You Don't Need HDR To See The Color Out Of Space

It's a rare treat for me to be able to join in the consensus of a popular horror movie.  It seems like every year, audiences rally around of pretty dopey theatrical releases and remind us that the genre's back in swing this decade, and it's frankly a little depressing.  But for once, I'm in agreement with the hype: Richard Stanley's comeback, the Nicolas Cage-starring H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Color Out of Space, produced by Elijah Wood's SpectreVision is everything it's cracked up to be.  And RLJ Entertainment gives it a satisfyingly wide home video release, readily available in mainstream stores like Target and Walmart in three formats: DVD, Blu-ray and 4k Ultra HD/ Blu-ray combo pack.  In a time when the widely celebrated Best Picture nominee Parasite* and similar major motion pictures of the year like The Irishman, Marriage Story, Richard Jewell, etc. can't get UHD releases, it's nice to see this scrappy little underdog held up so highly.

Update 9/12/21: Just adding the DVD to the mix. But since most of my UHDs are for older, shot-on-film movies, I was really struck by how impressively wide the gulf is between the SD and UHD of this genuinely shot-on-4k movie.
Now, this is hardly the first time this particular Lovecraft story has been brought to the silver screen.  AIP's Die, Monster, Die! started us off in 1965, but it's a pretty loose adaptation that basically pastes the skin of Lovecraft's story over the typical, gothic horror story skeleton AIP and their peers had produced a hundred times before.  Then, I kinda love 1987's The Curse, but it's not exactly what I'd call faithful or, you know, intelligent.  2008's Colour From the Dark is an interesting, scrappy take on the subject, but doesn't rise to the professional quality of a film you're going to want to revisit beyond your first watch.  And 2010's The Color Out of Space (a.k.a. Die Farbe) is clearly the most devoted to Lovecraft, but its limited budget really compromises the final product.  Whether this fifth venture is finally the ideal combination of filmmaker and subject matter, or if they just paid enough attention to learn from their predecessors' mistakes, I'm happy to declare what we have here to be the best Color Out of Space to date.
Mind you, I did go into this film with some concerns.  Having grown up with The Curse, I could easily see this experience devolving into Nicolas Cage just yelling Great Santini-style at his kids for 100 minutes.  Yes, that element from the story is present, but thankfully they downplay it, and never let Cage lose his sympathetic human side.  They also don't romanticize the teens as rebellious, anti-authoritarian heroes in the typical, irritating way you might expect.  I was worried, too, when I heard Tommy Chong was going to be in this, and rolling right into the first scene where we see the teenage girl doing her Wiccan ceremony, I was prepared to be in for some kind of cringey disaster.  But thankfully, everybody is used to great effect and each element Stanley introduces mixes together cohesively.
Because, hey, I'm not the hugest Richard Stanley fan in the world.  Dust Devil is good, sure, but Hardware feels like a ton of style desperately slapped onto a nothing story with a dud of a leading man.  And I'm far from convinced there was ever a good version of The Island of Dr. Moreau in the cards regardless of studio interference.  So his track record hardly pushed me into the theater with starry "he can do no wrong" eyes.  But he really strikes the right balance of restraint and going all out with the source material.  It remains a human story that understands and grapples with Lovecraft's intentions, while still throwing all the wild imagery and monstrosity in our faces that any horror fan could want.  And does it have to rely on CGI?  Sure, but it's effective and well used, tempered with plenty of make-up, rubber monsters, striking locations and even miniatures to keep us grounded.  Stanley has made his best film yet, and I'm now thoroughly excited for his take on The Dunwich Horror.
2020 RLJ DVD top; 2020 RLJ BD mid; 2020 RLJ UHD bottom.

RLJ gives us Color in its OAR of 2.39:1, except on the DVD, which is slightly squished to 2.36:1.  And if the un-enlarged screenshots look surprisingly similar, that's because this is another UHD with no HDR.  Now, I was expecting that on Turbine's Texas Chainsaw, but not on this brand new film that's literally all about fantastic, consciousness-expanding colors.  Even for the cynics who accuse HDR of being "crayons," this seems like the one movie that would've been the ideal excuse to recklessly crank. It. Up!  But RLJ has a history for whatever reason of not including HDR on their releases (though they did on Galveston and Arizona), so it is what it is I guess.
2020 RLJ DVD left; 2020 RLJ BD mid; 2020 RLJ UHD right.
Anyway, in this case, the 4k is really where it's at.  As opposed to TCM, which was shot on 16mm, and the difference primarily boiled down to how authentic the grain was presented, this is another digital film with fake grain added for effect.  So don't get too hung up on that.  But this is also a digital film that was shot in genuine 4k, so there really is a question of image resolution.  Like, just click on that enlargement of the girl on her horse and see how much more life there is in the UHD than the BD, not to mention the DVD, which looks like it was left in your pocket when you did your laundry.  Admittedly, how much this will translate to your personal viewing experience at home will depend on some basic fundamentals like the size of your television.  On a smaller set, it may be like clicking on these images embedded in the article without clicking through them to full size.  But if you have the set-up to appreciate it, you'll be glad you spent the extra, what?  $2? spring for the Ultra HD.
Oh, and both HD discs include the film's 5.1 audio track in DTS-HD with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  No fancy Atmos mixes or anything, but hey, they're bold and lossless, unlike the DVD.

As for extras, I wouldn't call these releases special editions, but we are given a few nice features (on every version), starting with a short, but surprisingly in-depth 20-minute 'making of' featurette that talks to the producers, feature's Stanley's video diary, B-roll footage, soundbites from the cast, visual effects comparisons and a look at the crew's time in Portugal (where this was shot).  It doesn't even shy away from talking about Richard Stanley's legendary Dr. Moreau disaster.  There's a collection of deleted scenes which broaden the world of the film a little bit, and a photo gallery touring the shooting locations.  We don't get this film's trailer, just a couple bonus trailers that play on start-up.
So okay, it's not the ultimate release we could all imagine in our minds: HDR, Atmos, audio commentaries... but it's still a pretty sweet film with a pretty sweet release.  Most films' discs should be so disappointing.  I wish I could get Marriage Story on UHD with no HDR and only a couple of extras.

*Okay, there are French and German UHDs of Parasite, but they're not English-friendly, so we're still stuck with 1080p at best.Okay, as of the update, we've since gotten one in the US, too. I guess the only thing worth complaining about now is that the best editions are split: UHD for the PQ and Criterion BD for the extras, so you have to buy two copies to make your own proper, special edition. But Parasite's actually in quite a good place, now, on home video.

1 comment:

  1. I own an English-friendly six-disc 4K German release that includes The Curse, Die, Monster, Die! and Die Farbe, as well as a soundtrack cd and lots of groovy swag in a pretty box: