Attack Of the Colossal Monster Collection

The new release wave continues with an interesting little blu-ray set called The Monster Collection from Music Box Films.  It's a 3-disc set centered around two documentaries about horror/ sci-fi special effects and a whole lot of extras.  Specifically, we're talking about 2015's Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex and 2019's Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters, both by Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet, the French filmmaking duo behind Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, among others that mostly don't seem to have made it into the English-language market.  But these are really good, perhaps especially that third bonus disc.
Let's start with the newer doc, Mad Dreams and Monsters, the superior of the two films.  As one of the key effects artists behind films like Robocop, Star Wars and Jurassic Park, Phil Tippett has naturally appeared in any number of documentaries and DVD extras.  But this is the first feature length documentary dedicated specifically to the man himself, and it's been a long time coming.  I mean, one, he's just a major artistic figure between some of the biggest and most beloved blockbuster films who's been a part of many stories, but never had his own story told.  Two, he's just a really interesting character.  You see all these other special effects artists, some major and some minor, and he's the one you'd immediately look at and ask, what's his story?  And three, Tippett has given our dutiful filmmakers seemingly unlimited access, to himself, his studio, his unseen works... and his friends and family (pretty much all noteworthy Hollywood players themselves) are all on hand, clearly giving multiple interviews.
There are great anecdotes, carefully composed moving images, rare unseen images... we see all the guys who created the original chess set scene from Star Wars reunite as they prepare to do it all again for the new Disney films.  The film's not afraid to get candid about the serious despair they felt went Hollywood effects went digital.  Even the soundtrack (composed by Poncet himself) is pretty great, breathing life into what could potentially be a pretty dry and technical look at tiny models.  In fact, one cool aspect is that they don't just give us a tour of the cool props in the studio, they get Tippett and co. to animate the maquettes for the doc itself.  So we don't just see the same old clips, but all new, fresh stop motion.  You're bound to come out of this an even bigger Tippett fan than you went in.  They probably got this level of access thanks to having interviewed Tippett about many of these subjects before on some of their previous films, especially including The Frankenstein Complex.  Yeah, repetition is the one Achilles' heel of the Monster Collection.
The Frankenstein Complex is a less focused film, purportedly about how/ why effects artists are compelled to make monster characters, but more like a history of how special effects technology evolved over the last several decades.  There's a bunch of interesting stories and anecdotes, but they cohere too much, like we're talking to who we're talking to based on who the filmmakers could get, not necessarily who'd make for the strongest narrative.  Like, clearly Kevin Smith is here because he was available, not because he any unique insight into these creature design.  And then there's an awful lot about how Rick Baker partially gave over the werewolf transformation technique he made for John Landis' American Werewolf to Joe Dante's The Howling, because this film interviews Baker, Dante and Landis (the latter two are even put in the same room together to hash it out).  But Planet Of the Apes or Tom Savini only get the briefest of mentions because they're not around.  No Screaming Mad George.  And there's lot about Tippett's stuff, including a great scene where he's put in the same room as the guy who sold Spielberg on going all digital in Jurassic Park, and there's real tension.  But most of the Tippett stuff is totally rehashed for Mad Dreams, so you're hearing stuff twice.
