When Nicolas Roeg Met Dennis Potter: Track 29

1988's Track 29 is a late entry of Nicolas Roeg (R.I.P.)'s and Dennis Potter's that fans tend to let slip off the ends of both of their oeuvres.  For Potter, it comes right at the peak of his Blackeyes period, where his work was getting increasingly overwrought, and even long-term admirers were beginning to turn on him.  And for Roeg, well, from all the commemorations I've been reading of him over the past two days, he seems to be essentially remembered as simply the director of Don't Look Now and maybe two other films quietly preserved in the Criterion Collection.  Well, here's another very noteworthy creation they haven't gotten to yet; it hasn't even been released in HD anywhere in the world.  Yes, it's DVD only I'm afraid, but I think you'll find it's definitely worth getting your hands a little dirty and reaching back into the world of standard definition video for it.

Update 11/26/18 - 6/15/19: It looks like somebody had the same idea I had when we lost Roeg - it was time to revisit this film.  New this month from Indicator/ Power House is an impressive special edition blu-ray of Track 29, no longer DVD-only.
Track 29 is a remake of Potter's original 1974 BBC teleplay, Schmoedipus, with Gary Oldman in the lead role, originally played by Tim Curry.  So yes, it's another in a line of big screen cinematic Potter remakes like Pennies From Heaven or The Singing Detective.  But unlike those, which struggled to condense robust miniseries into a single feature's running time, this one actually expands what was just over an hour long to 90+ minutes.  So happily, this one isn't a "Reader's Digest" triviality, instead managing to retain pretty much everything that worked in the original.  The bulk of Track 29's dialogue, at least between the two main characters, is almost word-for-word as it was written in Scmoedipus.
But if Potter was already getting overwrought, he found an enabler in his partnership with Roeg.  To some degree, this is great.  We get to open up the action which previously took place 75% in a single London apartment to a wealth of North Carolinian locations, and you can just tell that creative photography of the underwater swimming pool shots or the bumper cars' electric stalks sparking in Theresa Russell's bedroom are very welcome additions brought to the table by having a visionary, A-list director.  But the absolute insanity of Christopher Lloyd's political rally of model train enthusiasts which expands what was the husband's completely realistic and grounded hobby in the original version just gets downright bizarre.
But it's not just Roeg's influence that takes this film into over-the-top territory.  As much as the bulk of the original has been faithfully transcribed here, Potter has also made some sensationalized changes.  Where the original tracked the husband character's frustrations with his daily life with him failing to connect to his coworkers or getting chewed out by his manager, Bob Hoskins (here replaced by by the equally terrific Seymour Cassel), he's now indulging in a humorously kinky affair with his nurse, played by none other than Sandra Bernhard.  The original had a simple, natural exchange where the husband points out a beautiful girl on the street and his coworker claims not to notice and then calmly chastises him.  Here, Sandra puts on red rubber gloves and a conductor's hat to spank him to a specially prepared cassette tape.  The same basic themes are presented, but it's a hugely different tone.  And I won't get into any spoilers, but the ending has completely changed.
But don't take this as one long gripe.  It's not all change for the worse.  I would say I slightly prefer the original, thanks in part to Curry's frightening performance, and the fact that the extra half hour does more to dilute the original's power than enhance it.  But this fresh take is often quite rewarding.  It's certainly a lot more artful and entertaining to look at.  And the new ending, while far less subtle, might actually work a bit better, at least in some ways.  You do get the impression that Potter has had the chance to ruminate on this material and make some new observations.  Plus, the new cast is terrific.  And at least taken on its own terms, as opposed to in direct comparison to the original, it's certainly a dark, fascinating little film that has the power to raise eyebrows just like Potter did in '74.
I used to own the original 2007 Anchor Bay DVD, but I sold it off when I replaced it for the 2012 Image DVD long before I thought of creating this site.  But I can tell you that it was barebones and fullscreen, looking more or less like a video tape transposed to disc.  Image's DVD, then, is an anamorphic widescreen disc.  But I'm happy to leave them both in the past now that Indicator has released the film on BD this summer.
2012 US Image DVD top; 2019 UK Indicator BD bottom.
The DVD is certainly soft and standard def... I'm surprised they came out with a widescreen update of a catalog title as late as 2012 and released it as DVD only.  Still, it was a welcome improvement over the Anchor Bay disc, looking naturally framed (at 1.78:1) and again, anamorphic.  The only major drawback, as you can plainly see in a couple of the shots above, is that it has interlacing issues.  Those are of course gone, now, on Indicator's new blu-ray.  It's a bit brighter, clearer, and matted a little tighter at 1.85:1.  Still, it's not the greatest HD restoration I've ever seen.  Grain is soft when it's there at all, and there's plenty of pixelation and digital noise when you look closely.  The booklet simply says, "HandMade's HD remaster was the source of this Indicator edition," suggesting this is an old HD master - the same one used for the Image DVD, by the looks of it.  It certainly trumps the DVD, and is perfectly adequate as a BD transfer; but if you're looking for a Roeg-worthy restoration or anything cutting edge, this'll be a bit of a let-down.

