A Pair of Vincent Prices #2: The Last Man On Earth (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Now we come to the movie that made me spring for The Vincent Price Collection (Part 2) in the first place, a real horror gem: 1964's The Last Man On Earth.  Not to say that every other Vincent Price film in the set is junk or anything... The Comedy of Terrors is always amusing, and Dr. Phibes 2 would've been a much bigger draw if it was packaged with Part 1, but it's still pretty far out in its own right.  But The Last Man On Earth, now there's a film we all need in our horror collections.
Based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, Last Man On Earth is an obvious, very strong inspiration for George Romero's Night Of the Living Dead and its follow-ups.  Price is the titular last man, after the civilization has been brought down by monsters.  Technically, they're vampires, but as shambling, moaning, corpse-like shells of the people they once were, with limited intelligence and abilities, compulsorily drawn to consume the last remaining human life... they're basically Romero zombies with a handful of distinctions.  The most important of those, I suppose, is that these creatures only come out at night, because, as vampires, they shun the sunlight.  This means Price's nights are spent in classic NotLD-mode, boarded up in his house as the creatures lay clumsy siege, banging weakly at the doors and windows.  Then in the days, he's free to go out and explore the ravaged cities, pillage abandoned storefronts and homes for food and supplies, more along the lines of the later Dead films, Walking Dead, etc.
But this film doesn't just earn its credit by beating Romero to the punch of many of his key concepts and set pieces; it's a pretty great little sci-fi/ horror flick on its own terms.  Last Man is actually an Italian production, but thankfully, with Price doing his own voice and the bulk of the film centering on one man painfully alone in the world, it gets away with its dubbing except for a few, brief moments.  Honestly, it took me owning the film on various films for years to even realize it wasn't all-American, striking me instead as maybe just a little extra low budget.  But it got over any production value-related concerns by being a surprisingly faithful adaptation of a great little book (Matheson is an excellent genre writer, whose only fault might've been spreading himself a little too thin; and that's one trait that doesn't show in I Am Legend).  It's smart and surprisingly effective dramatically.  There have been much bigger, showier, major studio shots at the book, and this one remains the comfortably seated as the best.
1971's Omega Man, with Charlton Heston, takes some bold liberties with the story, making the vampires much more lucid and letting us into their point of view early on.  They have philosophical discussions with each other and concoct plans to get at Heston.  I'm willing to overlook the central conceit that an entire, fully intelligent society of people have spent years unable to roust one determined man out of his LA apartment; but you can't overlook how the second half of the film gives up on most of its ideas halfway through.  It slowly fizzles away into an excuse for big, doofy action sequences, like Heston riding around a football stadium in a stunt-filled motorcycle chase with everybody waving around machine guns and leaping over explosions.  We keep racking up the flat-out dumb moments (Rosalind Cash avoids capture by posing like a mannequin in a clothing store?  Is this Scooby Doo?) and eventually stall out in a silly, sappy conclusion that just fails to deliver on the messages of the original story.

Then, I used to have trouble putting my finger on what rubbed me the wrong way with 2007's I Am Legend starring Will Smith.  Sure, it made some pointless alterations and is plagued with unfortunate CGI of its time - and it has that shameless Shrek ad dumped into the middle of the film - but it's relatively faithful and ambitious.  I think lately I've decided that it just comes off as a lighter, more shallow retelling... sort of the typical post-apocalyptic teenlit flick that have come into vogue in the 2010s, except it just happens to star a grown man.  I'm sure when it started out, somebody had earnest intentions of finally crafting the perfect on-screen depiction of Matheson's novel; but it quickly Frankenstein'd into a star vehicle with alternate endings happily throwing away the story's ultimate irony in search of a crowd-pleasing, Hollywood conclusion.  It's like a Twilight Zone without the final twist to give it all its meaning.  "Audiences felt the guy's glasses breaking was a bummer, so now it's just a quick tale of a guy who gets to read a lot of books!"
So there isn't a bunch of Rifftrax DVDs this time around (although, yes, there is a Legend Films colorized edition out there), but otherwise its the same line-up of suspects as last time.  Like I've said, I've owned a couple previous editions of this film, including a VHS tape and an old Diamond double-feature.  But the first Mill Creek DVD from the Chilling 20 movie pack will give you a rough idea of what pretty much every old, gray market edition looked like.  Then we have Scream Factory's fancy, 2014 HD restoration from their Vincent Price Collection II boxes set.  And finally we have Mill Creek's most recent edition, from their own 2017 Vincent Price Collection.
1) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 2) 2014 Scream Factory blu;
3) 2017 Mill Creek DVD.
Part of what's worked against The Last Man On Earth, especially in comparison to the other Legend adaptations, is how awful its typically looked on home video.  This is a very wide, 2.35:1 film (or technically 2.34:1 as it appears on Scream's blu), presented in a boxy, full frame transfer that doesn't open up the vertical mattes, but just hacks off the sides.  Specifically, the 2005 DVD chooses the unusual aspect ratio of 1.42:1, which hey, just add it to the endless list of flaws.  I mean, could a DVD transfer be any worse without intentional sabotage?  The framing is also non-anamorphic, interlaced (of course!), and even the non-interlaced frames are so heavily plagued with digitization and who knows what else that every moment is littered with noise and interference.  The film almost looks cross-hatched.  It's also washed and over exposed, giving it a pale, hard-to-look-at feel, and it's full of print damage, from constant flecks and spots to vertical lines running through entire scenes.  The opening credit scenes are also horizontally crushed to try and fit all the writing on screen, though amusingly it still fails and cuts off a lot of the text.  It's just ghastly.

