Fellini's Casanova, By Way of the UK (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It used to be, the best DVD edition of Frederico Fellini's Casanova was from the UK: a nice 2-disc set from Freemantle, which I've still got. But that was 10 years ago, and now we're in the age of HD remasters. And now? Well, it's a bit of a tie between the French and UK blu-rays, but one is out of print and only available used at inflated prices. So Mr Bongo's new blu keeps the the trophy in the UK. But is it an essential upgrade, or just another a minor improvement in compression? Let's have a look!
I don't love all Fellini films. They all certainly have their virtues, typically visually, but they don't call grab you the way his masterpieces do. Juliet Of the Spirits, for example, seems like an excuse for his colorful set-pieces more than an engaging story. Satyricon would probably make a better coffee table book than a film. But Casanova has the power of its source material. Not that Casanova's a favorite story of mine, but coupled with the right adapter - see Dennis Potter's excellent mini series - it can be quite effective.
And I think Giacomo Casanova has found the perfect director in Fellini, someone able to exceed the excess of Casanova's bawdy tale with crazy, ribald imagery and dreamlike set pieces. Fellini takes it farther over the top than any previous version, with Sutherland seducing a mechanical woman or making his lover's bed literally spin and fly up into the air. Meanwhile, the original writing, coupled with a terrific leading performance by Donald Sutherland, are able to repay the compliment of Fellini's vivaciousness with intelligent commentary on human nature and crafting the unenviable downfall of a man you wind up genuinely caring about. The garish absurdity of the comedy is played so strong, it winds up contributing to the tragedy.
Freemantle's 2005 DVD on top; Mr Bongo's 2015 blu underneath.
Freemantle's DVD is at least anamorphic, which sets it apart from some of its contemporaries, but it's still a far cry from the new HD transfer. It just looks so digital and unreal in comparison. The DVD is slightly pillar-boxed at 1.73:1, whereas the blu-ray is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1.  The result being: the blu gains a little extra picture along the bottom, and the DVD is actually slightly horizontally compressed. There's really no competition, this is a big upgrade. I could see a fresh 4k scan uncovering a little more detail and clarity, to be honest, but it's unquestionably the transfer to go with given what's available. I do sort of miss the extreme bold colors of the old DVD, though. I wouldn't have minded at all to see the blu's saturation bumped up just a tiny percent, but I suppose it's most accurate as it is now.

Both the DVD and blu give you the option of the English or Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles, which is great. You'll probably wind up opting for the English in this case, as that's the one where Sutherland dubs his own voice. Oh, and the DVD also has a third, French dub.
A far more compelling reason to hang onto your DVDs, though, is the second disc of extras. Mr Bongo's blu-ray is completely barebones. The DVD however, has that whole second disc.

The main extra, I suppose, is a documentary called The Magic of Fellini. It's about an hour-long and pretty good, but as its an overview of his whole career, it's maybe a bit superficial. Still, it's full of good interviews and film clips, and worth the watch for any Fellini fan. It's worth pointing out that this documentary is also on several Australian Fellini DVD and blu-ray releases, and released as its own DVD by Image in the US; so there's a chance you'll already have this.
Of more interest to me personally was the interview with Donald Sutherland. This is also just a little under an hour, and as such quite thoughtful and in-depth. He talks about his whole career, but focuses a lot on Fellini and Casanova. This isn't one of those frustrating interviews that covers his entire body of work and ignores the film they're making the DVD of.

The only other extra is a stills gallery.
So, that answers that: definitely a worthwhile upgrade! Still, you'll want to hold onto your DVD for the extras, or even double-dip for them if you haven't already got it, because they're good. And it helps that Mr Bongo's blu is nice and cheap. Of course, if you do come across the French blu you could get that instead. It has some exclusive extras, but they don't have English language options, so it wouldn't net you much more than Mr Bongo's. But definitely one blu-ray and the UK DVD for the extras is the way to go.

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