The Thin Blue Line Makes a Nice Leap Into the Criterion Collection (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

The Thin Blue Line in a pretty important documentary. It's one of the most influential in terms of documentary recreations since Ken Russell battled the BBC for them in the 60s. And even more obviously than that, it literally saved a man's life, by solving a murder, and exonerating the innocent man already on death row for the crime. There's not many movies you can point to that literally, directly saved a man's life. But being important doesn't necessarily mean it's compelling or interesting to sit through. Fortunately, however, The Thin Blue Line is an Errol Morris movie, it's as much an entertaining and fascinating look at human behavior as it is anything else.
Randall Adams was arrested and convicted for shooting a cop during a traffic stop in Texas. He alleged he wasn't even in the car, and another man was the killer, but his story hadn't seemed to do him much good. Well, Morris interviewed pretty much everybody: Adams, his lawyers, the DA, the witnesses, his friends... and even the real killer. The whole thing unfolds through a series of carefully framed "talking head" interviews and very beautifully photographed recreations depicting different peoples' versions of the shooting. Some of the witnesses' stories could make for fascinating little documentaries in their own right; and it's all set to the music of Phillip Glass which adds a lot of addicting artfulness to the proceedings. This might be the closest to a "straight forward" doc from Morris, but it's still quite exotic.

And it's just been released on a very nice, special edition blu-ray from Criterion. Before that, we had a more generic, bare-bones DVD from MGM, which was at least a respectable presentation of the core film. But let's see how much more we've got now.
2015 Criterion blu-ray on top; 2005 MGM DVD below.
On first glance, the first set of shots might look pretty similar, with the anamorphic DVD looking just a little worse for the SD compression. But Criterion has provided a 2k scan from the original 35mm negative. One change you'll notice is that the film has opened up a bit to 1.78:1, where the previous DVD was ever so slightly letterboxed to about 1.85:1, or a smidgen less. But where the new scan really seems to benefit is in its rendering of motion. Let's get in close to the second set of shots.
2015 Criterion blu-ray left; 2005 MGM DVD right.
Now, okay, even in the top comparison of the cop car, we see grain is much more natural and detail is noticeably clearer. You can actually read the writing on the car and hood, which is blurred to being indecipherable on the DVD. So it's already a nice improvement. But now look at the blue car - holy cow! The DVD looks drastically worse when comparing the blue car, even though it's from the exact same screenshot from the exact same frame from the movie. Why? Because in this scene, the blue car is speeding away from the cop car, meaning it's the only one in motion. So while the whole image has already been improved by the new scan and HD treatment, the motion has really been stepped up. Or fixed, actually, I would say; because it seems like something is slightly wrong with the DVD's transfer, like they had some kind of pull-down issue and didn't notice it, because, frankly, there isn't a whole lot of movement in this film. But for when there is, Criterion has finally done it right.
The double-feature shown in this film, Swinging Cheerleaders and The Student Body,
are available on DVD from Anchor Bay and Code Red, respectively.  =)
Extras-wise, MGM's DVD was lacking, although I technically misspoke when I referred to it as bare-bones earlier. It just doesn't have an extras specifically relating to the film. It did include the "Mr. Personality" episode of Errol Morris's brilliant television series, First Person, in its entirety. If you're an Errol Morris fan, you're crazy if you don't have the whole series set on DVD already, though, so I'm not sure rewarding many people found this extra. But hey, it's certainly better than nothing. That and a bonus trailer for Coffee and Cigarettes is all we got, however.

Criterion's edition isn't exactly loaded, but it's certainly got some strong, substantive features that are genuinely about the film. Primarily, we have an on camera interview with Morris which is downright fascinating. It's also over 40 minutes long, so it delves pretty far into just about everything you'd want to know, from how he found the subject (he didn't start out wanting to make a film about Randall Harris's case), crazy stories while filming (guess what, interviewing real killers can be scary stuff) and updates on what happened after the film. Adding a more direct glimpse into what happened after the film is a short, 5-6 minute segment from The Today Show, where Bryant Gumbel interviews both Morris and Harris after he's been freed. And finally filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (the guy who directed The Act of Killing), gives an on camera interview with some additional thoughts and insights into the film.
Anyone interested in documentaries should see The Thin Blue Line. And thanks to Criterion, there is no better way to see it than on this new special edition blu-ray. This film has long called out for some extras, too, to tell the rest of the story, and it's finally gotten them. The MGM disc was fine to tide us over, allowing us to at least view the film in (almost) its OAR. But the wait is over; the Thin Blue Line release we've all been waiting for is finally here.

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