Fellini's Casanova: Why You Should Import and Avoid the US Version

It used to be, the best DVD edition of Federico Fellini's Casanova was from the UK: a nice 2-disc set from Fremantle, which I've still got. But that was twelve years ago, and now we're in the age of HD remasters. And now? Well, it's a bit of a tie between the French and UK blu-rays, but one is out of print and only available used at inflated prices. So Mr. Bongo's new blu keeps the the trophy in the UK. But is it an essential upgrade, or just another a minor improvement in compression? Let's have a look!

Update 1/25/16 - 10/24/17: Between the Fremantle DVD and Mr Bongo blu-ray, Universal did manage the bare minimum of squeezing out an MOD DVD-R release for the US market as part of their "Vault Series."  It's obviously not in HD, but what's its transfer like compared to the others? Aren't you curious?  I was, and looking at it was somewhat enlightening, if not exactly pleasing.
I don't love all Fellini films. They all certainly have their virtues, typically visually, but they don't call grab you the way his masterpieces do. Juliet Of the Spirits, for example, seems like an excuse to play around with his colorful set-pieces more than tell an engaging story.  Satyricon would probably make a better coffee table book than a film. And his pre-La Dolce Vita work largely strikes me overwrought yet dull at the same time.  But Casanova has the power of its source material. Not that Casanova's a favorite story of mine, but coupled with the right adapter - see Dennis Potter's excellent mini series - it can be quite effective.
And I think Giacomo Casanova has found the perfect director in Fellini, someone able to exceed the excess of Casanova's bawdy tale with crazy, ribald imagery and dreamlike set pieces. Fellini takes it farther over the top than any previous version, with Sutherland seducing a mechanical woman or making his lover's bed literally spin and fly up into the air. Meanwhile, the original writing, coupled with a terrific leading performance by Donald Sutherland, are able to repay the compliment of Fellini's vivaciousness with intelligent commentary on human nature and crafting the unenviable downfall of a man you wind up genuinely caring about. The garish absurdity of the comedy is played so strong, it winds up contributing to the tragedy.
Fremantle's 2005 DVD top; Universal's 2011 DVD-R mid;
Mr Bongo's 2015 blu bottom.
Fremantle's DVD is at least anamorphic, which sets it apart from some of its contemporaries, but it's still a far cry from the new HD transfer. It just looks so digital and unreal in comparison. The UK DVD is slightly pillar-boxed at 1.73:1, whereas the blu-ray is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1.  The result being: the blu gains a little extra picture along the bottom, and the DVD is actually slightly horizontally compressed. There's really no competition between the old DVD and blu, it's a big upgrade. And the Universal release, perhaps predictably, falls somewhere in the middle.  It might actually have the best colors of the bunch.  Look at the singers' white costumes in the first comparison, or the more natural skin tones in the second; the blu by comparison has a bit of an undesirable yellow/ green push to it.  But Universal's still in SD - in fact, as a DVDR, it's even further compressed, and looks it.  And despite being the same aspect ratio as the blu, it actually crops the image tighter and loses more image information than either of the other discs.

So Mr. Bongo's is still the way to go.  I could see a fresh 4k scan uncovering a little more detail and clarity, to be honest, but it's unquestionably the transfer to go with given what's available. I do sort of miss the extreme bold colors of the old DVD in a way, though, and the Universal shows they could've at least tweaked them a little further.
Both the UK DVD and blu give you the option of the English or Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles, which is great.  Oh, and the Fremantle DVD also has a third, French dub.  You'll surely wind up opting for the English in any case, as that's the one where Sutherland dubs his own voice.  Anthony Burgess (author of A Clockwork Orange) even wrote the English language dialogue.  And that just makes it all the more disappointing, then, that the Universal's Vault Series disc only has the Italian track, with burnt-in, unremovable subtitles.  Boo!
A far more compelling reason to hang onto your DVDs, though, is the second disc of extras. Mr Bongo's blu-ray is completely barebones, as is Universal's MOD release (which doesn't even have a menu). The DVD however, has that whole second disc.

