To a New World of Made On Demand Gods and Monsters

I was so excited when I heard Lions Gate was putting Gods and Monsters out on blu in long last.  Then I heard it was actually going to be a Made On Demand BD-R, and I was less excited.  But a lot of the studios have been toying with that, from Sony's Choice Collection to a recent string of releases from Paramount.  Not all MOD blu-rays are necessarily BD-Rs... Warner Archives' are pressed discs, as are some of Sony's.  But this one's both.  Oh well, I'm not unexcited.  Let's see what we've got.
Interestingly, this is a Clive Barker-produced film not based on his writings.  The only other case of that happening was a small documentary he got behind in 2010.  But this turned out to be a widely distributed theatrical release that won an Academy Award and got nominated for a couple others.  It stars Ian McKellan as James Whale, director of Universal's original Frankenstein and Invisible Man films, among many others through the 1930s and 40s.  It's based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, a fictionalized account on how the end of Whale's life could have gone down. He supposes a gardener (played with surprising depth by Brendan Fraser) who Whale lets into his life during his final years in the 1950s.
This film plays surprisingly like Mrs. Dalloway, which had just come out the year before.  Combine Vanessa Redgrave's drifting almost helplessly from the present into memory with Rupert Evert's WWI flashbacks and hallucinations of dead soldier friends standing around in genteel gardens, and you've got this movie's version of James Whale.  The melancholy reflective tone, similar (and both excellent) soundtracks, the English literary quality, heck, both movies even star a Redgrave!  But that's not a criticism, since Mrs. Dalloway was terrific.  And adding the Frankenstein/ classic Hollywood trappings, and on a more substantive level, the homosexual themes, and you've got something that stands apart enough to more than justify itself as a separate work of art.  Still, at the end of the day, this film exists for McKellan and Fraser to act our faces off, and man do they succeed in that.
Gods and Monsters debuted on DVD all the way back in 1999 as a Collector's Edition from Universal and Lions Gate.  It's been reissued a couple of times with variant covers (one with the gold bars, one without, and one with a giant gold "Academy Award Winners" box around it), but it's always the same transfer, extras, etc.  So it's fortunate that, for such an old disc, it was actually rather good: anamorphic widescreen with some quality special features.  But unfortunately, we never got a blu-ray.  Well, at least until a few months ago, when at the end of 2019, we sort of did.  There still isn't a proper BD exactly, but Lions Gate released an MOD BD-R, which is at least a step up.  In some ways.
1999 Universal DVD top; 2019 Lions Gate BD-R bottom.
Both discs are in 2.35:1, though we can see the blu has a super smidgen additional picture along some of the edges.  The important distinctions, however, are two-fold.  One, yes, this is a new master, not just the same transfer benefiting from a higher res disc.  The DVD was already pretty nice, especially for one so old.  It's a solid image, free of interlacing or other issues.  But the blu is much crisper and clearer.  Grain is a little soft and definitely patchy - it certainly wouldn't pass for a 4k remaster - but it's still a much more attractive HD image, free of the edge enhancement and compression noise of the older editions.  But look how much detail and realism is restored:
1999 Universal DVD left; 2019 Lions Gate BD-R right.
This is a serious upgrade.  Oh, that other important distinction, though?  That one's not so hot.  The gamma levels seem to be off on this disc.  They're too high, rendering all the colors and blacks too pale and light.  I mean, you could argue it's an intentional artistic decision and the film's supposed to look lighter than it did on DVD, and to some degree I could buy that.  But even the black bars of the letterbox are gray rather than true black, and not even by a subtle shade, so it really looks like a mistake.  I had to re-take my screenshots, just to be sure I hadn't screwed them up somehow.  That said, it's less noticeable outside of a direct comparison like this, and most viewers probably notice anything about the brightness at all.  But it's there.  Oh, and also, as a BD-R rather than a properly pressed disc, it's bound to all the potential quirks and playback issues your player may have with burned discs.  Can't forget that.

In terms of AQ, the DVD features a strong Dolby Stereo track with optional English subtitles.  And the blu features... the same, lossy audio.  Boo.  At least it kept the subtitles, but this is slack, and a less forgivable issue than the gamma.
The Collector's Edition DVD does a pretty good job living up to its title.  We get an enthusiastic and thorough audio commentary by the director who's talking as fast as he can to fit everything he has to say into the film's running time and keep up with what's on-screen (thankfully, he's experienced with commentaries and recognizes the importance of keeping the commentary tied to the film itself).  Then there's a roughly half-hour featurette, which was created with considerably more care than your average promo item.  It not only includes your standard B-roll and soundbites from the cast and crew, but goes into Whale's past and even brings in experts and cast members from the original Frankenstein films.  Finally, there's the trailer and a fold-out insert with additional notes.

Unfortunately, the blu-ray includes none of that, not even the trailer.  This is a real disappointing loss, so hanging onto your old DVD is essential.
So this BD-R is both a big disappointment and essential.  You still need the DVD for the very worthwhile extras, and even then you have to put up with lossy audio and whatever issues burned discs give you.  But the image is so superior, you've just gotta replace that DVD.  I suppose you could wait a while and hope a proper blu gets released in Germany or some other region, but as it stands, this is the only and necessary option.  And this is a fairly new release, so it's not like an upgrade is apt to be just around the corner.  Oh well.  Paired with my old DVD, I'm a little let down but still happy.

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