Sony and Universal Don't Make It Easy For Christine

Here's a situation I've been meaning to cover for a while now (can you guess? It's a 2017 movie), and now that I've finally come around to it, I'm surprised to find even more discrepancies than the expected ones I planned to write about.  The film in question is Christine, where Rebecca Hall portrays the very real television news reporter Christine Chubbuck who famously took her own life live on air in 1974.  And the gist of the situation is that, despite being an excellent, critically acclaimed new (at the time) theatrical release, Sony put it out as a DVD-only release here in the US.  Universal, on the other hand, saw fit to give it a blu-ray in the UK and other overseas regions, but (gah!) it's missing the extras from the American DVD.  So the only way to get a proper edition of this film is to import and buy a second, alternate copy as well.  Fun!
I think Christine is a film that caught a raw deal, and I don't just mean the no blu-ray in the US market thing (though I think that's a symptom).  Christine is the second film about Chubbuck to come out at the same time - in fact, I think they both premiered at the same 2016 Sundance Festival, but Christine seemed to take longer getting out of the gate after that.  That other take, Kate Plays Christine, wasn't entirely meritless, but it felt like an under-cooked project by a couple of very indie artists still mastering the fine art of filmmaking.  And so it generated some buzz, taught audiences who Christine was, and then sort of killed interest in her story before Christine even got out of the gate.  You know, like how 54 killed any hopes of Whit Stillman's Last Days of Disco becoming more of a break-out success; thwarted by an injustice of distribution.
And it's a shame, because while Simon Killer was an interesting exercise in technique, Christine actually gives us a return to the exciting artistry Antonio Campos displayed in his earlier days as a rising film festival star, where the characters once again resonate.  I think people get a little misdirected by the question of likability... Ezra Miller's character was unrepentantly awful in Afterschool, but he embodied a disturbingly relatable truth that made his story fascinating, whereas Simon and his fellows just felt like Sims going through the motions because their director wanted to watch a certain type of plot unfold in a particular, stylized fashion.  Here, probably helped by the fact that we're back to exploring a very real woman's tragedy (a la Buy It Now), but also clearly thanks to the Rebecca Hall turning in an Oscar-worthy tour de force, Campos's drama is once again heartbreaking.
And there are superficial delights, too.  Campos is clearly having fun replicating or maybe even slightly parodying the 70s television aesthetic, and we're introduced to a charming cast of supporting players including Dexter himself, Michael C. Hall (no relation), Maria Dizzia, Tracy Letts, Veep's Timothy Simons and Jayson Warner Smith (Gavin on The Walking Dead).  A running subtext of the film also brings to mind 2014's equally engaging Nightcrawler, or even 1976's Network.  But it's the humanity that Hall reveals in Christine that will have you returning to the film over the years, wanting to soak up more.  But you'll be returning to it in standard definition as long as Sony has its way.
2017 US Sony DVD top; 2017 UK Universal BD bottom.
First of all, yes, Universal's dual layer blu-ray is a true, HD upgrade to Sony's DVD.  Christine was shot digitally, but it's clear on the blu that they've added some light, fake film grain to the image (a common technique with modern digital films wanting to look "authentic," but it has an additional motivation here, with an attempt to evoke the 70s period).  The DVD, however, is too low res to capture that "grain;" and generally has your standard, SD softer look.  But here's the first of those disparities I mentioned in the first paragraph that I wasn't expecting to find.  Despite being a modern digital film that the studios theoretically should've been given an identical DCP to slap onto their discs, the DVD and blu actually have different aspect ratios.  The DVD is 1.78:1, while the blu is given a more theatrical 1.85:1.  Well okay, so far that isn't all that uncommon; often times studios will have differing ideas on whether it's worth matting a 16x9 to a slightly more accurate 1.85 ratio at the cost of exposing luddites to their dreaded "black bars."  But the blu hasn't just been matted to slightly hide horizontal slivers of picture to give it the most accurate framing... actually the blu has more picture... on all four sides!  So, bizarrely, the DVD has decided to zoom in and crop off picture all around.  I'd love to know exactly who made that call.

Anyway, both discs just have the proper 5.1 mix, but of course only the blu has it in lossless DTS-HD.  The two differ further in their subtitle options, where Sony has English, English SDH, French and Spanish, Universal has English SDH, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The next big point of departure, as I mentioned, is the special features.  Frustratingly, the DVD has a lot more, so you can't just say the BD is the definitive version and forget the rest.  And we're talking good content here, not just little EPK stuff.  First and most importantly, there's an audio commentary with star Rebecca Hall, director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich, which gives you a pretty well-rounded view of the process behind the picture.  Then, there's a collection of four deleted scenes, a couple of which I felt were so good, I wish they'd been left in the film; but I'm at least glad to have here.  Then, the DVD also throws in a little over six minutes of the news pieces Hall filmed as the film within the film, and a look at the opening credit animation of the fictional news program.  These last two things are pretty self-indulgent and probably of interest only to the filmmakers enthralled with the fun they had capturing the 70s aesthetic.  But hey, it's better to err on the side of more than less.

Now Universal's blu, on the other hand, only has the deleted scenes.  No commentary, and no news segments or credit animation.  But, here's the second little discrepancy I was surprised to find when doing the full comparison: the blu-ray has an extra, fifth deleted scene not on the DVD.  It's not as compelling as the other four, but it's at least a nice extra little bonus reward for double-dipping on this title.  I'm also happy to report that, yes, the deleted scenes are in HD on the blu.
So, yeah, it's another one of those annoying "build your own special edition" situations where you have to buy more than one release to get the full experience.  And it's additionally insulting that a major studio has decided to relegate such an impressive, high quality film to DVD only; though moving forward, I think we're going to have to get more and more used to that experience.  But the good news is that, so long as you're to willing spring for the same movie twice, the materials are out there to create a pretty satisfying little combo-pack (the blu is even region free), which is more than you can say for a lot of great movies, which still don't have DVD extras or a decent HD transfer.

No comments:

Post a Comment