Scalps! New, Limited Edition Blu From Retromedia (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Oh boy, Scalps. Several fond memories of late night sleepover rentals date back to the old, big box double-bill VHS tape of Slayer and Scalps. Slayer was super slow and boring, nothing happened until right up to the very end, which was admittedly cool. But it would always put at least half the camp to sleep. But if you stayed up past it, oh man, Scalps was the best! A crazy old Indian spirit sets upon a group of archaeology students excavating an ancient burial ground, possessing and scalping them left and right. It probably helped Scalps a lot that it had the perfect, standard-lowering lead in to make it look its best, but our local Blockbuster easily earned back the cost of buying that tape just from me and my friends taking it out year after year. And now, as a grown man in 2016, I just got the new, special limited edition blu-ray.
Admittedly, seeing it as an adult, its flaws are a bit more obvious. Hokey writing, atrocious acting. It's not kind of movie I could ever recommend to "normal" people. haha  Only if I knew they were deeply entrenched horror fans who were familiar with early 80s, low budget video fare. But if you are, I have to say, a lot of the film's effectiveness remains. It sounds like they're using stock library Indian drums, but it's still atmospheric as the characters hear the sound off in the distance around the lone campfire in the middle of the night. The special effects are cool, the pacing is strong, and the fact that the film pushes the line in terms of brutal mean-spiritedness. I haven't seen this film with a theatrical audience, but I imagine the girl hysterically insisting from very early on that, "we're all gonna DIE," gets a lot of laughs. But by the fourth or fifth vicious death, they've probably stopped laughing. Add to all that some ambitious animatronic visions and an inflated cameo by Forrest J. Ackerman, walking around with a copy of his Mr. Monsters book in-hand, and you've got a pretty neat little horror flick if you dig that sort of thing.
We're gonna diiiiiiie!!!
So director Fred Olen Ray put out a special 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition DVD through his own company, Retromedia in 2004. It had an audio commentary, lost footage restored and a widescreen transfer, so you can believe I was all over that! But it's an old, fairly out dated DVD by today's standards, ready for an upgrade. So I was just as ready to jump on this new 2016, limited edition blu-ray, also from Retromedia. So you bet, we're going to compare them both right now!
2004 DVD on top; 2016 blu-ray beneath.
So, two conflicting thoughts ran through my mind as soon as I started comparing these discs. Boy, this blu-ray doesn't look so great and boy, what an improvement it is over the DVD! I called the DVD out dated, and now you can see for yourself. It's non-anamorphic, it's interlaced. The brights are flared out. The blu-ray gives us a new 2k scan mostly from the original 35mm negative, giving us more detail, more natural colors... but it sure doesn't look 35mm quality, does it? Well, that's because this is a 16mm film blown up to 35. So it's awash in big, chunky grain. Plus, the cinematography itself is flawed, so some of the lack of detail is down to scenes in this film being literally out of focus.

The aspect ratio is also improved upon. The DVD has a 1.74:1 image floating in its giant, non-anamorphic windowbox. The blu-ray, meanwhile, slightly letterboxes its widescreen image to 1.85:1, giving the film a little more picture on both sides and along the top. It doesn't look like this has been DNR'd or otherwise adversely tampered with. You're not going to play this blu-ray on the showroom floor of your high-end fancy television storefront, but it's still leagues ahead of the DVD.
2004 DVD on top; 2016 blu-ray beneath.
Oh, and did I say this was "mostly" scanned from the original 35mm negative? Yeah, that's because some of the censored scenes had to be restored via tape sources. So it's a composite, and yes, those scenes are of lesser quality. This was the case on the DVD, too. So, yeah, the video-sourced scenes look worse than the rest of the movie, but they do look better here then on the DVD, and it's easier to tell what's going on in the darkness.
Another big improvement from the DVD to blu are the extras. Not that the DVD was too shabby. It's main feature was a very open and honest audio commentary by Fred Olen Ray and producer Lee Lankford. It's full of great info about the film, even if the filmmakers seem rather ashamed of their own film. But they're funny, have lots of memories and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and answer some of the questions you've probably been wondering since you first saw the film. But besides the commentary, there's not much else: just the trailer and a still gallery.

