Ken Russell's Vestron Film The Rainbow: Import Or Lump It

1989's The Rainbow is the third in Ken Russell's three picture deal with Vestron, inked after their joint success with Gothic, and is based on the DH Lawrence's novel of the same name.  Film-wise, It's the prequel to 1969's Women In Love, which of course was one of Russell's most successful films.  Novel-wise, The Rainbow (1915) came first (WIL was 1920).  In both versions, characters carry through both stories.  Viewers should know, though, that The Rainbow novel is broken up into three parts, following three generations of a family.  The film only adapts the final third.
That third follows the story of Ursula, played by Sammi Davis, who you'll recognize of course from Lair Of the White Worm.  Ursula is the character played by Jennie Linden in Women In Love, but here she's just leaving her family home, yearning to strike out on her own as an independent woman, but given the times, faces constant push-back.  But she finds support from her White Worm Amanda Donohoe, who's so liberated, she's willing to go as far as a lesbian affair with her underage student while also courting a relationship with her uncle.  So as you can imagine, this is all about Lawrence pushing the envelope of his times, testing the boundaries of just how far society can and should go.  And if you know Russell, he's more than ready to give life to this young woman's sexual and emotional awakenings within the trappings of a nay-saying period England.
Naturally, Russell's not one to shy away from the sex, but he's also never about to let an important dramatic tale slide into softcore porn as often befell Lawrence's work in the 80's and 90's.  His film adaptations would alternatively be produced for Masterpiece Theater and the BBC or Skinemax and Showtime After Dark.  Russell uses the opportunity to give us a few colorful, ribald images, including some naked homosexual wrestling on a carpet in front of a fireplace as a cheeky nod to the most famous scene in Women In Love.  But he actually shows considerable restraint and never lets this film veer away from proper respectability and intelligent story-telling.  Glenda Jackson is back, this time playing the mother of her character from WIL, and other noteworthy cast members include David Hemmings, Russell stalwart Dudley Statton and Withnail and I's Paul McGann (he was I).
Through the entire DVD era, the only option for The Rainbow was a barebones 4:3 DVD from Columbia Tri-Star released in 2001, and reissued in 2007 by Lions Gate.  That was the whole story.  But fortunately, in the HD era, it was given a proper blu-ray, making it available in its proper widescreen format for the very first time.  But only in Italy.  Pulp Video (the same guys who did that Whore DVD I wrote about... these guys must be proper Russell fans) released it in 2014 as La Vita è un Arcobaleno, or Life Is a Rainbow.
1) 2001 Columbia Tri-Star UK DVD; 2) 2014 Pulp IT BD.
I've seen the DVDs 1.30:1 image described as open-matte online, but getting to compare it to the blu-ray's 1.78:1 now, it's obvious a lot was cut off the sides and very little was added vertically.  So restoring it a widescreen is a huge improvement, and that's just the composition.  Both discs seem to be sourced from the same film elements - note the same white fleck on the left-hand side of both transfers in the first set of shots.  But the DVD seems to be coming to us by way of a video tape transfer; it's very soft and murky.  Thankfully the blu is a proper scan of film elements, looking remarkably sharper, clearer and more detail.  We can finally see, for instance, the pattern on wallpaper behind them in the second shot.  Colors are corrected, too, getting rid of the dull hue that was cast over the DVD.  I mean, just look at those shots, it's an entirely different viewing experience.  Grain's a little uneven, this is no top-of-the-line 4k restoration, but it's a real, quality HD image, which is only welcome all the more considering how paltry our previous SD option was.

Said DVD features the original stereo mix and nothing more.  It's adequate, but feels its age.  That same stereo mix is carried over to the blu, and disappointingly, it's still lossy.  Besides that, the blu just adds alternative Italian language options, including an Italian stereo dub, a 5.1 remix and optional subtitles.  Neither disc has English subs, but hey, at least the blu doesn't force the Italian ones.
It's disappointing to find, especially when we know what wonderful commentaries Russell frequently gave his films, that both of these discs are essentially barebones.  The DVD included a full-frame trailer, at least.  The blu-ray even drops that, although they do add their own stills gallery.  But if it feels like we're splitting hairs, here, that's because we are.  Both discs are awfully barren.  Sure, I'd love to see Red Shirt and co. turn this into a superior special edition through the Vestron line, but somehow I don't see them tackling a non-genre film like The Rainbow in this lifetime.  I'll be delighted to be proved wrong, but I don't think we have any real choice but to import.

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