Beyond Grindhouse's The Beyond (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

There have been a few delays and push backs, but Grindhouse's new blu-ray special edition set of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond has finally reached my doorstep. But it's been worth it, because you know what they say about rushing greatness. Grindhouse originally released this on DVD through Anchor Bay in a very cool, special edition collector's tin in 2000. But now, fifteen years later, it's time to see how they've topped themselves.
The Beyond, of course, is pretty much THE Lucio Fulci film. I mean, hardcore zombie or giallo fans might prefer Zombi or Don't Torture a Duckling. And serious long-term fans who've watched all his classics a dozen or more times might have slowly edged City Of the Living Dead up over this through the years. But by and large, The Beyond is generally considered his masterpiece. Set in New Orleans, the plot is practically indescribable. Hell just literally breaks loose and every horrific supernatural thing that can go wrong does go wrong, from spider attacks to psychics to zombies. It's very gruesome and thankfully takes itself entirely seriously; but it's still got a very colorful, fantastic tone that gives the proceedings a soft, inoffensive edge. It's just great music and great lighting capturing one captivating set-piece after another. And giving this film almost an action here with David Warbeck gives the film a bit of adventure film flavor.  It's pretty much the ultimate.
2000 DVD on top' 2015 blu-ray bottom.
The 2.35 anamorphic DVD looked pretty fantastic when it was released in 2000, but as time passed and technology improved, it was starting to look a little stiff. And while there's no denying us fans were hoping for a new 2k or 4k scan for this title, since it is pretty much the crown jewel in Grindhouse's catalog, and for that matter Italian horror overall. But even using the old HD master, this shows us how much better the film could look. A color rebalance certainly helps a lot here, but it's just a cleaner, more natural and detailed image all around. We also seem to have a little extra picture information on all four sides.

By the way, it's been pointed out by an astute member of the blu-ray forums that there are little pops in the audio of the original English mono track. I've listened for myself and yup, I do hear them. And I can also confirm that they're not there on the DVD's mono track. It's a little disappointing, and I do wish they weren't there; but it feels very minor especially within the context of the audio track generally feeling much fuller and stronger overall. A lot of people will be choosing the 5.1 remix, 2.0 remix, or the Italian track anyway, so it won't be an issue at all for them (I suppose here's where I should point out that this film has optional English subtitles as well). But yeah, I'm an original mono man myself, so it is a minor quibble for me.
But let's talk about extras! If you weren't impressed with Grindhouse's updated presentation of the extras, you certainly will be by the massive amount and quality of features they've delivered. This new 2-disc set isn't one of those DVD/blu-ray combo deals; they've got a whole second blu-ray disc just filled with extras. To clarify things, I've decided to break down everything on the original DVD and the new set:

