Blu Exotica, Atom Egoyan's Canadian Exclusive (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Years ago, all of Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan's films got nice, special edition DVDs with commentaries and stuff. Even his rare, early films were packaged as part of The Essential Egoyan series and given a larger audience than they'd ever had before. The exception being Exotica (and I guess The Adjuster, too; but that's a post for another day), as it wound up being part picked up by Miramax just as Egoyan was beginning to take off with international audiences... So it couldn't be picked up for special editions like the rest of his back catalog, but also wasn't a big enough hit like Sweet Hereafter and Felecia's Journey to get a special edition on its own rights. So we just had this generic, barebones release, with a photo of some lady who wasn't even in the movie on the cover, making it look like a softcore porn. And to this day, in the United States, that's still the best we've got.
Nice shot, but needs a floating DVD on stage with her.
Update 12/30/14 - 5/8/17: Less of an update and more of a complete article overhaul.  This was one mf my early posts, where I hadn't quite gotten into the swing of things.  And my Exotica article's gotta be up to snuff on DVDExotica, right?  So I'm replacing .jpg screenshots with .pngs, adding the original Miramax DVD and the DVD from the combo-pack (can't imagine why I left that one out in the first place!), and even a little basic re-writing.
Like many of Egoyan's films, Exotica plays with the conventions of story structure, often showing scenes out of chronology, and cutting to different characters narratives without letting us know how they're going to link up. His films become mysteries, but not of the traditional whodunit murder variety. You're just pulled into slowly learning why these characters are behaving as they are and what moment they're heading to. Getting into the plot at all, then, feels pretty spoilerish, so I'll just set up the terrific cast of characters. Bruce Greenwood is an accountant who spends his days at an artsy strip club called Exotica, owned by a lovelorn Elias Koteas and Mia Kirshner, Egoyan's wife who's in every one of his films. Writer/ director Don McKellar plays a pet shop owner illegally smuggling exotic eggs into the country, and Sarah Polley comes in as a babysitter very similar to her character in Sweet Hereafter. Finally, Mia Kirshner stars as a dancer who performs as a schoolgirl in honor of a tragic secret they all share.
You don't hear much about it, but the film was finally able to be wrested away from Miramax's iron grasp for blu-rays first in Canada (Alliance Films, 2012) and then the UK (2013, as part of Artificial Eye's The Egoyan Collection). As Exotica is possibly my favorite Egoyan film (it's a tough call), the Canadian blu was a Day One pick-up for me. And to this day, there still has been barely any reviews or coverage of this disc, so that plus - you know; look at the name of the site we're on - put it on the short list to review here.  This is a combo pack, so we've got a DVD and blu to look at here, plus the original Miramax DVD from 1999.
1999 Miramax DVD on top; 2012 Alliance DVD mid; 2012 Alliance blu-ray bottom.
Woof at the Miramax DVD being non-anamorphic, but then again it is pretty ancient.  Also, look how wildly different the framing is.  I mean, yeah the Miramax is 1.85:1 (despite the case claiming 1.66:1) and the Alliance are 1.78:1, but the vertical shift is so far off.  Clearly, there are two film technicians in the world who strongly disagree with each other.  However, as the new transfer has Egoyan's signature of being director approved, I'm going to assume Alliance is the one that got it right. The colors on the DVD look way too purple, edge enhancement is visible and it's pretty soft and muddy even for standard def.  Compare that to the blu, which is looking pretty great.  Grain is a little soft and the contrast is definitely on the flat side.  Oh and the brights flare out a little bit at times (look at the note over McKellar's shoulder above); but this is still a huge, huge upgrade compared to the old DVD.  And, for the record, I've seen screenshots of the Artificial Eye, which seems to have borrowed the same transfer and looks nearly identical.

Every release features the stereo track, but the Alliance blu also includes a French dub (with both tracks in DTS-HD), as well as French and English subtitles.  For the record, Artificial Eye has no subtitles and just the English stereo track in lossy Dolby Digital.
In terms of extras, the old Miramax DVD has absolutely nothing, but each blu has one big, and unique, feature. The Artificial Eye disc has a 54 minute documentary entitled Formulas for Seduction: The Cinema of Atom Egoyan, which sounds good but from the description, more a vague coverage of Egoyan's film career rather than being very Exotica-specific. The Alliance disc, on the other hand, has an audio commentary with Egoyan and composer Mychael Danna. It's a good commentary but very soundtrack focused. It's not a director's commentary with the composer occasionally chiming in about the score; they're both there to talk primarily about the music. Not 100% of the time, but a great deal of it. I'd rate this commentary as excellent, but it really feels like it should be paired with a second commentary track with Egoyan talking about the rest of the film. As it is, it leaves you feeling like, "that's all?" Especially since it's the only feature for the work of a filmmaker we're used to having great extras for.  But nope, not even a trailer more.
Exotica has been issued as a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack (Artificial Eye also made both blu and DVD counterparts, but sells them separately), with reversible French/ English cover art, and comes in a nice slip cover. I'm very pleased with this disc and the fact that it's NTSC and Region A (region 1 for the DVD) may make it accessible enough for some American fans. But I wouldn't mind Criterion or somebody rolling up and blowing everything out of the water with a new, revelatory 4k scan and perhaps even more importantly at this stage, a heap of new extras. Until that day, though, I figure fans ought to at least know about this sweet import.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard so-ao things about the commentary but still dying to hear it. Hope it will be released in the US someday. The current DVD doesn't even have a trailer.

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