Red's 25th, 27th and 40th Anniversary Editions

Warren Beatty's Reds is one of those rare films that really lives up to its legacy. It really deserves all of its Academy Awards. Everything was just done so right, and beyond what you'd expect, from the writing to the fantastic cast. When you see movies like Dick Tracy or Bulworth, you wonder what happened to that early Warren Beatty who made such a masterpiece? But Reds is also a bitch to get on blu-ray. Paramount made an excellent 25th Anniversary edition, and a separate DVD release, including a terrific little documentary on the film, when blu-rays were just coming out back in 2006, and most people hadn't yet adopted. In fact, there was an HD-DVD for this, too, because we were just in the beginning of the format wars at the time. They did reissue it in 2008 (which is why most online release dates show the 25th Anniversary disc coming out on the film's 27th anniversary), but even that's long out of print. The cheapest unused copy on Amazon is $74 as of this writing, and it was higher last time I looked, so you might want to jump on it. Or try to find an import that doesn't cost even more once you factor in the shipping.

Update 5/5/15 - 12/27/21: Six and a half years later, and Reds is finally back in print.  What's more, it's a new 4k restoration as part of the Paramount Presents line.  Woot!
Reds is the true story of journalist/poet/political activist John Reed, who wound up playing a huge role in the Bolshevik Revolution. It starts out with, and continually returns to, documentary interviews with real people from Jack's life, recounting their memories of him, but the bulk of the film is played out by a fantastic cast including Beatty, of course, along with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson (as Eugene O'Neill), Maureen Stapleton, Paul Sorvino and Gene Hackman. The tagline for the film was, "Not since Gone With The Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it," and I daresay this film fully lives up to that hyperbolic claim. And perhaps unlike Gone With the Wind, Reds is just as powerful and moving today as it was the year of its release. Everything from the complex politics to the tragic romance flourish in this lavish production, with a very memorable score by Stephen Sondheim and a directorial style that actually feels reminiscent of classic Woody Allen, but on a grander scale.

So it sucked that you couldn't find a copy for a reasonable price for so long. I've still got copies of both US blu-ray editions here, as well as the original DVD release (surprisingly, the 25th Anniversary was also the film's DVD debut). But hopefully we can forget about all that and just pick up the new 40th Anniversary edition.  All it needs to be is affordable - check! - and definitive...  Check?
1) 2006 DVD; 2) 2006 BD; 3) 2008 BD; 4) 2021 BD.

The short scoop on the 2006 and 2008 blu-rays is, apart from the tackier artwork, the two editions are identical. Same transfer, same menus, everything. They did stick different labels on the discs themselves, but that's it. A small thing to note is that, regardless of which edition you're looking at, apart from the 40th, they did leave little bits of black and odds and ends in the overscan area, leaving the AR at about 1.77:1 throughout. It's really, really on the fringe, varies from shot to shot, and most viewers probably won't see it because they haven't reset their scan for proper 100% 16x9 anyway; but it is there. I guess in 2006, they figured no one would ever see outside the TV safe zone. The new blu, however, is properly matted to 1.85:1, while still revealing more image around the edges than ever before.  The framing has definitely been improved.
See those black edges? That's the overscan stuff I was talking about.
Apart from that, it's always been a pretty nice transfer, especially for such early blus. And seeing as they were concurrent releases, it only makes sense that the DVD has the same transfer as the first two BDs, in terms of framing, colors, etc. But of course, one is in HD and the other SD, so the DVD is naturally softer, more compressed and doesn't hold up as well on large monitors, as we can see when we get in close. The lines of Sorvino's features get pretty mushy on the DVD, above, which even the old blu-ray fixes up rather nicely.  But the new blu is an improvement in this regard, too.  Even though this isn't in HDR (being a standard BD and not a UHD), we can still see the benefits of the greater color range in the scans.  Look at the reflections in Sorvino's glasses, for instance, which are blocky and blown out on the old blu and more naturally faded on the new.  The grain is also softer than it would be on UHD, but it's much more filmic and better encoded this latest time around.  The color timing's different, too, something that really stands out comparing the now warmer interview segments.  I guess you could say they raised the reds.  Nyuk, nyuk
It's a nice little upgrade in the audio department, too, though still a bit disappointing.  The DVD and blu both gave us the option between the original mono and a modestly rejiggered 5.1 (plus a French dub on the DVD and French and Spanish on the BD).  Unfortunately, the old BD audio was as lossy as the DVD.  And this new version?  Well, the 5.1 is now lossless DTS-HD, but unfortunately the mono is still lossy.  Oh well.  At least it's a step in the right direction.

All three discs also offer optional English subtitles, with the 25/27th BDs also offering French and Spanish, and the 40th giving us both standard and HoH English subs.
Extras-wise, all editions are the same.  They're all mixed together into one, feature-length (about 75 minutes) documentary, which is a very satisfying, all-you-need-to-know look back at the film, primarily based on a very substantive interview with Beatty himself.  But it also involves interviews with Nicholson, Sorvino, Paramount execs... basically everybody except Keaton.  It's great.  There's also a "DVD trailer" (yes, even on the 40th edition), which is a newly made trailer that's actually pretty corny.  It's a small thing, but one can't help wondering what happened to the original theatrical trailer?
I originally ended this post asking Paramount for an updated 35th Anniversary edition next year. Beatty was making his big comeback film, his first film since 1998, so I said the two projects could surely drum up some glowing publicity and sales for each other. Well, maybe Paramount did the right thing by waiting. But ultimately they've done the right thing, putting this masterpiece back into print, and making it a superior edition to boot.  Hey, they even took my suggestion of putting the film on one BD50 instead of two BD25s (the 40th is still a 2-disc set, but now that second disc is just the extras), sparing us the hassle of switching discs mid-film.  I'm a little bummed about the lossy mono mix, but overall, this is better than I was expecting.  Maybe for the 50th, we can get a UHD with lossless mono and an interview with Diane Keaton?  Then we'd really be set and could focus back on the important work of raising the masses out of their accustomed lethargy and the subterranean fires that continue to smoulder.

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