DVD extras:
  • Commentary by David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl
  • Images From the Beyond: a collection of stills galleries (less interesting) and video (more interesting), including a short interview with Fulci, a short clip of David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl at a convention, Darvid Warbeck speaking at a convention, and Lucio and Warbeck doing a Q&A
  • US, International and German trailers
  • The opening sequence in color
  • Necrophagia music video
  • Easter Eggs) 7 Doors of Death trailer and another trailer for Cat In the Brain (there also seems to be another highlight-able link for a third easter egg on the second page of special features that doesn't actually work)
Blu-ray extras:
  • Commentary by David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl
  • Intro by Catriona MacColl
  • 48 minute documentary on the making of The Beyond
  • A 2-part phone interview with Fulci
  • Interview with Larry Ray
  • Interview with Catrina MacColl
  • Interview with Cinzea Monreale
  • Interview with Gianetto DeRossi and Manrizio Trani
  • Footage of Catriona MacColl speaking at a convention
  • Footage of David Warbeck speaking at a convention
  • Interview with Terry Levene
  • The opening sequence in color
  • US, International and German trailers + US rerelease trailer
  • US TV spots
  • US re-release radio spot
  • An overwhelming number of stills galleries
  • 14 bonus trailers for Grindhouse's other titles (including the Cat In the Brain one)
  • Easter Eggs) the full set of Images From the Beyond extras (some of which are duplicated on disc 2 of this blu as well), a series of brief interviews (23 minutes worth) from Paura, the 7 Doors of Death trailer, a 10+ minute audio track of whispering and moaning(?), the Necrophagia music video, and a brief but nice featurette comparing location shots from the films to footage of them as they look now.
Everything in purple is new to the blu-ray.  That is a huge, awesome load of new features. And that documentary interviews some important contributors you don't see mentioned in the list individual interviews, like Sergio Salvati and Dardano Sacchetti. Many of the interviews are quite lengthy and they're all substantial. This is a real everything-you-could-possibly-want special edition. Honestly, if Grindhouse had only issued disc 2 and released that without the actual movie, I would still absolutely recommend purchasing this for the full price.
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Update 7/14/15: If you appreciate special features like I appreciate special features, then even with this incredible 2-disc set, you can't help but keep the Arrow's 2-disc set in the corner of your eye. Sure, the Grindhouse has the (slightly) superior transfer, and the more comprehensive collection of extras; but the Arrow disc still has a whole bunch of stuff that Grindhouse doesn't. Well, in cases like these, you can do what I did: just buy the DVD version. You've already got the best version of the film (the Grindhouse) to watch on blu, so it doesn't really matter if you're only getting an SD transfer this time around. Heck, it doesn't even matter if the actual movie's included or not. The DVD's just a cheaper, convenient way to get the rest of the special features.
  • Commentary by David Warbeck and Catriona MacColl
  • A second commentary by Antonella Fulci (Fulci's daughter) and moderator Callum Waddell, which I'd recommend to hardcore fans only.
  • Intro by Cinzea Monreale
  • Interview with Cinzea Monreale
  • Q&A session with Catriona MacColl
  • Interview with Terry Levene
  • Interview with Gianetto Di Rossi
  • 25 minute featurette where Roberto Forges Davanzati, Daria Nicolodi, Antonella Fulci, Dario Argento, Giannetto de Rossi and Sergio Stivaletti remember Fulci
  • Interview with Catriona MacColl
  • The opening sequence in color
  • International trailer
  • Easter Egg) Darren Ward Remembers David Warbeck - a brief (4+ minutes) interview with the director of Warbeck's final film, Sudden Fury.

And what an impressive collection they have. Some of what's here stems from the old Anchor Bay release, and some of what originated here got ported to the Grindhouse set. But still everything in purple is exclusive to the Arrow release. Admittedly, some of it is pretty redundant. Both discs interview Cinzae Monreale, for example, the actress who played the blind woman. They're both different interviews, filmed at different times in different locations; but naturally she winds up saying a lot of the same stuff in both. You'll hear some of the same anecdotes almost word for word from Catriona MacColl - her stuff was already a little redundant on the Grindhouse disc. But other features, like the exclusive interviews with cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati or the Darren Ward easter egg, are obviously more original and rewarding even if you've already got the Grindhouse set. The Arrow set comes in their usual windowpane slipcover with reversible artwork inside, a substantial, 32-page blu-ray sized booklet and a fold-out poster.

Okay, and just for the record, I'll throw in comparison screenshots. But bear in mind I'm comparing Arrow's DVD to Grindhouse's blu-ray, so it's not exactly a fair fight. Arrow did also release an HD blu-ray, which comes closer to matching the Grindhouse release. Oh, and if anybody's wondering. I bought this DVD direct from Arrow just this July and they did ship a corrected version, not the original recalled one with the black & white intro. 😃
Grindhouse blu on top; Arrow DVD on bottom.
So, again, we're giving Arrow a pass here on compression and fine detail because we're comparing their DVD to Grindhouse's blu. And from what I've seen online, they're fairly evenly matched, with just a bit of an edge towards Grindhouse, but not to the point where anyone with either copy should feel like they're missing out. But it's interesting to note the color timing differences - the leaning towards red is more reminiscent of the Anchor Bay transfer we looked at before. Personally, I prefer Grindhouse's.
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That cover on top of this post?
Here's how it looks in the dark.
And usually I don't bother to write much about the packaging, but how can I not here? The original DVD release came in a very cool tin case. Inside, it also had six international poster replicas and a chapter insert of cardstock, and a fat, 48-page booklet. And it was a numbered limited edition of 20,000 copies. Holy cow, it's crazy to think 20,000 was a tight limited pressing in the days of Twilight Time making 3000 of even their Oscar-winning titles, and Code Red still shifting units of a blu they only made 1000 editions of two years ago.