The main extra is a documentary called The Magic of Fellini. It's about an hour-long and pretty good, but as its an overview of his whole career, it's maybe a bit superficial, breezing by without stopping anyplace for too long. Plus, it barely touches on Casanova.  Still, it's full of good interviews and film clips, and worth the watch for any Fellini fan.  It's also worth pointing out that this documentary is also on several Australian Fellini DVD and blu-ray releases, however, and released as its own DVD by Image in the US; so there's a chance you'll already have this.
Of more interest to me personally was the interview with Donald Sutherland. This is also just a little under an hour, and as such comes off as quite thoughtful and in-depth. He talks about his whole career, but focuses a lot on Fellini and Casanova. This isn't one of those frustrating interviews that covers his entire body of work and ignores the film they're making the DVD of.

The only other extra is a stills gallery.
So, that answers that: definitely a worthwhile upgrade! Still, you'll want to hold onto your Fremantle DVD for the extras, or even double-dip for them if you haven't already got it, because they're good. And it helps that Mr Bongo's blu is nice and cheap. You might be tempted to save yourself the hassle of importing and just grab the Vault Series disc; but don't - it's a trap without even the English audio track.  Of course, if you do come across the French blu you could get that instead. It has some exclusive extras, but they don't have English language options, so it wouldn't net you much more than Mr Bongo's. But definitely one blu-ray and the UK DVD for the extras is the way to go.

Is It Worth Importing Eric Rohmer's Masterful Triple Agent?

Eric Rohmer kept making films right up to his death at age 90 in 2010.  It may not be the most popular opinion, but it's my contention that his final films are some of his very best.  One of his last, Triple Agent, was released theatrically around the world in 2004, and on DVD in 2005 as a new release.  Here in America, we got it from Koch Lorber.  In the UK, they got it from Artificial Eye, and in France they got it from Blaq Out (apparently the exact same disc as the Artificial Eye one, right down to the menus).  I remember thinking back then that I absolutely had to import this title, which I did, because the US DVD was inferior.  But now, comparing them in 2017, is there a substantial difference?  They're both fullscreen, have the same extras.  Is it worth the hassle of importing?
Triple Agent is a wonderful film that I'm always freshly impressed with each time I revisit it.  No spoilers, but the epilogue blows me away every time.  But as is typically the case with Rohmer, it's not for everybody.  Yes, it's a spy film based on a true, unsolved mystery.  It's a matter of life and death, but there are no gun fights or wry one-liners whispered by people dressed as cat burglars while hanging off of window ledges.  Triple Agent a very domestic look at a real life incident following the Russian civil war in Paris in the 1930s as tensions of rose over another pending World War, but the story is in the humanity of its characters.  Your teenager will hate how everybody stands around calmly debating fine art, and all the tension is kept hidden beneath the surface.  But if your antenna is attuned to finer subtleties, then oh shit!  What a thoroughly gripping tale, expertly told by Rohmer with just a taste of vintage newsreel footage and a terrific cast of actors.
Now, you might be wondering why should we be concerned with old DVDs of this title, regardless of how good the film is?  Wasn't Triple Agent included in Potemkine Films 2013 massive 52-disc blu-ray boxed set [pictured right] that restored Rohmer's entire filmography?  Well, yes, but...  First of all, that set sells for roughly $300, and we're not all living in that affluent tax bracket.  But much more critically, Triple Agent is one of Rohmer's three final films that Potemkine, for whatever reason, decided not to restore and release on blu-ray.  It's in the set only as a DVD using the same old master.  Don't ask me why; it was shot on 35mm, after all.  It's one of the set's most frustrating aspects, right alongside their neglecting to translate any of their special features for English-speaking audiences.  So yeah, as much as they probably should be, these old DVDs are far from obsolete in 2017; they're still the best options we've got.