And usually I save the special features for the end, but I've got to get into some of it it now.  There's a whole bunch of 'making of' and more I'll save for later, but one really important aspect of the bonus disc is the hours and hours of extended scenes from the two docs.  There are also some deleted and extended scenes on the main films' discs, but tons more on the bonus disc.  And especially in The Frankenstein Complex's case, it's all the same stuff but more and better.  We see short clips of Landis and Dante sitting together in the doc, but on the bonus disc, we get a whole hour of them together, including the minute or so we saw in the documentary.  And that's just one example.  Mick Garris briefly appears in the film; he's got a whole half hour in the extras, again including the bits from the film itself.  And so on.  The point I'm driving at is this: this material is great, but it totally invalidates the documentary.  You can (and should!) watch the full bonus disc, and then you can just skip the film itself, because it's just shorter, less rewarding little trims of this footage stuck together.  ...The same can't be said for Mad Dreams and Monsters.  That one's a pretty tight little film that totally stands on its own.  But Frankenstein is, rather aptly, a hodge podge of collected parts that are better consumed in full on the bonus disc.
2021 Music Box BD Frankenstein top; Mad Dreams bottom.
Both films are presented in gorgeous HD on separate dual layer BD discs.  They're both presented in full 1.78:1, with the exception of some vintage material framed in its appropriate AR.  Colors and contrast levels are strong and attractive; real care was put into these images.  This is not quick and gritty filmmaking, and that's been carried over into the post-production and home video encoding.  They're in 1080p; everything's done right here.  Audio options for both films include the choice between stereo and 5.1 mixes, both in lossless DTS-HD with optional English subtitles, plus an isolated score track, also in DTS-HD.
Mutant Land, a short Tippett animated film included on the bonus disc.
A lot of love was poured into this package, including - as I've mentioned - the extras.  Besides the hours of extended and deleted interviews, both docs both have lengthy 'making of' docs.  The Mad Dreams one is longer than the film itself.  You really get the feeling these guys are giving you every conceivably relevant frame of footage they had on their cameras.  The Frankenstein 'making of' is more of an extended interview than the collection of candid behind-the-scenes footage of Mad Dreams', but it's no less interesting for it.  Mad Dreams has an audio commentary with the two directors and Tippett himself.  There are festival Q&As with Joe Dante and Guillermo del Toro, early stop motion test footage and additional featurettes on the music and post-production, even the creation of the documentaries' posters.  Surprisingly, there are interviews with a couple noteworthy gets that didn't even make it into the film: Bernard Rose, director of the 2015 Frankenstein, Paperhouse and Candyman, and one of the few female special make up artists, Ve Neill.  Of course there are stills galleries and individual video clips of every model in Tippett's studio, plus both trailers.  Oh, and two of Tippett's short films are included, with optional audio commentary by Tippett himself.  Seriously, buckle in for days and days worth of extended viewing here.
This is really an enjoyable and fully loaded set.  If you have any interest in special effects at all, this is a must see.  But perhaps keep your hand on the remote, because repetition is an issue.  Not just in the sense that the same film clips will repeat in multiple locations (footage from the 'making of's are also carried over into the bonus disc stuff, etc), but that a lot of these guys make the same points over and over.  Take a drink every time another effects guy says that physical effects are great, CGI is great, but the best is when they're used in conjunction.  You'll be under the table before you even reach disc 3.  But there is so much great stuff here, you'd really be missing out not to dig through this whole trove.  And you can't fault these guys for erring on inclusion; that is the right way to go.  So this set is fully recommended.

