The Brood Leading The Brood, Criterion Vs. Second Sight (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Like I was recently saying, I'm interested in these semi-simultaneous blu-ray releases of cult titles in the US and the UK. Here's a fairly recent pairing: The Brood, first released overseas by Second Sight in 2013, and just a couple months ago here in the states by Criterion. Curiously, they share some extras in common, but each also have unique features; and the transfers themselves are different. It raises the question again, which is better?
If you're not familiar with The Brood, you ought to be, as it's one of David Cronenberg's most compelling films. It may even be his greatest, but his catalog is so rich and diverse, it's tempting to call several of his films the best, simply depending on which you've last watched. It's a wild mix of intelligent science fiction and riveting psycho-drama. Art Hindle is a father who suspects his wife, Samantha Eggar, has begun abusing their daughter after joining a cult-like psychotherapy group run by Oliver Reed. These people are into a cutting edge technique called "psychoplasmics," where patients somehow work out their emotional problems biologically. The most unforgettable scene for me isn't a suspenseful scare or complicated special effects sequence, but simply when Hindle finds ex-patient Robert Silverman, who wears a towel around his neck and and gives a brilliant monologue about his routine for exercising his lymphatic system and his class-action lawsuit against Reed's organization. Of course, there's plenty of truly memorable horror scenes as well, including two monstrous little kids conducting a hit in a kindergarten class room and Eggar's gruesome birthing scene.
It's just so successful on so many levels at once: intellectual, visceral, the performances... The only complaint I can see potential viewers have is that it's too talky for fans looking for a fast-moving horror show. And even then, you can't say that this film doesn't present the goods in terms of special effects, shocking imagery and violent deaths, if that's what you're after. It's Cronenberg really successfully bridging the gap between horror/exploitation genre fare and serious, adult films. Even most of his own work tends to pick a site, but I love it when he masters them both at once.
So, like I said, I've got Second Sight's 2013 blu-ray from the UK and Criterion's new 2015 blu-ray. I've also got the 2000 French/ Canadian DVD from DVDY Films, under the title Chromosome 3, which was always the best pre-HD release of the film (though MGM put out a respectable but slim, no frills DVD in 2003, which I used to own for a while). I'll put that one into the comparison mix, too, because it shows us something interesting about the transfers and it includes a little something that makes it still collectible to this day.
DVDY DVD first, Second Sight blu-ray second, Criterion blu-ray third.
Now, if you're very astute, you'll notice that the blu-rays leave the film open at 1.78:1, whereas only the DVD matted it down to 1.85:1. And the framing is slightly shifted on all three transfers, revealing slivers of information on all different sides of each disc. But you don't have to be astute at all to notice the big, glaring difference between them... who turned out the lights on the Criterion disc? It's so much darker and blu/gray, compared to the Second Sight, which is both bright and natural. Okay, if you really scrutinize it, maybe it's a little too bright. When the brights are super high, like in snow or flared out sunlight, there's a teensy bit of white crush, though you can only even be sure by comparing it to the other discs. In terms of just the color-timing and brightness, I actually think the DVD hits the sweet spot, which is super close to the Second Sight blu, but with the brights dialed down just a touch. Look at the highlights in Reed's hair, and you can see detail eaten away in the SS blu that's present in the DVD and Criterion blu.

Of course, the DVD is standard def, and despite being a nice anamorphic disc, can't compete with the blus in terms of detail and clarity. Try reading some of the smaller text on the posters in the first set of shots; it becomes a splotchy illegible mess. So, yeah, you can't really make a case for the DVD.
DVDY DVD first, Second Sight blu-ray second, Criterion blu-ray third.
It's not just certain scenes; it's the whole movie.
And Criterion is no stranger to controversial color-timing when it comes to Cronenberg's work. Remember Scanners? And in both cases, Criterion apparently had Criterion supervise the transfers, so it's hard to challenge their authority in these matters. Maybe Cronenberg just likes it greyer, and he's making an artistic judgement call, even if it's not the most realistic, traditional look. Or, like we found out when he let a cut version of Shivers get out via Arrow, Cronenberg doesn't always seem to even look at the transfers he gives his personal seal of approval to, so maybe Criterion just lacked a guiding hand in how to correct the footage. In the extras, they talk about having shot a lot of night-for-day (or at least dusk-for-day), so I'm thinking Criterion may be giving us a more natural representation of what's on the film, and then Second Sight's shows how it was meant to be timed in post. Unless I get to corner Cronenberg in a hallway some day, we'll probably never know and shall just have to make up our own minds. Me, I prefer watching the Second Sight blu, though again, I wish DVDY's was HDVDY.

