Terrific New Collector's Edition of Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected from Germany (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update, update, holy crap - update! 8/28/15: The special edition this film should've gotten years ago has finally landed! It's a limited edition blu-ray/ DVD combo pack from OFDb Filmworks, with a plethora of extras from Red Shirt Pictures. The film's finally been released in its OAR, and its in HD. It's a pretty lavish set from Germany (so be prepared for Region B blu and region 2 DVD), and I just got my hands on it the other day, so let's take a look! Join me further down the page for a fresh comparison and look at all the new features.

Dear Lions Gate, you may not be aware, but among the many, many excellent cult catalog titles you have shut away in your vaults, is an fun, highly regarded HP Lovecraft adaptation that fans have been asking for called The Resurrected. It's written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, creator behind such cult classics as Return Of the Living Dead, Dark Star and co-writer of the original Alien. You've even got a lovely, HD master already made (we know, because it's streamed on Netflix). And all you would need to do, to make a lot of people very happy, boost your reputation and make a nice little profit is to release it on DVD and blu-ray, or sub-license it to a niche label like Scream Factory, Synapse, etc. who will happily do it for you. I could see wanting to do it yourself, or leasing it out and letting another company front all the risk and labor, but surely you'd want to do something more than just sitting on your vast catalog and watching them depreciate in value - especially with a hot.
The Resurrected is one of the most direct, faithful adaptations of Lovecraft on film, starring Chris Sarandon (who, by the way Lions Gate, starred in the also underestimated Fright Night, which wound up selling out its entire blu-ray run in only two days. Just sayin'.) as Charles Dexter Ward, whose wife hires a private detective (24's John Terry) to find out why he's disappeared to a remote cabin with a strange man. Mad science, gruesome murders and a sequence set in the 1700s stand between them and the monstrous answer. Impressive effects, music by the always reliable Richard Band and some atmospheric cinematography (though you wouldn't know it from the full screen version) add up to a quality horror flick just dying to be rediscovered by a broader audience. The Lurker In the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft calls it, "the best serious Lovecraftian screen adaptation to date."
Admittedly, part of the difficulty The Resurrected has had finding its audience is that the film ran into some difficulty in post production. The producers at the time took the film away from O'Bannon, who said he felt it was his best work at the time, and re0cut it themselves. So it went through a couple titles (Shatterbrain and The Ancestor) and a final version O'Bannon wasn't so pleased with. And tragically, Dan O'Bannon has passed away, so it's too late to hope for his involvement in a special edition.

Happily, however, O'Bannon's director's cut already exists! It's already screened theatrically in the last couple years. So, while there's already a widescreen transfer of the old version available and waiting to be thrown onto DVD and blu - and that alone would make people very happy - the opportunity is absolutely there to pull a Nightbreed and come out with a great special edition introducing the previously unreleased director's cut along with the other version of the film. It could be a real event of a release.
Now, to be fair to Lions Gate, they did release The Resurrected on DVD at one point. It's ten years old now, long out of print, and a no completely frills fullscreen release without even a trailer, but that's substantially more than can be said for some other sought after Lions Gate titles, like Nightwish or Tale of a Vampire. At least there is a DVD to stave us off while we wait.
Netflix stream on top; Lions Gate DVD on bottom.
And credit where it's due, the DVD is at least open matte rather than pan & scan, so nothing's cropped away. Still, looking at the composition, there's no question that the widescreen version is the correct ratio, looking much more impressive in a nice 1.78:1. The boxy look of the film on DVD and cable is certainly a part of the for the negative reactions this film has gotten from casual viewers over the years. But again, it's long out of print, it's going for over $50 for a used copy on Amazon. So even if you've resigned yourself to this mediocre release as a place-holder, it's not even an obtainable option for most people.
So what do you say, Lions Gate? Are you ready to be a hero, just by doing us what you do, and getting your movies out to the people? Even if putting an elaborate restored director's cut special edition sounds like too much of a headache, all you have to do is open negotiations with one of the many niche labels out there who've been dying to tackle your back catalog for years. The back catalog you've got there, just gathering dust. Put these movies to work and get fans excited about Lions Gate again. Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected would be an awesome place to start.

