Getting To the Very Bottom Of Xtro (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Xtro is a delight.  It's a completely bonkers sci-fi horror outing that just delivers one unexpected wild scene after another.  You never know what will come around the next corner: a shape-shifting monster, a pet snake on the loose, children's toys come to life, a panther in a London apartment, a killer clown and the inspiration for Warlock 2's greatest moment?  You'll find them all here and more.  And what's more impressive: it's all done well.  The production values are high, the acting is good and the human drama is genuinely engaging.  But at the same time, the effects are cool, the set pieces are ambitious.  We're constantly changing locations; this obviously isn't a blockbuster budgeted movie, but nothing was done on the cheap.  We're told in the extras that New Line executive Bob Shay pushed the filmmakers in the direction of Phantasm, and I really think that's what we have to thank for turning what probably would've been an okay but generic little horror film into something special.
For ages, this film has only been available on DVD; though thankfully Image did a better than average job presenting this film, with an anamorphic widescreen picture, and a brief but important selection of special features.  But now there's finally a special edition blu-ray, thanks to Second Sight, and they've really done it up, giving us no less than four versions of the film.  First, we get the original version of the film with the original ending, which is my preferred ending, in case anyone was curious.  It's the ending that takes the story seriously and gives a smarter resolution to our main character, as opposed to just going for one last "gotcha!"  Interestingly, though, it's not the ending that actually played with the film.  It was only included in the DVD special features as a bonus alternate ending.
Anyway, the next version on the blu is the same cut but with the alternate ending.  And perhaps you're thinking, "wait a minute, didn't the DVD have three endings?"  Well remembered; you're not wrong.  The DVD had one ending that played with the film and two alternative endings as extras.  But one of those alternative endings, the one labeled the Alternate Ending on the blu, is the same as the one attached to DVD's main feature, just with a different soundtrack.  Shot-for-shot, it's exactly the same, only the music is different.  So, to clarify, the blu-ray's Alternate Ending is the one with the piano that was one of the DVD extras, not the synthesizer one that was a part of the main DVD feature.
DVD deleted scene.
By the way, since we're talking about the alternate endings from the DVD, you might also remember one more deleted scene from that release, a little over 30 seconds of the kid and his mom in the kitchen, included without sound.  Well happily, that deleted scene has been reinstated into the film on the blu, all versions, and yes, with the sound.  It's not exactly the most thrilling or elucidating scene in the world, but it's still nice to have a more complete version of the film.  And it's also not the only added footage.  The DVD is missing a chunk of dialogue during the dinner scene at the roughly 40 minute mark, jumping right into Analise asking how long Sam plans on staying, but the blu-ray has a bunch of additional conversation about how he looks even younger than his old photo, etc.  And then around the 50 minute mark, there's some missing (just a couple seconds) of the woman opening the door for the soldier before he breaks it in.  Then around the 54 minute mark, there's a whole, short scene with Joe in his apartment that's missing from the DVD but restored on the blu.  I like that one because we see he has a parrot, and after so many nutty things happening in this movie, you don't trust the parrot and feel like it's gonna shoot laser beams at him or something.