Mr. Jealousy Is Finally Anamorphic!

If you've been following this site since the beginning, you've probably caught on to the fact that I'm a pretty big Noah Baumbach fan.  But I've been anticipating this one especially because Mr. Jealousy is one of my last remaining non-anamorphic DVDs that, until now, has been impossible to replace in any region.  Now I really just need Clockwatchers, Happiness, Turn Of the Screw, House of Yes, Hilary and Jackie and The Wife.  Maybe The Imposters.  But this is one I was beginning to think would never come off the list, so happy day!
Mr. Jealousy, 1997, is early Baumbach, the biggest symptom of which is that it just feels a little more conventional.  Even compared to his first film, Kicking & Screaming, this seems more directed by romcom conventions.  Eric Stoltz and Annabella Sciorra are a cute and charismatic young couple whose relationship is challenged by a series of increasingly outrageous misunderstandings.  And it works as that, with genuinely clever plot contrivances and relatable humor.  Its wit is brought to life thanks particularly to a brilliant supporting cast, including Whit Stillman all-star Chris Eigeman, Peter Bogdanovich, Kicking & Screaming alumni Carlos Jacott and John Lehr, Marianne Jean-Baptiste who was nominated for an Oscar for Secrets & Lies during filming and Bridget Fonda.
But unlike its peers, this one is also working on another, more substantive layer with something real and thoughtful to say about jealousy in its many forms.  It's creatively shot, at least sporadically, using old fashioned irises, and makes excellent use of an eclectic soundtrack including old Georges Delerue themes long before critics would fawn all over him for doing the same thing in Frances Ha.  It's at once a far better than average romantic comedy and more than one, sure to satisfy any Baumbach fan that's only jumped on his more recent, award winning fare.
Fox Lorber released Mr. Jealousy on DVD all the way back in 2000, so it's not too surprising that it was widescreen but non-anamorphic.  The disappointing part is that it was just never reissued.  No special edition, not even a quick and dirty upgrade to shake it free of obsolescence.  I did spend some time, years back, pursuing the rumor that the Italian DVD from Prism was anamorphic, but no.  It's 4:3, too.  And the fact that it only had their Italian dub for audio would've made it an impossible alternative anyway.  Happily, however, none of that matters any longer.  A Mr. Jealousy listing quietly appeared as a preorder link on Amazon last year.  Its release date came and went with no actual product, but eventually it was announced that our film was indeed coming from MVD Visual; and finally, this July, it's here.
2000 Fox Lorber DVD top; 2021 MVD BD bottom.
Besides being non-anamorphic, and therefore left floating in a sea of black on a modern television display, Fox's DVD was matted to 1.85:1 (or, more accurately, 1.84:1), while MVD opens it up to 1.78:1.  But MVD does more than just lift those little mattes.  MVD's comparatively new scan brings in more considerably information along all four sides.  I say "comparatively," since it looks like an older master, with a bit of tinkering done to it and quite light on grain.  But as opposed to the extra low resolution SD we've been left with up 'till now, it's a massive jump forward.  It has a cooler color timing than the DVD, though I'm not sure if it's necessarily better.  It's different and it's perfectly fine, though.  The real joy is just to see this in HD, which does help this feel less like a scrappy early effort and more like a Real Movie, which especially makes the lavish conclusion hit home all the more.

Both discs offer a the original stereo mix in a fine, clear track.  But the BD provides it in LPCM and also includes optional English subtitles, which the DVD was lacking.
All the DVD did have for us was a fullscreen trailer.  That same trailer is back on the blu, but the disc's biggest surprise is that it also includes a great, 40-minute retrospective documentary.  It includes new interviews with producer Joel Castelberg, along with Bogdanovich and actor Brian Kerwin.  But it also edits in additional vintage interviews with Baumbach himself, as well as EPK interviews and B-roll with other cast members.  This was clearly put together by a fan; it offers a lot of insight and intriguing trivia (wait 'till you hear what other actors were nearly cast in some of these roles).  It even gets into Highball; and in fact, the Highball trailer is also included, along with a couple bonus ones.
Could this be a sign than Highball is soon to follow?  I sure do hope so.  But right now I'm far too satiated with this Mr. Jealousy blu to start banging the drum for more.  For the moment.