By the way, on the old commentary, Ray talks about how the distributors took the film after he sold it to them and re-edited it using their outtakes and extra footage. He mentioned he was thinking of recutting it the way it should be, but didn't have the original audio tracks to properly restore it. Well, just in case you were wondering (since I was), the blu-ray is the same cut with the extra lion-man footage and other stuff the director didn't like. I actually like that footage, so I don't mind; but yeah, it's the same version of the film. I guess you could call it the distributors' cut with restored gore.

Anyway, onto the blu, the first thing I noticed is the case says "New audio commentary track by Fred Olen Ray." And yes, this is an all new, completely different audio commentary from what was on the DVD. Certainly a lot of facts are repeated on both, but Ray has taken a whole new pass on the commentary, this time on his own. But then the blu-ray goes much further, starting with a great 20+ minute featurette called Remembering Scalps, featuring interviews with Richard Hench, Frank McDonald, his son Chris Olen Ray and of course Fred himself. Ray repeats a lot of anecdotes from the commentary verbatim, but once it gets to the actors, things pick up considerably and it's a pretty fun little retrospective.
Scalps II: non-anamorphic, just like the original DVD.
After that, there's a 20+ minute fan film by a guy named Dustin Ferguson in 2009. You may remember the closing credits of the original film ended with the gag: "Next Summer watch for SCALPS II THE RETURN OF D.J." Well, somebody made it. Scalps II is about what you'd expect from a homemade fan film, but it uses the original film's score and pays close homage to the original. And along those lines, there's also a clip from a 2004 unauthorized remake of Scalps called Blood Desert. It's just one minute-long scene re-enacting Scalps' first death, and feels like a more professional made effort. You probably won't be revisiting either after your first watch, but they're amusing to have on here as bonuses.

The only other extra on here is the trailer. The stills gallery stayed with the DVD, I guess.
This blu is limited to 2000 copies, and it's all region; so if you're interested, probably don't wait too long. Of course, the film's got another release pending in the UK from 88 Films. That's due sometime in April, and while I'd guess it's using the same transfer, extras haven't been finalized apart from a director's commentary, a booklet and the trailer. So that's a question mark on the horizon still. But regardless of what happens with that, this blu is a huge, very welcome improvement over the old DVD. If you've got it, double-dip, though maybe hang onto it still anyway just for the exclusive commentary track. At the moment, however, there's no question that Retromedia's blu-ray is the definitive version to own.