Anyway, but it might seem hard to top that DVD tin, but I think Grindhouse as at least equaled it. This blu-ray set comes in a very cool, glow in the dark slipcover. You've gotta charge it up under some strong light; but when you do, it looks pretty great. It also comes with a slimmer booklet and a bonus CD of the film's soundtrack, which has also been remastered. That's something a lot of fans would pay the cost of this blu for all on its own.
So, at the end of the day, could we have pushed the image a little further with a fresh 4k scan? Sure. And it would be nice if those little pops weren't in the audio either.  But this is still an excellent set, the best the film has ever looked on home video (and likely to remain that way for a long time), and a terrific collection of extra features that would be worth the price of admission entirely on their own. So I'm very happy over here with my copy on the shelf. And it's one of the absolute best horror films of all time, so there's that.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (Region 1 vs. Region 2)

Alright, after the heart-rending nihilism of Time Of the Wolf, it's time for a complete change of pace. So I'm looking at the feature film debut of Miranda July, 2005's Me and You and Everyone We Know. I suppose, at it's core, it's a rom-com. A man and a woman, both struggling to find their niche in the world, eventually discover each other. But it's also got a sort of Altman-ish structure, where the film follows a diverse collection of characters whose stories wind up interconnecting at unexpected intervals. More importantly, though, it's a much more inventive, sensitive, smart film on top of all that.
I can see this movie striking people as being too precious at a cursory, superficial glance. Like a Northern Exposure-y series of set pieces saying: isn't it cute how eccentric everybody is. But as quirky as it is, it's not oddness for oddness's sake. And this film's may not be totally innocent of that, but most of the absurdities here are built from a relatable truth, like the agent who insists Miranda mail her tape to the the address they're at, rather than just accepting the tape in person. "But I'm so close," she says to crossed arms. So she devises an impromptu moment, where she's riding down in the same elevator as the agent, and compels him to pick it up. But he still insists on handing it back to her, for her to take it home with her and mail it back to them. It's relatable, it's often clever. It's just good writing.
There are also moments of underage characters exploring their sexuality which will have many viewers facing an art film where they wanted breezy entertainment. There are bits that never quite make it off the ground, and undercooked lines of dialogue like "email wouldn't even exist if it weren't for AIDS." But there are pieces, like the goldfish segment, which is so strong, it could be a perfect, wonderful short film all on its own. There's a segment where the leads are forced to share a moment when they're gluing something together that has to be held the pieces together for 1 to 2 minutes. It's just the little kind of thing that, as a writer, makes me think, I wish I came up with that! And it's got a pretty compelling soundtrack to boot.

Well, so, this is another reason I've got the Region 1 and Region 2 versions to compare, and for the same reasons as Time: they've got unique sets of extras. So let's see how our local MGM DVD stacks up against the UK's Optimum disc.
MGM US DVD on top; Optimum UK DVD on bottom
The transfers are both excellent and practically identical. Same framing, same colors, no interlacing or ghosting. The cases say 1.85:1, but it's just a little more open, very slightly letterboxed to 1.82:1 on both discs. There's really nothing to complain about or even distinguish between the two discs. There's no blu-ray available of this title, but this movie looks pretty great top notch for standard definition.

The Optimum disc lets you choose between Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, while the MGM disc has just the 5.1 track. But MGM has optional English subtitles. Movie-wise, that's really the only reason to choose one disc over the other, unless PAL speed-up bothers you. The main factor I think most of us will really be considering is extras, because those are quite different.
 
So on the US side, there's six deleted scenes, and they're good. They're a bit long, so I can see how they'd mess up the pacing, and consequently why they'd be cut. But they're worth preserving and seeing as deleted scenes. Well, except one, which is just a shorter edit of another deleted scene that's already on disc. That seems excessive; but the rest are all fun and on par with the material that made it into the film. If you're a fan of the film, you'd want to see these, too.

