Modern Romance Lives Overseas! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Yay!  My copy of Modern Romance just landed in America!  Now, I don't know if I've managed to secure a terrific HD restoration of a film that'll never see a proper release in my home country, or if I just paid to import something that'll be coming out in an even better edition from Criterion six months from now.  But like Garth Brooks once said, there's "Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now," and I couldn't live knowing there was a special edition blu-ray of Albert Brooks' demented masterpiece and I didn't have it.  So here it is!
The more you think about it, the more unusual Modern Romance is.  It doesn't quite fall in with his more mainstream hits like Lost In America or Defending Your Life, but it's not quite as out there as his subversive mockumentary Real Life.  Essentially, I suppose, it's a romantic comedy; but one that turns the entire genre on its end simply by drawing from the absurd realities of contemporary relationships.  Of course it's funny, but it's not afraid to also wallow in not just depression but our dark sides.  And while much of this film is practically Brooks alone in a room with a rotary phone; it's also helped immensely by a terrific supporting cast including Bruno Kirby, James L. Brooks (in his biggest theatrical role... he's actually quite funny and shows could've made more of a career in front of the camera), George Kennedy as himself, Bob (Super Dave!) Einstein and this film's unsung heroine, Kathryn Harrold.  Add to that a great, early meta take on filmmaking embedded into this movie, and you've really got something special with this one.
There's really not a lot of Modern Romances to complicate matters here.  There's the original barebones 2006 Sony DVD, which you can see above has perhaps the single, ugliest, worst photo-shopped cover of all time (and no, there's no roller coaster or any allusion to one in the film at all).  When that went out of print, they reissued it as an MOD DV-R in 2014.  And that's all we have in America.  But thankfully, Indicator/ Powerhouse has come to the rescue in the UK, delivering a brand new, special edition blu-ray this month.
2006 US Sony DVD on top; 2018 UK Indicator blu-ray bottom.
Indicator's booklet isn't too revealing in terms of their transfer, only telling us "Sony's HD restoration was the source of this Indicator edition.  The film's original monaural sound track was remastered at the same time."  So I guess this isn't a fancy, new 4k scan of the OCN or they would've told us, right?  And yeah, grain does look a little unevenly preserved, I suppose, but it still looks pretty great; and I'm not sure a fresher scan would really do a whole lot more for it.  But yeah, it does seem to be the same core master they struck the DVD from twelve years ago.  Of course, Indicator's blu is an HD transfer, so it loses the fuzzy compression of the DVD edition.  The color timing's the same, but it already looked perfectly natural the first time, so that's fine.  And one improvement they did make is that the framing's been corrected.  You'll notice the DVD is slightly window-boxed, presenting the film at 1.80:1, whereas the blu-ray removed the pillars, leaving the film more accurately matted to 1.85:1.

The DVD had a basic Dolby Digital stereo mix, which sounds like it might've really just been the mono in 2.0, since I didn't notice any separation to speak of giving it a quick re-watch just now.  And we've already read Indicator's statement about Sony's remaster of the original mono, which sounds great, presented here in lossless LPCM.  Both the DVD and blu provide optional English subtitles.
There are two main components of this special edition.  The first is an audio commentary by film historian Nick Pinkerton, which is quite good.  He takes the material very seriously, though, and you could make a drinking game out of all the times he says "quotidian."  But really, even long-term fans of the film should come away from it with a lot.  Second, then, is an on-camera interview with the DP, Eric Saarinen.  He worked with Brooks several times and has a great memory for anecdotes and personal details, so even if the DP sounds like an interview subject you could just as well skip, I'd recommend watching this one; it's fun.  Also included is the trailer (though it's just a regular trailer, not one of his special ones), a stills gallery, and a really good, 38-page booklet with an essay by Isabel Stevens, an article of Brooks' quotations from various news outlets, and a collection of vintage critical reviews.  This release also includes reversible artwork, so you can hide your British ratings logos.
So do I recommend this release?  Man, I was positively giddy when this showed up in the mail, and only found myself being more and more pleased as I worked by way through the presentation and all the special features.  It's an absolute first class presentation all around... other labels should takes notes on how to make a booklet like the one included here.  The only way to top this would be if a major studio rounded up all the stars for a killer retrospective documentary (Criterion, if you're reading this, I think we'd all double-dip for that); but otherwise, this is a pretty terrific, definitive release.  Let's hope this is an indication (get it?) that the floodgates are open for all of Brooks' films getting the special edition blu-ray treatment.

...By the way, folks, I've spent the last couple days stealthily updating a handful of my older posts with additional DVD editions for comparisons.  No big deals, nothing I'd bump up with an official "update" to the top of the site; mostly older editions just to flesh out some of the reviews a bit more and see how the films have come along.  So if you're interested, I've added additional DVD coverage of: Phenomena, Ex Libris, Pauline At the Beach, Boyfriends and Girlfriends, Quatermass, The Florida Project, Warlock 3Lo and Behold, In Jackson Heights and Night Of the Living Dead.  It's something I do every so often whenever I can get my hands on a different copy of something I've covered; but I wanted to get a bunch out of the way now, because I've got a bunch of big comparisons and exciting new releases to cover this summer, starting with this post right here.  =)

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