Better From Australia: Larry Cohen's Q The Winged Serpent (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

If you follow this site regularly, you know I'm a big Larry Cohen fan, and Q: The Winged Serpent is one of his most enjoyable films, but it took me a long time to upgrade it. Scream Factory upgraded Blue Underground's 2003 DVD to blu in 2013. But it wasn't a big restoration or anything, and it didn't have much by way of extras... it claimed to have a new commentary by Cohen, but the BU disc had a commentary by Larry Cohen, so what was up with that? And otherwise, there wasn't anything else, so I never bothered with it. But I also never quite shook the notion that eh, that would be a nice title to upgrade and maybe find out if that commentary's any different or what. But finally I found out about the Australian blu-ray from Umbrella Ent. And while it's not exactly a mind-blowing special edition, it was enough to get me to bite.
Q is Larry Cohen's King Kong. And my that, I don't mean he's ripping off the old Hollywood classic for modern 80s audiences, I mean we're seeing the basic Kong concept - giant monster running rampant in NYC - through the Cohen's lens, turning it into a totally different, unique experience. It's a Cohen movie through and through, just like if Woody Allen or David Lynch used the basic concept; they would be completely different movies, nothing like watching the actual King Kong.

In Cohen's world, the story is told through the eyes of a perennial loser, played by the incomparable Michael Moriarity. He's a failed freestyle jazz musician who winds up joining a small group of thugs' attempt to rob a jewelry store. Everything goes wrong and he hides out in the top of the Chrysler Building, which just so happens to be housing the nest of Quetzalcoatl, the ancient Aztec winged serpent god that's been summoned by an high priest who's running around the city performing ritual sacrifices. David Carradine, Richard Roundtree and of course James Dixon are the police on the case trying to solve both strings of mysterious murders.
Moriarity and Cohen together are always a treat, but I think this is Moriarity's best role for Cohen. The Stuff was maybe an even more outrageous character, but his performance is strongest here. And it's peppered with a great cast collection of supporting character actors like Larry Pine, Malachy McCourt and Candy Clark as Moriairty's devoted girlfriend. The monster story's fun with a lot of entertaining set pieces and production value; but it's all the human scenes that really make the film, peaking when Moriarity finally gets to meet with the mayor and, in his eyes, become a hero.

So, Umbrella's blu-ray came out in 2014. It basically uses the same transfer as the Scream Factory blu. I've got that and I've still got my Blue Underground DVD, which I plan to keep, for reasons I'll detail as we go on.
Blue Underground DVD on top; Umbrella blu-ray below.
Actually, right away it's clear this is more than just the same master plopped onto a an HD disc like I was expecting. It may not be a glamorous 4k scan of the original negatives, but it's a nice improvement. The contrast boost might be a little controversially strong - look how the light flares out behind Moriarity in the first set of shots, pure white, which are actually blue skies on the DVD - but overall it really doesn't look bad. We get some additional picture information, and not just because the blu is framed at 1.77:1 while the DVD's matted to 1.85:1. The blu finds more on all four sides, and it's definitely sharper and cleaner on the blu. Just take a look at all the signs in the second set, which are full of splotchy compression mess on the DVD, nicely cleaned up on the blu.

The DVD gave you a bunch of audio options: mono, stereo, 5.1 and even 6.1.  The blu-ray just has one solid, lossless DTS-HD Master audio stereo track, but it's the best of the lot. Neither disc offers any kind of subtitles.
And now for the commentaries. Yes, they are different, distinct recordings. But on the other hand, Cohen says mostly the same stuff on both. There was nothing wrong with the original, so I'm not sure why anyone thought to replace it. I guess it was cheaper to record a new one than license the old one? Or maybe Cohen didn't like some off-hand comment he made the first time and wanted a chance to rewrite history? I don't know, but both are excellent commentaries. They're not 100% all the same content... Cohen seems to have a lot of rehearsed stories for the film, but moderator William Lustig manages to ask some questions that pulls out some info Cohen doesn't get to on his own. In terms of which is better, I'd say it's a tie. But if you're asking if you should double-dip to get both, I'd say no, though both have a few unique anecdotes and things to them. Cohen sings part of a song he wrote for and about Moriarity on the Blue Underground commentary, so that's fun. But really, it's a tie and mostly the same ground is covered.

The DVD doesn't have much else besides the commentary. There's a promo trailer, which is kinda neat, sense it's narration over an animated logo rather than just scenes from the film. And there's a photo gallery and an additional DVD-Rom collection of articles and press sheets that actually has a few interesting things in it if you bother to take the time and dig into that on your PC. But that's it. And same with the Scream blu-ray, which is missing the gallery and Rom stuff, but has an additional theatrical trailer. Oh, the DVD also had a nice insert with Spanish poster art.
The Australian blu has the same, newer commentary as the Scream Factory disc, but it also has one other special feature, which is really what put it over the top for me. Confessions of a Low Budget Maverick - an all new, 25 minute interview piece with Cohen. It's mostly a single sit-down interview with Cohen, who talks charmingly about Q with photos and clips edited in where appropriate. He does tell a lot of the same tales from the commentaries. But he also a couple new anecdotes, talks about his earlier films, and then takes us outside to his pool, where he filmed scenes for Bone and Black Caeser.
It's a nice new piece, and it's exclusive to the Umbrella blu. So I'd definitely go for this one over the Scream for it, and coupled with the HD transfer and alternate commentary makes it a solid upgrade. It's missing the cool teaser, though, but that's fine since I'm hanging onto the DVD for the original commentary anyway. It's still a lower priority double-dip than some other films, but the new feature bumps it up high enough that I did it and I'm happy to have done so. And this isn't the only Umbrella blu that's like that...

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