Tarkovsky's Mirror

This summer is a hot one for exciting new releases.  It had been a bit of a dry season this year, but my last couple of posts have been new releases, and believe me, they're gonna keep on rolling for the next month and beyond.  For today we've got Criterion's brand new and long awaited release of Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror from 1975, my personal favorite, and probably his objectively best film (though I'd hear arguments for Andrei Rublev).  2021 is finally taking off!
It's certainly his most simple and focused story, without the artier abstractions of Sacrifice or the mystifying sci-fi of his most famous films, but deeper than his Ivan's Childhood or his early works.  Well, I guess on paper it could be seen as a lot to work through. You've got the film traversing through two distinct timelines at once: the protagonist's adult age with his ex-wife, and his childhood age with his mother, who's (mostly) played by the same actress.  And you've got dream sequences, black and white scenes and documentary footage providing historical backdrop.  So if you watch movies by scrolling through socmed on your phone and sporadically glancing up at the screen, yes, it's very easy to get completely lost.  But if you're paying proper attention from beginning to end, the film actually keeps you clued in the whole way, even to the point of following the film's first dream sequence with a character explaining on screen that he'd just had this dream.  This is no Inland Empire; you shouldn't be guessing at interpretations or opaque meaning.  It's a very straight-forward emotional journey.
And a damn enriching one.  All of Tarkovsky's films are great, but none are quite so flawless.  Like, Nostalghia is a beautiful movie, but it feels a little "back to the well" with its imagery, Some of its overt artistic statements feel pretentious (and that's an allegation I'll almost never lodge at a piece of art), and Domiziana Giordano's character feels like a clumsy chauvinist attempt to write a female character.  Mirror on the other hand, is written with real empathy and maturity.  If you had to boil his whole body of work to one piece, this is the quintessential masterpiece.
Mirror has been available on a fairly maligned, barebones DVD from Kino since at least 2000.  I think I even owned it at one point, but I was quick to replace it with the highly touted Ruscico international special edition that came out in 2013.  Then in 2016, Artificial Eye released it on blu, and I've been tempted to upgrade again, but rumors floated for years about Criterion putting out a better edition.  I almost broke down before it was finally officially announced, this summer they were putting out a 2-BD set with a new 2k restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. 
2013 Ruscico DVD top; 2021 Criterion BD bottom.
Mirror was always an Academy Ratio film, so Ruscico's 1.34:1 wasn't too far off the mark.  Criterion tweaks it to 1.37:1, though, and their new scan actually pulls out to reveal extra information along all four sides.  The only real drawback of the DVD is that it was interlaced, and of course that's been cleared away in this film's journey to HD.  The image is of course sharper and clearer, better retaining its filmic origins.  But honestly, the old disc didn't look too bad, with similar brightness levels and color timing.  Now, I have read a few criticisms of the highlights on Criterion's disc, occasionally being blown out.  The first set of shots has bluer skies on other transfers.  But the clouds aren't totally flared out to pure white here; you can still just barely make them out still (try lowering the gamma if you don't see them as is).  Even if they have gotten it wrong, it's the kind of thing to turn an A rating to an A-; but honestly, I'm not sure this isn't just how it should look.  It's certainly striking and compelling as they have it here, and again, pretty aligned with how Ruscico had it a decade earlier.

Another thing about Ruscico's DVDs: they're always great with language options.  They have the original Russian mono track, and in a fit of over-ambition, a 5.1 mix, but with optional English, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, Swedish, German, Portuguese, Hebrew, Chinese and Arabic subtitles.  They same subs apply to all of their special features.  Criterion drops all the foreign stuff, but keeps the removable English subs and bumps the mono track up to a more robust LPCM.
So like I said, Ruscico's DVD was a pretty full special edition, although it feels a little desultory in what it includes.  The star inclusion is a lengthy on-camera interview with Tarkovsky's co-writer, who's got a lot of great memories and anecdotes about their work together.  After that, there's a ten-minute interview with Grigory Yavlinsky about Tarkovsky, but you'll probably spend most of it being distracted trying to figure out who this guy is (apparently a Russian economist?) and why he's being interviewed here.  Then there's vintage stuff from Russian television, like a 3 minute featurette on Nikolay Grinko.  He's an actor who has a bit part in Mirror, but this TV piece never mentions it, just some of his other work.  There are slightly longer but otherwise  very similar ones for bit players Anatoliy Solonitsyn and Innokenty Smoktunovsky, and again their TV pieces focus only on other, unrelated works.  More on topic is an 20-minute interview with composer Eduard Artemyev, but even here he's talking more about other Tarkovsky films, and it doesn't seem like this was conducted with Mirror in mind.  Finally, there's a ten minute tribute to Tarkovsky, which sets interlaced, non-anamorphic clips from his films to music, and the trailer for Solaris
Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer
Most of that stuff's not uninteresting, but hardly fitting, so I wasn't surprised to see Criterion chuck it.  Thankfully, they did hang onto the screenwriter interview, and they've conducted their own, new talk with the conductor that does focus on Mirror.  But oh, there's so much more.  There's a feature length 2019 documentary about Tarkovsky made by his son, which happily focuses on his work rather than drab biographical details (as in all that trite "he grew up in a shack with a handmade camera and a dream" stuff), making for a very engrossing overview of his career.  Then there's another excellent, hour-long documentary on Mirror itself, which divides itself between interviews with surviving cast and crew members and critical experts.  It's really smart and well made, with some particularly keen insights from Tarkovsky's sister.  Then there's a third documentary, this time on the film's DP, Georgy Rergerb, which is another surprising delight, thanks in part to what a character Rerberg apparently was.  There are also two brief, vintage interviews with Tarkovsky and a whopping 98-page booklet that reproduces the original screenplay and 1968 film pitch, along with a new essay by Carmen Gray.
So this is a pretty definitive release in my book, and the documentaries rise above the level of special features to works worthy of our collections in their own rights.  In other words, even if you're perfectly satisfied with your previous edition of Mirror and don't feel inclined to replace it, you should still get this just for the other docs.  But this is also a fantastic edition of Mirror, looking and sounding great; a real must-have from Criterion this summer.  You might want to hang onto your DVD, just for the odds and ends, but if you don't already have it, I wouldn't seek it out.  This is all you need.

