The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Not Just for Craven Completists Anymore

Alright, there won't be any comparisons today.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for this one, but I decided long ago I wasn't going to buy it until they came out with some kind of special edition.  I'm willing to buy it once; but this is a movie I definitely wasn't prepared to double-dip on.  And it took until 2019, but it's finally happened.  Arrow has released a very attractive, deluxe collector's edition of The Hills Have Eyes Part 2.  You did it, boys; now I'm in.

Update 1/24/20: Adding the original Image DVD so we can see just how far we've come.
The biggest problem with this sequel that took seven years to deliver is the burden of expectations.  It certainly has a lot of dumb dialogue and a collection of other flaws, but it's most hurt by the fact that it lets down viewers who are naturally expecting higher quality not just from Wes Craven, but in particular The Hills Have Eyes original film.  Sure, everyone walking into the theater knows sequels have a natural tendency to decline, but Hills 2, has a returning writer/ director, plus most of the key surviving cast members, yet totally drops the ball.  It's not just the expected issues like trying to implausibly bring back everyone into the same situation as last time and recreating too many of the original films moments, although this film is guilty of both.
It's that it doesn't even try to live up to the tone or the emotional impact of the first one.  It's no longer about two families pitted against one another, or an unflinching look at our basest violent roots in nature.  It's a silly slasher with the most generic teenage cast possible, devoting half their budget and running time to Yamaha product placement.  We're expected to believe the mutant family living in the desert immediately hop on the racers' motorcycles and are expert riders, able to zip through dangerous terrain and out ride the pros.  Seriously, this movie asks us to accept that Bobby and the cannibal girl (who now sports a perm and speaks like a college graduate) from the first film have invented a super fuel, and all their friends will sell it and become millionaires if they can just get to a big race by 11 am.  That sounds more like the plot to Revenge Of the Nerds 3.
But if you put aside those expectations and just take this film on its own terms, well, it's still better than plenty of its 80s slasher peers which are so in vogue now right now.  If you're one of the many eating up all these DVD and blu-ray releases of titles like The Forest, Iced, Drive-In Massacre, Doom Asylum, Microwave Massacre, Don't Go In the Woods, etc. Wes Craven is still operating on an entirely higher level.  The look and staging is effective, the thrills are relatively fast-paced, there are impressive set pieces with fire, explosions and people flying through windows.  I mean, compare this to the film that most blatantly tried to emulate it, Memorial Valley Massacre, and this is like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  You know, the motorcycle stuff is dumb but fun, Harry Menfredini gives a dependable Friday the 13th-style score, Michael Berryman still brings a great characterization that goes far beyond his unique look, Beast is back and Wes is able to fully indulge his fetish for booby traps, which honestly never gets old.
So this is my first time springing for Hills Have Eyes 2, but it sure isn't its first time on disc.  Image first put it out as a barebones DVD back in 2002.  Anchor Bay UK got ahold of it 2004, but their edition was barebones, too.  Then Kino released it on blu in 2012, but it was not only barebones again, but in the unusual open matte ratio of 1.57:1.  Odeon then released that same 1.57:1 transfer over in the UK, and with the pretty much the world's first video extra: a five minute overview by a film critic.  But now in 2019, Arrow's gone and taken a fresh 2k scan of "an original 35mm dupe negative element," and turned it into a fancy, limited edition.
2002 US Image DVD top; 2019 US Arrow BD bottom.
And it looks great!  The film's matted properly to 1.85:1 and film grain is distinct and unmarred by compression.  Compare that to Image's washed, brown, 1.31:1, interlaced mess.  I was having trouble matching the first set of screenshots, where Tamara Stafford spreads her fingers, until I realized her fingers were too small to even show in the DVD's resolution.  Meanwhile on the blu, there is very slight wear to the film elements, but I barely even caught it until after watching the film when I went back for screenshots.  I suppose 4k would've brought it out a bit more, and individuated the grain, but I don't think it would add much more to the viewing experience, although with this film being shot in 35 rather than 16 like the previous film, there could be a little more clarity hiding away in the OCNs, if those still exist (I assume there's a reason they went with a dupe).  But really, there's nothing to complain about what we've got here.  The colors and contrast levels are completely natural and authentic feeling.  Gotta love these Arrow restorations.