Image's audio is just your basic Dolby stereo mix, which is perfectly fine, and lacks subtitle accompaniment.  Indicator did just alright in terms of PQ, but they really come through in every other department.  The stereo mix is bumped up to LPCM and English-language subtitles have been added, plus they've gone the extra mile and included an isolated music and effects track.
And they do even better in the special features department, turning this into a proper special edition.  Image gave us nothing, not even the trailer.  Well, the trailer's here now, and so is so much more.  We get an excellent audio commentary by film historian Jim Hemphill, who has a ton if insight and behind-the-scenes info to share.  Even if you typically skip commentaries that aren't by the filmmakers, I'd give this one a listen.  Speaking of commentaries by the filmmaker... we sort of kinda get one.  There's an audio interview with Roeg from 1994, followed by an audience Q&A, that they play over the film.  Unfortunately, he's mostly talking about his then-latest film Heart of Darkness and other general topics, rather than Track 29; so it's more of a general-interest track only for serious Roeg fans.  But hey, I'll take it!  And if you want more on Track 29, we get it in the form of some smart on-camera interviews with the editor, sound designer, costumer (this one's brief) and Colleen Camp.  There's also a photo gallery and a substantial, 36-page booklet, which includes notes by Danny Leigh, plus interviews with Potter and Russell and excerpts from critical reviews of the day.  Indicator's release also features a reversible cover with alternate artwork.
Schmoedipus, meanwhile, remains painfully unreleased, like so many of Potter's excellent teleplays.  I'm only able to include a screenshot of it because low quality rips, with that ugly time-code running over the whole thing, have been passed along on the internet for years; and I've made myself a DVD-R.  Potter's plays have been dribbling out slowly, mainly thanks to the BFI and Network these days, so one remains hopeful.  But there's so much great BBC drama in the vault, and the releases so sporadic, that it's hard to maintain optimism for any particular title, let alone Potter's entire body of work.

But then again, I wasn't terribly optimistic about getting Track 29 on blu, and yet here we are, with a sweet special edition.  So I guess, as Potter's shown us here, you never know who'll come knocking on your unsuspecting door next.

Ghostbusters 1 & 2, The Quest for the Definitive Editions: From Laserdisc to DVD to Blu-Ray to 4k Ultra HD


Update 4/9/16 - 6/14/18: We've entered a whole new age of Ghostbusters on home video since I made this post... Ghostbusters in 4k!  Not just "mastered in 4k" 1080p, but both films have now been issued in 4k Ultra HD...twice!  No doubt to rebuild fan interest in anticipation of the upcoming fourth film, Sony has just released a fancy, brand new 5-disc UHD boxed set of Ghostbusters 1 and 2, with even more special features to boot.