Update 8/28/15 (cont):
Lions Gate's 2005 DVD on top; OFDb Filmworks' 2015 blu below.
What an improvement, and finally this film has a widescreen release. It's 1.78:1, and yeah the old full frame DVD was open matte, so we lose a lot of excess image at the top and bottom, but this is what it was composed for. This looks like a movie, not a cheap TV show. And we do actually pick up a little picture on each side. Granted, the new HD transfer doesn't look quite state of the art... I'm sure this is an old HD master the studio made ages ago, the same one used for the Netflix stream, as opposed to a fresh, state of the art 4k scan. It's a little soft and it doesn't look like we've got a natural look at the film grain yet. But it's a lot cleaner and clearer than the old standard def picture. To me it looks like a blu from six or seven years ago, which still trumps a DVD, especially a DVD as disappointing as the one we got from Lions Gate, which also has ghosting/interlaced framing issues.
Lions Gate DVD first, Netflix stream 2nd, OFDb DVD third & OFDb blu 4th.
Ah! It's Two Face! Turn around, Jane! No, yeah, that's actually just some ghosting I failed to mention in my first look at Lions Gate's DVD, and it's riddled with it. Getting a little more thorough, now, I've thrown the Netflix stream into the comparison mix, as well as the 2015 DVD from OFDb's combo pack. Interestingly, there's smidgen more vertical image on the blu than the Netflix stream. And of course, the image is sharper and more distinct on the blu, while the 2015 DVD is the same as the blu but just a little smudgier. Actually, they're a little more similar than they should be, but the dual layer blu still edges it out.

OFDb offers the film a new DTS-HD 2.0 track, plus both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD mixes of the German dub. There are optional German subtitles, too.
So it's great to have a widescreen release of this film, finally, but where OFDb has really excelled is the extras. Now, this is a German disc, so there are a couple of things with only German audio. But most things, all the important stuff, is very English-friendly.

First up is an audio commentary (yes, in English) with the film's producers Mark Borde and Kenneth Raich, writer Brent V. Friedman, special effects artist Todd Masters and actor Robert Romanus (he played Lonnie).  Brent Friedman and Todd Masters also comes back for on-camera interviews, running 18 and 16 minutes respectively. This and all the other interviews are in English with optional/ removable German subtitles. The other interviews include star Chris Sarandon (16 mins), composer Richard Band (10 mins), and production designer Brent Thomas (8 mins). There's also a brief acceptance speech by Dan O'Bannon at the Chainsaw Awards, introduced by Bruce Campbell and Quentin Tarantino, and two trailers for the film. Finally and perhaps most excitingly of all, there's over 18 minutes of recovered footage of the director's cut from the workprint tape. As you'd expect, it's from fuzzy 4:3 tape, but it actually looks a lot cleaner than most workprints I've seen, looking essentially like a commercial VHS release. It's missing music cues, and there's the occasional "shot missing" card for big effects moments; but this is really the stuff fans have been wanting to see since final cut was first taken from O'Bannon back in 1991.
All of those features I just discussed are on the blu-ray and in HD. The second disc in this set is the DVD version of the blu. And the third disc is most of the extras that couldn't fit on the blu on DVD. So SD versions of the extras. It's worth noting, though, that there's an animated stills gallery with the behind-the-scenes photos and such that's only on the third DVD, and not on the blu. And for the German speakers among us, there are also two additional commentaries (one with a pair of German film critics, and one with two guys from Wicked-Vision Magazin), as well as a radio play of the original Lovecraft story. Oh, and there's a glossy, 80-page book included in this set, which is also all in German. But at least it makes the set look a little more lavish. There's a separate insert, too, with a note from the producers of the DVD and telling you the individual number of your limited copy (mine's 2040/5000).
This release is absolutely everything I was asking and hoping for when I wrote the original version of this post, and I'm over the moon with it in my collection now. Serious high def enthusiasts will probably be disappointed that this comes from the studio's older HD master as opposed to a cutting edge 4k scan, and admittedly this film really could look better. But in this case, that's really looking at the grey lining of a silver cloud. Because this package really delivers and you'd have to be crazy to be disinterested.