And for audio, we've got the original, uncompressed mono with optional English subtitles. Image's DVD was obviously compressed and had no subtitles, but did throw in a French dub.
And for extras?  Well, it's not so much that they've packed in a whole ton of stuff.  But they've linked up with Red Shirt to create a definitive, just over 30 minute retrospective where an impressive amount of key players finally get on record about this film.  We hear candid reports from producer Peter Locke, first assistant director John Callas, production designer Dominick Bruno, Harry Manfredini, and stars Michael Berryman and Janus Blythe.  It strikes a great balance between them cast and crew acknowledging the flaws and dubious reputation of the film, and owning up to where things went wrong; but also respecting the qualities that did make it up on screen.  After that, though, things start to feel more like dressing than essential content.  The Hysteria Continues provides a predictable commentary which sways between informed insight and self indulgent chatter: worth a listen if you enjoy commentaries, but you won't be missing much if you can't be bothered.  Besides that, there's the trailer and a robust stills gallery.

Off-disc, we get a chunky little 38-page booklet with notes by Amanda Reyes and a cool vintage set report from an old issue of Fangoria.  There's a double-sided fold-out poster, six cool postcards and Arrow's standard insert card (mine's for The Horror of Malformed Men).  The outer box is designed to match their collector's edition of the first film, making them a handsome pair, and the interior case has reversible artwork.  I can't say I ever imagined this film would receive such a lavish presentation.

Image?  They just had a fullscreen trailer.
In short, Arrow has given this film more than it deserves.  A near-perfect presentation of the film, the documentary it's always needed, and a whole collection of superficial bells and whistles.  And the sum of all that is what makes it finally enough to add this film to your collection even if you're not a Craven completist.

Dueling Blus: Argento and Fulci's Wax Mask

Yay!  I can finally cross another of the few remaining non-anamorphic titles in my collection off the list.  One 7 Movies has just released Sergio Stivaletti's Wax Mask on blu-ray!  This is my first One 7 Movies disc, and to be honest, I wasn't sure how much faith I had in this outfit.  I wouldn't have been at all surprised to find out this disc was an upconvert of the old Image DVD.  I still would've taken it, though, just because it would at least fix the anamorphic issue - that's how desperate I was.  But I might as well tell you now, since the following screenshot's about to give it away anyway: this is actually a brand new, attractive HD transfer!

Update 3/9/17 - 9/25/19: And now Wax Mask has been reissued as a brand new special edition from Severin!  And it's, well, certainly an improvement in some aspects...
So 1997's Wax Mask was a pretty well-hyped late-era Italian horror title.  After a bit of a rivalry, even if it was mostly made up by/ for the press, maestros Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were finally going to collaborate on a film together!  But tragically, Fulci didn't live to see it through.  So instead long time special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti stepped in to make his director's debut.  Fulci still gets a writing credit, though, Argento still produced, and the production values are surprisingly high for a '97 Italian horror title that wound up going essentially direct-to-video in most markets.  It's not a masterpiece; it gets pretty silly at points and it has a very bad and very 90s case of the Unfortunate CGIs.  But if you can get past its weaknesses, its strengths are pretty compelling.
Wax Mask has kind of a dual spirit to it, which is probably an intentional result of the combined styles of Argento and Fulci.  On the one hand, it's a lush, romantic throw-back to classic horror: a veritable remake of early Hollywood wax museum terrors The Mystery Of the Wax Museum, House of Wax, with similar ambitions to Argento's Phantom of the Opera and Dracula (although a league above those two movies!).  It's a period piece with fantastic locations, impressive costumes and a complex mystery plot.  But it's also happy to go to extremes with very modern, gruesome kills and effects heavy thrills.  It's sad that this film really dives headfirst into the early CGI movement with some very obvious, tacky sequences, because apart from those, the practical special effects are plentiful and look great.  This film looks and sounds beautiful, and you can tell they really threw in to not just make a respectable horror flick but a truly great movie.  This makes the boner missteps even bigger tragedies, but if you can come at this with even a portion of an open mind, there's still so much showmanship on display here that viewers should have a blast.
So, for years and years, we pretty much just had Image's 2000 Euroshock Collection DVD of this title to work with.  It was widescreen, but barebones, non-anamorphic and looking pretty grubby by modern standards.  There were similar DVDs in other markets, but none were anamorphic, some were fullscreen, and all were barebones.  That's why this movie has sat on my short list of titles I've been desperate to replace (Marat/ Sade, The Wife and Happiness, sadly, are still on it).  So I jumped on the pre-order as soon as I heard One 7's blu-ray was coming, and it was absolutely worth it... despite some imperfections.  Then, this summer, Severin announced their own special edition, and I once again jumped the pre-order, ready to wave goodbye to those remaining imperfections.  And it was absolutely worth it this time, too... despite some imperfections.
1) 2000 Image DVD; 2) 2017 One 7 BD; 3) 2019 Severin BD.
Look at that!  You can't help but notice what a huge upgrade the One 7's are to the crummy old DVD right off the bat.  It's a whole different viewing experience: apparently a 4k scan from the original camera negative, supervised by Stivaletti himself.  Their 1.78:1 framing seems to recover a sliver of extra picture compared to the DVD's 1.74:1 picture, too.  But, some of those details look a little too sharp.  And look at the crazy autopsy tunnel shot a little further up the page, what are those edge halos all around the pipes and stuff?  It looks like Unsharpen Mask, or a similar filter, has been used heavily on the picture, giving the film an unnatural edge to its details... not in every shot, but a lot.  It's not that offensive; I've certainly seen worse, but you notice it, and you feel all the more disappointed because it would've looked better if they just didn't deliberately mess with it.  Grain is also pretty sparse for a 4k... did they need to tinker with the picture because they DNR'd it first?  That's my best guess, but of course there's no way to know for sure exactly what the story behind this transfer is.  But we can all see the final result.

