DVD/ Blu-ray Exotica

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 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 doing a little basic rewriting.

Update 2/24/20: Again, this being DVDExotica, I feel uniquely obligated to make this page as relevant as possible. And seeing as how there's two competing blu-rays for this title in the world, I couldn't leave this page sitting without both of them.  So here we go, the 2014 UK from Artificial Eye's Atom Egoyan Collection boxed set is now in the mix.
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, then repackaged as part of Artificial Eye's The Atom Egoyan Collection in 2014). 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. Oh, and I'm 99% certain it's the exact same disc either way, but just for the record, my AE disc is from the 2014 box.
1) 1999 Miramax DVD; 2) 2012 Alliance DVD;
3) 2012 Alliance BD; 4) 2014 AE BD.
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 blu-rays 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 (and Artificial Eye seems to be an exact port of the Alliance transfer). 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 blus, which are 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 these are still huge, huge upgrades compared to the old DVD.

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.  And here's where Artificial Eye really comes up short, with no subtitles and worse yet: 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 is pretty good though it's more a vague coverage of Egoyan's film career rather than being very Exotica-specific. It honestly could've been placed on any disc in the boxed set and just happens to have settled on this one, and has been released before, on the US and Canadian DVD releases of Calendar. So there's a good chance you already have it. The Alliance disc, on the other hand, has an exclusive audio commentary with Egoyan and composer Mychael Danna. It's a good commentary but very soundtrack focused. Seriously, 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. Maybe 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, you're left 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.
Alliance has issued Exotica 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 than AE's B locked option. You're probably only really considering the AE option if you're buying the whole set for the other films.  Because just between blus, Alliance's is superior. But I wouldn't mind Criterion or somebody rolling up and blowing all of these options out of the water with a new, revelatory 4k scan and perhaps even more importantly at this stage, a heap of new extras.

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.