Salo: 120 Days of Sodom - Contentious, Complicated and Cut? (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

America, your DVD and blu-ray copies of Salo: 120 Days of Sodom are cut!!  ...Well, arguably. The original 1998 Criterion DVD of Pier Pasolini's infamous Salo was one of the earliest DVDs to go quickly out of print and start going for really big bucks on the collectors' market. So much so that there became various bootlegs of it, and even they went up in value, among fans who knew them to be bootlegs! The fervor died down when the film was not only reissued on DVD in another region in 2001, but especially so when it turned out that foreign disc, from the BFI in the UK, was a little bit longer, including a scene missing from Criterion's DVD. Suddenly that was the one for the really plugged in film lovers to own. And so when Criterion remastered and issued their new DVD version in 2008, followed by a blu-ray version of that in 2011, I was surprised and disappointed that they were still missing that scene. Fortunately, BFI had already released their own blu-ray, so I guessed that was the definitive version and picked it up. But was I right?
I mean, this is assuming Salo's even a film you would want to own in any variant. As an adaptation of Marquis de Sade's infamous despite being incomplete novel, 120 Days of Sodom, it's surprisingly faithful. Pasolini's film version has been famously transposed to the period of Mussolini's rule in Salo, Italy (hence the addition to the title) as a commentary on fascism. Briefly, it's about a small group of male aristocracy and their madams who bring a collection of kidnapped teenagers to an isolated mansion to have a months-long orgy, where they explore the ultimate extremes of decadence. I'd always sort of assumed it was very loosely based on the novel, repurposing the general premise to tackle Pasolini's take on the Nazi regime and the more general, human psychology that would allow fascism to rise in any general situation. And that layer's certainly in there; but when I looked into the original writings, I was surprised to see how much this is really a faithful retelling, allowing for the usual shorthand and alterations any filmmaker tends to make when creating a cinematic translation, of what was already on the page, just updated to a new setting and time. Of course characters and details have changed, things were left out, etc; but I think it's interesting, because I've always found the basic "this is a film that shows you why fascism is bad" to be very minimizing, and the arguments both for and against respecting de Sade's work apply fairly equally to the film.
So okay, let's assume now that you do value this cinematic work. I'm not saying necessarily that you should, although there's certainly some undeniable attractive cinematography on hand - which, by the way, could probably be equated to the skillfulness of de Sade's descriptive prose, with the same role in the arguments for preserving his writings - so I'd say it really can't be completely dismissed as a work of art with value. But for the sake of this discussion, you think it's a compelling drama, worth having as the director intended. So you want the longer version that's not missing his scene, right?
The scene in question.
It's actually a fairly short scene, and considering how infamously shocking Salo is in terms of sex, violence and sexual violence, it's surprisingly tame. After the forced wedding (a bit of blasphemy that was probably more meaningful to de Sade than Pasolini), one of the men reads a brief poetry to the guests on a stairway, one of a couple scenes where similar poetry are read. It certainly wasn't removed by censors. And it's been argued that perhaps Pasolini didn't want it in his final cut at all, which is presumably why Criterion didn't reinstate it for their reissue. We'll never really know, because Pasolini was killed while he was working on his final cut. The film had already screened publicly in different international markets, but he'd said the version he was preparing was to be his definitive version. Just before writing this post, I read an argument against the scene's inclusion, basically boiling down to the fact that there's no clear evidence Pasolini wanted it in the film (apart from the fact that he filmed it in the first place), and if he had, it would've been in the version master Criterion had. But it seems like you could make the same exact argument for the opposite: there's no clear evidence Pasolini that he wanted it out of the film, and if he had, it wouldn't've been in the print the British Film Institute has.

