The Decade Long Trek To Get Last Night Right

It's been a long journey just to get a bland, barebones DVD, but that's the story of the criminally underrated Canadian flick Last Night.  Now, to be clear, I'm not talking about the Keira Knightley* drama called Last Night, the 2016 romance, or the literally dozens of other films that have been titled Last Night over the years.  I'm talking about Don McKellar's brilliant little character piece from 1998 about the end of the world.
Don McKellar stars, in addition to writing and directing, in this bittersweet tale about humanity's last night of existence.  We're never told how or why the world is ending and it doesn't matter.  In this story, everybody knows it's over, and it's all about the how they choose to spend their final hours.  McKellar's mother wraps up her children's childhood toys and memorabilia and asks them to have one last Christmas morning together, while his best friend is determined to plow through as much of his sexual bucket-list as he possibly can.  Sandra Oh struggles to make her way through hordes of rioters and looters to see her husband one last time.  Sarah Polley leaves her family to join her friends in a David Cronenberg and Tracy Wright, in a charming little Blue reunion, keep working in an otherwise abandoned office together, determined to keep the gas company's service running until the very last minute.  It's comic, it's tragic, and nobody's plans work out quite like they expect.
McKellar's assembled a real who's who of Canadian acting ensemble with this film.  Besides everyone I named already, look for Exotica's Arsinée Khanjian, Dead Ringer's Geneviève Bujold, Robin Gammell and a cameo by director Bruce McDonald.  It was a bit of a critical darling, winning awards at Cannes and so many Genies that the cast and crew were basically just competing against each other that year.  But it never reached any large audiences, which is a shame.  Maybe its generic, all too common title should shoulder some of that blame.  Or maybe that's just the natural order of things when you throw a smart art film into a marketplace dominated by blockbuster spectaculars made for teenagers only interested in the next cheap thrill.  But anyway, Last Night is pretty great.
So unsurprisingly, when Universal released this film on DVD in 2000, it was barebones.  But more disappointingly, it was fullscreen; and after just one look at it, that was obviously the wrong aspect ratio.  But as a Canadian film, I thought there was a chance it would be given a better edition in its home country.  And almost a year later, that turned out to be right.  It was still barebones, but at least it was widescreen (though apparently they later reissued it as a fullscreen disc with the exact same cover... remember when studios used to do that?  Ugh).  But as TVs later transformed from 4x3 to widescreen, it became painfully obvious that it was non-anamorphic.  But that was all we had for years.  Until finally, in 2010, a UK company named Park Circus announced that they were going to finally do it right, and give us the anamorphic, widescreen DVD fans had spent the last decade calling for.
This comparison ain't pretty, is it?  The fullscreen version has some extra vertical information, but is definitely missing a lot on the sides... how much on which changes depending on the shot, meaning the fullscreen is pan & scan, presumably the same transfer made for TV and VHS.  Look at closely at the second comparison and you'll see it's interlaced, too.  Yuck.  The Canadian DVD from Alliance Atlantis fixes both of those problems, bringing the framing to an appropriate 1.85:1; but of course it's non-anamorphic, so a smaller, lower resolution picture floating in a sea of black.   And yes, the Park Circus DVD does fix that, with just slight pillar-boxing and frame-shifting to an AR of 1.76:1.  But it's basically the same transfer.  Actually, it looks like they DNR'd it, which is admittedly less of a crime on DVD than it is blu-ray, since you're smoothing away smudgy compression detail rather than proper film grain, but it sure looks soft on a large screen TV.  But hey, that's probably about as good as a digital film shot in SD in 1998 could ever look, right?  Yeah, except this film was shot in 35mm, though you'd never guess it looking at any of these DVD.
A clever homage to La Dolce Vita?  I like to think so!
Audio-wise, the US DVD gave us a nice, clean stereo track with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The Canadian DVD gave us the same English track plus a French dub, as well as optional English subs.  Park Circus just gives the English stereo track and drops the subtitles, which is a small mark against it.

And yeah, extras-wise, they're all barebones.  The US DVD at least had a trailer (also fullscreen and interlaced), as well as a couple bonus trailers, all of which the Canadian edition dropped.  The Park Circus DVD at least brings the trailer back (now widescreen, but non-anamorphic and interlaced again), as well as a tiny photo gallery.  So technically it's the best release in the special features department, too; but we're talking 2 points out of a possible 100 instead of 1 for the US and 0 for the Canadian.
So yes, this is a film that absolutely is worth owning, and of all the available options, the Park Circus disc is the one to go with.  They finally gave us the DVD we should've gotten in 2000.  But by 2010 DVD standards, it's pretty mediocre.  I've love a blu-ray restoration that finally makes this film look like it was actually shot on film, with some quality special features.  But unfortunately the collector's market seems to have blinders on for anything that isn't horror (heck, I can see that plain as day just by looking at this site's traffic), so I'd recommend copping the UK disc and being happy we at least got that.

*I always feel like I'm misspelling her name, but then I look it up and I'm not.  😜

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece! Still waiting for this great film on blu-ray/4k.