Anyway, the new Mill Creek DVD has essentially the same widescreen transfer as the blu, just a bit worse.  It has a sliver less info on the right-hand side, and more importantly is vertically stretched to 2.22:1.  It's not interlaced, but it is heavily compressed, even for SD, which winds up scrubbing detail and adding a lot of jpg-style artifacting.  Also the darks are a bit light and everything's a bit greyer and flatter.  The blu-ray itself nicely retains film grain, and I have to say, finally seeing it in this condition has genuinely increased by appreciation of the movie as a whole.  Growing up with PQ like the old Mill Creek DVD really added to the feeling that this was a cheap, well intentioned but junky picture.  Seeing it restored to 2.35 (or okay, 2.34) with clearly high end 35mm detail, professional lighting and composition, etc, you suddenly realize no, this is a real movie.
But there's more than just the technical picture quality to consider.  There are slightly different running times, which I at first attributed to just alternate opening logos.  After all, only the 2005 DVD includes the original American International Television logo and music.  The 2017 DVD just starts with the fade-in after that, and Scream replaces it with a modern MGM lion logo.  The 2005 also ends with another AIT logo, and the blu with another from MGM.  But there's a much bigger difference.  The 2005 DVD also cuts out the final lines of the picture!  And if you're familiar wit the film, they're pretty key to the entire point of the story.  So that just makes the older disc even less desirable compared to later editions, except it's such a dramatic editorial change, I think you could say it's effectively a different cut of the film, and possibly also worth owning for serious fans, if only for a bit of novelty value.  But yes, for most of us, it's just one more very compelling reason to upgrade if you've just got one of the old editions.

Anyway, the sound quality on the 2005 DVD is about as abysmal as the picture.  Of course both DVDs just include the basic mono in 2.0 with no subtitles or any kind of options, but the 2005 is much noisier, with crackles, hiss and even the sound of reels turning embedded in the sound.  The 2017 DVD clears all that up.  It's a bit tinny, but generally fine.  Then Scream rounds that out even better, in lossless DTS-HD of course, with even more robust sound and more distinct dialogue.  Scream also adds optional English subtitles.
Naturally, the DVDs are just as unhelpful in terms of special features.  They have absolutely nothing.  But the blu-ray has a couple choice goodies that add some genuine value.  First up is an audio commentary by two critics.  They have a lot of good info, and the interplay between them keeps things lively.  They do have a habit of pointing out how unvampire-like the film's vampire's are, which actually speaks more to their ignorance of vampire lore than a flaw in the film, since what they call mistakes are sometimes actually rather thoughtful references.  But that's a real nitpick of an overall very worthwhile commentary.  Still, experts are one thing and the actual filmmakers are quite another, and to that end we get vintage interview with Matheson himself.  It's a bit short but tightly edited and rather candid.  Definitely worth the watch.  There's also a stills gallery of some nice, vintage promo shots and colorized lobby cards; and the set itself includes a nice, full-color, 32 page booklet, which touches on Last Man in addition to everything else.
So this disc isn't as impressive as Criterion's Night Of the Living Dead, but it feels almost as essential.  And as I said with The House On Haunted Hill, it's a shame you can't buy this edition on its own.  Also, as with House, this is also available in Umbrella's Vincent Price Collection; however, this time it is available separately.  So that might be an option, but it's barebones.  And the only other blu-rays seem to be a rather poorly reviewed German disc and a couple of those "fake" SD upconverts.  So Scream's the ideal choice, except you're forced to buy the whole collection.  And unfortunately, the end result of that seems to be more horror fans are just going without and this film isn't getting the contemporary recognition it really deserves.

