The Visitor: Code Red vs. Drafthouse (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

The Visitor is a crazy, weird late 70s sci-fi thriller that that I guess is essentially blending Star Wars and The Omen. And it's Italian. Ovidio Assonitis co-wrote and produced this, passing directorial duties to Giulio Paradisi. This is a real attempt to crash the United States' burgeoning summer blockbuster market, combining some big name actors - including John Huston, Glenn Ford and Shelly Winters - with special effects-filled spectacle. It's also pretty ridiculous and just barely makes sense, which is why it's relatively unknown outside of cult fan circles today. But if you can get past the flaws, which at this point might help the film as much as hamper it anyway, you've got a pretty fun watch on your hands. And it's very nicely represented on home video these days for anyone so interested, even in there's some unpleasant controversy brewing under that surface.
Where does one begin to explain this story? The film opens with some very strange but compelling looking science fiction/ fantasy scenes, which we won't understand until later in the film, if at all. Franco Nero (of the Django films) finally appears as a sort of space Jesus to drop a load of exposition to a room full of bald children about an evil space mutant who escapes from a passing prison/ spaceship and hides on Earth in the form of an eagle, which he had to become in order to escape the army of birds that came from outer-space... All of this is back story we don't actually see. But it boils down to the space mutant's descendants and followers running an Illuminati-like cult that wants to help a very Omen-like little girl dominate the planet. Her mother is basically good and innocent, but her father is totally in on it, and John Huston has come to Earth to save us all. There's also a cop looking for an explanation of a mysterious murder at the little girl's birthday party. That's basically the conflict. Plenty more notable actors appear in this crazy story, including Lance Henriksen, Glenn Ford, Mel Ferrer and even Sam Peckinpah, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Shelly Winters is great, and Henriksen is dark and imposing, but Peckinpah just feels like stunt casting for an extended cameo role.

The whole film is a mixed bag like that. Some scenes are a blast, and the soundtrack includes a big, dynamic science fiction theme. But it doesn't add up. So what it boils down to is if you're up for a crazy mixed-up film with some compelling elements, or if you're only interested in a consistently good film. Now, what's been released on DVD, and later blu-ray. is the original, uncut European version, which does make things a little more coherent. But it's still nothing that has any hope of breaking into the mainstream. So either this film is right up your alley, or it's really not.
And okay, yeah. Let's talk about this film's... storied DVD release. It was first released only in Italy under the title Stridulum. It was the longer uncut version, and available from a very nice master, slightly letterboxed to its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Code Red licensed it and released that edition in the USA in 2010, with a nice package of extras, which we'll come to later. Then, even though Code Red still apparently owned exclusive rights to the film, Drafthouse also bought the rights and wound up releasing the film in the US on DVD and blu-ray with some new extras. I don't want to talk out of turn, so I'll just post the heavy circulated quotes from some of the parties involved and let you draw your own conclusions:
Code Red on Twitter: According to my contract w/Ovidio Assonitis, STILL GOT 3 MORE YEARS ON THE VISITOR! @drafthouse @AlamoDFW MGM had tv rights! I paid 25 grand ... I paid 10 grand more then @drafthousefilms for VISITOR and got 10 years rights.  No cable/theatrical right due to MGM

Code Red on Facebook (linked from the Love Lock and Load forums since the FB post seems to have been removed): ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE send me a CEASE AND DESIST for THE VISITOR! I GOT THREE MORE YEARS AND RICH PRICKS IS COMING AFTER CODE RED. I have to stop business for awhile. MGM do own tv & theatrical. Love to see them send one to them. I paid 10 grand more than they did for this movie. sorry, but code red release are frozen for awhile.

Marc Edward Heuck on blogger: It should be mentioned that Code Red DVD were first on the scene with an excellent release of the film that included two commentaries, one of which featured myself with Joanne Nail, the other featured star Paige Connor; both lovely ladies also did on-camera interviews on that disc. It should also be noted that Code Red still had years left on their contract when the Italian licensors double-crossed them and sold it to Drafthouse, and rather than compensate them for the mixup, Drafthouse has pretended this release never existed, to the point of making Code Red remove it from their own website. I like everyone at Drafthouse and what they do, but I cannot get on board with how they have handled this matter, so I will NOT be buying this Blu-Ray.
And there's more out there if you want to google around, but you get the idea. Some people are specifically refusing to support the Drafthouse release, which is of course a decision you'll have to make for yourself. But stick around to the end of this post, because a third party may've made that decision a lot easier for everybody.