Both blus offer uncompressed LPCM mono tracks and optional English subtitles. The DVD has French and English Dolby tracks with semi-forced English subtitles (there's a trick to remove them on most players, but it doesn't work on my Pioneer). They're not burnt in or anything, though. But the DVD is also cut.  It's the R-rated version, trimmed of about 30-40 seconds, really, the only reason to be considering that one is for the extras.
Yes, the extras. The DVD actually has some exclusive stuff, which is why it's worth hanging onto even if you've got one or both of the blu-rays. Some of it's not English-friendly (boo! Though if you speak French, it's a nice bonus), including an introduction by Serge Grunberg (who wrote a book on Cronenberg), and a featurette called Cronenberg On Horror. But there's also a lengthy Q&A with Cronenberg and composer Howard Shore, where they speak in English. No other release has that. I wouldn't double-dip for it, but if you already own it, I wouldn't sell it off either.

Now, to the blus. Second Sight created some great, new special features for their release. Five to be exact. There's a great twenty-minute interview with Art Hindle and Cindy Hinds, and an informative talk with cinematographer Mark Irwin. Then they've got a good one with producer Pierre David who gives us the film's history, and a very welcome talk with Cronenberg regular Robert A. Silverman. Finally, there's an interview with David Cronenberg himself, where he talks about his beginnings as a filmmaker, from how he got started to Rabid. Curiously though, they stop right before getting to The Brood.
Disappointingly, Criterion ports over some of those extras, but not all. Specifically, they use Second Sight's interview with Hindle and Hinds, and the Cronenberg one about his history. But then they also scared up some new stuff of their own, most notably Birth Pains, a thirty minute retrospective on the film that talks to Eggar (who's quite enthusiastic about the film), Mark Irwin, Pierre David, assistant director John Board, and effects artists Rick Baker and Joe Blasco. It's quite good and the inclusion of Irwin and David eases the pain of their missing Second Sight interviews; but it's a bummer they didn't carry over Silverman's. If they could license some of the titles, why not all? Oh well, there's probably a very good and dry reason.

Criterion also includes Crimes of the Future, an early Cronenberg short film that's been included on heaps of Cronenberg DVDs and blu-rays by every company under the sun, but hey, why not have it here, too? They also have an episode of The Merv Griffin Show with Oliver Reed, but he never talks about The Brood on it. It's mostly just celebrity banter between the two of them, plus other guests Orson Welles and Charo: lightly amusing but hardly essential. Criterion also comes with a booklet featuring notes by Carrie Rickey, and they have a radio spot. Curiously, none of this releases feature the theatrical trailer, though the MGM DVD had it.
So hmm, yeah. This is a tough one. In terms of the extras, it's kind of a tie, Second Sight has those exclusive interviews, but Criterion has their featurette which is just as good, but different. And with the transfers, I like Second Sight's better, but a lot of people will argue Criterion's is more authentic, and I can't really disagree with them. I've actually read a little about the Australian blu-ray from Umbrella, and it sounds like their transfer essentially be Second Sight's without the excess brightness, which would be sweet. But really, the brightness thing is very subtle; I'm not going to double (or quintuple)-dip over it. They don't have any of the great extras from these two blus, anyway. So I don't have a firm recommendation here: it boils down to a pretty personal decision. Just look at the evidence here and decide for yourself.

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