Now onto our next killer new release!

Dan O'Bannon's Dead & Buried, Definitively In 4K

Hey, guys!  Welcome to the first of a little series of posts I'm going to be doing here, as I add some more key back catalog films to this site.  It's pretty straight forward, a pair of releases from a particular label; so this post and the next one will be looking at Blue Underground discs, another set will be a pair of Scream Factories, and so on.  You know, just to make things a little more interesting.... if it even does that; I'm not really sure.  haha

Update 1/14/19 - 7/9/21: The original title of this post was "Dead & Buried, Potentially In 4K?"  Well, in two weeks time, we can consider that potential realized, because BU is putting it out on 4k Ultra HD disc, in a new, extra-loaded special edition.  Let's take a look!
1981's Dead & Buried is a neat little Dan O'Bannon horror movie.  Maybe it's not quite as awesome as his Return Of the Living Dead, but it's also substantially better than Bleeders.  Set in a small fishing village, it has a grim, oppressive atmosphere, but soon a hint of O'Bannon's signature wit begins to poke through.  The story revolves around a series of cruel murders, seemingly perpetrated by at least half the community acting in conjunction, and with a curious propensity for photography.  The local sheriff tries to investigate, growing increasingly paranoid until even his own wife begins to feel like a suspect.  It doesn't help that circumstances continue to get stranger, especially once the victims start turning up again as living townsfolk.  There's not exactly an all-star cast in this one, but cult fans will have fun picking out supporting roles being played by people like Barry Corbin, Lisa Blount (Prince of Darkness), Robert Englund, and Jack Albertson (Grandpa Joe of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as the local mortician.  And the great Stan Winston drops by the provide some impressive, and somewhat disgusting, special effects.
Blue Underground originally released Dead & Buried on DVD back in 2003 as a Limited Edition 2-disc set.  A wider release edition followed in 2005, the difference being the second disc of extras and the individually numbered slip-box of the LE.  Mine is #03141 of 10,000.  Ha, remember the heyday of physical media when 10,000 copies was considered a limited run to be snatched up quick?  Anyway, BU released it again in 2009 on blu-ray, with all of the Limited Edition extras reunited with the film.  2009's a bit old for a blu-ray, though, and this title had been floated out there for a while as a possible 4k re-release if their initial UHDs were a success.  Apparently, they have been, because lately, BU seems to be blasting their whole catalog out onto UHD, including Dead & Buried in an impressive 3-disc (if you count a soundtrack CD) limited edition (9000, divided into 3000 copies of 3 lenticular slipcover editions... actually not much fewer than the DVDs) set.
1) 2003 BU DVD; 2) 2009 BU BD; 3) 2021 BU BD; 4) 2021 BU UHD.