A Pair of Vincent Prices #1: House On Haunted Hill (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Woo!  Only two label Pairs down, and I'm already breaking the rules.  What an outlaw, what a rebel!  Even other rebels can't believe how much I disregard the laws.  Alright, I'll stop.  But yeah, I thought I'd mix things up a little and do two classic Vincent Price vehicles.  And I'm starting with William Castle's most famous successful horror outing - well, unless you want to count Rosemary's Baby - The far sillier House On Haunted Hill.
Mind you, when I call this film silly, it's meant to be silly.  I'm not putting down a dead serious horror film that's failing to illicit drama or suspense.  The House On Haunted Hill is a tongue-in-cheek lark.  Vincent Price is a millionaire married to his sixth wife who seems to want him dead even more than he wants her see her that way.  Still, he's invited an eclectic mix of six strangers to a party in her honor: a party in his famously haunted mansion (a distractingly strange looking Frank Lloyd Wright creation).  Each guest will receive ten thousand dollars if they agree to stay over night... and live to collect.  Does he plan to murder one or all of them?  Is one of them there to murder him?  Are there really ghosts?  Or should everyone really be wary of the ghoulish servants who lurk the corridors?

House is awfully short for a feature, clocking it at just under 75 minutes, no doubt taking its cue from Shakespeare: "brevity is the soul of wit."  If you're worried about this being an old, boring movie, have no fear of that.  The pacing is electric, zipping from plot twist to plot twist, especially when you consider this film is packed with main characters.  When the film does briefly pause to take a breath, its only to allow Price and his wife to trade sharp barbs in delectable camp fashion or build up suspense for one of its big scare set pieces.  Not that this film's genuinely scary at all; but it knows how to capture that haunted house thrill ride spirit.  In fact, being a William Castle film; The House On Haunted Hill had a famous in-theater gimmick where a skeleton would fly over the audiences' heads during a key scene in the film.  Fortunately, this film entertains just as well when viewed at home without it.
I used to own a junky, old public domain DVD of this from Diamond.  But I've since chucked it, since I replaced it with other public domain versions, specifically in a 2005 Mill Creek 20 Movie Pack called chilling, and in the various Rifftrax editions.  Those include the original Legend Films DVD, which featured a non-Rifftrax Mike Nelson commentary, and most notably colorized the film, the official Rifftrax DVD (which does allow the option of watching the film sans riffing) and their live show DVD.  Now, House has been out on blu a few times, as parts of classic horror sets, but those early releases were just "fakes," slapping basic SD transfers onto blu-ray discs.  House made its debut in genuine HD with Scream Factory's Vincent Price Collection II, the second of three blu-ray boxed sets of Price films.  Like the other films in those collections, it's not available separately, and is almost only available in that box... Umbrella has also issued it own barebones Vincent Price blu-ray collection in Australia, which also includes this film.  Either way, you're not getting this film on blu without purchasing a slew of other VP titles, too, which is frustrating if you just happen to like this one film.  Interestingly, the most recent release is another Mill Creek DVD, this time from 2017, so we can see how far they've come, if at all.
1) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 2) 2005 Legend DVD (B&W);
3) 2005 Legend (color) DVD; 4) 2009 Rifftrax DVD;
5) 2011 Rifftrax live DVD; 6) 2014 Scream Factory blu;
7) 2017 Mill Creek DVD.
So, I was expecting Mill Creek to either have some SD transfer closer to Scream's remaster, or maybe still the same old one from 2005.  But I was sure surprised to see them actually move backwards.  Their first DVD is still non-anamorphic, soft and interlaced, but at least it was sort of widescreen, at the unusual ratio of 1.57:1.  Their 2017 is just as interlaced, possibly even softer, now murky yellow, and now framed at 1.31:1.  Well, I'm assuming this film is meant to be matted wide... that's certainly what Scream Factory did for their HD restoration, lowering it to 1.77:1.  The fullscreen versions are all open matte, though, so they're mostly shaving off vertical information... but they do reveal something new to the sides as well.  In between the polar extremes of Mill Creek and Scream we have the Legend/ Rifftrax DVDs.  All utilize the same transfer (apart from the B&W/ colorized distinction), fullframe at 1.33:1 and happily not interlaced.  Well, except there is some jagged combing visible throughout the 2009 disc, but they don't have entirely interlaced frames.  I think they just made a mistake in the compression of the plain Rifftrax disc.  The colorization isn't too bad for what it is (i.e. revisionist and undesirable), but it at least refrains from crazy, unnatural color choices like they did with Reefer Madness.
It was perhaps a bit silly of me to include the Rifftrax Live DVD in this comparison, because unlike the other Legend/ Rifftrax discs, it doesn't offer you the option of watching the film with just the original audio.  It also, naturally, includes other segments of the live show, including two short films and occasionally pushes the picture to one side in order to show the guys performing.  It's really only watchable as an episode of Rifftrax.  But, to be clear, the other editions, including the official 2009 Rifftrax DVD, do allow you to watch the film "plain," without their interference, and so work as proper House On Haunted Hill DVDs if you so desire.  And since the 2009 one is the janky one visually, that makes the 2005 Legend DVD the preferable option.

