Peter Sellers' Many Pink Panthers, Part 1 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

"How many Pink Panthers are there?" is a complicated question.  I think the simplest answer would be: nine, or eleven if you count the Steve Martin remakes, and I don't even know how many if you count all the animated shorts and multiple television series.  And while it might be tempted to write-off the animated stuff as kids' fare and Saturday morning marketing, it's worth noting that the first animated short, 1964's The Pink Phink, won the Academy Award, which is more than you can say for any of the other films (though Henry Mancini's impeccable music received nominations, at least, for both the 1963 original and 1978's Revenge Of the Pink Panther).  So, in the end, the cartoon panther might be more culturally important than the actual feature films.  But anyway, that's just the simple answer, because the series is way more convoluted than that, at least in part because it was never conceived as a franchise.
The first Pink Panther was meant to be a simple, light-hearted caper film.  The protagonist was to be jewel thief David Niven, with the great Inspector Clouseau character just a minor character to be played by Peter Ustinov, plus Ava Gardner as his wife.  When the pair backed out and Sellers and Capucine were cast in their stead, Edwards started seeing the appeal of the Clouseau character.  He and Sellers formed a bond over silent film comedy and started improvising scenes and adding more and more comic moments for the inspector.  It got to the point that while Nivens' character might arguably still be the protagonist of the story, the focus had shifted thoroughly to Clouseau; and Nivens wasn't even asked back for the next five films.
Then, the second film wasn't even intended to be a "Pink Panther" film.  A Shot In the Dark was originally written as an adaptation of the completely unrelated stage play.  But when Sellers was cast and grew unhappy with how the film was going, he had Blake Edwards brought on to rewrite and direct the script featuring the Clouseau character.  After that, Jacques returned as the titular role in 1968's Inspector Clouseau, but this time played by Alan Arkin and not written or directed by Edwards.  It's generally not considered canon by serious fans, but then what does "canon" even mean in a series where a major character can die dramatically in one film and be back in the next as if nothing had ever happened?
Drawing the border around Sellers is further stymied by the fact that Curse Of the Pink Panther and Son Of the Pink Panther, starring Ted Wass and Roberto Benigni respectively, have direct continuity and many recurring cast members with the previous entries; and they're still written and directed by Blake Edwards.  And if you want to really get into deep cuts, you could start talking about Romance Of the Pink Panther, the one Peter Sellers wrote that never got made.  But, in short, it's a complicated mess.  And even the two major Peter Sellers 6-disc Pink Panther collections from MGM that we'll be looking at today don't even have all the same films in them.
But there's no question about where to start: 1963's The Pink Panther.  But it's still a bit of an outlier.  Longtime Clouseau fans revisiting this first film will notice that Clouseau is definitely a rawer, still not fully developed persona compared to the later films.  He dresses differently, acts differently, even his accent French is distinctly different.  And like I said, Nivens character is still essentially the protagonist, so Clouseau is often sidelined in a way he'll never be in any of the subsequent films, being left out of long stretches of the film and many comic set pieces featuring other characters.  Instead of being a typical Panther film, it's much more of a very 60s romp, more in line with something like Casino Royale or What's New Pussycat? (also starring Sellers and Capucine), with an ensemble cast getting into all sorts of goofy hi-jinks.  As such, Panther fans tend to prefer some of the later entries, where Clouseau is really the Clouseau we all know and love.
But on the other hand, revisiting them all now, the 1963 film holds up as one of the best.  Admittedly, it's somewhat uneven.  Claudia Cardinale's accent was apparently too thick, so her entire performance was unfortunately re-dubbed.  But I can't imagine she'd be any less of a wet blanket with another audio track.  And fans looking for the faster-paced comedy of the later films will probably be frustrated or bored by the stretches of romantic banter and the extended musical performance by Fran Jeffries in the middle of the film.  If you haven seen it in a long time and don't remember, it's a bummer to realize that familiar elements of the series, like Clouseau's regular interactions with Herbert Lom's Inspector Dreyfus or Burt Kwouk's Cato are completely M.I.A. in this one.
But if you can loosen up on your expectations a little, you'll find some of Sellers' set pieces are his funniest in the entire series.  Mancini's music truly is a perfect accomplishment, one of the all0time great film scores, and aligns perfectly with Edwards' elegant filmmaking.  This film is shot beautifully with exotic locations and attractive sets and costumes.  The ensemble cast is mostly a blast, including a young Robert Wagner, a highly intelligent turn by Capucine, and of course, Nivens is perfectly charming and wonderful.  And you know what?  Jeffries' musical number is damn catchy.  Some of the comedy is a little too wacky and easy, sure, especially in last act at a costumed ball where obvious gags are formulaically played out.  But compared to the later films which get too repetitive and cartoonish for my tastes, blurring the line between running gags and repeated jokes to an unflattering degree, the original Panther is positively refreshing.
So, MGM has released The Pink Panther on DVD... an awful lot.  From their original non-anamorphic flipper disc in 1999, to including it in all kinds of sets, like their massive United Artists collections and multiple Pink Panther boxes, not to mention all the duplicates put out in other regions.  I've got four for you guys today, including the 2004 Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers, a 2006 single disc release, the 2009 Collector's Edition blu-ray and 2017's most recent Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers blu-ray set, released in conjunction with Shout Factory as entry #14 in their Shout Selection series.
1) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 2) 2006 US MGM DVD
3) 2009 US MGM blu 4) 2017 US Shout blu
So, we're looking at four different discs, but you'll notice we're mostly dealing with two different transfers.  The DVDs have one nearly identical set of framing and color timing, and the blus have another.  The DVDs are framed at 2.29:1, and have more of a warmer tone.  Look how the walls in the first two pics are practically orange; but they're pink in the next two.  This color timing difference is consistent throughout the running time of the film.  And while SD has never been able to fully capture film grain properly, you'll notice the DVDs have a waxy look that suggests some scrubbing, almost to the point of appearing stylized.  The blu-rays, meanwhile, are much more photo realistic and framed at a more accurate ratio of 2.35:1.  The shift is subtle, but overall more pleasing when you look closely.  For example, look how the man in the red sweater in the upper left hand corner in the second set loses most of his face in the DVD framing.  He's certainly not an important character to the scene, and it's not something you'd probably even think about if you were just watching the DVD at home any given evening; but the way the blu-rays include him looks more professional and what the DP most likely intended.
Am I getting a little too artsy with my comparison shots? MGM blu left; Shout right.
So, okay, it just about goes without saying that the blu-rays surpass the DVDs (a few unfortunate examples have proven that isn't always the case).  But what about the two blus in relation to each other?  Well, as you can see, they're using the same master.  So for most people, they are for all intents and purposes identical.  But they are different encodes, so sticklers would be right to point out that they actually are different if you zoom in closely enough.  If you zoom in to, like, 300% and click back and forth between them, pixelated patterns of captured grain do flicker back and forth.  Ultimately, I guess I have to say that MGM's disc is still ever-so-slightly better (sticking with the shots I've posted, compare the tip of Fran's chin for an example of a visible distinction).  But really, in motion, it's a completely arbitrary call.  If I'm going to get drawn into a forum debate, okay, the MGM disc wins; but practically speaking, they're interchangeable.

