Eraserhead and the Short Films of David Lynch (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

In 2003, David Lynch debuted the new restored edition of his first feature film, Eraserhead, and a special collection of his short films, on DVD exclusively through his website.  I believe the reason a 2003 special edition of Eraserhead wound up being called "Eraserhead 2000" is simply because Lynch delayed the project three additional years to perfect the transfer.  Anyway, as you can see, they were sold in large, fancy boxes with oversized booklets, cards certifying authentication and packed neat red wrapping paper.  They were pretty sweet, especially as Eraserhead had only previously been available as a fullscreen no frills import, and most of his shorts hadn't been available on disc at all.  So it was a pretty big deal, and eventually the dam burst, and Absurdia released both editions broadly, sans the fancy, oversized packaging and booklets.  Then Criterion released it all in HD and rendered it all obsolete.  ...Unless there's something exclusive still on one of those DVDs?  Let's have a look.
Eraserhead is still one of the most famous, flat out weird cult films of all time.  Even decades since Lynch has been nominated for three Oscars & seven Emmys and had the number one show in American television, Eraserhead will still leave most mainstream viewers backing away with their hands in the air.  On the other hand, it's not nearly as impenetrable as its reputation might have us believe.  In fact, if anything, it plays like a charming little domestic slice of life with its flights of creative fancy playing like sugar laced over the top to make the darker, more cynical aspects less bitter.  Jack Nance is nothing if not relatable as the young father pushing through the social awkwardness of meeting his new in-laws and surviving the unexpected, oppressive pressures of fatherhood.  It doesn't ask your brain to puzzle anything out so much as your heart to empathize its meaning from.
So I've still got my big ol' Eraserhead 2000 box from 2003, and I've got the 2014 Criterion blu-ray to compare it to.  But I've also got my hands on a copy of the 2005 Absurda disc, also labeled "Eraserhead 2000," that got general distribution through Subversive, because I've always assumed it was exactly the same disc, but for this post, I wanted to make sure.  Spoiler alert: it is; but I'll post the screen shots to prove it anyway.  😎

2003 Absurda DVD top; 2005 Absurda DVD mid; 2014 Criterion blu bottom.
2005 Absurda DVD left; 2014 Criterion blu right.
So again, yes the first two DVDs are identical.  They're not just using the same transfer, but have the same features, menus, etc.  They're the same discs.  And at their core, they don't look too terribly different than the blu.  They have identical 1.85:1 framing, but it isn't just a question of the same master being slapped onto a BD.  First of all, the DVDs are decidedly more contrasty, with lighter lights.  In fact, the whole image is brighter, with higher mids, too.  I think they figured in HD, they could risk getting really subtle with the detail in shadows, and I have to say it looks pretty good.  of course, it helps a lot that the image is so much more clearly resolved, with details coming to life as opposed to being swamped in soft artifacts like they are on the DVD.  I mean, look at the valve handle on the far right of the close-up comparisons; you can't even tell it has holes on the DVD.

Audio-wise, there's improvement, too.  Lynch talked about the DVD having an uncompressed PCM track, but that doesn't seem to actually be the case?  Awkward.  It's still a solid Dolby stereo mix, but it's not quite what was promised.  The blu-ray, on the other hand, has a lossless LPCM stereo track, plus English subtitles, another feature lacking on the DVD.
And extras?  Well, it's mainly one big one, but it's pretty great.  It's a feature-length monologue by Lynch detailing the history of the film.  It's mostly one big, black and white close-up of Lynch talking into a microphone, though he does intercut behind-the-scenes photos and video footage, and even calls up Catherine Coulson on the phone and puts her on speaker at one point.  Besides that, there's just the trailer, the booklet, the packaging aspects I already described and the menu loops a disturbing scene deleted from the final cut of the film.  Considering we've always had nothing before-hand, though, it was pretty exciting and it's still pretty terrific to this day.