There's not much else on it, though. There's a bunch (eight!) of bonus trailers, but not even the trailer for the film itself.

Optimum's DVD has a good deal more stuff, but disappointingly, is missing the deleted scenes. It's got a nice, in depth 28 minute interview with July, where she tells the entire story of the film from its inception to changes made in script rewrites and on the set. Then there's 20 minutes of cast and crew interviews, including July again, which are good but a little more promotional and superficial. Finally there's seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, again like Time Of the Wolf, But this time they're speaking English and we can hear what they're saying, which makes the footage more engaging. Finally, there's also a couple (four) bonus trailers and, this time, the actual Me and You and Everyone We Know trailer. Overall, this is fuller, richer special edition; but it's puzzling, and a bit frustrating, that they didn't include the deleted scenes.
So, movie-wise, it really doesn't matter which disc you pick. Being a new release at the time, you expect them to look pretty perfect, and they do. But the extras-situation is a different story. The UK disc feels fuller, but really the material on both discs is quite compelling. So rather than picking up just one disc, if you're a fan of this film, I'd recommend getting both. They're very cheap if you don't mind used copies... both are listed at well under a dollar on Amazon US/UK, so go ahead and splurge. Combined, they make a solid special edition of a really underrated, enjoyable film, at well under the cost of most titles.  ))<>((

Michael Haneke's Time Of the Wolf (Region 1 vs. Region 2)

I've generally thought of 2003's Time Of the Wolf by Michael Haneke (not to be confused with 2002's Time Of the Wolf starring Burt Reynolds) to be a good, but not top tier Haneke film. However, it's risen in my estimation on repeat viewings; and should probably get a few bonus points now for being a very likely but uncredited inspiration for Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And since I'm a pretty big Haneke fan overall, I wound up picking up both the US and UK DVDs, largely because they had a different set of extras. But going back to them in again in 2015, I'm noticing that the extras aren't the only differences.
The reliably exceptional Isabelle Huppert stars as a mother of a small family trying to stay together and survive after civilization has mysteriously broken down. They flee the city only to discover that things may be even worse in the country. But after losing their car, they have no choice but to wander the French countryside, eventually taking in with a group of fellow survivors in an abandoned train station, who wait because a train once passed down the line, so they gather in hope of another. It's a pretty powerful study of civilization, and the loss of individuality without societal structure; and as you'd probably expect, a grim look at how people will treat each other when order is lost. You can count on Haneke to keep the proceedings free of sentiment and phoniness, which helps make it a very revisitable film.

But if we're going to revisit it, which DVD should we revisit it on? The US disc from Palm Pictures, or the UK one from Artificial Eye. Well, let's have a look.
Palm's US DVD on top; Artificial Eye's UK DVD on bottom.
I left the subtitles on here because, unless you speak French, that's how you're going to view this film. The US disc has white subs, while the UK has grey ones that dip below the frame. But the most interesting thing about them is that they're different in the actual content. Nothing struck me as a signification change of meaning, but they're two different translations with frequently different wording, and I can't help but wonder which is the most faithful to the original dialogue.

But enough about subtitles, let's get into the picture itself. It's basically the same core transfer. Both are 2:35.1 anamorphic widescreen with identical framing, and both look kinda crummy. This film was shot on 35mm film, so it could benefit a lot from a revisit on blu-ray. But until that day, we've got what we've got, which is two standard def DVDs. And there are some definite distinctions.
Palm's US DVD left; Artificial Eye's UK DVD right.
I mean, both of these close-up images look underwhelming. But the US disc on the right looks softer and less defined that the UK on tie right. Although, on the other hand, detail is a little crushed out of the black areas on the UK disc (you can actually see her tongue and eyes, soft as they are, in the US shot on the left. It's a dark film, so I definitely appreciate the Palm pulling up as much image as they can, but both DVDs look so digital and pixel-y that I'd take the UK's smoother, more natural image over the US's.
Palm's US DVD on top; Artificial Eye's UK DVD on bottom.
And it looks like the US disc had some issues handling the NTSC conversion, as it has intermittent ghosting frames, which the UK disc is free of. You only really notice it in motion, and most of this film is very still. But still, no ghosting > ghosting. So put another in Artificial Eye's win column.
 
