Code Unknown and The Mystery Of the Missing Frames (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I've been a little nervous about upgrading my Code Unknown DVD with Criterion's new blu because of the online murmurings of missing frames. I thought maybe I should wait until Criterion publicly addresses this.; but now it's been a while and it's looking like maybe they won't. So I finally broke down and got my hands on a copy if only to see what's actually going on here.

Update 5/10/16 - 9/30/18: Criterion have now addressed the matter of the missing frames and even issued replacement discs. I detail the whole issue below. Then, I've also gone ahead and added the US Kino DVD to the mix, if only for an added bit of history. I knew it was inferior to the other releases, but it's hard to believe by how much, especially considering Artificial Eye came before it.
Code Unknown is the first of Michael Haneke's French films, and it's one of those Short Cuts kind of films, where it contains multiple plot lines about very different characters who seem to only be briefly, coincidentally linked. But where those types of films usually feel like they're going for cleverness or cuteness, this is Haneke, so you know that's not going for that. It's not as dark as a lot of his work, but - thanks also to a loaded performance by Juliette Binoche - it feels a lot more substantive. That plus, as I just learned on this Criterion release, the fact that many parts are based on real stories about real immigrant families, gives this film a dramatic heft even a few of Haneke's films don't quite have. I won't get into spoiling story points and character specifics, but this is a Haneke film even people who don't normally like Haneke films will take to.
Shut up already and get to the missing frames, right? Well, I'll be honest, I spent several hours staring at this film, clicking frame by frame, back and forth, trying to find the problem. So first of all, I can say flat out that most casual viewers have nothing to worry about; you won't notice anything wrong. So if you're interested in this blu, go ahead and enjoy.  But more serious viewers in that thread specify four time codes where they've seen frames missing: 8:38, 9:09, 10:07 and 20:51. Another poster mentions that particular 8:38 point, too, where the boy throws a paper down to a beggar. So I focused on that moment, took screenshots frame-by-frame, and yes, I found it. The reports are legit.
Oh, and I checked.  These frames are not missing on either of the previous DVD editions.

So for its first year, Code Unknown was only available on DVD as a UK import from Artificial Eye.  Finally, late in 2002, it finally came out in the US from Kino, but in worse quality and lighter on extras, as you'll see. So for the region-locked amongst us, it was especially happy news in 2015 when Criterion's new blu-ray came out. Even with the missing frames, you can see how much room for improvement there was.
2001 UK Artificial Eye DVD 1st; 2002 US Kino DVD 2nd;
2015 US Criterion blu-ray 3rd.
Man oh man, is that Kino DVD the worst of the litter. Non-anamorphic, fuzzy, over-saturated bleeding colors, the subtitles are burnt in and it's interlaced. Thankfully Artificial Eye's DVD doesn't have any of those issues, and of course neither does the blu. Another one of the benefits of the Artificial Eye DVD was that, while it kept the same 1.85:1 aspect ratio of the US DVD, it still managed to find more picture information along the sides. Well, Criterion has repeated that trick, bringing in even MORE of the image into the same frame. Comparatively, the AE colors look overly heightened and unnatural compared to the blu, and just generally overly contrasty, especially in the shadows. Being SD, the DVDs are also softer than the cleaner blu-ray image. All in all, another strong improvement.

AE and Kino's Dolby stereo audio track is pretty good, but Criterion's DTS-HD 5.1 mix beats it. They also have clearer yellow subtitles, which is nice. Meanwhile, Kino's subs are burnt in. Yuck.
Going back to Kino vs. AE, extras were an even stronger reason to import than the transfer. The US disc was barebones, with only the trailer, an insert with chapter stops and three bonus trailers (including Haneke's Piano Teacher) to show for itself, while AE's had three nice features: a video introduction by Michael Haneke, an almost half-hour long 'making of' doc and an interview with Haneke focusing on one scene in particular called Filming the Boulevard. Plus the trailer. Curiously, dvdcompare also mentions an audio commentary by Haneke, but that... just isn't true.

Criterion carries all of these extras over. They're given different names, but don't be confused, they're the same features. But they also add two new things: a new, more forthcoming interview with Haneke, and a pretty informative interview with film scholar Roy Grundmann, who made me realize Haneke has a ton of television movies I still need to see. They're not massive additions, but they're substantive and very welcome.
So yeah, even with the missing frames, it's an impressive upgrade from Criterion, especially if you were living with the Kino DVD. The AE disc was at least a fine DVD release for its time, though you'd still want to upgrade. And that's only truer post-2016, now that the Criterion forums have an update from Jon Mulvaney confirming that they recognize the issue and are offering a replacement disc. And if you've picked it up but aren't sure which edition you've got, there's an easy way to tell. Just look for "2ND PRESSING" on the other rim of the disc label, right before the running time, pictured above. So the first pressing was already the best all-around release by far, but this second pressing is definitively the champ.

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