Thankfully, Criterion carries all of that over (except the booklet and stuff), and adds some new features as well.  There are a couple vintage interviews: one with Lynch and his cinematographer Frederick Elmes, another with Lynch and Nance visiting one of the film's locations, and a third where Lynch and several of his cast and crew reminisce for a good twenty minutes.  Then there's a new featurette where Criterion edits together brand new interviews with Coulson, Elmes, and co-stars Charlotte Stewart and Judith Anna Roberts.  There's a goofy vintage trailer that consists of Lynch sitting on a couch full of stuffed animals addressing the audience directly, and a booklet with a piece by the author of Lynch On Lynch.  Plus, of course, there are the short films.
So The Short Films of David Lynch consists of six short films, from under a minute long to over half an hour, crazy little animations to dramas with recognizable actors.  There's stuff he made as a student film, and stuff he made after Blue Velvet.  Six short films, and there are six short films on the Criterion blu.  So they're all here, right?  Well, by now you should be well ahead of me.  No, they're not.  See, one of the short films is called The Amputee, and their are two versions of it.  Both discs feature both versions.  But on the DVD, both are treated as one film, and on the blu, they're listed like two.  So, that means one film is missing from the blu.  And it's a biggie: a roughly half-hour comedy starring Harry Dean Stanton called The Cowboy and the Frenchman.
And that's not all that's different.  So, both the Shorts DVD and the Criterion DVD feature extras of David Lynch talking about each short individually.  Essentially mini-versions of what he did for Eraserhead.  Well, naturally, if The Cowboy isn't on the Criterion, neither is its accompanying interview.  There's also a couple of weird little easter eggs, which didn't make their way to the Criterion.  Some of it's really minimal, like a promo image for an upcoming (at the time) Lynch album.  DVDCompare mentions a hidden "short film" called Asymetrical, but it's clearly just a crazy animated logo for Asymetrical Productions.  The most substantial easter egg is some vintage test footage of Coulson for the Amputee short(s).  Nothing to cry over, but it would've been neat if Criterion stuck it on as an Easter Egg on their disc, too.
2003 Absurdia DVD top; 2014 Criterion blu bottom.
Wow!  What a difference.  The improvements to Eraserhead were clear and welcome, but for some of these shorts, it's like night and day.  All six shorts are fullscreen, except Amputee (both parts), which is matted to (non-anamorphic) widescreen on the DVD, but shown open matte fullscreen on the blu.  I'd be curious to ask Lynch which is actually correct (I feel like it might be the widescreen), but there's no question Criterion's transfers are major improvements in all the other ways.  Sure, there are problems baked right into the sources of most of these - especially Amputee, where being shot in low-fi video is part of the aesthetic - but they look much better on the blu.  I mean, look how much image is saved from black crush on The Grandmother in the first set of shots.  Not every short is improved quite so dramatically, but they all are to some degree.  The Alphabet looks distinctly clearer and less under a video haze.  And all of the shorts are interlaced (thankfully Eraserhead wasn't, and neither are the interviews).
So what are our conclusions here?  Well, the "Eraserhead 2000" DVD might be a neat collector's item for fans, particularly if you've got the big box edition with the book.  But otherwise the Criterion blu-ray has topped it by a good margin, in terms of quality and special features, rendering it pretty obsolete, and making it a recommended upgraded.  But it didn't do the same to that Short Films DVD.  Some of the tidbits were small enough that it's fine to lose them (seriously, that Asymetrical is just a funky company logo!), but The Cowboy and the Frenchman is a substantial film that serious fans would want even if it was released on a disc by itself.  And the only other place it's available is that crazy rare Lime Green box set, which goes for a couple hundred dollars these days.  So, you know, it's not essential for most viewers... we're not talking another Mulholland Dr here.  It's actually part of a weird series of films where various filmmakers made films about France as seen through their eyes... Werner Herzog did one, some other notable people did.  It would be great if they could be released all together on a single blu.  But I wouldn't hold my breath.  So hang onto your shorts!

