Let's Get Brain Damage! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Basket Case is a weird, sort of independent horror classic, and most of his films are pretty fun.  But Brain Damage is my favorite Frank Henenlotter film.  And believe it or not, Arrow's new blu is its first time being released in HD.  But the old Synapse DVD was already pretty sweet (though its shiny silver cover doesn't scan so well, as you can unfortunately see above), so is this an essential upgrade or a "what I've got is already good enough" situation?
Brain Damage is a simple and fairly obvious story in a way.  A young man finds a small creature able to grant him on-demand elation and beautiful visions.  And it all it wants in return is for it to feed him human brains.  The drug allegory is obvious to the point of heavy-handedness, especially as our protagonist starts to develop withdrawal symptoms when he resists the creature's temptations.  But it's just so effectively and charmingly told.  Henenlotter caters to the cheap seats as much as ever here: in this film's most famous scene, a hooker goes to give a man a blowjob, but when she unzips his fly, a phallic monster pops out and chokes her to death.  But seeing Henenlotter's work on 35mm for a change, paired with the eye-candy hallucinations and a cool soundtrack, gives this film a real attraction.  And having TV's coolest ghoul Zacherley cleverly voice Elmer, cinema's most disgusting worm creature (sorry, Poltergeist 2), makes the movie downright delightful.
So Synapse released this all the way back in 1999, and it was a decent little DVD for its time, but quickly called out for an upgrade.  It wasn't even anamorphic.  So in 2003, they reissued it as a limited edition "1080P 24FPS HIGH DEFINITION D5 PREMASTERING" release.  It was still a regular DVD, though; so was compressed to SD, but it was using a high def master... essentially just like the DVDs that combo in blu-ray combo packs.  Anyway, it was certainly anamorphic and rendered the 1999 disc obsolete.  But now Arrow has come around to give us an actual blu-ray version.  And it's a combo-pack, so we can see if that Syanpse DVD really stands up.
2003 Synapse DVD top; 2017 Arrow DVD mid; 2017 Arrow blu bottom.
So yeah, it's clearly the same master, even including that little vertical line that runs through so much of the picture, and Synapse's 14 year-old DVD really holds up.  In fact, I think it's a teensy bit stronger than Arrow's DVD, which comes off a bit softer on detail.  But of course, the new blu is the strongest and clearest of all, being in true HD.  But it's far from a massive leap.  Unless you only have the 1999 DVD, in which case you'll definitely want to replace that.  But otherwise, it's just your minimal step forward from SD to HD.  That's not a knock on the blu, though, so much as it's praise for the old DVD, which already had a pretty cutting edge HD master for its day.  Though you'll notice that Arrow has hard matted the film from the 1.78:1 on the Synapse disc to 1.85:1 on Arrow.

And since I've seen the question raised online, I'll just add that the running time is eighty-five and a half minutes on both releases, and there's no difference at all in the content of the film between Synapse and Arrow.  I checked.

Also, when Synapse reissued Brain Damage, they added a new 5.1 mix (in addition to, not instead of, the original mono).  Well, Arrow's now carried both of those over (in DTS-HD and LPCM, respectively) and also added optional English subtitles.  So top scores there.
So Arrow's done a fine release, but if you've already got that Synapse limited edition, the real star is going to be the extras.  Syanpse had a couple nice features, most notably an audio commentary by Henenlotter, along with the author of the Brain Damage novelization(!) Bob Martin and indie filmmaker Scooter McCrae.   It also had an isolated music track, the trailer, and a fold-out insert with McCrae.  So, not bad, but Arrow turned it into a real special edition.