Oh, Artificial Eye has also included Triple Agent in their 2010 The Essential Eric Rohmer 4-disc DVD set.  But packaged together or separately, it's the same disc inside.
Koch Lorber's US DVD on top; Artificial Eye's UK DVD below.
Since these are the best we've got, let's make the best selection we can.  Yes, both DVDs are fullscreen (Rohmer seemed partial to fullscreen framing, anyway, so that ratio may not be so controversial in this case) and seem to be using the same master, but there's more to it once we begin dig in.  First of all, Koch's DVD is 1.33:1, while Artificial Eye's is 1.31:1.  Koch has a bit more along the sides, possibly including a tiny bit too much on the left (look at that first set of shots, is that the edge of the matte?), while AE has a sliver more along the top.  Still, big whoop.  More distracting, however, is the unsharpening tool [fun fact: despite its name, unsharpening is meant to make an image look sharper] Koch seems to have used on their transfer, blowing out fine highlights and edges.  It may be less of a crime on a DVD than a blu-ray, just because the image is necessarily always going to be further from a perfect representation of the original film; but it still looks unnatural and unattractive on the US DVD, especially on larger televisions.
Both DVDs include the original French audio in a nice, clean Dolby Stereo 2.0 track.  Artificial Eye also offers an additional 5.1 mix.  That's interesting, but not as interesting as the subtitle situation.  Both DVDs offer optional/ removable English subtitles.  That's a basic necessity and good it's there.  Artificial Eye also includes Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish subtitles, which is nice if you speak those languages.  But more puzzling to me was the last subtitle track: French?  HoH subtitles for French viewers, you might think?  No.  In fact, they don't subtitle 95% of the film.  They only pop up a few times, when characters speak Russian and/or German?  So French viewers can read the few lines of dialogue they don't recognize when spoken, sure.  What's odd about that?
Well, the English subtitles (yes, on both discs - I checked) don't subtitle these lines at all.  We never learn what's being said in those moments.  And that may be appropriate, just like how Saving Private Ryan doesn't subtitle the surrendering German soldiers at the end of the beach invasion.  The audience is meant to identify with the man characters who don't understand the other language being spoken.  Makes sense, a natural assumption; except French viewers do get those lines subtitled.  So are we supposed to or not?  Is this just a failing of all English translations of this film to date?  Since native viewers did get the translation, I suspect it is.  ...And by the way, if you're wondering, I ran the French subs of the untranslated dialogue pictured above through Google's software, and in that moment, he's roughly saying, "in turn case, it is very well informed.  He has never been mistaken in his picks," which does make a little more sense in context.  😉
For extras, both DVDs offer the same thing: The Miller-Skobline Case featurette.  It's a nearly 40-minute interview with a historian and the niece of the film's titular triple agent, who talk about the actual case and theorize on what really happened.  Irene Skobline also talks about how Eric Rohmer reached out to her and how she then consulted on the film.  But for the most part, the talk is about the real case, with Skobline and her family devoted to clearing her uncle's name, and Nicolas Werth giving a more objective run-down of the historically known facts.  It should definitely satisfy viewers who watched the film and came away wondering what really happened, but it doesn't give us much about the filmmaking.  The only other extra, again on both discs, is the original theatrical trailer.
Triple Agent is like the anti-John Wyck, but for the right audiences, it's another Rohmer masterpiece.  And between the two discs, the Artificial Eye is the objectively superior option (or, again, the French DVD from Blaq Out, since it's identical).  But whether the that makes it worth jumping through the hoops of importing is up to each of you.  The extra French subtitles were a neat discovery; but they're still not very useful unless you're prepared to translate them on your own.  And the foreign PQ is better, but both DVDs come up lacking in the modern, HD era.  Criterion?  Arrow Academy?  Somebody want to help us out with these three final films?

The Demon Wind Is Blowing! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

How has this movie not been released and re-released on DVD like twenty times already?  Demon Wind is such a great, weird, cheesy, pure 80s, all out fantasy horror movie. It's clearly Evil Dead inspired, but also has enough unique stuff going for it, too. Sure it's goofy and low budget, but I'd love to see what a proper scan of this movie based on its OCN or at least a print would make this look like - that would probably make a huge difference. But that's not gonna happen until these DVD studios wake up and get into gear on this movie. Maybe it's stuck in some kind of legal copyright swamp. But at least there's a cheap-o, no frills, PAL DVD out there to tide us over. It's twelve years old, from a company called Pegasus.