P.S., Lynch fans - I've also just updated my Twin Peaks page to include coverage of season 3 on both DVD and blu-ray, and the Criterion blu of Fire Walk With Me.  🤠

The Quick and the Dead's Sexy Eurpoean Cut (DVD/ Superbit DVD/ Blu-ray/ UHD Comparison)

The early 90s was the time when Hollywood's response to sexism was to cast women in the same, dumb action roles they'd been putting men in for decades, starting of course with Thelma and Louise, and culminating, perhaps, with Barbwire. In between those two films, they also decided to apply the formula with westerns. Drew Barrymore, Mary Stuart Masterson, Madeline Stowe and Andie McDowell starred in Bad Girls in 1994, and Sharon Stone came right on its heels as the slick gunslinger in 1995's The Quick and the Dead. The film kind of languished at the box office as another PC statement, but now that time has past and we view the film out of that context, and out of Bad Girls' unfortunate shadow, we can appreciate it for the fun and creative film it really is. And if we're willing to spend a little extra on an import, we can see even more of it.

Update 3/9/15 - 8/7/18: Sony has just come out with a 4k Ultra HD release of The Quick and the Dead, so it's time to revive this post and see how things have improved (and, if you're interested, I also just added the missing Anchor Bay blu-ray to my Day Of the Dead page).  And since it's a combo-pack, that means we round out our comparisons with the US blu-ray, too.  Unfortunately, could this all be a one step forward, two steps back situation?
Evil Dead fans were already excited to see it was that this film was directed by Sam Raimi (and executive produced by Robert Tapert), and it's full of his innovative style... something not always as evident in some of his later mainstream films. It's written by Simon Moore, who also wrote the original Traffik Masterpiece Theater miniseries, but it has the feel of a slightly more upscale Brisco County Jr. episode (especially one episode in particular). That's not a criticism, though, that's a compliment, as the story is a lot of fun. A really exotic selection of gunslingers come from all across the west to compete in an ultimate gunfight, and they're portrayed by an amazing line-up of colorful character actors including Gene Hackman, Lance Henriksen, Leonardo DiCaprio, Keith David and Russell Crowe. That's some big names, and that doesn't include all the other name actors who turn up in this film like Gary Sinese, Tobin Bell, Woody Strode, and even Scott Spiegel in a small cameo. The plot gets more complex and engrossing as we find out nearly ever character harbors a dark secret and another reason they need to be in the contest. It's really a great western by any definition.
UK-only footage... Bruce, is that you?
All of us Raimi fans who saw this couldn't help but notice the name of one Bruce Campbell in the closing credits. It especially stood out since he didn't appear to actually be in the movie. And there were also rumors of a Sharon Stone sex scene clipped from the movie. Well it turns out, we only had to go as far as the United Kingdom to find a longer version of the film, roughly 107 minutes, versus the US cut's 105. And all the differences come down to one solid chunk of film cut out around the 2/3s mark. Yes, it's a sex scene; but it's a lot more than that, too. After the flashback of Hackman killing her father, which we saw in the US version, the UK version now cuts to Stone storming into the saloon. A guy (Bruce Campbell? See the screenshot above) tries to shake her hand for her success so far in the contest and she pushes him into the bar, storming past him and up the stairs. She encounters a naked man (Stone's isn't the only nudity to be cut from the US cut) and starts kicking open the bordello bedroom doors, startling a number of people. There she finds a number of men roughing up Russell Crowe, who she rescues him from. She takes him into a room where they make love and spend the night, after she makes him promise not to kill Hackman before she can.
UK-only scene
Now, I can see cutting the sex scene on the one hand... It feels a little Cinemax-y, and I understand Stone decided she didn't want it left in the film. But the problem is how much else had to come out with it. Up to that point, Stone had been very stand-offish towards Crowe, to say the least. Previously, Crowe was left out in the sun begging for water and she kicked it from him.  And after this bit, they're now essentially teammates. In the US version, that's a very sudden, barely motivated shift in character dynamic; but it makes sense when you see the longer version where they've bonded and - critically - made their pact. So having lived with both versions of the film for some time now, I really do have to say that the the UK cut is the better film.
Right. Now, we've got the UK blu-ray here (though the UK DVD also features the uncut version), and to make things interesting, in addition to just comparing it to the standard US DVD, I thought I'd compare it to the Superbit DVD. What the heck is Superbit, you may ask? Let's have a look at the explanatory insert included inside the case.

