Controversial Blus: The White Ribbon's Awful Subtitles (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Michael Haneke has been a pretty polarizing filmmaker for at least 25 years. You know, one of those "love him or hate him" artists, where people are either excited every time they hear he has a new film coming out, or they can't stand him and can't understand why or how other people actually like his work. He's definitely not the guy you turn to if you want escapist entertainment. But in the last few years he seems to be broadening out, making films that are no less challenging pieces of art, but might also be more palatable for mainstream audiences. He actually even got Oscar nominations (writing and directing) for his last film, Amour. And this film here, his previous, I think is the one that first bridged that gap: The White Ribbon.
But don't let that and the title fool you. The White Ribbon is absolutely not The Red Balloon. Yeah, children play a big part in this one, too. The children are much more like the ones from Who Can Kill a Child, which if you haven't seen it, gives you a much better sense of its tone from its title. In this stark, black and white film, the inhabitants of a small German village, isolated from initial stirrings of World War I, are suffering some tragic losses. But it's possibly their own fault, even as it's at the hands of their children. So yeah, this is still about as far from puerility and sentimentality as you can get. But it's more relatable and touching than most of his earlier work, and it doesn't use any audience-frustrating devices like Funny Games. It looks like an old Bergman film and the performances are as powerful as always with Haneke. But this one's riveting and I think even people who felt they "hated" earlier Haneke films would have a hard time dismissing it.

That's assuming they could actually make out any of the dialogue, however. Jeepers creepers, the subtitles are small and challenging on Sony's US blu-ray release! They're also white (at least with a thin black outline) on top of a black and white movie. I mean, it's a black and white movie: the perfect opportunity to use colored subs that would also stand well out. Just look at this:
And I could've intentionally picked some worse shots that make it ever harder to read, but I wanted to be fair. Granted, their are better, darker scenes, but there are some that really swallow up the little font. Like, why is it all bunched up in the middle there, not even along the bottom? Yeah, I can read it all fine now on my PC taking screenshots, but this is the first and only blu-ray (or DVD or laser, for that matter) in my collection that I often just couldn't read what was being said sitting on my couch across from my TV. What are they playing at?
(It's not usually in italics; just this bit because it's voice over)
The concurrent DVD release isn't the best (I still don't get why they're up there in front of the actor while there's so much empty space below), but as you can see it's substantially better.  Subtitle-wise, that is. Of course, as a standard def DVD it's going to be worse in terms of overall picture quality. And, as with Warner Bros' Informant, it's missing compelling extras that are only included on the blu. But let's have a proper look.
Sony Pictures Classics 2009 blu-ray on top; and their 2009 DVD below.
Both images are slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1. Their naturally the same transfer and the same in most respects, but of course the HD image is superior. Look at the extra detail in the blu-ray's crowd shot as opposed to the DVD's. Look at the girl in white on the stairs who's facing the audience - she actually has eyes on the blu-ray. Overall, the picture is smoother, more natural and without all the compression artifacts that always separate a DVD from a blu.

The blu-ray also has two crisp 5.1 DTS-HD audio tracks, with bonus French and German tracks. Whereas the DVD just as the one German 5.1 track.
But yeah, the DVD really falls short in the extras department. I guess Sony was doing the same as Warners, cutting all the extras from the DVD to compel people to switch to blu-rays? Well, it's too bad for DVD viewers, because the extras here are deeper and more substantial than your average Haneke film. First of all, there's a great 40-minute making of documentary that looks at everything behind the scenes of this film. Then there's your typical but always welcome Haneke interview where he talks about the film for about 14 minutes. After that, there's a 50 minute retrospective on Haneke and his work. And finally there's a 19 minute featurette on the film at Cannes. Oh, and there's the trailer, plus a bunch of bonus trailers for other Sony Pictures Classics titles.

The DVD just has the trailer. To be fair, Sony might've actually needed to make it a 2-disc set to put all the blu-ray extras on the DVD... but they could've at least put on just the interview or something.
Oh well. Anyone with a blu-ray player is going to choose the blu-ray anyway. ...But they might wish they had the DVD, too, if they're trying to read the subtitles on a less than ginormous screen. I did at least discover (Eventually) that the blu-ray has another subtitle track for the hearing impaired (nope, it's not on the DVD) that is more legible. But you have to read all that "[soft music is playing; a grinding sound can be heard]" stuff. But it beats missing half the dialogue. And nobody ought to miss out on a film this good.

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