Contamination: Arrow Vs. Blue Underground (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Alright, a fun one has just landed from Arrow Video, another one of their dual US and UK releases, Luigi Cozzi's Contamination. They're updating what was already a pretty excellent DVD from Blue Underground - which I already had, giving us the opportunity for a nice comparison here - so let's take a look and see what convinced me to double dip; and if there's any reason to hang onto our old BU discs.
Whenever I read about this movie, I see it referred to as an Italian Alien knock-off, which I think is interesting. There are clearly some images and concepts from Ridley Scott's original rolling around in this movie, but I've seen a number of Alien rip-offs, and I wouldn't count this among them. I mean, if you're looking to watch a movie that has a similar, if cheaper, viewing experience to Alien, you won't find that here. We're on Earth, no in space. We're not following a few characters trapped in a tight, claustrophobic environment, spaceship or otherwise, and there's not a scary alien stalking and killing them off one-by-one. It's more like the alien eggs, which had a small but memorable role in the original, were given their own spin-off movie in a different genre. This is more like a violent espionage movie.
We actually learn from the extras that Cozzi originally wanted to make a much more direct Alien knock-off, just set on Earth and titled, appropriately, Alien Arrives on Earth. But his producers wanted to make a film more like or The China Syndrome or James Bond. Well, they never really saw to eye and wound up pulling in both directions, ultimately creating a weirdo hybrid-compromise film that I think is actually much more engaging than their individual concepts would have been. It's The China Syndrome but with space aliens and tons of gooey effects, all elevated by a terrific Goblin soundtrack. I was honestly surprised by just how much I enjoyed this film the first time I saw it, having heard it get dismissed by most fans. I found it to just be much more enjoyable than it ever gets credit for.
So this movie's had plenty of budget, "public domain" releases from the usual parties (Mill Creak, East West, etc) under the title Alien Contamination, but for serious film fans, the only real contender in the DVD market was Blue Underground's 2003 edition. But now Arrow has taken it into the HD realm with a brand new 2k restoration and a whole bunch of new extras. It's also a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, so I'm throwing both discs into the mix, as we compare Contamination: Blue Underground Vs. Arrow.
Arrow's blu on top; Blue Underground's DVD mid and Arrow's DVD bottom.

So the first thing I noticed actually, is that Blue Underground's disc really holds up. Arrow is still the clear winner just by virtue of presenting an HD version of the film on blu-ray, which clears away all the compression when you look at the image close-up, leaving only a natural film grain. But if you compare the two DVDs, just for the sake of making the playing ground equal for a moment, there's not a very visible improvement in the new scan. BU's looks very similar. The most notable difference is the color timing, with BU's disc leaning more towards the yellowish green side. In the shots above, the lab rat's eyes and ears look pink in the Arrow shots, but orange in the BU shot. Besides that, there is a sliver more picture info gained on the sides of Arrow 1.85:1 framing (both are just slightly letterboxed anamorphic transfers0, but you'd probably never notice the difference if you weren't doing a direct side-by-side comparison like this. It's certainly no fault of Arrow's, it's just that BU's transfer was already quite strong, so the improvement isn't so dramatic.

One really nice aspect of the Arrow disc, though, is that they provided both the English and Italian audio options in their original mono tracks. And on the blu, they're uncompressed PCM tracks that. The BU disc gave you several mix options, including DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and the Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. But, as usual with Lustig's Italian releases, you could only view the film with the English dub. Arrow's Italian, with English subtitles, is a really nice option.
Arrow brought a lot more to the table, too, in the extras department. Not that Blue Underground's release was bare bones. They had a really nice, straight forward on camera interview with Cozzi which gave you the basic, all-you-need-to-know run down on the film and its creation. And they also had a really cool, vintage half-hour Italian television special on the making of Contamination. Those were the two main things, though there was also a photo gallery, the trailer, and a graphic novel adaptation of the original screenplay which was interesting, though not something I was going to attempt to click and read through on my television. I skimmed it a bit, though; and one interesting thing was that it started out in space, which of course the movie doesn't (probably hampered by budget considerations).

Well, the Italian TV special, the trailer and the graphic novel all made the transition to Arrow's release, leaving out only the Cozzi interview. And they added a brand new on-camera interview with Cozzi to replace it, as well as a Q&A session with him and star Ian McCulloch speaking at a film festival, and a cool interview with Goblin's Maurizio Guarini on the scoring of the film, including a cool moment where he plays the main theme on piano. Also, Fangoria editor Chris Alexander provides an audio commentary that starts a little slow, but winds up providing some interesting info you won't find anywhere else. Oh, and there's an oddball little featurette where two English film critics talk about Italian exploitation films for a few minutes. Arrow's release also comes with a nice little booklet (BU also had a neat insert with some crazy foreign cover art) and a very cool slipcover. 
I hate to say this and discourage anyone in future, but as much as I appreciate the effort and expense, I'm not sure this new 2k scan was really necessary here (although, of course, the blu IS an improvement, and a very appreciated one). I certainly want to see many more new scans and restorations of Italian genre films, and Arrow did a pretty perfect job. But it seems like the existing transfer was already pretty sweet. Still, Arrow did an excellent job on this and came up with a bunch of great new features and some sweet packaging. There's no way I can't whole-heartedly recommend this, especially if you're buying it for the first time or are keen to upgrade to HD. If you're just going DVD to DVD, it basically boils down to the new extras, which are actually quite tempting in their own right, although BU's do a pretty good job of holding the fort on their own. And finally, if you've got Arrow's awesome new blu, is there any reason to go back and pick up the BU disc just to have more extras? I'd say no, it's pretty redundant as Arrow did a good job of pulling Cozzi and that info with their new features. Since I've already got the BU disc, I'll hang onto it; but I wouldn't buy it now if it wasn't already in my collection.

1 comment:

  1. Viewed this recently and I forgot how silly it was. A case of you remember it as better than it actually is. It is so daft in parts and laughable, but in a good way. The Arrow print has nice quality as said.