The Manitou, Reborn In HD! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ah, I have been looking forward to this one since the day it was announced!   The Manitou is a wild, fun ride.  But it's not so well done that it's a horror classic or anything.  It's what you'd call "a mixed bag."  It's got its great points, though, and what that winds up amounting to is the kind of film you're really rooting for to come out, partially because it very well may not.  If you fall for a beloved horror classic, you don't have to worry, oh gee, do you think Army of Darkness will ever get a quality release?  But with these secondary "also ran" titles that barely get mentioned on forums or Film Twitter, you really have to keep your fingers crossed tight.  Then if it does get announced, it's like your team won The Super Bowl, even when, sure, you can admit there's hundreds of better films.  But dammit, this one's my draft pick.  Is that the right term?  Look, I don't watch sports, but I dig The Manitou.  
If you're not familiar, The Manitou is a trippy 1977 horror film based on a novel by horror author Graham Masterton.  It's directed by William Girdler, who tends to shoot a bit flat.  And it's also rated PG, so if you're not watching it in its correct widescreen format, it can feel a lot like a TV movie.  How's that for a ringing endorsement?  It also stars Tony Curtis.  Hey, wait, where are you going?

Right, now you see why this isn't the consensus pick (how's that for a sports term?).  But let me tell you why I've been pulling for this movie.  How about a scene where Susan Strassberg, who just happens to have a full grown ancient Indian medicine man growing out of her neck, commands a laser-beam to blow up a bunch of doctors and nurses with her mind?  What if I told you the medicine man comes out deformed, and in his anger he summons a giant translucent lizard monster, turns an entire ward into solid ice, skins somebody alive and turns him into a zombie?  That last one's surprisingly graphic for PG, by the way.  And then the final confrontation takes place in outer space, with a topless woman and the devil himself shooting meteors at each other!  Now, I ask you: who could sleep at nights without owning such a film in HD?
But unfortunately, it's entirely pure awesomeness.  One major issue is that the film is most effective when taking everything earnestly, but Curtis and about half of the supporting cast are playing it like a Neil Simon play.  Some of that humor works, especially when Curtis is fleecing his elderly clients in the beginning of the film.  And that supporting cast I mentioned includes some big Hollywood names like Stella Stevens, Ann Sothern and Burgess Meredith, who inject some welcome charm into a scene now and again.  But all that stuff tends to work against the bigger picture.  We wanna see some of the other ancient spirit monsters this evil medicine man can summon, not Strassberg and Curtis flirting on a San Francisco trolley.  But as with Grizzly and other Girdler films, you're stuck killing time until the next entertaining pay-off.
Speaking of killing time, The Manitou was in no hurry to come out on DVD, but eventually found its way to most regions around the world, widescreen and anamorphic to boot.  Here in the US, it was an Anchor Bay DVD in 2007.  I've still got mine, so we'll be checking it out below.  But all those discs were barebones... This crazy flick needed a special edition!  And, as we rolled into the 2010s, it needed a blu-ray special edition.  Well, Scream Factory's upcoming release, due out April 16th, doesn't label itself as one of their "Collector's Edition," but I'd say this fits the special edition bill.
2007 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2019 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
So the old DVD was anamorphic, but I left the negative space around the first set of shots so you can see how it was still somewhat window-boxed.  Correcting that also adjusts the aspect ratio from 2.27:1 to a proper 2.35:1.  If you study the different comparisons I've posted, you'll see the framing is different from shot to shot.  We can only assume Scream's is more accurate.  The same can be said for the color timing, which has also strongly shifted.  There, though, the DVD does seem overly red, making it an easier assumption.  The new image certainly "pops" more, with stronger contrast and deeper blacks, looking decidedly more photo realistic.  I mean, just look at Michael Ansara in that second shot compared to the first.
2007 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2019 US Scream Factory blu bottom.
The case and promotion for this release has been touting a new 4k scan.  But only when you play the disc do you get an on-screen message that "sadly, the negative for the film is lost," and Studio Canal, who created the new transfer, had to use an inter-positive.  There's no doubt that there scan has pulled all the info they possibly can out of their source, as every speck of grain is finely rendered in 4k.  But detail in the actual image is a bit light... though still superior, and decidedly cleaner than the compressed DVD.  But this does introduce a few minor flaws that the DVD didn't have... there's some flickering, particularly in the beginning and at certain points - presumably reel changes.  There's also a very slight intermittent shudder during the first couple minutes; and while film damage is light, there is dirt and chemical marks that aren't visible on the DVD.  Those issues pointed out, though, it's still a far more pleasing image than the old disc (the flicker being the only one most viewers will likely even notice); there's no question the blu-ray takes the belt with a very satisfying knock-out (another expert sports reference!).

