Dawn Of the Mummy (US Vs. UK Editions)

I was talking on a forum recently about Dawn Of the Mummy, saying how the UK disc is so much better, with the anamorphic widescreen print and the commentary. But I've been thinking about that discussion for the last couple days. Was the UK disc really so much better? I was operating from some pretty old memories. It was time to break out both versions and give 'em the full DVD Exotica treatment.
If you've never seen Dawn, don't let it's title and artwork fool you. This is not one of those mummy movies where a bunch of stuffy English professors stand around in a drawing room warning each other about the mummy they'll finally confront in the last five minutes. This has more in common with Fulci than Hammer or the Universal classics. It's not Italian, though; it's an Egyptian movie in English with some American stars. The set-up is traditional: in ancient Egypt, a king is buried with his treasures and a curse. Cut to modern times and an American is excavating the tomb with his local guides. So naturally the mummy wakes up and is out for blood.
But things start to get very 80s when a group of attractive young models stumble into the same pyramid, looking to smoke, screw and have a photo shoot. And the mummy, who's a freakishly tall, bad-ass looking mummy, also happens to command an army of the dead, who pure zombie flesh eaters. Everyone winds up at an outdoor Egyptian wedding in a small village, and it's practically war between the living and the dead. Things move at a pretty good clip here; you won't be bored at long, dry scenes of exposition. It gets right down to the exploitation. And while this movie definitely looks and feels cheap, it's also got some pretty impressive production values. The film was shot in both NY and Egypt. Some interiors are shot on sound-stages, but they're often out riding on horses and camels in and around real pyramids. And the special effects for the mummy, the kills and explosions are all pretty strong. The acting and the dialogue are poor, but that almost adds to the fun.
So Dawn Of the Mummy was released in both the US and the UK in 2003. Only Anchor Bay's UK disc had the anamorphic widescreen transfer, though, so the word was out avoid Madacy's US DVD. But looking back at my UK disc, it's not too pretty. So I borrowed a Madacy disc to see how they really do compare, and I was somewhat surprised.
Madacy on top, Anchor Bay fullscreen mid, and AB widescreen bottom.
One surprise is just that I forgot Anchor Bay gave you a choice: even before the main menu, you get to pick 4:3 or 16x9. Okay, cool; I'll take that. The 4:3 (on both discs) is open matte, no a pan & scanned or chopped off sides deal. The widescreen appears to be the OAR and generally looks better, but some shots, like the one above where the pyramid tip isn't cut off, almost looks better composed for 4:3. So I'm not mad at us having the choice. Even the widescreen is slightly pillarboxed to about 1.72:1.

All three transfers are actually ugly, murky, soft videotape-looking images. The two Anchor Bays are identical except of course for the matting. But the Anchor Bay and Madacy transfers are noticeably different. They both basically have one big, unique flaw, in addition to the aforementioned ugly, murkiness they share. Madacy has stronger colors and is a bit brighter, though it's also slightly black crushed. But mainly, it just looks softer and even more VHS-like. Anchor Bay is a little duller, more film-like with additional visible detail - and it looks like they cleaned off some flecks and dirt - but it has a serious ghosting/ interlacing problem.
BOTH of these shots are the Anchor Bay fullscreen version (explained below).
I think now might be a good time to address interlacing and ghost frames a little further, since they come up in so many of my posts (surprisingly even on some newer DVDs). The two shots above are from the same Anchor Bay transfer. Usually, I've been showing the straight ghosted frames, since that's how many of your players will display it. But it's all a result of interlacing, and depending how you're set up, you might see it like the second show, below. See how it's broken up into horizontal lines where there's all the motion? That's interlacing, and that's what's really on these discs.
The other surprise for me was that Madacy also had the commentary on it. The primary extra on both discs is a light but very illuminating commentary by director Frank Agrama and moderated by the guy from Dark Delicacies (they're the people who got my Crystal Lake Memories blu-ray autographed!). You don't find a lot of Egyptian horror flicks on your video store shelves, so it's good to have such a detailed account of this film's history. But that commentary is pretty much all there is. Madacy's only other extra is a bonus trailer for some movie called Road Ends. Anchor Bay at least has the actual Dawn Of the Mummy trailer, which is worth a watch for some fun narration ("Egypt, home of the pyramids. A nice place to visit... but would you want to DIE there?"). But that and a photo gallery are the only other extras. Oh, and Anchor Bay has a nice, fold-out insert. All told, a tiny improvement, but nothing to go out of your way for.
So apparently Anchor Bay's Dawn isn't the vastly superior presentation I remembered it being. It's still preferable, primarily for the OAR, and especially since it gives you the open matte fullscreen version as a bonus anyway. Both are ugly as sin and in serious need of an upgrade we're not likely to see anytime soon. It's a flip of a coin whether the softer image or interlacing is more offensive, and the really important extra is actually on both releases. It's nice to have the trailer, but I don't think I'd say it's worth the trouble of importing for. It's a fun movie, so it's worth having in your collection even looking as low-fi as this. But while the Anchor Bay version wins the competition, I'd say just go for whichever is cheapest and easiest to score.

1 comment:

  1. What I wouldn't give for a proper film scan of this one!

    ReplyDelete