And what about those extras?
Let's start with Palm. They've got three core features: an interview with Isabelle Huppert, an interview with Hanake, and several minutes of uncontextualized behind the scenes footage. There's also the trailer and some bonus trailers for Springtime In a Small Town, Last Life In the Universe and Reconstruction. The interviews are okay but quite short and so fairly superficial. Huppert has a few interesting things to say about acting with the rest of the cast, and Hanaeke has a couple informative anecdotes. But both also spend a lot of their brief time explaining the very basic themes of the film, which, if you "got" the film at all, you won't find very illuminating. The behind the scenes footage is interesting for hardcore fans, but there's no narration, translated words or anything. It's just a little glimpse of what it was like shooting this on location, but if you're interested in the size of the crew, the type of equipment they used, etc; it's at least a nice little reveal.

Artificial Eye doesn't have any of the stuff that Palm had, but they have their own extras. Primarily, they have a 20+ minute 'making of' which combines behind the scenes footage (not the same footage as the US disc) and interviews. It's a much more cohesive piece, and feels much more engaging and rewarding than the combined extras on the US disc. There's also another brief featurette, a behind-the-scenes look at Haneke and co. at the Cannes film festival. It's definitely a minor extra, but still interesting. And the theatrical trailer is on this disc, too.
So what I've learned from this look back at both discs is A) how much this film needs a new scan and blu-ray release, with a much better image and more well-rounded extras. But, since there's no indication of one coming soon, then B) the DVD to go with is the UK's from Artificial Eye. The transfers are close and both have their pros and cons, so it's debatable. But I prefer the UK disc, and it definitely has the best extras. I also don't think it's worth getting both for the combined extras, because they're too sparse. Just pick one and live with it.

Boxing Helena: The Director's Cut (Laserdisc/ DVD comparison)

In 1994, Orion released Boxing Helena on laserdisc, and they released the director's cut in 1995 as a special edition boxed set. MGM issued the film on DVD in 2001, and again as part of their "Avant-Garde Cinema" collection in 2003. Both of those DVDs were the unrated version, as opposed to a slightly censored R-rated version that originally played in theaters; but it's not the director's cut. That version, and the wealth of special features from the special edition, have never been seen again since that boxed set. So just what is everybody who wasn't on the laserdisc train missing?
Boxing Helena is the oft-maligned and misunderstood debut of Jennifer Chambers Lynch, daughter of course, of the great David Lynch. But, let's face it, not all of that maligning is based on misunderstanding; some of the criticism is fair. Boxing Helena is a crazily overwrought melodrama, which is clearly intentionally over-the-top and unreal. Writer/director Lynch consistently refers to it as a fairy tale, so anybody expecting a realistic, down to earth drama just needs their expectations adjusted. But even for a fairy tale, it's a bit dopey.

Julian Sands plays a goofy surgeon with huge, on-the-nose oedipal issues and a truly blind, unrequited love for Sherilyn Fenn, who plays her character to such a selfish, nasty degree that they clearly meant her to be some sort of hypothetical archetype rather than a relatable character. Anyway, she doesn't like him back - she's currently involved with Bill Paxton, but seems to resent him almost as much - and continues to push Sands away. So when she's hit by a car outside his house, he leaps at the gruesome opportunity to amputate her legs and keep her completely dependent on him in his house. And yes, at some point he also cuts off her arms and puts her in an ornate box.
It explores the possessive, demanding side of love relationships to comically exaggerated degrees - we see plenty of the Venus De Milo in Sands' opulent home - but not without real substance or compelling things to say about them. It's probably the film's rejection of the more conventional Hollywood entertainment style, specifically that it persistently refuses to allow the audience to empathize or side with any of the characters that turns most people off. We're exploring the bad sides of our characters here; and while I think you could say it has a naturally feminist perspective, it certainly doesn't deliver the expected, pat feminist message either. It wants to be both challenging art and a trashy erotic romp at the same time, and that's not the kind of thing most people will receive well. But there's definitely a lot to appreciate in this movie if you're of the right mind-set.

