate my Qs: Any thoughts on the Critical Mass DVDs for La Blue Girl? I know it has less footage of Nin-Nin that my VHS box contains, but I'm curious about video quality and how much of an upgrade I can expect (apparently they're ports of the Anime 18 discs). $13 a disc at Right Stuf right now, thinking of biting just to have digital copies in higher quality.

Kentai 拳態 said...

USB 3.0 should have plenty of bandwidth to pass a BD back and fourth without any major lag issues, and unless I'm completely mistaken it'd be pretty much comparable to the speeds you'd get from a SATA 3 gb/s connection. Two friends of mine have bought external BD-R drives and had to replace them after 1~2 years or so after regular use... but I have roughly the same shelf life on internal drives. Wish I could give a more personal account, but I have a cat who eats cords, so...

Anime 18's track record on later releases is decent enough: If you can live with English credits and Nin-Nin gags being cut, the R1 re-release of LBG is about as good as it's going to get. It's possible they hit it with some early 00's DVNR, but with analog masters as old as this, I'd argue you've got almost nothing to lose...

I'm a little ashamed to say I still have the initial A18/NUTECH release, which looks like it was encoded using consumer-friendly "MAKE YOUR OWN DVD!" software, has audio that goes completely out of sync. The plan was always to get my hands on the R2 DVD release, but those went OOP and... well, let's just say that's in "the fix-er-uper pile", and has been for the better half of a decade.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Cool, thanks. I went ahead and bought the BD burner because after the promo code and $20 rebate, it'll come out to just under $95. Not too shabby. Until I get my computer built, it'll be fun just to tinker with the thing on my dad's laptop and get some programs to play Region B titles, and then finally buy some much-desired titles like Tetsuo.

I'll probably get the La Blue Girl DVDs. Might buy the cute Mega Man 10 plush along with it. Wonder what their warehouse packers will think when they plop those two mismatched items in the box... Cutesy, aaaaand pervy.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Is this the most recent/to-date best DVD copy of the original Urotsukidoji OVAs?

Auction on eBay right now, already $53 but I think I'll keep my eye on it.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Alsooooo, how are Demon Beast Invasion/Resurrection and these DVDs for 'em?

Gettin' my Maeda perv on.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Media Blasters supposedly has the rights to the complete Urotsukidoji OVA series (barring THE UROTSUKI - that's Critical Mass' bitch these days), but after their pitiful Blu-ray release of "The Movie" they've not re-released anything else in the franchise. A shame, too, as we still need a proper subtitled version of RETURN OF THE OVERFIEND and INFERNO ROAD.

Media Blasters is on life support as it is, so I'm guessing their abandonment of all things old and tentacle-y is a sign that nobody bought their shitty Legend of the Overfiend Blu-ray. (Which would probably have sold better if it was framed right, didn't source 8 minutes from analog SD masters, and had anyone actually known it exists. Seriously, has anyone but me even mentioned it being a thing?)

The Anime 18 "Perfect Collection" is adequate enough, and for $50-70, I'd say have at it. The encode holds up better than most CPM titles, it's completely uncensored and unmolested by hardsubs, and Neil Nadelman's subtitles have nothing worth complaining about.

The A18 release of DEMON BEAST INVASION is perfectly adequate - uncensored, uncut, the show looks and sounds as good as it ever will. Episode 1 and 2 are incredibly cheap and too simple for their own good, but it's still not as bad as the last episode of ADVENTURE KID. Episodes 3 and 4 are a fucking masterwork, limited animation or not. 5 and 6 are cut from the same cloth as La Blue Girl - they aren't bad, they're just a lot sillier than everything that came before it, and in the wake of 3-4 they don't come out looking like the best of the series.

A couple of the hardcore shots in episode 3 look like they were sourced from a VHS copy for some odd reason. Considering how lovingly rendered the twitchy, sticky monster penetration of that show could get, it's a small price to pay.

James said...

Koch have confirmed that the transfer on their version will be identical to the French edition as they worked together. All DC-exclusive scenes were indeed upscaled from 720p digital files. The German edition will apparently only feature the original stereo mixes, no 5.1 upmixes included.

It's also worth noting that the TV edit included on the Koch set is more than "basically a sanitized presentation of the International Version" - it's an entirely different cut that in fact skews closer to the US Theatrical Cut whilst reintegrating some footage from the DC and, most notably, two whole scenes not featured in any other version (including the DC).

Kentai 拳態 said...

"Upscaled from 720p files", they said? That's really, really odd. Like, "somebody isn't doing their fucking job properly" odd.

Nobody, and I mean fucking NOBODY makes 720p HD masters from 35mm. It's the same exact cost to scan it to 1080p and then down-rez from there, should a 720p version actually be requested. Now I'm terrified to see how this turns out...