Update 5/19/15 - 10/17/17: Aww yeah!  Another title rescued from the M.I.A. tag, this time thanks to Vinegar Syndrome!  This film cried out for a restoration (just look at the screenshots below), and it finally got one with their new DVD/ blu-ray special edition combo pack.
The movie starts out with an old hymn being sung over footage of an old rural cabin. Inside we meet a loving married couple who are using incantations to ward off ghosts who are talking to them, and things go immediately south for them. The husband gets possessed, and we get our first set of awesome, gooey transformations effects like 90 seconds into the film. The wife has a snow globe (literally... with a little scene inside and everything), which is apparently magic, because she uses it to blow the whole place up in a giant, blue explosion - yee-ha! Cue the opening credits.
So we meet our main characters. Our lead is kind of your average 80s straight man horror lead, and his girlfriend's kind of generic, though she immediately pulls her pants down when she walks into a diner, so she's not completely average. They're searching for the guy's father based on a dream, which yes, we get to see, where he's naked at a gas station and his grandmother's a grinning zombie. So they assemble the team: a sexist jock, a smart guy in glasses, their girlfriends and two of the most memorable characters in any movie ever: a pair of shotgun-toting, karate expert magicians!
Like, literal magicians, who enter the scene by driving into a gas station in a convertible, pulling flowers from their sleeves for the ladies, doing a stunt kick show with a beer can, and ending a fight by conjuring a rabbit. Look, that's just what happens in this movie. And it's still only the very beginning. The film really begins when they all go find the ruins of the cabin from the prologue and summon an army of demons by reading an incantation written on a wall. Evil magic kills their car batteries and prevents them from walking away, and then there's evil ghost children and then the magicians start go full action hero on a horde of zombies. People start getting possessed, a tongue shoots out of a mounted cow skull and kills a girl, they get magic daggers, a demon hangs from the ceiling waving a decapitated head... I won't get into spoilers (and there is a LOT to potentially spoil about the final third of this film!), but Hell breaks loose in a very anything-can-happen way, a la Fulci's The Beyond.
Again, you can't not see the Evil Dead in this film, but it also works on almost all of the same levels. No, it doesn't have the great cinematic touches that Raimi laced the first and especially the second film with, but it makes up for that by adding a lot of crazy, entertaining stuff. They don't have the craft of Evil Dead, but they have the content. This movie is just non-stop special effect set pieces, funny lines (even if you're laughing at them as often as with them) and ambitious ideas, and as absurd as it gets, they play it pretty straight. The special effects might strike younger audiences as dated, but they're actually quite good and, again, ambitious. You keep expecting this movie to start getting worse and let you down, but it never does. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not going to replace Hellraiser or Halloween as anyone's favorite top shelf horror film. This is from a lower shelf. But if you love crazy, gooey 80s horror, it's actually pretty great.
2003 Pegasus DVD on top; 2017 Vin Syn DVD mid; 2017 Vin Syn blu bottom.
Unfortunately, Pegasus's DVD is not great at all. It's a soft, fuzzy, full screen thing that looks like it's ripped from an off-the-shelf video tape. You can't even read the closing credits, the letters are so blurred together. And it was taken presumably from an NTSC source, because it's interlaced as well.  It's about as terrible as a DVD can be.  And in stark contrast comes Vinegar Syndrome's edition, which fixes everything!  It's widescreen, slightly matted to 1.85:1 on the blu.  Curiously, like their Undertaker combo-pack, they leave the DVD open to 1.78:1.  Anyway, it really repairs the DVD's extra boxy composition (sporting an unusually tall 1.29:1 AR).  Pegasus' framing was mostly open matte, so it's more about cropping the excessive head space, but VS do reveal a little more image on the sides as well.  On top of that, the colors are corrected, the interlacing is fixed, detail is restored... I mean, we're comparing a brand new 2k scan of the original camera negative to a DVD that didn't even port a VHS correctly, so it's an almost ridiculous comparison.

