Contemporary Cronenberg: Maps To the Stars, UK Vs. US Blu-Rays

The last couple of Cronenberg films have been interesting... Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis. Nothing I've necessarily felt compelled to add to my collection, but at least worth the initial watch. Maybe not fully back up to par with his heyday yet, but definitely rising up out of his slump. So I was pretty happy when I started watching his latest feature and realized, you know what? I think this is one I'm gonna have to buy the blu-ray for. But I'm glad I took my time, because it allowed me to research it, and find out the 2015 US edition isn't the one you want to get.

Update 3/18/17: Added the US DVD edition to flesh things out a little more.
Maps To the Stars is a little hard to pin down, and that will probably put off most mainstream viewers right there. It's a... ghost story? A parodic expose of Hollywood phonies? A psychological character study? Of course it's kinda all of those. But from reviews and comments I've read online, I think people are getting a little hung up on the trappings. It's a story that's set in Hollywood, and so naturally it's full of those elements. But I don't think it's meant to particularly be about Hollywood or movie stars. I think you could pick this story up, move it to a another location, and have the characters be involved in some other industry without damaging anything important. It's a dark crime drama, with a lot of the same DNA as a Bret Easton Ellis adaptation.
This isn't Ellis, though, it's a screenplay by novelist Bruce Wagner... Apparently it was one of those "unfilmable" screenplays that had been floating around the industry for decades, and it took a crazy filmmaker like David Cronenberg to finally take on the challenge. Of course, considering how this movie performed, the executives who'd put this off for so long all probably had the right idea. But as a viewer, I don't care about how much a film earns, I care about art. And this movie is definitely not without its flaws - some of the writing gets a little too arch and melodramatic, plus it's got one of the most unfortunate CGI effects I've seen in decades, during what's meant to be a very serious, climatic moment. But I daresay Cronenberg has made a really worthwhile film here, helped out by a fabulous cast, including Julianne Moore, John Cusack and relative unknown Evan Bird, smart photography, plus another excellent Howard Shore soundtrack.
So when I set about to order this film online, I was pretty disappointed to see the US blu-ray from Focus/ Universal was apparently barebones. Canada sometimes has Cronenberg's back, so I checked their release, but it was the same. But when I looked up the UK's? Hey, there's a special edition, with commentary, interviews and more! I wonder why only they got it? Oh well, I jumped on it and that's the edition I've got on my shelf. But for the sake of this review, I've got the US DVD and blu-ray releases sitting here on my desk, too. So let's have a comparison - it seems to be a little more interesting than you'd expect from a concurrent release of a brand new film.
Focus's US DVD top; their BD mid; Entertainment One's UK BD bottom.
The DVD is definitely compressed, soft and smudgy.  A little below par, I'd say, for a brand new DVD released at the same time as its blu-ray counterpart.  But between the two blus, picture quality seems to be a naturally even match, with both discs slightly letterboxing the image to 1.85:1. But wait! The framing isn't exactly identical, is it? No, in fact the US disc is slightly zoomed in, shaving off information on all four sides. That's a surprise I wasn't expecting to stumble upon when taking screen grabs of this US disc. Makes me even more glad I own the UK one. Both are dual-layered discs with 1080p and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (the DVD, of course, is lossy) with optional English HOH subtitles (the US disc also offers Spanish and French subs).
Of course, there's another factor differentiating the discs: extras! The US, as I said, has none. Well, apart from two bonus trailers for other films (including 50 Shades of Grey, ooh la la) that auto-play on start-up. But the UK disc has plenty. The main one is an audio commentary by Wagner. I was surprised, and a little disappointed, not to get a Cronenberg track; but I'm always glad to see a writer commentary, since they seem to be the most neglected, yet key contributor when it comes to special features. And it's quite interesting; he has a lot to say and keeps it moving and informative the entire time. Then there's a series of nine interviews, which are all pretty short and feel somewhat promotional, but they're still good to have. A few of them are genuinely illuminating, and we finally to get to hear from Cronenberg, for at least 6 minutes here. Finally, there are two little featurettes which are essentially trailers with snippets of additional interviews mixed in. I'm surprised the US release didn't at least have these, but nope. Oh, and there are a couple more bonus trailers stuck on as well.
So, this movie definitely isn't for everyone. It's nihilistic with deliberately unlikable characters, and a lot of ambiguous elements (it's funny, in the extras, you'll hear how Cronenberg and Wagner have very different ideas about the ghosts). But I do recommend it if you fit into its rather specific demographic. If you don't, and you're still waiting for the return of Videodrome-level Cronenberg, he isn't there yet, but if keeps on this trajectory, we might soon have a Cronenberg film all of us can agree on.

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