That aside, thanks for the tip on the TV version being something more special than I thought it was! I haven't seen it since Sci-Fi actually played it back in the mid 90s, and I've never once found an especially helpful comparison between it and any other available version. I always figured it was a trimmed edit of the Euro version rather than anything more substantial - damn it, now that 45 Euros set sounds tempting again!!

Kriztoffer Swank said...

40% off sale on Right Stuf product. I gotta ask: Is La Blue Girl worth checking out at $9 a DVD?

Also, Sirabella posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that Media Blasters is still around but he's sized it down to the labels Tokyo Shock, AnimeWorks, and Kitty Media, supposedly with big plans for Kitty this year. HOPEFULLY that means we'll still get Kite on Blu-ray, and that Urotsukidoji will get a re-release and subbed DVDs for Return of the Overfiend and Inferno Road. But it sounds like he's more focused on the streaming site, so I hope that doesn't mean we won't be getting physical product. PPV for porn, even hentai, doesn't sit well with me.

Per the main topic, a TV cut of Army of Darkness containing exclusive footage certainly makes that German box sound sweeter.

I noticed that Anime Limited said on their Facebook page that their Cowboy Bebop Blu-ray will look as close to the Japanese Blu-rays as possible. Certainly has me excited. External BD drive arrived today so I gotta hook this beast up and get some programs running. What's best for playing Region B?

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Er, that was meant to be La Blue Girl Returns. $18 for all four eps might not be bad unless the show itself really sucks.

Kentai 拳態 said...

La Blue Girl Returns is worth $18, to be sure, but much like half way through RETURN OF THE OVERFIEND the franchise has finally hit the point of diminishing returns. In particular, the pornographic sequences feel quite a bit like the hardcore scenes from Mezzo Forte - incredibly well crafted in their own right, but only seem to exist because the built-in audience demands it, not because it propels the story in any meaningful way.

The first two episodes are actually pretty damn good, but then it goes off in a new direction and... literally just ends in the middle of fuck all nowhere. Did they even actually solve the main conflict in the show? I don't think they did, but the fact that I don't even remember is so much more telling as to how big an impact the whole thing had on me.

It isn't anywhere near as subversive as the original four episodes, or even as interested in its own mythology as Lady Blue - it's similar in tone and spirit to the "Shin" episodes (which A18 released as VOL. 5-6) where it just throws whatever shit it can come up with in the mix and hopes it all gels in the end. Again, those episodes are still damned good in the scope of narrative tentacle pornography - they're just not up to the same level as the rest of the show it's been weaved into.

It's certainly not the furious dick-punch that ended so many other MAEDA Toshio inspired OVAs. It's just the least interesting part of a phenomenal series, which means it still shakes out to be pretty good when all is said and done.

Besides: Stomach Distending Caterpillar Birth. If the chance to crank some knuckle children to that isn't worth $20, what the hell is?

Kentai 拳態 said...

And as far as BD playing software goes: ArcSoft Total Media Theater + Slysoft/DVDFab Decryption = BEST SHIT EVER.

Sadly, none of these things are free, but they're totally goddamn worth the asking price.

I can't speak for the decryption end with one being "better" than the other; I have one at home and one at work*, and they both do the exact same thing, and they both do it pretty damn well. One is Coke, one is Pepsi, and you're using it to mix with rum. Just grab whichever's on sale and move on.

(* Strictly for legit purposes, believe it or not! It's complicated. By which I mostly mean "stupid".)

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Thanks for the hentai info. I wound up blowing my load on Region B Blu-rays instead, however. When I weighed the two, "Cool HD cult flicks or ancient video-sourced cartoon porn?" I went with the former. It was a tough decision though, I'll tell you what (it really was—I'm not kidding); I dunno if Right Stuf will offer this stuff at low prices again, but maybe. Hell, sure they will! They always have cool bargain sales and stuff, and I'm sure eventually they'll wanna get rid of their 18+ stash.

In the meantime there's BiratePay.

And speaking of (going back to an earlier post) releases that nobody knows exists...I didn't know that Media Blasters had put out a Blu-ray for Frank Henenlotter's Bad Biology. That flick's a guilty pleasure of mine. And I mean that in the sense of, "I feel really fucking guilty for watching this, but I'm getting so much pleasure out of it as well, which only makes me feel dirtier." Actually, I'd known this at one point, but it was never in stock anywhere so I plum forgot. Now it's on Amazon, DeepDiscount, TARGET of all places... I'm not expecting a whole lot from the image quality, but it's gotta be better than my PAL DVD, right? RIGHT? So I'm taking a huge leap of faith here. I just hope it turns out all right. I of course can't find a review or screencaps anywhere.

Fucking Sirabella, man... I tell ya.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Please tell me you know what this badassery is:

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