So for me, it boils down to this: first, it's a good scene. It's brief, certainly not essential to the plot... but then very little in this film is. It's more a succession of events leading to a forgone conclusion, a character study of multiple characters that can be broadened out a study of human nature at large, rather than an intricate story of plot turns and exposition. And this is just one more layer, an extra turn of the screw. I really don't feel it hurts the pacing of the film, and I've never heard anyone argue that it should be left out because it was of sub-par quality. So, even though there's a risk of it being excess, and beyond the scope of Pasolini's preferred cut... since we'll never know, I'd rather have it in there as a more complete work. And if nothing else, it's an important piece of Salo's history now, so Criterion should've at least included it as a deleted scene, if not use branching to allow us to choose whether to watch it with or without the scene. Surely, nobody's best answer for how to deal with this scene would be to completely leave it out like it never existed.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors to consider when looking at the competing releases of this film.
BFI's 2001 DVD on top; their 2008 blu-ray second,
their 2008 DVD third and Criterion's 2011 blu-ray on bottom.
We start with BFI's old DVD (I haven't got the original Criterion DVD, because like I said, it was going for hundreds of dollars), which is soft, crushed, and non-anamorphic, as was Criterion's old DVD. I think it's fair to use the word "revelation" when describing the BFI's new HD master, taken from the original 35mm film elements. There's so much more detail and clarity. But scroll back up to that shot I posted of the scene missing from Criterion's releases. That's also taken from the 2008 blu, but it looks a bit different, flatter. That's because it's taken from a print - the same print that was used for the entirety of their 2001 DVD. So it's not a perfect match, but it's pretty close; and most viewers probably wouldn't notice the shift in quality if they weren't looking out for it.

But as huge of an improvement as it was, BFI's blu is far from perfect. There's some edge enhancement or unsharpen mask used on their version that gives it a dodgy, digital look. Criterion's blu, which is a fresher 2k scan of a 35mm interpositive, is a more natural improvement on that. It's still not perfect - are scans from Italian labs ever? - with some of that edge/ unsharpening effect still present, but it does seem a little milder, and its warmer color timing is a little more pleasing, too. Is it a big enough improvement to make it worth double-dipping if you already have the BFI blu? Does it make worth picking a cut of the film missing the mysterious scene? You'll have to make that call for yourself, but all things being equal, I'd say the Criterion has the best PQ, with both blu-rays being leagues ahead of the old DVDs.

BFI's set is also a combo-pack, by the way. So the second shot in the comparison sets is the standard def version of the 2008's blu-ray transfer. Naturally, it mirrors the blu but splotchier and a little softer. It's also worth noting that BFI's 2008 release, on both their DVD and blu, give you the option to play either the English or Italian version. This not only determines which audio track you hear, but plays an alternate set of opening credits written in whichever language you've selected. Criterion only includes the Italian version of the opening credits. Both discs offer excellent, mono audio tracks in both languages with optional English subtitles, with slightly different translations.
Oh boy, and the extras just complicate things further. None of the old DVDs have any, so that's simple enough, but the dueling blu-rays have a lot of different extras, with some overlap:
  • Ostia: The Death of Pasolini - A music video by a band called Coil, the only extra, besides the trailer, in HD in the BFI set, as everything else is on the bonus DVD, not the blu-ray.
  • Open Your Eyes - A vintage 21+ minute featurette full of on-set footage from the filming of Salo. Fans are gonna want this for sure.
  • Walking With Pasolini - Another 21+ minute featurette, where several experts, including Noam Chomsky, talk about Pasolini and his work.
  • Ostia - A short film from 1988 dramatizing Pasolini's death.
  • Ostia commentary - A commentary track on the short film by its director.
  • Whoever Tells the Truth Shall Die - A fairly well known, roughly hour long documentary on Pasolini and is work from 1981. It's previously been released as its own DVD, where it actually has an audio commentary.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Booklet - I mean, they're different, but both have substantial booklets.
  • Fade to Black - A 23+ minute featurette where filmmaker Mark Kermode talks about Pasolini's work and murder, with multiple interviews including Catherine Breillat and Bernardo Bertolucci.
  • Salo: Yesterday and Today - Kind of Criterion's version of Open Your Eyes, as it's a vintage doc with old interviews and on-set footage from the filming of Salo.
  • The End of Salo - An excellent 40 minute featurette on Salo comprised of interviews with the cast and crew, including uncredited writer Pupi Avati, on the making of the film.
  • Interview with Dante Ferretti - 11+ minutes with Salo's production designer.
  • Interview with Jean-Pierre Gorin - Over 27 minutes with one one of Pasolini's filmmaking peers from the 70s.
[red = BFI, blue = Criterion, purple = on both]
It's tough to say which set of extras is preferable. BFI has a little more, but some of it's oddball (like the music video) or in the case of Whoever Tells the Truth, previously available elsewhere. And since the separate release has its own commentary, you may still feel the need to pick up that disc anyway. Criterion has a lot of nice, new content and tends to focus a little more on Salo than just Pasolini in general. There's enough unique material to compel many collectors to get both releases, I'm sure; but there's overlap in doing that - not just in the fact that they both have Fade To Black, but some of the archival content gets redundant as well. Overall, BFI's set is more of a collection of interesting, pre-existing film that relates to Salo, whereas Criterion's is more like a fresh extras package created for Salo. So which of those two is more satisfying will probably come down to personal taste. Purists might fan the pre-existing films more legitimate, others will find Criterion's direct interviews more engaging. There are no easy choices with this flick, which I suppose is fitting.
In the end, both Salo blu-rays are pretty great, and clearly warrant upgrading from any of those old DVDs you might have. But both are also imperfect and rather unique. There's no definitive release here. I've laid it all out now so you can decide which release is for you... assuming this in many ways offensive and distasteful film is for you at all. We're talking about the actual Marquis de Sade, after all! But if it is, and you're the type of person to sometimes buy more than one edition of the same film, this might be one of those times.