Dead & Buried's a bit of a challenging film to even discuss in terms of picture quality.  What's the first thing you notice from these screenshots?  Maybe that they look like murky swirls of brown and grey?  But that's presumably an intentional defused and desaturated aesthetic of the film.  It all takes place in a provincial, muddy fishing village shot in low light and taking place largely at night, and in his commentary, the DP talks about putting multiple filters over the lens and the slower emulsion of the film they used.  Then again, even in the opening, where the scene takes place on the beach in bright daylight, we're looking at heavy, yellow grain dancing all over the otherwise bright blue sky.  Between that and the chunky black flecks that appear sporadically throughout the picture, it almost looks like a 16mm film, like Maniac.  Except this Dead & Buried was actually shot in 35mm.  So as much as we're assured that the film is meant to have a muted look that draws the viewer in, making us peer through the fog and search out the action, I can't help but suspect that a fresh 4k scan of the original camera negatives - which I do not believe were used for these existing discs - couldn't reveal at least as much as Maniac's impressive redux.

Unfortunately, those are still lost to the world.  So while we did get a 4k restoration, on a proper 4k UHD no less, it's from an interpositive.  Oh well.  It's still an improvement.  Let's see.  After the flat, brown look, the second thing you'll probably notice about these shots is that the DVD and blu look awfully similar.  The DVD is slightly matted to 1.84:1, while the blu-ray removes those mattes, opening it up to 1.78:1.  But apart from that, the 2009 blu is almost certainly using the same master, giving viewers almost the same viewing experience watching the blu that they got from the DVD.  Not to accuse BU of selling us an upconvert or any bad business like that.  Look at the smaller print on the gravestone they're digging up in the second set of shots: it's definitely clearer and easier to read on the BD than the DVD.  And what is clearly film grain on the blu is often just compression smudges on the DVD.  I just mean to say, that if you're not hunting and pecking for distinctions like I am, because so much detail is soft or hard to discern in either version, you don't feel the boosted resolution of the HD.  It's there; it's just a very subtle boost.
2009 BU BD left; 2021 BU UHD right.
And it's another subtle boost the second time around.  The mattes are back, bringing this film to 1.85:1, but otherwise the framing is essentially the same.  Obviously the resolution is increased, so edges are smoother and more natural, as you can plainly see in this close-up.  Tiny detail is slightly easier to make out, but you mostly just notice it when you zoom in like this.  The real story is the color correction.  The film's still a diffuse mud room, but there's more separation, making it easier to discern characters and action in the shadows.  Bright spots that were flared out, like the shine on the right point of the sheriff's badge, is more delineated and natural.  The sky over the cemetery is the bluest it's ever been.  Subtleties are captured, making the film feel more life-like, even if you won't be able to put your finger on quite why in motion.
Audio-wise, they really lay out the options, even to the point of excess.  The DVD gives us four audio mixes: English DTS 6.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono.  The original mono's all I really worry about, and it's clear and strong enough.  But as long as that's included, I'm certainly not mad at them creating stereo and additional multi-channel mixes; in fact some of the separation is rather effective and adds to the suspense.  Good thing, because the blu-ray chucks it.  They lose the stereo mix, too, but keep the 5.1 while adding two new, lossless mixes in 7.1: TrueHD and DTS-HD.  They sound great, but I missed my original mono.  "Missed" past tense because - huzzah! - the UHD brought it back!  It's got the original mono, now lossless for the first time, the 5.1 and a Dolby Atmos track.  They also have a French (DTS-HD, mono) dub.

And while the DVD has no subtitle options, the blu-rays do.  All three (the 2009, the 2021 and the UHD) have optional English subs, plus Spanish and French.
The extras came pretty strong right out of the gate.  The DVD features not one, not two, but three audio commentaries.  One with director Gary Sherman, one with co-writer/ producer Ronald Shusett and actress Linda Turley and the aforementioned cinematographer Steve Poster one.  They're all quite good, though the moderator has to keep prodding Ron and Linda out of silence and I suppose the Poster one could be a little boring for casual viewers.  But serious enthusiasts will appreciate the more technical info provided.  But on the main disc - the only disc included in the non-limited edition version - that's all there is except for a photo gallery and a couple trailers.