Kubrick Compliant: Eyes Wide Shut (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It occurred to me that if DVDExotica were ever to be audited, I'd come up 0% Kubrick. And then, I don't know if they'd come take me away or what, but I'm getting out ahead of any such eventuality with an in-depth look at his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. One of the reasons I chose this one is because, for the longest time, it was only available censored in the US, and if you wanted to see it uncut, you had to import a foreign region release. Fortunately, Warner Bros has since corrected that, and reissued it on both DVD and blu. And now I've got both versions here, ready to be scrutinized.
I didn't just pick it because of the censorship thing. Eyes Wide Shut has an interesting appeal for me. In some ways, it's his most delicate, human story, thanks probably to the source material (it's an adaptation of a 1920's Austrian novel called Dream Story). It's also fantastic and unnatural, elusive in how it's meaning isn't made explicitly clear. You don't even really know whether Tom Cruise's journey through the bulk of this film actually happened or was a dream. Although as a psychological exploration, that doesn't really matter much. Just like Nicole Kidman's infidelity, it emotionally affected her partner just as though it had happened, even though there's no question her story was anything but a dream. The characters and the audience feel the effects of experience regardless. And because it's Kubrick, it's a vivid, stirring experience... even if it's a bit tawdry and ridiculous on the surface. I'd say this is Stanley Kubrick's most exotic film.
So this 1999 film was a new released when it debuted on DVD in 2000 by Warner Bros. It was quickly repackaged in 2001 as part of The Stanly Kubrick Collection. As I say, it was cut, and you had to order a disc from... well, pretty much any other country, to get a copy of the film uncut. So what's missing from the cut film? Well, in terms of screen time, technically nothing. No shots were removed or trimmed. Instead, they opted for a more dubious, sneaky method of adding CGI characters to shots to basically block the camera's POV from the sex, Here, I'll show you.
Warner Bros 2001 censored DVD on top; Warner Bros's unrated blu-ray bottom.
This is just one example, there are multiple shots where multiple couples are blocked by multiple CGI characters in robes. This one particular example I've chosen is funny because not only do they add another hooded figure, but another naked woman on the couch in front of him, making the unseen sex going on in front of him in the R-rated cut decidedly kinkier than what we see taking place in the unrated version. Anyway, actually does a great job breaking down every single shot that's been tinkered with. But in short, all the blocking takes place in this one brief section of the film. Nothing else was changed throughout the movie.
So, right. That's the 2000/ 2001 DVD. Eventually, Warner Bros re-released it on DVD and blu in 2007. The DVD is a 2-disc set, with new extras added to the second disc, whereas it's all fit onto the one double-layer blu. This also gets us into the open matte widescreen debate that's heatedly followed all of Kubrick's DVD releases around, although it isn't really any different than with most any other film. Kubrick shot for a widescreen theatrical framing in mind, but also kept the rest of the frame in mind for future television/ home video screenings. So both are valid in their way, but especially with the switch to widescreen TVs, I think fullscreen ultimately lost out. This is evidenced by how the 2000 and 2001 DVDs are fullscreen, and the 2007 discs went wide.
WB 2001 DVD on top; WB 2007 DVD mid; WB 2007 blu bottom.
So yes, I guess I follow the mainstream majority in preferring the widescreen 1.78:1 theatrical framing. But it's nice to know that the 1.33:1 fullscreen version is available on the older discs for those who want it. It's a question of open/closed mattes, so the fullscreen actually has additional vertical information, and both have the same amount on the sides.

Transfer-wise, there isn't a huge deal of difference across any of these discs. If you look at the earlier set of shots I showed of the censorship, you'll notice the lamps have a purple discoloration on the 2001 DVD which is nicely corrected on the 2007 blu. And the HD blu is naturally a bit cleaner and better compressed. But all three discs look like they're taken from the same old master to me, and there's probably some serious room for improvement if someone were to take a fresh scan of the OCN today. Ultimately, sure the blu looks best, but I'd put this very low on the priority list of DVDs to upgrade.
Audio-wise, things have improved a little better.  The original DVD does have a 5.1 audio track, but that's it. No subs or anything. The 2007 DVD has the same 5.1 track, but adds optional English subs, plus other language options, specifically a 5.1 mix of the French dub, plus French and Spanish subs. The blu-ray goes a good bit farther, though, including the English and French 5.1 mixes, plus additional 5.1 dubs in Spanish, Japanese, German and Italian. But of more interest is its additional uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix of the audio track, giving us two English options for the first time. Plus, it has a whole host of subtitles options: English, English HoH, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish.

It's here that I should point out, too, that the 2007 DVD packaging lies. It reads on the back, "Selectable in Both Rated and - and for the First Time Ever in North America - Unrated Versions." But this is simply not true. The 2007 DVD only features the unrated version.  If you had to leave off one version, at least they went the right way. But still, you should know, it ain't true. You are never given the option to watch the R-rated cut, and I ripped the whole disc just to check: the censored version isn't even on the disc. Not that I can imagine any fan wanting to go back to the censored cut, but it would've been neat if they included the shots with the extra CGI people as a deleted scene, just for the novelty value.
They didn't include any deleted scenes, but they do have some decent supplements. Even the old DVD featured some superficial but still worthwhile on-camera interviews with Cruise, Kidman and Steven Speilberg, plus some trailers and TV spots.

Those are carried over to the 2007 discs, plus a bunch more. The main feature is a 3-part British television documentary called The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut. Really only one of the three parts focuses on Eyes Wide Shut, but it's all interesting for fans of Kubrick as it delves into the rest of his life and career. Then there's Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick, which is a 20+ minute featurette on some of his work that never got made, including a Napoleon biopic. And finally, there's a short clip of Kubrick's speech accepting a DGA award.
Warner Bros blu-ray is unarguably the best available edition of Eyes Wide Shut. And Eyes Wide Shut, in turn, is a compelling film that deserves a spot in your collection. It's just not a particularly impressive blu. It's almost tempting to suggest holding out for a better release down the road, but I don't imagine we'll see one anytime soon unless UHD discs wind up becoming popular. So this is the best we've got, and really, it's good. It sells for very cheap, too, so you really can't make a case against it. It could be better, but you wouldn't want to be caught without it, would you?