They've got an all new commentary by Henenlotter, with a moderator who he calls Mike Hunchback, a terrific hour-long documentary, an enthusiastic on-camera interview with effects artist Gabe Bartalos, a brief but interesting talk with assistant editor Karen Ogle, a fun featurette exploring the filming locations of Brain Damage, an interview with the stop motion artist Al Magliochetti, a 20-minute Q&A with Hennenlotter, a cute stop-motion animated short film featuring Zacherley, several Brain Damage-related songs (I don't fully know what the deal is with those; they're silly but not my kind of thing), the isolated score, several stills galleries, and the trailer.  What you should notice, though, is that it doesn't include the original audio commentary from the Synapse DVD; and while Henenlotter covers a lot of the same ground, of course, in his new one; it doesn't include Bob Martin, so fans might want to hang onto their old DVDs.  Arrow's blu does come in a nice slip cover and include a 32-page booklet with a lot of art and some liner notes by Fangoria veteran Michael Gingold, as well as reversible artwork.  Oh, and if you ordered this from Diabolik, you also got an enamel pin of Elmer.
So Arrow delivered a strong, first class release for Brain Damage.  But how imperative it is to upgrade will depend largely on whether you're an extras guy or not.  Because otherwise, Synapse's DVD holds up perfectly well (again, assuming you have the limited edition, not the original "Special Edition," which you should absolutely replace immediately).  But the extras are great and very well-rounded, with all the interviewees striking that ideal balance between entertaining and informative.  If you're on the fence about this one, I can confidently say you'll be happy with Arrow's release.

The Squid and the Whale, Finally From Criterion (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

I couldn't wait for this release to come out since Criterion first hinted at it in their newsletter.  And it was an especially long wait, because it was one of their New Years drawings, which can take a couple of years, as opposed to their usual hints, which usually come true in 2-3 months.  So I was really raring to go.  But when specs were finally announced and I read that they weren't carrying over the DVD extras, I lost some steam.  Then, when I read some early reviews suggesting that because this film was shot on 16mm it didn't really benefit from the HD upgrade, I climbed up on the fence and held off double-dipping.  But I'm glad I finally hopped off, because this is a first class release all around.
The Squid and the Whale is my favorite Noah Baumbach film.  His previous films were great (yes, I will defend Highball), but with this film he finds an added level of maturity, which he's maintained in his subsequent work, and a keen insight that may be stronger here than anywhere else.  In a way, it's well trod ground of two young brothers, including a young Jesse Eisenberg, coming of age.  But it's real strength comes from the brilliant, semi-biographical character of his father, played by Jeff Daniels.  Daniels has always been a terrific actor (Terms of Endearment, and great comedy roles like The Purple Rose of Cairo and There Goes the Neighborhood), but I don't think the world ever quite saw what he or Baumbach were truly capable of until this film.  It's a perfect merger of writing and performance, zeroing in on a real human life in a way very few films in history have ever managed.  We actually caught a glimpse of him before, in Kicking and Screaming, played by Elliot Gould; but here he's really fleshed out and brought to life.  It helps that Laura Linney strikes the perfect balance as a counterweight to all of his energies, and really his whole world billows out around him thanks again to Baumbach's writing (this script was nominated for an Oscar) and a strong supporting cast, including William Baldwin and Anna Paquin.
Sony originally put this film out on DVD as a new release in 2006, and it was a pretty strong disc.  Anamorphic widescreen, nice selection of extras.  But when it came time time to graduate to HD in 2012, all we got was a crummy Mill Creek double feature, where the same old master, with obvious tampering in post, was slapped on double disc along with Running With Scissors, shorn of its extras.  But thankfully, in 2016, Criterion finally came through to do the film justice.  And have they?
2006 Sony DVD on top, and 2016 Criterion blu below.
2006 Sony DVD left, and 2016 Criterion blu right.
So yeah, some very nice improvements here.  Criterion has done an all new 4k scan of the original negatives, and like I mentioned in the intro, there was some concern that 4k might not do all that much for a 16mm film.  Like, it wouldn't be one of those nice examples where signs in the background and text that was unclear would suddenly become readable... but as you see in the close-up above, that's exactly what happened here.  Sure, it's grainy, but actual image has been recovered as well.  The colors are a lot richer, too.  That tennis court and Owen Kline both look like they're fading away on the DVD.  You'll also notice that the DVD was slightly window-boxed (again, think old television overscan areas), which has been fixed on the blu, turning a strange 1.81:1 ratio to a proper 1.85, essentially revealing what's hidden under those vertical bars.