Another nice touch with the blu-ray is that Scream/ Studio Canal were able to restore the original Stereo mix.  Previous DVDs have only had a mono mix, but apparently the film was originally released theatrically with a stereo mix, and Scream's brought it back.  And they kept that mono mix, too; presenting them both in DTS-HD.  Both the DVD and blu-ray also include optional English subs.
Now, the extras I was super excited for.  After all, this film's never had any before, apart from the trailer, a TV spot, and some bonus trailers (including one for Superstition).  This time we've got some real extras.  The one I was anticipating the most was the on-camera interview with Graham Masterton, and it's pretty good.  It's a solid 28 minutes, but he spends the vast majority of that time talking about his youth and early career leading up to becoming a novelist.  He does eventually get to The Manitou, both the novel and the film; but he rushes through it.  It's even more extreme with the second interview, with producer David Sheldon.  He talks about Girdler but only refers to The Manitou in one single, passing sentence.  I got the feeling that Scream had interviewed Sheldon for another film, and just clipped out this excerpt that sort of applied here.
The third extra finally does actually focus on The Manitou, an audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth.  He's got a lot of info to share.  He's read the book (in fact, he winds up knowing more about the differences between the book and the film than Masterton did), and is highly energized.  No dead air here.  Towards the last act, though, he does seem to be running out of material, repeating anecdotes and reading what sounds like each actor's Wikipedia page verbatim.  But any nitpickable issue ("he comments that the characters never think to call the police when they just had a big argument over whether to call the police in the previous scene... worst. commentary. ever!") aside, you'll come out massively entertained and informed about the ins and outs of this movie.  At this point, Howarth has got to be one of the best cult expert commentators in the biz.  Oh, and he also makes an impassioned plea for Warner Bros to drop the embargo on Abby, which I think we can all get behind.

Anyway, Scream's disc also includes the trailer, three TV spots, a thorough stills gallery, and surprisingly spicy reversible cover art.
So, I don't know what arbitrary standard Scream Factory uses to prevent this release from qualifying as a "Collector's Edition."  No slip cover I guess.  Whatever, this is a pretty terrific special edition that, a few quibbles aside, satisfies my every expectation.  I'm so happy to replace my barebones DVD with this.  It's a real home run!  ...or touchdown or whatever.

Prince of Darkness Leaping Again to 4K Ultra HD (DVD/ Blu-ray/ UHD Comparison)

Fans had been calling for a special edition of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness for dog's years. Fans other than myself, that is. And it's not because I wasn't a fan of the film - in fact it's one of my favorite Carpenter films; I've always enjoyed its supernatural "all Hell breaking loose and anything can happen" theme of horror, a la The Beyond or In the Mouth of Madness. But I'd always been happy with the foreign Studio Canal editions which had a great 2.35:1, uncut transfer and a super fun audio commentary by Carpenter and Peter Jason. I wound up getting the German disc just before realizing there was a French one which also had a short interview and intro with Carpenter as an extra bonus. But either way, I always felt like Prince of Darkness had been scratched off the "desperately in need of a proper release" list, and just shook my head at those people who'd never gone region free.