Finally, just after the hour mark, when Sam and Rachel return to the cottage, on the DVD there's an awkward jump cut when Rachel calls out for Sam, and than is just seen opening a window.  On the blu, there's more to the scene, where she's calling for Sam because she sees that someone's broken into the cottage, and she looks around suspiciously.  We see that she's opening windows because the gas has been left on, another point dropped from the DVD.  So I don't see anybody really talking about this, but we're not just getting a nice, new HD transfer of Xtro, but a longer, uncut version.
Footage missing from the "Original UK Video Version Edit."
So, that's the first two versions on the blu... still with me?  Next up is a slightly shorter cut that had previously been released on UK home video.  I've seen reviews saying it features dialogue trims or tiny cuts to multiple scenes, but this just tells me most people have no idea what the difference is.  I don't blame them - I was confused, too!  For the majority of the film, all the way up to the 1.13.40 mark in fact, this version is 100% identical to the other versions.  But at that point, the UK cuts from the Range Rover to the sex scene.  In the other versions, it cuts from the Range Rover to Sam walking into the bedroom.  He finds Rachel asleep, walks around the bed, disrobes, gets into bed and kisses her awake.  She says, "darling," and we cut to Tony and Joe in the jeep.  There's an external shot of them driving and then it cuts to the sex scene.  So that's a chunk of one minute and twenty seconds chopped out of the UK version right there.
A shot that's simply been reshuffled in the "Original UK Video Version Edit."
But it gets a little more complicated.  Because then, while both versions are the same for the bulk of that scene, when the end comes, the UK version cuts to the jeep when Sam ejaculates, while the other versions continue on with Rachel recoiling and Sam falling off the bed.  He runs around the room and eventually hits Rachel.  The UK version takes the footage of Tony and Joe in the jeep that it had cut out earlier, putting it here (1.14.11) and then returns to Sam hitting Rachel.  So, some of the shots haven't been totally dropped, just re-ordered, and we only wind up losing a little under a minute of footage total.  Everything else is the same.  Curiously, that means the UK video version cuts stuff from the rape scene, which you'd expect, but winds up dropping mostly just the innocuous footage of Sam walking around the bed while leaving in the racy stuff.  Oh, and it features the same alternate ending with the piano that the Alternate Ending version did.
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
So, that's three versions down!  Ha ha  Finally, Second Sight presents a "new 2018 director's version," where the director makes takes the original edit with the alternate ending, and makes a whole bunch of changes to the colors, effects and even the framing.  See how there's a matte at the bottom of the second shot, above, changing the film from 1.78:1 to, briefly, 1.82:1?  Yeah, the tinkering gets really weird and downright destructive, as broad changes to the colors and heavy use of DNR and other effects wind up corrupting bits of the footage.  Look at this next set of shots:
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
See how there's little black chunks being taken out of the wall where I circled in the second shot?  Yeah, that's happening through the whole scene in the director's version, and it's constantly moving.  Admittedly, casual viewers could probably watch the scene and not even notice anything, but once you see it, it's like there's a cloaked Predator lurking behind that actress.  Still, I'd consider this a minimally altered scene.  Let's take a look at some of the more obvious changes they made for the 2018 version.  Particularly look for the tearing in the director's version's shot of the clown, on his sleeve, the toy and the rays shooting out of it.
Original Version top; 2018 Director's Version bottom.
Crazy, right?  It's not quite the disaster that the Rabid Grannies producer's "remastered edition" was, but it's kind of a mess.  I definitely wouldn't suggest starting with this version if you've never seen it before, but since this 2018 version is meant to be an additional creative exercise, I'm not mad at it as a bonus novelty.  Sure, throw it in the pot!  As long as the original version's included as well.  The bummer isn't that Lucas altered Star Wars, it's that he scrapped the original and withholds it from us.  And as you can see, the original Xtro has been offered up to us in spades.  Oh, and for the record, the 2018 director's version also utilizes the alternate ending with the piano.  So I'm not sure it's any great loss, but strictly speaking, one thing that this new special edition blu does not carry over from the DVD is the synth-scored version of the alternate ending.  Every time they use that ending on any cut, it's the piano version.
1) 2005 US Image DVD 2) 2018 UK Second Sight blu Original Ending
3) SS Alternate Ending 4) SS UK Video 5) SS Director's Version
So, the Original Ending, Alternate Ending and UK Video Version on the Second Sight blu are all utilizing the same encode, only with alternate endings via seamless branching.  Still, I screenshotted all five in the first set of shots just to be thorough.  But that second set of shots is from the ending, so you can see the differences there (most obviously the choices in color timing).  I won't say much about the Director's Version because it's not supposed to be an accurate representation of the film; I'll just point out that it's been DNR'd to a crazily waxy degree, and that final panther shot is just ridiculous.