There's a slight hiss behind the DVD's audio, but it's actually surprisingly clean considering what the film looks like. Unfortunately, that hiss has been preserved and even gotten a bit worse on the blu's DTS-HD 5.1 mix.  The picture looks immaculate, but the audio track's definitely a little rusty.  It's loud and all the music and dialogue is perfectly discernible, but that hiss is very noticeable even for casual viewers.  Vinegar Syndrome have added English subtitles, though, which is a plus.
Of course, the UK DVD had zero extras, not even a bonus trailer for some other unrelated flick Pegasus was selling.  But Vinegar Syndrome has assembled a a bunch of neat stuff.  First off are three terrific, new on-camera interviews with the producer, Sandy Horowitz, who talks about how this film was made in almost back-to-back with Twisted Nightmare, the cinematographer Thomas Callaway, and actress Sherry Leigh, who you may remember from Slaughterhouse.  Then there's an audio interview with the film's editor Christopher Roth, who talks about some of the struggles the production had.  Finally, VS throws in a nice stills gallery and the original theatrical trailer, which is also restored in HD.  The case includes reversible artwork, and the first 3000 copies come in a super cool, lenticular hologram slipcover based on the old, also hologramatic Paramount VHS cover.
As shoddy as the DVD was, you kinda had to get it anyway, 'cause Demon Wind is too much fun to let rot away in obscurity. But now you can just throw those suckers out, because Vinegar Syndrome has given this film better treatment than it deserves.  Okay, the audio's a little hissy, but basically this is everything horror fans could have hoped for, and I daresay more than any of us would've expected.  I mean, who would've imagined the day when Demon Wind's cinematographer was telling us about his experiences on location in crisp HD?

Is Scream Factory's Land Of the Dead Actually an Upgrade? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Land Of the Dead is the fourth film in George Romero's historic Dead films.  It came out in theaters in 2005 and was released on DVD later that year, later hitting blu-ray in 2008.  So Scream Factory's brand new blu-ray edition, due to be released on Halloween, will actually be the film's second blu-ray release in the United States.  In addition to all new special features, they announced that their release will be a new 2k scan of the interpositive.  Great, right?  Well, the scuttlebutt surrounding this release is that despite being shot on film, it was completed digitally... because, after all, it's full of digital special effects.  And the 2008 blu was struck from that digital intermediate.  But to play the film in theaters, the DI was struck back to film, creating an IP that was then used to make prints.  So if Scream made a new scan of the IP, they'd actually be using a generation further removed and therefore of inherently lesser quality than the 2008 blu, presumably just for the sake of being able to announce "new 2k scan!" to fans who don't know any better.

...But is all of that accurate?  The theory sounds right based on what we know, but it still relies on speculation and presumption.  Do we know for a fact, for example, that the Universal blu was taken from the DI and not the IP, or are we just assuming?  And one interesting detail is that while all of Scream's announcements (on Facebook, their store website, etc) have clearly said "interpositive," the case itself repeatedly says "internegative."  But really, the best way to know which blu-ray came out better is to look carefully at both of them and see for ourselves.  And, well, you know; I've been known to do things like that before...
If you've never even seen Land Of the Dead, well, I reckon you should if you're a horror fan.  Yeah, it's got a decidedly lesser reputation compared to the previous films in the series.  But then again, Day of the Dead enjoyed a pretty similar lesser reputation until being reappraised by fans and critics alike in more recent years.  And I think Land is due for a similar reevaluation; and Scream Factory including it in their collection may be the first sign of that happening.  I mean, for all the Walking Deads and Zombie Flesh Eaters we've had over the decades, this is the original, core zombie series that started it all, written and directed by the man himself.  Then, will we see the same thing happen for Romero's final two films, Diary and Survival, a few further years down the road?  Well, let's not go crazy.  But really, I think Land deserves more credit than it gets.
Not that I don't get the criticism.  First of all, some of the digital effects are a little wonky.  Romero's dead films are famous for having some of the greatest, cutting edge horror effects in the genre.  ...Up until this one.  There is still a ton of fantastic practical effects, but the digital blood and crazier CGI moments don't entirely blend in with the rest of the film.