Update 1/13/15 - 3/24/19: Well, Studio Canal's gone and remastered a whole bunch of Carpenter classics and issued them on 4k UHD, and Prince of Darkness is no exception.  Is it enough of an improvement to warrant replacing your old blus?  We'll have a look.  I also copped a recent SC blu-ray release, so we'll throw that into the mix, too.  And, since this is one of my earliest posts, it had jpg instead of png comparison screenshots.  So I've gone back to the old discs, taken new shots, and replaced them for a higher quality comparison.  👍
You're just like me if you've been a little reluctant to repurchase this title yet another time.  But the promise of a higher quality presentation for a film that leans so relies so heavily on atmosphere and tone, in addition to even more new extras, was eventually enough to force my collector's hand.  Especially as this atmospheric, anything goes horror is right up my alley.  Some of the other Carpenters I could resist... but never Prince of Darkness.
The film opens by introducing a strong ensemble cast, including Donald Pleasance, Alice Cooper and several returning cast members from Big Trouble In Little China, as a group of clergymen and scientists who will wind up teaming up in a race to decipher the secrets of the universe before an ancient evil wipes out humanity. I like the idea that these characters are racing against the clock to learn. I mean, sure plenty of horror movies have had people striving to figure out something like "the monster's weakness is electricity!" But here they've got to basically crack the secrets of quantum physics and theology that the human race has been working on since the birth of the original man... in about 24 hours.
But it's not nearly as nerdy as all that. It's a wild, yet moody ride that doesn't let the limitations of its tight budget allow you to believe that you know what's coming next. Whether its an army of evil homeless people, zombies, shadowy figures from the future, telekinetic green slime, swarms of killer insects or a giant monster behind a mirror, the film is always creeping up the ante to something new and bigger. And while there are occasional lines of wit and levity, the film does a nice job of playing everything straight and getting pretty far out there without becoming silly or harmless.
I'm afraid to even count how many times I've re-upped for this film.  I used to own the VHS back in the day, and then it was one I just had to own on laserdisc.  I bought the original, 2000 Universal DVD (which I no longer have; but I've got their 2003 reissue for this comparison), because it was anamorphic.  And then I imported the 2002 Studio Canal/ Kinowelt DVD from Germany because it had that exclusive audio commentary, while all US editions were barebones.  Of course, all that changed in the later days of HD when Scream Factory came out with an impressive Collector's Edition in 2013.  Then Studio Canal started remastering all those Carpenters, and came out with an all new blu-ray edition in 2018.  And now they've finally issued it in 4k Ultra HD, initially in a limited edition steelbook in December, then in a fancy 4-disc collector's edition in February, and now a standard 3-disc edition (it was initially announced and generally listed online as a 2-disc edition; but I've got it and there's definitely 3) just this month.
1) 2002 Kinowelt DVD 2) 2003 Universal DVD 3) 2013 Scream Factory BD
4) 2018 Studio Canal BD 5) 2019 Studio Canal BD 6) 2019 Studio Canal UHD
