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 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 then... 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.
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. But even better than importing, today, we can thankfully skip right to HD. MGM gave us a proper blu-ray in 2012.  So let's see how far we've come.
2005 MGM DVD top; 2012 MGM blu-ray bottom.
Actually, apart from being non-anamorphic, the DVD isn't too bad. If you're still using a fullscreen TV, maybe 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-ray is just slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, which is the ratio of the windowboxed DVD, too; but things have shifted. The blu has more on the bottom and the left, while the DVD has more on the top. Overall, I'd say the blu winds up with a smidgen more picture, but it's more a question of the frame being lowered a bit, which is interesting. A bit of clean-up has also gone on, as you can see on in the first set of comparisons, with the purple spot over his right (our left) shoulder (you may need to click to enlarge to really see it) only appearing on the DVD version. Colors and brightness are also more natural and less contrasty, especially noticeable on the wall behind Diane Keaton there. So yeah, so the blu doesn't come away with a ton more detail, but it scores good points in just about every other round of competition.
2005 MGM DVD, full-screen side.
One nice thing about the DVD, though, and perhaps a reason to keep it even after you've upgraded, is that it's a 2-sided disc with a full-screen transfer on the other side. It 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. Definitely not the way to watch the film, but possibly of interest to serious fans digging for any possible extra details. Plus, you kind of have to hang onto the DVD if you have the Collection box, because what are you going to do? Leave it missing one disc, so it's loose and rattles around? :P

As always, too, MGM is excellent in terms of foreign language options. It only mentions French and Spanish dubs, which is already pretty impressive, but also included are Castilian, Portuguese, Italian and German tracks. And again with subtitles, the case mentions English HOH, Spanish and French; but there are also Castilian, Polish, Italian, German, Dutch, and two variants of Portuguese.
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Update 2/24/16:  Wow, I just picked up the 2012 DVD edition of Annie Hall that coincided with the blu-ray release, and boy was I surprised. I was expecting an anamorphic, but standard def version of the new transfer used for the blu-ray, but no. First of all, it's still a flipper disc, with the fullscreen version on the B-side. And on the A-side, the widescreen transfer is still non-anamorphic! It's the same old transfer as the original disc, same menu layouts and everything, just with a new cover.
2012 MGM DVD, widescreen side.
You don't believe me, right? You shouldn't believe me; I wouldn't believe me. In 2012, MGM releasing something this old and out of date. We know they had the new transfer for the blu - why would they do this? But the case is undeniable:
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That's a poster for Ingmar Bergman's Face To Face behind them.
The only extras either disc has is the trailer. Interestingly, on the blu, it is HD but it's 4:3. But the original actually had the widescreen trailer, albeit also non-anamorphic. At least it gives blu-ray owners who don't have the old DVD a taste of the full-screen Annie Hall; but it's disappointing MGM didn't use the widescreen trailer since we know they've got it. Oh, and the DVD does 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.
So yeah, a big ol' safe and easy recommendation for this one. High quality disc, light on features, but hey, welcome to the world of Woody Allen. Still, a strong presentation of a great film. This is really less of a recommendation so much as a reminder for anyone like me who didn't upgrade when this first came out in 2012. It's kind of just a basic essential.

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