Dario Argento's Phenomena, Now In *Real* 4k!

In 2011, Arrow released Dario Argento's Phenomena on blu-ray in limited edition with a fold-out poster. In 2012, they released the combo-pack edition, and in 2014 they put out an exclusive steelbook through zavvi.com. No matter which version you pick up, though, the actual blu-ray disc is the same, and so is the booklet. And as you can see above, I've opted for the superior reversible artwork cover, rather than the more comic-booky side they face out. Oh, and that's Anchor Bay's DVD on the left, because you guessed it, I'm going to do another comparison.

Update 1/27/15 - 5/26/17: It's becoming a pretty regular thing, as 2 and 4k scans are becoming more affordable, to see one DVD label reissue a blu-ray that was already been released on blu by another with a more modern, superior scan.  But you don't see too many labels replace their own blus.  But Arrow's done it.  Their 2012 blu is now being supplanted by a fancy, 3-disc limited edition release of a new 4k scan of all three cuts of the film.  But just how much of an upgrade is it - a massive overhaul or no big deal just marketed to sap suckers of their money? Oh, and you might be saying, come on, bro.  This was one of your very first posts where you posted .jpgs instead of lossless .png screenshots.  Those might be fine for basic comparisons, but in a hardcore blu vs blu comparison, where we'll be zooming in to hunt for macroblocks, you've gotta do better.  So, alright you hypothetical slave-drivers, you; I'm also taking all new .png screenshots of the previous three versions for 100% fresh comparisons.

Update 7/12/18: And now I've added the 2006 US DVD to the comparisons, bridging the gap between the very old, original release and the new blus.

Update 3/6/22: Well, we knew as soon as the 4k mastered blu-rays were released, it was only a matter of time until we'd see them on an actual 4k Ultra HD disc.  And that time is now.  And rather than making competing US/ UK editions with Synapse, they're releasing the same set (albeit with unique covers) together in both countries.
In the special features (which we'll come back to), Dario Argento calls Phenomena his favorite of his films. I don't think it's mine, but you can see why he'd choose it. It's got high production values and combines earlier giallo stories with his later fairy-tale horror plots. It makes amazing use of insect photography, a strong interest of his, and and he got to use real, underage actors as his leads (Jennifer Connelly was just 13 when she shot this film), something he wanted to do in Suspiria, but had to compromise with adults playing school girls. It's got great effects - in fact, it's Sergio Stivaletti's first movie, and also utilizes some inventive opticals by his compatriot Luigi Cozzi - great music, utilizing both Goblin and major label rock songs, exotic Swedish locales and a great cast, including Connelly straight off of Once Upon a Time In America, Donald Pleasance, and of course a highly dramatic performance by Daria Nicolodi.
It's the story of a rich, American schoolgirl arriving in a foreign country to stay in an all-girls boarding school, where there unfortunately happens to be a killer on the loose targeting girls her age. Hey, that's exactly the same set-up as Suspiria! But the similarities end there, because this time the villains aren't witches, and in fact the supernatural aspect comes from our heroine, who has a psychic connection with insects. She teams up with a local entomologist (Pleasance) and his chimpanzee (no joke) to track down the killer before the killer tracks down them.  And discovering the killer only turns the proceedings more bizarre.
And Arrow presents the full, longest 116 minute cut of the film, which is great because I don't believe any of the trims from the other cuts benefit the film (although the differences between the two longer cuts are practically academic - it's not a drastic shift either way).  But, still, there are fans who prefer the other cuts; and now Arrow's 2017 Limited Edition release should satisfy everyone by also including the 110 International cut and the highly truncated, 83-minute Creepers cut, each on separate discs.  And all three cuts are presented in both English and Italian (with optional subtitles), however, since the full 116 cut was never entirely dubbed into English, 6 minutes of the 116 cut revert back to Italian even on the English track.
Now, to be clear, Anchor Bay released this twice on DVD (not counting the times they included the same transfer in larger boxed sets of Argento films): the original version in 1999, and a later 2008 reissue, which bumped it up to anamorphic and included an excellent new featurette as an extra.  I've got the 1999 one here for comparison, too, so we can see how far we've come.  And of the first edition Arrow blu-rays, I opted for the 2012 combo-pack, so we'll be looking at both a DVD and blu-ray from there.  Then their 2017 limited edition (limited to 5000 copies, to be precise) consists of three blu-rays, and they seem to all use the same master, but just to be thorough, let's look at shots from all three cuts, too. Finally, we now have their latest 2022 UHD set, in partnership with Synapse, which is three cuts across two discs (both BD-100s), which again all seem to share a common master, but again I'll post all three just to be thorough.
1) 1999 Anchor Bay DVD, 2) 2006 Anchor Bay DVD, 3) Arrow 2012 DVD,
4) Arrow 2012 BD,
5) 2017 Arrow Italian BD, 6) 2017 Arrow International BD,
7) 2017 Arrow Creepers BD, 8) 2022 Arrow
Italian UHD,
2022 Arrow International UHD, 10) 2022 Arrow Creepers UHD.