Sony gave us a solid 5.1 mix, plus optional English subtitles, and several language options (alternate English CC subs, French subs, and a French 5.1 dub track).  Criterion keeps it strictly English (sorry, overseas importers), but gives us a remastered 5.1 track in DTS-HD and optional English HoH subs.
So I was 100% relieved about the picture restoration, but here's where I still get a little grumpy.  Sony came up with some great special features for this release.  There's a photo gallery/ audio commentary by Baumbach where, because he says he doesn't feel comfortable completely analyzing the entire film, he talks for just over an hour over a series of film stills.  It's really insightful, and I have to admit, I don't miss him trying to stretch with "um"s and "ahs" just to meet the film's running time.  There's also a substantial (well over half an hour) film festival Q&A with Baumbach, the promotional 'making of' featurette, a crap-ton of bonus trailers (11), and a multi-page insert with the film's original LA Times review, and an article on the film from The New Yorker.
Well, Criterion carried over the vintage featurette, but that's it.  So holding onto the original DVD (or picking it up if you don't have it already) is unfortunately pretty essential for any serious fan.  On the other hand, Criterion did come up with some pretty terrific new extras of their own.  There's a new, on-camera interview with Baumbach that runs over 25 minutes, an all-too brief (under 8 minutes) interview with Jeff Daniels, a featurette interviewing Eisenberg, Kline and Linney, some original audition footage, and a short piece on the film's score, with Baumbach talking to composers Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips.  Oh, plus the trailer, which I'm surprised Sony forgot, and a substantial, 38-page booklet featuring an essay by Kent Jones and another Baumbach interview.
So, look.  I can't complain about anything Criterion gave us, it's all great.  A killer new transfer that exceeds expectations, souped up audio, and some terrific new special features that bring in the voices of a lot of key players left out of the DVD.  This is a must-have release of a must-have film.  It's just frustrating that this could've felt truly definitive if they'd've just licensed the Sony extras, too.  We should be able to chuck our DVDs at this point.  But oh well.  Don't make the same mistake I did and let it put you off upgrading.  Criterion's blu-ray definitely belongs on everyone's shelves.