So now I trust you're all familiar with Ghostbusters, so I'm not going to describe or review the film. I want to just jump right into the releases. The famous Criterion laserdisc with extras that still haven't been released anywhere else, the DVDs and remastered DVDs, the remastered blu-rays and the now the UHDs. And to make this an even bigger post, I'm going to go ahead and throw in Ghostbusters 2, too. It's definitely not as great a film, it's a more children-friendly rehash that was surely influenced by the cartoon series that hit the market first. But it's still got some good jokes and the same great cast, so as long as you keep your expectations tampered, ant fan of the original should find it at least enjoyable.
We start out with the 1989 Criterion special edition laserdisc. Now, this was not the first time the film had been released on disc. RCA/ Columbia had released it as a generic, full-screen disc all the way back when the film was a new release in 1985. And they reissued it as a widescreen disc later. But Criterion's release is the first one that's still of interest to fans today, because it has extras on it no other releases do to this day. And I should point out, too, that there are two Criterion laserdiscs. The 2-disc "red band" one, pictured above, and a single-disc one with a blue Criterion logo along the top, that doesn't have the extras, and is presented in CLV instead of CAV.
As you can see, the picture is widescreen and pretty nice quality - excellent for a laserdisc of its time... Especially when you bear in mind the caveat that all laserdisc screenshots have to be imported through composite cables, as opposed to DVDs and blus which can be read directly off the disc. So you always have to give laserdiscs a little 10% or so credit. The blacks look a little blacker, for instance, on my television. Anyway, it's labeled as being 2.35:1 on the cover, but it's really more of a 2.14:1. And as I said, it's CAV, which allows you to study the film frame-by-frame (most laserdiscs were CLV which blends frames to save space).
So this laser comes in a nice gatefold sleeve with a printed letter from Jon Mulvaney of Criterion. There's a bunch of extras, but mostly vintage stuff. There's the original featurette and massive stills galleries, including behind the scenes photos, sketches and looks at the special effects. There's also the trailer, the original screenplay - if you can imagine clicking "Next" over 400 times to read the full text right off of your television - and storyboard comparisons to the film.

But the reason why this laserdisc still sells to this day is the exclusive extra. Despite Sony's claim of their latest blu featuring "all previously released legacy content," they missed some things, including a deleted scene where the Ghostbusters argue over which of them would be most deserving of a Nobel Prize. Sony finally got it right and included the Nobel Prize scene in their latest, 5-disc UHD set!  But there are special effects comparisons, showing footage from the original workprint tape in split screen with the finished film. And they had the promo trailer, which is notable because it uses the original Ghostbusters theme song that was later replaced by the Ray Parker Jr. song. That teaser is the only way to hear it. Finally, there's also some fun screen test footage of the actress who plays the library ghost repeatedly turning evil and running at the camera.

Now, admittedly, at this point it's pretty minor. I can see most casual fans saying, well, I could live without any of that. And yeah, it's not a huge deal unless you're a hardcore devotee. Since they've finally recovered all the deleted scenes, I wouldn't recommend anybody back-dipping for the laser now.  But some of us hang onto the laser because it's still collectible.