Anyway, that Legend disc might've been one of the better ones back when all we had were mediocre DVDs of this public domain title, but the blu is playing on an entirely different level.  Questions about the AR aside (even if it should be widescreen, surely 1.77:1 is slightly off for the sake of catering to 16x9 TVs), this is the first time House really looks like film.  Grain is rich and downright vibrant in motion, the contrast is bold and pleasing, image is sharp and detail is restored.  And, of course, none of these DVDs offer anything more than the rough mono audio, but Scream has boosted it to DTS-HD and killed most of the hiss of past editions.  Foley sounds crisp and naturalistic for once.  They've also included optional English subtitles for the first time.
In terms of special features, as you can imagine, those Mill Creek collections are completely barren.  And the main extras on the Rifftrax discs are just the riff tracks themselves.  The 2005 one was made and released before Rifftrax was a thing, and is just described as a "hilarious audio commentary by Mike Nelson of TV's Mystery Science Theater 3000."  It's a bit more of Mike by himself going off the cuff, as opposed to the 2009 and 2011, which are properly written, and decidedly funnier, performances by the trio.  The 2005 DVD also has a short video of press book stills, the theatrical trailer, an insert, and an ad for their other colorized discs.  The live DVD also includes two comic Rifftrax commercials and the trivia track they would show before the show when it was broadcast in theaters.

Scream finally gives the film some real extras, though it's a little disappointing that, as a part of their Vincent Price Collection, it seems to be made from the perspective that we're all die-hard Price lovers rather than interested in the film in general.  By that I mean, we get a bunch of featurettes that really get into the weeds of Price's life and career, even delving into his private art collection and taste in wine, and none about the Castle, the film itself, or the rest of the cast and crew.  Introductory Price, Working With Vincent Price, Vincent Price: Renaissance Man...  Hey, I enjoy Price's work and am interested to learn more, but I don't need to root through his drawers, if you know what I mean.  So yeah, there's the four featurettes, the trailer, a bunch of other Price trailers, the stills gallery, and the one feature that dares to broaden the field, an audio commentary by film historian Steve Haberman.  Of course he talks about Price, too, but he's the only one here to get into all the other fun stuff about this film, Castle, other cast members and of course the flying skeleton.
So yeah, even the special features suggest this disc was never intended to be released on its own, outside of the Vincent Price collection.  But that's a shame, because thanks to its pacing if nothing else, this film stands the test of time, and has a broader appeal than many of the other films in this set.  You know, I don't see anyone but Price completists beating down the door for Return Of the Fly.  But there really ought to be a stand-alone option for The House On Haunted Hill, and I mean one with the HD quality and audio commentary.  It's a great disc, and I think it's being blockaded off from some of its audience.

Lars von Trier's Darkly Demented The House That Jack Built, Now On Blu!