You Can Count On Manchester By the Sea (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here at DVDExotica, we appreciate all kinds of movies, even those you don't have to hide from your parents and children.  Sure, usually I'm a wild-haired film snob waving his finger at the television screen shouting, "you're giving 'Best Picture' to that pandering piece of dumbed-down Hollywood pap?"  But sometimes I do stumble onto a film simply because it's been nominated and come out saying to myself, wow, that really was an excellent movie.  And here are two such examples, 2000's You Can Count On Me and this year's Manchester By the Sea, both by writer/ director Kenneth Lonergan.  In fact, I think I may've spotted a subtle similarity in their stories.
You Can Count On Me stars Mark Ruffalo as a thirty-something, orphaned drifter, getting into bar fights and doing odd jobs to barely scrape by with no anchor or goal in life.  Following a death in the family, he returns home to the small town he grew up in, where he's widely known as an infamous trouble-maker.  At first he maintains a civil distance, but as they're staying together, he's pressured into reconnecting with his nephew who grew up with only one parent.  He winds up taking his nephew to see the father he'd never known, and it goes disastrously.  Still, it turns out to be a necessary growing experience for the boy, they ultimately wind up bonding and we see the strength of the drifter's character hidden by all the flaws he wears on his sleeve.  Though he ultimately [SPOILER technically, but not really, because it's clear this is the direction the story was always headed in.  Like, don't worry; this won't ruin the movie for you if you haven't seen it] leaves the town and his nephew behind to return to the seemingly empty life he left behind despite being pleaded with to stay and live in their hometown, we know they'll see each other again, because they've grown together into a genuine, loving family.  The supporting cast includes Matthew Broderick in a terrific, stuffy but scene-stealing comic role and Lonergan himself in an amusing and well-played bit part.
Manchester By the Sea stars Casey Affleck as a thirty-something, orphaned drifter, getting into bar fights and doing odd jobs to barely scrape by with no anchor or goal in life.  Following a death in the family, he returns home to the small town he grew up in, where he's widely known as an infamous trouble-maker.  At first he maintains a civil distance, but as they're staying together, he's pressured into reconnecting with his nephew who grew up with only one parent.  He winds up taking his nephew to see the mother he'd never known, and it goes disastrously.  Still, it turns out to be a necessary growing experience for the boy, they ultimately wind up bonding and we see the strength of the drifter's character hidden by all the flaws he wears on his sleeve.  Though he ultimately [SPOILER technically, but not really, because it's clear this is the direction the story was always headed in.  Like, don't worry; this won't ruin the movie for you if you haven't seen it] leaves the town and his nephew behind to return to the seemingly empty life he left behind despite being pleaded with to stay and live in their hometown, we know they'll see each other again, because they've grown together into a genuine, loving family.  The supporting cast includes Matthew Broderick in a terrific, stuffy but scene-stealing comic role and Lonergan himself in an amusing and well-played bit part.
Look, I'm not criticizing either film by playing up their similarities.  And obviously they're not strictly identical.  You Can Count On Me also co-stars Laura Linney as the nephew's mother, whose subplot is almost as important as Ruffalo's.  And the nephew character is now an older teen with more adult concerns, excellently played by Lucas Hedges, in Manchester By the SeaManchester also delves deep into the drifter's backstory, which is only touched on in exposition in You Can Count On Me, unveiling a deeper tragedy.  They have unique scenes of humor and drama.  I actually think it's a compelling return to the first film's themes by Lonergan, and the two films actually play even stronger together than as separate, unconnected works.  Both deserved their Academy Award nods more than most of their peers, and I highly recommend the pair, especially if you've seen and enjoyed one, but not yet caught the other.
It seems crazy that You Can Count On Me has not been released on blu-ray, not even to coincide with the recent release of Manchester By the Sea.  But at least the 2001 DVD from Paramount is widescreen and has some decent special features.  The exact same thing can be said for Lions Gate's 2017 Manchester By the Sea release, except they did also release a blu-ray version.  In fact, it's a combo-pack, so we can compare the DVD and blu.
Paramount's You Can Count On Me DVD isn't bad for being so old, at least it's anamorphic and uninterlaced.  It's framed at a slightly off 1.77:1, with a slight pillarbox bar on the right-hand side, that was probably hidden in its day by TV overscan area.  It looks soft and murky by today's standards and sure could use a nice boost to HD.  The reflection on that lake looks pretty jittery in motion.  It includes the option of a 5.1 mix or a 2.0 stereo track, both in Dolby, with optional English subtitles.  Again, perfectly fine for 2001; it's just past its sell-by date at this point.
2017 Lions Gate DVD on top, and their blu-ray on the bottom.
blu-ray left; DVD right.
In comparison, Manchester By the Sea looks so much clearer and more vibrant.  Seeing the shots on the same page like this really illustrates how much You Can Count On Me could use a new release.  But, anyway, taken on its own terms, Manchester's blu is a pretty sharp; even its DVD counterpart looks almost as good.  But of course, when you get in close, you see all the texture that's lost in SD (was fake film grain added to this movie?).  Lions Gate letterboxes it to 1.85:1, and gives us a 5.1 mix in DTS-HD, with an additional Spanish dub and optional English and Spanish subtitles.
You Can Count On Me isn't exactly a packed special edition, but it has a small, somewhat satisfying selection of extras.  The main asset is an audio commentary by Lonergan, who's a good guide through his work.  There's also a brief featurette, which talks to Lonergan and the cast.  It's short, but not overloaded with clips from the film, making it a bit more filling than many of its ilk.  There's also the film's trailer, some bonus trailers and an insert.
And the situation is almost the same in Manchester.  Lonergan's back with another audio commentary, which is about as good as the first, though frustratingly he never once mentions You Can Count On Me; suggesting this story was completely invented on its own by Matt Damon and himself, with no connection to any previous work.  Okay.  There's a similar featurette, as well, which gets some nice quotes from the cast and takes a look at the filming location, again without getting bogged down in promotional clips.  This time we also get three deleted scenes, and again some bonus trailers. There's no insert (except for one of those digital download code sheets), but it does come in a slipcover.  In fact, if you're a collector, you should know there are actually two alternate slipcovers out there.  The one I have pictured above, and a newer repressing that swaps out the Golden Globes banner with one touting its Academy Awards instead.
So yeah, I heartily recommend both films; the Academy got it right in these cases.  So if you haven't yet, definitely pick up Manchester By the Sea.  And I don't know.  Maybe if we hold a candle light vigil or something, we can get a nice 4k scan of You Can Count On Me from Criterion or somebody?