Interestingly, there's a sizeable amount of difference just between the two DVDs. The Universal DVD is much softer, paler, and and has uglier color timing.  It's also interlaced, yuck!  The German DVD doesn't have those problems, but is instead splotchy and suffers from some obvious tampering with edge enhancement or some kind of unsharpening mask, which honestly would've been more passable in 2002 than today, when we're looking at it on larger, higher def screens. It's aspect ratio also went off a bit, from Universal's proper 2.35:1 to 2.30:1.  Regardless, that all became academic when Scream brought the title to HD and we could chuck both sets of flaws in the bin.  The new colors looked more vivid and natural on the Scream discs, and when you right click to see them in full size is when you really notice the difference.  Standard def compression gives way to clean lines, the AR is brought back to 2.35, and the blu just looks more natural and energetic, with a sliver more picture around its edges to boot.
1) 2002 Kinowelt DVD 2) 2003 Universal DVD 3) 2013 Scream Factory BD
4) 2018 Studio Canal BD 5) 2019 Studio Canal BD 6) 2019 Studio Canal UHD
But now is the age of the Studio Canals... and I have to say, I was initially worried when I checked out the 2018 blu-ray.  It's very similar to the Scream, still holding at 2.35:1, but loses some shading and contrast, looking a bit softer and flatter.  Dare I say a step backwards?  Yeah, for real.  Of course, I should have remembered that, with BD/ UHD combo packs, the BD half typically doesn't get the new transfer and is just a copy of the label's older blu.  I haven't seen their 2013 blu, but I've got to assume that transfer is what we're looking at here.  If that's the case, though, it does kind of put a lie to the claim of "BRAND NEW RESTORATION" splashed across the cover of their 2018 blu-ray release.
Correction 4/9/19: Read the comments below for screenshots of said 2013 blu, which is indeed different from SC's new one.  So, okay, credit where it's due, SC did utilize their new restoration for their 2018 blu-ray, too.  It just looks disappointingly washed out, losing delicate information in the color shading that even the older Scream blu has.  I apologize for my cynicism there; but still, like I said pre-correction, the bottom line is:
Buyers of that release prepare to be let down; unless you're just in it for the new doc (more on that later), you're better off sticking with the Scream Factory.
1) 2002 Kinowelt DVD 2) 2003 Universal DVD 3) 2013 Scream Factory BD
4) 2018 Studio Canal BD 5) 2019 Studio Canal BD 6) 2019 Studio Canal UHD
Anyway, not to worry.  The new UHD really is the best this film's ever looked.  It's a fresh 4k scan of the original camera negatives and color-graded and approved by the DP.  So that softness is completely gone here, with film grain looking the more complete and natural than ever before.  The previous blus have resolved a lot of grain, but it's also always been patchy, especially on the SC blus.  That patchiness is gone, now, with every speck present and accounted for.  The contrast is a bit dimmer, but thanks to the broader HDR, it allows them to pull out more information.  For example, look at the lamp behind Dennis Dun's head in the last set of shots... you can see the light-bulb inside, which was always washed out in the brights of the previous discs.  And on a 4k TV with the brightness properly set, those lights don't look so dull as they might on a computer monitor.  It all results in a more natural, authentic looking color schemes where skin tones look the most like actual skin, etc.  All of that said, though, if you're looking for a revelation in additional detail, it ain't really here.  We really seem to be pushing the limits of what's been captured on the original film; there's not much more genuine detail to be discovered.

