The Gate Is Awesome (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

This is a release I almost passed on, but I'm so glad I didn't.  I've owned The Gate a couple times before; it's a great film.  But the last version was a pretty neat special edition from Lions Gate (yes, there was actually a handful of catalog titles they didn't completely neglect), and I was thinking, you know, maybe the DVD was good enough; I could be content with that.  But when I looked up the specs online, I couldn't resist the siren call of all those extras.  And now that I've got it here at home, zero regrets.
The Gate is the story of a kid who finds out he has a hole that leads directly to Hell in his backyard, and this film is everything you'd want from that premise.  It's a blast, with a great cast of essentially all unknowns (Stephen Dorff grew up to be pretty famous; but you'd never recognize him here as a little kid in his first role), smart writing, really impressive special effects and a bevy of surprises.  It's just one cool, imaginative scene after another; and I'd honestly put it up there with the great horror movies of the 80s, right alongside the Nightmare On Elm Streets, Poltergeists, and anything else you'd hold up as an essential classic.
I kinda wish I'd held onto my old Gate DVDs just for this comparison, but it doesn't really matter.  You get it: the old ones were worse.  Originally, there was a really awful, fullscreen US DVD from a company called Platinum.  Other regions had comparable crap until Dutch Film Works put out an anamorphic widescreen DVD that was actually at least watchable (I think there might've been one in Germany, too).  But finally, eventually, Lions Gate heard fans' pleas for a proper special edition and delivered one in 2009.  That one I do still have, and like I said, almost decided was good enough.  But now they've issued it in HD as part of their Vestron line, and even though the master might look a little old and flat, it's a big improvement.
2009 DVD on top; 2017 blu-ray beneath.
2009 DVD left; 2017 blu-ray right.
This isn't a really impressive transfer where the colors pop and detail is super crisp.  But it still leaves the DVD well in the dust.  The colors are thankfully corrected, dialing down the excessive red to an attractive, lifelike image; and all that ugly compression is cleared away.  The dark scenes (and there are a lot of them in this movie) look a little low contrast and light on detail; but the daylight scenes look super (check out the close-up a little further down the page).  It's a solid, HD transfer that holds up to the scrutiny of a giant-sized TV, unlike the DVD, which looks like a washed out mess in comparison.  The blu is slightly matted to 1.85:1, but finds more horizontal information than it loses vertically, as opposed to curiously 1.79:1 DVD that only has a thin matte line along the top.

Both versions have stereo 2.0 mixes, but of course the blu has it in DTS-HD.  As ever, Vestron reliably includes optional English subtitles, but to be fair, the DVD had them, too.
So like I said, the DVD was already a special edition and had some great stuff.  There's a terrific audio commentary by director Tibor Takacs, writer Michael Nankin and effects artist Randall William Cook, plus two great featurettes by Red Shirt (yes, they did the old DVD back then, too): one on the special effects and one on the writing and development of the film.  They're full of great anecdotes and shouldn't be missed.  They also threw in a trailer and a slipcover with that cheesy art that features a kid who almost passes for Stephen Dorff but clearly isn't. And the good news is, the new Vestron blu includes all of that content from the DVD, but they've also come up with so much more.
There's an all new commentary that focuses more on the effects with Randall William Cook, Craig Reardon, Frank Carere, and matte artist Bill Taylor, and another of those score tracks where the first half is an interview with the composers (in this case: Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson) and the second half is the soundtrack album.  Then there's a new half hour conversation between Takacs and Cook, and a new on-camera interview with Reardon.  What's great about these is that Red Shirt was clearly conscious of the fact that they were making new interviews with the same people, and managed to get a ton of new anecdotes and insights out of them without repeating any of what they said in the older interviews.  So that made all these interviews worthwhile, where on other special editions they'd tend to get repetitive.  Like on The Crazies DVD, Lynn Lowry repeated pretty much every anecdote word-for-word on each feature.  That's not the case here.  They also interview new people, including the film's producer Andras Hamori and effects man Carl Kraines.  And there's a great featurette where they pull together a whole batch of people we hadn't heard from before, including the assistant director, the actor who played the father, the stuntman who played one of the minions, and several more.  This disc really covers all the bases.  And they dug up a vintage 'making of' feature, where we get to hear from the filmmakers back during the time of production.  There are also two stills galleries, two trailers and a TV spot.  And of course it comes in a nice, shiny slipcover.
This blu-ray transfer may not be one for the showroom floor, but it's a big step up from what we've had before.  And in terms of special features, this could be Red Shirt's greatest release to date.  So it may be tempting to pass this one over - I almost did - but it really deserves a place on your shelf.

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