And even more critical than the effects, the story is, well, awfully ambitious.  I mean, this is the only film set in the series that basically takes place in a sci-fi future.  Okay, technically you could say Day of the Dead has to be set a couple years ahead of the present in order to be able to say that half the world's already been overrun by zombies.  But it's basically contemporary people dealing with the situation the way contemporary people would.  But Land imagines a whole new, future society that's developed after the world as we know it has crumbled.  And that's taking a big risk with a series that got most of its strength by tackling a supernatural horror in the most credible, authentic way possible.  The original Night Of the Living Dead was the most powerful "what would it be like if this unnatural horror actually happened to us in the real world right now?" that had ever been made up to that point.
Meanwhile, Land sets a scene in an underground saloon where Asia Argento is dressed in black leather wrestling two zombies in a cage match scored with Spanish rap music, while our other heroes have a shootout with a midget pimp dressed in purple shouting "they ruined my suit!"  One of the soldiers rides a skateboard in every single scene.  At this stage, the tone of the series has veered dangerously close to Escape From LA; so I can see why fans shunned this entry.  But if you can get past the most egregious moments, this film is actually pretty effective, both as a compelling zombie story with good, if not so subtle, social commentary, and in delivering genuinely atmospheric horror that also never skimps on the goods.  For the most part, it plays far straighter than Escape From NY, let alone LA.
Land's got a pretty great cast including Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker The Mentalist, John Leguizamo who can be quite over the top but here gets it just right, and even Tom Savini, bringing back his character from Dawn Of the Dead for a cool cameo.  The score's effective, the film's shot really well, and George was finally able to bring his Dead Reckoning dream to life.  The story gives us a nice follow-through on the set-up of Bud from Day Of the Dead, and if you just want to see cool zombie kills, Greg Nicotero (who also has a cameo... in fact, this film is laden with cameos) and Howard Berger do their damnedest.  I guess this is one of those films like Halloween 3 or Hellraiser 3, where you have to let go of your expectations from the previous films in their series to appreciate; but if you can just do that, it's hard to imagine anyone not having a good time with this sequel.
A shot only in the theatrical cut.
Now, you may've noticed that Scream's new release is a 2-disc set.  That's not just because it's overflowing with extras (although it is), but because they've included two different cuts of the film: the R-rated theatrical version (92.54 minutes long) and the unrated director's cut (96.48 minutes long).  You might be wondering why anybody would bother with the shorter cut version.  Well, that's because the difference between the two versions amounts to more than just extra CGI blood squirts and extra frames of gut munching.  There are substantial changes made between the two edits, and not only does the unrated version also have extra lines of dialogue and a whole, long dramatic scene where Leguizamo fights a zombie in a high-rise, but the theatrical cut also has some alternative shots and tiny pieces not seen in the unrated version.  It can be rather confusing, and movie-censorship.com has even created two distinctly different comparisons of alternate Land Of the Dead cuts (here and here).  I carefully checked both, and can say that the latter is the one that accurately reflects the two different cuts on the Scream set, while the other changes seem to be unique to the old, R-rated DVD.  So anyway, certainly the unrated version is the one you want to watch, but there's good reason to preserve both, and good on Scream for doing so.
A scene only in the unrated cut.
And alright, now I'll finally stop beating around the bush and get into comparing the blu-ray releases.  I've also still got the original, widescreen unrated DVD, so I'll throw that one into the mix, too.  So we've got Universal's 2005 DVD, their 2008 blu (which also consists of the unrated director's cut), and both versions on Scream Factory's 2017 blu-ray set.  Both of Scream's transfers are taken from their new 2k scan of the internegative; but their unrated cut required HD inserts, because they weren't part of what played in theaters.  The shot above this paragraph, of Leguizamo and the butler, is one of those inserts, so you can see how it compares to the internegative shots below.
1) Universal DVD 2) Universal blu 3) SF theatrical blu 4) SF unrated blu.
So, the framing (2.35:1), color timing, etc is pretty much identical across the board.  Maybe the new transfer is a smidgen cooler.  Anyway, except for the inserts, addressed above, the two Scream Factory transfers are taken from the same source; but I threw them both in to be thorough.  Interestingly, even though the shot appears in both cuts, they seemed to use different sources for the second set of shots above.  Watching this on a large (65") TV, though, I didn't notice the "seams" between between the newly scanned footage and the inserts at all.  The biggest difference in quality is of course the DVD, which naturally has a blurrier look.  Detail was definitely smudged off by the standard definition compression, which the Universal blu did a fine job of restoring, without any noticeable flaws like DNR or artificial edge enhancement.  But what about detail between that and the Scream blus?  That's what we really care about.  And, well, especially looking at the second shot there, I have to say the Scream blu looks sharper, with maybe a little extra detail drawn out of the heavy shadows.  Let's zoom in for a close-up.
Universal blu left; unrated Scream Factory right.
Scream's transfer is definitely grainier.  That could be because it's a better scan, or just due to the fact that they used a more filmic source.  Or a combination of the two.  I'm not sure if we're actually getting any new detail (though the added grain makes it look that way), but we certainly haven't lost any, like we were worried about happening.  The grain may be somewhat deceptive, but to my eye, all the edges seem sharper and clearer on the new discs.  In fact, you could maybe argue Scream over-sharpened a tad.  Make your own call, but I (slightly) prefer it, and at any rate I'm super relieved it's not the downgrade I was fearing.

