Replacing Annie Hall (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ah, one of the true DVD classics, I can still remember first seeing it in stores the day it was released: 2000's The Woody Allen Collection boxed set #1 from MGM. Pretty much all of his best and most famous in one big box. And every disc is a top of the line, anamorphic transfer presented with the kind of faultless, top of the line quality only a truly major studio could provide. Except one. For whatever reason, Annie Hall, perhaps Woody Allen's most beloved and best known film, is given a tiny, non-anamorphic transfer. It didn't strike me so much when I first bought the set, because I still had a 4:3 TV back then. 2000 was early for DVDs, but anamorphic enhancement had definitely come into vogue by that stage... as evidenced by every other disc is this box. I'd managed to forget about it for a long while, but received my last unpleasant reminder when I went to get a screenshot for my piece on The Sorrow and the Pity. No more! It was time to upgrade.

Update 2/8/16 - 1/2/20:  I'm not going to wade into the whole Allen/ Farrow mess again right now, but Dylan's restated allegations in 2018 have had another side effect, besides the more obvious ones.  The market's dried up on his physical media catalog, and I've been able to get Arrow's fancy Woody Allen Collection Volumes 1-3 boxed sets imported with shipping for $36 a pop.  Seriously, if you've got any of Woody Allen DVDs you've been meaning to upgrade, now is the time.  And anyway, yeah, that means I've got the latest Annie Hall blu-ray as part of Volume 1, Six Films: 1971-1978, so we can give this page a proper updating.
So Woody Allen's Annie Hall is a pretty good film, maybe you've heard of it. Won best picture in 1977 ...not that we should allow the Academy Awards to determine our greatest films for us. But it's hard to deny this classic's many qualities. It's full of Allen's great comedy we'd all grown used to, we even get a bit of him doing his stand-up; but he surprised us all on this one by growing beyond straight forward comedies to a mature, well-rounded film with heart and intelligent character study. It's also full of little innovative touches, from an introduction spoken directly to the audience to animation harkening back to his old comic strips. You never knew what was coming next - characters could talk across split screen or subtitles might suddenly appear, showing us peoples' unspoken subtext. Of course, Allen doubled down on surprising us by getting serious with his next film; but I think most of the film-going world agrees that Annie Hall had hit the sweet spot of art and comedy. Allen's made an incredible amount of great films, dancing all over and around this mark, some highly received, some seriously under-appreciated. But it looks like Annie Hall will go down as his masterpiece. And why shouldn't it? Any filmmaker should be blessed to make one film half as great as this one.
Well, okay, so we've got to upgrade the old 2000 DVD. But for a long time, we didn't have many other options here in the USA. Even if you bought one of those insane United Artists Prestige boxed sets with 90 DVDs for hundreds of dollars that came out in 2007, they still didn't have Annie Hall in anamorphic widescreen. On the other hand, MGM released it anamorphically in every other country but ours, including the 2001 UK DVD and pretty much everywhere else.  Then, in 2011, they re-released it in the US... and it was still the old, non-anamorphic flipper disc!  You don't believe me, right? You shouldn't believe me; I wouldn't believe me. In 2011, MGM releasing something this old and out of date, especially when they've been releasing an updated all around the world for a decade?  But the case is undeniable:
It's the same old transfer as the original disc, same menu layouts and everything, just with a new cover.  But thankfully, today, we can thankfully skip right to HD.  MGM gave us a proper blu-ray in 2012. And in 2016, Arrow released their own blu-ray in the UK as part of their Woody Allen Collection Volume 1, Six Films: 1971-1978 boxed set.
1) 2000 MGM DVD wide; 2) 2000 MGM full; 3) 2011 MGM DVD wide;
4) 2011 MGM DVD full; 5) 2012 MGM BD; 6) 2016 Arrow BD.
Actually, apart from being non-anamorphic, the DVD isn't too bad. If you're still somehow using an old 4:3 TV, maybe you could hold off on double-dipping. But for the majority of us, it's got to go; and this new blu is a nice upgrade. Framing-wise, the blu-rays are just slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, which is the ratio of the windowboxed DVD, too; but things have shifted. The blus have more on the bottom and the left, while the DVD has more on the top.  Of course, the DVDs also have the novelty of a full-screen side.  That does open the mattes up vertically, giving you some more image on the top and bottom; but it's pan & scanned, constantly losing picture on one side or the other.  A bit of clean-up has also gone on, as you can see on in the first set of comparisons, with the spot over his right (our left) shoulder (you may need to click to enlarge to really see it) only appearing on the DVD versions. Colors and brightness are also more natural and less contrasty, especially noticeable on the wall behind Diane Keaton there. So yeah, the blus don't come away with a ton more detail, but they score good points in just about every other round of competition.

And if you're wondering what's up with me referring to the blus interchangeably, that's because they essentially are.  Arrow's book tells us that all six of the HD masters used in their box "were made available from MGM via Hollywood Classics."  But that's especially true of Annie Hall, because the other five films are at least Arrow discs.  But the Annie Hall included in Arrow's set is an exact duplicate of the BD MGM put out on their own in the UK in 2013.  It doesn't even start with the Arrow logo or anything.  Right down to the outer labels, these are the same old MGM discs stuck in Arrow packaging.  So if you were hoping Arrow had fired up some new and improved scans or something for their versions, nope, sorry.
That's a poster for Ingmar Bergman's Face To Face behind them.
Anyway, all of the releases feature the original mono track (in DTS-HD on the blus), with optional English subtitles.  And as always, MGM is excellent in terms of foreign language options, and all of these discs also include an array of dubs and subtitle options.

The only extras any of the discs have is the trailer. Interestingly, on the blu-rays, it's HD but in 4:3.  The DVDs actually have the widescreen trailer, albeit as non-anamorphic as the main feature. At least it gives blu-ray owners who don't have the old DVD a taste of the full-screen Annie Hall, I guess; but it's disappointing MGM didn't use the widescreen trailer for their blus since we know they've got it. Oh, and original DVDs do also have a nice 2-page insert with film notes and trivia, just like all the other Woody Allen Collection discs, which are always a quick, fun read.  And Arrow, of course, has their impressive hard cover book with interviews with Allen about each film, and an original essay for each film (in Annie Hall's case, it's by Hannah Hamad).
So yeah, it really doesn't matter which way you go, since you'll be getting essentially the same, or exactly the same, discs no matter which edition you get.  The blus are solid upgrades over the DVDs, so it is worth upgrading.  They're not quite 4k remasters, but these aren't weak blus that were desperate for that in the first place.  And the Arrow boxes are neat and easy ways to fill up a large chunk of your Woody Allen collection in one go.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps this little thing at the end of the disc will answer your question:

    See that home video copyright year? 1998. I borrowed a copy of the 2011 reprint almost two years ago, and the disc files even date to 4/1/98. My best guess is that MGM was originally gonna put this out in '98, and had an .ISO all ready to go, but decided to sit on it until later. And the Woody Allen Collection was as perfect an opportunity as any to truck it out.