Better To Import: Melancholia, Plus Filmbyen (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Just about every Lars von Trier film will make for an interesting DVD comparison, since he tends to come out with so many varied editions all around the world. 2011's Melancholia is probably actually one of the tamer ones. But on the other hand, it's a great example of cases where it's better to import than settle for the domestic US release. It may not be one of the most extreme cases, but it's at least one of the most clear-cut. ...Or is it?
Melancholia stars the underrated Kristen Dunst as Justine, a newlywed bride who suffers from such crushing depression, it physically manifests itself as a giant planet on a collision course with the Earth, creating a looming deadline for the entire human race. Of course, Dunst isn't alone; she's supported by an excellent cast, including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, John Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland and Udo Kier. In fact, you could argue that Gainsbourg shares leading role duty, as halfway through the film, a title card appears, "Part Two: Claire," and the focus shifts to her character, Justine's sister. It's only really in this second half where everyone starts to acknowledge their impending doom, and the film becomes a terribly powerful and emotionally realistic, even while the central conceit is distinctly science fiction and metaphorical. Death is looming for us all, and we all have to decide how and why to go on with the finer details of our lives.
This movie is a real slow burn, and hopefully you're going in expecting a meditation on emotion rather than a sci-fi thriller. And even then it's not perfect; Trier seems to be showing off stylistically at points, at the expense of effective storytelling. For example, he makes references to other films (Solaris is one I spotted) that don't seem to serve much purpose but to wink at viewers who recognize it. It seems pretty widely accepted that the cinematography, performances and technique of this film are all top notch. But it's extremely divisive when it comes to relating to the story and characters. As a person deep in the throes of depression, Justine becomes very difficult to love, constantly making drastically selfish, destructive choices. You're either going to recognize that and relate or be frustrated to no end that you're being asked to identify with a lead character who's so conventionally and extremely unlikable. Just look how stringently those who reject this film do so - to me, that's a good indicator that a film is worth seeing.  heh heh
So, since Melancholia came out in 2011, it was a new release when it hit DVD and blu-ray, eliminating most of the transfer-related concerns we get with catalog titles. It's a safe bet the film will look and sound as it should on whichever release you pick up. It first arrived from Nordisk at the end of 2011, and reached the rest of the world, including the USA, Canada and France, in 2012. Since I couldn't wait, I got the Danish Nordisk blu; but it turns out it's better that I didn't wait, because the US version from Magnolia came up a little short. Actually, the UK's Artificial Eye disc would've been the best choice of all, but we'll get into all of that. I've got both the US DVD and blu-ray here, along with the Nordisk blu to compare. And then we'll get into the extras which really make all the difference.
Magnolia's 2012 DVD on top; Magnolia's 2012 blu middle; Nordisk's 2011 blu bottom.
So far, so good, right? The film's 2.35:1 framing is preserved identically on all three discs. Before buying it, I'd read a few reports that the Nordisk disc was 1080i and interlaced, but thankfully this wasn't the case. Both discs are dual-layered. Except for the DVD being softer and more compressed, as a standard definition image has to be, right? And both blus have lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio (even the DVD is 5.1), plus optional English subs. It's a tie. Oh but wait, there is one little thing. The Nordisk is a little brighter, with Magnolia's disc having the truer blacks. You probably wouldn't notice it just watching one disc after the other, but now that I've got them side by side like this, you spot it right away. It's not major, but it complicates things. Now we have to make a decision.
Because when it comes to extras, it's an easy choice to turn down the US disc. Not that it's barebones. Pretty much every release of Melancholia around the world features four short but interesting featurettes: About Melancholia, The Visual Style, About the Universe and VFX Featurette. The titles change slightly on different releases, but it's the same four. They feature interviews with Trier, Dunst and others, and they're all in the 5-11 minute range. They do feature clips from the film, but they're still a little deeper than your average promotional featurette, and therefore worth the watch.