But now Severin fixes that, right?  Well, no.  Let's get to the disappointing aspect of their new release now, and then we'll get to all the good news.  But this part's not good news; they seem to be stuck with the same master as the 2017 blu.  That's not particularly surprising; I think we all assumed they'd be licensing the same Italian restoration for their root master, but I was hoping they'd have gotten access to a pre-tinkered with master, so it at least wouldn't have that effect applied to it.  But no, it's the same. Oh well.  Mt fingers were crossed for a save, but knew that might not happen.  What I'm more blind-sided by, though, is the lower contrast, higher black levels.  It gives the colors a more faded look, which hey, might actually be more like what was shot in-camera (I could easily believe the 2017 blu is boosting those colors a bit).  But it turns the blacks grey, which looks really off.  Like, check out what it does to a one of the film's (many!) dark scenes:
And it's not lifting any black crush or anything.  The shadows are still solid in the same places; just solid grey instead of solid black.  Otherwise the color timing and everything looks just like the last blu.  It's just a duller, flatter version, and I hate to say it, but I prefer the 2017's PQ.

But things turn cheerier in the other department, including the somewhat curious case of the audio.  On the first BD, we're given two strong 5.1 mixes - both the English and Italian tracks, plus lossy versions of the stereo and 5.1 mixes in each language (yes, that's six audio tracks total).  But at a couple small points in the English audio tracks (and yes, all three; I checked) the audio reverts to Italian.  Just for a couple lines and it doesn't prevent you from following the story, but it's distracting and weird.  Especially weird because the Image DVD has the English dub for those moments (their only option is the English stereo mix with no subtitles), so it's not like those bits were never dubbed with the rest of the picture or anything.

