American Psycho, Time for an Upgrade? (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

Man, I'm a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis movies.  Obviously not all the adaptations are born equal, and some are far better than others.  But I'm on board for 'em all.  Yes, I even liked that one with Lindsey Lohan and the porn star. But American Psycho, despite some early misgivings I had with the film when I first saw it in films, is really the one that put him on the zeitgeist forever.  Even if you hate the movie and the novel, you have to admit, Patrick Bateman has become part of our cultural language.  Like Sophie's Choice, just speaking the words communicates exactly what you mean.  So, naturally, it's been released and re-released a number of times.  And frankly, I think it's time again.
Did I mention issues I had with this film?  Well, yes.  I'd read the book before the film came out, so admittedly, I was a little "where's Bombadil?!" about the whole thing.  I mean, fans were all a little disappointed some of the most extreme scenes were left out, and I was too, but I also understood the filmmakers were trying to deliver something that could play in theaters.  But there were other little changes that made me feel like the filmmakers had possibly not understood the book.  Like beefing Willem Dafoe's character to turn the police investigation into a whole running subplot (there's even another one in the DVD deleted scenes), like a conventional "will he get caught" thriller.  And it probably is that to a degree, and just showing off that they got Dafoe; but now I can appreciate more that he just works as an extension of Bateman's inner monologue.  I always appreciated that they nailed the look of the film, like Less Than Zero, and the performances.  But revisiting the film more recently, I'm impressed with how thoroughly they brought the novel it to the silver screen.
And American Psycho's success with audiences is all the more impressive given that it's an indie film.  At one time Oliver Stone was in talks to direct this with Leonardo DiCaprio to star well as Stuart Gordon with Johnny Depp and David Cronenberg with Brad Pitt.  It took years to eventually trickle down to Mary Hannon, who'd previously directed the excellent I Shot Andy Warhol, and Christian Bale right off of Velvet Goldmine and a small role in the Kevin Kline version of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  The budget shrunk, the theatrical run was small; but it still managed to land with audiences.  In fact, it was successful enough to garner a sequel, but the less said about that the better.
So like I said, this film was released multiple times.  It originally came out as a new release in 2000, right after its theatrical run, in both R and unrated editions.  Then Lions Gate reissued it with a bunch a slightly improved picture, a heap more special features and called it the Killer Collector's Edition in 2003.  In 2007, they released it in HD, which yes, makes it a fairly early blu-ray release.  And that's not even counting all the foreign editions, of course, like the 2001 French DVD from Metropolitan Film & Video I picked up because it had a collection of unique extras (and that was before the Killer edition, so I was feeling a bit starved).
2001 Metropolitan DVD top; 2003 Lions Gate Killer DVD mid; 2007 Lions Gate blu bottom.
I no longer have my original 2000 unrated DVD since I replaced it with the Killer Edition almost fifteen years ago; but from memory, it was virtually identical to the French DVD, which used the same root master.  All three versions shown here are framed to 2.35:1, but the older DVD is zoomed in a little on all four sides, and slightly window-boxed.  The Killer edition essentially found the extra picture by lifting the tiny mattes on all four sides; and the blu seemed to use the same transfer as the 2003 DVD, though it naturally benefits in clarity and compression by being an HD disc.  Unfortunately, that means it shares the same issues as the older DVD, with a sharpening/ edge enhancement effect that they just about got away with in standard def, but on the blu, leaves the image looking like it's been tampered with in an unflattering way.  Like, even that shot of the business cards above has a clear and unfortunate haloing effect around all the edges.  All this, despite grain looking smoothed away.  Yes, that shot's from the blu-ray.  The edge enhancement also causes horizontal lines running along the top and bottom of the screen.  All editions also showcase some speckling and slight film dirt that's never been cleaned.
Curiously, one shot is mis-framed.  It's like that on the Killer DVD and the blu-ray, with black pillar-boxing bars appearing for just this one zoom-in shot early in the film.  It temporarily frames the picture to 2.22:1.  Even the older, French DVD has it' though it's less noticeable since it's already slightly window-boxed.  The bars just appear for that one shot and disappear as soon as the camera cuts; it's very strange.  It reminds me of the recent gaff on Scream Factory's Serial Mom blu.  Most viewers probably wouldn't even catch it on repeat viewings, but something's clearly awry.

Anyway, the original DVDs, including the French DVD, included 5.1 audio, but the Killer Edition expanded our options a bit by including both 5.1 and a 2.0 Dolby Surround mix.  The blu-ray, then, went a step backwards, losing the 2.0 option and just giving us the 5.1, although they offer it in DTS-HD and an alternative (lossy?) Digital Surround EX mix.  Oh well, none of the sound mixes are really amazing or terrible.  They all sound just fine.  Also, every release, except the French DVD, has optional English subtitles.
Now, the original US DVDs only had a few, brief extras: a 5-minute behind-the-scenes 'making of' featurette, some brief on-set interviews and trailers.  That's why I imported.  The Metropolitan disc kept the featurette, trailers and interviews, as well as dug up a bunch more of those interview clips, divided into arbitrary categories like "My Life" and "Newspaper Killer."  They're all short, on-location talks, but they do get in-depth in the sense that they even talk to the costumer and other crew members usually left out of DVD extras.  It also has a video of the film premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, but it's very brief with no real substance.  But much more excitingly, they found some deleted scenes, including a noteworthy scene from the book I'm surprised they cut out.  When the Killer Edition came out, it blew both of those versions out of the water, but didn't render them completely obsolete, as it frustratingly left off the 'making of' featurette and most of the on-set interviews.
From Book To Screen
But the Killer Edition came up with bigger and better stuff.  Firstly, how about two audio commentaries: one by Harron and an even more interesting one by screenwriter Guinevere Turner?  Then there's a full-length documentary called From Book To Screen, which is broken up into sections covering everything from the struggles the book found in getting published to a very VH1-like retrospective of the 80s.  They bring in a lot of interesting people, including critics, publishers and musicians.  It definitely shouldn't be overlooked.  Also, the Killer Edition not only kept the deleted scenes, but gave them optional director's commentary, and introductions by-way of a couple of those on-set interview clips.  Unfortunately, these are the only interview clips they kept, and since From Book To Screen didn't bring them back for seconds, it means we don't hear from most of the cast, who were on the older discs.  The Killer Edition also came in a cool slipcover and included a fold-out insert with notes by Holly Willis, co-founder of Filmmaker Magazine.

And the blu-ray?  Ah, that's the most frustrating of all!  They completely left off all of the From Book To Screen documentary, except for the VH1 80s chapter; the final half hour.  All the best material is left on the DVD.  And no, they didn't bring back the older interviews or featurette either, nor did they add anything new.  They've just given us less.  I hate upgrades that take steps backwards like this!
So, yes, the blu-ray is an improvement over the DVD (well, except for in the special features department).  But yeah, you can see how this blu-ray could so easily be improved upon.  Give us a new HD scan that would restore the movie's filmic look, and ditch the edge enhancement garbage.  Maybe a better audio mix.  Definitely give us back the extras that were taken away, and maybe even a few new ones?  Like maybe interviewing Ellis for once, or including his This Is Not an Exit documentary, which after all was named after American Psycho and includes its own recreations of scenes from the book.  Unfortunately, even if they were to stick into their Vestron line (already an unlikely candidate), Lions Gate doesn't have the best track record of updating their older masters.  But Ellis has been flirting with Criterion, and I think this could make a rather splashy edition to their catalog, don't you?

1 comment:

  1. In all my years of watching interviews and listening to commentaries, I have never encountered a human being as irritating or disagreeable as Guinevere Turner. She really seems like a terrible person.