As with practically every new film by Lars von Trier, you can wait indefinitely for a US release, or The House That Jack Built import today.  Yes, Artificial Eye's UK blu has just landed on our shores, and it looks promising: uncut, HD, and even some special features.  "Uncut" is important to clarify, because apparently IFC in the US have been putzing around, putting out both the original director's cut and an R-rated edit in theaters.  And considering they've only mentioned a subsequent digital release this summer, who knows what if anything, they plan to eventually release on disc?  So you suckers can wait.  Me, I've imported!  It's paid off pretty consistently in the past, so hopefully the lucky streak continues...
If you're wondering, no, I wouldn't classify this as a horror film; though it certainly has its effects-heavy gruesome moments that would satisfy a proper gore hound.  It's more of a dramatic character study.  The fact that we're following a serial killer rather than some sort of "final girl" does put this somewhat close in tone to films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Angst, though.  But then it diverges farther into topics like art and existentialism, which will bore anyone who thought the Halloween reboot was the best film of last year.  Still, I suppose, as with those other films or American Psycho, it's at least horror adjacent.

An interesting fact about this movie, is that it was originally planned and announced as, "an ensemble TV series... shot in English and due to air in 2016. It marks his first foray into long-form TV drama and is being developed for Danish public broadcaster DR."  Instead it's wound up as a feature film, structured very much like his previous film, Nymphomaniac.  It's a long story, told in the form of a conversation, where the protagonist is narrating his/ her experience to another character in distinct chapters, with digressions for lecture-style explanations of their philosophies, replete with mixed media including stock footage and animation.  An interesting thing about the series concept is that it wouldn't have an ending; just an indefinite saga (and you can feel some of that energy still in the film's writing).  But this film, oh boy, it has one of the most definitive endings possible.
Performance-wise, this is really a one-man show, and thankfully Matt Dillon is up to the challenge.  Yes, Uma Thurman gets high billing, and you may notice Jeremy Davies' name in the mix.  But really, everybody comes and goes rather quickly; Dillon is the only character we stay with, and he's in nearly every frame.  In an interview, Trier describes this film as being his most Hitchcockian yet, and I definitely agree with that.  But to me that's more of a con than he probably thought of it, as it means the characters are a bit more superficial, following a plot for the sake of the plot and even more for the sake of set pieces.  But it's a bit light on humanity and drama, instead watching the characters go through their paces as a lighter entertainment than anything that'll touch you or resonate.  I definitely wouldn't place this quite as highly as Trier's many masterpieces, like Dogville, Melancholia or Antichrist.  But I found it did hold together a little better than Nymphomaniac.
The House That Jack Built hasn't come out in the US yet, but it's just been released in the UK by Artificial Eye.  It's "the full uncensored version," as the giant red band across the cover attests, and has some nice special features.  The only other edition available to date is a French blu with less compelling features (and word is still out on whether the French subs will be forced), and a German disc due out in June (with an Amazon listing that says it will only have German audio).  You never know what will surprise us in future, but Artificial Eye felt like an easy decision for me.  So let's see what I wound up with.
2019 Artificial Eye blu.
The House That Jack Built is framed at a very wide 2.39:1, and looks quite attractive on AE's disc.  This is a digital film, so there's natural grain to search for (except for a few instances of vintage footage taken from various, older sources), but it's clearly a fine, HD image with detail and slim compression you could never get from a DVD.  You might be looking at some of the shots above and thinking: well, I see grain, particularly in that last shot.  But that's presumably an effect added in post... after all, Lars is certainly one to digitally tinker with his images in post.  Anyway, we're given the choice between a stereo mix in LPCM or a 5.1 in DTS-HD.  I was a little surprised and disappointed to see there were no subtitle options, however.
The extras package isn't quite as loaded as we've come to expect from some of the awesome Zentropa releases of Triers past, but what we get is rather satisfying.  First up is a super brief "introduction" by Trier.  I added the quotation marks because it's not really an introduction to the film; it's the announcement he posted online three years ago that Jack was going to be his next film.  Pretty insignificant, but a nice touch to have it on here. And if you want significance, all you have to do is move onto the next feature, the interview, where they go head on at most of the questions you'll have immediately after watching the film.  Here, Trier sits down with an old friend (he's not credited, but they're clearly quite familiar with each other) who puts some very thoughtful, and sometimes rather tough, questions to Trier, for over half an hour.  For example, he doesn't just challenge Trier on the possible misogyny in the film, after Trier gives his answer, he continues to challenge and press him on it.  And then he goes into questioning the meaning and purposes of various film elements, and is able to dig a little deeper thanks to some inside information on Trier's inspirations and processes.