And to add to the frustration, there are no subtitle options!  Therefore, the Italian audio options are useless for non-Italian speakers.  Now admittedly, both dubs are equally mediocre.  They both feature a lot of flat readings, and even for the opening scenes set in 19th century Paris, nobody bothers to attempt French accents for any of the characters.  So if you're disappointed by the English dub, I can at least assure you're not missing much better on the Italian side.  But it's pretty stupid - or more accurately cheap - not to have subtitles here.
But now Severin fixes that, right?  This time, yes!  Instead of the pointless six tracks, Severin gives us the full four, 5.1 remixes and the original stereo tracks of both the English and Italian audio.  And this time they're all in DTS-HD, no lossy stuff.  And happily, their English tracks, don't randomly revert to Italian in those brief moments.  And now we finally have subtitle options, so the Italian track isn't useless!  We have two sets of subtitles, even, One for the English and one for the Italian, a.k.a. the subtitles and the dubtitles.  So Severin took a hit with their black levels, but they win back a lot of points here.
And they swing back for more points here.  Starting with One 7, though, they did come through to some degree in the extras department.  Nothing massive, but a little good stuff at least.  Image's old DVD had nothing but a stills gallery.  That's gone and I don't miss it.  In its stead, One 7 gives us two collections of edited behind-the-scenes video footage.  The first runs a solid 23 minutes, and gives us a glimpse of filming nearly every sequence in the movie.  Then there's a second, 13 minute one that focuses more specifically on the creation of the special effects.  We learn that Dario Argento was often on-set and hands on, and that Tom Savini contributed his head to this film(!).  We see some pretty impressive set pieces and clearly expensive camerawork, and the featurettes are judiciously edited, moving from one scene to the next at a rapid pace, so it's never boring.  Subtitles for some of the incidental conversations would've been nice, but still, these are cool to have.
But Severin, oh boy!  First of all, they have the behind-the-scenes stuff from the 2017 blu, this time with subtitles for the incidental conversations - woot!  And they have an additional, briefer third one that gives us another couple minutes peek backstage.  But that's just the beginning, because Severin has collaborated with Freak-O-Rama (who've been doing the extras for Scorpion's Italian releases like The Church and The Sect) to really bust this out into a classic special edition, just like this film's been calling out for since the 90s.  Dario Argento, Sergio Stivaletti, producer Guiseppe Columbo, production designer Massimo Geleng, actress Gabriella Giorgelli, Claudio Fragasso and composer Maurizo Abeni are all interviewed for a series of featurettes that combined run nearly two hours.  Then critic Alan Jones is briefly interviewed to add some context, including how it adheres to, and veers far away from, the writings of Gaston Leroux, etc.  Still want more?  How about a director's commentary by Stivaletti, accompanied by his son, who had a cameo in Wax Mask, and moderated by David Gregory.  I was a little worried they might struggle with the English, like those old Anchor Bay Argento commentaries, since they speak Italian in their interviews, but these guys do just fine.

Then, if you opt for the limited (to 4,000 copies) edition 2-disc set, you'd also get a soundtrack CD featuring Abeni's score.  That comes with an insert with the track-listing and a stylish slipcover.  And I believe both versions include reversible artwork.  So yeah, many more points for Severin.
So yeah, neither of these are five star, perfect little blu-rays.  One 7's overly processed and light on care (like subtitles).  Severin definitely added that care, and it pays off nicely, but they're stuck with the over processing and seem to have inadvertently made it worse.  Wax Mask is a super fun flick, though; and just like the movie itself, the blu-ray doesn't need to be impeccable to be thoroughly enjoyed.  So I thoroughly recommend getting this on blu.  Which blu?  Well, it depends if you're the kind of person who watches extras or not, I suppose.  If you only 100% care about PQ and nothing else, yeah, One 7 still wins.  But Severin is an incredible package, including subtitles that finally open up all the language options, too.  A die-hard will want both editions, I suppose.  But for me, I'm happy with just the Severin and bringing down the black levels a couple notches on my TV before viewing.

Hellraiser 4 & 5

As far as I'm concerned, there are five Hellraiser films that are worth having in your collection.  Every single one is at least worth a watch once, as a curiosity piece; but now that I've seen, for instance, Hellraiser: Hellworld, I hope never to see it again.  And while none of the sequels are in the same league as the original, the first four I'll revisit.  And I've already covered the first three in the series, so it was only a question of opportunity as to when I'd tackle parts 4 and 5.

Now, my initial impulse was to hold off writing about these two until better HD options surfaced.  But despite the odd, overseas and overpriced media-book, it doesn't look like anything better's coming down the pipeline.  Considering the current state of Miramax and the not particularly high regard these films are held in, even by Hellraiser aficionados, We may well be living in the final chapter.  So let's at least examine what we've got.

