Criterion Catch-Up, Part 1: The Ice Storm (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I've got some exciting new titles on pre-order, but they're still a ways away; and in the meantime, I've still got plenty of older titles I've been itching to get onto this site.  So, dull story short, just like the Scream Factory Catch-Up series I did last year, this time we're having a Criterion Catch-Up.  And to start us off, I'm going to finally return us to some Ang Lee (after having only covered his underrated Lust Caution back in 2015) with 2001's The Ice Storm.
Ang Lee got his start directing his own, quite good original screenplays: Pushing Hands, The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman.  And this is only his second film of another writer's work, in this case James Schamus's adaptation of a novel by Rick Moody.  Lee leans into the period of the piece, set in 1970's upscale Connecticut, where two families struggle with their repressed dysfunction.  Very stylized costumes, props and locations threaten to, but never distract from the smart writing and the particularly excellent cast: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey McGuire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and a young Katie Holmes.  In fact, Ang Lee's deft direction manages to steer it from being just a cute, nostalgic writer's indulgence to a genuinely human tragedy.  It's just one of those perfect storms where all the right elements came together.
20th Century Fox originally gave this a pretty solid DVD release back in 2001.  Anamorphic widescreen, a couple of extras.  But in 2008, Criterion released it on DVD again, with a new transfer and substantially more special features, as it was now a 2-disc set.  But it was still DVD-only until Criterion revisited it in 2013 as a single-disc blu-ray release.  Well, I've got all three releases right here, so let's have a look.
top: 2001 Fox DVD, mid: 2008 Criterion DVD; bottom: 2013 Criterion blu.
Well, despite the five years difference between the Criterion releases (you know, as opposed to your traditional combo-pack or concurrent release), nothing seems to have changed between those two releases, except for the blu obviously being in HD.  The color-timing is distinct between Fox and the Criterions, though, with the latter demonstrating a distinct lean towards the yellowish green side of things.  Criterion's transfer was "supervised and approved" by both Ang Lee and the DOP, Frederick Elmes, but there's no denying that the Fox disc has more naturalistic colors.  Like, in the first shot, the whites are white, where they're now green on the Criterion discs.  So I guess that green push is what the filmmakers wanted.  That or they just have their assistants sign off on whatever for an easy check like David Cronenberg.  😜
top: 2001 Fox DVD, mid: 2008 Criterion DVD; bottom: 2013 Criterion blu.
...Sorry, that was just a snarky Shivers reference.  Anyway, this is not a "Controversial Blu."  There is a clear uptick in detail and image quality between both the 2001 and 2008 DVDs and then the 2008 DVD and 2013 blu.  You're definitely getting a true upgrade each time.  And despite all three releases being slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, the Criterion versions definitely find more information on both sides and the top.  But... I'm noticing a little haloing around edges, and maybe some unsharpening mask or a similar tool making tiny details flare out.  Grain also appears to have been a bit smeared away on the blu.  Basically, this looks like an old master, like they just used the one from their 2008 DVD.  So it's okay, but definitely not reference quality in 2017.
So let's talk extras!  The Fox disc didn't have much; it was no special edition.  But they did at least put on a few airs to dress it up a little.  Their main extra is a little 'making of' featurette with clips of the film, interview clips from Lee, Moody and just about all of the stars, and a few glimpses of shooting behind the scenes.  They also threw in the trailer, several bonus trailers, and an insert.

Criterion stomps all over that, giving this film the special features it deserves.  Ang Lee and Elmes do a good audio commentary.  There's an excellent 36-minute documentary with all the stars, an over 20-minute talk with Rick Moody, plus on-camera interviews with Elmes, production designer Mark Friedberg and costume designer Carol Oditz.  Then there's a film festival discussion with Lee and screenwriter James Schamus and four deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Schamus.  Plus, there's the trailer and a nice 20-page booklet with notes by film critic Bill Khron.  Oh, and the extras are identical, by the way, between the 2008 and 2013 Criterion releases.  So yeah, they really deliver a thoroughly satisfying special edition, but it's just a little irritating that they didn't include the vintage featurette from the previous DVD to round everything out.  Oh well.
So hey, unless Arrow wants to come out and surprise us with a fancy new 4k thing, this is a pretty strong release and the best we're likely to see.  There's room for improvement to be sure, but no reason not to be happy with what we've got.  And if Arrow ever does tackle this film, they'd better license those Criterion extras, because those guys really brought their A game on this one.  It would take a new 4k scan of the OCN, all the Criterion negatives and that Fox featurette for me to consider going back to the well again at this point.

1 comment:

  1. I prefer the colors in the Fox version. Seeing the side by side comparisons, the green-yellow feels overdone.