Then the Magnolia disc has one unique extra: HDNet Look at Melancholia. This is a little five-minute piece, which viewed by itself is alright. But once you realize it's just made up of clips from the other four featurettes, re-edited into more of a promo piece, it's entirely skippable. That, the trailer, and a couple bonus trailers wrap up the Magnolia disc. Oh, and the DVD and blu feature the same extras, just to be clear.

Now Nordisk has all that stuff, plus one big additional feature... which actually, just about every international version has except the US disc, an audio commentary by Trier and film professor Peter Schepelern. And it's a really good track. Trier is very forthcoming and honest, even pointing out criticisms of his own work. And Schepelern mainly acts as a moderator, but has some good thoughts on the film from an outsider's perspective and isn't afraid to challenge Lars and disagree with him. Even knowledgeable fans will learn a lot. In fact, I found out I only caught about half the Solaris references - ha ha!

But now we come to the Artificial Eye blu, which I don't own, but have researched. First of all, it does have the truer blacks of the Magnolia disc (check out's review and see for yourself). And it also has all the all the extras of the US and Danish discs... plus more! Most notably, it has an almost hour long documentary called Filmbyen, named after and about Trier's film studio. Buuuut, if you're a really dedicated fan, there's actually a better way to see Filmbyen: it's own DVD from La Luna Productions.

Filmbyen, full-title: Filmbyen: La Nouvelle Mecque du Cinema? (The New Mecca of Cinema? in English), is a 2007 French documentary by Pablo Trehin-Marcot about the Filmbyen, the filmmaking city Lars co-owned with Peter Aalbek Jensen. It mostly consists of talking heads, as its DVD cover suggests, with Trier, Jensen and tons of the other filmmakers of all departments talking about the studio's history and what it's like making films there. One thing I was pleased to discover as I watched it is that it wasn't made in-house by Filmbyen's people as a promotional thing. I mean, it's hardly an indictment or condemnation, it's fairly enthusiastic and fawning, but it's still an objective documentary. It shows you around, there are some good anecdotes (and even full frontal nudity!) and it's pretty neat for fans interested in talking shop. Frankly however, casual viewers will probably find it boring.
This isn't just a standard def DVD, it's a film that was clearly shot on an old, standard definition camcorder, and despite being 1.68:1, given a non-anamorphic transfer to boot. It does not look impressive. However, it's presented in SD on the Artificial Eye blu-ray, too, because there's nothing more you can really do with this footage. But the DVD from La Luna comes with over an hour's worth of extras, which are unique to the DVD, and actually add quite a lot of value.

First up is Filming Filmbyen, the 'making of' for the documentary. It focuses primarily on a first-person interview with the director. The actual documentary gives us a much more detailed history and look at the workings of the studio, but this 'making of' actually gives us more of the feeling of actually being there, with more first person footage of the director exploring the various buildings. We also find out that, despite Trier being one of the talking heads of the film just like any other; he actually refused to give an interview for a long time, and getting him on camera was like a mini-Roger & Me situation. It also updates us on what happened to Filmbyen after the doc.
Yes, that's a real tank in their parking lot.
Then there's the complete, unedited interview with Lars. It offers us a few extra insights, and we see why Lars was reluctant to give the interview; he's really uncomfortable being unscripted on camera. And finally, there's another short film called One Day With Peter. Bits of this short are actually used in Filmbyen, but here it's its own distinct film, where the filmmaker follows Jensen around for an entire day, from him singing with his staff to sleeping in his private sauna. It's also full-screen, so at least there's not a problem with it being non-anamorphic.

