The Company of Wolves' European-Only Blu-Ray (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I'm a bit hot and cold when it comes to the films of Neil Jordan... I mean, the guy wrote a "woman has visions through the eyes of a serial killer" script in the nineties. But I love me some Company of Wolves. What a wild, fun, beautiful, creative meditation on the movie monster staple: the werewolf. Unfortunately, it's only available on a barebones, non-anamorphic, DVD from well over a decade ago. How could such a distinct and highly regarded film by a highly successful filmmaker be left in home video obscurity by a label called "Hen's Tooth Video?" I mean, this is a horror movie that was nominated for four BAFTAs; how often do you see that? What's it gonna take to get this film the respect it deserves? Oh wait, it has been treated right. There's a special edition blu-ray... only available in the UK.
If you haven't seen it, The Company of Wolves is kind of a mash-up of several werewolf stories. Heavy on the Little Red Riding Hood, the plot waves in and out through different werewolf tales, mostly in a sort of fairy-tale period setting. It's got a terrific cast including Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Terrance Stamp, Jordan regular Stephen Rea and the guy from Waiting for God. It's a perfect little storm of smart performances, stylish photography, lavish sets, and still delivering the gruesome goods for horror fans. Maybe the story's a bit confusing in the way it drifts dream-like from one situation to another, and there is the occasional moment of down-right abstract symbolism; but there's enough entertainment here for even the most art-phobic juvenile to let the medicine go down.
So yeah, you'd think every specialty label from Anchor Bay to Criterion would have had this film in their sites, but nope. Just the old Hen's Tooth DVD. But over in the UK, ITV maybe hasn't quite given it the ultimate Arrow boxed set with 3 discs and a 60-page book on a satin pillow. But they've managed to scare up a nice, HD transfer and the director's involvement in the extras department. And you really can't complain about any release that at least makes it that far.
US Hen's Tooth DVD on top; UK ITV blu-ray on the bottom.
I mentioned that the old DVD was non-anamorphic, so I left the black around it in the first shot to show how that looks on a widescreen TV. To be fair, though, the Hen's Tooth transfer wasn't too bad for an older DVD apart from that. At least it's widescreen. And in fact, the framing is pretty close: 1.73:1 compared to ITV's 1.78. It's missing a little picture on three sides: top, bottom and left, with a little extra on the right. Hen's Tooth DVD is also much more yellow, with ITV leaning red.
Unsurprisingly, when you get in close, ITV is much clearer and more detailed. I mean, the advantages were pretty unevenly stacked in the first place, so Hen's Tooth actually comes off looking like a respectably good effort for its time. But seriously, all non-anamorphic discs should be obsolete and replaced by 2015.

The blu-ray's audio isn't quite lossless, unfortunately; but it's still an okay 2.0 mix, actually pretty similar to the US DVD. And ITV gets the edge for also including optional English HoH subtitles.
Hen's Tooth DVD was basically extras-less, but they did at least manage to include two trailers (one of which is rather long, and must've been some kind of special one made for promoters or something) and a little photo gallery. The bare minimum at least. But ITV came to play, with an audio commentary by Neil Jordan himself. It's quite informative and engaging, and covers pretty much everything you'd hope he'd address. I was slightly disappointed to see they didn't include the trailer, but there's still no question who wins the special features award.
The Company of Wolves is a surprisingly great little werewolf film that's being a bit neglected. But while ITV's blu has room for improvement, it's a pretty decent catalog release. And it also has to be mentioned that ITV has more recently re-released their blu-ray as a steelbook combo pack with a DVD version as the second disc.  And they did include the trailer on that. So if you want to spend a little bit extra, that is the more definitive set. But the transfer and extras are otherwise the same, so the stand-alone blu-ray should be good enough for most viewers. But for goodness sake, replace that DVD.

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