Ordinary People's Shocking Debut on Blu

So I've mentioned a couple times now about how some long-awaited Paramount catalog titles have been popping up on blu for the first time in Australia.  I've been praising Via Vision for their work, but they're not the only Ozzie Prometheuses liberating classic films from the ViacomCBS company.  It's hard to dispute that Ordinary People is a great and important film.  It won Best Picture in 1980, along with three other Academy Awards and two additional noms, plus five Golden Globes, based on a best selling novel.   But somehow it's only been available as a barebones DVD the world over... until this summer, thanks to Australia's Shock Entertainment.
I wrote in my last post that the stars of Marriage Story, "never stop digging to reveal intimate truths Hollywood rarely gets near."  Well, Ordinary People is one of those rare exceptions.  Granted, it's hard not to notice that both films' idea of relatable people seems to be the unusually financially privileged, which may strain some viewers' empathy.  But if you can get past that, it's a powerful drama that builds slowly as characters' backstories and the stakes they're playing for are carefully revealed.  As a filmmaker, Robert Redford can always be depended on to deliver a respectable level of mature quality in his work, but I think Judith Guest's writing allows him to reach heights he's never been able to in the rest of his typically more conventional body of work.  But then Redford is able to come back around and compliment that writing by getting performances out of his brilliant cast few other filmmakers could deliver.
Like, obviously veterans like Donald Sutherland and M. Emmet Walsh were always going to be great, but I don't think anybody expected Mary Tyler Moore to jump into the award races so late in her career.  Of course Timothy Hutton was a newcomer who Redford essentially discovered here (though I looked it up, and he had done a couple TV movies already).  And after getting used to him in all those sitcoms and trash roles like Independence Day, this film's a fun reminder that Judd Hirsch actually can act when he's given the opportunity.

If I had one criticism, it's that the film short thrifts Moore's character a bit in the long run, almost concluding with the suggestion that everything would've been fine if she wasn't always such an uptight bitch.  I haven't read the novel, but I bet a little charitability was lost between the original (female) author and the men adapting it for the screen.  But Moore is able to squeeze in some depth between the lines, and of course she's ultimately a supporting character in Hutton's journey, so it's not a crippling flaw.  After all, it's impossible to ignore how moving all the other material is.
Paramount released this as a basic, barebones DVD in 2001, and that's basically been the whole story of Ordinary People on disc this for all time.  The closest thing to any kind of special edition was a 2009 VH1-sponsored "We Love the 80s" edition that came in a colorfully tacky slipcover and included a bonus "Music From the 80s" CD.  The DVD inside is still exactly the same.  It hasn't been until early this summer that it made its HD debut on blu-ray, as we've said, from Shock Entertainment in Australia.  And it's Region B locked, so even this release's potential reach is still limited.
2001 US Paramount DVD top; 2020 AU Shock BD bottom.
Part of the mystery as to how such a successful, critically heralded and truly important film could be relegated to an obscure import is that most labels would look at the current master and say wow, this film needs a restoration before it could be released in HD today.  Sometimes I'll point out how a recent blu doesn't hold up to the modern standard of fresh 4k scans, but looks fine for an older BD.  Well, this one would get low scores even if it came out in 2006.  First of all, this is clearly using the same master as the original DVD, which was at least anamorphic widescreen and free of interlacing issues.  Moreover, the BD's image is hazy, colors are dull, and there's a bit of a "screen door" effect presumably brought on by an attempt to sharpen film grain that is soft and barely captured.  There are also flecks and spots of film damage, but that's a minor complaint.  Want another major complaint?  Obviously some kind of edge enhancement or unsharpening tool has been applied to try and correct this funky old transfer.  To be fair to Shock, this was probably baked into the master by Paramount decades ago, but that fact doesn't help us viewers now.

So does that mean this BD is some kind of worthless side-grade?  No, we have gained ground here.  The DVD is slightly windowboxed to 1.82:1, which the BD corrects to a properly matted 1.85:1.  I left the borders around the first set of shots so you can see the difference, but the most important difference is that it means the blu winds up revealing more information on the right-hand side (and a sliver along the bottom) that the DVD shouldn't have been cropping.  And while the blu appears to be artificially sharpened, we can see that the DVD's compression makes it even softer; so the blu-ray is preserving at least a smidgen extra detail and clarity.  It's a slight boost, but it's still a boost.
Now, the back of the case lists 5.1 audio, but I'm actually happy to report that is incorrect.  They in fact provide the original mono track in Dolby Digital 2.0.  I'm less pleased to tell you that it's lossy, though.  Oh, and there are no subtitles.  The DVD had subtitles (and also a French dub).  Couldn't they just hold onto those, you might ask, but apparently not.

Shock's blu is also completely barebones.  The DVD at least had the trailer, but I guess Shock couldn't hold onto that either.  In fact, there isn't even a menu screen; it's just the one movie file on a single-layer disc.  They've really done the bare minimum.
So yeah, this isn't a blu-ray to get excited about, except for the fundamental fact that it's exciting there's a blu-ray at all.  But the film's a masterpiece, and this is the best edition going.  I imagine most people will prioritize nearly every other title in their wish lists first, but eventually you do need this on your shelf.  So credit where it's due to Shock, for at least giving us something.  Now do Rachel River.  😉

1 comment:

  1. I agree that in parts the movie is very slightly soft, but sharpness overall is good and what you'd expect from a 1920x1080 rendering of the master. It's an amazing movie that is looking better than ever before on home video.