Bigger Trouble In Little China From Arrow (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

Big Trouble In Little China since it first came out in 2001. Anytime John Carpenter does an audio commentary, you wanna pick it up, and Big Trouble is one of my favorite of his anyway. So it was a no-brainer. But I never really felt compelled to bump up to the blu-ray when that came out. Sure, if I ever get rich, I'd like to own every single DVD I own to blu-ray whenever possible. But times being what they are, I really need to be sold on a double-dip. A corrected transfer (i.e. a fullscreen movie finally released widescreen), a cut version uncut, or new all extras. So I held off. And I'm glad I did, because Arrow put out their own blu-ray in 2013, which did meet my upgrade terms.
I've had Fox's 2-disc set of

Update 3/4/16:
But with that said, I've just got my hands on a copy of the US blu-ray, too. So we can have a more thorough, well-rounded set of comparisons.
If you've never seen it, Big Trouble is as fun as its title suggests. It's sort of an Indiana Jones-style modern adventure story, but leaning a little heavier on parody thanks to Kurt Russell's character playing more of a posturing blowhard rather than a straightforward action hero. He winds up getting pulled into Little China's mystical underworld when his buddy and in many ways the film's real hero Dennis Dugan (the guy from Prince of Darkness) finds out his girlfriend was kidnapped. Following her trail, they immediately get caught int he middle of a gang war, which progresses from gun fight to a crazy kung-fu stunt show to the supernatural. From then on, the movie runs breathlessly from spectacle to spectacle, with lavish sets, beautiful cinematography by Dean Cundey, and dozens of great supporting characters.
Fox did a pretty great job with their DVD in 2001, which is part of the reason I was fine not upgrading. It had a great 2.33:1 transfer and some strong extras, including a bevy of deleted scenes and that commentary. Sure, there's always room to grow from SD, so I was confident any blu-ray release would be an upgrade. But when Fox released their blu in 2009, they didn't come up with any new features; and for a 2-disc set, the original release always felt pretty light (honestly, I think it all could've fit onto one disc just fine but they wanted to market a "2 Disc Special Edition"). So when Arrow came out with their version, including all new interviews to fill out the special edition, it was on my radar. And when Arrow had their summer sale the other month, it was in my collection.
Fox's 2002 DVD on top; Fox's 2009 blu middle; Arrow's 2013 blu bottom.
Reading the "About the Transfer" section in their booklet, Arrow basically just says they got their HD transfer from Fox. And that's fine, because even though I never bought their blu, it's not because I ever doubted their HD presentation. It's practically identical to the US blu, and comparing those to the DVD, they're nice upgrades. In the first set of shots, there's all kinds of compression artifacts and junk around those DVD lightning bolts (and everything else), which are nicely cleaned away on the blus. The framing is better, too. Now at 2.37:1, we get noticeably more information on both sides and even a teensy sliver on the bottom.
Fox's 2002 DVD left; Fox's 2009 blu middle; Arrow's 2013 blu right.
Zooming in on James Hong in the second set of shots, we really see how much the finer details have been softened away in the DVD. Now on the blus, we're finally down to the grain and a sharper, clearer image. You can actually, albeit barely, make out the whites of his eyes in the Arrow blu. Maybe not quite on the Fox blu... it's very close to the Arrow, but a hint softer. Maybe a touch more DNR was applied to their disc. But you really need to be zooming in to screenshots to even see the difference.