Plus, hey, almost everybody judging this film is basing it on the DVD, catching it on cable, the old VHS or whatever. Unless you've seen the limited edition laserdisc, you've never even seen the director's cut "including footage not seen in the theatrical or home video versions," as it says on the back of the box. It's not fair to judge the film based on a version the director doesn't endorse, right, when you haven't even seen the whole thing? So, just what is different about the two versions?
"Hasta la whatever" is actually Paxton's exit line in this scene - how can you not love that?
Basically nothing. Despite rumors on the imdb message boards of a scene where Fenn "poops herself," there is not a single scene, or even a single camera shot, in the director's cut that is not in the unrated version, or vice versa. I have synced up both versions and they do not go a single frame out of time with each other from the opening credits to the closing credits. There are no alternate shots in the sex scenes to make them any more or less explicit. The director's cut is unrated, so any references you hear about missing shots do not apply to the laser or the DVD. Neither version has any different music in any scenes.

There is exactly one change differentiating the director's cut. Sands' very last line of the film (which I won't spoil here, of course), that plays in voice over at the very, very end... does not play in the director's cut. She didn't want it to be in the film, so the music plays out into the credits and it's all exactly as you see it on the DVD, video tape, etc... but you don't hear that line. That "footage not seen" claim only applies because the old VHS release was the edited R-rated cut.
Orion laserdisc on top; MGM DVD middle and a combination of the two bottom.
So let's talk about picture quality. That is very different. The laserdisc opens with one of those "the image has been formatted to fit your screen" messages, because surprisingly - the special edition director's cut is fullscreen! So was the previous, standard laserdisc, for the record. The laserdisc is... mostly open matte. The majority of the film plays where the framing is the same except the laser has more information at the top and bottom which has been matted out of the DVD. Sometimes there's more above, sometimes there's more below, often it's centered, but that's how most of the movie looks.
Orion laserdisc on top; MGM DVD below.
Some scenes, however, have been "Pan & Scanned," so the laserdisc is missing information on one or both sides. Notice how in this second set of comparison shots, there's now a lot more on the sides of the DVD version. On the one hand, that's better, because it shows they've made an intelligent decision about what is kept in the frame; but on the other hand, the DVD is in the correct aspect ratio and the laserdisc really should've just been widescreen, end of story.  ...Although Nicole Scorsese fans might see a benefit in the open matte transfer, I'll admit.

...The image is also fuzzier, lacking detail and over-saturated, but part of that can be blamed on the imperfect nature of capturing an analog image from a laserdisc onto a computer to screencap it. So give the laserdisc maybe a 10-15% benefit of the doubt when judging the image quality based on these frames. But yeah, the DVD looks yards better.
I'm sorry; I just don't buy that those are her curtains.
So the director's cut is kind of disappointing... But what else is in this laserdisc set? A load of excellent extras? Yes! Real great stuff. First there's a feature -length commentary by Lynch and her producer Carl Mazzocone. The discussion is lively, thoughtful, self-effacing, addresses all the questions we as viewers want answered about this movie (including the reasoning they had for adding and removing that missing last line from the movie), and tackles some interesting topics (did the TV series Dynasty spoil the depiction of dreams in cinema for everybody?). Julian Sands even pops in about halfway through and shares some thoughts.

There's also the usual collection of non-video extras that laserdiscs often have, which I don't think work so well or add much value, are also on hand. There's the complete screenplay, production stills, the shooting schedule. That kind of stuff. But there's also plenty of good video extras, starting with an on-camera interview with Lynch and Mazzocone, this time being interviewed by a moderator, that pretty much fills in the blanks of anything they didn't cover in the commentary. It goes on pretty long, taking up almost the entire side of one disc.