For audio, the DVDs seem to have matching Dolby Stereo tracks, though only the Kinowelt also has German and Spanish dubs.  Interestingly, Universal only has Spanish and French subtitles, not English, while Kinowelt has all three plus plenty more languages.  Scream has the same stereo mix, too, except bumped up to DTS-HD, but also throws in a DTS-HD 5.1 mix, plus English subtitles.  And Studio Canal mostly stays that course (they switch the stereo mix from DTS-HD to LPCM, but I didn't notice any difference), but adding French and German dubs with English, French and German subtitles.
The Universal DVD has nothing but a fullscreen trailer, but Kinowelt added that commentary.  It's quite excellent.  Carpenter's always a great one for commentaries, but Peter Jason really knows his stuff, and is able to remind Carpenter of a lot, correcting him multiple times, and also adding a plenty of levity.  So thankfully, it's also included on all the subsequent BD and UHD releases.

Now, for some reason, the back of Scream's box really undersells their extras. It just says, "audio commentary with director John Carpenter" (no mention of Peter Jason).  And then, the only other thing it says, besides the theatrical trailer, is "new interviews with director John Carpenter and Alice Cooper." Those are true, of course. The Carpenter interview is interesting and does a good job of not being too redundant with what he says in the commentary, despite having recorded them many years apart. And Cooper's interview is fun and gets into the back-story of how they wound up working together.  But there's a lot more than just those two interviews, including things a lot more compelling than the trailer which somehow got billing in their stead!
Effects supervisor Robert Grasmere has a really fun interview about winding up as a cast member in the film, and having not one but two death scenes in the film. Then there's composer Alan Howarth who talks about working on the music with Carpenter. Especially rewarding is another episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where they visit almost all of Prince of Darkness's old locations today. You also get a seven minute segment of the television version of the film, which features some interesting footage not seen in the theatrical version, although the quality is lacking, as it just seems to have been taped off of broadcast TV and added with the channel's watermark pixelated out through the whole thing. Plus there's a stills gallery and radio spots. And finally, there's an entertaining, 13 minute Q&A with Carpenter from a 2012 screening where he takes questions from their host and a general audience. All together, it's a pretty rich package, with reversible artwork and a slipcover as well.
But Studio Canal didn't just bring their new scan to the table.  They have an all-new, 34-minute documentary by the guys at Ballyhoo, who really knocked this one out of the park.  It's a bit of a trade-off, in a way, because SC has carried over some, but not all of Scream Factory's extras.  So they keep the Carpenter interview and Horror's Hallowed Grounds, but lose the Q&A and the Howarth, Grasmere and Cooper interviews.  Fortunately, all of those guys are in the documentary, so it's not much of a loss.  They basically retell all the same stories and anecdotes from the interviews, though the Scream Factory interviews went a little more in depth.  I.e. they all tell how they got involved with the project and their experiences on it, but only SF also asks them what they thought of the movie afterward.  But the new doc adds some good new stuff, with experts putting this film into the context of Carpenter's career at the time and providing some interesting interpretations.  Even better, they talk to more cast and crew like Sandy King, cinematographer Garry Kibbe, one of the stunt guys, etc.  So yeah, it's pretty terrific.  Studio canal also throw in two vintage interviews with Carpenter from 2003 (the French ones I mentioned in the opening paragraph).  One, labeled as an "Intro" is actually a fairly substantial, and another is a brief clip, clearly filmed at the same time, with Carpenter watching on the end of the film on a TV and commenting.  It also comes in a nice slipcover.

Just to keep things clear, the 2018 blu-ray release is two discs, with the movie on one disc and the extras on another blu.  The standard 4k UHD is three discs (again, preorder listings that said "2 discs" are just flat-out wrong), with the UHD of the movie, and then the same blu-ray of the film, and the same additional blu of extras.  The steelbook also contains those same three discs.  And if you copped the Collector's Edition, you got those three discs plus the soundtrack CD as a fourth disc, as well as an exclusive 45-page book, poster and art cards.
So, surprise surprise, this new 4k restoration on the new, higher grade format is the best edition going.  But, you know, that Scream blu still holds up awfully well.  If you need the best, you know what to do; but if you've got the Scream and you're on the fence, you might want to prioritize other upgrades.  This set is terrific, but it's for a film that's already been taken care of pretty well, you know, as opposed to all those M.I.A. titles.  That's definitely not a knock on this release, just that the need for it was comparatively pretty low.  But you know me; I could never turn down the Prince Of Darkness.

