Crime Week, Day 2: Monster

We move on from Snowtown to something slightly less bleak.  I mean, it's still about a string of real life grisly murders that basically illustrates our inherent unkindness to each other, showing how true love and rising above our status in life are basically impossible, naive endeavors.  But it's still got an upbeat sweetness to it the previous film lacked.  I'm talking about 2003's Monster, and it's pretty fantastic.  Unfortunately, however, that's more than I can say for the film's fate on home video.  Though, hey, it could be worse.
This film is best known for the complete (and Oscar-winning) transformation the stunning Charlize Theron underwent to become the haggard lead character, and it is remarkably impressive.  But once you get past the novelty of that, there's a real heart breaking film here that's powerful enough to contain it.  Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, this is shockingly the only feature she was able to get made for fifteen years, when she came back to conquer the box office with Wonder Woman.  So it's obvious the major studios were fools not to hire her more often; but I trust I won't be surprising anybody over the age of 15 when I say that this is the far more substantive and enriching of the two.
Monster tells the story of Aileen Wuornos, arguably the world's first female serial killer.  Showing her from a teen build and rebuild her self esteem from one crushing cycle of abuse to the next, only to get beaten down and try again, it walks an intriguing line of making you empathize with the killer, coming close, though ultimately crucially short of justification.  It certainly doesn't ask us to condone the murders, especially as they drift further and further from an initial act of self defense towards selfish collateral of robberies as the film continues.  There's a great scene mid-film where we really see how horribly wrong Wuornos has turned through her girlfriend's eyes.  But we definitely see someone acting as a result of lifelong trauma and mental illness rather than the abject sadism depicted in Snowtown.  Theron definitely delivers the critical performance and throws Wuornos's naked humanity into our laps, but the entire supporting cast is pretty great, from her hopeless love interest Christina Ricci, the unfailing Bruce Dern, The Walking Dead's Scott Wilson and yes, that is Jason himself, Kane Hodder, in that top shot.  Music's a big part of the picture, too, with a mix of well chosen pop songs and a creative score by BT.
Monster came out as a new release DVD from Columbia Tri-Star in 2004 here in the US, and it was quickly re-released as a special edition in 2005.  It was kind of a cheeky double-dip move, but I didn't fall for it, because there were already even better, more loaded special editions in other regions.  There was an intriguing German 3-disc set that included both of Nick Broomfield's documentaries on Wuornos.  But those were both already available separately, so for my money, the 2004 2-disc Metrodome DVD in the UK was the definitive choice, with the most extras actually about the film Monster.  In fact, in 2006, Metrodome reissued it as a 3-disc set, with the two Broomfield docs on the third disc, but by then I'd already committed.  Either way, Metrodome was the disc of choice until the blu-ray era, when new editions started popping up around the world, all with the same, somewhat grungy HD master and none of those expanded special edition extras.
1) 2004 US Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2004 UK Metrodome DVD;
3) 2009 US First Look BD.
So clearly a new HD master was not struck between the DVDs and BD.  The aspect ratio minimally shifts from 1.84:1 to 1.86:1 and finally the proper 1.85:1, but it's an almost invisible distinction involving very minor stretching.  Apart from that, the only difference between the two DVDs is that the Metrodome, naturally, plays at PAL speed.  The blu-ray?  Well, it's a genuine upgrade to HD, so it gets rid of all that murky softness around every edge.  Edges are clearer and the overall image is sharper and clearer.  You don't really see grain so much as squares alternatively smooth and pixelated patches (yes, this film was shot on 35mm, not digital).  It's not an image you want to zoom in on, that's for sure, and it suggests even more image detail could be restored with a fresh scan.  But what do want from a 2009 blu-ray?  You still wouldn't want to go back to a DVD.

Audio-wise, the US DVD gives you a choice between 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS mixes with optional Spanish subtitles.  Metrodome keeps both 5.1 mixes but also adds a 2.0 Dolby stereo mix and changes the subs to English.  The blu-ray gives us a TrueHD 5.1 mix and that stereo mix, the latter of which is still lossy, so I'm not sure why anybody would bother with that.  I've read reviews saying the sound is out of sync, but I don't know if that's just an issue screwy screener discs they were sent or what, because my copy doesn't seem to have that issue.  Really scrutinizing the sync, maybe I've spotted a couple moments that were probably ADR'd or something, but never anything like "a full second behind the lip movements on the screen."  So that's a relief, anyway.  Oh, and the blu has both the optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Now, even the non-special editions did have some extras.  Both the original US DVD and the eventual blu-ray had the exact same little special features package.  The main things are two featurettes.  One is your standard, promo-featurette with a little B-roll and interview snippets mostly filmed on location.  It runs under fifteen minutes, but it's a little better than average since it also covers the real story behind the film and even includes a few words from Aileen's best friend from high school, who has some unique insight into her back story.  And the other is about the soundtrack, and features interviews with Jenkins and BT.  Besides that, there's a little "film mixing demo" which allows you to watch a select scene from the film and flip between it in different stages of audio mixing: dialogue only, isolated music track, etc.  It's like a very brief little film school lesson.  Then there's a couple trailers, an ad for the soundtrack and that's it.
The Making Of a Monster UK exclusive
But the UK DVD has so much more.  First of all, for the record, it has pretty much everything from those other discs, including the soundtrack featurette and the mixing demo.  The only thing it doesn't have, exactly, is the promo-featurette.  But that's because, instead, it has a longer 'making of' featurette, that includes all of footage from it plus an additional eleven minutes of footage, going further in depth.  So it's the same thing but decidedly better.  Then there's another new featurette on the real story, this time interviewing Jenkins, Theron and notably Nick Broomfield about his experience with the documentaries and how they compare and contrast with the footage.  Even better, there's a collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, including a very interesting dream sequence, and those have optional audio commentary by the director.  And that leads us to probably the biggest extra the US releases are missing: a full audio commentary by Jenkins, Theron(!) and producer Clark Peterson.  Now, the US special edition DVD from 2005 also had this commentary (but only some of the other stuff), so it seems crazy that they'd take it off again for the blu-ray.  But there it is.
So yeah, this is another one of those "build your own special edition" scenarios, where the thing to do is get the movie on blu-ray for the actual presentation of the film, and then one of the special edition DVDs for the important supplements.  I'd recommend importing the Metrodome, but the US one at least comes close.  Even then, though, the blu-ray presentation could be better, which makes this whole scenario a little frustrating.  It may not be as bad as it's made out to be - it certainly seems to be in sync - but it's definitely an old BD calling out for an upgrade.  I'll be surprised if it gets one, though.

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