Well, a Superbit DVD is... just a regular DVD that plays in a regular DVD player. What they've done is removed any special features, right down to the animated menus, and filled the disc with the movie only, so it has room to give the film a higher bitrate. So is it the equivalent of a blu-ray or HD DVD? No. It's just a regular DVD, but with all of the space devoted to the film (although in this case, they did make the room for two audio tracks and five sets of subtitles). A few films were released as Superbit Deluxe, where the extras were included on a second disc. Now in the case of, say, Desperados, where the film was originally a special edition forced on a single layer disc, the Superbit was a worthwhile improvement. But The Quick and the Dead was dual-layered and only ever had the trailer as an extra. But at least the Superbit line implies that they're paying extra special close attention to the compression and the transfer, so maybe it's still a bit better.

And speaking of the compression of the transfer looking better, now we've got the 2018 4k Ultra HD disc to look at, too!
US DVD widescreen first, US DVD fullscreen second, US Superbit DVD third;
UK blu-ray fourth; US blu-ray fifth; US UHD sixth.
Oh boy, the color timing is sure different. That's something I wasn't expecting to find in this comparison. The US DVDs are bluer, except the fullscreen, which is redder. And the blu-rays are greener. It's certainly more noticeable in the top shot than the lower one, but it's present in both and throughout the film. Finally, the UHD comes along, and we know it's going to have at least somewhat different colors thanks to the HDR.  And I have to say, Sony seems to have used this opportunity not just to give this film more vivid, stand-out colors, but the most authentic looking timing of all the releases to date.  The framing is identical, however, with all versions - except the fullscreen, obviously - slightly letterboxed to the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The fullscreen is a bit of a hybrid, losing some info on the sides and gaining some on the top and bottom. It's definitely a less attractive image at 1.33, though.
l to r: US DVD wide, US DVD full, US Superbit, UK blu, US blu, US UHD.
Otherwise, in terms of quality, it may not look like a huge difference; but the blu is a bit clearer and more detailed, and then the UHD even more so.  The fullscreen side of the DVD is a bit softer than the widescreen, and grain is more natural on the blu, there's a smidgen extra detail and the haloing is much smaller and less invasive on the blu. While all of the pre-2018 releases are to some degree, the Superbit actually seems a little more edge enhanced than any of the others, perhaps to make it look sharper than the previous DVD. Or maybe it's just because the edges are less obscured by extra softening. But the original DVD has an interlacing problem (look at the flames of the fullscreen to see an example, but the widescreen has it, too), which the SuperBit at least corrects, so it unquestionably would've been preferable to the DVD back in the day, if not hugely.

