Controversial Blus? The Virgin Suicides + Lick the Star (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I came really close to importing the 2012 French blu-ray of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, even though it has forced French subtitles, so many times because it took forever for us to finally get another HD option.  But you know what?  Criterion may be slow, but they always seem to come around eventually.  And when they do, it tends to be worth it... if maybe a little green.  Let's see how this one came out.
Suicides is Coppola's first feature, based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides.  She may've found her audience more with her second film, Lost In Translation, but between the two, this is the one I find myself going back to.  They share that same charming recreation of a moment in time that Coppola brings to all of her work, but maybe it's just the heft of the overt melodrama adding some lasting weight to this one.  It's the relatable tale of an implausible scenario, where a group of neighborhood boys try to penetrate the romanticized veil of five beautiful sisters who all took their own lives in a small 70s suburb.  The kids are all perfect, from the known (Kirsten Dunst) to the unknown, and the rest of the cast is full of heavy hitters like Kathleen Turner, James Woods and Scott Glenn.
Paramount first put The Virgin Suicides out on DVD back in 2000.  It was a pretty decent, anamorphic widescreen edition, and so that's been my sole copy of this film all the way up until 2018.  But Criterion has now given it a pretty sweet 4k restoration from the original 35mm negatives, and with all new extras to boot, including Coppola's first short film, Lick the Star.
2000 US Paramount DVD top; 2018 US Criterion blu bottom.
So, a couple of interesting things here... let's see, where to start?  I left the negative space around two sets of comparison shots this time, to highlight a curious shifting AR on the DVD.  It's anamorphic, and essentially presented in a full 1.78:1, but with a little matting on the side making it about 1.77:1.  Or 1.76, depending on the shot, because sometimes there's matting on the left, on the right, or on both sides, just randomly throughout the film.  I assume they figured it didn't really matter since it was in the overscan area (remember, this was 2000), but it's a little weird.  Anyway, the new blu is presented in what we're assured is the original aspect ratio, 1.67:1, which gives us a little extra vertical information, and sometimes loses a sliver on the sides, depending on what the DVD is doing with its aspect ratio in any given shot.

Apart from that, the blu is heaps clearer.  Maybe you don't see it so much embedded in the post, but click through to compare them full size, and you'll really see the difference.  Grain is very present and natural, and the distinction is pretty strong despite the fact that the compression's actually pretty decent for such an old DVD.  And the colors?  Well, it's hard to miss the heavy green shift in that first set of shots, but as the others show, that's not consistent throughout the film.  Or, at least, not to the same degree.  Even in the second comparison shots, like the scene with Danny Devito and a stronger bluer hue; you can still see the additional yellowish green, too. 
2000 US Paramount DVD top; 2018 US Criterion blu bottom.
Now, this movie plays with its colors and hues a bit... there's a scene towards the end where a party is filtered to be very heavily and purposefully green.  But you can see, this blu leans into that yellowish green at all times; and given Criterion's recent history, really makes me think it's their issue again.  But, with that said, it's probably not something you'd notice if you weren't doing a comparison or looking out for it.  There are some shots in this film where, taken out of context, Criterion really looks like they've gone off on a green bender alright.  But there are others, like the second pair above, where you'd say "there's no green push here at all!"  The colors just look improved over the washed and paler DVD, with the whites nicely differentiated from the pinks and the blue doorway saturated up and an overall broader palette.  So I'd say just don't let it bother you, and it's fine. Clearly some creative decisions are inherent to the color correction process, and I guess Criterion's tastes just happen to run a little green.  So making Josh Hartnett's skin downright orange was a choice. 🤷

Audio-wise, both discs give us the single English 5.1 mix, though bumped up to DTS-HD for the blu.  The DVD also had a French dub, and both provide optional English subtitles.
In terms of special features, Paramount's DVD was already decent.  Not exactly a packed special edition, but it included a really good, 23-minute behind the scenes doc that gave some really good, and sometimes funny, insights into the filming.  And they had a few other minor bibs and bobs, like the music video for the Air song that Coppola also directed, a stills gallery, insert and trailer.  Criterion kept all of that, so thankfully there's no need to hang onto your eighteen year-old DVDs any longer - yay!
And they've also created some great new stuff.  Primarily, they've put together an excellent new, 26 minute documentary with Coppola, Dunst, Hartnett and cinematographer Ed Lachman.  And possibly even more excitingly, there's an on-camera interview with the novel's author, Eugenides.  Then there's an interview with Tavi Gevinson, who runs a fashion website or something that was influenced by this movie?  I wasn't entirely clear on that, but she did have some good insights into the movie, effectively acting as a critic's take.  There's an attractive, fold-out/ leaflet style insert with an essay by novelist Megan Abbott, a second trailer and of course, there's Lick the Star.
It's a black and white, only fourteen minute short; but it's actually quite good and contains a lot of what makes Coppola's features so compelling.  This isn't like Todd Haynes' Suicide, where it might be interesting for devotees to get a peak at his origins, but that's it.  This is a surprisingly dark film about the cut throat social hierarchy of high school that I watch and enjoy for its own artistic merits, not just because it's some minor film history artifact.  In fact, it's not even the first time I've owned it on disc.  I suppose this is a bit of a deep cut, but it was originally included as "This Month's Short Film" on the 2003 Film Movement DVD of Hop.
What's Hop?  Oh, it's a completely unrelated, low budget Belgium movie about an immigrant boy and his father living in the country illegally.  They get caught and the father is deported, but the kid winds up living with some old, retired revolutionary white guy who teaches him the ways of terrorism in the most literal, make bombs to blow up buildings and make the government capitulate sort of way.  It doesn't sound like it, but it basically plays like a feel good movie, and after some bombings, the government brings the kid's dad back.  I think I'm making it sound more interesting than it is, though.  It's decently acted and directed, but it's the sort of move I've watched several times over the years because I keep forgetting what it's about.

As you can see, it's slightly window-boxed in the overscan area, leaving it with about a 1.83:1 aspect ratio.  It's got removable English subtitles and interlacing problems.  The only extras are the trailer, a booklet with brief notes about the film, and of course Lick the Star.
2003 US Film Movement DVD top; 2018 US Criterion blu bottom.
Because this was shot on rather gritty 16mm film, the old DVD was reasonably passable.  The only real issue it had was being interlaced.  But Criterion seems to have given this one a new scan, too, with ugly digital artifacting turned back into natural film grain. The aspect ratio has subtly adjusted from 1.30:1 to 1.33:1 (revealing tiny slivers around edges) and the contrast has been greatly improved.  Subtitles would've been nice, and I'm a little surprised that Criterion cheaped out on them; but otherwise it's a worthwhile upgrade for us few DVD owners and a really attractive presentation to all you first-timers.
So, in a way this blu is controversial for its role the on-going Criterion green debate.  But that's with a question mark at best because outside of that context, we're talking about a minor possible flaw on an otherwise terrific, top-notch release.  High quality scan, terrific new extras, even a restoration of Lick the Star.  It's a must for Coppola fans no matter how you look at it.

No comments:

Post a Comment