Then there's a featurette which is rather good... It features another interview with Trier that isn't afraid to challenge him, getting into his banning from Cannes and his controversial Nazi comment.  It also features a bit from Dillon and Thurman by way of footage of a press Q&A.  The only downside is that it sources a lot of its material from the first interview on this disc; so yes, we watch several question and answer clips twice, verbatim, in short succession.  But the featurette's still definitely worth it for all the new content.  Finally, there's the trailer.  By the way, I might point out here that the image is a bit of a spoiler, one which the French disc is doubling down on by making it their cover.  Oh well, minor irritant.
So ultimately, I'm quite happy.  This film isn't quite one of Trier's best, but it's still very much worth your time and impressive in many ways.  And AE's blu is first class, including special features that were much stronger than I was expecting.  Is it worth holding out to see what the US does with this?  Maybe.  IFC has strong ties to Scream Factory, so they could feasibly pass this film to them or Criterion, or might pack their edition with even more stuff that'll make me jealous.  But on the other hand, they might just as well stick this out as a cheap, DVD-only title (they've done it before!), or leave it to streaming only.  And I'm not sure more extras would give me much more insight anyway, as what AE gave us worked so well.  Okay, subtitles would've been nice, but I'd say there's a strong chance this will be about as good as it gets.  And if so, I have no complaints.

Arrow Academy Award Winner Gosford Park (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Arrow, of course, has been a main staple on this site; we've looked at one cult horror title of theirs' after another.  But let's also take a minute to appreciate their Arrow Academy line.  It's the same Arrow company, but a brand they keep wholly separate from the Arrow Video that we've known and loved all these years.  They describe the Academy as specializing in "Catalogue and New Release independent, arthouse and world cinema, releasing prestige edition films by the absolute masters of cinema from across the globe."

Admittedly, the distinction makes me bristle a bit... I regard some of the crazy cult and exploitation titles they've released over the years as truly great films in their own right.  I prefer the Criterion's way of saying, hey, we feel films like The Brood, House, and maybe even Equinox deserve to stand alongside all these others.  But the disappointing fact is that, as physical media shrinks, cult and exploitation films are the only ones thriving.  I love The Evil Dead, but it's frustrating it to see it re-released for the fifty millionth time, when many of cinema's greatest dramas, comedies and documentaries have yet to get even one single, satisfying DVD.  So I really appreciate Arrow attempting to steer the market out of its narrowing constrictions.
Not that I've never covered an Arrow Academy title before... we've already done their excellent Eric Rohmer Collection as well as The Sorrow & The Pity, and if the line existed back then, Spirits Of the Dead probably would've gone in it.  But it's hard to imagine a more quintessential Academy title than Gosford Park, Robert Altman's trek into highbrow English drawing-room mystery.  Now, Altman's career was in a bit of a slump during this period... his previous five films were Dr. T. and the Women, Cookie's Fortune, a TV movie called Killer App, Kansas City and Ready To Wear.  Now, fans could rightly point out that there's merit to be found in at least a couple of those, but it had been a while since his works were celebrated.  I think what brought him back up to peak levels here was his collaborators.
Altman first devised this film with Bob Balaban, who gets executive producer and "Idea By" credit in addition to the role he plays on screen.  As they determined this film was to be an Upstairs, Downstairs-style study of Britain's class system (with a heavy to Agatha Christie), they originally were going to have series creator Jean Marsh write the script.  That fell through, though series co-creator Eileen Atkins stayed on to play the cook, Mrs. Croft, and screenwriting duties then fell to Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, who also associate produced on Gosford.  Fun Fact: Downton Abbey was originally intended to be a spin-off of Gosford Park, though it ultimately developed into its own thing.  And of course, you can't talk about Altman and collaborates without mentioning his uncanny ability to continually assemble some of the grandest casts in all filmdom.  In this case, besides the ones we already mentioned, we get Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Emily Watson, Kristen Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, I, Claudius himself: Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Swift, Ryan Phillippe (who doesn't always impress but is perfectly cast here), The Singing Detective Michael Gambon, and Jeremy Northam as the non-fictional character set in an utterly fictional story, song-writer and movie star Ivor Novello.
The result may be Altman's greatest film of all time.  It certainly bears a lot in common with his also highly beloved The Player, another murder mystery used to explore and satirize its surrounding culture (in that case Hollywood).  But while certain elements could certainly be labeled as staples of soap- or melo-drama, I can't help but feel The Player ultimately lacks the heft of the history between the two sisters we discover is ultimately driving everything.

