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

So, 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 got my hands on a copy so I could see what's actually going on here.

Update 5/10/16: I've added the US Kino DVD to the mix. I knew it was inferior to the other releases, but it's hard to believe by how much, especially considering it after the Artificial Eye DVD. Also, be sure to scroll down to the very bottom for a word from Criterion about the missing frames and replacement discs.
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.
So, shut up already and get to the missing frames, right? Well, I'll be honest, I have been staring at this film for hours and hours, clicking frame by frame, back and forth, and I still don't know. 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.

People in that thread specify four time codes where they've seen frames missing: 8:38, 9:09, 10:07 and 20:51. Well, at 9:09 a character is quickly pushing another down a busy street with the camera panning alongside them, so it's practically impossible to tell. But some of the others... particularly 8:38, I do think I see a little speed up. Another poster mentions that particular point, too, where the boy throws a paper down to a beggar, it could be a little frame jump there. But I've got the Artificial Eye DVD from the UK, and you don't notice it there (though maybe the PAL speed-up helps cover it up), so I took screenshots of each frame in that sequence, and they actually line up perfectly:
2015 Criterion blu on top; 2001 Artificial Eye DVD bottom.
And I went frame-by-frame as far as a minute earlier and a minute later than that section I screenshotted, too; and I couldn't find anything. So I really don't know if anything's missing. Like I said, I do sort of see that speed up they mention in motion, but I don't know. Maybe it's integral to the film as shot, and that's why it matches up with the previous release. Or maybe there's nothing there at all. I've spent so much time staring at such a minute thing, I'm seeing missing frames when I look out the window. I can't really blame Criterion for not coming up with an explanation for this one, but on the other hand, I'd be really interested to hear anything they have to say about it.
One thing you should've spotted in those frames above is how much better Criterion's blu looks. The reason I imported the Artificial Eye DVD from the UK back in 2001 is because the USA's DVD from Kino was ugly and lighter on extras, as you'll see. But Criterion's new blu-ray has come out, and putting the possibly missing frames aside for a moment, it shows how much room for improvement there still was.
2002 US Kino DVD 1st; 2001 UK Artificial Eye 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 DVD is also softer than the cleaner blu-ray image. All in all, a strong improvement.

AE'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.
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: an 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, it's a pretty impressive definitive upgrade from Criterion - especially if you were living with the Kino DVD, saints preserve us. This frame dropping issue is a shame, either because it slightly (very slightly!) tarnishes a great release, or it's not even there, and it's just tarnishing its reputation unfairly. Either way, don't let it put you off, because it's a great film and after a close examination, I can't even be sure what's going on, so it can't be too damaging. I'd recommend not even checking the timecodes for it and looking, because once you think you think you see it, you won't be able to stop noticing it. And then you'll be haunted... like me...


Update 3/2/16: The Criterion forum post I linked to earlier has an update from Jon Mulvaney of Criterion, confirming that they recognize the issue and will be offering replacement discs soon.

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