Anyway, this is already a full-sized post, and we're just now getting to the first DVD. Don't worry; I'll try to keep it concise and stick to just the pertinent bits that are still of interest in 2019.
So, Ghostbusters debuted on DVD in 1999 with a nice special edition from Columbia Tri-Star. For being such an old disc, it was anamorphic, non-interlaced and it even improved on the framing. This one says 2.35:1 on its case, but is actually even better at 2.40:1, bringing in additional picture on all four sides, but primarily on the left, where we see a lot had been left out. It's a bit red, though. It has a 5.1 audio mix, optional English subtitles, a fold-out insert with notes, and even a contest form with some design sketches on it, where you could win some original artwork.
It has a screwy menu system. If you want to watch the trailer, should you click on "Spook Central," "Ghostbusters Grab Bag," or "Feature?" It's actually the latter. But once you get the hang of it, there's a lot to be found, including the original making of featurette, a new 1999 making of featurette, an "SFX" featurette interviewing the film's effects team in a big round-table discussion, deleted scenes (minus that deleted scene, of course), a trivia subtitle track, storyboard comparisons, special effect workprint comparisons (but not the scenes from the laserdisc) the trailer and bonus trailers.
And the biggest extra of them all, was a new video commentary by Ivan Reitman, Harold Ramis and producer Joe Medjuck. This is a lively and detailed audio commentary, but where the commenters are shown silhouetted at the bottom of the screen, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. Note: my PC had a little trouble playing this, so they're floating a bit in the center of the screen of my screenshot and stretched a bit wide. They're flushed to the bottom and a little thinner when watched on a television with your player on the old 4:3 settings. Anyway, modern releases have kept the audio commentary, but not the video component, which is frankly pretty fun and I miss it. I understand it's more to do with technical limitations (the footage of the commenters is actually a subtitle track that can't simply be slapped onto a blu-ray disc) than Sony deciding to "screw us over," but still. It's far from essential, but it always makes me reluctant to upgrade because I hate the feeling of losing something and taking a step backwards in an upgrade. So I hang onto this DVD just for watching the commentary.
Meanwhile, also in 1999, Columbia Tri-Star released Ghostbusters 2 on DVD. This was not a special edition, no sir. The trailer and some bonus trailers is all we get. But at least they got the aspect ratio right. The old, equally barebones laserdisc was 1.66. This is anamorphic and 2.35:1. It looks and sounds pretty good. Oh, and there is one interesting thing about the original, 1999 DVD of Ghostbusters 2, it's a flipper disc with a fullscreen version on the other side. Let's look at that.
Oh my god! Wow, this is may be worst example of "chop off the sides" fullscreen framing we've seen on DVDExotica yet! Key characters go right off the screen. If you were hoping for any open matte peering here, forget it. Also, strangely, the widescreen version is non-interlaced, but the fullscreen side has a huge interlacing problem. Maybe this was the DVD producer's middle finger response to consumer demand for fullscreen versions of widescreen films? Actually, I could kind of get behind that. Heh.
Now, jumping ahead to 2005. Sony took over Ghostbusters' distribution and re-released it on a fresh, remastered DVD. Gone is the redness of the 1999 DVD, but thankfully not the 2.40 framing. The image is a little less murky, and some jagged edges and pixelation has been cleaned up. It's a genuine improvement, but no new extras. All they really added were multi-lingual options, including French and Spanish dubs and a bunch of foreign subtitle tracks.