The limited edition, though, has a second disc, with three interviews.  It's not a ton of material, totally less than 45 minutes that could've surely fit on the main disc if they wanted it to.  But it's pretty neat stuff, with one talking to Stan Winston' about his graphic special effects, a light-hearted chat with Robert Englund about his early role, and the most essential: an on-camera interview with O'Bannon himself.  And they threw in one more stills gallery - location photos by Steve Post - for good measure.

The 2009 blu-ray doesn't add anything new to the mix, but they at least remembered to include the bonus disc interviews as well as the commentaries and everything from the main DVD.  So maybe a little disappointing to not get anything new, but we got so much already, you can't say it doesn't feel like a pretty decked out disc.
In 2021?  Yeah, they're adding new stuff to the mix.  First of all, everything from the past editions in carried over, including the booklet.  And they've added, yes, a fourth audio commentary, this time by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, giving us the expert overview on the film.  Then director Gary Sherman gives us a look behind the scenes with about half an hour's worth of 8mm footage he shot during the filming, with commentary by himself and the crew.  And there's a brief but rewarding look at the locations as they stand now.  And there are new, on-camera interviews with the composer and most interestingly, the author of the novelization.  Also included is the soundtrack CD, and as I mentioned earlier, there are three lenticular cover options available (I went with #1, the classic), and inside artwork is also reversible... although Cover 1 curiously includes the same artwork on both sides.  But hey, who cares?  This set is incredible in any cover.
Given this film's naturally dingy look (and the lost negatives), the leap to 4k may not be as exciting as one would hope.  I can see why BU wanted to hold out for the negatives, but if they're lost for good, what can you do?  This is still an undoubted improvement over the old BD.  Couple that with all the new special features, plus the return of the original mono soundtrack, and this is one nifty, underrated O'Bannon flick that's finally gotten the treatment it deserves.

Controversial Blus: Poison... Is It Supposed To Look Like This Now?

For some reason, every time I get a little distance from Todd Haynes' Poison, my loyalty wanders.  After not having watched this for a few years, I find myself telling people, it's okay... not as good as his later, more polished works.  But having just sat down with it again via Kino's new blu-ray, I remember: no, this is one of his very best movies.  I love it.  Don't let me forget this the next time I'm pontificating, "do I really need this in my collection?"
Poison is a sort of anthology, constantly inter-cutting between three distinctly different stories: Horror, Hero and Homo.  Horror is shot in the style of a campy 50s schlocker about a mad scientist who distills man's sex drive into a liquid and then accidentally drinks it, becoming the "Leper Sex Killer."  Can the love of his beautiful young assistant save his humanity?  Hero is a mockumentary in the style of a cheap television expose interviewing friends and family young, but aggressively sexual, boy who shot his father and then allegedly flew away into the sky.  And Homo is the story of two young gay schoolmates who reunite in passion, based on the writings of Jean Genet.
They have entirely different casts (look for John Leguizamo acting in Homo under the alias "Damien Garcia") and completely distinct visual styles.  Superficially, none of the stories connect except through thematic transitions (a mother referring to her son and his friend playing strange games in Hero cuts to two men holding hands in prison in Homo).  But they all have a powerful, autobiographical (not in factual details, but inner feelings) of young men feeling like outsiders and being punished by society for their sexualities - they all describe one, very relatable author.  For a rough, low budget feature debut, this film masters its three styles expertly, with Horror feeling very authentic and Homo looking surprisingly polished, even elegant.  The music is perfect and the performances are first class, belying their 16mm trappings.
Fox Lorber first released Poison on DVD in 1999.  It was originally released cut on VHS, but thankfully all subsequent releases have been the uncut/ NC-17 edit.  In 2011, Zeitgeist Video reissued it as a widescreen special 20th Anniversary Edition DVD.  It always struck me that it had been remastered and given new special features for an intended blu-ray, but they cheaped out at the last minute.  Well, never mind.  Because this week, in time for its 30th anniversary, Kino has finally given us Poison in HD with their brand new blu-ray release.  But I have a question.
1999 Zeitgeist DVD top; 2011 Fox Lorber DVD mid; 2021 Kino BD bottom.
So I've made three sets of screenshots this time, since we have three unique visual styles in the film.  The color correction starting with the 20th Anniversary is a huge boon, and the BD, which seems to just be slapping that same transfer onto an HD disc, is satisfyingly sharper, so you feel like you've made a worthwhile upgrade.  The aspect ratio shifts from the original disc's 1.32:1 to 1.78:1 for the subsequent editions, matting the tops and bottoms, but revealing more along the sides.  Except for, wait a minute.  What is going on with the Hero section?  It looks wildly distorted.  Let's get another look at that.
1999 Zeitgeist DVD left; 2021 Kino BD right.
Whoa, golly!  Where Horror and Homo found extra info along the sides, Hero manages to lose some, along with all the picture it still crops off the bottom.  And it does this just so it can be stretched way out?  Why is it like this?  Looking at the back of the 20th Anniversary DVD, it describes its transfer as "enhanced for widescreen viewing."  Somebody sure felt free enhancing.  Is this film even supposed to be widescreen?  The IMDB lists its AR as 1.66:1, which none of these discs reflect.  But I don't think that's right, anyway.  Doing a little research, for example this program from when it played at the Berlin Film Festival in 1991 lists it as 1.37:1.  This 2003 review of the 1999 DVD agrees and even criticizes a London theater for having shown it at 1.75.  The Fox Lorber AR looks the most natural, and certainly the 50s sci-fi and old TV docs this movie is emulating would've been fullscreen.  It looks like they took some liberties matting down Horror and Homo, too; but what they've done to Hero is just bonkers.  Heck, they could've at least stretched the image a little less if they didn't further crop the sides.  Did Todd Haynes do this himself, or does he even know what it looks like now?  If this was his idea, I guess I can accept it for the most part, but the fun-house mirroring of Hero is still ridiculous.  And if Haynes didn't approve, then I have to declare this is a rare case of a totally botched BD (see also: Rabid Grannies).