Every release is pillar-boxed to roughly the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (1999 Anchor Bay is more like 1.64:1, and the 2012 & 2017 releases are 1.67:1).  The old DVD is non-anamorphic, so it has that going against it; and the newer releases, even the 2012s, have clearly cleaned up dirt and damage, like the black mark on the upper right of the first shot above.  The 2008 AB looks a lot like the 1999 AB except it's a bit of a clearer image, anamorphic (the important bit!), and cropped ever so slightly tighter along the bottom.  Arrow's 2012 has a curious blu push, and not just the dramatic night scenes, where Argento gives the scenes a lot of blue light.  Just look at the skin-tones in the shots above; I think this new 2017 blu gets it right.  Or, at the very least, it's the most natural.  Given Argento's creative use of colors and lighting, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the most correct timing.  But it certainly looks good.  And speaking of looking good, the 2017 4k scan of the OCN definitely brings out grain and fine detail better than the 2012 blu.  Look at the green background in the first set of shots, for example.  The 2017 has very naturalistic film grain, where it looks smoothed away on the older blu ...though not as badly as the Anchor Bay, of course, which has a lot of high contrast and other hallmarks you'd expect of an old 1999 DVD.  But going back to the blus, the 2012 colors have a flatter look to them, compared to the 2017, which is more lively.  In my early comparison between just the 2012 blu and the DVD, I wrote, "Arrow's dual-layered disc has obviously superior image quality and compression, while the DVD is clearly boosted, but at the same time, the blu could be a little more colorful."  Well, the updated blus took care of that, too.

And the UHDs?  Well, it's not just the same 4k scan plopped onto a higher resolution disc.  I mean, first of all, it's been re-timed for HDR, of course.  The resolution gains is only slightly perceptible.  In the second set of shots, we're already looking at the same specs of film grain, which was excellently encoded on the 2017 BD, so we're really not discovering a whole ton of new detail.  Though in the first set, we do see the grain that's soft and washed out in the light much more clearly on the UHDs.  That's thanks both to the resolution boost and the HDR bringing out more subtlety and distinction.  A more surprisingly difference in the 2022 version is that the framing's different.  It's still 1.67:1, but it's actually shifted to the left in the first set of shots and zoomed in tighter in the second.  Throughout the film, it's always just a little different - consistent across all three cuts, but different from 2017 to 2022.  None of it really strikes me as better or worse, but it's been adjusted.
Now, both Anchor Bays gave us English 5.1 and 2.0 mixes with no Italian or subtitle options (though there was a random French dub).  The 2012 Arrow blu took care of that, giving us both the Italian and English language options in uncompressed LPCM stereo, with freshly re-translated subtitles.  For the 2017 limited edition, with multiple cuts, it gets a little more complicated but no less rewarding.  The 116-minute cut has the English (with a few minutes of Italian, as explained earlier) and Italian both in 5.1 DTS-HD and lossless PCM 2.0 stereo.  The 110 minute cut has the English in 5.1 DTS-HD and PCM 2.0, and the 83-minute Creepers cut has the English in lossless PCM 1.0 mono.  That's right, the 110 and 83 minute versions don't have Italian audio options, only the full 116 does, though all three still have optional subtitles.

And the 2022 UHDs are mostly consistent with the 2017 BDs, but with a couple of interesting changes.  It drops the English stereo mix on the Italian cut, but now Creepers has a stereo mix, in addition to the mono, and the International version has an additional stereo mix with alternate sound effects, both of which come from Synapse's previous blu.  This is the benefit of the partnership.  Before, both companies' blus had their pros and cons, but now we're getting everything.  Oh, and also the LPCM tracks are now all also in DTS-HD.
Extras are interesting and even more complicated.  Arrow's 2012 blu also comes with a host of brand new extra features, however it doesn't port over any of the old Anchor Bay ones, and Arrow's 2017 has even more strong, new extras, but doesn't even port over their own 2012 stuff, let alone the Anchor Bay goodies. The original DVD's strongest asset was an audio commentary by Argento, Stivaletti and Goblin's Claudio Simonetti.  It's not perfect; there are semi-regular gaps of silence, and the three commentators are clearly edited together, not all in the room together.  Plus they're all struggling a bit with their English, so it's informative, but a little clunky.  Thankfully, there's a moderator.  The rest sort of felt like random odds and ends, mostly sourced from video... A short clip of Cozzi's World of Argento 2 documentary showing a clip about one of Phenomena's special effects. There was also two music videos, the trailer and a clip of Argento being interviewed on The Joe Franklin Show. So, I can see not going to the trouble and expense of releasing that stuff (though the commentary would've been nice).  The 1999 disc also featured an insert with additional artwork.