And Sony did Ghostbusters 2 in 2005, too. Compression's improved, this time the color is more yellowish and less red, and superior compression leads to a slightly clearer, better defined image. But there's a problem with this one, and I don't mean that it doesn't have a junky full-screen version on the other side of the disc (although that's also true). The framing is still roughly 2.35:1 (2.28:1), but it's zoomed in, losing picture on all four sides (look at the judge's microphone, for example). It's a trade-off, but I'd say the remaster does more harm than good, and the 1999 version is actually slightly preferable. And again, no extras, except, as a token gesture so as not to appear barebones, Sony threw in 2 episodes of The Real Ghostbusters cartoon. Gee, thanks. Anybody who really cared about the cartoon would have the whole series on DVD anyway.
And now we enter the HD age! In 2009 Ghostbusters (but not Ghostbusters 2) debuted on Sony blu-ray. This included the old extras (sans the Criterion stuff, of course) plus some new special features including an ad for the video game, a 'making of' featurette about the video game, a featurette on the Ecto-1 car, a video gallery of the car, and some different bonus trailers. Yeah, not too exciting. But wait, there is one cool new feature: Slimer Mode, a picture-in-picture version of the film. I know, that sounds like garbage, and on one hand it is. It adds a cheesy computer graphic over the entire film, and gives you lots of lame pop-up trivia like "this is a famous bridge in New York." But it also intermittently brings up all new video interviews with the cast and crew, which are great. Note to self: see if there's a way to rip those interviews off the blu so you can watch them without sitting through the entire film in "Slimer Mode."
And of course, the picture's improved in HD. You can finally read the Budweiser on those cans. I mean, you could always recognize the logo as Budweiser's, but not you can actually make out all the individual letters. The audio is now True HD 5.1, which is also true for the multiple foreign language dubs, and there's even more subtitle tracks. I could go into more detail, but I'll save that for a little later on, when I compare this to the newer blu. But it's certainly an upgrade over the previous DVDs. And actually, that Ecto-1 featurette was a little interesting, I'll admit.
Much more recently, in 2014, Sony brings us a new Ghostbusters blu, this time mastered in 4k. And it's a package deal, including the blu-ray debut of Ghostbusters 2... for the first time including extras that actually relate to the film! And it's surprisingly cheap! Now don't be fooled. a "mastered in 4k" blu is not an actual 4k disc. Some of the advertising has been misleading, but while the transfer was mastered in 4k, it was still then compressed down to a 1080p blu. This is 4k in the same way that God Told Me To was 4k. That's still a good thing. Just know that the actual 4k UHD discs are a different thing, and we'll come to those soon.
So how much have we gained from the 4k scan? Not a ton; it's pretty subtle. There's not way more detail or anything, and the framing's almost the same (we actually gain a sliver extra on the right side on the new disc). The colors are better, I'd say. The 2009 blu is heavy on the red, while the 2014 is more natural - compare the star card Bill Murray's holding up in the two shots. The older blu also has a little more contrast, making the extreme brights flare out a bit. Look at the back of Dan Ackroyd's chair or the lamps in the background. They're different and I prefer the new version, but you have to be a real blu-ray nerd to pick up on most of the differences, let alone have a strong preference.
But extras, oh, Sony did come through here. Everything from the older DVDs and previous blu are here except the video commentary (but they still have the audio track) and the video game stuff. You would think if they could do "Slimer Mode," they could recreate the video commentary. And the video game featurette was slightly interesting for die-hard fans, because it interviewed several of the film's cast members. But whatever.

