Controversial Blus: Dangerous Liaisons (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted for the screen multiple times before (Les liaisons dangereuses in 1959), during (Valmont in 1989) and after (1999's Cruel Intentions, 2003's Untold Scandal and 2012's Dangerous Liaisons), but Stephen Frear's version remains the best known and more or less definitive version. Not that it's particularly faithful to the novel, or the popular stage play, but its cast, its portrayals, and its icy close-ups are, I think I can say, iconic. I'm not usually a fan of John Malkovich or Keanu Reeves; but everybody perfectly embodies their characters (despite making no effort to be French like their setting), including Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Swoosie Kurtz (who was also in Cruel Intentions), to the point where when you're discussing any version of the story, it's easiest to refer to the characters as "John Malkovich," "Glenn Close," etc.
One of the reasons it's so popular, I'm sure, is that it's one of those rare Richard III-style stories where the protagonists are conniving villains who bring you into their scheme. But where Richard breaks the fourth wall, Malkovich and Close do it through heated, private exchanges. Kurtz has just brought her daughter, Thurman, into a society from a sheltered convent life, where she was kept to remain "pure" for her arranged husband (played perfectly by Jeffrey Jones in Valmont, but who we never actually see in Dangerous... he's only referred to). Jones once spurned Close, so now she's out for revenge, so she asks Malkovich to seduce Thurman before her wedding night, to spoil her chastity. Malkoich has his sites on another woman, however, a very married Pfieffer, and it turns into a manipulative contest between Close and Malkovich to see who can pull the most peoples' strings for their own sadistic whims. It's pure scandal as everybody is seducing everybody they shouldn't, and the stakes get higher and higher until they become deadly. What could be more fun?

Now, Warner Bros 1997 DVD was a very early release, so their 2013 was quite a long-awaited upgrade. I've got both, so let's see just how much of an upgrade we've gotten, shall we?
Warner Bros' 2013 blu-ray on top; and their DVD on bottom.
...As if anyone would need to be told.
Lights on...
...lights off.
I was all prepared to write about how the DVD wasn't even anamorphic, but my memory has done me a disservice. It is indeed anamorphic. The DVD has a duller palette and flecks that have been removed for the blu (i.e. just over Uma's right ear in the last shot). The framing is basically identical, though the DVD is a bit taller. It's ever so slightly pillar-boxed, practically invisibly in the overscan area. The DVD almost looks like it was filmed through a thin, dirty gauze that was then removed for the blu-ray.

But the blu-ray isn't perfect... It's presented on a dual-layer disc, which is nice, but the actual scan still seems to be under 25GB. More notably, there has been a little discussion, started on the Home Theater Forums, about how, in certain scenes, "the image is jittering so it's uncomfortable to watch." An official review on referred to the comment, saying, "A poster on another board who received an early copy of this title reported major distortion commencing with chapter 6 (when Valmont visits the peasant home) and spoke ominously of a 'botched job'. I have now played the review copy on three different setups (a Panasonic BD-50, a PS3 and a BD-ROM drive) and have seen no such problem."
The jittering can be observed in this shot, among others.
Well, I have to admit I didn't notice anything during my initial, casual viewings. But after reading about this, I took a close look for this review, and I certainly do see it. And my blu isn't any advance, early copy - it's a regular, retail copy I didn't buy until this 2015. And while I'd agree with's writer that calling it a botched job is a bit extreme, the jittering is there. I can't say it makes the scene uncomfortable to watch, however. When I first spotted it and saw what he was talking about, I thought, nah, it's just an issue with this exterior shot having been shot hand-held, so the camera's not steady. But like the original commenter says, when I fired up my DVD copy to compare it, the jittering isn't there, and the shot is quite steady. So maybe the film got a little loose in the scanner or something? I don't know. Warners did screw up here a bit, apparently, but it's really no big deal in my estimation. After all, it took me a good while to confirm for myself that the issue even existed.

Oh, and while we're comparing transfers, I have to note that Warners old DVD is a flipper (and packaged in a crapper snapper to boot!), with an alternative full-screen transfer on the other side. Let's look at how that's been modified for your 4.3 television...
I'm not even going to bother saying which version is on top and which is on bottom.
Yuck. There is a little extra info at the top and bottom, but at the expense of having the sides chopped off. I'm guessing it's Pan & Scan, but I can't bring myself to watch it long enough to say for sure. It's a junk, 4:3 transfer; that's all we need to know.
The extras department provides another strong motivation to upgrade. While the blu isn't exactly loaded, it's light years beyond the DVD, which has nothing, not even bonus trailers for other WB titles. The blu-ray has a 4:3 trailer, and much more enticingly, an audio commentary by Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton. Frears has a few nice anecdotes and insights, but mostly seems at a loss for what to say during an audio commentary. Fortunately, Hampton seems to understand how these things works and does most of the heavy lifting, talking about the production, changes from the novel and the stage play, and how he left Valmont to rush Dangerous Liaisons into theaters first. It's a very good commentary, and all the more rewarding as it remains the only extra for a film with a lot of story behind it.
Dangerous Liaisons is a delicious tale, and this is still the ultimate adaptation that really doesn't have to worry about "holding up" over the decades, and has yet to be replaced by its many attempted successors. And while this blu may not be 100% perfect, it's a rather compelling disc, quite a leap forward from what we had, and the best we're likely to see anytime soon.

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