Update 10/31/23: Wow!  I can't say I was expecting to see Hellraiser 4 restored in 4k, but here we are!  It's all a part of Arrow's impressive, new Quartet of Torment, a UHD boxed set of the first four Hellraiser films, the other three of which I'm covering on their page over here.
1996's Hellraiser IV: Bloodline is a huge mess.  To give you an idea, special effects artist turned one time director Kevin Yagher took his name off this, something the man behind Hellworld didn't even do.  Although that's largely because this film involved a second director coming in and reshooting a lot of Yagher's material, substantially changing the story.  But it's still a wonderfully ambitious mess that holds a strong appeal for fans who can see the intention behind the missteps on the screen.  I once spent a long time personally re-editing this film with the workprint, trying to bring it back as much as I could do the original script.  And that did yield a better version, but so many key scenes and effects don't seem to have ever been shot, so unfortunately I don't believe a director's cut would be possible, even imaging a scenario where that could get funded.  So the film as we have it is just a tool for us to help picture screenwriter Peter Atkins' vision in our minds' eye.
Best known for being the "Hellraiser in space" movie, Bloodline almost takes on the format of an anthology, telling the ongoing saga of the L'Merchant (inventor of Hellraiser's signature puzzle box) family line over three different generations.  So one is a period piece set in 18th century France, one's in contemporary US (ostensibly taking place in the location established at the end of Hellraiser 3), and one in far flung the future, in outer space.  Unfortunately, budget cuts and studio interference lead to the film getting bogged down in the space station material, with a bunch of generic space marines wandering around bland, dark hallways, and the French stuff is given the shortest shrift.  But there's still plenty of entertaining costumes, locations and new cenobites.  And the ideas in the story are interesting, if not always fully serviced, and stay stay truer to the classic Hellraiser ethos than the previous film, which was more fun and coherent, but at the cost of taking the series somewhat of the rails.
Hellraiser 4 came out on DVD in 2000 from Dimension/ Buena Vista, and as you might expect from an Alan Smithee film, it's barebones.  As an extra bonus, it's also non-anamorphic, so it was desperately in need of an upgrade.  And that came along eventually, in the form of blu-rays from Echo Bridge, who packaged it separately, as a split release with Hellraiser 5, or as a Hellraiser 4-pack (all still on one disc), with parts 5, 6 and 8.  I went with the double feature.  Now I mentioned mediabooks, and there are some slightly intriguing import releases.  There's a German set that includes a DVD of the workprint, for instance.  But nobody was making any new masters.  Well, there is an Australian disc with a scan of a film print that reportedly looks worse than the US discs, but at least it was an effort.  But now in 2023, just in time for Halloween, Arrow's changed all that, with a brand new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative on UHD with HDR10 and Dolby Vision as part of their impressive, new Quartet of Torment boxed set (an alternative, 1080p BD set is available, too).
1) 2000 Dimension DVD; 2) 2011 Echo Bridge BD; 3) 2023 Arrow UHD.

Well, Echo Bridge's disc is a much bigger improvement over the DVD than I was expecting!  Granted, the fact that the DVD is non-anamorphic handed Echo Bridge the easy win.  But even besides that, the colors are much bolder and the AR is slightly adjusted from 1.81:1 to 1.78:1 (except for a few special effects shots that are inexplicably matted to 1.82:1) but is reframed to reveal an unexpected amount of additional picture.  Detail and is clear and the film grain looks surprisingly natural.  There's no DNR, edge enhancement or any other unwanted tweaking I'd been dreading before popping this in.  It's no cutting edge 4k spectacular, but Echo Bridge's blu looks surprisingly good.  But hey, now we've got our cutting edge 4k spectacular, and naturally, it's even better.  It essentially matches the improved framing of the BD, but is now properly matted to 1.85:1.  The colors are bolder and the film grain is now much more carefully captured and rendered, and the increased resolution keeps things from breaking apart into pixels even in close-up.