AB's reissue retained all of that stuff, and also added what turned out to be the best of all their extras, a seventeen-plus minute featurette which included great interviews with Argento, Nicolodi, Cozzi, Stivaletti, writer Franco Ferrini, Fiore Argento (who plays the killer's first victim), and director of photography Romano Albani.
Arrow's blu has a brand new documentary, though, which is pretty good. It's 50 minutes long (although a good ten or more minutes are spent on clips from the film we've just watched, as well as Arrow's animations) and includes Argento, Cozzi, Nicolodi (who's pretty frank not only about working with her ex-husband, but she takes a strong shot at Ferrini), Stivaletti, and underwater photographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia, There's also a separate interview with Simonetti, which is good, and two festival appearances by Stivaletti are edited together into one Q&A, which is still a little dry but has its moments. I'd say the new extras are at least a tie with the old extras, but both feel a little lacking for want of the other's. The two documentaries cover almost none of the same ground, and it almost feels like Arrow was consciously trying not to repeat anecdotes and details from Anchor Bay's, as if they were originally anticipating including their content in addition to the old stuff, rather than instead of.  Oh well.  Anyway, the 2012 blu also includes reversible artwork and an 8-page booklet by Alan Jones.
Arrow's 2017 limited edition adds an all new expert audio commentary by Troy Howarth (on the 116 minute cut) to the table, which is quit informative and an enjoyable listen, though he does put down the film as "second shelf Argento" at times.  And even more excitingly, it replaces the 50-minute documentary with an all-new 2-hour one, which is even better, with fresh interviews with Dario Argento, Fiore Argento, Davide Marotta who played the monster kid(!), Daria Nicolodi, actress Fiorenza Tessari, Franco Ferrini, Romano Albani, production manager Angelo Jacono, Luigi Cozzi, Sergio Stivaletti, make up artist Pier Antonio Mecacci, Gianlorenzo Battaglia, Claudio Simonetti and Simon Boswell.  You can tell just by the bolding that they brought in several people all the previous releases neglected to talk to.  This is definitely the most comprehensive Phenomena coverage we've ever had, and frankly, it's about time.  There's also a great 30-minute featurette detailing the history and differences between the three cuts of the film, and the process involved in creating a new, more seamless English/ Italian audio hybrid track.  Plus, there are English and Italian trailers, the "Jennifer" music video (which Argento directed) and a "Japanese pressbook" stills gallery.  The limited edition comes in a nice, hard slipbox with two blu-ray cases, each with reversible artwork, and a 58-page book, featuring writing by Mikel J. Koven, Rachael Nisbit who I follow on Twitter because she has a great blog, and Leonard Jacobs.  And there's also a full soundtrack CD, which comes with its own insert for the track-listing and credits.

The new 2022 UHDs largely mirror the 2017 set.  All of that stuff: the Howarth commentary, the 2-hour doc, the featurette about the three cuts, the music video and all the odds and ends are here.  And the older stuff from previous editions is still absent.  But Arrow does have an extra treat for us this go around, specifically in the form of another commentary.  This time it's on the International cut, and it's another expert track, by Derek Botelho and David Del Valle.  If that rings a bell, that's because it isn't strictly all-new; this commentary originates from Synapse's 2016 blu-ray, another benefit of this cooperative release.  The swag is similar to the 2017 set, although it's a slimmer slipbox, as it now only houses one amary case (with reversible artwork) instead of two.  There's no more soundtrack CD, but now we get a double-sided poster.  And the 60-page booklet is largely the same, though as you may've noticed in the two photos, it's got a new cover.  And they've replaced the soundtrack card with six replica lobby cards, plus a card advertising their upcoming release of 1956's The Werewolf.

It should also be noted that their are four alternate versions, strictly in terms of packaging.  The one I've got pictured here is Arrow's standard set, but they also have a box with alternate art called the "Arte Originale Edition," and a third one with a Creepers cover.  Those are all UK releases.  In the US, Synapse has created its own, unique fourth cover (limited to 6,000), which will be released next week.  But they all have the same discs and contents.  These are just cover and poster options.
So it's still a shame the old extras were let go, but the new material is so comprehensive, you won't miss much of it unless you're just a completist who wants it all (which I absolutely understand).  I'll still hang onto my 2012 blu; but I think most fans who upgraded will feel comfortable letting it go once they've watched everything on the new release.  The old Anchor Bay commentary was still a nice treat, so you might want to hang onto that DVD still; but let's face it, too many extras just start to get repetitive anyway.  Like how many times do we want to hear the same anecdotes retold?  And regardless, Arrow/ Synapse's new UHD is easily and obviously the definitive winner.

Y'know, I felt kind of bad for Synapse there, when they spent years following Arrow's 2012 blu polishing that master into a cleaner and stronger looking blu for their 2016 steelbook release, only to have Arrow come back around and trump them with their 4k scan just a couple months after.  But now both companies are working together on this ultimate release, and us fans are getting the best of both worlds, so it's win/win/win.

1 comment:

  1. I love this edition of the film. I find it odd that Synapse released that steelbook last year and they used the older transfer. They couldn't do one of their own? Still, this edition is great and if people can find it for a reasonable price then they need to pick it up