Then there's a short, but very fun featurette with the guy who built and designed the Helena's titular box - he makes similar boxes for magicians and illusionists, so he refuses to tell us all its secrets, but it's still a cool little piece. Then there's a comparison of alternate scenes between the R-rated and unrated cuts, where we see full versions of both, with optional audio commentary by Mazzocone, where he takes the opportunity to talk about Madonna and Kim Bassinger, who both agreed to star in the film and later backed out, rather then the footage on screen, but it's still quite interesting. They also include the alternate ending with that last line of dialogue put back into the final scene. It's a pretty thorough set. Curiously, the one absent extra in this set is the theatrical trailer. And it's the only other thing on the DVD.
And you can't argue with the packaging. The set comes in a cool, black box with a note from Lynch and full color photos on the insert. An entire second laserdisc is devoted entirely to the extras. And there's also a bonus 19-track soundtrack CD, which includes both the score and pop songs. a 24K gold Cd, no less! And remember, that one techno/choir song by Enigma got more famous than any other aspect of the movie, so the soundtrack was a big feature.
So look, I respect the director's vision enough to say that the ideal way to see this film is without that last line, but I don't think it's a big enough difference to recommend anyone spend over $100 (the going rate, apparently) to cop the director's cut laserdisc from EBay. Especially not with the drastically inferior picture quality. Just watch the DVDs. BUT for any major fans of this film or the Jr Lynch, the wealth of extras do make the set worth owning. So whether you should track this down boils down to how much you care about the special features... the fact that it has the "director's cut" sound difference would just be an extra little bonus. And as for the movie itself? Yeah, more people might be inclined to laugh at it rather than with it; but I think there's enough there to make at least one interesting viewing.

Scream Factory's Ravenous (A Slightly Controversial DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Last year, Scream Factory aroused a bit of a controversy with their release of 1999's wickedly grisly exploration of man's power over others, Ravenous. It's not the film itself that caused the friction, though it's edgy enough, but the quality of the HD transfer. Of course, this was previously only available in the US on its original, non-anamorphic DVD from Fox (though anamorphic DVDs do exist in other regions), so you can really say Ravenous's blu-ray debut isn't an upgrade. But is it worth it?
 
Certainly, the movie itself is worth having in your collection. It's one of those movies people often don't consider a horror movie just because it's so good, but by pretty much all objective genre distinctions, it's a full-on horror movie. It's just the sort of horror movie that manages to be enough of a compelling drama with well honed characters and biting social satire.that you aren't solely focused on the suspense or the gore.  But those elements are still there, too, and to a degree higher than a lot of other horror titles.

Guy Pearce's star was just beginning to really rise (Ravenous was about one year before Memento) when he took the role of Captain John Boyd, either a disgraced coward or a war hero in the Mexican-American war, depending on your point of view. Unsure what to do with him, the army sends him off to the very remote Fort Spencer, a very remote military installation only encountered by the occasional wagon train heading west for the gold rush. Run by Jeffrey Jones, the 8-man regiment has gone a bit casual, a bit native and a bit eccentric. But it's a happy little community until a beleaguered Robert Carlyle (at the peak of his career after Trainspotting and The Full Monty) stumbles in with a tale of cannibalism and a Native American legend of the wendigo. Soon everyone has to decide just what they're willing to do to another person in order to thrive and prosper. It's both a very clever and well-paced thriller with a very neat little score, and a substantive, thoughtful film which raises some real questions about how we live our lives. You don't find many films like this one, especially from a major studio, so it's absolutely the kind of film to jump on and add to your collection.

So what's wrong up with this blu-ray and just how bad is it, really? And how different is it from our old DVDs? Should we just hang on to those? Well, let's take a look.
Fox DVD on top; Scream Factory blu-ray on bottom.
For starters, I've referenced anamorphic vs. non-anamorphic discs before, and how non-anamorphic discs like the original Fox DVD are window boxed on widescreen TVs. But just so everyone can see what that really entails, for my first comparison I'm showing the screenshots as they look on a wide screen.  In the blu-ray's case (bottom), it's letterboxed with black bars on the top and bottom, because it's a very wide, 2.35:1 movie. But in the DVD's case, the image is just floating there in the center, surrounded by large swaths of black on all sides, because it's an old DVD that predates widescreen TVs. It was alright on an old 4.3 TV, but just looks small and awkward on a modern set.