The Incomparable Altered States (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's another Ken Russell oddity.  In fact, it may go down in the history books as Ken Russell's most famously weird film, but I don't think it's quite that.  It's certainly trippy, literally, and filled with strange science fiction notions.  But it's based on a novel by Paddy Chayefsky, and this material takes great pains to convince you that the sci-fi you see in this film is entirely possible, if not the author's genuine beliefs.  Sure, it's an excuse for the director of the far-out imagery of Tommy to depict drug-induced hallucinations and other craziness, bur at the end of the day, it doesn't feel as unpredictably crazy and unhinged as Lisztomania or The Fall of the Louse of Usher.  Russell's actually quite grounded here.  But still, if you want some heady, serious yet mind-bending science fiction, this one still holds up better than most of what we get today.
William Hurt lends a lot of credibility to his role as a university researcher determined to pierce the mysteries of the human consciousness.  In classic Hollywood fashion, he experiments on himself, with sensory deprivation tanks and hallucinogenic drugs, attempting to unlock the hidden chambers of the brain and access a collective memory or an "original self."  It's all well and good, until he finds it's not something one can just pop in and out of, and he starts to become a danger to his family and coworkers (Drew Barrymore, the great Bob Balaban, television's Molly Dodd Blair Brown and John Larroquette) as his body begins to follow his mind and he physically devolves. 
Did I mention that Hurt lends a lot of credibility to this film?  Because boy does he.  There's a lot of weight on his shoulders.  I enjoy this film because it's smart, and it's a treat when Russell finally gets to cut loose with his visual depictions of drug-induced visions.  But it never really crosses the line for me into becoming a great film, because it fails to pay off it's heady set-up.  You feel like you're being led to some kind of ingenious, thrilling spectacle, but instead just wind up in typical, B-movie mad-scientist-on-the-loose territory, a la Bela Lugosi's The Ape Man or Kevin Bacon's Hollow Man.  It's got terrific production values, some strong moments and the actors keeps your eyes on the screen the entire time.  But the conclusion's pretty pedestrian.
Still, for being such a highly regarded and famous science fiction film, it sure has an underwhelming history on home video.  Warner Bros originally released it on DVD in 2000 as a flipper disc in a crapper snapper case.  And then they released it as a barebones blu in 2012.  You know, when Warner Bros doesn't want to prioritize something, they can keep a film's home video life pretty bland.  Oh well, let's at least see how the film looks.
2000 DVD widescreen side on top; fullscreen side mid; 2012 blu-ray bottom.
Sigh...  The DVD, at least, looks pretty good for being so old.  It's anamorphic widescreen, not interlaced.  Both widescreen versions are 1.78:1, because of course they chose "no black bars" to a more accurate 1.85:1, and the fullscreen version is naturally 1.33:1, opening up some of the top and bottom while chopping off some of the left and right.  Obviously that version's for curiosity seekers only.  At least they've cleaned up some of the damage from the DVD's footage (look at the scratches and dirt on the mushroom cloud), but they seem to have scrubbed away fine detail in the process.  At first I thought the DVD might actually be more detailed than the blu, but no.  Taking a closer look (check out the grate on the top left of the inner chamber in the second set of shots), the blu pulls out a little more, and it's certainly safe from the compression smudges and edge enhancement of an old standard def transfer.  But it's certainly not a 5-star transfer.  I also suspect the saturation might've been a little artificially boosted, too.

So the DVD gave us a 5.1 audio track (yeah, even back in 2000), plus a French dub, with English and French subtitles.  The blu replaces the French dub with a Spanish one and gives us the 5.1 English in DTS-HD, plus English, French and Spanish subs.  So not bad, but the original audio really would've been nice.
So yeah, everything's pretty barebones.  The DVD has a trailer and 2 TV spots, plus some bonus trailers.  What's fun, at least, is that even the trailers are wide on the widescreen side and fullscreen on the reverse.  The blu-ray doesn't even keep the TV spots, having just the trailer.  It kills me that there's never been even a halfway special edition for Altered States.  There's so much to talk about from the special effects to the novel.  This is one of those films where the story behind it seems as fascinating as the film itself.  They could've had the film's stars talk about how they got their start here.  And it kills me that they never brought in Ken Russell while he was still alive.  For a long time there, Russell was recording commentaries for everything from Lair Of the White Worm to Salome's Last Dance, but Warner Bros couldn't get him for Altered frikken' States?  That's just neglect.
So do I recommend Warner's blu of Altered States?  Sure, I guess, in lieu of anything else.  But it's certainly a low priority upgrade if you've got the DVD.  It feels like the only reason we have a blu-ray of this film at all is because it's too big not to, but it feels like a big ol' missed opportunity to me.