None of those extras are on the Artificial Eye disc. So if you're interested, you have to buy the La Luna DVD. But, like I said, it's all pretty far down the rabbit hole... meaning most viewers who aren't deeply engrossed by extras could probably skip the whole thing. And the Artificial Eye disc does have one other set of extras - three short interviews with Trier, Dunst and Gainsbourg, extending the ones we saw in the previous featurettes - that none of the other discs have. They're very short, about five minutes each, and some of is repeating what we already heard, but still. More is better than less.
So ultimately, yes, even though I haven't got it, I'd say the Artificial Eye blu-ray from the UK is the best release of Melancholia. But the main thing you don't want to miss out on is the commentary, which is on the German, Danish, British... pretty much every country's blu except the USA. Personally, I'm content with my Nordisk/ La Luna DVD combo, even though AE's is admittedly even better (so long as you still also get the Filmbyen DVD, because those exclusive extras handily trump AE's exclusive extras), it's at least close enough. But if you only have the US disc, I would upgrade. I don't think that's close enough.

M.I.A.: Spirits of Jupiter a.k.a. Planet Gone Mad

Besides just focusing on the best or most collectible DVDs out there in the world, I'd like to start also occasionally focusing on the most lacking. Films that have little to no official release on DVD at all, the most wanted. Like, sure it's great when a company comes along and gives a movie that's already been released on DVD and blu dozens of times an even better release, with a nicer transfer or more extras. Those are still great. But what about the films that have only been released on shady grey market discs, only in the wrong aspect ratio, only on laserdisc, etc? The films really desperately in need of attention, I'm going to start listing under the Publisher list (the purple box midway down the left-hand column) as M.I.A. so you can find them. If anybody who does work or has influence with a label reads these, I hope you take them as a call to action.
The film today, in fact, doesn't have any kind of release. There is no DVD, grey market or otherwise. There's no laserdisc. Despite it being an all-American film, there doesn't even seem to have been a VHS release here in the states, just overseas. I'm talking about Spirits of Jupiter, a.k.a. Planet Gone Mad.
Spirits of Jupiter seems to have been shot in Colorado in 1984, and it's a fairly ambitious science-fiction themed horror story. A cool interstellar prologue tells us that, "Jupiter and Saturn join in the house of Aires. Eternal God, what changes! The great force will pass over the mountains; the great one hidden long in shadows will cool his sword in blood!" Whatever that means.

We meet Big Jim Drill, played by executive producer Rex Cutter, a silver mine owner who unofficially runs the surrounding town. He intimidates the local sheriff out of investigating the illegal immigrants in his employ by threatening to crash land his private airplane he's somehow got him up in, killing them both. Believe it or not, he's our hero. As soon as they land, they're told a couple of the locals have flipped their lids and taken hostages at the local bar. Jim talks them down, but the cops shoot them to death anyway. The long and the short of it is that the world's slowly going homicidally mad, a la George Romero's The Crazies.
Sporadic shots of the planets and news reports over the radio make it pretty clear that the planets are drifting into a new alignment, and that's what's driving everybody crazy. Only Jim and a handful of others seem to be immune, thanks to a midget named Nostradamus who gives them gold plates to put under their hats. This film presents a weird mix of the grim and silly as people go mad in increasingly violent and/ or wacky ways. We see harrowing mass executions as people are rounded up by the police, and we see scenes played for laughs, set to circus music, as one man argues with a tree ("I told you this would happen, didn't I?") or pretends to be a woman and flirt his way out of a speeding ticket.
Production values are surprisingly high on this one. A big variety of locations, heaps of extras, and extended chases on motorcycle, airplane, helicopter and horseback. Murder by forklift. It's got a couple of weird, original songs... the closing credits even mention an original soundtrack album being available from Finer Arts Records, which was a legit label at the time. There's a funky pop song called "Crazy" during the closing credits, and an even stranger disco song called "Spirits of Jupiter" that plays as Big Jim rides around the countryside on his horse after society has crumbled. The film's not exactly a high art masterpiece - it's talky, with some really stilted, unprofessional acting. But if you like crazy, oddball cult movies, there's all kinds of fun to be had here.
Writer and director Russell S. Kern has a couple other credits on the imdb, but none I've ever heard of, or which have much information about them available. I can't imagine they're as fun as Spirits of Jupiter, though this one got me curious enough to dig around looking.