Apart from that, though, the DVD really doesn't look so much worse than the blu. You have to zoom in to really get a look at the DVD, and the image quality certainly isn't identical when you do, but it's really not much worse. Here, let's have a couple easier comparisons, without those dreaded black bars.
Fox DVD on top; Scream Factory blu-ray on bottom.
So yeah, I think it's right to say the DVD isn't so much worse than the blu. Apart from being non-anamorphic, I think it was a pretty good looking picture for standard def. But I think it's even more accurate to say the blu-ray isn't so much better than the DVD, and it really should be. It's soft, lacking detail, and some of the edges have halos. The DVD does have some artifacting from being smaller and more compressed, which the blu-ray properly does away with (look at Neal McDonough's chin); but where's the clarified detail? Where's the sharper, more lifelike image we expect from blu-ray?

Well, it doesn't look like Scream Factory has done anything particularly wrong. It's still a 1080p presentation, and despite some public accusations, I don't think they damaged the image too badly with DNR (digital noise reduction) or similar tools. They may have sharpened and/or otherwise tinkered with it a bit; but the real problem seems to be that they just used a very old transfer. And that old transfer had some edge enhancement and other effects used on it that Scream then gave the HD treatment to.
 
If you were to make a new scan of this film and give it a nice restoration, I believe this film could look dramatically better. But they just had what Fox gave them, which was good enough for the DVD because the DVD, as we've said, was a smaller, non-anamorphic image. So when they "fixed" the image for the old disc, it looked alright. But now that Scream has blown up that "fixed" transfer to hi-def, it just isn't up to the higher standards of blu-ray. You would need to go back another generation to get a nice, high quality blu-ray presentation.

But still, this new version is a little bit of an improvement over the DVD. A blah looking blu-ray, but the best this film has ever looked on home video. And Scream did give us an upgrade in another sense as well.
All the extras, including the many deleted scenes and three audio commentaries, have been ported over from the DVD. Some of the deleted scenes are pretty interesting, and there's commentary on them, too, which is informative. The three commentaries are a bit excessive... the director's one is fine, but I think the two actor commentaries probably should've been edited together into one stronger piece, because both of those tracks often drag in stretches where they haven't got much to say.  Still, I'd much rather have them than not. The trailer, TV spot and a photo gallery were also carried over. We did lose a tiny little easter egg extra with a map of the Donner party's cross-country trail and a look at a wacky promotional item made for the movie; but it was just a photo thing, not an actual video extra; so it's pretty inconsequential.

The blu-ray has kept both audio tracks, the 2.0 and 5.1, both now upgraded of course to HD, as well as the optional English subtitles. It ditched the Spanish subtitles, though, if you care about that. And they gave us an extra little treat of a music and effects only track for lovers of the soundtrack.

But the main new bonus is a brand new interview with Jeffrey Jones, which is pretty substantial. In most DVD extras, the people involved are still in promotional mode, and aren't apt to talk about anything negative. You know, those infamous "oh, he was wonderful to work with. He was brilliant! And that other actor was marvelous! Oh, and she was delightful!" commentaries. But I guess now enough time has passed for Jones to tell us all about how the producers fired the first director and didn't want the second one they were stuck with, and how Carlyle refused to come out of his trailer, etc. So if you want to hear that whole story, this is the interview for you. And yet his enthusiasm and respect for the film really comes through, too. So okay, it's "just an extra," but I'd say it really adds some noteworthy value to the new release.
Just don't look at the white edges around those tombstones. If we ignore it, maybe it will go away.
So, Scream Factory did the best they could, and they at least gave us the best release of Ravenous available. It's disappointing that Fox couldn't cough up anything better, and I'd definitely say this is a less compelling upgrade than many other titles. But as fantastic as a restoration would be, I don't hold out much hope of one. It's a great film, but not a popular enough one that I think many DVD companies are going to see room enough for a second blu-ray of this title in the marketplace, especially one with the expense of a new scan on the price-tag. So just break down and get this already; I did. I mean, what are you going to do? Player manufacturers seem pathologically incapable of programming a zoom setting for a non-anamorphic DVD that will actually just properly fill a TV screen without screwing up the AR or cropping part of the image. If I had a more suspicious nature...