Oh, but before I leave you, I just wanted to let you know that I've been spending the last couple of days updating some more older posts with additional comparisons.  So if you're interested in any of the following films, check out their pages; they're better than before: Exotica, I Eat Your Skin, Tommy, Mulholland Drive (yes, again), Mistress America, While We're Young, Night Of the Creeps, Creepshow 2 and Young Frankenstein.  Woot!

Ian McKellen's Re-Revamped Richard III

Maybe it's not entirely proper to call the 1995 film of Richard III, "Ian McKellen's Richard III," since it was actually directed by Richard Loncraine. But besides starring as our titular Richard, McKellen does share a producer and writing credit (along with Loncraine) for this particular adaptation, so it's hard not to think of him as the driving force behind this film. But maybe that's just the influence of the story itself, William Shakespeare's famous play where the villain breaks the fourth wall and guides you by the hand through his fiendish plot. At any rate, it shows McKellen has surely succeeded in capturing the role in that we now often picture him when we think of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. And BFI's smashing new edition is only going to further cement that.

Update 5/7/12: To really do this comparison right, we've got to bring in the US blu-ray from Twilight Time, right? Right! DVDExotica needs more Twilight Time anyway.
I guess there are a couple things to know before going into this particular Richard III. First, thankfully, it keeps the original language. This isn't one of those updated Shakespeare films where they modernize the dialogue to "Hey, where's Hamlet." "He's over by that grave." "Super, thanks."  So why do McKellen and Loncraine get writing credits? Well, because it's not 100% of the complete original play being filmed here. It's abridged by, oh, almost half? Alterations have been made. So, if you're looking for a definitively faithful presentation of Shakespeare's Richard III, original language or not, you can do better. And finally, this 1995 version is part of a surprisingly long tradition of transposing Shakespeare's play into alternate timelines and settings. Here, we stay in London, but into a weird sort of alternate timeline where it's a Nazi government in the 1930s. It takes a bit of clever contrivance to make the famous "my kingdom for a horse" line now apply to a military jeep. But, given Shakespeare's cavalier attitude towards the real history of King Richard III in his work, it's hard to hold a little artistic license against the filmmakers here.
But if you're in the market for a good telling of the tale, you're going to love this film. It may not quite dethrone my personal favorite Richard III film (Olivier's, which by the way, is far from perfectly faithful itself), but it does deliver some strong elements that one does not; and it's certainly different enough that there's room in our collections for both. What has this film got? Production values! Beautiful photography, lavish costumes, a cavalcade of delicious murders, stunning locations and epic war scenes with tons of extras, explosions and people running around on fire. And most importantly, it's got great actors delivering brilliant speeches from perhaps Shakespeare's most entertaining story. McKellen was born to deliver Shakespeare (if you haven't, be sure to see his 1990 Othello and especially his 1979 Macbeth with Judi Dench), and he's far from alone. This film has a terrific supporting cast including Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Smith, Blackadder's own Tim McInnerny, Annette Bening and Nigel Hawthorne. If that's not enough to get you to want to watch this movie, what if I told you McKellen drives a tank through an occupied castle? This movie is everything for all people!
So Richard III debuted on DVD from MGM in 2000. It was a pretty no frills flipper disc, with a widescreen presentation on one side, and full-screen on the other. It came out only a few months later in the UK from Pathe, which was also pretty light on features. Finally, in 2015, Twilight Time released it on blu-ray for the first time. But now BFI has topped them with their new blu-ray/ DVD combo pack with a brand new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative, for the first time, a noteworthy collection of special features! Well, I've got both the old DVDs, and the new BFI set, so prepare to see Richard III in many different aspect ratios:
1) MGM wide 2) MGM full 3) Pathe 4) Twilight Time 5) BFI DVD 6) BFI BD
MGM came out first but I bought the Pathe DVD because it listed a featurette the MGM didn't have. It was only when it arrived that I found out Pathe was in the incorrect aspect ratio of about 1.74:1. So then I went back and picked up the MGM, which had the correct aspect ratio and did look a lot better. I'd actually forgotten, until revisiting it for this post, that the Pathe DVD isn't even anamorphic - yikes! MGM doesn't have that problem and actually looks pretty good, except for a warmer color scheme that's so extreme it could almost be called an orange overcast. It also gives us the added bonus of the fullscreen mode, which is of course an incorrectly framed pan & scan mess, but at least gives us a lot of upper and lower open matte picture for curiosity's sake.