The Favourite's a Delight

The Favourite is pretty great.  I don't place a lot of stock in the Academy Awards (with "Best Pictures" like Crash, Forrest Gump, The Greatest Show On Earth and Gladiator, the terrible habit of giving awards to actors for mediocre performances because they were "due" from years of routinely overlooked roles, etc etc), but this is one I was pleased to see nominated for multiple Oscars, and Olivia Colman taking one home.  I thought The Killing Of a Sacred Deer was interesting and definitely worth watching once, but this is the first Yorgos Lanthimos film I've really been taken with and needed to add to my collection.  And now, this March we can finally do just that, with a DVD/ blu-ray combo pack courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
I've seen people get bent out of shape for the liberties this film takes with historical accuracy, but that couldn't be further from the point.  I was actually surprised how rooted in real events so much of this story was, as it's a delightfully wicked melodrama, in the vein of Amadeus, Dangerous Liasons or Gothic.  Arguing how unlikely it is that Lord Byron ever showed Percy Shelley an Asian stripping robot is probably correct but really failing to get into the proper spirit of the thing.  Lanthimos hasn't come to teach us a history lesson; Shakespearian-level liberties are being freely taken, and I think experience has proven there's nothing necessarily wrong with that.  If you need to, think of this as another Gormenghast.  Heck, I was impressed to learn there even was an actual Lady Abigail at all.
The set-up is fairly simple: said Abigail (Emma Stone) is a former aristocrat who's lost her station in life and come to serve at the palace.  Hoping to be employed some sort of nanny for the queen (Colman), she's instead put to work in the nasty dungeonous kitchens with the lower servants.  She's going to have to muster up all of her cunning and treachery to rise up back up to a livable social status in a court that's given sway to corruption and debauchery.  Winning the queen's favor seems easy at first, but she's soon at odds with the queen's best friend, advisor and lover (Rachel Weisz).  It's a delectable film, full of cutting dialogue, the fate of the country dangling on royal whims and eye candy filmed with crazily wide-angled lenses.  It's literally often fish-eyed.  Oh, and the soundtrack's brilliant.
2019 Fox DVD top; 2019 Fox blu-ray bottom.
2019 Fox blu-ray left; 2019 Fox DVD right.
I'll start off simply by saying this release looks great.  The colors are bold and the HD detail is rich, which is especially good news in a film such as this, that was photographed to to relish an endless castle full of rich details and lovely colors.  The DVD naturally suffers from further compression with grain and sharp edges being washed away, fines lines becoming blocky and black levels being slightly greyer.

There can be a lot less to discuss in terms of PQ of a modern release.  Labels have learned a lot over the years, and films tend to be shot digitally, so there are far fewer issues of conversion taking place between the original footage and your TV.  In this case, The Favourite was actually shot on 35mm film; but they still delivered a final DCP, as in a single digital file to be sent to theaters, streaming sites and DVD labels.  So I was surprised to notice an anomaly here where Fox did seem to make a little mistake.  First of all, the DVD and blu-ray are presented in slightly different aspect ratios: 1.82 and 1.84 respectively.  And it's not a case of the mattes being slightly opened, like we've sometimes seen Vinegar Syndrome do.  Instead, the DVD is a bit vertically stretched.  It's not a huge amount, and fortunately it's just the DVD in the combo pack, a.k.a. the coaster disc, so it's no great tragedy.

For audio, we're given the rich options of English, French, Spanish and English descriptive audio in 5.1 (in lossless DTS-HD on the blu), with additional English, French and Spanish subs.
Extras are a little on the light side, but don't totally leave us hanging.  First and foremost is a 22-minute 'making of' featurette.  They talk to just about everybody in the cast and crew, and tackle all aspects of the production.  I just wish it was longer, to give some of those people more time to talk.  For instance, it would have been great if the historical advisor were given a couple minutes to break down all the key points where the film adheres to and parts from the actual history.  But otherwise it's a pretty nice look behind the scenes and gives some insight into the decisions the director made throughout.  We also get three minutes of brief deleted scenes, the trailer and a couple of bonus trailers.  This release also comes in an attractive slipcover.
So, ultimately, I was quite satisfied with this release.  They could've extended that featurette out to be more of a documentary, but what we got was still rather good, and the film looks great.  As is the film itself.  Honestly, I couldn't have been less interested in an Emma Stone movie about Queen Anne when I first heard about it, but boy am I glad I gave it a chance.  And it probably should've won Best Picture, at least given the other nominees.  But let's not think about that.