Quality doesn't dictate a robust home video life, however.  It was initially released as a fairly robust DVD by Universal in 2002.  But that's been pretty much it.  The only blu-ray was a Canadian blu-ray, which by all accounts was barebones and used the same old master.  It wasn't until the end of 2018 that Gosford Park was restored in 4k that we got any real upgrade over our decades old DVD.  Studio Canal put it out in Germany, but Arrow is handling it in the US and UK, and they've turned it into a fancy, new special edition.
1) 2002 Universal DVD; 2) 2018 Arrow blu-ray.
So I left the negative space around the first set of images so you can see the funky bit of dead air the DVD left on the left side in the overscan area.  Now you're looking at the edges, though, you should notice the dramatic amount of extra picture the new scan reveals.  It's not just the fact that the DVD was slightly off at 2.30:1, which the blu corrects to 2.35:1; we can see the new scan zooms out further, showing more on all four sides.  And it's nice to see such obvious improvements in comparison, because the blu by itself, on first glance, might seem a little underwhelming.  It has a low contrast, low saturation that doesn't exactly "pop," and the black levels never make it to true black.  But these are presumably quite intentional, artistic choices.  This transfer goes back to the original negatives, and was approved by the DP.  And indeed, when you're able to compare the blu to the old DVD, you can see how how the color was corrected, damage cleaned up (like that big white spot next to Clive's head in the first shot), and the distinct grain makes it pretty clear all the detail's been pulled out that possibly could be.  It's an excellent transfer, just not one you'll want to use to show off your new 4k TV to your friends.

Now, the DVD gave us a very nice 5.1 remix, which has been preserved by Arrow, and bumped up to DTS-HD.  But Arrow has also gone and restored the original Stereo mix in LPCM, which the DVD had dropped, so that's pretty sweet.  Both discs also include optional English subtitles, though if it matters to you, Universal's DVD also had Spanish subs.
The DVD wasn't too shabby in the special features department, I have to say.  They include two excellent commentaries: one by Altman and one by Fellowes, both of which have a lot to share, and compliment each other rather well.  There are then fifteen deleted scenes, most of which don't add too much, also with optional commentary by Altman.  Then there's a series of three featurettes: your standard promotional 'making of,' a short one specifically focused on the three genuine servants from that era who served as technical advisors, and a screening Q&A with a bunch of the major players.  And there's the trailer, a series of bonus trailers, and an insert with production notes.

Arrow thankfully keeps all of that... though I wish they would've upconverted the old featurettes to anamorphic size.  Surely nobody in the world is watching this blu on a 4x3 TV?  But anyway, it's all here plus more.  There's a new, third commentary by two critics, which is okay.  They spend an awful lot of time repeating anecdotes from the old DVD extras, which gets real tedious.  But then they also have some new, interesting stuff to share, as one of them actually spent a few days on set during the filming, and the other has read the original screenplay and is able to point out some interesting differences.  And they even solve a few mysteries the older special features hinted at (i.e. on the DVD, they kept mentioning that another actor was originally intended to play Phillippe's part, but only this new commentary actually says who).  Better still, Arrow has solicited two, excellent on-camera interviews, one with actress Natasha Dwightman and an even better one with executive producer Jane Barclay.  She has a great story of how she stumbled upon Werner Herzog in the Amazon as a young woman, and then is refreshingly frank about the ins and outs of producing an Altman film in 2002.  Arrow also replaces Paramount's insert with a 44-page booklet, with notes by Sheila O'Malley and David Thompson, throws in one of their usual cards (mine's for Orchestra Rehearsal... a blu I'd like to get one of these days) and reversible cover art with the original poster art.
So yeah, this wasn't a title I was expecting to see announced this winter, so kudos for Arrow Academy.  Hopefully there's enough audience interest in films that aren't 80s slashers to filled with zombies in the coming years.  And I'll end with a tiny anecdote.  I dropped by the local mall's FYE store the other day, which I haven't done in dog's years.  For anyone who doesn't know, it used to be a movie store, but now almost exclusively sells T-shirts and Funko Pops, having relegated DVDs, blu-rays and CDs to a small corner in the very back, almost all of which are used discs.  But, you know, I hoped maybe I'd find a good deal on something mainstream.  I was surprised to find, though, that their movie selection was as barren and depressing as ever, except... they had a bunch of new, high-end Arrow titles, including this one.  Could it be a sign that something, somewhere is changing for the better?  Probably not, but it's an interesting little development.