All I have is a cruddy rip of a low quality VHS tape, but I'm pretty sure this movie was shot on film, very possibly even 35mm, so a DVD or even blu-ray restoration of this film could do a lot for it. Even a transfer from an old print would be an eye-opening experience for the few of us who've even seen this old video tape version. A couple of the actors, like Chopper Bernet, seem to still be working, so could probably be contacted for special features relatively easily. Even Nostradamus was later in the dubious Christmas horror film Elves and I'm sure would be a lot of fun to hear from. This would make an excellent discovery title for any of the cult labels from Code Red to Drafthouse, Arrow, Synapse, even Scream Factory. Somebody needs to take this one on!

The Ultimate Quatermass Conclusion? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Video Watchdog called Network's recent blu of Quatermass/ The Quatermass Conclusion his Favorite Restoration of the Year, saying they were, "the most radically improved digital restorations of the year." I was already anticipating this when Network started announcing their intentions to restore the series from the original 35mm elements, since previous DVDs were all apparently struck from a 16mm print made off the 35. Seeing it get top honors just made me more excited. And now I've got it, plus my old DVD set's still on hand as well. In fact, I'll be keeping it. But that's not a knock on Network's restoration, as you'll see. Let's just jump right into it.

Update 7/12/18: It always felt like there was a little hole in this article, because I talked a bit about the US DVD set, but never had a copy to give it proper coverage.  Now I've got my hands on a copy and was able to properly fill out this article.
The sequence of Quatermass series can be confusing for newcomers, not helped by the fact that so many have been remade and released more than once, and often with alternate titles. It all began with the BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, followed by Quatermass II in 1955. These were remade into feature films by Hammer as The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass II in 1955 and 1957. In the US, they were given alternate, non-Quatermass referencing titles (since Americans weren't familiar with the original series) The Creeping Unknown and Enemy from Space, respectively. A third BBC serial was made in 1958, called Quatermass and the Pit, which was adapted into a Hammer film in 1967, which was given the alternate US title of Five Million Years To Earth. Then, finally, came the last serial, simply titled Quatermass in 1979. It was not remade, but it was edited down to film length (in fact, it was written with having removable sections in mind) and released as The Quatermass Conclusion in the USA. That's a little anti-intuitive, as calling it The Quatermass Conclusion really only makes sense for the market that had been given the previous Quatermass installments, but I guess they figured the Americans had caught on to Nigel Kneale and his famous character by then.
Network's 2-blu-ray set gives us both the complete series and the shorter film version. They introduce us to an older, retired Quatermass, played by John Mills, who seems to have had the fight taken out of him. His rocket group is long out of his hands, and the world is seemingly falling apart, succumbing to extreme gang violence and an indifferent youth. He winds up getting pulled into science and saving the world one last time, though, when he befriends Joe Kapp (Falcon Crest's Simon MacCorkindale) and his rag-tag team of fellow scientists struggling to hold onto the last vestiges of humanity against a new, intergalactic menace.
This Quatermass gets a not entirely undeserved bad rap, I think mainly because the violent gangs in this series are dressed like a little like a high school musical production with big, colorful banners. Intellectually, the ideas are all solid - and even rather ingenious, as Kneale is wont to be - but you have to be able to look past your first reaction, which is that they all look quite silly. Production values are actually quite high, with scores of extras and impressive locations, but it seems like not everyone in the art department got the memo. The story also addresses the hippy movement, which was topical when Kneale first wrote the screenplay, but less so by the end of the 70s when the show was finally made. That's less of a problem really, though, because the writing is smart and universal enough that it can really be applied to any youth movement or rebellion of the status quo, and there's always one of those going on. It's like Quatermass and the Pit in that sense, suggesting that basic human qualities can actually be cleverly ascribed to a great science fiction concept. The cast is great, Kneale's writing again manages to bring in his expert use of character and smart ideas to birth humor, compelling drama, and true science fiction as social commentary. In fact, once you get over the superficial silliness, you find that the story is rather bleak and bitingly satirical.
I used to own The Quatermass Conclusion on VHS, and only knew the fuller version of the story thanks to the novelization, written by Kneale himself. So I was very excited when both the film and complete television mini-series was released on DVD by the UK's Clear Vision in 2003. A&E ported over a US version in 2005, and Umbrella released the Australian version. But Network's the first in 2015 to go bring it to HD, and from all new masters to boot.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD on top; CV's theatrical version DVD 2nd;
A&E's 2005 TV version DVD third; A&E's theatrical version DVD fourth;
Network's 2015 TV version blu fifth; Network's theatrical version blu bottom.
So, A&E is essentially a direct port of the Clear Vision; but interestingly, the aspect ratios for the film version are inconsistent between the DVDs and new blu transfer. The DVDs keep the film full-screen, looking essentially identical to its TV presentation. But Network mattes their Quatermass Conclusion to 1.78:1, presenting it widescreen. There's certainly enough empty vertical space to suggest they had this framing in mind while shooting, and Network's theatrical version even gains a little extra picture on the sides in the process (look at the flowery things on the girl's shoulder on the lower left). In fact, even their 1.33:1 TV version has a little extra picture on the sides, but not quite as much as their theatrical. That's because the DVDs' fullscreen transfers are actually a slightly slimmer 1.29:1. Color-wise, the DVDs' film version is much closer to Network's transfers, with their TV presentation looking distinctly redder.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD on top; A&E's 2005 TV version mid;
Network's 2015 TV version blu bottom.
Clear Vision's 2003 TV version DVD left; Network's 2015 TV version blu right.
Here's a set of only three shots, because it's a scene not in the film version, so we can focus on just the quality of the three transfers. The closer you look, the more remarkable the differences are. the DVDs are loaded with harsh edge enhancement and digital artifacts, though at least the UK disc isn't interlaced... That's more than we can say for A&E's port (you can see it in the previous set of shots), which clearly botched that up in the PAL > NTSC conversion.  So interestingly, the older DVDs are preferable to the newer ones; though of course the blu renders that distinction academic.  Looking at the background characters, we see Network's image is far more accurate and realistic. Even if you were to put Network's transfer on an SD DVD, it would be a much more lifelike image. The fact that it's also in HD on dual-layer discs with brand new 5.1 audio mixes is just like an extra bonus on top of that.
Nearly the year of the Sex Olympics already?
Extras have always been minimal but not nil when it comes to the final Quatermass. In addition to a nice 16-page booklet, the original Clear Video DVD featured a short but interesting interview with Nigel Kneale. He doesn't really talk about this Quatermass, the interview appears to be for a television broadcast of Quatermass and the Pit, but it's still a good clip of him talking about the character and his writing that was nice to have.