Of course, that distinction's academic now.  The blu-rays trump all the DVD versions, and happily, the UHD clearly trumps the blus.  It's not just a question of capturing grain, either, it genuinely affects the root image.  In that close-up shot, you can see Crowe's features becoming even more life-like.  You can actually see the expression he's making with his mouth, which was previously just an unclear patch of pixels, even on blu.
Don't expect a lot of extras 'round these parts. The original DVD at least has the trailer, which is more than you can say for the SuperBit or blu-ray. And none of them have any other special features. But each version has rather different language options. The original DVD provides a French dub and English and French subtitles. The Superbit ditched the French dub but added Spanish, Portuguese and Korean subtitles to the mix. The blu-rays lack the French dub, but has Italian and Spanish ones, and optional/ removable subtitles in: English, English SDH, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish. As far as straight English audio, though, both DVDs offer 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, and the blu has DTS-HD 5.1. There's also a menu button to mute the music on the blu's menu screen, but it only actually worked in one of the three blu-ray players I tried it in. The DVD has a nice fold-out insert, while the Superbit DVD also comes in a slip cover and includes two inserts: the one from the regular DVD and the other explaining Superbit.
deleted scene
And the 4k Ultra HD?  It gives us the choice between an Dolby Atmos TrueHD 7.1 mix or 5.1 DTS-HD mix for the English audio, plus the French and Spanish dubs (in 5.1 DTS-HD), with optional English, French and Spanish subs.  And extras?  Yes!  There's finally something.  Not a ton, but something, mainly in the form of 7 deleted scenes.  They run for just over five minutes and they're presented in 1080p, though the source they're taken from shows a good deal of wear, and the sound is clearly not in the final mix stage.  Stone walking in her gown is louder than the character's dialogue in one scene, and in two others, there are points where we see the character speak, but their dialogue just isn't there.  Still, there are some interesting additions here, including DiCaprio trick-shooting the corks off champagne bottles, the blind kid's back story, and most welcome of all, the tale behind another one of the crazy gun slingers, Dog Kelly.  Also, from the "Little Things That Count" department, the UHD brings back the film's trailer that the blu-rays discarded.  It also comes in a nice slip cover.

I should point out, though, that the blu-ray in the combo-pack is the standard 2009 release.  Same original menu, same label on the disc.  What that means is that the enclosed blu-ray does not include the new transfer, trailer or the deleted scenes.  So if you can't play 4k discs, but were thinking of just getting this to upgrade your blu, don't bother; you're out of luck.
But didn't I mention something about a step forward, but also some steps back?  Yeah, the bummer about Sony's new 4k release is that it's the shorter US cut again.  Most websites just say there is a "sex scene between Ellen and Cort" excised from the US version, but I'd call that a misleading understatement considering how much more happens in the cut footage than sex.  And no, that material isn't included in the 7 deleted scenes either.  So now we're stuck with a bit of a Sophie's choice on our hands: do we watch the best transfer or the best cut of the film?  We can't have both.  It was fun looking at the newer, prettier colors, and I'm glad to have those deleted scenes, but at the end of the day, next time I rewatch The Quick and The Dead, I'll still opt for the UK blu.  That's one you'll all have to decide for yourselves, of course.  But whichever version you go with, it'll be a hell of a lot better than Bad Girls.

Get Out (Our Very First DVD/ Blu-ray/ UHD Comparison)

