Better To Import: 24 Hour Party People

This is one of those movies where most fans who bought the DVD here in America probably just have no idea that they would've been better rewarded importing it, in this case, from Australia. In fact, they would've been better off importing from several other countries, but out of all of them, Australia seems to be the best. The film I'm talking about is 2002's 24 Hour Party People, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Update 3/29/20: Welcome to the new millenium!  This film is now available on blu-ray!  And it... doesn't look any better at all, really.  But we anticipated that.
I put it that way because, even though it's unquestionably directed by Winterbottom, one tends to think of it as more of a Steve Coogan film. On paper, you'd say Coogan's just the star, he doesn't even have a co-executive producer credit or anything. But despite having a screenplay by Frank Boyce (who would go on to do Winterbottom and Coogan's next film as well, Tristram Shandy, and then more recently The Trip and The Look of Love), it's a highly improvised film. And although he plays a different character, Coogan is clearly bringing in his style of comedy from his Alan Partridge shows. It almost feels like a Partridge movie, except it's about someone and something else: specifically Coogan is now television host (see? not so far removed from Partridge) and record producer Tony Wilson; and the film presents the rise and fall of his label, Factory Records.
A Marx Bros reference?
And that's what's so compelling about the film. Is that it takes improv comedy, a style which was booming at the time, and puts it into a "real" movie. This is a highly informed and authentic music biopic that works perfectly well as a straightforward drama - I mean, point where it's genuinely compelling - but with Coogan's work mixed in. So, unlike its silly peers, like Reno 911!: Miami, this is an improv comedy that's really about something (a concept we'd see Coogan continue to run with in later work). It's a great music film in its own right. In fact, some of the comedy is pretty soft, with gags like Coogan insisting to one of his partners that James Bond producer Albert Broccoli invented the vegetable broccoli. It's a dumb joke, but it doesn't matter because the film has you absorbed on so many other levels that it doesn't need to have you laughing. plays as just an amusing character moment in between heady moments like when Wilson points out that when audiences have now begun, "applauding the DJ. Not the music, not the musicians, not the creator, but the medium." Or just strong emotional moments that genuinely come across, like suicide of Ian Curtis. By the time Control rolled around, I felt like I didn't need it; it was just a heavier-handed expansion of what was already conveyed in this film.
We see Werner Herzog's Stroszek on Curtis' TV.
So, 24 Hour Party People was a new release when it hit DVDs worldwide in 2003. In the US, MGM released it with several extras, including two commentary tracks. But Pathe! put out a more substantial 2-disc set in the UK, and Madman put out an even fuller 2-disc set in Australia. I actually had a bit of a problem when I first imported this, brand new, it just had 1 disc.  I emailed Madman and they were excellent about getting out the second disc to me, but it makes me wonder how common getting stuck with 1-disc versions of their release was, and if most people even knew to get the second disc. But who knows? Maybe mine was just a one in a million case. I've got the full Madman set, I've got the MGM DVD, and now I've also got the 2019 US blu-ray edition from MVD Visual.
1) 2003 MGM DVD; 2) 2003 Madman DVD; 3) 2019 MVD BD.
None of these images are too pretty, huh? That's because this was an early digital film, shot on standard def DV tape, and then blown up to 35mm. In the original version of my post, I wrote, "so you might be looking at those shots and feel tempted to hold out for a blu-ray; but I wouldn't hold my breath. This seems to be all the resolution we're ever going to get of this film," and that has borne depressingly true.  In fact, if you'll pardon me quoting myself one more time, I wrote, "the original footage seems to have interlacing baked into it, which the filmmakers have tried to correct for, making it all a soft and mushy."  And yup, the ghosting, combing, haloing and general digital mushiness of the DVDs is perfectly replicated on the new blu.

However, even though they're all ugly (although it at least suits the film's half-mockumentary, hand-held aesthetic), they're not entirely identical.  Madman's disc is full widescreen, so to speak, at 1.78:1, while the American discs are almost matted to 1.85:1.  MGM's DVD is 1.83:1, and MVD gets even closer at 1.84:1.  The difference between the US discs is that the MGM is the same as the MVD except slightly stretched, thus cropping a smidgen along the top and bottom.  The Madman disc, without the matte at all, reveals even more.  The other difference is that the black levels are higher on the Madman disc, making even the darkest areas a murky grey rather than the true black both US discs have.  So, in short, I guess I do have to concede that I prefer the MVD blu to the previous DVDs, but just barely.

The blu really scores its points in the audio department, however.  The Australian DVD had a minor advantage over the US DVD because it offered both the straight forward 2.0 Stereo mix in addition to the shared 5.1 track.  On the other hand, the US DVD had optional English subtitles.  MVD cleans up by offering both the 2.0 and 5.1 in lossless formats (and considering music is so important to this film, fans should really welcome that upgrade), in LPCM and DTS-HD, respectively.  It also has the optional English subs, plus French, Portuguese and Spanish to boot.
But the real story here is in the special features. After all, Madman's got that whole second disc.  And it's not like MGM or MVD are barebones. They actually have two audio commentaries: one by Steve Coogan and producer Andrew Eaton, which is rather good, though a little slow with quiet spots. And then the other is by the real Tony Wilson, who has plenty to say.  Additionally, there are two brief featurettes, totaling about 15 minutes together, which interviews the cast, crew and again, the real Wilson. There are also eleven deleted scenes, the trailer, and a photo gallery. A pretty nice package on its own terms, and to be clear, it's exactly the same between MGM and MVD, except MVD also slaps on a couple extra bonus trailers.

But Madman has pretty much all of that and more. I say "pretty much" because they don't have those two exact featurettes, but they have their own featurettes which use exactly the same interview footage; they're just edited differently. They've got the commentaries, deleted scenes and the trailer. So now let's talk about what you've probably been missing out on in the USA: the more.
To start with, MGM/ MVD had eleven deleted scenes?  Madman has twenty-four.  And one of the deleted scenes that's on both discs is a minute longer here than the US version, with a whole extra section.  So it's really fourteen unique scenes on the AUS DVD.  If you're serious about the film, that extra footage should be a big selling point ...although, I'll warn you up front, they lack a "Play All" button. Then, one of the biggest new features is called "From the Factory Floor," which is essentially a video commentary track, where we see a big group of the real musicians and industry people portrayed in the film all together watching and discussing the movie, which is shown in a tiny window in the lower left-hand corner. This is probably of more interest to fans of the music scene, as opposed to just the film, but it's pretty fun either way.

Along those lines, too, is a series of short interviews with eleven(!) of the real people depicted in the film. There's also quite a nice featurette that profiles the director, Winterbottom, and his career, and a lengthy (49 minutes) audio commentary over a gallery of artwork by Peter Saville. And they throw in two music videos by bands from the film.
Since I got so caught up quoting everything I predicted accurately above, I suppose I should own up to it and quote what I got wrong in my summation: "seeing as how there's not likely to ever be a blu-ray release of this film, you should just get the best DVD edition you can of this film."  Okay, whoops.  But my reasoning still stands: it was never going to look substantially better on blu, and now that it's happened, we can see that for ourselves.  The standard def video looks how it's always looked.  The lossless audio and minor improvements are welcome, though.  But considering the extras, I hardly feel like we've really upgraded from the Madman set.  Actually, there's a UK blu from Kaleidoscope that has almost all the Madman extras, plus the lossless audio, albeit no subs.  So, eh, none of it's terribly exciting.  The ideal package would probably be the US blu combined with the AUS DVD, but if you're not looking to splurge on multiple editions, you'll still probably be happier with one of the imports.

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