Problematic Blus: Dark Matter

This is one of those situations I created this site to document.  I know it's not a title many of you are interested in, and so not many are likely to ever be reading this at all, but that's at least in large part because this 2007 Meryl Streep film, Dark Matter, had its theatrical release pulled and was buried by the studio.  But that's not even the "problematic" part of the story I'm eager to talk to you guys about.  I mean, it isn't often you feel like you have to warn the public about a blu-ray release, but here we are.

P.s.: I've also updated my Four Lions coverage to include the US blu-ray.
Based on the University of Iowa shootings in 1991.  But just as the completed film was finishing its festival run and preparing for its theatrical distribution, the Virigina Tech shootings happened, which people thought this was too similar to, so Universal pulled the plug (though it did eventually play a very limited ruin in 2008).  Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, who apparently mostly directs opera and theater, tells a story essentially from two perspectives: Liu Ye, who presents a smartly empathetic portrayal of a Chinese student who's come to America to further his studies in advanced quantum physics, and Meryl Streep who plays a university donor who's story is probably inspired by Jo Ann Beard's.  Some clever, nearly satirical insight into university culture, stylish photography, heartfelt performances (including Aidan Quinn) and an all-too-real story of American tragedy all add up to a work of art that really deserved better than the fate it was dealt.
Eventually, in 2009, Universal let its production company Screen Media quietly dump Dark Matter onto DVD.  Of course it was barebones, but I was disappointed that a new release in so late in the game turned out to be interlaced as well.  Still, it was all we were getting, so I embraced it until 2015, when I was delighted to discover that Screen Media had given the film an even quieter MOD blu-ray release.  It was an MOD, but still, a genuine HD presentation that, yes, fixed the interlacing.  I was in!  And this is the warning part comes in.
See those two shots above?  Well, you may see them here, but you won't see them on Screen Media's blu-ray - it's cut!  It doesn't cut out any of the school shooting violence, but it's censors almost a minute of sexually related content.  Which is surprising, since this is a rather chaste movie.  We just barely see the butt of a blonde girl as she runs out the door in one quick shot, and the rest is footage of the students watching a porno on television and discussing sexual culture.  And we don't actually see any discernible sex; it's shot in a way that we never see any nudity (just like the screenshot above) and only hear the sex they're having.  But apparently that was enough for them to censor the whole chunk.  Seems like an odd decision, but another major flaw of this disc provides a pretty big clue as to why this was done.
This "TV 14 DLV" watermark pops up on the film at almost the exact halfway mark.  What!?  It's not some clever, meta part of the film itself or anything - it's just on this particular transfer.  So I assume that's why they took such a puritanical view of the sex-themed content of this film; it's a TV-safe edit.  It's got to be just some kind of dumb oversight that the watermark wound up on the blu-ray... Screen Media are the legit film company behind Dark Matter and have a whole ton of films in their catalog over a substantial career.  So it's not a bootleg... but it sure feels like one.

Fortunately, though, we're not out of options.  In between Screen Media's DVD and blu-ray, Universal snuck out a 2011 blu-ray in Germany.  And thankfully, it's not censored or watermarked.  But that isn't to say it's perfect.
1) 2009 US Screen Media DVD; 2) 2011 DE Universal BD;
3) 2015 US Screen Media BD.
So where to start?  I've already mentioned that the DVD is interlaced, but it doesn't hurt to state it again, since that's an important detriment that puts it further behind the other releases than simply being in SD already does.  The US DVD has identical framing to the German blu, which is matted to 1.85:1.  The DVD still displays in 1.82:1, though, because it's slightly vertically stretched.  Oops.  Just one more thing to hold against the DVD.  The US blu is not stretched, but actually lifts the mattes to reveal a bit more vertical information, if not the 100% correct OAR, in 1.78:1.  Otherwise, in terms of picture, there's not much difference.  The biggest issues come up in other departments.
The US DVD has the original English 5.1 audio, plus full English subs and Spanish subs.  The only drawback here is that the Chinese dialogue (the film's about 90% English and 10% Chinese) has burnt-in English subs.  The US BD, on the other hand, just has the English audio folded down into a basic stereo mix, and in lossy PCM to boot.  It has no subtitle options except for the burnt-in ones during the Chinese parts.  And the German BD?  It has the English track (and a German dub) in proper 5.1, and in lossless DTS-HD.  It also has more subtitle options, including German subs of course, but also two English sets: the entire film and English subs that only translate the Chinese.  The only drawback, though, is that they also burn in German subs for some (not all, or even most) of the Chinese dialogue.  So there's no escaping burnt-in subs, and the German subs are certainly more annoying than English ones, which, after all, we'd only rarely and situationally want to turn off anyway.

Extras, again, are nil across the board.  The US DVD just has two bonus trailers, and the US BD has no trailers at all.  The German blu actually does have the Dark Matter trailer (plus a couple bonus), though it's the German dub.  Still, a dubbed trailer is slightly preferable to absolutely nothing.
So none of these discs are perfect, and there doesn't seem to be anymore options anywhere in the world.  The DVD is a DVD, and an interlaced one at that.  But the US BD is an absolute must-avoid, with its lossy, folded-down audio and bizarre watermark.  And worst of all, it's cut!  So I definitely recommend the German blu as the best available option.  Uncut, unmarked, HD, complete English subtitles and the only lossless, 5.1 English track.  You just have to live with a few unwanted German subs during two or three of the Chinese bits.  It's not that terrible.  As opposed to the US blu, which is that terrible.

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