In terms of audio options, the differences begin to broaden.  The DVDs are the same, both letting you choose between 5.1 mixes and the original mono track, plus French and Spanish dubs and English, French and Spanish subtitles.  On MGM's blu, that's basically the same except the audio is now in DTS-HD, and they've added a few more dubs (German and Portuguese) and subs (Chinese, German, Korean, Portuguese and Thai).  Shout drops all the foreign language options, as they typically do, but besides carrying over all the English options (5.1 and mono in DTS-HD and optional English subs), they've also added a third English track, a 2.0 stereo mix in DTS-HD).  Mr. Purist here just sticks with the original mono, but that's an interesting little addition.
1) 2004 US MGM Collection DVD 2) 2017 US Shout blu
So now let's talk special features.  The original 1999 DVD was barebones except for the trailer, but by the time of the 2004 disc, they'd added a Blake Edwards commentary, which is fun and full of great info fans will want to hear.   And the bonus disc of the DVD Collection also has a key extra relating to the first film: a half-hour documentary called The Pink Panther Story, featuring interviews with Edwards, editor Ralph E. Winters, Sellers biographer Ed Sikov, producer Walter Mirisch, stunt coordinator Joe Dunne, script supervisor Betty Abbott Griffin and some kind of expert on film scores named John Burlingame.  It's quite fun.  There's also a ten minute featurette about the cartoons.  And by the time we get to the initial blu-ray, we also have a ten minute interview with Robert Wagner, plus two... weirder featurettes.  One is an interview with a real, convicted jewel thief and his biographer, and another is with a bunch of professional jewelers, who talk about the (fictional, of course) pink panther diamond itself.  They're pretty throw-away as they're barely connected to the film, but amusing little watches and I'd rather have them than not, I suppose.
Happily, Shout Factory carries over all of that, even the jewelers and cat burglar.  But they still manage to add to the collection, giving us an all new on-camera interview with Claudia Cardinale (in Italian with forced subs).  Plus, they throw on a couple stills galleries.  And, as you can see, they made some effort to improve the heavily interlaced SD features from the old DVDs, too, which I definitely appreciate.  So, just looking at the first film by itself, it may not be enough to convince you to double-dip; but all things considered, this is the best release of The Pink Panther so far.  It also includes an attractive 28-page booklet by Jerry Beck and comes in a nice slip box.  Of course, the best thing about the set is that it includes the rest of the films, which unlike the original, are all making their HD debuts... So come back soon for Part 2.

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