Arrow's blu also gives up an optional DTS-HD 5.1 mix or a solid, uncompressed 2.0 track. There's also a 5.1 isolated music track, and optional English subtitles. Fox's blu has both the 5.1 audio options, plus a bunch of foreign dubs; but Arrow added the 2.0.
I've gotta be fair to Fox, now; they did have some really good extras. The commentary by Carpenter, joined by star Kurt Russell, is a lot of fun, if a little self-indulgent (get ready to learn whose son is learning to play instruments, and whose just won a high school sports championship!). It's full of great info, as Carpenter's commentaries always are. And the deleted scenes are very thorough, including an extended ending, which I dunno... I kinda think they should've left in the picture. In fact, there's a lot of cut material, and we're sometimes even given the option to watch it from two different sources: 35mm workprint or videotape. There's also a good little interview with special effects man Richard Edlund, the original promotional featurette, and some odds and ends including trailers, TV spots, stills galleries, and Carpenter's music video for the theme song. It didn't quite feel like a "fully loaded" special edition, but all the content that was there was pretty great. And I'm talking about both their DVD and blu, which are identical in the special features department.
And I'm happy to report that Arrow ported everything over. The commentary, the vintage featurette, Richard Edlund... it's all here. They even kept both versions of the deleted scenes that came from workprint and videotape. And they've gone and added some great new interviews which really flesh this release out to a full edition. And, since so much time has passed since the original Fox extras, we get a little extra perspective on things as well. For example, I'm not sure Carpenter's attitudes towards working for a major studio is exactly the same now as it was then, and we're able to refer to his later work, like Ghosts of Mars and The Ward. So, specifically what we get are brand new, on camera interviews with Carpenter, Kurt Russell (who's a pretty impressive "get" for a cult label), Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco, and stuntman Jeff Imada. Arrow has also upgraded Fox's slim insert to an impressive booklet, which includes interviews with production designer John Lloyd and make-up effects artist Steve Johnson, and an essay by the author of The Films of John Carpenter. So it's another one of those rare cases where I actually bothered to read the book. Oh, and this release features reversible artwork, which I've used above, because I don't really get that mushroom cloud illustration they used for the other side.
So I absolutely recommend this release for anybody who wants this film on blu. As we've seen, it's a notable upgrade over the DVD, and the new extra features easily make this the preferable option compared to other the blu-ray, too. High marks all around. It's such a fun film, I can't image many film fans not being interested in it, but since it's been issued in so many countries, including the US, you may not've thought about importing. But maybe now you should, 'eh?

Lars von Trier's Kingdom: A Complicated History and Definitive Editions

Oh, boy. If you weren't collecting DVDs back in the early 2000s, you missed a lot of headache and over complication. Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (or Riget, originally) was and is one of the greatest, craziest television mini-series ever produced. It was released on a ton of different DVD editions in a ton of different countries, and they all had different things wrong with them, with each release fixing one or two issues, sometimes introducing another, and slowly inching our way to a respectable home edition. Forget double-dipping, we were quintuple-dipping! But we finally got there in the end.
There's really two Kingdoms, Kingdom I and Kingdom II, a trilogy that was never finished... due in large part to the passing of lead actor Ernst-Hugo Jaregard. The Kingdom was full of wild and wonderful characterizations, but Jaregard still managed to stand out as the greatest performance. But even without a perfectly satisfactory conclusion, The Kingdom is a hell of a ride. The "kingdom" of this story is a high-end Denmark hospital, which is not only haunted but staffed with such a colorful cast of characters, they manage to make the ghosts look pale by comparison. Captivating and endlessly entertaining, each Kingdom consisted of four, hour-long episodes... mostly.
Occasionally, the series was broken up into five episodes, depending on what country you ordered this from. And that's just one of the many screwy quirks that made the various DVD editions as almost as eccentric as the show itself. Unfortunately, I sold off a lot of my older copies as I upgraded them, so I can't present the ultimate library screenshot comparison. But it's really not that important, because so many of the older discs were so flawed and without lasting, redeeming qualities (meaning unique extras or something), there's really no reason to go back to them. Still, I did own them at one point, so I can briefly run down the deals for some of the important .