All three discs feature a solid and fairly clean 2.0 mix, bumped up to DTS-HD for the blu.  Only the 20th Anniversary DVD and the new blu offer English SDH subtitles.
Last Known Address
In terms of special features, at least, each disc is an improvement over the last.  Not that the Fox Lorber disc was barebones.  It has a pretty good audio commentary with Haynes, editor/ actor James Lyons and producer Christine Vachon.  It's a little spotty in terms of dead air and awkward pauses, but is mostly full of good background information and charming anecdotes.  It also included the (fullscreen) trailer.

The 2011 DVD kept all that, but added some more goodies.  The main new feature is a 20th Anniversary Q&A with Haynes, Vachon and producer James Schamus.  But there's also a short film called Last Known Address.  It's not by Haynes or directly connected to the main feature, but it is about the AIDS crisis and its effect on New York, which is obviously a major contributor to the subtext of Poison.  And it had a photo gallery and 16-page booklet.

And the blu-ray keeps all that came before it, except the stills gallery, but including the booklet.  And it also includes a new on-camera introduction by Haynes, which is actually a solid 11-minute discussion of the film's 30th anniversary and where it stands now.  He never mentions the AR in any of the extras, though.
So, hmm... Kino's blu is a definite, unquestionable improvement on the previous DVD, with its sharper HD image, lossless audio and new interview (which trumps the lost stills, though I wonder why we couldn't keep that, too).  But that's only because the 2011 DVD has the same revisionist widescreen "enhance"ment, and we should probably all be hanging onto our 1999 DVDs.  Being a 16mm film, it's not like we've made any great gains in detail and clarity, anyway (though I would miss the color correction).  The new extras are cool, but the commentary is still the biggest and best feature, too.  I'd feel better about this if one of the film producers, Haynes, or the DP would endorse this reframing, but Hero especially doesn't sit right with me as is.  Maybe if we're good this year, Arrow or somebody will release this in the UK, go back to the original film elements for a fresh scan and respect the original aspect ratio?