So, the US DVD is anamorphic widescreen with slight matting all around the overscan area, leaving an AR of 1.82:1.  All of the blu-ray transfers (except when the Director's Version randomly occasionally shifts) are 1.78:1, revealing more picture all around.  Generally, grain is pretty clear and nicely resolved, if maybe just a teensy bit light.  Deep shadows look a little crushy, but that could just be how the movie was filmed.  Overall, it's a very filmic, attractive transfer.  The colors are warmer on the DVD and cooler on the blu, with the blu looking overall truer.  The DVD's palette feels a bit flat, with a bit of a hue cast over everything that the blu clears away.  And detail is definitely clearer on the blu, although the DVD was already looking pretty decent.  And of course, all the subtle compression noise of the standard definition DVD has been cleaned away.
DVD Davenport interview, and that same interview ported over onto the blu.
Now, the DVD just featured a Dolby Digital 2.0 treatment of the original mono track, with no subtitles.  The blu-ray bumps it up to DTS-HD of the mono on the Original and Alternate Ending cuts, and a DTS-HD stereo mix for the UK Video and Director's Versions.  And they all also include optional English subs.

As if this post hasn't been long enough, now let's delve into the special features.  The DVD wasn't exactly packed, but like I said, it had some great, important stuff.  I've already covered the alternate endings and deleted scene to death, so I'll just add here that unlike the feature itself, they were interlaced (as you could clearly see in the screenshot earlier).  Besides that, the main feature the DVD had was an interview with the director, Harry Bromley Davenport.  It's pretty good, rather self-critical, and for a long time, all we had.  Though as you can see, it's non-anamorphic and problematically interlaced.  Besides that, the DVD had the trailer and a stills gallery.
Second Sight brought a lot more to the table, starting with an impressive, hour-long documentary, which is a lot of fun.  It talks to so many key personnel, from Davenport and his producer Mark Forstater to star Bernice Stegers, and even lots of the supporting cast, including yes, Tik and Tok.  That's followed up by a talk with Xtro's "number one fan," which sounds like it would be silly; but he actually gives a rather smart and informed analysis, and he's occasionally intercut with Davenport or Forstater to collaborate or contrast a few of his points.  It's less like one of those looks at a quirky fan and his merchandise and more of a legit critical evaluation.

Then Davenport and Forstater introduce a bunch of footage from a new sequel they're developing, Xtro: The Big One.  It looks pretty rough, but there's an on-screen warning that the effects are still in progress.  Than there's a brief tribute to star Philip Sayer, with the people from the documentary each saying a bit about him, followed by a song.  The DVD interview with Davenport is also carried over here, and cleaned up, but it's disappointingly shorter.  Basically, on the DVD, for the last seven or eight minutes, he talked about his sequels, Xtro 2 & 3.  That section's been cut, and we only get the part where he talks about the first Xtro.  That's a bummer, because he had some funny stuff to say about Xtro 2.  Oh well.  Second Sight's release also includes the trailer, a TV spot, and a video introduction to the 2018 version by Davenport.
Now this version is a limited edition (though nowhere to they seem to specify just how limited), with a basic single disc edition presumably to follow.  Everything I just described is on the one blu-ray.  But this version also includes a soundtrack CD.  The music was all composed and performed by Davenport himself.  I wouldn't exactly put him on par with John Carpenter, but it's effective within the film.  Anyway, the limited edition also includes a stylish, 40-page full-color booklet by Kevin Lyons and comes in an attractive and sturdy slip box.

Second Sight's release is an essential release of a terrific cult film.  If you already have it, it's worth holding onto the US DVD (and/ or the German blu-ray that came out last year, which has even more exclusive special features) for the few tidbits missing from the new blu.  But they're minor and redundant enough that they're not worth tracking down now.  Second Sight really gives you all need... in fact, with the four cuts, it's already more than you need.  And it's region free, so top recommendations for all. 

1 comment:

  1. This is the best most detailed review I have read from the new release

    Great job

    ReplyDelete