A&E dropped the interview in favor of an hour-long episode of In Search of History, a long running A&E series they've issued onto home video a few times already. The episode was about Stonehenge, which tangentially relates to Quatermass, but it's not like they ever mention it or anything. I'd equate it to Warner Bros' "special edition" of Poltergeist, which featured a television special about "real" poltergeists, although at least the history here was real and genuinely educational.
And unfortunately, Network also dropped the Kneale interview, which is the reason I'm hanging onto my Clear Video set. I really wish Network had kept it, just so I could clear the shelf-space, but oh well. Network hasn't really provided any extra special features, but they have included some extra little preservative elements from the show. Specifically they've got put in the episode recaps, the footage of the opening credits with the titles printed over it, music-only tracks of each episode, an image gallery and a mute trailer (the sound elements have been lost). They also include an even more substantial 36-page booklet. So overall, they haven't really provided any additional content to view, but materials that make for a more thorough restoration.

I suppose I should also point out that Network's blu-ray set is available in one of four, different color cases. As you can see, mine in purple, but there are also red, blue and green, each color matching the colors the original series coded each episode's opening graphics with. And Network has also created a 2-disc DVD version, for those who haven't made the jump to blu-ray yet.
So do I agree with Video Watchdog? Well, the most radical improvement of the whole year is a strong statement, but this is a pretty serious bump up that far outshines, say, your average MGM DVD slapped onto blu by Scream Factory. I believe I've covered more extreme improvements this year, as recently as Vampires Night Orgy. But this is definitely a distinct, bold and unexpected restoration that's absolutely worth upgrading to. This is *the* way to view Quatermass, and I'm very happy to see it. I support VW wholeheartedly in encouraging Network to do more work like this. The only thing that could have possibly made it any better would've been, oh I don't know... a vintage Nigel Kneale interview so we could toss our old DVDs?