Boy, it must look like I'm pretty late to the game reviewing Get Out in summer '18, right?  And hey, one thing I'm trying to do here is cover worthwhile releases from anytime, just so long as it's still compelling now.  If a DVD release from 2002 is still the best release a film's gotten, it's going up on display.  But there's a reason we're looking at Get Out today.  If you'll notice, I'm not just  putting up the DVD and the Blu-ray for comparison (although yes, they're on hand, too); we've got the 4K Ultra HD disc.  I've been tinkering and experimenting, trying to find a tenable workflow for capturing UHD screenshots in full resolution and the complete HDR color palette to make sure they represent exactly how the actual discs are displaying.  Let me tell ya, they sure don't make it easy!  You'll notice a lot of sites are stuck just including publicity stills or 1080p screenshots in their UHD reviews.  But I think we're finally there, and now 4k blus are officially on the table at DVDExotica.
Get out of there, Darius!
So what's this movie Get Out about, anyway?  It's about 3840 pixels wide in beautiful UHD, baby!  Sorry, sorry.  I'll contain myself.  Get Out is a very clever update of/ twist on The Stepford Wives, doing for racism what they did for sexism.  Or, strictly speaking, it's closer to Revenge Of the Stepford Wives or The Stepford Husbands, since those dealt with mind control and the original people still being "in there" as opposed to everyone being replaced by robots, like The Stepford Wives/ The Stepford Children.  But, don't let me saying that imply one invalidates the other.  That would be like saying why make Star Wars when we already had Hidden Fortress?  I think an argument could be made that younger audiences were perhaps a little overly impressed with Get Out's originality in particular, given that most of them were unfamiliar with those films that had tread this ground before.  But Jordan Peele's film maintains a very unique writer's voice which turns out to be one of its strongest selling points.  Plus, there's a key distinction in the antagonists' motivations, which I won't detail since I've already danced pretty close to spoilers already; but anybody reading this who's seen both films is probably already screaming it in their head.
Like a lot of great art, Get Out can be a little too complex to succinctly nail down by genre.  There was a bit of a controversy when the Golden Globes nominated it as a comedy, though with Lil Rel doing his schtick throughout the film, it's hard to deny the comedic elements are solidly in the mix.  And horror fans get touchy when you try to classify it as a thriller like its director prefers.  But it's all just meaningless semantics of classification in the face of a well-rounded work like this one.  It's got a killer cast, including Daniel Kaluuya, who's come a long way since Johnny English 2, and one of my favorites, Catherine Keener.  And it's got consistently beautiful cinematography, especially when viewed in HDR... Okay, okay!  There's no point in keeping up this pretense any longer, I need to get to the discs.
2017 US Universal DVD top; 2017 US Universal blu-ray mid;
2017 US Universal UHD bottom.
l to r: DVD, BD, UHD.
Framed at a full 'scope ratio of 2.39:1, there's a real distinction in clarity between the DVD and the blu.  Flicking between the two, the SD looks downright out of focus.  But in terms of the giant "4X SHARPER THAN HD" claim on the back of these 4k covers?  Well, yeah, the UHD's not just a much larger file, the increased detail is definitely there.  I'd say it's a wider leap from the DVD to the blu than the blu to the UHD, in terms of increased photo realism, but you can definitely see it coming even further to life in the UHD.  Of course the DVD is a mess, but look at the edges of the ketchup bottle, for instance, and see how much more blockily pixelated even the BD is compared to the smooth UHD.  But the conventional wisdom, and what I'd certainly agree with here, is that the bigger advantage to 4k Ultra HD discs is the HDR rather than the actual 4k resolution.  And yeah, you can really see how much bolder the colors are on the UHD.  Now, you might ask, couldn't you just boost the saturation on the blu's colors and have it look similar, and to some degree you could, but it definitely wouldn't be the same (I've actually played around with that haha).  The broader range of color, which you need a 4k screen to even fully see, is more vibrant and distinct.

The audio is a robust 5.1 mix, in DTS-HD on the blu and DTS:X on the UHD.  Each version also includes an English descriptive track for the visually impaired (a narrator describes all the action on-screen), and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.  The UHD also includes French, Portuguese and Spanish dubs, and although the case doesn't list it, the blu-ray also has the French dub.
The extras package is pretty strong here, too.  Jordan Peele gives a smart and engaging audio commentary, and also provides optional commentary on about a half hour's worth of deleted scenes, including a very different alternate ending (they were probably right to end it the way they did, but I'm glad we got to see this version, too).  There are some scenes very much worth checking out, as well as some runs of alternate takes that tend to go on and start to feel excessive.  You'll probably wind up skipping around rather than playing them all through.  There's a standard promo featurette with some soundbites and B-roll footage, and a brief, five minute Q&A session filmed before a screening.  There are a handful of bonus trailers that play at start-up, but not one for Get Out itself.  All versions feature all the extras except, as the UHD and blu-ray are sold together as a combo-pack, most of the extras are only on the blu and not the actual UHD disc.  Oh, and all versions also come in a slip cover.
Get Out's a great film.  It's easily the best thing Blumhouse has ever done (sorry, Incarnate), and despite being a film that very much had a distinct moment for itself, one that I'm sure will stand the test of time quite nicely.  It's an easy must-have.  And hey, now the gates are open for 4K Ultra HD discs on the site - woohoo!  But look for plenty more old DVDs, MIAs, imports and anything else that's still worth keeping in mind, too.  I've got a real long list of stuff I plan to cover, and I'm adding to it all the time...