But let's put all of that aside and look at the actual merits and differences between the two discs.
Code Red DVD on top; Drafthouse on bottom.
The films seem to be taken from the same master, although the Drafthouse blu-ray obviously benefits from being an HD presentation. It's nothing massive, though, because Code Red's DVD looked surprisingly good, it's definitely not one of their "grindhouse prints." So we're kind of comparing a top notch DVD with a medium-ish blu (disappointingly, it's a single layer disc); but in that kind of contest, the blu still wins. Actually, the most noticeable difference may be that Drafthouse seems to have taken another pass at the colors. Look at the top picture' the foreground guy's collar is either green or blue depending which disc you're watching. The open doorway behind him is either orange or blue. But the second pic really showcases how Drafthouse's new blu really does "pop" more than CR's DVD. There's not really any new detail or huge revelations, but I don't think you could make a credible case against it being the preferable watch. The Drafthouse blu also has nice HD sound.
Extras, though, are a different story. Early pre-order listings for Drafthouse's release included all of Code Red's extras, but that didn't wind up happening. The Drafthouse blu includes three brief interviews and the trailer. The interview with Lance Henriksen is pretty good, and the interview with the cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri is pretty brief and light on substance. But their talk with co-writer Luciano Comici is really illuminating with some of the crazy politics that went on behind the scenes of the film. There's also an easter egg that gives you one additional anecdote from Henriksen, which is pretty interesting and worth locating.

Code Red, meanwhile, has two audio commentaries: one with Joanne Nail and moderator Marc Edward Heuck, and one by Paige Conner, the lead little girl. moderated by filmmakers Scott Spiegel and Jeff Burr. But even stronger than the commentaries is the feature called Revisiting the Visitor. It includes both Nail and Conner, who do repeat some anecdotes from their commentaries. But there's also production associate Stratton Leopold, who has a fun little story, and most notably, Ovidio Assonitis, the man we most want to hear from about this film.
So, both sets of extras have their pros and cons, and a hardcore fan of this movie will want both, since they do compliment each other more than they duplicate. But the bottom line is that Code Red has better extras, and Drafthouse has the better picture and sound. Packaging wise, I used to assume Code Red had it over Drafthouse, but then when I finally got my copy and checked out the awesome reversible artwork (pictured at the top), I gotta give it to Drafthouse. Their disc also comes with a booklet featuring quotes from an interview with Ovidio which is worth the read.

And that's the way things stood for a while. But at the end of 2014, Arrow released this film on blu in the UK.They used the same transfer, and carried over the Drafthouse extras. It has its own booklet with cast interviews, but the noteworthy thing is that Arrow's release is a dual-layer disc! So okay, still lacking the Code Red extras (how sweet could that have been?), but it's the full Drafthouse package, minus the single layer flaw. Oh, and if it's important to you, Arrow's artwork is reversible, too, and the other side is the eyeball poster like the Code Red's DVD.
Now, I don't actually have the Arrow disc, but I've matched the screenshot above, taken from the Drafthouse blu-ray, with a screenshot at this link, an excellent review of the Arrow blu from 10k Bullets. So you can just go to that review and open up their second screenshot (I've grabbed a copy in case they ever take that review down), and compare it with the one above. Go ahead and read the whole thing while you're there, 10k does good reviews. The pictures look pretty identical except for the Drafthouse being a bit brighter, but zooming in really, really close, the compression does seem a little smoother and neater. You probably wouldn't even be able to see the difference watching the blus on your home player unless you've got a really big screen, but if you're deciding between the two, the Arrow appears to be the technically, objectively better disc.
So that's where things stand now. Code Red's still got the best extras, and if you haven't gone blu, it's probably the best option (Drafthouse has also issued a DVD version, but the only reason to get that seems to be if you've already got the Code Red DVD, don't play blus, and just want the other extras). And if you're after all the extras, you'll want it even if you have one of the blus. Code Red has had to stop selling it, of course, so it'll be trickier to track down than it was last year... But if you search Amazon for "Stridulum," its page still comes up near the top. And if you had any misgivings about supporting Drafthouse's release after the drama but really wanted the blu and new extras, Arrow has solved that, improving upon their blu in the process. Still, the differences are minimal enough that if you don't care about that, you might just pick which blu you pick based on which country you live in to save on the import shipping costs. There is no release that's drastically superior or inferior to the others. So that's pretty much all you need to know... apart from whether the movie is worth owning in the first place. That you'll just have to figure out on your own.

No comments:

Post a Comment