The first set of DVDs came from China. They were NTSC and had English subtitles, so they were the original go-to DVDs. Unfortunately, the subtitles were terrible. They had constant spelling errors, mis-translations, and would sometimes just go away, leaving entire monologues untranslated. They also cut two of Trier's closing monologues, where he would speak directly to the audience during the closing credits.

Then the PAL DVD came out from ICA Projects in the UK. That one I've actually still got, so we'll take a second look at it a little further down. But the basic story with this one is that it had better picture quality and subtitled Trier's monologues, plus it included Tranceformer, an excellent, hour-long documentary on Trier. BUT - and this is a big but - it's cut. Some sites report it as missing only a few seconds of graphic violence, but that's not true. It's missing a bunch of stuff, often completely innocuous material, which was probably just shaved for more commercial time. It's also the first release to edit the series into five episodes instead of four. And they only released The first Kingdom, so it left you hanging for Kingdom II anyway.

Seville released it next, in Canada. They still broke the show up into five episodes, but weren't missing all the footage the ICA Projects disc was. For a while, this was the best release. It had forced subtitles, no extras, and never got to Kingdom II. But at the time, you couldn't do better. Oh, and are you wondering how the show could have special monologues at the end of every episode, then be re-cut to include an extra episode and still somehow have a monologue for the end of each episode? They just repeated the closing from episode three on episode four and hoped nobody would notice it was the same thing twice. :/

Finally, in 2003, Triers' own company, Zentropa Films, did it right. And that's the edition we're going to focus on here. There have been subsequent releases: Koch in the USA and Madman in Australia, which essentially mirror the Zentropa release. And most recently, in 2011, Second Sight reissued it in the UK, with all of the features and qualities of the Zentropa disc, plus Tranceformer. Right on.
ICA Projects DVD top; Zentropa DVD bottom.
So, the first thing you might notice is that even though ICA fixed the horrendous subtitles of the old Chinese discs, Zentropa still wound up producing still alternate translations. Both discs are slightly windowboxed, non-anamorphic 1.41:1 transfers (specifically, they're non-anamorphic full-frame 3:4 with slight letterboxing to matting them further down). The Kingdom II, which is only available in the Zentropa set, is given a slightly taller 1:34.1 frame. The Kingdom was intentionally given a funky, grainy look, so it's never going to look anywhere near pristine, but improved picture of the ICA disc has been pretty well duplicated on the Zentropa disc. Image quality-wise, they're about the same, except ICA's has a lower contrast, less saturated and more washed out look.

ICA's subtitles are burnt in, but Zentropa's are optional, and they offer a plethora of language choice, including: Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Swedish and the English.
Extras-wise, the ICA disc just has the Tranceformer documentary, but it's pretty darn good, and it's not on the Zentropa disc. That's actually the reason I've held on my ICA DVDs while I sold my other old sets. The doc was also included on Criterion's DVD of Elements of Crime, however; so if you've got that there's no reason to bother with the ICA anymore. And, as I said, Second Sight included it on their 2011 release.

But Zentropa introduced a bevy of Kingdom-specific extras. First, Trier provides an audio commentary, along with co-writer Niels Vorsel and editor Molly Stensgard. They don't tackle the entire 8+ hours, but they do sections of each episode, which can be directly accessed from the Special Features menu. It's not in English, but there are English subtitles for the commentary audio. There's also a 25 minute Behind the Scenes featurette, a second 40 minute one entitled In Lars von Trier's Kingdom, a collection of "outrageous" television commercials directed by Trier and starring Jaregard, a music video for the show's main theme, bloopers from that music video, and a collection of trailers for Trier's other films.
The Kingdom is a fantastic series, and fortunately, the horrible state it was in on DVD has been corrected by Zentropa. The missing footage, broken subtitles, screwy-five episode format, etc were cleaned up in their 4-disc set, and all subsequent releases have used their improved set-up, down to the extras. So you could get the original 2003 Zentropa set from Denmark or any of the comparable ones from Koch, Madman or Second Sight, the last of which has the added bonus documentary, which is great if you don't already have it on another release. Just avoid anything from 2002 or earlier.