Dimension's DVD has a fancy 5.1 mix and optional English subtitles, with Echo giving us a stereo mix, but bumped up to lossless DTS-HD, though losing the subtitles.  Arrow now gives us the best of both worlds with the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes present and in lossless DTS-HD, plus the subtitles.
The Quartet of Torment box is full of special features (including a whopping 200 page hardcover book, much of which is devoted to this sequel), most of which I'm covering on the Hellraiser 1-3 page, but for the first time ever, Bloodline is getting some special features for itself (the DVD and BD didn't even have the trailer).  First, there's an audio commentary with screenwriter Peter Atkins, along with moderators Kim Newman and Stephen Jones, the latter of whom also has some unique insight, having worked on the promotional material for the Hellraiser series at the time.  They're a fun trio, and it's great to finally have the silence of this film be broken.  Also included is an earlier cut of the film in workprint form.  It's 1080p open matte full frame at 1.33:1, clearly sourced from tape with a counter imposed over the image during the whole thing.  As someone who's homemade his own little composite cut of Hellraiser 4 in the past, though, I'm happy to report that this is a different edit than the workprint that's been floating around on the internet for decades.  There's also a short clip of extra footage from that older workprint of about six minutes that aren't in this version or the final film.  And there's the trailer.
Now, Bloodline is the last film Clive Barker lent his name to, and upon its release, he seemed pretty dead set against Inferno.  But now looking at the long line of films, it may not just be the best of the post-Barker sequels, but in some ways better than one or two of the Barker-produced entries.  The acting has certainly improved over Bloodline, and it manages to avoid the cornier aspects of Hell On Earth (i.e. no CD-Head equivalent).  Rather than furthering the story of Pinhead, Inferno - probably wisely - is a smaller story, one that actually harkens back to the original Hellraiser graphic novels from the late 80s and early 90s, where new characters would encounter their own gateways to Hell, and face their own inner demons.  Doug Bradley's still in it, but he's returned to a very background role, as he was in the original story.  Despite the lack of Barker's endorsement, it feels like these guys got the intentions of the original writing more than Atkins and Co.
That said, it falls short in its own ways.  It obviously suffers from a very constricted budget, and the decision to make this a police procedural isn't the worst idea for an entry in this saga, but does make it feel like typical television fare.  And casting Nick Turturro straight out of NYPD Blue didn't help.  Nightbreed's Craig Sheffer helps us feel like we're still in the Barkerverse, but at the cost of a better performance another actor would've given us.  And the fact that the Hell factor has been dialed down definitely detracts from the thrills the previous four films delivered.  It feels like episode 1 of the Hellraiser cable TV show, rather than another film, and as the first of many Hellraisers to go direct-to-video, I guess that's not too far off the mark.  The cenobites look cool when we see them, but they only get a handful of minutes' screen time.  But still, Scott Derrickson, who's gone on to commandeer Marvel's current Doctor Strange, has restored a degree of quality that it's kind of a bummer Clive never recognized.
1) 2000 Dimension DVD; 2) 2011 Echo Bridge BD.
I've seen some confusion over whether Echo Bridge's blu is 1080p or 1080i and now I see why.  I was pleasantly surprised with Bloodline; I definitely wasn't expecting one film to be interlaced and one not.  But that's the case here; The Inferno blu is riddled with combing, which also gives an ugly juttering effect to camera pans and movement.  The DVD wasn't even interlaced!  The framing is ever so slightly fixed from 1.77:1 to 1.78:1, adding slivers of picture along the top and bottom.  And the blu is a little crisper than the DVD, which is slightly compressed to a softer feel.  But it's very subtle.  And the colors and everything else are unchanged.  This isn't an upscale, but it's a very slight boost in clarity, and taking into account the interlacing, this is arguably a downgrade.  Personally, I'd rate it as a side-grade.

And the audio situation is the same as part 4 was.  The DVD had a 5.1 mix with subtitles, while the BD gives us a lossless DTS-HD stereo mix and no subs.  And again, the blu is barebones.  The DVD at least had minimal extras: a six minute interview with Doug Bradley, an even shorter featurette where Gary Tunnicliffe gives us a look at the effects for the puzzle box and Pinhead's pins, and the trailer for Hellraiser 4.  So we've also lost those.
So Echo Bridge's release was actually a satisfying and entirely valid upgrade for the Bloodline DVD.  But for Inferno?  It's a tough call if the DVD is actually better or worse, all things considered.  Serious fans will be replacing Bloodline with the Quartet box, along with the original trilogy, all of which are substantially improved, and blessed with new features.  But for Inferno, there are those import blus.  Not that they'll have different masters, but by simply not being interlaced, you would genuinely do better going for the German (which has the Doug Bradley but not the Tunnicliffe interview) or Japanese (barebones) BDs.  The only question is if it's worth the trouble.  Because, boy are the US blu-rays prevalent and cheap.