Sony gives us a new, 25 minute interview with Reitman and Ackroyd, which is pretty good if a little superficial. There's also two minutes worth of alternate TV takes, where they replace curse words with broadcast safe language, Ray Parker Jr's music video, and there's a new stills gallery of funky Ghostbusters artwork. Nothing spectacular, but some good stuff to have.
The biggest inclusion, though, is Ghostbusters 2 on blu! It's certainly the best the film has ever looked, being its first time in HD. And thankfully they've corrected the zoom of the 2006 DVD, giving us back the complete 2.39:1 image. The colors are pumped a little high (Egon's not supposed to be wearing bubble gum lipstick in that shot above), but it's so much clearer and stronger than any previous version. Ghostbusters had to improve over a respectable preexisting blu, and okay, it managed. But Ghostbusters 2 only has to complete with DVDs, so it's a more rewarding jump. And both of these blus feature DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks.
And yes, finally actual extras! It's not loaded like the first Ghostbusters or anything, but after the dearth we've been living with, I'll take it. The main feature is a continuation of the Reitman/ Ackroyd interview from the first film's disc. It's more interesting because we don't usually get to hear them talk about part 2, so it's less stuff we've heard before. There's also a collection of never-seen-before deleted scenes, a music video for Bobby Brown's theme song, and three trailers. It's packaged in a nice "digibook" which includes a substantial 26-page booklet part, plus a few inserts including a note from Ivan Reitman and a coupon for the Country Buffet. ūü§†  So the "Mastered In 4K" blu-ray set really was the best Ghostbusters release up to the writing of the original draft of this post, especially for Ghostbusters 2, but really for both. Best transfers, best extras. But three years later, and that's definitely changed.
Not blown away? That's okay, you shouldn't be yet. The above shot is from the standard blu-rays packaged with the UHDs in the latest 2019 set.  See, in 2016, a couple months after I made this post, both Ghostbusters films were released on UHD, separately, and just in time to bolster the hype for the Ghostbusters 2016 reboot.  And we'll look at them in a minute.  But those UHD discs are exactly the same discs repackaged in the 2019 set.  Like, if you put the 2019 UHD in your player after the 2016, it will ask if you want to continue where you left off, because they're literally the exact same discs.  All the new extras and stuff in the 2019 steelbook are on a the regular blu-rays and a fifth bonus disc.  That means that the 2019 1080p blu-rays are different discs, so that's what we're looking at here.
So they're technically different discs, with different encodes.  They have to be with the different extras and all.  But as you can see, the actual transfers are virtually indistinguishable from the 2014 blu-rays.  Pixelation doesn't even appear to noticeably shift.  It's the same transfer, just on adjusted discs.  And it's the same deal with Ghostbusters 2, as you can also see.  I just wanted to post shots from those discs to be thorough, but now let's move on to the real story.
Now we finally have Ghostbusters in 4k.  Not just mastered in 4k, but genuinely presented in 3840 resolution.  And this clearly isn't just the same 2014 master slapped onto a 4k disc; the new HDR color palette is downright hard not to notice.  It definitely leans a bit green.  Just look at the card in Bill's hand compared to the other shots.  But you can definitely see the broader range of colors, which make the older discs look overly contrasty by comparison.  And the resolution is a nice gain.  As you can really see in the close-up above, grain is much more accurately captured, while the blu on the left still displaying pixelation and blockiness in the ultra-fine detail.  We should be past the point where we're actually discovering new details in the image, because we've hit the resolution of the film.  But we can still find details that have been pulled out and restored, like the fine print on the beer cans, while edges have become smoother and more photo realistic than ever.  They've also added a new Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix, in addition to - not instead of - the 5.1.
the "Nobel Prize" scene
And speaking of adding things, yes, there's new extras! Everything from the 2014 set is still here, but now there's even more.  There's a fan commentary, which is alright.  They're basically five podcasters who do have some good trivia to add and maintain a lively track throughout, but they step over each other a lot, interrupting interesting-sounding anecdotes to quote lines along with the film, talk about themselves and praise every obscure detail.  And they really run out of things to say in the third act.  But until then, it may be worth the listen, depending how big a fan you are.  After that, yes the Nobel Prize deleted scene has finally been restored, as well as several other deleted scenes we've never seen before.  We also get outtakes from the shooting of the in-movie TV commercial, an exhibitor showreel with an original introduction by Bill and Dan, several EPK interview clips, and additional galleries and trailers.
And then of course we have Ghostbusters 2 in 4k.  Again, color-wise, it has a slightly cooler and more subtle approach, which is great, because the blu definitely went a little too candy-colored.  Here it's still quite bright and colorful, but Egon doesn't look like he's stepping out of a Nicki Minaj video.  Shading is little more filled in and this time, even actual image detail, not just grain, is revealed - look at the face on that clown toy, for example.  Not to mention grain and smoother edges, which got a bit blocky on the blu, are smooth and natural here.  And again, they've added a new Dolby Atmos audio track in addition to the 5.1 from the previous blu.
And the same holds true in the special features department.  The 2014 set finally gave Ghostbusters 2 some quality extras, but still not on par with part 1.  So again, there was more room to grow.  This movie still didn't have an audio commentary, but now it finally does, with Reitman, Aykroyd and Medjuck.  It's a little stiff, but so welcome.  Then there's the original EPK featurette, but this one's quite hefty, clocking in at almost 45 minutes.  And at the same length is the entire Ghostbusters 2 episode of Oprah, with all the stars (sans Moranis) in a lengthy chat.  There's also a couple more trailers and even an original 4-minute "pitch concept pilot" for The Real Ghostbusters cartoon show.

So there's no question, the 2019 steelbook has become the reigning definitive edition.  One tiny little annoyance - the case is built so slim that the spindles literally pierce the paper insert with the digital code; it can't be avoided.  But that's only nitpick of this genuinely perfect edition that trumps all other releases; and they even managed to wrangle that deleted scene from the Criterion laserdisc, so we can finally put that into storage.  I couldn't be more satisfied.