But of course, the newer HD presentations usurp all the standard def DVDs. Interestingly, the framing's are a bit different.  I mean, even excluding the fullscreen version and the Pathe disc, MGM is 2.31 while Twilight Time and BFI are 2.40 and 2.39. respectively. And they are framed a smidgen differently... in the top set of shots, you'll notice MGM has a sliver more along the top, and BFI has a smidgen more along the bottom. But horizontally, they're pretty identical. So why the difference in ratio? The picture is actually slightly stretched on the BFI, or more accurately, squished (to use a technical term) on the MGM.  Meanwhile, Twilight Time has a tiny bit more on the left than BFI; that's the 2.39-2.40 difference.  Otherwise, the two blus' PQ might not seem wildly different, but BFI's new scan definitely makes their grain more distinct.  Just compare the skies in the second set of shots and it's very obvious.  Also, color-wise, BFI pushes a bit more to the red.

Both DVDs had 5.1 audio and English subtitles/ captioning. MGM also has a French 2.0 dub, plus French and Spanish subtitles. Twilight Time brings the 5.1 mix to DTS-HD and also includes English subtitles, but BFI offers the best audio options of all, offering the choice of the DTS-HD 5.1 mix or, for the first time ever, the original 2.0 stereo track, which they present in uncompressed LPCM.  And yes, it has English subs, too.
Pathe's promo featurette
Extras-wise, BFI is playing to win, but there is a bit worth mentioning across the prior releases. MGM basically just had the trailer (non-anamorphic, 1.68:1 on both sides of the disc), although it also came with a nice, fold-out insert with interesting notes. Twilight Time has the trailer, a nice little 6-page booklet by Julie Kirgo and, as per their usual m.o., the isolated score on a separate audio track.  And Pathe also had the trailer, no insert, but did have an exclusive 'making of' featurette. It's only five minutes long, and heavy on clips from the film, but it does let us hear from McKellen and co. at the time of filming, and includes a voice or two not heard from on BFI's extensive extras.

BFI has a ton of stuff with McKellen and Loncraine, but nobody else. I suspect some of this might've been made for British television; but anyway, you really can't say we don't get enough from these two. They do an audio commentary, a brief retrospective featurette, and a substantial live Q&A together. Then there's a 79 minute special of McKellen lecturing on Shakespeare. It kind of reminds me of his Acting Shakespeare DVD, which was interesting but a bit dry; however, this is definitely brand new. Still a bit dry, though. Finally, there's a new 2016 trailer, which advertises the reunion of McKellen and Loncraine as well as the movie. BFI's set also comes with a weighty 34-page booklet, which definitely surpasses MGM's old insert and even Twilight Time's booklet.
I highly recommend the film and in particular BFI's new blu. I confess to being a little bit disappointed that they didn't include the original making of featurette (and even the original trailer), but it's certainly nothing to hold out for or double-dip on. The extras could've been a little more well-rounded, i.e. interviewing any of the slew of other highly talented people involved in making this film, but they certainly plumbed the depths of its two key players. How many special editions seem to get everybody except the film's big star? Well, contrary to that, we have to be grateful for McKellen's thorough involvement here. He even wrote the booklet for gosh sake. So definitely pick this one up; but if you're like me, hang onto your grubby little Pathe disc as well.