By the way, the audio options keep shifting with this flick.  The DVD gave us the choice subtle choice between DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  Then the 2008 blu-ray dropped the Dolby, just giving us the DTS 5.1 in HD, along with the same subtitles and a Spanish dub.  And now Scream Factory gives us the DTS-HD 5.1 track plus a new DTS-HD 2.0 stereo mix, as well as English subs.  Is the stereo mix how it played theatrically and the 5.1 mixes were revisionist on home video maybe?  Curious.
Universal's releases were already pretty swagged out with goodies, including probably the most important extra, a George Romero audio commentary (also with producer Peter Grunwald and editor Michael Doherty).  There are a few momentary lapses of dead air, but for the most part, it's everything you want it to be.  There are also a whole bunch of featurettes (Undead Again: The Making Of Land Of the Dead, A Day With the Living Dead, Bringing the Dead To Life, When Shaun Met George - a fun behind-the-scenes look at a cameo by the stars of Shaun Of the Dead, which was still pretty new at the time - Scenes Of Carnage, which is just a skippable montage of gory scenes from the film, Zombie Effects: From Green Screen To Finished Scene, Bringing the Storyboards To Life and Scream Tests: Zombie Casting Call), that range from fifteen to as short as one minute.  There's also a few brief deleted scenes and bonus trailers, including one for a Land Of the Dead video game.  The blu-ray converted a couple of those features into picture-in-picture commentary with their funky U-Control gimmick, which is slightly annoying, but it's all the same stuff on either release.  The DVD also came in a nice slip cover.
Road To Fiddler's Green, the Land Of the Dead video game trailer.
Scream Factory has carried over all of that, even the stupid Scenes of Carnage montage (though not the video game trailer).  And they've also added plenty more.  There's now an additional audio commentary by four zombie extras (Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, plus Matt Blazi, Gleena Chao and Rob Mayr... I haven't listened to this one yet; I'll get back to you guys.  It's okay.  Very self-indulgent.  It would've made a great featurette, but they don't have enough to say to fill 97 minutes) and the additional television documentary, Dream of the Dead, which Roy Frumkes, director of the original Document Of the Dead, shot for the Independent Film Channel to promote the film.  This is apparently a slightly altered "director's cut" of the doc as opposed to what originally aired on television, that runs about twenty-five minutes and also includes its own collection of deleted scenes and audio commentary by Frumkes.  It's a great addition that nicely ties Land to the previous Dead films.

Then you've got new on-camera interviews with actors John Leguizamo, Robert Joy who played Charlie, Pedro Miguel Arce and a featurette that edits together interviews additional cast members Eugene Clarke, Jennifer Baxter, Boyd Banks and Jasmin Geljo.  Disappointingly, Baker and Argento gave this blu a miss; but Leguizamo was a good get.  Anyway, there's also a new photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer (surprisingly absent from the Universal discs), and a cool slip cover.  Scream's release also features reversible artwork and includes a poster if you order it directly from their site (and it's rolled; they stopped folding them!).
So at the end of the day, I'd say yes, Scream Factory's Land Of the Dead is an upgrade.  The picture quality isn't exactly a huge leap forward, but I prefer it, and it's at worst a tie.  Then factor in all the new special features, especially Frumkes' stuff, plus the nod to purists by including theatrical cut, and it's definitely the best version to get.  And as I say, I hope it leads to some favorable reevaluations of Land itself.  But if you're not a super fan or on a bit of a budget, the Universal blu isn't much worse and can be found super cheap these days.  There's even a double-disc edition that pairs it up with the Dawn Of the Dead remake if you like that one.  You can get either one used online for next to nothing these days.  So you decide which version is best for you, but I have to say I've been enjoying this new set.