Any Muse Is Good Muse

Flip over another scorecard, we're now up to ⓷ Albert Brooks films on blu!  That's Lost In America in 2017, Modern Romance in 2018 and now The Muse in 2019.  At this rate, we'll have his entire collection by the end of 2023.  So Universal's new Muse is good news, even if this Muse could... definitely be better.
The biggest criticism I think you can really lay at the feet of Brooks' sixth feature is that it relies a little too heavily on celebrity cameos and pop culture references.  Brooks stars as a struggling Hollywood screenwriter, and he doesn't miss an opportunity to pack the frame with his famous friends.  But it's impossible not to derive at least some pleasure from Martin Scorsese ranting about his ranting about his upcoming Raging Bull remake.  And once you scratch past the surface, you've still got Brooks' and Monica Johnson's consistently warm and clever writing, charming performances and a genuinely inventive premise.
There also seems to be a surprisingly introspective aspect to the premise, as Brooks' character is dealing with the issue that everyone's telling him his writing is losing its edge... which seems to be the most common complaint laid at his own later work.  Sort of like everyone telling Woody Allen he should stick to writing funny movies in Stardust Memories, except Brooks seems to take it to heart and use it as a catalyst for honest introspection.  In the story, he reaches a point of desperation that he reaches out to his friend, Jeff Bridges, for some kind of assistance, and is surprised when Bridges cuts him into a deep Hollywood secret.  The nine muses of ancient Greek mythology, the daughters of Zeus, are real and at least one of them is living in California, providing the artistic inspiration that's enabled famous filmmakers like Rob Reiner and James Cameron (who yes, both cameo) to create their Oscar winning works.  Bridges agrees to set up a meeting with this muse, played with a surprising verve for comedy by Sharon Stone, who's certain to bring back his edge, so long as he manages to keep her completely happy at all times.  There's plenty more cameos I could list, but one of the reasons this movie endures is how much of this film really just plays as a touching family comedy in the home with his wife Andie MacDowell and two daughters.  It also has a robust and magical score by none other than Elton John, composing for a film for the very first (and only?) time.  He's certainly provided hit songs for Disney musicals and stuff, but I think this is his only complete, traditional soundtrack gig.
The Muse debuted nice and early on DVD in 1999 as a flipper disc with wide and fullscreen versions from a short-lived subsidiary of Universal called USA Home Entertainment.  Universal reissued it slightly repackaged in 2010, but that one DVD's basically been it all the way to this year.  Finally, Universal has now released it on blu, though it doesn't look like they've bothered to strike a new master during all that time...
1) 2000 USA HE fullscreen DVD; 2) 2000 USA HE widescreen DVD;
3) 2019 USA Universal Blu-ray.
Let's start with the good news.  The fullscreen side of the DVD is a needlessly open matte 1.33:1, while the widescreen is slightly pillar-boxed to 1.81:1.  So this blu slightly tweaks the AR to a proper 1.85:1 for the first time on home video.  And this is a genuine, HD 1080p disc, so it is visibly sharper and cleaner than the soft DVD.  The colors and contrast are fine, and just a smidgen more robust than what we had before.  The problem, as I said, is just that this appears to be the same, quite dated master.  Film grain is there, if a bit smudgy.  But they would just about get away with it as a perfectly acceptable blu, if it weren't for the garish edge enhancement.  This was clearly made to keep the old standard def compression from swallowing up detail, and its use is debatable even then.  But on the BD, it really looks bad, giving the film not just an artificial, compromised look.  But it can be downright distracting as it will randomly make a minor element like the desk lamp between MacDowell and Stone shine and attract your attention away from the people.  It's just clumsy, ugly and distracting.  Universal's clearly attempted to do everything right with this disc - it's dual-layered, the audio is lossless, etc - but it's weighed down by this clunky old master.  It's still unarguably superior to the DVD and the best edition on the market.  But for 2019, it's disappointing.

The DVD gave us a choice between a stereo and 5.1 mix, which the BD whittles down to just the 5.1, but it is in DTS-HD.  The DVD also included English, French and Spanish subtitles, which the BD boils down to just the optional English subs.
the teaser
The DVD was far from a special edition, but it wasn't quite barebones.  It had a cute, little six minute featurette with light-hearted interview clips and B-roll, including a bit with Elton.  Then there was the trailer and a teaser trailer, and that's about it apart from on-screen text stuff like cast and crew bios and a silly history of muses.  No online listings mentioned word one about extras, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the BD actually kept the featurette.  It dropped the trailers, though, which is disappointing because, rather than just your average clips from the film, the teaser was actually a funny little routine where Brooks comes out and addresses the audience and does a unique comedy bit.  Oh well.
So yeah, it's not great.  It's a shame they didn't bother to remaster this film, especially since this film clearly needed it more than plenty of titles that have gotten multiple remasters.  And it's a shame they dropped the teaser and didn't bring in Brooks for a commentary, etc.  But, you know, for a catalog title like this, it's not like anybody really expected Universal to roll out the red carpet.  It's a disappointment but still worth adding to your collection based on the strengths of the film if not the disc itself.  And it is a solid bump up from the DVD at least.  It's just... not great.  Getting The Muse at all on blu is good news, though this disc does put the test to that theory.  We just better get our next Brooks film sometime in 2020.